Table Project

family

This is a post about restoring an antique dining room table, which took me the better part of the summer and at which (spoiler alert) I am currently typing.

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This table appeared in our house in the above sad-looking state a few years ago during an extended absence from our home. We got back to find it propped against the wall upstairs with few clues as to where it came from, though my dad recognized it from his childhood. After some sleuthing this summer I found out my uncle had left it here because they needed to make room for new furniture, but were unwilling to completely get rid of this old family heirloom.

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As you can see from these photos, the table was in pretty bad shape. Lots of rings, stains, scratches, and gouges. IMG_1104

 

 

My cousin Phil is a woodworker and it was thanks to him that I felt like I could tackle this project since I’ve never done any serious restoration kind of work before.

 

 

 

 

The first step was to sand, sand, sand. I started by hand with a pretty fine-grit sanding block, but it was taking FOREVER, so I borrowed a sander from my uncle and went to town. It still took forever, but was slightly faster. IMG_3460

 

It was also filthy and after attempting it first in the basement, I quickly relocated outside to the unfinished deck because I was worried I was giving myself the wood-working version of Black Lung.

 

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I went through a lot of these little guys

The table has a pretty thick mahogany veneer on it and despite reading lots of horror stories about how easy it is to bust through a veneer and ruin a project forever, that didn’t happen. I was careful and also increasingly pleased to see how beautiful the wood grain was underneath all the dirt, stains, and old varnish. I was also filthy.

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The legs posed a different problem, they were pretty unsteady and at some point in the past someone tried to stabilize the table by adding some extra parts. The original wooden screws/pegs were missing from the get-go, and it took a little bit of time and effort to figure out how to fix them up and attach them.

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Phil, meanwhile, took the legs for me, disassembled them, sanded them, and gave them back. Reassembly was a bit difficult because a lot of the original screws were missing, and they were so old they weren’t much good to me. I went with some shiny new wood screws and the original brackets.

I also want to post more pictures of me with power tools so here you go:

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Once the legs were reassembled, I had to figure out how to attach them to the table. In the end, I used metal bolts and since no one will ever see that part of the table, it gets the job done. Plus, if we ever need to move it out of the dining room (a distinct possibility) it’ll be relatively easy to dismantle it.

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And then it was time for the finishing process. I used Danish oil, linseed oil, and about seven or eight coats of polyurethane, lightly sanding between coats. There is a lot of conflicting information online and I tried to do everything as standard as possible. I think it ended up looking quite beautiful and suitably shiny.

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And there we have it! My first refinishing project!

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I made some mistakes during the process, but on the whole I am really pleased with and proud of how it turned out. I like having a few projects going and I learned lots of useful things from this project that I can carry on to other things. In fact, I already did because I have since restored a really cool corner desk!

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Actually, now that a couple months have passed and we have been using the table for our everyday life, I’d like to put a couple more coats of poly on just to shine it up and make it a bit more durable, but on the whole I am really happy with the whole project.

 

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.

A Country Drive

family, personal essay, photography, small town life

Last night, Sister, Brother T* and I decided to take advantage of our post-Chicken-enchilada happiness and the late-sunset-glow and go for a long, meandering country drive.

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Claire pretended to be a Calvin Klein model

We call it the poor man’s entertainment. There’s a lot of, “Ooh, look at that house–NO, look at that house!” and they are usually giant, beautiful old farmhouses with picturesque barns.

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Isn’t it beautiful?

This is how we got here:

1. We drove up Main Street and took the third exit

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2. We drove and drove and drove until we got to the Mythical Hamlet of North Chatham

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3. Then we took a right and drove for a while

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4. We came to a fork in the road…

…and went left…

…and drove and drove…

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emoji with heart eyes x 3

5. Then we accidentally left the county! So we took the first right, which happened to be the most charming, delightful back country road I’ve seen in a long, long time. Look at that.

LOOK AT IT.

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6. We meandered along, stopping for photos in the perfect golden sunlight. Trevor came perilously close to touching the electric element of the fence.

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7. We disregarded signs.

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8. And we wandered home as the sun set, stopping at DQ for Brother T, who requires at least one (1) cookie dough blizzard daily to energize his magnetic personality.

 

 

*Famed cult leader

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

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!

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?

Troy Farmer’s Market

family, garden, photography, small town life

Allow me to continue the trend of writing things more than a week behind schedule.

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Last Saturday we joined my dad’s brother and one of his sisters and went up to the Troy Farmer’s Market. It was excellent! Troy used to be a garbage pit of a city, and now it is slightly better!

I shall tell this story through the medium of artistic photography:*

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The entrance to the market.

Below, Sister thinks, “Wow, Troy isn’t so bad after all!” This was right before we witnessed a voluble domestic dispute. It involved a man dragging a woman behind him and then when a ton of the farmer’s market crowd went to intervene, she screamed at them, “LEAVE HIM ALONE, HE’S MY BOYFRIEND.” So, Troy.

 

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Me and the Tomato Lady:

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Every time she told me about a new tomato variety (purple ones! striped ones! pink ones!) I got excited and asked for them and then she would hunt around for a long time and then they would be sold out. I asked what one of the varieties tasted like and she said, “Have you ever had lap sap sue tongue tea?” and I was like, “No.” And she said, “What about Mountain Russia Floo Flah?” and I was like, “No.” And she said, “Do you like smoked tea?” and I was like, “I don’t think this tomato sounds very good.”

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Sold out of almost all of them!

We met a lovely woman who keeps goats and makes soap and lotion out of them. I bought a lotion because 1. it smelled good and 2. after Claire used the goat prop below, I felt like I had to.

 

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That’s MY sister!

 

 

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The woman selling these lettuce seedlings didn’t wear shoes.

Mom, we thought you would appreciate this hymnal of temperance songs:

There were all kinds of plants, seedlings, meats, coffees, homemade pastas, breads, bagels, carbohydrates of all sorts!

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Artistic?

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Unless it is Claire, I don’t want to put people’s faces on the internet without them knowing about it or signing off on it, so here we see the back of Uncle Gee’s head and the back of Aunt K’s head as well as the requisite tote bags.

Just look at these beets:

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Here is an obligatory shot of artisan bread product:

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The first chocolate milk I’ve had in about a decade. So good.

Until next time, Troy!

 

* Please construe the word “artistic” very loosely