Monday, October 07, 2013

Garden Notes 2013

The weather has definitively turned now, the heat kicking in as the house gets below 62 for the first time this season, and so much more water everywhere. What will I do with those full to overflowing rain barrels from now until July? It's hard to imagine that anything will really need watering again. Ever, almost.

The dahlias keep coming, and I'm grateful for them. Somehow, they say "I'm sorry" and act as consolation. People say that dahlias don't have a scent, but it isn't true. It isn't the scent of a bloom, it's the scent of cut stems, sharp and green and mournful. I don't leave any outside, just keep cutting and cutting them, bunching them in vases in the bathroom, on the kitchen windowsill, at my desk, on my night stand. They are little soldiers in service of beauty, reminders that the world can't help but put good things in front of you, no matter what else is happening.

For the weekends, I hope for a break from rain so that I can put things to bed in the garden, fend off weeds and find a way to protect some possibility for next year. I just want to make room. It's hard work to do that, tiring and a little painful. The garden was prickly and sharp and stubborn all summer, my hands were always secretly wounded, little thistle bits embedded in them, a rash halfway up my arm, but so much good stuff came out of it. It makes sense to remind myself of that now. Here's what grew, and will be back next year:

- raspberries - Overwhelmed by raspberries this year, but there they are in the freezer, and there were enough to give away finally. The canes have overtaken their bed and need to be dug up, transplanted, thinned, tamed.
- strawberries - They are always eaten mostly by the slugs. This year they were plentiful enough that there were even a few left for humans though.
- crabapples - I finally got out the loppers and snipped off branches from above the mini barn, having found a poached crabapple recipe I wanted to try. They were surprisingly addictive, fussy to eat, clovey and complicated.
- apples - There were three big apples on the old tree by the greenhouse this year. Two were lost in piles of leaves after not being picked soon enough. I found them half hollow and slug-filled and hated to throw them out. The last one was picked with a ladder and eaten, tart and rare and delicious.
- pears - I experimented with thinning the tiny fruits as they started to grow, but once they got big enough to start dropping on the ground, you couldn't tell at all which branches had been thinned and which hadn't. One of the trees was loaded with fruit, just started to lose the gnarled, scabby look it had last year. They are all waiting in the kitchen, half in the refrigerator, half in paper bags on the counter.
- currants - In early spring, we planted a little black currant bush. It yielded a surprising amount of fruit, which I stewed into a syrup that I ate in plain yogurt for breakfast.
- cherries - So many blossoms and so much green fruit on the tree, but none eaten by people.
- blueberries - There are four little blueberry bushes now, two by the greenhouse that need to be moved, and two by the back fence. They are starting to pick up speed and there were several weeks where there were always ready berries.
- horseradish - Tom planted horseradish, after I said I wanted some, and then I dug it out and threw it over the fence, thinking it was a valueless weed. When he asked what had a happened to it, I remembered and went back to stick my hand through the thistles and the fence to retrieve it and tuck it back in. I was surprised how well it grew in spite of this. The truth is, it is weed-like.
- oregano - Every time I picked raspberries, I smelled spaghetti sauce as I brushed past the overgrown oregano bush. In spite of this, it rarely found itself into a dish. 
- asparagus - The new crowns I planted this year didn't do as well as I might have hoped. Last years yielded more stalks than I expected though. I let them be, hoping for a plateful next year. 
- artichokes - Only the raspberries have flourished more. Everyone who came was sent home with a few, and still there were more and they bloomed purple and tall and are there still, color long gone now. 
- mint - There is always mint. There was mint when we came and will be mint after. It made its way into sun tea a few times, and generally behaved a little better than it had last year, not crowding out nearly as many starts. 
- blackberries - The blackberries take up as much room as the raspberries but never taste as good. Tom rescued the pear trees from them this year and now the vines seem resigned to living along the fence, encroaching less and less each year. 
- nettles - The first thing harvested every year, they made soup and seemed to contain the promise of everything you could ever hope for. Appropriate then, that they are also the thing that stings. You have to know how to make use of them, and I do. 
- sorrel - Sorrel goes well in a nettle soup, and is an even more aggressive grower, at least where I have planted it. It's hacked back regularly, and doesn't care at all. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Like fireworks, someone said about these squash. The garden is exploding these days, little dahlia explosions of color, squash swelling, blackberries taking off, the bird-lovers flower mix taking up one glorious row of the beds on the northeast corner of the property. I do not feel so flourishy these days, but I'm working on that. The hollyhocks on my yard have between 3 and 6 buds left, which I read somewhere means 3 to 6 weeks more summer. Next weekend is a five day weekend for me, and that will have to serve as summer break, so I intend to make the most of it. 

Summer's not over without:
- another ferry ride
- more ice cream cones
- a pitcher of never-ending Arnold Palmers in the fridge
- more iced coffee
- more farro salad 
- at least one summer read
- floaty things
- zucchini fritters
- zucchini bread
- zucchini everything
- more planting for fall
- reading the New Yorker
- reminder to self: all of this is better than a case of shingles

Thursday, July 18, 2013


I grew a dahlia for the first time, and that counts towards the New Year's resolution about growing more flowers. It's a Wednesday and I had an ice cream sundae for dessert, and it certainly seems like that too ought to count for something. As should wearing white eyelet anything, as should drinking frozen lattes, which I have gotten very good at indeed.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013



summer resolutions :: lake swimming :: iced coffees :: Arnold Palmers :: cut flowers :: farro salads :: time to finally use that spa gift certificate :: a postcard or two :: more ferry rides :: self-forgiveness :: garden time

Monday, July 15, 2013


It's sunny every day these days, warm, in the 80s, and dry all day long. At the nursery, they tell us they are watering twice a day, that we probably need to do the same as well. I haven't been, of course, and the tomatoes have gone through several cycles of thirst and drown, even the raspberry canes are looking a little fed up. Seeds planted don't come up if you just leave them there, in dry beds, with no water. Might as well have sprinkled the seeds in a desk drawer. The dahlias were planted early enough to be small shrubs in one bed, buds intact, but no more than tufts in another. The bed of flowers loved by birds is just now starting to bloom, differentiating itself at last from the beds of weeds of similar height. 

The garden is solace and focus, an exercise in absorption, of infinite perfectibility, hopeless love, aspiration, so many other things. There is no loneliness in the garden, as though every plant looking for care was also company. I make my way through the beds, visiting little by little, wondering always what to do next. 

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Four Months


considering bringing back the to-do list :: picking raspberries every day :: summer hours :: a festival of audiobooks :: when you get a moment, weed :: avocado cheese toast :: coffee mornings :: the end of an era



Monday, March 11, 2013

Like wearing short sleeves in sunshine


So, in the spirit of the word of the year, here are a few things I've enjoyed recently:
  • This poem, which pretty much sums up the spirit of enjoyment. 
  • Breadfarm's Irish Soda Bread. Not what I grew up with, but still totally addictive. 
  • Our Sunday trip to Christianson's nursery. Every time I plant a fruit tree, I feel like I'm making the mini-farm better. This year, two more blueberry bushes and a currant. There's also another lilac, for the front of the house this time, and we are still mulling over the espaliered asian pear....
  • This book on audio. I had that sad feeling when it was over. So glad she has a new book coming out this year! 
  • New gutters plus rain barrels. hard to believe, but true, these are making me very happy!


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Enjoy


I finally picked a word for the year. So perfect that I can't believe I didn't think of it before. Everything lined up for it, the new year's resolutions, the way things are just easing up, the fact that my vacation time increases to four weeks per year in June. Big sigh. 

I've been thinking about photography, having finally retrieved a roll dropped off from late summer, several from a few months ago. There are some shots I'm happy with, but in general it tends to feel like I am starting over at the beginning again in some way, after so many months of not taking many. Starting over feels like getting through all the obvious shots, getting bored enough with them to push through to a different approach. I'm not there yet. I'm mostly the kind of bored that prevents me from picking up the camera in the first place, and that's not the kind of boredom that's going to get me anywhere. So, I'm thinking about other things, like maybe a return to black and white, or using the 35mm back for the Big Camera, instead of always using the 120 back. Little changes like that, which hopefully introduce just enough experimentation to make this whole photo thing something I can once again really enjoy. 

Friday, February 01, 2013

Good things


1. Being taken into someone's confidence
2. Having a little extra
3. Knowing what you're going to cook
4. A new movie to look forward to
5. Reading before bed
6. Making something people like
7. Knowing what you're going to get someone for his birthday
8. Elbow patches
9. 70% off something you really wanted
10. Chocolate with toasted quinoa


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Where we finally get down to the resolutions


1 - Listen to way more Blondie.
2 - 2014 New Year's party at the mini-farm.
3 - Perfect either my Baked Alaska or Bananas Foster. Or waffles. Or all of the above.
4 - Get a haircut. In NYC.
5 - Send more postcards. By which I mean, any postcards.
6 - When in doubt about what to knit, go back to socks.
7 - Serious girlfriend time, every month. 
8 - Read 20 books (not including what I listen to on CD).
9 - Grow more flowers.
10 - Plant more asparagus.
11 - Make resolutions all year long.
12 - Secure my own oxygen mask before helping others.
13 - "Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." - Lao Tzu


Monday, December 31, 2012

What I Learned This Year, a half-ass and merely partial list


:: It's always worth it to go to Knit Night :: That TV show Revenge is super addictive (I blame it on being a Scorpio) :: New year's superstitions - don't take anything out of the house on New Year's Day, or do any washing or pay bills, lest money and loved ones be washed away in the coming year :: Myers Briggs will get scientists talking about things they would never talk about otherwise (the power of metrics) :: I'm capable of knitting a whole, complicated sweater that I will actually wear :: I love Nora Ephron :: Planning meals three months ahead is actually kind of nice :: I need to make NYC trips just happen :: In start-up biotech, 80 souls is too many for 1.25 HR people :: Sometimes forgiveness just arrives, without any effort from me :: Two small turkeys for Thanksgiving is worth considering :: I love growing artichokes :: Plant way more asparagus crowns than you think you'll need :: Permaculture is a form of faith :: Moby Dick is not as fun to read as Tolstoy, for me at least :: How to make apple cider caramels :: 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Check in

Things on the list morph. There hasn't been any white bolognese, and there may not be, but there was homemade chicken pot pie, and there were potato latkes and Croque Monsieur made with waffles. Cooking has been the best part of break, and if anyone ever tells you that people do not change, I offer that statement coming from me as proof they do. Tom makes the coffee most mornings, drip rather than the moka pot, but the eggnog used in place of milk has the same indulgent feel and it's amazing how long the one container of it lasts. I did get around to the apple cider caramels, and my stubborn determination to get Baked Alaskas from Trader Joe's in Bellingham didn't abate even when I saw that they were pepto bismol pink and not actually intended to be baked. We are stocked with snacks for a New Year's Eve spent in a fortress, and I keep thinking maybe it's time to pull out a trillion piece puzzle and cover the dining table with pieces, pop a few in whenever we pass by. I'm fine with eating on the couch, laps covered in handknit blankets.

I've been ignoring performance reviews, and I think that's fine, since my laundry is halfway done and I've cleaned out some shelves in the pantry and dropped off the dry cleaning and along with it those pants I've been meaning forever to get hemmed. No Goodwill runs yet, but maybe tomorrow. Maybe. Or not. When does Downton Abbey start again?

Monday, December 24, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Break


There are three lists going. One is dry cleaner, Goodwill run, things like that. The second is manicures and movies in the middle of the day, and the other is a set of things that cover both somehow, like the time spent yesterday weeding beds and laying down a covering of straw for the winter. I kept stopping to watch the swans and geese land in the field that's become a pond, while Tom just put his head down and worked through until after twilight, when it was almost too dark to put away the tools in the greenhouse.

I'm always determined to make the most of what time I have at home. Some of that means having time to enjoy it, a magazine on the couch with endless cups of tea and enough done to stave off the feeling that there is something else that is more important, just waiting. That's how you get writing time. By staving off, carving out, setting aside and sitting down. Tom sleeps later than I do, so there is that quiet time when I take Emmy out, make my tea, read, type. It's Christmas Eve, but what I wanted to do was make a list of all the performance reviews I've received, check who is still missing, start a plan for reading them all over break. Done, the load of it lightens. There's only one thing left to finish knitting for Christmas and then I can start all over again with the planning. A baby sweater, a scarf for Tom, who I didn't realize wanted one. Today we each start out on our treks to visit family for the holidays, taking turns coming back home for the dog, and won't be back together until the 26th. Then it's a long stretch of days that feel like a gift to this house. Cleaning out the pantry so that we know when we got that can of tomatoes, or jar of jam. Floors washed, bathroom scrubbed. There are curtains bought a year ago that still haven't gone up, and the furnace filter needs changing. We need those things done for January and February, short days when all you want is rest and ease. How nice to come home to a simple meal, something quick, easy clean up afterwards, no chores beyond subsistence.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

To do the week before and the week after Christmas and a lot of other weeks too


In Myers-Briggs training today, we talked about (among other things) the difference between people with the J (Judging) preference and people with the P (Perceiving) preference. To illustrate the difference between the two, a group of Js were asked to complete an exercise where they described what they would do on an all expenses paid trip to some sunny beachy locale. Then the Ps were asked to do that same thing. The Js had everything planned down to the minute, logistics sorted and a budget established. The Ps just kinda started a list of stuff to maybe do, and then quickly decided to hire someone to plan the trip for them. Our facilitator talked about how Js have a checklist and love to complete things, and Ps are the people you know who actually lose their to-do lists. Hello, me. Later in the afternoon, a participant from an earlier session came in to the room where a new group was meeting. The facilitator asked him if he was looking for something. Yes, I left my task list here. MBTI in action. 

I write to do lists everywhere, in memos in my mail program at work, on an old to-do list pad I pinched from Grandma Lois' house, in texts sent to my own email, in a journal, in my datebook. It's completely ridiculous. It's been two weeks since Sarah brought in the cookie dough I bought from the fundraiser for her daughter's school and I still haven't remembered to bring it home. I keep leaving the wrapping paper for this year's employee gifts at work, even though I'm determined to cut it up into the right size pieces at home to minimize my long hours at work this week. I manage anyway. The things you really have to do will not let you forget them, and the last two weeks of the work year are crisis mode and that's ok. A new year starts soon. 

In the mean time there are apple cider caramels to make, a Christmas package to send to NYC, and a lot of episodes of Revenge to watch. I'd like to make that good white bolognese for dinner while I'm home on break, and get the paperwhites going, and there is Moby Dick to finish and if I get bored I can always clear out my spare room some more and do a Goodwill run. I want to make good coffee in my little moka pot in the morning over break and make some kind of crisp and eat it for breakfast instead of dessert and get enough done in the morning to not feel at all one bit guilty about sitting on the couch for a long time later in the day, maybe with a stack of magazines. Will there be time to make mix CDs and write letters? That's always the hope. 

Next year I can knit myself a sweater, pay off my car, get new gutters put on the house, clean out my paid-off car, clean out my files at work, start year two of my five year diary, plant sugar snap peas and follow Elizabeth Warren's advice to save 20% of my income. Also, more girlfriend time, please. 

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Holiday Letter 2012

This was the year that I got mildly hooked on that series I found on Netflix instant, about the neurosurgeon who has a super fancy practice with lots of gadgets and mysterious cases, who sees his dead ex-wife's ghost and sometimes works at the free clinic and sometimes goes rock climbing without his shirt on. Tom calls that series "Touched By an Angel" but he still stays on the couch while I watch it.

This was the year that I gave up on skirts and wore jeans to work every day instead, but became known for my advanced use of scarves and bought a few more blazers. It was the year I thought Maybe this is the year I should start using under eye cream, or moisturize every morning, but instead it was the year when maybe it could be said that I paid a tiny bit more attention to my hair. Most of the times I thought about getting a manicure, I realized there was something else I wanted to do more instead, and this was not the year I got any better at doing them myself. This was the year my feet suffered from lack of pedicures, but benefited from a few less wearings of uncomfortable high heels. This was the year when it became clear to me how uncomfortable my uncomfortable shoes actually were.

I cried over work a few more times than I should have this year. I got a little tougher, too, I think. Even so, this was the year I made peace with anyone who might have been called a nemesis and this was the year when the most unlikely characters became my supporters. This was the year more than one tough customer called me wise or told me I was the best HR person they had ever worked with and it was the year I realized I might need to be more forceful about showing that I believed I was, too.

What happens at Knit Night stays at Knit Night, so let's just say this was the year I found Knit Night and got back to socks and made almost all of the Christmas presents I intended to. I made room for yoga and gave in to acupuncture and carpooling and menu planning and totally failed at taking up running again. Cameras got dusty and so did the blog and there wasn't much to say any time anyone asked me how the writing was going. There were fewer unexplored boxes in my spare room and more meals cooked by me in the kitchen. Probably the same amount of dishes washed though, thanks to Tom.

It was the year of Moby-Dick and Myers Briggs, the driest dries and the rainiest rains. It was a year of every day Emmylou, pets and trips outside and meds at 10 and Where's your toy? It was a year of wanting more than anything to be home, where there was everything I needed, and more than that too. In the end, overall, it was a year of progress.