Sunday, December 28, 2008

Change - A Theme for January

The pictures in this post were selected to represent some of my posts over the past year. In writing this blog, I have been encouraged to put more effort into my gardening. After all, I had to do something worth writing about. So I thank all of my readers for inspiring me to be creative.

Now, I have taken on a challenge with a group called “NaBloPoMo,” or National Blog Posting Month. The idea was taken from “NaNoWriMo,” National Novel Writing Month, which is held every November. If you are a novel writer or a would-be novel writer, and would like more information, check out their website.

And if you are a blog writer, you might investigate this other bunch of writers who come up with a different theme every month. The only requirement is that you post every day for thirty days. I may be certifiably crazy, but I’m going to take part in January. I suggested to the woman who initiated the group that since our President-Elect Obama is about “change,” we might want to consider that as our theme.

So I’m going to post a little something every day for thirty days. I promise they won’t be long, but I’m aiming for at least 100 words each day. I will be posting a longer post each weekend, just as I have been since May.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to do it, especially since Spring Semester begins on January 12, 2009. I have a hunch I may be scrambling for ideas mid-month, so if you have ideas that might fit into the theme of “change,” I beg you to send them to me!

We have not reached the eve of New Years Day, however. This is a good time for us each to look back at what we have accomplished in 2008.

To begin with, this is my 44th post. Interesting that it coincides with the arrival of our 44th President of the United States. It is highly unlikely that I could have planned it that way!

Since my first post on May 29, 2008 there have been many changes in my lava yard. If you don’t have anything else to do over the holidays, you might go back and starting with that first post, read and look at the pictures.

As I went back over my past posts myself, I notice that many of the plants I talked about in the earlier days are no longer part of my yard. They have been killed off by the sulfur dioxide from our Kilauea Volcano. Even this week, as I was working outside, I could smell the sulfur in the air, strong enough to drive me back inside to protect my lungs.

Some of the plants have grown to be twice their size. That wouldn’t be such a remarkable feat in areas where there is “real” soil, but here, I applaud every half-inch of growth.

It’s been a constant process of dumping in compost-soil mix. Rain and regular watering wash the soil down into the crevices of lava rock, leaving roots bare.

Probably the main thing is that I have been able to see a fairly barren piece of lava start to take shape. I can see little areas where I want to focus over the next year. It takes living with a place to get a feel for its spirit – and there is definitely a spirit presence in this acre. That spirit is guiding me through my planning stages.

Until next year (2009) this is Lucy, the Lava Lily, wishing each of you the most joyous and prosperous New Year!

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Thursday, December 25, 2008



Mele Kalikimaka!
Lucy - the Lava Lily

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Poinsettias in Paradise

One of my favorite times of year here in Hawai`i, is what we call “winter.” Yes, there is a difference between summer and winter here. Even in Florida, Southern California, and Arizona (all states where I have lived in the past), there is a distinct change between the temperatures in July and those in January.

Here, there is no noticeable change in temperature from month to month all year. From late November until mid-March, however, there is a change in what is blooming along the roadsides and in our gardens.

For example, the road I drive to the college where I teach seems like one huge embankment of poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima). “Pulcherrima” means “very beautiful,” and it is. There is no way to compare these with the little pots of poinsettias you can purchase in grocery stores. Against our rich forest green, the brilliant reds are almost florescent. Then throughout March, I look for those little drops of red in the midst of jungle growth that keep hanging on. When they are all gone, I know that it is winter is over!

My first experience with poinsettias took place back in the early 70s when I was a student in the ornamental horticulture department of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly). We made a field trip to visit the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, CA where over 70% of the poinsettias in the United States and over 50% worldwide actually begin. It seemed like there were acres of greenhouses filled with poinsettia cuttings in all varieties and stages of growth. Please follow that link to view the history of that ranch as well as the history of poinsettias in general.

Poinsettias flow over onto the ground and almost seem to take over everything else.

I love the way they intermingle with the yellow hibiscus. Such a dazzling display of color!

This is a sight few of you will see at Christmas outside of Hawai`i.

Poinsettias are originally from Mexico and named for Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico in the 1920s. The rest, as they say, “is history!" The following paragraph is taken from this article. I suggest you read the whole thing (it's short).

During his stay in Mexico he wandered the countryside looking for new plant species. In 1828 he found a beautiful shrub with large red flowers growing next to a road. He took cuttings from the plant and brought them back to his greenhouse in South Carolina.

I remember when I lived in Southern California how people would plant the small potted plants they bought at Christmas time. Many of the homes there had nice stands of poinsettias, but none reached the size or proportion of the ones here.

If you are interested in what to do with your Christmas poinsettia plant, go here to read up on it. Another good site on how to choose and care for your poinsettia, and what to do with it at the end, go here.

Many of the poinsettias have found their way into the wild tangles of growth.

Others are a featured part of a home’s entryway.

You can see why I’m obsessed with taking just the right pictures to illustrate this stunning plant.

I really do empathize with those of you who are suffering under ice storms and record-breaking snowstorms. I have lived in Alaska, Illinois, and Rhode Island and gone through similar experiences. But I couldn’t go back to it, now that I’ve seen Paradise!

I couldn't end this post about poinsettias without showing you a picture of the Summer Poinsettia (Amaranthus tricolor Perfecta) I planted in my patio. It has grown considerably since I showed it to you in October as a small cutting. Here it is from the side, with all the keiki (babies) coming up at the bottom.

Here is a beautiful shot of it from the top.

Whether you are celebrating Hanukah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, Yule, Saturnalia, Kwanzaa, or any other festival at this time of year, poinsettias are a celebration in themselves!

This is Lava Lily wishing each of you a most joyful and safe holiday season!

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Holiday for Gardeners

My brother gave me a terrific Christmas gift – an ACE gift card! Of course, now I have to decide how to spend it! Do I need new cedar chips for a walkway? Do I want new tools, more cinder, mulch, or soil? Maybe lumber for more shelves in my shed?

Gift cards are great for the giver, but when you have a problem with making decisions like I do, the burden of shopping now shifts to the receiver. Gift cards might not always a good idea in this economy, since so many stores are going out of business, but ACE should be around forever.

Thanks, Bro! I think I’m able to handle the challenge! Besides, this gives me a segue into the topic for this post.

Most of you have probably completed your holiday shopping. On the off chance that you are still wondering what to get for that gardener on your list (or even for yourself), here are a few suggestions.

Gift cards of any kind are generally a good idea. We don’t know what the other person really needs or wants, so it gives them the opportunity to make their own choices. Save yourself the gas and the mailing costs. For your gardener, you might look at ACE, or check with Home Depot or Lowe’s, or any store where the gardener shops regularly.

Start with an Amazon Gift Card. Just click on this and shop! I was amazed at the variety of garden and patio products you can purchase through Amazon, and mostly at a discount.

And of course Amazon has books for the gardener. Check out the list of just a few of my favorites on the right-hand side of this page under "Useful Books." There are garden books on everything you could ever imagine, from beginner to expert.

You might browse through one of the local garden shops or hardware stores. Pick up a sturdy basket or 4-wheeled cart like the one above, then begin to pile in various small garden tools, seed packets, books, and more. Tie a big red bow on the top for a flourish. A friend gave me one of these carts for my birthday and I absolutely love it!

If you live near a college or university that offers horticulture courses, you might even pay for a special friend to take a class. That happened for me in the early 70s at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I took a course in landscaping designed for the home owner who was an amateur. It was such an exciting thing that I ended up taking horticulture courses for the next three years!

One of my favorite gifts from friends who live locally is a cutting (or a dozen cuttings) that I can put out in my own yard. It’s a constant reminder of that person every time I water or weed. Recently I had one of those friends stop by and he was amazed at how certain plants had grown that he and his wife had given me in exchange for eggs.

I’m not at a point of being able to give cuttings out of my yard yet, but some day I hope to do that. I can, however, pick up potted plants at the nursery to take. These plants can look nice in the home for a while, later to be planted outside in a more permanent home. Our local garden club meets the Saturday after Christmas. We’re bringing pupus and a plant for the gift exchange.

Finally, there is nothing like a personal gift of time. Coerce your favorite gardener into sitting down for a chat with you over a cup of tea and your homemade cookies. Walk around the place with your gardener and let her/him show you around. As bleak as we may think our garden is, we are always still proud to show our accomplishments.

You’ll think of other gifts, and who knows? You might even get the gardening bug yourself, if you haven’t already been bitten.

This is Lava Lily, with a wish for all of my readers to have a super bloomin’ holiday!

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Sunday, December 7, 2008


It was December 7, 1941 when my parents showed me the St. Louis paper that told the story of the Pearl Harbor attack.

My memories are probably much different from that of other people who live here in Hawaii, but they are still very strong. I was a 7-year-old in Southern Illinois. My father tried to get into the military as a chaplain, but at 32 years of age, he was considered too old.

His younger brother served, however, first as an enlisted man. He had many stories to tell about frozen feet from marching through the snow, of fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, hiding out in barns, but I won’t go into all of those here. He went back to college and grad school, later became a chaplain in the Army. This later took him to Korea and Viet Nam twice. He stayed in the Army until he retired.

Another of my uncles went into the Navy right out of college as an officer. He served as an officer on a ship that went to China.

The memories of how we lived through those next years will never go away – not for me, and certainly not for the people who were living in Hawai'i at the time. Although none of us wanted the tragedy of war, we all pitched in and did our part.

In the spring following the Pearl Harbor attack, rationing was put into place, and lasted until 1945. This site shows pictures of the ration books, and describes other measures that our country took in order to do their part for the war effort.

Each car had a stamp on the window that indicated how much gas that person could buy. There were A stamps that allowed the owner to purchase 3 to 4 gallons per week. If someone’s car was essential to the war effort, they got a B stamp and 8 gallons per week. I can still remember the C stamp on our car which meant unlimited gasoline for physicians, ministers, mail carriers, and railroad workers. My father was a pastor, so he was allowed more gasoline. Then there was the T stamp for trucks, and the X stamp for congress members and other VIPs.

Foods like sugar, butter, milk, cheese, eggs, coffee, meat and canned goods were all given a specific stamp value. When the government turned to its citizens to encourage them to plant "Victory Gardens," nearly 20 million Americans answered the call.

Going through boxes in a recent move, I found some old ration stamps for sugar I had kept. I remember that with a child's logic, I named my new dog “Sugar” because he would get under the house and was “hard to get.” Children, as well as adults, were encouraged to buy stamps for war bonds.

I also found an old book on victory sewing that showed how to make dresses for little girls out of men’s old shirts. I wore many skirts and jackets made out of my father’s worn out suits, even as late as my high school years.

Another fond memory was of learning how to knit by making little 4” X 4” squares that would be put together into blankets. These blankets would be sent to England through a campaign called “Bundles for Britain.” A good friend from the UK was among the children evacuated from London. I often wonder if he got one of my blankets!

Actually, this started before the Pearl Harbor raid in 1940 by a young New York society matron, Mrs. Walls Latham, as a charity for the citizens of England. She began “by organizing her friends to knit garments for British sailors on the frigid North Sea.” They also “collected items such as medicine, clothing and blankets from American citizens and shipped them to Britain.”

A poster campaign ("Plant more in '44!") encouraged the planting of Victory Gardens. These are copies of two old posters from that era, but they carry just as valid a message today. These gardens were “not a drudgery, but a pastime, and a national duty.”

Probably one of the most memorable events from that era are the many Victory Gardens that were started, which meant more supplies could be sent to our troops. Read more about the history of Victory Gardens here .

In my raised beds, I am working on my own Victory Garden. As I build more beds, I’ll be able to plant more. Right now, I have tomatoes, string beans, mustard greens, collard greens, red chard, and peanuts, plus I have eggs from my chickens and my freezer has a freshly butchered and frozen pig.

Not only do I encourage you to plant even just a few seeds in a revival of the Victory Garden, but I hope you encourage our president-elect Obama and his family to grow a Victory Garden on the White House lawn. He would not be the first president to do so. Please go to Eat The View and sign a petition asking him to start planting.

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

How Do You Dance Your Life?

Some of you may know that not only am I a gardener and a college psychology instructor, but I am a retired United Methodist minister. When I served a church in Tucson AZ, many of the funerals I conducted were victims of AIDS.

Because of my close connection with this population in my church, I have a special place in my heart for those who suffer from this disease. It is in honor of those who have the disease, as well as in memory of those I have buried, that I write this blog.

There is a special dance from the early church community called the TRIPUDIUM. I learned about it nearly twenty-five years ago when I took a workshop from Doug Adams, who was a professor of religion and the arts at the Pacific School of Religion.

I had no idea that Doug had left this earth until I looked him up on Google. I’d like to give you two other websites that will give you a sense of who he was. According to these articles, the memorial celebrations outdid Doug in creativity.

The following information on liturgical dance is something I learned from Doug that will stay with me always.

TRIPUDIUM actually means "three step" or "jubilate" in Latin. Later, dance in church was suppressed as being too sinful, and thus it came to mean "the Jubilation."

It was a style of processing to church, symbolizing the progress of not only the individual, but of the whole church and community.

It is a process of three steps forward and one back - three forward and one back. Often someone could call out three signs of HOPE on the forward three steps, then call out one sign of SETBACK on the backward step.

In other words, the SETBACK becomes part of the dance. It isn't outside the rhythm.


We don't want to include the back step in the dance. But it's all part of the dance! It gives us a more optimistic spirit, helps us see setbacks in the context of life, of ongoing progress.

Another interesting fact is that this dance was not done in single file, but in processions with many abreast with arms linked, row after row. It is done in community - not alone. It is a deliberate moving forward together, as well as in the times of setback.

The people would move through the streets and into the church and around in it during the songs of the service and back out through the streets as a recessional. The dance was a communal act of worship and celebration.

The Greeks believed in afterlife, so they danced a ring dance to make safe passage for the deceased. The Greeks appreciated dance as an aesthetic experience. Everything was a dance for them - victory processions, weapon dances, displays of power, ball games, wedding processions, and funeral processions!

The early Christians drew on this custom. They circled the grave with lively funeral dances to celebrate the person’s birth into everlasting life. Rose petals were dropped on the open grave, as they sang, “Ring Around the Rosie…Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”

When life and mortality seem difficult, I invite you to put on some music and dance the Tripudium, shouting out three signs of hope for every setback.

This particular version of Lee Ann Womack's song "I Hope Your Dance" seems appropriate today.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Be sure to compost
what you can't make into soup!


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Madam Pele's Art Work

This blog began as a way for me to document my life on an acre of lava. In a way, I was partly joking about it. What in the world could I grow on an acre of nothing but lava rocks? My friends know that I have lived on good California, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Alaska, Arizona, Illinois soils, where I could grow almost anything , given the local climate.

Neither my knowledge nor experience were much good here, but I love living in Hawai`i too much to leave, so I had to learn how to make the best of it.

Several times in the past, in addition to the resistant lava, I have mentioned “vog.” In this post, I will describe the two types of lava we have here and also talk about the vog that destroys plants and lungs. There will be quite a few links in this article, so please go check them out. They say much more than I can.

The picture above is one of my early experiences with lava. At the time, I had a 2004 Miata, hot red as you can see. Since then, I have gotten rid of it and now use a older Mazda Tribute that can haul a little more lumber than the Miata!

One day I was backing up to unload some bags of soil from our local Ace Hardware. I misjudged where the path turned and ended up sitting on top of this lava heap. A good friend and neighbor came with his SUV and a sturdy tow rope to pull me off. That was the day I began to think about getting rid of the Miata!

That picture also shows one of the two types of lava, what the Hawai`ians call a’a. You pronounce it like ah-ah, with a quick pause at the hyphen. It is primarily rocks of various sizes. It will wear out the fingers of garden gloves very quickly. My fingers have toughened up a little bit, but it can still cut.

Last week I talked about the progress of my patio. Here’s another shot of that spot before we started work on it, and it gives another good idea of the a’a lava.

This picture of one of my coffee trees shows how I need to plant anything. I dig a hole, pour in lots of soil, either bagged from Ace or made at home with pig dirt and manure my lovely chickens provide for me. Then I pile rocks around it to help keep the soil contained. It still filters down through the rocks underneath.

Here is a view up the driveway from my house. You can see the spread of lava in what I jokingly call “my front yard.” I’ve put triangle palms along each side of the drive, and there are a few other scattered plants. I have four more ready to plant.

Since a’a is the only kind of volcanic rock I have in my yard, I am including pictures I took on a hike over the volcano at Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park. These shots will show you the other type of lava, pahoehoe, roughly pronounced as pah-hoy-hoy. It is the Hawai`ian term for basaltic lava and it looks like big swirls of melted black chocolate. Yum!

Here you can see the path we took with the volcano in the distance. People were always on the path to get in to watch the live volcano flow. There are warning signs all over about what kind of shoes to wear (and not wear), the sort of protective clothing, and the like.

A flashlight is always recommended in case you are hiking at night, or if you get lost and end up there at night unintentionally. There are barricades along the sides of the path, but they end after a certain distance and you need to rely on your eyes to know where to go. If you plan to go, please read this link.

Here’s another view along our hike. You can see how easily you could lose your way, once the barricades end.

At last, we see a live lava flow! This is where you need to use caution. We seem to lose people every year who get too close to take pictures, and the “bench” breaks off beneath them. Not exactly the way I’d like to go to HELL, even though I may be going there someday! The molten lava reaches a temperature somewhere around 700 to 1,200 degrees C (1,300 to 2,200 degrees F). That’s HOT!

Here is another shot. I stayed back far enough not to fall in, of course, but the heat was still almost unbearable. I was about five feet away from this. Most of the flow was beneath the surface.

This shot was taken recently as I was driving on Highway 11 toward the park not far from my house. You can see how much the vog affects the visibility.

So what is VOG? Here are several websites with good descriptions and excellent pictures.

I apologize for giving so many websites, but these can give you much more accurate information than I can. Also, if you plan to visit this area of Hawai`i, you will need to know.

As you approach the park, even before you are actually inside the park itself, you will see “steam vents” popping up all over the place. Here is a shot I took just inside the park. You can see them off in the distance.

I will end this post with a couple more websites that will be of value to anyone wanting to know more. This first site shows a good picture of a’a and pahoehoe side by side.

Of course, what would we do without Wikipedia? Here is a fairly complete description with great pictures of lava, both solid and molten.

Madam Pele is the Hawaiian Goddess of the Volcano, and while I have a hard time working in her garden, She has also given me an exercise in patience, love, and reward.

Until next Sunday, Lava Lily says “Happy hiking and gardening!”

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