The Easiest Roses

Springtime is a great time to plant roses!

Knockout Roses HouseofIngrams.com

Knockout Roses HouseofIngrams.com

Knockout Rose HouseofIngrams.com

Star Roses and Plants, the growers who produced the amazing and wonderful Knockout Rose family, have my undying gratitude.  (I am in no way affiliated with their company, I just love their plants!)  I have four of the Red Double Knockouts in my front flower bed and they look fabulous.  They have cherry red blooms that look like a classic rose.  My sweet husband bought them for me as an anniversary present years ago.

Knockout Roses HouseofIngrams.com

This post contains affiliate links.  

 They are super easy to maintain and are prolific repeat bloomers from early May til frost.   They are hardy in zones 5 to 11.  They need full sun and adequate drainage.  Maintenance consists of pruning down to around 12 to 18 inches tall in February or early March (ideally before they leaf out but that’s always hard to pin down here in Oklahoma) and maybe some rose fertilizer occasionally.  Pruning large canes is much easier if you have something like these Fiskars loppers

Bypass pruners are also very useful, these from Fiskars are great:

Thorn-proof gloves are really nice to have, these are on my wish list:

Regular deep watering keeps these roses blooming like crazy.  The tradeoff for all those blooms is the lack of fragrance.  They have survived my preferred gardening method, “Benign Neglect”, for seven years. These roses are “self-cleaning”–which means you don’t have to deadhead to get more blooms, but it won’t hurt and might help reduce the incidence of Rose Rosette virus (more on that below)…  

If you put them out in the landscape, pruning is optional but they will get pretty big, like four feet tall by four feet wide, and I don’t think they look as nice as with that yearly pruning.  Of course they are roses, and these babies have some seriously wicked thorns, so don’t plant them where thorns will be a problem–and consider how big they could get before you place them near a pathway or under a window.  You can give them a trim any time of the year except in the late fall because it could encourage tender new growth that could be killed by frost (you’re probably going to prune that away come spring, but it might harm the overall health of your plant.) 

The only potential downside to these awesome roses is Rose Rosette disease, also known as Witches’ Broom, which is a nasty virus carried by microscopic mites.  Here’s a link to an informational PDF from Oklahoma State University.  There is no treatment or cure, and infected plants start getting uglier and uglier until they finally die.  If your rose gets this, the recommended action is the immediate removal of the entire bush, roots included. It should be burned or bagged and discarded.  Do not compost these bushes!  Roses in proximity may or may not get infected; direct contact seems to be the easiest way for it to spread but I think it’s windborne to some extent considering the way it has spread around here.  Since nearly every landscaper in Oklahoma has planted some of these roses, the disease has made its way all over the state.  Luckily mine are okay so far but I keep a close eye on them. If they ever get the disease my backup landscaping plan (after the wailing and gnashing of teeth) involves dwarf Crepe Myrtles. Once they are established, they are almost bulletproof.

There are ten colors of Knockout Rose available now (wow!).  I just spent some time on the Star website and now I am seriously trying to figure out where I can put more roses.  One of each, please?  You can find Knockout Roses at most garden retailers in the US and Canada.  Look for the lime green pot and enjoy your roses!

Knockout Roses HouseofIngrams.com

 

Knockout Roses Bud HouseofIngrams.com

Getting a Higher ACT Math Score

My younger son took his ACT for the second time in early February. He got a decent score the first time, but in the hope of getting better scholarship offers elected to take it again to try and increase his math score (and bump up his composite as well).
He took it originally in April 2017 as a sophomore and got a 28 in math with a 32 composite. He was taking Thinkwell online Geometry at the time. This year he is taking Thinkwell Trigonometry (which begins with a massive Algegra 2 review!).  I am not affiliated with Thinkwell, we just really like their upper-level math courses for homeschool.

This post contains affiliate links.  See my full disclosure policy here.

We had the first edition of this McGraw-Hill 50 Top Skills for a Top Score ACT Math  (the second edition is out now) that his brother had used with some success when he was in high school and so thought it would be a good way to try and increase his math score. There are 50 lessons to cover 50 key ACT math concepts and strategies. He signed up for the February 10, 2018, test. By the time we recovered from the holidays and a family vacation, he had three and a half weeks to study; practically speaking he had 22 days. I challenged him to cover at least three lessons a day on top of his regular schoolwork. He had Sundays off and at least one camping weekend during this time, so he usually did four lessons a day.
Test day came and went, and I knew the scores usually come out the second Tuesday after the test Saturday so was really planning to check first thing on the 20th but got busy and forgot!
It was a couple of days after the scores were up before I remembered to look.
Mission accomplished! He managed to score 33 on the math section, which was a gain of five points! His other scores were comparable to last time, so his composite went up to a 34. I went and woke him up to show him the scores on my laptop screen. He was less excited than I expected.
😀
This book is available on Amazon.
His method was simply working through the lessons in order, but this includes a CD with two extra practice tests (recommended), a pre-test and post-test, and cut out flash cards.  These images are from our book, which is a few years old.  The one linked above on Amazon is the new second edition.

I should say that no matter how good the prep materials are, you won’t get a good result without a lot of time and effort.   Your results may vary!


I think his Thinkwell Trig course with the Algebra 2 review included helped but the prep book was a HUGE factor in improving his score.  We highly recommend it!

Why You Should Plant Russian Sage

Are you looking for a plant that survives freezing winters and scorching summers, is drought tolerant, blooms all summer, and attracts bees and butterflies?  Look no further, because it’s right here…Russian Sage.  Its botanical name is Perovskia atriplicofolia.  This tough beauty is originally from the region around Afghanistan, and it is one hardy (zones 4 through 9), gorgeous plant.  But it’s not really Russian, and it’s not really sage either…

Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicofolia) is one of my absolute favorite perennials.  It is completely different from culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) and you do not cook with it.  It is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) but is not generally considered edible.  (If you smell it you will know why.  It smells rather medicinal.)  It is considered an herbaceous perennial.  It is tough as nails once it gets established, and blooms nonstop midsummer to fall.  I have it in my front flower bed with my Red Double Knockout roses; full sun, facing east, in a very well drained raised brick bed.  This is a photo taken in late June.    

Russian Sage and Knockout Roses from HouseofIngrams.com

It grows to a tall (around three feet) airy shrub with delicate gray-green leaves with tall spikes of tiny purple/blue flowers.  It really is stunning.  The bees love it too.  

If it gets too tall for you or starts to flop over, just give it a trim and it will recover and be blooming again in just a few weeks.

 Maintenance on this is super easy, I just give it a very hard pruning (to about 6 inches tall) in the late winter.  If I find a plant in a spot where I don’t want it, I have the best luck moving them in winter while they are dormant.  I have killed a few (ok, many) transplants during their active growing season.  My gardening style is best described as “benign neglect” so this is an ideal plant for me.  

When I first planted three of them behind my roses, the plant instructions said they rarely reseeded.  Well, I beg to differ…I had dozens of tiny baby Perovskia coming up in the bed the next spring.  Most of them were in desirable places so I let them be.  I don’t really consider them invasive, but if I left them alone they would definitely take over the bed.  This winter I have been able to share some of my extras with a couple of friends.  Since that first season, they aren’t reseeding so much as rooting from flopped stems and spreading by runners, as mints will do.  This year I will try some pinching back early in the season to see if I can reduce the flop factor. They get more water than they really need since they are in with my roses that are watered fairly regularly.  That combined with their eastern exposure is causing them to be “floppy”.

To keep these happy plant in full sun in well-drained soil.  Cut down almost to the ground in late winter or early spring, as they bloom on new wood.   They are pretty drought tolerant once established.   

Below is a photo of Russian Sage used as a tall bedding plant at MS&T in Rolla, Missouri.  This was taken in late June.

Russian Sage in landscape HouseofIngrams.com

Here’s a closer look at the flowers tucked behind some four o’clocks…

Russian Sage in the background with four o'clocks HouseofIngrams.com

I highly recommend this plant if you have a well-drained spot for it.  It won’t disappoint!

 

 

 

Steak in Cast Iron Skillet With Peppercorn Sauce

Steak in Cast Iron Skillet from House of Ingrams

Steak is one of the few things I can guarantee every person in my house will enjoy.  Here’s my favorite easy method you can do anytime, no grill required…

You will need a seasoned cast iron skillet large enough to hold the steak flat, a steak suitable for grilling; it should be thick, not thin– (T-bone, ribeye, New York Strip, etc), kosher salt, butter, heavy cream, beef broth, and fresh ground pepper.

Unwrap the steak and place on a platter.  Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt on each side.  Let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes, up to an hour.

When you are ready to start cooking, place the cast iron skillet on medium-high heat until it is screaming hot.  Turn on your vent fan.  You might want to open a window too.  😀  Carefully put your steak in the pan and sear for four minutes.  There will be smoke and sizzling.  If it’s smoking too much, turn down your heat some.  Flip and do another four minutes.  At this point, you must determine how done you want your steak.  Time depends on thickness and your skillet temperature.  An instant-read thermometer is super handy at this point…

120° F (48.8° C) = Rare

130° F (54.4° C) = Medium rare

140° F (60° C) = Medium

150° F (65.5° C) = Medium well

160° F (71.1° C) = Well done

For 1 inch thick T-bone as pictured, I flip it again and do about 1 to 2 more minutes on each side, then remove from the pan and cover with foil to rest for at least 10 minutes.  You should test the temperature to determine your stopping point.  I aim for medium rare to medium.  Well done steak makes us sad.

Cast Iron Steak

For the pan sauce, take the cast iron skillet and over medium heat add 1/2 cup of beef broth to deglaze the pan, add 2 tablespoons of butter,  a generous amount of fresh ground pepper (1/2 teaspoonful), and a quarter cup of heavy cream.  Increase heat to medium-high and simmer until the sauce coats the back of a spoon.  By now your rested steak will have left some liquid in the platter they are on…add that to your sauce and stir.

Peppercorn Pan Sauce for Steak

Serve!  When all four of us are home I use two cast iron skillets at the same time (two ribeyes or one T-bone will generally fit in one pan).

This is one of our favorite meals.  We usually have the steak with some bacon browned green beans or a salad.  Simple food is best!

Steak in Cast Iron Pan with Peppercorn Pan Sauce

No grill required for this yummy steak with pan sauce.  

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Resting Time 10 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 1

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbone or other thick grilling steak
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Instructions

  1. Unwrap steak and sprinkle each side with kosher salt.  Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes to one hour.  Heat seasoned cast iron skillet on medium high heat.  Turn on vent fan to prepare for smoke.  Place steak in pan and cook for four minutes.  Turn and cook another four minutes.  Test temperature with instant read thermometer.  If it is not done to your liking cook another 1 to 2 minutes per side.  Place on platter and cover with foil to rest at least 10 minutes. 

  1. For pan sauce, deglaze skillet with beef broth, then add butter, cream, and pepper. Stir and simmer over medium heat until sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon.  

 

The Florida Aquarium and the American Victory Ship

Back in January, we took a day to visit the Florida Aquarium in Tampa because we are all about aquariums…seriously, we go to every one we possibly can, including the ones here in Oklahoma, which are obviously few and far between…

Our visit coincided with a rare cold spell in south Florida, but it was still warmer than Oklahoma.  The first full day we planned to check out the aquarium in Tampa then make our way to our hotel in St. Pete Beach that afternoon.  It was COLD.  A really good day to be inside somewhere–and lots of other people must have agreed because the place was packed.  There was a pretty good line of people waiting to get tickets when we arrived.  We finally got our tickets and made our way inside.  I took some pictures but they don’t really do things justice.  It’s a very beautiful facility with oodles of amazing animals.  

Sand eels are so cool!

Roseate spoonbills.

The duck above is watching all the strollers closely so it can snatch up dropped kiddie snacks…”Pay no attention to that sign behind me!”

We went through the whole place in around two hours; keep in mind my boys are 20 and 16 so they weren’t interested in the hands-on or outdoor play areas (they have an outdoor splash pad playground which was not open during our visit, go figure!); families with smaller kids might want to allow more time.  And if you go when it’s warm, which is apparently almost always, you will want to bring swim gear, towels, and sunscreen so your kids can play out there.  They have a place to change in and out of swim gear right next to the playground.

There is a snack bar on site but since we had seen everything we wanted, we walked about a block down the street and found a New York style pizza place which was really good.  It had a New York police precinct theme.  It is called, appropriately, Precinct Pizza.  Check it out if you are in town!

We were thinking about heading to the rental car and finding our hotel, but had noticed a sign on the way into the aquarium mentioning something about a historic victory ship nearby…so we followed the signs and found this:

American Victory Ship

The SS American Victory Maritime Museum is one of only four working WWII era ships in the country.  My older son is a major history buff, so of course we had to spend the rest of our day exploring the massive ship.

They take this old merchant marine cargo ship out on a Relive History Cruise twice a year, and we were bummed that we missed that.  Perhaps another time.  There are nine decks to wander, including 3-story cargo holds, galleys, crew cabins, mess halls, officers’ quarters, and lots more.  They also have medals and many historic artifacts.

Above you can see the dazzle paint scheme that helps to break up the shape of the ship.

 

Both places are definitely worth a visit if you are in the Tampa Bay area!  If you decide to include the ship on your itinerary, keep in mind it has nine stories to go through and it is a ship…so expect lots of walking, and lots of steep metal stairs.  To give you an idea, I had 10,975 steps on my Samsung phone for that day.  😀