My Garden and Writing Process Evolves

Last Sunday was a beautiful day. Saturday’s rains had blown through and my gardens are lush and blooming. I took my iPhone with its wonderful camera out to take some photos. The back yard looks like a park. Although we live in a neighborhood and have houses on three sides of us, the garden I have created over the last ten years now gives us a sense of restful privacy.

None of this was here eleven years ago this August when we moved in. I found a photo I took of the back of the house when we bought it. We had a double lot (almost 2/3 of an acre0, seven wonderful old maple trees and a little landscaping in the front that had been planted through landscaping cloth. I spent many hours removing that.

And this was the shed.

To my gardener’s eye the property was a blank canvas, but it needed some definition and I knew that we needed some place to put compost heaps, unused pots, garden stuff that you don’t need right now, but might in the future. Things you don’t want to see. I installed sheets of wood lattice attached to 4×4 pressure treated posts across the back of the property about 10 feet from the property line. Eight of them. I staggered them to create the beginnings of paths. Along the property line between us and the neighbors I installed three more. One property line has a privacy fence as the next door house was fairly close to our property line and it looked like their backyard was a big chunk of our back yard.

By the shed I installed white plastic lattice to make the shed took more important. We put window boxes on the shed and painted them yellow. This is what it looked like four years later. Unfortunately that gorgeous Golden Shower pillar rose never looked this good again. I’m now trying some alternatives.

A year after we bought the house we did renovations and added a deck out the back of where we had installed french doors flanking the fireplace. Now I could think about some landscaping.

The next year we added benches around the deck, and two years ago some railings by the steps. This is what the back of the house looks like now.

I’m thinking that my gardening process is not unlike my writing process. I spend time in the garden looking at it and thinking, visualizing. Then I plant and sometimes it’s successful and sometimes not. I move things around. A small decorative maple now happily located near the deck was moved three times. It will stay where it is.

I continue to work on book three in the Caribbean series. I spend a lot of time thinking about the characters and the story which is FINALLY revealing itself to me. I had to make a time line because I knew scenes were out of sequence. The story takes place in the summer of 2004 and thanks to the internet I could print out a calendar of those months and even find out when the moon was full. That full moon is important in making one of the bush medicine potions that is part of the plot. What the heck did writers do before Google?

At any rate, my garden evolves as does the story I am writing. The garden will never be finished. I am hopeful the novel will.

 

 

A Busy Weekend

Next year will be the 20th year of the St. Michaels Farmers Market. It was started by a couple of women who then helped start other farmers markets in the area. They called them Fresh Farm Markets and the parent organization provided insurance, organizational help, etc. Fresh Farm Markets are now primarily on the Western Shore (Annapolis, DC, etc.) and this is the last year they will be the umbrella organization for the St. Michaels market. We are in transition this year but have wonderful vendors with terrific products. It’s fun getting to know the farmers.

I volunteered to help get out the weekly market reminders on MailChimp. It was something I knew how to do and enjoy. And my husband and I have been volunteering some Saturdays to help with market set-up. We are scheduled to do that again this weekend. Last Saturday was rainy and I woke up this morning at 3:30 to the sound of rain. It seems to have moved off for now, but even if it rains, people come prepared.

By the time we got to the market at 7:30 it was 65 degrees and not raining. The market was bustling by the time I left at 10. I’d walked over to the Community Garden to take a look at a bed nobody wanted. I’ll weed it this weekend and plant some blue hubbard squash I raised from seed. The beds at the Community Garden are 14 feet long so the plants will have plenty of room to run.

Last week at the Farmers Market I bought a loaf of low gluten bread. What a treat. We don’t keep bread in the house because my husband has gluten sensitivity. We had the last few pieces last night – toasted and topped with homemade guacamole – while we played rummy.

The town will be chockablock this morning. Besides the Farmers Market, it’s the weekend of the St. Michaels Wine Festival. People who live in town have to put up with more than the usual weekend foot traffic – and some drunken shenanigans. We helped one of the first years of the Wine Festival when it was held at the Maritime Museum grounds. Now it is spread all over town at inside venues and tented spaces.We usually don’t go into town on Wine Festival Weekend unless we need to.

This afternoon we are helping with an event to be held at the Avalon Theatre in Easton. It is a fund raiser for the Talbot Interfaith Shelter. People will gather to sing together, raising positive vibrations in our community for this very good cause. Here’s the link to the inspiration. It gives me chills every time I watch it.

I’ll let you know how it turns out. When I get home I’m working in the garden. I have Amish paste tomato plants to get in the ground and my husband is going to mow at the Community Garden. This is the time of year when sometimes the grass needs to be mowed twice a week.

 

Juggling Writing and the Garden

Being outside is where I want and need to be, but my characters are tugging at me. I still don’t know how this third book in the Caribbean series ends, but I am writing small chapters about things I think need to happen. The flow isn’t there yet, but it seems to be helping me move forward.

Yesterday I printed out all the scenes separately. That will allow me to rearrange them and insert new scenes where I think they should go. I have a board with post-it notes of the scenes on it, but that doesn’t seem to do it for me. I’ll try this and see what happens. It reminds me of my wonderful daughter-in-law who is, among other things, a talented quilter. She puts the pieces of a quilt on her wall and is able to look at it to see if the pieces need to be moved around.

I am 200 pages into this book and it may be 300 or 350 before I get it all down. It won’t be that long when it’s finished because this is a first draft. Then the revision work begins.

Revision in the garden is ongoing. A small maple has grown to the point that things I had planted around it needed to come out. There were two Limelight hydrangeas near the deck that always got taller than a wanted and blocked the view to other parts of the garden. One of them was destroyed when we dug it, but the other one was moved to another spot where it is leafing out nicely. My spring and fall blooming iris have made their spring appearance.

I am also potting up volunteers and divisions for the plant sale at a Green Thumb meeting at the St. Michaels Woman’s Club the second week in May. I noticed a small Shademaster locust near the mother tree in the back. It is about the size as the one I brought home from that same plant sale eight years ago. It is now 20 feet tall. A fast grower.

What’s Up

Saturday is the opening of the St. Michaels Farmers Market. The husband and I signed up to help with early set-up.  As a reward we get to be some of the bell ringers to open the first day of the market. I was a bell ringer last year, too. It was a chilly morning, hence all the layers.

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I’ve never helped with the market before, but it’s in a transitional phase and I want to do everything I can to help the market continue. I grow most of our green food, but supplement at the market.

I volunteered to keep the MailChimp mailing list and send out market reminders. The first one went out on Wednesday morning. I plan to take a lot of photos this year to add visual interest to the market reminders.

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Garden chores keep on. I’ve planted the dahlia roots I grew from seed last year. A week ago I planted the elephant ear tubers. I am hoping to get huge leaves so I can do more cement castings in late summer. The castings have been in the garage all winter and as soon as I get some time I’ll paint them.

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I also programed the drip irrigation systems and installed them. This year I did the programming while sitting on the garage stoop instead of doing it once I’d put them on the hose bibs.

irrigation sideways tweaked

That required me being on my back trying to read the directions and program at the same time. I’m embarrassed to admit that I did that several years before I figured out I could do it another way.  I tested one system that’s is my window boxes and it’s okay. I need to test the other, much larger, system and see if any fixes need to be made.

I’ve started some seeds inside the house but nothing is up yet. In the garden beds garlic, potatoes, arugula and turnips are sprouting. I’ve ordered Molokai Purple Sweet Potato (6 plants cost $18) and Ginger root but they haven’t arrived yet. Those sweet potatoes are supposed to be full of healthy stuff since they’re purple and Japanese who eat them live to be 120. Maybe $18 is cheap.

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I got a new computer Wednesday and my genius tech guy is coming today to transfer files and make sure all is well. I already have the latest Microsoft operating system so that won’t be a learning curve. But for someone of the generation who bought one refrigerator and one washer and dryer and had them last for thirty years, the notion of having to replace electronics frequently is hard to get my head around.

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I started a singing class two weeks ago. It was advertised in the ALL (Adventures in Lifelong Learning) and both my yoga instructor, Paulette Florio, and I read the summary of the class as being for people who wanted to sing but didn’t think they could. At the first class it turned out that most of the people had some background in singing. They’d sung with local choral arts groups, some professionally. All felt their voices had changed as they got older. Heck, I just wanted to see IF I HAD A VOICE. Paulette and I spent that first class trying not to laugh at ourselves. And the blurb in the ALL brochure didn’t say what we thought it did. Wishful thinking on our part.

However, I am learning things about breathing, where you tongue goes in your mouth, the mechanics of the body parts that produce voice, etc. so I think I’ll try and stick it out for awhile. If I don’t it wouldn’t be the first time I signed up for a class and decided it wasn’t for me. It would free up some time for writing and working in the garden.

Helicopter Wars

We have beautiful old silver maples on our property – seven of them spaced around the house. Many people consider them junk trees, but I am quite fond on them. We had an old silver maple in Harford Country. It was the tree our children’s tree swing was in and it shaded our 200 year old stone house. That tree was probably 100 years old when it was felled in a storm. We replaced it with another large caliper silver maple. We hoped the family who bought our house would install a swing for their children.

That’s the romantic side of the silver maple story. The downside is that they have a gazillion helicoptered seeds (called samaras) in the spring.

As I look out my office window, the trees look as though they are leafing out. There are tiny leaves coming, but those cursed helicopters are getting ready to be blown into the quarter inch spaces between the boards on my deck. They float down gracefully, spinning one way and then become sidewinder missiles on a mission.

It takes weeks for all the helicopters to come off the trees. Once we think they’re down, it takes us days to dig them out of the deck. Usually on our hands and knees with lots of cursing. So this year we decided to try and get ahead in the war on helicopters so we covered the deck with tarps!

Then the wind began to blow and we scurried to find more bricks. The deck always has to be cleaned with deck cleaner once the helicopters are removed, so we are hopeful that the tarp solution will work. I am a little concerned, however, that we may grow an impressive crop of mold underneath the tarps. Enough air seems to be getting under the tarps that maybe that won’t be a problem.

The helicopters are also a problem in my garden. I am amazed that the whole East Coast has not been covered in silver maples. I blow them out of the garden and into drifts on the driveway. I pull them out as they sprout. Those seeds are tenacious. I am already finding tiny maple trees in my garden beds and the helicopters have barely begun to spin. They must be from last year’s seeds.  I can’t cover my garden beds with tarps, but I’m hoping they help on the deck.

On Google I learned that you can eat maple seeds. Not the wings, but the seed is apparently quite good roasted. Who knew? Sounds like a lot of work to me (I buy my pistachio nuts and peanuts shelled), but if I’m in a survival situation I’m all set.

Women Who Do Too Much

My friend, Diane Marquette, emailed me after I told her I’d forgotten to do something important. This is what she said…

” ‘Women Who Still Do Too Much,’ like ourselves, cannot keep all the plates spinning all the time. Sometimes stuff’s gonna wobble and break. That’s why there’s glue in the junk drawer.

I appreciated the “still” in what she said. I am trying hard to pare down my commitments so I have more time to write. There are a few more things to do for the Eastern Shore Writers Association and the Bay to Ocean Conference, but then more of my time will be my own. Of course, now that spring is here, the garden is calling…but I am writing every day and the plot for the third book in the Caribbean series is pulling together. I’m thinking about starting to post some excepts from the first book in the series.

Saturday we drove to Philadelphia to take our granddaughter to dinner. She was in town for an Occupational Therapy conference. She lives on the west coast and doesn’t get east very often, so we really enjoyed catching up. I love that we have the same chin! She’s a lovely young woman and we couldn’t be prouder grandparents.

Sunday afternoon I attended a meeting for volunteers at the St. Michaels Farmer’s Market. It’s an important institution in our community for those of us who care about where  are food comes from and how it’s grown or raised. I am excited to see how there can be more linkage between the St. Michaels Community Garden (one of my volunteer activities) and the Farmers Market. Many of us who grow most of our own produce supplement at the Farmers Market. I am stumped by summer squash. My zucchinis and yellow squash never survive squash borers.

Veggie signs went up on Talbot Street this weekend. This is a fun fundraiser for the Farmers Market.Other organizations do similar fund raisers. Before Valentine’s Day we have Hearts on Talbot, we have Jack Russel dog signs before the Jack Russel races at Perry Cabin, and silver stars before Christmas in St. Michaels.

 

There’s always something going on in this wonderful small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Spiced Pecans In My Kitchen

My kitchen was fragrant yesterday morning with an oven full of roasting sugared and spiced pecans I was making for the card party at the St. Michaels Woman’s Club. Apparently I have become known for my spiced pecans which have graced a number of luncheon salads at the club. These are really good so I only make them when they can quickly be removed from the house. We’ll get a handful and then they’ll be transported to the clubhouse. These are so good that even putting them in my car’s trunk might  not keep me from a stealthy run at them.

I meant to take a photo of the roasted pecans but got them out of the house so fast I forgot. You’ll have to make do with the package photo.

Mala’s Cinnamon Sugared Pecans (from Cookingclassy.com website who stole it from allrecipes.com. My tweaks included below.)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pecan halves (4 cups)
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • ½ tsp vanilla (up to 1 tbsp)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (can be half white, half brown)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (can add ½ tsp allspice, 1/8 tsp cayenne for kick)
  • ½ tsp salt (can be up to 1-1/2 tsp kosher salt)

Directions

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. (I am now baking them at 275.) In a large mixing bowl, vigorously whisk egg white with water and vanilla until very frothy. In a separate small mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, cinnamon, spices and salt. Add pecans to egg white mixture and toss until evenly coated. Pour half of the sugar mixture over pecans and toss several times, then add remaining sugar mixture and toss until evenly coated. Pour coated pecans over a Silpat or parchment paper lined backing sheet and spread into an even layer. Bake in a preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Allow to cool, then store in an airtight container.

Notes

I use sheet pans to bake. The sides keep the nuts from falling out. Since I remove them from the oven for turning, this is crucial.

The final 15 minutes in the oven is what makes them crunchy. I checked them after what I thought was the final time and they still weren’t dry in the middle, so I put them in for another 15 minutes. The first two times you stir them they will be sticky.

I like adding that little bit of cayenne for a little heat. If you’re planning to use them as an appetizer with cheese and fruit, you could add  more salt as well.

Question: Where do you hide food so you won’t be tempted?