Tuesday, June 2, 2009


We made our first run to the produce market this afternoon. Imagine a city park with 200 year old oak trees casting much needed afternoon shade. Imagine twenty or so little tent-like awnings (the craft show variety) pulled into a circle around a parking area with trucks or vans pulled up behind them, and a wealth of fresh produce, bread, jams, sauces and the obligatory craft or two, hand-lettered signs and professional banners. Then imagine 30-50 people arriving in their cars with fabric bags and baskets in hand. And, imagine varieties of veggies that you haven't seen before, but which look tasty and tempting. That's our new produce market. Mitchell and I agreed that it's what we imagine small town markets were like 200 years ago with everyone bringing what they had to sell into town on Saturday and then buying what they needed to take home.

What we needed was a few strawberries to get us thru until our CSA produce share comes on Thursday. What we bought was strawberries, bread, more bread, and beets. Only the fact that we have plenty left from last week's share kept us from buying more. Everything looked so good!

We are already experimenting with "new" vegetables this summer. I have discovered kale. The last time I ate kale was [literally] at Sequoyah Hills Elementary School in the first grade. In those days the only known way to cook kale was forever. My grandmother used to tell me that to cook greens one had to boil them until the smell got into all the closets. The fine ladies in the school cafeteria certainly used the same recipe. The resulting green slim made it to my very short list of foods I won't eat - and I am not now, nor have I ever been, a particularly picky eater! My friend Elizabeth gave me a more modern recipe for kale and I like it a lot. That's one veggie crossed off the do-not-eat list.

Another new food for me is turnips. I believe I never had the opportunity to eat one before. Nonetheless, I knew I did not like them so they were on the DNE list, too. I believe this is a result of my parents not liking turnips. I am fairly sure that if parents don't eat something, their children are likely to inherit the dislike, since they don't get the opportunity to taste. I sauted them once and liked them fine that way, but really like them raw in a salad. Today at the market we found little turnips in both white and a lovely purple - definitely tempting.

We are still experimenting with Swiss Chard. It's the symbolic joke of the CSA group and represents all the veggies that we don't know how to cook. In fact, we have only gotten one meal of Swiss Chard so far. Mitchell didn't like the way I fixed it, but I have another recipe to try the next time we get some.

We do like beets and bought some today, but we stuck with the "normal" red beets. Another vendor had orange and yellow beets. Next time I want orange beets and a purple cauliflower. I'm really getting into this new food thing.

Other vendors had breads of several kinds - french baguettes, foccacio, various grains and sweet breads. Again, we bought at the first vendor and I wished we had waited. We could have bought bottled sauces of several kinds, and lamb or beef, or eggs, or plants, or cut flowers, or even barbecue! There were craftsmen with carved wooden bowls [very well done and reasonably priced] and stained glass [some pretty suncatchers], handmade jewelry, and several others that we did not really visit.

Everyone from whom we purchased thanked us for buying locally, or for supporting small farmers. That was an interesting experience, but it underscored for me that we want to continue to do it. While it's not possible all year round in our climate, we can certainly do it six to nine months a year. So call us locovores - at least until October.

Status Update

Thought it would be interesting to see what six weeks of work, rain and sun can do to the garden. If you were around on April 14 you saw a very different view of the garden [above]. I was pleased with the good shape the garden was in - in general - but as you can see, it was just beginning to grow. Perennials were starting to come up and shrubs were greening up, but you can clearly see the paths and the structure of the space. The grass looked good, that not much else.

Now add some good, rainy growing season and this afternoon it looked like this:

Unfortunately, I took this photo a good bit later in the day than the first, so the shadows are very different but you can see how lush everything has become - and we are just beginning to get blooms. Look how full the crabapple tree is, and the hedge at the back - you can hardly see the shed and house behind us now. The tower for the watering stand is nearly hidden by the Virginia Sweetspire. The round lily pond in the front is completely hidden behind daylilies now and Agnes appears to be hiding, too. The semi-circle path is still obvious, but there's lots more growing there. I moved the gazing ball to the front because it had gotten completely hidden.

After a hot humid day, it suddenly cooled off a bit late this afternoon and I was able to sit out by the fish pond and read - for the first time in weeks. It was cool and calm and a place to rest. That's the payoff for all the hard work.

On Saturday we had our extended family for a cookout on the deck - eight adults and four children; the latter ages one to five. It was delightful to see the children playing in both the yard and garden. The pond was a draw for them, especially at fish feeding time, but they ran in the grass and hid in the garden. The best part of all, tho, was the three year old boy running back and forth down the paths - in his diaper! He was just tall enough that his head would pop up from time to time as he ran, as if a mini-streaker had arrived. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing him, and delighted to watch the little ones entertain themselves with next to nothing but their imaginations. Another reason for the garden: It's a place for children to play.

Hope you've had the opportunity to work in your garden and are starting to reap the rewards. Happy digging!

And that's what the garden is really for - the enjoy.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

What's in Bloom?

I've been so busy with the Big Project that stuff has burst into bloom and I've not been updating you. It seems like everything is blooming at once.

First, the "red" yucca finally bloomed. Altho it had a lovely red streaked stem, the flower is just as creamy white as any other yucca. It is an unusually pretty plant, tho, with the variegated leaves and the red-striped stem. We have a second one that continues to struggle, but at least with this one blooming, there is hope for the other one - next year.

The small day lilies are bursting. We have 'Happy Returns' which is a butter yellow, rather than the more popular 'Stella d'Oro' which is a gold. These are about half the size of "normal" day lilies and are rebloomers, so we will have them thru the summer.

The yarrow is starting to bloom. We have a pastel mix, rather than the more familiar gold. We've naturalized them around the pond and used them as filler wherever I need some additional color. Altho there are pale yellow, cream and pink, there is also a dark pink that provides a nice pop of color in many places.

Today I cut the first bloom off one of the hydrangeas. It's also a rebloomer that Mother gave us for Christmas one year. We also have a spirea that has lovely pink blossoms. It looks like a cloud of pink all around the shrub.

Most of the pots of annuals are doing pretty well, except that the (!$&^*#@ chipmunks keep digging up some of the plants. I put back two or three every day, so they are not growing very fast. And the waterlilies are all blooming. We have a pink one and a yellow one in the fish pond and another yellow in a small round lily pond. The latter is blooming like crazy. It's out in the middle of the yard, so I think it gets more sun than the fish pond, and the flowers seem to like it.

Like all good gardens there are some surprises, tho. Apparently the birds planted these hollyhocks by the mailbox. I suspect the paper delivery man is not too thrilled with them, but they came as a lovely surprise when they popped up this spring. These were originally planted at the very back of the back garden and mostly were two shades of pink. Somehow one of the white ones managed to plant itself here - in practically no dirt, but a perfect spot.

Basically, it's lush and growing beautifully. With all rain in March and April, everything has come to full life a little bit earlier than usual. Part of it is the maturity of the plants, or course, but it already looks like it normally does in mid-June, so I guess we are about two weeks ahead. Today I've given you a look at the individual stars. Maybe tomorrow, I can give you the big picture. Happy digging!

ps: Mitchell's vegetable garden is also thriving. The lettuce is exploding, but everything else is just growing normally. He has also put in one of those upside down tomato plants. He has many little tomatoes - both on the regular plants and on the upside down one. I think we could begin harvesting lettuce any time now.

June 1, 2009

Today I could retire. "Could" being the operative word, of course, since I have no plans to do so.... but there is a feeling of freedom and power knowing that if things were to change in some important way I could just pick up the phone and call our friends at Social Security and say "sign me up!"

I never even thought about retirement until about two years ago. That was the first time that I focused on the fact that I will have to wait until 66 for full benefits, rather than "only" 65. I actually found that a bit troubling, but I recall thinking that May 31, 2013 could be the last day I worked. Then I decided to move it to December 31, 2013 in order to get my full 401(k) match for that year. [Miss Nell didn't raise no fools!] And then in June of last year the roof started to fall in - first I lost my job and then the market tanked taking a substantial part of the aforementioned 401(k) with it. Fortunately a new job has made it possible for me to get back to contributing to my retirement funds, so if the market will just rebound soon.... you get my drift. So now that I am back to the starting point, in a manner of thinking, why not retire? Because I'm just not ready.

I love my new job. Working for a start-up corporation has been the most satisfying work of my career. I love being involved in decision-making and planning for the future. I love being asked my opinion. I love being responsible for thinking the finances thru and giving the partners my honest opinion, and often giving them the most negative possible scenarios so that they can decide between options. I love the variety of things that I am doing - even the things that I long ago passed on to others at my last job. And I have come to love working at home.

Money does matter. While things are looking better on the economic scene, I have lost a lot of value in my retirement funds. It would be silly to start hitting them now as they are just starting to rebound. Better to hang in the additional four years and hope for a good market surge.

I'd be bored. Altho the time will eventually come that I only want to work in the garden, play more tennis, and read more, I'm not there yet. I learned last summer when I was "on sabatical" that I did not enjoy having no responsibiliies and no regular work. If I were to retire now, I would want to do a little something a couple of days a week. Better to stay with my full time job than look for something now - when jobs are scarce. I would be better off to negotiate something part time with my current employer. [That idea is definitely filed for the future!]

I just can't see myself as "retired". As much as I would love to spend more time with Mitchell, I just am not ready to slow down completely. I feel too young. I look in the mirror and see too young. I think of myself as too young. Since I started working at home we have settled into a nice routine. I work early in the day - usually 6:30 to noon and then a couple more hours after lunch. He sleeps in most days and then takes care of his tennis playing, lunches out and other errands during the late morning and early afternoon. By 2:30 or so I am done for the day, so we have time together in the nice part of the afternoon - to garden, to shop, and most often to just sit on the porch [or the garden bench!] and enjoy life - and each other. In many ways my job allows me some of the perks of retirement, while still working.

I try to remember what my mother was like at 65 and my grandmothers, but find little help there. Mother retired the day she turned 65 and never looked back. She was ready to leave the city she had called home for 35 years and return to her actual hometown, where she could be close to her older sisters. She was still young at heart, but fully ready to stop working. She renewed old friendships and took on much of the initial caretaking for her sisters - at least until their health (or hers) got really bad. My grandmothers lived a much different life in their 60's than I do now. Their worlds were so much smaller and they had so many fewer interests than I do. They were physically old as well - never having done any meaningful exercise. I can truly see that 60 is the new forty - or something like that.

So, I think I will just revel in the knowledge that I can do it....but on my terms and when I choose to sometime in the future. Unless something happens, I think the next time I need to consider retirement is December 31, 2010 when I could COBRA my insurance until Medicare kicks in. That might be more tempting!