Storybook Garden

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This year I want to have a storybook garden. You know, the kind the neighbors and passersby look at (and envy). The perfect kind you see in stories. I’m well on my way. Yesterday, we bought and planted “Hansel and Gretel” eggplants—the varieties named on the plant markers. I thought they were an apt addition to a storybook garden.

But—here’s the thing—the reason we are planting the eggplants is that the spinach seeds failed. They didn’t come up. The truth is that we have bad luck with spinach. There was that stand back in Colorado when our kids were young, the one that’s become a legend, but that’s been a few years, and subsequent years we’ve not had good luck.

Spinach isn’t the only crop that disappointed. I just got in from replanting bean seeds. There were gaps between the small plants: seeds that didn’t germinate or seedlings that came up with deformed or missing leaves. I looked this up on Google. Chances are the corn seed maggots got to them, apparently. Maybe thrips, too.

Also, not to be picky, but the rows of plants aren’t totally straight. This bothers me (maybe a little too much). This is an ongoing topic of conversation between MEH (My Engineer Husband) and me every year—we’ve had a lot of gardens together. MEH has deep agricultural roots. His grandfather worked for the California Extension Office and he grew oranges. Not for fun or storybooks, but for real. There was an orange named after him, the Gillette Navel. MEH grew up cultivating and irrigating orange groves. He gained serious weeding skills, an even more serious work ethic when it comes to gardening.

On the other hand, I’m what you might call a fair weather, storybook gardener. If it gets too hot, if my crocs get dirt in them, if I get too many mosquito or black fly bites, or if I want to write a blog, I bolt. (MEH’s still out weeding.)

The beans had gaps...

The beans had gaps…

That’s not to say MEH is perfect in the gardening department. He doesn’t sow seeds uniformly (or in straight rows), he’s a reluctant waterer (too many California drought cycles, I’m guessing), and he is gung ho at the beginning of the gardening cycle, but by the end not so much. And MEH doesn’t like weeding. This was a surprise to me because I always thought he did. This morning was the first time I asked him if he liked weeding, and he laughed before answering quickly, “Of course not. I felt like that was my punishment as a child.”

We talked about it for a few minutes. Our memories of childhood gardening chores and how they might have impacted our adult views of gardening—how they might have impacted our life. My backyard was tended mostly by my mother and, later, by a gardener. We might have had a tomato plant or two, a fruit tree or two. Up until I graduated from high school, we had family gardening hours on the weekend when we cleaned up. But we focused on the beauty of the outdoor space. MEH’s experience was more utilitarian: weeding, watering, mowing. MEH had a lot more chores than I had. And because of his family’s dynamics, MEH was often solitary when doing his outside (and inside) chores—he was alone a lot in general.

I’ll admit that the garden has caused some tension over the years. Particularly during planting, we seem to have different approaches: form over function for me. The opposite for MEH. Probably not surprising considering our gardening roots. We’ve been known to argue when planting (those crooked rows) and for other reasons surrounding my storybook expectations. This morning we didn’t have any disagreements. We were both quiet and contemplative—we went out early to beat the bugs and heat—before we talked about our families of origin.

I left MEH in the garden shortly after—to write this blog. I had a pebble in one of my crocs, I had muddy hands, but I’d also finished weeding my half of the garden. I’m faster but less patient and less thorough, and I often leave the weeds’ roots—which drives MEH crazy. MEH’s slower and more methodical; he is more thorough. My beds look better after weeding; MEH’s last longer.

As I walked up the porch steps, I heard “the Tweedles”—dubbed by my daughter when she was home last month—a sweet House Finch family that’s nesting in the eaves. The baby birds were cheeping, and I watched as Mr. Tweedles emerged from the nest and perched briefly on the string of Christmas lights before flying out for more food. Mr. Tweedles might be the more persistent gatherer, I mused, but maybe Mrs. Tweedles is in the nest tending and sprucing. I wondered if the Tweedles chirped about this together. If they ever squabbled.

Last year we didn’t have a vegetable garden—a combination of the weather and lack of gardening gumption. It was our son’s last summer in Maine, and he missed it he said. This year we cleared and planted the garden shortly before he and his girlfriend moved to the southeast. He expressed disappointment when he realized he wouldn’t be around for the bounty, then he said he was thinking about planting a vegetable garden at their new place—“There’s a space,” he said. “I like my agricultural roots.”

I thought about that—what stories my son might tell in his garden.

After I finished my blog, I went out to check on MEH’s progress—he was almost done. I watched him carefully rake out the soil between the rows, and I realized something. Turns out we do have a storybook garden, but not in the way I thought I wanted. Not the glossy cover shot—the story goes much deeper than that.

What’s your gardening style? Are there parts of your life you’d like to be storybook?

Cheers,

Julia

Words for the Picking

In my backyard, the blueberries are ripening—plump and dark blue, bursting with flavor—so many on one bush they’re almost falling to the ground. But we have three bushes, and the other two have noripening berries, in fact they have no berries at all. It’s a mystery. All three bushes planted in a row. Why are there berries on one bush but not on the other two?

I know enough about gardening to know there must be a botanical answer: the soil is not acidic enough or the bushes are too shaded or they don’t get enough water or the bees got tired after buzzing around the first bush, or… some other unknown buried deep in the cells of the blueberry bush. But I also know enough to cover the one bush that does have berries—we draped it with netting—to keep those amazing blueberries to ourselves and away from the birds—and soon they’ll be ready for the picking.

As I’ve kept an eye on those berries, I’m thinking about something else, too—my writing. My current WIP is approaching 30,000 words, and most days (these days) the writing is easy, like the first blueberry bush, with lots of words—almost falling to the page in fact. But other days I can’t seem to write a word, and my pages are as barren as those two bushes void of berries.

I know enough about writing (and myself) to know that it could be I’m grumpy or didn’t get enough sleep or am allowing self doubt to creep in or my mind is wandering, or… something else buried deep in the cells of my brain. But just like the berries I cover to keep safe, I protect my words. I make writing a habit: I sit down every day, I reread what I’ve already written, I write as much as I can, and sometimes if that doesn’t work, I read.

And I wait, confident that like the blueberries, my words will grow and ripen, and soon be ready for the picking.

How is your writing going? Are your words there for the picking or do you sometimes feel barren of words?

Cheers,

Julia


A Longing for the Morning Glories

This post was going to be about disgruntlement—a complaint and a rant that it’s still winter. That it’s March 4th and we awoke to snow for the second time this week. About how unusual this is, how last year it was spring today.

Then I looked back to my wordsxo post of March 4, 2011, which was: Writing Inspiration from a Winter Wonderland. It was 3.7 degrees. And it made me remember: I live in Maine. And in Maine, we do winter, sometimes for eight months a year. I’ve seen snow in September and snow in April—I’ve heard tell from some old timers that back in the day it might’ve even snowed in May.

And that’s when I realized. I can be as disgruntled as I want to be. But it’s still snowing today, March 4th, and the weather forecast says there will be snow later in the week too.

I keep telling myself to suck it up, that we’ve barely had winter. That it’s such an unusual year that in January and February we had so little snow we could see green grass; that this year even some old timers wondered will winter ever come? One of those days, before a March 1st snow, I found a photo on my iPhone of morning glories climbing the garden trellis.



And I let myself go there: to the garden. Because I had forgotten all about the morning glories! And the sunflowers! I imagined myself this morning, standing outside next to the morning glories, picking tomatoes, and hearing bees buzzing on the sunflowers.

And I wondered about last year when I wrote about inspiration from the snow—was I just trying to figure out something to blog about? Or was I truly inspired? Because this morning all I feel is disgruntled.

And a longing for the morning glories.




Cheers?
Julia


p.s. What’s the weather like in your neck of the woods? If you live in a wintery climate, are you still getting snow? Or is it spring time? If you live in a place where you never get snow, do you wish you did? Are you inspired by your weather? Or are you like me—disgruntled?

Picture Perfect (Video) Day on the Coast of Maine

(Sunday, November 6, 2011, 11:30 a.m. EST, 50 degrees F)


Incredible. To have this weather in November is spectacular. The view from the overlook was phenomenal today. And it was a little surreal to watch the two Great Danes on the beach. (I truly thought they were ponies as we pulled into the parking lot!) An absolutely stunning day that words cannot do justice.


Meanwhile in the garden… we are clearing up the garden beds, going through a rushed fall clean up following last weekend’s surprise snowstorm. Almost every trace of the snow is gone now so today we’re tidying up: raking beds and some leaves, planting some daffodils, putting up a new mailbox (our old one was rusted through), mowing down the mint, pulling carrots, and putting away trellises, bean poles, etc., etc. Later today I’ll make a big pot of chili that we can eat for several meals this week, and then I’ll get some editing done on the WIP while MEH (My Engineer Husband) writes code to display graph overlays on a scientific instrument.

Here’s what the perennial bed looked like in July, what seems like yesterday!
This is how the perennial flower bed looked after we finished cleaning it up.
(That really WAS yesterday!) Later today we’ll plant Daffodil bulbs in this flower bed!

Happy Snowtober Nor’easter Video

(Sunday, October 30, 2011, 1:32 p.m. EST, 41 degrees F) 





You can’t really tell from the video but we got our first snow last night—“only” about six inches where we were, but 18 inches in other parts of Maine and 26 inches in other parts of New England! We got off easy with this one. The media is calling it “Snowtober,” a rare October snowstorm.

In addition to the snow, it was also very cold…26F degrees, our coldest temperatures this year. It was especially cold in our house after we lost power. The temperature in the house hit 54F degrees right before power was restored at a little after noon (a huge thank you to the wonderful crews of Central Maine Power). Today the snow has stopped, and much has melted away; all that’s left is high winds up to 35 mph.

You can really see the winds buffeting the camera in today’s video. What a difference from last week’s tranquil sunrise! And I think you can see some snow on the distant shoreline (high tide is hiding the sandbar beach).



We planted the garlic yesterday!

Meanwhile in the garden…. yesterday when we knew the storm was coming, we quickly went out and planted garlic—knowing it would be our last chance to plant this fall. Then we mulched it with straw, and sure enough today the garden is covered in a blanket of snow.

And covered with straw!

And this morning…. WOW!!
What a difference a day makes!


Indian Summer on the Coast of Maine

(Saturday, October 8, 2011, 3:44 p.m. EST, 80 degrees F)

 

This week we had two nights of frost—a definite shock to my system. But today’s temperature was back up into the 80s—hitting 87 degrees at one point!

This seasonal confusion can only mean one thing: Indian summer. NOAA defines Indian Summer is “an unseasonably warm period near the middle of autumn, usually following a substantial period of cool weather.”

But here’s the thing…even though the temperatures can almost fool me into believing it’s summer again, I know it’s too good to be true. Several days ago I blogged about winter coming….today I’m taking a video of the beach looking like it’s summer. Later this week it will be fall again. Then perhaps we’ll have another dip into winter before switching back to fall once again.

Such are seasonal changes in Maine, one step forward then two steps back. On one hand, it gives us plenty of time to prepare for the next season—on the other hand, we get almost enough time to get used to one season before it changes again. Of course this can only go on so long before the inevitability of winter settles in.

Meanwhile in the garden, the zinnias have now been hit by a heavy frost, so their colors have faded to brown, but the tree leaves are starting to change colors in earnest. So we continue to have color in the garden!

Great Blue Heron on a Rainy Beach

(Saturday, October 1, 2011, 8:10 a.m. EST, 61 degrees F)



It’s been raining off and on this week, and this morning we went to the bridge overlook in the pouring rain to make our weekly video. Usually we take our videos on Sunday, but tomorrow a half marathon road race will close roads and make it impossible for us to get to the bridge.

What a difference a week makes—last week the beach (and bridge) were totally socked in with thick fog. This week, it was a beautiful, albeit wet, view. We timed our arrival with very low tide in hopes of seeing and recording some seabirds, and we were not disappointed. If you look above the tree on the left, you’ll see a Great Blue Heron (GBH) standing in the water.
But wait for it—at about the 17-second mark the GBH takes flight. It took me a few seconds to figure out why. And then I saw a dog, running down the length of the beach chasing the bird. The dog’s owner comes into sight a few seconds later. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that I didn’t get a longer look at this beautiful bird.

Meanwhile in the garden….we haven’t had a hard frost yet (which will kill most of the vegetables) so we are still harvesting the few non-blighted tomatoes, peppers, and beans. Swiss chard will survive a hard frost, and we’ll be harvesting kale until it’s buried in snow (and if it’s like last year, it will survive until next fall!).

We also had a surprise! A small crop of late new potatoes—which we combined with green pepper, spring onions, eggs, and cheese to make one of our favorite breakfast scrambles!



Late Summer Wading on the Coast of Maine

Saturday, September 17, 2011, 12:46 p.m. EST, 65 degrees F




I could have called this post “Waiting” instead of “Wading” because right off camera there was a crowd of about 20 people obviously waiting for something or someone. They were all looking over the water into the distance, scanning the horizon.


The air was sharply cooler this week, and last night we had some light frost. It was only 37 degrees (F) when we went on our dog walk this morning….brrrr. A shock to the system and a harbinger of things to come.

Meanwhile in the garden….we still have tomatoes, green beans, and (hopefully) another crop of potatoes, if we can beat the heavy frost. The zinnias are providing a last blast of color.



Cheers,

Julia

Quiet Stillness on the Coast of Maine

Sunday, September 11, 2011, 7:50 a.m. EST, 50 degrees F



For the first time this late summer, it was colder than 50F degrees when we got up to take the dog for a walk. I’m here to say that 48.9F feels pretty cold after a hotter-than-average summer, and I’m a little nervous about the impending winter.

By the time we got to the bridge overlook it was just 50 degrees on the water. A beautiful, glorious clear day with almost no clouds in the sky. The video is remarkable by its uneventfulness.

We talked to two birders today (first ones we’ve encountered on these Sunday mornings!): one, a young man on the bridge with binoculars and a camera with a long telephoto lens—photographing “migratory birds” he said. I asked him what kind, and he simply responded: “oh, loads.” The woman, who we met on the way down to the beach (we took our dog down to walk by the water), when asked if she’d seen anything interesting, first said…. “oh, a little,” and then casually commented on a “Pileated” (Woodpecker) that was exhibiting “weird behavior.”

I found it mildly intriguing that for the first time in seven months we met our first birders by the bridge—and this time two of them—and both independently were looking in the same direction and seemed to be purposeful in their activities. Yet both were vague with what they were looking for when we asked them and were not very specific in what they had seen. My vivid writer’s imagination kicked into overdrive.

Meanwhile in the garden….wabi-sabi is setting in, and I am trying to enjoy the late-summer overgrown and fading garden. We continue to harvest eggplant, beans, tomatoes, and many other vegetables. We made two large pots of tomato sauce this week. And we will harvest apples from our apple tree for the first time since we moved into the house more than 10 years ago—for some reason it’s apparently a good year for apples!

The row of sunflowers outside our living room window is now about 9 feet tall!


First Signs of Fall on the Coast of Maine

Sunday, September 4, 2011, 8:20 a.m. EST, 70 degrees F




It’s hard to believe what a difference a week makes: last week Hurricane Irene was looming and this week the water was as calm as calm can be. (However, the overall stillness of this week’s video is broken by the cars going by and a guy—out of camera view—arguing with his dog about going up the hill, away from the beach, to his car. I want to make sure to point out it’s a dog, lest you think he’s talking to a child—like I first did!)


“Pepper Pete,” as MEH (My Engineer
Husband) has nicknamed the potted
pepper plants, continues to produce
beautiful green and red peppers!

Fall is in the air. Not only are the leaves changing on some trees, including the ones within camera view, but the days are getting shorter. We hear crickets at night, the birds are flocking and starting to migrate, and school starts on Tuesday. Labor Day weekend is generally regarded as the end of tourist season in Maine, and even though we’ll still get some “outer-staters” coming in, things will start to quiet down and eventually wind down to winter.


Still, that’s a ways off, with leaf peeper season starting soon. Our peak season, when most of the leaves are at their height of color, may be earlier than the average mid-October; if you want to follow along, the state of Maine has a website with the weekly foliage report, starting on September 14.

The sadness of “late blight” on the tomatoes:
ultimately the whole plant will die, but
it’s a race between the blight and first
frost at this point!
Meanwhile in the garden….we still have as many tomatoes as we want (although unfortunately most of the plants have developed something called “late blight,” which will ultimately rot the fruit), pole beans, Swiss chard, lots of basil, winter squash, carrots, turnips, and kale. If the season lasts long enough, we may get a second crop of potatoes and hopefully some beets—it’s not been a good year for us with beets and our first planting didn’t produce even one!

What are the season changes bringing to your part of the world, if any? Does fall bring changes to your writing and household routines?


Cheers,
Julia

Waiting for Irene: Coastal Video of Maine

Sunday, August 28, 2011, 7:01 a.m. EST, 68 degrees F, average windspeed 14 mph


We headed to the bridge overlook early this morning. The National Weather Service just issued a hurricane warning for Maine, and we knew we wouldn’t want to take a video when the wind got any stronger. At the 14 mph wind speed, with a light but steady rain, we could feel change in the air.
One of the worst things about being in Maine right now is that we are at the northern edge of this huge hurricane as it works its way north. The anticipation is terrible, especially because our nearest and dearest, our two children, are in Boston and Philadelphia—two places that are also on Irene’s massive track. We have other relatives all along Irene’s path—in Maryland, New York City, southern coastal Connecticut, and coastal Massachusetts—so we certainly have our eyes on the weather. Hearing the news of devastation and damage and power outages to our south portends things to come but also raises our worries for our dear ones.

Hurricane harvest… it hasn’t been the best of gardening years
as I talked about in last week’s post, here
In Maine, it’s unclear if we’ll get a hurricane or “just” a tropical storm out of Irene. Regardless of its label, no doubt we’ll get high winds and lots of rain. We’re hoping for the best but prepared for the worst: radio, nonperishable food, propane for our camp stove, put away all outside furniture and anything else that could become airborne. Lots of people we know who have boats pulled them out of the water, but there were still many boats left in the harbor that we saw when we went to shoot the video this morning.

We talked about evacuating, even tried to check out evacuation routes (although a call to the town hall resulted in the suggestion: “drive to higher ground.”) Most of the Mainers I’ve talked to don’t seem too concerned, shrugging it off: “A big storm” and “We’ll probably lose power.” Our 90-year-old neighbor is staying put, saying: “I won’t leave my house.” 


Of course if we’re told to leave, we’ll leave.

It seems like I’m the only one who admits I’m afraid. (Thank goodness we no longer have cable TV or I’d probably be a basket case.) And yet the grocery store is packed with people, and all bulk water is gone from the shelves. Not a radio can be found at nearby L.L. Bean.
These pepper plants are the best we’ve ever grown,
and we weren’t about to lose them in this storm!
Meanwhile in the garden… yesterday was hurricane harvest day. We picked all the ripe and almost-ripe tomatoes and as many pole beans as we could easily find. Most everything else—kale, cabbage, root crops, herbs, eggplant—is low to the ground and will fend for itself. MEH (My Engineer Husband) tethered the pole beans so they wouldn’t fall over in the storm, and we brought our huge pepper pot—holding two heavily laden-with-peppers-plants into the house.


How has Hurricane Irene affected you? I hope you and your loved ones are safe and sound.

Cheers,
Julia


Maine: The Way Life Should Be

When you cross the state line into Maine, you’re greeted by a big sign that says:

Welcome to Maine

The Way Life Should Be

In the summer time it’s hard to argue with that sign. (The winter? That’s another story!)

Today I’m participating in the iPhone Photo Phun link-up with Lizand Kristin. Liz and I have a very cool bond over our iPhones—we got them the same week and bloggedabout them the same week. So of course when I heard about her new link-up, I had to join in:

“Starting this Wednesday, August 24th, we’re hosting the first link-up of our new weekly meme: iPhone Photo Phun! What is iPhone Photo Phun, you ask? Well, it’s a weekly post that is comprised solely of photos taken with your iPhone!”

So, here are a few of the 313 photos I’ve taken since I got my iPhone—these capture a little bit of what summer in Maine means to me!

Summer wouldn’t be summer without a garden, and
this year’s no different! Here’s our vegetable garden.

And here are some of the raspberries…. YUM!
The morning glories are GLORIOUS this year!

Of course Maine wouldn’t be Maine without harbor views…
this is the boat landing in nearby Falmouth Foreside

The skies change and cast amazing shadows on the water….
here’s a view of Portland from afar
Another view of the Falmouth boat landing, showing the dock
and the tide pools…
minnows, hermit crabs, and barnacles (oh my)!

And finally, summer means lots of long walks
with our lab Abby… she’s about the sweetest
 and happiest dog around!

 iPhone Photo Phun

Foggy Morning Birdlife on the Coast of Maine

Sunday, August 21, 2011, 8:40 a.m. EST, 68 degrees F




The day started out with pea-soup fog. I wanted to capture a sunrise in the video because they’ve been so beautiful lately, but at 5:30 on the foggy dog walk this morning I realized there was no hope. Instead, we waited until later this morning, mid-tide, and went to the bridge overlook as the fog began to burn off. And what a reward for our waiting: just as we arrived we saw an osprey diving toward the water.


Minutes later, as we began the video a large bird, I assume a gull, lands at the very end of the point. Then about 30 seconds into the video, a Great Blue Heron flies into view and lands right next to the large bird. What an amazing, beautiful, and peaceful morning video punctuated only by the sound of a solo runner, one car, and me snapping photos in the background. This is one of my favorite videos we’ve shot because it really captures the feeling, sights, and sounds of the place: its stillness yet life.




And meanwhile in the garden…. it’s looking like late summer. Unfortunately many of the plants (black-eyed Susans, squash, pumpkin, beans, and even the tomatoes) have developed some “late blight” and other mildews—which generally means the plant will die. Harvests have been way down this year as compared to last. Still, we ate our first eggplant this week, and we are harvesting lots of tomatoes, spring onions, a few pole beans, kale, the last of the zucchini, and a few small turnips.


In the photo of the garden this week, the morning glories—volunteers from last year—have made it to the top of the basketball hoop. I love this photo because it represents the perfect garden to me, a mixture of flowers and vegetables, natural yet slightly structured. I also love having the basketball hoop as a garden framework because of the memories it invokes of happy family games.


Cheers,
Julia

Hot and Muggy on the Coast of Maine

Sunday, July 24, 2011, 7:38 a.m. EST, 79 degrees F

The heat continued in Maine this week—and we hit the 100-degree mark for just the fourth time since the state started keeping records in the 1940s. With 72% humidity it was hard to do anything but sit inside by the under-performing window air conditioner.

Yet this morning a light drying breeze is in the air and our heat wave is over. I feel a little guilty about it, knowing that many of my friends—and especially my sweet daughter—are still in the grip of this terrible heat wave!

Meanwhile in the garden…we’ve harvested all the potatoes (there weren’t that many!), and today we’re planting more potatoes and beets in the potato bed.


Blueberries: we compete with the Bluejays for these!

I love the way the red cabbage looks while it’s growing, iridescent

Lovely Summer Evening on the Coast of Maine

Saturday, July 16, 2011, 8:44 p.m. EST, 77 degrees F


The weather remains hot this week—so we decided to go to the beach overlook last night at dusk to try to catch a cool breeze. We were not disappointed: it was breezy and beautiful. The leaves rustled and the water moved in light ripples against the sand bar. Even though we only saw one lone personstanding on the point of the sand barthere were eight cars in the parking lot. We heard voices on the other side of the bridge. People were out walking to enjoy the lovely, cool evening.



Meanwhile in the garden….it’s all about the animals: wild and domestic. 


This week we’ve harvested potatoes, spring onions, lettuce, fava beans, basil, peas, and snow peas. I always forget from year to year how much our black lab loves snow peas; she happily munches as many as we’ll let her have—and when we turn our back she chews them right off the plant!


And one morning this week we came out to find all the bean plants nibbled off at the top—and deer tracks in the mud!  Luckily the deer didn’t kill the plants, instead only nibbling some leaves off each plant! Since then new leaves have sprouted and the plants are flowering. Soon we’ll have beans from the garden.
It’s hard to see (unless you zoom in) but deer have nibbled off
the tops of these bean plants!

And here’s the evidence: deer tracks next to the basil and beans.

Cheers (and happy summer!),
Julia

Two Weeks with my Grandmother

Black-eyed Susan

As a child I moved frequently. My parents busily pursuing their careers as college professors—including year-long trips to Kenya and Belize where they conducted research—we moved from place-to-place. It may sound glamorous—but to a child? This child? I had no place to call home.

The closest I ever felt to home was with my grandmother at her house in Poland, Ohio, on the banks of the Yellow Creek. A quick walk across the bridge to every small-town amenity you would ever need—thank goodness, because Grandma (“Ohio Grandma” as we called her) didn’t drive. We walked all over town together: Isley’s Ice Cream, the post office, the small grocery, the library across the creek, her neighbor Mr. Steinfield’s house with all its clocks. She was from a different age and time, and when I was with her, I wished and hoped with all my might that her life would be mine.

Her house on the banks of the Yellow Creek was surrounded by gardens: vegetable, flowers, fruit, lush vegetation. Everywhere some small plant was tucked, a lovely flower or delicious berry treat. And it was here, in her beautiful world, I learned gardening basics: what plants grew where and how to care for them. To this day I cannot see some of her favorites—Black-eyed Susan, Lunaria (money plant), Swiss Chard, or Queen Anne’s Lace—without thinking of her.

Queen Anne’s Lace
But more, my grandmother taught me about what growing things need: vegetables and flowers, small woodland animals, and people too.

Every night I would lie, safely tucked into the small Jenny Lind bed in the tiny bedroom under the eaves—and I felt like one of her little plants: safe and secure. My bedroom window looked out over Main Street as well as the bridge over the creek. As I lay in bed, I could hear cars rattle over the bridge and trace their headlights across the flowered wallpaper, the same wallpaper my mother grew up with. With each set of headlights, I’d wish with all my might that it really truly was my home.

In the morning, we’d sit and eat our toast at her kitchen table. Together we’d watch the birds on the birdfeeder outside the window. She loved all the birds that came to the feeder (and even the squirrels that raided it, too!) and so began my lifelong interest in birds. Chickadees, Jays, and Cardinals—these favorites remind me of her.

Later, after a day of gardening and building dams in the small creek, we walked into the small village of Poland.  Hand-in-hand, down Main Street toward the center of town, my grandmother would stop to greet each person by name and introduce them to her granddaughter. As we walked she told me stories about my mother when she was my age, about her friends and all their adventures.

For two glorious weeks each summer I was lucky enough to be a part of my grandmother’s life. And during those two weeks she taught me about gardening, bird watching, cooking, and a little bit about life, too. 

But mostly? She taught me about home. 




Do you have special memories of your grandparents? Of things they taught you? Are there places or things you associate with home? How do these feelings or memories affect your writing?

Cheers,

Julia

"Vacationland" Real-live Beach Day Video

Sunday, July 10, 2011, 10:34 a.m. EST, 80 degrees F

It took forever, but we finally got one: a real-live beach day! On days like this Maine earns it’s nickname Vacationland! (Sorry for the car traffic sounds; the bridge overlook was busy today so we couldn’t avoid it in the background like we usually do.)

And meanwhile in the garden…


Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) with Coreopsis in the background

Cooking Blog Wannabe

In my next blogging life I want to have a cooking blog. Or a gardening blog. Or maybe a little of both.

If you read my blog very often, you know that I am an avid gardener and cook. We have a modest vegetable garden that supplies a goodly amount of food—and that, combined with my love of cooking, produces some amazingly fresh and delicious meals.

This season has been a challenge because it’s been colder and rainier than normal—so until today we’ve only had a handful of veggies from the garden: some snowpeas (but only a few), some lettuce (but no arugula), and a few radishes (but most went to seed).

But today? We harvested a meal!

Today’s harvest: potatoes and spring onions.

And I cooked: a potato-onion scramble.

The key to this recipe is to have very fresh ingredients and to cook them quickly.

The ingredients: Nine freshly harvested new potatoes (the most exciting part, because it’s the first time we’ve grown potatoes!!), five spring onions, two cloves of garlic (smushed), 1/4 teaspoon rosemary (my rosemary died over the winter so I used dried), 4 eggs (MEH (My Engineer Husband) said next we’ll raise chickens. I think he was joking), 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, 1/2 Tablespoon olive oil, 1 Tablespoon butter.

The method: Cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces; boil in water until just-barely soft to the bite. Meanwhile, melt butter in a no-stick skillet; add olive oil. Drain potatoes and add to the skillet. When potatoes are done (taste to check) and slightly crisped on the outside, add the spring onions and garlic and rosemary to the skillet and cook briefly. Add egg and scramble until almost set then add the cheese to melt. Serve immediately!

 

Serves two generously and deliciously! 

What are you cooking today? Is there another kind of blog you dream about writing?


Cheers,
Julia

Video Bird Watching on the Coast of Maine

Sunday, July 3, 2011, 6:14 a.m. EST, 65 degrees F


This morning we were at the beach overlook very early and at low tide—a light fog cast a magical light on everything. The bird life was amazing with more birds than I can ever remember seeing there. We saw many different gulls and ducks, and we could hear but didn’t see songbirds.




The morning’s highlight, however, were three Great Blue Herons (scientific name Ardea herodias; affectionately dubbed GBH by bird watchers). You can (very faintly) see one of these GBHs in the video, just off shore on the left side above the tree. The GBH is the largest wading bird in Maine, but it is found almost everywhere in the United States. Its wingspan is about 4 feet—and if you’re lucky enough to see one of these birds (flying or wading), they are mesmerizing.



Ardea herodias, Great Blue Heron

I was also pretty surprised to see two beach visitors I’ve never before seen: crows and a chipmunk! The chipmunk ran right down to the water!—and since they are omnivores, I wonder if it was looking for shellfish?




The new seedlings surrounded by magenta yarrow (far left),
yellow coreopsis, right, and blue-purple violas (back right);
Siberian irises are in the back (spiky foliage)


Meanwhile in the garden… yesterday we planted some new annuals in the perennial flower bed (to add a little mid-summer color): margeurite daisy seedlings, gerber daisy seedlings, and zinnia and larkspur seeds.



Foggy Morning Video on the Coast of Maine

Sunday, June 26, 2011, 10:15 a.m. EST, 61 degrees F




Today is foggy and cool—in stark contrast to last week’s warm and sunny Father’s Day video.

One lone runner stands on the edge of the sandbar (we passed her, running by, on our way to the beach). But, it was frustrating because right off camera there were four kayakers on the beach, getting ready to go in the water. Additionally, car after car went by, creating a lot of annoying background noise.

I waited as long as possible, hoping to get a video of the kayakers in the water, but they ended up paddling the other direction! I did get a still shot of them as they paddled away.

If you listen closely to the video, you can hear one of the kayakers telling the story of his favorite character in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. He explained that the character, Wonko the Sane, became convinced the world had gone crazy after he saw that a box of toothpicks had instructions for how to use a toothpick. (Unfortunately his retelling of the story is obscured by a car going by on the bridge!)

I found it amusing (and yet appropriate) that I happened to make the video just as someone on the beach was relaying a literary story! 






Meanwhile in the garden:


Spring onions (foreground), basil seedlings (midground),
wax bush beans (background)


Why This Blog Is Still NOT about Arugula, Part 2

The bolting arugula

Sometimes in writing, as in life, and even in arugula, things don’t always go as they should.

And—case in point—I have bad news about the garden: the arugula (that we planted last month) in specific. Which bolted before its time. And more bad news: it’s not just the arugula. It’s the spinach and the bok choy too.  Which is really perplexing because if you don’t know anything about bolting, it’s when the plant goes to seed prematurely and happens only in very hot weather. (At least that’s what I thought.) And it’s been unusually cold here.

We’re disappointed, of course, because we’ve been looking forward to the first salad of arugula since last summer’s last salad of arugula.  But (until yesterday) we were also feeling a little bit like failures as gardeners. 

But now we don’t (feel like failures) because sometimes, even when even when things don’t go as they should, there are unexpectedly happy consequences. Such was the case yesterday when, after several days of thinking about it, I picked up the phone to call the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Office…specifically the volunteer Master Gardeners!

(From Wikipedia: “Extension services are non-formal educational program implemented in the United States designed to help people use research-based knowledge to improve their lives. The service is provided by the state’s designated land-grant universities.)

I started with the state office. After I told the very nice person where I lived and explained my problem (specifically my gardening problem; I didn’t explain the impostor syndrome problem, even though I hadn’t written anything at all yesterday because I was so busy figuring out why my arugula is bolting). But she couldn’t help me because she wasn’t in my county. Instead, she transferred me to the Cumberland County Extension Office.

“My arugula is bolting. Can you help me?”

After determining that I was in fact a home gardener, not a professional gardener (known as a farmer), she said: “Yes. Just a minute, let me connect you with the Master Gardener’s office. Your name please?”

I gave her my name, and then she put me on hold.

A few minutes later, someone came on the line. “Is this Julia Martin?” (I only use the Munroe when I’m writing, which I wasn’t doing (at all) yesterday.)

“Yes.”

“This is D your neighbor.” (Only she said her name, not her initial) “Remember last summer, we talked about getting together for a cup of tea?”

It took me a second to put it together, but then I realized I was talking to a woman who lives about six doors down from me—and she (apparently) works for the Master Gardener Office!

I explained my problem to D, and she said that usually bolting only happens in hot weather, but that she would look into it. And she also asked if we’d ever had our soil tested (which we have not). And when she found that out, she offered to come and bring me a soil kit that evening (which she did!).

And when D dropped off the soil test kit, she also dropped off information from the Royal Horticultural Society about bolting, specifically cool-weather bolting.

From the Royal Horticultural Society: “Bolting is the term applied to vegetable crops when they prematurely run to seed, usually making them unusable. A cold spell or changes in day length initiates this behaviour. It can affect a wide range of vegetables including lettuce, spinach and fennel.”

Then D and I looked at our garden—which she said looked “wonderful.” (Of course I doubted her sincerity because I have that ridiculous impostor syndrome thing going on this week more than usual.) And she commiserated with me because her arugula also bolted!

We said our goodbyes, agreeing to meet for tea, possibly mint tea since I have mint growing in my garden, and as D said: “we have to use it for something!”

Last night I looked at the soil test kit—which really did make me feel like a farmer not a home gardener when I read the instructions:

The soil test kit
1. The soil in this box should be a composite or mixture of 15 separate samples scattered over a well defined area.

2. Look your field over. Take one composite sample from each 8 acre area or from an area which is uniform with respect to texture, slope, drainage, erosion, color, or past soil management.

3. Use a sampling tube, auger or spade. Take each sampling to the plow depth (6-8 inches)…

There are four more steps, but you get the idea. It’s pretty intense. Today, after I finish plowing the fields and milking the cows, I’ll mail the sample to the Maine Soil Testing Service, and they’ll tell me how to amend the soil to increase my harvest of arugula. But I’m guessing it’s too late for my first arugula salad of this year anyway.

So stay tuned to find out if this blog EVER will be about arugula!

Do you ever have unexpected good consequences come from unfortunate events, like I did with the arugula? And are you like me that pretty much anything can apparently distract you from your writing?

Cheers,
Julia

Busy Father’s Day (Video) on the Coast of Maine

Sunday, June 19, 2011, 10:22 a.m. EST, 70 degrees F


It’s a beautiful day on the coast of Maine—bright blue skies but a bit blustery (you can see the buffeting of the camera). This video compared to the last few weeks shows a particularly big change because the tide is much lower, exposing much of the sand bar. Compare to here and here to see what it looked like during high tide; it hardly looks like the same place!

With the lower tide and the beautiful weather, it’s a busy day on the beach this Father’s Day. Lots of people walking, playing, picking up shells, and sitting on the beach enjoying the weather. We saw two other people taking photos, and we also saw several kayaks about to launch. There were also several boats in the water—that you might be able to see in the distance in the video.

This is Maine summer weather at it’s best: warm but not hot, low humidity, and a light breeze to keep the bugs down! Absolutely beautiful for the beach, gardening, boating, or taking a walk or run. Not much to complain about—especially because there was a brief rainstorm last night so the garden doesn’t need watering!

Speaking of the garden….we finally broke out of the rainy cycle of the last few weeks, and with the warmer temperatures everything is growing fast (unfortunately even the weeds!). We’ll probably thin out this lettuce later today and have our first salad from the seedlings we pull up!



How’s the weather in your neck of the woods? Do you have plans for an outdoor adventure today?


Cheers (and Happy Father’s Day to MEH (My Engineer Husband) and all you other dads out there!),
Julia