The Redwoods and Route 1

culture shock, family, friends, friendship, personal essay, personal growth, photography, small town life

Okay, so it has been a while!

In the six weeks since I last posted, I have been indulging in the relaxation of being home, of having family around, and of picking grape tomatoes from the garden. I have had time to update the blog but I just haven’t done it because I’ve been enjoying the slow, good life here in my small town in the middle of nowhere.

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A bunch of doofuses

There are lots of posts to write and photos to share and stories to tell, but I’ll be honest, I may not get to it. Instead, I thought I’d just share a highlight of the last few months which was a quick, quick trip out to California to see Brother T get married. We were busy with wedding stuff most of the time, but on Thursday we got to take a trip to Big Basin State Park which is where some of the world’s biggest trees reside. It was breathtaking.

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The photos don’t even do them justice. Redwoods live to an average of 500-700 years and some of them are up to 2000 years old. Imagine!!!

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Earlier this year I read the book Valley of the Giants by Peter Kyne. It was written about one-hundred years ago and focuses on a family of loggers and mill-owners out in California from 1850-1917-ish and how they deal with an underhanded business rival etc. It has some beautiful, beautiful descriptions of the redwood forests as it centers on the family who is milling them. It’s an odd thing, but while I read it I felt almost sad thinking of the destruction of something so grandiose, so ancient and so irreplaceable. Ninety-five percent of the old-growth redwoods have been cut down in California (and there are still a lot, so I can’t imagine what it was like before), and the remaining ones seem to all be in protected national and state parks. The trees are about 300 feet tall (91 meters).

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More doofuses, above and below 🙂

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Yours truly, posing with a tree. (Not a doofus.)

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Driving up the mountains on a winding, single-lane road, you look down off the steep mountain-sides and can’t even see where the trees begin, and when you swivel your head and look up, you can’t see the top either. They are massive, massive, massive trees, and so stately and lovely. The smell is delicious and fresh and woody, the air is cool and crisp, and the silence is almost overwhelming. I was happy when we got to the park check-in because there were a few other people around chatting and making noise; we all tried to keep totally silent for fifteen seconds and it is so quiet that it presses in on your ears.

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We were on a tight timeframe and we left Big Basin to head down to the Pacific Ocean, taking Route 1 North toward San Francisco. It was gorgeous.

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There are beautiful cliffs the whole way up and down the coast and it is spectacular. There are little beaches you can pull into the whole way up. It was lovely until we reached Traffic. Oh Traffic. I do not miss you.

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America is so BIG, you guys.

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Look close and see the quilt-like squares of cornfields somewhere over Kansas

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Yuck. Ugh. No. No. No. (Las Vegas.)

It took one whole day of travel to get to California and another whole day to get back. We flew over canyons, fields, flatlands, prairies, the Rocky Mountains, rivers, deserts, forests, cities, and vast open wilderness to get to the other side of the country. There are so many languages and people and foods and landscapes and so much beauty. We all commented that it felt like we were in a different country after so much time in the air and with the different landscape and climate.

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It’s easy to get swept into a constant need to check the news and social media, but my life has personally become much more peaceful since I gave up Facebook and stopped looking at the news, and then when you go to a place like the Redwood Forest, all the other stuff seems to fade away in the face of something that has stood so peacefully and so tall for so long, and it reminds you that God is bigger than all of our squabbling and just how beautiful His creation is, and I’m thankful for a glimpse of that.

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That is the San Francisco skyline from the hotel in downtown Oakland. Each morning it seemed the whole day would be foggy and overcast but then the sun would burn through and it would be bright and sunny for the rest of the afternoon. It was much cooler than it currently is in New York.

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The above bird is a California Scrub Jay. It was hopping around the trees and rocks of the house we rented and then it very nicely agreed to pose for a picture for me.

 

Finally, I know I need to get back to posting regularly! Even if the posts are primarily photos and not so many words, there are lots of things to share and remember about this summer!

Backyard Ballad: Peonies and Phlox Edition

backyard ballad, backyard love song, family, friends, garden, personal growth, photography, small town life

As you may have gathered, flowers are my weakness. I love them. I love the way they look, I love the way they seem so fragile but are actually so strong, I love the patterns, the scents, the colors.

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One thing I keep coming back to is how fleeting they are.

When we arrived at the end of May the lilac bushes and trees were BURSTING, and if you drove with the windows down you could smell lilacs all over the country. Then they were gone, and the rhododendrons erupted and there were huge bushes of purple and pink and orange flowers in front of houses up and down every side street.

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These rhododendron pictures are from a house up the street. There’s an old man who lives there and he used to know my Nana since he lived next door. We talked about her briefly and I took pictures of his flowers and, since he was having his weekly moving sale (yes, really, he’s had it every week), I bought two vases for $1 each.

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Then they were gone and wild phlox appeared, lining the roads, hiding in groves, bordering meadows and fields.

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The phlox was everywhere, purple upon purple upon purple. Then the roadsides were mowed and the deer got hooked on the Phlox Phad and ate them all up.

Then there were peonies, and they are almost gone. They super-inflated and then exploded and the peony heads are lying all over people’s lawns, looking exhausted and like someone let all the air out of their tires.

This last picture is one I took a few days ago. I bought myself a peony bush and it’s my favorite thing. I planted it by the front porch and two weeks later there were two giant pink flowers bobbing around and now the petals are decaying on the ground, but look at this photo, isn’t it gorgeous?

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Backyard Ballad: Spring Skies

backyard ballad, garden, personal growth, Uncategorized

As Spring draws to a close, I thought I’d share a few pictures of the backyard sky from the last month or so.

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Not technically the backyard, more like the neighboring side-yard…

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A gorgeous sunset from the side porch.

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A soggy, soft sky after a rainy day.

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An approaching thunderstorm.

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Also not technically our backyard, but it’s my aunt’s backyard, and she only lives a mile away 🙂

Adios, Spring! And here’s to a wonderful Summer!

 

Picking Out Plants & the Mortgage Lifter

family, friends, friendship, garden, gardening tips, personal essay, personal growth, small town life
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AHHHHHHHHHH IT IS TOO BEAUTIFUL

Here is how last Saturday went:

 

I was trying to change my shoes while driving the car. That’s not the point of this story, though, it is just essential background information. Sister went into the local coffee roasting place* and when she came out, she had a free mug! So, I decided I would go in and get myself some organic dark-chocolate-covered cherries and a free mug of my own. I went inside and was glad to see the place had expanded and was full of people picking out coffees and nut butters.

But something felt weird.

I looked down.

And yes! I had two different shoes on!

Me: I have two different shoes on.

Lady behind the counter: You sure do!

Lady behind the counter: Would you like a free mug?

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Here is also how our Saturday went:

We were driving up to Target** and SUDDENLY it seemed there was a plastic bag floating up over the hood of the car.

Sister: Alex? Is that our headlight?

Me: Why yes Claire, I believe it is.

And INDEED IT WAS. So we bought duct tape and taped that sucker on, because we are nothing if not resourceful and also good at driving old cars.***

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Here is how our Saturday proceeded:

We went to Uncle Gee and Aunt T’s house and followed them over to the Country Caretaker, which is their favorite garden center. There are so many garden centers! I LOVE THEM ALL.

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I confessed total ignorance to the nice people that worked there and they helped me out by talking about different kinds of tomatoes. We bought: Grapettes, Beef Steak, Brandywine, and one called the Mortgage Lifter, so called because the guy who created this type of tomato apparently used the proceeds to pay off his mortgage! The garden center tomato person told me they will turn red, and then yellow, and then gold, and will be delicious. Can’t wait!!

We got some cucumber plants, peppers, flower seeds, snapdragons, arugula, lettuce, tomatoes, and yellow squash. I CANNOT WAIT TO EAT THEM.

Uncle Gee also lent us a bunch of garden implements and tools which have proven to be essential.

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Look! There’s no dirt on my face!

Following that, our Saturday continued thusly:

Sister and I went to what used to be a church and heard a solo piano concert by Ben Cosgrove, who composes beautiful instrumental pieces inspired by landscapes. It was an hour well spent. There were a few odd ducks there. And by “few” I mean everyone seemed to be wearing loose-fitting linen clothing? But the music! So, so beautiful. Here is a link, go listen to him and buy his new album:

https://bencosgrove.bandcamp.com/album/salt

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The plants are living here until the garden is ready. We figure if they’re up close to the house the deer will STAY AWAY FROM MY PLANTS, YOU HEAR ME, DEER?

Here is how our Saturday ended:

With a visit from Aunt K, who we were so happy to see, and a nice, fun chat in Aunt W’s living room, and a pizza. It was a good day.

*Whenever possible, I am trying not to go into stores. There are so many of them here. They are so full of THINGS and it’s overwhelming. The stores I like are Garden Centers, Produce Stands, and Hardware Stores. Those, I can handle. Everything else needs to get drones to drop things off at my front door.

** Hoo boy. There’s a place to send you into paroxysms of culture shock.

*** This seems like a good time to reference the little local news tidbit I read in the paper this week. It is called LIBERATE THE EARTH and involves a group called the Artichoke Dance Company. Here is the blurb: “There will be a Wearable Art/Costume Workshop on Friday, May 26 at 7pm…Participants will create beautiful wearable items from recycled plastic bags to serve as costumes for Saturday’s performance. Please bring plastic bags to the workshop.”****

****NO!

 

Fence Posts 

family, friends, friendship, garden, gardening tips, personal essay, personal growth, small town life, Uncategorized

I’m falling behind on my garden progress posts. But this morning it is RAINING and due to rototill-ing (coming to a post near you shortly!), I can’t move my arms, so I will catch up on my garden progress.

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Pre-Posts. Back when we thought there were only 10-13 rocks in the garden.

One thing is for sure: we could not be putting a garden in without friends and family helping us out! They’ve given us tools, time, and expertise, and I am so grateful for that.

The post holes that Bill helped us dig just weren’t deep enough, so I was trying to figure out a solution to the post hole problem, and it was looking like it would cost $150 to get someone to drill holes for us. No sooner did Cousin P hear about that than he sent me a text saying he’d be here the next morning to help us dig. Did he want me to rent an auger to make it easier? No. Apparently, we hadn’t earned the auger yet. Ha.

Actually, I just checked, and what he really said was:

Me: Maybe renting the auger is the way to go

Cousin P: Part of learning to dig holes is you have to dig several successfully before you are allowed to use an auger. Or you are a city person.

Obviously, being a city person is not an option. That is yet another post for yet another day. City people. Gross.

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Does this look like a city person to you?

Cousin P and A and their kids pulled in around 10 and by 12 we had fence posts in the ground! Wow, it is hard to dig post holes!! I kept thinking they were the requisite 27 inches deep, only to find out that they were closer to 18. Also: rocks. But that is another story.

The kids were so helpful 🙂 J, who is 4, brought his shovel and went to work immediately. R, who is 2, carried rocks back and forth, got totally covered in mud, and then took up temporary residence in a post hole.

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I love these kids!!

We also played a fun game called, “Alex, find this worm a home.” This was brought about due to the necessity of not having all the worms manhandled and bleeding to death*, so I told the kids the worms were homesick and we had to let them go home. “Going home” involved me digging a hole and J stomping on the dirt to really, really make sure the worms got home.

There were a lot of homesick worms out there.

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Not a city person.

Following our adventure of digging holes, Uncle M stopped by and he and Sister discussed lawn mowing, which is Sister’s favorite thing to do. He had to take it home with him, and take apart the carburetor** and put it back together. Sister says we could have done that if we knew what a carburetor was.

 

How right she is.

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All she wants to do is go mow the lawn.

Then we got to stapling up the six foot, vinyl-coated, really-heavy, galvanized steel, deer-proof fencing. (Did you know that we have so many deer here in Upstate New York that I see deer EVERY SINGLE DAY. And did you know that they carry TICKS which carry LYME DISEASE and that I had Lyme Disease when I was in fourth grade and I don’t want to have it again, people.) I WILL NOT HAVE DEER IN MY GARDEN. I WILL NOT.***

Okay, then we went and had bagels.

*BAGEL BREAK*

And then Sister saw a dead mouse and freaked out. And then we picked up a couple garden tools. And then we went to the local hardware store and got stakes for the tomatoes. All of this was to put off the inevitable: ROTOTILLING. It is hard work, people.

Look at me. That is the face of someone who is covered in dirt, and who takes her pet rototiller everywhere.

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Just me, a lot of dirt, and my Mantis.

Did you know gardening is really dirty work???

So, I rototilled and Sister mowed the front lawn, and then I ate pizza.

 

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Fried eggplant, artichoke hearts, tomatoes. AMERICA, I LOVE YOU.

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Intensive scrubbing took place shortly after this photo was taken.

Cousin P: How is garden project going?

Me (boastfully): I got blisters so it was authentic work. I had work gloves on. I used to have soft city hands.

Sister (scornfully): Now you have soft city hands with blisters.

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Yes, there is dirt on my face.

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*apparently giant, bleeding worms are interesting to two-year-olds 😉

**it took me seven tries to spell carburetor correctly

***I WILL NOT

Breaking Ground

friends, friendship, garden, gardening tips, personal essay, personal growth

The ground has been broken and that makes me happy!

I didn’t know what to expect when it came to getting the grass off the ground and the garden full of dirt. Options included the back-breaking pick-axe and shovel (sounded hard), hiring someone to rototill (sounded expensive), or finding a plow (sounded impossible).

Uncle G told us it would be easiest to find someone with a plow, though I don’t think he thought we could actually do it. Sister looked at me–I looked at Sister–and we knew that we knew someone who would have the answer.

So Sister texted Bill to ask if he knew anyone with a plow and he–being Bill–ended up in our yard the very next evening with a giant backhoe and a friend named Tom. They also bought a manual post-hole digger and an auger.

Earlier that day…

Me: Sister, we need to find something to dig holes with for fence posts

Sister: Like what?

Me: I don’t know. Google it?

Sister (after Googling): …is it…an auger?

Both of us: What IS an auger, anyway?

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This was in the driveway when we pulled in

Knowing that Bill was coming meant that I had to CHOOSE A LOCATION.

Look, on the best of days I might be able to make a decision quickly. On all other days, I find decision-making tough. I start to think, and over-think, and over-think the over-thinking and before you know it, a lot of time has passed and I have thought of many an eventuality–all increasingly farfetched–and have paralyzed myself. I worry about disappointing people, I worry mostly about making the WRONG choice, or somehow making a decision that is less than perfect. I have operated for a long time on the assumption that there is always one right choice and everything else is a mistake or wrong. I am working on changing that perspective, but Rome wasn’t built in a day (neither is this garden). I am working on thinking that if I put the garden in the back right corner where there is a little too much morning shade or the back left corner or on the side of the house or not…I am learning that there might not be ONE right answer.

Anyway.

I asked everyone for their thoughts because I was panicking a little bit.

I asked Aunt W and Uncle M, I asked their neighbor who I’d never met before, I asked Aunt S and Uncle G, I talked to Sister, Mom, Dad, Brother 1 and Brother 2, I asked Cousin A and and I asked and I asked and finally I arrived at a decision, which was mainly because there was a giant backhoe in the driveway when I got home. Ha.

I think part of this process is learning to trust my own judgment. Maybe my own decision making is just fine.

I am pretty happy with where the ground was broken.

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Onward:

  • We staked out a 15×20 foot plot
  • Bill brought the backhoe around to the side of the house and operated it like he does it every day of his life
  • The backhoe peeled the sod back kind of like an ice cream scoop and soft ice cream. It was so effortless.
  • Bill broke the sod up, patted it down, tore it apart, and scattered it. If Bill operated one of those toy-cranes at an arcade, I bet he’d get every stuffed animal in the case.

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Meanwhile, I continue to adjust to people who have a sense of humor. After more than a year in the Netherlands, where sarcasm is wasted, there has been more than one interaction like this:

Me: It was good to meet you, Tom. Thanks so much for coming over!

Tom: Actually, my name is William.

Me (flustered): Wait, seriously? That’s awful. I’m so sorry. I thought your name was Tom. Oh man. What a disaster. Unbelievable. This is so awkward. And Claire just asked me what your name was and I told her it was Tom. Oh gosh. Oh dear. Here, you know what? Take my wallet. Actually, just take the house.

Bill: His name is Tom. He was just joking.

Me: Oh.

As Bill operated the backhoe with a truly inspiring amount of dexterity, Tom chatted with me and Sister about his wife and how she died, how he came to know the Lord, and lots of little fun facts.

Tom: The round stones are called Cobbles. Or Cobs, if you’re in the stone business.

Me (points to big rock): Oh. What’s that one called?

Tom (looks at me out of the corner of his eye): That’s called a rock.

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Finally, they brought around the auger and got to work. First they thought they would drill 14 holes, but the auger is tough, and then it was 12 holes, but the auger is really tough, so then it was 10 holes.

Holes which ended up needing some work, but that’s a post for another day.

Basically, this particular experience taught me to continue to ask for help and also that everything is easier when you have community and some friends who are willing to hop on their backhoe with another buddy and drive it a few miles up the road and park it in your lawn and break up the sod for you.

I have also learned what an auger is.

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Sister jumping for joy

All ground is hard until such time as it isn’t.

garden, gardening tips, personal growth

Well, when I woke up Saturday morning I knew considerably less than I know now.

I’ve talked to aunts and uncles and cousins and friends and neighbors. I’ve discovered there are gardeners hiding all over the place, and they are thrilled to offer tips and tricks. I like tips and tricks. I also like finding secret gardeners. Here are some things I’ve learned:

  • Start small! That’s what everyone keeps telling me. I have decided to ignore this piece of advice and have the entire yard plowed up to start a produce stand.
  • If there are brown holes all over my lawn (there aren’t), that means skunks are poking around digging for grubs (we’re good so far).
  • Rows should go north to south. Sun is good, shade is bad, unless you have been working in the sun, in which case you will go and hunt out the meagre shade nearby and think about how hot you are.
  • Corn and melons are friends, plant marigolds next to tomatoes, and let pepper plants touch because they like to hang out together and gossip about the other plants.
  • Plant taller crops to the northwest so that they don’t cast a shadow over the rest of the garden.
  • Our sump pump ran for a solid month this winter, Dad, and the hose fell off every five minutes. Our neighbors kept running over to fix it in order to keep our basement dry. I learned that yesterday and I’m putting it here because I’ll probably forget to tell you.
  • Much like having a favorite burger place or type of pie, everyone has a favorite garden center, and they greatly disdain all other garden centers.

Regarding sweet corn:

Apparently it is hard to grow? This much I know: I love sweet corn. I’ve had a few types recommended to me. Bread and butter is one, and Silver Queen is another. According to my dad, my great-grandfather was the one who first introduced Silver Queen to the area. He had a legendary green thumb. I never knew him, but I am going to put my garden on the last half-acre of the old family farm, and that’s the closest I can get to knowing him, isn’t it? The cemetery is half a mile up the road, and if I get some Silver Queen to be proud of, maybe I’ll drop in and let him know. However, I probably won’t share the sweet corn.

Regarding potatoes:

My mom has pictures of her on the back of a potato harvester. Neighbor Bill has informed me that the way to discover if we can grow potatoes is to go find a potato with eyes. Cut it in half. Put it in the soil about yay deep (indicates with hands), and see what happens. Once there is blight in the soil, it’s hard to get the blight out, so maybe you’ll get a potato and maybe you won’t.

Regarding myself:

Despite a lifelong reluctance toward asking for help or admitting I am in any way not on top of things, when I do ask for help, no one laughs at me. Contrary to my expectations, everyone is kind and helpful. Is that unique to gardening?

Experienced Gardener: How’s your water?

Me: …………watery?

Soil can be: dusty, loamy, acidic, alkaline, dirty, muddy, rich, earthy, peaty, soddy, grassy, and it can smell like the most wonderful thing.

I still don’t know what loamy means.

All ground is hard until such time as it isn’t.