I’m in my two-week countdown toward full immunization. I’m planning monthly summer field trips with homeschool friends. I expect to host once or twice this summer. The girls are signed up for overnight camp. There’s a wedding on the calendar. So yes, it feels like things are “ramping up/opening up,” alll the euphemisms we use to describe the normal none of us even remember all that well now.
One particular aspect of the former normal, I’ve been thinking about friendships and how much it seems like the terms have changed. The primary and most important elements for friendship right now are patience, understanding, empathy, and…patience again. Speaking from the experience of finding myself with an irrationally drained well for sympathy, I suppose it will take pathfinding to get back to that cool meadow where we understood each other fully and felt comfortable leaning on each other.
a couple things of I’m looking forward to this summer, be it what it may…
Contemplating an outdoor shower. A meditational experience that requires no action, only imagination.
Foraging more. As each season I ends, I realize which plants were the plants I was looking for, like, “ooo that was blood root” after seeing the peppy tiny white flowers by the roadside all spring. Then, the following year I come into it so ready. This year, for the first time, I was prepared for ramps and fiddleheads. I was prepared to ask my friend for nettles before they went to seed. And to ask for rhubarb at the point in the season when there was plenty to share. Forestbound’s forage pinterest board is full of dreamy wandering inspiration.
To make: day pickles. Cucumbers sliced really thin, sprinkled with salt and vinegar, and refrigerated.
To make: Popsicles, always a riff on Molly’s recipe, which itself is a riff on David Lebovitz’s recipe. Please don’t try to skip the sugar. There is something about tart raspberries mixed with chillingly sweet sugar that can’t be replicated by honey. (I don’t bother to strain out the seeds.) Her recipe makes more than enough for our six small molds. So I either put the extra mixture in the fridge and re-fill the popsicle molds after the girls have eaten them, or serve the extra as a sweet smoothie while we wait for them to freeze. Speaking of popsicles, we have these IKEA popsicle molds from eight years ago, and I thought I was in the market for an upgrade. But actually, I think I may just want a second set of those same IKEA ones. I like the size (small, very kid friendly amount), they are easy to pop-out, and the reusable sticks.
Visiting a friend’s garden. Once you begin gardening and have made a healthy amount of mistakes, you learn SO much from seeing friend’s gardens! I like to plan stop-bys in late June when everything thriving.
So. much. reading. Lux is in an online reading group this summer. Theme: Growing Up is Hard to Do. I think I’ll read all of the ones they are reading, just a week behind. A couple of the titles on the list are: The Red Pencil, Wonder, and A Monster Calls.
Potato chips with sour cream. This is the snack I put on the table outside when I’m watching adult education things on zoom. The children descend and eat until the bowls are empty, stare at the screen for a bit, stare at me to see if I’m actually interested in this stuff, and then disappear. Classical Conversations has online tutors training that I’ll be working through, notebook at my side. I’m also thinking about signing up for this natural wine conference, since we’ve been learning about growing grapes here in Vermont. Are there any online education events you’re looking forward to?
To order: a takeout burger, with fries. Thankful thankful to have an excellent burger and fries available at the Brownsville Butcher, not far from us. Soft serve too.
Making dinner in the afternoon when it’s hot and sleepy, so you can settle into your evening and enjoy the best time of day.
Staying too late at the water (pond, lake, etc). Staying through dinner because the light and the temperature are perfect. Even if everyone cries in the car on the way home.
Black Eyed Susan
Strawflower Silvery Rose
Cosmos Double Click
Zinnia Candy Mix
Ordering seeds is a bit like ordering vitamins because the ordering is the easiest and most optimistic part of the whole relationship.
Some of these are already sold out from Floret, so I share what I ordered this year more as documentation than insistence to buy (though I am using her photos and thus of course linking to her store!). Floret does have an excellent Email When Available feature for some of their seeds–that option worked for all the ones, pictured above, that I wanted to buy this year.
Keep in mind too that you can discover a flower through Floret, and if she’s sold out, you can still try that variety from another flower seed vendor, like Johnny’s or FedCo or someone local to you. It won’t be as perfect as what Floret has sourced and evolved (what can we say, she’s dialed in!), but it will still be a lovely happy flower.
You can also find someone who sells seedlings in the early summer. These are plants that they successfully got from seed to happy plant, and now you get to plant it! The poppies I bought as seedlings had a wonderful year, the poppies I tried to start from seed didn’t have a chance.
Last year I struggled with poppies of all varieties (honestly it felt like raising orange trees), bachelor’s buttons, celosia, globe amaranth (should have potted it), sunflowers (squirrels), and bee balm! I’m sure these things could be overcome, but this year I wanted to order what worked really well for us last year.
I’m carefully picking my way through spring tasks like thinking about the garden and typing up the girls’ portfolios for the year of homeschooling to send into Vermont state. The state office that oversees home studiers invites parents to begin submitting portfolios in March. Though most of my friends submit in the summer, last year I submitted ours in March and now I think it’s become a tradition for us. Something about acting like the year is already over helps me see how much we’ve done, and what I’d still like to do. And the change in perspective, the “this is all extra” reframes things as special and fun again.
Raising children has so much repetition, it’s so helpful to find these mirror-flip moments for yourself, catching the light and flinging it back on what you’re doing, in a new way.
Like when the four-year-old asks “to do potions” versus when the eight-year-old tells me she wants to do a science experiment. One sounds delightful and easy, the other sounds intimidating and fraught with possible errors. In reality, they are same experiment, the same work, the same amount of engagement.
Back to that other spring task: thinking about the garden.
I could list all sorts of things we did wrong in last year’s garden. It was neglected, beloved, dehydrated, crowded, and much of it was planted in too much shade. But upon looking through the seed catalog one last time before ordering, I realized I could at least claim to be totally different than the person who went through the seed catalog, for the first time ever, last year. I read for different details, paying more attention to things like days to maturity and transplanting than I did before. So even though I don’t think I’ve learned all that much, I can tell I’ve learned a little bit. And that’s how it goes.
Whenever I talked with the neighbors about the garden, I naturally listed all the things that weren’t going quite right. But then I always added, “I just love it though.” I noticed that all the time I spent in the garden, I enjoyed. It was a deeply relaxing place for me to putter around. it was a place that was quiet, patient, and tranquil, three attributes to which I constantly aspire.
In our part of Vermont, gardeners wait until the end of May for a last frost. People plan to plant on Memorial Day weekend. So I still have some time to get things going around here. Last year I learned that all of the major seedling sales are in May, so I’ll be prepared this year to buy things that I don’t want to start from seed, like broccoli, tomatoes, eggplant, and pumpkins. Another thing I learned: those sales happen once, and then they are done! If you see them, it’s very nice to buy a few strawberry seedlings and put them in a container on your porch.
The other day my friend Bridget asked me what I will plant again, so here’s the list of what I’m thinking through. I link to Johnny’s because that’s who we primarily ordered from:
- Zucchini: I’m linking to the type that we planted, I loved it. It had lovely coloring and the blossoms were gorgeous. Several times I fried the blossoms up (never bothered with stuffing them) as a pre-dinner snack.
- Basil: I loved having several rows of basil. Such abundance! I could use as much as I wanted, and make as much freezer pesto as I wanted. I pinched off the flowers whenever I saw them beginning to appear and was able to eat off that first planting all summer.
- Beets: Our beets did not get big enough in time for the season. I cook with beets infrequently, and anyway I do like getting them from the farmer’s market, where they seem to spill over with abundance.
- Borage: an easy plant that shot right up and was soon covered with dozens of soft purple and blue edible flowers. The bees adored it and the kids did too. We’ll do this again.
- Kohlrabi: This is a forgiving cheerful little plant that we like to eat raw. I planted too much of it, and will likely just do a small row of it this year.
- Beans & peas: These were planted in an area with too much shade. I will try them in a new area this year.
- Tomatoes: I had terrible luck but I will try again, of course. Likely with the Sungold cherry tomatoes, which are so delicious
- Carrots: I spent quite a bit of time replanting carrot seeds after rain downpours, so this time I will buy pelleted seeds that (should be) easier to keep track of.
- Corn: The five stalks of corn that we grew did not provide us with more than a meal or two’s worth of corn, but it was so fun to watch it grow. The plants are fascinating, tall lean Abraham Lincolns standing stately in the garden congress. We’ll try a few more varieties this year, just for fun.
- Lettuce: I only planted one type and it thrived. I was totally bored of it within a week or two. I’m leaning into greens this year. They are so interesting and relatively easy to grow, mine seemed to do well because they got shade from the afternoon sun.
- Kale: Same as above, but I never tired of our kale, beginning in July on through September. It was so delicious.
- Herb bin: all the herbs, besides the basil, were in a container near the kitchen door, which was lovely. I encouraged the girls to eat whatever they wanted from the container. This year I will plant basil and dill in the garden, but keep parsley, oregano, mint, and chives in the handy container.
I just ate a lunch of cold chicken and pickles, dollop of dijon. All prepared one-handed because the baby wanted to sit with me. Cold, perfectly bitter coffee to my left, some leftover chocolate torte that I didn’t make correctly–the crust was like butter gravel–but no one noticed. There are at least five glasses of water strewn across the table.
Feels like it’s time for a June garden update.
Maybe the girls will remember the first summer their parents gardened. When their mother invited them individually to see orange cherry tomatoes, as if one tomato every three days was enough to satisfy any appetite. When their dad marked the distance before planting the strawberry seedlings we got from the local parks commission. When the wild grass grew up so quickly around everything we planted that you had to tramp it down just to check on the plants.
When only two of the carrot seedlings came up, and none of the cucumbers.
I reseeded both for a second try; hoping for a very mild early October around here. I’m such a novice that I often read the back of the seed packets three or four times before planting, carrying a ruler with me to get the spacing right. I have two gardening manuals, one Vermont specific and one hardcover from my Maine gardening guru, Barbara Damrosch. I over-research the simplest things, it is my way.
I visit the hall of wonders at the farmer’s market. I cannot believe what they have. We have a single carrot sprout the size of a blade of grass and they are selling bundles of carrots for $3. “They’re probably using row covers,” my friend says. STILL.
-This is AMAZING, I say to one of the vendors.
-I think so, he says, pleased.
The peas haven’t given a single hint that there will ever be actual peas to eat, but the plants themselves are adorable gangly teenagers that Joe and I check on every morning. We find them entangled with each other and any wayward grasses that crossed their path, eager tendrils wrapped around each other’s necks. “Fair Romeo,” one whispers.
One variety that I picked out of the catalog for its garnishing ability has frizzly spastic threads, as if they brushed themselves with an electric hairbrush.
My favorite time to go out is in the evenings after bedtime. Bedtime is a light term here, meaning children have been tucked into their beds, but are likely to chatter and pull books off their shelves for the next two hours. In the morning when I wake them it looks like it rained books overnight; books drip gently off the edge of the beds and pool together on the floor.
The baby isn’t really into daytime naps, so when she goes down for the night a light, loving load lifts off my shoulders. I love to sneak out and pull weeds for fifteen minutes of actual productivity; frowning at what I think might be onion strands emerging at last.
Now I know why people fall for zucchini! It’s so cheerful and easy to grow. Their leaves crisp softly between your fingers like toast. I planted it for its blossoms but the seedlings have come up so beautifully I’ll probably end up with zucchini bounty, just like the rest of them.
The three-year-old styles herself like a member of a local ladies pie society. She and I both love the peppery nasturtium blossoms we planted near a stone wall. It feels wild plucking the blossoms off the plant and munching the soft, brilliantly orange petals between your lips; like a horse eating clover.
The milkweed in the field is about to blossom and I’m so excited to see how the butterflies like it. They’ve been making do with the wilted lilac and the cheery but tiny purple catmint flowers (pictured here). I can feel my excitement for their satisfaction in the new nectar, that’s how much I’m looking forward to it.
We planted a little strawberry patch that will give fruit next year, but all the wild strawberries we’ve since found in the fields have made it feel a little silly. They are scattered everywhere; I love hunting for them. A few patches have reddish ants that have claimed ownership of them. These ants greet you with a numbing-sting bite if you touch their strawberries.
But they haven’t found all the patches.
And there is a snake who loves to soak up sun on the path to the peach trees I bought on clearance at Home Depot last Fall. The peaches, though they were likely raised down south, have set out fruit after their first Vermont winter.