Friday, September 30, 2011


I've had a small pot of aloe vera growing behind the kitchen sink for many years, which is a perfect location for a plant that likes sun. The sink's in a corner, with windows above it (facing to the east and north) on both sides.

Aloe's a very forgiving plant, which grows without a whole lot of effort on my part. All I do is water it every couple of weeks. I can't remember the last time I repotted it, but the last time I noticed it was getting a bit overgrown, with several of the plants spilling over the sides of the pot:

I was amazed. How could they continue growing like that? I added repotting the plant to my list of things to do. In the meantime, I put the plant back in its spot, carefully propping the dangling plants against the windowsill so they wouldn't break off. This week I got around to the repotting.

My normal plant maintenance area is right outside the back garage door. All the supplies I need are close to that door and easy to bring out. I can do my work in the grass, so there's no mess to clean up. When I dumped the overgrown aloe out, it was pretty root bound, but the individual plants were easy to pull apart. I figured out there were nine plants wedged in the pot, along with several pups (little, new plants without much roots). Some of the plants were nicely-formed, with straight fans, but others were grotesquely shaped, and growing almost horizontally.

I put the three nicest plants back in the pot with fresh potting soil. They should have plenty of room to grow now. The extras went into three 3" pots, each with two large plants and a few pups. Aren't they crazy looking?

I offered the extras to my Facebook friends (and had one taker). I'll post the rest on Craigslist; they should be gone soon.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mall Walking With A Twist

I usually work in the afternoon or evening, but because of some employee realignment I've been asked to open the Guest Service desk at the mall a couple of days a week. The new schedule started today.

After three months at this job, I know how long it takes to get to work in the afternoon, but mornings are a big unknown. My shift starts at 9:30, technically after rush hour, but I wasn't sure about the traffic flow and didn't want to be late. This morning I allowed myself double the usual time to get there. I didn't need it; I pulled into the mall parking garage 30 minutes before I needed to clock in. What to do with all the extra time? I could join the groups of walkers in the mall, but that didn't sound appealing. The weather was too nice (brisk, but sunny) to spend any more time inside than I had to. Instead of going inside, I decided to walk around the outside of the mall.

I know that one time around the first level on the inside is approximately one mile, so I figured the outside perimeter was the same. This was an opportunity to get some great exercise! I parked in my usual area of the garage, and left my purse and lunchbox in the locked car. Instead of heading up the stairs to the mall entrance, I headed down to street level, turned left, and started my stroll.

Walking, I was able to notice things that I never see while I'm in the car, starting with the sidewalk that surrounds the entire building. The area by the parking garage was landscaped with a mixture of evergreens, ivy, and euonymus, punctuated by several spindly trees. (I suspect they don't get enough sunlight.) The other side of the building had foundation plantings of junipers and yews, but in several places there were also clusters of white asters that looked like they were newly planted. I wonder if they had just been swapped out? There were large flowerpots in front of all the doors, planted with a mixture of decorative grass and annuals.

The parking lots in front of each entrance to the mall had clusters of parked cars, but the parking lots in front of the big anchor stores were completely empty. (Their doors don't open until 10:00). As I passed by one of the restaurants, I smelled something wonderful. They must have been getting ready for lunch already.

It took me a little under 15 minutes to complete one lap around the building, and I decided to go for a second one, figuring that if I ran out of time I could always cut through the mall! On this round there was a little more activity. I saw several people standing by entrances smoking. They didn't look like mall walkers, so I suspect they were getting their nicotine fix before they started working. I completed my second lap at 9:25-just enough time to go back to the car and grab my things and clock in right on time.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bye Bye Bye

I think I may have mentioned that Son Tony has been in town since last weekend? (Yes, I know, EVERY TIME I'VE POSTED! You’re probably getting tired of reading about it.) Sorry about that. It's just been so good to have him here.

I started out last week attempting to maintain my everyday schedule and still spend time with him, but at some point I gave up and spent the rest of the week in a frenzy of activity: eating too much, not getting enough sleep, and generally having a wonderful time. I decided to look on it as a mini-vacation. The entire family was here again for the weekend so we could attend the Cardinals baseball game on Sunday. For the first time in months every bedroom was filled, and the coffee pot was working overtime.

Today I took Tony to the airport before I went to work so he could catch his plane back to Phoenix. Before he left, we had one last lunch together--St. Louis style pizza at Imos. Tomorrow I'll start chipping away at the backlog of projects, paperwork, and cleaning that have accumulated. Vacation is over!

Thursday, September 22, 2011


This morning Son Tony and I got in the car for a five-minute trip. Our destination was a trailhead in Valley Park for the Meramec Greenway, a new-to-me trail.

The Greenway follows the Meramec River from its confluence with the Mississippi River to the east. Eventually, there will be a 60-mile trail along the greenway, but now only sections of it are complete. The Arnold's Grove segment we used today has only been there for a couple of years. I've driven by the trailhead parking lot (off of 141 just north of the Meramec) on a regular basis. Every time I'd drive by, I'd think, "I should try out that trail some time". Today was the day.

The city of Valley Park has been flooded quite a few times over the years, but they now have a nice network of levees and flood gates. The Arnold's Grove trailhead and parking lot are on top of the levee, but the paved trail quickly descends to the level of the river, then parallels it for about three and a half miles. After a couple of minutes of walking, except for some muffled noises from nearby Marshall Road we could have been miles from civilization.

There was some dense plant growth between the river and the trail so it was often difficult to see. That was OK, though, because the river was low, and not very scenic. Shortly after we started walking we felt a couple of rain drops. They increased, and soon we were walking through a light drizzle, but the tree canopy over the trail was thick and blocked the rain in a quite a few spots.

I don't know if it was the weather or because it was a weekday morning, but we only saw a couple of other people. We walked a little over two miles, then the rain started getting the better of us. That, and the fact it was getting close to lunchtime and we were getting hungry caused us to turn around. By time we got back to the car, I was damp, my stomach was growling, and my feet hurt, but I was glad I'd finally explored the trail. I can't wait to do it again.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On The Air

Since Son Tony's in town, Hubby Tony took a couple of vacation days to spend some time with him. For lunch today, the three of us headed out on an adventure. Every Tuesday a local sports talk show that Hubby Tony listens to broadcasts live from a bar and grill in South St. Louis, and we decided to go. I've seen remote radio broadcasts before, but they've always been music; I was interested to see what a talk show was like.

The place we were headed turned out to be a typical corner bar tucked into an older residential area. I didn't know how many people would be drawn to this broadcast, but parking was easy; Tony found a spot on the street just a block away. As we walked up to the door we saw the radio station van with its huge remote antenna parked next to the building.

The door opened into the dimly-lit bar area. There were a couple of people sitting at tables. One of them greeted us and pointed the way to another room where the broadcast was taking place. The second room was much larger. A variety of bar games lined the room, and there were televisions on every wall, but no one was paying attention to them. Everyone's attention was focused on the table at the front of the room with a jumble of wires cascading down from it. Two people were sitting at the table. One of them was the host of the show, and the other one was the producer.

After we got situated at a table, Son Tony went and got some popcorn from the machine at the back of the room. The waitress was there quickly to give us menus and take our drink order. Instead of ordering our food off the menu, we decided to get some of the "sports specials" which were being offered in the beer garden area. I stayed inside to save the table, and "the Tonys" came back laden with hamburgers, brats, nachos, and chicken wings. Each item came in its own food tray; the table was quite full!

We watched the broadcast while we ate. The content was interesting, but there wasn't much to see. The host didn't spend much time talking with his live audience. After a while we wandered over to the room's two pool tables, which were covered with promotional items, and signed up for some giveaways.

When our bill had been settled, we waited for a commercial break before we got up and left. It just seemed like the respectful thing to do.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

See This Big Smile On My Face?

Son Tony is back in town for a visit.

This afternoon the whole family was together for the first time since Christmas. The men put together an awesome dinner, then we sat and talked for a couple of hours until Brian and Nicole had to leave to go back home. The rest of us set up a card table in the family room and played a game. When the game was over and everything cleaned up Donald left, too. However, Tony will be here all week.

I'm looking forward to spending time with him.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Without A Paddle

For our anniversary back in August, Tony gave me a card that had a slip of paper inside, which said (in part):
Romance (and just plain fun!) is in the air at the Forest Park Boathouse on Thursday nights. Enjoy a Moonlight Paddleboat Picnic for two under the stars!
Tony had made reservations for us to go last night. After he came home from work we got in the car and headed east. There's a lot to do in Forest Park; in addition to green space, the park has quite a few cultural institutions, and many opportunities for athletic activities. However, last night our goal was the Boathouse on Post-Dispatch lake.

The boats launched at dusk. We arrived a bit early, and after we checked in we took a seat on a bench overlooking the lake. While we were waiting, we watched the Boathouse staff outfit the boats with picnic baskets and drinks. There were a couple of dozen boats available, and it looked like they'd all be in use.

Boats in a row (before picnic baskets)

Last night was a bit chilly (I was wearing jeans, two lightweight shirts, and a fleece), however, I figured once we started paddling I would be warm from the exertion. When all the boats were outfitted, they rang a bell; that was our sign that it was time to claim our boat. We got in, the attendant gave us a short explanation, then released the boat from the dock and let us float out into the lake. It took us a couple of minutes to get used to the steering system, but soon we were paddling like pros. Since it was starting to get dark, we turned on the solar-powered lantern that was attached to the front of the boat.

Post-Dispatch Lake has two small islands attached to the mainland by pedestrian bridges. We took the scenic route to the far right, which turned out to be a nice choice. None of the other boats went that way, so we had things to ourselves. After a while we stopped paddling and opened up the picnic basket. They'd thought of everything! There was a small tub of herbed cheese, crackers, olives, flatbread wraps (we'd chosen turkey) potato chips, grapes, and chocolate biscotti. In addition to our drinks, there was a bottle of water for each of us. The basket included sturdy cloth napkins, a trash bag, and even hand sanitizing wipes and insect repellent towelettes.

The lake empties into the Grand Basin at the foot of Art Hill. When we came around the corner, we saw a beautiful sight; the illuminated Art Museum with masses of flags (one for each person that died on September 11, 2001) arrayed on the hill. In the dark, my camera couldn't capture it well, but I tried:

It was even more impressive in person!

As the night wore on it got cooler and cooler; after a couple of hours my toes were freezing. Most of our provisions were gone, so we decided to call it a night and head back. This time we took a different, more direct route. We figured out that having the lantern on was more of a hindrance than a help, so we turned it off and let our eyes get accustomed to the darkness as we navigated parallel to the lake's bank back to the dock

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Friendly Reminder

Last month I took care of all my health needs. I had a physical, made a visit to the OB/GYN, and had my eyes checked. It took a few weeks. but I finally got the written results of all the tests (and I'm quite healthy, thankyouverymuch).

My health insurance pays for a yearly physical and OB visit. It's hard for me to remember to schedule them, though. One of the reports I received mentioned My Health Test Reminder, a Website maintained by the College of American Pathologists which offers automated test reminder notifications.

I thought that would be really helpful, so today I registered and set up reminders for all the tests I need done on a regular basis. You can receive an email or text telling you it's time for screenings for colon or prostate cancer, cholesterol, diabetes, or Pap test, mammogram, or blood donation.

Now I'll just have to remember to look for the information!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Get To The Root Of It

Yesterday, you may remember, I took up my compost bin because there were some day lily plants growing in it. After I dug everything up and replaced the bin, I was left with several dozen day lily tubers that I didn't know what to do with.

There's already clumps of these flowers in three other places in the yard, so I couldn't think of a place to plant them. I didn't want to toss them in the compost pile, in case they sprouted again. Another idea was to put them in the yard waste trash can, but when I started thinking creatively I came up with a better plan. Back in the Summer of 2008 I picked and ate a day lily flower, and I remember reading that other parts of the plant were also edible. I decided to try using the day lily tubers as part of a meal. From a Google search, I learned that day lily tubers can be cooked and used as a potato substitute, so I thought I'd make a pot of tuber soup for dinner.

The first step of the process was to clean the tubers. It was a lot of work, and not something I'd do on a regular basis, but as an experiment it was worth it. I separated each one, cutting off the thick rhizomes and hair-like roots.It took six changes of water before the tubers were clean. They do look like small potatoes, don't they?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a medium potato that weighs 173g (a little over 6 ounces) is a serving. I had 10 ounces of tubers, not enough for the amount of soup I wanted to make, so I supplemented them with a three small regular potatoes so we'd have enough food for dinner and lunch leftovers.

To make the soup I melted a couple of tablespoons of butter in a pot with a splash of olive oil and sauteed chopped onion, celery, and carrots for five minutes, then added two diced cloves of garlic and cooked it for five minutes more. There wasn't any chicken broth in the house, but I poured a can of Bud Light in the pot along with a couple of cups of water and two chicken bouillon cubes. I cubed the potatoes (leaving the skin on), but wasn't sure how tough the tubers would be, so I chopped them coarsely in the food processor and added both to the pot. After things came to a boil, I reduced the heat and simmered everything for 20 minutes until the potatoes and tubers were soft. I adjusted the seasoning, then tossed in half a bag of frozen corn to add more color.

This soup was darn good! The tubers had mostly disintegrated, giving the broth a nice hearty texture but the potatoes were still chunky. The onions, celery, and garlic provided nice background notes, and the carrots and corn added sweetness. All it needed was a couple dashes of Louisiana-style hot sauce to spice it up a bit. To accompany it, I nuked some frozen cornbread left over from last week, which paired perfectly with the soup.

Halfway through dinner, I shared the secret ingredient with Tony, and he wasn't grossed out. All in all, I'd say my experiment was a success.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tenacious Tubers

Back in July we had rocks installed under the deck where it was hard to grow grass. As part of the process, the landscapers had to remove the compost pile that's been next to the patio for many years, and remove some naturalized orange day lilies (also known as "ditch lilies", because they'll grow just about anywhere) that were planted around the deck posts.

I bought a much nicer black plastic compost bin with a lid and a sliding door at the bottom to remove finished compost, and put it next to the garden, right where the lilies had been. At that time the temperature was well over 100 degrees. I figured that any day lilies in the footprint of the new bin wouldn't survive. I was wrong.

Last week I went out to dump some coffee grounds, and I saw this:

The lilies had lived through being encased in black plastic during the middle of the hottest summer in decades! As much as I admired their tenacity, I had to get rid of them. This morning was "Project Lily Removal" day.

First thing I had to do was move the bin. It was easy, since I hadn't used the plastic stakes that came in the package to secure it down. (The ground was so dry at the time they wouldn't have gone in, so I took a chance we wouldn't have a big wind that would blow the bin away.) Since the bin was just set in the dirt, it was easy to tip it over on its side and carry it out to the yard. I had hoped to be able to use some of the contents, but it wasn't ready yet. With a garden fork, I transferred everything to the wheelbarrow.

With the area clear, I was able to see the shoots clearly. I used a garden fork to lift up the dirt and removed the day lily tubers. I was surprised to find that in addition to the two I knew about, there were several more that would have eventually sprouted, so I dug up the entire area and removed the tubers as well as a gallon-sized flowerpot of rocks. I loosened the soil about a foot deep, then broke up the big clumps of clay so the bin would be flush against the ground.

The compost bin had come in a box with pieces that interlocked to make the final result. The stakes fit into holes in the corners after a base had been assembled. Today I took the bottom layer off, then checked it for straightness with a level before I pounded one stake into each corner with a rubber mallet

Once the bottom layer had been secured, I set the rest on top so the pieces locked together. I put the contents of the bin back in, then added the lid. Here's the finished bin, ready for more yard and kitchen waste:

When the job was done I put everything away, and tried to figure out what to do with the day lily tubers that I'd thrown in a bin. You'll never guess what I came up with...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What A Weekend!

This weekend Tony and I made a road trip to Columbia, Missouri for the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival. Son Brian and Daughter-In-Law Nicole live there, and going to "Roots N Blues" has become a family tradition.

The festival has a sanctioned barbecue contest, but this year we concentrated on the music, which takes place in downtown Columbia. Tony and I left our house shortly before 10:00 in the morning and arrived at Brian and Nicole's a couple of hours later. After we brought our things in and chatted a bit, we met the rest of our group for lunch, and got to the festival shortly before 3:00. We staked out a place in front of the main stage with our chairs, then spent the day chatting, listening to music, eating, and listening to more music. We had to dodge raindrops a couple of times, but the showers resulted in a beautiful double rainbow.

We moved between the multiple stages throughout the day. Before things wrapped up and we left at 10:30, we saw:
  • David Wax Museum, which played a combination of traditional Mexican music and Americana that they call "Mexo-Americana"
  • Toubab Krewe, an instrumental band that fused American music with African music of Mali
  • Progressive bluegrass from Sam Bush
  • Traditional Southern blues from the Music Maker Revue
  • The blues guitar of Robert Cray 
  • Los Lobos, which I've always associated with Mexican-American roots-rock, but who also played some pretty good zydeco.
  • And my new favorite band, Fitz and the Tantrums, which played an infectious blend of soul and pop.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Great Recipe for Life!

Sent to me by a friend...
  • Take a 10-30 minute walk every day. And while you walk, smile. It is the ultimate anti-depressant.
  • Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day. Buy a lock if you have to.
  • When you wake up in the morning complete the following statement, 'My purpose is to __________ today. I am thankful for______________'
  • Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants. Drink green tea and plenty of water.
  • Eat blueberries, wild Alaskan salmon, broccoli, almonds, and walnuts.
  • Try to make at least three people smile each day.;
  • Don't waste your precious energy on gossip, energy vampires, issues of the past, negative thoughts or things you cannot control. Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment.
  • Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a college kid with a maxed out charge card. 
  • Life isn't fair, but it's still good. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
  • Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
  • You are not so important that you have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
  • Make peace with your past so it won't spoil the present.
  • Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
  • Frame every so-called disaster with these words: 'In five years, will this matter?'
  • Forgive everyone for everything.
  • What other people think of you is none of your business.
  • However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
  • Your job won't take care of you when you are in need; Your friends will. Stay in touch!!!
  • Envy is a waste of time.
  • You already have all you need.
  • Each night before you go to bed complete the following statements: I am thankful for __________. Today I accomplished _________.
  • Remember that you are too blessed to be stressed.
  • When you are feeling down, start listing your many blessings. You'll be smiling before you know it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cross It Off The List

Several years ago I got a wheelbarrow through Freecycle. The metal tub had lost most of it's finish and the outside had some permanent residue around the rim, but it didn't cost me anything but the time and gas it took to pick it up. It's served me well for projects around the yard.

Last fall I was hauling some mulch in the wheelbarrow when the wheel suddenly went flat. After taking a good look at it, I determined the tire had come off the rim. A bit of Internet research indicated it should be an easy fix--tie a rope around the center of the tire, cinch it up until the tire bead presses up against the rim, inflate the tire with a compressor so the bead seals on the rim, then remove the rope and finish filling the tire.

Somehow, though, this was one of those projects I just never seemed to get around to. The weather turned cold, and I figured it would be hard to manipulate things with gloves on. We never really had spring weather this year...cold and rainy turned to hot and muggy overnight, and then I didn't want to be outside. In the meantime, the wheelbarrow served as a nice staging area for the large bag of birdseed when I filled up a smaller container, and when I painted earlier in the year it kept all the cans of paint and accessories in one place.

However, now that the weather's getting conducive to doing outside activities fixing the wheelbarrow showed up on my list of things to do again. Today I decided to tackle it. I followed the directions on the wikiHow article How to Fix a Wheelbarrow Tire (tubeless). After breakfast I carried the wheelbarrow upstairs, and turned it upside down on the kitchen floor so I could get to the tire. The first rope I tried was too wimpy, but a second one, tied around the center of the tire tread, looked like it would work just fine. After I knotted the rope, I tied a wooden salad spoon on top of it, then twisted the spoon to increase the rope's pressure on the tire(like a tourniquet). It looked like the tire was doing what it was supposed to, compressing in the middle and expanding around the edge.

Of course, there was no way of knowing if this was really going to work until I tried it at the air pump. I carried the wheelbarrow out to the car (actually a Honda CR-V, with enough room in the back for big things when the rear seats are put down) and slid it in so the wheel was facing outwards. I got the bottle of dish detergent and put it in, too, because my directions indicated the soap would help the bonding process and I figured I'd need all the help I could get.

At the gas station I backed in next to the air pump, and opened up the back of the car. I smeared dish detergent all around the rim of the tire, then attached the air hose to the valve stem and turned on the air. After a couple of seconds I checked the tire. Nothing. I added more air. Still nothing. I was disappointed, but decided to try one more time before I went home. This time I got distracted by a missing bolt in the axle bracket...wondering how long it had been gone and if it had anything to do with the tire problem. I looked back at the wheel--HOLYCANNOLIIT WAS WORKING! The tire had attached to the rim and was filling up. I added air until the tire felt hard, then screwed the cap on the valve stem and put the air hose back.

When I got home I looked through a box of bolts in the basement, but there wasn't anything the right size. I'll have to go to the hardware store and buy one, but then my wheelbarrow will be ready to roll.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Thank Goodness For Workers!

Today is Labor Day. For the first time in many years I had to work (from 2:00 until the mall closed at 9) on what’s a holiday for most people. However, before I left for my shift Tony and I had a great time; the weather was so nice that we walked to the grocery store, where we bought a card for a friend who's under the weather and some ingredients for lunch. When we got home, we made our meal and ate it on the deck.

Having to work on a day set aside to celebrate the contributions of workers made me think about folks who were actually laboring today. I decided to make a list of all the people that were on the job today that I was thankful for:
  • First are the GROCERY STORE employees that showed up for their shifts so we could buy the ingredients for our lunch; the people that stocked the shelves and deli areas, the bakers that got there early to make fresh bread, and the cashier that checked us out with a smile.
  • When I got in my car to go to work and noticed that my tank was almost empty, it was good to know that the GAS STATION ATTENDANTS were on the job so I’d be able to fill it up and not run out of gas.
  • I really appreciate the PUBLIC SAFETY OFFICERS at the mall, who spend a lot of time doing a thankless job. Whenever I have a problem, they always send someone to the Customer Service desk to help me out.
  • The mall’s HOUSEKEEPING DEPARTMENT, which ensures that the restroom I used was neat and supplied with toilet paper and paper towels. They also keep the mall public areas clean, and empty the trashcans on a regular basis.
  • When I took my break midway through my shift, I was glad the RESTAURANT WORKERS were there.
  • And last, but not least, there’s the man from the HORTICULTURAL COMPANY who keeps the mall greenery looking good. He wheels his giant cask of water from plant to plant, watering them and trimming away any bad-looking foliage.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

I'm Dreaming Of Some Cool Weather

I feel like a kid right before Christmas...

It's coming....

After several days of record-breaking highs, the temperature's supposed to drop back to normal tomorrow (and then even a little bit below average, which is somewhere between 83 and 85 degrees).

MSN Weather

When I woke up this morning, the sun was just rising over the top of the house behind us. Soon it was beating down mercilessly. However, about noon a few clouds started rolling in, occasionally obscuring Mr. Sol, and the wind picked up. There's a medium chance of rain, which we really need, but I'll settle for the cooler weather the front is bringing.

Hopefully this time tomorrow the windows will be open!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Peaceful, Quiet, and Beautiful

Yesterday's high temperature of 103 set a record for the day. It was almost 20 degrees higher than the average for this time of year. Not the best day for an outdoor activity, but last night Tony and I had a wonderful time at the Missouri Botanical Garden

Normally the garden closes at 5:00. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, though, they're open late on Wednesday nights, so after Tony got home from work, he quickly changed clothes and we got in the car, along with our picnic dinner, and some extra bottled water. Traffic wasn't bad, and it only took about 20 minutes to get there.

There were only a few cars on the parking lot. We grabbed our food and walked up to the entrance. Just before we went in the door, Tony saw a notice that said "no picnicing on the grounds". Uh-oh. We got our admission tickets, then left and walked to a far corner of the parking lot, where we sat on the curb under a tree to eat. Tummys full, we went back in.

The buildings all closed at 5, but there was still plenty to do. They were already setting up tents and stages for the Japanese festival this weekend, when the garden will be wall to wall people. However, last night was different. The garden covers 79 acres. In our hour and forty five minutes of walking, we only ran into six other groups of people. It felt like we had the garden to ourselves.

We walked past the reflecting pond in front of the Climatron (a geodesic dome conservatory), where water lilies mix colorfully with Chihuly glass onion sculptures, then meandered through some of the home demonstration gardens, where butterflies flitted about the colorful blooms.

It was still hot ("only" 96 degrees at 5:00), but I don't think it the humidity was as bad as it had been earlier in the summer. There was a nice breeze, and we took advantage of sprinklers several different times, running through the drops of water, or standing under gentle mists from the irrigation system.

Next, we went to the Japanese garden (at 14 acres, the largest Japanese strolling garden in the Western hemisphere) and sat on a bench next to the lake. A hummingbird was flitting around the tree in front of us, and we marveled at its smallness. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement in the next clearing over. The largest hawk I've ever seen was eating, dipping its head down and tearing pieces of flesh from it's evening meal. We strolled some more, zigzagging over part of the lake on an eightfold Japanese bridge, where we saw a huge white koi going after some water bugs.

After the Japanese garden, we strolled through the English Woodland garden and into the Victorian District area, developed around the home of Henry Shaw, the garden't founder. We meandered through the formal gardens, then climbed the steps to the top of an observatory. Coming back down, we managed to navigate through a maze made of yew hedges.

About that time our feet started to get tired, so we decided it was time to go. As we started towards home, air conditioner blasting, I thought about what a perfect night it had been.