Thank you, Blossom

Did you know that a milkmaid, a cow, and an observant doctor are to thank for the eradication of smallpox from the developed world?

In 1796, English physician and scientist Edward Jenner developed our first modern-day vaccine after treating a milkmaid for blisters on her hands. The blisters were from a mild disease called cowpox, which was often transmitted from cows to milkmaids. During treatment, Jenner noticed that milkmaids who recovered from cowpox never contracted smallpox, the most virulent and deadly disease of the time, killing 400,000 people a year in Europe alone during the 1700s and an estimated 300–500 million people worldwide during the 20th century (smallpox was only declared eradicated in 1979).

From that astute observation, Jenner went on to develop the world’s first vaccine, and his discovery is said to have saved more lives than the work of any other person in history.


The milkmaid had contracted cowpox from a cow named Blossom, and Jenner used fluids from that cow’s blisters to develop his vaccine. Blossom’s hide now hangs in a place of honor at St George’s medical school library in Tooting, England.

  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    I never knew the story of the smallpox vaccine origins but this is very interesting. I also remember seeing on a documentary of John Adams, that his wife self vaccinated all of her children. An outbreak had occurred and there was this very advent guard theory that if you take some of the fluid from one blister and scratch it into the skin of a healthy person, they will get a minor case of smallpox but most likely survive. And so that is what she did and all of her children survived their relatively minor cases of smallpox. In fact that is what the early vaccine did. The big blister, low grade fever and malaise was a minor case of the smallpox that allowed the body to build immune without the disease overwhelming them. I remember getting my last smallpox vaccine when I was in high school. I think it is a worrisome thing now that people decline to vaccinate their children for reasons not well founded in science. As a result, we now have the largest outbreak of measles in California since 2001 and pockets of polio again in refugee camps and third world countries.

  2. Yes we were taught this story of his wondrous discovery in 2nd grade where I went to school. thank you Blossom and Dr. Jenner!

  3. Robert Tressler says:

    I have a old print of this picture in a very old frame ,It is about 2 feet x 2 feet. Looking for more info.

  4. Thiru Siva says:

    We were all very proud to have Blossom’s hide displayed in our library to remind us of the great scientific heritage of the institution where we were studying medicine.

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Tu Tulip Vases

Who doesn’t love a tulip in bloom this time of year? And a pink one at that?!


Right by the front door at my local Walgreens, I spied these pink beauties in the beginning stages of their spring sprout, so I brought two of them home for $7.99 each. All you do to continue forcing their bloom is to add a titch of water to the bottom compartment of their oh-so-clever glass vase that has a plastic screen just beneath the bulbs.

The roots seek the water, the tulips start to grow, and then, voilà … tulips! What I like about this idea is the fact that I also purchased a container for forcing blooms again this time next year and five pink tulips bulbs that I’ll plant in my garden (x2). The company that thought up this brilliant idea is

  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    Megan~ Yesterday I purchased a pot of purple crocus bulbs coming up for $2.99! Growing up in Virginia, we always had a yard full of purple, yellow, and white crocus blooms promising us Spring was not far behind. Not cold, snow, or sleet deterred their bright blooms and they are near and dear to my heart. Now, I am excited to watch my little pot grow me some happy blooms to enjoy soon. Bulb plants don’t work well in Florida due to the heat and humidity, but I am always excited when I get an opportunity to have some from the stores to enjoy!

  2. Terry Steinmetz says:

    I love these tulips, as I look out my windows, seeing a foot of snow, knowing that I won’t see any fresh flowers until May!

  3. Cindi Johnson says:

    Those are pretty! I love bulbs ~ and endless expansion of beauty every season. Really hoping the dividing I did of a beautiful brilliant orange lily was successful. It’s the first time I have divided a lily. We’ll see soon enough!

  4. connie-killarney says:

    I love your tulips!! My Paper whites bloomed right before Christmas! I do all kinds of bulbs indoors all year long! There is nothing easier! Plough and Hearth has some of the most beautiful bulb vases, but you can use any kind of container! I love using my Grandmothers glass pitchers. I have had friends come in and just marvel that you can grow them just in water!

    Tall clear flower vases are good to transfer them into when some types of bulbs get very tall and heavy after they start blooming, you just keep the water level to the roots and add a few colored marbles or glass pebbles or pretty rocks to keep the bulb out of the water.

  5. Back in the 1800s and before it was quite common to “force” bulbs especially Hyacinths ( not the lollipop ones we see now but the old fashioned highly fragrant wood hyacinths) There were special vases for this called Tye vases, see:

    These can also be used for tulips. I usually ” force” leftover not so good bulbs from fall time. I have some heirloom double blossom daffodills called ” Rip Van Winkle”. I have had them in vermiculite in a bucket all winter in my unheated cottage. I just got them out yesterday, how timely Megan!

    I just jury rig a few of my crystal long stem champagne glasses ( that hardly ever get used) and put them in with just enough water to touch the ” roots”. Put them in a sunny windowsill and watch them unfold! Also you can put daffodils especially in low pots over stones with just enough water to keep the roots wet. I like to use my vintage funky 50’s planters that are never big enough for any plants anyway.
    *** be warned, bulbs that are forced will not bloom again in the spring, they have used up all their energy and may come back again the following season if planted outdoors when the soil warms up ( not frozen) But oftentimes they will not make it to bloom again.

  6. CJ Armstrong says:

    They are beautiful! Tulips are one of my favorites! I might have to check this out.

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“Accidental” Furs

When it comes to winter fashion in the lower 48, fur went faux a long time ago.


Promotion photo for the film You’re My Everything (1949) featuring Anne Baxter via Wikimedia Commons

Given the overwhelmingly negative vibe surrounding the issue of fur anything, it was a real eyebrow-raiser for me to learn that fur—yes, real fur—may be trending toward chic once again.


Got his attention …


Photo by Mariomassone via Wikimedia Commons

Now before you get your knickers in a bunch, you must understand that this new fur industry ain’t what it used to be. In fact, it’s taking the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra to a whole new level of, well … resourcefulness.

So, tell me, darling—how do you feel about wearing (gulp) roadkill fur?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Come back here and listen to the whole story. I mean, heck, it’s not like I’m asking you to eat bugs or anything. And, just look how pretty:


Photo of woman in fur hat and muff courtesy of Petite Mort Fur

The woman in the photo above is wearing fur reclaimed from animals that were killed on a roadway. She really is. This artistic handling of such unsavory, ah, “media” is the genius of Pamela Paquin, founder of Petite Mort Fur, an elite fashion design company. Thirty-nine-year-old Paquin salvages what she calls “accidental furs” from road-killed animals in the United States in order to craft haute hand muffs, leg warmers, hats, and wraps.

Giving a whole new meaning to “abs of steel,” Paquin harvested her first roadkill last year. “I got this crazy knife that was completely wrong for the task, got my hazmat suit on, took a shot of whiskey, and just started doing it,” she said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Equipped with better tools and talent refined by trial-and-error, Paquin is carving out a place for her company in the eco-fashion industry.

“Accidental furs are loving resurrections of our fuzzy wild neighbors who have met with an untimely or natural death,” she explains. “Each luxurious piece is handmade, individually numbered, custom tailored to each owner’s specifications, befitting an heirloom investment.”

Not even the most passionate animal activist could find fault with her mantra: “Good taste is never at the expense of an other.”

Petite Mort also gives a percentage of each purchase to support Building Corridors and Critical Paths for Vermont Wildlife.

If you’re ready to jump on this trend at ground-level, Paquin says, “As with all things precious, our 2014-15 winter season is limited. Contact us at to inquire about your custom-designed piece.”

  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    This is a creative use of roadkill for sure! My only fear would be that it would wet the appetite for real fur again and create the old fur mills on the sly. I don’t trust that a demand would fuel others to be sustainable in their methods for keeping the fur from roadkill only. It seems that when some people see a chance for making money, they do what is cheap and easy with no responsibility to the animals.

  2. Read this in Modern FArmer website. Problem is how can you let people know you are wearing the ” good” fur? Not really a solution in my mind. And with all the new down and down alternative fabrics there are lots of ways to keep warm. and the faux furs are fun and pretty and look just fake enough to keep us all guilt free. I remember 40+ years ago my mother gave me her sealskin boots, very sensible and warm but ….. jeez they were seal ! She never understood why I refused to wear them.

    • MaryJane says:

      I rescue old fur coats, hats, etc. from the second hand stores around here. Just seems like a shame for them not to be loved by someone. I only occasionally wear them.

  3. Nancy Coughlin says:

    Not sure that I could wear one of these creations. Had a fur coat in my cedar chest that had belonged to my grandmother. Could not bring myself to wear it, so I donated it to a group that used it when working with abandoned baby animals. Thought that was putting it to good use.

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For the love of farming …


The Irene Dairy Farm’s unique Barn, fountain and farmyard, by Monxdavies via Wikimedia Commons

Wendell Berry said, “Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: ‘Love. They must do it for love.’ Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. If the scale of their farming is small enough, they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children. They love the measure of independence that farm life can still provide. I have an idea that a lot of farmers have gone to a lot of trouble merely to be self-employed to live at least a part of their lives without a boss.”

That just about says it all. We all know about famous farmers like Wendell Berry, Jimmy Carter, and Barbara Kingsolver. But it might surprise you that some people who have become very successful in other areas just can’t resist the urge to farm. They don’t need the money; they don’t need the bounty; and they certainly don’t need the headaches. Why do they do it? They must do it for love!


Laurits Andersen Ring – National Gallery of Norway via Wikimedia Commons

Here are a few of the famous farmers among us that just might surprise you …

Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, has been a passionate advocate of organic farming since the 1980s, and is now an outspoken opponent of GMOs. “It is now 14 years since I first suggested that organic farming might have some benefits and ought to be taken seriously. I shall never forget the vehemence of the reaction … much of it coming from the sort of people who regard agriculture as an industrial process, with production as the sole yardstick of success.”

Comedian Roseanne Barr lives on an organic macadamia nut farm in Hawaii. “I’m a farmer now, and it’s fantastic. My goal is to be totally self-sufficient and grow everything that I eat. There’s something about earning your dinner that’s cool. I got the fame and the fortune that I always wanted. But I have to say what I have now, it’s even better.”

Actor Russell Crowe owns a 1,400-acre ranch in Australia where he raises over 700 head of Black Angus cattle. “It’s a total oasis. You go to the farm, and if you let the rhythm of the farm be your rhythm and dominate, whatever’s going on in your mind, you can settle it down and sort it out,”

Actress Nicole Kidman and her husband, singer Keith Urban, have both a cattle ranch in Australia and a farm in Nashville, where they raise alpacas and vegetables.

Actress Reese Witherspoon has a farm in Ojai, California, where she raises goats, pigs, and miniature donkeys. “It’s so good for the kids to learn about animals and kindness and compassion. I make them clean the stalls.”


Peter Andreas Blix – Oslo Museum via Wikimedia Commons

Actor Tom Selleck grows 63 acres of avocados on his ranch in California; actor Jamie Foxx grows avocados right next door. Singer Jason Mraz also grows avocados near San Diego, where he harvests 30,000 pounds of the fruit a year!

Actress Elizabeth Hurley has a 400-acre organic farm in Gloucester, England, and recently launched a line of all-natural snack bars from food produced on her farm.

Actor Mark Ruffalo lives on a 50-acre former dairy farm in New York, where he grows strawberries and hay and plans to raise sheep.

  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    Wendall Berry has always spoken to my heart. He can explain the complexity of agriculture with a lens that only comes from a place of experience and share that vision with anyone who chooses to read his works. In one of the books I read recently, Thomas Jefferson writes that there that the pursuit of agriculture was the most important and honorable of vocations. It struck me odd that the Father of the University of Virginia would not say that education and learning were the most important pursuits. However, one only has to look at Monticello to see differently. Jefferson loved his home and spent his time using his land to experiment with trying to grow new vegetables, fruits and other crops. Monticello was both his home and his laboratory where he most wanted to spend his days. Americans have followed suit in this vast land of fertile farmland and I am happy to learn that new generations of people are making agriculture more sustainable and healthier. I feel sure Thomas Jefferson would be pleased!

  2. Nancy Coughlin says:

    Wendall Berry has always been a favorite of mine. Love is at the base of so much that we do. Or it should be! As Roseanne Barr said, she has the “fame and fortune” so she can now do what it is that fills her heart. I truly feel for those who have to struggle with each day to make their farm work, but continue to do so because they love their work.

  3. Victoria Durant says:

    I live in Nevada on a 5 acre ranch which I am still developing . I would not give this place up for anything
    my father help my family and I get this place before he passed away. I have found it to be a challenge
    and a comfort. You see my husband is now seriously ill and the work that needs to be done here still is
    my comfort I can go outside and work around the ranch. In the summer I try to grow a garden my father was the farmer but every once in awhile I get lucky and something will grow for me. I try new things to improve this place or sometimes I keep the old way going. In the end I will have my ranch up and running raising Alpacas my dream. Thak you all for inspiring me to continue on.
    Victoria Durant

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Go ahead, take a guess:


Photo by Yellow Cloud via Wikimedia Commons

Animal, vegetable, mineral … or alien?


Photo by Amada44 via Wikimedia Commons

Leaning toward alien, aren’t you?

Here’s a hint:


Photo by Amada44 via Wikimedia Commons

Note the pot in which they’re planted.

These little curiosities are, indeed, vegetable. Formally known as lithops (a genus that contains several species), they are succulent plants commonly called “living stones” or “pebble plants.” You can see why.


Photo by Anselm Bradford via Wikimedia Commons

“Lithops are true mimicry plants: their shape, size, and color causes them to resemble small stones in their natural surroundings. The plants blend in among the stones as a means of protection. Grazing animals, which would otherwise eat them during periods of drought to obtain moisture, usually overlook them. Even experts in the field sometimes have difficulty locating plants for study because of this unusual deceptive camouflage,” explains enthusiast Nick Rowlette. “In the wild, lithops inhabit vast dry regions of southern Africa. Several areas in which these plants grow receive less than two inches of rainfall per month throughout the entire year.”

And, here’s the really cool part: Lithops do this:


Photo by Michael Wolf via Wikimedia Commons

You want some now, don’t you?

Well, then, awaken your inner dormant gardener from her winter sleep and indulge your newfound lithop love! It’s easy:

Order live lithops from a U.S. Etsy shop like San Pedro Cactus or try your hand at starting seeds from Whatcom Seeds Company. The seeds germinate within 14 days and, once started, need no water from fall until spring.

  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    These plants are so interesting looking. At first I thought they were some sort of obscure fruit cut in half or maybe a mushroom. They would sure hate a Florida climate with all the heat and humidity we have down here.

  2. What a serendipitous find! When my step Dad was diagnosed with brain cancer back in ’97, he gave me an opal ring that I wore for years. One day, a particularly difficult day for his failing appetite, he told me about three dreams he remembered having. They all had to do with breaking something open to get to what was inside. One was simply an egg, he wanted to eat it but didn’t want to crack it open and the last he could remember was a car locked behind a dealership’s glass walls that he bought but he had to break through to get to it.
    That same night I opened my devotional book that I had on my shelf to a page about living stones, how they’re just ordinary stones until they’re broken and their fire comes from the cracks and fissures inside and allow the air to give them their luster. The metaphor was to depict our lives when we go through circumstances that we think intend to break us but instead allow God to show the fire and lustre of his love and strength for others to see inside of us. Little did I know that opal would remind me of such an important life lesson that I’ve held through not only losing my Dad but so many other things, I had no idea how strong I was until the breaking brought the beauty of that fire alive in me. Even now, a single mother of two I am reminded that it serves me well to stand strong in knowing that good can come from things meant to tear us down.
    I never knew this plant existed, and now I will most certainly find one. Thank you for what you do. I’m not just a fan anymore, I’ve sent in a request to become a Farmgirl.

    • MaryJane says:

      Good morning Shannon. What beautiful imagery, metaphor, life lessons. Fire opal is a connection my daughter has with her grandmother. And I wear my grandmother’s opal ring set in ornate but simple gold. Welcome.

  3. Nancy Coughlin says:

    Shannon Colleen what a beautiful way with words you have. You touched my heart with your words. And two of my children carry your two names! I have ordered seeds to try and grow these amazing lithops. Hope they are successful When they grow, will remember your words.

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