Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The other side of the world

In Australia, it is Tuesday and in the United States, it's still Monday.  This is mind boggling to me.  But I feel pretty excited every time I think about the idea that we are finished with Monday and you guys are still experiencing it. If time travel is possible, I think it might come by passing the international date line.

We really are in a whole other world here...I have no idea if the Redskins have been winning or the Steelers, or what happened since Michael Vick wiped the floor with Donovan McNabb at Fed Ex field...It hardly even feels like Nutcracker season although we're already two weeks into it...

And you probably don't know that at this very moment, five of the six Aussie states have declared a State of Emergency because of flooding.  (It has been raining for 9 days straight.  I have yet to see the rumored glorious Australian sun.)  You may also be unaware that the first day of Aussie summer is December 1st, so the rain is quite tropical albeit irritating.

Besides the rain, there is a SNIPER on the loose in the Gold Coast, Queensland (where I am).  He, (presumably a 'he,' since they haven't found or identified the shooter yet) shot three people in the last two days in various locations that Livvy and I have recently visited. Luckily no one is dead.

Also wanted to mention that Australia has been playing the UK in what seems like a Cricket tournament.  They seem to be playing in the only part of Australia that is not underwater and unfortunately lost today.  My experience so far says the Aussies are not used to losing...

There are 'heaps' of things to do in the Gold Coast when the weather is nice (which apparently is the 350 days of the year when I'm not visiting...) but when its raining, you had better like the people you're spending time with because there is really nothing to do but get a coffee and chat, or maybe shop, but be careful with  your money because the Aussie dollar actually snuck ahead of the USD last Tuesday.  (They don't tip here but food and everything else is inflated by about 10% to cover all that in a tax called the GST   The next things on our schedules have begun to sound like wishes: 'sunbake,' climb the Headland at Burleigh Beach, visit Brisbane Botanic Gardens, tour around Byron Bay ....all of these are preferably dry, outdoor adventures.  Since the forecast isn't looking good, and they are calling for more 'bucketing,' we are considering finding a good Aussie pub and drinking away the rest of the week.

Don't be miffed by my tone.  My hostesses couldn't be sweeter and the East Coast of Australia really is a tropical paradise.  They have birds as 'pests' that we have to go to a zoo to see and plants that we couldn't dream up.  I have met and spent time with possums, kangaroos, emus and koalas...I will have lots to report aside from the rain. 

The Aussies have been in drought for 10 summers, so while dismayed by the weather, just like we would, everyone here is saying, "This is out of the ordinary but we really need the rain."

Bill Bryson's Book In a Sunburned Country says, "You're totally at the mercy of the whether in this country."  I have found this comment to be most insightful since I arrived.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cordate Shaped

Cordate is a botanical term used to describe a leaf when it is shaped like a heart.  The most recognizable cordate shaped leaf can be found on the Redbud.  Redbuds grow relatively low in the canopy, with a height comparable to a Dogwood.  The Redbud first produces red or purple 'buds' in the spring before the leaves emerge. There are a special few spring days when the flowers are still clinging to the branches and the heart-shaped leaves are emerging.  The leaves range in color from lime green to dark purple depending on the variety. All through the Spring and Summer the branches of the Redbud are covered with garlands of hearts.  When you see them, no matter how bitter, jaded or cynical you are, it is difficult to think of anything except love.  In the Fall, the Redbuds steal the spotlight again when their leaves turn yellow.  As the breezes blow, the whole yard is dappled with yellow hearts, like a classroom strewn with construction paper hearts after the kids cut out their Valentines.  I find myself feeling sweet and happy as I rake all the hearts into a pile, I find myself singing even.... I began looking around the garden and taking stock of all the Cordate shaped leaves I could find.  And wow did I find them.  Here are just a few:

morning glory



Elephant ears


My overwhelming thought was two fold.  First: Humans are always looking for signs, for proof of things, for direction, for encouragement that they are on the right track.  Humans especially yearn for these signs from the Heavens, or from God, or the Universe.  Well, if we are looking for a sign, the Cordate shaped leaves all around us just might be it.  (Isn't it sweet of the universe to communicate with us in a modern 'emoticon' kind of way that its sure we'll understand no matter which language we speak?)  There are hearts all over the plants, what should we gather from this?  For those of you who know me, this is going to shock you a little but ....I think the universe is saying:   Love really 'IS the answer,' love really IS 'all around,' what people really need IS 'more love'... you get the idea.  Maybe that verse in Corinthians that they always read at weddings isn't just about romance, maybe it's about life and how we conduct ourselves.  Maybe the 'greatest of these' really is love.  When you get to the bottom of why people want to give, to help, etc, there is love.  People want to give more love because many times people want to receive more love and as a result love, not money, becomes  the answer to a world of hurt.  Our best moments are motivated by love in some form.  Think of your power as an individual if you were brave enough to always act out of love, think about how we could mobilize people or institute change with the power of love.  Love is not risk free, but its returns are infinite.  If we are looking for a sign, if we need some direction, we've got it....It's not in the stars...it's in the trees.

"Time is how you spend your love."  Zadie Smith

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Starbucks music

As a break from the technical plant talk, I'd like to discuss caffeine, corporate America and generic sounding music...

I tend to visit Starbucks most often when I'm on a road trip.  When I arrive at the Starbucks, I am usually at my weakest point...I probably need to go to the bathroom, I'm probably uncaffeinated and hungry and I'm probably bored with the radio or the music that is already in my car.

So-- I show up to the counter and first contemplate whether or not four shots of espresso in my latte will give me a heart attack.  The next question is whether or not I really need a croissant AND a donut and a $3 bottle of water for the car.  I'm usually having a hard time making any decision because I need to pee.  After I relieve myself from that distraction, I stand there, waiting in line, staring into uncaffeinated space.  It never fails, the CDs always grab my attention.  I'm sure there is something there that my ears are longing to hear.

But...Starbucks CDs are like Walmart clothing.  From far away they look good enough to lure you to the clothing department and maybe even to the dressing room.  The covers of the Starbucks CDs are always artists that you like, with pictures you haven't seen and songs you've never heard of.  "Jackpot!" " This will probably be awesome to listen to"...WRONG.  The Walmart clothes never fit.  And the cd's at Starbucks are always generic enough that they 'appeal' to everyone and don't offend anyone. My example:  a new CD my Mark Cohn, they guy who wrote 'Walk'in in Memphis.'  That song is good right?  So a CD full of covers by him must be great? right? NO!  Same with all the other stuff they are playing in there.  Most likely everyone is so jolted full of caffeine while they are there that they need 'soothing' music just so that they don't climb the walls...So what you have a is a collection of songs with so little dynamics that they should be used chiefly to put people to sleep and should bear a warning on the cover, "DO NOT use these while driving.  May cause spontaneous naps."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Last Day at USNA

Ed, Chris, Brad, Ramon, GrayC, Barbara, Lynn, Tanya, Mariah, Amanda, George, Coley, Joe, me, Joan, Jeanette, Pat, Nate, Michael.
If you've been following the lunch stories, here is a photo of my last lunch hour at the US National Arboretum for 2010.  This photo includes most everyone who has been featured in a lunch story ( Read Critters and Lunchtime...) except for Tony, who somehow escaped the photo op but who was actually present.  I think it was the Dove Ice Cream Bars that drew everyone to the celebration (provided by my boss Lynn, as a special going away treat!)  The conversations were entertaining and juvenile as usual, including an especially disgusting discussion of how Mayonaise is really just 'sandwich lube.' Ew....

During the internship Lynn would assign homework each week and then would spend an hour or so testing  me on the information.  While we ate our ice cream, the Intern Coordinator asked which assignment I liked best.  My boss mentioned the assignment on the Grove of State Trees, which was to memorize the names of all the State trees and then be able to identify them by their leaves.  I confirmed that it was one of the hardest assignments but definitely my favorite one.  I think it goes without saying that the things most difficult to achieve are usually the sweetest in the end.  Of all the ballet roles I danced, my favorites inevitably began with tears after the first rehearsal because I was convinced that I wasn't capable enough to dance them and ended with more tears because I fell so in love with the ballets that I never wanted to stop dancing them.  (Combat, Sugar Plum Fairy, Sinatra Suite)

"Always leave 'em wanting more" is a show biz phrase. It definitely makes your heart beat faster when you leave craving more of something instead of having had your fill.  From that perspective, saying 'goodbye' when you're not ready to leave is a luxury. Still, the people I have gotten to know at USNA are charming and generous.  It would take me ages and ages to have my fill of them or the work I got to do there.

Happily, I WON my battle with Poison Ivy!! I never contracted it for the entirety of my 6 months in the Friendship Garden.

What is next?  Getting the mice and the soldiers on stage for the Nutcracker...   A trip to Australia!!  Selling Christmas tree's at Behnke's, applying for more internships... celebrating my first holiday season that isn't dictated by my ballet schedule....overwintering my little herb garden and missing my days at the National Arboretum. There will be lots of news to report.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


More typical lunchtime antics from the US National Arboretum...

Today amidst a conversation about burps vs belches....I leaned into George and said, "This is the dumbest conversation we've ever had..." George counters with, "I'd be careful, this might not be THE dumbest."

Which turned us on to revisiting the 'Best of Dumb" starting with a ridiculous 5th grade discussion from a few weeks back about hot peppers and how hot is hot and who can eat the hottest ones...enter Ed carrying a bag of potato chips that boasted the name 'Mamazuma's Revenge.' It then became about how many bags one man can eat and whether he licks the foil or not after he finishes it (Tony (from the original lunchtime blog post "Critters" )of course licks the foil and then sweats and complains about how hot his mouth is until the end of lunch.)  We revisit a discussion about whether it would be better to drown or to be shot in the head, which is a lively yet disturbing and somewhat dark debate that doesn't end...Even when we revisit, it just starts the debate again...incidentally most of the women and George picked drowning and all the other men picked getting shot in the head...and they would defend it all day if lunch wasn't only a 1/2 hour long....

Then we move onto other childish activities... Too start ---and this is true-- if you take a plastic jar of JIF peanut butter that is 1/2 full and spin it like a top, it makes the most amazing sound.  Its a sound you could never identify, kind of like a spinning turbine, we (and when I say 'we'  I mean Pat and Joe) start with one jar that has been unrefrigerated and test it against a refrigerated jar.  I'm pretty sure 'unrefrigerated' won out for sound AND the cool shape the Peanut butter was spun into on the inside of the jar.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, it is like show and tell for nerdy adults.

Another day someone brought in Japanese raspberries from Asian Valley.  They are very beautiful to look at but not to eat. Almost everyone tried them and almost everyone said that they "tasted like a caterpilar"-ew- I didn't try one...and then Michael remembers that he has a sling shot and then the fun really begins...I'm not kidding...everyone cleans up though which is nice and no one aims the sling shot at anyone's face, which is nice too.

The best part is that at the same table on any given day are a pile of old Horticulture or wildlife magazines that someone is giving away or a cake or roasted pumpkin seeds that someone brought in to share. Those things spark lively debates too...how to roast the best pumpkin seed, which birds are still endangered (because the magazines are from 1990) and any talk of endangered species usually gets people worked up about whether the Panda should be saved or not. Add to that talk of whether it's fair to close a perfectly good fishing beach, just to preserve some unknown endangered bird's nest...

In the end after reminiscing through the 'best of dumb', Ed walks in. This is the same Ed from before with the spicy potato chips.  Today he's splurged and gone to get a sandwich from A. Litteris  --a famous DC Italian Grocer since 1926.  Suddenly Ed is unwrapping a small block of esoteric Italian cheese that sells for $25 a pound.  Then he passes samples to everyone and compares it to some other snooty cheese he's familiar with.  This is what I love about this place.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


White Oak (Quercus Alba) in the Friendship Garden USNA
It's fascinating the way a plant thrives in the perfect conditions, in comparison to the way it manages to just survive in less than ideal conditions.  The way it will bloom and take advantage of all that it has been given or hunker down and just try to not to die.  This summer was a perfect example of the latter because of the drought.  Some plants made it and some didn't.  For example: There was a Ginkgo that turned brown and dropped it's leaves.We thought was dead, but we watered it anyway.  Once it had the water it needed, it produced more leaves (albeit smaller versions of themselves) and got back on with the business of producing and storing energy. If you look around DC you'll see that many young Sycamores lost their leaves early this year, many Beeches, Maples, Plums and Pears had leaves with brown edges in the middle of August.  This is an example of the way plants sacrifice their ephemeral parts when necessary. Survival first, production later. When the environment makes it safe to spend energy producing leaves again, the trees do not hold back.

And so I'm reminded of the things humans have in common with plants ...We too are endowed with the natural instinct to survive in the face of adversity.  We too, instinctively turn-off the parts of ourselves that seem un-neccessary, heavy or painful during times of stress or tragedy in order to 'keep on keeping on."  Like plants we have survival modes, times when we go dormant or hibernate.

But there is a price to prolonged exposure to stress-- on plants or on people--be it drought, flood, fear or famine --even when we survive, we have scars to show for it. The Ginkgo survived but its second set of leaves are smaller, and next year they will be small again.  Over time this can weaken the tree because the less green surface area on the leaves, the less energy it can produce. If the next few summers are more hospitable the Ginkgo should catch up, but if the stress is prolonged year after year, the Ginkgo will decline. It will forget how to fully embrace it's environment and eventually it will die. Humans are this way.  We have memory of pain and then fear of more pain.  As a survival technique, we teach ourselves the best ways to avoid pain.  This weakens us in the long run too because the more stress we sustain, the less likely we are to throw our hearts out there and really be able to thrive. 

Survival is key, and we should applaud ourselves for getting through rough times....but there is more for us.   We need to thrive as opposed to just maintain the status quo.  Thriving is crucial for personal achievement, for breaking the mold, for having a life and relationships that are exceptional.  Plants "turn-on again" as soon as the conditions allow it.  They re-grow their leaves, produce flowers and seed because they know that thriving is essential to increase their species.  Nature is harsh and the fittest survive.  When we turn parts of ourselves OFF in order to survive in difficult times, it's important we find a way to turn-them-back-on once it's safe to start thriving again.  If we can't-- if we don't--we will not get to experience growth --we will not be fulfilled.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Today it is starting to look like winter.  The sky has a white color and the leaves are on the ground.  The air is still warm and so it feels like back to school time.

I have two weeks left at the National Arboretum and so I've been thinking about how lucky I feel to have landed the internship and how appreciative I am to my boss, who hired me, and has been teaching me everything I am willing to learn in six months. 

While raking in the Friendship Garden last week, --the Friendship Garden is full of White Oaks that are at least 50 years old, Sweet Gum trees, Hickories and Hawthorns--Lots of leaves to rake equals lots of time to think.... I got to thinking about how fortunate I've always been in the teacher department.

It began with my Dad, who taught me about hard work and giggling...oh, and how to look for things.  Then there is my mom who taught me about discipline and being creative.  My oldest and dearest friend Nicole taught me to tie my shoes when we were both four years old. 

Then my 1st and 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Arms along with my 3rd grade teaching Mrs. Fisher, taught me to write and re-write stories until they were award winning.

My 5th grade teacher, Mr. H taught me to appreciate exponents and became a family friend. Same with my Jr. Highschool Glee Club teacher, Ms. Mack and my math teacher Mr. Smith.

Mr. Walker taught me to love proofs and good stories in Geometry and Mrs. Doughty, the visual art teacher, taught me problem solving- with art as the tool.  Mr. Farrell, taught us good taste in composers and how to perform at Harrisburg Arts Magnet School.  Jenna, my best highschool friend taught me how to make a holiday out of a normal day.

There are my ballet teachers Mrs. Purvis, Richard, Forry and Violette who taught me to be exceptional.  Now there is Kee who is teaching me how to be a teacher. 

I could go on and on.  Teacher's contributions are voluminous, they are exponential.  They are actually shaping what happens next in the world. I don't know how I got the best of the bunch in one lifetime...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Letting someone else be the star (the plants)

End of the season Zinnias
The more I work with plants the more they shine.  They do what they naturally do and I stand back and enjoy the miracle.  People don't come to the Arboretum to see me, they come to see the plants.  That changes my perspective on the word 'show.'

The whole thing is kind of miraculous.  We don't invent plants, we don't sew or glue them together.  We plant the seed and it sprouts with a whole life plan laid out in its genes. Once it sprouts I become more an audience member than a performer, (well maybe a stage hand...)  Becoming a gardener really means becoming a guardian, observer and a care-taker...  I think this must be a little like motherhood....It's as easy to figure out the probable growth habit of a plant as it is to know the probable development of a human being, but the beautiful part is that we can't predict each detail, each reaction, we don't know exactly how things will turn out. That is what makes living things individual and significant.

The gardening season is winding down and we are onto tasks of cleaning, cutting, raking, & mulching. I have nearly worn out my gardening shoes and more than one pair of gloves.  All summer I kept the insect repellent industry in business, finally mastered the start -up of the leaf blower (in case you haven't been keeping up with my progress, read the Blog from July 10th -- this is BIG!) I love my Felco pruners and pretty much recovered from the ailment I like to refer to as 'gardener's shoulder.' I can spot poison ivy a mile away and so far am still avoiding the itchy rash. I can identify nearly every plant in the Friendship Garden and know how to repair irrigation. It's been fascinating see how the grasses shine in Fall, bulbs and trees are stars of the Spring, the sun-lovers take the leading roles in Summertime and the berries provide color on shrubs you never notice until it snows. Near the top of my "best things about my job at the Arboretum list" are the things I'm seeing about life reflected from the plants themselves...

leaves from a Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis)
For example: Contrary to my former belief, it turns out that Autumn is not only about death or endings.  Autumn is just a costume change. The leaves don't fall off the tree because they've lost their will to live.The falling leaves actually represent the tree's intense tenacity for staying alive. The tree knows that soon the only available water will be frozen, so it lightens its load and sends its 'kids' (acorns, seeds etc.) into the world to propagate, close to the ground where they can root.  Then it stops performing photo synthesis, which is the reason the bright reds and yellows on the leaves are revealed.  The tree sends its decorators (leaves) out for the season and sets its buds before it gets cold.  Then it uses the stored energy (glucose) as insulation for winter....Just when we think the leaves are 'dying' -- the tree is actually doing what it needs to do to keep living.

"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom."
Marcel Proust 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Nursery school

As part of my transition,  I've taken on a job at Behnke's Nursery in Potomac.  It forces me to practice plant ID and really understand each individual plant's needs. I am a floater, so i work in houseplants, woody plants, perennials and annuals doing just about anything they can think up for me.  It is also forcing me to work on my 'dealing with rich obnoxious clueless entitled people customer service skills.' To help you understand what I mean:  the median income of this neighborhood is $150,000 and the median value of a home is 1.5 million.  So there you have it.  These people can't tell a mum from a clump of weeds unless there is a big sign and even then, they might not see it and they will blame you if you are standing there....In other news: I am a published writer now!  Just little articles here and there on plants!

Here are the links:



Transitioning into plants has been a wealth of opportunity for me, not really a financial windfall but an educational windfall and a chance to meet all kinds of people everyday (not just the ones I mentioned earlier, great generous smart people too.)  Interesting thing about opportunity: you can't bottle it and use it later.  It has no shelf life.  You can't take a raincheck, you have to be ready to do something with it when it shows up.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


This is a photo album of some critters at the Arboretum.  I haven't been able to capture many quality photos lately, as about a month ago, I broke my camera.  The critters missing from this post are a pair of hummingbirds that have been flitting around the hosta blossoms, too fast to catch, many kinds of bees, wasps, various moths, black and yellow swallow tail butterflies and monarchs all very attracted to Purple Flox, Sedum and Russian Sage this time of year.  There have been a few juvenile Northern Cardinals and a large turtle who hisses when I get near him...probably because I picked him up and carried him around upside down one day last week.  (I am like a three year old, I have a hard time leaving the wildlife alone. This you will see is a common trait with garden people, so I guess in that way I fit right in.) 

The critters I have been able to capture on film are:  A blue butterfly,  a praying mantis, a stick bug, a nasty looking spider, and a teeny little ridgeback turtle.The pink flowers are called "Turtle Head" (Chelone) (because their blossoms look the heads of turtles). 

The photo featuring the Cicada and the mini Praying Mantis is from lunch time at the Arboretum and this one deserves some explanation. Tony is the IPM (Integrated Pest Management) specialist at the Arboretum.  As this story progresses, you'll see that Tony is a little intense and seems kind of mean, so I am surprised when I find out that he has a 5 year old daughter and that he is considering taking her to see the Nutcracker this Christmas...but don't worry that is not the subject of this story.  To continue, Tony seems to be over 40 based on his fed up speeches about how he isn't going to 'kiss @ss' any more now that he's over 40...A few weeks ago he 'adopted' an injured cicada bug and tortured it and all of us when he held its one functioning wing, forcing it to make the loud annoying cicada sound.  He carried this bug around with him for at least two days, and since it couldn't fly, it just clung to his shirt. 

(The ratio of men to women in the Gardens Unit at the Arboretum is about 10 to 1, and that particular day I was the only girl sitting at the lunch table.)

I'll set the scene for you... Tony walks in from one side of the building with his cicada pet/friend.  Either Coley, Pat, Nate, Michael or Joe walk in the other door with a small praying mantis. All gather at the table (where people are trying to eat.)  In the meantime everyone else is ooohing and aaahhing over a weird little catapillar on the Black Eyed Susans that are in a glass with water on the table.  (It's like show and tell for nerdy adults)  First everyone just tries to keep eating.  Then Tony starts by annoying everyone with his bug friend. After that he dares people to eat it, and even offers money to anyone who will agree to eat it, except Pat because Pat will eat anything...in the background of the photo you can see Nate eating cheetos, which I know they tried to feed to the cicada at some point.  The funny thing about these people is that being nerds they know that cicadas don't eat at all in their insect form, and they argue and debate this point while they attempt to get the cicada to eat the cheetos.  Eventually Tony gets bored of torturing the cicada.  At that point he and the other 'gentlemen' at the table get the bright idea to see if the cicada and the praying mantis will fight.  At this point that I snap the photo, feeling bad for the little delicate mantis.  I"ll just say this, the cicada lost one or both of his eyes prior to the 'fight' so either he couldn't see the mantis or he didn't care.  The mantis ran away as fast as he could.  Turns out that neither bug was interested in the other bug.  Eventually someone put the little Praying Mantis on the Black-eyed susans and he probably ate the catapillar because praying mantis's like to eat smaller insects.  This is a recap of a semi-typical  lunch on any given weekday at the National Arboretum.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Squash Vine Borer ...ew

Well it's official...I have the plague of the squash vine borer here in DC.  My squash and zucchini first showed signs in May when I planted them and now they are almost completely dead and still producing very little, sometimes rotted, always stunted fruits.  I haven't discovered as yet how to prevent them (it is too late to save this year's crop I think.) There is also a catapilar eating the blooms off my flowers. boo.  In other news: The herbs are all thriving, except for Dill who is beginning to go to seed.  I am still beating poison ivy in the challenge to stay poison ivy free until November ( the end of my internship at the Arboretum.) I had a close call the other day when I got into it and then washed my arms with TECNU.  After work I had some itchy suspicious red bumps on my wrist.  Either it was nothing or the TECNU got rid of the oil before it could really get inflamed and react.  And still I've been able to avoid a farmer tan.  Set small goals, people. It makes life grand :-)  

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Since life can't be just about flowers and vegetables, I'll update you on some other happenings... The following stories involve my car insurance company ( I won't name names.)  First, the key to my car actually got stuck in the lock on the driver's side door.  I am old school--so I don't have the remote lock. At this point I'm halfway between DC (where I live, this will be important later) and Virginia Beach in Williamsburg, VA, where I have narrowly escaped spending $300 on a Kate Spade overnight bag, when I come to my senses and exit the store. I walk to my car and try to unlock the door.  Suddenly, the key is stuck. I can't open the door to the car, I can't start the car, I can't drive the car and it now it's raining.  "Ah ha!" I say to myself,  "I have roadside assistance through my insurance company.  I will call them!"  First they ask me if I'm sure I have roadside assistance.  Then they ask me if I'm sure I know my policy number and if I am actually insured by them...Finally they figure out how to work their computer to recognize me as a paying customer and this is their response,

"Well, we'll pay to get the door open for you, but if we have to extract the key, you'll have to pay for that, and the guy who opens the door won't know how to extract the key, so you'll have to pay for that too.  Probably you'll need to pay a tow truck to get your car to a garage and then pay someone there to build you a new transmission and create a brand new key...you'll have to pay for all that, and if you need a rental car during this process that will surely take your entire vacation, you'll have to pay for that as well. It's normal wear and tear, we don't cover that." 

At some point five hours and one monsoon later, a nice, very qualified locksmith comes to my rescue.  I'd like to give a shout out to Michael Wallin of Shorty Wallin Lock & Security in Hampton, VA for knowing what he is doing, and being nice and reasonable about it.  Eventually I was able to the leave Williamsburg (a little late but not much worse for wear.) 

Not long after this adventure I get a letter from my insurance company.  They are suspicions about my home address.  They don't seem to believe that I live in Pennsylvania, where my car is insured, and they want proof, they say, that I am a resident.  Now, between you and I, I haven't lived in Pennsylvania since about 2003.  Since then I actually held a residence in Norfolk, VA where I payed utility bills and taxes.  They never said anything about it then.  Here in DC, my circumstances are a bit different, so why NOW, after all this time, they are accusing me of some kind of fraud??  My reaction:  There is nothing 'Progressive' about either of these situations.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Transitions are hard...

Today I am learning apexes of leaves...today I am applying for jobs at nurseries...today I am applying to get licensed as a Certified Horticulturalist....today I'm trying to finish my first published article about tomatoes.  (Writing references correctly is a lot harder than I remember or maybe  I just really like to cut and paste.  Maybe I forget how to use the MLA handbook. Maybe I lost mine or more likely....my copy is outdated.)  Today I'm trying to imagine a holiday season filled with Poinsettias and potting soil instead of Tchaikovsky...Soon when people ask me if I 'dance' for the Washington Ballet, I will have to say, "I used to."  I can't get that to sit right with me.  Their eyes won't twinkle the way they do now.  No ones eye's twinkle when you say, "I'm a ballet teacher," at least not the way they do when they find out that you are actually someone who goes on stage, someone who 'goes on their toes.' Soon I will not be 'a ballerina.' That will be different.  In his book, The Chosen, Chaim Potok wrote, "Beginnings are hard."  Beginnings are hard, and so are endings. I'm not sure I'm ready.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cancer? or Malaria?

I know it's been a while.  This will be the first in a series of short anecdotal posts about 'circumstances' that I find myself in (usually laughing).

First, when I came to work at the Arboretum, I was on a big soap box against DEET and other chemicals found in bug repellent.  My co-workers warned, "Well, you eventually you'll have to choose between cancer or malaria. It's really one or the other."  Meaning: malaria (Or West Nile) from the mosquito bites or cancer from the DEET.

So, I started at the Arboretum and endured a few days of bites, until the unfortunate episode when the bug bite developed a red line like an arrow of poison headed straight for my ticker...  After that, I caved and purchased some nice smelling bug repellent with  a low percentage of DEET that moderately deterred the bugs from eating me alive.  With or without it, I seem to get mosquito welts on average of three times a day. Of course I would wait to apply it each day until a point when it seemed like I really 'needed' it....There I am, zenfully weeding-- when suddenly I am ON FIRE! I run for the bug spray.  They totally warn you not to spray the stuff on scratches, or other bites, wounds, etc.  Still it seems to calm the burning so I spray away.  Then it starts feeling like this low grade repellent is actually like a honing device, drawing them to me.

So, today I caved and sprayed DEEP WOODS OFF (about 100% DEET) on every inch of exposed skin, and all over my clothes too because I'm convinced they bite me straight through,  I guess I'm going with cancer.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Garden Party - results!!

Corn saute with lots of herbs, Root Beer Baked Beans, Peach pie with pecan strudel topping, phyllo pizza with garden tomatoes, water melon/feta salad sticks, bbq chicken and ribs, Porter Street Fizz and fruity mojitos...fun peeps...no bugs, good times.

Also pictured, my FIRST zucchini and grape tomatoes!!

Let's discuss the 'no bugs' statement.  I used a 'cutter' product designed to kill mosquitoes in your yard for a time.  I did it because the mosquitoes are ruling the world back there and making it impossible to enjoy the outdoors....however it did indicate on the package that if the bees were trying to polinate the clover while the product was wet, it was going to kill them!  It also said that it was dangerous for aquatic animals so watch the run-off if you live near water.  I had a kind of dilemna so I was very careful not to spray it on the area of the lawn that has the clover or get it anywhere near my herbs, veggies etc.  I have seen plenty of honey bees on the clover now and am hoping that they are going to be ok.  This is a classic dilemna that we are all faced with now.  

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Garden Party

That's right, thyme, variegated sage, dill, chives (grown from seeds!) grape tomatoes, basil, mint, curly and flat leaf parsley-  all cut for a cook-out tonight!  Photos of the food and fun to come on the next post.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


The score between me and the poison ivy is:   

 Poison Ivy: 0  Laurie: 18

( I have managed to keep an undefeated record for 9 weeks.  BUT, I got into a patch or two unexpectedly today, so I'm a little less confident than usual.  Check out this product that is supposed to take the oil off.  It's called Tecnu  we use it at the Arboretum as a preventative measure.)

I have succeeded at starting the leaf blower the last 3 attempts. Oh Sweet victory! Finally. I feel like a real big shot now that I can pull the thing hard enough.  I've also learned that when I start to smell gasoline, I have to close the choke... or is it close the throttle? ....well, obviously I'm a real pro...

As a member of the Arboretum staff, I was able to attend the Woody Plant Conference in Swarthmore, PA.  My co-workers told me that that these events are the most 'hoity-toity' events that the 'Green Industry' has...I cannot tell you what a relief it was to hear that news...I didn't tell them, but this event wasn't even a Level 1 of 'hoity-toity' in the ballet world. Honestly it was like the difference between a pic-nic and a Gala.

I was thrilled to find out that The Highline in NY was one of the gardens featured at the conference.  I was already planning a trip to NYC in August to see it (well really to see my best friends from college,)  (off the subject we are also going to Coney Island!)

Before New York though, we are continuing the work on our group design project.   We are creating a low maintenance Native garden around a public bathroom on the Arboretum grounds.  On Monday our design and planting plan is up for approval and in a few short weeks we will have to make a presentation to the Arboretum Staff.  The summer is flying by. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Leaf Blowing

Before now, my experience with leaf blowers was limited to passing a guy on the street, who would turn off the leaf blower long enough to let me pass. I had no idea he was 'giving it less throttle' to avoid blowing me and the leaves down the street. I had no idea that the Back-pack leaf blower I use is a '2 cycle engine' as apposed to a car, which has a 4 cycle engine.  In some sense, a two cycle engine is one that combines actions & has less parts, maybe this makes it faster? or lighter weight?...basically it means that the oil and the gas are combined, 50 to 1.  ( I sound like I understand what this means, but I don't)

So, the first step is starting the thing.  It looks like a plastic back-pack.  It has something called a choke, something else called a throttle.  It has something called a primer, and then a the thing that you pull (I have no idea what this is called.)  It's much like a lawn mower, from what I can gather, but for those of you who know me, I have never gotten very close to a lawn mower either.  There was a dance we used to do in college called the 'lawn mower' but we mostly used it for making fun of sorority girls (sorry ladies.)  Anyway, back to starting it, you have to find the perfect balance of choke and throttle or you flood the engine.  You also have to be able to pull the 'thing that you pull' really hard and fast.  My new goal besides avoiding poison ivy is to be able to start the leaf blower on my own.  Most days Ed stops by to see how I'm doing and he starts it for me.

For the most part, in my short experience , you mostly blow the leaves and debris from one area to another and some of it dissipates in the air so it looks like you are 'cleaning up' but really you're just blowing things around at a high velocity with a lot of noise.  Beware of the corners, where the debris likes to collect.  Point the leaf blower in the direction of the corner and watch a terrible funnel cloud develop that doesn't move the leaves anywhere except in your eyes, hair, throat and shoes, and generally gets me one allergy attack and one branch to the eye ball away from a hospital visit.

In closing, please don't underestimate the talents, abilities or even practiced methodology of the landscapers you pass by without hardly noticing, who are blowing leaves off the sidewalk or road--this activity is not easy.  I am possibly the worst leaf blower the Arboretum has ever seen.  I am quite possibly only doing this activity to provide comic relief to anyone looking on and I have to wear ear protection so I can't even hear them laughing at me!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Ready to Eat!!

The Garden is growing, and the green beans are almost ready to eat!  There is a tiny yellow squash just beginning.  We had a set back with some blossom end rot on the Roma Tomatoes.  I got some Lime to increase the level of calcium in the soil and used some dried up day lily foliage for mulch.  I think the problem is solved but only time will tell.  I moved some of the flowers and herbs into a container garden, where they seem a little happier.  A teeny tiny little Habanero pepper is growing in one of my containers for my friend Shannon's tasty homemade guacamole!  

This house abounds with great gardening practice projects for me.  Two of note are the containers in the entrance way.  They are almost full shade and previously (of course i forgot to take a 'before' photo...duh) were filled with thirsty creeping jenny, a few bushy ugly boxwoods, some random mint and oregano that I over wintered there.  U-G-L-Y.  So I kept one little boxwood each and trimmed them up, added two shade loving Hardy Begonias.  They will get pink flowers but in the mean time have gorgeous pink and green foliage.  I added a Hosta (I forget the type ooops)  to each container AND put some Daffodil bulbs I accidently dug up the other day as a treat for the spring.  The second project I took on a whim this morning.  Well...it's been floating around in my mind for about a week to cut back the roses in the yard to get them ready for their second bloom in the fall.  So picture this:  me and my PJs at 9am on July 4th, rain boots and a sweatshirt, no gloves ( how sharp could the thorns on roses really be?) and a cute pair of pruners.  These roses were a force to be reckoned with.  Vines and branches at least 10 feet long.  It was a prickly forest. But I have to say, rosewood smells nice.  I was bleeding by the end and discovered that rose thorns are a little like splinters.  Note to self:  go get the gloves next time.  Next up: trying to get all the prickly trimmings into a trash can. So far I haven't solved that step.  For now, they are in a nice shady pile for later or maybe for a facilities person who will want to pick them up before they try to mow the yard?....hmmmm.  Found a holly bush/tree with a long useless branch like a bridge over to the roses across the yard. mess.   Next projects:  pull out English Ivy ( Hedera helix)
in two separate yard spots, weed a bit of the old flower garden.  HARVEST green beans!!!!  Don't forget to check out the slide show of the fieldtrips we've taken at the Arboretum. Happy 4th of July!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Irrigation is my new responsibility in the Friendship Garden.  That and 'Team Leader' of the Summer Intern Group Project (more on that later).  Irrigation is a funny thing...When you turn on the irrigation, you shouldn't hear or see anything. There is a sweet little drip that should come out the bottom of the tubing to saturate the ground around it without you ever knowing what is happening.  But, you end up nicking the irrigation tubing with tools as you weed.  When you hear hissing or see a big fountain of water, apparently it's time for an irrigation repair...who knew?!  So-- we have what we call 'double male' connectors (use your imagination) and we are instructed to cut the tubing where the leak is and then (while the water is flowing) shove this plastic connector into the tubing.  Hmmmm, so far, this is a recipe for getting soaked.  I 'repaired' about 4 of these things today, and I am still not sure that I didn't make the problem worse.  What I am sure of is that I got all wet this morning.  Maybe 'irrigation repair' should be left for the steaming hot 90 degree afternoons. In other news, it's about 7-0 me against the poison ivy.  (I have to say it's a much better record than the Orioles this season.)  I am now in charge of marking the perilous little plant with florescent orange markers whenever I come across it.  Here is a list of skills I've acquired so far working at the Arboretum (in order of skill level)  avoiding sun burn, weeding, digging, weed recognition, poison ivy i.d. in the friendship garden, driving the pick-up/dump truck, working the walkie talkie, avoiding bug bites, plant i.d. in the friendship garden, leaf blowing, working the USDA computer system, irrigation repair...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Poison Ivy

I've recently spotted Poison Ivy in the Friendship Garden.  The fact that I've been able to avoid it so far has inspired a new goal.  "Avoid Poison Ivy for the entirety of my internship"

So far I've seen seven patches of it over a three day period.  I'll count each day as one for either me or one for the poison ivy.  Score so far is:  Laurie : 3 Poison Ivy : 0.  Other pests: rain, sunburn, mosquitoes and spiders have all gotten at least one over me already, but so far I'm in the lead over that pretty looking three leaved little menace.  Speaking of which, while on the look out for the sinister vine, I've spotted some other plants that force me to do a double take before I realize I'm safe:  Wild strawberry has three leaves, but they are rounded, so you can breath a sigh of relief and maybe find a sweet little snack there too.  Mulberry weed reminds me of it.  There is a five leaved vining weed that sometimes loses a leaf or two and scares scares me.  When the Poison Ivy is in a deeply shaded area, it doesn't have the red or the tell-tale shine to it, so sometimes you can think you are about to pull out a little acorn sprout and then realize you are about to grab the stem of the itchyest stuff on earth.  Poison Ivy apparently thrives on carbon dioxide.  Since the amount of CO2 in the air is increasing the poison ivy is running rampant around here.  I've seen it wrapping around trees with leaves as big as six inches long.  It's extremely invasive and nasty.  Round-Up will kill it, and lucky for me, Ed, the professional gardener sprays the Round - Up for me whenever I point out a new sneaky batch of it!  So which one of these photos is poison ivy?....no but I put a photo of the real thing a few blogs ago. I proud to report that I helped Nicole and Mark start the war with it at their house just last night!  Anyway, for those of you who are worried, I'm wearing gloves and trying not to get too confident....cross your fingers.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


The Porter Street Garden is well on its way!  First yellow squash blooms, then tomato blossoms, now little purple flowers on the beans.  And look out for the first little green Roma Tomatoes.  Luckily, so far, the beans are growing faster than any of the weeds.  I have noticed that something is eating my Basil and my Zinnia leaves at night, but only a few little bites, hmmmm. Any thoughts on who is eating these leaves?

I've recently acquired a lilac tree, (this is USNA introduction "Declaration" and it will grow about 8.5 feet tall and 6.5 feet wide in 25 years.)  a viburnum, (USNA in"Shasta" will grow to be 6.5 feet tall and 11.5 feet wide.) and some wild ginger.  I planted the wild ginger in the shade, and it is loving it's new home.  I'm waiting to plant the other two, but I would love to have your thoughts about the best way to prepare the soil for both.
It will take some time to clear the English Ivy and the other weeds in the yard.
I got to ride in a cherry picker last week at the Arboretum, (Cheers to my Uncle Johnny who is a professional at riding in the cherry picker!) I learned to identify two different types of miscanthus, and a few different Rudbeckias.  Apparently Rudbeckias are Asters but for now almost all Asters look alike to me.  Wearing bugspray and sunscreen is helping, but I swear the bugs find the one spot on my skin where the OFF isn't and they dig right in!  Assignment:  Find out the difference between a Rhizome and a Stolon and the scientific difference between trees and shrubs-- Interesting fact, Viburnum and Crepe Myrtles are both shrubs.

Friday, June 4, 2010


Here is the run down of my 'war wounds' from my first two weeks as a gardener.  Bug bites...I guess these are  par for the course.  One of the bug bites though isn't acting like a mosquito bite and has developed a little red line, which I suspect is the bug's venom racing towards my heart.  (If I end up in cardiac arrest, you'll know why.)  I've now had to resort to using OFF (even though it contains Deet, which I claim to be against).  A bruise on the palm of my hand where I've been bumping the asparagus fork unto the ground to uproot the weeds.  A big ugly scrape on my shin bone where I accidentally tripped over a metal plant marker.  I'm sure you can imagine how cute and tough I am ...but in other news, so far I've avoided a farmer's tan!  I'm so dirty at the end of the day, even my socks are filthy!  Yesterday I decided to wear shorts since they were calling for 90 degree heat.  I won't make this mistake again.  Kneeling in the dirt in shorts is a lot less fun than kneeling in the dirt in pants and shorts are like a welcoming sign to the mosquitoes (who i was SURE would get sick of biting me after a while...boy was I wrong!)  Anyway, it's long pants from now on for me at the Arboretum. I will say that I LOVE my overpriced trail running shoes.  I guessed right in that department about what was needed.  They are lightweight and dry quickly and don't make my feet hot! I found a big patch of poison ivy in the Friendship Garden. (Proud to say I still recognize its three little loathsome leaves after our showdown in the 3rd grade, which I lost.)  This week I weeded a bed of Blood Grass that had other similar looking grasses taking over.  Turns out you can recognize the 'wrong' grasses in this case by their triangular shaped stem.  I learned that Sea Oat's do not let go of the earth easily and neither do most of the other weeds- like dandelions.   I am learning to recognize specific sneaky little (and big) weeds that mimic the real plants so that it's harder to notice them.  Turns out the flower we saw on the on the Mother's Day Hike was a Wild orchid.  Funny enough we treat them like weeds at the Arboretum and pull them out! I dug up some really pretty Ligularia dentata and some wild ginger because it had migrated away from it's rightful spot. Got to go on a boat ride down the poor, sad, polluted Anacostia River. There are serious clean-up efforts in effect. But for now, you can't eat the fish or swim in the water.  We did get to see a Bald Eagle pair and it was a beautiful day for a boat ride.  I realized that the Interim Director of the National Arboretum MARRIED my brother and sister-in-law last June!  What a crazy coincidence. Got to go to a luncheon with the staff of the Bonsai Collection, the Friendship and Youth gardens.  What a lovely group of people.  Their hearts are in their work; and they route for eachother.  All  around it's a refreshing experience. What an eventful two weeks.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Quick Change

In performances sometimes you have to make a quick change.  Any time you have to change your hair, costume, character, shoes, etc. in under three minutes or so,  it's considered a 'quick change.' It's an achievement to seamlessly navigate a change like that during a performance.  So, Sunday evening, I looked like this (with my friend and housemate, Shannon before Push Comes to Shove.) Monday morning I looked like this (in the little cushman pick-up/dump truck at the National Arboretum.)  It was exactly 12 hours from when came off stage and when I had to be at my first day orientation at the USDA headquarters in Maryland.  This was definitely a 'quick change.'