Do you compost?

I love smart appliances. My Alexa is becoming a good friend as she turns lights off and on, regulates thermostats, tells me the news I ask for, updates sports scores for mister gardener, and so much more. Siri is still a part of my life…especially away from home and with Apple Play in the jitney. Nest helped protect our home while we were away… alerting me when a leaf fell from a plant.

A recently debuted smart appliance has caught my eye. It’s the ZERA. Have you heard of it? If you are a gardener or environmentalist, you will be interested. There are many ways to recycle food wastes both indoors and outdoors, but this is an indoor food recycler that turns food scraps into compost in 16-24 hours. Yes, that’s right. It’s that 16-24 hours that intrigued me. How could that be?

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ZERA Food Recycler

The recycler is a Whirlpool Corp. appliance, a freestanding gizmo, about 34″ tall. It is hefty at 118.6 lbs but looks very ‘kitchenie,’ like a tall trash can. All that food that is regularly sent to a landfill, including meats, can be converted to fertilizer in a day, the company maintains. It is designed to hold 8 lb. of food, a week’s worth for the average family.

whirlpool zera

The process uses heat and airflow and a small bag of ‘brown’ composting stuff containing coconut shells pellets…that the company sells. It is supposed to work without the pellets but the quality of compost won’t be as good. It’s just like adding ‘brown’ matter to our outdoor compost. The appliance is said to be quiet and there is no food odor.

I found the online site where they offered the early bird special at $699. I missed out on that but they are still offering a small discount online. Beginning early summer 2017, the first appliances will be available in test markets and at select retailers online sites for $1,199.  Yes, I want one and wish they’d selected me as a tester of the product. Check it out at Whirlpool.

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A Tree House Vacay

Hilton Head is a small island, only 12 miles long and 5 miles wide, but full of championship golf courses, fine dining, tennis facilities, hotels, condos, and villas. It’s a busy place….lots of traffic and lots of visitors enjoying it all.  To fully unwind, we always gravitate toward the least traveled areas to relax within peaceful environs. In Sea Pines, we stayed at a unique hideaway, a virtual oasis, very secluded, yet amazingly close to civilization.

We felt like kids again as our oasis is a tree house overlooking Calibogue Sound. Called a Sea Loft, it’s perched high among the treetops of live oaks and majestic pines with a view across a salt marsh to the water.

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Waiting for the sunset…

Each morning a variety of birds greet us at eye level, eating, chirping, and pecking away at berries and bark. There are cedar waxwings, brown headed nuthatches, bluebirds, hawks, an eagle, woodpeckers and others that have entertained us in the trees and sky from our breakfast table.

Beneath us, other visitors meander freely through the wooded area. We watched the tiniest deer resting in the wax myrtle and there are telltale signs of foraging raccoons beneath our tree house.

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Another visitor arrived on our doorstep and actually stepped indoors for a couple of minutes. Was he trying to sell a little Geico Insurance? Sorry, we weren’t buying….

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Really not a Geico gecko, but a Green Anole that came a’visiting…

We’re lucky that weather has cooperated enough to be graced with spectacular sunsets in the evenings.

img_3025Our location is just a four minute walk to Harbour Town where the well-known candy-striped lighthouse welcomes boats and visitors alike. We often pop into the little village on foot to enjoy delicious food, a variety of shops, late afternoon ice cream cones, and, of course, to climb the iconic lighthouse for a bird’s eye view, including one of the top ten golf courses in the states, Harbour Town Golf Links….

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Thanks to our hosts for allowing us to become eco-tourists in their Sea Loft for a short time. Time to pack up and head back to the land of ice and snow in New Hampshire. Sad to leave but fully refreshed.  Sigh…..

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Savannah 

One city on my life bucket list was Savannah and, happily, I was able to cross it off my list this week. We decided to take a day trip for a ‘hop on and hop off’ trolley adventure of the Historic District. One of our guides called the 15-stop trolley loop an ‘appetizer’ for all that Savannah offers.  That was very accurate. Our day trip did make us want to return for the full meal.

We were told it is America’s first planned city, ca. 1733, designed by General James Edward Oglethorpe. He designed neighborhoods around open squares that served as functional areas for communal activities. Today there are 24 park-like squares named after people or historical events with monuments and statues at the center.

Johnson Square, below, memorializes Revolutionary War hero, Major General Nathanael Greene. He and his son, George Washington Greene, were buried beneath the monument in 1902… after years of burial misplacement of the two in the Colonial Park Cemetery.

Johnson Square honoring Nathanial Green

Chippewa Square seems to be well visited, made very popular by the Forrest Gump film. The bench where he sat during the movie was filmed here and the site attracts tourists who want to be photographed standing where the bench once was. At the center of the square is a statue of Oglethorpe, by none other than Daniel Chester French who hailed from our Exeter NH.   Small, small world…

Statue of Oglethorpe

We did not physically visit any of the park squares on this trip but tailored this day to architecture and history…. and food, of course.

Old Savannah Cotton Exchange, Romanesque Revival style

Chart House, built before 1790 with ballast stones from sailing ships

There are two basic periods of architecture we were told, Colonial and Victorian, with many styles within these periods of history. We gawked and stared open-mouthed through the rich architectural neighborhoods and restored buildings of the city.

Sometimes we had to look harder to see a little humor in architecture, like these eyes gazing out at us.

Who's watching us???

An unforgettable building was St. John the Baptist Cathedral, the Mother Church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah, that I thought rivaled cathedrals I’ve seen anywhere. Click on photos for full size.

Walking through the old Market was interesting for a bit of shopping, food, and photographing things like this old ghost ad on a building.

Bayer Pills Ghost Ad

We ended our day very good note, happy to be among the 6 million who visit Savannah each year. Then….when we arrived home that evening, I turned on the telly only to see the Forest Gump movie was showing. Yes, I watched it from beginning to end and took special notice of the background scenery around Chippawa Square.

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Leaving on a Jet Plane…

With more snow and ice on the way for the northeast, we escaped just in time to bask in the warmth of a South Carolina sun on Hilton Head Island.


We are staying near Harbour Town at the toe of the island and much of what we’ve done so far is within walking distance…. especially the fantastic sunsets at night!


The first thing we do on the island is slow down. There are tons of bikers and walkers and we are learning to live the leisurely life style of the residents. It isn’t an island with lots of nightlife but an island laced with golf courses, tennis courts, bike rentals, walking trails, nature preserves, and 12 miles of glorious ocean beaches…. not to mention fabulous Lowcountry cuisine.

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If you love a live oak, this is the place to see an island full of them, covered with Spanish moss and full of resident bird life.


The island took a big hit from Hurricane Matthew and a remarkable clean up is underway on every street…including ours where we got to know one owner’s sweet pup. 


Cleanup has not interfered with island life. Roads are clear and residents are replanting.

We chose Hilton Head for just the right reasons: food, nature, relaxation. It’s a very good thing.

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Aucuba japonica in New Hampshire

In warmer states, folks might stifle a ‘ho-hum’ yawn if they see the Aucuba japonica leaf pictured here… but for me, seeing the plant in New Hampshire is a thrilling sight. First of all, it thrives in hardiness zone 7 or warmer. We are officially zone 5b. Secondly, it’s a sentimental reminder from my 7b home and no matter how common, it’s a favorite for me. Thirdly, there’s nothing more striking than this variegated ‘Aucuba Gold Dust’ variety in a floral arrangement.

In the proper zone, it is an evergreen shrub but a friend in New Hampshire who grows it in zone 6 says it dies to the ground each winter and rises like a phoenix each spring. She shared cuttings with me a year ago and once they were well-rooted, they were planted in our landscape last spring, now protected beneath sandwich boards for the winter. My fingers are crossed for these small shrubs’ survival.  Stay tuned…

In zone 7b, the plant is fairly slow-growing but tough and adaptable, able to thrive in a wide range of, but preferably moist, soils.  It does well in deep shade where this variegated variety flecked with gold shines like a beacon from the shadows.

Aucuba

Propagation by cuttings is almost foolproof. This winter, my friend again shared leftover cuttings from a floral design workshop I organize for our garden club. Success in rooting was almost guaranteed with short roots sprouting on the old wood along the stem nodes.

Aucuba Roots

Not only do I have success with stems, it’s easy to propagate plants from just the leaves. Once my little plants have developed enough roots, into a soil mix in clay pots they will go… and when they are ready, I’m sure there’ll be a home waiting for all of them. How can folks resist?

Aucuba Leaves

Scientific name: Aucuba japonica
Variety: Gold Dust,  v. variegata
Common names: Aucuba, Japanese Acuba, Japanese Laurel
Family: Garryaceae, cousins to the better known dogwood family (Cornaceae)
Plant type: shrub. Female plants will have red berries in the fall if a male is nearby.

We finally found it…

It’s the freshwater ‘Jailhouse Spring’ that we hear residents talk about. We knew the general area but not the exact spot on the map until we learned about a new neighborhood development proposed for that area. The proposal for the development is almost 50 acres of land and 39 houses on a hill above the Squamscott River. The road into the new neighborhood would take you past the bubbling spring where we heard there are usually a line of cars waiting to fill jugs.

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We found the way to the spring on an unmarked road that crossed over a 3-way intersection in a quiet neighborhood. On this cold morning there were several cars in line patiently waiting their turn to provide drinking water for their families.

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The spring is named for the jailhouse, now gone, that was built here in the mid-1800’s. It provided water to the inmates and local residents alike. At one time there was a nice spring house but now it’s a small pump that goes off and on, pumping cold water into a depression in the ground. I spoke with one man from another town who came once a week to fill jugs. He said the land is owned by the home on the hill and they test the water to make sure it’s safe to drink, adding that he has children and this clean water is what he provides for them.

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The surrounding neighborhood has organized a group to oppose the proposed new development, citing waste contaminants from long-gone farming activities including lead, coal ash, and more on the land, would be hazardous to remove. Trucks with the waste must exit through the small roads in the neighborhood creating risks for residents and contaminating the freshwater spring.  Arguments against also site the added traffic on the small neighborhood roads and clearance for emergency vehicles. All of it is in the planning stages so we will watch for future reports on the proposed development in our newly adopted Exeter NH community…. and we are happy to have found the bubbling spring!

Architecture, History & Trees

Every time I pass one particular home on our road, I have to be careful. The site is so spectacular that my eyes cannot help but stray from the road toward the site on the hill. It is eye candy for an architecture, history, and tree devotee like me. The farmhouse itself is old, dating from 1733 with the large addition below added in the 1780’s. The sign on the porch reads 1780.

The house is amazing but two things that actually cause me to drive off the road are the massive trees from the 1780’s that flank the porch. They honestly take your breath away. Every time we pass when mister gardener is at the wheel, I snap photographs to look at later.

Here are a few I’ve taken in warmer seasons of the year. Photos can’t accurately portray the size of these two maples but in researching, I found that the tree on the right is the largest sugar maple in the state of New Hampshire. The limb that juts out at a 90 degree angle is larger than most sugar maples attain in a lifetime. Click the photos to enlarge.

This Federal period farmhouse from the 1780’s has 2 1/2 stories, a typical I-house with a gable and chimney at each end and one room deep. The entryway above has the half sidelights and the transom, both visible in the photos. The siding is original. An ell, so common in New England, connects the home to the c. 1733 home on the property. On our drive yesterday (before the big snowfall), I photographed the home from a side road where the view of the original farmhouse is visible.

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I have photographs of the trees in fall as well and it’s an amazing sight. I’ll let you just use your imagination.

In looking at historic maps from the area, I see the home noted and the name of the early inhabitants. But since the 1950’s, a family of 12 children spent their childhood there and several still live there and close by. But this is the “small world” fact I recently discovered when researching. The realtor who sold us our home in Exeter was one of those 12 children. I love it when I can connect the dots like that….

 

 

Helena is visiting Virginia

My sister is winding up a work related speaking engagement in Ft. Worth Tx and is due to fly home to Virginia today. I haven’t heard but I’m sure her flight was cancelled. You see, Helena is in town in Tidewater VA. Across the state, she closed airports, closed major highways, caused over 100 auto crashes and 58 stalled vehicles on state roads overnight. Visibility was zero and the U.S. Coast Guard closed the Port of Virginia. No commercial boats could enter or exit the Chesapeake Bay. Farther south, there were 18000 power outages in NC with a state of emergency called and a cancellation of some inauguration ceremonies for the new governor. South Carolina experienced their share of snow and ice…. and brrrr… it’s cold!

My three brothers who live in Richmond were very excited to awake to snow. Most people batten down the hatches, start a fire, and make hot cocoa, but these fellas run toward the great out of doors. We all love snow in my family. Not sure why… but I’m sure glad they shared a few photos from Richmond.

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Snow covered Mahonia in bloom

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Carter

University of Richmond

University of Richmond campus

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Steps and boxwood cleared of snow

Helena has been quite a storm, having impacted two dozen states from coast to coast when it’s all said and done. She’s on her way out to sea late today in Virginia but she’s not finished with us. Helena is now visiting New Hampshire. Snow is falling hard and I hope we awake tomorrow to scenes like those above.

 

 

 

Smart but getting smarter…

My youngest son is always thinking of unusual techie gifts for me at Christmas….things that I’ve never heard of or would never purchase for myself. Last year I opened a small box that contained something that looked like a tan branch with these words on the box: Parrot Flower Power. I had NO IDEA what it was. He laughed and told me a detail or two.  It is a plant monitor that senses when a potted plant needs sunlight, water, fertilizer, and proper temperature for the soil and the App sends alerts via bluetooth to my smartphone.

Yes, I’ve had fun with it for the past year although I though I was super plant savvy enough. It’s a bit addicting pitting me against the Parrot deciding what a plant needs. I used it outdoors in the summer in potted plants and now it’s inside for the winter telling me to water my indoor geraniums more than I feel is necessary. I do listen though.

There is a database of over 7,000 plants… more than I’d ever need but it’s fun to browse through the plants and see basic needs. If you’re curious about this gadget, check it out HERE.

This year I’m looking forward to being really smart in our home.  His gift was the echo dot so I can communicate with everything in every room in the house with my new assistant Alexa!  Move over Siri…..

A New Day, A New Year…

Last night, mister gardener and I enjoyed a lovely filet mignon dinner for two to celebrate New Year’s Eve. An early to bed guy, we expressed our Happy New Year wishes and he tucked in well before midnight, giving me the go-ahead to make the appropriate noises at midnight to frighten off all evil spirits that might be lurking. Well-wishes for the new year flew across states and timelines via texts and emails from family until 12:30 or so when I faded and hit the hay.

Today we hit the reset button for the new year of 2017. Christmas decorations have been put away. Our lovely tree sits outside providing a haven for small birds and today mister gardener and I talk about our gift of a brand new year and shared thoughts, plans, ideas, and desires.

Christmas Tree 2016

I don’t make a list of resolutions but it is a good time to reflect on the past and think about future wishes and dreams. We will do a little traveling, I plan to pick up my needlework again, and we both plan to move forward in a more positive direction. I feel bruised from political chaos and polarization that has become the new norm these days… and remedies seem remote. However, no one can take away HOPE.

Have a Happy, Healthy, and Vigorous New Year!