Friday, July 27, 2012

Lucky Pups...(and Parading Chicks.)

For the past two weeks, our girlie participated in her favorite activity of the summer. Now, you might think that's swimming...or riding bikes...or sleeping late.

Oh, but you know Kristen.

For two weeks, Kristen trained dogs for adoption. Taught agility to kittens. Created cat condos, pampered pups, and socialized with strays.

For Kristen, summer vacation means camp—Camp Love-A-Pet at the Spartanburg Humane Society.

Kristen's love of animals is immense. After all, not many kids willingly rise at 7 a.m. during summer vacation. And yet, our girl jumps out of bed in time to feed her chickens before heading out to care for new furry friends.

Camp Love-A-Pet is a fantastic camp, one that's in high demand among Spartanburg kids. After hearing about Kristen's experiences at camp (she attended camp during the past four years), two of my friends asked how they could “guarantee” a spot for their kids next year.

There's no guarantee. Sign up early! There's always a waiting list.

The camp director designs a program that benefits not only the adoptable pets but also teaches the campers about the responsibility of pet ownership. Spaying, neutering, heart-worm prevention—the kids learn about all of the unglamorous aspects of owning a pet. 

And the lessons stick. 

Yesterday, after a discussion about heart-worms that killed a dog—and seeing the 78 heart-worms—Kristen's anger at the owners' irresponsibility was palpable.

It's a sad lesson, but one that made a strong impact.

Each day, the campers work in pairs with an assigned dog to prepare it for its “forever home.” Kristen and her friend first worked with sweet Abby:

(photo from the Spartanburg Humane Society)

...but then, happily—Abby was adopted! Usually, the Humane Society asks the owners to allow the dogs to finish their camp training. However, the new owners live more than an hour away and couldn't arrange a return trip—so off went Abby to her new home.

On Monday, Kristen and her friend began training June:

 (photo from the Spartanburg Humane Society)
Of course, I met and visited with June—with the firm understanding that we could not add any more pets to our family. After all, in updating our records at the veterinarian's office this week, I began listing all of our pets on the new form--and ran out of room. 

There were 12 spaces.

I needed 14.

I'm afraid we'll soon be featured on “Animal Hoarders.”

The girls worked with June all week. At first, Kristen worried about training June in just one week. However, each day after camp, Kristen gushed about how well June mastered each trick.

In additional to working with their assigned dogs, the kids spend quality time with other adoptable animals, helping to socialize them. 

As you can imagine, it's a tough job, loving on all of those little furry babies!

At the end of each camp day, the kids can bring one of their pets from home for “Pet Parade.”

Let me rephrase that.

The moms or dads bring a pet to the Humane Society so that the camper can show off his or her pet to the group.

In my case, I chased a chicken (Sugar) around the yard in the sweltering heat, wrestled it into the cat carrier, packed the poor, stressed chick into the car, and drove it to the Humane Society, where Chicken Mama Kiki took over. 

Poor Sugar...she looks like she's in jail. Who knew that chicken wrangling would be in a mother's job description?

Kristen coaxed Sugar out of the carrier with the ear of corn. (I hoped the corn would distract her for the car ride.)

The campers asked questions about Sugar, who is a Golden Campine. Many of the kids never experienced a chicken close-up.

Even the camp director learned something new. Kristen told the group that the color of the chicken's ear lobes determined what color eggs it would lay.

Sugar survived her brief encounter with fame and happily returned to her freedom.

Tonight, June graduates from camp. Kristen is confident that June is well-trained and ready for her new family.

Kristen also invited my dog-crazy sisters to the graduation ceremony, where she will show off June's newly acquired skills.

I believe ulterior motives are involved.

I've warned Kristen not to get her hopes up that June will become part of our extended family.

Still, June IS awfully sweet...


If you or someone you know needs a new furry family member, please look first at the Spartanburg Humane Society.

I wish I could take all of those sweet babies home with me.

(I really am turning into the crazy animal lady...eek!)

Cheers to all of the campers and their adorable dogs! Congratulations to you all on a job well-done.

And thank you to the volunteers and camp director for an excellent experience for our girl.

XO ~


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Jack-O'-Lantern in July.

If you find a perfect pumpkin in the compost bin, you know you have to make it into a jack-o'-lantern, even if it is July.


Of course, getting two children to agree on a theme for one pumpkin is rather tricky. Thus, our summer-themed jack-o'-lantern includes a sun, a moon, and a palm tree. 

As an extremely tired mother, I let go of my normal compulsion to talk them into something cuter. It was, after all, 10 p.m. by the time they finished swimming and came in to carve the pumpkin. (Personally, I thought a beach umbrella and waves would be festive.)

Our jack-o'-lantern adorned the stoop last night, glowing brightly while we listened to an owl hooting in the forest. It felt eerily like Halloween. 

But then, with today's mid-90 degree temperatures, our poor pumpkin began to melt. So, tonight our jack-o'-lantern became a snack for happy chickens.

Have you ever found anything interesting growing in your compost bin? I'm hoping we find another pumpkin...a little later in the season.

Happy July-oween!

 ~ Julie 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Halloween in July.

Here's what I found in the garden today:

Actually, that's not true. I found it in the compost bin. The compost bin that's been overrun with a ginormous volunteer vine since this spring. We've been wondering what might make an appearance. Crazy zucchini? Pumpkins? After hundreds of blossoms, we didn't see any sign of fruit. 

But then, as I was harvesting tomatoes today, something caught my eye. Something orange. And round.

A perfect Halloween pumpkin!

I've planted pumpkins in the past--planned them, pampered them...with no success. Squash vine borers always melted the vines before a pumpkin appeared. The year I forgo pumpkins, we have a perfect one--in July. 

Gardening is a mystery. An ironic, often frustrating, sometimes perfectly fun mystery.

Sadly, in my excitement to get the pumpkin out of the compost bin to show the kids--I broke the stem.

Still, stay tuned...I do believe a jack-o-lantern will make an appearance on our doorstep tonight.

Happy Halloween...a little early.




Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Invasion of the Giant Cucumbers.

July in the South Carolina vegetable garden—particularly if you've been traveling for two weeks—is not the happiest place. Although our son's girlfriend diligently fed the animals and watered the gardens, some tasks—like weeding and cutting out dead foliage—had to wait until I returned.

After petting the pups and checking on the chickens, the first place I headed when we arrived home was to the large veggie garden to check on its progress.

Big mistake.

Tomato vines sporting nasty black spots.

Lettuce, underplanted in the tomato beds, now bolting and leggy.

Beans trellising up neighboring raspberry bushes.

And cucumber vines spilling over their bed, oblivious to the trellises, sprawling throughout the garden and blanketing the herb beds, the kids' raised bed, and the path through the garden.

I searched desperately for my inner Zen.

When that didn't work, Peter turned me around, and we headed back toward the house. After all, attacking an unruly garden while in the throes of jet lag isn't a smart strategy.

(Honestly, my tired brain screamed, “Rip it all out!” I'm glad I waited a bit.)

Truly, though, even with the ugliness of the garden, the harvest is pretty amazing.

Especially the cucumbers.

We arrived home to a produce-drawer full of cucumbers harvested by our house-sitter.

Exciting! Honestly, last year, our cucumbers flopped.

The next day, I harvested these:

And yesterday, as I cut back vines and attempted to whip the garden back into shape, I found these:

Holy cucumbers.

I love cucumbers. The kids actually eat cucumbers without complaint, too, which is miraculous. And I especially adore the fact that my calorie counter shows that a cup of cucumbers equals 16 calories. 

I could eat 75 cups of cucumbers to reach my daily calorie intake!

That's a LOT of cucumbers.

Hoping to add a little variety to my diet, I enlisted my friends over at the Garden Delights Facebook page for recipe ideas.

“Pickles,” of course, topped the list of recommendations.

I've promised Mikey that we'd attempt to make pickles, since he is a pickle fiend. I've never canned, but 2012 will be the year I learn to can.

Thankfully, our local farmers' market received a grant this year to teach canning. I'm planning to head there Saturday for my introduction to canning.

I'm ridiculously excited!

Until then, though, my friend Janet at The Queen of Seaford sent me the following recipe that I'm excited to try. Shrimp and cucumbers? How can you go wrong? What a perfect, light, cool summer dish. I believe this will be lunch today...

Cucumber and Shrimp Salad
One can (4.5 oz) shrimp, drained
2 medium cucumbers, thinly sliced
1/4 vinegar (can substitute rice or white wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds  (Heat sesame seed in ungreased skillet over medium heat for about 2 minutes until golden.)
Place shrimp and cucumbers in a bowl. Mix vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, and salt.... pour over cucumbers and shrimp. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour.
Remove to a lettuce lined bowl with slotted spoon. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

Tonight, though, I'm planning a family-favorite: chicken souvlaki with tzatziki sauce. It's so simple—and everyone likes it. (Well, the kids at least like the chicken. They'll have to eat their quota of cucumbers sliced instead of in the sauce.)

Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki Sauce
1 lb. chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. sea salt
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary

In a large bowl, combine olive oil, sea salt, and rosemary. Add chicken and toss to thoroughly coat. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

For tzatziki sauce:
½ large cucumber, seeded and diced.
½ cup plain yogurt
1 tbsp. lemon juice
¼ tsp. salt
1 garlic clove, minced

Prepare tzatziki sauce while chicken is marinating. Combine cucumber, yogurt, lemon juice, salt, and garlic, stirring well. Set aside.

Place marinated chicken cubes on skewers, grill for approximately 5 minutes per side or until thoroughly cooked. Serve with the tzatziki sauce and pita bread.

And wine. The wine gives you strength to face the tasks in the garden.

I'm a little afraid to go back into the garden today for fear that I'll add to the cucumber collection—although I do plan to call our local food back to see if they can use some surplus cucumbers. (Do you know about It's a great tool to help you find a local organization that can benefit from your surplus garden goodies.)

Do you have any favorite cucumber recipes? If you do...PLEASE share!

Otherwise, I might start a national “sneak-a-cucumber-on-your-neighbors'-porch day,” much like National Zucchini Day.

I think it's a good tradition, don't you?

Happy harvesting!

XO ~


Sunday, July 15, 2012

(International) Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

Happy Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, friends! 

Because we've just returned from two weeks of visiting family in Europe...

Because the mountain of laundry I'm tackling reviles the Swiss Alps in size...

Because, after two weeks, our gardens are an unruly mess...

I've decided to share with you lovely window boxes and small space gardens of Switzerland and Northern Germany, instead of the blooms in my own weed-laden, spotty-leafed gardens. 

(Really, you would think that after all of the care and attention I've given our gardens over the past months that they could just BEHAVE for two weeks. Yeesh.)

So, while you enjoy reading the Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day posts at May Dreams Gardens, I will be in our gardens, drowning in 100% humidity, wishing I was back in the sweater and jeans weather of Switzerland.

Honestly--is there anything more quintessentially Swiss than window boxes filled with geraniums? 

A lakefront home from 1705.

A window box tucked outside the tiny dormer. 

The farm where we stayed sported window boxes along the barn...

..and even blooms by the dog house.
With acreage at a premium, homes in the areas we visited don't include large yards. Instead, blooms and vegetable gardens are tucked into any bit of soil or space available.

Grapes trellised up to the balcony.

 Perennial bed overflowing by the front door.

 My mother-in-law's garden, overflowing with flowers in a narrow two-foot wide strip...

...and her patio, filled with blooms... well as blooms climbing to provide vertical color.
Even street signs are embellished with blooms. 

In Ermatingen, Switzerland, the centuries-old lakefront homes often have a small garden across the road, overlooking the lake. Again, the majority of these small spaces are overflowing with color and foliage.

  Some of them are guarded by vicious sentries.

Vegetable gardens border the street, oblivious to the American homeowner associations' "rules" that edible gardens belong in the back yard, tucked away out of sight. 

Beautiful, practical, orderly Swiss vegetable gardens...

What surprised me the most, though, were the roses in Eckernförde and Arnis, Germany. In a patch of soil not bigger than a crusty loaf of German bread, stunning roses grew up walls, around doorways, through trellises. What was even more baffling--alleyways with nominal light were the home of many of these gorgeous blooms.

The lovely home where we stayed in Northern Germany, with roses climbing every wall and perennials in every corner.

 Traditional thatched roof home in Northern Germany, with roses adorning the walls.

In Arnis, Germany, Peter and I found our future retirement community. The entire town consists of one street, with old, traditional homes. Here, though, many of the homes face the sea--a sailing mecca for my obsessed husband. But the magic of the community is that many of the homes facing the water also include beautiful gardens, with space for my dirt cravings. Plus, a community with wind generators? 

Be still, my green heart!

It's tempting...but I suppose I would finally need to learn German.

Some day.

For now, though, the nasty laundry and ugly, weedy garden await.

Happy Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day!

XO ~