Category Archives: Outdoor Fun

Community Gardens, Health, and Food Security

I work part-time at a hardware store. We have a lawn and garden department, and within it we sell vegetable, herb and flower seeds. Last spring and summer, the demand for seeds was higher than normal while at the same time supply chains for many retail products were disrupted. As a result we ran out of many seeds. As a St. Louis Master Gardener, it’s part of my personal mandate to help people garden. Sometimes I try to help with information, sometimes with my labor, sometimes I distribute my extra seeds and plants for people to try out.

Last summer’s growing season was an unfortunate time to experience a shortage of seeds, because the COVID-19 pandemic has put extra pressure on some sources of food. There is not only the economic effect of many people losing their normal sources of income, but the disruption in the labor pool and supply chain, as thankfully brief as much of it was, forced us to think about the security of our food supply more than many of us normally have to. At a time when there was less ability to buy food, the opportunity for volunteer efforts to help people get the food they need was also diminished. Some food pantries had to temporarily close or reduce their hours of operation. In-person St. Louis Master Gardener efforts were halted, so I could not go to help at a Community Garden site. Besides donating a modest amount of money to a food pantry, my husband and I tried to distribute extra seeds and plants to anyone we could get them to.

It’s beneficial for the security of the food supply, for everyone who has the means and the time, to learn how to grow plants and food. Although anyone can jump in and start at any time, growing serious amounts of food is not easy and takes a lot of time and effort to learn to do well. Growing serious amounts of food requires learning how to maintain healthy soil. Growing serious amounts of food requires learning how to maintain a sustainable amount of beneficial organisms such as invertebrates and fungi in the ecosystem. All of these activities are fascinating hobbies that can be pressed into service any time there is a food crisis. And the health benefits of gardening, both mental and physical, create a more resilient population for any challenge we might face in life. For those reasons and more, I think home or community gardening is one of the best pursuits anyone can undertake, regardless of current financial status. You never know when you’ll be extra thankful for the opportunity to go to your own backyard to get some fresh food, or when you’ll have the opportunity to pass on plants, seeds or knowledge on to someone in need.

Tom and I at Fresh Starts Community GardenTom and I were grateful to have the opportunity to start volunteering in person again. Recently we volunteered at the Fresh Starts Community Garden in St. Louis at a volunteer session sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council. It was satisfying to share our labor and knowledge while learning about the needs of community gardeners as well.


Fresh Starts Community Garden in St. Louis – volunteer day

In our most recent church bulletin, there was an article about food security with a helpful graph that I’ll share here. Food security is defined in the article as “…the lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. Food-insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time. Food insecurity may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medicine, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods”.

The graph helps show how much potential there is for gardens of all kinds to have positive impacts on human life and health. Even when people have the money to buy food, and healthy food available to buy, there are a lot of people who could use some encouragement and training in the life skills of choosing and preparing the food. The satisfaction of growing and harvesting for the table naturally leads to exploring ways to cook and store the delicious, life giving produce. If you are seeking health, a sense of community, solace, purpose, independence and agency in your life, I think growing plants is one of the very best things you can do for yourself and for humankind.

Emergency Winter Help For Backyard Birds

Yesterday my husband was off work on a snow day, and one of the activities we did together was watch a webinar on winter birding. There were questions at the end about how to make sure our backyard birds are taken care of during the current harsh winter weather.

In my garden are a lot standing plants with seed heads that are still pretty full, so backyard birds that can eat those kinds of seeds can always get food. There is a pond heater that I bought from Schnarr’s Hardware, where I work part time, that keeps a melted hole open in the surface ice of our pond as long as I periodically remove the layer of drifting snow, so our birds have a steady supply of water too. What we were reminded of in the webinar is that all birds can’t eat all varieties of seed, and some birds who depend more on fruit and insects may be going hungry right now. As emergency help, I hastily prepared a couple of bowls of extra food – some sliced oranges, chopped apples, peanut butter, jelly, cat food and a little extra seed. As extra protection against the food getting covered up with snow, you can put such bowls under a shelter of some kind, or in a feeder that has a cover. At Schnarr’s we also sell dried mealworms and suet cakes and feeders, which most birds love and are especially beneficial for heavy insect-eating birds that need protein.

Eastern Bluebirds, the Missouri State Bird, are an example of a heavy insect-eating species that needs a lot of protein. In the suburbs where I live, it’s not easy to get this sought after but not very common bird into a backyard to view because they are highly impacted by habitat and food loss from human altered landscapes. However, I saw one in our neighborhood a few weeks ago so I’m happy to know there is some good habitat in the vicinity. There is a large cemetery nearby which probably helps a great deal.

Emergency food for outdoor birds
Emergency food for outdoor birds

Here are links to other articles I’ve written that might help you enjoy your backyard birds:

Make Suet Cakes for Outdoor Birds

How to Raise Mealworms For Your Backyard Birds

Are Starlings Taking Over Your Bird Feeders?

Gardening for the Birds

There are some recorded webinars on the University of Illinois Extension YouTube archive that have more information about backyard birding in the winter and many other great topics. Enjoy!

University of Illinois Extension videos

Historic Preservation Weekend in Sullivan, MO

 removing invasive euonymus and honeysuckle
Tom and I are pictured removing invasive honeysuckle and euonymus from the Shamrock Courts in Sullivan, MO. In the center all the volunteers are having a lunch break.

On November 7 and 8th, 2020, members of the Route 66 Association of Missouri and other volunteers worked on a historic preservation project at the Shamrock Courts in Sullivan, MO. The Shamrock Courts were an historic Route 66 motel that was later converted to apartments and then left empty for over a decade. The goals of the volunteers on this cleanup weekend were to preserve the buildings, get the property cleaned up and looking good to help it find a good buyer who will restore it, and to look for artifacts and history to pass on to the new owners and to the historic record of Route 66.

I was only able to go on Sunday the 8th because I had a lot of homework, but was nevertheless very pleased to make my contribution. My husband Tom joined me. I concentrated on removing invasive vegetation from the building and the surrounding property. Removing the invasive vegetation helps with preservation because it prevents fast growing trees and vines from gradually prying apart bits of the buildings.  In addition taking seeds and parts of the plants that can grow away from the property helps to prevent regrowth and the cost of future labor to remove it. I may be back because there is a lot more to do!

Artifacts that thrill Route 66 fans
Artifacts that thrill Route 66 fans

When you can find actual historic details and artifacts, it’s an extra reward. For Route 66 fans, to see the outside of buildings like this is exciting, but it’s even better when you can get permission to get close and even go inside to discover things that you may not ever see during a “drive-by” photo op visit, or in a book. Historic finds, like the neon sign tubing we are holding up in the center photo, add to the historic value of the property as well as the satisfaction for history-loving owners and volunteers.

Personally, the day I spent at the Shamrock was extra special because it was on the 21st anniversary weekend of attending my first Route 66 Association of Missouri meeting and the first weekend of exploring Route 66 in Missouri with my Mom and Dad. We stayed at the Boots Motel and stopped for classic roadside sights for the first time such as Red Oak II and Bill’s Station. The following year I became a lifetime member of the Route 66 Association of Missouri!

Experience some of the thrill of discovery with these videos by Roamin’ Rich Dinkela, President of the Route 66 Association of Missouri!

Day 2 of saving the Shamrock

Finding the neon sign tubing!

Operation Clean Stream 2019 on the Meramec River

On Saturday, August 24, 2019 Tom and I participated in Operation Clean Stream sponsored by the Open Space Council and many other supporting organizations. I’ve done several of these trash cleanup floats before but this was Tom’s first time. We had a blast because we love to get dirty, we want to do our part to keep our rivers clean and any excuse to get out and be on the water is a good one! We brought our kayaks to the beach on the Meramec River and met up with other volunteers who brought their own vessels. The people I end up floating with on these cleanup days are terrific and we hope we get to float with these folks again. I floated with leader Tim before in 2016 – here is an article I wrote about that day:
Fit and Healthy on Route 66: Two Sections of the Lower Meramec – Part I

untying kayaks at Castlewood State Park
Here is Tom around 7:30 am untying our kayaks that I transported on top of my Jeep. You can tell by his body language he is pretty eager to get started!

unloading the trash
Here is our group’s trash haul in the foreground at Greentree Park in Kirkwood. We were pretty exhausted by this point but the Open Space Council fed us a nice lunch to revive us a little for the trip home! Loading the kayaks is easy in the morning, not so easy in the afternoon!

I took a couple of videos too:

Tom bags a tire:
https://youtu.be/EN4QmrwSWn8

Some of the members of our group share their favorite finds on a sandbar near Highway 141:
https://youtu.be/vrrsEfZF8qg

Water hyacinth I collected on the Meramec River on August 24, 2019.
Water hyacinth I collected on the Meramec River on August 24, 2019.

I found some water hyacinth along the way and picked up as much as I could. I want to use it in our pond which should be finished soon, but even more importantly I want to get it out of the natural body of water because it’s an invasive species. More info about water hyacinth here: http://stopaquatichitchhikers.org/hitchhikers/plants-water-hyacinth/

This is the first time I can recall seeing water hyacinth in a natural body of water in Missouri. Our winters should kill it – that may or may not mitigate the threat – I don’t know.  What if some floats downstream to a warmer state? That’s why I grabbed as much as I could. Here is some Missouri specific information: https://mdc.mo.gov/conmag/2008/01/not-state

Introduction to Letterboxing

Letterboxing logbook and samples of personal stamps
Letterboxing logbook and samples of hand carved personal stamps.

I recently taught a two-part class to help people get started in the hobby of Letterboxing which combines outdoor exploration and creative expression. Two of the items you need to participate are a rubber stamp and a logbook. In part one, we hand carved a personal stamp and in part two we made a personal logbook. I wrote a tutorial for each class and they are now published on the Schnarr’s Hardware blog. If you want to try letterboxing or just learn to carve a rubber stamp and make a simple handmade book, here are links to my tutorials.

Read more on the Schnarr’s Hardware blog:

/Introduction to Letterboxing – Part I – Carving a Personal Stamp

Introduction to Letterboxing – Part II – Making a Personal Logbook

I Have Planted My First Letterboxes!

My first two letterbox plants!
My first two letterbox plants!

I’ve been involved in the letterboxing hobby since 2010 but I just now got around to planting my first letterboxes. Each box contains a logbook for visitors to stamp in and a hand-carved stamp for finders to stamp into their own personal logbooks. If you want to try to find either of these boxes, go to the web site www.atlasquest.com for clues. If you want to see the stamps in these boxes, you have to find them! It’s against the “rules” for me to show you online!

Screenshot of www.atlasquest.com
Screenshot of www.atlasquest.com

If letterboxing looks like an activity you would enjoy, I can teach you how to carve a custom rubber stamp, make a logbook, get clues and look for boxes. I hope you can join me at Schnarr’s Hardware on March 22 and 29, 2018 where I will be teaching:
Introduction to Letterboxing

My Entry for the Canvas Corp Brands January Challenge

I’m still new to the Canvas Corp Brands Creative Crew so I didn’t handle the entry process for the January challenge quite right and it’s not on their web page. But that’s ok, I’ll just put my entry here on my blog. The challenge was to make a project based on the prompt “Be Lazy” or “Be Lacy”. I decided to do a couple of scrapbook pages about kayaking for my contribution. Kayaking is often strenuous but there are opportunities for lazy moments when you float around on a lake eating a picnic lunch or let yourself drift downstream for awhile on a river. Almost every time I go floating I take a “foot selfie” to remind myself of how chilled out and relaxed I am on water. It makes the effort of transporting the kayak well worth it!

2 page scrapbook layout of kayaking outings from last summer.
Simple two-page scrapbook layout of kayaking outings from last summer. My fiance Tom is featured on the left hand page, my friend Jodie on the right.

I do some of my scrapbooking in a memory planner. The pages shown here are 8 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches to fit within the memory planner format I’m currently using. I have a current planner that I carry around with me, and after the pages get used I transfer them to an “archive” volume. I periodically go back and scrapbook photo pages into the “archive” volume as I get time if I didn’t complete them while the pages were current. I use 7gypsies binding rings to assemble the archive volumes because it’s easy to open and close them and add pages as I get them done.

The papers I used in this project include some selections from the 7gypsies Architextures collection and the Canvas Corp Natural Nautical collection. I enhanced the papers with some Tim Holtz design tape, a couple of brads and a couple of sequins.

Here is where you can see the other challenge entries:
JANUARY CHALLENGE “BE LAZY”

Making Holiday Centerpieces From Natural Materials

Holiday party centerpiece made with donated and natural materials
Holiday party centerpiece made with donated and natural materials


Litzinger Road Ecology Center has an annual Holiday party for volunteers. I wasn’t able to go because I went to the Master Gardener party instead which was the same day. I did however get to participate in the fun of making centerpieces from natural materials and donated flower arranging supplies.

Read more on the Schnarr’s Hardware Blog:
Making Holiday Centerpieces From Natural Materials

Aquatic Macro Invertebrates at Litzinger Road Ecology Center

Mother crawdad with babies
I used my childhood crawdad catching skills to hand-catch the most “Macro” invertebrate of the day – a large mother crawdad with tiny babies clinging to the underside of her tail. We released all the animals back into the water after we had a look at them.

Aquatic Macro Invertebrates are animals without a backbone that live in water and can be seen with the naked eye. I’ve had an interest in these creatures ever since I can remember. When I was young I caught a variety of water invertebrates such as water beetles, clams, crawdads and snails and attempted to maintain them in my aquariums. I was thrilled when my brother’s aquarium started to grow hydra even though they predate on tiny fish, because I’d read about them but never thought I’d see any. I currently have small colonies of freshwater shrimp in three of my aquariums. Many aquatic invertebrates are insects that live part of their life cycles in water but have an adult flying stage.

When the Litzinger Road Ecology Center offered a training workshop for volunteers on how Aquatic Macro Invertebrates are used to monitor water quality, of course I had to attend. Master Naturalist and Stream Team member Cliff Parmer taught us some Aquatic Entomology facts then we went outside to Deer Creek to learn how to take a scientific sample of water invertebrates.

Read more on the Schnarr’s Blog: Aquatic Macro Invertebrates at Litzinger Road Ecology Center

Prairie Restoration at Litzinger Road Ecology Center

I’m a volunteer at the Litzinger Road Ecology Center in Ladue. Volunteers and on some occasions the public are invited to educational events on the premises. I recently attended a session for volunteers to learn about why the prairie sections at the center are periodically burned and an introduction about how to start a fire, control the fire, and perform the burn safely.



Tallgrass Prairie at Fort Bellefontaine County Park

An example of a restored tall grass prairie at Fort Bellefontaine County Park

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