Silver Bells, Cockle Shells, they’re all just fine without me

While I’ve been busy with a bunch of this

and a whole lot of that

I haven’t had much time to pay attention to what’s going on in my own backyard.  Yes, you’re seeing right.  It’s time for the Aerial Squirrel Olympics.

And the garden, while not defying gravity, is worthy of some medals of its own.  Fat snap peas hang from stalks that sail skyward

We’ve had fresh salad every night

The strawberries are ruby red gems of tasty goodness

Even those I have neglected are putting out.  Ignore an onion long enough and she’ll do something to attract your attention —

Likewise the weeds.  I knew it would pay off to put off pulling this guy.

And just like that the summer is sailing past, and it is time to hang up the jump ropes and the swim goggles, wish the veggies good luck with their battle against the weeds, and load up the car for the jumbo July road trip.

We’ll catch you from the road.  ‘Til then…Wagons East!

What I don’t know about chickens

Chicken:

Not a chicken:

Hang tight. We have just about reached the end of my knowledge about chickens.

They have beady little eyes.

The color of the eggs they lay is directly linked to the color of their earlobes.  Impressive sounding, right?  At least until you get to the obvious follow-up question.

So no, I do not know how one locates a chicken earlobe.

I also do not know how the eggs decide who will go on to become a big chick and who joins us for breakfast.

Nor do I understand what drove the children to spend copious amounts of time passing weeds into the coop.

Perhaps it had to do with the pathetic state of farm strawberries this year.  Hail damaged and dusty, we picked barely enough to squeak out 4 jars of jam  Hardly enough to get us through the summer, let alone the school year, but I am not concerned in the slightest.

Who needs cowboy-hick-farmland berries anyway?

Not us.

We are partial to their beautifully bountiful backyard suburban cousins.

Mouse Skulls and Mother’s Day

Do you want to know the best thing about this plastic baggie full of mouse skeletons?

It’s not my maternal pride over the obvious CSI skills my daughters’ exhibit.

It’s not knowing that our neighborhood owls are eating well, controlling the mouse population, and selecting our pine tree for the repository of their pellets/gifts.  Though all those things are clearly good things.

No, the best part about this cluster of doom is that it was not my Mother’s Day gift.

Because while I appreciate the heck out of every thoughtful token my daughters have bestowed over the years, it would have taken considerably more energy then I’ve got to muster up the necessary ooohs and ahhhs over this bag o’ bones.

In between dissections, the little naturalists did make themselves available to do mom’s bidding.  They scowled and declined happily lent a hand.  All it took was a subtle reminder that IT IS MOTHER’S DAY THAT’S WHY.

And in honor of Mother’s Day the hammock was to be hung.  I held the image all day as I seeded and weeded, knowing that soon I would be rocking gently beneath the trees.  Relaxing.

Sure enough, there was plenty of relaxing on Mother’s Day.

I know what you’re thinking, but you’re crazy.  It’s enough for me to simply watch my offspring relax with a good book.

Besides, between the children reading in the hammock and these love doves being all lovey dovey

And strawberries putting out their flowery best

And rhubarb so ripe it practically crisped itself,

And our future salads poking through to say hello

The day was perfect.

Especially since the mouse skulls weren’t destined for my room.  They were for the 2nd grade teacher.  Because nobody musters up excitement over mouse-parts-in-a-bag like a teacher.

When Monkeys Fly…

…that’s when I’ll be comfortable with my gang hanging around in the treetops.  Not only do my monkeys currently lack the capacity for flight, but they have a marked propensity for rapid, headfirst dismounts from all activities.

Now I am fortunate that my husband has congenially agreed to build me a trellis to support the tomatoes and snap peas that are sure to runneth over in our lovely new south garden.

It is unfortunate, however, that I had to crane my neck skyward to remind him of one very relevant fact:

UM HELLO? YOU ARE NOT A CAT! YOU’RE NOT GOING TO JUST LAND ON YOUR FEET, YOU KNOW!

I yelled this to him as he clung to the dead branches that had been targeted for trellis harvest.  He did not respond, though I feel certain he was thankful for my insightful, subtly delivered observations.

You know what’s really sweet? When children admire their fathers and want to be just like them.

Monkey See.

Monkey Do.

And by monkey see, monkey do I mean imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Or some such nonsense.

Those of you who are familiar with our emergency room track record will appreciate the new rule I’ve instituted over here:  one monkey in a tree at any given time.  Unless of course they sprout wings like our beloved friends hovering around the Emerald City.  I’ll bet those adorable guys handle treetops movements with the greatest of ease.

Not so my run-of-mill-monkeys. I’m most content when their simian feet are planted on terra firma.  Besides, I need their help down here with preparations for the banner year ahead.  Just look at the growing going on:

We’ve got rhubarb,

and strawberries,

And garlic.  Oh my.

Welcome to the Jungle

We put in some time in the garden this weekend, and I think I finally understand those people who think slapping bugs and pulling weeds is relaxing.  It was delightful. I sat myself down in the wet dirt and wrestled with the overgrown jungle in our backyard.  There was no traffic concerning me.  I didn’t have to worry about finding a smoke-free room with two beds somewhere on the safe side of some random town.  After weeks out on the open road it was terrific to be hemmed in by strawberries plants in the midst of staging a coup to overtake the yard and towering 6 foot high raspberry bushes.

Also standing strong was the rhubarb.  Back in June, as we were getting ready to leave town, I judged it done and planted squash right on top.  But clearly I was premature in writing off the rhubarb–

Before I get all puffed up about the glorious successes in our garden, I admit one major disappointment.  Though the vines of the pumpkin, the squash and the cucumbers are gorgeous thick twists heavy with flowers, I worry that when push comes to grow, they will not produce.  NO FEMALE FLOWERS.  AGAIN. Now, I like hanging with guys as much as the next sorority girl, but I’m begging for a nice nerdy science guy out there somewhere willing to explain why inside the house I make all girls, but outside the house it’s one bachelor party after another.  Please?

At least I have some producers to appease me while I ponder the infinite questions of vegetable sex.  Our tomatoes did just fine without us.

Even the rainbow chard that I thought would never show poked it’s head up.  In our absence the bugs had a feast, but at least I can feel good knowing that the little critters received a healthy dose of vitamin-rich antioxidants.

We got potatoes! These truly were the easiest things to grow.  I stuck one rotten looking spud in the ground, cruised around the nation for a couple of months, and Wham! Bam!  French Fries Ma’am!

And finally, after 7 weeks of gifting our CSA share to the happy, healthy Redfern family, we finally got our hands on some local, farm-fresh veggies

We started with the eggplant. According to Dave, a self-acclaimed afficienado, the eggplant parmesan I made that night was the best he’s ever eaten.  I take full credit, gracefully.  Though real credit is probably due to the fact that the eggplant was the freshest we’ve ever had.  Freshly-picked eggplant–ours was picked 24 hours beforehand–is much sweeter and holds far less water.  The less water in the eggplant, the less of a bitter aftertaste.)

Rain clouds, rhubarb and cowboy boots

On the plus side, the unexpected plethora of water falling from the sky has turned our arid yard into a backyard jungle.  It’s just been a bit unfortunate for my little swimmers, who have been turning blue with cold while dodging thunderstorms at practice.  Acadia addressed the issue by pairing her swim suit with cowboy boots. That girl isn’t just trendy, she’s practical as well.

Sure it’s muddy and chilly, but oh how the garden does grow.  Check out this rhubarb plant from the Cretaceous period–

It’s not really prehistoric, but I do think it was sizing up my children for its lunch.

That Brontosaurus rhubarb plant isn’t one of mine.  We admired it in the yard of artist Tiffany Koehn, who gave us a personal tutorial on glass blowing.  She makes gorgeous jewelry and lamps in outrageous colors like these–

She let the kids pick out colored glass to create their own charms,

and even gave them each a chance to take the blow torch for a spin.  No, Mom, I’m kidding. Tiffany kept a firm grasp on the torch while we watched from a safe distance.

Meanwhile, back at our ranch yard, the potatoes have been eagerly soaking up all the rain.

I can’t imagine what’s doing beneath the dirt, but a few more days of precipitation and we’ll be climbing those potato stalks to a castle in the sky.  Not far behind are the strawberries, which are still rock hard and green, but crazy plentiful this year.

I have told them that we’ll be hitting the road soon and I expect ripened berries within the week. Likewise with the raspberries, which are all abuzz with bees but remain curled up in small green nubs.  They also seem determined to ignore my schedule and start ripening just about the time we load up the car.

Come on garden.  I’m not asking for much.  Just a taste of your sweet fruit before we leave town, and a little bit of respect for my schedule.


Roly-poly pavilion now open!

On Saturday morning, while I was busy disengaging the wild raspberries from the strawberry patch and moving weeds to make room for rainbow chard seeds, my daughters had more pressing matters at hand.  The pine needle roof of the fairy home, constructed specifically to allow for shade and breezes, had blown over. At least now we had our answer as to what was keeping the winged nymphs from moving in.

The girls set right to work…but you know contractors.  No sooner had they promised to address the structural issues that had befallen the fairies then another job demanded their attention:  the roly-polies had arrived, and they needed a pavilion. Stat.

Ahhh the roly-poly, characterized by an ability to roll into a ball when disturbed.  Not that I am criticizing.  After all, I’ve got access to happy hour.  Who’s to say that without that half-priced vodka tonic I wouldn’t be curled up in a ball myself?

The girls whiled away the afternoon, attending to the myriad needs of the bugs of our backyard.  Girls will be girls, you know.  And for my girls, even the smallest moth deserves healthcare with respect. Which explains Kira’s rage at her father, who, as she reported to me during my absence, “refused to call an entomologist,” despite her beloved moth’s “near-death state.”

I know. I can hardly believe I’m married to such a cold-hearted snake.  Refused his children the right to see an entomologist?  What kind of monster indeed?

I don’t know.  Maybe it’s my fault for setting the bar too high when I phoned in for back-up from the Humane Society to help out with that baby bird last year.

Or maybe Daddies just don’t understand the special bond between a girl and her moth.

Jam on it

As readers of Mama Bird Diaries may have heard, our venture to the farm to pick strawberries was a roaring success. I came home not just with thirty tons of delicious fruit; but a bonus. I now held visions of my husband filtered through a dusty new light.

Just a couple of hours with the chickens and voila, Dave had morphed into the farmer of my dreams. A precious vision.

Do not be fooled though, picking is tough work. We squawked, we squatted, we picked and we tasted our little hearts out for well over an hour.

We sweated it out beneath a still-blazing setting sun, but oh the berries we picked. Late into the night strawberries covered every horizontal surface of the kitchen.

And sadly, mosquito bites covered every inch of Dave and the girls. I’ve warned them about being so darn sweet. The flying bloodsuckers took a pass on me; I just knew good things would come of my bitter skin and foul tasting blood.

While the girls and dad got down to work on the farm, I got busy with my camera. Somehow poor Bessy got it into her cud-chewing brain that I was the big agent she’d ordered up from Hollywood. You know I love the cows, but this bountiful bovine kept striking poses until I agreed to click-her. She hopes to make it to the big screen one day.

But really, enough with the gratuitous pictures of the cow. Word on green street was that these berries had to be handled, and quickly. The shelf life of a fresh, red-all-the-way-through berry is teeny tiny, which left me up way past my bedtime sorting and handling when really what I required was a soak in a whirlpool and a decent massage for oy my back was aching! Never-the-less come morning I woke with the crowing roosters. I donned my bonnet, knocked the clothes against some rocks in the stream, churned the butter, and then got down to work:

We made strawberry jam.

And strawberry puree (with visions of strawberry daiquiris dancing in our heads.)

And strawberry bread.

And strawberry ice cream with dark chocolate chips.

We froze about a gallon or so of the berries straight up, and left the rest to sit smugly on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Every minute or so I walk by and reach in to grab one. As the berry bursts on my tongue I think of Grandpa Terry. For years my wonderful grandfather bemoaned the state of the supermarket strawberry. ‘In the old days,’ he’d say, ‘berries were red through and through.’ Oh Grandpa, how I wish you could see the bright red juice dripping down the smiling faces of your great-granddaughters.