Dinner Interrupted


Last night, as we prepared to eat dinner on the porch, our neighbor Steve came walking down the magical path to our house.  He told us that there was at least one quart of red raspberries waiting to be picked on the canes growing behind his house.  That was a call to arms!

Our four-year old daughter E loves picking berries, and so this offer was the equivalent of Halloween and Christmas combined, in August.  We quickly finished our dinner and then E and I ran down the path to Steve’s house.

Like little Sal in the famous story “Blueberries for Sal,” E eats 10 berries for every one she puts into the bucket.  Which was not a problem here.


Before too long, she decided to run back home while I continued to fill up the bucket.  There was blueberry pie waiting for dessert.  Early August in Maine!


Home-Made Blessings

While they are nothing fancy, they sure have great potential to be!  I used fabric scraps and a black Sharpie marker (holds up great in the rain) to create our own Prayer Flags. Ours hang alongside the more official Tibetan ones.  The intention is to bless our space, to bless ourselves and to bless all who walk with us.  Peace be with you.








…for us: self sustaining, small footprint, resilience, listening to the land, freedom of choice and teaching our children about consequences, being connected to community, sharing our surplus, growing forward.

First Fruits


Our Red Haven peach tree is thriving.  We were told not to expect fruit for about three years, but we seem to be ahead of schedule.  We are novices here, and curious to learn.

We have room – and dreams – of planting another peach tree, a couple of sour cherry trees (think pie!) and many dwarf apple trees.

Four highbush blueberry plants fell into our possession; two one gallon plants came from a neighbor, and two quite large and developed plants came from our friends Ann & Kurt, who moved this week from Casco, Maine to New Orleans.  What a great remembrance to have fruit from their farm now transplanted here!


Ann & Kurt also gave us about forty strawberry plants.  These were planted yesterday, and with all the rain, the timing was right.


Eleven blackberry canes came from other friends.  Those went along the west edge of the backyard, part shade, but those are coming along well.

There are lots of wild berry plants – some strawberry and some raspberry (we think).


The grape stock is a mixed success.  One cane is thriving, while the other has done nothing.  These are cuttings of a seedless champagne grape that grows at the big house, so we will take some more cuttings and see if we can’t get more started.  I am preparing to build a trellis from dead black locust trees, but that project is low on the to-do list right now.


Happiness is…


How do you like to go up in a swing,

Up in the air so blue?

Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing

Ever a child can do!


Up in the air and over the wall,

Till I can see so wide,

River and trees and cattle and all

Over the countryside


Till I look down on the garden green,

Down on the roof so brown

Up in the air I go flying again,

Up in the air and down!

— Robert Louis Stevenson


Unplanned Renovations


Our property came with a falling down barn and a storm damaged box elder tree.  And as sentry overlooking it all, a Pileated Woodpecker.

Our plan for a permacultural renovation was unilateral, and once I noticed our sentry I had a conflict; we were not turning back but we were going to turn him out.



So one balmy afternoon last September, I paused and had a meditation with Mr. Pileated.  I doubt it made a difference to him, but I pledged the branch would be remounted somewhere on the farm.  He moved on and we moved forward.  The branch was saved while the rest was razed.


Yesterday I came across that branch lying on the ground.  It had spent an ignominous winter buried under the snow.  With a welcome recognition, I propped the branch against the stair railing and moved on.  Within minutes, a pair of Chickadees moved in.

Becca had been watching this from the kitchen window.  She pointed it out and said, “If you are going to move it, do it now!”

With no time to plan, and no tools at hand, I set the log at the back of the new foundation bed and leaned it against the house; protected from foot traffic, close to our bird bath and feeder, and next to the towering Blue Spruce.


The Chickadees are nesting.  They shuttle now, non-stop, back and forth between their nest and the blue spruce.  Outbound, debris is hauled from the log. They land in the Blue Spruce and release their detritus, then await their partner to make the round trip.


We are able to watch this from our kitchen window.


An amazing show.  An affirmation, we hope, of our intentions.


Good Garden Karma


At the grey end of winter I made a list of plants for our art farm.

I opened my copy of “Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants” – the authoritative tome on matters of shrubs and trees – and cross referenced against available nursery stock.

I have nursery wholesale accounts and looked forward to buying at discount.  My wish list grew rapidly.  Our bank balance had not.

The obvious approach was to disregard planning and go the “free and found” route.

There is no turning back.  Nor need there be.  We have to date spent $43 on all the plantings.

Estate gardens overplant.   Where two Rhododendron should go, seven are planted. Trees arrive with trunks thick, the leafy canopy high and wide, accompanied by heavy equipment and work crews.

But it takes one year per inch of trunk diameter for the tree to settle into new terrain. Trees slowly overcome the transplant shock and you are better off buying a smaller tree and letting it grow into the landscape.

I know of one estate that solves this problem by handling trees like annuals.  The arborist actually told me that he sometimes leaves the metal cage on the root ball to make it easier to remove and change out the trees later.  Instant gratification. Ever-changing.

At the big house I manage, the planting phase was completed before my tenure.  My job, my challenge is about editing.   This season we attacked several problem areas.


From a thicket of lilacs, dogwoods, spirea, and one still-unidentified shrub – truly the ugliest hedge anyone had seen, and no one could solve – I partially removed shrubs along a 20-foot section.  Transplanted to our house this became the backdrop for our entire foundation beds, plus a privacy hedge along the street where our chicken coop will go.

Our plantings are scrawny, laughable like the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree, but with a quick pruning, generous serving of compost and space to grow they have leafed out and are ready to flower.  We have good soil.


Bayberry, which is salt tolerant, expands by sending out runners to start new plants.  While cleaning up the estate beds I harvested a handful of small – one gallon – shoots.  Planted here along the street, and given time, they will form a dense fragrant semi-evergreen hedge protecting the shade garden at our front porch.

It will take some time.

If the estate gave us a solid start, bio-mass abundance came from our neighbor Gina. We were renters last summer, and prohibited, by our landlord, from gardening at that house.  So when I had leftovers from the big house I passed them to Gina.

The return has been extraordinary; I delivered last summer a few one-gallon pots and this week hauled home car loads of 15 gallon pots: Rudbeckia, Monardia, Shasta Daisies, Pulmonaria, Lilies – common orange and Stella D’ora yellow, Astilbe, Iris, Lupine, Geraniums, Sedum.  She has more to offer.  I need time to make more beds.


“Welcome to the neighborhood,” indeed!  Pete, across the street, dropped off two highbush blueberry plants.  Other friends delivered eleven blackberry canes.  An orchardist gave us some grape stock, cuttings from the big house that he potted up a few years back.  The roots are as long as the shoots so these are ready to grow.

We also purchased from him a Red Haven Peach tree. For the bees and butterflies I also planted Nepeta, Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), and Buddleia davidii (Butterfly Bush).


The pace of arrival began to cause a backlog on planting.  I found a solution to that problem.

Somewhere in search of “free & found,” most likely in either our untamed back yard, or the woods where I went to gather ferns, I brushed up against a poisonous plant.  My skin is highly sensitive to the oils in poison ivy, and I have learned to be patient as it runs its course.  But this season the rash took hold and spread like wildfire; think poison ivy on steroids.

In fact, my doctor said it was not poison ivy but did prescribe steroids as rexall.  His diagnosis was “Type 4 hyper sensitivity reaction; immune system is on overdrive; caused by some plant material or pollen.  Could be in roots or soil. Most likely from a wild uncultivated place.”  Ah, toxins that protect plants, and aim to keep us away.

The steroids have worked wonders and my energy level is absurd.  After a ten-hour workday at the big house, I was outside in our garden at 11pm.  In a gentle rain, with spring peepers chanting in the distance, I planted, dare I say, more ferns.  This time from the big house, not the woods.  And this time fueled with performance enhancing steroids.


We have no budget for assistance so this has been solo work.  Perennials and shrubs that arrive measured in gallon pot size are no problem.  Trees with balled & burlapped roots are different by an order of magnitude.

We were given a multi-stem Acer ginnala (Amur maple). The tree was a gift from my Mother.  She said that she wanted to give something long lasting, to have an enduring presence on the property.  We have named it the “Family Flame” maple.

Well formed, at 7 feet tall by 6 feet wide, it will grow to about 15 feet tall and wide; we gain privacy from the street while the passing cars will enjoy its scarlet flame leaves in autumn.

This gift arrived with an estate sized root ball.  In the back of my pick-up truck, it became an immovable object.


Until a neighbor drove by, shouted an offer of assistance and then recruited some young friends.  Within minutes the tree was proudly in place.  Our daughter ran around the yard shouting, “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts!”  It was comic.  And perfect.


And so has gone our first spring at this property and place of our own.  Our art farm, transitioning from virtual to actual, has been about setting roots and feeding forward the good karma.

Our daughter, again, said it best, “Our tree is all about joy!  Because you planted it.”

Radon remediation

Radon had never been an issue, in fact, it was something I knew nothing about.  Once we began negotiations for the house, it loomed large.

A radioactive gas, naturally occurring, it is the result of decay of uranium or thorium.  There is a correlation to granite bedrock so its presence is fairly common throughout New England but it was nowhere in the midwest of my youth.  When we moved here and rented, I was completely unaware of this risk.  In two homes we lived but never thought to have any test made.  Our daughter E was raised without incident.

But in the process of due diligence the topic came up, and we learned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer.  Such is the price of knowledge; with Becca pregnant, it became a serious issue.

Our building inspection – in July – included a radon test in which the tenants were required, and agreed, to keep the windows shut for 48 hours.  After a few hours, they pushed open the windows and the test became invalid.

To the sellers chagrin, we arranged a second test.   After waiting ten days, the results came back at 9.7 picocuries per liter of air.  And the seller’s agent gave us four hours to make a final go/no go decision.

I scrambled to gather data.  In Europe the actionable level is 8 picocuries per liter of air.  In the USA, a level of 4 or above is actionable.  Our test was taken in the basement, and the level generally is reduced by half for each higher floor.  So just slightly, at the first floor, did we exceed the level but not at all in the bedrooms.  Was our problem really serious?

We heard stories of homes testing at more than 1,000 picocuries per liter of air.  Our number seemed paltry.  We heard stories of those problems successfully remediated.  We also heard that a new home was easier to remediate than an old home.

We learned that radon’s deadly impact is not an accumulation, but a statistical event: what are the odds that a single radon atom will lodge in the lungs, then decay and disintegrate into what are known as the radon “daughters” – the solid heavy metal particles of lead, polonium, and bismuth?  In a terrain of gruesome forensics, I began to read that “at the 4 pCi/L level, about 600,000 radioactive particles get trapped in the lungs every hour.”  In three months we envisioned bringing a new born with virgin lungs across the threshold to grow up in this old house.

We knew we wanted the house, but had no idea how involved it would be to mitigate this problem.  Like much in a DIY renovation, we were making decisions based more on desire and less on thorough planning.  We went ahead and made the purchase.
A contractor gave me the name of a radon specialist, an affable engineer with decades of experience.  First he proclaimed that our 9.7 reading was invalid: too many air leaks in the basement.  We needed to seal everything before an accurate test could be made.  “Certainly your reading is higher, much higher, than 9.7.”
Our house, he continued, was no commonplace solution.  A new home would have loose gravel fill beneath the foundation.  Into that fill you can drill through the concrete floor in order to create a negative pressure.  The radon will move into that vacuum and you pump the radon outside.  Our house, a very old home, would have compacted earth, not loose fill, beneath the basement, rendering that solution impossible.  “But we can solve the problem.”  He suggested an air exchange, venting outside air in and moving the interior radon-laden air out.  All for the low low cost of $3,500.
His estimate became one of the largest costs of our entire project.  My head was spinning and the only solution was to wait.  Radon was not an issue until we moved in, and there was lots to be done before that point.  Denial turned out to be an effective plan.  And in the meantime I called more vendors.
The second vendor to visit the house was an earnest young man, recently having completed his licensing as a Radon specialist.  He also opined that our house was “complex, very complex.”  He thought the negative pressure might work, but, in a most pleasant manner, also talked about spraying foam on all the walls and ceiling, seal wrapping the supporting columns, putting rubber mats on the floor, and “you might need additional systems for the crawl space.”
The longer he talked the more our basement became a superfund site.  To my great surprise his estimate was less than the first vendor, “For $2,400 I could do this.  But I can’t guarantee it for that cost.  If you want a guarantee it would cost more.”
Well, I was making progress.  Great progress, perhaps.  So I arranged a third estimate.
Greg, the salesman from Radon Removal Systems, arrived with an easy manner.  His attire suggested that he was on his way to a golf outing, and he had the confidence of a scratch golfer.  He didn’t waste time.  Standing in the basement he looked around then said, “We have done hundreds of old houses: dig a hole, create negative pressure, and vent it out.  This is not complex.  $1,100.  Guaranteed.”
His proposed solution really made no difference.  I wanted the guarantee.  He began to climb the stairs and said, “You will have it in writing before the end of the day.  We’ll do the work whenever you want.”
Greg was not bluffing.  After the remediation system was installed and operating, the test results came back at 2.2.

Little Books = Big Stories

Years ago I was lucky enough to sit in on some book-making workshops while still living in Chicago. The process was satisfying and the product prompted all sorts of ideas to use with children. Around that same time I became interested in using stamps/stamping to tell a story.  Always looking for ways to help children tell their stories and realizing that drawing could be frustrating or intimidating, I thought about cartooning, which led me to the use of stamps and stamping.

Here I combine the media for use with my four year old. She has officially entered the magical world of inventing and reciting stories and wanting us to make up our own. And in good timing, a friend recently gifted us with stamps her children no longer use (thank you Ann!).

Here is a three point binding:


IMG_2468Using a piece of ribbon or yarn, come up through the hole on one end and down through the hole on the opposite end.  Then come up through the center hole with each end of the yarn. You can tie a bow or knot with the ends of the yarn to finish off the binding.  A bead or other small object can be added here for additional decoration.




For an accordion book, simply fold a long, rectangle-shaped paper, in half, then half again and again, until you are satisfied with the number of frames you have.  I glued a second folded paper to my first to expand the pages I would have to work in.

IMG_2479Once we had our books prepared, I made a started sample to show my daughter the concept without giving her the whole story.



My daughter quickly got to work, silent at first then chatting away about what was happening on her pages.

IMG_2498And here is her finished book…

IMG_2505“Once upon a time there was a very lonely frog and he wanted a playmate and he stayed in the water all day long. He waited and he waited and he could not miss abong.” (couldn’t get to the bottom of what that last word means!)

“The hummingbird decided she would have the day off with no one.”

IMG_2509“Night came and the stars came out. The frog was still waiting for a friend. He yelled out to the darkness.”

IMG_2513“In the morning he noticed he had a new playmate and they had a big wedding and they kissed and kissed and had big cakes and pies. They had a BIG party. The End.” – the blue half circle with symbols are the “decorations”

IMG_2518What would be the next logical thing to do once you’ve finished making your own book? Share it!



Affirming life and love

As readers of our blog may know, Becca and I were married standing beneath the Tree of Life, a Live Oak Tree in Audubon Park, NOLA.  Our blog about that tree receives the most hits among all of our writings.

As a symbol of life and love, great is the power of those trees.  Dr. William Waring has drawn upon that power in a deeply moving testimony to his love for his deceased wife.  We are posting this story, written by Claire Galofaro, as published on 14 February in The Times-Picayune.

‘Kissing trees’ at Audubon Park pay tribute to 60-year love affair

Dr. William Waring, seen Tuesday, February 12, 2013, planted two kissing trees in Audubon Park in memory of his deceased wife, Dr. Nell-Pape Waring. (Photo by Ted Jackson, Nola.com / The Times-Picayune)

He started out just planting a tree, a tribute to a beloved wife buried too soon. He sat beneath it and read to the tree, like he had for his wife in their 60 years together.

He tied ribbons around its trunk, and installed a plaque at its roots: “In memory of Nell-Pape Waring,” it read. “Beloved wife, mother, physician and friend.”

But 89-year-old Dr. William Waring still thought his memorial in Audubon Park inadequate to honor the woman he loved so madly.

“Look at her. How did I ever get this girl?” he asks now, genuinely astonished, while admiring their 60-year-old wedding photo. “Wasn’t I a lucky duck?”

What was wrong with the oak tree, her husband figured, was that it stood there alone in the park, where they had spent so many hours together.

Waring decided to plant a second tree close enough to the first that, in time, their branches could grow together. So they might be a pair once more.

“They’ll be known as the kissing oaks,” said Dianne Weber, director of horticulture for the Audubon Institute. “He lost his life-long love and he came up with this. It brings a smile to your face. That’s love.”

His wife was funny — she liked dirty jokes just as much as great literature, he said. She was bold and strong, a doctor before the medical profession welcomed women.

They lived near the park and walked there, read there, together for decades.

When she died in October, he donated the first live oak in her honor and had it planted near the Magazine Street entrance, where a 90-year-old water oak had been lost to termites.

Months later, when he began to worry that that tree might be lonely, he returned to the Audubon Nature Institute with his idea for the second.

Weber helped him pick one the same age and height as the first, around 10 years old and 20 feet tall. They found a tree with a branch arching off, in a pattern that could, with luck and sunlight, touch the tree already planted.

An 18-wheeler hauled the second tree into the park last week, and a crane buried it in the ground, far enough away that the two trees wouldn’t compete for sun or rain, but close enough that their branches might mingle one day.

Waring tied a matching red ribbon around its trunk.

It will take the trees two decades to connect, then another three to fully intertwine. But then the pair might last for hundreds of years, Weber said.

She’s already spotted squirrels running between them.

“My father is an extraordinarily romantic guy,” said their son, Peter Waring, an architect in town. “And there’s no question, they had a life-long love affair. I think he feels fortunate to have had her for 60 years.”

Dr. Waring recalls the date he met her – July 1, 1951 – as easily as he remembers his own birthday.

He was 29 years old and the chief of residents at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. His father was a doctor in Savannah, Ga. His father’s father was a doctor; the family line of doctors went back some 200 years.

That morning, he walked into the office of the chief of pediatrics.

He saw only the back of her head at first, and the look on his boss’ face, utterly charmed by the woman across his desk.

“He couldn’t resist her, and neither could I,” he says.

Dr. Nell-Pape WaringDr. Nell-Pape WaringDaniel Erath, NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune Archive

Nell-Pape was 24 years old, a New Orleans native and fresh graduate of Tulane University’s School of Medicine, where she was one of just a few women in her class. It was the first day of her internship at Johns Hopkins. She was beautiful, like a movie star, and smart enough to be a doctor, he thought.

“Look at her. How did I ever get this girl? Wasn’t I a lucky duck?” — Dr. William Waring

He had a habit of going to the hospital cafeteria for breakfast before the sun came up. He started seeing her there every day and, when he asked why she’d come so early, he suspected she was making up excuses. He thought, just maybe, he saw a glimmer in her eye.

So he asked her out for a picnic. She said yes.

A year later, they were married. He still carries a photo in his wallet of her on the day he proposed.

“She was infinitely wonderful to be with; we never had a spat,” he says. “I don’t know what the secret is. It might be a different generation now, something just changed in expectation.”

The Warings had five sons, and she quit her residency to raise them.

They lived in Japan while he was a battalion surgeon for the Army. They moved to Florida, then her parents died and left them their house near Audubon Park. So they moved to New Orleans and began their walks together.

“They existed pretty much for each other,” said their youngest son, Dr. Patrick Waring.

The couple prayed aloud together in bed each night. And they read to one another, often for hours on end.

Once they read a play about an old couple riding on a train, who’d been together for so long they could read each other’s thoughts. The Warings began signing their notes to each other with just OMOT and OWOT – for old man on train, and old woman on train.

After a 22-year hiatus from medicine, as her children got older, Nell-Pape Waring finished her residency in 1974 at Charity Hospital. She specialized in allergies and practiced for more than 30 years.

Two of their boys, meanwhile, became doctors, like their parents. Two others are lawyers; the other is an architect.

Late in life, Nell-Pape Waring had a form of Parkinson’s disease that made her shaky and prone to fall.

She was hit by a bicycle in the park and fell down, broke her hip and required replacement surgery and months of rehabilitation. She took another bad spill down the stairs and cracked her head open.

In the last months of her life, she could barely get out of bed.

Her husband would help her to the table so they could have lunch together. Then he’d help her back into bed. He read to her, like he always had.

William Waring knew he didn’t have much time left with her. And he worried.

As a doctor, he’s watched many people die.

Some cry, some thrash in last-minute agony or regret.

But on Oct. 20, a Saturday, he tucked her back into bed after lunch. He told her good night, that he loved her and he held her hand.

She died peacefully in her sleep several hours later, at 6 p.m., just as the sun began to set.

“There’s an emptiness now, a grief that you can’t imagine unless you’ve loved someone so immensely,” the doctor says. “I always felt lucky to be associated with her. And I am so sorry she decided to leave me.”

On nice days, he plans to haul a folding chair to their trees in the park to sit beneath them and read her books like he did for a half-century.

He might try, he said, to live 30 more years just to see their branches touch.