A Secret Project

backyard ballad, family, friends, friendship

At the beginning of the summer, we decided to surprise our Dad and put on a big deck off the back of the house. It was HARD TO KEEP IT A SECRET, but we mostly managed (he kind of guessed…)

My cousin designed it and built it with Brother T, and it is DELIGHTFUL to sit outside on furniture gifted to us by our cousin Ashley. DELIGHTFUL.

I thought I’d just put a few pictures up of the whole shebang to commemorate it.

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Sister, sitting on the old “structure”

I am going to say “we” in this post, and that mostly refers to Trevor and Phil who did 98% of the work on this project. Claire and I did some of the hammering and impact-wrenched a few screws and occasionally stood on a board while they sawed it in half, but really it was Trevor and Phil. And Jackson, who is four, did more than either of us!

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The demolition begins. Also see baby garden in background.

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Old thing gone. Room for new thing.

First, we demolished the old porch. If we can call it a porch. It had been there for 25 years and was more than a little crooked. It seemed so much bigger when we were in our single-digits!

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Next, Trevor and Phil spent many hours digging holes that were four or five feet deep. That was some backbreaking labor (I gather…I mean…I mostly watched them and also brought cold bottles of water out and played with Phil’s adorable children, but it seemed backbreaking) and it took a while to get the holes deep with the manual post-hole-diggers. Then they mixed up bags of cement and poured them in. Those were going to be the supports for the deck and the holes had to be deep to protect from frost-heaves.

 

(“Alex, take a video of me working so I can send it to Katey.”)

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Jackson is the hardest worker I know.

We spent some time getting all these old bricks up off of a small patio. Jackson seriously did more than half of that, lugging the bricks back and forth, squealing at ant colonies and thoughtfully transferring earthworms to their new homes in the garden. I love this kid! He is such a good worker and every time I was like, “Want to go play instead?” he would shake his head and say, “Alex, we gotta keep working.”

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Phil was getting the big posts ready above, while Jackson stood by with his trusty “ear helmets” on.

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Uncle Mike and Trevor spent a few hours moving the garden hose from one side of the house to the other side of the house, and then they started framing it up.

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This is work, not play.

Then Phil and Trev started screwing the decking onto the frame, notching out the posts to go around the railing.

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Below we can see photographic proof that I was involved in sitting on boards while Trevor used power tools.

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Yes, I do stick my fingers in my ears like a toddler when there are loud noises around. Perhaps I should invest in a good pair of ear helmets.

Note the PASSAGE OF TIME in the background as the garden started to grow. Also note that at this point I thought my zucchinis would live and thrive and prosper. ALAS.

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And then…look at this beauty!

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YES COUNTRY LIVING MAGAZINE YOU CAN FEATURE US

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It wraps all the way around from the side door to the back doors and has become our second living room. We still have some finishing touches to complete…like finishing the hand railings on the stairs, but overall I am pretty impressed!

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We also need to stain/treat the wood, but we are already greatly enjoying the deck and are so grateful to Phil and to Trevor for all their hard work!!

(And Jackson, obviously.)

Swimming Hole!

family, friends, friendship, personal essay, small town life

I bring you a quick trip to a local swimming hole.

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Brother T and his then-fiancé–but NOW HIS WIFE– (we need a name…Sister K? Katey? KT? WEIGH IN, PEOPLE!)–Sister and I drove to the town hall, walked down a tunnel of illuminated greenness, climbed down a slope and ended up at a perfect swimming hole under the old railroad trestle.

IMG_2165 2 IMG_2175 2Despite my best efforts to convince people that if we just believe hard enough summer doesn’t have to end, I will here and now admit that some of the leaves are starting to shift from green to yellow, orange, and red. They are so magnificent here in this part of the world. I’m planning to take the camera out and document the changes, and maybe try my hand at painting some of those colors. There is something about the red-orange leaves against the bluest autumn sky that makes any painting seem insignificant.

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Anyway, summer is shifting to fall, whether I like it or not. And, actually, if summer would shift to the loveliest of autumn days, and then slowly fade to a holiday- and cheer-filled winter and then QUICKLY MOVE INTO SPRING AFTER ABOUT SEVEN DAYS OF PICTURESQUE SNOWFALL, I would be okay with all of that. It’s the knowledge that winter is long and cold and often dark and often dreary that makes me want to hold on to these long summer days as hard as I can. It’s not easy for me to just sit back and enjoy the change and enjoy the transition. THE PASSAGE OF TIME IS JUST NOT EASY FOR ME, PEOPLE!

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Well, that’s why I’m posting photos from this past summer, since I’ve been lax at updating on time. That’s okay though…it was better to just enjoy the moments and take pictures for later!

 

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The First Backyard Ballad

backyard ballad, Uncategorized

I think I’m going to start a new feature called “Backyard Ballad” in which I post a couple of snaps of whatever is happening around our yard.

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She really, actually enjoys mowing the lawn.

We have flowers and animals and get-togethers and campfires and hummingbirds and hammocks and I think this would be a nice way to look back and remember the little moments which make this place so special to us.

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A well-earned rest

I thought about calling it Back-yode, like an ODE to the backyard, but I talked myself out of it instantly and then I wrote this sentence.

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These few pics are from one of the two sunny days last week.

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We called these “spit bugs” when I was a kid. These little insects leave white, bubbly blobs on long grasses which look a lot like spit; ergo, spit bug. I just checked on Wikipedia and apparently, they are more well-known as “froghoppers”* and can jump “many times their height and length.”

Anyway, when we were really little we used to pick them up with our fingers and look for the tiny, little green bug inside them.

That is an activity that I have outgrown.

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And this is a pretty little catnip plant** which we planted after Brother T cleared the back part of the yard.

 

 

 

 

*of the superfamily Cercopoidea

**better known as nepeta cataria

THE RAINS THEY ARE A’COMING

dirt on my face, family, garden, gardening tips, photography, Uncategorized

I broke out the real camera for this post, ya’ll. As will be evident in the increased quality, amateurish control of exposure settings, and as much bokeh as I can figure out how to get.

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If I remember to do it, I’ll try and take this same picture as the beans grow. I’ll also let you know if they prove to be “exceptionally tender and delicious”.

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These pictures are from Saturday, I think, and were followed by four days of thunderstorms and rain, so Sister and I were pretty anxious to get all the rest of the garden planted.

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Red Swiss chard

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Let’s be real…there was probably dirt on my face, too.

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Mmmmmmm can’t wait!

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Bush beans and zucchini

There are two questions now on my mind.

  1. MULCHING?
  2. How do I actually, you know, harvest plants?

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Look at that, you guys.

A TOMATO BLOSSOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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I planted the pole beans along the Northern fence and hopefully they will climb right up the sides. Our neighbors are professional landscapers, and I told one of them that it’s intimidating to have pros watch you pick up a shovel and plant things, but she said veggie gardens are all about experimentation and to just go for it, so that’s what we’re doing! (She also brought over some Cosmos seedlings and says that they will get big and colorful and bloom all summer long. Can’t wait!)

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So, there we have it. Our hopeful veggie garden contains:

  • six varieties of tomatoes
  • Kennebec potatoes
  • yellow and red swiss chard
  • turnips
  • heirloom red carrots
  • romaine lettuce
  • butter crunch lettuce
  • kale
  • arugula
  • dill
  • cilantro
  • lemon verbena
  • sweet onions
  • red onions
  • chives
  • yellow squash
  • zucchini
  • purple eggplant
  • white eggplant
  • orange, green, and purple bell peppers
  • one jalapeño plant
  • and cucumbers

PHEW!

Wait, do you think I went overboard?

CULTURE SHOCK

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

Good morning! A short post to start the day, and then maybe like eight more posts because the internet has decided to upload pictures? We’ll see.

I thought I’d show you a few of the things that have inspired culture shock in the last two weeks since I’ve returned to America. There are always things…not the ones I expect…that throw me for a loop. Sister and I often discuss how we are back in our own country, but having spent so many years overseas, we don’t quite fit in. There are…apparently…many things that we should just know, but we don’t! Such is the life of a third-culture-kid.

America is BIG. The big-ness of it hits me in different ways. When it comes to driving somewhere, you have to drive FAR, and that doesn’t faze anyone. Any place within an hour’s drive in any direction is considered do-able and local. The hills and the meadows stretch on and on and on. This is the big-ness which I love. I like that it makes me feel like a small part of a huge thing, and I like that the roads are overgrown with wildflowers and more trees than I’ve ever seen anywhere else. I like that our history is so upfront and personal, that America is still fairly wild, that there are far, far more birds that fly past my window than cars.

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This is a giant bear claw mark on my Aunt’s house, about a mile from our house. Bears are making a come back around here!

And then there is the big-ness that I don’t like.

Our area has a population of 5,402 spread out over a lot of land. Two miles up the road from us is the grocery store, which used to be a small-ish, manageable, slightly run-down place. Then they replaced it. With a fortress. It is the size of a small airport. For all I know, it is ALSO a small airport. It is open 24/7. There is just no reason that anyone around here needs to run to the local store at 3 AM and I have personally only been able to bring myself to go inside it a couple of times because it is just SO OVERWHELMING.

There is a big-ness in the book stores, the grocery stores, the construction stores, the clothing stores, the stuff stores, the more stores, the even-more stores that I can’t tolerate. Things are cheap. If you want cheap, there is cheap. Walmart is KING of the cheap, but this is what happened to me when I made the mistake of venturing into Walmart.

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Sister found me here, on the verge of a panic attack, hiding behind the cooler.

There are so many options. The options sprawl out in front of me and I–who am not good at making decisions–find myself paralyzed.

Here is how you buy a loofah in Europe: You go to the store and if they have a loofah, you buy it. If they don’t have a loofah, that is to be expected, and you will be fine.

Here is how you buy a loofah here in a small town in the middle of nowhere:

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Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Yes, the following options are available:

  • textured
  • net
  • scrubbie dubbie
  • delicate
  • exfoliating
  • charcoal-infused
  • and men’s, which are not different from the other ones.
  • on a stick
  • on a different kind of stick
  • on a stick that is ergonomic
  • on a wooden stick with a sponge
  • on a wooden stick with a different kind of sponge

And Target. Oh my goodness, let’s not go THERE ever again. Behold what Target hath wrought:

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Poor Sister. All we wanted were chips!

And then there is tipping. Let’s save that one for another day. But America, just pay people a living wage! It would make everything so much easier!

 

The other day we met Aunt K thirty minutes away for dinner and WONDER WOMAN. (I loved Wonder Woman!) We went to a place called the Recovery Room, which made the following bold assertion:

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It says: EVERY GAME EVERY DAY.

While you’re eating.

Here is what that looks like, and pretend you’re not good with sensory overload:

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SCREENS EVERYWHERE. This was just from my seat at the restaurant. Some of the TVs had four different screens within the screen. Every sport imaginable! Lots of people talking at me! SO MANY DIFFERENT SCORES.

The menu did not have any vegetable untouched by cheese or meat, haha, and because of the decision-paralysis discussed above, this is how my ordering went down:

Waitress (SUPER PEPPY): Have you decided what you’ll be getting tonight?

Me (paralyzed from the menu, points to childhood favorite): The chicken strips?

Waitress: GREAT CHOICE. Okay, will you be having that with a special shake spice blend?

Me: …what?

Waitress: Will you be having that with a special shake spice blend? We could do ranch, or adobo, or habanero, or–

Me: No.

Waitress: And what dip will you be having?

Me: …I…thought it came with the honey mustard?

Waitress (positively chipper): IT SURE DOES, but you can get another dip, too! Ranch? BBQ? Sweet and sour? Or maybe–

Me: –HONEY MUSTARD IS FINE THANKS

Waitress: SURE THING. Okay, and would you like regular fries, onion rings, sweet potato fri–

Me: –JUST THE NORMAL THING. JUST THE THING THAT EVERYONE GETS. THE REGULAR ONE.

Waitress: SOUNDS GREAT. Okay, and to drink?

Me (going crazy): Iced tea.

Waitress: Regular, lemon, raspberry, sweetened or unsweetened?

Me (puts my head down and begins to sob uncontrollably).

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I think four chickens had to die for my meal.

In no particular order, a few other culture shock moments:

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The deer ate ALL THE FLOWERS. Ughhhh.

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There are yard sales everywhere.

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Finding the car battery and figuring it out made possible thanks to Uncle M.

I can hear Brother T and Sister in the other room cackling over Parks and Rec, I am drinking coffee with half-and-half, and later I plan to go and buy the best burrito I’ve ever had in my life. There are beautiful things here. It’s just better for everyone if I don’t go into a box store ever again.

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We are coming for you, Taste Box.

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

Geraniums, As Promised

family, memorial day, personal essay, small town life, Uncategorized

The Ghent Union Cemetery has a very old hand pump and a watering can. It’s about half a mile up the road from our house, surrounded by land that used to be the Gilbert farm.

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Mornings were so painful for me as a kid. In fact, they still are! Yuck. I hate waking up. I mean sure, they’re beautiful, and everything is quiet and new and peaceful, but…I really like sleeping.

The bus came around 7:35 when I was in middle and high school. J and I would stand out at the end of our driveway in the chilly morning air and Mom would wave at us from the window and we would watch the bus appear around the corner far down the road and get bigger and bigger as it came closer. I’d sit with Jessica and when we were little, little kids we would play Miss Mary Mac and always hold our breath when we went past the cemetery until we passed a white house and then we could let it out again. Why? I don’t know.

Mom: Why are you holding your breath?

Me: You are supposed to hold your breath when you go past graveyards until you get to a white house.

Mom: Don’t do that, it’s superstitious.

Me: Okay.

(but sometimes I still did it, anyway)

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I used to see cars there, and people, and sometimes backhoes. It was a club I didn’t belong to–having someone there I knew and loved. Now I do belong to that club. Yippee. I’d like to return my membership card?

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Some things about the cemetery:

  • It is a very peaceful, pretty place.
  • The old pump is pretty cool.
  • I recognize so many of the last names on the headstones!

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  • There is something about the idea of knowing where you’re going to be buried before you die. I saw a headstone–so elaborate!–and it is a husband and wife and it has their birthdates but neither of them have died yet! And their headstone is ready for them. How strange. For a long time now, I haven’t even known what country I’d be in from year to year, but Nana knew where she would be buried, and so did Doris. They knew where they were going after they were buried, too, and I’m with them on that one. Thank goodness I can look forward to seeing them again. Death is too hard without that hope. In fact, it’s too hard even with that hope, but would be unbearable without it.

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  • The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) association puts flags on the graves of any serviceman. There are also plaques for where they served. This is my grandfather’s, he served in the Navy on the USS Texas in WWII and was at the D-Day Invasion. My other grandfather served in WWII as well, in the Pacific. History!

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