Only the lonely

flowering tobaccoI am enamored of nicotiana, also known as flowering tobacco.

I love its long tubular blooms and sweet fragrance. I love its big, bold, felty leaves that are sticky to the touch (the better to bind bad bugs). I love the tall forms with stately white blooms, and I love the shorter forms with blooms in shades of red, pink and white, and some with even a tinge of green.

Five types of nicotiana are blooming in my garden right now, ranging in height from 12 inches to over six feet, most of them self-seeded from plants I’ve bought at Annie’s Annuals.

I have some Nicotiana alata grandiflora in the sunny side alley beside the tomatoes. It’s very fragrant. A green-tinged Nicotiana langsdorfii has been hanging out in a flowerpot beside a fern for the past two or three years. A pink Nicotiana mutabilisis by the back fence is serving as a trellis for a red and white sweet pea, which is also self-seeded. And red, rose and pink variations of Nicotiana alata x sanderae “Crimson Bedder” are scattered throughout my back garden.

And then there’s the grand and statuesque Nicotiana sylvestris “Only the Lonely,” a plant which hails from South America by way of Annie’s. It sprouted on its own near my back porch, not far the hose bib ( a good move, considering the current drought) and alongside some sheltering flowerpots. I recognized the small basal cluster of fuzzy leaves as a “nicotiana” over the winter, so I didn’t pull it out while weeding. I even threw a little water on it once in a while this spring.

It thrived. It got bigger …

nicotiana1 and bigger …nicotiana2

and bigger … and now it’s about a foot taller than me. nicotiana   Me & nicotiana

It’s glorious. It’s been blooming and expanding for about two months now, and I admire it daily. I hope it seeds freely and I get to enjoy its offspring next year.

Tackling thistle

I woke up bright and early this morning (thanks, Abby the tabby) and decided it was time to tackle the swath of thistle that’s taken over the alley between my house and my neighbor’s.

I realized I had a problem when I opened the top half of my bathroom window last week and saw a tassel of thistle reaching for my rafters. That thorny weed was big, and it wasn’t alone. Half the alley was filled with large thistles, several of which were already taller than me.

So around 7 this morning I put on a pair of sweats and thick gardening gloves, grabbed my trusty Japanese weeding sickle, and headed out to the alley. It took me about an hour to chop down all the thistles and dismember them. Biggest, nastiest thorns I’ve ever seen, but I mostly avoided getting scratched and snagged. I piled the pieces in two large stacks against the retaining wall.

Here are the before and after shots:

thistle  thistle residue.jpg

When I got to the end of the alley, I looked down the back hill … more thistles and weeds. Looks like I’ve still got a lot of work ahead of me.

Boo boo

I blame it all on my Uncle Eddie. He’s the one who showed my best friend Martha and me how to turn a stick, some string and an old wooden spool of thread into a terror-inducing device.

It was almost Halloween. We were 12 or 13 — the age when you’ve stopped going out trick or treating but haven’t yet figured out what to do instead. We lived out in the country: No streetlights, not much traffic, not much to do. You had to make your own entertainment.

So that’s what we did. We hatched a plan to scare Martha’s siblings. Her parents were out for the evening, and her one of her older sisters was babysitting the four younger kids (yes, it was a big family).

spoolUncle Eddie showed us how to use a pocket knife to notch the edges of an wooden spool (my mother sewed, so a empty spool of thread wasn’t hard to come by). Then he tied a piece of string around the center of spool, and tightly wrapped the rest of the string around it. We slid the spool onto a stick (actually, a TinkerToy connector), and tested it out by pressing the spool against a window pane and yanking the string. It made an ominous rattle against the glass: Brrapp.

We rewrapped the string and did it again. Excellent! It was already dark out, and we were ready.

We snuck across the field to Martha’s house, snickering all the way. We picked a dark window and placed the spool against the pane. We pulled the string. Brrapp. Again. Brrapp.

We ran away, giggling quietly. Found another dark window. Repeat: Brrapp. Brrapp. Heard nervous kids inside the house, saying, “What’s that? What’s that?” Brrapp. Brrapp. Then we ran back across the field to my house.

“Ha-ha, I guess we really scared them!”

After hanging out for a while, Martha went home … and that’s when things went sour. Turns out her youngest brother, Mark, got so scared that he puked, and the other kids panicked and called the police. Martha confessed, and was grounded for months. Her mother banned me from coming to their house — I was clearly a bad influence.

I vowed to never try anything like that again … until another Halloween, when my cousins (Uncle Eddie’s sons, of course) and my brother and I found ourselves with a bag of rotten apples, which we decided to throw at passing cars … never expecting that we’d actually hit one.

But that’s another story.


This is the new home of the blog formerly known as McCunications, written by the woman formerly known as Cynthia McCune.

Yes, there have been some changes in my life since last I blogged.

I’m divorced now and I’ve gone back to my original last name of Fernald. I’m back in my old house with a new cat, a Maine Coon mix named Abby the Tabby (yes, I know it sounds like she was named by a 6-year-old). I’m still teaching (and still hoping my teaching gig survives California’s continuing budget crisis).

All in all, life is pretty good. And it’s mine.

Why I love estate sales

Only at an estate sale could you stumble across a treasure trove of department store mannequins in a backyard gazebo. No, I didn’t buy any. I am a collector, but sometimes getting pics is enough.

I started going to estate sales in Kansas City with my office pal Pam. She was an old hand at it. She taught me how to do a quick cruise of a full house, how to recycle and reuse.

I still have a couple of nice ’50s swing coats that I picked up at KC estate sales. That’s also when I developed a fondness for vintage hats and linens.

One of my most treasured finds at a KC estate sale was a collection of three old pattern books (McCalls, Simplicity) at the home of an elderly woman (deceased) who had obviously been an avid seamstress. One of them was from the 1920s; it was filled with flapper dresses, middys and bloomers. Another was from the late ’40s, with suits that looked like they came out of a Katherine Hepburn movie. The third one was from the early 1950s; it featured lots of wasp-waisted, full-skirted dresses … shades of Doris Day.

I still scan the estate sale listings for mentions of “fabric” and “sewing.” I’ve never found any more old pattern books, but I once in a while I find some wonderful vintage patterns. At 10, 25 or 50 cents a pop, they’re a cheap to collect and a fun find. I think of them as my “baseball cards.”

Tags: estate sale, collectibles