Category Archives: Gardening

Ten Minute Gripe.

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It hasn’t been the Week From Hell here.

It’s been the Week From Heck.

I think someone has put the Ancient Chinese Curse on me: May You Die the Death of a Thousand Paper Cuts.

Last week I learned from Vet Number Two that Huey’s “leg owie” is a suspensory injury.  This is not good. There are things that are worse, but this is sort of the Second Worst Common Thing that could happen.  We do not say the name of the First Worst Common Thing. It’s a five letter word, starts with the letter C.  Don’t any of you go saying that word either.

A suspensory injury, roughly considered, is like a leg sprain.  And like human leg sprains, there is a range of stuff that falls into that category…everything from the sprain I got last month when I was standing on slick round rocks in the ocean and discovered that the pinchy thing on my foot was not a piece of seaweed, as I had thought, but a small crab attempting to eat my toe. I screamed, of course, like I was about to die, levitated in the air, came back down and sprained my ankle on the landing.  The crab was at least as frightened as I was and probably still hasn’t dared emerge from under its rock.  So that was a pain, I had to ice it on the boat coming back, elevate it, and then wrap it, but I was also able to keep going.

On the other hand, there’s the sprain I got back in 1998 when I stepped “wrong” somehow off one stair tread onto another and heard (as did those around me) a pop like a gunshot and had my body explode into a burning red fire in which I was surprised to find a shower of golden fireworks.  I thought that sort of thing was limited to cartoons, but it was not.  There was no question of walking, limping, crutching, or any sort of independent personal ambulation for several days while my leg inflated like a black dirigible from the tips of my toes all the way up to my knee and my foot started to go numb.  I had to wear one of those ski-boot contraptions for three months for that one, and still have problems in that ankle.  In the words of my orthopedist at the time:  You would have been better off if you had broken your ankle.  For which I thanked him politely and said I would take that under consideration next time I decided to get injured.

Huey’s suspensory is like that.  His sprain is of the “I can get around mostly if I ignore the pain and swelling” type.  And while I, personally, am a huge fan of that perspective when it comes to my own body, I have zero tolerance for that in my horse.  I know exactly what happens when you don’t let ligaments rest long enough to heal properly.  I know this because I have that going in two ankles, one knee, a hip, and a wrist.  The good news is that I, personally, unlike my horse, don’t need to carry a large person around on my back while I’m running.

As it turns out, Huey also seems to be a huge fan of that when it comes to his body.  His line seems to be “Dammit, woman, I’m a horse, not a china figurine.”  He wants to be out and about, and this weekend, when I was working with him on the lead line at a walk he elected to demonstrate his perspective by launching himself into the air, all four feet off the ground, landing, throwing a buck, and trying to break into a canter.  Which, obviously, was not comfortable, because when I shrieked NOOOOO!!!  and then threw out the Blanket of Calm and instructed him to walk, he cooperated.  

The Thousand Paper Cuts on this one is that his vet went on vacation right about the time Vet Number Two ultrasounded his leg.  I’m a great rehab patient (other than constantly trying to push things for myself) because I prefer to have clear and detailed instructions about What To Do and I stick to that like a pin.   My number one concern with Huey right now is getting the swelling out of that leg.  Sooner the swelling goes, sooner the healing starts.  Vet Number Two suggested wrapping the limb with quilt batting and vetrap and pouring alcohol into this every evening.  Turns out Huey hates this.  Is it because it stings? He doesn’t have any open sores there.  Is it because he hates the feeling of the dripping down his leg?  Probably – he would stand there and stomp his foot (yikes) trying to knock the liquid out.  A week of this and he wasn’t appreciably better.  In the meantime, I collected advice from Vet Two, my trainer, and the horse’s chiropractor.  Unfortunately, none of it lined up neatly.  A lot of people suggested cold, but we’re talking a three week old injury at this point, and in people, I don’t think cold would be the main therapy.  But is that the same for horses?  How much cold? What else?  Is any exercise OK?  Does he have to stay in his stall?  Will that help, or will it make things worse in the long run?

I knew Vet Number One would be able to answer all of that definitively…but he was on vacation.  In the meantime, I had to do what I thought would not hurt but would not necessarily help and struggle against that powerless feeling of uncertainty.

In the meantime, hipsters have been infesting my lawn.  I came home from one trip to the barn to find one of them (hipsters) sitting in what I suspect was intended to be a Romantic State, picking a guitar in a Disconsolate Way, or possibly a Romantic Way, or possibly a Poetic Way.  I don’t know.  I did wonder who we was expecting to impress with this behavior, and hoped that she or he would pass by soon and bring this drippy scene to an end.  None of us had any luck, evidently, because it continued for another two hours.  Really.  I found myself thinking “Don’t you have a job?” like I was a 70 year old curmudgeon.  I also found myself thinking “You kids get off my lawn!” like a different 70 year old curmudgeon.

I have never, ever, in my entire life, had such an overwhelming urge to hurl a water balloon at someone.  Ever.  If this turns into a regular thing, I am totally going to start keeping balloons on hand.

The hipsters have also been picking flowers from my rose bushes, Dumpster Diving in our trash can, hanging out and talking loudly into the night every night, and last night I was awakened at 3am by one of them wailing in a disconsolate manner “Where is my paperwork?” over and over and over and over at the top of her lungs.  Talk about a Scene of Existential Angst.  I felt that she ought to meet our Lawn Guitar Guy.  They could be angsty together.

Woke me out of a dead sleep, that did.  There was someone with her, talking a great deal more quietly.  I was on my way to get the phone to alert the police to this disturbance – I mean, it was LOUD – when I could hear Party of the Second Part quite a bit more clearly and realized that he was the police, and was escorting this individual into the cop car and taking her away.

In the meantime, the school term has swung into high gear for me.  I’m teaching a couple of graduate courses, mostly on line, but there are some class meetings, the first of which was Tuesday.

Now, we have some ongoing IT Issues at my school, the result of which is that this term, we’ve both changed the learning tech platform and the platform for recording in the classroom.  I won’t say anything more about this other than just that change is responsible for approximately 750 of the 1,000 Paper Cuts.

Compounding this, I got a call from Roy on Tuesday about ten minutes before I headed out to go teach my first class.  This will come as a surprise, I think, but a lot of professors get serious stage fright and cold feet when it comes to actually standing up in the classroom and talking.  This is a major occupational hazard, for some reason.  Roy gets it really bad.  For the week before the term, he reminds me of nothing more than Alan Rickman playing Alexander Dane in GalaxyQuest, when he flies into a state of Existential Despair right before heading out to address the fen at a con.

I don’t have this issue.  Give me 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 2 hours, I can happily go up and Address the Masses and never worry at all about what I’m going to say, how I’m going to keep track of time, or any of that stuff.  It’s not like you’re asking me to stand up in front of an audience of two and sing for pete’s sake.  That prospect is absolutely petrifying.

So I don’t have stage fright, but I did need to get organized and go back over the directions for using the recording software in the classroom, because a lot of my students take the class 100% online, and if I blow it with the recording computer, they miss the lecture.  Not fair.

In the middle of this, my cell phone rings, and it’s Roy.  Foolishly I chose to answer it.  “Uh,” he said. “A big piece of the ceiling just fell down.  I thought you would want to know.”

And then he waited.

What?!?!  What?!?!?!  What?!?!?!

I finally found my words:  “How big?”

Answer: “about a foot”

Next words: “Is it wet?

Answer: “I don’t know.  I’ll go check and call you back.”

Now, under ordinary circumstances, there is nothing I like more than dealing with the need to either perform household repairs or find someone to do so.

Not.

Why not?  I don’t mind doing things myself, if I can, but in this area, contractors don’t call you back.

You’d think that when you call a business and leave a message to the tune of “I would like to give you some money” that this would elicit some return interest.

Not here, mateys.

Here, you can grow old and die and mummify if you wait for someone to call you back.

Here, you have to nag.

I don’t like nagging.  I have much more interesting things to do with my time.

And, trust me, this is my problem.  Roy and I have a fantastic division of labor in the house.  He’s got the routine stuff like dirty laundry, dishes, and taking out trash and recycling locked down like a pro.  Overflowing toilets, sticky doors, HVAC filters, routine major maintenance, chimney sweeping, and chunks of plaster falling out of the sky live in my domain.

So there I am, ten minutes before class, now worrying both about the recording software and about the prospect of coming home to find a massive patch of lath exposed on the ceiling of my 115 year old rowhouse.

Fortunately, the recording came off just fine, and when I returned home, I found that “a big chunk of plaster” was actually a smallish-section of popcorn finish that had peeled off of the plaster ceiling, which remained intact.  No plaster, no lath.

Unfortunately, it’s clear that more of this finish is going to be peeling off in the near future, and in the process of researching WTF on that, I learned a new word: calcimine.

It’s a special pain in the ass thing they cooked up in the early part of the 20th century.  Not as much of a pain in the ass as lead paint.  But on that same spectrum.  Look it up if you’re interested.  I have to go nag my painting contractor for a bid.  And put another full layer of bandaids on the 999 paper cuts I”ve collected already.

Canada Falls

Here’s one of my pictures of Niagara Falls, because it’s turning out to be one of those weeks.

The Year Of Living Weirdly

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I woke to a torrential rain this morning, and the first thought in my mind was a flash-back…right to one year ago today, when Hurricane Irene wrought her devastation on New England.  It was a Sunday, I remember that, and the day before school.  And where I am, we got off very, very easy.  Not so, north of us about 10, maybe 15 miles, where the Deerfield River ended its two-state flooding spree by trashing the farms in, well, Deerfield.

It’s been the Year of Living Weirdly, indeed.  Tornadoes in Springfield Massachusetts in June. Hurricanes in Vermont.  Catastrophic flooding in August. A freak major blizzard at Halloween…and then no snow at all for the rest of the year.  Record warm temperatures through the entire time.

I didn’t even bother trying to grow tomatoes this year.  For one, I came to the reluctant conclusion that my garden dirt harbors Septoria.  Every summer it’s been a mad race to finish harvesting the fruit before the Septoria kills the plant.  This spring, I realized that I needed to let the garden lie fallow for a few years and hope that the fungus dies off without any new fuel.  It’s meant not having those wonderful, warm, bursting, fresh-from-the-vine tomatoes that I love so much…but given how vile the weather has been here all summer, I don’t know that I’d have gotten that experience anyway.  Much of the summer has reminded me, forcibly, of my home in Houston, Home Of The Most Hellish Weather In The Nation.  It’s been hot, humid, always sticky.  I can’t remember the last time it was nice enough to leave the AC off and open the house.  A long time, considering the musty smell the house is starting to pick up.  Usually in the summer here, there are maybe three weeks where it’s nasty enough to need the AC around the clock.  This year, it’s more like three months.

I hate this.

I hate this even more when I pause to consider the possibility – and I am familiar with the science, and know that it is a possibility and not a proven fact at this point – that this wretched weather we’ve been having this year is a function of global climate change.  I hate it that too many humans trying to do too many thing using appallingly inefficient sources of energy, may have caused this.

And I really hate the notion that this might just be the Way It Is Going To Be from here on out.

Because, you know, I didn’t pack up my bags and move everything to an alien environment – having to learn all new slang, body language, and customs, dealing with bad drivers, spending unthought-of amounts of money on a house, paying a bunch of strange new taxes, changing all of my doctors and my driver’s license and address – in order to frickin’ live back in Houston.  And, for that matter, if I’d wanted to live in Portland or Seattle (which is what we had all winter) I’d have gone there.  No.  I want cold winters with lots of snow.  I want nice summers with only a short period of heat.  I want beautiful springs, and autumns filled with color.  That’s what I want.

Last year, we didn’t have a fall.  I mean, we did have a fall because everything eventually fell but it wasn’t a Fall.  The hurricane and the flood saw to that.  Took down any leaves that were thinking about becoming Interesting, and left nasty fungal infections behind that took care of any other leaves that might possibly have thought about becoming Interesting.

Oh, yeah, and it messed up the gourd crops.  They were harder to find than usual, and when you did find them, they looked OK until you cut into them and found them rotting from the inside out.  And the ones that weren’t rotting when you bought them, got that way pretty quickly.  I usually buy bushels of the things and keep them about the house as Objets d’Art until I want one for cooking.  Nothing like eating the decor, which is what you usually get to do, living in New England.  These things, last year?  Didn’t last worth diddly squat.  Not that one was in the mood for eating lots of rich pumpkin soups and stuff, not with the weather the way it was.  Reminded me of going to buy a Solstice Tree down in Texas…nothing like shopping for holiday evergreens while wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and a pair of flip-flops.  Just sucks the joy right out of the season, that does.

So here we are, on the anniversary of Irene, and I am sorely hoping that this year, it will be better.  That we will have our proper chilly weather, our proper beautiful foliage, our proper crisp nights, our proper bright blue skies, and ultimately, our proper snowy winter.

I’m a little concerned, though, because yesterday I saw the Pumpkin Truck.  I feel about the Pumpkin Truck the way Huey feels about the Hay Truck.  Good Stuff, There, that’s how.  And at first I was excited, because, well, it was the Pumpkin Truck!!  And then I remembered it’s still August.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Pumpkin Truck at this time of year. Shouldn’t really be buzzing about for another two, three weeks, I think.  When it’s Fall, you know.

That’s what I want.  Back to normal.  Not a “new normal”.  I liked the old one.

Running Water

See? Like this. This is what we want. This, and lots of pumpkins and exotic winter squash.

Maybe That Should Have Been “Fall is Falling Flat”…

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We’re continuing our 2011 tradition of Weather Of The Weird, here.  The tornado, the drought, the deluge, the hurricane, the other deluge…you’d think I’d be inured to Meteorological Extremes after living in Texas for so long.  Shoot, I thought I was!  Last week was a real doozy, though.  It started with Biblical Rain – the kind that makes you think an Ark might have been a good idea, not the kind that showers the earth with locusts, frogs, or blood.  Then it moved on to humid, grey, and warm as the dickens.  Then the clouds cleared out and the temperature plunged, causing the NWS to issue freeze warnings and causing me to hurriedly harvest all of my tomatoes and basil and to spend the evening making pesto.  That stayed for 2 days, and today, it was 83.  Tomorrow, it is supposed to be 85.

I have two thoughts on this:  1) At least it isn’t raining, for pete’s sake.  and 2) What the fuck?

Pesto wasn’t the only thing I had going on Wednesday.  I spent some quality time trotting Huey the Wonder Horse around in the ring in the morning…avoiding the many, many, many puddles was every bit as good as agility training, so I didn’t spend a heck of a lot of time in the saddle.  It was the first time I’d ridden him since he become Officially Mine late on Monday morning (which was overcast and very expensive, thanks to, oh, buying a whole horse, paying his board, buying a saddle and every thing that goes along with that).  It was the most money I’d spent in a single hour since we bought the house several years ago.  At this point, I have everything in hand except for the saddle…and I’m hoping that arrives next week.  I’m so ready to ride this guy in a rig that fits both of us!

Anyway, my trainer mentioned the impending freeze to me – not news, as I’d already spent an hour in the garden pulling things in – but then I stopped to consider this.  My trainer isn’t one to make a bunch of random conversation, so there must have been a Point to this.  After a frighteningly long period, say five minutes or so, the penny finally dropped.  We were going from Stupid Warm to Crazy Cold in a very short period of time.  I’m not sure how long it takes a horse to get a winter coat, but I am betting that it takes more than a day.  My glance fell on Huey’s brand-new bright blue raincoat (it looks great on that big red horse!) and a vision swam up from the depths of memory…a bigger, heavier, more impressive, and probably quite a bit warmer coat…sitting…on my three-season porch.

“Aha!” I said. “Do you think that I should bring in Huey’s heavy jacket?”

Sometimes, I feel just like Einstein.

By the time my faculty meeting (mercifully short, given the list of other tasks on tap) ended, the wind was starting to howl around the building.  I flew home, changed into clothes I didn’t care about, and brought the blanket over to the barn.  It was all closed up – the first time I’ve seen it like that – and the horses were happily eating dinner.  Huey was the only one still waiting for a blanket.  He gave me a big horsey smile when I showed up…and went right back to eating his hay.

It is something of a challenge to put a big winter jacket on a horse under the best of circumstances.

Having the horse dedicated to the single-minded pursuit of inhaling a pile of hay on the ground in a dim stall is not the best of circumstances.

Especially when the jacket in question has a moderately complicated system of hooks and velcro in the front, right where a horse neck bends down when the horse has his head to the ground.

Eventually, I wrestled the thing onto him.  I got some help from my trainer (also the barn owner) on adjusting the straps.  This jacket had something that his raincoat did not:  a Tail Strap.

The Tail Strap attaches one side of the jacket to the other side…right under the tail.  I hooked it up and regarded it for a second, and then asked my trainer what kept these straps from getting totally disgusting.

She grinned at me and said “Very little!”

Quite right she was, too…when I came back on Friday I got there early enough to need to take his jacket off in order to get him ready, and the strap was filthy. And I’m saying “filthy” as someone who routinely kicks horse poop onto a rake with my boot.  It was naaaassty.

The good news, I guess, is that I am told that these Tail Straps are more important for horses who are young and have a penchant for rolling around and getting their blankets all horked up.  Huey is not young and does roll, but not fanatically.  The other good news is that the thing was totally detachable.  I don’t think we’ll be using that again.  Leg strap, yes, tail strap, hell no.  Ugh.

So, with all this, how is fall falling flat?  Well, the tree I made the Shechecheyanu over for turning colors is still the only one that has done so.  At this time of the year, it ought to be huge blurts of absurdly bright color overtaking the green in the landscape.  In another week, we should be at the peak, when it becomes necessary to protect yourself against the spectacle for fear that driving will be too dangerous.  We should be kicking through an absolute palette of paints spilled out onto the sidewalks and lawns.   My home-away-from-home has an international reputation for sensational beauty that is (usually) entirely justified.

This year, it is AWOL.  Everything is still green, except where it’s getting dingy brown.  October in New England is looking a lot like October in Houston.  The pundits are promising us that the star of the show is just running a little late, but will be here shortly.  I hope so.  And, as long as I’m putting in requests, I would appreciate it if we could have a good long stretch of days that are both sunny, and feature season-appropriate temperatures.  This yo-yo stuff is the pits.

In any event, I managed (also, in this last week) to make it to the Farm Stand to buy up a season’s worth of winter squash.  Pumpkins, buttercups, acorns, butternuts, delicatas, and carnivals.  We’re all stocked up and ready to roll through December with any number of bright orange anti-oxidant-laden squash soups, stir-fries, pies, breads, and pastas.  Yum.

Oh, boy, is this soup insanely good. It’s a great one for this time of year, when the apples and squash are at their peak! It freezes very well (do not add the cider cream before freezing) too.

5 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 pounds butternut squash
2 cups chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only)
1/2 cup chopped peeled carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 small Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried sage leaves
5 cups chicken stock or low-salt chicken broth (can use veggie broth but will need to make cider cream stronger and add salt)
¼ t nutmeg
1/8 t cayenne
1 T fresh ginger
1/3 C maple syrup
1 1/2 cups apple cider
2/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whipping cream
Chopped fresh chives

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil.  Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds and discard, wipe cut edges with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place cut side down in baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes or until done.  Peel roasted squash and cut into cubes, or use a melon scooper to remove squash from skin.

Melt butter in stock pot over medium-high heat. Add leeks, carrot and celery; sauté until slightly softened, about 15 minutes. Mix in apples, thyme and sage. Add roasted squash, stock, spices, syrup, and 1 cup cider and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until apples are tender, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly.

Working in batches, purée soup in blender. Return soup to pan. Boil remaining 1/2 cup cider in heavy small saucepan until reduced to 1/4 cup. (If you have used veggie stock, you will need to start with 1 cup of cider and reduce to ¼ cup.) Cool. Place sour cream in small bowl and whisk in cider reduction.

Bring soup to simmer. Mix in whipping cream. Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle with cider cream.

10 servings.

Barn

Just got to remind myself of what it is supposed to look like here-and-now. And maybe do a little weather magic, call in the frosts, while I'm at it. The harvest is in, it can go into freezes at any old time...especially if it knocks out the yellow jackets and mosquitoes.

What I Know For Sure

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Oprah had, or has, a regular column by the same title, usually full of pithy wisdom and meditative insights.  What I know for sure, on the other hand, runs more toward the pragmatic than the poetic.  Here, then, is my wisdom:

  • When the dewpoint is in the seventies, any temperature above 80 is too bloody hot to sit outside all afternoon watching a baseball game.  Even if you’re in the shade.
  • If you must attend sporting events when it’s that hot and sticky, put a couple of water bottles in the freezer the night before.  They’ll double as hydration and as ice packs.
  • Stay well away from beer or any other alcoholic drink in the above situation, unless you really like to feel queasy, sick, and get a splitting headache.
  • On the topic of health, it’s never a good idea to put your medical symptoms into a Google search.
  • That goes double for any search that you’re thinking about doing between the hours of midnight and 6am.
  • Developing this theme further…don’t read the four chapters in the Horse Bible on the numerous and bizarre diseases that can afflict the horse you are thinking about buying.  I am sure that there is a great time to read that stuff, but the period during which you are contemplating your first horse purchase is not the right time.  It’s just Far Too Frightening.
  • This probably goes triple for reading the same four chapters in the Baby Bible right after the stick turns blue.
  • If you must do either one of the previous two, invest in your relationship with the vet/pediatrician – you’re going to be seeing an excessive amount of that individual, so you may as well get someone you like.
  • For a change of subject…having time off isn’t going to Recharge Your Batteries.  It’s only going to make you want more time off.
  • Don’t bother buying the cat toy.  Just wad up a bit of paper, or leave the empty box lying on the floor.
  • Better yet, leave the empty box on the floor and forbid your cat to look at it, let alone touch it.
  • Leash the dog when you’re in public, even if he is the Perfect Canine and always comes when called.  Otherwise, you’ll inevitably become the subject of an angry Letter to the Editor.
  • One call to your local city councilperson requesting more enforcement of the leash laws is likely to yield a more permanent effect on the problem than 5,000 angry Letters to the Editor.
  • Even the most expensive custom window treatment will have at least one improperly machined mounting bracket and have to be hammered into place, just as if you had purchased it off the shelf from a Walmart.
  • When preparing to execute any home improvement project, start with the assumption that the drill/screwdriver/reciprocating saw battery will be completely dead when you unpack it.  Charge it the night before.  And bring every tool in the house to the work site, whether you expect to use it or not…unless you are the sort of person who will require regular applications of Cooling Off Periods in order to keep your temper in check and your knuckles unbloodied.  In that case, leave the tools where they are and use the inevitable trips for more unexpectedly-required items to blow off steam.

This is pretty detailed stuff, so I’m going to close with a few Universal Truths.  They may not give anyone the Warm Fuzzy that reading Eckhart Tolle does, but I promise, they’ll dramatically improve your quality of this life, possibly this week.

  • Don’t store tomatoes in the fridge.  Leave them out on the counter.
  • Never buy shoes that hurt your feet in the shop, no matter how cute they are.  And don’t talk yourself into doing this by telling yourself that “they will stretch”.  They won’t.
  • Get the furnace serviced in the summer, and the A/C serviced in the winter
  • Have your chimney swept every three years whether you think it needs it or not.  And don’t forget to change your HVAC filters four times a year, whether you think they need it or not.

And finally,

  • Take the comforters and winter coats to the cleaners in the spring; don’t let them sit around all summer with Winter Ook on them.

I’ve seen a lot of people talking lately about having to make that Rough Decision between “sleep” and “eat”.  As in, “I need to eat but I’m so exhausted I may just have to go to sleep.”  Here’s a fantastic dish for nights like that, as long as you can keep your eyes open for 30 minutes:

Provencal Tomatoes and Eggs

1 lb. fresh tomatoes
a lump of butter
a few cloves of garlic, minced
parsley, basil, thyme, oregano, herbes de provence, or similar herbs out of your stash. Fresh is great, dried is fine.
4 eggs
¼ C milk

Set a saucepan of water on the stove to boil. Cut an X on the bottom of each tomato, and drop into a pot of boiling water until the skin cracks and starts to peel.  Remove with slotted spoon and plunge into dish of ice water.  The skin should fall off directly. If you’re really tired, skip this step and just pick the skins out after everything is done cooking.

Melt the butter in a medium skillet.  Cut the tomatoes into chunks and put them into the melted butter with the garlic.  Add the herbs.  Cook over medium-low heat until tomatoes melt and cover the bottom of the pan. This may take a while, but you can seize that opportunity to crawl into your PJs, all the better to collapse into bed with a full stomach.

Beat eggs with some more of the herbs and the milk.  As soon as the tomatoes have melted, add egg mixture and allow to cook through, stirring occasionally.  Serve with toasted french bread if you have some, or just eat it directly out of the pan.

Bay Sailing

The last thing I Know For Sure, at least for now, is that looking at this kind of picture drops my blood pressure by 5 points. Enjoy. (It is from Sausalito)

Art Critics In The Corn Field

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The water is back off of the road, I can take my Secret Ninja Route to work, construction crews are busily rebuilding the Vermont infrastructure, and I have word that the MOOver is back on the road between Wilmington and West Dover. All of this lifts and cheers my heart, and allows me to think past the stress and grief of the last week and consider the future.  The moderately immediate future, that is, as I also have word that the local Corn Maze is up, undamaged, and going to be ready for action next week.

While this maze opens on Labor Day, for me, Corn Maze Time is later in the fall, usually in October.  I need to have that chill in the air and the threat of an early nightfall to get my adrenaline pumping.  And why is it important that I should pump adrenaline for a Corn Maze?  Because in addition to being the most Mighty And Awesome Maze of All, this one also offers the Roasted Corn and Cider Donuts of the Gods. One requires an appetite to fully appreciate the experience.  The cider donuts are the stuff of local legends – the farm owns a funky little donut machine that involves a conveyor belt and makes tiny, perfect donuts.  These donuts are almost crispy on the outside, and moist and fluffy on the inside, and they take advantage of the product of the local apple orchards, and well, they’re an experience to be enjoyed, savored, and then looked-forward to for another year.  There’s something about eating corn with the peel still on and used as a handle, roasted right next to the cornfield of its birth, and slathered with fresh lime butter made with milk from the cow down the street.

It is heavenly.

It is also the icing on the cake:  the main event is our Corn Maze.

Before I go any further, I should probably supply some relevant information about my community.  That would be community in a broad sense, because the entire state in which I live is roughly the same size, in acreage and population, as the Houston metro statistical area.  Both are 10,000 and change square miles.  Houston has 5,946,800 denizens, Massachusetts has 6,547,629.  Or, as I have said in the past to my spouse, “Dude, my home town is the same size as your whole state.”  So the notion I have of “community” is a little different, too.  Here, I would consider our “community” to include the towns of Northampton, Williamsburg, Haydenville, Easthampton (but not South or Westhampton), Hadley, Hatfield, Whately, Sunderland, and Amherst (central, North, and South).  I might include South Hadley in there, also possibly Conway, Leverett, and Shutesbury.  This encompasses an area and population roughly the size of the district that supplied students to my high school outside of Houston.

So this “community” has a vastly interesting makeup:  there is a small but significant percentage of individuals with substantial inherited wealth (trust funds) who occupy their time with various charitable and artistic pursuits. There is a small but also significant percentage of professionals who are employed in larger cities, but who prefer to commute (or telecommute) from our Rustic Countryside.  There is a large percentage of individuals involved with agrarian pursuits – dairies, farms, and ranching.  While most of these people represent families who have been working the land in this area for three or four hundred years, there is a small but interesting overlap with group 1, above (the trust fund people).  In addition to this, there are five major colleges or universities, four of them with top-tier reputations, which means that the area is also loaded with Ph.D.s, techies, various white-collar support staff, and students – many of whom grow so fond of the area that they do not wish to leave when they graduate, and they move into the ranks of professionals, techies, farmers, or faculty.  On top of this, many of the trust funds, professors, and students were spawned in the rarefied culture pits of New York City.

All of this leads to a fascinating character for the “community” – which comes to its fullest and brightest fruition in the context of the Corn Maze.  This is not your typical Corn Maze, in the shape of a tractor, or an eagle, or the local high school mascot.  This is a Corn Maze for an area that isn’t sure whether it’s an artist colony, a farm community, or a college town.

The farm that gives us this Maze has been owned, according to their website, by the same family since 1720.  Nearly 300 years, yes, this family has been working this earth.  They are hardly a nest of neurotic aesthetes with artistic pretensions who moved into the area from the Upper West Side or Brooklyn and are imposing their notions of culture upon the rustic locals.  These people are are the rustic locals.

And yet…there is the Corn Maze.  It’s always a Maze with a goal.  There’s a scavenger hunt rolled into it – they have positioned various and sundry stations throughout the Maze, and typically, when you emerge successfully from the Maze with evidence of your accomplishment of the goals of the scavenger hunt, you are rewarded with your Very Own Pumpkin as a prize.  The hunts, as well, are not what one would expect.

My first visit to the Maze was a couple of years ago, and the owners had magically – I do not know how they do this, and after briefly investigating, I decided that I do not really want to know how they do this – created a huge maze with the artistic theme of The Odyssey.  Yes, the ancient Greek epic, written by Homer, the Homer, about Odysseus’ return from the Trojan Wars.  The story with Circe the sorceress who turned shipwrecked sailors into animals, the story where he had to be lashed to the mast to guide the ship through the Sirenes, the story with the Cyclops.  The Maze itself was an artistic rendering of the confrontation between Odysseus and the Cyclops.

It was even better in person!

The white dot there, in the middle of the Cyclops’ eye, is a camera obscura, one that you can actually walk into.  What you don’t see on this picture is the Mighty Potato Cannon, the thunking sounds of which punctuate any intrepid traveler’s journey through the Maze.

The scavenger hunt that year, as I recall, involved stopping at a variety of stations to answer a question about Greek Myths and get back in less than ten years.  Yes.  Demonstrate your knowledge of Greek Heroes and Gods of Antiquity, take home a pumpkin!

Even better was the one I went to last year.  This time – they change it every year – it was in the shape of Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s soup can.  And the scavenger hunt was a combination of Make Your Own Four-Color Process Print…and a quiz over art – several questions of which involved the presentation of two different prints and the question of which one of them was “art” (i.e., originally created as art).

It was unbelievably fun.  At one point, I found myself with my husband and our friend, joining a group of people who were totally unknown to us, and having an extended and fairly informed debate over one of the stations in the quiz.  All of a sudden it hit home that I was, in fact, standing out in the middle of a corn field, debating the Meaning Of Art with a group of strangers.  It was a moment of pure surreality, and one that let me know I had found a weird and unexpected spiritual home.

This year, we are told, the Maze will be in the shape of Noah Webster (of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary fame).  I have my suspicions about what the hunt will involve, and I can hardly wait for it.  Or for the Potato Cannon, and of course, for the Donuts and Corn of the Gods.

Pumpkins

Now I'm all excited thinking about winning a pumpkin in the Corn Maze. They won't be ripe for another couple of weeks, so I'll tide everyone over with this picture I took at one of our fantastic local Farm Stands.