Autumn Appreciation

photography

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I am going to do my best to dwell on the parts of autumn that I like because even though I COULD write a book a post on how little I care for the abbreviated evenings, the encroaching darkness, the leafless trees, and the cold temperatures, there are some things that are nice about this season.

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I mean, there must be, right?

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“Right?” she whispers quietly into a vast, echoing chamber. 

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  • The quality of the light, while greatly diminished in quantity, is quite beautiful in the fall. Right before the sun sets there is the most fantastic golden glow over the whole earth, and I have photos to prove it!

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  • Okay, hunting season, I’m glad you’re there to cull the deer and to perhaps make Lyme disease slow its treacherous spreading. I mean yeah, you make it tough to go into the woods or take a step off the road, but thanks to you I now have a great story about encountering some guy on a trail who was holding the severed head of a deer in one hand as he walked toward me.

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  • Oh, and also that time we were on a walk in the woods and someone said hello and then we looked up and there was a camouflaged bow-hunter sitting high up in a tree watching us.

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  • Thanksgiving (PIE) gets its own bullet point not only for the truly delicious food (AND PIE) but because it was really nice to have Thanksgiving in a country that celebrates Thanksgiving. There’s a whole different atmosphere when the entire country gets a long weekend and everyone is hoarding unsalted butter and eggs. Also, I enjoyed having (almost) the whole extended family together again for the first time in many a year. (PIE.)
  • While it lasted, the fall foliage was spectacular. 

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  • I found an abandoned paper wasp nest which is pretty cool. Did you know that wasps’ nests are built as the wasps chew wood pulp and, when it is mixed with their saliva, it forms a papery substance that they can build with? THAT IS SO COOL.

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  • I have seen some really beautiful wildlife around here now that the fields of corn have been cut and the leaves are gone. A few red-tailed hawks, some bucks with big antlers, and a couple of circling bald eagles high up in the sky.

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  • I’ve been filling up my gardening-void by taking cuttings of lots of houseplants from just about anyone who will give me cuttings. My room is now full of little pots full of snake plants, jade, and christmas cactus. Sister gave me a card earlier this year which said Crazy Cat Lady, but she crossed out the cat part and wrote in plants and I am okay with that. My desk is covered with foraged leaves, dried flowers, a wasp nest, a few picture frames, more leaves, an air plant, some acorns, and some seeds I’ve collected.

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  • The warm weather lasted longer than usual this year which ended up being really pleasant.

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  • I’m really quite grateful for long country walks. I’ve made so many beautiful discoveries along those walks, and the sun on my face and breezes around me just feel healthy and good. Since the sun sets pretty early these days, I’m making a concerted effort to get out and go for a walk or head to an exercise class every day. The activity really makes me feel good both mentally and physically and I don’t want to brag but I can keep up with at least half of one of the Zumba dances.

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  • Finally, I am grateful for having this home to return to, and the beauty of seeing seasons change gradually from one to another, and for having family here to share it with 🙂

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Root Vegetables: Beets, Turnips, Carrots

dirt on my face, family, garden, gardening tips

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Am I the only one that pronounces veg-ed-i-buls in my head every time I write it?

No?

Oh, wait, yes?

Oh, you did say no. Okay.

MOVING RIGHT ALONG

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IMG_3240After the Zucchini Disaster of 2017 I decided to plant BEETS. They grew rapidly, and I hardly had time to take a picture before it was time to yank them out of the ground, let them sit for a while on the porch (because, again, I’m more willing in growing things than actuallyIMG_3268harvesting and eating them), let them sit out there a little longer, listen to my family nag me to go get the beets off of the porch and do something with them Alex, for crying out loud!, and then take them inside, peel them, roast them, cube them, cover them in feta cheese and asqueeze of orange juice (TRY IT! SO GOOD! WHOLE30 MEANS I MISS FETA CHEESE SO MUCH! FETA EMOJI IF THERE IS ONE, AND IF THERE ISN’T ONE THERE SHOULD BE!) eat them and then a few weeks later write a blog post about it and NOW YOU’RE HERE!

(Hmm. I feel like I might have covered everything in that sentence. I hope I can think of more things to add to this post. Oh wait, I never run out of things to say. ONWARD!)

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CARROTS

Brother T brought some heirloom seeds from Baker Creek. In fact, they were these seeds: the Cosmic Purple Carrot. They grew and they grew and they grew…one thing I have grown to appreciate about root veggies is that they are willing to wait for you to be ready for them. Lots of veggies are READY WHEN THEY’RE READY (tomatoes, squash, beans etc.), but the root veggies can hang around a little while until you’re ready to use them. These were a big success and we even boxed up a few and mailed them out to Brother T and Sister KT in Portland so they could experience the sweet purple and yellow carrots for themselves.

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Stole this photo from Sister’s phone.

Turnips, turnips, turnips.

I love turnips, but these didn’t go as well as I hoped.

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I planted the turnip seeds between rows of potatoes, then transplanted them because the potatoes took up way more room than I thought they would, they actually survived the transplant and they THRIVED* but then I didn’t realize it was time to pluck them out of the ground and they got too big and kind of bitter and sort of woody. According to Uncle Gee they would taste better if they grew in colder weather. According to my Mom they would taste better if we bought them at the store, peeled them, boiled them, smothered them in butter and salt and pepper.

According to my dad they would taste better if they didn’t exist.

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That being said, I will never cease to be amazed that I can put a tiny seed in the ground and it will grow into exactly what it is supposed to be, if given enough time and the right circumstances. It is truly a miracle.

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I also thought this would be a good time to display one of the only Zucchinis that survived the Zucchini Disaster of 2017 as well as the ONLY CUCUMBER I GOT BEFORE THE BUGS RUINED MY CHANCES OF CUCUMBER HAPPINESS!!!

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I will have to make a separate post for the potatoes but (spoiler) they were good. I also have a few posts languishing in the drafts folder about tomatoes, peppers, furniture refinishing, art, raspberries, more photos of riding horses, July 4 (I know.), climbing a mountain, climbing a different mountain, kale, flowers, waterfalls, Norman Rockwell, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., the county fair, peaches, and MISCELLANEOUS.

Huh. I’d better get busy.

 

*throve?

 

 

A Local Farm Tour, Some Thoughts on City People & Beautiful Summer

family, personal essay, photography, small town life

Recently, we met some lovely people who live nearby and they offered to take us on a tour of their farm, where they primarily raise chickens, sheep, and pigs. It was a gorgeous day, and I am always up for tramping around outside and taking pictures of things. There were also a lot of City People on the tour, and that brings me to today’s post, which is a lot of opining about the effects of CPs on our small town.

Oh, and a lot of pictures of chickens.

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We live in Columbia County which is a 2.5 hour drive north of New York City. For years, City People have been renting or buying weekend homes up in our bucolic locale so that they can attain rest and relaxation for their weary selves. Their presence is an ongoing joke to locals, who affectionately (or not…) refer to the transplants as “Citiots” and happily share stories about the bewildered Manhattanites.

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It is hard to describe to the uninitiated just how strange City People are. It will sound like I’m being unfair or cruel or hyperbolic. BUT NO, I am not! They are so often…so very…weird. Let’s look at some of the common threads that unite typical CPs.

  • They almost uniformly wear clothes that they think “people in the country” wear. Layers of breezy white linens, floppy sun hats, expensive fleece, chic Sperrys, and sandblasted pre-worn denim. People in the country do not wear those things.
  • Ditto with the cars. What we actually drive (I look out the window at the 2005 Saturn VUE with 170,000 miles on it) is very different from the Hummers and huge shiny Jeeps that appear on Friday afternoons as the Northward Migration begins.
  • They like to say that this area has a lot of “really cool people here now” by which statement they are in fact referring to themselves. They also like to talk about how the locals should move away, and I once heard a lady from the city say that we needed to “clear the swamp” of locals. Ouch.
  • They aren’t very nice. (See above.) Now, that is a blanket statement for sure, but on the whole it holds up. New Yorkers are famously brusque, and that attitude is exacerbated when they are walking up and down Main Street not smiling or saying hello to anyone at all.

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A common theory around these parts as to why they are so uniformly odd is that they have too much money and it makes them go a leeetle bit crazy. I think this is a pretty good theory. For example, there is a lovely old farmhouse down the road and it was restored to original condition. A movie producer from NYC pays many thousands of dollars a month in rent to be able to have a country home, and she comes up here from Manhattan roughly three weekends a year.

 

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We sometimes like to play a game called “CITY or LOCAL?” It is best played on Friday evenings at the local grocery store parking lot. It goes like this:

Me: How about that guy? *points to a well-dressed man in loafers getting into his shiny, expensive new Jeep with a bag of artisanal cheese and a baguette*

Everyone: CITY

Me: How about that guy? *points to two men walking into the store with a small, brand-name dog-suitcase-carrier perched below the shopping cart, from which interior a small dog peers out helplessly into the world*

Everyone: CITY

Me: How about that guy? *points to a guy standing next to a beat-up old minivan and getting changed in the parking lot*

Everyone: THAT’S JOE!

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Okay…they’re not all weird, but it is fun to point out the spectacularly weird ones when we see them traipsing down Main Street wrapped in linen and fleece with their little tourist maps pointing out the architectural details of what we know used to be a run-down store but is now a gourmet cheese store run by a lady from Brooklyn.

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Main Street used to be full of businesses owned by locals, and catering to locals. Now, there is a Yoga studio, the aforementioned artisanal cheese shop, four art galleries, a bespoke linen goods store, a craft-beer brewery and a couple antique stores. Instead of the locally-owned one-screen movie theater with its syrupy soda and three-month-old blockbusters, the theater is now city-owned and renovated and primarily shows extremely artistic Indie films.

None of those things are bad in and of themselves, but there is no getting away from the fact that they all cater to weekenders and the town has changed so much that it would be unrecognizable to my grandparents.

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One good thing the CP’s have brought with them is the money which has gone toward revitalizing certain areas. Rural America is struggling right now, but up here we have had this influx of wealthy Manhattanites who buy some acreage and try their hand at small-time farming; who bring delicious new foods or locally-roasted coffee; who invest in local businesses to make sure they stay open.

The farm we visited is one such place; financed by some out-of-towners and run by some very kind people who open the farm up to tourists on the weekends. We tagged along. It was an extremely beautiful day and the animals were on their best, photogenic behavior.

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There were City People, of course. And they were suitably garbed in many layers of fleece and linen and prepared to be wowed by the agricultural happenings of a small farm.

  • “Oh look! The cow is peeing!”
  • “Do you have thistle growing here?”
  • “Is that a road or a lake over there?”
  • “What do you do with the chickens when they get bigger? WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU KILL THEM? MOM I AM GOING TO BE A VEGETARIAN.”
  • “Ooooh look, the cows are just bunched together!” <–grown man in his fifties.
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Sister reacts to the cows being “bunched together”

I had a conversation that went like this:

City Lady: “So where are you guys visiting from?”

Me: “We live here.”

CL: “Where? HERE? What do you mean?”

Me: “I mean we are from here. We live here. My family has lived here for about 200 years.”

CL: “Wow. So you’re a local?”

Me: “Yes. And you’re a City Person. And never the two shall meet.”

CL: *brushing back her linen dress which was billowing in the breeze* “What? Really? But if you come up here a lot and then you buy a home, then you become a local right?”

Me: “No.”

 

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Please note the layers of clothing in the background.

It’s complicated though, because on a deeper level, their presence in our county has provided a lot of industry and work for all kinds of local businesses. Plus, they have brought certain establishments of art and culture with them that add a lot to our little town. Not to mention…there are a lot more restaurants, cafes, and good coffee available now that there is a bigger and broader audience for those places.

Still. It is hard to see the size of the incoming school class shrink more and more every year. As property values skyrocket, the local population is pushed out into neighboring counties and areas because they simply can’t afford to live here anymore. As a result, the incoming class at my old high school this year is somewhere around 60 kids, while my graduating class hovered just above 100. So, it is fun to laugh and make jokes with other locals, but it’s also true that the fabric of our small town is in the process of completely changing.

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It’s also hard to escape the feeling that the influx of moneyed New Yorkers would very much like the locals to clear out so they can have this place to themselves. Except, obviously, the ones that buy them groceries, stock their pantries, and clean up when they go back to the city.

And, you know, it’s a strange state of affairs for me because I have spent so much time living elsewhere that when I come back it’s kind of nice to see new and more sophisticated offerings until the owners aren’t very friendly and you realize the repercussions on all the people you grew up with.

The place has changed, there’s no getting away from it. One thing that hasn’t changed? To me, it is the most beautiful place in the world, and it is Home.

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Who wouldn’t want to live here, right?

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.

 

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!

Swiss Chard

dirt on my face, family, garden, gardening tips

I spent a few minutes trying to come up with a pun for the title. “Let’s Re-Chard Our Batteries!” or “How to be Elegant and Chard-ing” but titling things has just never been my forte. (It’s just too chard.)

(Haha?)

Well, I haven’t been very good about updating the blog in the last two weeks. They have been full and good weeks, and I’ve taken a ton of pictures with the intention of posting, but then time slips away and days are busy and I just don’t feel like opening my laptop. Then there is this dumb perfectionist streak in me which likes to do things THE RIGHT WAY, and THE RIGHT WAY means I need to write all of the posts that I’ve been intending to write, RIGHT? And that makes me reluctant to start writing at all…

Sister told me to stop being a doofus (I paraphrase…) and just to write a post about what I did and I can catch up later, or not at all, and who cares, and stop being a perfectionist already. (I’M TRYING!)

So, I bring you Swiss Chard.

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You guys, the garden is looking good. It makes me so happy! There are little baby veggies cropping up now…tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers, and the littlest, cutest, tiniest eggplant. IT’S SMALLER THAN MY THUMB! I will take pictures and post them soon, I (almost) promise!

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The greens section is looking particularly good. We told my little cousin that we were growing salad ingredients and he looked at us with a serious face and asked, “Are you guys growing croutons, too?”

He’s 17, he should know better.

JUST KIDDING, he’s 4, and it was super-cute.

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Yesterday, Sister and I decided it was time to harvest some Swiss Chard! We planted both red and yellow varieties and we bought them as tiny seedlings from the Country Caretaker. They’ve done really well and are mercifully insect-free. I read that Chard is the one thing that is better to harvest by snapping the leaves off rather than cut them, so while I got other parts of dinner ready, Claire went out to the garden and snapped a bunch off. Aren’t they GORGEOUS? C. thinks I should paint them, and maybe I will.

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I was also excited because I received Nigel Slater’s cookbook “Tender” for Christmas, which is overflowing with recipes based on whatever was in season that he picked from his backyard veggie-patch and last night I got to pick veggies from my own backyard patch and get some inspiration from Mr. Slater.

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The book is fantastic. It combines stories of gardening and poetic prose and delicious recipes. I will also point out that I think these photos look pretty nice, but just be aware that I carefully cropped out the clutter on the table, the rickety back porch, the unglamorous photos of dunking the leaves in water to get the dirt off of them, the kitchen floor that needs to be swept, etc.

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We were running low on supplies, so I didn’t have everything needed to make any specific recipe, but I cooked the stems first and a bit longer as per his suggestion, and then added the leaves to the sauté pan.

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I heated up some leftover BBQ chicken by cutting it up and adding it to the pan in the hopes of having reheated chicken that wasn’t rubbery and dry and it worked! Added some baked potatoes and slathered them with butter and ricotta cheese.

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Sister made some fresh lemonade and added mint from the garden which was amazing. Dinner was garlicky, lemony, BBQ-y, and delicious.

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There is a lot more to write. We went to Tanglewood again, and the Shaker Museum, and on a hike up a mountain. We had a birthday party for Brother T with a lot of sprinkles, and we started taking tennis lessons, the fireflies are out, the Tiger Lilies have EXPLODED and they line every country road, the cornfields are getting tall and ripply, I went on an impromptu tour of the big farmhouse where my dad grew up and almost cried at seeing the rooms and spaces that I’ve heard so many stories about. The first Cosmo bloomed, Brother T thinks I should start an online store for watercolor prints, we went to a crazy July 4th parade, and our Pilates teacher has started doing REALLY HARD PRIVATE WORKOUT SESSIONS WITH SISTER AND I and at this very moment I am kind of struggling to type because my arms are so sore. 

PLUS, I’ve battled eggplant flea beetles and the super-horrifying Squash Bug.

And yeah, I should share some photos of all of those things, but for now here is Swiss Chard, and another moment of me chipping away at that rock-hard block of perfectionism at my core.

Have a lovely day, all of you. (And take a look at that homemade blueberry-raspberry pie Claire whipped up for the 4th! Mmm.)

Alex

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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

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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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

The First Plants: Tomatoes and Peppers

garden, photography

We have six varieties of tomatoes which we’ve picked up from a bunch of different places based on a bunch of different recommendations. They were the first thing we planted last week, along with a few pepper plants.

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First, Sister and I measured out the garden plot. As it turns out, the posts aren’t exactly evenly spaced, so the straight line down the center looks a little off. But it’s fine. We tied twine to make four quadrants and planned out roughly where everything would go based on (wait for it, it’s going to sound so impressive) the direction of the sun and height of the plants.

I know, you guys.

I know.

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That’s me and the very first plant! Woo! It was a labor of love because Sister and I lawn-mowed and rototilled all day and were just trying to get something in the ground before the rain was coming.

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Then we drove the stakes in next to the plants. Neighbor Bill from a few posts back told us to put the stakes in at the same time because to do it later would risk damaging the root systems of the plants.

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We hurried to get a few pepper plants in the ground. Basic bell peppers: green, orange, and purple.

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For our tomato varieties we have:

  • Beefsteak
    • The classic tomato. It will be thick-skinned and dark red. They might require a cage later on to support the vines because the tomatoes get so heavy. Great for slicing.
  • Brandywine
    • Large heirloom variety. Probably will be pinkish. They have a tangy taste and will also probably need cages as the vines grow “vigorously”.
  • Grapette
    • These are hybrid little guys and grow in clusters, thus the “grape” in their name. They promise to be delightful.
  • Ruth’s Perfect
    • Here is the description for Ruth’s Perfect (purchased from Tomato Lady at the Troy Market) “Variety is almost completely problem free. Produces abundant amounts of 7oz., 2-3″, perfectly round, red fruit. Exceptionally flavorful.” Well, that sounds amazing.
  • Yellow Pear Cherry
    • Another heirloom variety. Produces little yellow pear-shaped tomatoes. Apparently will grow between 6-12 feet tall!! Oh boy. We are in for some major tomato joy in a few months.
  • Mortgage Lifter
    • We talked about this one earlier, but here is another description of this guy, “This variety has become very popular in recent years, after being developed by M.C. Byles of Logan, West Virginia. After crossing varieties for 6 years and selecting the best, he introduced this beauty that he named Mortgage Lifter in the 1940’s after he sold plants for $1 each and paid off the $6,000 mortgage on his house.”

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One thing we did was based on some last-minute words-of-wisdom from Uncle Gee. He told us that his grandfather (Pop, around these parts) (he of the greenest of green thumbs) gave him some tomato planting advice when Uncle Gee was a youngster. Evidently, if you plant the tomatoes a bit deeper than you would think to plant them, so that the fuzzy stem of the plant is about an inch or two beneath the soil, it will become part of the roots and strengthen the existing root system, thus increasing the tomato yield.

We’ll see, Pop. We’ll see!