Summer-Fresh Herbs Thursday, Jun 3 2021 

One of the prime factors in cooking the tastiest dishes is to use fresh, quality ingredients–fresh herbs being particularly important in most recipes.

Purchasing herbs in your local grocery store offers a convenient but expensive option. However, these herbs are only as fresh as the harvesting and transporting allows and are handled by multiple people. Also, we typically only use a portion of the packet and toss the rest.

The best alternative is for us to grow our own herbs. We then know the quality of the soil and seed, especially when choosing organic products, and likely are the only ones to touch these herbs. Most significantly, we can pick the exact quantity we need for a dish.

In the Midwest, cilantro grows best in spring conditions. However, most others grow well throughout the summer. Rosemary is said to be the easiest herb of all to grow.

A sunny window can offer space for a mini-indoor garden, if your herbs can get at least four to six hours of direct sunlight. Use pots with drainage holes to avoid over-watering.

I have limited garden space, so my herbs are planted in pots on outdoor shelves. I prefer purchasing small plants rather than starting my herbs from seed. This allows me to beginning harvesting within a couple of weeks. This year my herb garden consists of the end of the cilantro and lavender, mint, parsley, basil, rosemary, and sage. These are ones I know that I will use and work within my allotted space, but there are so many more from which to choose.

In addition to cooking with herbs, I also toss a few leaves in my iced and hot tea, lemon and limeade, and water. The hint of flavor and fragrance of the herbs transforms a normal beverage into a special treat. They also offer numerous health benefits. For example, sage and rosemary can improve brain function and memory. Peppermint relieves IBS pain and reduces nausea.

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Inspired Caregiving was written for the caregivers in your life. It’s a gift book with lovely photos and manageable bits of information and inspiration.

You can see all my books on my website.

Have you seen my other blog, Mary K Doyle Books? Posts relate to my published books.

Minnie, Mighty Chipmunks Friday, May 21 2021 

They’re back! Some find them a nuisance, even destructive. Chipmunks dig holes throughout our gardens and take bites out of our plants.

The busy small, striped rodents can also be quite entertaining. Last summer, my resident chipmunk enjoyed dining on my back step. She’d select one of the nearby cherry tomatoes, find a comfy spot, and nibble away.

Chipmunks are the smallest members of the squirrel family. They diet primarily on seeds, nuts, buds, and fruits, but they’ll also munch on small frogs, worms, and bird eggs. They carry their food in cheek pouches into their burrows where they dine–unless they find a safe location, like my patio. Those burrows can be more than 11 feet in length and are kept quite neat. Shells and feces are stored in separate refuse tunnels.

Western chipmunks breed only once a year. However, Eastern chipmunks mate in early spring and again in early summer producing litters of four or five and hibernate through the winter. Newborn chipmunks are 2 1/2 inches long and weigh only .1 ounce! They are toothless, blind, and furless. The wee creatures typically live about three years.

Chipmunks are integral to forest ecosystems as their activities help establish seedlings. These small mammals also consume fungi and disperse spores of truffles which cannot do this on their own. In addition, they are a food source for other mammals and larger birds.

*Do you have a loved one with dementia symptoms? You may enjoy playing Memory Games with them.

*Check out my website and author Facebook page.

Heavenly Arboretum Friday, May 14 2021 

Escape to a botanical garden and it as if we are in another dimension. We are carried away from our earthly problems into a heavenly land.

That is how I felt when my boyfriend, Paul, took me to The Morton Arboretum. Paul presented me with an early birthday gift of membership, and took me away for the day. I’ve been in a lot of pain recently, but while at the arboretum, I was submerged in peace and beauty, distracted from inner thoughts.

The total number of Botanic Gardens recorded in the U. S. ranges anywhere from 296 to 1014 depending on the criteria used. The approximate number of living plants recorded in these gardens is around 600,000.

The Morton Arboretum is located in Lisle, Illinois. This arboretum is internationally recognized as containing one of North America’s most comprehensive collections of trees and shrubs with 220,000 labeled pants. And where there is flora, there is fauna. The area is alive with land and water creatures.

Walk, run, hike, or bike across these grounds and explore the surrounding glory. Each garden and path offers differing treasures. And of course, everything changes with the seasons. God’s paint brush works wonders year round.

(Here is a list of botanical gardens and arboretums in our country.)

Give the gift of hope and peace to your favorite caregiver, Inspired Caregiving. Weekly Morale Builders.

Have you seen my latest post on my other blog, “Honoring Mary, Our Blessed Mother?”

The Cicadas Are Coming Thursday, Apr 15 2021 

Brace yourself for the inundation of cicadas. As many as 1.5 million of the creatures per acre are due to emerge from the earth very soon. No need to worry about missing their appearance. We’ll hear them a mile away, see them covering foliage, and feel the crunch of their exoskeletons beneath our feet.

There are two main types of the 3,000 cicada species—annual and periodical. Annual cicadas emerge every year in late June or August, while periodical cicadas emerge in cycles of 13 or 17 years, depending on the species. A group of periodicals that emerge at the same time is called a brood. There are 15 different brood cycles. More than one type of brood may emerge simultaneously in the same area depending on their development. The group that we will see this year is known as Periodical Cicada Brood X (10) and rise from the earth when the soil temperature reaches 65 degrees for a depth of 8 inches.

The states gifted with this year’s presence of the insects include Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York (extinct or nearly so), Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington D.C.

Brood X cicadas are one to two inches long with a wingspan of three to four inches. They have black bodies, clear wings, and bold red eyes. They breathe through two spiracles on the thorax and eight on the abdomen. Their antennae are short and bristly.

Cicadas are harmless to humans. They may prick our skin if held but do not bite. In fact, people around the world, including Native Americans, once dined on them. They are said to taste like corn and can be grilled, steamed, boiled, or sautéed. Rodents, moles, squirrels, birds, lizards, spiders, killer wasps, snakes, and fish eagerly feast on the delicacies.

Our dogs may nibble on them, as well. However, we should deter them from doing so. Too many cicadas can make dogs sick. The bugs also may be contaminated with pesticides or cause choking in small dogs.

Unlike locus that can result in extensive agricultural damage, cicadas do not harm trees or shrubs. We may notice some leaf loss but not enough to cause lasting damage. According to the Department of Agriculture, molting cicadas eat twigs while adults do not even feed. In addition, their nutrient-rich exoskeleton will enrich the soil and plant growth.

The cicada has the longest life cycle of any insect. They live underground for 17 years while feeding on sap from tree roots. Once mature, they emerge from the ground, lose their exoskeleton, and sprout wings. They then mate, lay eggs in twigs of trees and branches, and die. Eggs hatch in about four weeks and then burrow underground for the next 17 years before repeating the cycle.

The creature’s vast emergence is believed to be a method of survival. So many cicadas arrive at once that predators cannot destroy the entire population. It’s also thought that predator birds tend to have lower density when it’s time for the cicadas to emerge.

Cicadas are among the loudest insects with male mating calls typically ranging from 90 to 100 decibels. That’s louder than a hair dryer or lawn mower but may be as loud as 120 decibels and heard up to one mile away. If you are one who enjoys the music of cicadas, you have three to four weeks to tune in.

*

Cicada photo credits: Gene Kritsky, Ph.D., Mount St. Joseph University

See my last post on my other blog, “Forgive Yourself” and my website.

Natural Humidifiers and Air Filters Friday, Feb 12 2021 

With the frigid winds fiercely blasting across the Midwest, inside air quality tends to be shockingly dry. Houseplants offer a natural way to not only humidify but clean the air, as well. They increase humidity through transpiration acting as organic antibacterial humidifiers.

Researchers found that plants can remove dust, mold, and allergens in our homes. In fact, rooms with plants have 50-60% less mold spores and bacteria than rooms that do not.

Dr. Bill Wolverton, the principle investigator of the NASA Clean Air Study, proved the ability of houseplants to filter waste products produced by humans. In an attempt to protect themselves, plants release phytochemicals which likely repel irritants. When we are near these plants, we also are protected from the mold spores and bacteria they fend off.

In addition, they make us happier. The greenery produces a calming effect, improving mental and physical well-being. Plants also are found to improve sleep when placed in bedrooms.

When choosing a plant for the home, it’s a good idea to consider the following:

  • Where will this plant be placed?
  • Is there enough room for the plant to grow?
  • How much light does this plant require?
  • How often do we want to water the plant?
  • Is this plant harmful to children or pets if ingested?

Most plants require little care. We tend to overwater which breeds gnats in the soil and promotes root rot. Many plants can go weeks or even months without water. A little dead-heading and dead leaf cleanup, proper watering, and sunlight goes a long way.  

***

See the post, “Price of Protection from COVID in Memory Care Homes.”

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Nature Escape Monday, Oct 12 2020 

The Midwest is popping with color. One of my favorite escapes is a walk through nature. With the change of seasons in this area of the U.S., the scenery is never stagnant. A surprise awaits at every time of year, and this autumn is not letting us down.

This past weekend, my boyfriend, Paul, and I walked along the Batavia Riverwalk along the Fox River in Batavia, Illinois. The path is gorgeous at any time of year but autumn offers a feast for the senses. The meandering river, active wildlife, vibrant plant growth, and rustling, falling leaves participate in a well-orchestrated dance that can be seen, heard, and smelled.

An American Goldfinch, in its winter coat, calmly posed for us in a bed of wildflowers.

Geese lazily glided down the river.

A gull feasted on fresh fish.

And ducks basked in the October sun.

The river leapt over the little dam.

But the greatest surprise of the day was what I believe to be jasmine. It’s delightful fragrance announced its presence before we spotted the lush growth attracting hungry bees.

The Wildflower Sanctuary on the Batavia Riverwalk is a joint project of the Batavia Plain Gardeners Organization and the Batavia Park District in cooperation with the City of Batavia and the Riverain Apartment complex. Volunteers initiated the project in 1991 and continue to maintain it.

A short retreat to this sanctuary, or your closest park, forest, or prairie can offer well-needed respite. Join the volunteers or simply escape into nature for a boost of peace and happiness.

***

Do you know that October is the month of the rosary?

Bird or Bug? Monday, Jun 15 2020 

They may be young but they are often smarter than the adults.

I have two seven-year-old grandsons, a five-year-old granddaughter and five-year-old grandson. Technology doesn’t intimidate any of them. The two oldest grandsons became ZOOM experts before I did. Their parents expose the children to nature, athletic classes, and travels that I didn’t experience until much later in life.

And their energy can be deceiving. As they literally run circles around us, the wee ones are taking in everything around them and remember what they saw and heard, especially if it is something we’d rather they hadn’t noticed.

This past weekend, my grandsons Daniel and Nathan helped me water my garden. We saw an unusual creature hovering over the petunias and sucking up nectar. I thought it was a bee or other type of insect because it had three body parts—a head, thorax, and abdomen, but it was larger in size than a normal bee or moth. Nathan insisted that it was a hummingbird.

Thanks to the “Bug Queen,” my friend, Carol Hendrix, we learned we both were somewhat correct. This beauty is a Hummingbird Clearwing Hemaris thysbe, an insect that mimics a hummingbird. It belongs to the Family Sphingidea (a family of moths, commonly known as hawk moths, sphinx moths, and hornworms). These moths are moderate to large in size and are distinguished by their rapid, sustained flying ability. Their subfamily, is the Macroglossinae, moths in the order Lepidoptera.

Most of my plants are on a set of three shelving units against the back of my house. It allows me full use of my limited space and plenty of sunshine with southern exposure to promote hearty growth of flowers, herbs, and vegetables and less consumption by chipmunks and rabbits. The Hummingbird Clearwing Hemaris thysbe isn’t often seen in my area of the Midwest, so I appreciate that it visited my little boxes of plantings. The opportunity to have witnessed one in action up close and personal was a special gift of nature.

***

Check out my posts, “Waling in Someone’s Painful Shoes” and “Why We Suffer.”

“Sew,” What’s Your Hobby? Thursday, Apr 12 2018 

Stamp collecting, flower arranging, gardening, playing a musical instrument, woodworking, gourmet cooking, bead working, antiquing, knitting, reading, painting, jewelry making, singing, writing, athletics, magic, playing chess or bridge, learning a new language.

If I had my way, I’d engage in one hobby after another. Currently, I’m hand quilting a massive bedspread for my bed. It’s the first quilt I’ve worked on in several years. Although the sewing leaves my hands in tremendous pain due to fibromyalgia and arthritis, I’m loving every minute of it.

The word, hobby, relates to an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation. Strangely, the word evolved from hobby-horse. The reasoning behind the shift is that the activity is like a favorite pastime, such as riding a hobby-horse, that doesn’t go anywhere. In fact, this is not so at all. Studies show numerous benefits from participating in a hobby.

Our hobbies often are what some people do professionally. We aren’t at that level or don’t have the time to pursue it to that extent, but the activity brings us pleasure and distraction from the tough stuff in our lives. Hobbies are our “time out” from obligations and promote a sense of calm and purpose. The activities help us structure our time. They offer an incentive to get our work done. We’re more efficient overall. And engaging in hobbies is more constructive than staring blankly at the TV.

In addition, hobbies create opportunities to make new social connections with like-minded individuals. And those social connections are an important key to happiness and longevity.

Here are a few more benefits of delving into hobbies.

Hobbies

  • Help us cope with stress, which is very important to our health
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Relax the mind
  • Stimulate the brain with new challenges
  • Help us to build self-confidence
  • Offer us a sense of purpose
  • Ward off depression by bringing joy to our spirit
  • Promote a sense of the present as we focus on what we are doing at that moment
  • Can reduce mindless eating as our hands are preoccupied
  • Assist us in discovering talents we didn’t know we had
  • Promote productivity in other areas of our life because we are happier and more focused
  • Can provide additional income
    Help us transition to retirement
  • Prevent boredom and filling time with bad habits
  • Improve brain health and memory
  • Increase good stress known as eustress
  • Assist us with improved sleep
  • Offer opportunities to mentor and share our gifts produced from these hobbies
  • Make us more patient

If you are seeking a new hobby, look at local junior college and park district listings of classes and inquire what your friends enjoy. If you do have a hobby, please tell us! We’d love to hear from you.

(Do you follow my posts on Mary K Doyle Books?)

 

 

Know GMO Monday, Jul 18 2016 

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The more options science offers us, the more concerns we have in regards to ethics, health, and safety. Those concerns often create emotionally charged camps with opposing viewpoints. Such is the way with GMO products.

GMO, the acronym for Genetically Modified Organisms, and GE, the acronym for Genetically Engineered, refer to living organisms whose genetic material has been manipulated through biotechnology. Genes are isolated and added to cells in a laboratory to produce desired traits in new cells, altering the DNA.

Most developed nations, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, either significantly restrict or ban the production and sale of GMOs. They consider them to be unsafe.

But, according to the FDA, GMO/GE foods are as safe as non-GMO since all must meet the same food safety requirements. The FDA also states that the practices of selective breeding and cross-breeding have been in existence for thousands of years with the same intent of creating more flavorful crops with higher yield and resistance to insects and diseases.

Foods from GMO plants were first introduced into the U.S. food supply in the 1990s. Today, cotton, corn, and soybeans are the most common GMO crops. In fact, 93% of all soybeans, and 88% of all corn planted, are from GMO seeds. Other major GMO crops include potatoes, squash, apples, and papayas.

Anti-GMO activists, who refer to these crops as “Frankenfoods,” argue that GMOs may cause environmental damage and health concerns. The non-profit organization, The Non-GMO Project, describes GMOs as living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated through genetic engineering creating “unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial, and viral genes that do not occur in nature.” In addition, they say that contrary to public belief, none of the GMO traits currently on the market offer increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit.

Instead, The Non-GMO Project claims that there is evidence that GMOs do result in health problems, environmental damage, and violation of farmer’s and consumers’ rights. And there is great concern that  GMOs are engineered for herbicide tolerance. This results in increased use of toxic herbicides like Roundup, and the emergence of super weeds and bugs which require even more toxic poisons to extinguish them.

Since as much as 80% of conventionally processed foods contain GMOs, The Non-GMO project advises reading labels carefully. They offer the example of raisins that may be packed with a small quantity of oil which could present a high-GMO risk.

However, the ability for consumers to clearly identify products containing GMO ingredients is another dimension of the argument as companies are not required to disclose this information on labels (except in Vermont). A bill that recently passed will allow consumers access to this knowledge through some type of hidden labeling such as a “QR-code,” but this won’t happen for several years.

(The FDA states that GE/Genetically Engineered is the more accurate term. I use GMO in this post because it is more commonly used.)

(Have you seen my posts on Mary K Doyle Books and Saint Theodora/Mother Theodore Guerin or my Facebook author page? I also have a Facebook page for each of my books with information specific to that title.)

The Dawn of Spring Saturday, Mar 19 2016 

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Color returning to our baby’s cheeks. The price of gasoline going down. Greenery poking through the dark earth. We search for signs of hope, and the dawn of spring does that in the gentlest ways.

Today marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere, its earliest arrival since 1896. The season corresponds with the vernal equinox, the day when day and night are nearly the same. Equinox comes from the Latin aequus and nox, meaning equal night. Earth’s two hemispheres receive the sun’s rays nearly the same amount of time because the tilt of the Earth is zero relative to the Sun. The equinox occurs at the identical moment worldwide regardless of the time on the clock.

Nature responds to the increasing sunlight with birds singing, trees budding, crocus blooming, and temperatures climbing. Resurrection, new beginnings, and life anew. Our spirit is lifted in anticipation of happy, sunny days.

©2016, Mary K Doyle

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