Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Taking a Breath

We have houseguests coming next week, so we spent most of the weekend cleaning and preparing for their arrival--

Dusting and mopping surfaces that don't usually get dusted or mopped. Sorting out weeks and months worth of toys and papers and things that tend to pile up and get ignored. I paid Z five dollars to wash my car. C even mowed the weeds lawn, which is a major endeavor and only happens one or twice a year (but I must say, it looks good!). About halfway through, consumed by dust from the kids' room, I was about ready to call our guests up and tell them to stay home. But I powered through and now we have a nice, comfy, dust-free, clean house (we'll see how long that lasts!). I even eliminated one big box of books and another box of various other junk.

Meanwhile, a beautiful, sunny weekend was going on outside. I only got out briefly Saturday, for a quick walk through the woods, throughout which I was scratched up by blackberry bushes and chased by deer flies.

Sunday evening, the bulk of the work done and an early dinner finished, I snuck out to my delimited site (the gravel pit pond by our house, which I'm supposed to observe regularly as part of my naturalist class), and settled down in a lawn chair, with a blanket to protect my legs from the bugs and my journal. Nothing too exciting was going on at the pond (no otters!), but it was nice and peaceful, with a few frogs and birds singing. Even the deer flies left me alone once I sat down. Sometimes a few moments of quiet in nature is all I need.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Around the Garden, Early August

We didn't need to go all the way to Baxter State Park to see a moose, 

When one walked right through our garden while we were gone.

(Close-up of its track above, the pair of them longer than my foot; tracks through our poor woodchuck-demolished beans here).

In other garden news, the cucumber flowers are flourishing,

Along with some beautiful borage. 

I harvested my garlic, right on time for once. Only about half as many bulbs came out of the ground as cloves went in last fall, but they're beauties.

Being one who loves flowers, but is too lazy to actually plant or take care of them, I'm loving this black-eyed Susan that sprang up under the deck.

The chard is coming along and, ever so slowly the tomatoes (about half are self-starts transplanted from the compost pile and the other half C direct-seeded into the ground. We could use some good sunny weather to get them moving along while summer lasts).

Broccoli, I think, is enjoying this cool rainy weather, however.

As are the blueberries. (These are on Blueberry Tree--the world's hugest high bush blueberry bush. I brought home 20 pounds of farm-raised blueberries last night, most of which I froze, making some into jam. Two of my jars didn't seal, and when I tried re-boiling them, on jar broke. I've had the worst jam luck this year!).

Our peach tree died over the winter, after one glorious harvest last year. Inside the house, fruit flies have taken over despite not much fruit for them to eat (oh, but that compost bowl!). They'll be happy to know I'm on schedule to pick up ten quarts of plums, which means more jam attempts (perhaps better luck!?). Any other ideas for preserving plums?

The big darner dragonflies have taken wing, and I'm starting to get that clingy, panicky late-summer feeling of oh no, it's almost over. Trying to breathe deeply. Crossing fingers for more sun and more beach days and lots of ripe goodness from the garden.

How does your garden grow?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

First Family Backpacking Trip--Success!

Our backpacking trip was really amazing. Four days of wilderness and peace and quiet, freedom from all things noisy and mechanical and electronic. The boys were troupers. They did fantastic hiking and packing. I'm a little achey and sore around the knees and calves, but chomping at the bit (straining at the pack straps?) to get out and do it again, rain, mosquitoes and all. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Gearing Up

We've been gearing up--literally--for our first family backpacking trip

Over the past few months, I've been amassing backpacks (new lightweight ones, all around; I could not bear the thought of shouldering my old, heavy, cordura internal frame pack ever again) and sleeping mats and titanium bowls and bamboo spoons and miscellaneous pieces of long underwear and rain gear.

Last week, I loaded up on macaroni and cheese, crackers, loaves of bread the size and density of bricks, trail mix, freeze dried berries, fig bars, chocolate and sun butter.

And then Sunday morning, the kids all away at friends' houses, I sat down at my sewing machine and fired off a dozen or so stuff sacks out of super lightweight silicon-impregnated nylon, and then spent the rest of the day (happily it was a rather dreary, rainy one, so I didn't miss much outside) sorting, stuffing, arranging, loading, squeezing and strapping.

Here are our packs, fully loaded (almost, except for a few last-minute items) and ready to go:

This will be our first overnight hiking trip in thirteen years (the last being when M was four months old!!). Coincidentally, this story and this response about "The Death of Backpacking" just came out in the last week, about young people no longer backpacking. One factor neither author seems to have considered for why it seems (based on anecdotal evidence, no less) few people under the age of 50 backpack anymore is--kids. Perhaps there are plenty of people in their 20s out there backpacking, but then a lull among those in their 30s and 40s because all those people are busy with little kids and don't have it in them to haul both the kids and all the extra gear kids entail into the backcountry. This is the first year that we have felt like the kids are ready to handle their own packs and that we're ready--mentally--to handle the kids seven miles from the nearest road.

In any case, I'm ridiculously excited for this trip. I didn't realize how much I missed travelling on my own two feet into the woods. But I'm under no illusion that it will be easy. I've loaded the first aid kit with ibuprofen and muscle rub (to keep me happy ) and stocked up on cards, comic books, little treats and lollipops (to keep the kids happy). Wish us luck!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Weekend Things: Another Beach Day

We were invited to go to the beach this weekend with E and Z's best friend and his parents.

With a million things I needed to do at home and not enough time to do them,

I had no choice but to say "yes."

Summer only comes once a year, after all.

It was a perfect afternoon of sun and waves and driftwood and a cookout with a view.

Followed by a late evening stroll on the sand.

My philosophy: always say "yes" to the beach.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Berries just might be the second-best part of a Maine summer (the first-best being, of course, the beach).

Each berry season unfolds into the next: strawberry--raspberry--blueberry--blackberry.

So that you're almost never without berries from the Fourth of July to Labor Day.

E has been scouring our wild raspberry canes for about two weeks, but they give up only scant handfuls at a time.

Luckily, we happen to have neighbors with a gorgeous raspberry field. 

And even more luckily, they always go on vacation right at the heart of raspberry season, and call us on their way out of town, "Go pick our raspberries!"

C left a jar of maple syrup on their front porch as a thank-you, which is a good thing, since my strawberry jam was a disaster (I abandoned it mid-boil to read to E and Z and it way over-cooked. And, yes, I know you're not supposed to turn your back on boiling sugar, but what's a mama to do?) so I didn't much feel like making raspberry jam, even to reciprocate.

In the midst of picking, I lay down in the grass nearby for a short nap (C, our slave-driver, was sitting in the middle of the canes and could not see me slacking). I listened to the bees hum and M do Napoleon Dynamite impressions and sing (his latest favorite is Weezer), and watched a yellow spider the size of a pin-head crawl through the jungle of the fine cotton fibers of my shirt sleeve.

We put most of the berries in the freezer for winter enjoyment, and the rest I made into a pie that E claimed to be "the best pie I ever had!" (Though C was somewhat critical of the runny nature of the filling).

While we were picking, I happened to catch a glimpse of this Northern Pearly Eyes resting on the garage window. A very accommodating butterfly, it let me get in up close to take its picture.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Weekend Things: Whirlwind

Saturday morning, I dropped M and his guitar equipment off outside of a bar in downtown Hallowell, and then wended my way through parade reroutes and bridge-out detours out of town and to a small nature preserve in Litchfield. There I joined a group of people in chasing down butterflies as part of my Master Naturalist training.

Clouded sulfur
Great spangled fritillary 

Cute beetle.

Silver-spotted skipper

Cute damselfly
When we finished, I raced back to Hallowell, where I caught the end of the second Rock Camp group's set and, happily, all of M's group's set.

Blah, Blah, Blah performing Green Day's "American Idiot"
After a quick lemonade on the waterfront, I hurried home, showered and changed, and headed back into town, where I med a friend and drove down to Brunswick for dinner and the commencement ceremonies for the students graduating this semester from my grad school program.

The whole day felt kind of disjointed--chasing butterflies, rocking out in a bar, talking writing and books, listening to inspiring speeches, dancing late into the night, catching up with good friends. It was like a microcosm of my whole life; I feel like I'm cramming too many things into too small a space. But there's not a single thing on that list I'd want to give up. Sunday I was too tired to do much of anything--we went raspberry picking, I taught E how to play Speed (in an effort to avoid playing either Chess or Pokemon) while everyone else was at C's grandmother's birthday party, and worked on my nature journal while he watched Ninjago, I made a pie. 

At the end of the day, looking around at the post-apocalyptic landscape that is our living room, I said to C, "I wish I could take a few days off work and get the house in order."

"Or," he said, "you could just stay home on the weekend."

But I don't want to stay home on the weekend...and if I do stay home on the weekend, I don't want to spend my time getting the house in order. I already feel like I have to squeeze my entire life into two days a week. I'm not giving away those two days, too.

How about you? Have you achieved this illusive "work-life balance"? And if not, what do you give up to make it all fit in?
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