august

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I’ve been traveling for the last two weeks, or prepping to travel, or cleaning up from travel. A few days in Dallas for work, a few days in Pennsylvania with family and friends for a wedding. We took a few hours as a family at an adorable amusement park, visited my college campus, and played with many little loves whose parents used to be our drinking buddies. I’ve done eleven loads of laundry since Monday, and there’s one more to go. And there’s certainly no complaint in there because they were both wonderful trips and I am so happy to have made both of them.

But tomorrow is the last day of swimming lessons for the summer. The garden is approaching wild and crazy status, and we found red and gold leaves in the yard yesterday. I knew I’d be loathe to lose even one summer weekend in Maine, but after missing two in a row? Well. It feels like fall is knocking at the door, all of a sudden. The baby birds in the shed have flown away and we have seen several deer poaching our apples – first an eight-point buck, and yesterday a doe.

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Our neighbor gifted us a huge bag of beans the other day. We’ve had them for two meals now, and so tonight I blanched the rest for the freezer, tucking them in next to several bags of green pepper strips for winter chili and fajitas. I thinned the carrots the other evening, and did a little happy dance in the dirt when I saw my hands full of real food. I truly don’t think that feeling will ever get old. The kale is coming out tomorrow, and I’ve started sketching plans for some post-season garden construction to prepare for next year. We found a blackberry bush near the flagpole, too. It was a beautiful 73* here today – perfect for playing outside and exploring the yard to see what changed while we were away.

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It’s not all roses, of course. Egg production has been down since we got back, and I need to touch base with our chicken sitters this week to get their report. We’ve been getting some rough-surfaced eggs over the last month, like unfinished porcelain, and several others that are watery and runny inside with no contained yolk, so I’ve got some research to do. The younger birds still are not mixing with the older ones. And something is eating my tomatoes! But overall, August in Maine is pretty darn nice.

 

local postcards

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I was hoping to sit down and write something witty about the honesty of country folk, and my love for the honor box system used up here by so many, but I’ve almost exhausted the topic right there in one sentence. Having spent most of my years in and around cities, the trusting nature of the arrangement at first sent me into shock, and even now I grin when I tuck my money (or even better, my personal check!) into a coffee can with a slot cut in the lid. It’s a beautiful thing.

I wrote a check today for $13 and change and walked away with three pint cartons of raspberries and two filled with gorgeous Maine blueberries. After a thunderous, wet morning, some time at the computer, and a very chilly swimming lesson, the hot hot sun finally emerged, causing both grass and moods to steam. We had to get out of the house, and so we went berry picking. I had taken the girls last week, and the pickings were slim, literally. A few days of sunshine, and we had no trouble filling our baskets and our bellies. A late afternoon in the berry patch was just what the doctor ordered.

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Our attitudes much improved, we took the long way home so that we could stop at the farm stand for veggies. It’s out of the way for us now that we’ve moved, so I was glad to be over on that side of town. It’s a gorgeous little place. Today we came home with asparagus, romaine, a zucchini and a summer squash for under $8, and a BIG bag of garlic scapes for free. I have no idea what to do with those curly darlings, so would love to have your suggestions in the comments. Pesto, maybe?

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Earlier this month, I got a rare morning out with my mom. I picked her up and took her to the cafe for iced coffee, and then we walked through town, stopping to mail a thank you note at the post office. We were headed for the annual town craft fair at the community center. It was crowded, in a good way, and I picked up a wedding gift, some lip balm for myself, and that adorable dress for my Beans. She ranks raccoons up there with airplanes, and I knew this “woodland animal” print would be a hit (it was). A quick stop to visit Ms. Barbara’s antique shop yielded those sweet hankies. And when I dropped a bag of things off at the swap shed, those pansies were screaming for me to bring them home. On the way home, I grabbed sugar snap peas from the farm stand, local honey and maple syrup from the country store, and the first Maine tomatoes of the summer from a family here in town.

What would your local postcards look like? Mine clearly revolve around food and vintage goodies.

lunch break

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I took my lunch break on the water today.

You might remember my first foray into kayaking at the end of last summer. It was challenging, and I loved it because it tasted like freedom and independence. We mamas don’t get much silence, nor is there often the chance to sit alone in a quiet place and just not talk to anyone. Being on the water in your own personal craft seemed to be the solution, particularly if I could load and unload it myself. That sweet husband of mine surprised me with a second-hand vessel last week, and in my favorite color no less. We struggled together with a roof rack and oddball straps for about an hour before realizing that even if I got it down, I wouldn’t be able to hoist it that high by myself to bring it home. I can however slide it in and out of the truck bed, and so off I went. That maiden voyage was everything I had hoped it would be: refreshing, exhilarating, silent.

We brought the girls down for a little excursion Saturday evening after dinner. It was getting cooler, and the beach was shaded though the sun was still strong further out on the water. It’s a single kayak, but our girls are little enough that if they sit at the front of the opening and stick their legs out, there’s still plenty of room to maneuver. J took Swee first, paddling right to slide behind the country store, then the cafe, then on past the stream with the waterfall where the heron likes to wade. They cut left to cross open water and startled the loons, causing them to dive and swim away. When they surfaced, my people were already heading toward us, and we could all hear their eerie laughter echoing across the valley. Beanie and I watched a seaplane with pontoons circle overhead – she loves airplanes – and then it was our turn to head out. As we pushed off from the beach, that same plane roared over our heads and landed right in front of our boat, leaving all of us amazed as it traveled down the water. We paddled counterclockwise, watching it closely as it turned and taxied back. Beanie was enraptured; I of course was filled with anxiety that it would want to take off again and wouldn’t see us in its way, and so I moved us quickly around and across to see the loons. We were apparently less threatening than my other half, and those beautiful birds bobbed along, staring at us from maybe ten feet away. Daddy and Swee had swum out to the second dock to wait for us, so we pulled up there to watch the plane motor down the length of the lake, rising at what appeared to be the very last second to soar over the trees and disappear into the sky. When I asked her at bedtime what her favorite part of the day had been, Beanie chose the plane, no hesitation. Definitely an atypical experience for our tiny town.

Today, the girls were asleep and J was mowing the lawn when I reached a good stopping point in my work, so I slid my new baby into the truck, gooped up with some sunscreen, and took off. I briefly entertained the idea of trying a new pond, but thought that probably wasn’t wise to attempt unaccompanied and continued on to our own little Lake Minnehonk. It’s small enough that you can see both banks at all times, and I feel confident that should something go wrong, I am strong enough to swim myself out (yes, I wear a life vest. It’s turquoise, in case you were wondering). About halfway down the lake, the wind really picked up and I wasn’t making any headway so I cut across to the other side and paddled back to the beach. The loon turned to look at me as I passed their nest, it’s red eyes following me as I moved away. They have a chick, I’m told, though I haven’t seen it yet. I did see a little dog on a dock, a terrier who made sure to tell me I was not welcome on his lake as his parents chuckled from the swing and remarked on his ferocity. Almost back to my starting point, I swung my legs up and out, over the sides to dip my toes in the water, paddle resting across my legs to allow the slight waves to bob me around, enjoying the sun and the breeze. A quick forty-minute paddle was the perfect lunch break.

where are my tree people?

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One of this property’s selling points was the abundance of mature fruiting trees, namely apples. Admittedly, we know next to nothing about orchards and have a lot to learn, but but we knew that the ability to grow so much food was an immediate asset. Our offer was made when the trees were bare and the ground was covered with snow, but as things have grown and bloomed and set fruit, we’ve discovered that there are several non-apple trees in the mix. The internet is a wonderful thing, but without a starting point for your search, you just wind up falling down the rabbit hole. Maybe you can help me figure out what we’re working with?

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Tree #1 is in the “lower orchard,” situated among the apple trees below the house. It flowered like the rest, white blossoms with a pink tinge, though I don’t remember if they were fragrant. It developed those green berries several weeks ago, and though they’ve gotten bigger, they’ve not changed color. Cherries, perhaps? I’d think cherries would be ripe by now, but I’m admittedly still on a Southeastern Pennsylvania calendar when it comes to growing schedules (it takes an awful long time to adjust your expectations. I keep wondering where the tomatoes are!).

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Tree #2 is almost directly opposite #1, along the stone wall at the top of the property. The bark is smoother and the leaves are deep green with reddish veins. The flowers were a rich pink and these berries are purplish-red with a dusty coating. I’d love if they were edible, but I’m afraid they’re ornamental. Ideas?

I’m curious – as you discover new plants and trees, how do you go about the process of learning? I love my Encyclopedia of Country Living, but dear old Carla Emery only goes so far. I don’t even know how to tell when the apples should be picked!

for the joy rather than the glory

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Double rainbow last night

J and the girls got out of bed this morning and went downstairs, leaving me alone to listen to the fan and smell the day coming in on the breeze. I fully intended to follow them immediately, and instead dozed off again. Effortless. Now, I am as tired as the rest of you mamas, but typically once I’ve opened my eyes, engaged my brain and spoken to someone, I’m awake. Today I could have drifted off and stayed there, but alas, there were things to be done and children to care for, and so I hauled my bleary-eyed self down the stairs for caffeine.

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The chickens were already foraging and the girls had been fed, so my coffee and I got to wander out to the garden. I sipped and watered, pulled a few weeds and admired my plants. How they’ve grown! I made mental notes of what seems to have helped and what clearly has not. The half of the plot that I fully worked, digging and turning the soil before planting in rows, looks far better than the other half; that section is choked with weeds threatening to overtake the three sparse rows of wonky carrots and turkey-eaten cabbages. Lesson learned, I suppose. I snapped a couple of photos, and headed inside to try and write before beginning my work for the day.

And then I pulled up the pictures.

Oh, how pitiful, the voice jeered. Who do you think you are, pretending to know anything about anything! You are no gardener. Those are crooked rows of scraggly plants in a messy yard. You can’t share these photos. 

And you know what? I listened to that nasty voice. For most of the day. Ouch.

I’ve got this vague feeling of having exited the survival phase of mothering very young children, which comes with no small amount of relief, but it has also brought some serious uncertainty. The fog has lifted enough to see around me, but I don’t recognize the terrain. Where the hell am I? It certainly seems to be a dangerous place, for despite regaining the ability to think about myself a wee bit, I am still firmly in a season of giving, giving, giving until there is nothing left to give, and receiving little validation, only more worry and more requests. I can think about self-care and personal development, but there’s not much time or space to DO anything about it. And that nasty voice from the garden loves to translate “nothing left to give” into “nothing worth giving.” That nasty voice makes me doubt myself, and so instead of doing something (anything!), I do nothing, including things I love. What a jerk. A jerk and a liar.

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So here are those pictures. My scraggly patch of dirt, my weeds, and my plants that may never produce. It’s probably not the last conversation I’ll have with that nasty voice, and that’s ok. I’ll share my photos because they’re real, and “good” or not, they’re mine. They’re not perfect, and that’s ok too, because it’s ok to do something for the joy rather than for the glory. I am a gardener because I say I am a gardener. I put plants in the dirt and I garden. I suppose it’s as simple as that, yes? I am because I say that I am and because it makes me happy.

welcome july

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There was a cow at the end of my driveway yesterday morning. And no, I don’t have a picture because I was just so completely flummoxed that I didn’t even think to pick up the camera. I did throw on a hoodie over my pajamas and run down the road to the neighbor’s house to bang on her door, using my morning breath to ask her what to do. She was far calmer than I, welcoming me into her kitchen while she called her brother to come get his critter out of the road. She then sent me home with not just her brother’s number, but those of the rest of the family as well. The whole thing seems very silly and simple now, but in the moment, I was quite uncertain as to the appropriate response.

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Clockwise from bottom: Fern, Dirty, Pocket and Pretty

The chicken run is (mostly) complete. There are plans to cover a portion of it so that we don’t have to do quite as much shoveling to get their exit door open over the winter, but there is now quite a nice enclosure. The little chickens are the only ones that currently have access to the space, with the idea that they can meet the big girls through the fence for a few more weeks before moving in with them. In reality, the two mini-flocks care not a whit about each other. The chickens avoid eye contact with members of the other group, as if the chicken wire were a solid wall, or they were city pedestrians, carefully not looking up as they pass. Clearly, I have no idea if this is normal, nor do I know how the flock integration will go. The youngsters are thirteen weeks old today (I was a week off without my calendar!) so we will try to merge them at the end of the month.

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Our long weekend was filled to the brim with true summer living, and I said yes to both cotton candy and ice cream, more than once. We attended a lovely boat parade on the 4th, and enjoyed a really incredible pyrotechnics display in town a few days before. Swimming has become a daily event, and bathing suits and beach towels rotate constantly through the washer and dryer while the regular laundry piles up at the bottom of the chute. There’s not much of anything coming in from the garden – even the herbs are too small to pluck – though I’m still hopeful our little plot will eventually produce something. The apples, however, are most definitely growing, and we are enjoying walking among the trees to inspect the baby fruits. Signs of the next season to come, for sure.

How are you summering?

 

is it on the calendar?

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I got a text message from a friend on Sunday, asking what our plans were for the week and would we like to meet up at the lake before they headed out of town for the long weekend. It made me smile, and sounded like a great idea to get together. I fully intended to tell her as much, and somehow, when I sat down at the computer tonight to get to some bits and pieces of personal stuff, I realized I’d never even written her back (sorry, friend!). Such has been our week.

We’ve been rising before six most mornings, though if I’m being honest, I seem to have forgotten how to shine at that hour. There is currently no set schedule in our house, with one or both of us grownups having a commitment at a different time each and every day, so coffee has become a necessity, and the calendar is always my first stop. An experienced mama of six asked me the other day about mama guilt, and I was quick to brush it off, but when I stop to think, the answer is yes – I do feel guilty, mostly because this kind of hustle can’t be easy for them either, and goodness, I have not been patient lately.

I have been trying to make time, to deliberately be a fun mama since it’s not coming naturally right now, even if that time comes in little nuggets. We’ve been playing outside early in the morning, girls in jammies and mama with coffee. Bug collecting is a new favorite, and Swee is not at all squeamish. The other day, her kit was filled with snails and a frog, though she did admit to disliking how the junebugs claw their way up her fingers (me too, kid. me too).

Our chicken run is still just a set of posts in the ground, and the “baby” chickens are decidedly not babies anymore. They’re ten (eleven? where’s my calendar…) weeks old tomorrow, and have begun to crow. It’s an anemic, wobbly noise as yet, but they’re trying! The big girls are still happy to be out and about each day. Laying dropped off for a week or so, and we began to wonder if they had a secret stash somewhere in the yard. We haven’t found anything, and they’ve picked up again, so I guess the issue resolved itself.

The local pick-your-own strawberry patch is open for business, and bustling. They start their day not long after we do, so we ducked out early the other morning and spent 45 minutes picking and eating our way along a row of plants. Twenty-seven dollars later, I had two berry-stained little people and a ton of work to take home, but we had a good time together.

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And that is what my kitchen counter looks like right now: an oddball collection of stuff, including a banana that someone decided to open and then abandon. I sure would love to have it cleared off, but it will have to wait – there’s no space for that on the calendar!