Full of Waste Alternative

If you enjoy public parks, walking your dog and alternative/green energy solutions, then this story is for you. That’s an electrifying thought: power through the methane gas produced by waste.

Mr. Buttons

I personally like this because it solves more than one problem at a time. This gives animal owners more than one reason to clean up after their pets. The education of pet owners has come a long way since I was a child — and thank goodness. Picking up pet waste isn’t just for the smell, it also helps keep our local water sources clean. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says pet waste is a significant cause of water body contamination in areas where there are high concentrations of dogs. This is important because we drink the water that is contaminated by animal waste. It isn’t just the large feed lots that produce enough waste to contaminate our local water sources.

Doggie doo harbors coliform bacteria, which includes E. coli, a bacterium that can cause disease, and fecal coliform bacteria, which spread through feces. Dogs also carry salmonella and giardia. Environmental officials use measurements of some of these bacteria as barometers of how much fecal matter has contaminated a body of water.

The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association’s statistics show that Americans owned 54.6 million dogs in 1996 and 68 million dogs in 2000. Of that total, 45% were “large” dogs — 40 pounds or more. Food in;  poo out. If that many people were leaving their waste in public parks, we’d have a riot on our hands.

Bottom line: it’s not fertilizing, it’s polluting. Let that thought power the light bulb that ought to go off the next time you walk your dog so that you bring along a bag to remove and dispose of your pet’s waste in a responsible manner.

(Under) Ground Cherries

Spending time with my brother in Ithaca is always entertaining. Harold is a long time vegetarian and he and his wife are wonderful cooks. Each time I am with them I learn new ways of preparing food — plainer, simpler, yet yielding more complex textures and tastes.

Ground Cherries on the Counter

Sabrina has a lovely kitchen garden growing outside the back door. A hop, skip and a jump down the steps and you start tripping over greens, tomatoes and ground cherries. Yup. Those same free-to-me ground cheeries I’ve been ripping out of my garden all these years because <sob> I did not know they were edible — no, more than edible, delicious!Tomatillo looking things, these tiny yellow-green spheres pack a delicious whelp of  flavor. I could taste a tomato influence, but the taste was sharper, more More — if that makes any sense. I scarfed up handfuls at a time.


We had burritos one night, a delicious blend of stir fried tofu (Use the extra firm — worth it!) and vegetables, with a dolop of beans to hold it all together. Salsa of the homemade variety would go really well with this. Found an excellent recipe or two for Ground Cherry Salsa through my online search for ways to use this magnificent little vegetable that I am dying to try. I even found a recipe from Mother Earth News for a Ground Cherry Pie. Now that would be interesting.

I’ve been wondering what other wonderful treats I’ve been missing, so am off to do a collection and identification project on my weed collection. I excel in weed production so it would be some kind of wonderful if they all turned out to be as terrific as the ground cherry. Wish me luck.

Happy gardening!

Write to Life

I have lost track of the number of times I’ve quit writing over the last few years. I have a heck of a time motivating myself, which probably means I should hang up my word processor right this very second. I need an external cattle prod that promises mayhem in my life if I don’t finish up the work and do it right — and right now. So each time I quit, I vow abstinence. I will never write again.

But…I can’t keep away. Characters come out of the woodwork every time I try to quit. “Write me,” they say. “Write me to life.”

So I do. I wrote for a time about a knitter. She solved crimes in Ithaca NY, with the help of her knitting circle friends. The fact that there is a wonderful knit shop in downtown Ithaca helped with research — although I never told the owner why I was prowling her shop. I loved the excuse to go up there to visit my brother — and the fact that Ithaca is home to some terrific Independent bookstores in which I love to shop didn’t hurt either. This character had so much potential in fact that an agent took her on — only to find that Maggie Sefton‘s manuscript, Knit One, Kill Two, had found its way onto the very editor to whom the agent was pitching my book.  Knit One, Perk Two (because the shop where my book was set doubled as a coffeeshop) arrived on the editor’s desk the day after hers had been bought. I was pretty bummed, so quit writing again.

I have a wonderful character with whom I’ve worked on and off for twenty years. Charlotte is a daredevil artist/spy who also works as a Nanny. I had a brush with an agent with her too, but when the agent found out that I had queried her with an unfinished manuscript, that relationship died right then and there. Again, like a fool, I let it get to me and packed up my gear and put it away.

If you’re thinking about now that I am a writing wimp, then you are correct. But I am a writing wimp who evidently loves to come back for more punishment. If this makes me a wimpy masochist then so be it.

And so it has gone over the past seven years. Characters call, I work with them a time, then I pack them away into their files as if they had no merit.

This summer, after about the fifty-fifth time I’d quit writing, I pulled out a notion I’d had for quite some time and never allowed myself to tackle — a work for children. I wrote three chapters, liked it pretty well, but the Nanny was pulling at me and she seemed more likely to sell — if I got her book completed. I was close to finished with Charlotte when I attended a family reunion in Tennessee. While there I took the time to visit with Deb Adams and Mary Saums. We spent a great deal of time catching up during that visit. One of the topics we discussed was what writing we were doing. I shared about the progress I’d made on the long-awaited second Nanny book (the first one was written about fifteen years ago and is holding down the bottom drawer of my desk — deservedly so) and this long-shot idea I had about a children’s equestrian book.

Lo and behold, but my Wicked Muse Deb did it to me again. She mentioned the idea to a new start-up press and they made me an offer. Now all I have to finish the book, get an agent to rep it, and Bob’s your uncle. It is amazing what a boost a little deadline action can give your ability to stay in the chair and work.

Happy Reading!

There’s a Fungus Among Us

A little over a week ago, I went to my Mom-in-law’s high-rise apartment for supper. The fact that I was there turned into a opportunity to be helpful and I was immediately dragged out to diagnose a troubled plant. The three daughter-in-laws pot-scaped her balcony for Mother’s Day and there was trouble in paradise. One of the plants we’d chosen for her, a beautiful bi-color mandevilla, had developed spotty leaves and was losing them at a great rate, despite regular watering. Since I am hopeless at diagnosing plant illnesses, I suggested that she take a leaf to the local nursery and see what they made of it.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have done that. It cost her over forty dollars for the diagnosis of fungus. Well, not for the diagnosis, but for the bottle of chemical “treatment” they sold her. We’re both a little frustrated about that. But, while she’s away, I may try this home remedy I discovered using Baking Soda as a Fungicide. If’ I’ve cured Mr. Mandevilla by the time she gets back, she can return the expensive bottle and call me a genius. (In the Apple sense of the word.)

Cornell Plantations, a wonderful resource for gardeners, has done further research on this. I had the privilege of visiting their facility this week while visiting my brother in Ithaca, NY. Cornell’s researchers (AKA Dr. R. Kenneth Horst and many others) did some extensive studies on the use of Baking Soda for treatment of funguses on plants and discovered that yes, if combined with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil can be quite effective. Without the additive to help the spray stick to the leaves, all you get is burn which is not exactly what I have in mind when I want to impress my favorite Mom-in-law.

Organic Gardening published a wonderful article on rose care written by Annie O’Neill on their website. She shared what she calls the Cornell Mix Fungal Spray:

Fungal infections. Spray compost tea on both sides of the foliage. Always remove any diseased plant material immediately. Spray with Cornell Mix Fungal Spray:

1 tablespoon baking soda A few drops horticultural oil or Ivory soap

1 gallon water

Combine the ingredients in a gallon jug and fill a spray bottle with the mix. Spray susceptible plants every five days.

I go up to check on Mom’s flowers on Wednesday, Cornell spray in hand. Wish me luck!


Seeds for Pakistan

By now everyone knows that Pakistan was recently hit by floods which have affected an estimated 62,000 square miles of land, including some of the most productive agricultural land in that country. The farmers in the region lost seed, mature plantings and orchards, and precious planting time.

Yet all is not lost. Floodwaters, once they recede, will leave behind rich new topsoil in which seed will thrive. So although many of the crops once planted there are in ruins, there is hope for the future. Pakistani farmers will need aid from outside the country. Most do not have reserves with which to rebuild. Remarkably, aid from Western countries has been slow in coming to this hard-hit region. We have an opportunity to give directly to family farmers who can then plant, tend, harvest and feed themselves and their neighbors, bringing some measure of self-sustenance and stability back into their lives.

Through Kitchen Gardens International, there is a member-driven initiative to donate seed to family farmers. The following is a quote from a farmer in the affected region outlining what she feels will do well in her area and her mailing address.

Salma Kamal

Farm No 6-B,

Street 11,

Chak Shazad Farms,




If possible ,registered post would be preferable for sure and safe delivery.

Both hybrid and open pollinated will do.As long as they are viable.

Pakistan climatic zone is formed under strong influence of monsoons. The climate of Pakistan is mostly tropical except for the northwestern part where it is subtropical and dry. Following vegetables are grown here.

Carrot,Cauliflower,Cabbage,Chilies,Cucumber,Garli,Onion,Peas,Potato,Radish,Spinach,Sweet Tomato,Turnip,beet root,broccoli,Brussels sprouts,.Button mushroom,Celery,Chinese mushroom,Choongan ( Caralluma tuberculata),Clover ( Sengi),Egg plant,.Pursalane,. Arum.,.(Colocaria esculenta).,Bitter gourd ,Okra, French Bean,Fennel-bulb,Globe Artichoke,pumpkin,Shallot Green,snake gourd.,snake beans.,Water melon,sweet potatoes.

Salma has taken photos of the packages she has received and posted them online. I have a package ready to go. Will post results when I hear from Salma that it has arrived.

Be the change you wish to see in the world

— Ghandi

Slow as Molasses

Fire ants hate it. Stink bugs explode from the inside out…And yes, it hits the beneficials as well, but doesn’t linger the way the chemicals do…

What is the best secret weapon you can use against insect invasions in your garden?


The way the expert nurserywoman at RCW Nurseries in NW Houston explained it to me, insects cannot digest this particular form of sugar. As it moves through their digestive system, it gives them gas. With the hard exoskeleton, this means the critter is smushed from the inside out. Almost seems mean doesn’t it? Color me bloodthirsty, but I really don’t miss having ant bites on my hands and legs all the time.

This all sounds great — no residue in the soil from chemicals with unknown side-effects, exploding those fire ants from the inside out, but what the heck is agricultural Molassas and is there scientific proof behind the practice?

From the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, CO (US), an abstract on the use of agricultural molasses by P. Simon mentions how the lack of runoff of nitrogen-based fertilizers would benefit ground water and cut the cost of chemical fertilizers. Molasses unlocks nutrients stored within the soil itself – a idea which really appeals to me.

According to material from Hawaii’s Agricultural Research Center:

It was added to soil as a fertilizer from time to time when the price happened to be low and served to increase sugarcane yields, particularly in low potassium areas (Anon. 1939, Story 1939). It soon became apparent that molasses was providing greater benefits to the crop in addition to nutrition. During the process of decomposition, molasses appeared to reduce damage to roots caused by root parasites (Anon. 1939, Story 1939).

In other words, it works. I decided to give this a try and trotted myself down to the local garden center. (See my Nursery page on my website for great resources in the Houston area.)

Here is RCW’s recipe for Insecticide:

  • 3 Tbsp Agricultural Molassas
  • 1 Tbsp Garlic Barrier
  • 1 Tbsp any organic liquid fertilizer

– Mix into one gallon of water and spray. For hose end prayers, add multiples of the recipe and set the dial to 5 Tbsp per gallon. Controls mosquitos up to 2 wks.”

I sprayed it directly on the garden bed before planting, and will reapply as needed for pesky repeat offender insects.

Happy Gardening!

What draws readers?

Have you ever wondered what makes people actually read blog posts? Me too. So I thought I’d try a catchy blog title to see if it picks up a hit or two. [The original title, Lose Ten Pounds in Two Days brought my regular readers, and no one else. It has been changed to protect the innocent.]

Of course, I have to stay on topic, so here goes:

If you want to lose Ten Pounds in Two Days, you can go on the starvation diet and hope for the best — or — you can write a book.

Yes! You heard correctly. Writing a book is a guaranteed way to lose weight.

You lose the weight of the hair you tear out in frustration when your characters refuse to go down the dark alley you told them to explore. You lose the weight of the fingernails you chew to the quick because you are ridiculously close to the deadline and still have half the book to write. You lose weight because you have no time for fixing a meal, no time to go to the grocery for frozen dinners, and since you’re still in your pajamas at four in the afternoon, you can’t tear through a drive-through for a food fix.

In addition, there’s the additional exercise you benefit from pacing the floor, flinging edited pages at the waste paper basket, and plucking the cat off your keyboard when she decides she’s waited long enough for you to notice that her food bowl is empty. (After all, that insistent meow says, she’s not on deadline, you are. She still needs to eat.)

Truth to be told I do lose weight when writing regularly. No time for snacks. Not as much television watching. More walking or gardening to work out plot snags. I drink much more water and far less soda. (The whole no time to go to the grocery store thing.) I will admit that during the editing phase, my manuscript loses more weight than I do. Much of what I write are things that I need to know, but that the audience for the actual book may not need or want to know. I write in a meandering path, so much of the extras have to hit the cutting room floor so to speak before the book is called done.

True confession: I’ve never managed to actually lose ten pounds in two days or even two weeks. Like everything else worth doing, losing weight — and writing books takes a little longer than two weeks.

Sorry — If only it was really this easy.

Adults from Little Children Grow

I had the opportunity to work at USPC Championships competitions for two weeks this summer — which kept me out of the garden, but exposed me to some wonderful kids, horses, families and volunteers. Children and their horses gathered the last week in July in Lexington, Virginia for USPC Champs – East, and the first week in August in Kansas City, Missouri for USPC Champs – MidWest. The second week of August was USPC Champs – West, but I sat that one out. (Two weeks is about two days over my past due notice for 14 hour days.) I enjoyed working with several very fine Chief Horse Management Judges, all of whom had unique and wonderful management styles. Watching these professionals at work, I gained some very valuable insights into how to manage herds of intelligent, active, competitive children and their parents.

A little background for those who haven’t a clue about what Pony Club/USPC is: We offer our membership the opportunity to learn and demonstrate both riding and care of the horse, both through the rating proficiency tests (similar to the rank program in Scouting) and through the Rally  (Pony Club Horse Show) experience, when parents are asked to work away from their children and the children are asked to take full responsibility for the care of their horse. During Rally, Horse Management judges assess how well — or how poorly — each competitor does their barn work, and how the team of competitors works together to accomplish their work. Horse Management points are deducted for work done on a sliding scale of expectations based on the Standards of Proficiency. (Someone at a lower Rating level is judged more leniently than those who have passed the higher Ratings.)

The majority of Horse Management Judges are  fair, firm, smiling faces. Every now and again you run into a judge lacking a ready smile. This can send some of the competitors into a tailspin as they made assumptions about how they would be treated because he did not begin and end each sentence with a smile.

There was one such judge in one phase of the Championships. During the first day or so of the Rally, I was impatient with this judge, silently wanting him to lighten up. After all, these were kids. However, as I worked with this judge, I saw something that I never expected to see. One young competitor, frustrated by what she saw as unwarranted deduction of points, asked him flat out if she could lodge a protest  — and not expect him to retaliate. His response was, “You’re here to learn how to stand up for yourself, not for us to hand you what you think you’re entitled to.”

I thought quite a bit about that statement. Do we do children a disservice by always providing “happy” interactions? My personal filter was set at “no” for that question. Surely having a smile on one’s face helps kids learn more easily? But the more I thought about it, the happier I was that this man was the way he was. Kids don’t need to be exposed to one kind of interaction and one kind only. They need experience both in a variety of situations and with a variety of personalities. Those competitors who stood up for themselves found it an empowering experience. Perhaps our children need more opportunities to face someone who isn’t outlining how to get around a penalty, someone who makes them do the work. When that happens, then the triumph of winning back those precious points becomes a much more powerful lesson about what it means to know the rules, know where their actions stand with respect to the rules, and what it takes to stand up for themselves. I found myself very happy that those children had the opportunity to fail or succeed under their own initiative — to know that the world doesn’t stop spinning if they lose a point over a dirty bit or hooves that haven’t seen the farrier in a month of Sundays — and to know that even stern folk respond well to arguments presented calmly, respectfully and factually.

What did I learn from these two weeks working with these three excellent judges? Know the rules. Don’t hesitate to look them up to double check your memory. Be fair when handing out penalties. Listen closely to what the person disagreeing with you says and the logic behind their argument. Discuss the issue dispassionately. Smiling has its place in the grand scheme of things, but it is no substitute for all the above. Perhaps most importantly, it proved to me that we are never too old to learn. Smiling folks and Oscar the Grouch both have something to teach us. Each of us has the right and the responsibility to look at the situation from all sides and decide whether we want to carry forward a positive lesson — or not.

Walking on Alligators

Susan Shaughnessy’s book, Walking on Alligators, is one of my favorite writing inspiration books. It follows the format of a daily devotional,  featuring a daily quote followed by a short essay by the author. I found this book through a recommendation by Vikk Simmons, a local-to-me writing instructor and personal friend. I was in the process of trying to meet a deadline for the first book I’d sold — which had the dubious status of not being complete when I sold it. I had three months until D-day — deadline. I was terrified. I was pretty sure that the publisher had made a huge mistake in offering me a contract, that the book would too short, or it would be too long — that is if it ever got finished. Of course, I was equally certain that if it did get to “The End” it would be horrible. You can imagine what effect this had on my writing.

Still, I have a good work ethic, so each morning I’d hit the alarm, grab some form of caffeine and glue myself to my desk chair. I would open WoA randomly and find that the quote I’d opened to was perfect in every way for the day. The day I was feeling especially panicked — I mean, for goodness sake, what was I thinking saying I’d take these nice folk’s money to write a book? I needed to take a class or two to learn how to do this properly. That one book I wrote wasn’t that good — I mean, how can I expect to teach myself how to write a novel?!?! I opened WoA to “The arc was built by amateurs, the Titanic by experts. Don’t wait for the experts.” — Murray Cohen. I promised myself another class after I finished the manuscript.

On the day  after I wrote a predictable chapter that was duller than dirt, I found “The desire for safety gets in the way of every and noble enterprise.” — Tacitus. I have no idea who this guy is, but he knew whereof he spoke. I revised the chapter and moved on.

“A poet or novelist will invent interruptions to avoid long consecutive days at the ordained page; and of these the most pernicious are other kinds of writing — articles, lectures, reviews, a wide correspondence.” — Shirley Hazzard. I have no idea how Shirley knew this, but her quote showed up the day after I’d signed up to edit a newsletter. Sorry Shirley, a day late on that one — but I took Shaughnessey’s hint at the bottom to heart — “Today, I’ll see what nibbles into my writing time. And I’ll decide what my choices are going to be.” (I limited the time per month I’d spend editing other people’s writing for that newsletter.)

As I got further into the draft of my book, I became tired, rushed, and frazzled so got more obsessive about reading the book in order. And the quote was still spot on for the day on which I read it.

Thanks to Shaughnessy and her inspirational book and a huge group of supportive friends and family, I got to the end of that first draft, revised the heck out of it, and turned in what came to be a fairly sucessful book, Three Dirty Women and the Garden of Death — nominated for an Agatha and Macavity Award for Best First Mystery.

I’m trying to finish up a book I haven’t yet sold. I’ve struggled with making progress on this, putting it off to do other things, and getting more and more frustrated with myself — and more and more grumpy. I pulled Walking on Alligators down from my writing books shelf this evening. The first quote I read was “People are always good company when they are doing what they really enjoy.” — Samuel Butler.

Guess I’d better get writing.

Flutter in the Wind

Monday is wash day. I sort, wash and then dry a week’s worth of linens, clothes, dishtowels, rags. I love my front loading washer, and my dryer makes me feel zen – well, ok, not exactly zen. This is still laundry. Responsible is a much better word.

How can doing laundry make me feel responsible? I wash in cold water and rinse in cold water — no heating of the water saves enough electricity to offset the times I stand in front of the refrigerator with the door open wondering when my personal summer will abate so that I can get on with my day. Then I dry my clothes – for free.

http://www.breezedryer.com/ Medium dryer.
Image from Breezedryer.com

Yup folks. I have a clothesline on my back porch, out of the sun – but perhaps more importantly – out of the line of sight of my neighbor with the binoculars who lives to find out how we are breaking the deed restrictions. Screened from view with an inexpensive roller shade from the local hardware store, my clothes flutter dry in peace and quiet – without the use of fossil fuels.

I come from a long line of natural dryers. Our basement in Kentucky was end-to-end clotheslines. My mother swore that her knits would never see the inside of a tumble drier. She maintained that the heat shrank most clothes and sucked the fibers of their natural elasticity.

According to Mr. Electricity, electric washers use approximately $193 worth of fuel per year to operate. That’s 50 cents a load. (Based on 7.5 loads, 15 cents per kWh) gas models use $120 per year, or 31 cents per load. (Based on 7.5 loads per week, $1.25/therm.) I do three to four loads of wash a week. According to Mr. Electricity’s handy little calculator, I compared the cost of doing four loads a week for the two of us, simply leaving the dryer out of the calculations on one column and leaving it in for the other. Total savings per year: $110.

The reasons I line dry are more than the small financial savings each year. The clothes smell better. I feel better about doing it. It takes very little time to hang the clothes and the only thing I have to do is make sure my neighbors don’t see the flutter of free drying. I use the same line clips my mother used – and some of those were her mother’s. For five minutes at a time I can almost feel them standing there with me. Worth every penny I’m saving – and then some.

Two off topic posts in a row. I promise to get back out to the garden next time. Hopefully the 100 degree heat will abate soon.

Happy gardening!