The First Summery Weekend

Living all of summer in one weekend. In Chicago, where we have had an extremely cold and wet spring, these last three days have been a welcoming sign of summer approaching.   And I filled every moment possible with family, friends, and fun.   And projects that will hopefully pay us back this summer.

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It is amazing that one fairly open weekend can include:

  • A bike ride
  • Quiet night watching Straight out of Compton—impressive film
  • Yoga
  • A gorgeous afternoon at Arlington racetrack
  • A neighborhood Summer Kick-off party. So many families to catch up with.
  • Flower shopping
  • Planting the entire vegetable garden
  • Kayaking
  • Dinner on the deck with my family

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It is a long list, but what a fun one!

So simple, but so, so rewarding. Embrace your free days or hours—fill them with people and time that give you freedom, space, and joy.

C

Up to My Knees in X#@$%

It has been a wet, wet spring, raining three weekends in a row and many days in between.  No planting has been done, between rain, sports, work, and more rain. Greens are coming up in the garden, but it needs a lot of grooming.  Hot, sunny yesterday was the perfect day for the annual run to get manure to spread before I plant my vegetable garden.  I have done this annually at the barn I ride at, and my veggies come in heavy and beautiful in a few months.

Bob agreed to accompany me this year.  We swung by the barn to borrow a stack of big buckets, which would be washed out before being returned.  We backed the car next to the  manure hill (or so it seems), slowly maneuvering down the muddy tracks to park where we would have easy access to the back of the Explorer.

“Be careful. It’s a little boggy,” I warned as we grabbed our shovels and pitchfork from the seat.

Three steps into walking towards the drier side of the pile, I stepped down—down–down–through the seemingly solid surface, until my leg was swallowed to my knee in a swampy mixture of manure, straw and water. Shock first, as I worried how far the disgusting mixture would go, but it hit some mucky bottom as it reached my knee.  It was slowly sucking me down–is this what quicksand feels like?– and to turn I had to put my other leg into the mess to balance myself.

“Don’t come in here!” I yelled unnecessarily to Bob, who was watching, shocked.

“Oh, my God.  This is so gross!” I exclaimed as I tried to step up from the crap-filled water without falling further into it.

I high-stepped to get out the manure swamp, feeling loose material spray up the back of my legs. When on solid ground, I glanced at my now-coated shoes and socks, muddy water sliding down my legs.

We began laughing hysterically. I was thankful I was not by myself, or I might have freaked out.

Clearly, we were not getting any manure today.  My shoes were so mud-soaked, they squished with each step. After a few minutes of laughing, I climbed into the back of the car, onto a rubber mat and towel.  Bob drove–arm over his nose—while I gingerly removed my shoes and socks.  They both went immediately into the garbage can when we arrived home, then I scrubbed myself off by the hose before I entered the house.

In the laundry room, I wrapped a towel around my waist, then threw my shorts outside to join the stinky shoes in the dumpster. I then took an indoor shower, scrubbing legs hard with a washcloth hard to remove the dirt, water, straw and manure from my legs.

I think I was still laughing.  That was the funniest thing that has ever happened to me.  And clearly the most disgusting.

And now I can truly say that I was “knee deep in SH#$%T.”  I hope that you never are. C

The First Frost

So sad, decimating the gardens after two mornings of hard frost.  In early October, no less.  Basil, so fragrant in pesto last week, now rubbery black leaves, the tomato vines collapsed and shriveled with a few lingering green ones oozing seeds, the cucumbers withered in the dirt, peppers wilting. I yanked everything but a couple herbs from the dirt yesterday, leaving blank black boxes yawning for next year’s growth.  This is when I know winter is truly coming.  So sad to have the frost so early this year, since last year we got tomatoes into November.

Then I moved on to the flower beds, clippers flying, as I cut back my summer beauties, petals gone, stems drooping.  The annuals pulled from roots out–marigolds and yellow beauties and zinnias and dahlias.  Many of the perennials now down to the earth–coneflowers, daisies, white asters, bachelor buttons,  several varieties of black-eyed Susans, bee balm.  A few still remain–gorgeous plum asters, grasses changing color like the trees, mums, gilardia, more purple sedum.  The trellises put away, the hoses rolled, bee houses  replaced with pumpkins and gourds to supply a little lingering color.

Alas, there will be more to cut and bag as November approaches, sweating in the late autumn days, as we lament the end of summer, the floral and vegetable garden.  But we will start planning for next’s years garden in the winter months, waiting for the frown ground to thaw.  C

Uneven Garden Bounty

A wintry summer in Chicago has resulted in fewer beach and pool days, evening sweaters in August, lower air conditioning bills and a sadly underwarmed garden.  The biggest loser in my tiny three-step levels and overflowing garden seems to be the teeny sad tomatoes lacking the sun-kissed flavor we usually get.  They usually thrive in the heat, changing from green to a sunburned red that is so delicious.  What a wonderful summer feeling–wandering through the overgrown vines, pulling off the still-warmed fruit, the smell lingering on my fingers long after I come indoors.

Although there are slow and steady handfuls of tomatoes ripening, usually now I am overwhelmed with bowls of tomatoes, seeking out new recipes to try, freezing soups and sauces to last throughout the long midwest winter.  The tiny grape tomatoes are sprouting by the handful, but they are not our everyday favorites.  And I have one beautiful plant that has yet to produce a fruit.  One of my best tomato plants is one that simply re-seeded from last year, growing in the wasteland, climbing up forgotten soccer nets, intertwined with cucumbers hanging over and through the vines.

A first-time cuke grower, they have been bountiful and delicious, so much more flavorful than any store-bought ones I have ever eaten.  We found many uses for them quick overwhelming amount we had,  and there are still a few pickle-sized ones on the vines.  Next year, maybe we will try a variety with fewer seeds, as these all had to be de-seeded the seeds were so large.  But, removing the skin filled the house with an amazing, clean scent of cucumbers (one of my favorites).

The lemon and original-flavored basils are bushy and full, the scent trailing behind as we carry armfuls in to use fresh, cook with, or prepare pesto to last the winter.  All the herbs are lovely: oregano, cilantro, rosemary, two kinds of parsley, dill, tarragon.  I will miss you all when the first frost arrives, except that parsley that can last until snowfall.

Green peppers have been wimpy and thin-skinned all summer.  My best success is the jalapenos.  Firm, spicy, red and green, I pull them in by the handfuls.  I’m looking for new recipes to use them–feel free to pass them along.

Ah well.  As summer winds down, we will enjoy every last item in the garden until we are forced to (sigh-oh no!)  buy pale tomatoes and waxed cucumbers from the grocery store.  And savor the last flavors of summer. C

P.S.  When the dog comes in smelling like a tomato plant at night licking her lips, exactly what is she doing with my tomato plants???

Sweet Surprise

I spent a warmish, windy Saturday afternoon prepping the garden for winter, continuing the task of cutting back flowers, deadheading, and pulling out many of the now unproductive tomato plants, though a few valiant survivors remain for a few short weeks.  And grape vines.  Have you ever cut back the reddening, hardened vines from a trellis?   Just know that there is no need for lifting weights after such an endeavor; it is extremely hard work.

As I was yanking out a couple tomoatoes, I found a sweet surprise nestled in the midst of the tomato plants–a few fresh sprigs of basil, which I thought long gone for this year.  Yum!  Just rubbing my fingers gently on the leaves and bringing them to my nose conjures up a smell of one final batch of bruschetta for tonight.  A garden farewell, of sorts, as the nights turn crisper, the sun drops quicker, and the early morning sometimes brings a layer of frost upon all it touches.C

Tomato Overload Sadly Over

Bruschetta. Salsa. Tortilla soup.  Tomato Sauce.  Chili.  Rice and beans.  How many ways are there to use up the mountains of beautiful, fresh tomatoes growing in my garden?  We went through weeks of chopping, slicing, dicing, stirring, cooking, mashing the mounds of tomatoes we brought in daily.  The bowls were daunting, piled high with oblong and round red spheres, but smelled so wonderful when mixed with fresh jalapenos or ciliantro or basil. 

I thought the tomatoes were gone until next summer but last night I was surprised to see a few remaining red bulbs. I pulled (probably)  the final, small-sized tomatoes from their vines, now drooping nightly from the chill.  I added them to homemade black bean soup, and we savored the taste of freshness. 

We have a few frozen stores of sauces and soups to relish during the winter months of pale, mealy tomoatoes in the store.  And then we wait impatiently for next summer, for the tomato avalache to return.  C

An Inviting Garden

Here is a sample of what the garden reaps.  A swallowtail, so beautifully detailed and graceful. 

  My children called me to the gardeen to see the “funny bug” which turned out to be the tiny hummingbird who has been enjoying our garden.  He departed before I had the camera, but this is who showed up for an early lunch. 

 Watching his probiscus probe into the coneflower as he gently swayed on the head was fascinating for all.  Maybe I’ll get the hummingbird another day.  C