Egg with Tail, Paper Piles and Real Towels

She just didn’t finish. That’s what it looks like to me. The hen that laid the egg with the tail (yes, you read that right) either got bored and distracted and forgot when to pinch off, or it started to hurt and she just eeked through the pain, or she is protesting her egg-laying job but had to get it out anyway. Let it be said that none of us knows exactly what it feels like to plop out an egg, but it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to get the general idea.

This egg was like the other weakly shelled egg from earlier this summer, squishy just the same, a bit like jello with the thinnest of a crust, just enough crust to keep the yolk and white from making a gooey mess all over the place. Only this one had a tail. What’s up with the chicken that lays such an egg? I wonder which chicken? Miss Old Gray? Don’t-Mess-With-Me White Brahma? Sister Cinnamon Queen?

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I wonder if the same chicken laid both. I wonder why.

I’m thinking it’s one of the Queens. I see an attitude, don’t you?

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Why give an egg a tail? Is it because what else, given her limited physiology, can she do for fun? You know, to let her artistic side run wild? See what they think of this design! Did the chicken misfire or did the misfired shell surprise the chicken? At the Chicken Council will she defend herself with Hey, sisters, really, that shell material had a mind of its own – I didn’t try to make it do that! As if (overall weak shell aside) the hen tried to get the tail to break off and it just wouldn’t? A little like, well, you know. Perhaps the shell proper, taking an autonomous stand, was unwilling or too embarrassed to break off? Or maybe the blame goes back to insufficient shell material in the production line – Hey, Jack, you shorted me! How am I supposed to make a good shell if you short me on the hard stuff?

No getting around it (no pun intended), this egg is unfinished, improper, abnormal.

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There was nothing wrong with the egg inside. I had it for lunch, scrambled with a bit of leftover rice. The shell reduced to a teeny, wet, plastic-bag-like mess once the innards were removed, and that was gross and instantly trash, but the white and yolk were perfectly normal. This egg-with-a-tail anomaly caused me to wonder about other kinds of unfinished business, other things that I never quite wrap up in a neat little package and call DONE, like mail and laundry, and that led to fond memories of systems-that-work-but-are-somehow-unimplemented and environmental consciousness. Bear with me.

Mail: It’s true they don’t send as many catalogs as they used to, increased postage having changed that game. My paper piles don’t get as high and toppling as they used to. A lot of bills come electronically now, and they send you ads online instead. Last week I was looking at websites for outdoor furniture because sooner or later I will have a finished porch (speaking of unfinished business!) and later, while reading a New York Times article, up popped an ad for the very chair I had been looking at. That’s just plain creepy. I assume it’s legal for some program to be tracking my views, and I know it happens all the time and waaaaaay more than I know, but I don’t like it a bit. I think I’d rather deal with the pile!

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Still, I can’t blame my pile(s) on the creepy internet. In the mix you’d find checks I don’t know what to do with after I have mobile-deposited them (can I really throw them away?), receipts for the next time I do taxes, that great garlic-planting guide Tracy gave me (I’m going to need that in October), the really nice visitor’s guide from when I was at the Ringling Museum in April, bank statements (I still get some in paper form), to-do lists (I still write them to keep myself on track and I sometimes like looking back on them to see Oh, look how much was accomplished! – though be assured I do throw the shopping lists away after the shopping trip), random business cards, occasional invitations that are too pretty to throw away (and isn’t it somehow disrespectful to throw them away?)…

What kills me is that I have had, have used and have benefited from a perfectly good system for dealing with such random papers – a filing system! You get plain pocket folders (a variety of colors is more fun) and label them Bank, Garden, Travel, Projects, etc., and then you put the lists, receipts, etc., in the corresponding folder, which then goes in a file box somewhere handy. How hard is that?? No paper piles need exist at all!

I could say it’s hard right now because of living in a construction/ undone/ upside-down zone. Three rooms of my house need sheetrock work. Here’s one.

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The foyer houses a lot of tools and construction materials because you can’t run downstairs every time you need a different level or drill bit. And if you can call the new porch a room, that makes four undone zones – two of the three new sets of windows are in but not trimmed…

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…roof is on but not siding, some new ceiling lights now (as of yesterday!) turn on and some ceiling plywood is up but not all, and not all lights are in, and I still have not picked out the fans, and some of the old cedar siding is planed (to become ceiling material over the plywood) but not all, etc.

It’s a mess. A work-in-progress, I-begin-to-see-the-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel mess. A beautiful-vision-in-my-mind mess. Can a person be expected to maintain neat file folders under such circumstances?

Excuses, excuses! I hear you! Try living in my house, you say.

So-and-so (no names) adds to the mess / takes all my time / distracts me unspeakably!

My job is so demanding right now!

If only the people who said they would do the work would actually do the work!

Truth be told, I myself can never remember to buy the pocket folders! All right, all right, I’ll put them on the list. Now where was that list?

Laundry: When do we come to the end of laundry?! I operate a little b&b, so there are always sheets and towels, to say nothing of my other life and the sawdusty clothes from porch-building and oh-yeah-my-other-life the inside-out workout pants that I love.

But I don’t really mind. I even hang my laundry on a wonderful outdoor clothesline most of the time. There is nothing under the sun like sleeping on sheets that have dried in a sunshiny breeze. (I do not hang bath towels – they do need to fluff up in the dryer.)

There is in fact one portion of my laundry that I am even proud of in a way only some of you will understand.

I am not one for paper towels any more than necessary, nor throwaway wipes and that sort of thing. There is something about using a real piece of cloth that is fully intended to get dirty and be the thing between my hand and a mess I have to clean up, something about the softness of the cloth coupled with its toughness/ reuseableness/ tried-and-trueness. There is a difference between a real towel vs. something that tries to be a real towel.

Imagine my delight when I read in A Boat, A Whale and A Walrus (lovely birthday present cookbook from my daughter) by Seattle restaurant owner and entrepreneur Renee Erickson:

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REAL TOWELS

I’m a fan of towels – not the paper kind, but real cloth towels, the kind you hang from your oven door. At home I keep a huge wicker bin of them next to my oven, and I use them in lieu of paper towels, to mop up messes, blot food and soak up excess liquid wherever it appears. I accumulate them when I travel, mostly, but especially in Parisian antique markets. They’re pretty, and they’re washable. And because living in the restaurant world inevitably means making a lot of waste, it makes me feel good to use a little less paper at home.

I did not acquire my own cloths at Parisian antique markets, nor are they all the same. Some are terry, some soft knit, some woven cotton, some gauzy. They are my go-to for cleaning, for spills, for drying things, for polishing things. If they are rendered trash – such as when you use them to mink-oil your shoes – so be it. There are always more. Most of the time they go in the wash (thereby adding to the laundry, yes, but I am going to do laundry anyway, and so are you) and go back in my rag drawer. I can only imagine having space in my kitchen for a huge wicker bin of them.

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I wish I had a way to know how many paper towels I have not used over the years. I wish I knew the amount of money I have saved by not buying massive packs of them or could see the still-empty corner of a landfill that’s not filled with just my lifetime’s worth of them. I know someone else’s use of paper towels will fill that corner. I know that what I don’t use in a lifetime is probably what a football stadium, say, accumulates during one event. I certainly use paper towels sometimes.

Still, every time a paper towel is just the thing (such as on the plate I am about to transfer crispy bacon to from the hot pan), I pause and see mountains of trash in my mind, with bulldozers pushing it around to try to make room for more and more coming day after day, and I say to myself it’s okay this time. The “leave as little a footprint as possible” directive was intended for campers at first if I remember right: Take away anything you bring to the campsite, allowing the next camper to enjoy the natural environment as much as possible (instead of having to deal with your leftover stuff). To me this applies to everyday life too and to the big picture of my footprint on the environment. I am responsible for mine, after all, not someone else’s. I do what I can to be a good steward of my resources, earth’s resources. And a part of me is very satisfied about that.

As the chicken was probably satisfied. Hey, doing the best I can here!

A Twist on NIMBY

I don’t always stay right on top of catch-phrases. Somehow I missed NIMBY until not long ago, though it was first used in 1980 (!). It encapsulates the concept of opposing development, even development of worthwhile projects, unless it is happening somewhere else, thus Not In My Back Yard. Examples abound. Everything from nursing homes to bike paths to power plants to sports stadiums to cell phone masts – all of which are indispensable and/or desirable in today’s world – are certainly best located in somebody else’s back yard.

The property I can see from my own happens to be surrounded by land that is under conservation easement. When I look in any direction, all I see is woods and mountains. I didn’t have anything to do with this but am the grateful beneficiary of someone else’s efforts to protect the natural area within my view. This morning as I stand on my back deck, this is what I see. It wouldn’t be everyone’s idea of a peaceful and lovely February morning, but it fits mine.

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What is it about us humans, though, that can be on the one hand so very content with what we have and on the other intensely desire what we don’t? I’m talking about what could be called YIMBY (YES! In My Back Yard). Here’s the thing: As much as I (on the one hand) love, love, love where I live, and as exceedingly grateful as I (on the other hand) am to have the time and resources to travel and visit my beloved Rise, Eppie, Ellie, Nelson, Piper and Zoe in their homes now and then, I wish they were, yes, in my back yard, more often. I wish they didn’t live SDFA (So Damn Far Away). I wish getting to them and my own grown children didn’t involve SLAROP (Security Lines And Rides On Planes) or ELTIC (Exceedingly Long Trips In Cars). I wish they were CETHOFAT (Close Enough To Have Over For Afternoon Tea).

I wish for a lot, I know. We do what we can and I try (really I do!) to see the upsides of being APRA (A Plane Ride Away).  Last week in Boise we made a snowman…

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… and enjoyed outstanding croissants from JanJou Patisserie (those on the left have chocolate chips in them!)…

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…and in Seattle watched colorful fish at the aquarium…

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…and saw a painted lady in the street.

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All of this, and many more special and wonderful moments happened last week: Nelson (16 months) danced in front of the TV as Dick van Dyke danced with the penguins in Mary Poppins and tried to add Cheerios to the meatloaf mixture. Piper (2 1/2 years) killed us all during a round of her new Memory game and sat angelically through her first stage play. Ellie (3 1/2 years) made chocolate chip cookies with me, enjoyed her first reading of One Morning In Maine (thank you, Robert McCloskey) and made us all play dead! Zoe (5 months) studied and taste-tested her first crust of bread before throwing it to Zadie, happily waiting below (how do dogs know that when there are little children in the picture, food will fall from the table?).  All of this builds the gigantic and fabulous memory bank that is unique to me. I like being In Their Back Yard, I do. I just also like Mine. Theirs and Mine are just so far apart, and the occasions so infrequent. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so conflicted about something, and day to day I’m working out how to manage it all – the feelings, the logistics, the upsides, the downsides. This seems to be the best we can do in most any situation – try to figure it out day to day, try to make each day the best it can be.

Tomorrow will be a lovely day! Rise and Eppie are here for a visit (first time in six months, super exciting for me) and we are going to enjoy the sun in my back yard, visit the silly chickens, play with Coco, read about Edward Tulane and see what’s coming up in the garden. Maybe we’ll bake cupcakes, or do puzzles, or play games, or make something pretty, or… it really doesn’t matter, does it? Spending precious days together is what matters. Life is short. We are so blessed. Never forget that.

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The Flavor of Seattle

I’m a big fan of farmers’ markets. I love the little guy, the one who knows he has a better product than you would get in a standard retail store, can’t mass-produce it and is okay with that. I want to buy something from them all and I wish I could. I admire their chutzpa, their willingness to stand out in the cold (while the rest of us walk in the sudden rain (this being Seattle, so of course).

What better way to get an idea of a city’s people than at a farmer’s market? You get the people wandering, buying, wishing they could buy, hungry, exploring or posing for me. This is Brad and Beth and Piper and Zoe at the Ballard market during a break in the clouds (Piper uninterested in her Sea Wolf Bakery “lye roll” or photos at this moment).

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You get random people, so many people. Where do they come from? Do they live here and come every week? Are they visiting family as I am? Do they like the crowds? Tolerate the crowds? Wish this particular farmer’s market was on Saturday instead of Sunday?

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Do they tolerate the many dogs (on regulated short leashes)? Or hope to see unusual ones like this brindle pug?

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I never saw a brindle pug before.

Was it just this very moment that LOWER CASE BREWING (note upper case letters) stood waiting for customers? I guess (I hope) it was a momentary lull. I guess LOWER CASE has to do with the case of wine rather than the letters of the company name. Did you know that letters being called upper case and lower case refers to the time when typesetters had two literal (wooden) cases with individual letters in them that they set in the press, and the lower case sat below, closer to the person setting the type, because they were used more often?

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The guy at King’s Mozzarella was super friendly and gave me a sample of his cheese that was marinating in olive oil with sun-dried tomatoes and fresh herbs. It was perfect and wonderful. I hope he sold out his supply.

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Speaking of perfect, Pete’s Perfect Toffee made me think of confidence. How confident do you have to be in your product to call it perfect? One of his was made with coconut, which I love, which sorely tempted me.

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Bakeries always draw me like a magnet. Everything at Tall Grass Bakery looked fabulous. Handmade artisan anything deserves praise and success.

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Some of the names made me smile. You wonder how much time they spent thinking about what to call their business. The alliteration of Pete’s Perfect might stick in your head, but what about Taquiera los chilangos? I am likely to remember it as “Meat Choices.”

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But GnomeinPottery made me think of nomenclature, a term we used in Montessori a lot, but oh wait, it wasn’t GnomeinPottery, it was LaughinGnome Pottery. I might just think of it as “the gnome place” and tell myself it wasn’t nomenclature, but something else with gnome in it.

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I so wanted jonboy’s FRESH CARAMELS too! Isn’t this a guy you want to give business to? And why are caramels so tasty?? There are way too many temptations in this world. I was surrounded by goodness calling my name.

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Wine, cheese, bread, even pickles! It’s not so easy to make a good pickle, you know. I’ve made them five times in the past two years and only twice did they come out the way I hoped.

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Give credit to Firefly Kitchens for looking so friendly and having a colorful display, even if their name is firefly and the graphic on their logo is not.

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Give credit to Deborah’s Homemade Pies too, even if the seller is sleepy in Seattle. They have to be fresh and flavorful, and what you don’t sell this week you can’t sell next week…

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…which the good people at Skagit River Ranch (what a great river name) can do because their grass-fed-and-in-every-other-way-amazing meats are frozen.

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And the preoccupied woman at finnriver farm cidery can do…

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And the lady hoping to sell beautiful plates at RS Ceramic Dinnerware can do. Do you think it helps her business to be next to HotBabe-HotSauce?

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This is just a sampling, but my hat’s off to all of them – setting up shop week after week, trying to draw you in with their smiles, their clever names, their admirable products. Trying to appeal to a diverse group of shoppers, stay warm, watch people walk away time and again while seeing each new one that approaches as a potential contributor to this week’s success.

That kind of spirit is clear and strong in a farmer’s market, and the personal touch does not go unnoticed. I love a plain reminder that humans – ambitious, friendly, hardworking, innovative, creative, stand-in-the-cold-hoping-for-a-good-day humans – are part of our world wherever we go.

 

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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