Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pyramid Point in Autumn


I'll let the photos do all the talking today. . .

A little lift

On Top of the World


RIght before Harry jumped!



Sand Dance



Looking Down


Me too





Pink Cheeks



Our Girl

Hiding from Mama

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dear Aunt Debbie,

I'm thinking about you today and all the good times we had making costumes, dressing up, and trick-or-treating with our cousins.  And for some reason I remember you dressing up right along with us kids.  Or am I mixing up Halloween with your famous birthday clown appearances?

At any rate, in preparation for a Halloween party, we spent the afternoon working on our costumes.  I had decided to be fun—for once—and dress up myself.  There was a big bag of balloons in my room just waiting to be turned into a bunch of grapes!  Amabel agreed to help by wearing my old purple sweatshirt while I stitched on balloons.  Well, then you can pretty much guess what happened. . .  After we finished, the costume looked a whole lot cuter on her than it did on me!  


We then started on Ellen's ghost costume and I was working on the fit of her hood and eye holes when I started to laugh out loud, watching the two girls bumble about together.  "Who are you laughing at, Mama," Amabel said, "Me or Ellen?"  

"Both of you!" I replied, "and Papa too!"  (Because he was down in the basement working on a secret costume that he refused to tell us about!)  And then I convinced the girls to go outside for a quick photo by saying "Aunt Debbie would love to see a scary ghost and a huge bunch of grapes!" 

Halloween Buddies

Now I've got to pull something together for myself (because I don't think I can squeeze into Amabel's nurse costume).  Any ideas?!

Grape Head

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dear Mom,

Just Up from Bed

Ellen had just woken up and wanted to come on the early walk with me.  She usually sleeps in while I go out alone—with the dogs.  But this morning it was so beautiful and so balmy, and it may be our last day of this weather.  So out we went to greet the sun.


Harry, Down

I think the dogs must be officially teenagers now.  They've gone on quite a few adventures over the past few days.  When the two of them are together they seem to think they can take on anything (a herd of deer?  no problem!).  I call them and they look at each other as if saying, "Are you going back?  No?  Okay, neither am I!"  And off they go.  One morning they disappeared down the back hill.  I had just put on my boots to go find them when our farmer neighbor pulled up in his pick-up truck with the two rascals in his cab.  He let them out and they immediately tore down the driveway as if they had never seen me before.  "Dogs will be dogs," he said good naturedly.  

I thanked him over and over, but went after them utterly mortified.  Once they were safely back inside, the girls and I rushed into town to get ID tags.  Since then we've been keeping a very close eye on them.  In the interest of keeping everyone together, we've started to keep one at a time on a leash during our walks.  


The upside of this is that Amabel and Ellen are getting lots of practice dog walking.  Ellen especially loves to walk Nancy.  Harry and Nancy have grown so much bigger, stronger over the past five months—and the girls have grown alongside them.  I love to watch them handling the animals with a self-assurance that has become second nature.  


I know one furry creature that will be very happy to see you when you return from your trip!  Until then, be assured that she is in Ellen's good hands. 


Monday, October 22, 2012

Dear Gary,

Do you remember when you were my advisor in college and you suggested that I read A Garlic Testament by Stanley Crawford?  I already had an interest in farming, but I hadn't thought much about garlic before that semester.  Maybe you knew that reading Crawford's lyrical story would draw me into the wonder and mystery of this incredible vegetable and what it means to be bound up with the land as it ebbs and flows season after season.  This summer, eleven years after you introduced me to the world of garlic, I wrote a piece for Taproot magazine.  It wasn't accepted into the publication, but I wanted to share it here with you.

Garlic: July

It is July, time to harvest our very first crop of garlic.  As we pull up the heads covered in rich clay soil, I consider how long the cloves have been swelling under the earth.  Three seasons—nine months—have passed; and it truly feels like we belong to this land we now call home.

In the dwindling October light last year we dreamed of a garden.  As we turned over the soil and our little girls danced around us—delighting in a bucket full of freshly dug clay—my husband and I sunk garlic cloves into our first bed.  After we covered them up and the north wind arrived, what did the cloves do all winter, buried in the frozen earth?  I imagined them meditating.  As we settled into our new place, they did too: through snow and rain, thaw and melt, and more snow, they gathered wisdom from deep within.  Finally, enlightened after months of quiet, they emerged in March—the first garden plants to greet the spring sunshine.  I ran out with my camera in hand the day I spied a few tiny green shoots pushing up from the crusty, weather-beaten earth.  Our girls took their boots off outside for the first time in six months. 

Garlic Shoot: March

And then they grew, calling little attention to themselves, through April, May, and June.  They needed only a little weeding and then a little pruning after sending up their curly scapes.  When the lengthening summer days passed their zenith and the tips of the stalks began to dry out and yellow, our garlic plants waited patiently; their time had almost come.

Garlic: April

Garlic: May

And now my husband is gently easing the heads out of their bed and I am sitting in the warm dirt, cleaning them off, revealing the pearly white bulbs of pungent flesh.  It is quiet, and sort of knowing passes between us as we work.  October seems a long way off, but I know that he and I are both thinking about the season ahead.  At the moment, everything in our garden is bursting with foliage and fruit and we can hardly keep up with the bountiful summer veggies; but as we harvest this first crop of garlic our thoughts reach towards a slower time to come.  A time when some of the cloves that we hold in our hands will return to the earth to provide again for us—next year.

The Pile

The promise of a single garlic clove is modest by comparison within the vegetable kingdom.  In the space of a few months, most garden plants can produce hundreds of seeds to reproduce their kind.  A single clove of garlic (of the variety in our garden) grows into a head containing only 6 or so new cloves.  And yet, despite its modest rate of return, garlic feels like gold in my hands.  When I consider that the 76 cloves we planted last fall have perhaps yielded over 450 cloves this summer, now all piled up at my feet, I feel rich.


But in the midst of our riches, the question on my mind, and his, is this: how much of our long-awaited garlic crop should we save to plant this coming autumn?

I’ve already used three heads in batches of fresh pesto this week: our daughters can never get enough of that green, garlicky goodness.  And we hope to share a bunch with our generous neighbors.  I also have plans for making a big pot of veggie stock tomorrow, filled with the nourishing bulbs.  Then perhaps some fresh salsa the next day.  It’s tempting to take advantage of this garlic abundance all at once.  Summer in the north feels like that sometimes: quick, soak up some of that precious sunshine; use the last of the just-picked strawberries; and make sure to pick the tender lettuce before it bolts! 

But when autumn comes again, and our faces are no longer bronze from long days outside; our tummies are no longer full of ripe fruit; and our garden is no longer loaded with vegetables ready to pick for supper—what will we have stored up for the months ahead?  What will we carry with us—in our root cellars and in our hearts—as we retreat into fall?  And what will we give back to the earth so that it may bless us, and humble us, again with the promise of another year of abundance?

If we set aside 25 heads of garlic for planting, we won’t have nearly enough left to last us through the winter, but we will have about 150 cloves to sow in October.  And if all goes well (and grows well), we may then harvest over 900 cloves next summer.  Is this enough for our garlic loving family?  Indeed, is it ever enough, the bounty this earth provides for us as we clumsily learn the balancing act of taking and giving back; savoring, sharing, and planning for the seasons ahead?


I take one carefully polished head inside with me, to the kitchen.  He guides a string through the rest of the stalks and then hangs up the garlic to cure.  Later on we will look at the map we have made of our land: our modest and wonderful three acres of home.  We will consider where to plant garlic in the fall, how much earth we’ll need to turn over, and how many wheelbarrows-full of compost we have left.  But it isn’t really a mathematical equation, all this garlic.  As I unwrap the outer layers of a bulb and breathe in its delightful aroma, I give thanks for this gift, nine months in the making, from the wisdom of the soil to our bodies and our souls. 

*  *  *

Yesterday, three months after I wrote this piece, we planted our very own garlic—147 healthy cloves—with the help of our two eager little girls.  I thought of how I first fell in love with garlic all those years ago, and I gave thanks for another season of growing ahead.


Planting Garlic

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dear Jenny,

We went to the market today, looking for apples.  On the way, Ellen and I walked over a bridge, and Ellen, peering down into the river below, noticed the ducks.  She wanted to stay and watch them; I wanted to hurry along.  Thinking back on it now, I wish I would have stopped for an extra moment instead of worrying about the bread lady running out of our favorite bread.


It took me a long time to get the produce and groceries unpacked after we arrived back home.  It was an unbelievably balmy 73 degrees and I didn't want to stay in the house for more than a minute.  I cleaned out garden beds until I couldn't put off making dinner any longer.  Then I brought in a bunch of miscellaneous bits of veggies from my clean up: a hand full of scallions; a couple of carrots whose tops got pulled off by little hands weeks ago but whose bottoms were left in the ground; mache leaves that somehow survived a summer of heat; cilantro; tiny red peppers; a remaining few broccoli florets; and one little white onion found hiding underneath the brussel sprouts.  Add rice, beans, and leftover corn muffins—and that was dinner.  Maybe one of our last 'fresh from the garden' meals of the year.

While I made dinner, Amabel worked on a story that she started yesterday called "The Spooky Ghost."  Of course I love that she is sitting there creating a story—completely of her own volition.  But I'm not sure how I feel about the invented spelling that is (apparently) being promoted at school.  Actually, I do know how I feel about it: I don't like it; it bothers me; and I have to resist the urge to correct every other word on that page.  Do you have an opinion on invented spelling?  Can you point me to a good resource, so I can read the rationale behind it (or the argument against it, for that matter)?    

"The Spooky Ghost"

After dinner we dove into our new stack of library books.

Library Books

Last spring I discovered that I could order any book through the Michigan electronic library system and have it delivered to our tiny local library just down the road.  The thrill of this has not worn off (and I hope I don't get a call from the library telling me that I've over-used my new found library privileges!).  A handful of books in this stack were suggested by Annie of alphabet glue (which I'm sure you remember me talking about).  I share her taste in books, and so it's a wonderful thing to be able to consult her reading lists and trust that we'll be in for a treat when the books arrive!

I can't believe I'd never read Woody, Hazel, and Little Pip before tonight.  Do you know this story by Elsa Beskow?  Her books are some of my favorites, but I'd never seen this particular one.  Without giving too much away—my girls burst into giggles when the two little acorn children tramped off through the woods to deliver a cart load of freshly washed troll beards.  Troll beards?!  The three of us had a good laugh together before tucking in for the night.  And Ellen asked me to turn the light back on for a moment, as she usually does, to see everything in the room one more time before falling asleep. 

(I'm experimenting with a new writing format here: for the next few months I'm going to write my posts as letters.  My hope is that this will help me de-formalize my blogging voice.  I'm directing this to one person as an exercise in writing, but my posts are intended for all of you!)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

October Beach


There she goes, down the beach with Harry Harrison close behind.  How I love this girl.  So unconsciously graceful, so full of life—especially here, in this open space.  So wise as she takes it all in: watching, listening, and soaking up the world with her whole being.  


When I most need patience with my firstborn child, I hold this image of her in my heart—an image of Amie on the beach.


But, lest we get too serious, the beach also provides an outlet for wild games and a healthy dose of laughs.  One moment, I'm looking in one direction, musing away, storing up images for the winter.  And the next moment I'm chasing a pair of adolescent terriers, playing tug-of-war with a ripe fish head (oh, the stink!).

Fish Head, anyone?

And preventing little ones from getting too wet on a chilly afternoon.


And then just following them around and enjoying their antics in this beautiful, beautiful place.  Oh, for the love of sisters!  For the love of the beach!



(This was last Monday. . .)