Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summer scenes

I love that even when I feel like I don't have anything to write about, when I feel like I haven't made any "progress" on the house or the sewing projects or the flower garden, I can walk outside with my camera and see the progress of the season.

This week: loaded blueberry bushes. The birds (waxwings?) nesting in the honeysuckle have hatchlings. The currants are ripe; the birds are thrilled. Maybe next year they'll get made into jam, or dried for baking. Deer have found my garden, and are eating beets, beans, chard, and peas. And stripping the new growth off my apple trees. Friends providing a barrage of helpful deer-repellent tricks give me courage...

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Let me tell you

Let me tell you about Mrs. Frewert. I never met her, but I know a lot about her. She owned this house before we did, and you can absorb a lot about your home's previous owners just by looking around. In a town like Gilbertsville, you learn via osmosis, too: from older neighbors, from friends, from family members who still live in town. "Which house did you buy?" folks will ask, when we announce we've just moved to town. 

I used to say, "Oh, the big gray one across from the Park." Which was usually rewarded with blank stares.

Now I say, "Used to be the Frewerts'." Bingo; immediate recognition. 

Mrs. Frewert liked dainty wallpaper, and stained glass, and flower gardening. Above all else, however, she liked bearded irises.

There are bearded irises everywhere. Overgrown, choked with weeds, in full shade where they'll never bloom, in full sun where they bloom like the dickens, clustered around maples in the yard and around outbuildings and birdhouse poles. 

I began (slowly) overhauling the flower beds this weekend. Above is the before picture. It's a big job. And, don't get me wrong, I love bearded iris. When they bloomed a couple of weeks ago, the sunny bed along the side of the house resembled a jewel box: tourmaline, topaz, amethyst. Covered in morning dew, they glittered in the sun. But. Enough is enough. I have my own designs for the house's flower beds, and though I love iris, I also understand too much of a good thing. I am relegating the irises to the side of the garage (opposite the compost bin), chopping their huge, knobby rhizomes into neat little chunks, and giving a lot of them away on the side of the road. 

You want some?

And then I'll dig out (probably) fifteen years' worth of overgrown weeds, and fill those beds up again with foxglove, coreopsis, cranesbill, coral bells, and lady's mantle. What are your flower bed favorites? Anyone want to send me a pre-paid shipping box to stuff with irises? How about seven? How about seventy?

Updates shall be forthcoming.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Vegetarian for Beginners: Roasted Potatoes, Eggs, & Greens

Maybe it's because I've been meeting lots of new neighbors, but lately I've found myself explaining my husband's vegetarianism a lot. It's a practical conversation: what does he eat, they want to know. Don't I, a willing carnivore, get tired of dulling down my cooking to suit his taste? It's made me more mindful, and also a little proud, especially when the meal involves stuff from the garden. It's got me thinking.

The hardest thing about cooking vegetarian, I think, is the lack of a main character. Working with meat, it's a foregone conclusion that the chops or the roast or the steak is going to be the star of the show: everything else is just a side-plot. Building a vegetarian meal is more like picking a soccer team. You want a good striker, a good sweeper, a good goalie, and lots of strong and capable wing-people. This meal is like that: a trifecta of simple foods so comforting the absence of meat isn't noticeable.

We cook this a lot: in the summertime with fresh-from-the-garden chard or beet greens; in the wintertime with frozen spinach or kale. It'll work with escarole, collards, and just about any other dark leafy green you can name. Potatoes and fresh or frozen greens are always available, so the meal tastes good and in-season all year. 

The "Recipe"

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees while you cube as many potatoes as will fit in your biggest roasting pan. Keeping the potatoes spread out in a single layer will ensure crispness. Add one or two tablespoons of olive oil-- enough to keep things from sticking to the pan-- and a liberal sprinkle of salt, pepper, and maybe some dried rosemary or dill if you're feeling fancy. Roast, turning the potatoes every 10-15 minutes or so, until done, about thirty minutes.


Warm some olive oil in a big frying pan, and toss in a sliced clove of garlic. Add as much rinsed, stemmed, roughly chopped greens as will fit, and set the lid on the pan. Greens reduce, a lot, when they cook-- once the greens wilt down you can add more to the pan, if desired. Cook tender greens like spinach a mere two or three minutes, and tough kale ten minutes or longer. Splash a little balsamic vinegar over, salt, pepper, and serve.

Cook two eggs per person, however you like 'em. If you cook them once-over easy, you can let the yolks break over the crispy roasted potatoes, which is about as close to heaven as it gets... just my humble opinion, of course.


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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lush mini-jungle

Two weeks is a long time, in June. Two weeks ago, I posted a picture of the garden, and exclaimed, it's come a long way in two weeks! Now, predictably, I look back on that photo and roll my eyes: that was impressive? Oh b-b-baby, that was nothing.

Everything is looking so good. So freaking good. Considering I basically threw everything in the ground, with zero compost and the bare minimum of tilling, and now there's this lush mini-jungle of a garden happening, I am seriously impressed. 

The only pests I've experienced so far are flea beetles, which are fortunately more of an aesthetic annoyance than anything else. The arugula is fine; holey, but fine. It still tastes good.

Thrillingly, we've begun eating from the garden, as well. Mostly salads (YAY salads!) so far, but last night I made creamed kale (yes, creamed kale), and next week we'll be eating peas.

Latest pea harvest ever, but hey, better late than never, right? I love this time of year.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Second-longest day of the year

Returning is a wonderful thing, isn't it? I've been walking around all month, it seems, shaking my head and saying, goodness, it's so good to be back! I left my parents' farm when I was eighteen, lived in cities for eight years, and now I'm back to re-embrace everything I loved growing up. The soundtrack sounds something like reunited and it feels so good, reunited cuz we understood...

It's a pretty sappy time right now. Just ask Patrick.

Things are different for me in a rural place. The background murmur of city traffic--constant but not unpleasant-- is absent, now, and unexpectedly it seems there's a lot more room in my brain, in my senses, for other things. I notice things.

The flea beetles that turn my arugula to green Swiss cheese shine like little jewels in the leaves. The oriole's orange plumage is billboard-bright; his flight into the birches is the most dramatic moment of my day. Everywhere there's something to take interest in: a new weed, a new bug, a birdsong.

Some folks might miss their old friends or their favorite hometown restaurant that went out of business. I just miss the charms of weird little bugs and interesting weeds and bright orioles.

Just about every day I think of a new reason to be happy we're here. This is the life.

Tomato-Feta Pita Pizzas with Arugula (one of our favorite summer meals)

Arrange tomato slices on pitas, and adorn each one with a sprinkle of feta. Toss the arugula with a drizzle of olive oil, some salt, pepper, and a squirt of lemon. Put a quarter-cup of balsamic vinegar in an empty glass jar, and microwave for two minutes. Grill the pitas for five minutes or so, until the bottoms are crispy. Place on a plate, drizzle the balsamic "syrup" over, and top with arugula. 

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Monday, June 20, 2011


Summer so far has been a bell curve of busy weekends, and I'm pleased to say that we are on the down-slope now. Sunday Patrick and I had our first day off together since mid-May. And for the first time since November, we spent it doing something other than working on the house!

We made pancakes.

We went to Cooperstown.

We had cold Chardonnay and arugula salad for lunch.

We drove home. Patrick mowed; I weeded.

Then, we grilled.

It was abso-freakin-lutely perfect.

Where did the weekend take you?

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Friday, June 17, 2011

In the bin

Chalk it up to my proud pedigree: I'm a cabinet maker's daughter, and I loves me some power tools. There are women, lots of women, who get to their happy place in other, more domestic ways. And well, I get to my happy place in some pretty domestic ways too. You might even say socially acceptable ways. But this, this isn't one of them. 

I'm pretty sure church sermons have been made linking the decline of society with the rise in women's empowerment. Which is probably why I was smiling like an idiot, wielding my Sawzall out on the lawn yesterday.

I built a compost bin. I said I would, and I did.

A long section of fence had been leaning drunkenly since March. The fence separates the back of our lawn from the swampy meadow beyond, but doesn't serve any real purpose. So, rather than repair said fence, I repurposed the sagging section. And now we have a compost bin. 

Note to self: must do more projects which involve power tools...

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Three days off

I am the beaming recipient of three unexpected days off. I am spending as much time as possible outside-- shoveling, dividing plants, hanging laundry, wielding power tools, canoodling with Pete. Getting things done.

These pictures are from yesterday. The highlights: relocating two walnut saplings, taking down a large section of fence which had leaned drunkenly since March, watching the cats stalk a chipmunk, preparing the taken-down fence-pieces to become a compost bin, which I'm going to get back to building now.

This is the life. If you don't hear from me until Monday, just know I'm likely covered in dirt/sawdust/sweat/small biting insects, and blissed out up to my eyebrows.

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Monday, June 13, 2011



What is there to say about the best, happiest, most friend-filled weekend since our wedding? 

Remember how I was professing my love for the house and our new life here, but feeling like it wasn't quite "home" yet? Well, I learned something this weekend. Full of heaped plates and brimming glasses, with our whole kaleidoscope of friends new and old strung out among rooms and yard and porches, a house can't help but feel like anything but home. The town came out, en masse, to offer their congratulations. We felt honored.

It rained, and not a little, either. There wasn't much time spent in the yard, but the people who mattered most got to take a quick and rain-splattered jog through the orchard and around the garden. After all, there's always next year. Kids played in driveway puddles and announced weather updates after every thunderclap. 

At the end of the night, two very pleased (if slightly soused) hosts had a celebratory hug and fell into bed. That was Part One.

Part Two was pancakes on Sunday. Two of our favorite families drove out for the morning, and though Patrick sadly had to split early in the morning (festival), and was missed, it was still a dang good time. The pancakes were hot and toasty. Our Vermont friends brought a jug of Vermont syrup. 

The women stayed to clean up (bless them all!) while the Dads took four kids to the park across the street. We figured they were just outnumbered enough to keep them in line. (The Dads, not the kids.) Later, we joined them.

Thank you, friends, for one of my favorite mornings ever, and for showing me a brave and beautiful face of motherhood, and reminding me of everything I'm looking forward to.

Altogether I'd say it was a pretty good party.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

In the orchard

So many projects are going on here, all the time. Last night I told Patrick I want to clone myself: I could have an inside-working clone and an outside-working clone. A clone who goes to work and gets paid and a clone who stays home all day and gets things done.

Things are getting done, even sans clone. I forgot to announce, here, that I'd ordered fruit trees and raspberry bushes, and then I forgot to announce that they'd arrived in the mail, but I'll be DARNED if I'm going to forget to announce that everything has been planted, and is thriving.

The "orchard" as I love to call it, is behind the garage. Two Northstar dwarf cherry trees (reaching a maximum height of eight feet!), two semi-dwarf Golden Transparent apples, and two semi-dwarf Northern Spy apples. The apple trees will max out at 12 feet. 

I've never grown fruit trees before, and I'm a little intimidated. The chicken, and the big vegetable garden don't intimidate me, because I grew up watching my parents tend healthy and happy chickens and vegetable gardens. My parents did not, however, have luck with fruit trees. We had one (1) plum tree that dutifully grew a bit taller and bushier every year, but never once produced a plum. 

I've been doing my reading, though. I'm learning about pruning, and natural pest-deterrent sprays, and planning on planting chives around my trees just as soon as I can.

The twelve raspberry bushes went in over by the vegetable garden.

Remember that I mentioned I'd spent awhile reading up on chicken coop designs this week? Well, I was also comparison-shopping and pricing out cedar rail fencing for the garden. And for split rails, it'd be a thousand-dollar job, so maybe I'll look into plank fencing. I just can't wait for that fence; it'll make the whole operation so much more... (I'm using the term loosely here) polished. Get real, I'm talking about a garden fence with the same language interior designers use to discuss bed skirts and curtain finials? Well, yes, I am. So be it. It's my garden and if I want it to be polished, well then it damn well better be polished! Cedar fence and all.

Oh, and speaking of the garden.

It's come a long way in two weeks.

Tomorrow I get to show it all off: orchard, garden, house and yard. People are coming; LOTS of people. So now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to cleaning. But maybe first I'll hang my begonia baskets on the front porch. Because. You know.

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Terrible, terrible freedom

Genevieve had her first sweet, slimy taste of freedom last night (I'm pretty sure that to a chicken, freedom tastes like all the worms you can eat). We didn't intend to set her free, it just happened.

At first, it was kinda cool. We turned up pieces of sod (there's a huge pile skulking in our driveway-- it's the sod that came off my vegetable garden) and watched her scratch and gobble up all the crawlies underneath, with utter aplomb. Worms, sowbugs, millipedes, grubs, snails, slugs, earwigs: she loves them all. She also loves pecking the seed heads off the dandelions, and eating ant larvae.

I mean, come on, wouldn't you?

I'd spent a good part of my day doing some scratching and pecking of my own-- on the internet, turning up plans for modest chicken coops. Like this one. Someday, there will be a small coop, and a small flock to live there.

She's remarkably tame. She'll even come to us, if it strikes her fancy, when we rustle in the weeds. I feel wholly and inexplicably pleased, watching her scratch and peck. She's fulfilling her chickeny desires-- but it's so much more than that. It's her purpose-- the complete and total reason of her existence, to eat grubs and fluff and so many more things that are useless to humans, for the production of precious and celebrated eggs. There's no such clarity in my life, no purpose as plain as consuming bad and generating good.

When the heat started to be too much for us (it was 97 yesterday), and it was time to start dinner, we began trying to persuade our charge to return to her cage. Naturally, the harder we tried, the warier and more flighty she became. Though we were tipping over sod-rolls and feeding her worms out of our palms minutes ago, to Genevieve we had suddenly morphed into Evil. Evil rake and blanket-wielding captors. She went so far as to fly across the street and up onto the telephone line to elude us.

An hour later, two extremely dirty, sweaty, and exasperated chicken-wranglers made their catch. Suffice to say, she won't be getting out again any time soon.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Three years ago today

Photo by Kathy Morris.

It was hot. Sweat trickled down the backs of my knees as we said our vows by the river.

The hors d'oeurves my mother-in-law made and the cookies my mom made and the bouquets Stephanie made and the toast Alexis made were perfect and beautiful. I still smile, thinking about that day and all it held, and all it meant.

Last year, we celebrated two years with a weekend camping near Gilbertsville. We drove into town that evening, and walked around (maybe a little tipsy) watching the fireflies in the big cow pasture off Sylvan Street, strolling past a big gray house on Spring Street where we knew we'd be living someday. Yesterday evening, we walked the streets of town again-- now, our hometown-- watching fireflies and remembering last year, when all the joy and all the work and all the transition was still ahead of us. Now the big gray house is home, our future is coming into focus, and we have as much to celebrate and rejoice over as we ever have.

Happy Anniversary.

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Monday, June 6, 2011


Planted two cherry trees and four apple trees, and thought perhaps that I should've waited until after our big Open House party (next weekend!) before ordering trees!

Waitressed two shifts, neither of which was overwhelming.

Indulged my mother-in-law's desire to help get the house ready for the party, Saturday morning.

Watched her mow the entire yard, and wash windows in the entire downstairs, and was grateful.

Spent all of Sunday in Binghamton, at an anti-fracking event organized by the band's bassist (and our good friend) Jon.  

Enjoyed seeing our "old" friends, some of my favorite bands, and dancing and smiling for hours in the sunshine.

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Friday, June 3, 2011

You've Come a Long Way, Baby: Dining Room

Months ago, I got lost thinking about the great Move In. Keeping us focused, goading us on through the long, cold winter, move in presented a light at the end of the tunnel: a perfect idyll of a time to make things pretty, and make things home. 

Home-making. My most favorite of all favorite activities in the world. I couldn't wait.

Naturally, "perfect idylls" tend to look a little less perfect and idyllic up-close and personal. They're easier to preserve from the glum vantage point of a long, cold winter. Lately, Gilbertsville was puzzling me: furniture stood in place, function had returned to the kitchen and the bathroom and the bedroom, yet nothing really felt like home. Chalk it up to May: I've spent two hours outdoors for every one indoors for the past month, scampering from the house to the garden like a rat fleeing a sinking ship. 

Okay, maybe not quite like that. But close. And I have a lot to show for it: a fenced garden with everything in the ground, flower beds that have more flowers in them than weeds (though still lots of weeds), two hazelnut bushes planted along the back fence, a happy chicken. But yesterday evening, stepping inside, I finally mustered the motivation to face the house with my shoulders square. I got my bearings: the withered pot of daffodils on the kitchen counter, unpacked boxes collecting around the fringes of the living room, orphaned tools and paint buckets in every room. Random hardware bits littering the windowsills. The charger for our Ryobi tool set, with its red blinking light, blinking at me from our downstairs bathroom vanity.

I listened to two episodes of This American Life, and slowly, chaos succumbed to order. The daffodils were relegated to the garage, the downstairs bathroom vanity was cleared and scrubbed out, the Ryobi charger found a new home in the basement. I even had time to pretty things up, just a little bit, in the dining room.

It's amazing what a lift in spirits can be had from replacing a tabletop screwdriver, to-do list, and cat with a runner, a framed photo, and a vase. Sigh.

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Flower Pillow Appliqué

Part one of the story is, I saw this pillow at Anthropologie awhile ago-- actually, I saw it in Anna Maria Horner's living room-- and I thought, oh, for Pete's sake, I could make that.

Naturally, I wasn't the first person to think I-could-make-that. I started seeing tutorials for making said pillow bouncing around on Pinterest. Lots of tutorials. (I love Pinterest.) The tutorials were really good, but I couldn't look at them without thinking about how I could improve them. That's it, really. That's why I'm a Maker.

Part two of the story is, I made a heady joyride of a Last Convenient Trip to JoAnn Fabrics a couple weeks ago, pre-move, and walked out with more pillow forms than I probably should have. They were fifty percent off; I was insatiable.

The project turned out to be WAY more time than any of the tutorials made it out to be. But I was completely fine with that. Give me permission to dump my scrap box on the floor and spend happy hours pawing through it and cutting petal shapes. I could sit and paw and cut for hours. I ended up drawing the petal shapes on paper, and cutting them out and tracing them. It added a lot to the project, but, it also means I have this great envelope of petal shapes to trace if I ever want to put a flower on another pillow, or tote bag, or...

I'm not sure where it's going to live, ultimately, but I do love that the flower shape is very similar (and complimentary) to the flowers painted on the great room wall. (Which, by the way, has not been touched in over a month-- chalk that up to the garden!)

I love that this was essentially an eight dollar project-- the cost of the pillow form only-- and that it's given new life to some teeny scraps I didn't want to part with. 

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