Category Archives: Gardening

The 52 Lists (for Happiness)Project #3

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List the things that you are really good at:

  • Cooking. Nothing very fancy, but always good.
  • Baking. Sweets, mostly, but I also have several good bread recipes that I use regularly.
  • Writing.
  • Letter-writing. People say a letter from me makes them feel like I am sitting right there talking to them. My mother encouraged her children to write letters to our grandparents in Chicago. I really took to it. I enjoyed telling the news, and was always happy to be rewarded with a letter in response. My best friend and I always wrote to each other through summer vacation. We were quite dramatic in our recitations, and went through thousands of exclamation points in each letter. I had pen pals throughout my life. When I first moved to Beaver Island, Mom reminded me that I wrote a good letter, and told me to be sure to keep in touch. I did, updating family and friends of our adventures here, and of how my daughters were growing. I wrote my daughters whenever they were away from me, through their childhood. I’ve gotten lax in recent years, with letters giving way to phone calls, Email and instant messaging. I still have a list of letters to write, in answer to cards and gifts I received at Christmas. I always appreciate receiving letters, so should be better about sending them.
  • Growing things. Again, nothing fancy. My house plants are not exotic, but simple green plants that usually make the lists of “easiest houseplants.” Still, other than sometimes having to droop a little to remind me to water them, they thrive. Outside, again I choose hardy specimens that suit my sandy soil, and – with very little special attention – they make me proud.
  • Drawing. Though it is one of the skills that needs to be practiced, to prevent getting rusty…and I’m pretty lax about that, too.
  • Color theory. I have studied it, of course, but it is one of those things that I’ve always had a knack for. I remember Doug Warner, an instructor in one of my earliest college drawing classes, on the first day that we worked with pastels, saying with surprise, “Oh, my, I can see that color is your forte!”
  • Organizing. Though the level of dis-order that I live with would seem to make a lie of that statement, I am very good at making sense of big mounds of disparate items.
  • Arranging. Whether pictures on a wall, items on a shelf, or furniture in a room, I’m very good at arranging things. With my combined abilities in color theory, organizing and arranging, I might have done well in a career as a interior decorator.
  • Reading. It’s easy to be good at things you love, and I have always loved to read. I’m also good at reading out loud, which is related, but different.
  • Customer service. I was an excellent waitress for more than twenty years, because I truly enjoyed the job. I was happy to do my best to make each customer’s experience outstanding. For the same reasons, I am good at my current job at the hardware store.
  • Entertaining myself. Though I sometimes get lonely, I don’t pine away for companionship. I can enjoy games of solitaire for hours on end. Add a few books, writing materials and a few art supplies, and I’d be just fine on a deserted island.

It is a good question to ask yourself: what things are you really good at?

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Yesterday…Today

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Today is one of those misty days that makes the landscape appear hazy.  Everything looks as if it’s shrouded in gauze. Everything feels damp. Even the air is moist. A quick walk around the yard through the melting snow, and my feet are soaked. I slide out of wet shoes, and put them near the heater to dry. I peel off the heavy, cold and dripping socks, and replace them with thick, soft, warm ones. This is a day to have a pot of soup on the stove…a loaf of bread rising on the table.

Yesterday…did I even make it outside? Maybe, briefly. I didn’t pay much attention to the weather then, or the many times I opened the door to let the dogs inside or outside. I tackled a few chores, but left a list of things undone, too. Yesterday, I got the idea to make slippers…like the slippers I used to make for my husband and daughters when my family was young…for Christmas gifts. Everything else went by the wayside.

First I pulled down the basket of yarn from the top shelf, where it has sat, neglected, for weeks. My last project was a giant sock to fit over one unfortunate grandson’s cast. Before that…I can’t remember. It was maybe a year or more since I’d crocheted.

As a young mother, I crocheted every day. Out of each week’s grocery budget, I’d buy one skein of yarn: a different color every week. All of my projects were improvisations, based on the yarn I had on hand. I made hats and scarves, slippers and ponchos. I made piles of granny squares to be fitted together into afghans. I made stuffed animals and puppets. I plotted needlepoint designs to use up all the bits and scraps of yarn. For every single finished project, I always had a dozen that I’d abandoned half-way through.

Yesterday, after assessing the available yarn, I decided the slippers would – out of necessity – be not quite identical. I used two strands of yarn: one four-ply, one two-ply, and when I ran out of one, I attached another. I finished two pair of slippers, and started a third, while watching about four hours of programs on my computer. I drank coffee until I’d emptied the pot, then water, then wine. It was a lovely, self-indulgent day. I don’t dare repeat it!

Today, I have to get busy! I have to complete the tasks that should have been done yesterday, plus all the ones on the list for today. I have cards to write, and phone calls to make. There are rugs to shake and floors to sweep, and laundry to be put through the circuit. I have a collection of staple foods still sitting on the kitchen counter, where they’ve been since I emptied the old cabinet that housed them…to make room for the freezer. There is compost to be taken out to the bin near the garden, and recyclables to be loaded in the car.

If I get to the point where I can say “enough, this will do,” with the housework, the garden still needs to be put to bed for the winter. The long hose needs to be picked up, rolled, and hung in the garden shed. Vines – from beans, peas, squash and tomatoes -need to be pulled up and disposed of. I have to, then, cover any open spaces with straw, to keep the weeds from taking over. There is at least one shovel and a three-pronged cultivator still standing out in the weather.

If I happen to manage to get all of that done, I have a back-up list. It includes things like re-arranging and repairing the kitchen cabinets, painting the floor, and cleaning the car. And now, of course, there are slippers to work on, when there is time. And the studio, always, with projects and plans awaiting. It’s unlikely that, on this day,  I’ll have time for any of that. Especially since – first on my list – I have to get that bread dough started…and get vegetables cut up for the soup!

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Not the Day I Expected…Part 1

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It wasn’t the day I expected.

None of them are, really. My days off, that is. They begin – Sunday evening – with high expectations and big plans. That gives way, by Monday, to too much time sitting at the computer, going over the week’s news and drinking coffee. “It is my day off, after all,” I tell myself, an excuse for my sloth. By Tuesday, desperation has taken over.

Tuesday is writing day, but also the day to give the dogs a good, long walk, the day I promised myself I’d make time for the studio and the last day to catch up on all the weekly chores before going back to work. It is a day always tinged with desperation: too much too do; too little time.

This week, in addition to all the usual tasks (plus grapes to harvest to be cleaned and cooked and turned into juice, tomatoes to stew and freeze for the winter, the whole garden to be pulled up, covered over and readied for winter, the grass to mow and leaves to rake!!!), I was rearranging the kitchen.

Aunt Katie bought me a small chest-type freezer about a dozen years ago. It was a bit large for my small kitchen, so it was set up in her pole barn. At first, it worked okay for the vegetables and fruits I put up for winter. I’d stop for a visit, then fill a grocery sack with a week’s supply of foods. My cousin Bob used it sometimes for his overflow of venison, pork or lamb. After a while, it seemed like too much trouble to burrow through to find what I needed to fill the little freezer compartment in my refrigerator, to make sure everything was rotated for freshness, and to remember what was there. Eventually, I quit using it. Now, with the sorting and purging that goes on after a death, that freezer is coming down to my house. But I have to make room.

The file cabinets that sat under the kitchen shelves could be moved to the dining room. That would allow me to add one shelf – necessary, because I will lose the space for one cabinet – while I was emptying and moving the shelves down four inches to the end of the stairway wall to leave just enough space for the freezer at the other end. I also planned to clear out and clean the refrigerator, in anticipation of being able to redistribute the contents of the freezer compartment.

While I was at it – if time allowed – my plans were to also empty and clean two thirty-six inch cabinets on the south wall. Then I could unscrew them from the wall, cut boards to support the Formica top while I pulled the cabinets out.  That would allow me to access a blind corner…where I am fairly certain a family of mice is setting up winter housekeeping. But that was probably too much to expect.

By Tuesday afternoon, I was on a roll, getting things done, making good progress…but watching the clock. Not enough time! After weighing my options, I made a couple calls and arranged to have the following day off, as well. I chastised myself a little for the time I had wasted and the pay I was sacrificing, but all-in-all, it seemed like a good plan. One more day, fired with enthusiasm as I was, would be enough.

That was what I thought, anyway. I don’t know how many things can possible go awry in a single day, but I’m sure my day was in the running for the most! Too many, in fact, to go into in the time I have this morning. That will have to wait for Part 2.

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!

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.