Inflatables, Ibises and a Swiss Cheese Plant

There are many things in this life that I will never understand. Blow-up lawn ornaments are one of them. Last week while in Lowe’s I could not help but see the selection for sale on the very high upper shelf in the – you got it – lawn care department.

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They have two dragons, one black cat looking evil (as evil as plastic can look), orange-rimmed eyes and something next to the purple dragon on the end that I cannot figure out. On another shelf they have a pumpkin carriage, a black spider (widow, no doubt), a haunted house and a green ghoula monster.

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The one that greets you – just imagine this in your neighbor’s front yard! – is this:

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Every town in America, sometimes every neighborhood, has at least one house with a variety of such “decorations.” It seems that Halloween is strongly vying for the #2 spot behind Christmas, when all manner of inflatable Santas, reindeer, snowmen, grinches, polar bears, nutcrackers, penguins and even nativity sets adorn front yards.

I have decided that I don’t have to understand or even appreciate everything. People have different eyes, different sensitivities, different preferences. Sometimes I go into a store and think: Who buys this stuff? But people do! And it’s not only what people buy. It’s the music they listen to, the foods they eat, the things that strike them as beautiful. It’s what they see, what they like, what they remember, what they want more of.

Some people will not look at Louisa’s gourds and think How beautiful! as I did when I saw them in August still hanging on their vine. Isn’t the shape magnificent? Traditionally, because a gourd’s shell will become as hard as wood, they have been used for bottles, dippers and musical instruments. People paint them, carve into them, display them. I am content and delighted to look at them hanging from a vine.

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Some people will think Coco, the little black pug I get to laugh at every day, is ugly. I did. For a long time. Curiously, I also thought she was cute. I’d say How can a dog be ugly and cute at the same time? But now I don’t think she’s ugly. She wiggled her way into my heart and now I think she’s beautiful. Yes, beautiful! And still cute. I call her Cutie Pie.

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You can put a bunch of pillows on top of her and she will still just look at you like What? Is there a problem here?

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See her in there? She doesn’t care!

You can put her on the rooftop of the chicken coop’s brooding box and she will not care!

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There are a lot of things that strike me that someone else might walk right by. I am drawn to form, pattern, color, character, authenticity and uniqueness with a curiosity that I suspect will never quite be satisfied. Last week this MO was confirmed in Galveston, Texas, at a place called Moody Gardens. Their “rainforest” is a bit imposing from the outside – a tall, glass pyramid amid lots of palm trees (this is not Virginia!).

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Inside I marveled at the patterning on this fish’s back. Do you think every one of its species has a different “fingerprint”? It’s like a maze, like the corn mazes people walk through or the ones in activity books that challenge you to get from Point A to Point B. Do you suppose there’s a way through this one?

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I don’t know what these birds are called, but there they were, right in front of us, looking as perfect as if they had been manufactured in a factory according to detailed specs.

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The shape of the one that sat so still, its distinct all-black and all-white sections so crisply divided, its unblinking eye with no shadowing, no lash, no imperfections – she’s amazing, but she doesn’t know it.

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The gorgeous color of these scarlet ibises is like something off an artist’s palette. What do you even call that color? To me, scarlet isn’t the word you want. But the birds don’t care what you call them.

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They freely walk around, seemingly oblivious to the humans observing their skinny legs, their outstanding posture, their disproportionate beaks. Why do those beaks have to be so long? Perhaps their food lives deep in the mud at the bottom of the pond?

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I have to admit that the color of the palm viper is extraordinary, but I did not stare at it for long. The coils, the gleam, the idea of what it is capable of sent me on my way even though it is behind glass. I think people must be innately repulsed for good reason!

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Onward!

I do not want to be the one who feeds the mantas, but it was quite something to watch! The man who does this has been feeding them for five years! His hand is inside the glass.

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How amazing is the patterning of this branch of the “rain tree”? It grows that way without any help from a computer program! Notice though that it’s not perfect. Some leaves are missing. If a person made this, or a program constructed it, you can bet that all the leaves would be there.

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Seen from below, with the sunlight framing it, this branch is to me even more amazing.

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The Split Leaf Philodendron or “Swiss Cheese Plant” is just plain funny! What reason could there be for the naturally-occurring holes in the leaves? To get more light to the leaves below it?

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On the sign in the lobby at Moody Gardens is a Kenyan proverb that says: Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was loaned to you by your children.

To me this says more broadly: Keep your perspective. Be careful. Pay attention.

It gets me thinking about what an incredibly diverse and fascinating world we live in. All too often we get caught up in the everyday issues – bills to pay, things that break down, people who disappoint us. We forget to take notice of the miracles all around us all the time. Without our usually noticing it, there’s beauty: someone’s smile, the color of flowers, the rays of sun making speckled shadows. There’s growth: we don’t struggle quite as much with something as we used to, our work yields more satisfaction, our cooking is more delicious than ever! And there are simple and complex systems in every corner of our world that actually, consistently work! The lights go on when we flip the switch, fresh and wonderful food from around the globe is available in our stores, the mail arrives! Much as I will never understand it, even the inflatables in people’s front yards at Halloween and Christmas give (some) people something to smile about.

Besides all this and a thousand other things, there are plants in the world that look like swiss cheese! Just for fun maybe?

Take a moment today to look around and think about what you normally take for granted. You don’t need to make a list (though mine is very long!) but I think if we all spent a bit more time being grateful for what we have instead of lamenting what we don’t have, if we celebrated the good instead of bemoaning the bad, if we channeled our energies toward gratitude and service instead of anger and greed, think what the world would be.

A is for Applesauce

For as long as I can remember, I have made applesauce come fall. It’s a signal of the season change, when my best descriptor of the air is “crisp” and my thoughts turn – without intention – to hunkering down and getting ready for the colder, shorter days of winter. It’s fundamental to our primal instincts to get ready for scarcity of food, even if we don’t have to worry about that at all. Applesauce is one of those pure foods that’s good warm, cold or icy, all by itself or next to a slice of pork roast or a potato pancake.

It’s simple. You wash the apples, cut them up, put them in a pot with a little water, let it cook down, press it through a strainer, add some cinnamon if you want, and enjoy! I’ll take you through it step by step.

Amazing apples make amazing applesauce, so start with apples as fresh and crisp as possible and as local as your location allows. I am fortunate to live 20 minutes from a well-established and super impressive family farm that specializes in heirloom apples. https://www.albemarleciderworks.com/

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One day last week I happened to be going right by there, so I stopped in for 40 pounds, my usual portion when applesauce is the goal. (Forty pounds fills three canvas shopping bags a bit more than half full each, in case you wondered.) Normally Albemarle CiderWorks has five or six long folding tables set up along the outside wall of the barn with a box of each kind of apple, one after the next, in a long row on the tables. (There’s a good photo on their web site showing this.) They have small paring knives and paper plates and descriptions of each apple set out in front of the boxes, so that you can sample them and decide what you like best.

But last Thursday it was raining and all the apples were in cold storage. I was escorted into that living-room-sized refrigerator and chose fast! Cold storage is cold!

Different apples are picked at different times, and different apples are best for different purposes. Applesauce naturally comes out best when you use apples that are best for cooking. For me that means they are very firm and a bit tart, which is as technically descriptive as I can get. Last year I got one called Black Twig that was extraordinary, but it comes late in the season and was not available yet. Virginia Gold and Liberty looked good to me in the ten, very cold seconds inside the fridge that I allowed myself to contemplate this decision, and the woman helping me confirmed that they would make great applesauce. Pack ‘em up! Done! Homeward I drove.

Yesterday, following too much rain this past week, the ground was too wet for the final grading in front of the house, so we thought maybe it would be a good time to get the oak clapboards on the coop. That job has been sitting all summer on the back burner while we waited for the wood to be milled and got involved with other things. We had barely started measuring and cutting boards when raindrops came again, so we turned our attention to the basement, more specifically to making order in the basement. A lot of stuff got moved to clear the space in front of the interior wall of the foundation that needs repair, and that stuff had been put here, there and everywhere. It took a couple hours, but all is decently in place now. A bunch of stuff is in the trash.

Then it wasn’t raining anymore, and the coop siding beckoned still. But before heading out, I decided to get the applesauce going. Look how beautiful they are in my sink.

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I rinsed them off and stared at them a bit, admiring their gloss, their unique colorings – every Liberty with slightly different transitions from reddish to greenish, every Virginia Gold with different splotches and spots of brown. I have to admire them before I cut them up. It seems the respectful thing to do.

But once you start cutting, you just cut. The little ones you can quarter, the big ones in sixths or whatever is quickest. Seeds and skins stay; stems go in the compost or trash.

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I can’t be overly specific regarding quantities here because it’s entirely up to you how much applesauce you want to make. Take out a big pot (I used my five-gallon pot) and put about half an inch of water in the bottom of it. Put your cut-up apples in the pot until you can’t fit any more. Mine looked like this.

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Cover the pot, turn on medium and walk away. Go read a book or put siding on the coop. With the lid on top and the water in the bottom, those apples will just steam and get soft. After about an hour I took a break from the siding and checked on them; mine were doing what they are supposed to do: reducing in volume, steaming away, looking like this.

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Yours might take a little less time if it’s a lesser quantity. (What makes me think that not everyone is going to fill a five-gallon pot? You can make a smaller amount, but after you taste it, you’ll wish you made more!) The apples need to cook down slowly, and all they need is time and heat. Give it a stir at this point if you want, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t.

After about two hours it reaches the point of mushiness where you can easily stir it with a wooden spoon and make mash by doing so. By this time the aroma of apples fills your home and you wonder why more people don’t cook.

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See the mash around my spoon? With a few more stirs, it all looks like that and you can spoon it into the strainer that you have set up in a bowl.

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Except for the skins and seeds, it’s applesauce now. Why not just peel and core them before cooking them? You can, but that process is tedious and time-consuming, and you lose more of the flesh of the apple that way. I do not have that kind of patience, much as my chickens would love the extra apple they’d get. And these apples are precious to me – I want as much of them as possible going into my applesauce.

Now all you have to do is press the applemash through the holes of the strainer with the back of a spoon. A Foley food mill works well for this too, if you have one of the older models. I found the newer ones problematic and more trouble than they are worth. My sister Lynn loves her Foley food mill; if I still had my old one, I’d probably love it too. But we get used to things one way or another. See what works for you.

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Note that the holes of my strainer are not super tiny. They are big enough for the sauce to go through pretty easily, but not so big as to allow the seeds through. Every now and then scrape the underside of the strainer.

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I discovered quickly that my bowl was going to fill up too fast, so I switched to using my Dutch oven as the bowl underneath. Then when the level of the applesauce reached the bottom of the strainer, I transferred the applesauce to the bowl.

Keep pressing applemash against the sides of the strainer until all you have left is skins and seeds. It will look like this.

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Scrape out the seeds and skins from the strainer into a separate bowl (this is great for your compost or your chickens!) and start again.

With the quantity I made, I added cinnamon each time the bowl became full (instead of waiting till it was all strained through and then adding cinnamon). Now that I think of it, I suppose you could put cinnamon sticks in the pot with the cooking apples, but oh well, maybe next time! I can’t tell you exactly how much cinnamon to use. It’s like salt and pepper: Add what seems right to you. I used about two teaspoons per three quarts of strained applesauce.

I love the swirl of the cinnamon getting stirred in.

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You can put your applesauce in a container and put it in the fridge to eat soon, or you can put it in mason jars and can it in a hot water bath, or you can freeze it. I think freezing is best. It’s easy and allows for icy applesauce at some point down the road.

Quart-size ziplock bags work great. If one person holds the bag open and another person spoons it in, that’s ideal. If you are by yourself, try putting the applesauce in a large measuring cup with a pour-spout or a small bowl with the same, and holding the bag with one hand and pouring with the other. A wide-mouth funnel can be good too. You can also freeze in jars as long as you allow a good inch or so of air space for expansion, otherwise the glass will break. (And you don’t want that!)

I had filled my five-gallon pot to overflowing with cut-up apples and ended up with about ten quarts of applesauce and three cups of seeds and skins which my chickens enjoyed tremendously. Always keep a little out for enjoying fresh.

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Oh, and if you think your applesauce is too watery, just cook it down a little more after you’ve removed the seeds and skins. That’s how you get apple butter – it’s just way-cooked-down applesauce. It might take another hour or so to cook down. Turn off the heat when it’s as thick as you like. In the meantime your house is blessed with apple aroma again! Some people add sugar too, at the end. That’s your call.

For those who are wondering how you get icy applesauce, just thaw one of your frozen bags or jars to the point where you can break the applesauce apart with a fork. Stir until desired smoothness. Oh yum!

And the coop — I love the siding! Claudia calls it a chicken castle! More on that soon 🙂

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Not-Your-Average Cultural Exchange

I know there are people in the world who would feel, as I do, a twinge of sadness the day after a storm splits the gigantic chrysanthemum.

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Or who wish they could wander out to the garden to pick fresh oregano and purple basil for the homemade pizza about to go into the oven (see the basil in the box behind the rosemary?). Or who would like to make applesauce together from freshly picked heirloom Virginia apples. I suspect there are people who have some time – a few weeks or a few months – to explore a corner of the world that is surely different in some ways than their own and who wonder about my corner of Virginia.

I’m thinking this is Not-Your-Average Cultural Exchange.

There’s always something going on around here: planting, harvesting, building, cooking, baking, (eating!), trying, creating, discovering, resting, marveling, playing, listening, digging, watching, learning, discussing, fixing, pondering.

There are my various gardens with herbs, vegetables and perennials. I’ve moved the azaleas in between the crape myrtles in front of the fenced garden. Turns out, the neglected bush that just got dug up in the front corner of my house was actually two bushes. This photo shows them moved, with their fresh dirt around them, but not yet trimmed, staked or mulched. I did that later in the day, after taking the photo. I had to take the photo when I did, and you see why. I did not ask little Coco to park herself there to enjoy the sunshine…

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We have got to do something about the blackberries that are going crazy inside the garden, and the tomatoes could be pulled and winter crops planted. The asparagus bed is none too tidy, begs for attention. One of the rudbeckia got smashed somehow and needs a little love. The front yard is a mess from the recent Big Dig, but soon we’ll be pouring footings and building a nice front porch.

My two custom-built chicken coops provide palatial accommodations for 29 interesting (some bordering on ridiculous) chickens. They need new mulch or straw when they’ve scratched through what we put down before, but they give lots of amazing eggs to make good food with! My lone araucana isn’t laying her greenish eggs any more though – could there be a reason? This black copper maran had a face-off with Coco yesterday. Both have curiosity, but the chicken less so. She just wants to get back to scratching in the straw. A white silkie came toward us to investigate.

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When the sun rises on a day with too much cloud cover, and it can’t quite get its rays to stream through the giant trees in my back woods, there’s always an otherworldly feeling and sometimes a glorious mist that sparkles on the leaves or in the air.

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When the wind kicks up such that those trees can’t help but engage in a wild dance, it’s a sight. The not-so-manicured trails through the woods are a pleasant walk leading to the beaver pond with its lodge and dam. The beavers keep making their pond a little bigger. I don’t get down there often enough.

When a fox trots in a wide circle around the coops, wishing (you know it!) that there was a way to get to those fat and surely delicious chickens, it doesn’t know how its red fur shines in the sun. When guests stay at my gorgeous Airbnb cottage, they just might see a mother bear and two cubs walk through the yard. A few weeks ago, someone did.

Recently I was in Seattle and met several enthusiastic, capable au pairs. I got to thinking that some people who would like to come to Virginia for a little while (but don’t necessarily have a friend here already) might prefer a household without small children, and might prefer a country setting. They might enjoy getting to know the plants that grow in this climate, or the way we lay decking boards, or the vibe of downtown Charlottesville, fifteen minutes away. It’s a vibrant university town with great restaurants and shops, exhibits and lectures, sports and music events. The Presidential homes of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe are all within half an hour’s drive.

Over the years I’ve had short- and long-term visitors many times and would love to share my little piece of the world with some new friends. If you are thinking it’s a good time to do such a thing and have a little interest, you can let me know.

Brilliant Sheepdogs, Clueless Sheep

The next time you think you are up against an impossible task, compare it to getting three sheep to move through a series of obstacles on a 25-acre hillside. Sheep are not the brightest animals (clueless is the word that comes to mind), but the border collies that guide them through this competitive course are brilliant, fast and oh so determined to be successful.

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It isn’t every day you get an “open” trial of the US Border Collie Handler’s Association practically in your backyard. When you do, you go see this amazing spectacle. Tracy and I drove about ten miles to Edgeworth Farm, knowing almost nothing about sheepdog trials except that it involves sheep, dogs, a person giving commands (whistle and voice), a great big open space and some sort of timed challenge.

It’s a challenge all right. We stood looking out on a huge field that is roughly triangular in shape, in the middle of one flat edge (at the bottom of this drawing)  looking toward the far point that was more than 400 yards away. That’s where the sheep start (the xxx at the top). I am not going to get a prize for drawing, and there are surely inaccuracies in this, but the obstacles and the route the dog has to take looks about like this.

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The dog starts with the handler at the dot near the bottom, opposite the three sheep (the three xxx’s at the far opposite end of the field), a spot called the outrun. The dog has to run around to the left toward the outrun, approach the sheep from behind, “lift” them (get them moving in the right direction), then make them go through the middle “fetch” panels that are seven yards apart, veer around and then up through the “drive” panels, go across the field through the “cross drive” panels, go toward and then through the “Maltese cross” from one specific entry point all the way through (they are not allowed to go out the sides of the cross), then into the pen. The dog does not have to close the door of the pen; the handler does that and also can help guide the sheep through the cross.

The sheep do not want to do any of this. Therefore please also note: My lines are relatively straight, but the sheep zig-zag all over the place, and the dog zig-zags behind and around them constantly. The sheep clearly have absolutely no idea what’s going on. They just want to go home, back to the barn, back to the food, back to the safety of their many other comrades who, unknown to them, are also three by three having to go through this same inane exercise.

Oh and by the way, this whole course is 12 minutes!

A very nice man named John stood next to us, also watching. His wife is a handler so he goes to these competitions all the time. The way he explained it, there are two main things to know about sheep. 1. Sheep assume safety in numbers so they stick together. But that doesn’t mean one of them might not “squirt” (his word) and separate from the rest randomly. 2. Whichever way the sheep’s head is facing, that’s the direction they are likely to move, so the dog has to get them facing the right way.

In this trial, the dog had to keep all three sheep together throughout the course. Sometimes, in other competitions, one or more sheep will be marked with a bandana or something, and the dog has to purposely separate that one or two from the rest and then get the unmarked group to go through the panels or into the pen.

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The photo above shows the dog and the sheep approaching the fetch (middle) panels and gives you an idea of how huge the field is. (I am not using a zoom lens.) You could barely see the sheep up near the trees when the dog was first released from the handler at the beginning of the trial. That black and white blob above the right-hand panel is the dog and the white blob in the middle is the three sheep, all clustered together, surely wondering what on earth they are doing running down this field and why this annoying creature is pestering them to do it!

John said the sheep are constantly deciding which is worse: the annoying dog always behind them that won’t leave them alone (so they continually try to get away from it) or the scary obstacle (gate, pen, etc) that the annoying creature is trying to make them approach and go through or into.

Next time you have to choose the lesser of two evils, remember these sheep! You can see them eyeing the “Maltese cross” with great skepticism (below), but that bothersome dog is still behind them. Why won’t it just go away??

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The dog has to sometimes coax, sometimes drive, sometimes wait. The handler whistles or shouts voice commands but can’t do that too much. Until the dog gets to the cross with the sheep, the handler stays at the starting post issuing commands from there. The whole thing is not only timed, but point-based. Each obstacle is worth a set number of points. Getting the sheep through the fetch panels – from the starting point (the outrun) through the first (middle) set of panels is worth 20, for example. It is not only getting them through that matters, it’s how the dog gets them through.

Didn’t your mother always say: It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it! or, It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it!

The rules are specific, though with a good bit of subjective judging required. Regarding that first part of the course, the USBCHA rules for international competition read as follows:

5.2.3 Lift

  1. At the end of the Outrun, the dog will either come to a full stop or merely slow down.
  2. The dog’s approach should be smooth, cautious and steady.
  3. The dog will take control in a firm and quiet manner.
  4. The dog should not rush in and startle the sheep nor should it lie back and require numerous commands before getting its sheep on the move.
  5. The lift should be smooth and balanced where the sheep move away in a direct line to the first obstacle.
  6. Judges should use their personal knowledge of sheep and sheep dogs to determine whether a lift has disturbed the sheep unduly and mark accordingly.
  7. Judges will deduct points for excessive commands, slowness, etc., at this point of the trial.

Several things strike me while reading through this. First, you try getting sheep to move in a direct line!! C’mon, sheep, you know you don’t want to just stand there. See that nice set of panels? God only knows what’s on the other side of them, but you know you want to go straight toward them and then right on through! Sheep have no idea whatsoever what a direct line is.

Second, “…whether a lift has disturbed the sheep unduly…“ – trust me, the sheep look very disturbed! Why is that infuriating dog behind us all the time??

Tracy and I watched eight or ten dogs try to do this course. Two or three got the sheep through the first (fetch) panels. One of those got the sheep through all three sets of panels (fetch plus drive plus cross drive). ONE! (This shows the “drive.”)

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One of them (a different one) got the sheep to go through the cross (in the right entry point and without squirting out the sides). One of them (yet another) got the sheep in the pen at the end. This is hard!!! The sheep don’t want to go in the pen! Damn dog! Make it go away!

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These dogs — and the people who train them — are remarkable. It struck me as its own world, a community of people and dogs who love this challenge, who work tirelessly to outwit and overcome the small-brained decisions of a bunch of sheep. It was highly entertaining and I’m sure is very hard work. The dog tries so hard! The sheep are so dumb! And when it works, when the smart, fast, skillful dog causes the dumb, jittery, unpredictable sheep to go where they are supposed to go, it’s so exciting, you cheer! Well, you quietly cheer because you are in such awe. You wouldn’t want to disturb the dog’s concentration or add any random noises that might add confusion. It’s hard enough!

When A Dig Is Big

When you have been waiting seven years to dig a hole, to expose the foundation, to see what’s really there, to assess the problem and to fix as required, and the day finally comes, you want two things: You want to be there and you want the sun to shine. When what you are doing is a dig so big that you can’t call it anything but The Big Dig, you can’t have rain. Our planned dig-date coincided with Hurricane Florence making landfall. Here in Virginia we didn’t get the worst of the storm, but we got plenty of rain. Bother. We had to cancel the plan to dig the weekend after Labor Day.

I didn’t want to miss all the fun, but I was heading out west on Sept 20. It kept raining in Virginia and was too wet to dig the weekend of Sept 22-23, and the weekend of Sept 29-30. Finally, the forecast for October 6-7 looked rain-free. And I flew home on Oct 6. It begins!

Joe had said he could take the old front porch off with the excavator, but I thought there might be salvageable wood. Sandy took it apart board by board on Friday.

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Except for the steps, which were new a few years ago, he found that the rest was rotted beyond further use.

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So it all went in the burn pile.

With no way to get into the front door, this project was officially underway. Now there’s no turning back! A new front porch there will be. But not until we make sure that the front foundation is in no way damaged, in no way compromised, in no way going to cause problems in the future.

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Weeks ago, when I was frustrated at being unable to find a contractor willing to do this work and we had determined to do it ourselves (because it had to be done, and you know, it can’t be rocket science), we had talked to Joe about this project. God bless him. He said, “You don’t want to do this yourself” in regard to the excavating. Graciously, without flat-out saying People who have never operated an excavator should not do this work, he implied that such things were best left to those with experience. I am so glad he said what he said, however he said it to make me understand, and I am so glad I listened! This man is a master on that machine! It might not be rocket science, but it’s a skill he has perfected over the years. You don’t rent a machine and figure this out in a morning.

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Joe removed a lot of dirt. The piles in front of the house looked like this when he was done.

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Coco had to play Queen of the Hill of course!

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Joe dug the hole down to the level of the basement floor, leaving the entire front foundation wall scraped clean, unmarred by that bucket (imagine the damage an amateur could have done!), exposed for inspection and …. drum roll ….. do … we … need … repair?

You tell me. This is from the one side.

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And this is from the other.

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That’s plywood! Been there 45 years! And it is in very good shape! I was thinking that when the house was constructed, some (probably most) of the people on the job site were saying This is stupid. Who puts plywood in the ground? But I bet there was at least one who said It’ll be all right. This’ll work. It worked!

As you may recall, my interior wall begged to differ. It showed bowing, indicating excessive pressure and possibly serious structural damage.

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This is because of what Joe did not find at basement floor level when he dug out the dirt. There was no gravel or drainpipe. When water flowed downhill (as water will do!) – and my land slopes toward the house – and soaked the earth that pressed against that plywood, it was very heavy! It pushed the plywood in, pushed the 2×6’s that stand between the exterior plywood and the interior drywall, and cracked the drywall. But moisture apparently did not penetrate the one sheet of plastic that they had put between the plywood and the dirt (which of course Joe’s machine shredded when he dug out the dirt). As soon as he removed the dirt and the pressure, that wall straightened right out.

Thus the wall is in such good shape! No repair necessary on the outside. Just need to waterproof it and add a way for water to escape in the future. On the inside we’ll add some 2×6’s for extra support and replace the drywall.

I used a wire brush to get as much of the dirt as possible off the exterior surface.

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With a heat gun I did the best I could to dry the surface where, along the bottom especially, it was still damp from the dirt that had been sticking on it overnight. Then Samuel and I got into our paint suits and rolled liquid asphalt on the wall.

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Onto that we pressed a solid sheet of 6ml plastic. Or maybe he pressed and I watched?

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The 6” perforated pipe came next, followed by gravel. There’s a big black snake under my house!

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Samuel drove Tracy’s tractor to bring gravel to where Joe could pick it up and unload it into the hole.

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Sandy raked and shoveled gravel so that it sat where it should on top of the pipe.

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And then got out of the way for Joe to add more gravel.

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On top of the gravel we put a piece of landscape fabric (so that dirt doesn’t seep through the gravel and get into the perforations of the pipe), and then those big piles of dirt in the front yard disappeared.

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The front yard still needs a final grading, and it’s a mess to walk across for now.

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But as the old Alka Seltzer commercials used to say: Oh, what a relief it is! I don’t have to worry about this foundation any more! When it rains, when water gets into the earth, it will seep down (as water will do!). When it gets to the landscape fabric, it will go through it. When it gets to the gravel, it will go through it. When it gets to the perforated pipe, it will go into it through the perforations, and then this water will flow away from the house, out into woods along the side of the house, to where the end of the pipe exits the ground.

Easily, I’d say, there’s more than 45 more years left for this plywood foundation!

 

Work, Mess and One Terrifying Spider

Expecting the worst sounds so pessimistic, but it has its upside. If and when the thing comes to pass and is not as bad as you expected, you can be pleasantly surprised and a great deal relieved – positive emotions both, and most welcome. The truth of the matter is: Some things are wonderfully and surprisingly simple, uncomplicated, straightforward.

That doesn’t mean they are not work. That doesn’t mean they are not a mess. But work is good because it gives us problems to solve, which in turn makes us stronger in many ways. And messes are good because cleaning them up leaves you feeling like you accomplished so much.

At my house right now is both work and mess. But I expected more work and worse mess. Truly I am grateful. For seven years I have been thinking I had a problem. Here’s why.

In my house is a funky circular staircase that leads to the basement. The wall in that stairwell that faces the front foundation of the house has been, shall we say, compromised. That’s what that crack is, a compromised wall. Clearly something has been pushing at it from the other side.

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You can see that the sheetrock has separated along its seam and is pushing inward. It has been that way for seven years. Part of the reason for this problem, we assumed, is that on the other side of this interior wall is an exterior wall made of plywood. Yes, plywood.

In the late seventies, when this house was constructed, they thought a plywood foundation wall was a good idea. A few years later the company went out of business but that is water over the dam for me. I bought the house with the plywood foundation. Over the years I have had both architects and structural engineers tell me it was sound and solid, and I wanted to believe them, but I see that crack every time I go downstairs. Not good, I tell myself, that cannot be good.

I might have watched it a few more years, hoping it’s not a disgusting mess behind that wall just waiting for the tipping point of enough water pressure + enough rot. The land slopes toward the house, so imagine the pressure of all that earth – especially when it’s soaked with rainwater – against my wood foundation. I envisioned a muddy mess busting through some rainy night when numerous other problems were also on my plate and of course, when this happened, I would be here alone. Can you see the creepy creatures that might accompany the burst? Yick!

The work and the mess that are here now might not be as bad as I expected, and I know there are worse things on earth than giant wolf spiders. But encountering them is still a near-death experience for me. (You do NOT want a picture of these, trust me! You will have to use your own very capable imagination.) I had to deal with one this morning and my heart is still beating too fast. It was on the inside of the screen door of the sliding door, which was inside the house, meaning there was no way to get it outside, and no way to sleep at night without killing it.

The spray that kills hornets was standing nearby. If it kills hornets, it will kill a spider, right? I figured I’d spray through the screen right at it. What part of my brain thought that would kill it immediately, I don’t know, but the thing did not roll over and die. It moved! And they move fast. I kept spraying, making a line of spray on the little red rug that, until this morning, occupied that part of the floor. It got as far as the small wooden cabinet in the corner, and I went to step on it (though you have to know I could hardly look at the thing).

What I saw when I lifted my slippered foot was just a bit of ick. No mashed spider. That’s very bad. Where did it go? If I missed it crawl under the cabinet, I’m in big trouble. I looked. I didn’t want to see it. But I needed to. I didn’t see it. I looked around some more. Oh.

That seems to be a bit of leg sticking out from under the red rug. It took refuge under there, clearly not realizing it was not altogether hidden. Probably it was delirious from the poison, probably would just die, and soon, from all that stuff I sprayed on it. But I couldn’t take the chance. I had to step on it. I had to hear the sound. I did. I had to. When it was done I could know it was done and I would once again be safe.

Didn’t I just write yesterday about your home being a place where you feel safe?!

My heart was beating like mad by this time, but I’m finished. There was no more in me. I sat. I waited for Samuel to wake up. Finally he did. I asked him to please clean up the mashed spider from the underside of the rug. He is a wonderful son who just smiled and got a tissue and did the thing. Then I decided that the rug, with its ribbon of poison spray, is probably trash now because what if Coco’s tongue, the one that doesn’t fit in her mouth, happened to touch the poison? Yup, trash.

See what an exhausting time I had?

One time, when I first moved here, there was one of these creatures on the outside of my bathroom window screen. When I told a colleague that day at work about that near-death experience, she calmly said to me, “You live in the woods. That’s their territory.” She had zero sympathy. Zero. I have never forgotten it.

All right, I confess. It’s not just the image of muddy slime oozing into my basement along with all manner of slitherers and crawlies that forced this repair. (You KNOW there would be an army of those things coming through!) It’s also the money. In the end I care about the money. I want a new front porch. I know this old one doesn’t look that bad.

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But it is. Its rotting boards would probably hold up a little bit yet, but it’s fair to say that wanting a new front porch was turning into needing a new front porch. So if I need to spend money on a new front porch, it makes sense to fix what would be henceforth unreachable under that new porch before building said new porch. Imagine not fixing the problem, ignoring the problem, moving forward in hope that there is no problem, and then finding out that there is in fact a problem after investing a lot of work and money in something that renders that problem unfixable without investing more work and money.

As much as I wish that stairwell wall was flat and perfect, it isn’t. It’s mine. I own it. Buck up. Fix the foundation.

On Saturday the excavator was here. That night at almost 11pm, my plane landed and Samuel picked me up at the airport. We talked till 3am. I woke at 730, went outside, and saw the piles of dirt.

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Like I said, I came home to work and mess. But I love it. Despite the downside.

Tomorrow, when I have truly recovered from my near-death experience, I will explain where the piles went and how we fixed the wall. At the moment I am still exhausted!

Home is Home Because

When you have been away from home for an afternoon, you don’t necessarily think about how wonderful it is to return to your own space. But when it’s been sixteen days, that’s a different story. It’s wonderful! Maybe it’s even more wonderful when you are away much longer than that, but for now I can speak only to the sixteen-day effect.

I have always felt that your own space – the place you call home – should be a place of peace (as much as is in your power to make it so) and a place of sanctuary, where you can be safe and you can be yourself. It should reflect your personality and preferences, and you should be able to move about easily and be (let’s hope) happy there. I want to think that everyone is kind and welcoming to guests.

It’s fun to see other people’s homes. The ones I was in while away have much in common with mine. They have a place for street shoes just inside the door as I do, well-equipped kitchens, comfortable beds and chairs, a large table for eating together, some soft furniture, a good deal of bright lighting, images of family members on the walls or shelves, overlooked smudges and scuffs and selective disorder (or shall we say less-than-optimal order in certain areas? Just like mine!).

Yet they are all different than mine. Most profoundly, my children’s homes all felt like their homes, not mine. This made me think about what it is about your own home that sets it apart from others. Some things are practical, some harder to pin down.

In your own home, you know where things are. We all have our patterns, our routines. We keep certain things front and center and other things in their designated places because our patterns and routines run more smoothly if we know where things are. You know where the outlets are for plugging in your phone charger. You know where extra soap is to replace the empty one that’s perched at the back of the sink. When my children were little, I had a thing about my scissors. If you need scissors, you need scissors, and nothing else serves. If you need to use my scissors, put them back where you found them.

Yesterday I needed a crowbar at one point. (We all need a crowbar sometimes, right??) Naturally I went to the shed to get one. There are a couple of screws for hanging the crowbars in there. See them, under the blue box?

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Do you see crowbars hanging from them? Neither did I. Being deep (sometimes literally) into the Big Dig (my foundation repair project) as we were yesterday, I groaned, thinking I might have to waste time looking. There are only so many hours of daylight in October, so dammit, where’s the crowbar? Thankfully, when I glanced in the other direction, I found one in the five-gallon bucket that holds a dozen or so random tools like the big loppers. It was the second most logical place to put it if you forgot the right place. Whew! I was spared the frustration.

In your own home, your stuff is familiar. You know what to expect. Fewer surprises are more relaxing. In each household I visited they all drink coffee and/or tea and therefore have something for boiling water. I saw two electric kettles, one stovetop kettle and one Keurig. All of them work, though I am not convinced that the water coming from the Keurig is as hot as it should be. That aside, my own kettle is familiar to me. I can be a bit more on auto-pilot with mine. My muscles know when the weight of it indicates enough water for one cup, two cups or a whole pot of tea. My ears know the sound of it as it gets close to the boiling point. My hands remember how hot the handle can get depending on how much water is in it.

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It is NOT the end of the world to use different water-boiling equipment. It just doesn’t feel like home.

When it comes to tea (and presumably coffee), there is also something about the water itself. Your own water in your own home, whether it comes from a municipal system or straight out of the earth from your well, has its own taste, and you get used to that. When my friend Fred stayed here, he drank tea more than he usually does, and decided he would drink more once he got home. The day before he left, he bought some of the same loose black tea as I have in my house. It tasted different at his house, and the only explanation for that is that his water is different. To get closer to the tea he wanted, he decided to use bottled water. That made it better, though still not quite the same.

In your own home, it smells right. I don’t mean to suggest that other homes smell bad. They don’t. They just smell different. Houses take on smells of the foods prepared there recently (or frequently), of the cleaning products applied there, of the people themselves and the shampoo or cologne they use, of the animals that share the spaces.

Not everyone bakes (imagine!). Not everyone even cooks! But there’s a reason they tell you to have just made a batch of cookies when you are trying to sell your house and have potential buyers coming soon. When there are onions sautéing in butter or fresh bread becoming golden in the oven, or whenever the smells that seem warm and homey and yummy to you are wafting from the kitchen, it’s a kind of embrace that you are drawn into, one that’s hard to resist, one that feels like home.

In your own home, you know the paces and the peculiarities. You know how to navigate regardless of the lighting, how far it is to the bathroom, what flooring is under your feet at what point, what obstacles you might possibly encounter (dog? toys? edge of table?). You know the flow of traffic, where the choke points are and how to avoid them and what’s the best way from Point A to Point B.

The top step of Bradley’s basement staircase has a wider tread than the others. Don’t forget that when you go up or down; it’s a slight adjustment of your footing. The lights in Marie’s living room get turned on by way of a small remote; the first morning when I got up early (still on east coast time), for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to turn the lights on! Drew’s kitchen sink is the oddest shape I’ve ever seen, like a pac-man in the corner, and it doesn’t fit a large pot, so you find another way to clean that pot.

In my house the screen door gets out of whack sometimes. You have to lift it gently but firmly into place every time you go in and out until a good friend (thank you, Sandy!) fixes it. My kitchen countertop is old and white and gets stained, and it sags just a bit over near the stove. The condensation caused by a thawing container of anything sends a slow, predictable ribbon of water toward one corner. It’s better to put thawing things in my sink (until I get a new countertop!).

In your own home, you remember the way it used to be. You have a history with the property, inside and out. You know what was there before. You see changes incrementally. Marie just got new windows in several rooms. They are very nice, but I don’t remember the old ones. She does and is so happy they are gone. Bradley gutted his house before they moved in, moved all the rooms around, creating a new floor plan. Beth did all the electrical work. If you knew the house before, you wouldn’t know it’s the same house. They have vivid images in their minds of what it looked like when they bought it. I needed photos to show me. Drew has a fabulous new rug, adding warmth to his place in a way that he says is much better than what he had before, which I never saw. I’ll take his word.

If they came to my house right now and saw this mum (yes, that’s my chrysanthemum!),

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they wouldn’t know, unless I told them, how three weeks ago it looked like this:

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And three months ago, you could barely see it in front of the beets.

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I loved seeing my children in their own homes, seeing them comfortable, making their spaces their own. But it is always good to come home. This time, it was good to find a beautiful plant in the garden because there was a big hole in front of my house! More on the Big Dig soon!

One Bag Only

I did it. I gave in. I packed a medium flat rate box and will ship it to my home from Sugar Land, Texas, tomorrow.

On this sixteen-day trip I flew from Charlottesville to San Francisco, from San Francisco to Boise, from Boise to Seattle, from Seattle to Houston, and tomorrow from Houston back home. I chose to fly the cheapest way possible, using the new option to take only what can fit under the seat in front of you. One bag, one bag only. Everything I need for sixteen days in various climates has to fit on my person or in my bag and under that seat. (It was 47 degrees when I left Seattle. At 10:06pm it’s still 82 here in Sugar Land.)  I like books. I brought two along. I won’t lie. My shoulder is not happy. It might be somewhat bruised from the weight I carried each time.

Everything was fine – all the airlines let me through with my one bag plus my purse — until the most recent leg to Texas on United. I get that the airlines have to generate revenue however they can, and capping the carry-on max so that they can charge for overages is one way to do it. I get that I should not have bought slippers in Berkeley or a book at the de Young Museum in San Francisco or allowed my daughter to give me two other books in Boise (though I left one of mine with her, the net result being four books instead of two). I get that my laptop is huge.

I put everything in my striped canvas bag that zippers across the top. It zippered without my having to pull it closed this last time, meaning there was room for more, right? I love this bag, but one of these days the zipper will fail or rip out. I have asked a lot of this bag over the years.

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I put the new slippers, my lunch and the book I planned to read in the plane in a small blue canvas bag (which worked better than my purse for these items) and walked up to the kiosk at the Seattle airport to get my boarding pass. They do not even let you check in via your mobile device when you have these cheapo tickets because they have to make sure you meet the luggage requirements.

The lady at the kiosk was skeptical. You have two bags, she said. This one just has my lunch and a few small things that will fit in the big bag, I said. She asked me to show her that my bag fit in the slot designated for poor travelers like me. It did! I smooshed down the top a little to show her there was room for the other stuff. They won’t let you through if everything is not in that bag, she said. You’ll have to pay $50. You might want to put your lunch in your pockets.

I did not like the stress. Never again, I said to myself. I’ll use a real carry-on like other people next time and pay for the privilege. But for now I was stuck, and you can bet your bottom dollar I wasn’t paying $50! But, yeah, getting that stuff in and getting the bag closed again without busting the zipper would be a trick. I might be able to do it, but it would be a squeeze to then get the bag under the seat, and anyway I had a better idea.

Already, to make this work, I was wearing two shirts, two sweaters, my scarf, my hat and my raincoat, so I figured Why not just wear more? There was no ladies room near my gate so I couldn’t do this as privately as I would have liked, but I stuck the slippers, side by side, into the waistband of my pants in the back – under the shirts, sweaters and raincoat – and the book into my waistband in front, under the shirts and the non-cardigan sweater and the scarf.

I just became a larger person temporarily. Lots of people are larger than I am. They get on planes.

I put my cell phone, my apple, my bread and my cheese in the pockets of my raincoat, got on the line (last boarding group, of course) and sailed through the checkpoint with my green striped bag over my shoulder and nothing else but the boarding pass in my hands. When I got to my seat near the back of the plane, I rearranged my weight. The slippers went back in the small canvas bag along with my lunch, and I sat and enjoyed my book.

(Outstanding book, by the way. Educated by Tara Westover. I will come back to this one of these days and tell you more about it.)

I left the plane with my green striped bag in one hand and my little blue canvas bag in the other. No one cared.

I have not bought anything in Texas to add to the problem, though I was sorely tempted today in Galveston to buy one on the 1900 hurricane, sorely tempted! Nonetheless, we stopped at the post office to get one of those flat rate boxes because I am not going through that stress again. I put all the books but Educated in the box, along with anything else that fit. I stuffed it full. It will cost me $13.85 to send home. I will be so relaxed tomorrow with one bag only!

Pumpkin Comfort

I have never before thought of pumpkins as comforting. They are not cuddly, adorable or delightful bundles of energy like my darling grandbabies. They do not talk me through struggles like a good friend or warm my insides like a good cup of tea. But traipsing through a patch of these characters this past weekend reminded me of another facet of comfort, one that pumpkins embrace wholeheartedly: With all the changes in our world, it was good to see that pumpkins are still mostly orange.

Duh.

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No, I mean it. For those who play with genetic modifications, it must be tempting to make a purple pumpkin or a red one, or to elongate them like way-overgrown zucchinis, the kind that hide under those big leaves and you don’t find until they are as big as a baseball bat. Someone must be working on a seedless variety that will revolutionize the ritual of pumpkin-carving – imagine if you could draw the scary face on the side and be able to cut into it without having to deal with all those stringy, slimy, seedy guts that insist on adhering to the inside flesh?

Lots of things change in this world. They change at an astounding rate. Isn’t it nice to know that some things stay the same? There is comfort in sameness. Sugar is sweet. Rain is wet. Pumpkins are orange. All right, mostly orange. There are a few renegades in every group.

In Snohomish, Washington, we found a wonderful 40-acre pumpkin patch at Bob’s Corn and Pumpkin Farm. Bob’s grows corn and pumpkins, yes, but they seem to make their money (or at least a fair share of it) on people wanting to come and play amidst corn and pumpkins. They have newfangled, farm-themed tire swings

 

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a “trike track” in one of the barns with lots of little tricycles in many sizes

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a gigantic John Deere for climbing into, tubes to slide down, all sorts of yummy fall treats to indulge in (and take home) and a ten-acre corn maze with firepits and private areas for group gatherings. We will come back to the pumpkins, but for the moment, look at the aerial view of the maze and think about this.

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Their web site says, “We have a total of 18 firepits inside the maze which can be rented for private groups and birthday parties. We provide the firewood and tiki torches. We even build and maintain the fire for you, you get to sit back, relax and enjoy the evening.

“Bring your roasting sticks, food and supplies. Leave them at the group check in area on the north side of Bob’s Country store, and we will transport them to your firepit so you don’t have to carry them through the maze.

“When you are finished, leave them at your pit, enjoy the second half of the maze. When you return from the hayride, your supplies will be waiting for you in the group check in area on the north side of Bob’s Country store! How easy is that??”

I want to know: If there are 18 firepits within the maze, how do you find the firepit that has your name on it or that has been otherwise designated for you? Or do you just land at one and let them know you have arrived, and then they bring your stuff?

Wondering about the firepit protocol happened fleetingly for me. I saw the three staff members at the entrance of the maze (a fraction of the total work force present on the day of our visit), heard them telling some other visitors about this opportunity, registered the comments, thought “wow” and promptly transferred my attention to the forty acres of pumpkins next to the corn. Bradley and Piper and I explored a small part of it. Apparently there are 60+ varieties of pumpkins here.

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You have your Classics, and lots of these. They have smooth skin with longitudinal valleys, as if each pumpkin has its own special time zones. The ones we saw were not monster size, but maybe up to about 25 pounds. They are perfect for carving and setting on doorsteps, lots of different sizes. Bob’s gives you a wheelbarrow, by the way, for hauling your picks. I expect they have strong people who will put them in your barrow for you if you want, and probably then in your car.

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You have your Brights. Perhaps a gen-mod engineer had a little fun with this one (below)? It not only leans toward neon but also is rather flattish.

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You have your Gnarlies here and there.  Okay, maybe there’s more genetic modification going on than I thought at first. Just how do they get the green warts?

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I get that Bob’s wants to mix it up a little, so they throw down some seeds of these crazy kinds. This one has yellow warts, making the orange rind seem to veer toward the yellow end of the spectrum.

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If you showed the photo below to a hundred people, I think you would be hard pressed to find most of them saying quickly and definitively, “That’s a pumpkin.” Beth said it looked like a monkey’s butt. It is another orange that is desperately trying to be yellow instead. Just to stand out. You know how pumpkins can be.

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Most of the yellow ones turn orange eventually, the way you can see this green one on its way to becoming orange.

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Real pumpkins, big orange pumpkins, are comforting not only in their sameness. Think about 40 acres of pumpkins – what is going to happen to most of them? For a few weeks, some will decorate entryways, tabletops, fence posts, schools, hotels, stores and offices. Some will become jack-o-lanterns a day or so before Halloween. A few will become delicious pie – but not many. I wonder how many never leave the field they grew in. Think about what pumpkins say about the abundance of food in our land, that so much space can be given over to a crop that provides such a small amount of actual food value. How blessed we are.

A row of pumpkins anywhere, but especially along a cider donut stand, is one of the joys of fall. Maybe you’d like one of Piper’s donuts? Too late! All gone!

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Ela’s Apple Star Bread

I love learning something unexpectedly. Today I helped Ela make a beautiful, sweet, cinnamony, apple bread that is formed in such a cool way!

Ela was my granddaughter Piper’s German au pair from the time Piper was a few months old until this past January. It says a lot about their relationship that she would choose to spend her vacation here in Seattle with the family. I was delighted to finally meet her. This is Ela with Piper yesterday when we went to Bob’s Corn and Pumpkin Farm in Snohomish.

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Ela is not only Piper’s fun friend, she is a great baker! Her apple star bread was devoured after dinner tonight. We all were anxious to dig in. (It’s a pull-apart bread, thus the forks.)

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That shape was so fun to make. I have to show you how it was done. Her recipe might be a little hard to read.

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It says to combine 4 cups flour, 2/3 cup sugar, a package of dry yeast and a bit of salt (say half a teaspoon). In a small pan combine ¾ cup milk with 2 tablespoons butter until just warm. Add the milk, butter and 2 eggs to the dry ingredients. Mix and knead. Ela let the beast of a mixing machine that Brad and Beth have on their counter do the kneading.

Then, and this is the part she says her grandmother always did, put the dough to rest in bed! You read that right. This lump in the bed is hiding the bowl.

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Yes, underneath that lump, deep within the warmth of the bed, is the dough. Ela left it there for a few hours, all covered up.

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While the dough is resting, cut two apples up in small pieces and put them in a saucepan with two cups of sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon. Turn on a medium heat and cook until it’s bubbly, like this.

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Cook down until you have a sugar syrup that drips off the spoon like this.

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Do you see how it holds its shape in mid-air? It should do this a few seconds before falling. That’s what you want.

Divide the dough in four parts. One at a time, roll out each quarter of the dough into a circle. Ela put plastic wrap around the board she was rolling on to keep the dough from sticking, then put a piece of waxed paper over it, like this. You want each layer of dough as thin as possible.

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Transfer the dough to a large piece of parchment paper, which we didn’t have. Parchment would have been better because you can more easily cut on it, and there is cutting required later. You shouldn’t cut on silicone mats. Ela put two mats together and placed them directly on the oven rack. She cut very carefully when the time came for cutting.

So, first layer, then spread apples.

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Keep adding spoonfuls of the gooey, sticky apple mixture until the layer is covered.

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Do layer after layer until you have dough-apples-dough-apples-dough-apples-dough.

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You’ll have to press a bit to get the layers to stretch to the edge.

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To make it easier for cutting, we carefully slid the ensemble back to the wooden board she rolled the dough on. Ideally, put this in the refrigerator for an hour or so. It would make the cutting part much easier.

Ela then found a bowl that was as big as the ensemble to give herself a template for cutting a circle. You want as little waste as possible.

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She then (carefully!) cut through the layers of dough until she had a circle. You are going to have leftover. These sugary dough bits look a mess, but just put them in muffin tins and let them rise just the same as the bread and they will taste very fine (not altogether different than the monkey bread we made last week!).

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Ela then found a small cup (a shot glass is about the right size) for the center.

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She then started cutting again (carefully!), first four lines, starting at the cup and working outward.

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Then eight, rotating the board to make it easier.

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Then sixteen. That’s when she took the cup away.

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Now for the funnest part! Take two pieces that are side by side, lift them, twist once,

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And again. You make two full twists.

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And then pinch the ends together.

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Do this all around until it looks kind of like this.

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How beautiful is that!! Ela cleaned up as much of the excess sugary syrup as she could with a paper towel, but when it bakes, some of the sugary syrup is going to leak out anyway. Do the best you can. Let the star rise/rest (not in bed this time!) about an hour, longer if you need to time it so it comes out right as you finish dinner. This is best warm out of the oven. The syrup that leaked out forms thin candy which looks almost burned, but isn’t quite.

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Well, maybe part of it is. If you pull a piece of the star off the pan carefully, it looks kind of like a lobster with claws.  Zach had the best lobster. We all enjoyed this star bread very much! Thank you, Ela!

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