Monday, April 29, 2013

Taking the Plunge

The day my husband Bill and I looked at the house we live in was a gorgeous summer day. We walked the wooded backyard and admired a very small water feature that the owners had dug into the ground. As soon as I assured my husband that if we bought this house I would not press him for major renovations, the wheels in my brain started turning as I imagined a large koi pond in the same spot. Two years later, we broke ground on an 11' x 16' koi pond.

The construction on the pond took a week. An excavator was brought in, a pond kit purchased and lots of rocks were removed from our stone wall to decorate the sides of the pond. We also had to hire an electrician to run circuits out to the pond for the waterfall and the lights. After they all left, the water was running, the pond was barren and Bill and I had no clue as to what to do next: Do we start stocking the pond? Do we invest in plants for around the pond? Do we have to put plants in the pond?

Bill and I have a 65 gallon aquarium in the house. Our experience with the aquarium has been invaluable in helping us get the pond up and running; we started out small buying comet fish that cost about 10 cents each. They have been a very easy fish to maintain. We bought plants to put into the pond; water lilies, water hyacinths and water lettuce - they keep algae from forming, bring a layer of naturalization to the water, and provide hiding places for the fish. These plants are all annuals and can be purchased from local nurseries or from catalogs like Dr. Fosters, and Smith and the Pond Guy.

After a few months of getting the hang of the comets, we invested in 3 small koi costing about $15.00 each. Fast forward two years and they are the length of my forearm. They live happily with 3 other koi, about 20 comets, an assortment of frogs, and the occasional turtle and snake.

You may be wondering: Was the expense and the hard work worth it? Absolutely! I would highly recommend a pond to anyone. First of all, it is a great hobby for a married couple. Bill and I select fish together, plant together, feed the fish together and clean the pond together. The maintenance on the pond is simple and really easy. Cost wise, we probably spend about $300.00 a summer on new plants, fish food and natural algae control. For something we enjoy everyday, it's worth every penny.

There are so many things about the pond that I enjoy; I love watching birds come and bathe on the rocks, my sons enjoy naming the fish, watching them grow and catching frogs. Bill and I spend many summer days sitting by the pond relaxing. The sound of the waterfall drowns out all kinds of background noise; fighting kids, annoying neighbors, and too fast cars to name a few.

If an aquatic garden is something you have been thinking about, do it! If you have any pond or gardening questions, please feel free to send them to me. In the meantime, I have a kitchen renovation idea I need to pitch to Bill...

Happy Gardening!
Maggie Flynn

Monday, April 22, 2013

Helping Your Garden Grow

Hello. I hope you all had a great weekend. It was chilly but sunny here in the Northeast and it gave gardeners a perfect chance to prep our beds for summer. Maybe you have gone out and noticed plants just starting to pop their heads out of the ground. Are you wondering what to do to help them along? Here is a list of things to do to help your plants spring into summer;

1. Weed your beds. Now is the time. Wait for a day after a heavy rain when the soil is easier to work with and then go get those dandelions, garlic mustard, and anything else that doesn't belong there. Make sure you get the whole root out or like Arnold, "they'll be back."

2. Rake all the leaves and debris out of the beds and from around the plant bases.  My yard got hit hard by several windy storms this winter.  I have been picking up branches by the wheelbarrow.

3. Prune back butterfly bushes to about 12" from the ground. This will tell them it is time to grow!

4. Do you have any plants that need to be divided? Either send me a question about it or check on the web to see if you can divide the plant now. The divisions can be replanted in other areas, given to friends, or donated to garden clubs that are preparing for their annual plant sales.

5. Mulch the beds. For my sanity, please skip any dyed or colored enhanced mulches. Mother nature did a wonderful job with her box of colors and dyed mulch not only takes away from this beauty but also leaches chemicals into the ground. Your mulch should smell organic, fresh, and possibly like horse or cow poop. We have a wonderful product here in Pawling that is called "Sweet Peet". It is a mix of peet, compost and manure. The plants LOVE it. Garden centers will deliver mulch.

After all this hard work, sit back, grab a drink and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Please feel free to send me any questions you have about preparing your garden.

Next week I will be featuring my aquatic garden.

Have a great week!


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Are We Robbing Our Children of Creativity?

If you have a child in grade school then you probably know all about state and standardized testing. Every spring grades 3 to 8 are subject to these rigorous exams. The results are used to determine how well a child has mastered skills and content in a variety of subjects. The state also uses these results to develop and improve curriculum as well as be able to give assistance to children who need additional support. Sounds great, right? The problem with some of these tests are the way teachers are preparing students. Good results matter to the teacher, principal, school, district and state. What school doesn't want their students to get great results? The better they look, the more students they attract and the more funding they get.

But high test scores don't always equate to a well-rounded education.

I'm going to talk briefly about ELA or English Language Arts, and more specifically about essay writing. Teachers are programmed to teach in a very specific formulaic way because that's what the assessors are looking for. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with real essay writing.

The following, from my son's school, is a shortened list of teachers' requirements to get a good essay grade:

  1. An essay must have five paragraphs.
  2. You must use transition words to go from each paragraph, such as; first, second, third, then.
  3. The introduction must state the main idea and three supporting facts.
  4. The conclusion must say what the intro says.
  5. Supporting sentences must use descriptive adjectives.

And the list goes on...

Remember, teachers are teaching this style primarily because of standardized testing, but it doesn't prepare students for the real world of writing. All that this formulaic style is managing to do is prevent students from excelling at writing. They end up detesting writing essays...and who wouldn't? Quite frankly, it's monotonous and completely uncreative!

My son loved to write when he was in first grade. He actually began to write a novel and completed a few chapters. It was about a hamster, kind of like a superhero who was a commander of a ship. It was actually a really fun read and cute! Back then he had a lot of passion for writing. Now when he needs to write essays he hates it; he's completely fixated on the number of paragraphs, his use of transitional words, making sure his conclusion states what his intro states … urgh! This isn't the way to instill creativity in our children.

Don't believe me? Just go to any website and search for Best Essays. None of these follow the insidious formula taught in public schools. In fact, some universities require an essay from their applicants as part of the admission process. One university I found, ranked 13 in the US, had their best applicants' essays posted on their website; none of the half dozen I read came close to following the formula. Had these essays been graded by assessors in a state test, those students probably would've flunked! But by gosh they were wonderful, creative, worthy of being published and those students were accepted into one of the top colleges.

I realize the purpose of teaching a formulaic style is to set up a solid groundwork so eventually it can be built upon. That's not what irritates me - it's the narrow-mindedness; if a child writes a great, creative essay, but doesn't adhere to “the formula”, they won't get a good grade. It's for that reason that standardized testing kills the creativity in our children.


Photo: Wikipedia

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Live and Let Live

My name is Maggie Flynn and I am a Master Gardener in Dutchess County, New York. Unlike Patricia, I am not a total vegetarian.  I will say that I almost never eat red meat and pork.  I limit my consumption of chicken, turkey and fish.  I try to eat as much of a plant based diet as possible.  One day perhaps I will be a total vegetarian.  Patricia and I run together every week.  Sometimes we do 6 hilly miles and occasionally we do 9-10.  Exercise is an important part of my life.

Until Patricia gets sick of me, I will be a regular contributor to this blog. My writing may focus on a variety of topics but will mainly be about finding ways to realize nature's presence in your everyday life.  As a mother of two boys, ages 10 and 12, it bothers me that the outdoors has become to most kids a foreign, scary concept…a little like Gerard Depardieu. I decided to start volunteering my time, teaching others about plants and gardening in an effort to help people and kids regain the joy that comes with being outdoors. Whether it's a view through a window, air quality, meditation or a vegetable garden, each experience changes our quality of life.

My gardening passions include; native plants, beneficial bugs, birds and butterflies. I always assumed all people were as enamored with these as me, not so. In the past couple years, I have met a man terrified of butterflies, the majority terrified of bugs and spiders, and a woman who really can't stand to see any birds in her trees.  There is obviously more of a challenge to getting everyone to embrace the outdoors than I originally thought.

Part of my volunteering time has been manning the phones for a horticulture hotline. People call in with a variety of questions regarding their lawns, homes and oh yes….bodies. The questions range from, "why is my grass a little brown?" to "what are these tiny bugs that are biting me in my sleep and living in my mattress?"  The most common question by far and away is "how do I kill……?"  It could be flies, grass, rabbits, moles, wasps, snakes, aphids, mosquitoes - you name it, people want to kill it. Americans are obsessed with killing anything and everything that lives on their property. Obsessed.  Don't believe me? Go into a home and gardening supply store and breathe in...that's right, take in a big breath of chemicals; chemicals to kill everything that even think about flying, crawling or creeping onto your grass. If you can identity it, you can find a spray, powder or liquid that will suck the life out of it. In physics I learned that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  Wouldn't this be true with our actions toward our perceived invaders?  Why do we have such imbalances of beetles, aphids, ticks, deer, geese, bats and pretty much everything? Has our Spartacus-like need for control and domination of our 1/2 acre lots manifested itself into a giant environmental cluster *%$#?  Evidence would tend to point in that direction.

Europe has banned chemical fertilizers and all pesticides; organic and non-organic.  You can only get them with a license.  Ontario, Canada has recently banned these items as well.  What will probably shock you, as it did me, is that NY State has been trying to get similar legislature through. So far, it has been blocked.  What we don't seem to want to understand is that everything has a place in an environment. Bugs feed birds, brush houses birds, bees and butterflies pollinate plants, bats eat 1000's and 1000's of mosquitoes. Oh yeah and snakes eat white footed mice. The biggest carrier of deer ticks is not deer; it's mice. Predators like hawks, snakes, fox, coyote and even chipmunk will eat them if they are alive to do it. Without predators, the mouse population has gone haywire. Coincidence that lyme disease which is carried by deer ticks is out of control?  Probably not.

As you prepare for summer and the beauty it brings, accept imperfection. Embrace it. Instead of spraying the roses, stop and smell them. Yes your parsley may have caterpillars in it, but either a bird will feed its young with the caterpillar or you will get to see an amazing metamorphosis. A sign of a healthy environment is a sign of life; a damaged plant, a hole in the ground and yes, BUGS!!!!!!!

Happy Gardening,


Monday, April 8, 2013

The Pod and the Peas...

Thirty years ago I made the decision to become a vegetarian, not for health reasons, but because of my love for animals and their rights. I'm not one of those vegetarians that preach to people though, nor am I disgusted that people around me eat meat; everyone has the right to how they want to live their lives. This, however, brings me to the name of my blog: Two Peas and One Pod. I'm the pod and my husband and son are the peas; they are the non-vegetarians.

Being the only veggie in my household hasn't been easy. I want to be a good wife and mother, which I believe includes providing meals that my husband and son enjoy; unfortunately that includes meat, which goes against my ethics. My husband has never made me cook meat nor has he ever asked that from me, in fact he's always said that he'd do the cooking of the meat so I wouldn't need to. But there was always a little voice inside my head that wouldn't allow me to let my husband, after ten hours of work each day, to come home and begin to cook for himself and our son. So discontented and rather miserable, I used to cook meals with meat for them.

After 12 years that discontentment turned into irritability, anger and then finally culminated in sheer resentment! It needn't have gotten that way though. Vegetarians and omnivores can coexist in somewhat harmony. Yes, in a perfect world my husband and son would be vegetarians, but the world isn't perfect. Just recently, I came to the conclusion that I needed to do what's right for me; and that means no longer cooking something which goes against my beliefs. And my husband? He's completely fine with cooking. He says it's a way for him to wind down after a busy day.

We also have vegetarian nights to look forward to, those couple of times a week when my peas will eat what the pod cooks up. It's a win-win situation for this two peas' and one pod's house.

This isn't a blog about vegetarianism; it's a blog about everything that's important to me and maybe to some of you: Raising a child with ADHD, gardening, nutrition, pets, exercise, cooking, life.