New Year–New Tool

img_3494Happy New Year! Have you made any New Year’s resolutions for 2017? If one of your resolutions is to exercise more, then you might be interested in one of my all time favorite gardening tools: a set of exercise videos. Yes–that’s what she said!

I know, I know–here you thought all along that gardening WAS exercise. And you were right. The truth is that gardening is so much exercise that it’s necessary to warm up first. I have found that my exercise videos are the perfect warm up for whatever activity the day holds for me, but they are especially necessary when I’m going to do any serious gardening.

There was a period after I had a sprained back years ago that I had to wear a soft back brace whenever I was doing a lot of walking, gardening, or other work. Then I found what turned out to be the best basic exercise regime for me: Wai Lana’s “Easy Series” of 3 VHS tapes. I began doing them 3-5 times a week, and I was thrilled that I no longer had to wear a thick layer of elastic when working and sweating outside on a hot summer day. I’ve adapted the routines to help deal with other issues that came along, and I added other exercises like bike riding or strength training when I wanted more. I’ve been able to stick with these videos for 15 years because they are easy to do–so easy that I hope I’ll still be doing them when I’m in my 80s if, Lord willing, I’m still around.

And speaking of the Lord, I would like to point out that I am NOT practicing yoga.* I am simply doing exercises, many of which are used in a wide variety of physical therapy and exercise programs. However, I’m well aware that Wai Lana IS teaching yoga, especially in the supplemental material before and after the exercise portions. Since this eastern philosophy is unbiblical, I ignore it–no meditation (or “mindfulness” as they now call it) for me, thank you. Now with DVDs, I don’t even have to fast forward through the “ancient yoga sound meditation” chants at the end of the exercises.  I could not simply ignore the yoga philosophy if I went to an actual yoga class, so that is one more reason I prefer using these videos.

A couple months ago, one of my exercise tapes got chewed up in the VCR, so I knew it was time to get the DVD set. Thanks to a CyberWeek sale, I ended up getting another set, too, “Yoga for Everyone,” so now I have 6 DVDs to work with. New Year–new tool!

How to Find the Tool for You

Like other favorite garden tools, the exercises program that works best for me may not be the one for you. Here’s what I did to find mine–maybe these tips will help you!

  1. I checked out every exercise video in my library’s borrowing system that had words like “easy” or “toning” in the title or description. Use whatever key words fit your preferences. NOTE: If videos are not your style, check out classes at libraries, churches, park districts, and medical centers in your area as well as at fitness centers. If classes aren’t your style, look for sports or training programs you’d like to try–lifting weights, running, biking, swimming, tennis, racquetball–anything.  If you need motivation, hire a personal trainer and/or sign up for a race or other sports competition.
  2. I tried all those videos out. If you’re taking any of the suggestions in the above note, you will be trying out other things. I had already tried several other kinds of exercise over the years. Now with little ones at home, I just wanted an easy video that didn’t require working with someone else’s schedule. Some videos I rejected quickly (Aerobics? Ugh. I wasn’t ready to stick with that!), and others, especially one in particular, I kept coming back to.
  3. I bought the video. Mine happened to be part of a 3-pack set, but if yours is not, you should look for similar ones to go with it. Believe me: it helps to have some variety. (Now I have even more variety with the second set–which, by the way, I tried out first by borrowing DVDs from the library.)
  4. Do it! The more I did mine, the better I felt. And that is truly what has kept me motivated to keep doing these videos several times every week. I don’t always feel like doing my exercises, but I often do them anyway because I know I’ll feel better after I do them.
  5. Move up a level when you’re ready, or adapt the program to meet your changing needs. Instead of moving up to a harder level, I added light weights to my routine. To do that properly, I got a video on doing yoga with weights from–you guessed it–the library. I watched and did that a few times in order to figure out how to incorporate weights into my own exercises. When I wanted to add aerobics, I took up bike riding–not running. (I don’t like running; it does not make me feel good. One of the keys to the success of my program is that the exercises make me feel good.) After I had frozen shoulder last year, I cut the weights out and eventually incorporated extra shoulder exercises into my routines.

The stretching and twisting exercises on my videos are the perfect preparation for a long day of physical activity in the garden. I’m thankful I found exercises that work well for me, and I hope you’re inspired to keep looking until you find ones that will help you enjoy your own garden more.

*NOTE: If you’re wondering why I stick to Wai Lana’s physical exercises and would never practice or promote yoga as a spiritual discipline, please read Albert Mohler’s article, “The Subtle Body–Should Christians Practice Yoga?” and his follow up comments.


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Thanksflowering Recipes

Hibiscus Cranberry Sauce Pins - 11/16/16

Hibiscus Cranberry Sauce Pins – 11/16/16

Are you looking for ways to use edible flowers at Thanksgiving? I just saved three different recipes for Hibiscus Cranberry Sauce on my “I just LOVE edible flowers” Pinterest board. Check them out and let me know if you try any of them.

Here at Chez Rea I’m finally decorated for fall and looking forward to a Friendsgiving dinner for our widows’ group and friends as well as the big day itself. Today I’m thanking our Creator for friends, family, and flowers (especially the edible kind).

Here is what I did with the last non-edible flowers I picked last week before we got a frost.

Zinnias - 11/11/16

Zinnias – 11/11/16


Oh, yes–I am VERY thankful for the extended harvest I have had thanks to such a late first frost! We had several frost-alerts when the predicted low could have gone down to 32 degrees but it didn’t. Here are the tomatoes I grabbed from the garden before the last time it happened, when my garden really did get frost.

Final Tomato Harvest - 11/8/16

Final Tomato Harvest – 11/8/16

Next I must work on fall clean up in the garden as well as Friendsgiving and Thanksgiving preparations. So many blessings!

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The Mystery of the Nosy Tomato

Amish Paste Tomatoes - 8/10/16

Amish Paste Tomatoes – 8/10/16

One of the tomatoes in my garden this year developed a pointy little protrusion. I must confess that I did not give it much thought until a friend recently reported the same thing happening to her:  “My tomato has a nose! Fellow gardeners, have you ever seen this before! Just curious if anyone knows how it got that way. (I don’t.)”.

Being a master gardener, I felt honor bound to look up the answer. My master googling skills turned up a gardening post with this quotation from Joe Kemble, Extension Specialist Professor at the University of Auburn.

It is a physiological/genetic disorder. With tomatoes, you can expect about 1 genetic mutation for every 1,000 plants. That’s actually a very high number.

The images with the pronounced horns resulted from a problem that occurred while the fruit was still microscopic. A few cells divided wrong and produced a extra fruit locule. Usually when you slice a fruit in half horizontally, you see 4 or 6 distinct segments in large fruited tomatoes. These are the locules. The error that occurred during cell division gets magnified as the cells increase in number and in size. The environment is the usually culprit causing the genetic problem. Usually extended high temps (above 90 during the day and above 82-85 during the night) causes the development of malformed fruit. You might only see one or two fruit on an occasional plant. Older heirloom types are more susceptible.

As day and night temps moderate, you should see fewer and fewer of these.

This explanation certainly fits our circumstances here in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. We did have a heat wave or two–that’s pretty typical–and my tomato in the above picture is an old heirloom variety, Amish Paste.

I highly recommend Amish Paste tomatoes, by the way, if you like to make sauces for freezing or canning. They grow much larger than my other paste tomatoes, Ukrainian Pear and San Marzano. Ukrainian Pear is my sentimental favorite, of course, because I am Ukrainian. Its plants are strong and prolific, so I get a lot of fruit for sauces from them even though I often have to cut off their yellow shoulders. The San Marzanos are tasty even though mine are not and cannot ever be official D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes. Alas, they tend to be less prolific and more disease susceptible than the other varieties. (Here’s a fun story, by the way, for any cooks out there who are concerned about the quality of the canned tomatoes they use: The Mystery of San Marzano.)

And thus I’ve solved the Mystery of the Nosy Tomato.



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Talk It Up

Shakespeare Picnic - 7/20/16

Shakespeare Picnic – 7/20/16

Summer is in full swing here at Chez Rea, and that means that I’m harvesting and using edible flowers (I just love edible flowers!) as well as vegetables, herbs, and fruit from my garden. Do you wish you could do the same? You can! Come and hear how–I’m giving two gardening talks NEXT WEEK.

  • Edible Flowers–They’re Incredible! Monday, July 25, 2016, at the Palos Heights Garden Club, 7 P.M., in Lake Katherine‘s Brigid O’Malley Auditorium. Debbie Rea will talk about growing and using edible flowers–something she has enjoyed doing for over 15 years. She will share which ones she has found to be the easiest to grow and her favorite ways to use them. Come and find out how to amaze and delight your guests with some incredible edible flowers. ($5 guest fee–no registration required, just show up)
  • Organic Kitchen Garden Maintenance Saturday, July 30, 2016, at the Homer Township Public Library, 11 A.M. Avid gardener Debbie Rea will share how she maintains an organic kitchen garden here in Homer Glen from year to year, her favorite methods for planting, watering, feeding, and putting the garden to bed and how she deals with problems such as pests, diseases, and weeds. (Free–registration available by phone, 708-301-7908, or online).

Here’s what I’ve made this last week.

By the way, I’ve already posted the recipe for that wonderful homemade pickle you see in the Shakespeare picnic picture above.  It’s a long time family favorite that my mom always made with cucumbers from my dad’s garden.

7/25/16 UPDATE:

I cannot always do this when I give my edible flowers talk, but I went out this morning and picked a bunch of live samples to bring when I give my presentation tonight.

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Seeing Red

Patio Princess tomato - 7/19/16

Patio Princess tomato – 7/19/16

Harvest Report – July 2016

I am finally seeing red in my garden! Congratulations to Patio Princess for being the first tomato to ripen this year. It beat even the cherry tomatoes, probably because it got a head start. I started it earlier than the others since it was intended for containers.

Now I’m inspired to jot down a few notes about how this year’s harvest has been going. [But I don’t have time just yet.  Watch this spot for more to come!]

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You Say Potato, I Say Experimento

I just added a little update to the end of this post.

A Well Watered Garden

"Sweet flowers are slow and weeds make haste." -Shakespeare “Sweet flowers are slow and weeds make haste.” -Shakespeare

Shakespeare's Birthplace - 4/23/11 Shakespeare’s Birthplace – 4/23/11

Happy Shakespeare’s Birthday! This is a big year for Bard lovers like me and my husband because it’s the 400th anniversary of his death. Five years ago today we were at Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon and bumped into the man himself out in the garden.

Today, however, I stayed close to home. Here in my own garden I planted potatoes for the first time ever. Not only that, but I planted them in containers! This is quite an experiment for me. I got the idea from Nina Koziol when I saw her fabulous container vegetable garden last year. She was growing many potatoes in large black nursery pots. I was reminded of this idea when I was trying to decide what to order from Gardens Alive a couple months ago (I had to order something because…

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Every Birdie Welcome

House finches' nest in top of dried boxwood wreath - 5/29/16

House finches’ nest in top of dried boxwood wreath – 5/29/16

While I’ve been busy getting the kitchen garden planted (nearly done!), we have had new neighbors move in both in front and back of our house. First I noticed the signs of nest building in a birdhouse hanging on our backyard fence. Later I spotted the mom and dad, which I believe are a pair of house sparrows.


This was the first time I had used a fresh boxwood wreath for Christmas. Another woman who was looking at them back in December told me that she had hung one indoors and kept it up for months because she liked how it dried to a pretty yellow color. I decided to buy one and try decorating it instead of a pine wreath this year.  Later I turned it into a Valentines wreath by removing the gold and red bow and berries and adding a big pink bow and pink hearts. I took the hearts out and left the bow on through Easter. Then I took the bow off and was thinking about decorating the wreath with fake birds, perhaps, and/or a nest–when the house finches came and put a real nest on top. Too bad it’s not artistically placed further down in the center part of the wreath!

The finches’ eggs, pictured at the top of this post, hatched a a couple weeks ago. Now I can hear them squeaking on the other side of the door when Mommy and Daddy come by. Here is what they looked like then and now.

As you can see, I can get pictures of the finch nest from both inside and outside our front door. It is a lot harder to see what is going on inside the house sparrow nest. This is all I got.


House Sparrow Nest – 6/20/16


Birds of the Past

That same birdhouse that the sparrows are in now was the site of my favorite backyard residents six years ago–Eastern bluebirds! I was thrilled to see a bluebird for the first time, and it was in my own backyard. Then I realized they were building a nest! Prior to that, nothing but wasps had ever moved into any of the birdhouses I hung on our side fence. I took several pictures and videos during that exciting time.


Here are the videos:

Unfortunately, this story had a tragic ending. I found the birdhouse on the ground one morning after a windy storm had come through. I’m not entirely sure whether the wind knocked it down or if a critter had come by and helped. I put it back up and wound a wire around its hanger so it would stay put. (I do this on all the bird houses now–lesson learned.) I saw the bluebirds in my yard a day or two later, but they must have moved on to new nesting grounds. Alas, I haven’t seen any around here since then.

The next year, a mourning dove built a nest in the gutter at the corner of our house by the deck–not a good idea! A month later that nest was taken out by a storm, and I found an egg shell in one of the pots hanging on our deck railing.

Others Welcome, Too!

Of course, non-birdie visitors are also always welcome at the Chez Rea gardens–even during planting season when the house is a wreck and the gardens are far from done. I say that so I could end this post with a picture of my husband’s mom, grandmother, and aunt who came by a couple weeks ago when the New Dawn rose on the arbor was in full bloom. I have a couple weeks left to get the house and garden ready for hosting our annual Fourth of July party.


Mom R., Aunt Joan, and Grandma B. – 6/8/16


Posted in Garden Walks, What's in Bloom at Chez Rea | 2 Comments