5 Easy Houseplants

Plants are my weakness. I love plants and I love them outside AND inside. I meet a lot of people who when they learn I am a gardener, insist that they have a black thumb and can’t grow anything. This post is dedicated to all the black thumbs out there. It’s time to turn those thumbs green! We can do it!

Right plant, right place

The secret always is selecting the right plant and right place. The right plant for you is a plant that matches the space, room temperature, available light and your style of neglect or attention. If you tend to overwater, then it’s best to pick a plant that can survive occasional over-loving. If you often forget that you have plants, pick a plant that prefers to be on the dry side.

Here are some of my favorites.

  1. Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum): This is a plant that seems to endure anything that you can throw at except for cold temps and no sunlight. It’s fantastic in a hanging basket. For me, they have survived both underwatering and overwatering. As long as you have a sunny spot that’s above 55 degrees, please meet your new friend.
    The last spider plant I bought was about $9 bucks at Lowe’s. Spider Plant
    Pro tip: Once you have one spider plant, you never need to buy another. These plants reproduce well, sending out shoots that will bear tiny replicas of the mother plant at the tip. Wait for the babies to get large enough, 4-6 inches and then snip them off and place in a small pot with good quality potting soil. You will need to keep these watered until they root. The babies do need babying. OR – keep them connected to the mother plant and root them in soil by placing a small pot nearby. Plant propagation is a huge thrill and once you learn to make your own plants, you’ll be set as a gardener.
  2. Golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum): This beautiful trailing plant with golden green leaves that will light up a dim corner. It doesn’t need a lot to stay happy and will tolerate occasional overwatering. I purchased a large hanging basket at Home Depot for about $20.00. That seemed a little expensive to me but it was large and beautiful and it made an immediate impact brightening up a dark corner.Golden pothos
  3. Sansevieria (also called snake plant and sword plant and another not-so-nice name): Sansevieria is a beautiful sculptural plant that is a perfect fit for modern decor. There are lots of varieties from very small to very large. This is a plant that seems to like to dry out between waterings and watering once a month in the spring and summer–less in the winter– is often plenty for this tough plant. Do not overwater.
    Pro tip: I have propagated this plant from a cutting as well as division and both worked surprisingly well. I have three completely different-looking varieties at the moment, all from IKEA,  which is a great place to buy plants. I just walk through and see what I like.
    I have sansevieria cylindrica and a mini sword plant that I haven’t been able to ID yet.

    Unknown sansevieria and sansevieria cylindrica
    Unknown sansevieria and sansevieria cylindrica
  4. Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata): This fun and funky plant looks like the long-haired version of its much taller palm cousins and the trunk looks like an elephant’s foot, another common name for this tough plant. This is also a plant that doesn’t mind getting dry but will look better with regular watering. I purchased my current plant at Lowe’s. It’s a  Plants of Steel selection. (I haven’t seen these in the store lately but I thought it was a great idea and good marketing!)Ponytail Palm
  5. Dracaenas: This is a plant that also offers a lot of variety. I have a Dracaena Marginata (Long red-edged leaves on brown branching canes, a star of India with gold and green leaves, and I love the long red and green leaves of this plant. My best specimens have been in a very sunny living room in Colorado that had windows on two sides and outside in Mesa, Arizona on a covered porch. (Note that in the summer, you will need to water houseplants more often if they are outside in a hot climate. Also, plants that like full sun may not appreciate full ARIZONA sun.)  I recently learned that you can prune canes back and I am going to try that with one of the canes that looks like it has a comb-over. All of my current Dracaenas are from IKEA: Song of India, Dracaena Marginata and this unknown little guy. Dracaena Marginata is my go-to plant. This seems to be a plant that will rot if overwatered. Sadly, I have never done well with dracaena marginata tricolor. Someday I’ll figure out the right mix!

    Dracenas
    Song of India, Dracaena marginata and a mystery Dracaena

Watering tips

Add a reminder to your calendar to check your plants. Stick a finger in the dirt at least an inch to test the soil. If the soil is dry, water, if not, wait a few days. For an 8-inch pot, a cup of water is usually sufficient. Resist the urge to soak the plant unless it feels like the best option or that is the prescribed care for your plant. Wet soil provides an ideal breeding ground for soil gnats and soil gnats can kill anyone’s enthusiasm for indoor plants. In general, back off watering in the winter unless it’s a seasonal plant like a Poinsettia.

Fertilizer

I use Jobe’s Indoor Beautiful Houseplants Fertilizer Food Spikes – 30 Pack because they are easy and it’s hard to overdo it and otherwise, frankly, I forget.

Repotting

I used to think that all plants wanted to be repotted but some don’t and I have learned that sansevieria is one of those plants. It prefers to be snug in its pot. Same with spider plants. When in doubt Google your plant and see what others have to say.

Plants grow

So it’s okay to start out with smaller, less expensive specimens. The $1.99 Dracenas at IKEA are the perfect starter plant.

Need more ideas for plants for beginners? Check out this handy chart from Lowe’s.)

If you want to learn more about propagation, I suggest Making More Plants: The Science, Art, and Joy of Propagation.

Happy gardening! Go grow!


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Rebooting your life

These boots are made for walking

In the land of computer support, when all else fails, you reboot and see if that fixes the problem. As you spend more and more time doing support, you get to the reboot step sooner. Pretty soon you begin all troubleshooting by starting with a reboot.

My troubleshooting skills are a little rusty, but they are coming back. (I did boost the Wi-Fi signal to a TV in a little sitting room at the far end of my house with this handy little gadget. Ha! I still have it.)

So the reboot is in process. It’s taking a while, like those old Macs and PCs that I used to support. But I see now it’s the right thing to try. My reboot started back in August when I read this article in the New York Times. It featured engineering professor Barbara Oakley, who is one of the co-teachers of the most popular online learning course of all time, Learning How to Learn.

It was one of those right things at the right time. Intrigued, I signed up. Coursera allows a free audit of classes so you can try before you buy. I checked Professor Oakley’s book, A Mind For Numbers, out of the library and I threw myself into my second online class and my first MOOC (massively open online course). I was blown away by the experience and what I learned. In the course of the next month, I started rewiring my brain. I changed my approach from “I can’t do that” to “I can’t do that yet.” 

I’ve also learned a lot about MOOCs by enrolling in them and it’s been eyeopening. I have turned into an online learning evangelist. Who knew? I think everyone should go to college, but what if you already have more degrees than you know what to do with? What if life or work makes a traditional classroom experience impossible? Or what if online learning is the way for you? I have three classes under my belt and I am enrolled in three more and I have learned a lot. I keep having these ah-ha moments to the point that I think there’s no end to the ah-ha moments.

In addition to throwing myself into learning the content of the courses, I find myself wanting to understand what works and what doesn’t in the world of online learning. I wanted to know why Learning How to Learn is so popular and to dissect why I found it to be so effective. (Professor Oakley also takes learners behind the scenes of the LHTL course in her book Mindshift and the companion online course of the same name.) I am particularly impressed that she “just did it” and learned whatever she needed to in order to make it happen. She used Google to figure out what video equipment to buy and how to setup and use the equipment and she used all her spare time to learn video editing. I am inspired by her grit and determination and have asked myself more than once, “What can I accomplish if I do the same?”

Reboot Virtual Book Club
I started this online reading list for anyone who wants to reboot their life. I think it will grow based on my ever-growing “To Read” Google Doc that is rivaled only by my “Classes to take” Google Doc. I have a lot to learn.

How about you? Who are your virtual mentors? Let me know in the comments or send me an email.

Who’s excited?

Thanks, Randy

The view out my plane window

Last night, I was on a plane.

The takeoff was really rough. I am not afraid to fly, but I don’t like being bounced around either.
It had been a long hard day and I was way past tired.

I struck up a conversation with the person next to me towards the end of the flight. I have made changes in my life that are inconvenient and expensive and probably misunderstood.

I decided to live the advice that I like to give: don’t postpone joy.

I can be extremely decisive. That doesn’t mean I don’t overanalyze after the fact. That’s what I did the entire two-hour and 45-minute flight. I admitted this to the total stranger beside me and he told me an amazing story about his near-death experience in a job that wasn’t worth dying for. And he told me it would be okay. That it’s possible to start over.

The landing was smooth. And I realized I could put the past behind me.

Thanks, Randy. You were the messenger I needed.

The third option

I am not linear and I am not a black and white thinker. I have always loved the idea of the third option. In a world of binary choices, the third option always gives me hope that anything can be resolved, that we can find a place to understand — even appreciate — one another.

So, I got excited when I read There are three sides to every argument by William Ury. Ury is the co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation. The third side is a place of perspective — Ury calls it the balcony. It’s a place to go and remind ourselves what’s really important and what’s really at stake.

Things shift during flight

Fasten seatbelt sign

P. Scott Lebert: An appreciation

 

I met Scott when he and my sister were first dating. The first thing I learned about Scott is that he loved to fly and he wanted to be a pilot for a major airline. He had a day job in project management, but the airport was his second home. It was a long road to becoming captain; there were lots of charters and flying cargo planes. But I never doubted his resolve. Scott was a well-trained pilot and most recently he used that training as a check airman, ensuring the readiness of other pilots.

On his Facebook page, Scott’s message is to help others realize their dreams of flying. Scott made his dream come true and he was working to help others realize their dreams.

Last year Scott spent a lot of time helping me buy a new modem and router for my home network. If you have seen their setup, you know it looks a bit like it’s ready for takeoff. He never hesitated to help and he was unfailingly generous. He always, always picked up the tab. He also taught us to bring chocolates for the flight crew whenever we fly, a simple act of kindness and appreciation that will connect us to Scott every time that we fly.

Scott loved his family. It’s sometimes hard to see in the day to day how much someone loves you, but when my husband Robert and I spent time with Scott he talked about flying and family. He loved Stacey and Paul, his parents Flo and Paul, his extended family and of course, Theresa. He cared about his friends and coworkers. He worried about you and he wanted you all to be well and happy. He loved you all so very much.

We are all connected. John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.” Sometimes we forget that until a link of the chain is lost and we move closer together again and reconnect the chain. We hold tight to the loves we have and those we have lost.

So, hold each other close.  Don’t wait to say I love you. Don’t postpone joy. Dream big and fly high. It’s always good to observe the fasten seat belt sign and open the overhead bins carefully. Everything shifts during flight, sometimes even our belief in what is possible.

John Gillespie Magee, a WWII pilot wrote the sonnet High Flight to describe the unbelievable freedom and beauty of flight.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Scott, we have told endless stories about you. We marveled at the head of hair that you used to have, we talked about the little things that made you, you—and made you special to us. You will be missed.

Southwest's Maryland plane [Photo by Robert Haight]

Mementos

I have a lot of mementos. They date back to the day I was born, including a copy of the Washington Post AND Scientific American! I have boxes full of cards, letters and other mementos. We are trying to get them down to a more reasonable amount, so we sorted through boxes that we have been moving around for 20 years or so. I looked at every card and every letter. The ones that really moved me were the letters from my Grand Pop. He was my mother’s father. A large and imposing man, an ex-military guy turned security guard who lived in Florida while we were freezing in the Chicago suburbs.

When I was in elementary school, I apparently wrote a lot of letters to him, starting when I was 5 years old. Yes, I wrote letters when I was 5. I wrote a lot of letters as a kid, including some that were quite long if I am to believe the responses from my aunts, grandparents and friends.

What must he have thought of this little girl, half a country away writing him letters? I am sure that they were mundane and a little perplexing given the 50 or so years separating us. He probably thought: who is this kid? What could we have possibly had in common? But he told me about his job and how he was feeling. His letters were so sweet and kind. It’s only from a great distance through time and space that I realize what a gift they were and are.

In the latest round of memento sorting, I found a card from a childhood friend sent when I graduated from high school. I didn’t realize that our letters spanned almost a decade. So I looked her up on Facebook and reconnected. <3

A Northern Nevada Garden

I had a website visitor today looking for my Northern Nevada Garden site. I kept the site going for a long time, long after I left Reno, but finally retired it last fall. I loved that garden. I kicked butt in that garden.

I don’t have the website but I do have photos and a good memory. These are from July 2008. I had an AMAZING crop of squash and tomatoes that year. The garden was so beautiful.

Nevada Garden July 26-27, 2008

If you live in Northern Nevada, I suggest buying a copy of the Sunset Western Garden Book and installing raised beds if you want to grow food crops. I used 1/3 peat, 1/3 pumice and 1/3 potting soil in my raised beds. I heard a story on the radio several years ago that said most gardeners in most states will have better results with raised beds.

This is a photo of the raised beds under construction in March. I used large river rock which I had in abundance in my yard. That’s Brin, my gardening dog. She has supervised gardens in 4 states (and counting).

This is the same garden in May:

I used wall o’ waters from Gardener’s Supply to get a head start.

This is the garden in June. I had irrigation so I connected drip to the existing system. If I were going to do it again, I would add a new valve for the garden. A lesson I benefitted from in my Arizona garden.

And here they are in July.

The huge tomato plant on the left is a white currant tomato. It was an over achiever. SO MANY TOMATOES.

Read up on short season tomato varieties, I think you will be more successful. I bought several from Territorial Seed. Zucchini and summer squash did well for me. If I could do it all over, I would have planted more raspberries. More delicata squash. Later, I learned the amazing staying power of eggplant. I would plant that, too.

Also, buy a composter. I had a Steve’s Earth Engine (double bin). Loved it so much–I composted everything. Never threw away a single leaf and believe me, I had a lot of them.

Happy gardening, Nevadans! Spring is coming!

Start a conversation

I have always loved conversation hearts. Something about conversation and flirting with candy. Darn near irresistible. Sadly, I can’t eat them because they contain gelatin. So, a couple of years ago I decided to make conversation hearts out of fabric but with a nerdy engineering twist. I searched the interwebs for a how-to and found this tutorial by the lovely Jessica Peck: Valentine Candy Heart Pillows Tutorial.

I use a blind hem stitch and invisible thread to sew on the letters. You can get two pillows from 1/2 yard of fleece. So much fun from so little fabric.

Conversation Heart Pillows

I am adding to the collection this Valentine’s Day. Stay tuned!