Thursday, May 31, 2018

the science of it

You awake?
I am now...

So many of our early morning conversations start this way!

I've been reading about mosquitoes...

Yes, I know Ed's been on a learning expedition. He wants to know the science behind the mosquito life. What good is buying traps or repellents when you don't know what you're working with?

There is this study in Canada... Here, let me show you the video. It demonstrates how it is that mosquitoes can hear. It may not be your smell that attracts them but your voice!

Ed has attached a net to a big fan and we see that it can trap thousands of mosquitoes. He wants to set up fans in different parts of the farmette. Now he is speculating if throwing in a little phone with human voices would bring even more into the net.

Me, I can hardly stand to watch the little bugs on the video clip. This year, we were so shortchanged in our spring without them -- just three weeks (typically we get at least two months)! They are not out in full force, but they are definitely present. Just look inside Ed's mosquito cage!

Still, I enjoy the morning walk through the gardens. Here's a look toward the writer's shed -- the original bait to get me to spend more time here.

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Oh, how we have grown since those days! Six chickens and a feral cat called Stop Sign!

(A rare shot of all six girls in one frame)

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Breakfast, with peonies felled by the little chicks who insisted on roosting on the little support cage and, too, lilac from our late bloomer -- so very fragrant you need only a branch or two to feel utterly intoxicated by it!

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Later, we have an appointment with the city engineer to discuss the development that is taking place to the east, north, and west of us. I almost don't want to go, feeling that my one contribution will be to rein in Ed, who tends not to spend time on niceties, preferring to get right down to the crux of the matter, which in this case means letting people know that someone hadn't been providing sufficient oversight over potential damage that may (or may not) be taking place with the depletion of the soils around us. Ed always always does his homework thoroughly and he is a formidable discussant.

But I do go. I have my own questions and the city engineer is helpful in addressing my concerns and promising to do further investigations.

For today, there is quiet all around us. The graders are resting as the soil is drying out. Nature has her own way of saying -- slow down.

(A view toward the big flower bed)

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In the afternoon, many many many things happen all at once. Let me mention just two:

Snowdrop comes over. No quiet play for her today!

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She is wired! Full of energy and joy, she wants to play!

(Jumping so hard that her "two piece" flies with the wind!)

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Just at this moment, I get a phone call that we all have been waiting for for several years: my mom has received clearance for an independent living apartment in downtown Madison. We have a move in date! At the age of 94, she'll be packing her bags and relocating.

There is much to be done in preparation for this. But for now, Snowdrop has her own whims and desires. Here she is, chopping her own watermelon for an afternoon snack. She is very handy with the knife.

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After swimming, the little girl so wants to play outside! I spray some organic (meaning ineffective) bug spray on her and we go out. She is determined to throw a frisbee around, but even though the bugs do avoid her, they are nonetheless everpresent. As are the little chicks, who think that a tossed frisbee is merely a special treat for them, dished out in this colorful way.

(Snowdrop tries to explain that it's just a frisbee... to no avail.)

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A better place for short term play is the chipped courtyard. I toss her the hose and she is delighted with it...

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... playing a robust game of "let's get everything in sight, including gaga, as wet as we can!"

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Evening. In the space of a few hours, I make arrangements to purchase some furniture for my mom off of Craigslist, I buy plane tickets for me, for her, I make reservations and to-do lists to keep me on target.

Later, much later, I put away my notes and review the photos from today. They seem so tame and almost mundane, no? A "chase away the summer heat" series of moments. But, I can assure you, there was nothing tame or mundane about this day. And that turns out to be quite the good thing indeed.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018


We wake to the steady patter of rain. Like everything, this has its downsides. More rain surely will bring with it more mosquitoes. But, plants need rain, the kind that falls steadily, for an hour, perhaps two or three hours. The kind that replenishes and rejuvenates.

Too, I need a rainy day to keep me grounded. Backs recover far more quickly if you're not walking the yard cheating on your resolve to stay upright, just so you might stake that flower or pull that weed.

Okay, one quick walk, to enjoy the Big Flower Bed which, arguably, is the prettiest of the flower fields in early June. I resist picking any weeds.

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Breakfast is on the porch. It's warm enough and it's quiet, but for that slap slap slap of rain against the glass roof. The trucks retreated. The ditch where they're working to remove sand (who knew that underneath our clay soil there is all that lovely sand -- needed in other parts of the development) is likely very wet by now.

Serenity comes to you during a rainy day breakfast outside.

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Ed is now off at meetings after, I'm sipping tea, smiling at small nothings that you only remember when you take the time to sit and mull over the events of the past few days.

I'm remembering yesterday's afternoon conversation on the porch. Ed had gotten up to do some machine work in the sheep shed and Snowdrop wanted to know what he would be doing.
He's fixing one of his machines, I tell her, not knowing exactly which one or for what purpose.
And what will he be doing after that?
He'll be fixing the truck. See how it leans to one side?
It's broken? 
You could say that.
Just like this Saturday he fixed the broken "inta-net." (To Snowdrop, anything that happened a few days back, happened on a Saturday.)
I smile at that. What, to a three year old, is the internet? Yes, so that our computers could work.

The girl surprises me constantly. Children do that to you: you get used to their knowledge base, not realizing that tomorrow, it will be that much greater. A couple of days ago (let's just say Saturday!), I told her that she was using her brains well. She looked at me and I could almost detect an eye roll.
Grandma, I only have one brain. Inside one skull. 

I learn that this piece of wisdom came from a conversation she had with a teacher in school. Things like that trickle down to me sometimes. Teachers don't report them (I asked yesterday at pick-up -- what did she do today? The teacher answered -- chopped carrots, which she likes, both the chopping and the carrots), but if you ask Snowdrop the right questions, sometimes you get these glimpses into who said what, even if you can't quite figure out for what reason.

(Looking toward the farmhouse after the heavier rain)

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Time to pick up Snowdrop.

I'm feeling a bit like one does when milestones gallop before you: could it be that this is the little one who still seemed so toddler-ish a few months ago?

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Can I untie your sweater? -- I ask her.  It's getting warm again. Someone must have shown her how you can keep it nearby without actually wearing it.
No, gaga, I'm fine.

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Yes you are!

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There is still a threat of stormy weather and so I bring out my rainy day supplies -- today I'm trying out a set of marker/paint/crayons. (What'll they think of next, eh?) And a new coloring book.

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Snowdrop is a consummate artist: she uses her pinks and purples with total concentration. And more importantly -- finds great joy in the whole process.

But after an hour or so, the outdoors beckons. Can't I go in the pool today?

Well why not. It's 80f (26c) and just to make me feel good about acquiescing, we even get a bit of late afternoon sunshine.

Plus, Snowdrop adds an extra plug for the wading pool: I had just banged her foot with the sliding door to the porch and of course, she was upset by it.
I'll calm down much faster if I can swim. The tears will stop coming to my eyes.

How true.

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In the meantime, the three little chicks settle in to roost among my peonies and irises. I demonstrate my total love for these babes by letting them do that.

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Evening. It's so quiet now! A tweet, chirp, a flutter of something in the sky. It would be perfect were it not for the bugs. Ah well, as we always say -- there is always the porch. A haven, with an eye toward my gardens and a whiff of all that makes this season so extraordinary.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018


Well, it was bound to happen. One day you're bouncing around moving earth, trees, plants and stones, the next -- you bend down to pick up one stinky weed and something in your hip snaps and you're out.

On the upside, I'd already done my glorious morning garden walk...

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(Snowdrop nirvana: beloved pink, with her backup favorite, purple)

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I had the whole morning to do all sorts of stretches and beneficial twists, none of which helped, so I finally popped two Aleve and set out to pick up Snowdrop.

I warn the girl that I can do pretty much everything, so long as it's slow and contemplative.  Looking at beautiful peonies at her school fits the bill!

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As does sitting on the porch and watching her splash. We have another 90sF (about 33C) day, making this the hottest May on record (as measured by how many days we crossed 90F).

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Snowdrop also enjoys putting on a dance/story number. She has an audience and she informs us what role we might play in her fictional narrative.

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We have an interesting interruption in our play. The construction crews have been digging a massive ditch to the east of the farmette land and I submitted an objection. The drop is dangerous. The removal of land is not reflected in any of the approved development plans. We asked for clarifications.

Today, all grading operations ceased. In a handful of minutes, a safety fence went up. The construction crew and the engineers representing the various interests are working out the details.

(Snowdrop is delighted by this adventure.)

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(She enjoys participating in the discussion between us and the head of the construction team.)

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Evening. Bubble time. It's been some day! Back's out, Snowdrop had her own share of bruises, the trucks rumbled, then fell silent.

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Whenever life throws you a tough hand, consider blowing off bubbles up up and away.

And afterwards, take in a whiff of that sweet sweet night air of May.

Monday, May 28, 2018

end of long week-end

The heat wave continues. On this Memorial Day, a quiet, contemplative day, we hit a record high yet again. Yesterday we broke news with 95F (35C), today we're likely to repeat that headline: hottest May 28th ever.

It's like summer. Someone commented that we only had three weeks of spring this year. But it's not really summer. You need only glance at the garden: so much confusion! A peony went from a tight flower bud to a full opening in just a few hours.

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The irises are exploding -- if you were to be away this week, you could well miss their entire period of bloom.

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I don't typically water much in the spring season, but this year, I'm taking out the hose daily to help the very youngest plants build stronger root systems. And in the shady areas, there's no question -- we have an unusually early arrival of bugs. But unlike in the summer, the nights are cool. We shut off the air and throw open the windows. And this morning, a delightful breeze kicked in. The really doggy days of summer seem many weeks away.

Perhaps you'll have read in yesterday's post -- I went to sleep fretting about a kiddie pool for my grandkids. Such a seemingly easy task -- to create a bug-free, cool splashing spot out on the porch for Snowdrop (and whatever other grandkid might come this way on a hot hot day). But how to do it? The CDC says skip the inflatable kiddie pool. It's unsafe, and the water quality is terrible (though no one knows how many kids really get sick, as no one collects data on this). If you do have such a pool, they suggest you dump the water every day and dry out the pool each time before refilling it. And give kids a shower before they go in!

Dump and refill an 200+ gallon pool daily? Where does the bleached or chlorinated water go? In my garden?

I wake up thinking -- enough. Deflate the big pool that we just set up on the porch. Send it back. Bring in the tiny splash pool  and let Snowdrop splash in it on the porch to her heart's content.  It takes two buckets of water to fill it! For big pool stuff, take her swimming in the community pool once it opens in a few weeks. Bingo! Not hard at all! Decision made!

Ed and I get to work on creating a splash play area on the porch, between our big pots of flowers. With a comfy place to sit for the adult (me!) watching the little one. So easy! So perfect!

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Breakfast on our beloved porch. (I'm bringing in fallen irises - they make great vase flowers.)

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And shortly after, Snowdrop comes over for a visit. She is excited about splashing around. Who wouldn't be on this summery day?

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But I want to start off slowly. Let the water warm up a bit. Let's read!

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... and eat cherries. I found gold ones yesterday. So very delicious!

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Finally. Outside. Splashing. With grandma, comfortably looking on.

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... and with the sweet scent of alyssum in the air.

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With a young child (or any child), there is, of course, always some risk. Snowdrop moves with lightening speed from one thing to the next. But at least I know the splash pool has fresh water, filled if the whim strikes, easily dumped into the garden at the end of the day.

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It's a great place to enjoy watermelon! Snowdrop is very good at sucking out the juice, but the dribbles are inescapable!

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(Afterwards, as is her routine now -- do all children love their small routines? -- she asks to put on shorts and her favorite tshirt here. The pinkiest of pink shorts.)

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It's a beautiful day to be hanging out on the porch with my grandkid!

When she leaves, I return to the yard. I wont list the big and little jobs that are always there for me. Today, they seemed especially tame, giving me time to think, to admire, to feel grateful.

I leave you with a photo of the very delicate and beautiful flower stems of the Baptista (false indigo). Everything that's lovely in a flower can be seen in this slender stalk.

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Oh, and a last one of Cupcake, trying hard to find a cool spot in the garden.

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I hope your long weekend was restful. Serene. Lovely.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

long week-end, continued

Sometimes (today, for example), I feel like the farmette was clapped together with the pioneering spirit of adventure. The place used to be a working farm, but the barn burned down (smoldered for years, the neighboring farmers said), the farmers grew old and eventually rented out the farmhouse to people who thrived on neglect. About fifteen years ago, Ed moved in and mostly with his own hands, graded, fixed, rebuilt and added on components that make it a safe and welcoming place. When I moved in, we really went at it and revamped the interior of the farmhouse.  And of course, slowly we have been reshaping the gardens, extending flower beds, sowing ground cover, planting orchards, pines and anything else that enters the imagination.

In many ways, the farmhouse looks very ordinary. One bathroom, two bedrooms, a common space  and a basement where we do laundry.

But I have learnt that it is not an easy place to manage. When everything works -- it's lovely. But every now and then, something malfunctions. Well of course. That's true in any home. Yet at the farmette, it feels different. Things function in ways that I don't fully understand. Sure, after several dramatic events, I've learnt why the sewers back up and who to call to pump things out and get things moving again. But the water pump is a mystery to me (even though Ed and I replaced the thing ourselves one very cold November day). The internet is beyond a puzzle: the way the routers link the sheep shed to the farmhouse and how it all fits together -- I don't really get it. The roof sort of kind of has a leak, but since after a careful stomping up and down that slanted slope we can't find anything amiss, we leave it alone. Until someday we'll find ourselves with a flooded attic crawl space I suppose. Not that I've ever been there -- I leave that nasty job to Ed.

I write this because once again something broke today (the internet -- completely, totally) and honestly, if Ed weren't here, I would be clueless as to why and how to go about fixing it. (It's not the provider, he tells me. How does he know? I haven't the foggiest.)

Before he and I started our adventure together some dozen years ago, I was in all my adult years in charge of household maintenance. I may not be handy, but I am savvy enough to know who to call when something breaks. But it is imminently clear that I am over my head here. It feels very strange to say it, but it's true: if it wasn't for Ed's grasp of the mechanics of this place, I could not live here. The adventure could quickly turn into a nightmare.

So, today, we are without internet. Oh, and the truck has developed a brake issue. The tomatoes are succumbing to some unknown something. Ed spends the day on working on all the above.

It is, nevertheless, a lovely day. True, it's hot. Very hot. I worked in the garden in the early hours of the morning pulling out ferns and moving things around a bit, but I couldn't keep at it for too long. The searing heat and the mosquitoes eventually won that round. I retreated to the farmhouse.

But do not think for a minute that I didn't notice or appreciate the emergence of new flowers! Things are moving so quickly now: in all the flower beds there now are accents of brilliant color. For me, each flowering stem is best viewed in its setting. Yes, an iris is beautiful, but it is downright stunning when nestled next to, oh say a false indigo. Mixing things around in a flower bed is an art and I am not nearly as good at it as I should be by now, but still, any combination is better than staying with a monolithic display of the same flowers, all looking indistinguishable from each other.

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Breakfast is on the porch, but with a fan turned on to give us a gentle breeze.

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Afterwards, we cart off my beloved grill. I agreed to give it up in favor of moving a kiddie pool onto the porch and we have a taker! The young family! We strap it onto the truck and proceed to their place, spending a few minutes with Snowdrop while there. She has developed fantastic puzzle solving skills!

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(And she is in love with all the paraphernalia that is now in place waiting for the arrival of her little sibling.)

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By evening, the internet problem is solved and we address the issue of moving an inflatable pool into the porch.

We overcome the challenges: there is a perfect tarp to lay under the pool. We find a spot that is far away from any electrical outlet. We position it just so. Ed inflates it to 80%, as per requirements. Chairs set neatly around it -- perfect! Tomorrow, it's going to be a searing 97f (36C). I told my daughter -- bring Snowdrop over! We'll swim!

Not so fast. With the functioning internet, we start reading about how we should treat the pool water. True, the pool is away from the elements and away from any animal life. Too, Snowdrop will be the only swimmer. Child to child contamination is not going to happen. Still, if you read the articles on pool safety you can get overwhelmed. Bacteria, algae, slime... Use clorox, use borax, scrub it daily, measure chlorine, measure PH levels, do this, do that, oh my! And then dump it all out every few days and start again.

And here's an ominous threat: don't do any of this if you don't care about the health and safety of your child.

My grandmother spent many years alone in a village house in Poland. The house was hard to manage, especially in the winter, but if you did the work, it rewarded you with an uncomplicated livable space. There were few surprises. In the summertime, we played in the meadows where cows grazed and chickens squawked. We swam in a river that probably wasn't without issues (note cows nearby), but it certainly looked clean. My grandma worried about keeping the house spiffy and neat and warm in the winter. She worried about having food on the table. She most certainly did not fret about kiddie pool ph balance or about the computers talking to each other across the courtyard.

I don't long for her days. I would not want to live with her crude and basic burdens. Everything about her life was hard. Still, I do wish I could have put out a darn kiddie pool on the porch, sat back in one of our gently rocking chairs and watched Snowdrop or later Primrose play and splash without feeling anxious about chlorine levels and borox amounts in the water. Life was tougher then, but it's way more intricate and complicated now. We have more information -- surely that's a good thing. But we also have to respond to it. And that's not always easy or fun.