Happy Earth Day!

We'll be celebrating Earth Day this year by getting dirty.... we'll be spending the weekend getting plants, seedings and trees into the garden and yard. Yay, Spring!

Mint, Stevia, Oregano and Thai Basil are in, and Sesame are next to go in.
Unfortunately, the Red Shiso seeds did not sprout. Very sad.

Pansies for the front yard and Marigolds for the raised garden.
We're keeping our fingers crossed that the marigolds will dissuade
the awful brown marmorated stinkbugs from chewing up the garden.
They did a real number on tomatoes and other garden plants, as well as fruit trees,
in Maryland and Pennsylvania last year and are predicted to be worse this year.

The asparagus are ready to cut!
Any suggestions for fresh asparagus?!

Two mature black currant bushes were a gift from friends.
They are in full blossom and will soon be joined with red currants.
Farther down the fence line (off camera) there are newly planted blueberry bushes.

Horseradish and rhubarb were residents when we moved in,
and both seem to be returning with vigor!

If you want to get wild as well as dirty, all the National Parks in the U.S. are waiving their entrance fees today in honor of Earth Day, so you can visit your favorite park for free!

In addition, some U.S. retailers are offering give-aways for Earth Day:

LOCAVORE APP from Hevva Corp. helps you locate sources for local produce, including farmers' markets, direct-to-consumer farms, and co-ops. Locavore retails for $2.99 on iTunes but is free today only!

LOWE'S, the home improvement center will be giving away 1,000,000 (one million) trees on Saturday, April 23rd across their retail locations in the U.S. It's on a first come, first served basis, so go early! Click on the screenshot to find a location near you.

Finally, Starbucks and Caribou Coffee are both offering free coffee if you bring in your own re-useable mug to their stores today. If it's as cold and windy where you are as it is here, this could be a welcome treat!

Are you celebrating Earth Day where you are? What's on your agenda?!

Happy Earth Day, Everyone!


1,501 New Housemates: Chloë & Friends

After months of searching in vain for fresh calamansi in every grocery that has crossed our path (no, Dorothy, you’re not in Hawaii any more), we’ve finally found a reliable source for this unique and essential lime... a tree of our own! We named her Chloë. She’s already in flower and has a few fruit peeking out here and there so we should be ready for those calamansi margaritas again by summer.

Chloë was a real find because last fall when we first started looking for a tree, we didn’t see ANY citrus at the garden centers or nurseries at all. We learned there was a quarantine on all citrus coming out of Florida, which would be the natural source of citrus plants for the East Coast. Chloë is a California gal, so she’ll need a good bit of TLC after her long trip. She’ll stay outdoors while the weather is good — she needs lots of full sunlight to keep us in limes — but we’ll bring her in when it starts to get chilly again.

Chloë is our third calamansi tree. We also had potted calamansi both times we lived in Germany. We were surprised to find calamansi trees when we first moved there, but they were exported from Tuscany. Calamansi are more than ornamentals — their limes are a wonderful substitute for other citrus in marinades, beverages, and seasonings. Sadly, we had to re-home our trees each time we returned to the States, but we’re counting on Chloë being with us for a long while.

If you’re looking for calamansi trees at a nursery or garden center, or for limes at an ethnic market (unless it’s a Filipino grocery), you might have to ask for it by its more widely recognized name, Calamondin.

But Chloë wasn’t the only new resident to join our household from the garden center, we picked up 1500 (yes, that’s fifteen hundred!) pest control managers there, too. They’re already on the job and we hope that they’ll keep the aphids, mites, mealy bugs (and whatever else is eating our basil) out of the planters and tomato beds. And they’re cute, too, aren’t they? With this little army of ladybugs and a spray bottle of pepper soap (I still have to make some), we’re hoping to win the battle against the other bugs without any pesticides.

This is the first time we’ve tried “recruiting” friendly insects in our cause so this will be an interesting venture. The garden center sells bagged ladybugs — 1500 for less than $10.00 (the notes on the bag say that 1800 are actually bagged to account for some mortality in transit). The directions say to release most of the ladybugs at dusk, then to repeat the process with a second wave a week later. We were told to keep the second wave in the fridge and they will go dormant again until next week.

We just released the advance guard last night (that’s them in the top photos), so I’m curious to see how many survive the first night and how many actually stick around where they’re released.

And remember, not all ladybugs are “ladies.” Remember Francis in “
A Bug’s Life” by Pixar Studios?

The unbeatable flavor of the calamansi lime is essential to these recipes:
Calamansi Marigarita,
Tequila & Calamansi Marinated Flank Steak (aka Margarita Steak), and
"Rim of Fire" Paella
Also cruise on over and see what Marvin at
Burnt Lumpia is making with calamansi, including an infused vodka, and candied peels.


Spring at Brookside

It’s sunny and warm today...YAY!! The last time it was this nice, I found myself at the Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland, and came across this goose by the side of the brook that runs along the east side of the Gardens.

It may not have been a golden egg she was guarding, but I’m sure it was precious to her!


Happy May Day

Happy May Day! My spring sabbatical is officially over with a welcome to the warm weather ahead. YAY!!!

The weather here in metro D.C. has been quite chaotic lately — swinging between the mid 40s and high 80s. Lots of rain, too. I understand now where the expression, “April showers bring May flowers” comes from! And although today is the first day of May, it is the second of 4 days of promised rain. So to remind myself that rain is a good thing, and that the gardens and blooms are happy to see the showers, even if I’m not, here is my tribute to all things in bloom and coming alive everywhere.

This post is dedicated to my SIL, Tra, who is just home after a too-long stay in the hospital. Tra reminds me of these cherry blossoms — she looks delicate and fragile, but she returns after every bitter winter as resilient, beautiful and signalling hope to everyone who sees her. Stay well, Tra!

In April, the sakura, or cherry blossoms, around the Tidal Basin were every bit as stunning as I had always dreamed they were...

This year we took off in the early morning with only spam musubi and oatmeal cookies on hand, but next year I’d like to follow fellow blogger Biggie’s lead and prepare a proper Hanami, or blossom-viewing picnic. Check out the grill and other goodies her guests enjoyed under the cherry trees in San Francisco!


Unplugged: Waimea Valley Audubon Center

Beginning Monday, April 21st, and running through Sunday April 27th, it’s National “Turn Off Week” in the U.S. and Canada. Sponsored by the Center for Screen-time Awareness, in conjunction with many education and health & fitness organizations, the event is meant to highlight our growing reliance on all things electronic. It began in the 1990s as a one-day event in which people were encouraged to turn off their TVs for 24-hours. But as our dependence on other electronic media has grown, so has the scope and duration of the event: now participants are encouraged to unplug from their blackberries, cell phones(!), iPhones, PCs, laptops, Wiis, xBoxes, etc. for one full week.

Can you do it? We’re going to give it a shot. We’re only allowing ourselves the radio since it’s largely a non-interactive medium, and camera because we don't have a non-digital camera. I was going to start a series about our experience with acupuncture this week, but we’ll pick up with that when we return.

Today we spent the afternoon at the Honolulu Academy of Art to visit their special collection, "The Dragon's Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan," which is on view until May 23d. If you haven't seen this extraordinary collection, which is based on the Honolulu Academy's own expeditions to Bhutan over the last 5 years. The collection is composed largely of religious, namely Buddhist, artwork borrowed from active and working monasteries; it is supplemented with twice-weekly altar rituals performed by Bhutanese monks; videos taken by the Academy's staff of religious dances — some which have never been seen outside the country; and a truly innovative multi-media installation by Herbert Mingood, dance photographer for the Joffrey Ballet.

The exhibit is scheduled to tour five other museums, the next being the Rubin Museum in New York in September. If you have the opportunity to see this rare collection, I hope you will avail yourself of the gift. Read more about the exhibit on the Academy's website, or read the New York Times article by Susan Emmerling.

Bhutan is considered one of the most isolated countries in the world, and has the distinction of being the only country to have a Gross National Happiness index (how cool is that?). It seemed fitting to include mention of this exhibition here since there were no TVs in Bhutan before 1999!

We can't show you anything from the Bhutan collection, so to get National Turn Off Week to a proper start, we’ll leave you with another one our favorite ways to get Unplugged: Waimea Valley Audubon Center on Oahu's North Shore.

Waimea Valley's official greeter

A peahen plays coy with this ardent suitor

A more demure denizen of the gardens

The Valley has a collection rare and unusual hibiscuses . . .

The Falls has a swimhole and rest spot at the end of the
Waimea Falls, Oahu
A sausage tree, named for its pungent fruit
Sausage tree


Unplug: The Byodo-in Temple

Bridge entering Byodo-in Temple

As a counterpoint to the consumer mania that the US's "Black Friday" (the start of the holiday shopping season) ushered in yesterday, we offer here a chance to visit one of Oahu's oases of calm — the Byodo-in Temple in the Valley of the Temples, near Kane'ohe. Erected in 1968 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii, this beautiful temple and its serene grounds are set against the stunning cliffs of the Ko'olau mountain range. The Valley of the Temples is actually a cemetery with specially designated areas to accommodate the different burial practices of Hawaii's diverse cultures and communities. The Byodo-in Temple is located at the rear of these majestic grounds. A nominal fee is collected just before crossing this bridge to the main temple area, but it is well worth the visit.

A full panorama of the temple and its front garden is here. (Do you notice anything strange about this photo?)

There are small ponds throughout the gardens, stocked with koi, or decorative Japanese carp. Many birds also take sanctuary here, although we did not get anything more exotic than some zebra doves (including one that looked like it was "diving") in our photos.
Golden koi in the temple streamsDoves taking refuge in the temple pond

View of the main temple from the pond in the front gardens (top) and from the rear gardens( bottom)
View from the front gardensView from the rear gardens

As you approach the main temple from the left, this iron bell invites the visitor to announce his visit and intention. [The bell is open for all visitors to use, but please remember this is a place of contemplation and prayer. The bell is not a toy]
Bell shrineByodo-in temple bell

Inside the temple, a golden Buddha sends loving kindness out to our beleaguered world. [Please be prepared to remove your shoes before entering the sanctuary]
View from sanctuarySmiling Buddha