Auntie Em's Guide to Life

A guide to all the important things in life- marriage, family, cooking, gardening, reading, travel, Christian living… And whatever else grabs my attention!

See, the Winter is Past…

The flowers appear on the earth...


Don’t Give Up

Do you ever get tired of doing what you believe God called you to do? Do you wonder if maybe that season is over, or perhaps you imagined the whole thing? Many times we are EXACTLY where we are supposed to be, right in the center of God’s will for our lives, doing EXACTLY what He has prepared us to do. Hang in there!

don't get weary


Come visit at the new linkup I found!



This is the Day…

this is the day the Lord has made

What will you do with your day?


Garden Tips– Growing Watermelon

This is my first year to try watermelon– last year I had great luck with cantaloupe, which really surprised me– so I decided to try. I got the Sugar Baby variety. I re-read Mel Bartholemew’s classic Square Foot Gardening, and figured I could plant them near a trellis so they wouldn’t get too spread out. However the trellis hasn’t been built, so I’ve just been corralling the vines as much as I can!


I have had no trouble with them so far. I picked the first one yesterday after watching and waiting (im)patiently! Here are some things I’ve discovered along the way:

1. Melons are heavy feeders. Square foot gardening says you can plant them 1 per square foot, but make sure you’ve got fertile soil. Fortunately, my compost pile provides lots of nutrition.

2. Melons like LOTS of sun and heat. Fortunately we’ve got plenty!

3. I actually thought of this one myself after digging and digging, trying to find where each vine was planted: Mark where you plant them so you can water at the roots. The vines get so long and intertwined that it’s next to impossible to find the root. You don’t want extra water on your leaves– that can cause problems– besides wasting a lot of time and water. Next year, though, I’m getting taller markers– like paint mixing sticks!



3. How do you know when to pick?

  • You can count days, assuming you’ve kept good records and know how long your particular variety is supposed to take to reach maturity. However, I bought these as seedlings so I wasn’t sure exactly how old they were.
  • You can “thump.” You want a dull, hollow sound. The only problem is that these sounded right, days ago!
  • Do the tendril/spoon test! (Directions below)

Pick when the “spoon” and tendril closest to the stem are brown. These signs were new to me; I read them then went to Youtube for a demonstration! watermelon green tendril not ready

This one’s ready. Can you see the little brown spoon and tendril?

watermelon brown tendril and spoon zoomed out

Look a little closer:

watermelon brown tendril and spoon

And here it is! It was absolutely delicious– so juicy! If you’ve never tried growing watermelons, try it!

growing watermelon


Thugs in the Garden

THUG– a cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer. (NOTE for word nerds: The etymological roots and history of this word is fascinating– the followers of a cult in India from before 1356 till supposed eradication around 1840. They were estimated to have murdered a million people during those centuries!)

Modern day thugs are a bit different: They lie in wait till someone comes along, then attack. They look innocent enough.
green bean tendril thug
But look a bit closer and you’ll see sharp spines. The same things that enable those green beans to climb up a trellis will scratch whatever part of your body happens to rub against them! I also had a pretty good scratch on my face, right below my eye. It was fun saying I got attacked by a green bean tendril!attacked by green bean thugs
Even if thugs aren’t violent, they are so inconsiderate. They breed indiscriminately. They propagate way too many offspring, with no thought of how to provide for them, or who will have to do without in order to support them.
This year the thug tree is the sweet gum. I’m finding seedlings EVERYWHERE!


Boston ivy is one of the few Southeast Texas plants that actually changes color in the fall and give us some pretty yellows and reds. (Most of our plants are evergreen, or go straight from green to dead.) I had a large vine climbing an oak out my back door, but last fall you could see the seeds falling like rain. Baby ivies have taken over. The parent plant is now cut! But I have a lot of cleanup to do- pulling up babies (that sounds so cruel) and pulling up established plants. This Boston ivy has almost completely covered the azalea underneath; it’s struggling to get nutrients and light.


In the picture above, you can see a few of the biggest garden thug at my house, alstromeria! They make an unusual, pretty flower in the late spring, but then they begin their life of thuggery… spreading underground by runners… making seed heads and blowing seeds all around, taking root in any little space they find, whether it’s a flower bed, crack in the driveway, or potted plant. You can see where they almost took over a whole bed.

alstromeria thugs

They killed the mock orange on the right. I moved the strangled cannas struggling for life, and dug out as many alstromeria tubers as I could. The hydrangeas have never looked better!hydrangea

But look a little closer and you’ll see an alstromeria bloom that evaded arrest, just waiting to start spitting her seeds out and starting all over again! (It’s gone now!)alstromeria thug

There’s a little thug-ette that’s been making herself at home for a few years, and she’s getting a bit too bold all along my sidewalks: I never knew her name till I researched it today. I found out it’s Commelina, or asiatic dayflower. A beautiful blue flower with a name that pretty ought to be welcome, but she’s worn hers out! Each of the nodes (joints) along the stems can take root, making it very difficult to pull up and control.



Then there’s the American Beautyberry… a nice well-behaved, low-maintenance bush. Bright green foliage all season, pretty little light pink flowers in the spring and summer, and almost neon purple berries in the winter. It’s attractive to bees, butterflies, and birds, being one of the few berry plants to provide food for the birds through the winter. However. Those birds then fly around and… well you know… they leave beautyberry seeds all over the yard, then I have to fight the seedlings!


Last but certainly not least in my garden thug tour is black and blue salvia. It has the most spectacular deep blue flowers! But, put it in loose rich soil and it will spread like wildfire. This behemoth started life as a 4″ pot about 4 or 5 years ago, and has been pulled up and shared a lot already. Definitely a thug.


When you are choosing plants for your garden, check out Dave’s Garden to find out if it is an invasive plant or there are any other bad qualities. Remember too, if it’s low-maintenance on the front side (as in being a perennial, and not having to replant every year), there will be at least SOME maintenance on the back side, in trimming back or thinning and separating. Only you can decide if it’s worth it to you!


What a Difference a Day Makes!

I was not home much this week, since we are in the middle of UIL Concert and Sightreading season. I spent 2 days at our middle school contest, playing the piano for our 2 choirs plus 4 others, then drove to Houston after the 2nd day, spent the night, and judged a contest the next. I try to walk around my garden and visit my plants every day, but I didn’t get to spend much Time out there. However, after I had been gone a full day and almost 3 inches of rain fell, I could really tell a difference!

English dogwood (mock orange) had exploded.

.English dogwood

Sugar snap peas and Little Marvel peas grew tall and started blooming.

Little Marvel peas Sugar snap peas

Louisiana iris began blooming.

.Louisiana iris

My potatoes grew way too tall! I’m out of dirt to hill up around them.


And the big news of the day– Hardy gladioli were barely budded out last time I saw them, then I came home to this:

Hardy gladiolus Hardy gladiolus


Around the Garden– March 30

Spring is definitely here in Southeast Texas, although we had a slight hiccup and some near-freezing temps early this week! I picked this little bouquet a few weeks ago- daffodils, narcissus, hyacinth, saucer magnolia (tulip tree), camellia, and some rosemary sprigs.


Early this season we visited the farm of a good friend and I got a load of manure and topsoil– if you are a gardener, you know how excited I was! Plus, I got to see several baby cows!20130129-154803.jpg

I planted lettuce for the first time– it’s looking beautiful! I planted more in the ground, and some more in a large pot, several weeks apart. I wish I liked radishes– they looks pretty but taste like dirt to me.

20130327-200405.jpg 20130327-200356.jpg

I got an apple tree this year. As with any new bed, I like to lay down several layers of newspaper to kill out the grass and weeds. Mr X used a piece of twine as a handy little compass to make the brick border an even circle. Then “we” (there’s the “marital we” again) saturated the newspapers, then topped with a thick layer of leaf mulch, which we also saturated.

20130327-200335.jpg 20130327-200324.jpg 20130327-200300.jpg

I’m afraid the broccoli is about done. From what I’ve read, when the temps get about 70, they begin bolting to flower and seed. I put in some newer ones about a month ago, thinking that it was the age of the plant that made a difference, but they are flowering too.


Basil seedlings coming up. I need to pot them up!


I didn’t know that saucer magnolia would root where it touches the ground, like azaleas do. Here are 3 new ones that took root. I hope they will grow into new trees!


How is your garden growing?

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The Birds and the Bees…


Sis and Sunshine, you can start breathing again. I’m talking about REAL birds, and REAL bees. And butterflies, and caterpillars (Sorry Sunshine), and squirrels, and other critters that I love looking at in our yard. We are fortunate to have a large neighborhood lot, with lots of trees and flowers, and God’s handiwork is evident. I love “porching,” as one of our cousins calls it, and enjoying the sights and sounds! If you need a little glimpse of nature, come on!

Our cat, Max. He thinks all this belongs to him.

Bumblebee happily buzzing in a squash flower this spring

Hummers at the back porch feeder

We had lots of these this summer– red admiral, maybe?

I think a pipevine swallowtail– do you know for sure?

Top view of the butterfly in question– beautiful!

We had so many giant swallowtails this year!

This scary looking critter is actually a friend– called a wasp killer!

The doves loved our messy sparrows, because there were lots of seeds on the ground!

Gulf fritillary– we had tons of these this year!

I have no idea who these occasional visitors were– anyone?

I had to zoom a lot on the camera to get close enough, so it’s not as clear as I’d like.. but I couldn’t resist this little guy!

The small birds really like our new feeder.

Beautiful giant swallowtail. Many of these visited, but none was more striking than this one.

My personal favorite. For two days, two of these girls visited.

Just saw this beauty a few times.

I realized that, while my lantana is a nectaring jackpot, parsley is one of the few larval feeders that I had this summer. Next spring I will add lots more!

Geckos for the first time this year! (Especially INSIDE the house)

Do you have skinks where you live? They look like a cross between a lizard and snake, but somehow, I like them anyway! Probably because of their beautiful blue tails.


Auntie Em’s Open House

I used to wonder why some stores would have a grand opening several weeks after they had been in business. Now I get it- they want to get situated, get some kinks worked out, see what sells and what doesn’t. So, 6 weeks after the first Auntie Em post, you’re invited to Auntie Em’s Open House!

Since it’s a virtual, and not a flesh-and-blood open house, I’ll build my virtual house for all of our enjoyment!

Come on in! I’m so glad to see you! A few weeks ago, I examined myself and came up with some principles that I believe have helped me have a successful life, and I am only too happy to share what I’ve learned in hopes that somebody else can “read the textbook” and not have to “take the field trip!” A blog is the perfect medium to share, and I’ve had lots of fun, good mental stimulation, some serious Bible study, and I’ve met new friends. I’ve discovered that these bloggy friends are such nice people!

Please, come get someting to eat, then you can look around. I’ve borrowed my friend Carolyn’s gazebo and china service specially for today.

Courtesy of Carolyn at Aiken House and Gardens

My first post was Auntie Em’s Guide to Life, in which I gave a few guidelines that I at least TRY to follow! Now, finally, I have posts that elaborate on all those guidelines!

Be honest.

Examine yourself.

Know your rules; Know THE rules; Know the difference.

Be frugal.

Decide what YOU want.

I bet what you really want right now is to go for a little dip in the pool? Then we can get to the rest.

Let things go.

Extend grace.

Be kind.

Use real butter.

Plant things in places they will be happy.

Amend your soil and use mulch, and your gardens will flourish. (Again, both literal and figurative use applies here!)

Ask your husband what you can do to make him feel loved, and do it.

Make your husband your first earthly priority.  (not your kids)

Get a board of directors.

Read your Bible.

And that wraps up our tour! Thank you so much for dropping by, and this is the one time I will ask you to share this post with friends you think might like it; go “like” Auntie Em’s Facebook page if you haven’t already; follow me on Twitter and Pinterest (buttons are on the side) and follow my blog if you have enjoyed your visit! Leave a comment below saying hello and where you are from, please! Help me spread the Auntie Em love all over! And here is a little something for you to take home…


Dinnerplate Hibiscus- and a Ridiculously Excited Auntie Em

I know you’re not supposed to play favorites, but I think of all the beautiful flowers in my garden, I love this dinnerplate hibicus best! A friend gave it to me when I was teaching her son, about 10 years ago; it had sprouted up beside hers. She told me that these are very persnickety about propagation and rarely make babies.

So last spring when I saw this little baby peeking up near the big bush, I held my breath and waited…

When it reached about a foot tall, I dug it up, potted it to grow a bigger root system, kept it over the winter, then gave it to Sis this spring for her garden. She kept me updated and we were so excited when it finally bloomed! Here it is:

And another unusual thing happened last summer- Since I will reuse potting soil if a plant “bites the dust” (HA- usually that’s exactly what happens; I don’t water enough and it dies of thirst!), sometimes random plants come up in newly-potted plants. I sometimes recognize what they are; sometimes I debate whether they are weeds or something desirable, and wait it out; and sometimes I have no idea! Last summer I had 2 babies which looked like hibiscus come up in a pot. I posted the picture to Facebook and asked friends what they thought it could be– hibiscus? Watermelon? I hadn’t planted any dinnerplate seeds in a long time… a few years back I had, but they never germinated.

What do you think?

I put them in separate pots and kept them alive all through our horrible drought last summer, then this spring planted them in the ground.

One died. But one thrived. I kept watching, holding my breath, and hoping it would be a dinnerplate… and finally… TADAAA! I was so excited you would have thought I’d have bred a Kentucky Derby winning horse!

Such is the life of a frugal gardener!


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