Monday, July 28, 2014

mid-summer

In my mind, the transition from July to August should mark mid-summer. These are the two warm months of the year -- split them down the middle and you have the first half of summer, then the second half.

In reality, it isn't so straightforward. When you have school age kids, August is all about getting ready for the next academic year and indeed, many schools begin activities in the second half of the month and so August starts feeling more and more like fall.

And when you teach in the fall, August requires you to work, to get ready for it.

Then, too, the world around you changes in August. Harvested fields. A tinge of yellow on some trees, a dusty green on others. Summer has peaked. Perhaps it's all in your mind, but August makes you think about the first drying leaves.

But not this year! Not for me! I am in the thick of summer and it feels grand!


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Ed has a slow wake up this morning and so I spend a long while deadheading spent flowers (and admiring those that are showing off for me and you right now).


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By breakfast, I've put in a hefty chunk of time in the yard (and racked up some 1000 steps -- which isn't much, but trimming plants is all about stretching, so couple that with yoga like poses and please ignore what the damn step counter tells us).


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Our morning meal never changes for me, but it varies for Ed. Pancakes, cereals, left overs, eggs -- these shift according to his whimsey. Oftentimes he'll say "just fruit." Maybe with a big gulp of kefir.


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And since I had worked from the early hours, there is no guilt at all in taking my computer, my magazine, myself to the porch now and staying there. Because the air is lightly cool, the sky is partly cloudy and it is just so exhilarating to gently rock and look out occasionally at the world before you. (When I'm on the porch, the hens often congregate right outside.)


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But, it also feels significantly decadent. Reading about travel possibilities feels decadent. Being without a schedule this week feels decadent. Not worrying about a syllabus for classes feels ultra decadent.

It can't last, can it, this luxurious world of free time?


We do push ourselves some in the later afternoon. It's been a while, a really long while since I've gone on a longer bike ride with Ed and so we do a rural road loop today -- not more than twenty miles, but with some hills, which is always painful for me and effortless for Ed.

Why do I need to pedal ten times for your one push?
Why do you always ask this when we go biking?
Are there more hills?
I can't recall. Probably. You can walk them.

Never!
Why not?
I want to keep up!


A typical conversation I'll have with Ed while trying to retain a sprightly pace on the bike.


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I suppose the scenery says it all -- at first, I'm convinced we are just at the cusp of summer.


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(bee hives!)


...eventually, I see enough to warn me otherwise.


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(harvested fields)


Wheat isn't the most commonly encountered crop here -- we're all about corn and soy -- and so when I see wheat, I am entranced. I grew up in wheat and potato country. I know these strips of gold.


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Funny how this season has you wishing for just a bit more time, even as winter has you counting the days until spring. Summer here is that good.

We pick up corn at a roadside stand. It's young and tender and wonderful. Supper takes no imagination.  Whatever you make now is going to be good. I promise. (Just don't overcook it!)


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday

A dazzling sky, brisk gusts of wind, just a tease of rain clouds in the distance (we haven't had rain since I came back and there is none in the near forecast so it would not be a bad thing to get a sprinkle of showers). That sets the stage for my Sunday.

So what to do with it? Give the morning away to farmhouse cleaning?

No. Or, not entirely. I give the place a fifteen minute wipe down. That's it.

Ed suggests a bike ride.

No. Those clouds on the horizon might tease us right into a thunder shower. We have great weather coming up all week long. We'll ride another day.

Breakfast on the porch?

Yes! After a quick garden prune (deadheading a few spent lilies).

We're so pokey with the meal that one surely might call it lunch.


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And then? A walk through the garden...


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...and this is the delightful part. The highlight of the afternoon.


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And then I turn my attention to the terribly unsexy project of weeding the raspberries. It has to rank right down there with cleaning out the chicken coop as the farmette's most unappealing task. The raspberries hold a good portion of our mosquito population -- we never spray there, not even cedar oil and so they know they have a safe haven. And it's prickly work. And the ground is hard for want of rain so pulling weeds, even through wood chips, is tedious. Need more reasons?

But I'm determined. We got the beds in order this year. So much work went into those darn beds! So long as my hands are functional and my back is not protesting, I'm not letting them fall back into disarray!

So I pull weeds and clip spent canes and now Ed does have sympathy pangs and comes out to join me and sure enough, we get the job done. Good for another month or so (with minor touch ups of course).

And now lunch?

No. After working hard, we're rarely hungry. He picks up his favorite coconut popsicle and I take a banana and we position ourselves on the porch and gaze out at the sky: a sure set up for an afternoon nap. But do we nap?

No. I have some minor meal preparations, because it is Sunday and my daughter and her husband are here for supper which surely calls for baking a blueberry pound cake...


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And just as I step out to get the grill going for dinner, the rain comes down. With great abundance.

No matter. We're on the porch -- safe. Always safe. From the bugs, from a harsh summer sun, from the rain. With color -- somewhat bleary and impressionistic in the rain -- on three sides. A place to let go of worry.


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The downpour doesn't last. By the time dinner is ready, the sun is peeking through and the world glistens and sparkles, refreshed, ready for the next round.


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My next round is tomorrow. But it surely was a splendid Sunday. For you as well, I hope.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

energetic

If I were to compare this day with most that came just before it, I'd say this had a faster pace.

The zip began early - with Ed poking at me in the delicious moments of a morning sleep and asking if I wanted to play tennis.
Well yes, but maybe not at this second?
Before it gets hot.
Before breakfast?
Of course!
Can I have ten minutes to wake up?
Meet me out front at 8:20.

So we play tennis.


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(a selfie! by Ed, whose arm is that long!)



And yes, after -- there is breakfast (of course there is breakfast!)..


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... and then, without pause or interruption, I head out to my daughter's and she and I walk over to the downtown farmers market.


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After the return, my irritating but at the same time lovable step counter pings -- "you've hit a new record!" Well okay, but don't expect me to play tennis and walk 90 minutes every day before noon. This day is unusually energetic.


At home, there's the predictable work with flowers...


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And every time I approach them from a different angle, it's as if a new canvas springs before me!


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This is the peak blooming time for the day lilies, so of course, they get my full attention.


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It is a rich world of flowers out there right now.

In the late afternoon, Ed and I do something that is about as us as it gets: we head over to Farm and Fleet for cheeper treats, car oil and wire cutters, then to Candina's for chocolates (letting me pick a small box of chocolates at Candina's is Ed's way of acknowledging feelings, helped tremendously by Candina's proximity to Farm and Feet), then to the library to take out a whole stack of movies we'll probably never watch.

Supper.  Ed hauls in the first of many many batches of tomatoes from the garden, including the indigo blue, right there on the top.


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So supper includes tomatoes. And the cucumbers and the.... oh, you really don't need to know all the ingredients of a summer meal. Yours are good, mine are good -- it's summertime, how can it be otherwise!


Friday, July 25, 2014

maintenance

If I ask Ed to help me rip up an acre of land, dig out a tree, remove boulders, lay several ton of wood chips, he'll do it. Right at my side.

If I ask him to help weed or water -- well, I wouldn't ask, because I know that's not his thing. He creates, designs, labors to effectuate a design. And then he's done.

It's a fine match, because I am your maintenance person. I keep things neat and tidy. I dust, weed, and water. I don't let things disintegrate into their past state of chaos.

Still, I tell Ed today that it feels awfully lonely right now, because what the yard needs is maintenance. And so I work alone.

Yes, there is our beautiful breakfast.


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And a moment to give a nod to the flowers.


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And then we slink into our world of Friday chores and when we resurface, he picks up his projects and I hit the beds and there you have it: day is done.

Though not really. Not tonight. My daughter is popping by for pizza on the porch while her husband is away at work...


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Pizza means no cooking, right? Well yes, more or less. But how could I not add a salad with gardens veggies -- beans, cucumbers and tomatoes. And too, Ed has a sudden interest in home made ice cream. I'm willing.
What kind would you like?
Vanilla.
I stare at him. Vanilla?
Of course!

So, we eat pizza and salad, followed by vanilla ice cream. With a few raspberries from the garden  sprinkled on top.


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And we watch chickens do their chicken thing and before you know it, the light fades and we are nearly into tomorrow. If it continues not to rain, my rituals wont vary much: maintenance. Water. Weed. Ed will probably watch from his big window at the sheep shed, throwing out the occasional smile and an encouraging word.                                                                                               

Thursday, July 24, 2014

frames

They frame my day: breakfast and dinner. Maybe you think it's because a retired person's day is so without structure that I've been forced to look to meals to mark a beginning and an end.

Wrong.

It's been this way for a long time. Breakfast opens the day for me, dinner closes it. These meals are my bookends. I treat them with utmost care.

My breakfast today is like all other summer farmette breakfasts  -- on the porch, with Ed.

In its predictability, it remains a tough event to photograph.  Ed isn't oppositional to my picture taking, but nor is he helpful. I have about five seconds to come up with something before he'll slink into a pose that is totally not fitting for the sweetness of an Ocean commemoration.

But for me, it's important to take note of this meal. Here it is today:



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And then dinner -- I don't often take pictures of it and sometimes I dont even write about it, but nonetheless, it's hugely important. And this has been so for the last forty years of my life: I care about each dinner, every day. And on the days that I cook it (which these days is nearly always), I worry about its details and I look forward to its preparation. Shaking pots, moving plates, making it all come together in a dramatic and victorious moment -- I love that challenge!

Today's dinner isn't especially fine. Chicken brats with spinach and feta -- that is the anchor. Oh, but build me a dinner in July! This is the time of abundant markets and too many choices. Our own local market tonight has fresh corn from just up the road, and another farmer still has a large pile of sweet peas. We pick up both.

And when you cook up those brats and the corn and the sweet peas, and then chop up your garden cucumbers and, for the first time, your garden tomatoes (in addition to a salad which, in this house is a staple), when you put all this together on one wee table that you always use for supper -- well now, it's a meal that properly closes the day.


Of course, if the two meals are bookends, then what of the time inbetween?

Today, I weeded and watered...



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...while the cheepers pranced, then rested (but always keeping tabs on what I was doing)...


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...and the bees did their thing and the butterflies did their thing...


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...dizzy from the utter abundance of blooming things...


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(toward the sheep shed)




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(toward the farmhouse)



...and Ed attended to his sniffles and, too, did what he so often does -- created stuff on the milling machine in the sheep shed...



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In terms of garden work, I'm still catching up with where I left off in June, even as the season progresses and plants come into their own, and indeed, some have already faded  -- nothing is ever as it was the day before. Even if I do use many of the same ways to describe a day: ate, weeded, watered -- it becomes a standard line, but one that is lived differently every single day.


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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wednesday

The sticky mugginess of too warm days is behind us. Suddenly, without storm or great upheaval, we got ourselves a bright and beautiful morning (and then day, and then evening, and possibly the rest of the week).

And I get to know today's morning very well. Ed is now with summer sniffles and so I'm taking over chicken duties again, being the one (for the first time since the days of the wedding) to open up the coop and set them free. Isis had been pestering us to let him out even before sunrise and so my very first photos are indeed from that time when it's light, but not yet light outside.


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I linger for a while. It is buggier now, before the sun comes up, but there is a certain peacefulness to the day that is so very appealing. Why walk away from it?

Eventually I hear the sound of stealthy Cammie - the stray cat that has taken to coming here in search of food. I quickly put out a dish for her in a wire cage that we keep open and then I retreat, waiting for her to eat it.

Cammie wont go into the cage. It's a trap and she senses it. We keep the door slightly ajar for now. At some point we do want it to close on her so that we can take her to the vet. For now, it stays open and when the dish of food is too far inside, she snubs it.

But the hens! Ah, the hens! They'll stretch themselves hugely and their necks will grow long and they will reach, reach, reach ever so much, just to get to that dish. And so we've stopped putting out cat food with any chicken meat in it. For obvious reasons.

I watch the cheepers and that takes a while and so now, finally, the sun pops over the horizon and the day becomes that gorgeous blue, or dappled blue, with an occasional puffy cloud -- the kind of sky you long for at any time of the year.


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The stage is set for a beautiful day.


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Breakfast is later, much later. I can't even think why. Just because. But, it's pancakes for Ed and peaches and freshly picked raspberries again and, too, I drink my coffee from the most expensively transported mug ever  -- one from Islay, with little sheep all over it, one that I didn't dare pack and so I went to the Bowmore post office to send it (and its companion) to myself and when I heard the price I nearly fainted, but send it I did and now here it is, freshly arrived, shouting at me -- I'm here! Use me! And so I do.


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After: more errands downtown, including a trip to the courthouse to retrieve some papers the Polish government seems to be needing. I catch myself as I set out, because I am wearing shorts. Shorts! If there was one place in life where I maintained proper decorum, it was in days when I represented clients, always poor, very poor clients in court proceedings. They deserved my best and my best included dressing the part. So to enter the court house in shorts feels blasphemous and yet I remind myself -- that was then, this is now. I am retired. I no longer engage in the practice of law!


After: there is some weeding, of course, and, too, I review with Ed changes that I want to make to portions of the yard (rip out the thorny, weedy roses and replace them with some of my perennials -- a job that will take grit and perseverance because the roses are a killer type, with thorns big and small, attacking you through every glove or article of clothing).

It's a project for early fall.


After: in the evening, I go with my girl to the concert on the Capitol Square -- a picnic type event that is especially lovely on an evening like today. (It's no small event: some 25,000 show up for the event).

We walk there and back, along the lake...


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...and sit on folded chairs on a blanket, and eat salads and cherries and ice creams...


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... and I leaf through magazines and think quiet thoughts about all the concerts I'd been to here, on the square, always with one or both of my girls. The number of such concerts is very large.


After: we walk back to her house, some 5216 steps away from the Capitol. My iPhone now refuses to stop counting how many steps I take and Ed sometimes will ask -- so what's the number now? -- and so I have added this unwelcome beast into my life for now, but it is the only unwelcome beast. Everything else, especially on a day like today, is, simply put, sublime.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

hot steps

Since reading the New Yorker essay by David Sedaris on the subject of becoming addicted to Fitbit (a fancy device that basically counts your steps and measures your level of activity), I have been mulling over the idea that I should count how many steps I take on an average day at the farmette. Though one could argue that measuring steps is not a great way to measure the level of activity in a person who engages in weed pulling for hours on end (surely more active than sitting on a couch, though not if you asked a step measuring device), still -- I am curious.

Ed scoffs at the idea of spending $48.99 on a Fitbit, even if it does get 4.5 stars on Amazon. When I point out that it will display for me all sorts of charts, set goals and even chide me for not stepping up to the 10,000 daily goal everyone should have before them, he goes on line and points to articles describing apps that I can get for free on my rather new iPhone -- apps that will convert my phone into a device that will measure my steps, call me names, draw charts -- the works.

It's an annoying feature of being so close to Ed: he often dashes my excitement in acquiring something, be it new pair of glasses or, in this case, a new (and unnecessary) exercise monitor.

Fine. I download the recommended (free) iPhone app. I check all settings. I turn it on. I walk. Nothing. I mean, it tells me I am taking zero steps.

Ed waves the iPhone furiously and gets it to register 2 steps. I tell him it's like having a scale that misreads your weight every morning. Totally frightening.

We remove the app and go on to the next one. "Moves." Also free.

Well now, this one works! Never mind that you have to have your iPhone glued to your body all day long. It does tally your steps and tell you how poorly you're doing. So that for example, today, when I had two grocery type errands to run and then a lot of weeding of the raspberry beds to accomplish (and man oh man, it was hot out there!), it tells me that I only took 4,821 steps. Annoying!


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Now if there only was a device that could measure the pleasure I get from our morning meal out on the porch...


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Or from taking stock of the flowers today...


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Including, of course, the day lilies...


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No such device out there. But if there was, I'd be off the charts.

Ah well, let me take a short walk. I mean, how can I face myself if I don't even hit 7500 on this lovely summer evening?

I glance down at my iPhone as I set out to walk. No steps are added. I walk some more. Stuck at 4821.

You could say that this motivates me to seek out a device that's more reliable. It does not. Even though the counter is (presumably) undercounting, it still was terribly unfun to have something there reminding me of every breath I take on this planet, every movement I make, every song I sing all day long. (Well, it didn't do all that, but you get my point.) I'll walk more, okay? But don't remind me to do it or it'll cease being spontaneous and fun. It'll turn into a chore. Walking through my garden on a summer day should never be a chore.


Post Scriptum (on the subject of bugs)


In response to a commenter's question, I offer these suggestions on how to wage your own mosquito wars (which we seem to be winning this year!) in your outdoor spaces:

If you want a quick fix for your yard -- buy Mosquito Beater -- in liquid form (at Farm and Fleet, for example). We mix it in a hand pump at the ratio of 5oz per 1.5 gallon water. Or, you can attach the store bought container to your hose and fire away! It's very effective and hasn't the toxicity of the the commercial sprays. Our bees and butterflies are doing fine!

True, we'd probably do even better if we used pure cedar oil (Mosquito Beater has other ingredients) and mixed that with water. The Mosquito Guy (a family run company out of Waukesha that has just recently entered the Madison market) did that for us for the wedding and it took care of upwards of 95% of the mosquitoes (for several weeks actually). Literally pushed them away into the hinterlands. If you stepped out of the cedar oil misted area -- they were there. Inside -- nothing.

Furthermore, our own misting (of the diluted Mosquito Beater) is on a spot-only basis -- around the path to the farmhouse where they congregate, for example. So we're not as effective as we would be if we misted most of the yard. But, the yard's too big, we're not fanatics -- we just want a modicum of sanity outside. We live near marshlands and so our bugs can get intense in the summer. This year, with the discovery of cedar oil (and possibly for other reason we cannot begin to ascertain -- more bats? more swallows? fewer raspberry bushes? who can tell...), I have been able to work in the yard for hours on end, with only the occasional slap.  It's really been a game changer for me.

I have to add -- for a strangely entertaining way to keep mosquitoes out of your way (and to kill them effectively when they get inside your porch or house, for example), we rather enjoy using charged racquets. Like this one. There are many on the market. We get the cheapest ones at Harbor Freight (around $3 plus battery) and they're very satisfying! Your inner hunter/warrior instincts come through as you wave the racquet and wait for the spark, zap, then sizzle of the mosquito!  Yeah!

Monday, July 21, 2014

edible gardens

The classic lethargy of a warm summer day set in early for me. Out there on the porch, at breakfast. Still with wet hair after morning showers.


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I should note -- peaches are peaking right now. So the fruit bowls have to fit it all -- the peaches (not ours this year: our trees were lost in the polar vortex and the new ones wont produce for several years), the Michigan blueberries and the garden raspberries.


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I stay on the porch for several hours after, reading. (With a view toward the sheep shed and barn.)


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But then I feel a pang of guilt for neglecting our fruit and vegetable garden. Raspberries -- yes, I picked those. Strawberries this year have been shared between chipmunks (they go for the berries) and Martha the groundhog (she eats the plants).

Ed has been more or less tending to the vegetable plot, but it it's tough going back there, by the prairie grasses: the ground now has that summer hardness, so pulling weeds is a chore. It's sunny, too, and there are bugs -- more mosquitoes than we have by the farmhouse where we've been playing with a home brew of water and cedar oil which seems to put them off quite a bit. So the vegetable garden is a beastly place right now. Very different than it was in the months of hope and promise, as we planted our 96 tomatoes and rows of corn, peas and beans back in May.

But once there, I shake off the feeling of discomfort. The sun feels warm, yes, but I haven't really felt that sticky humid air that comes with the season up to now. And once I get into the rhythm of weeding and watering, I lose track of time.

And there's so much to admire! Yes, there are the disasters: our peas are routinely being devoured by some animal that makes its way here especially for their sugary sweetness. Ditto brussel sprouts. But the corn is lovely right now! And last year's grape planting project is being supported by a beautiful grape trellis that Ed built while I was away. So the grapes appear to be thriving!


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grapes, supported by a wire



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corn, needing no support


And the tomatoes! Maybe we wont have 96 robust plants, but nearly that many and they are doing just fine!

Perhaps the biggest surprise is how the cucumbers took off. We planted the seeds directly into the ground this year and today I picked the first one. As you can see, there will be others!


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Too, between the tall milkweed that Ed refuses to pull out, even though it blocks the sun for several of our veggies (we need the milkweed for the butterflies!), I find a wholesome, thriving row of French beans!


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And now I'm truly motivated and it is very late in the afternoon before I'm done (having decided to also water our young orchard -- for once a thriving young orchard, as Ed's cages have effectively kept the deer away).



Later:

Time for supper. Well that's easy! Cheeper eggs, scrambled, with garden chives. Garden beans. A salad with garden cucumber. The leftover raspberry cake for dessert. How can you not love summer?!

I'll leave you with a handful of daylilies, clamoring for attention in their stellar, short moment of bloom.


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