Monthly Archives: July 2014



seeing eye …

horses? That’s right. Miniature horses are the newest trend in guide animals.


Photo by DanDee Shots via Wikimedia Commons

Guide horses have an average lifespan of 30 years, making them a good alternative to dogs in some cases. Although they necessarily live outside the house, they have superb eyesight and traffic instincts that make them good companions for sight-challenged rural folks.

The idea hatched in 1998, when Janet and Don Burleson of Kittrell, North Carolina, were riding horses in New York City and Janet noticed how traffic-savvy the horses were. At home, they had a miniature horse, Twinkie, who followed them around like a dog and even rode in their minivan. She thought to train Twinkie, and has since developed a rigorous, eight-month training program that results in the little helpers being able to go into shopping centers and grocery stores … virtually, everything a guide dog can do. They’re even taught to respond to 23 voice commands.

What’s next … miniature Jerseys?? Come on Etta Jane, I know you can do it!




Treehouse Masters

I’ve discovered a little gem of a DIY television show, Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters.

Now in its second season, Treehouse Masters is hosted by building visionary and “tree whisperer” Pete Nelson, a really likable everyman with a passion for trees. Pete comes from neighboring Washington state, where he and his wife, Judy, and daughter, Emily, own and operate Treehouse Point, a bed-and-breakfast near Seattle that boasts six guest-room treehouses. (You can also visit the property by taking a 1 1/2-hour guided tour of all the non-occupied treehouses on the property for just $18.)

Pete Nelson has been building treehouses for 20 years, starting with the one his dad helped him build when he was just 5 years old. Pete’s company, Nelson Treehouse & Supply, has now built over 200 treehouses in 6 countries. Treehouse Masters follows Pete and his lovable crew, including his twin 20-something sons, as they create “private escapes for those with a passion to reconnect with nature and awaken their inner child.” But if you think Pete’s treehouses are just for kids, think again. Some of Pete’s creations are self-contained living spaces including bedrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms. If you can dream it, Pete can build it. He’s even built a working recording studio high up in the trees.


One recent episode had Pete visiting his former apprentice, Takashi Kobayashi (Taka), in Japan. Taka is now a treehouse master himself, recently creating the “Tree Dragon” treehouse, built for the child survivors of the 2011 Japanese tsunami. Taka wanted to create a space where the children could conquer the fear of nature the tsunami had brought to them and get back in touch with the beauties of the natural world. Through Pete’s conversation with Taka, some of it through an interpreter, we find that, regardless of the architectural antiquities that abound in Japan, there have never been treehouses built there—the word doesn’t even exist in the Japanese language. Because of Pete, the Japanese now have a word for these creative spaces … treehouse!

Pete also has a handful of books about treehouses, including this year’s Be in a Treehouse: Design/Construction/Inspiration. If you love the thought of living (or playing) in the trees, check out Treehouse Masters, Friday nights on Animal Planet.




Where would we be without …


Lest you think “leaks,” let me clarify …

“Wiki” is the Wikimedia Foundation (nope, no connection to Edward Snowden). In case you haven’t had the opportunity to experience its wonders, Wiki offers a range of services, including Wikipedia, an exhaustive encyclopedia that is free to use for any purpose without the clutter of advertising, and Wikimedia Commons, a vast collection of images that are also free to use (you may notice that I use them in my Raising Jane entries).

Just look at the gorgeous photo I found on the front page of the Commons a few days ago …


Photo by Jorge Royan via Wikimedia Commons

Are you beginning to understand my wild affection?

According to the Foundation, Wikipedia contains more than 32 million volunteer-authored articles in over 287 languages, and is visited by more than 490 million people every month, making it one of the most popular sites in the world.

“Wiki is a collaborative creation that has been added to and edited by millions of people during the past 12 years: anyone can edit it, at any time,” explains Executive Director Lila Tretikov. “It has become the largest collection of shared knowledge in human history. The people who support it are united by their love of learning, their intellectual curiosity, and their awareness that we know much more together than any of us does alone.”

I can vouch for that—I’m happy to support Wiki financially because I strongly believe in keeping this incredible resource free (and ad-free) for all. So I encourage you to donate, too. Check out Wiki’s Ways to Give site to learn how you can support the hardworking volunteers who have revived and revolutionized the concept of “encyclopedia.”


Photo by Joi Ito via Wikimedia Commons






If I told you I had a new damson scarf, would you know what color it is?

How about if I told you that at my farm, come September, we’re in damson heaven?

Here’s a clue …


(DAM-zuhn, -suhn)

1. A variety of small plum or its fruit. (Prunus domestica subsp. insititia, or sometimes Prunus insititia)
2. A dark purple color.

Turns out, the plum I love so much is also a color—the same deep purple as the signature skin of the little damson plum. Here at my farm, I have an abundance of these tasty little purple beauties. They’re sometimes called Italian prune-plums, and each little plum is a egg-shaped delicacy, with smooth, purple skin that pops in half, exposing a golden, sweet flesh that separates easily from the pit, lending itself to effortless eating, canning, and drying. They’re an ideal fruit tree for regions with fickle spring weather, and grow well in Zones 4-9. They do ripen late, from September to October, but a slight frost only sweetens them.


Plums are widely cultivated throughout the U.S., since there are varieties suitable for growing in every state. Some varieties have been developed from the earlier wild forms, some have been bred for maximum fruit production, others have been bred for larger and more abundant blossoms, and some for decoration alone. But the variety I inherited when I bought my farm is on the wild side. They’re prolific producers and reproduce easily. Pests don’t bother them at all. The deer eat the fallen fruit, but really nothing seems to deter the trees’ determination to multiply. However, if a shoot sprouts where I don’t want it, it’s no problem simply to weed it out. I suspect some of my trees, with big thick trunks, are well over 100 years old.

And since they grow fast, I’ve begun to transplant some of the shoots that sprout up around the older trees along my fence lines. In some cases, they just show up right where I want them and start growing. All I need to do then is prune the lower branches and keep the saplings woven in and out of my existing wire fences. So, by the time my fenceposts start to rot from age, I’ll have a permanent, care-free, deer-deterrent barrier that provides an abundance of food.


“The mind I love must have wild places, a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass, an overgrown little wood, the chance of a snake or two, a pool that nobody’s fathomed the depth of, and paths threaded with flowers planted by the mind.”
– The Journal of Katherine Mansfield, 1927

Soon, we’ll be up to our elbows in luscious, ripe, damson plums!


… Time for plum jam,

and plum coffee cake!

To purchase damson plum saplings, try Nature Hills Nursery.


Beaumont is growing up!



Today, I ran across the word “stellenbosch” (ste-len-bosh). Of course, I’m a sucker for anything that sounds like Stella, my adorable 7-year-old grandgirl, so this word nearly jumped off the page at me:

“What happened?” Todd whispered to Ariel. “I thought Becca was going to lead the class.”

“I’m not sure,” Ariel said, “but I’m guessing that after she blew that lab last week, Muldrow stellenbosched her.”

Turns out, stellenbosch is a toponym, a word derived from the name of a place—think bohemian (after Bohemia), Chihuahua (after Chihuahua, Mexico), or ottoman (after the Ottoman Empire).


Herter Brothers Ottoman, High Museum of Art, by Wmpearl via Wikimedia Commons

At one time, a person’s surname was part of his identity … more than just a family name, it might tell where he lived, what he did for a livelihood, or even describe a physical or personality trait. Think Miss London or Mr. Fisherman or Miss Smiley.

Apparently, they didn’t know about toponyms in Scandinavia, where until fairly modern times (the late 1800s), surnames were almost always patronyms (your father’s first name plus a suffix meaning son or daughter) like Anderson (son of Anders) or Andersdotter (daughter of Anders). Papa Anders could have been an Anders Johnson or Anders Anderson, didn’t matter—the name that was passed on was always his first name. But the Scandinavians were more modern than you might think: When a woman married, she didn’t adopt her husband’s name, since she could never be called someone’s son. She instead kept her birth name.

But I digress. Back to our original toponym: stellenbosch. And what did it mean that Becca was stellenbosched?

Our word comes from Stellenbosch, South Africa, near Cape Town. During the Second Boer War of 1899-1902 (between the British Empire and the Dutch settlers of South Africa), Stellenbosch was a British military base.


1904 World’s Fair Boer War Pprogram, Frank Mills via Wikimedia Commons

Officers who hadn’t done well on the battlefield were often sent to Stellenbosch to do menial tasks, like looking after the war horses stabled there. The officers usually kept their rank, but the reassignment to Stellenbosch was considered a demotion, and the term came to mean reassigning someone to a position of minimal responsibility where they would do no harm.

Hmmmm, think I’ll stellenbosch my farmhand, Johnny Johnson, who pulled out all the baby lettuces when weeding … to that nice big patch of thistles at the top of the garden.