The Accidental Orchid

Last summer my son-in-law brought me out two of his house plants to tend while he went home to Spain for a month. I was glad to tend the hydrangea; it was in a big pot and it could live outside on the porch next to mine. Mine was pink; his was blue. They would look lovely together, and I’m not afraid of hydrangeas.

The other was an orchid. I shook my head at that one. “Oh, I’ll kill that one for sure,” I said. “I’m not good with any plants that are tender or need a lot of care.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “Just give it three ice cubes a week. Or 1/4 cup of water. No direct sun, and if it doesn’t work, I’m not attached to it. Don’t worry.” Even though he said all that, I still didn’t want him come back to a dead orchid.

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That was in July. It had one icy white bloom atop a long thin stem; it looked very fragile. The bloom dropped off within a couple of weeks and left the long green stem. It wasn’t very attractive, but I dutifully gave it a quarter cup of water every Sunday. I didn’t think ice cubes would be good for a tropical flower.

After he came back from Spain, he was in the process of moving and told me to just keep the plants. The orchid didn’t do much for two or three months, and I was starting to think it was silly to keep watering such an ugly plant. (There’s a lesson there in that sentence….) But it didn’t look unhealthy, so I kept watering it.

One morning I was moving all the plants and dusting the window sill when I saw odd looking growths coming from the base of the plant. They were silvery. I had no idea, but since something was happening, I did some basic research on Phalaenopsis Orchid.

fullsizeoutput_18fa These were air roots. Of course. Every plant has air roots, right?

I did more research. There are about a hundred million web sites for novice orchid growers, and they don’t all agree. But the first web site I checked suggested cutting back the old flower spike. It may send out a new shoot, or it may not. Depends if it’s happy or not…

It didn’t seem unhappy, so I cut it back by half. Within days a little sprout appeared just above where it had been cut back. And within days of that little sprout, another shoot appeared, and this time it was growing out of the dirt. Er… it isn’t really dirt. It is magic orchid-growing chunks of pixie dust ‘media’.

Excitement mounted, and I went back to researching. It turns out that the 3-ice cubes per week is a Thing. More correctly, a company — Just Add Ice Orchids. Most of the spectacular flowering orchids that the big box stores are selling right now are orchids from this company. I have always just passed them right by, because I’m not really a fan of delicate hothouse flowers. Did I say that already?
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With air roots and two flower spikes, I actually started to get excited and attached to it. I texted my son-in-law with a photo. He corrected me on its gender and called the orchid a she. Yes, it is plain from the photos, she is a lovely March bride.

img_7837I began to use the ice cube method, since it has obviously been approved — not only approved, encouraged. Her flower spikes grew tall, and soon there were little bumps all along both of the spikes. Dare I think they would be flower buds? I counted them. There were seventeen!

Before you think that I am an absolute genius with tender hothouse orchids, I have a confession.

I struggle with lack of light in the months of November through February. (Does this mean that I myself might be similar to a tender hothouse plant?) So this winter I bought four JOYOUS lightbulbs — full spectrum light that mimics natural daylight. As I was choosing where to put them, I noticed in big print on the packaging (that’s the only kind I can read these days…) that these light bulbs can also be used as grow lights. So I put one of them in the schoolhouse light over the kitchen sink, so the houseplants on the window ledge could benefit from joyful light too.
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I cannot say with full certainty this is why the orchid is so magnificent. Several of the websites I visited said that light does not affect the blooming of orchids. Can I say I don’t believe them? I must also say that this is the first year that my tender Rosemary plant still looks this healthy in early March. Usually it dies by mid-January.

I sent a text to Pedro the other day with a photo of how spectacular she is. I offered to give her back. He generously declined, saying, “She must love your window.”

And the hydrangea? The deer ate it to nubs one night last fall. I brought the container of small sticks inside and shoved it in a corner of the kitchen. Since spring is around the corner (What corner, Where?) it is starting to come back too. I’m hoping its lovely lavender bloom will take over when the last orchid blossom falls off.

So go for that spectacular orchid. If I can do it, you can too.

17 for ’17

This is my 5th annual New Year’s post with additions for 2017.  I wasn’t going to do this again; 5 years seemed like plenty. Then I read through it and thought that this year needs a peace, love, and can’t-we-all-just-get-along? post more than any other year I’ve lived through. Except maybe 1968 (and I was mostly too young to care then).

So I wish you all peace, love, and a year of forgiving and forgetting.  Happy 2017 everyone — and thank you for reading, commenting, and sharing my little place in cyberspace.

There are two kinds of people in the world:

1. those who would go to Times Square for New Year’s Eve, and those who couldn’t be paid enough to go…

Sunrise from our bedroom windows

Sunrise from our bedroom windows

2. those who go out for New Year’s Eve, and those who stay home…

steak, burgundy mushrooms, asparagus

3. those who would rehab an old vacant house, and those who would look for a new one instead…

boards

4. Cat-lovers and Dog-lovers…

Cat in the Christmas tree

5. Savers and Pitchers…
pitchers

6. Dreamers and Doers…

7. those who believe and those who scoff…

Micah 6:*

8. those who stay, and those who go…

9. those who love snow, and those who don’t…

10. those who take naps, and those who feel superior to those who take naps…

Cat nap

11. those who love city streets, and those who love country roads…

12. those who look up and those who look down…

13. those who eat their fruits and vegetables, and those who eat their meat’n potatoes…

green tomato salsa

14. those whose glass is half-empty and those whose glass is half-full…

Stag's Leap winery

15. those who work for pay and those who work for love; and those who are blessed to do both at the same time…

Mr. H.C's truck

Mr. H.C’s truck

16. those who believe santa is a democrat, those who believe santa is a  republican, and those who believe santa should just start a third party for the rest of us — the Dempublicans? The Republicrats? (Surely he would get more than just my vote…)

17. Those who love to go shopping and those who would rather eat worms than go to a mall.


At different times in our lives, we can be any of these.
Me? I have been all these people–a city lover, a country girl; a scoffer, a believer; an optimist, a pessimist; a cat-lover, a dog-lover; a dreamer, a doer; a shopper and a worm-eater…(Though I would have to be paid a lot of cash to go to Times Square on New Year’s Eve.)
Can we remember this?
Can we remember that our differences make this beautiful world what it is?
Can we let go of our prejudices, our prides, our preconceptions, our (fill in the blank here)… and just love each other?

May grace and peace be yours in abundance in 2017.

Christmas angel

Back in Time, Up in the Mountains

This isn’t a travel blog, because well, we don’t travel much.

All our time is spent up, here in this place, and there’s no time left for somewhere else.

But for an early Christmas present Pedro and Olivier got us tickets for the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park in Cass, West Virginia. And it was so much fun, you, dear reader, get to hear about it, see photos, and then, ahem, make plans to travel there yourselves. (In the spring. Although I’m told the same railroad line operates a Polar Express tour in November and December and they are already sold out for this year…)

Steam locomotive

It was a wild and wonderful day in late October in the wild and wonderful mountains of Pocahontas County, West Virginia. 60% of Pocahontas County is State or National land, and we took so many photos both our cameras died…

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The Cass Scenic Railroad State Park is about 45 minutes east of Elkins WV. There are several scenic railroad trips one could take on this Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad; the old Cass logging train up the mountain to Whittaker Station is just one. The Cass logging train has been going up Cheat Mountain since 1901 when the line was first built. Shay Locomotive #5 is the second oldest steam engine in the country.

We got our tickets at the station and headed up to the logging museum to wait for the train. Cats Railroad Station

The old company houses in the town of Cass have been renewed, and are now for rent to folks who would like to spend time hiking, kayaking, and exploring. Eight rivers have their headwaters in the mountains of Pocahontas County: the Cheat and the Greenbrier are the largest.old logging tools

We couldn’t miss hearing the train come into the station. There’s just something about about those long slow train whistles.

Cass Scenic Railroad Station

On the way up to Whittaker Station, the train goes over two mountain roads, marked with nothing but a stop sign, and train crossing warnings. Of course, long blasts of the train’s whistle are a good warning too.

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Railroad Crossing signs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you travel up the mountain in the coal-fired steam engine, the train is alternately pulled and pushed by the locomotive. There are two switchbacks; the train backs into them, with the guidance of a switchman, and then the train chugs off again, this time pulling the cars.

switchman

The switchbacks are for power. These Shay locomotives go up the mountain on an 11% grade. Today’s train tracks are considered steep if the grade is 2%. These locomotives are the same steam engines that are used in the mountains of British Columbia, but they were retrofitted to use West Virginia coal.

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For one trip up the mountain, the locomotive uses one ton of coal to produce the steam. The coal is shoveled by hand by the fireman, just like it always was.

Coal fired steam Shay locomotive

The scenery was spectacular and what a thrill it was to be riding in an open car up a steep grade with the train chugging on the rails and blasting its whistle and the coal cinders flying in your eyes. 🙂 It was cold, too. Snow and ice covered the tops of Bald Knob and nearby mountains.

fall day in the mountains

You can also take the full tour up to Bald Knob (and even spend the night in a rustic caboose). At 4700 feet it is the third highest point in West Virginia.

fall in the mountains

img_1393We were glad to  disembark at Whittaker Station for coffee and hot chocolate. Did I mention it was cold in the mountains?

Whittaker Station Elevation Sign

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The entire time we were on the train, I kept humming to myself “Life Is Like a Mountain Railway” a great old bluegrass gospel tune. Even the the wheels on the tracks kept the beat.

Life is like a mountain railway....

I wish I’d gotten a photo of the train stopping to fill up with water, but both of our phones had died by then. When we got back to the station, we checked out the Company Store and bought old fashioned root beer barrel candy; we stopped at the West Virginia Artisan Shop; and we had an early dinner of homemade chicken noodle soup and pulled pork sandwiches at the Cafe. While we were eating, the bluegrass  band Donna Ulisse and the Poor Mountain Boys was tuning up for a hurricane relief concert.

 

black clouds, red sunsetIt was a lovely day, and as we were going home over Cheat Mountain, the skies proclaimed glory with this fiery sunset.