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

Five Little Things

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These guys make me almost as happy as the baby goats!

Sometimes it’s the little things. That’s what this blog is all about: five little things that are making me happy.

First…if you like baby goats (and who doesn’t?), check out the Sunflower Farm barn cam. I’m a little obsessed. Sunflower Farm is a pygmy goat farm near where I live in Maine. The cam shows baby goats being born and generally frolicking. It is (a) highly entertaining, (b) cute off the chart, but (c) a little stressful (for me) to watch. Apparently I’m either a goat wimp or cross-species maternalistic because I get very worried and protective of these baby goats. Warning: this site can be very addictive. And very dramatic. But you really should check it out. Hint: It’s much more exciting with sound turned up so you can hear all the goats bleating!

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It doesn’t look like much yet, but just wait…and yes we do still have some snow

If baby goats are being born, then it must be spring, right? YES! Spring. We finally have spring! There are no leaves on the trees yet (and only a few flowers), but we went from snow last week to 70 degrees this week. Today I saw an Osprey and two Great Blue Herons flying over. Song birds are everywhere. Our temps (and winds) will be all over the place for a while, but I don’t think we’ll get anymore snow until fall—which is the important part—so we can get our garden area ready. This all makes me very, very happy. (Until I saw a fly in the house…no. I won’t complain yet.)

Parchment baked chicken breasts. I usually don’t write about food on my blog, but once in a while I need to. A few months ago I started baking chicken in parchment paper—I put (usually three skinless boneless breasts on a piece of parchment paper, squeeze juice of one lemon onto them, add a few tablespoons of wine, sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper, cover with another sheet of parchment, and crimp the edges. Bake until done (usually about 30 minutes), and you’ll have the moistest most delicious, healthiest chicken breasts you’ll ever taste. I’ve also used soy, balsamic, and lemon juice marinade, equally delicious. You can also use this method for fish and vegetables. Cooking Light has a better description of the method—you can find it in this article by Lia Huber.

In case you haven’t been to Google today…you’re in for a fun surprise. In honor of the 155th anniversary of the Pony Express, Google has developed a fun, easy video game. I’ve wasted spent at least half an hour on this today… and I’ve only collected 25 envelopes at best—you have to see it to truly understand. Check it out on Google.

After you finish collecting envelopes, check out today’s post on Writer Unboxed by Therese Walsh. It’s an incredibly helpful blog about multi-tasking—Therese’s third in a series. Therese says this: “If you multitask because you feel you have to in order to stay on top of things; if you’re overwhelmed with too much information and an inability to sort though it all; if you’re losing momentum on your writing projects because there is just too much on your plate… This post is for you.” She goes on to give methods for diagnosing what’s going on (or wrong) with your work habits, strategies for better productivity, and tips and suggestions to be more productive. It’s a really useful and helpful post….

Especially after you’ve been watching baby goats, cleaning your garden, playing Google’s Pony Express game, researching new ways to cook chicken, or generally trying to figure out how to focus more on writing and less on those other non-writing things.

What are some little things making you happy?

Cheers,

Julia

This post is for the birds

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This post really has nothing to do with birds, except the photo that shows the sweet little sparrows that were perched on one of our skylights this morning, capturing moths and other bugs stuck to the screen in their valiant attempt to make it into our house.  MEH’s comment: “I’m glad someone’s cleaning the screens.”

No, this post really has to do with technical difficulties…again…because this month seems to be going that way. Some have been out of my control (like in my last post) but some, like today’s, self-inflicted. To wit: did you use Google reader to subscribe to and read blogs…like I did? Well, right before I went on my road trip out west, I was reminded (again) by Google that their reader was going away. Imminently. Permanently. Shortly after I returned from my trip.

Like so many things on my list, I “forgot” to do anything. I’m using quotation marks because I willfully allowed myself to forget. Sure, I checked out other readers, but I couldn’t find anything free that I was satisfied with. Sure enough, on the promised date, the reader was no longer available. And I’d done nothing. Which means that every single blog I was subscribed to—every single blog—was lost to me.

Sure, there are some blogs I remember, those that I used to visit every time there was a new post: my regular readers, my blogging friends. But I counted on my reminders. When a new blog came out, I’d see it on Google reader. That’s not the worst of it. The worst is that there were many blogs (about 50) that I’d visit sporadically. I have no idea what these were.

Am I complaining? Yes. I’m even saying I’m mad. At myself. At Google. I’m not happy that there are blogs and blogs out there I must refind and then find a way to keep track of. Or that I will never get my list back.

And I’m also apologizing. I’m sorry I haven’t visited your blogs. Or that I haven’t faithfully read them. I’ve missed you, and I’ll be back soon. But not consistently until I find a new reader that I like…that’s free…that’s easy to use.

So in addition to this post being a gripe, an explanation, and an apology, it’s also a request. If you have had a good experience with the reader you use, please let me know in the comments. I will definitely check it out. And if I’ve ever left a comment on your blog (or even if I haven’t) please leave a comment so I can find your blog again! I can’t wait.

Thank you (and cheers),

Julia

p.s. Meanwhile, it’s summer and lest you think I’m so consumed with these technical difficulties that I’m not enjoying it, I promise you I am. The bird watching alone has been spectacular (the sparrows but also eagles, great blue herons, osprey, mockingbirds, bobolinks among others), and I’m also enjoying the interesting weather that Maine has been having this summer: first we had the terrible Northeast heat wave. Then we had rain and cold. Then humidity and heat. Now cool and damp. The late planted garden is doing very well, and by very well, I mean to say that by December we should have tomatoes… or snow!

 

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?

Goose, Goose, Goose, Goose, Crow

(Sunday, November 13, 2011, 7:14 a.m. EST, 44 degrees F)




Our lovely stretch of weather continues! And in addition to the lovely scenery, this video provides a rare opportunity to hear the voice behind wordsxo. Yes, at about 37 seconds into the video, I have a very brief conversation with a passer-by, and you cannot avoid hearing my voice. 
“Pepper Pete” in better days.

Aside from this novelty, primarily geese and ducks dominate this week’s video! Also—more notably to MEH (My Engineer Husband) and me—you will see a crow fly through the video toward the end. We’re big crow fans; you can read about that in the post I wrote about MEH and the crows. And watch for more posts about crows coming up very soon!

Meanwhile in the garden…. You may recall the large potted pepper plant, nicknamed “Pepper Pete.” We had hopes of wintering the plant in the house and putting it back outside next spring. But a few days ago we discovered “Pepper Pete” is infested with aphids. So “he” has been put out to pasture on the porch. There are still peppers to harvest, and the weather has been mild enough that we may still get a few peppers! In mid-November in Maine, this is unheard of, at least in this gardening family!

Our other news is that we’ve been getting the bird feeding station ready for winter—squirrel proofing it—and putting out suet and thistle, too. We also put out corn for the squirrels and chipmunks, because I’m a fan of all woodland creatures!


This was the birdfeeder yesterday before we squirrel-proofed it. “Mr. Grackles,” as we call all
squirrels, could empty this of seeds in a day. This is the view I see out the window over my desk.

But don’t worry, Mr. Grackles is still being well fed! 


                                                                 

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!

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!


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


Bee-ing the Writer

Do you have trouble concentrating on writing in the summer like I do? There’s a lot going on, no question. For me, summertime means spending a lot of time in the garden. Growing fruits and vegetables and flowers.

And along with all that growing goes pollination: bees, beetles, all kinds of other insects, birds and sometimes even mammals.

Bee on Oregano flower
This week I started watching the pollinators—especially the bees—and it occurred to me I could learn a thing or two from them about beeing buzzzy (sorry can’t resist). They are industrious all day long, buzzing from flower to flower, feeding on nectar and collecting pollen.
As a writer, I wish I spent as much energy on my writing as those bees do on pollination. Buzzing around my WIP as though it were a garden, honing in on each individual idea like a new flower—and collecting as much from one before moving on to the next. Then cross-pollinating my ideas with new thoughts picked up at my last stop. Working all the time, industrious and focused.

Wasp on Dill flower
Next time I’m having trouble concentrating, I think I’ll try to “bee the bee.”

Do you have trouble concentrating on writing in the summertime, like I do? What are your distractions? And what can you learn from them that you can apply to your writing process?


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

A Walk Down Memory Lane

My grandmother standing in front of her house,
surrounded by just a few of the flowers in her garden!
Today I hope you’ll check out my guest post at Milliver’s Travels….


Last week I posted a blog about my grandmother and how I used to visit her in the summer—and how she taught me a lot about gardening and bird watching but mostly about home.
Well, as it turns out, my online friend Milli lives in the very next town over from Poland, Ohio, where my grandmother lived! Milli has a wonderful travel blog called Milliver’s Travels, and Milli offered to take a field trip to see what Poland (and my grandmother’s house) are like today! After the visit to Poland, which Milli found to be just as enchanting as I remembered—she suggested the guest blog on Milliver’s: “combo of old-fashioned vacation news with modern-day small town adventure,” to quote Milli.
I loved the photos Milli shared with me from her field trip to Poland. They caught me up on what’s been going on in the town I wanted to call home! So, please head over to my post on Milliver’s Travels to see more about Poland, Ohio

—and to see updates and pictures of places I wrote about in my post.


Cheers,
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

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

….and Meanwhile in the Writing….

Beautiful, anomalous purple pea flowers

This year, in the garden, we were the most organized we’ve been in years. We cleared the debris left from last year’s garden, we tilled the soil, we added compost. We planted seeds, soon after the last frost, as advised on the packet. And then we waited.

Powdery mildew on the squash plant
The seeds came up, but they were less than enthusiastic. It was a cold spring, so we never got the arugula we’d been waiting and hoping for. It bolted too early. Same with the bok choy. Then too much rain. And so some seeds were washed away. Other places, mushrooms and mildew grew where they shouldn’t have.

Then there were the flat-out anomalies: purple and pink pea flowers where there should only be white, a viola flower among the carrots, “volunteer” cilantro and morning glories everywhere.

Viola among the carrots
And meanwhile in the writing…as with the garden, it hasn’t gone as planned. (Although I’m very organized, with lots of plans and ideas.) Distracted and distractible. Dribs and drabs. At times untouched. At times missed. Sometimes loathed and resented. It sits on my desk, in the computer, mildewing and growing mushrooms.

Mushrooms in the potted peppers
How does your writing grow? Are you, like me, distracted and distractible, by life’s ups and downs? Or are you on course: steady and dependable, no matter what?


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.



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

…And Meanwhile in the Garden…

Life as a writer, writing at home, is a mix. We write, we do housework, we write, we take care of kids, we write, we cook, we write, we do laundry, we write, we garden. There are a million variations, depending on your own personal style, where you live, how many children of what ages you have at what stages in life, not to mention how much of a slave to schedule you are.


For me, one of my distractions and demands is my garden, specifically my vegetable garden. But it’s also an inspiration. And as I wrote those 20,000 words in the month of May, the garden was having it’s own blogathon, if you will.  Here in Maine, summer is short: it arrives suddenly all in one day in May. And it leaves just as quickly in August. With a short growing season, every day in the garden is precious. And if the rain (or a blogathon) slows you down from planting, you may never get a ripe tomato or a crop of beans. 

The turnips are just coming up this morning!

This year we seemed to time it well, with the “greens” going in middle-of-May; followed by tomatoes and potatoes late May; finally last weekend we planted turnips, beans, beets, and a few others. It was in a rush before a rainstorm so we didn’t even have time to mark the rows! We were sure the seeds had been washed away (we fear this every year!) But sure enough, this morning, there are the turnips: beginning to pop up. 


And now the garden is beginning to look like the familiar quilt of green and brown.


Do you keep a vegetable garden? What are your distractions and demand from your writing schedule?


Cheers,
Julia



Why Today’s Blog IS about Arugula


A few months ago I wrote a blog about arugula. Actually, it was NOT about arugula because it was the middle of winter. I had just bought a packet of arugula seeds, and then: more snow.

Well, good news. Today it is 54 degrees outside, the snow has been gone for about a month, and on the first of May we turned the soil and planted the arugula seeds. More importantly, now, today, there is arugula growing in the garden!

Ideas and arugula alike, things start small. The seedlings are tiny but growing steadily, and I know that in a very short time, maybe a few weeks, we’ll be having spicy, almost-bitter arugula with balsamic vinaigrette—one of our favorite early spring delicacies from the garden.

It’s just like my writing: day-after-day, what started as a tiny seed of an idea, eventually grows into a blog or a short story or maybe into a full-grown novel.

How does your garden of writing grow? How do you encourage your tiny seedling ideas?

Cheers,

Julia

Yesterday When It Was Spring


Yesterday when it was 65 degrees, a lot of snow melted so that a corner of the garden was exposed. It made me hopeful, and I started thinking about planting. So much so that when I got up this morning at 5:30 a.m.—and it was dark, thank you daylight savings—I started to write a blog about planting the garden.

My plan was to go out and take a picture of that corner of the garden, to include with my blog.

But then, when it got light, and I looked outside, IT WAS SNOWING. Yep, that’s Maine in Spring. And, as they say in Maine: “Deal with it.”


Cheers,

Julia

p.s. Blog about Spring canceled due to snow.

What surprises did you get this morning that changed your plans?

Have a Wabi-Sabi Wednesday!


Wabi-sabi: a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.

– From Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koran


When we bought our house, the yard was overgrown. The house is about 120 years old, and a lot of people have made their marks on the garden—with sometimes good and sometimes not so good results. But it’s an old garden, so to be fair to gardener’s past and present, let’s just say if the garden and gardeners were in a relationship on Facebook, the relationship status would read “It’s Complicated.”


One particular garden bed, right outside our kitchen door, really needed help. It was overgrown by the most beautiful Siberian irises. But it also had the craziest patchwork of other plants: some Pot of Gold, Antique Bleeding Hearts, Ajuga, Lady’s Mantle, but mostly the overgrown but still beautiful irises.


I had a vision of a kitchen herb garden, and I started out strong, planting three big clumps of chives, transplanted from our old house. I knew the lilac-blue of the chive blossoms and the hollow tubular leaves would go beautifully with the intensely blue irises and their spiky leaves.


But then I got stuck. I wasn’t so sure what to do because I didn’t want the crazy quilt, “Clown Pants” garden I was stuck with, but I am also not a hater or a killer of anything green. Plus, this garden was old, old, OLD. Like the house. With a lot of history. Which is what I wanted, right?


A friend of mine—an artist and an amazing gardener with a fabulous eye—lives right around the corner. I got up my nerve, and decided to call and ask for her help. Boy was I nervous. Her yard is absolutely beautiful. And perfectly cared for. With lovely river rocks forming the driveway, each individually placed by the artist. And if anything looks out of place, I assure you it’s by design. Her garden is also her palette, I reminded myself, and each journey begins with a single step. I picked up the phone.


“How ‘bout this afternoon?” She jumped at the chance!


I wondered how much weeding I could get done before she arrived.


That afternoon, I stood in the garden, side by side with the artist. This is not a talkative woman, rather reclusive by nature. And we stood silently, taking it all in. Her arms folded over her chest, finger gently tapping on the sleeve of her work shirt.


She asked only one question: “You planted these chives?”


“Yes?”


“I like the choice of three.”


Whew! Then back to the silence. Finally after what felt like hours, when I couldn’t stand it anymore, I asked her what she thought.


“Wabi-sabi.”


“Wabi, wha?”


She laughed. “Wabi-sabi. The Japanese aesthetic centering on our acceptance of our transient time on Earth. Embrace and find beauty not just in new but also in decay—in the flowers’ deadheads, the paint peeling on the garden fence, the rust on the lamp pole, even the overgrown weeds!”


My friend smiled and stretched out her arm in a sweeping gesture. “Can you not see the beauty in the old?”


Since then, every summer as I contemplate the peeling paint, the withered plants that haven’t made it through a brutal winter, the deadwood in the lilacs, the invasions of volunteer Maple trees, the creeping weeds and grass—the reality of gardening in an old garden in Maine—I work hard to embrace the Wabi-Sabi. At the same time, I try to forgive and appreciate myself (and all my gardening predecessors) for all we can (and cannot) do.


Cheers,

Julia


p.s. Is there anything wabi-sabi in your life? Do you embrace it or does it drive you crazy? Are there ways that Wabi-Sabi can be incorporated into our writing lives?


This week I was reminded of Wabi-sabi when I read Melissa Crytzer Fry’s blog: End of Mighty Saguaro. Then, when I searched the web to clarify my memory, I was surprised to find an article posted this week at Mother Earth News about Wabi-Sabi!