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The Pioneer of Picture-Perfect Bedding

Mary Ella Gabler moved from small-town Pennsylvania to the Big Apple in the 1960s. Her plan to work as a flight attendant in New York fell through, but she didn’t run back home. With hard work and perseverance, she became one of the first two women licensed on the NY Stock Exchange.

When she later moved with her husband to Dallas for his work, Gabler began making patchwork pillows from home, and it wasn’t long before she turned that cottage industry into a burgeoning enterprise. Her first big break came through a friend working at Neiman Marcus who thought her pillows would be perfect for the store’s Fête des Fleurs (Festival of Flowers) theme. Now, her brand of luxury linens, Peacock Alley, is sold in major department stores and other outlets globally, and the brand is credited with changing the way Americans dress their beds.

“Relationships are such an important part of business success,” Gabler says. It’s a point she also emphasized in her autobiography, “Uncommon Thread,” writing, “Throughout my life, one thing has been paramount—relationships.”

“Whether it’s your relationship with people you work around every day, or the people that you sell your products to, or the people who help supply what you’re producing, I think nurturing those relationships is so important,” she says. “You really do help each other in good times and in bad times.”

It wasn’t until the 1990s that Gabler discovered another key to boosting her success, and she wishes she had found it sooner. “Get better financial advice,” she says she would tell her younger self. “Build more of a financial cushion. If I had had better financial advice on an ongoing basis, I would have been more consistently profitable over the years. We tended to have highs and lows seasonally.”

One of her toughest times was in the 1990s during the national savings and loan crisis, when her loan was up for review as institutions were looking to close less profitable accounts. Peacock Alley was still growing and only marginally profitable at the time, and Gabler recalls sitting at a big conference table in a banker’s office, feeling like she could lose it all.

But she had an appointment with her financial advisor—and bringing him in was one of the best decisions she ever made. He told the banker, “‘We owe you this much. You can either shut us down now and you’ll never get any money really, or you can give us a year to pay it off. We have a plan here that we can do this,’” she says.

“I remember working so hard every month to exceed the amount that I had to pay the bank back,” Gabler says. “It helped the bank. It helped us internally. I think it helped everyone I was working with to have more of a positive attitude about what we did. I think it helped the relationships with the people we owed money to because I made sure that everyone got paid back the money that we owed them, and a little more. Those are the kinds of relationships and trust that are important to build over the years.”

Although it took a lot of hard work to pull through, she had help and motivation from her employees. “I always felt this responsibility that these people I work with and had a relationship with for so long—there are a few that are still with me for 50 years—and you think about them and their families and how responsible you are for supporting them. I think that was also a driving force.”

Early Lessons

Gabler learned as a child the importance of treating people well and nurturing relationships in business. Her father and his brothers ran a furniture business together, and “they treated each other with such respect,” she says. “I don’t ever remember a time where there was a harsh word between the brothers.”

She recalled another lesson she learned from watching them. They had sent one of her cousins off to college, paying his way, with the idea that he would return and apply what he learned to the business. When he graduated and returned home, “He went into the store all excited about working there,” Gabler says. “My father handed him a broom.

“My cousin said, ‘Well, you didn’t send me to college to go and sweep the floor, did you?’ My father said, ‘This is your first lesson: You do whatever needs to be done, and the floor needs to be swept for the customers.’” Gabler gets right in there with the seamstresses and doesn’t just make executive decisions from afar, she says.

Her family wasn’t interested in bringing her into the business because they saw it as the men’s responsibility. She studied physical education in college, and especially loved tennis. “It’s such an individual sport. It depends on how hard you try and how much effort you want to put into it. I think maybe from that I learned that I’m the one ultimately responsible for what I do.”

Gabler says that after college, her father “thought I would probably come home and get married. That’s not what I was interested in.” Instead, she sought adventure in the big city. “It was exciting. I wanted to get out of the small town where I’d grown up,” she says. “That’s an excitement I still feel today when I go to New York. There’s an energy about it.”

Lessons in the Big Apple

(Courtesy of Peacock Alley)

Gabler’s first job was as a switchboard operator for an all-women public relations firm. “I graduated to serving tea to these women in the afternoon. It was so interesting to watch their business grow.”

Then, she had an opportunity to work as a receptionist for a firm on Wall Street. “They were very dynamic men in that business,” she says. “The more I worked with them, they could see an ability in me to try harder, work harder, so they offered to send me to this school to learn what I needed to become registered [on Wall Street]. It was a little bit scary, because it was a whole world I didn’t know much about. But, then again, I found the excitement of it.” That chapter in her life taught her how to weigh business decisions, which later helped her linen business evaluate the risks and benefits of opening accounts with customers.

Eventually, Gabler was able to identify a hole in the linen market, and fill it.

Building an Industry

(Courtesy of Peacock Alley)

Working with Neiman Marcus, Gabler started to change America’s approach to the bedroom. Bedding was rather plain and utilitarian at the time, she says. But with Neiman Marcus, she was having “conversations about how to add fashion to sheets and bedding. What can we do to the rest of the bed to make it prettier?”

Bed skirts weren’t being made at the time; she made them. Pillow shams and blanket covers made it easier to dress up the bed. Today, these ideas are much more widespread. Peacock Alley (named for a restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City—a tribute to the city’s influence on Gabler) prides itself on quality.

The company’s linens are finished by hand in Dallas. Imported materials are carefully inspected. Each product takes about a year and a half to develop, Gabler says. Her style is based on the “little black dress” concept: “You start with the best basics that you can and build from there, like you do with your wardrobe.” She adds different seasonal colors and designs onto the strong base she has established.

Her two sons now run the business, though Gabler remains involved, especially in product development. It was hard raising her boys and growing her business at the same time, and Gabler counts it as one of her successes that her sons decided to join her.

Regarding balancing business and family, she says, “There really is no balance. Just put one foot in front of the other and do what you can fit in. When you’re raising your children and you can’t make them lunch or go to a basketball game or whatever, you deal with the guilt for that or wonder how that’s going to affect them.” Having talked to her sons about it as adults, “They don’t see that as a negative, so I’m glad to hear that,” she says.

Gabler promotes self-care in her company culture, and describes the legacy she hopes she has established: “I hope we can be known for our integrity and quality. I think trust and transparency is so important with whomever you’re dealing.”

Gabler’s Tips for Sheet and Towel Care

(Courtesy of Peacock Alley)

Iron your sheets. Even if you only have time for doing the pillowcases or the top sheet, you’ll experience your sheets the way they are meant to be. Ironing helps the fibers lay as they were intended and makes the fabric more soft and supple. If you really want to treat your guests, bring your sheets to a laundry for pressing.

Wash new towels with vinegar. Towels are shipped in potato starch. To remove the starch and make the towels more absorbent, add 1 cup of vinegar along with your detergent when you first wash them. Vinegar, as a natural disinfectant, can also revive old or musty-smelling towels.

 

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Letting Nature Do Its Thing; Balancing the Birds and Bugs in Our Gardens

Something is happening in our gardens. Little by little, a very unsettling silence is falling upon them. During my childhood, our garden was a blur of color as a multitude of brightly patterned insects busied themselves amongst the flowers. The number of bee species on the lavender bushes was a sight to behold and butterflies were aplenty. Iridescent ground beetles could be found in abundance, scurrying along the ground. Birds bobbed and weaved from tree, to bush, to lawn and back again, catching what they could to feed their waiting chicks.

All the vegetables we grew in the garden had bugs of one sort or another on them. Cauliflower had to be soaked in salt water to rid them of aphids, soft fruits freed of slugs and apples checked for codling moth larvae. Many a dinner time was punctuated with shrieks of disgust at the discovery of an errant caterpillar hiding in the folds of a lettuce leaf!

The number of (once common) insects has now reduced to a deeply worrying level. Over the past 25 years, global insect biomass has reduced by over 75%. Yay! I hear some people cry. However, the harsh reality of this situation is very different.

Consider the facts. Insects have been around for approximately 400 million years. They co-evolved with plants, pollinating their flowers and adapting some highly specialized characteristics in the process. To this day, insects provide pollination services for wild flowers, our gardens, and agriculture. It is estimated that 80% of wild plants need insects for pollination. Insects play a huge role in the functioning of ecosystems. They help to feed us and are the tiny engines that keep the world as we know it turning. We all enjoy a juicy tomato, don’t we? Bumblebees with their ‘buzz pollination’ are responsible for them. How about the deliciously heady fragrance of honeysuckle in the evening? Thank the moths for pollinating those flowers!

Not only are insects vital for our lives, and the lives of the plants that depend on them, they are also vital to countless other species. They provide food for approximately 60% of bird species as well as mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Remember that unsettling silence that is falling upon us? Songbirds are becoming a rarity.
Last spring was a particularly challenging one in the UK, with temperatures being the lowest on record for 60 years. April had the lowest average minimum temperature since 1922. Following this period, the emergence of moths was delayed by over a month resulting in a mismatch between wild bird chicks hatching and their food source being available. During this time, a friend of mine in Wales was monitoring a nesting box of Great tits. Six little eggs were laid, six little chicks hatched, but despite the efforts of their parents, one by one they succumbed to starvation. This is happening all over the UK, and indeed, much further afield. Many bird species in the UK are in steep decline, 29% being on the ‘Red list’ of conservation concern. The cuckoo, whose call was once synonymous with the start of summer, is once such bird. A bird I haven’t heard since I was a child.

What can we do to address this problem? One option is to allow our gardens to find a natural balance. Allow plants to be attacked by caterpillars and the birds and their young will feast upon these caterpillars. Allow snails and slugs to munch their way through some of our soft fruit and vegetables; birds, amphibians and mammals will chow down on them. Nature will find a way if we allow it to. ‘Sacrifice’ plants can be grown; a parsnip left to go to seed, a cabbage left un-netted, a patch of nettles or some weeds left to go wild. All can support insect and bird life.

To further help our feathered friends, their food intake can be supplemented with wild bird food and fresh water and fat balls in the winter. All vessels should be kept clean and changed regularly to avoid the spreading of diseases such as Avian flu. Put up nesting boxes around your garden, varying the size and shape of the entrance holes to attract different species; believe me, the sight of a tiny face poking out of a nesting box hole is worth the effort. Remember that an ‘untidy’ garden is a good thing too. Not only does it offer food and shelter, but also nesting material. I once witnessed an audacious blackbird plucking fur from our rabbit’s bottom; he remaining oblivious to his provision of the softest of nest liners.

Let our gardens be unkempt. Let the bugs thrive. If we don’t help them all now, not only may we go hungry, but the generations to come will never know the joy of bird song or the rainbow of colorful insects that we have had the privilege of knowing in our childhoods.

 

Hallmann. C, Sorg. M, Jongejans. E, Siepel. H, Hofland. N, Schwan. H, Stenmans. W, Müller. A, Sumser. H, Hörren, Goulson. T and de Kroon. H (2017) More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLOS ONE. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185809
https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/how-you-can-help-birds/
https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/new-uk-red-list-for-birds/
https://www.countryfile.com/wildlife/birds/britains-best-songbirds-how-to-identify-each-species/
Wagner.D, Grames. E, Forister. M, Berenbaum. R and Stopak. D (2021) Insect decline in the Anthropocene: Death by a thousand cuts. PNAS. 118 (2) https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2023989118

 

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Getting an Early Start on Your Spring Garden

If you’re a novice gardener, you may be thinking about how to start a garden with the best hope for success. Most gardeners agree that at least some planning is required, and at a minimum, you should learn a few things first:

Preparing the Soil

It’s important to make sure that you have mineral-rich soil before planting any seeds or seedlings in your garden. Many experienced gardeners recommend using raised beds, as opposed to tilling the soil.

Richard Phelps, the owner of Phelps Woodside Farm, an organic vegetable farm in Walden, N.Y., prefers doing things the old-fashioned way—by tilling the soil. “A lot of people are no-till, but I don’t go no-till because I want to move the soil; I want to bring up minerals because they need to be replaced,” he says.

One of the keys to a productive garden is soil quality. You can get off to a great start by using a good mixture of organic matter. Gardeners differ on what is the best combination, but most agree that the top two ingredients are high-quality topsoil and compost. Other ingredients to choose from are straw, shredded leaves, worm castings, mushroom compost, aged, ground bark, and cow or poultry manure.

If you have the money to invest in a tiller, you may not have to purchase topsoil and supplements. According to Phelps, you can just augment the soil with chopped leaves used as mulch, but it could take a few seasons before your natural soil is in top shape.

Choosing Seeds

Deciding which seeds to plant is a personal choice. Phelps recommends educating yourself with seed catalogs such as Johnny Select Seeds or the Fedco Seeds catalog. “The best education is from the seed companies, because they know what the seeds need to be productive,” he says.

Most seeds should be started indoors in February or early March. Phelps uses a commercial greenhouse to start his onions, tomatoes, and peppers, but if you have a good window, you can start them in your home. You could also choose to use grow lights and a heat mat.

Starting the Process

Now is the time to choose your vegetables, order the seeds, and buy your soil (if necessary) so you can start planting soon. Experienced farmers like Phelps have a system in place, and he starts buying his seeds and tilling the soil in November.

Raised-bed gardeners tend to map out their gardens on graph or notebook paper. It’s important to place the beds in strategic places to separate shade crops from sun crops, and it’s also important to ensure that crops are compatible with one another. Phelps plants his onions and tomatoes together, but mostly he relies on his experience. “I feel I can put green beans anywhere I want to, because they’re going to be pumping nitrogen into the soil,” he says.

Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and peas are some suggested vegetables for early indoor seed planting. When the soil outdoors is loose enough to work, you can sow carrots, collard greens, and lettuce. The Farmer’s Almanac is a good source of helpful tips and advice on what to plant in your region.

If you are serious about growing food, Phelps cautions that you will need to develop a system to keep the weeds away from your plants. “If you’re committed to that, you can grow anything, and the space you create will be completely beautiful.”

Arleen is a traditional life and culture enthusiast with interests in organic growing methods, handmade crafts, and history.

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Demolish to Renovate

As we think about improving our lives and our goals for 2022, it’s wise to remember that before renovation, there is demolition.

If you enjoy watching home-repair shows, you’ve seen this pattern. As much time, if not more, is spent deciding what’s wrong before people decide how to make it right. Then, making the changes begins, and this can take a long time.

If you’ve lived through a home renovation project, you have experienced this, as well. It can be challenging to live in the in-between state as improvements are in process—but it’s necessary.

A while back, my church began a major remodeling project. For a long time, we had to meet in our fellowship hall while our sanctuary was remodeled. Our services were crowded and there were more hallway traffic jams than usual as we came and went. Those who were used to sitting in the front right area of the sanctuary might have found themselves in the back left area. Very little was predictable.

Parking spots for our seniors were moved from the south end to the west end of the church. It felt strange parking in new places, using different doors to enter and leave the church, and sitting in new places. On top of that, many classes for adults, children, and teens were relocated as the addition to our children’s wing got underway.

Our new sanctuary wasn’t ready for months. We couldn’t snap our fingers and expect renovation to start, much less finish, because demolition had to happen first, and had to be carefully planned. Making mistakes during this phase of the project would have major repercussions later.

After the right contractors were hired, I can only imagine all the questions. Which part of the demolition should we do first? What kind of new doors should we choose? If we knock out that wall, how will the rest of the room be affected? What about the balcony? The new sanctuary depended upon making careful changes to the old.

Think about your life. Is there something you would love updated? New attitudes? New actions? New beliefs? Or maybe something as practical as a new wardrobe? A new garden? A new easy chair for the corner of your den?

We are not going to change if we simply put something new on over the old. We couldn’t keep old pews and make room for new chairs. We couldn’t keep old windows and add new ones. We didn’t need both the old organ and a new one, the old pulpit and a new one, the old lights and new ones. No—we needed to identify and demolish the old before bringing in the new.

As I think about improving my life in the year ahead, I am considering what needs to go. What about you? Is there an attitude that is in the way of progress? A belief to reject as you work to believe something new? Unnecessary actions or habits that are slowing down your progress? Are you believing something that’s actually false?

Let’s strategically demolish the old to get ready for the new. Although change isn’t always comfortable, we can live in the in-between as we think about the future blessings we’ll experience. Renovation can be beautiful.

Dr. Kathy Koch (pronounced “cook”) is the founder of Celebrate Kids and Ignite the Family, a faculty member at Summit Ministries, and the author of five books including 8 Great Smarts and Start with the Heart. Dr. Kathy earned a Ph.D. in reading and educational psychology from Purdue University.

 

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Marron Glacé (Candied Chestnuts) Recipe

(ZAHRA22/Shutterstock)

Ingredients:

  •  1 pound chestnuts, with shell (450g)
  •  3 cups granulated sugar (600g)
  •  1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •  Cheesecloth (cut to small squares to wrap chestnuts individually)
  •  Cooking string

Instructions:

  1.  Do not wash the chestnuts, place them in a bag or container and freeze overnight.
  2. Next day, put the chestnuts into a bowl, pour hot water over the chestnuts until all are covered. Soak them for 5 minutes.
  3. Drain the hot water, peel the hard shell and inner skin from the chestnuts with a knife starting from the bottom of the nut. (Note: As the chestnuts will be very hot, gloves are highly recommended. The hard shell and inner skin can easily be removed while the chestnuts are still hot. The inner skin will be difficult to remove once chestnuts start to cool. If the inner skin is firmly attached, put them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, remove from hot water and peel immediately.)
  4. Wrap the peeled chestnuts individually in the small squares of cheesecloth and tie the top with cooking string. This step is crucial for success with candied chestnuts. It will prevent the chestnuts from falling apart while cooking.
  5. In a pot, fully cover the chestnuts in water and bring to a boil.
  6. Once the water is boiling, switch to low heat and let it simmer for 90 minutes.
  7. Add 2 cups and 1 tbsp of granulated sugar (450g) and the vanilla extract. Simmer until the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.
  8. Let chestnuts cool in sugar syrup over night, and cover the pot with paper towel to prevent the chestnuts from drying out. (Do not cover with the lid or plastic wrap to let the excess moisture escape.)
  9. Day 2, remove the towel paper, and turn the stove on low heat. Add 4 tbsp granulated sugar (50g) and simmer until the sugar syrup starts to bubble. Turn off the heat. Cover the pot with paper towels.
  10. Repeat the same process for 2 more days.
  11. On Day 4, once the sugar syrup has cooled, remove chestnuts from the syrup and remove the cheesecloth squares.
  12. Place them on a wire rack, and let dry for 12 hours or over night.
  13. Once the surface of the chestnuts are dry, they are ready to serve. Enjoy!

 

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Vin Chaud (French Mulled Wine)

Vin chaud. (Hannah Pemberton/Unsplash)

Vin chaud is a popular and traditional winter beverage that is usually made with red wine along with various spices. Similar to eggnog or hot cider in the States, vin chaud is the hot drink that you can find at Christmas markets in France and across various European countries during the Christmas season. It’s sweet and flavorful. Tastes like sunshine in a cup and a warm hug from Santa.

Note: You can use any wine for this recipe. Expensive wines are unnecessary since it will be cooked with fruits and spices. Personally, I prefer to use the wine from Burgundy that has strawberry, black cherry and spice. For this recipe I often use Beaujolais Villages (new wine of the year) from Louis Jadot. This wine uses Gemay Noir grapes, which is very light and has fruit-forward flavor that fits this recipe well. It is a good wine to pair with hors d’oeuvres and mild cheeses. The best of all, it is at a very reasonable price (around $10 a bottle) but is of high quality for cooking and making desserts.

 

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 Cups Red Wine
  • 5 Cinnamon Sticks (4 for decorations)
  • 6 Whole Cloves
  • 1 Orange: (3-4mm round sliced)
  • 1 Lemon: (3-4mm round sliced)
  • ¼ Cup Cane Sugar
  • A handful fresh cranberries for decoration

 

Instructions:

Combine wine, 3 slices of orange, 4 slices of lemon, 1 cinnamon stick, 6 whole cloves and sugar into a large saucepan. Heat over medium till boiled. (For those who dislike alcohol, heat wine on low heat for 30 minutes to evaporate the alcohol. Then, add the sugar, citrus, spices and simmer for 10 minutes).
Remove from heat and cover with lid. Let it sit at least 30 minutes to allow the aroma from citrus and spices to transfer to the wine.
Serve the wine with 1 slice of fresh orange,1 slice of fresh lemon, 1 cinnamon stick, and a few fresh cranberries.
Vin chaud can be prepared in advance. Just remove the spices and citrus before storing in a container. Reheat before serving.

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Reclaiming Christmas

The holidays take on a very different feeling and meaning when you choose a ScreenStrong home—one without video games or kids’ smartphones. When leisure screens aren’t lurking in the background, the little joys of Christmas return.

The biggest reasons for this change are reclaimed time and reduced stress, two issues that seem to define our current screen culture. Without screen distractions, families are more connected and available for each other. Families all over the world are discovering the universal truth that shifting from screen entertainment back to the real world is not as hard as it seems—and the benefits are priceless.

One of those benefits—Christmas—is a lot more fun.

One mother put it this way: “As much as my husband and I tried to make the holidays peaceful and fun, we learned the hard way that when screens topped the list of my kids’ favorite activities, Christmas was anything but peaceful. Removing the screen obstacle has changed our Christmas. My middle-schooler actually helped decorate the outside of the house and get the tree this year. That is a first!”

Another family reports on how their decision to remove video games and phones changed their Christmas: “I was worried about my kids’ reaction on Christmas morning. Not only did we not give them the game system on their list, we cut back on purchasing things, and focused on giving the gift of experiences: a day trip to the aquarium, gift cards to Sky Zone, and a zip-line adventure. Would the kids storm off after opening their gifts? Erupt into tantrums? We were surprised when the most valued and talked about gift was the trip to Sky Zone, when even Mom and Dad joined in.”

Traditions Reborn, Memories Made 

Family traditions and rituals are more important in childhood than most parents realize. They become a stabilizing bonding force. Traditions are like glue, connecting families together, and giving kids a feeling of belonging that extends back to those who came before. Traditions reinforce our values of freedom and faith. They also create positive childhood memories. Christmas is a wonderful time to get the most out of your traditions.

Traditions take time and group participation, two things that are recovered when isolating leisure screens are postponed. Kids, who were once frozen on their video games, are now outside building snowmen with siblings and having snowball fights. Family team spirit comes to life when decorating the house becomes a family project. This work turns into fun because we are all in it together. Everyone belongs. This team spirit will be greatly needed during the teen years.

When it comes to making special desserts and Christmas cookies, it seems that we are all in the kitchen now. No one is sequestered in the basement, preparing for a “raid” in their game with their virtual family. Even the big kids enjoy the simple ritual of decorating Christmas cookies. We must remember that big kids are still kids. They still need the chance to enjoy the simple things that define childhood.

There is more time to enjoy the social benefits of the holiday now. Parties are fun, but preparation for the party is fun too. Some families have an annual festive potluck “Ugly Christmas Sweater” party—no need to save all the good ideas just for the office parties. Invite the neighbors over, kids and adults. It is important for our kids to feel like they are important and connected to family friends.

Watching Christmas movies together is another great bonding activity. In our home, we look forward to hosting our annual “Christmas Vacation Movie” party. The teens in our house plan this one. They make the food and do the funny movie-themed decorating. One of them is always Uncle Eddie, and the other one is Clark, both from National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation” movie (1989). They have quite a social time entertaining guests, with the movie playing in the background. This is becoming a favorite tradition. The memories become the best gift: “Clark, that’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.”

It is hard work to plan a party, but with focus and a little grit, the job gets done. It takes thinking ahead: planning the menu, cooking, organizing an invitation list, and cleaning the house. Hosting guests is a great way to learn how to be social. It is so much more satisfying and valuable than lurking in your bedroom on social media all night. When you host a Christmas movie party for your friends, your social tank gets full.

Spending time thinking up creative gifts becomes a memorable exercise in real giving. When kids have the time and motivation to think about each family member, and make special gifts, they are building their empathy muscle. Empathy is one of those emotional skills that always needs exercising.

The Greatest Gift Is Presence

The greatest gift of all is not the “presents,” of course, but the “presence” that happens in our screenless home. Real face-to-face time with others is the highlight. Playing chess with Grandpa on the back porch, without being rushed, and sitting with Grandma on the sofa, reading or working the Christmas puzzle, are priceless gifts. Playing board games with an aunt, and beating her again at Clue, is so much more valuable and entertaining than a TikTok video could ever be.

The benefits of removing isolating screen activities from your children’s lives are so life changing that parents do not look back or second guess their decision. The holidays are naturally more enjoyable, because there is more time to be together, and to rekindle traditions that may have been lost.

Removing wasteful time on screens doesn’t mean that you will have perfect Christmases, but it does mean that you will have more time to do what really matters, and your kids will have more memories to strengthen their family connections. It may be the most meaningful gift you give—the gift that keeps giving the whole year through.

Melanie Hempe, BSN, is the founder of ScreenStrong, an organization that empowers parents to help their children gain the benefits of screen media without the toxic consequences of overuse that threaten healthy mental and physical development. The ScreenStrong Solution promotes a strong parenting style that proactively replaces harmful screen use with healthy activities, life skills development, and family connection.

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Transforming Flowers into Food – Animal Pollinators Populations Essential for Food Production and Much More

Have you ever stopped to think about how much of our food begins as a flower? Most of our fruits, nuts, and vegetables start with a flower. Flowers can’t produce seeds and grow into food without pollination. That means we rely on bees, butterflies, beetles, birds, and bats for much of our food and many other items we use daily. Do you realize that we also depend on pollinators for adding billions of dollars to the global economy?

Hard-working pollinators

According to the Xerces Society, animal pollinators are responsible for assisting more than 85% of the world’s flowering plants, including two-thirds of the world’s crops. Pollinator.org breaks those percentages into numbers stating animal pollinators provide pollination services to over 180,000 different plant species and more than 1200 crops.

80% of the world’s flowering plant species depend on pollinators, this includes 35% of the worlds crops. (Bill Nino/Unsplash)

Pollinator populations around the world are declining at a concerning pace. The decline will impact natural ecosystems, food security, raw material supplies, and economies. While some plants are pollinated by wind, everything from almonds and apples to pumpkins and watermelon depends on animal pollinators.

Without pollinators, plants wouldn’t produce seeds. Not producing seeds would mean no fruits, vegetables, or nuts since these outside coverings are the plant’s ingenious design to encourage seed distribution. Animals come along, carry, bury or eat the seed pod- fruit, vegetable, nut. The seeds, housed inside the fruit, and vegetable, have hard coverings protecting them and allowing them to pass through the digestive system unharmed. Seeds are dropped in a new location to sprout and thrive. Pollination is also needed for grasses, flowers, and trees to make seeds that will ensure their existence in the future.

Wildlife impacted by pollinators

Without pollinators, wildlife, and livestock would have far less fruit, seeds, and vegetation to eat. Over 25% of all birds and mammals depend on insect pollinators for food. Just think of the wide variety of animals that will suffer if pollinator populations decrease – all the birds and small mammals who eat seeds and insects, all the animals that eat nuts, the thousands of animals who eat fruit from birds and mice to grizzly bears.

Once the animal populations that depend on pollinators for food begin to decline, the impact will be felt through the entire ecosystem. Like throwing a rock into a pond, ripples from that rock are felt and seen across the entire pond, a disturbance in one small part of the ecosystem, impacts every other living thing.

Not only will wildlife suffer with fewer pollinators, we will feel the impact also.

Bees and butterfly’s are among the chief pollinators in nature. (Denise Rackley)

Our plates and pocketbooks depend on pollinators

Our plates, closets, medicines, and pocketbooks benefit from these hard-working animals. Pollinators contribute to our clothing production, are vital for food production and the economy. About 1/3 of the food we eat is linked to pollinators. The United States grows more than 150 food crops that benefit from or need pollinators. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than half of the world’s diet of fats and oils comes from animal-pollinated plants (canola, sunflower, etc). If we want to talk dollars and cents, each year, pollinators affect $577 billion in global crops, including $235 billion in the United States. Honey bees alone contribute to over 20 billion dollars in agricultural productivity in the United States.

Pollinators directly effect not only crop yields, but quality as well. This is true even with those crops that can be produced without pollinators. Take cotton and flax production, for instance; studies have shown that bees, while not needed for cotton or flax production, increase the quantity and quality of these products. Don’t forget that the natural oils and fats extracted from plants like lavender, peppermint, sunflower, and canola wouldn’t be possible without pollination.

Lumber for building material, the hemp used for ropes, and some medicinal supplies will be in short supply if pollinator populations continue to decline. The natural ingredients in aspirin, painkillers, and other drugs wouldn’t exist without pollinators. Forests of the future need seeds produced from pollination. Just think how many products depend on trees – wood, cardboard, paper…. You thought toilet paper was in short supply with the pandemic? It would be far worse without pollinators.

Bees dancing around poppies. (Laura Lauch/Unsplash)

Some foods, like almonds, cannot grow without pollinators. California is responsible for almost all of the almond production and honey bees are big business. Almond orchards provide one of the  very first opportunities for honey bees to forage each year.

The USDA states that almond production in California is valued at 7 billion dollars. Pollination of almond orchards requires a massive workforce of 2.4 million honey bee hives. Each healthy hive can have 20,000 to 80,000 bees, says Aaron Lafond of Southpaw Bees and Manufacturing in Lebanon, Oregon, who provides honey bees for almond bloom. Beehives are shipped into the state by the truckload from across the U.S. then are disbursed more widely to pollinate other nut and fruit orchards and thousands of acres of vegetables. All this produce destined for our table wouldn’t arrive without the work of pollinators.

Pollinators contribute to full grocery store shelves

When was the last time you looked around the grocery store recognizing that one third of the shelves would be empty without pollinators? I know what you’re thinking, “No big deal, I could live without a few nuts, fruits, and vegetables.” Hold on. Did you know that coffee and chocolate require pollinators?”

Yep, coffee and cacao trees (Theobroma cacao) have flowers. Once pollinated, these flowers form the bean, which is really a seedpod. The seeds are processed into the products you find on the grocery store shelf.

Without pollinators, there would be NO coffee or chocolate… the horror. Now that I have your attention let me tell you that pollinator populations are in serious trouble. Without our help, many pollinator species will go extinct.

Coffee, tea, and fruits all depend on pollinators. (Etty Fidele/Unsplash)

Pollinator populations declining

Pollinator populations worldwide have been shrinking for years and now many species are at a critically low level placing agricultural productivity and entire ecosystems at risk. In the U.S. alone, beekeepers are losing 30% of their honey bees each year.

Native pollinators are also in trouble. According to the Xerces Society, at least 28% of North American’s bumble bee species populations are declining. “In 2017, the rusty patched bumble bee, which has disappeared from 87% of its historical range, became the first bumble bee listed as an endangered species.”

Bees aren’t the only pollinators in trouble. Butterfly populations are also experiencing significant declines, with 19% of butterfly species at risk for extinction. Monarch butterflies, which were once common across the entire U.S., have experienced a 75% to 85% population decline in population. A 2016 study in Germany showed a more than 75 percent decline in flying insect biomass over a 27 year period.

Factors impacting pollinator populations

Disease, pesticide use, and habitat loss are the major factors contributing to the pollinator populations decline. Bees and butterflies can travel surprisingly long distances for a meal, but these long flights for a meal have negative impacts.

It’s no secret that the majority of our fruits are pollinated by bees, insects and birds, we have to protect pollinators to ensure the food supply. (Denice Rackley)

Honey bees to forage as far as five, or even seven miles from their hive, but they prefer to stay within two to four miles. Every second honey bees flap their wings 200 times, and they can travel at 15 miles an hour, but the longer flights reduce the amount of food they can bring back to the hive each day. Without the food, bees can’t feed or care for their young. Hives that lack good nutrition are more susceptible to disease.

Butterflies typically sip nectar from a wide variety of flowers. Interestingly, it is the length of a butterfly’s tongue that determines which flowers can provide food. Caterpillars are much more selective, only feeding on specific plants. Monarch caterpillars feed on the leaves from only milkweed plants (Asclepias). Adults lay eggs specifically on these plants so that the caterpillar has their breakfast, lunch, and supper waiting for them.

Adult butterflies only live for days to months. The short life span means it’s imperative for butterflies to mate quickly then lay eggs on an appropriate feed sources that will hatch into a larval stage or caterpillar. After eating 2000 times their weight in food, caterpillars transform in the pupa stage or chrysalis then become an adult. Without the species-specific host plants available butterflies will become extinct.

How can we assist pollinator populations?

Every person can contribute to the health and wellbeing of pollinators. Eliminate or reduce pesticide and herbicide use, incorporate species of native flowering trees, shrubs, and flowers in your landscaping, supply a shallow water source, and plant a pollinator garden to help stabilize and support pollinator populations.

ntire ecosystems depend on the hard work of animal pollinators to sustain them. The forests, plants, and animals depend on pollination to produce seeds and fruit. We need pollinator populations to thrive to enjoy the wide variety of healthy food, the extensive array of products pollinators provide, and the billions of dollars invested into the global economy they make possible. But the impact of pollinators doesn’t stop with just crops, food, and money.

Let’s not forget we need trees and plants to clean the air we breathe and the water we drink. Without pollinators providing the seeds to grow the forests and plants of tomorrow, all life on the entire planet would be in danger.

If you think about it, we depend on pollinators for each breath. Planting a few flowers and not using insecticides seems like a very small price to pay.
June 21 – 27 is Pollinator Week. There is no better time to add some color to your garden while also providing food for those pollinators who supply so much for us.

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Is There Really a Seed Shortage?

Do you garden? Enjoy going to local markets or shopping stores that carry locally raised products? Have you noticed a decline in available fruits, vegetables and some varieties of florals in the markets- especially the farmers markets?

The lack of readily available seed is very real. It has stopped many avid home gardeners in their tracks, and slowed production on small homesteads and farm market producers. But is there an actual shortage? I do not know. I have an opinion, but you will have to form your own. There are backups. And people have options. They could try a different variety. Instead of Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans a person could try Blue Lake Bush. Get the idea?

Without available seeds, farmers, at every level cant grow food, let alone those home enthusiasts who have small gardens. (Joshua Lanzarini/Unsplash)

How the Pandemic Affected Seeds and the Seed Industry

2020 saw a lot of panic buying from first time gardeners and a substantial number of veteran gardeners. The former because they were worried how to feed their families, the later because they were worried the former would buy them all. By fall of 2020, many of the seed houses were simply sold-out. This trend continued over the winter leading up to the spring of 2021 still not having enough packaged seeds to go around. Many of the seed houses were still scrambling to fill the prior falls orders, and simply stopped taking new orders. Which made people panic buy even more.

When something we want is constantly out of stock, we have a tendency to stock up against the future. It doesn’t seem to matter if that something is Oreos, seeds or toilet paper.

The last time there was run on seed of this magnitude was right before Y2K. Do you remember that? They hype surrounding that left many feeling as if they would be facing the world alone. Seeds flew off the shelves. Particularly the heirloom and open-pollinated seeds. Literally, nary a seed to be found anywhere. Folks were calling up seed companies and saying “I’ll take one of every heirloom you have!” And this was in the era before the Internet, Amazon, and other online shopping venues.

Organic Seeds of Change packets are more readily available, and the market for organic seeds is also growing year over year. (Wiki-commons)

This time, there was a huge surge in demand, delays in packaging due to people shortage attributed to Covid-19, then add in some bad weather that ruined some seed crops, all this added up to an inability to keep up. Many seed houses have ‘spare’ seed on hand, but not that much. Seeds come from somewhere. They are raised by farmers contracted specifically to grow seeds. When a particular region gets hit with drought or hail, it can wipe out those crops, delaying them another growing season. When producers can’t get enough employees in a timely fashion, this too creates delays. Now factor in shipping and packaging, remember the empty roads and businesses all due to Covid-19.

There are a lot of things behind the scenes that can cause a shortage. And once you’re behind, it takes time to catch back up. But they are working as quickly as they can to get back to 100% capacity.

There are more and more commercially packaged garden seeds for seedless varieties of melons, cucumbers and other seedless plants. Some serious gardeners and seed savers say this can and well may, lead to a decline in quality heirloom and open pollinated seeds to be saved. They call it “lazy gardening.” For example, let’s say a backyard gardener or small producer did not want a seedless watermelon, but had a short growing season. What are they to do? The non-traditional way is to use the seedless melon anyway vs the adaptive way of starting your seeded melon indoors several weeks early, thus extending the growing season and producing a melon you can save seeds from.

“Seed availability will be on the decline with not just the ease and availability of ‘lazy method’ farming and more hybrid seeds, but also because the education and knowledge of how to garden the ‘hard way’ is simply vanishing.” According to Shay Brislane – owner of Stag Valley Homestead.

I personally know many small producers, master gardeners and terrific backyard gardeners that rely solely on places like Peaceful Valley Seeds or Seed Savers Exchange for their heirloom or OP seeds. I understand the point she is making. Even among my own set, there are only a few that regularly save and exchange seeds as needed.

“We need more gardeners who are willing to teach and harness the spark in the backyard gardeners to do it traditionally and internalize their their own seed supply” says Brislane “ This will reduce overall dependency on the retail industry for annual seeds and keeps them from being limited to only what is being offered to them.”

Farmers markets are becoming the norm in many urban areas to buy fresh locally grown fruits and veggies, and also a place where growers can buy and sell seeds to other farmers, and those interested in growing their own fruits and veggies. (Micheal Barera)

Is There Really a Seed Shortage?

What do you think? Right now, most of the major seed companies are currently restocked. While there are some seeds that are not in stock, overall you can order what you want and be assured it will arrive quickly. Partly, I believe this is because nearly everywhere in the continental United States, farmers, both big and small, professional and hobby gardeners have already planted (or started seeds) and demand is low. Come the end of the season when folks see how their harvests went, more than likely seeds will once again be flying off the shelves. I believe that the recent rise in people starting their own gardens, is not going to diminish and will add to the seed industry needing more seeds moving forward. This will lead to a shortage in seeds for the foreseeable future at all levels of need.

The pandemic changed the way a lot of people think about the food supply and where exactly their meal is coming from. This would be a good time to network with other gardeners/homesteaders/small acreage holders and start swapping or saving. How about trying a few new varieties of something? Maybe you will love purple potatoes and just don’t know it yet.

Happy gardening!

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Things You Can Only Do At This Moment

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Cook With Me: Making Korean-Style Lunchboxes

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