Top 5! Week of July 5 to July 11

humor, Top Five

Last night my brother had a dream that our sister was getting married. She was nervous and excited. She was especially nervous because her fiancé didn’t know how to dance. “Can you teach him to dance?” she asked my brother. My brother went to give him some pointers. Only to discover that her fiancé was Sauron. He took the moral high ground and refused to give him pointers.

The Dark Lord Sauron 1/4 Scale Statue
On the other hand, having a great wedding ring won’t be a problem with THIS GUY!

Where do I go from there?

I guess for this week’s Top Five I’m going to get some guest input. Trevor (my brother) and his wife Katey are visiting this week. I’d say that Claire (my sister) is visiting too, but she lives back at home now because CORONAVIRUS.

Trevor’s Top Pick

Trevor: “Playing lots of tennis.”

Alex: “Why?”

“It’s a good workout and it’s easy to go to.”

“Anything else you’d like to add to your quote?”

“I’d like to change my quote entirely.”

“Ok. Go ahead.”

“Tennis is fun.”

serious rafael nadal GIF by Australian Open

Claire’s Top Pick:

What *I* think Claire’s favorite thing about the last week was: picking raspberries.

What Claire just said after I wrote that sentence: “My favorite part of the last week was getting raspberries from the patch and seeing everyone’s smiles when I bring them into the house.”*

Claire made a pie with those raspberries, and that should be on this list, too.

*this makes Claire sound like a character from Anne of Green Gables, and, well…

anne of green gables child GIF

Katey’s Top Pick:

Katey: “Not having to work!”

Alex: “What do you like about not working?”

“Not having to work. No work involved. Nothing. No exams. Freedom.”

“Do you have anything else you’d like to add?”

“No.”

free freedom GIF
Katey, after grad scshool.

Claire’s Top Pick, Take 2:

Claire: “Wait. Ask me again what my favorite part of the week was.”

“Yes, go ahead.”

“My favorite part of the week was also not working.”

(I look at her like, did you just copy Katey’s answer?)

(She did.)

Claire’s Top Pick, Take 3:

Claire: “Also, I have a serious answer.”

“Okay, go ahead.”

“My actual favorite part of the week was going to the book barn and getting a lot of books.” A pause. “Why are you staring at me like that?”

*laughter*

Trevor: “Because…you sound…the way it’s going to come across…I liked raspberries. I liked going to the book store. To get books.”

Claire: “Oh man.”

buster keaton silly silly girl GIF by Maudit

Alex’s Top Picks:

Having family around all week, that pie Claire made, playing tennis, reading books, and yes I just copied all their answers 🙂

What were your favorite things from this past week? Let me know in the comments!

Something About Lettuce

dirt on my face, family, garden, gardening tips, humor

Hello!

I found this post in my drafts folder with a somewhat cryptic note from Past Alex which said, “ALEX TURN THIS INTO A STORY OF THE LETTUCE”

I don’t know what Past Alex wanted! I know that the following pictures were included in the draft:

1. Lettuce Seeds

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2. Torn Packet of Lettuce Seeds

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3. This photo of Claire watching Trevor hurl a tree branch into the field

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4. A selfie of me looking skeptical with Baby Garden making an appearance just over my right shoulder. Unsurprisingly, there appears to be some dirt on my face.

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Perhaps Past Alex is thinking, “I don’t really like lettuce. Will I eat this lettuce?” and I can confidently say no. I still don’t like lettuce and I didn’t really eat enough of it. Which brings us full circle and technically makes this a story about lettuce. There was a plot (a garden plot, get it?), and some conflict (will she eat the lettuce?) and some resolution (this sentence is ending now).

 

 

Horses

family, friends, humor

We rode horses!

I want horses!

Someone get me horses?

(And that nice horsey lifestyle too, k?)

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(Wait. By “horsey lifestyle” I mean the lifestyle of rich people who own horses and board them and know how to post without looking like a sock in a tumble dryer, I do not mean the life of a horse, which seems difficult and largely unrewarding.)

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“Hi. I wish that Alex had taken a photo of me where my nose wasn’t over-exposed. Also, I wish that the lightbulbs above my head didn’t look like GIANT FLY EYES. Also, I wish people wouldn’t climb on my back and ride me around like I’m some kind of carnival attraction. Also, I wish I was a cat.”

Waaaaaaaay back in August, as Trevor prepared to leave and embark on a new life as a Portlandian and married man, Sister, Brother T and I went horseback riding. We have all been on horses before, but we thought it would be nice to get some actual instruction. I don’t have a lot to say about it (I know, right?) but I thought it would be nice to commemorate our riding lesson with a blog post. Also: SUMMER. I miss those days. Where did they go? They were just here. Now it is like…autumn…and I’m not okay with that.

THE PASSAGE OF TIME. SOBBING EMOJI FACE.

(That seems to come up a lot.)

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In the video below, you will see Trevor practically galloping through the paddock. He learned how to jump, and you will see the horse successfully complete the course as Trevor flies over the obstacles. I did not get that far in my lesson. Go Trevor!

Okay, so by now you know that I lied about the video.

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Do I know what I’m doing? No. But do I look like I know what I’m doing? Kinda.

In addition to the useful lessons we learned about riding horses, we also learned some other lessons:

  • This particular rescue dog pictured in the small picture is kinda mean and tried to bite meIMG_2516 2
  • Horses attract a lot of flies
  • There are then a lot of flies around your head
  • If you are a woman in your mid-seventies and you own some horses and you are driving by to drop them off at this particular horse barn and then you stick around to chat with whoever is there, you should have a bra on. That’s all. It’s not that hard. Just put a bra on. Just do it. Put a bra on.
  • It is hard to find a helmet big enough to fit on any of our heads. THANKS GENETICS.

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Look at that stud. (Heh heh.)

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Please help. The giant fly is going to get me. Don’t leave. Wait. Don’t go.

What Devastation Hath Been Wrought

dirt on my face, family, garden, humor, photography, Uncategorized

OH HELLO THERE

Anyone ever heard of an eggplant flea beetle? A squash bug? A tomato hornworm? Or how about powdery mildew or infectious plant diseases?

Reader, I had not.

A warning: grisly plant death and mutilation images ahead.

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A picture of Sister in front of our booming tomato plants and next to the towering sunflowers. This picture is not representative of this blog post, I am just lulling you into a false sense of security.

The garden is producing lots of wonderful things: colorful zinnias, tissue-paper-thin cosmos, meaty and delicious tomatoes, endless kale…but not all is well in Alex’s Garden.

I’d like to say I purposefully went organic…and it’s true that I am resistant to the idea of spraying everything in my garden with harmful pesticides (have you noticed that those words always go together? It’s a collocation!) and I have also been resistant to using things like Miracle-Gro. I’ve mostly fertilized with fish emulsion and worm castings and have occasionally branched out into diatomaceous earth and some bug spray.

But, like I said, while I would like to say that was an intentional move, it was partly intentional and partly just lazy. I kind of figured everything would be mostly ok! And you know…so far things have been mostly ok! But there are a few things that haven’t worked out and this post is all about them!

FIRST UP: SQUASH

“You can’t kill a squash plant.” –Everyone

My squash plants looked AMAZING. They were big and leafy and taking over half of the garden; there were vibrant yellow squash blossoms and miniature little zucchinis.

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Deceptive! It looks like the bush beans and zucchini are thriving here, but UNSEEN plagues infect and squash bugs plot angrily.

But then, one day, I noticed there were horrific little alien creatures all over my plants. They mated! They laid eggs! They mated again! To be honest, there was a lot of mating and a lot of egg-laying going on.

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Motel Squash Bug visible on left.

I looked them up in my garden books and identified them as SQUASH BUGS. The advice of the book was to spray with an organic insecticide (I did that), to handpick them and drown them in soapy water (EW I DID THAT TOO UGH), to remove the parts of the leaves with eggs on them (UGHHHHHHH YES I DID IT READER, I DID IT!).

But it was to no avail. The squash bugs–carrying disease and a strong proclivity for reproduction–killed my plants.

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Death lurks.

NEXT UP: EGGPLANT (or aubergine for the elegant and European among us)

The eggplant plants were attacked early on by the eggplant flea bug. It is a very, very tiny black insect that almost looks like a speck of dirt. They crawl all over and chew the leaves. I don’t know if I had almost no fruit because of those little guys or because the blossoms weren’t pollinated or maybe some kind of disease got to them.

One way or another, the leaves looked like this:

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And the plants looked like this:

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Notably fewer eggplants than expected.

AND THEN: BUSH BEANS

Honestly, I don’t even know what happened with the bush beans. They grew some bean pods and then…they never grew. They never got bigger or smaller or more alive or more dead; they just froze.

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The equivalent to this picture is like if you had a teenage daughter and when you took your wallet out and proudly showed pictures of her to your friends, they were like, “But she looks like a newborn baby.” And then you would be kind of defensive but also embarrassed and then resentful of your own embarrassment because she’s your daughter whether she grew past baby clothing sizes or not. 

AND THEN: CUCUMBERS!

Yes! My cucumbers have perished.

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A sad, sad sight.

There were cucumber beetles buzzing around for weeks, with their little yellow and black, dotted and striped jackets. They are a good-looking insect, and you can tell that it has gone to their heads. I hope none of them are reading this right now because the last thing they need is for their ego to be more inflated than it already is and to go swarm someone else’s sweet, tender cucumber vines.

They aren’t that harmful in and of themselves, but they carry disease, and probably they carried powdery mildew right into my blossoms and the cucumbers ended up looking like sick yellow globes. No me gusta.

FINALLY: THE TOMATOES

I’ve saved the most horrifying for last. Meet the tomato hornworm.

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HELP ME

What does this even become? GODZILLA?* 

You know what is worse than the tomato hornworm? A tomato hornworm that has been inhabited by a predator wasp which has laid eggs inside its body and then those eggs burrow out through the segments while feeding on the still-living hornworm until such time as they hatch.

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You’re like, “Alex, why are you subjecting me to these pictures?” And then I’m like, “JUST LOOK AT THEM. LOOK. LOOK. LOOK AT THEM RIGHT NOW. LOOK. please look.” And then I start sobbing.

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LOATHSOME CREATURE BE GONE FROM MY PRESENCE

This is what it’s like to find one of these bad boys…you’re like, wandering through your fairy-like enchanted wonderland of a vegetable garden, flitting here, flitting there–when–LO–your head is suddenly mere inches from a FOUR INCH LONG FAT CATERPILLAR WITH WASP EGGS DANGLING FROM ITS BODY.

!!!

!!!

This is what my garden book helpfully pointed out. It is noticeably less horrifying in illustrated form than it is in person.

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See how it says “don’t destroy cocoon-covered hormworms”?

HAHAHAHAHA. GOOD JOKE GARDEN BOOK.**

And that is a catalog of the garden disasters, such as they were. The rest of the garden is going GREAT and I need to get my act together and post some pictures of the beautiful peppers and tomatoes and carrots and beets and kale SO MUCH KALE!

Until next time!

 

*UPDATE: I JUST LOOKED IT UP AND IT TURNS INTO SOMETHING CALLED A HAWK MOTH. DO NOT CLICK ON THIS IF YOU ARE AFRAID OF MOTHS. 

**I destroyed them.

 

A Photo & A Conversation

family, friends, garden, humor, Uncategorized

 

SUMAHHHHHHHHHH

Dear Summer, never leave. Not ever. Not ever, ever.

Here is a photo of some watermelon and some blue skies and some red nails. Isn’t it nice? I love summer.

 

 

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You know what comes after summer?* Fall!

I also love fall** because the days are crisp and lovely and the leaves change spectacularly–especially around here, where we get “Peepers” who come to drive slowly down our country roads and point at the leaves.

Chrysanthemums are the flower of fall, and that brings me to what I really wanted to say here:

SCENE: Garden Center, surrounded by potted mums.

Sister (points to a pot of mums): Hey Alex, I thought you said those were chrysanthemums?

Me: They are.

Sister: But it says they’re mums.

Me: Look Claire, I don’t want to have to tell you what I’m about to tell you, but they’re the same–

Sister: –Never mind. Never mind. I just got it. We don’t need to discuss it.

Me: –thing.

 

 

*Summer, do not take this as permission for you to leave, thank you.

** But not enough to wish that summer would leave. Do not leave.

Thomas Cole and Bad Mexican

family, friends, humor, personal essay, photography, small town life, Uncategorized

Today, the three of us siblings which are present here in New York went adventuring (the fourth sibling unable to make it as he currently resides in the far-off land of Kansas. HI J!).

We drove thirty minutes south-west-ish and crossed the mighty, winding Hudson River, and ended up in Catskill. We were hungry after all of that pre-adventuring, so we thought we would look for a cute cafe or a tasty-looking treat.

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One of the last remaining places with a functional fax machine.

Alas.

There was no cute cafe and there were no tasty-looking treats. We settled on a Mexican joint, and we don’t need to talk about it much as we shall not be returning there. Nor shall we be returning to Catskill in the near future.

But then we wound our way to the Thomas Cole Museum!

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The view from the porch. Wowwee.

Thomas Cole was one of the leaders of the Hudson River School of art, which originated right around here in the Hudson River Valley. The museum was smaller than I expected, but had stellar views off the front porch and some nice flowers. There were a few rooms open to the public and since we were too late for a guided tour, it didn’t take long to see the contents of them.

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Nice flowers

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Re: the Hudson River School of art, I’ll quote Wikipedia, because that is the easiest thing for me to do and it’s late and I’m kind of lazy:

The Hudson River School was a mid-19th century American art movement embodied by a group of landscape painters whose aesthetic vision was influenced by romanticism. The paintings for which the movement is named depict the Hudson River Valley and the surrounding area, including the Catskill, Adirondack, and the White Mountains.

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I will forever have a soft spot for The Hudson River School, in part because I grew up with those landscapes saturating my mind, and in part because both my Mom and my teachers did a great job exposing me to local art and history as a kid. The art that came out of those landscape painters was idealistic and romanticized, but also beautiful and idyllic.

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Back to the Thomas Cole Museum: there was a lot less art than I had hoped for. The house is decked out with cardboard-y reproductions of the paintings that hung when Cole lived there. They are not very good reproductions. However, the “New Studio” has rotating, temporary exhibits and they were featuring some works of Sanford Gifford, who was one of the leaders of the Hudson River School.

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“Going Sketching in the Catskills” Sanford Gifford, 1866

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Details of oil paintings by Sanford Gifford

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There are other famous painters from the Hudson River School around here–I was so lucky to grow up in a place that is so steeped with history! Olana, the home and studio of Frederick Church, is only 25 minutes away, and we visited it a lot when I was growing up. It is a beautiful home full of interesting architecture, although the last time I visited, it was full of contemporary, experimental art which I found really jarring in the 19th-century surroundings. Also, as you will see below, Mr. Church and I have a bit of a history.

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Maybe this is just me, but if you’re at a museum dedicated to one of the country’s foremost landscape artists, should you at least paint feet onto the guy?

The following things happened at Olana:

  • I had many, many, many amazing picnics with my mom, pizza bagels, and siblings
  • I learned from Patty O that I could cross one eye and make the other one go in loops. This is largely a useless skill.
  • I loved those picnics and the pizza bagels
  • Frederick Church put in a heart-shaped pond for his wife, which I thought was the most romantic thing I ever heard of when I was about 10. Now I think it is kind of impractical and hard to see the shape clearly? But good for him!

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In Thomas Cole’s “old” studio

Once, on a school field-trip, our class went to see Thomas Cole’s “The Course of Empire”  which is a thought-provoking series of five paintings depicting the rise and fall of human civilization. The Internet tells me that their permanent home is in NYC, but I think it must have been a temporary exhibit around here, because I don’t remember going to The New York Historical Society, which is where they live. It was a memorable experience and I’ve thought of those paintings a lot over the years.

There were also a few Frederick Church paintings at that same exhibit and, guys, I don’t much like it when people tell me what to do. This was in the pre-moving-around-the-world era of my life and I think I hadn’t been to many art museums, so when they told us not to touch the paintings, the inside of me basically crawled inside-out and demanded that I touch a painting. I chose a landscape by Frederick Church which had lots of little, bumpy green leaves, and I looked to my right (covertly) and saw the museum guard glance away, and I DID IT. I reached out and touched it!

I JUST WANTED TO AND I DID.

I can’t believe it. Present-day Alex would NEVER DO THAT.*

I think the guard saw me and told me not to do it and I had a secret thrill and then I went into the next room and saw that civilization was destined to crumble anyway, according to Thomas Cole, who based his series on a poem by Lord Byron, who is not someone I want to base anything on.

I digress.

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Anyway, in summary, we had a nice time out and learned a few things** and we saw gorgeous views of the Catskills. I also saw a piece of dust adhered to an oil painting and I longed to reach out and brush it away and also touch the painting. Instead, I just weirdly blew on the painting a few times, watching this giant dust bunny flutter around, and then I realized that hearing me suddenly breathe loudly in the very silent New Studio probably sounded super weird to the elderly couple behind me.***

Kindly old man: “Excuse me, I noticed you were quietly appreciating the paintings, but now you are loudly huffing and puffing. Are you having an asthma attack?”

Me: “No, I just saw that there is this clump of dust on the painting and it’s really bugging me, so I thought I would just try to loosely, like, you know, blow it off of there…”

Kindly old man (fumbles for his wallet, rifles through it, withdraws business card, holds it out): “Here, this is the number of my psychiatrist. Maybe he could help you.”

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Why yes, there is a large piece of dust affixed to this painting. Perhaps someone should blow it off or something?

*but she still kind of wants to

**like avoid Catskill and the Mexican restaurant in Catskill

***because it was super weird

In Memoriam: Buddy the Opossum

humor, personal essay, small town life

YOU GUYS

As may have become clear through my posts, I live in approximately the middle of nowhere. There are bears around, and TONS of deer, and raccoons, and there are groundhogs and rabbits that live in our yard, and there is a big hole of an as-yet-unidentified animal in our front lawn.

Buddy (center) in his younger days

 

There are also opossums, which are weird little guys that play dead and carry their young around on their back and hang from trees by their tails and live their lives at night under the cover of darkness.

Well.

The opossum population now has one fewer member.

BECAUSE I HIT ONE WITH MY CAR

AGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Buddy, earlier this winter, thinking over future career choices after graduating from New York Opossum University (NYOU)

There I was, just driving home in the deep, dark, black of night. We had our headlights on and were driving the requisite 30 mph. There are no streetlights because, again, we live in the middle of nowhere.

And then what should I see shining ahead of me but the GLOWING EYES OF AN INQUISITIVE OPOSSUM RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD.

 

GET OUT OF THE ROAD, OPHIE! (Buddy’s sister Ophelia, lost last year in a tragic garbage truck incident)

There was no time to do anything but carefully center the car over it and yell, “JUST DON’T MOVE, LITTLE GUY!”**

But…

he moved.

Buddy’s graduation photo (2017)

 

And there were quite a few thumps. Sister and I screamed and stamped our feet while Brother T laughed at us and also wept.*

I hope Buddy the Opossum had a good, happy life. I hope he got lots of free rides on Mama Opossum’s back, that he played dead and tricked all his opossum friends, and that he loved hanging upside down from tree branches. I know there was some confusion at the end over whether his degree in Russian literature would come in useful, but as it turns out, it doesn’t really matter.

Buddy is predeceased by his sister Ophelia, all eighteen of his brothers except Louie, both of his parents, his grandparents, nearly all of his aunts and uncles and all but three cousins. All were killed in car accidents. In lieu of flowers, please subscribe to my blog.

Until tomorrow, Buddy.***

Buddy the Opossum, third from left, having a great afternoon (Ophelia the Opossum  second from left)

*or words to that effect

**or something to that effect

***when I pass your dead carcass on my way up to the post office****

****AGHHHHHHHHHHH

PS: Look what I found as a result of writing this post!