Friday, July 19, 2019

Friday toast

You think you've got problems! It is so hot today here, in the Upper Midwest that every farmette animal is hiding in the coolest spot they can find. After a night of torrential rains, there are some secret wet places, but by afternoon, all of them will be toasty hot. Sort of like lounging near an oven where you're baking your pizza at the highest setting.

So hot, that our smoke and heat detector refused to be quiet, leading Ed to rip the battery out (Ed, you can't do that! We're awake, there's no fire. I'll put it in tonight), which only means that it utters an annoying beepy noise every now and then, rather than a continuous screech.

And on this hottest of hot days, Madison Gas and Electric had a morning explosion and fire, leaving thousands downtown without power. That outage just missed my mother's building. Elsewhere, people are scrambling to find cooling spots.

Knowing that this wave of furnace air was coming, I went out early to feed the cats. There are now only five kittens left and Dance, who never goes anywhere, has disappeared. I imagine she found a spot to deliver her litter. What a day to pick for your birthing day!

The constant nightly storms have rinsed our garden clean, so that we cannot really fool mosquitoes anymore: the pizza-like repellent is nearly gone. The bugs are returning, suitcases in hand. Still, I work the flower fields this morning without pause. Better get it done now, before the afternoon sweltering heat settles in.

I snip 640 spent day lilies.

(here's one that's just coming into bloom today)

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There is no earthly reason to spend any time on the porch. Nonetheless, we eat breakfast there. That memory of a long bleak winter hasn't totally left me yet.

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The flower beds are built around lilies and I can say with confidence that this is their very best moment: abundance, color, vitality. It's all there.

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(looking out from the porch: what about this is not sublime??)

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In the evening, a deer comes to help decapitate some of the lily heads. I tell her to go away. She says -- no, please share. Farm visitors are so unreasonable.

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Night. The air conditioning is on. The air outside is sticky hot. Tomorrow, we'll get the pounding rains again. Storms, thunder -- all of it. But right now it's quiet. Sticky hot and quiet.

Thursday, July 18, 2019


The night storm came and made itself comfortable over the farmette, throwing down bolts of lightning in succession for what seemed like hours. It was loud, violent, without mercy. I asked Ed if he thought we may be in for a tornado.
Go to sleep gorgeous. It's just a thunderstorm. 

Easy for him to say -- that man will sleep through anything at all (except when my phone pings and then he is wide awake, undone in the end only by the technology that resides at the side of the bed). Eventually the storm moved on to torture others further east and I let myself drift off again. For a short while.

It's important to feed the cats before the chicken coop opens up at 8, otherwise there's war between chickens and cats over who gets to finish up the "mixed grill" or "turkey giblets," and so despite a few distant rumbles, I force myself to get up and out to feed the cats at my usual early hour. But afterwards? It's back to bed. For the first time in many many years, we both sleep in until an insanely late hour.

Breakfast is on the porch. It will be hot today and hotter than hot tomorrow, but the morning is actually quite pleasant -- washed out and a tad drippy, but of course, on the porch all is peaceful, all is dry.

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Eventually the winds chase the clouds away and I go out to survey the damage. Everything is very wet, but only a few flowers were done in by the storms.  (view toward the Big Bed)

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Lilies are pretty resilient.

I pick 572 spent flower heads today, which may be this year's record, as the most prolific bloomers are nearing the end of their run. The more exotic lilies are rarely repeat bloomers, but still, every flower head is spectacular!

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And again, a nod to the lilium! Oh, if I could only reproduce their fragrance here!

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(smaller, but no less lovely are these -- the Lilium Roselily...)

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But let's get back to the day lilies: hey! it's time for Ocean's annual sing-along! This is what runs through my head as I approach what I call my trumpet girls. And I post the song by the British composer Purcell every year, at exactly this moment, because, well, you know -- we are creatures of habit and repetition. (I am returning to this version, as it's my favorite -- sung by a bunch of kids with no musical training from Manchester England.)

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What, you want something a little less ornate for your stroll through my gardens? Less Baroquey and closer to our more modern sensibilities? How about this beautiful piece by another Englishman, Delius (I love the selection of art for the youtube clip -- it includes a painting of his home in France and, too Impressionists whose works match the title of this piece  -- "Summer Evening.")

Evening music calls for an evening garden. I'll end with just a few impressions from the farmette tonight. Summer can be so immodestly beautiful!

(we walked over to the young orchard where we seem to have successfully planted a meadow!)

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(evening light on lilies)

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(yep, immodestly beautiful...)

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019


It's a hot, hot week in Madison, Wisconsin! Yesterday, very late in the day, Ed and I went to play disc golf (where you throw frisbees into distant cages). Just to get in the summer spirit, we both left our shoes behind and romped barefoot in the grass. It was an interesting hour. Though we were there at dinnertime, the heat was intense. The bugs kept us company, though in the open spaces, they (mostly) left us alone. The bees buzzed in the clover and when our discs flew off into the brush, retrieving them was murderous. My sweet partner in crime offered to brave the thicket and go after my misfires. I stayed on the grass and said "thank you" many times.

Early in the morning, the bugs at the farmette were so intense, that I snipped only twenty spent lilies, then said -- "that's enough." But this was my last real struggle. By mid-morning, we have the mosquito control squad here, spraying garlic oil at the periphery and a rosemary oil combo in other corners (making this place smell for a while like an Italian restaurant!) to scare away the vast majority (though not all) of the mosquitoes from farmette lands. Unless there are heavy rains, the mosquitoes will avoid coming back for a good two weeks.

The flower heads are mostly untouched and we are always happy to see butterflies, bees, humming birds and dragonflies (and unfortunately the japanese beetles) hover in the yard despite the pizzeria odor. (The smell does go away after about an hour.)

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For now, the mosquitoes have been chased away and I spend many hours today fixing the flower beds in ways that I just couldn't do for the past several weeks.

And they are in their prime right now!

The Big Bed is two sided, meaning against a backdrop of taller flowers, there are blooms to the east...

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... and blooms to the west. I suppose its main characteristic is that it's super loooooong!

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The other eight beds are more manageable. Well, one of them -- the one by the sheep shed -- is still a work in progress and the front bed -- the one by the road -- suffers terribly from the dumping of salt each winter (here is a combination that I look forward to seeing each July...).

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The biggest concentration of day lilies is by the porch. They're just coming into their glorious moment right now. Remember how the porch was flanked by daffodils and lilac in April? Right now it's all about the day lilies (against a backdrop of Monarda to the west)!

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As for a favorite lily of the moment? How about this one, from the day lily collection:

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And this one from a true lily set:

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[Speaking of "fixing" things, we do share your concerns about the growing number of barn cats here. At first there was just Stop Sign. Then came her daughter, Dance. Then Stop Sign got pregnant again and in April she added six kittens to the pack. And now Dance is pregnant. This is, of course, unsustainable. We know that. But having them neutered is a complicated business and the timing has to be correct. We can only catch them one at a time and it's a crap shoot as to who will be the one to enter the trap. This isn't the best month to do it: the kittens are too young (the recommended age is 4 or 5 months; they are just a little over 3 months old). Stop Sign would be a good candidate, but surely Dance is not. Again, we're not ignoring the problem. It's just a wee bit more complicated than it seems.]

Breakfast is on the porch. Hot, but not so hot that we would give up on this beautiful summer morning ritual.

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From our vantage point at the table, we look out on this (yep, that's Dance resting her belly on the picnic table):

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And there you have it. Summer. In full swing.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019


Perhaps this could be recorded as my most retired-like day since I actually retired. Apart from getting up early to feed the cats and fighting bugs to snip 465 spent day lily heads, I did not bother with chores at all. Oh, sure, I fixed us our usual breakfast!

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And I cooked a dinner. But this hardly counts. If you are alive and not incapacitated, you need to forage for food one way or another.

My inclination today was to read. Perhaps writing will win out yet, but honestly, I need to make progress on summer reading or else I'll fall back on 4th grade level vocabulary in my writing. They say most discourse proceeds at about that level of complexity.

In the meantime, enjoy my garden walk with me. You get to savor it without the bugs!

(the Big Bed -- plenty of variety. day lilies are coming in, but there's lots more that catches the eye right now.)

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(Dance, are you sure you should be jumping down trees in the late stages of your fat belly pregnancy?)

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(I love sweet peas, but most of ours get eaten up by our family of farmette animals. this one was left behind for me to enjoy: small, but pretty!)

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(my planting of wild flower seeds was not a great success in that the weeds were faster than the flowers. still, there are exceptions. here's one of them...)

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(in honor of the foxgloves of the U.K., here's the last of mine...)

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(Happy, being his usual happy self!)

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(here's a test: can you tell a day lily (hemerocallis) from a true lily (lilium)? hint: this photo has more of the latter!)

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Evening -- offering some of the best light and the most robust bug activity!

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Tomorrow, we're on the attack: garlic and peppermint oils. It wont kill the mosquitoes, but it will show them who is boss around here!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Monday staycation

I use the word "staycation" somewhat satirically. Yes, I'm staying home, and I have no care giving responsibilities, and no great house projects that require my time and physical effort. But for me, the lines between vacation and a normal day aren't so clear anymore. Ever since I retired, my days are a mix of everything. On vacations with family, amidst wonderful adventures, I try with all my might to help make it a smooth and memorable trip for us all. And back at the farmette, even if I do care for grandkids, I have plenty of time that is not dedicated to that effort. So is it really fair to call one a vacation and the other something else?

But this week is different, since it truly is a week where I get to set all the terms. And so what do I do on this hot and summery Monday, the first day where I am left to my own devices? I run through not one, but three medical visits: a postponed check up, a requisite wee test, and the highlight of the day -- a tooth pulling.

Ed laughs: you should be happy, you like going to the doctor!
How wrong you are, dear love! I like going to the doctor only because I have this antiquated and somewhat crazy theory that if I go early on, this will prevent me from having to go more often and more intensely in the future! Sort of like taking vitamin C (or oil of oregano, according to my mom) when you first get the sniffles, so that you don't tumble into the abyss of a respiratory calamity down the road.

The tooth pulling is a third one for me. The last such event was straight out of a twisted film noir, where the dentist could not for the life of him, get that molar to leave its forever home. I vaguely recall that he had to use a chisel and hammer, but perhaps I have built this memory up out of a patchy recollection of the macabre details. This time I opted for greater sedation. (My surgeon agreed: molars should always be removed this way -- it's barbaric otherwise. I know, I know, his livelihood depends on it, but still...)

The problem with my new tooth removal strategy is that you cannot eat, or even drink water on the day you go in. So, no breakfast!

That's a horrible punishment! I may as well succumb to a totally miserable morning: I go out to feed the cats and then remain outside with the resident blood suckers (mosquitoes) and snip 445 spent day lilies.

On the upside (and this really is an incredible upside!), the garden is beautiful. In July, a day without pictures from the flower fields is unimaginable. I mean, I spend all winter thinking about these fields. And now we're finally in full blooming mode. I need the reminders, to pull me through February and especially March.

(Big Bed)

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(one of my favorite groupings right now)

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(these are some of my first lily plantings at the farmette...)

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(my exploration of this flower has taken me to more complex forms and color presentations ...)

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(... and I love these unusual flower heads! but honestly, I also love the simple yellows, the uncomplicated abundant reblooms... you'll see more of them as the summer progresses!)

After, I run through my appointments and then finally, finally, at 4:30 pm, we eat breakfast on the porch!

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This may be the only post in Ocean's history where I end it with a near evening morning meal!

Sunday, July 14, 2019


People who write are readers at heart. I don't know a good author who isn't in love with good books (definition of "good" being subjective, of course). But I have always wondered -- how is it possible to have time for both? At least in the amounts you want to devote to them? There is, of course, life itself, which interferes with everything, everything that you may want to do. Care giving, relationship building, cleaning the bathroom, for Pete's sake, to say nothing of cooking meals and taking the time to pay attention to the needs of a friend. But even if life creates a constant buzz of pressing details requiring your attention and input, still, a writer/reader will always find the time to put it all aside and sit down to read or write. The point is that the two -- reading and writing -- are always in competition with each other. Both ask you to create distance between yourself and the rest of the world. They demand a clear head and a readiness to dive into a story line. So when you find yourself with time for it, which do you choose?

I ask this because I have a week before me that is nearly free of outside commitments. The young family has a schedule that places their kids in the care of others and my mom is finally stabilizing, after a period of some tumult in her well being. I have a tooth that needs to come out. The rest of the week -- I've deliberately kept unscheduled.

My first impulse was to go back to writing. I could do that! I had stopped when baby Sparrow was born. I could finally creep to completion of my Great Writing Project. But then, I began to read book reviews and suddenly my Kindle content grew. I want to read all of these highly recommended books! Summer reading is the best! In the coolness of a cafe or the warm sunshine out on the porch -- it's just bliss!

But shouldn't I be writing?

Can you think of nicer dilemmas to have before you? I cannot.

This Sunday is typical for July in the Upper Midwest: sunny and quite warm. And buggy! When I go out early in the morning to feed the cats, I am attacked. Here I am, surrounded on all sides by beautiful flowers...

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... literally throwing themselves at me...

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... delighting me no end ...

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... but I cannot pause. I am being eaten alive.

I almost retreat inside, but then some of that Polish peasant stock pushes me to stay outside. Snip those lily heads! You'll like your garden so much more if it's reasonably well tended!

(the front bed)

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I snip 365 spent lilies today. It takes an hour and I am swollen with the effort of keeping bugs off my face, out of my eyes, out of my mouth.

It is luxurious to step into a cool bug free farmhouse after that! Cleaning the bathroom feels like a fifteen minute interlude at a spa. And breakfast, on the porch? Fabulous.

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Afterwards, Ed dutifully goes out to run the tractor-mower over some of the most overgrown grassy weedy spots. He promised he'd get it under control this weekend and time is running out for him. I ask him to start up the hand mower and I attack the spots where the big tractor machine cannot reach. There are many and some are hilly and terribly overgrown. After an hour of this, my head is buzzing from the exertion. But, the job is done and the farmette lands look great, even if you cannot fully enjoy them until we bring the bugs under control. That will happen on Tuesday.

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There is still an hour left to the morning and I put it to good use: I prepare brunch foods for the young family. They cannot come to dinner today, so I invited them to a noon meal instead. Nothing complicated -- pancakes and bacon, farm eggs and smoked salmon, some of those wonderful croissants from Chicago, and fruit. So many delicious fruits out there right now! It's really a grand time to be fixing brunch stuff!

Snowdrop comes with her sheep from Wales. How appropriate! The photo book I put together of our trip came in the mail yesterday. The whole trip comes spinning round again as they take the time to read about these familiar travel moments.

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I asked if they wanted to eat inside or out on the porch (it's 83f, or 28c out there, though we do have a fan). The porch wins every time. You just cannot get enough of it when the summer days finally settle in to give us bright warm hours and flower filled vistas.

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Inside play for a little while...

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... and then they're off to pursue their week-long project, while I tidy up and eventually sit down on the couch and lose myself in thought -- to read? or to write? Which one??