would you look at that

 

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I went ahead and shared my garden with you, ugly orange plastic fence and all, and then…surprise! I got me a shiny new fence! Well. The Handsome Fixer Man got it for me. He and the girls spent several hours measuring out the stakes and lining everything up. We don’t have a post driver (yet), so he started by hammering in rough wooden pickets, but each stake will be replaced by a cedar post eventually. It’s wrapped in welded turkey wire, and currently has a makeshift gate that closes with a D-clip – but it keeps the chickens out, everything is in one space, AND it looks so much better!

How do you keep the critters out of your garden space?

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reflections

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We spent close to 18 hours in the car last week, driving from Maine to Pennsylvania and back again just three days later. My grandfather passed away on the 3rd, quietly and peacefully, and so we joined my family in my hometown to celebrate him and say good-bye. I’m beyond thankful we were able to visit back in February, and that my girls had the chance to be with him and love him.

All of that travel time allowed for far more quiet time and reflection than I’m usually afforded, particularly on the way home. I didn’t have the chance to pack any handwork before we left, and reading too much makes me carsick, so I was left to watch the scenery and simmer in my own thoughts – some of which are really too private to share here, and some of which bewildered me so completely in their randomness and simplicity.

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It’s sort of an odd experience to be back among most of your family as an adult, and as a parent. To be in a house where you were a child, with all of the people who knew you as a child, and be treated as an adult. It’s not that I was expecting to be considered badly, but in reviewing the trip, it does stand out as a new experience. And to watch my children explore and come to know a home I explored and knew as a child – as familiar to me as my own home – was not exactly surreal, but notable. My daughters sat on the front porch with their second cousins and played with a marble machine their parents had clustered around close to thirty years before. I snuggled my girls on the glider and told them about the bee tree, and how you could lean on the trunk of the tree next to it and look up to watch the bees moving in and out. I showed them where the swimming pool was before the land was sold and houses were built, the pool where I learned to swim. I laughed with my brother and cousins when the little ones rang the doorbell over and over, and we reminisced about the way we’d run around and around the house, ringing the doorbells, over and over. Remarkable.

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Also. My own house feels really sparse. I know my grandparents had 60 years to build a home, but I think it’s time to hang some curtains in our place, at the very least. 

Also. I really enjoyed being clean. That seems like such a shallow takeaway from a life-changing event like this. But suburbia doesn’t have the ever-present dust of living in the country, and I certainly wasn’t stepping in chicken poop at my Nana’s. I didn’t need to scrub my feet at night, because I wasn’t walking through mud or gravel to get to the car. I wasn’t cooking or cleaning, and my clothes weren’t spotted and stained. In fact, it was nice to get dressed – to wear heels and do my hair, to feel put together. I don’t usually bother here at home because it doesn’t seem worth the effort (who am I trying to impress?), and I don’t often have backup around so that I can take the time – but perhaps it is something I should explore more often. Perhaps that’s just the kind of self-care I need to invest in.

 

in the garden: 14 july 2018

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Welcome to the new garden!

I realized tonight that I never got around to sharing photos of the new plot, so after the girls were asleep and everything had been watered, I took a walk around to see how things are growing. It all still looks very small to me. Except the tomatoes. I have a tomato forest – I planted them far too close together, and didn’t stake them when I put them in, so now they’re growing in a tangled mess. More of a jungle than a forest, really. A tomato jungle.

Most everything inside that lovely orange fencing was planted as a seedling. I went a little wild at the greenhouse on Mother’s Day, and had to get things in the ground before we had a plan in place to create a barrier around the space. The chickens all but decimated the brassicas, and so J rolled out the temporary plastic stuff to prevent any future destruction (they’ve all bounced back). We’ve been given cedar posts, sourced some free slabs to rip into cross beams, and did some price comparing on turkey wire – but we haven’t found the extra hours to make it all happen. So for now, we glow in the dark.

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We did plant the beans from seed – Scarlet Runner, Kentucky Wonder, Rattlesnake (from my Nana). All pole beans, I’m really hoping they grow quickly enough to fill in the teepee sides and make a cool place to play. I’ve never grown beans before and feel a little out of my element with these. They’re doing well so far though, and have even begun to climb their posts, tendrils reaching and wrapping of their own accord.

I participated in a seed swap through Instagram, and the loot I received in exchange for my marigold seeds included bottle gourd seeds. Another first for me. They’re planted on the trellis, under the watchful eye of our goosey friend. I’m looking forward to harvesting these with the girls – they should be a fun project to turn into birdhouses.

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Also beginning to climb are the cucumbers planted along my trash-picked crib spring trellis. I’m quite proud of this one. I’ve had the idea knocking around in my head for a couple of years, but didn’t have the materials at hand. However, on the last bulk trash day, we scored a set of spotless crib springs someone had put out for collection. J attached pickets for legs, and my trellis was born. The idea is that the vines will climb up and the cukes will hang down for easy picking. We’ll see how well it works.

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The other half of the garden – the not-fenced patch of dirt – is not doing as well. I started everything on this side from seed, and quite a bit later than planting the first section. It shows, and I’m beginning to wonder if it will catch up. The kale is tiny, the calabazas are weak, the beets nonexistent. The pumpkins are doing well, however, as are the butternuts. Every seed sprouted, so hopefully we will be swimming in squash come fall.

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Overall, it’s not a bad start for the first year in a new spot. The weeds are getting the best of me and I’m spending a lot of time watering (we really need the rain), but we’ve started bringing in cucumbers and Swee and I found quite a few Sun Gold tomatoes beginning to ripen. The list of changes for next year is already quite long, beginning with how we’ll prep the beds this fall, so I guess that means I’ll try again, no matter the outcome this season. After all, hope springs eternal in the garden.

i do know laundry

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They say to write what you know, and while I’ve not been entirely certain what else I know these days, I do know laundry.

My early memories include wandering along the clothesline underneath the damp sheets my mom hung to dry in our suburban backyard. When my grandparents would visit from Arizona, my grandmother used our washer and clothesline for their laundry too so they didn’t have to pack so many clothes. An avid fan of the Little House books, I would hand wash my doll clothes and clip them to the line to dry, channeling Ma Ingalls and her pioneer skills. I used the clothesline in the backyard of my first apartment, in our yard in Baltimore, and in both of our rental houses before moving here last spring. Now I finally have my dream clothesline and it’s been in constant use since going up.

With two young children, I wash approximately one load of laundry every day. Our family uses only cloth napkins, and of course there is the inclusion of nighttime potty training and all of the extra bedding that goes with that, so perhaps I should round the total up. Let’s call it an average of ten loads per week, for the sake of a nice, simple number. A large load of laundry takes about an hour to dry. If the average clothes dryer uses 3.3 kilowatt hours, at the national average of $0.12/kWh, you’re spending $0.396 per load. For our family, that would be almost $4/week. Just to dry our laundry.

That’s not even factoring in the wear and tear on your clothes and linens. All that stuff in the dryer’s lint trap came off of your clothing, making the fabric thinner and more worn. Using the dryer creates static, so you’re probably buying dryer sheets, putting more money out, and applying chemicals and fake fragrances to your garments. If you don’t pull them out of the dryer right away, your clothes still get wrinkled – in which case you probably just turn the dryer back on, right? You thereby use even more energy, increasing the carbon footprint of your one load.

By hanging your clothes to dry, you’re using less energy – which is good for the environment and for your wallet. You’re not buying dryer sheets and your clothes come inside wrinkle- and static-free, and smelling better than any factory fragrance could ever hope to imitate. There truly is nothing like slipping into fresh line-dried sheets at the end of a long day.

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But isn’t it time consuming to hang my laundry outside?
It takes me about ten minutes to hang a load of laundry. Once you’ve got the hang of it, and have developed your own methods, it’ll go faster for you!

But don’t the birds poop on it? Don’t you have to check for bugs and ticks?
I think that in all of the laundry I’ve hung on the line over the years, I’ve had to re-wash maybe three or four items because of bird poop. Maybe five. Sure, it happens. But it’s not a huge deal. Yes, bugs also happen and so do ticks – particularly when hanging out the whites because they’re attracted to light colors, but a good snap of the wrist when taking things down will send the bugs on their way. I pluck the ticks off with my fingers and feed them to the chickens.

But you work from home. It’s easy for you to run outside for a laundry break.
Yes. It is. But I used the clothesline in Baltimore too, when I worked in an office downtown all day. You just have to figure out how to make it work with your schedule. Maybe you only hang sheets and towels out on the weekends. Or maybe you start the washer at bedtime like I used to, and hang the laundry in the morning before leaving for work. Every little bit makes a difference.

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After so many years, I’ve definitely developed my own tricks and preferences for the process. I prefer the wooden spring-loaded clothespins: pegs snag clothes and break easily, and don’t adjust to the thickness of various pieces; plastic is cheap and doesn’t last. I keep mine inside the house in a wicker fishing creel that allows any absorbed moisture to evaporate. The handle easily dangles the basket from a fingertip when I’m carting clothes in and out.

I hang our clothes different ways depending on the fabric. Woven items like tops or sheets love the clothes line because they dry without wrinkles and don’t get stretched out or misshapen by hanging. Knits are more particular, and I hang them in a way that you won’t see clip indentations when they’re worn. For example, my mother used to hang t-shirts by the shoulder seams, but then you’d have a stretched out lump on your shoulder when you wore the shirt. If you hang it by the hem, it gets stretched out at the bottom. BUT if you flip the shirt over the line in half and clip it at the armpits, you can block it on the line and any clip marks are hidden under the arms. Towels can be troublesome too. They certainly dry faster if you hang them by the end, but then they don’t fold nicely because they’re stretched out at the hanging end. I fold them over the line too, which does mean I have to flip them halfway through the day, but it’s worth it to me to have neatly folded towels.

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You can save clothespins and conserve (a tiny bit of) space on the line by overlapping your items, clipping two items with one pin. I’ll do this with napkins and dish towels because a few corner wrinkles don’t matter. The downside to this method is that you’re more likely to get clip marks on your clothes by shoving too much fabric in the clothespin, and it takes the pieces longer to dry. I prefer to give most items their own two clips. It makes it easier in the end, in my opinion.

Yes, we even hang undies outside. I figure that everyone wears them, and if others are going to get offended by undies on the line, then they don’t have to look. But if you have a family member who is uncomfortable with the idea, just put their unmentionables on an inside line where they’re hidden by the rest of the load. I will also clip the girls’ undies with one clothespin at the side seam to save space and clothespins; they’re small enough that it doesn’t impede the drying process.

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And if you’ve made it this far, I commend you. I could go on, but I have already written over 1000 words about hanging laundry on the clothesline. I think that’s enough for one evening, and there’s more laundry to be folded.

Do you already use a clothesline? What are your tricks of the trade? Any preferences you’ve identified over the years? 

a year later

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I moved to Maine three years ago, today. We packed the last of our belongings and blew a kiss to our tiny house in Baltimore – our first home as newlyweds, where we brought our babies home from the hospital. Two years of renting, scrimping and saving, dreaming about the life just barely within our reach and loving our new state.

We celebrated a year in our forever home this past Saturday. J and I walked the property hand in hand as the girls raced ahead. We checked on each growing thing we’d planted, and marveled at our land from the top of the hill. Our children clambered along the stone walls and our chickens scratched and pecked in the weeds.

I’ve lived my whole adult life as a sprint, always looking to the next thing. And here I am, thinking in terms of years and seasons, marking growth and life and making long-term plans. We’ve only painted two rooms, and have no curtains hung on the first floor, but it’s alright. What a gift to be so settled.

that’s more like it

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Yesterday was unseasonably hot. We topped out somewhere between 85* and 90*, and without any leaves on the trees yet, there was no outdoor refuge from the sun. We picnicked in the thin shade of a pine, reading books and enjoying a snacky lunch of cucumbers and apple slices, cold green beans and blueberries.

A toasty breeze was blowing, so we put the new clothesline through its paces. Four loads dried quickly, flapping and cracking in the wind. I’ll admit that I neglected the hamper for longer than I should have in anticipation of line-drying, so the pile was already pretty tall, but we’re still waging war on nighttime potty-training and the pile of bedclothes is also growing. I’d say I made it about a third of the way through what was waiting to be washed.

We met up with some friends after school hours for a quick trip to the lake. Their family camp is in a secluded cove, a gorgeous and peaceful spot. Just last week there was ice on the lake, but yesterday the water was such a relief. I waded in only up to my knees, bunching my skirt up in my hands, but the children – oh, the children! Sunscreened and soaked, they splashed and squealed, hollering with delight at regaining their fins after months in boots. Swee commandeered a little kayak and paddled around and around. It was so pleasant, we stayed later than planned and made it home just in time to scrape some dinner together.

Now, I won’t complain too much about the heat yesterday. We’re not so far out from ice and snow and subzero temperatures for all that nonsense. But I will say it was too much, too soon. Today was a properly gloomy and drizzly spring day, and I am glad of it.

I worked from the second floor porch this morning, answering email with my feet propped up on the railing and my coffee on an overturned sap bucket. A slight breeze came down from the farmer’s field above us and I could hear J and Swee chatting and doing chores. It got steadily cooler as the day went on, the heavens opening up into a nice soaking rain. Everything glowed emerald, damp and lush.

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The baby chickens moved out of the basement earlier this week in anticipation of several warm nights. They’ve grown enough that they could make the vertical leap out of the brooder box when the lid was lifted, and at six weeks old tomorrow, they’re mostly feathered. It was time. So far, they seem to like the transitional coop, our first coop that J refers to as Ft. Knox. They found the water and food, and I caught them attempting the roost this evening.

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I made soup for dinner with Maine potatoes and local sausage and some of my homemade chicken stock. Warm and filling. My people had been busy outside while I was at my desk today, organizing the shed and the workshop. It’s beginning to look as though we live here, and everything is sprouting new growth. I was glad to see that the majority of our raspberries survived the winter – yesterday’s brief summer coaxed out some leaves. Our girls gathered handfuls of daffodils to bring inside, and they’re scattered around the first floor in bunches, a welcome pop of color among the mess we’re too tired to clean up. My favorite flowers, and a sure sign of spring. I think we’ll have some normal weather over the next week – 60s and 70s. That’s more like it.

planting a tree for our first little dog

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Early yesterday morning, right after breakfast, we planted a young sugar maple in the front yard – and said goodbye, again. We bid our Cody farewell for the first time over a year ago, but we were still renting at the time and didn’t have anywhere to lay him to rest, so we had him cremated instead. He’s been hanging out in a pretty little box ever since, waiting for the right time to go back to the earth.

We now have a home and some land, and the ability to get the tree we wanted for him. The girls really liked the idea of Cody feeding a tree, and have grand plans to label any future syrup with his picture. We (read: J) dug the hole, and I opened the box, and Swee poured the ashes around the root ball before tucking him in and hanging his tags on a small branch. He would have liked it here, I think.

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It’s well and fully Spring in our little corner of Maine now. The daffodils bloomed yesterday, and our brand new clothesline dried its first two loads of laundry today. J and my brother used the Multi-Purpose Garden Trellis plans from Mother Earth News and added four lines – though I think I’m going to ask for two more. We use only cloth napkins, and they take up a fair bit of room on the line, even though they don’t take up much washer space.

In addition to Cody’s maple, we planted a Montmorency Cherry in the upper orchard, and I’m excited to make pies once it starts fruiting. The girls and I also put in gladiolus, anemone and lily bulbs for some summertime color. I love anything that fills the space beautifully without me having to weed!

I know I haven’t been here much lately, forsaking this space for Instagram which has felt much less taxing. Less pressure to produce something of substance. I’ve fallen into the trap of feeling as if I don’t have any expertise to share, so I don’t write at all. Pure silliness. Who wants to hear from a know-it-all anyway? Certainly not I.