Friday, July 29, 2011

Dusting Off Some Old Stuff

I've been updating my Etsy shop lately, trying to get back on top of promoting and selling my work.  No sales yet, but it's been interesting to relist and revisit some items that have been "gathering dust" for quite a while.  I really miss doing the ceramics, but I haven't found a studio to work with up here yet.  The next time I'm down visiting my parents, I'll check out the studio in Corning that I used to work with - it's under new management, so I'll have to see if they will be willing to work with me for a reasonable charge.  I'm really at the point where I need my own kiln to take this part of my work any farther.  I think next year may be THE year for me to get a small kiln of my own, one just big enough to do tiles, ornaments, pendants and small items.

Anyhow, some of the items I found were some tiles I've done.  I love doing tiles - it's just like working on a nice, flat canvas.  If someone gave me a dozen bisque tiles, I'd happily sit all weekend and decorate them.  I'm sure there has to be a way to present and market them as art pieces (because that's what they're intended to be).  I think I'll have to invest in some decorative stands to offer in my shop so people can have that option when they purchase a tile.  I also offer to put felt pads or to epoxy a picture hanger to the back, so they can be used as trivets or wall art.  My husband has offered to try to make wooden frames for them, too, and I might toss that project his way over the winter, when he has time to experiment.

I've had another project stuck in my head for a while.  I'd like to do a large, round platter as a piece of wall art.  I created a picture for our daughter several years ago, a combination of abstraction and realism that looks like a pond viewed from above, including waterside plants, rocks, water plants, and small water creatures (fish, turtle, frog, dragonfly).  I can so clearly imagine that smaller work in marker redone as a larger image on a beautiful ceramic circle.  I'd have to really trust the studio firing the work, though, since it would be monumentally aggravating to put all that work into the decoration then have something go wrong in the firing that could be attributed to someone elses' error.  Ceramics includes a random element - every trip through the kiln is a new adventure, and sometimes things go wrong and you don't know why, or you do know why, but it's nobody in particular's fault - it's just part of the process.  But human error happens too.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Happy Sounds

Safety Guy got up in a great mood today.  He's watching clips from Top Gear on YouTube, laughing and commenting and exclaiming over the auto-related mayhem.  It's so nice to hear him relaxed and happy.    And, of course, Top Gear includes a bunch of Safety Guy's favorite things:  cars and vehicles of all descriptions, combined with crazy stunts, crashes, jumps, explosions, auto trivia, traffic situations and over-the-top guy humor.  So, it's the perfect show for him.  He's been edgy and moody lately, and overreacting more than usual to small annoyances and interpersonal frictions (especially with his sister), so a happy morning like this is a real gift.

His tone of voice and the random sounds he makes are the surest clues to his frame of mind.  Even when he was very little, we could tell from his vocalizations if all was right with his world.  When he's upset, it's in his voice; when he's frustrated or angry, it's obvious, and when he's happy, it's just as plain.  When he was little we could tell when he was in a really good mood from the sound effects he was making:  car/train noises and crashing noises were sure indicators that all was right in his world.  The total lack of those noises meant something was occupying his attention, which could be good or bad.  And of course, his words and pitch have always been obvious indicators of his frame of mind.  The higher the pitch of his voice and the increasing lack of lower register tones as he speaks always indicate his deteriorating patience and increased frustration or anger.  We've learned to encourage him to be be mindful of his own voice and pitch, to help him hear in his own voice how he's reacting and escalating.  (Likewise, his father and I have had to set the example, maintaining a calm demeanor and pitch when he's upset and escalating toward a meltdown - even if we're so frustrated with him or the situation that we'd like to fly off the handle ourselves.  The hardest part of behavior modification has always been modifying OUR behavior before we can modify HIS.)  Encouraging him to lower his voice, speak calmly, and take deep, slow breaths all help him self-monitor and recover during times of stress.

I know all kids (and grownups) are like that to some extent, showing their moods in their voice, but for him it's always seemed to be that way and much more so.  I think it's his Aspergers, his total characteristic spectrum honesty:  he doesn't (and perhaps can't) hide how he really feels.  There's no subterfuge or social mind games with him.  What you hear/see from him is what you get, all the time.  That's one aspect of his Aspergers that I actually appreciate - that lack of pretense and put-on.  His heart is on his sleeve, so to speak.  Of course, such brutal 24/7 honesty has its drawbacks (when it veers into bluntness that crosses into rudeness), but in general I much prefer that to deceit or mind games.

He has such an infectious laugh, it's impossible not to smile along with him.  He hasn't sounded this cheerful in weeks.  He's even making his sound effects today, mimicking the crashes and motor noises he's hearing on his car show.  (He's such an uncanny mimic that I've had to ask him to NOT do it while I'm driving.  Hearing honking horns and crashing noises from the back seat are NOT conducive to undistracted driving.)  It's a good morning, and I'm thankful for this not-so-small blessing.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Break In The Weather

 An abstract pendant just listed in my shop - double sided, 
on an 18" white faux leather cord,  with lobster claw clasp and extender chain.

The week-long string of hot weather has broken today.  It's much more comfortable, and we even had a little rain.  What we could really use is a good, two-day soaking rain, but we'll take what we can get at this point.  There's a chance for more rain later, so I'm hoping some falls our way.

I'm trying to get some creative juices going again.  Today I finished a small painting for my daughter, one I started last year then set aside.  It sort of matches her bedroom colors, and she was happy to get it when she returned from a fun summer program at school.

I also spent some time last night updating a few treasuries I created on Etsy a while ago.  As items sell, gaps open in the treasury, and when someone finds it on a search for a particular item/theme/color/whatever, they see only a partial collection.  So, I go back every so often and update my treasuries, to keep them current.  I just redid one featuring beautiful aqua-glazed ceramics, another with amazing portraits of women, and a third celebrating my father's love of steam railroads.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Random Sunday

Safety Guy's birthday party adventure yesterday went great!  He had an awesome time, and lots of fun, and his friend C. was thrilled to have his first group (instead of family-only) party be such a success.  I'm so excited for C., whose own autism struggles mirror our sons'.  It's so good to be able to share in someone else's success and blessing.

Princess Yakyak is becoming a young lady rather earlier than I'm ready for.  The dreaded MOOD SWINGS have begun.  Oh. My. Goodness.  It's going to be a looooong decade. . . .

I've been seriously dragging today.  It's 2PM, and I'm finally starting to feel like I can get some stuff done around the house without feeling like my head isn't quite connected to my shoulders (due to sinus/allergy/headache issues).  Now that I'm reliably vertical and coherent, I've got laundry calling my name.  Yee haw.

My brave and nice husband is going to take both kids to a fireman's field days event this afternoon.  We've been driving by the field all week, watching them set up all of the kids' favorite rides.  Safety Guy is hoping there's a Scrambler somewhere in the mix, while Princess Yakyak loves the spinning dragons (kind of like a teacup ride).  There's a large, horizontally spinning/tilting/whirling ride we call "The Barfinator" that our son is hoping to talk my husband into riding, but I don't think he'll do it this time, since the chances of PYY riding it are nil,  and he won't leave her alone while he and SG ride.  Safety Guy will have to decide if he's brave enough to solo.  Good luck, guys!  I'll tackle the spinning, whirling laundry while you're gone.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hot - Hot - Hot

The midwest heat wave slid into the northeast this week, and it has been dangerously hot for the past few days.  Thursday we topped out around 101F, with heat indices approaching 110.  And, to make it even more interesting, it was quite humid, and windy.  Not a little zephyr, but a good stiff breeze that did nothing to cool anything down.  Opening the door to go outside or get out of the car was like opening the oven while baking cookies:  this wave of hot air whooshed over you and took your breath away.  You couldn't walk for more than a few steps without breaking a sweat all over.  We spent the hot days this week hustling from a/c to a/c as we did our appointments and errands.

We went to the pool earlier in the week to beat the heat, but didn't make it into the water on the hottest day of the year (so far) because Safety Guy had brought a nasty cough home from camp, and we took him to the doctor when it became clear it wasn't going away on its own.  We had the privilege of paying the doctor on call to tell us that it was just allergies, and she suggested we might try giving him Claritin.  Sigh.  But I'm glad it wasn't bronchitis, which was what I was afraid it might be.  The Claritin seems to be working for him.

Safety Guy has a birthday party to go to today, for his friend C., who was his classmate last year.  C. has Aspergers too, only more so than Safety Guy does.  They get along great, when they aren't on each others' nerves.  That seems to be the story of Safety Guy's friendships with boys his own age; there's not a whole lot of "in between" when they're together.  He and his friend E. are the same way, and so it is with him and the guys in his Boy Scout troop.  Initially Safety Guy said he didn't want to go to the party (which is being held at a local pool), but we decided that he ought to give it a try, because C. had called him personally to invite him - a big step for C.  So Safety Guy will be going today to hang out with his friend at the pool, with whatever other kids are invited.  I hope it goes well for him.

I always have my reservations about these group social situations for our son.  We don't avoid putting Safety Guy in them (he has to learn how to handle them), but we're well aware of the pitfalls.  Coming off camp last week, which was VERY stressful for SG, I'm a bit more cautious than usual.  Still, in this case we know that C.'s mother Mimi is familiar with Safety Guy, and totally unflapped by any Aspergers issues that may arise, and she's well able to handle them.  It helps that it's at a pool - Safety Guy loves being in the water.  Hopefully it will be a good afternoon's diversion for him, and he'll have fun.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Great Bathroom Redo

We're mostly done with the half bath remodeling project we started a couple months ago.  All that's left now are finishing details (towel bars, pictures).  What do you think?

We love the color - it really glows in the afternoon light, and is nice and warm at night.  After thinking of making that room very pale blue, we decided that was too cold for our taste.  With somewhere around 6 months of cool/cold/cloudy/wintery weather in CNY, we opted for a color that would feel warm no matter what season we were enjoying.  My husband did the lion's share of the work (lighting, trim, tile, new faucet, toilet, painting) - didn't he do a great job?  All I did was some of the painting/trim work, and the window valance/rod. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Things At Ellemar Designs

 Two small Celtic knot trinket boxes.

I've finally gotten some new items listed in my shop.  They're not "new" like "made recently," though - they're "new" as in "I had been trying to sell them somewhere else but it didn't work out, so here they are now."  Still, it feels good to be doing SOMETHING with my Etsy shop, since I was so down on it for months on end.  Now I need to make some NEW new items to put in my shop.  Since it's supposed to be staggeringly hot here for the next week, I'm sure I'll make good use of the A/C, stay indoors and start a project or two.

'Peacock' - 8" x 10" original drawing in marker, matted and framed.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Like Riding A Bicycle, Part 2


 Torquemada would be proud to see this in such wide use -
one of the best modern methods of self-flagellation.

I got on my husband's bike a few weeks ago, to go riding with Princess Yakyak.  I hadn't been on a bike in upwards of 10 years.  Still, I got on and went, with only a little minor unsteadiness for the first few minutes.  It was very pleasant to go for a ride.  In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I've decided that I need to get a bike of my own now.  So, that's what I'm getting for my birthday from my parents - money toward a new bike - and I'm actually quite excited about that.

 This seat might be much kinder and gentler to my, um, dignity.

My husband's bike just doesn't suit me.  Aside from the fact that whenever I ride it I have to lower the seat a bit, it has one of those awful, narrow, hard torture devices seats that weren't made for the comfort of the average human heiny, and especially not for my particular middle-aged female heiny.  I'm going to find a bike that suits my height (and my behind), and I don't care how unfashionably big and cushy the seat is.  I'm not riding to impress anyone, I just want the fun and the exercise.  If I lost enough weight to justify wearing those colorful spandex riding outfits (BWAHAHAHAHAAAA! - I hate the idea of wearing spandex) then I might be able to physically stand using one of those skinny saddles.  Or, the more likely scenario, no matter what weight I lose, I'll just wear whatever I darn well please, and enjoy my comfy bike seat no matter how far/long I ride.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Like Riding A Bicycle

 The view from the end of the line.  And no, it's not an illusion - 
I really WAS sitting up that much higher on my horse 
than Princess Yakyak was on hers.

I guess it's true - some things you never forget once you've learned them, like riding a bike - or a horse.  And, like riding a bicycle, I proved this weekend that I could still ride a horse competently and comfortably.  Never mind it's been something like 17 years since I last went riding.  I promised Princess Yakyak that we'd go for a trail ride this summer, since our last try at scheduling a ride was foiled by heavy rain earlier this year.  This week the weather, timing, and payday all aligned perfectly, so we scheduled a one-hour trail ride for Friday.

 Princess Yakyak on Oklahoma, and our guide Carter on Magnum.

We had a great time.  The weather was perfect, and the stable wasn't hard to find south of Syracuse.  The place didn't look like much from the road, but the horses were well cared for and the staff were quite friendly.  We were the only ones signed up for a ride at that time, so we essentially got a private ride, just us and our guide.

I'm not a small person, so I was relieved when they already had saddled up a larger horse before meeting me, and brought him out.  His name was Texas, and he's a 21 year old Belgian draft horse, used for both riding and pulling a cart.  He was a gentle giant, a country gentleman with one speed, an ambling walk.  He was quite tall, but not really broad, so he was actually a very comfortable ride for me.  Thankfully they had a mounting block - I'm not sure I could have mounted him from the ground.

Princess Yakyak was given a small mare named Oklahoma ("Okie" for short).  They were a perfect fit, and PYY was delighted that she could ride without needing a lead rope to a more experienced rider.  The stable requires that kids under 12 wear a helmet, and suggested she bring her bike helmet.   I had asked ahead of time about the trails and explained that while I had some experience, PYY was a complete beginner.  I was assured that the trails we'd take were very easy - gentle hills, woods and fields, all at a walk.  Just a nice, relaxing amble through the countryside - perfect for us.  The guide demonstrated the basics of steering her horse for her, and we were off.

It was Princess Yakyak's first ever solo ride, and it was a long one.  We paid for an hour, but our guide gave us some extra time.  We also got to choose which trails we wanted to pursue, so I let PYY make the decisions.  We rode up through fields and into some woods.  We saw some deer resting in the shadows, and the herd of horses kept by the stable (working, boarded, and rescued).  We had a wonderful time, very laid-back and peaceful.  We took several short breaks on the hills, to enjoy the views and let Texas get a breather.

A view east across the valley.

When we got back to the stable, Princess Yakyak and I fed our hard-working mounts some horse treats.  It was her first time feeding horses, and she was a bit nervous that they'd accidentally bite her, but I showed her how to do it so the horses could lip up the goodies without any effort at all.

 I'd love to go riding there again.  If I had unlimited money, I'd go every week.  I remember being totally horse-crazy at my daughter's age.  It was nice to do this special thing just with her, and I hardly ached at all afterward.  We'll try to go again in the fall at least once. 

My buddy Texas.

Home Sweet Home

We retrieved Safety Guy from Boy Scout Camp yesterday.  We were very late picking him up, but he handled it well (for him).  Here's what happened:  while my husband and I were discussing a difficult issue in our extended family, my husband (who was driving) was distracted and we missed our exit off the thruway.  That meant a very long detour to get up to camp (25+ miles out of our way by the time we got to the next exit and took another route).  The plus side (I was trying to be positive):  it was a nice drive into the Adirondacks.  The down side:  trying to get hold of someone at camp to tell Safety Guy that we'd be late, and hadn't forgotten about him.  No answer from his Scout Master or Safety Guy's phones.  (Turns out one had no reception, and one was out of battery power.)  Finally we caught up with SG's tent mate/friend's dad on the phone, who said he'd tell SG we'd be there in a while.  When we eventually arrived, Safety Guy's response to the debacle was, "Nice, Dad."  Still, that's better than a wholesale meltdown or more scathing commentary, so we decided we'd gotten of lightly under the circumstances.

Next was another up side/down side issue.  The down side:  we were late enough we missed the BBQ.  Hey, there were a couple hundred Boy Scouts there, we didn't seriously think there'd be much food left when we were 45 minutes late for dinner.  Safety Guy got to eat, but we were out of luck.  The plus side was that we decided to drive on into Old Forge after we packed him up and eat at the same tavern we ate at when we dropped him off last Sunday.  (Although he'd already had dinner, Safety Guy had a side order of french fries there, which he proclaimed the best he'd ever eaten.)

We were pleasantly surprised that Safety Guy was in a pretty good mood when we arrived, with little to complain about.  He was chatty and happy to describe his camp adventures to us through dinner, and unusually patient with his sister talking about horses and her trail ride as much as he talked about camp.  

I had made a tactical decision before we got up there:  we'd let him ride shotgun in the car on the way home, because I was pretty sure sticking him in the back seat with his sister right away would be a bad idea after his long, stressful week.  He was thrilled to sit up front.  I had also brought his Gameboy in the car, which he greeted like a long-lost friend.

At the last minute we decided that I'd drive the return leg of the trip, so my husband got to relax in the back seat with Princess Yakyak (who enjoyed the novelty of having Dad sit next to her).  It was a gorgeous evening to drive home, with a lovely sunset, the pine-woods fragrance of the Adirondacks flowing through the open car windows, and the full moon rising.

We were home very late, almost 11PM, but we still insisted Safety Guy take a shower ASAP.  Oof, he really needed one.  (He was well aware of that; in fact, at dinner, when the waiter asked him if he'd like dessert, Safety Guy's response was, "I need a shower!")  After he was clean we let him have 15 minutes of computer time, something he'd been dying for all week.  He enjoyed his 15 minutes, then happily went to bed in his own room.  He slept in this morning, and got up cheerful.

In the interest of letting him unwind from his week, we gave him as much space as possible today.  He had his computer time, listened to his music, played with his electronics, hung out with the little boy across the street (who is three, and adores having a big kid pay attention to him), got into a water-gun battle with his sister and the kids next door, and enjoyed having his Nana and Papa over for dinner tonight.   It was a very low-key day all around.  I guess I'm still waiting for the backlash meltdown to occur.  Maybe it won't happen at all (which would be some sort of miracle, but I'm still hoping).

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dancing With The Singularity

Maybe I've been watching too much Star Trek:  The Next Generation, but this is the perfect analogy for dealing with our son's Aspergers Syndrome lately.  Living our life with his autism is like dancing with a singularity (a black hole).  You can help him skirt the edge of disaster, skate around the perimeter of a meltdown, finesse his reality any number of ways to help him use his coping skills and head off other invitations to calamity at the pass, but sooner or later you'll get too close to the edge and get sucked in.  And it can happen SO DAMN FAST.

As his Scout Master found out today.

We got a tearful call from our son this evening, around 8pm.  He'd had a rough day, lost his temper at his friends a lot, and finally had a public meltdown that included swearing profusely at some other Scouts.  His Scout Master brought him back to his tent (away from the activity with the other Scouts) to lie down and regroup, and to let him call us.   My husband and I got on the phone at the same time and talked to our son.  We got him calmed down, and got a general idea of what had been going on.  Safety Guy confessed that he'd used offensive swear words at other Scouts, and apologized to us.  We told him he'd have to apologize to the Scouts later, and to his Scout Master.  We could tell his margins were shot to heck - he was well beyond his comfort zone, by several light years.  Then we talked with his Scout Master.

God bless Tim, he's so good with Safety Guy and the other boys.  He's seen Safety Guy through many Scout activities, from weekly meetings to weekend camp-outs, and even survived trying to teach our son how to properly use an axe.  He's used to Safety Guy's quirks and mannerisms, his tendency to exaggerate when he's upset and to take things too personally when the guys are joking around together.  Tim sees our son at church, where his boys and Safety Guy are in Youth Group together.  But, he's never seen our son have a meltdown like THAT before.  I could tell he was a bit taken aback, and wanted to talk to us while SG calmed down.

Of course we apologized for our son's behavior (as we've apologized so many times before), even as we all realized that my husband and I didn't cause it or encourage it.  We were embarrassed and sad, but also in a strange way I was relieved.  Someone else had a long-term interaction with our son, and has seen how quickly his affect and behavior can change.  Someone else has gotten a taste of what living with Aspergers can really be like, what life with our son really is, down in the trenches.  Someone else in our circle of friends and family knows now.  And it's someone who can (and will) pray for our son and for our family, who will continue to be a good influence on him and encourage him and help him.

Welcome to our life, we wryly told Tim.  He took it in the spirit it was intended.  What we meant is, "THIS is our son, really - a sweet, smart, funny young man who has great difficulty controlling his emotions and actions under stress.  A kid who is chronologically 12, physically looks 15, and emotionally is maybe 9.  A boy who fundamentally doesn't understand how other people think, and lives in a scary world where people and events that are unpredictable seem threatening.  He reacts with anger when what he's really feeling is fear and frustration.  His emotions can flip from positive to negative in the blink of an eye, and back again just as quickly.  He's a stranger in a strange land, even within his family, and we are his interpreters for now.  Someday he'll have to navigate this scary world all by himself.  Boy Scout camp is just a step in the long, long process of him growing up and into his own life."

Heaven help us, I wish I could have been there at camp to give him a hug (which he might or might not have accepted - he's at that age where Mom is equal parts necessary and embarrassing).  But I'm glad we were far enough away that we could truthfully say that we couldn't just run up and get him.  Because, as we talked with Tim, he never suggested that Safety Guy be sent home from camp early, and I commented that we wanted him to finish the week out so he'd know that losing his temper would not get him out of unpleasant circumstances. (Of course, if there were an emergency, we'd be on the road in a flash, and up at the camp in just over an hour.)

I don't think we can repay Tim for what he did for our son tonight, and I know Tim isn't looking for kudos or rewards.  But I think he's the best example of a Scout Master I've ever seen, and a good man to be a role model for Safety Guy.

Now I'm hoping Safety Guy makes it through Friday without any major meltdowns.  We'll be picking him up at dinner time, joining the Scouts for a BBQ dinner, then coming home.  I already know that Safety Guy will need hours and hours of alone time to rebuild his emotional stability this weekend, and he'll probably have meltdown issues for days after he gets back.  It comes with the AS territory.  It's been a pattern his whole life, needing time to recuperate after any stressful event or change in routine (good or bad).

But now someone else knows. . . .

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Boy Scout Camp Update

Well, we've made it to Wednesday morning and haven't had to go retrieve Safety Guy from camp.  He's had some great fun, and some serious aggravation.  He informed me again last night that he was homesick and couldn't wait to come home, but he was also jazzed about the evening of "gladiator games" they had planned.  He was excited about some game involving Scouts running around in the woods after dark with flashlights.  I spent last night hoping that would end well, since Safety Guy is somewhat lacking in physical coordination, and doesn't like to be outside after dark.  I didn't get a phone call about injuries or being lost, so I'm assuming he eventually made it back to his tent. . . .

He tried a new food yesterday:  scrambled eggs, a standard Boy Scout camping breakfast.  The Scout Master has a novel way of preparing them, by having the kids mix an egg or two with a little milk, salt, and pepper in a plastic zip-lock bag, then boiling the bag for several minutes.  They fish the baggies out of the boiling water, squish them around a bit, boil them for another minute or two, then eat.  Saves on cleanup - I like the idea, and might borrow it for family camping trips in the future.  I'm psyched that Safety Guy finally TRIED the eggs.  I've been trying to get him to try scrambled eggs for years.  Yesterday he finally did, and proclaimed them, "Disgusting!"  Oh well, at least he tried them.

He had a bit of a crisis, yesterday, too.  We gave him some money to use at the camp store, enough to buy a drink or snack each day.  He kept it in his backpack in the tent.  Yesterday he couldn't find the money where he'd left it.  He looked everywhere, and told his Scout Master about it.  I hate to think it could have been stolen, but that's a distinct possibility.  Equally plausible is that he mislaid it in the tent, and hasn't found it yet.  He's never been good at finding things he's misplaced - he just does a surface scan of the room, but doesn't look under/behind/around things.  I can't count the number of times he's "lost" something and asked me for help, and I've walked into his room and found it within 30 seconds.  He was pretty upset when he called the first time, and I commiserated and encouraged him to really look through EVERYTHING he had around his cot.  I pointed out that if he found it, life would be fine again, and if he didn't find it, he hadn't lost anything by looking.  When he called us later, he still hadn't found his money, but said he thought it might still be in the tent mixed up with his stuff.  I'm hoping that's the case, and that he finds it soon.  It wasn't a large sum of money, less than $7, but it's the principle of the thing.  Stealing is WRONG, and Safety Guy is really unhappy that someone would do that to him, at Scout camp no less.  This is one occasion where I wish the Scout Master would hold on to the boys' money for them.

There are quite a number of troops at Camp Russell this week.  One is a group of Special Needs Boy Scouts, with a mixed bag of ages and abilities among the members, from teens to adults.  I was so proud when Safety Guy told me that he'd been talking with one of the guys from that troop and having fun in a group with him.  I like our son's lack of judgment about another person's ability/disability, and that he was willing to reach out and interact with someone new.  The other young man's apparent cerebral palsy didn't phase Safety Guy at all (in fact, it was SG who said he thought the other Scout had CP, and described to me the muscular/speech difficulties the other Scout had).  Safety Guy also thought the wheelchair of one of the SN Scouts was really cool:  it was made of PVC pipe, with over-sized inflated tires, so it was easier to use on bumpy woodland paths, and waterproof, so it could be wheeled right into the lake or through streams.  Cool!

Today Safety Guy will be able to go out in a boat on the lake with a partner.  This ought to be interesting - he's never canoed or done anything like that before.  I hope they have fun, and that he's paired with an older Scout with a little more experience (and common sense) with boats.  If he and his best friend E. try to set sail together, we could have a replay of Gilligan's Island, or the Titanic. . . .

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Broccoli-Bacon-Cheddar Salad

This recipe originally came from my good friend Jeanne.  It's a classic cold summer salad, perfect for picnics, potlucks and barbecues.  I've seen variations of this dish that include raisins or dried cranberries (which I really like), but many people don't care for those, so they're not in this recipe.  I usually make it the night before I want to have it, although you could easily make it the same day.

Jeanne B.'s Broccoli-Bacon-Cheddar Salad

7-8 cups broccoli florets, cut into small pieces
1/2 large red onion, diced
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 lb. low-sodium bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
2 cups light mayonnaise
1 cup sugar
8 tbsp. cider vinegar
generous sprinkle of fresh ground black pepper

Combine the mayonnaise, sugar, pepper and cider vinegar with a whisk in a large bowl until smooth.  Mix in the broccoli, bacon, and cheese.  Cover and chill for at least 4 hours; overnight is even better.  Serves 16-20.

Boy Scout Camp and Old Forge, NY

Safety Guy has another big first in his life this week.  He's away at Boy Scout Camp - all week.  It's his first long sojourn away from home, and he was a bit anxious leading up to Sunday, when we drove him up into the Adirondacks to Camp Russell near Old Forge, and dropped him off.

Getting him ready the day before was a bit of a struggle - he wanted to pack his own stuff, but when I went up to check on what he had put in his duffle, he had enough clothes for two days (instead of 5), a fleece vest (but no hoodie or coat), and his sun screen.  Um, not quite enough for five nights away.  Yeah, I know that part of the experience of Boy Scout Camp is a bunch of guys getting stinky and grubby together in the wilderness - but five days on two sets of clothes, no soap, no towel, no deodorant?  Thanks, but I wanted to be able to breathe in the car with him on the way home.

He was a bit annoyed with me for getting involved, but I told him we'd need to add to his clothes or he'd run out of clean stuff by Tuesday.  He grumped a bit, but let me add enough essentials to keep him going.  Plus I reminded him to take deodorant, toothbrush/toothpaste, and bug spray.  Between the two of us we got most of his stuff ready the night before.  Even so, we forgot a couple things.  (If he complains to his Scout Master, Tim will just ask Safety Guy why he wasn't packing his own stuff all along and using the checklist they've talked about for the past month.)

Safety Guy had told me he was nervous about going earlier in the week, but he didn't once suggest not going to camp at all.  He was excited about spending a week with his friends (a week away from his sister and her friends, too!).  He was anxious about the unknowns, the change in routine, the different foods, the heat and weather, and sleeping in a tent.  He had sporadic nervous issues the whole week before we took him to camp, and was a bit touchier every day - no major meltdowns, but we could tell his upcoming adventure was on his mind a lot.  We let him take his tracphone (with his Scout Master's permission) so he could call in the evenings.

His touchiness reached a crescendo the day we dropped him off.  It didn't help that we were running late due to something out of our control.  Still, we made it.  At first he was eager for us to get out of his space and let him be with his friends.  ("What the heck are you still doing here?!" he snapped at me at one point.)  We had to stay long enough for the camp store to open so we could buy his Class B Scout T-shirt, but we stood with other parents at a short distance while the boys chatted and fooled around while waiting to register and go swimming.  By the time we had to leave, Safety Guy had loosened up enough to smile and wave goodbye to me.

Since we were close to Old Forge, my husband and I and Princess Yakyak went into town for lunch and window shopping.  Old Forge has lots of kitschy-touristy stuff, but also some really neat places with local/Adirondack arts and crafts and foods.  We had lunch at a pub called Slickers, and it was really good food.  We ended the meal sharing a couple desserts between the three of us, including the most amazing peanut butter pie we've ever had (like fudge in a chocolate crust).  We'll go there again when we're in Old Forge.  We also went to a local candy store and got some goodies for the ride home - maple cream candy, and locally made dark chocolate sea salt caramels.  It was nice to have a day trip vacation, even though I was rather headachy for most of the day (a combination of stress and weather - bleh).

When we finally got home much later that day, there was a plaintive message from Safety Guy on the answering machine.  "I'm exhausted, and I'm homesick," he said, which made me sad - it didn't seem like his week was starting off on a good note.  When he called later that evening, though, he sounded a bit better.  The following morning he called again between activities, and said, "This place is AWESOME!  Well, except for the complete lack of electronics."  And each time he's called since then (he's been calling several times a day) he's sounded happy, and says he's having fun. 

I'm so glad.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hybridizing Daylilies, Step By Step

 Daylily 'Dallas Star,' showing its form and interior.

My friend Blondee asked me to do a blog post about how I breed my daylilies.  Today was a perfect morning to do that, so I took my camera outside while I dabbled pollen around.  Breeding daylilies is ridiculously easy - absolutely anyone can do it.  It makes a great long-term home school science project, too, since any kid can crossbreed them, grow the seedlings, and see them bloom in  1-2 years.

 The stamens (shorter, up-curled, with pollen sacs on the tips) 
and the pistil (longer, with a plain, sticky tip).

Daylilies are very simple flowers.  Each bloom is made up of three petals and three sepals.  Since the sepals are colorful like the petals, it gives the appearance of one, six-petaled flower.  Daylilies have six stamens, which bear the pollen, and one pistil, which receives pollen and transfers the genetic material down a long, thin tube to the ovary of the flower.  The ovary of the flower becomes the seed pod after fertilization occurs.

There are two kinds of daylilies - diploid (having two sets of chromosomes) and tetraploid (having four sets of chromosomes).  They aren't easily distinguished by eye (although generally tetraploids are huskier than diploids, having broader foliage and thicker blooming scapes with bigger, thicker flowers).  They can't crossbreed.  If  you have a mix of daylilies but aren't sure which are which ploidy, plan on making a handful of crosses between different flowers to make sure you get some to successfully set seed.  Most plants sold by box stores now are tetraploid hybrids.  Old-fashioned varieties are more often diploid, taller and with more elegant flowers. (The orange "ditch lily" [Hemerocallis fulva] so common along American roadsides is actually infertile, and spreads by its roots, so don't try to use those for breeding.)  I'm using two diploid, older daylilies to demonstrate hybridizing today:  'Dallas Star' and 'Ida Miles.'

Weather affects your pollinating success quite a bit.  You need a warm, dry morning for the best results.  The pollen sacs will open gradually as the day warms; some plants will open earlier than others.  If the sac isn't fully open and the pollen visibly fluffy, it's not ready.  The flower to the left isn't ready to be used for pollination yet, even though this picture was taken at the same time I was pollinating DS x IM, just before 10AM.  It could probably accept pollen from another flower on its pistil, but its own pollen isn't ready to be used.

Wet weather isn't good, because wet pollen will rarely "take" on another plant.  If it rained the night before, the pollen may still open dry and be okay, but if it's raining while you want to try breeding, your success rate will be low - it's better to just wait for another, drier day.

Chose a flower to be the "pollen parent."  While you can try to breed for specific characteristics, the element of chance is what makes breeding daylilies so much fun.  It's amazing how different the seedlings raised from one pod of seeds can be, just like kids in a family.  One great gardener said, "I just breed pretty with pretty," and there's nothing wrong with that philosophy at all.  So, here's the first step:  using your fingers, gently break off one stamen an inch or so below the pollen sac.

Breaking off a stamen.  
Notice the pollen sacs are wide open, and the pollen visibly fluffy.

Take the pollen to the flower you've chosen to be the "pod parent."  Make sure there's no pollen already on the pistil of the bloom you've chosen (so you know that flower hasn't been pollinated by a bee already).  Gently dab the fresh pollen all over the sticky tip of the pistil.  Cover the entire tip of the pistil; really pile it on.  

 Pollinating - really, really easy.

Another cross - see the pollen all over the tip of the pistil?

And that's it.  Really, I told you it was dead easy to do.  Serious hybridizers will sometimes put a paper bag over the freshly pollinated flower, to prevent any other pollen from contaminating the cross they just made, but I've never done that.  I'm not using rare pollen from expensive flowers, and frankly if you coat the tip of the pistil really well, the chances of a random bee adding enough new pollen to throw off your breeding results are pretty small.

BUT, there's one final important step, if you're keeping track of what you crossed:  LABEL THE BLOOM YOU JUST CROSSED with the pollen parent and the pod parent (in this case, 'Dallas Star' x 'Ida Miles').  Don't remove the flower - let it dry up and fall off naturally.  Here's a picture of another recent cross I made, where I hung a tag with the information right at the base of the flower I pollinated.

If your pollination activity was successful, within a week you'll see something like this on your plant as the flower dries up and falls off:


The new seed pod is under the end of the dried up flower.  A week or so later, it will look like the pod on the right.  Daylily seed pods generally take 60-75 days to ripen, so by the beginning of September (from plants pollinated now) you'll have mature seeds.  Daylily pods are ripe when they start to turn yellow.  You can also gently squeeze them at that time if you're not sure, and if the seams of the pod pop open a bit, they're ready.  The seeds will be shiny black, and about 1/4" long.  Each pod can hold up to a couple dozen seeds, but sometimes you'll get less than that.  If the weather was poor when you hybridized, you might only get a few seeds.  The seeds can be sown immediately if you want to get a head start on next year's season (I haven't done that yet, but I'm going to try it this year with some of my seed), or they can be dried for a few days to a week on a paper plate indoors, then refrigerated in a baggie (in the veggie drawer works well) until you're ready to winter sow them or plant them the next spring.  I've had good results winter sowing them most years.  Most daylilies will bloom for the first time the year after they're sown, but it takes a couple years for them to mature into their final bloom form.  First year blooms are often uneven in form or color, but if it looks good as a first bloom, it will probably be even better the second year.  If it's a real dog the first year, it's your choice to give it a chance for a second year - daylilies can really change a lot for the better between their first and second year of blooming.

Have fun!

A nice, dark red seedling from 2007 - it's a bit darker than this in person.  
It's a keeper - now I just have to think of a name for it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Trial and Error

Even though we've been here for two years now, I'm still learning about this yard and how its microclimates affect the plants I want to grow.  Some things have thrived, some have done okay, some are limping along, and some have given up the ghost.  As we get into the fall, I've got a list of things to move to a better location, things to remove entirely, and things to plant that might do better than what I've already tried. 

For instance, the front north island bed needs some serious TLC.  It's very exposed in the winter, getting the howling wind from the north-northwest-west, and very dry during the summer, when it gets baked from that same quadrant of the compass.  I'm finding that I need to put extra-tough plants there.  The miscanthus grass, shasta daisy, juniper and daylilies are doing fine there.   The penstemon is just holding on, the peony was just okay (but it's still getting established from last year - peonies take a couple years to get going), the lychnis chalcedonica (Maltese Cross) isn't happy at all, the hemlock tree is not looking good, and the phlox was a total failure.  I'm surprised that the hemlock is struggling, and I'm hoping it has a good winter and rebounds next year.  Any number of annuals have disliked that location (petunias, alyssum, marigolds, snapdragons and dwarf zinnias all have failed to thrive on the exposed side of the bed), although tall zinnias seem to like the east side of the bed just fine, and look pretty good.

Tonight I started renovating that bed, with the addition of three sedum 'Autumn Joy' on the south end of the bed.  There are a trio of those on the other front bed with the same exposure, and they're gorgeous and full, so I'm hoping these will similarly take off.  I'm adding a fresh layer of mulch to that bed, to better conserve water.  I'm not going to waste money on the annuals that have failed there over the past couple years, and I'm going to concentrate on drought-tolerant, heat-loving plants for the most part.  I'll probably add another clump of shasta daisies, since they've been very happy there.  I don't want to water the flower beds around my house except in a serious drought situation.  This isn't a drought, it's just a normal summer with average temps and moderate rainfall.  If those plants are struggling now, they'll totally expire during a really hot summer, so I'm going to shift that bed to the toughest plants I can grow.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Daylily Seedling Success

This seems to be the year my daylily seedlings are coming into their own.  I have a bunch of seedlings that I bred in 2007 and brought with me on the move, which bloomed over the last two years, and a bunch of seedlings sown in 2010 that are blooming for the first time now.  I've got quite an assortment of also-rans and oh-dears, but I've got a handful of really nice ones to keep and evaluate further.  Some of them have garden names (unregistered with the AHS yet, but I've got to call them something besides "seedling 2007 purple with eye and edge," or whatever, until I decide if I want to take the trouble to register them for sale as official named varieties).  Here are my keepers so far:

Spacecoast Starburst x Mama's Cherry Pie, 2007.  
I haven't settled on a name for this one.  It's an early-to-mid bloomer, 
about 24" tall, Dormant, Tetraploid, 5" blooms, and very robust, 
and it consistently opens well-formed flowers early in the season, 
even with the heavily ruffled edge (which can be an issue up here in the north, 
since heavily ruffled flowers often prefer hot weather to open well).

Parentage unknown, 2007.  Garden name:  Dixie Highway.
I'm in love with this one - the creamy lemon color and the brushed cinnamon eye
are a really nice combination.  It's about 28" tall, dormant, early-midseason 
blooming, probably tetraploid, and the flower is about 6" across.

Parentage unknown, probably out of Green Eyed Pat
seed harvested 2007, sown 2010.  No garden name yet.
This is a lovely, soft flower, true rose pink with a darker eye 
and yellow to green throat.  It's dormant, and is probably tetraploid.  
It's about 18" tall, and the flower is about 4 1/2" -5",
but the plant will probably be a bit taller at maturity.  
Early-midseason blooming.

Parentage unknown, probably out of Green Eyed Pat
seed harvested 2007, sown 2010.  No garden name yet.
This was a wonderful surprise this morning!  It's a gorgeous creamy color, 
with a large green throat and excellent form.  Definitely a keeper.  
It's dormant, about 20" tall, probably tetraploid, 
midseason blooming, and the blooms are large (at least 6").

Seedling Prince of Sharon x Clarification, 2007.  Garden name:  Oye Como Va.
This one is a big son of a gun, with heavy 6" flowers in strong stems.
It's about 30" tall, dormant, with rich green foliage, tetraploid, 
early-mid blooming.

Seedling Mama's Cherry Pie x Graham Memorial, 2007.  
Garden name:  Stone In Love.
This was my husband's pick of the seedlings last year, but I named it.  
It's a very robust plant, 26" tall, tetraploid, semi-evergreen, 
and an early-midseason bloomer with 5 1/2" flowers.  
The color is sunfast, and the form is consistently fine.

 Seedling Prince of Sharon x Clarification (II), 2007.  No garden name yet.
This was a lovely surprise last year, the first time it bloomed.  It's not a terribly
robust plant, but it's blooming well after being planted out in the front yard.
Dormant, early-midseason, 18" tall, 5" flowers, tetraploid.
I usually prefer taller plants; large flowers on short plants look unbalanced to me.
Still, I can't pass up the form and color of this one - 
it opens beautifully no matter what the weather.  
I'll keep it, and maybe use it for breeding.

I've got a handful more of this year's seedlings to keep and evaluate over the next couple years.  I've got a bunch of plants to give away (the nicer ones), or compost (the dogs).  I only sprouted a couple daylilies from my winter sowing efforts this year - the spring was just too cold and wet.  I might start some seeds this fall from my own plants, to get a jump on next year.  We'll see.  It's like playing the lottery - you never know.  Out of about 60 seedlings from last year, I'll keep perhaps 5-6 for another year and see how they do.
Maybe I'll register a few eventually with the American Hemerocallis Society 
(the U. S. national daylily registry), so I can sell them as true named varieties.  
Mostly, though, I do this for fun.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fourth Of July On Oneida Lake

 The view east along Oneida Lake's south shore, just west of Lakeport.
Sylvan Beach is in the far distance at the left of this photo.

Well, the Fourth of July didn't turn out quite the way we planned - but it was even better than I could have hoped.  You see, around 7PM on the 4th I checked my FB page, and saw a post from a local news outlet that Sylvan Beach was completely out of public parking - they were totally full.  Three hours before the fireworks were scheduled to begin, and there's no public parking left?  And thousands of people are still going to cram into the town on all of the side streets for a couple miles up and down the lake front for the next three hours?  Um, no thank you.  None of us are big on crowds, and I had visions of a complete family meltdown by the end of the evening (while we waited bumper-to-bumper for two hours to get out of a town roughly the size of five football fields, ten minutes from home).

My husband figured there had to be SOMEWHERE else we could hang out around the lake where we could see some fireworks, but not be stuck with the crowds of the world.  Google Maps is a wonderful thing.  A few minutes of browsing, and he saw a park on the south shore of Oneida Lake.  We could sit on the beach there, and see the fireworks from Sylvan Beach from a distance.  We wouldn't be close to the fireworks, but it wasn't likely to be crowded either.  So, around 8PM we set off to find the park.

 The boardwalk at Chapman Park.  We sat out at the end for the fireworks.

The park was pretty far along the south lake shore, and I was afraid we wouldn't be able to see much.  But, to our delight, the park not only had a beach, but also a playground and a boardwalk that extended a hundred feet or so out into the lake.  It was wonderful!  And there was virtually nobody there.  We took our folding chairs and a blanket, some snacks and lemonade, and set up our stuff at the end of the boardwalk.  There were a couple other families there, and a nice pair of older ladies we talked with too.  It was so peaceful, and the sky was clear as a bell.

 The view looking west along Oneida Lake.  The end of the park is on the left.

The kids played at the beach for a while, wading and playing with a sand castle someone else had built earlier in the day.  We went to the playground, then back out onto the boardwalk to watch the sunset.  (My camera battery went kaput just before sunset, and while I got some shots on my phone camera, I'm still figuring out how to download them.  Old dog, new tricks; I'll get it eventually.)  We could hear fireworks from residences all around the lake.  Several families were setting off lots of smaller fireworks.  (We heard lots of dogs barking when the bigger displays went up.)  We saw a few larger shells go up from what were probably fire stations on the north shore of the lake. 

As dusk fell, we could see the big displays starting up over Cicero and Baldwinsville to the west, then more larger fireworks from somewhere around South Bay, to the east.  Sylvan Beach does their fireworks later, usually right before 10PM, so they were the last to start.  We could see them northeast of where we were, a clear view across the water.  From that distance the fireworks were small, and we heard little of the sound from their explosions.  It was quite pretty, though.  The kids fussed a little about not being in the thick of the noise and excitement, but I don't think they really missed it that much.  I certainly didn't miss having to watch the kids every second in a crowd, especially PYY.  Here they could wander quite a distance and still be within sight, and safe.

 Looking back down the boardwalk, toward PYY playing in the sand on the left.

We had a lovely evening - the most peaceful 4th of July I can remember in my entire life.  We enjoyed being with just a few people, out on the lake, and seeing fireworks for miles around under the sunset sky while the stars came out.  Afterward, we made it home in 15 minutes.  (Princess Yakyak fell asleep about 30 seconds after we asked her to stop talking in the car - she was living up to her nickname, trying to keep herself awake, and when we imposed some silence, she ran out of steam with a thud.) 

 Sunset tree by the beach.

My husband and I want to go to the park again next year for the Fourth, only earlier so we can picnic and enjoy the beach longer.  Maybe we'll rustle up a box of sparklers for the kids, and catch some lightning bugs while we're at it.  Yep, we made a good memory this year - let's see if we can do it again next year.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

 (Mt. Rushmore, SD.  Photo by Lauren Himiak,

I love the Fourth of July.  So many memories, so much to think about, so much to be thankful for, and so much to enjoy in the moment.  Here are some of my favorite Independence Day memories:

When I was little, I think not quite 4, we lived in a small town in Pennsylvania.  They did their July 4th fireworks display over a local park, where my parents played tennis in the summer, and took us to the playground in all seasons, and took us sledding in the winter.  The park had a street on one side with a grassy slope leading down to the playing areas.  We'd bring some blankets, a big insulated thermos of lemonade, and popcorn in a big, brown paper bag, with paper cups to scoop it out for my sister and I.  It seemed that the sun would never set, and that the fireworks would NEVER start - 9:15 seemed like an awfully late hour to me at that age, and waiting was sweet frustration.  My sister and I would amuse ourselves by rolling down the hill in the prickly-tickly fresh-mown grass, and climb all over my Dad, dragging him back and forth between the playground and the blankets that marked "our spot."  The occasional firefly-chase just added to the excitement.  We could hear smaller fireworks crackling the in the town around us.  Finally the first muffled thwump and a faint glow ascending into the twilight then exploding into Disney color would signal the beginning of the big fireworks.  We'd lay back on the blanket, munching popcorn and drinking lemonade, and watch the display.  Sometimes the louder concussions made me nervous, but my Mom made a game out of it, counting the boom-bangs  (the concussion/flash, then the bright sparkly explosion).  Ever since then, my family has called fireworks "boom bangs!" for the younger kids. (One other Fourth of July we celebrated there it rained.  Why Mom and Dad took us in the rain, I have no idea.  I remember being very soggy and grumpy before the fireworks started, lol.  But we survived that one too!)

Quite a few years later, I was almost 14, we were on a long family vacation over the Fourth.  We had taken a month-long cross-country road trip, starting in Ohio and going down to Nogales and Carlsbad, NM, up through Albuquerque and Santa Fe and Sedona, then over to Arizona (Grand Canyon),  up through Utah (Painted Desert, Great Salt Lake), Idaho and Wyoming (Yellowstone), and then heading back through South Dakota (Mt. Rushmore) and on home.  We were at Mt. Rushmore on the 4th of July, and were staying in Custer, SD.  (I know my Dad must have visited the Custer Battle Site, but I don't have any memory of it, which I find strange.)  I do remember being totally blown away by the scale of Mt. Rushmore.  It was incredibly humbling.  I had, and still have, never seen anything like it.  That evening, in Custer, they had a wonderful fireworks display in a large, flat, open field.  I remember there being lots of RVs and campers of all descriptions, kids running everywhere, sparklers and firecrackers going off near and far.  It was a really great display, too.  The sky seemed so huge. . . .

Just a couple years ago we enjoyed our first 4th of July in our new home in Central NY.  We didn't go to any of the big displays on the 4th itself - we were still wiped out from the move, and didn't want to deal with traffic around Syracuse.  But, we found out that Sylvan Beach on Oneida Lake puts up a display each year, and this year (for some reason I can't remember) it was going to be on July 5th instead of the 4th.  We live pretty close to Sylvan Beach, so we packed up the kids, some drinks and snacks and a blanket, and headed for the beachfront.  We parked in a residential area and walked to a park with a small beach within 100 yards of Sylvan Beach itself.  We watched the sun set over the lake while the kids waded, and we watched small boats go in and out through the canal and marina near us.  Many boats were sitting out on the lake, to watch the display.  It was a gorgeous evening.  Finally the fireworks started, set off from a barge moored offshore from the amusement park.  It was a real treat to see the display from fairly close, with an unobstructed view over the lake.  The concussions echoed off the hills and reverberated across the water, and the display was reflected in the waves.  Tonight we're going back there again, and I'm really looking forward to it - it's supposed to be another beautiful evening.  I'll have our supplies packed:  camp chairs, drinks and snacks, camera, bug spray. . . .

Happy Independence Day, friends!  I hope you make some good memories, and remember everyone who has given their all so we could enjoy our freedom tonight.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Around the Yard This Week

 Rose 'Gold Medal' at sunset - such a wonderful, glowing color.

Things are blooming in earnest now, and the flower beds have filled in nicely for the most part.  Here are some photos from around the yard this week:

'Russian Yellow' hollyhocks, winter sown in 2010 and finally blooming now.  
They're paler than I expected, but still quite lovely.  
I hope they set lots of seed so I can 
keep it going and have some to share.

An unnamed Oriental lily, beautiful after a summer shower.

Shasta daisy 'Becky,' in low-angle light at sunset.

 Daylily 'Dear Ruth,' a charming mini-flowered plant.

One of my own seedlings, 'Prince of Sharon' x 'Clarification,' sown in 2007.  
This one made the move with us and bloomed for the first time last year.
It's a BIG flower (over 6 1/2").  I'm trying to think of a good name for it.

A fluffy white goatsbeard plume, back-lit by the evening sun.
Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) is a gorgeous, tough native Eastern U.S. plant.
 It looks like a giant astilbe; it's leaves have a wonderful corduroy texture.

A dark orange-red zinnia.  I love zinnias, they're so bold and cheerful.

 Hydrangea 'Quick Fire,' which is supposed to have its flowers
change color from white to dark salmon-red by fall.

 A cascade of blanket flowers (gaillardia).  Nothing subtle about them!

 Daylily 'Ida Miles,' a wonderful, fragrant oldie.

Daylily 'Galaxy Explosion,' a smaller spider-form lily with a bold eye.

 Daylily 'Dallas Star,' an oldie but goody.  It's another big flower, over 7".

White nasturtiums - an unusually pure white for a nasturtium.