The Redwoods and Route 1

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

Okay, so it has been a while!

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

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A bunch of doofuses

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

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

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

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More doofuses, above and below 🙂

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

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

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

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

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America is so BIG, you guys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Backyard Ballad: Peonies and Phlox Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Backyard Ballad: Spring Skies

backyard ballad, garden, personal growth, Uncategorized

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

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

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A gorgeous sunset from the side porch.

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A soggy, soft sky after a rainy day.

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An approaching thunderstorm.

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

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

 

Garden Progress Report: A Photo Essay

garden, gardening tips, photography

We had some extremely hot, sunny days last week, followed by cool, rainy days. The garden has seemed to love it, and is absolutely bursting with new growth and tiny leaves and–yes–even some miraculous little green tomatoes. Be still, my heart!

I’ll just pop some photos up and keep the words to a minimum…

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Bad news first: SOMETHING HAS ATTACKED THE ZUCCHINI PLANTS. Three of them have been taken down by something that chews around the bottom of the stems, and I think the yellow squash is next…

 

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This is a row of lettuce, popping up in a gorgeous green line.

 

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A potato sprout. In the few days since I took this picture, the potato sprouts have gone wild!

 

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Itty-bitty turnip leaves.

 

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Heirloom carrots looking like tiny blades of grass.

 

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I think these are cosmos. We’ll have to wait and see…

 

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Lemon verbena, smells delicious.

 

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Little grapette tomatoes…

 

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The cucumber vines are starting to spread out.

 

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An eggplant blossom, looks like tissue paper and appeared out of the blue!

 

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My flowers are doing well, too. These are dahlias.

 

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All the tomato plants bar one have yellow blossoms appearing from nowhere and multiplying overnight.

 

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A bell pepper blossom and, below, the bell pepper plant:

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A GOOD WEEK

dirt on my face, family, friends, friendship, garden, photography, small town life, Uncategorized

Good morning!

This past week was a pretty good one. There were, of course, good moments and bad moments, but looking at it as a whole, it was a successful week. Now, if only I had better short-term memory, I could tell you exactly why it was a good week and what we did, but I’ll need to look at the archives (AKA pictures on my iPhone) to remember exactly what happened.

First of all, in Breaking Garden News, we have our first tomato!!!

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HELLO! WELCOME TO THE WORLD! I CAN’T WAIT TO EAT YOU!

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Sister looks on in amazement at the tiny green tomato

I submitted a painting to a contest meant to benefit a local arts group. The jury planned to select twenty works of art and then in September there is an auction where the proceeds are split between the artist and the charity. They were meant to respond by Monday and since I didn’t hear anything, I figured they just notified the winners. It was a little disappointing, but it felt good just to submit something.

But THEN, late Thursday night they sent an email and said they had accepted my painting! It is a botanical watercolor of peonies, and I am so excited!!

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These are a couple botanical prints I’ve been working on this week. I’m hoping that by the end of the summer I’ll have enough to do a small show or even open an online store to sell prints and original paintings. That is exciting, right?!

Sister got her first byline and was published in the local paper. Junior Ace Reporter!!

Both brothers had good news about their respective jobs, which is great.

On Thursday we went with our cousin to one of my favorite places ever…the Book Barn.

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The resident cat, who I’m pretty sure runs the place, is named Dickens, which is a name that works on several levels.

It is a big, dilapidated barn in the absolute middle-of-nowhere filled to the brim with books about anything you can think of. It is a place full of inspiration and magic, and I love, love, love it there.

Uncle Gee and Aunt T invited us to Tanglewood to see a jazz band with them on Friday night, and we accepted because we love to do stuff! I’m SO GLAD WE ACCEPTED because it was one of the best concerts I’ve been to, SO FUN.

The band is called the Hot Sardines, and I would liken it to…the closest you can get to a roaring party in a 1920’s speakeasy. We also had FRONT ROW SEATS, bantered a bit with the band, met the lead singer afterwards and had the best time.

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See the guy in the cream colored fedora? He is the band’s resident mobster/tap-dancer. At first, I thought, does he just sit there and tap his feet the whole time? BUT THEN HE DANCED and now I think every band should have a resident tap-dancer. Furthermore, their rendition of Summertime gave me goosebumps.

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That was a great and spontaneous treat and a wonderful end to the week. Here’s a video from their YouTube page to give you an idea of the music:

Plus, they inspired me to work on a Secret Project which I’ve been thinking about all weekend. I have more than one Secret Project going on right now and I’ll have to fill you all in at some point…here’s a slo-mo video of one of my secret-works-in-progress…

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Secret Project: dirt on my face and everywhere else, too. 

We also got to see the best of little cousins again this week. I love spending time with those two kids, they are the sweetest and most imaginative little buddies to have around. And they give great hugs!

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I’ve also had some of my flowers bloom in the past week, and that fills me up. I love the vegetables, but flowers are food for the soul, I’m pretty sure.

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I played tennis for the first time in over a year and I won, which felt great! Plus, Sister and I have kept up going to Pilates, which we started a few weeks ago. I LOVE PILATES. The class is Wednesday and Friday mornings and I think Sis and I are the youngest people there by about 30 years? Great. A class full of retired women is just my speed. Pilates is fun and it is also hard, but I like all of the breathing and stretching breaks, and if the soreness I’ve felt for the last couple days is any indication, it’s a WORKOUT.

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Okay! That’s it from around these parts, tune in next time for a garden progress report!

 

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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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

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?

Potatoes: A Post for Mom

family, friends, friendship, garden, gardening tips, photography, Uncategorized

Hi Mom,

I know you love potatoes. Here is a post just for you.

Love,

Your Favorite Daughter

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There is only one place around here where you can buy seed potatoes and we were a little late to the party, so there were only two choices left. Fortunately, the Kennebec variety seems to be one of the most versatile and tasty types around.

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So many numbers. So many instructions. I did MOST of them, but I don’t like it when people tell me what to do 😉

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It didn’t smell very good, this bag. There were lots of potato eyes looking back at me and, nestled lovingly in the bottom, a completely rotten potato.

It was really gross.

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Then I chopped them up into the little pieces and set them aside, carefully avoiding the rotten ones.

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It’s pretty cool that we are going to get pounds and pounds of delicious potatoes out of these old hunks of starch.

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Planting potatoes takes up a tremendous amount of space. The little hunks of potato have to be spaced pretty far apart, and the rows themselves are spaced pretty far apart, so in the end I decided to only have two rows so that there was room for the other veggies. I planted them in the ground, on top of a handful of worm castings, with the eyes facing up. Later, as they grow, I’ll continue to mound the dirt around the plant. I learned from a gardener (possibly the wise old lady who told me young people would die if they had to go forage for salad ingredients, but she knew exactly what to pick out of her lawn) that if the hunk of potato you plant is too big, you won’t get many potatoes from it, because it’s happy to just stay the way it is.

And that’s all for now, folks! Tune in next time for more gardening anecdotes.