sunday posy :: chamomile or feverfew?

Molly and I look for opportunities to use many of the plants in our yard and neighborhood for all sorts of reasons — art, beauty, culinary use, etc. Lavender buds have made their way into tea, cake, lemonade, facial steams, and foot baths. Mint is muddled in drinks and infused in a custard base for ice cream. Nasturtium petals are tossed in salads. Pine cones are gathered near Christmastime to fill bowls and dot our bookshelves. Molly’s currently in the process of trying to draw ink from ink-cap mushrooms. Another of our experiments this past week was gathering the buds of wild chamomile or feverfew — we aren’t exactly sure which we’ve got in abundance here near the creek and ponds. IMG_6246 We know that it’s important to be very careful when foraging, as some plants can be toxic. When considering picking something we haven’t grown, we only do so if we are familiar with its environs and have done careful studying of specimens through observation and examination of all parts of the plant — stem, flowers, leaves, scent — because some plants only differ from similar ones by a single characteristic. We consult references online as well as a medicinal plants guide book that Molly has.IMG_6247

There are two kinds of wild chamomile that are common — German and Roman. But I think what we have is actually feverfew, and the clue is the leaf structure. Some of the medicinal benefits of the two plants are similar, so I think obtaining some for consumption as a tea may still be beneficial, although the feverfew tisane may be considerably less tasty than chamomile.
IMG_6248 IMG_6251In order to preserve the most health benefits of the flowers, we used the rapid drying method of baking the buds on a cookie sheet for two hours in an oven heated to 175 degrees F. After cooling, we stored the buds in a lidded jar.

We haven’t yet tried our brew, and it may very well be (based on the pungent scent of the dried buds) that we won’t care for the taste. In that case, we’ll consider an art project or add to the compost bin. That’s the wonderful thing about working with natural matter… What comes from the earth will eventually be restored to it in a complete cycle.


in the garden :: a midsummer update

I’ve plucked two ripe raspberries now — and popped them right into my mouth. Sunwarmed, juicy goodness. There’s already lots of new growth on our young plant, which hopefully signifies that we’ve chosen a good spot where it will thrive for years.IMG_6254 Our neighbor Ming-Ming gave me a few “winter melon” plants, so I’ve put those in the earth alongside the raspberry bush. I had to do some Googling to see exactly what this melon is and will have to return online to determine how I’m going to use the ripe fruit, but the experimental aspect of gardening is one of the things that makes this hobby so intriguing.IMG_6253Our pumpkin plants are growing very quickly right now. As the leaves become larger, I imagine the plants’ rate of photosynthesis multiplies. We’ve had plenty of rain and sunshine, so everything that is in the ground is flourishing.
IMG_6258 Of the plants in our straw bales, however, I have to tell a different story. These broccoli and Brussels sprouts are okay and the bunching onions may be so. I did get to eat a few radishes, but I know robins have eaten the second crop of seeds I planted. I am ashamed to show photos of the rest of the plants. The tomatoes are spindly, spotted, and have about three cherry tomatoes growing on them — no additional flowers to indicate there will be more fruit to come. (I pulled out the two saddest-looking tomatoes last night and put them in pots to try to salvage them.) The cilantro has bolted; parsley, squash, peppers, and cauliflower are dying; oregano and basil are shrinking and turning yellow. I’m not sure if it’s because the bales are holding too much water or heat, or if we should have dug bigger pockets filled with potting soil. When I compare our dinky, jaundiced plants to our neighbors’ garden just alongside, the contrast is stark. They brought in compost this year, and their plants are beautiful — dark green, lush, and promising bounty. Next year’s Weng-Lam garden is going to be like that! Amen.IMG_6257 The daisies have popped up in jaunty welcome. Tall, green grasses sway in the breeze. Shane (Barney? Fred?) arrives home from work in Marseilles from time to time with more field stones.IMG_6259And that is about all that’s new on the garden front this week!

angel camp & a small milestone

Molly and Finn spent the first half of each day this past week volunteering at St. Matthew Parish’s Angel Camp. Conducted by numerous adult and middle-to-high school-age volunteers for the youth of the church, the camp’s theme, “Trust God,” was carried out by separating the children into “tribes” and leading them through story- and craft-based activities that brought to life Biblical tales.
IMG_6260Molly was an assistant in the “10 Plagues” tent. “It was cool seeing the kids’ reactions to the special effects we had, like the Nile River turning into ‘blood,’ which we did using red Kool-Aid powder mixed with water, or dropping ping-pong balls on them to be ‘hail,'” she said.IMG_6267IMG_6265Finn was an assistant in the “Quail and Manna” tent, where he helped young visitors put together a craft project (making a paper quail). When I asked if there was anything specific he really enjoyed about the experience, he said, “The whole thing was just fun!” IMG_6264IMG_6270Because we came to the church involvement stage a little late, both Molly and Finn were too old to participate as campers in Angel Camp, so I thought that being volunteers in facilitating it would at least allow them a partial experience of it. The fact that many of their schoolmates were also volunteers added to their positive impressions. IMG_6271

Finn lost his last baby tooth this week, too — a molar whose absence means that he’ll now be ready for braces. Bittersweet, baby.IMG_6235

sunday posy :: baby’s breath

While Shane holds the landscaping reins pretty tightly around here, there are occasional trips we make together to purchase plants during which he’ll have a specific height or color of a plant in mind but be somewhat open to my help in looking. Last time this happened, I held up a small, green potted perennial and asked, “How about this? Will get about 12 inches high max, produces small white flowers throughout the growing season…” Shane looked over the plant marker and pronounced it to be fine, adding that I could load a second one in our cart.
IMG_6213The plant’s name, “Gypsophila,” didn’t ring any bells. And before blooming, it really looked to me like some lavender plants do when all green. Well, a couple weeks after planting in front of our house, spindly shoots sprouted at the top of the plant marked with bits of purple where, it seems, the plant indicates it will branch. Numerous tiny white buds appeared next. As soon as they began to bloom, I recognized this flower! It’s baby’s breath — part of almost every floral arrangement I saw in the 1980’s and ’90’s. This delicate posy will be a fun addition to our garden, delivering a dose of nostalgia along with the sweet scent of these tiny blooms.

a (now) serene master bathroom

My first thought upon viewing our current home online when scouring real estate listings was this: “Nice house, but the wallpaper… Oh!” Wallpaper, complete with multiple borders, covered the dining room, downstairs half-bathroom, master bedroom and bathroom. Later on, when Shane wanted to tour the home, I agreed but thought, “I cannot live with all that wallpaper.” Well, I guess I can — while I make the slowest of strides towards getting rid of it. So, almost two years after I removed this paper in the master bath
Raso Master Bathroom Shane and my brother Nathan painted the room (Behr Premium Plus in Rhino). We also replaced the white porcelain and plastic towel holders and cabinet knobs with antique bronze versions and put in a new Toto toilet. IMG_6222 IMG_6220 IMG_6223This may never be our dream bathroom (in which we would replace the giant tub/miniscule shower combo with a luxurious shower for two, replace the huge wall mirror with a couple of small mounted ones, and swap linoleum for tile), but it is absolutely a more calm space for us to be in after these updates. Ahhh…

at the florist’s shop

On a corner in downtown Champaign, Fleurish is a sweet florist’s shop in an old building with layers of patina — brick walls, tile floor, wavy glass. Its creamy painted walls, tall windows, and just a few rustic pieces of furniture provide a muted but textured foil for the lush beauty of the flowers and plants that are the main attraction.

The storefront is a refrigerated case, and it’s rare to see a passerby not pause to gaze at the abundantly filled buckets of stems inside. The owner, Sarah Compratt, often scatters flower petals on the sidewalk and steps leading into the shop as another lure.IMG_6201 IMG_6202 IMG_6203 We don’t stop by often, but Molly is always eager to join me, of course. The shop is actually much as I imagine her future home will be — consisting of artful collections of natural matter and vintage, re-purposed materials.IMG_6204

Finn, who does not enjoy shopping/browsing, can be made content with a book in hand and a promise of food to come soon, thankfully.IMG_6205 IMG_6206 This is what I brought home with me yesterday to hang in my bedroom. It’s a sculpture/bud vase made of wood salvaged mostly from Midwestern farms, by landscape designer and woodworker Kaisa Dille, who grew up on a farm in Minnesota. I like everything about this piece: its rustic and rugged appearance, the flexibility of the vases in creating a way to change the appearance with a simple switch of the flowers, and that I helped support a fellow former farm gal in the process.IMG_6208

camp calamity


An almost-week at a nearby (sleepaway) camp was set to be the real summer kick-off for Finn and Molly. Out from under parents’ noses and with friends — some old, some new — in the woods for swimming, boating, singing, dancing, crafting, floor hockey, and many more forms of fun… How could camp not live up to their expectations? They’ve had such a good time there in the past.

Norovirus, that’s how. Here’s a synopsis from today’s local newspaper. Finny spent the last night there vomiting. Molly tried to resist by eating only minute amounts, but she succumbed a day after getting home. The counselors were just as affected as the kids, and I have only praise for those leaders who remained standing, washing laundry and cleaning cabins as they could.
IMG_6196The kids gamely posed for a photo before we left camp, but you can tell from their faces that they’re “not at 100%,” as Finn might say. Molly had counted 99 mosquito bites on her petite frame. Finn sacrificed his pillow in the battle with illness, and Molly’s watch was missing. A little worse for wear this time ’round, but they’ve recovered quickly and are already talking about the prospect of being counselors-in-training when they’re a little older.


sunday posy :: hydrangea

The hydrangea is my favorite flowering perennial, and this particular one (of just a pair at our place) is in bloom. Someday, I’ll again have a little house surrounded by these gorgeous blooms. It will be all flowering abundance from spring through fall: allium, peonies, hydrangeas, daisies, clematis, lilacs, and maybe some roses. Petals in sun-bleached shades of lavender, pink, blue, white, and peach, plus little dots of yellow here and there. Dark green leaves that provide a restful, cool background. A front porch so generous in size that I can invite neighbors to sit there with me and chat over a cold drink or wait out a summer shower with a book in hand. IMG_6149

Do hydrangeas cause you to daydream, too?


Out of the blue, a conversation begins while driving to 4-H (sleepaway) camp last weekend:

“Molly, what’s the meaning of ‘twinkle’?” asks Finn.

She replies with a great definition — something about light reflecting off of an object in an alternating pattern.

“What’s the other meaning of ‘twinkle’?” he asks.

“There is no other meaning of the word,” Molly and I reply, almost in unison.

“Yes, there is,” he replies.

Think like Finn, I tell myself. “Maybe you mean ‘tinkle’?” I inquire.

“I don’t think so,” says Finn. “Well, what does that mean?”

“Well, it should mean ‘small jingling,’ like chimes ringing. But some people use it to mean ‘peeing’,” I answer.

“Oh, I guess that’s what I meant — tinkle,” says our boy.

[Insert riotous cackles of laughter here. Finn is a very good sport.]

“Don’t tell Dad! Don’t tell anyone!” he yells through giggles.

I can’t help it. I don’t want to forget. The ongoing tales of “Finn-speak” are just one of the reasons I find him so lovable. You can read more here.

petals, fronds, and mushrooms

We’ve had a deliciously rainy season, and after a couple summers of extreme heat and drought, I’m hoping this summer will be one with continued regular showers, alternating with sunshine. Some recent days look as though they’ve been sent with love from the Pacific Northwest. I tried to capture this morning’s blanket of fog…IMG_6157 IMG_6158 the dewdrops…IMG_6163abundant wild flowering…IMG_6159 the lacework of spiders…IMG_6162 lush growth on the creek banks…IMG_6166 IMG_6167 IMG_6161our neighbor’s flourishing peppermint and the fern-type plants that are popping up everywhere in this weather…
IMG_6170and strange mushrooms galore…IMG_6169 IMG_6184 IMG_6176I’ve been filling jars in the house with the pretty lilac-pink blooms, and a few leaves of the neighbor’s mint that are growing our direction are making delightful additions to the occasional cocktail, but I’m not so sure if I have a use for these mushrooms. When the young naturalist is home from camp today, I don’t think I’ll have to do much coaxing to have her investigate!