Saturday, August 27, 2016

Hunting for Charming Nordic Gardens


black petuniasI finally remembered that I told you I was going to do an entire post about the beautiful gardens that we saw on our trip to Norway and Iceland. I have to admit, I thought you might need a plan for getting through this election more. Looking at pictures of sweet Nordic gardens can't hurt either.

 In all the places we visited both homes and businesses had cheery plants at the doorway. These black petunias in Norway were stunning.

And you know how I feel about post boxes...


...and bees.

bee and flower

When we got to Iceland I wasn't expecting the lush gardens we found there. Plants were thriving in the cool summer temps. I loved the charming little compost bin complete with the cutest little red shovel ever. 

garden tools

This pic of some cabbage is the only photo I didn't edit at all. It didn't get any more perfect no matter what I did.


The buildings in Isafjordur were sweetly stark. It showcased the beauty of even the simplest flowers to perfection.

garden in iceland

It's traditional in the Faroe Islands to grow grass on your roof. Even on the garden shed. It's an indication of just how much rain they get.

grass on roof

In the city of Lerwick, Shetland Islands it was all about the fences and gates...

iron fence



Do you look for gardens when you are traveling? I also love to garden hunt in my hometown. It's always fun and interesting to see what other gardeners are creating around them!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Your 10 Step Plan for Getting Through the Rest of This Election With Your Right Mind (Maybe)


Help me, Jesus. How are we going to make it to November? Is any one else feeling like that? Thank God for the Olympics which has given us all something to agree on, which we were in desperate need of.

I've actually changed a lot of behavior because of this election to keep from curling up in a ball somewhere. Here are some tips to help you make it to November with your right mind. If you didn't have it to start with I can't help you.

1. Stop watching the news. This is hard for me because I have been a lifelong news junkie. This comes from a powerful curiosity that serves me well in lots of ways. But the "news" is often now nothing more than a bunch of annoying people's opinions about what happened. I can get that at the local bar. With Jack Daniels.

 2. Practice gratitude. Turn everything off and sit quietly thinking of all the things you have to be thankful for. As bad as things seem we are not living without running water or electricity in a country where tribal warlords are in charge. Read a history book. Think things are worse than they've ever been? Not by a long shot. Not for you personally or for the country as a whole. In fact in a multitude of ways things are better than they have ever been. Perspective is a great thing.

3. Treat Facebook like a party. If you spend a lot of time on social media you know why I say this. When I was a kid --how old do I sound?-- people didn't constantly share every political or religious thought they had in public. In fact it was taboo. I used to ignore this rule and blather my opinions and beliefs every where. Now I see the reason behind it. Civility. Let's keep our social media encouraging and uplifting. And if you don't have anything nice to say...

4. Don't waste your time arguing with people on Twitter or Facebook. Studies show that practically no one changes their mind due to someone's Facebook posts. Stop spinning your wheels and keeping yourself wound up. It literally doesn't help at all. Go outside. Pet the dog. Read a book. Trying to be right is just a huge waste of time. It also isn't doing your body any good. That elevated blood pressure and clenched jaw? Why do we do this to ourselves?

5. Hide, at least temporarily, the social media feeds of those who make you feel irritated or annoyed, angry even. I was seeing posts, fact checking and proving them wrong, and writing long replies to correct people, then deleting them knowing I wouldn't change their minds. It's so much better just not to see them. Trust me.

6. Carefully choose your information source.  Occasionally I will follow a link someone posts --#thestruggleisreal-- on Facebook thinking it's a site with real information. I cannot tell you how many times it's to something ridiculous like a woman with stringy hair in her basement literally just reading news from newspapers and looking at the camera and saying that the story seems off to her. Oh something is off alright.

 7. Speak peace. Our words have energy. Don't let yourself be triggered or thrown off balance. Decide that whatever you hear or no matter how much someone tries to unload all of their opinions on you that you are going to speak kindly, slowly, and reasonably. I know from experience how hard this is when you are passionate. But what we need right now are rational thinkers and people who speak from a place of loving calm. It is highly unlikely people are going to listen to your list of facts anyway. Here's why.

8. Laugh. Watch funny cat videos, get together with your most entertaining friends, or watch your favorite stand up comedian. It's not escapism if it's keeping you from being depressed. It's survival. Seinfeld is therapy. Read about destressing with laughter here.

9. Get up. Did you know that one of the most dangerous things facing the American population today isn't violence in the streets or ISIS? It is the amount of time we spend sitting. We never see a reporter go live to Fred sitting in his recliner though. No presidential candidate is getting people whipped into a frenzy over your ass being on the couch. Scientists are now trying to figure out a way to demonize sitting the way they did smoking because, as it turns out, exercise doesn't undo the effects of sitting. God, help us all. And you thought the election was depressing. 

10.  Plant something. The soil has microbes that are proven to fight depression as effectively as antidepressants. In addition to that planting something is proof that you have hope for the future. And that may be the most important thing of all.  Read about the scientific reason gardening makes you happy! 

 I know that some people will think that following my advice means sticking your head in the sand, or someplace worse.  Choosing not to internalize what's happening doesn't mean you are uninformed or unthinking. It means that you are thinking rationally about what you have control over (your thoughts, actions, and words) and what you don't (the current political environment).

There are tons of other things to do to feel better: volunteer someplace, help someone, put on upbeat music and dance. Anything that takes your mind off things. Mind your focus and focus your mind.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Number One Thing You Can Do To Be Happier Today

I'm about to share some life changing advice with you. Are you ready?

Stop ascribing intention to other people's actions. 

Did you think I was going to tell you to have a snack or do something for someone else? Well those are awesome ideas too and I highly recommend them both. But from what I can see in the culture and what I've noticed in my own life here's a quick and dirty trick to try today when someone cuts you off in traffic.

Think of 5 legitimate reasons someone would be driving like a jerk other than them just being a jerk. Sure you can curse them and call them names and imagine that they also strangle kittens and steal ice cream from little kids.

Question: How does that make you feel? Because here's the thing--  what you think isn't affecting the other driver at all. You, however, are tightening your muscles, clenching your jaw, and increasing your blood pressure.

How differently would you feel if you knew that the driver just found out his teenage son had been in an accident and was on the way to the hospital? Or that his wife is having a baby? Or that he spent 5 extra minutes at home with his kids but that his boss really is a jerk who berates him when he's late?

"But," you may say, "what if he really is a complete jackass and you are just lying to yourself?" Exactly. Either way his impact on you is the same. It's your perception that is making you unhappy, so change it.

This kind of story telling to ourselves builds our capacity for empathy and compassion. In case you haven't been paying attention these are things society and the world is in desperate need of. The fact is that we have no idea why other people do some of the things they do. Assuming the worst only hurts us and damages our health.

 Asking "how does this impact me?" is also another great tool as is "Will this matter in 100 years?" Or 10? Or a year from now?

We waste a lot of emotional energy taking offense to so much that we could encounter and then move on from. If you want to be calmer, happier, and possibly live longer here's today's take away:

Breathe deep.

Ask yourself if it matters to you personally.

Will it matter years from now?

Make up the kind of story you'd want someone to think about you when you aren't your best self.

I don't know about you but I need that kind of grace every day. If I want it then I certainly need to be willing to give it. I'm not there yet but I'm working on it.

How to Propagate Hydrangeas from Cuttings

When I posted about pruning hydrangeas I told you that I would cover propagation in case you wanted to create new plants from your cuttings. I then promptly ran off to Iceland leaving you holding the bag cuttings.

If you haven't pruned your hydrangeas yet it isn't too late. Here's the post: How to Prune Hydrangeas If you pruned them when I did you should have new growth on your plants by now. This is how mine look, lots of beautiful new growth. 

Now, on to propagation. Here's the official way to get more hydrangeas from cuttings:

  • Take a 6 to 8 inch cutting from "new" wood. Choosing a branch that didn't flower this year. 
  • Remove leaves toward the bottom of the cutting. Leaving a pair of leaves at the top.
  • Prepare a mix of one part sand or vermiculite and one part potting soil. 
  • Add to a pot you want to use and dampen the soil. 
  • Use a pencil to make a hole to place the cutting into. 
  • Optional: Cut the top leaves in half to stimulate root growth.  You can also purchase root hormone and dip your cutting in that prior to planting. 

Want to do it without running to the garden center to buy anything? Me too!

Here's how I do it in spring:

Take a cutting, pull off the lower leaves scratch up some loamy soil under another plant or any shady spot and keep it watered. Here's one I started in June. I took a cutting for my daughter from her grandmother's hydrangea. I'll give it to her when the weather turns cool so she can plant it at her new house. It's best to transplant them in spring or fall when the weather is mild.

Here's how I do it in fall: 

Pull down a low branch on your hydrangea, scratch the bottom of the branch to expose the white part under the bark, scratch up some soil, lay the branch down, cover, and put a rock or brick on top. Over the winter it should root. In the spring you cut it away from the "mother" branch and plant your new rooted plant.

If this all sounds really loosey goosey to you that's because I am a big fan of experimenting in the garden. It costs you nothing to try propagating your own plants. The key for me most of the time is to remember where I stuck something in the ground and to label it. You may think you'll remember but that isn't always the case a few months later.

Despite my best intentions I often have some green thing sprouting that I took a cutting of and now have no idea what it is. My second method avoids this issue and works for most woody stemmed perennials. Try it with azaleas and rosemary too.  Gardening as opposed to landscaping increases your chances for propagation. Landscaping usually is a quest for tidy perfection and that can mean cutting off spent flowers and the seeds along with and trimming off low branches which often root on their own over winter if left alone. On the right of the hydrangea I rooted you can see some rosemary that has also been rooting over the summer.

 If you have had success with some other method of propagating hydrangeas or anything else, let me know in the comments or tag Pen & Hive in your Instagram photo.

Don't be afraid to experiment!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

That's Right, It's a Chicken Named Kitty

If you follow along on Instagram and Facebook then you already know that we added a new member of the backyard homestead crew over the weekend. And that we named her Kitty.

Look, I'm running out of names, okay?

 Kitty is a beautiful 6 month old Black Australorp who laid on her very first morning here. We found her on Craigslist. It's fun to raise them from baby chicks but it's pretty messy and at this point I prefer to let someone else do the hard part. Lady Catherine balked at having a newcomer crowding her space at first but they seem to be getting on very well now.

When I got my first 3 baby chicks I thought it would be fun to name them after characters in Pride and Prejudice. Who doesn't want a chicken run called The Republic of Pemberley?

I started out with Mrs. Bennett, Lizzie, and Jane.
Then we had Charlotte followed by Lady Catherine De Bird.

It's a lot of fun to go out into the yard and call a chicken by that last one. As you can see I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel now. Only Kitty and Lydia were left and I really don't fancy Lydia as a chicken name.

So now we have a chicken named Kitty.

After this I am moving on to Sense and Sensibility. Look for a future Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret.

Pretty committed to keeping the Jane Austen theme going.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Number One Thing You Must do in Iceland Even if you Aren't a Kardashian

The highlight of our trip to Iceland was visiting The Blue Lagoon on my husband's birthday. It was something we were especially looking forward to. Our daughter, who can't imagine why anyone would take a vacation at a place with "ice" in the name, called one night to ask if we were watching The Kardashians.

I looked at my husband across the room on the sofa and stifled a laugh. "Um no..."

"Turn it on! They are in Iceland!"

I hung up and told my husband he had to stop watching whatever he was watching because we had to watch The Kardashinas.

Are you picturing it? 

I explained why and we eventually found it in time to see them at The Blue Lagoon doing what else--taking selfies. Turns out it was Courtney Kardashian's birthday and I immediately imagined taking pictures of my husband who would be turning 61 the day we would be there and using the hashtag chasingthekardashians or something equally amusing. To me and my daughter anyway. 

You must buy your tickets online before arriving because they limit the number of people at any one time inside. It seems like a hassle but once you are there you can see why. It would be a totally different experience if the space was overcrowded. From Reykavik you can take a bus across the moon like landscape for the 45 minute ride. The lava rock and thick moss keep you mesmerized until you see the steam rising in the distance.

 Upon arrival you check in and receive a bracelet that acts as your locker key and billing device during your stay. From there you head to the locker to strip down and put your clothes and shoes away and shower before putting on your bathing suit. There are large signs with instructions. The main thing to remember is not to drip on the locker room floor. Seriously, someone will yell at you. 

After that you can enter the water.  This is my husband's official birthday photo. #chasingthekardashians #perryandcourtneysbirthdayadventure Remember my other Kardashian experience? The Painful Kardashian Marathon.

We tried some Kardahian-like selfies but with a severe lack of cleavage.

 Which brings me to body image. While I was looking for a place to change and shower where I wouldn't be standing around in all my glory I felt a little silly. That's because the Japanese women and European woman were standing around having entire conversations or digging in their purses while nude. I felt a little jealous. Not because they had perfect bodies to show off but because they didn't and they seemed completely unconcerned about it. Having that kind of casual acceptance of one's self is something American women don't do very well. I tried to figure out if it's our perfection obsessed culture or our Puritan inheritance. Whatever it was the answer to it was wine. Did I mention the "swim" up bar?

Part of the Blue Lagoon ritual is wearing a mask made of silica, one of the main minerals found in the water. Everyone does it and no one fells silly at all.

This was definitely my husband's most memorable birthday to date. All of our favorite gifts involve experiences instead of material things and Iceland on your birthday is just about as spectacular as it gets. Just ask my husband.

Or a Kardashian.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Exploring a Misty Norwegian Wood

Since visiting Sweden, Finland, and Denmark 4 years ago we've been hoping to complete our tour of Scandinavian/Nordic countries by traveling to Norway and Iceland. Timing it during the two weeks when we could miss the conventions of both political parties was pure happenstance but made us feel like travel geniuses anyway.

During this trip there was much less rushing around large cities and more taking in magnificent vistas and mystical landscapes. This trip was all about the views. Our first stop was Bergen, Norway and our first priority was obtaining tickets to ride the Funicular to the top of Mount Floyen.

If you are headed to Bergen and want to do this (it's a must, really) you buy your tickets at the visitor center. And do it first thing in the morning. Race there, in fact. We arrived very early and didn't have to wait at all. When we came back down the line was out the door and down the street quite a long way. Given that proposition it is also walkable and would definitely be worth the effort. You don't want to spend your day in this charming town waiting in line.

When you get to the top the views are breathtaking. There are some shops, bathrooms, and a restaurant. There is even a playground  with a troll.

There are trolls everywhere in Norway.

We got some beautiful photos before a fog rolled in and completely caused this beautiful sight to disappear in a haunting mist.

After you take in the spectacular scenery meander around a bit. We happened upon a magical wood.

If you are an adult and your faith in fairies and elves is flagging, Norway is the cure for that.

Just when you are sure magical forests only exist in storybooks...

and trolls aren't real...

stepping into a mystical forest will make you rethink your cynicism.

Surely there is a hobbit or two here somewhere.

The trees towered overhead in a thick mist and a carpet of moss absorbed our voices. We spoke in hushed tones though no other travelers had followed us here.

So often, just steps away from a busy tourist attraction, there is an unexplored gem that most people miss. Take time to wander away from the crowds. Walk around the corner. Follow a hidden path just to see where it goes. You may just find magic