Category Archives: Gardening

This Frosty Morning

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Getting out of bed was hard this morning. The little dog was sleeping tight against my back, and I was cozy under the covers. The house was cold. Outside, the grass looked like velvet. Frost!

I haven’t been outside to investigate, yet. I’m sitting next to the heater, in my warm bathrobe, drinking steamy coffee. From what I see looking out the windows, though, I think we just experienced the first “killing” frost of the season.

That signals the end of the garden. No more tomatoes, coming in half-ripe to finish up on the kitchen counter. No more green beans. Every mature bean I picked was a surprise this time of year as they continued to grow and even put out new blossoms. I put the last little handful of them in a vegetable soup the other day. This morning, the vines are dark. The progress of the pumpkin that I’ve been watching as it pushed from green to orange will be done now. No more ripening squash. It’s all done now.

It’s time, then, to pull up the plants, remove the weeds that have managed to push up through the mulch, and cover the whole space with straw. Time to drain the hose, roll it up and hang it in the shed. Put away the shovel and the hoe. I plan to spread organic fertilizer (cotton-seed meal) over the straw this fall, and let it work its way into the soil over the winter. Then, I’ll be finished with the garden until spring.

It’s time to start thinking about winter projects. First, though, I think I’ll take time to relish the coming glorious days of fall!

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First of October, Fox Lake Road

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The morning started out cool today, as it has for the last two mornings. Temperatures have been reported in the thirties. My house has felt down-right cold to wake up in; I have not yet gotten the thermostat fixed on the heater, so it doesn’t automatically come on when the temperature drops. At least parts of my garden have been touched by frost.

It warmed up, though, and was a beautiful day on Beaver Island today. Just about everyone mentioned it, when they came into the hardware store. “Yes, it sure seems to be,” I would answer, and looked forward to getting out of work to enjoy the sunshine. It was a busy day, so the time seemed to go by quickly, even with late customers. Before I knew it, I was out the door.

Home, I greeted the dogs, and invited them outside to walk the yard and garden with me. The Autumn Joy sedum are turning rosy and preparing to put on a wonderful show this fall. The cosmos – planted late – have just started blooming in between spent blossoms of brown-eyed Susans, and dried peony, poppy and day-lily stalks. Sunflowers are showing bright faces, though they’ve turned away from me this time of day. The marigolds are the brightest thing in the garden.

As I wander through, I pick every tomato that shows any promise of ripening, to finish on the kitchen counter. I do this every day, to get as much harvest as possible before cold temperatures bring the garden to an end this year. A few of the plants – some tomatoes and most of the squash – already have the dry, blackened leaves that indicate frost. Others seem untouched. The bush beans appear dead, but the pole beans are bright green and even have new blossoms!

I pull one hundred dried day-lily stalks, for an art project I have planned. I then cut the dried and dead brown-eyed Susans. I could still find live ones, blooming gold and brown on the edges of the yard and in the field. I like the looks of the spent blooms, though; I arrange them – without water – in a clear vase to make an autumn bouquet.

Next, we load up and head for Fox Lake, where the dogs enjoy a good romp, and I shiver in the cold air. Hannigan Road next, to see if the colors are changing there (barely) and then to the family woodlot to check the blackberries. They’re almost finished for the year. I found just enough to have a taste: one handful, a bit tart, but a nice reminder of the season, coming to an end.

I think the dogs got into an altercation over dinner last evening, while I was out having a meal at the farmhouse with my cousin, Keith. They’ve been sulking around, giving each other dirty looks since I got home last night. They did pull together this morning, to chase the wild turkeys out of the yard, before going back to their grudge. Over the adventure of a ride in the car with the windows down, and new smells at Fox Lake and in the woods, they seem to have forgotten their differences. All is well on the first of October, here on the Fox Lake Road.

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Mornings Like This

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Last night my sleep was disturbed by cramps in my toes, cool air coming in the windows and – as usual – the dogs needing to go outside.

I have an organic apple cider vinegar tonic that works wonders on leg cramps. I put one cap-full into about two ounces of water, then drink it down as if it were a shot of good whiskey. In just a few minutes, even the worst Charley horses have relaxed their hold. I did not get up to take it last night, though I was aware that the pain was interrupting my rest. I think the cramps are sometimes brought on by dehydration. I’m not much of a water drinker, but when my muscles start to seize up, it’s a good reminder to get a glass of water. Not last night.

We’ve had a string of hot days and nights, and every window in the house is open, to welcome any breeze. I’ve abandoned all blankets and comforters, and had one thin sheet for cover. Last night, when the breeze turned cool – to the point of goosebumps and shivers – it would have only taken a minute to close the window beside my bed.  Just a few steps would have allowed me to retrieve a fleecy afghan. I did neither.

Though too lazy to rouse myself enough to do a single thing to make myself more comfortable, when the dogs needed to go out, of course I got up to let them out. They do not share the same schedule. Sometimes I think they deliberately tag-team their outings, to get more treats. Rosa Parks went out at 12:45 and 3:50. Darla took her turns at 1:30 and 4:25. At just before six o’clock, they went out together to chase the turkeys out of the yard. In every case, I stumbled to the door to let them out and in, then shuffled right back to bed to resume my restless slumber.

I slept in, then, until I woke up naturally…no alarm clock. From my bed, while petting and talking to the dogs, I watched the sun move up over the treetops. I got up, finally, and made coffee. I took advantage of the bright sunshine to pluck a few errant hairs growing out of my chin. I took a walk through the garden, where ripening continues, and the sunflowers are just beginning to bloom. I had a rich, chocolate cookie with my first cup of coffee, while checking the news. With my second cup, I played – and won – a game of on-line Scrabble, then started this writing. I am now fully awake, with enough caffeine and sugar to keep me going. I have my planner in front of me and am ready for the day!

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Report from the Fox Lake Road

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We are not yet officially done with summer…but fall is clearly in the air. Even the warmest days offer a hint of autumn in the feel of the breeze or the smell of the air. Sweaters are a nice accessory to have on hand these days. By evening, they are a necessity. We have not yet had a frost, but temperatures have dipped to the forties some nights. Yesterday, I turned the heater on to chase away the morning chill.

Leaves are beginning to change color. The rhododendron beside my big door has a cluster of bright red leaves at its center. The “Autumn Joy” sedum in the side bed has taken on a rosy glow. The blackberry brambles, though still offering fruit by the double handfuls, are drying up. The leaves are showing yellows and reds; the thorny canes have become downright dangerous. The maple trees, with just a slight change in disposition, have reminded me of the glorious show they’ll soon be offering.

In the garden, I pick beans and tomatoes every day. Now and then, the nearly dried up pea vines serve up one or two new pods. In September, fresh garden peas are a special treat. Butternut squash and pumpkins are plentiful on the vines. If the weather holds long enough for them to ripen, I’ll be rich with golden squash!

Around the perimeter of the yard, low in the fields, High in the centers of the big juniper bushes, blackberries are ripe for the taking. Some days it’s just enough for a bowlful, with cream, as dessert. Other days, I fill my big colander. I still have blackberries in the freezer from last year’s harvest, measured and sweetened for pie-baking or sauce-making. That means what I harvest this year are for using right away.

I’ve made three pies, and given two away. I have twice made a dinner of blackberry pancakes. I eat a bowl of blackberries every single day after supper. Right now, I have three large dishes filled with berries in the refrigerator, and one on the counter, waiting to be cleaned. It’s been a very good year for blackberries!

I took the dogs down to the Fox Lake today, when I got out of work. Once again we had the place all to ourselves! That, more than anything, signals the end of the busy summer season. On the tenth day of September, that’s how things are here on the Fox Lake Road.

 

These Days

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I took some time yesterday to update my bullet journal. Through the busy summer months, it had been kept up in just the most rudimentary fashion. Yesterday, I filled in the workdays and paydays, habits and activities to the monthly charts, based on the notes I’d jotted on the daily pages as I rushed through my days. I went through the long-term lists for home and garden, and highlighted the tasks that I’ve completed.

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I made pretty good progress in the garden; in the house, not a bit. But, winter is coming, with more time to devote to painting and repair.

There is still plenty to do around here, no doubt. In addition to all the items on my list – many of which take money as well as the time that I seem to always be so short of – there are sorting, deep-cleaning and organizing tasks all through the house. There is – new to my household – the old footstool to reupholster. Soon, if the weather holds, I’ll have tomatoes to put up for the winter. The lawn needs to be mowed. On top of all that, I have big plans in the studio, with projects to finish and new skills to learn. And, the exercise program that I’ve neglected for so long. Every single new day, week and month, I think, “It’s time RIGHT NOW to re-commit to that!” There is plenty to keep me busy, but – these days – I do not feel overwhelmed.

I was recently able to pass on the Beaver Beacon, the bi-monthly news magazine that I have struggled with (as writer, editor, reporter-at-large, bookkeeper, distributor, bill-collector, and sometimes photographer) for the last two-and-a-half years, to someone more capable of the job. I have gone to press with my last issue, and expect it to arrive any day now. I feel like I’m learning to breathe again.  I’m remembering what it is like to wake up in the middle of the night without a sense of panic and a long list of things to do immediately. Now, there is no guilt and self-recrimination involved when I simply roll over and go back to sleep. These days, I feel like there is time, and that I will find the energy, for whatever life brings.

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Time Out

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I could have gone to work today; the hardware store was just a little bit under-staffed without me. I didn’t, though. Today is my birthday, and I took the day off.

I was wide awake at one o’clock in the morning, thinking of all the wondrous things I could do on this bonus day off. I was still awake at six o’clock, ticking off activities to fill this special day. Sixty-five years old is a pretty big milestone, and deserving of some kind of notice.

I could watch the sun rise! Maybe I’d bring the dogs, a thermos and a book down to Iron Ore Bay, and spend the morning on the Lake Michigan shore. Perhaps I’d spend this entire day in the studio making art. Maybe I’d mow the whole lawn…in this one day, rather than four or five evenings after work…so the yard would be something to be proud of. Or I could tackle any number of cleaning projects I never seem to have time for. I could take myself out to lunch, and drink a glass of wine right in the middle of the day, and read for as long as I wanted. I could take a really long walk…

Turns out, I did none of these things.

At 6:30 this morning – just about the time my mother and I were together busy with my birth sixty-five years ago – I decided I was hungry.  I made an egg and two pieces of toast, then, belly full, concluded that I could probably fall asleep if I tried. I snoozed on the couch until almost ten o’clock.

Lack of rest led to lack of ambition. Pajamas were comfortable; coffee was plentiful. With a hostage-taking stand-off in North Carolina, a hurricane closing in on Texas, and all the usual madness in Washington D.C., there was plenty of news to keep up with. In between news cycles, I buoyed my spirits by reading the birthday greetings on my Facebook page.

I went to town in the afternoon to pick up a couple packages. I brought the dogs along for the ride. I picked beans, peas and tomatoes from the garden, burned papers, and did one load of wash.

I enjoyed long conversations with – in order of occurrence – my daughter Jen, my best-friend Linda, my sister Brenda, and my daughter Kate. I made a nice dinner. I’m going to bed early. It was a wonderful, lazy birthday…a time-out from everything!

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Not Quite

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This is the season, it seems, for qualifiers. My birthday is almost here; I am not quite sixty-five years old. Summer is nearly over; fall is coming soon. It’s that “in-between” stage that begs for evaluation and invites plans. That’s where I’m at right now.

Summer. It came in slowly, with cold, rainy days through most of June. Even when it warmed up, it seems the hot summer days were often balanced by chilly nights or cool, windy or rainy days. Mosquitoes were never unbearable. I almost always slept under a light comforter.

I spent the early part of the summer getting my back yard reconfigured and my garden planted. Though it was a lot of work, it has pretty much taken care of itself since then, and has been a source of satisfaction and fresh vegetables for weeks now.

Most of my flowers are finished blooming, though the ones that are still offering their bright faces are more appreciated than ever. The low hedge of  “Autumn Joy” Sedum is healthy and bright green. Before long, its flat flower heads will be glorious bronze tones.

Aunt Katie’s illness dominated the summer season. When she was home, the goal was to buoy her spirits; the wish was to see her improve. “How are you today?” I’d ask whenever I stopped. “Not good,” she’d answer, discouraged. “I wish I had a different answer,” she once said, vehemently.

I brought her a large potted tomato plant, to grow on her kitchen porch. My cousin Bob planted a tub of salad greens just outside the door. His sheep grazed just behind the farmhouse. She watched them from her kitchen stool as he did her breathing treatment.

Morning Glories came up from seeds dropped in other years. Aunt Katie was never well enough to put up the rows of string for the flowers to climb; I never thought to do it for her. Now, in August, the vigorous  vines have tumbled over and formed a thick mound, reminding me of my neglect.

When she was getting care on the mainland – between two hospitals and a rehabilitation facility – telephone calls became a focus. There were calls to Aunt Katie’s room and to her cell phone. There were calls to the keyboard and to the nurse’s station. Because she was often out of her room, away from her phone, or unable to talk because something else was going on, and because the nurse’s station was poorly staffed in the evenings when I was able to call, I was usually frustrated. When I was able to get updates, I called family members downstate to spread the word. My cousin Keith changed his route to be able to visit with Aunt Katie on the way to and from his cabin. His phone calls were highly anticipated and welcome for the good information on her spirits and her progress.

When Aunt Katie finally came home, she knew – as we did – that she was coming home to die. Friends started calling, and stopping by. Dishes of food were dropped off. Family members altered their summer plans to get to the island. Though she was clearly weak, struggling, and in decline, I thought she’d be with us for a while. I packed a week’s worth of clothes, to bring to her house, and anticipated being there a month or more. That was not the way it worked out.

On, then to the services to honor my aunt. Bringing together many of her nieces and nephews and their families, islanders who knew and respected her and the contributions she made in her long life, and friends who wept openly at the dear heart we had lost. It was exhausting…and wonderful…as many events like this are, but a fitting send-off to a wonderful woman who has been a big part of my life.

The funeral was a sad start to the planned, week-long vacation on Beaver Island for my sisters and their families. Still, good company, fine weather, and lots of little children helped to bring perspective and joy to a transitional time. For me, especially this year, their presence was a blessing.

Work was the second major focus of my summer. Extended hours at the hardware store made for long, busy days. In addition, there was writing, event-covering and business to be taken care of for the news-magazine. Getting artwork where it needed to be – and myself where I was supposed to be to promote it – was another pull in yet another direction.

Though my diet and exercise plan went out the window less than two months into the New Year, I have somehow managed to lose about eight pounds. Walks with the dogs went from daily – as promised – to a couple times a week, as time and weather allowed. Our rides down to the Fox Lake were often foiled by other people and dogs on the shore. I only made it to the Lake Michigan beach a couple times this summer, and I never went swimming. That should be considered at least a venial sin in the evaluation of both my summer and my 65th year. I live on an island, for God’s sake!

So, as I look back over the year, and the summer season, I’d have to say it was not quite as successful as I would have liked. That’s okay. There was joy, and progress, and change. It was not quite a failure, either!