Sunday, March 31, 2013

Slow Spring

Two weeks ago I was rushing to get the garden bed finished, so I could get plants and seeds in on time.  Broccoli, peas, carrots, all need a good head start in cool weather, before the hot North Carolina sun beats them into submission.  That weekend I didn’t have time to get my seeds in, but made a point of using the early-evening sunshine to finish my spring planting after the workday.

Two weeks later, not much has changed. 



Well, the weather changed!  After lows in the forties (5° or 6° C) and highs in the mid-seventies (low 20°s C), the temperature dropped for almost two weeks.  Most nights got down just below freezing, and the daytime temperatures stayed in the fifties (10° – 13° C).  Though I’d read that broccoli can stand a freeze, mine didn’t seem happy about it.



As Easter weekend approached, however, things started to improve just a bit.  The last couple of evenings have brought rain instead of frost, and the broccoli is already starting to look perkier.  Finally, some of my seeds have come up, just in the past day or two.

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As always, the radishes are leading the way.  I took this picture on Saturday, and by Sunday a whole row of seedlings had emerged.  Miss Chef’s spinach is finally poking above the soil, too.  No sign of peas, carrots or parsnips yet.

Saturday afternoon turned out to be lovely, and as I strolled out the back door, I noticed that one of our little trees was blooming for the first time ever!

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I don’t really know what it is, but for the time being I’m claiming it’s a thornapple tree.  Here’s the background: when we moved into the house, I took advantage of an offer from the Arbor Day Foundation.  For $15 I received something like a dozen bare-root “saplings.”  These are essentially foot-long twigs, carefully color-coded with paint that fails to match anything on the enclosed list.  We planted the little twigs in a relatively sheltered area for a couple of years, then moved them to their final locations around the yards.  (I believe this was my first introduction to the hard clay North Carolina soil, famed for pottery-making as well as its ability to make strong men curse.) 

Today, seven years later, eight of those twigs are still alive—including two (alleged) thornapples, a rose of sharon that was supposed to be a crape myrtle, and a redbud.  And, as I mentioned, this is the first year the thornapples have graced us with blooms.  I’m glad they’ve finally reached their adolescence!

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The redbud, just down the fenceline, looks to be next—this will be the third year it’s bloomed.

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I also noticed on Saturday that many of the flowering trees in the neighborhood were already in full flower, and the phlox by the mailbox was peppered with flat pink blooms.  And as I sit here typing, the wind has picked up and I’ve heard about a thunderstorm warning for a nearby county.

Hmm, maybe a slow spring isn’t such a bad thing after all!

Tomorrow marks the beginning of a new quarter at school, and for the first time since September of last year, I’ll be stepping back into the classroom.  So who knows how much I’ll be in blogland?  My next photos of the garden may be a grassy bed of weeds.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Unexpected Vacation

Or, Score One for Facebook!

Blogs are a highly-edited, inherently subjective snapshot of our lives.  Sometimes I’m surprised at the comments I get describing me as energetic and hardworking, or my life as busy and exciting.  Because truth is, I’m quite content to pass an entire Saturday on the couch, with tablet, book and snacks at my fingertips.

Once in a while, though, life lives up to the blog.

Last week was proceeding as normal…twiddling my thumbs at work, looking forward to some Miss Chef time, thinking about poking around in the garden this weekend, and spending too much time playing games on my phone and tablet.  Piddling away on Facebook, I noticed that a college friend had posted a picture of her dog walking down a path in the woods, with a place stamp of Buncombe County, NC.  I recognized that as the Asheville area, where Miss Chef and I have passed many a happy weekend.

“Hey,” I commented on her picture, “Them’s my mountains!”

To cut a long story short, Friday evening found us packing up the car—and Rosie!—and heading west to Becky’s rental cabin in Mills River, between Asheville and Hendersonville.  Apparently, it doesn’t take much to get us going when the mountains are the destination.  It was of course much easier that we didn’t have to worry about finding care for Rosie, but more on that later. 

We arrived before 9:00, and decided to make the short drive to the historic downtown area of Hendersonville for a few drinks and, as it turned out, a late dinner.  We chose the Black Rose, where we enjoyed traditional pub fare—shepherds pie, bangers and mash, fish and chips—and a great selection of local beers.  We were too busy chatting, catching up and sharing stories for me to think of pulling out my camera, so for once, no food pictures!

We headed back to the cabin Becky was renting, where we settled in for more conversation, heavily focused on our dogs.  Becky had discovered this mountain retreat for dog owners, called Barkwells, during a quest for a place to stay with her new beagle, Pickle.  She had decided to take a week away, just the two of them, before starting a new job back in Chicago, and she was delighted with this place.  Each cabin is provided with dog beds, towels, and sheets for the furniture for dogs that “like to live on people level.”   We had a small fenced yard at the cabin, and the entire 8-acre property is completely fenced, so in the morning we could let the dogs run free, chasing smells, meeting other dogs and staring at the small flock of chickens and goats in a separate enclosure.

Barkwells 03


Rosie loved the big, covered porch with its view overlooking the central pond.  As you can see in the video below of some of the residents romping, it was cool and damp, but otherwise I’d expect that pond to be full of water-loving canines.  (There’s a draggy pause around :30; that’s my phone camera, not your connection.)

I did notice Rosie was the only mixed-breed in residence, though I think I was the only one to notice.


We were up early, because Miss Chef insisted that Saturday morning not go by without a visit to the Asheville farmers’ market.  This area is pretty crunchy-granola when it comes to green living, local eating and the like, so we expected a thriving market with tons of local growers and customers.

What we found was this:



Nearly empty, with mostly commercially-produced food, some t-shirt and bumper-sticker booths, and a few local crafts.  The stand that Miss Chef is looking at boasted all kinds of “Amish” products—a bit suspect, seeing as there’s only a single church district in the state, and their main industry is furniture making.  Nevertheless, there was an enormous offering of Amish jams and jellies, Amish pickles, and a “new product!”—Amish dip mixes to be stirred into sour cream or some such.  Perhaps designed to dip your Amish pretzels and Amish tortilla chips in?  Having grown up in an area with a large, vibrant Amish community, I viewed all this with a jaundiced eye.

Needless to say, we walked away quite disappointed with Asheville’s farmers’ market.  These were not farmers, they were vendors, resellers of mostly commercially grown and produced food.  I know we missed the boat somehow—there are a number of tailgate markets that run April through October, and I’m betting those are more like what we were looking for.  And perhaps Asheville’s support for local and organic foods means they are more available in local stores or co-ops, so a Saturday trip to the market isn’t necessary.

Regardless, Miss Chef and I once again gained appreciation for what we have in Charlotte—two year-round markets with a huge selection of seasonal produce, meats, dairy and baked goods.  Not to mention the warm connection to many of the farmers who grow what we eat.

I was happy to get back to the toasty cabin, where Becky was getting the place ready to check out.  We helped by taking the dogs out for a romp, and promptly losing Pickle as she rounded the corner of a cabin.  Beagles—they just follow their noses!  Still, there was no rush, we knew she couldn’t get off the property, and Rosie was having a great time sniffing, peeing and re-meeting a pair of labs who were escorting their owners, too.  We eventually found Pickle by another cabin, and got to chat with one of the owners of the place, before finally loading up the cars and heading out.

We all piled out at the French Broad River park, which had a small fenced dog area, nothing like the enormous, pretty dog park I’ve brought Rosie to a couple of times in Charlotte.  Still, it was another chance for them to sniff, pee, romp, and in Pickle’s case, dig.  Then it was off to the small apartment Becky was renting for her last night in Asheville, where we dropped the dogs off for a nap, before heading into town for lunch.

At, where else but C├║rate!

Curate 03

I think Miss Chef has made it her personal responsibility to introduce everyone possible to this restaurant.  This is our third or fourth visit; last time we introduced Chef Luca and his wife Jessica during long, boozy celebration.  This was lunch, though, so it was a bit shorter…and a bit less boozy.  Just a bit, though.

Afterwards, we spent a little time strolling around uptown Asheville.  There’s always something new and funky to discover.

Asheville 03 (4)


A stop in at Mast General Store was a must for me, and Miss Chef and Becky wanted to visit a brewery we’d driven by earlier.  After a couple of false starts—including a quick coffee in a shop run by a low-key missionary radio station—we finally ended up at Green Man Brewery, one of the original in a town that now bills itself as Beer City.

There’s no need for a tour in this place, because it’s all right in your face as soon as you walk in!

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Green man 03 (1)


I like this last one the best…I call it the Emerald City of Beer!

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Eventually we remembered that we had dogs, and they probably didn’t appreciate being left alone in a strange place while we ate and drank our fill, so we headed back the girls.  One last stroll around the neighborhood, and then it was time for Miss Chef, Rosie and I to load back up and head home.

Often the weekends with the fewest plans end up being the most fun.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

It’s Time

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve spent the last several weeks feeling down—I’ve dragged myself from home to work and back again, and moped my way through chores, grocery shopping and dog walking. 
Friday afternoon, however, I drove home from work with the windows down, singing to the radio.  The sun was out, the temperature was up, humidity was down.  Cool, strong breezes whipped through the air.  It’s March in North Carolina, which means my latent but chronic condition is quickly re-activated.

No, I’m not talking about allergies (though their presence is noticed).  I’m talking about this gardening bug I can’t seem to get rid of.  Warming weather, growing grass, excited birds chasing each other through budding trees…and suddenly my garden plot looks less like a boring brown rectangle and more like a rich bed of opportunity.

This year my disease may be worse than it has been in a while.  Does anyone remember this photo from last Thanksgiving?

Goat poop

This was about 200 pounds of composted goat manure that I got—free!—from my favorite Goat Lady, Michele of Bosky Acres Farm.  Since November, this nutrient-rich dirt has been percolating away under a generous mulch of dead leaves (some of which I stole off the curb in the neighborhood, hee hee).  It’s the first time in several years that I’ve done any serious amendment to our garden soil, and I’m very excited to see the results.  My internet research reveals that goat manure is one of the best fertilizers out there—it’s better than cow or horse manure in that it doesn’t even need to be composted to avoid burning plants.

Also for the first time in about five years, I finally remembered to plant things in the right order.  Usually, I start with the pea trellis, then the early spring seeds for radishes, carrots and beets.  Only then do I remember that I have an irrigation hose that should be buried before all my seeds go in.  A couple of years I’ve tried to half-heartedly dig it in between my neatly sown rows, but that doesn’t generally go well.  This year, only my winter-planted garlic was in the bed when I remembered the hose.  I wasn’t really excited at the prospect of winding the fussy, curled hose up and back the length of the garden while trying to get it underground, but I gave myself permission to take it slowly, and leave it undone overnight if need be.

Garden 03 (1)

I stopped to take this picture about 2/3 of the way through.  I stopped a lot during this project.  I started it Saturday afternoon, and spent most of Sunday finishing it.  The hose must be over 30 feet long, and even though I was digging in soft, crumbly dirt, digging is still hard, all-body work.  Thank goodness I wasn’t trying to lay it down in our native clay! 

Even as I wondered if I’d ever finish this job, I was quite happy about what I was digging up—rich, dark, moist soil and earthworms everywhere.  I don’t know if they were in the manure, or just attracted to it, but I have never seen so many worms in any of our beds.  I used another of my frequent breaks to email Michele and thank her for her gift of goat poop—“It’s enough to make a girl giddy,” I told her.

Now, if we have another growing season like last year’s, this hose may be a waste of time and effort.  I’m hoping to use it only for “emergency” watering, during long dry spells.  Otherwise I plan to use water from our water barrel against the house.  But if we have yet another drought, my soaker hose will allow me to get the water right to the roots of my suffering plants.  Not only does this cut back on water loss through surface evaporation, but avoiding wetting the leaves is good for preventing the spread of diseases.

Another reason I’m  glad to have this hose in place is that I may not be able to stick to my water barrel plan.  Once the barrel is less than half-full, the water pressure drops to the point that I can’t use a hose with it, and carrying watering cans back and forth is time-consuming.  At this point, I’m scheduled to be teaching from the beginning of April through September, so it’s very likely I’ll be neglecting the garden pretty badly this year.  The weeds are almost certain to get out of control, but at least I can keep my plants alive by turning on the hose in the morning while I get ready for work.  That’s a lot easier than slogging a water can in my dress slacks (and yes, I’ve done that more than a few times)!

Unfortunately, wrapping up this chore doesn’t give you the satisfaction of being able to step back and admire your handiwork…because now it’s invisible!

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Here’s an approximation of where the hose runs—I used the white row markers to keep track of it as I buried it (sometimes I impress even myself with my forethought).

Garden 03 hose

You probably noticed I planted something besides hose today.  The green plants in the front are broccoli.  They came in a pack of nine, and I seriously considered buying more—but 18 is a little ridiculous.  These guys get really big!

Of course, now I’m too tired to dig in the pea trellis and plant those other seeds.  But I’ve gone back to last year’s “OMG, It’s Spring!” posts and figure I can wait another week without losing any growing time.  As silly and self-indulgent as a blog may be, it sure is nice to have a record to look back to.

Anyway, I did finish up another little project that is a bit more satisfying to admire.  This one is on our front stoop.

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Those are geraniums in the back and a low-grower called Candytuft in the front.  I’m not sure if the geraniums can handle the heat that brick wall will be giving off this summer (our door faces west, with no shade, ugh), but we’ve had Candytuft in our beds before and it did just fine.  I couldn’t pass up those bright pink flowers with the darker pink centers—I hope they prosper.

Now I have to turn my attention inside, and straighten out the neglected house.  Because as I type this, Miss Chef is on her way home!  For good! 

Yee haw!

Update: The Farmers' Almanac is predicting a hotter and drier than normal July through September. So I'm very glad to have that hose in place.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Get It Together

Fair warning: this is a soapbox post!

When it comes to our own estate, Miss Chef and I are pretty well prepared. We have a few reasons—I nearly lost my father a few times, and so the phrase “end of life” has real meaning to me.  In addition, not having the built-in protection of marriage, I wanted to make sure nobody could remove Miss Chef from our home, or keep from her the assistance of the savings I’ve built thanks in large part to her presence in my life.  And we both travel a fair amount alone by car, visiting our families.  I have a good enough imagination to get a little paranoid about terrible accidents.

Over a year ago, when North Carolina put in place a constitutional amendment banning all kinds of domestic partner benefits, I got serious about protecting Miss Chef in the case of my untimely death.  I found a “friendly” lawyer who has experience with gay and lesbian couples, and set up a meeting.  It took us months to get the dang things signed (the lawyer recommended an extra witness to the signing, and that was a scheduling nightmare), but in truth it was very, very simple.  The lawyer told us exactly what documents we needed, gave us guidance when we weren’t sure about our choices, and gave us advice about keeping and sharing our documents.  Yes, it cost us money—about $600 each—but I doubt I could find a better investment these days.

After her mother passed away, Miss Chef discovered that nobody in her family had a will prepared!  This included her brother and sister-in-law, who have three little girls.  When she told them she had a will, so they were going to get them, I looked at her smugly, thinking of the weeks and months I had nagged her to arrange that final signing.  Truth is, I felt really good the day I signed mine, knowing that I had done everything I could to take care of her, and I felt relieved when I knew hers was done.

As Miss Chef started to go through all the nitpicky details of figuring out her mother’s financial status, we both realized there remained a few details we needed to write down to help each other if we ever needed to figure out each other’s accounts.  Among other things, she had to search for how many accounts there were at which banks, how to log into them online, how many credit card and other credit accounts were out there, how many life insurance policies existed, and how to access them.

And these days, there are so many other accounts—Facebook, Amazon, cell phones, emails, this Blogger account, and on and on.  Sure, she already has access to some of those, and could easily find others, but she has no idea what my Facebook login is. And what if the worst should happen, and we were both killed in some horrible accident? Then my parents or brother would be left digging through my papers, trying to figure out where my mortgage statements and Amazon password are. 

So “write down accounts and passwords” has been on my to-do list for several weeks.  But there are so many accounts; how do I organize them?  What if I forget some?  What exactly do I need to write down?  Then this morning on the way to work, I heard a story on NPR about a woman who went through the worst—she lost her young, healthy husband before they had bothered to sign their wills.  In addition to mourning her husband and supporting her young girls, she had to slog through all those details that make up a modern life.

This woman has created a website which provides a great, great service.  It’s called Get Your Shit Together, and it takes the Scary out of end-of-life planning.  She gives templates for the few documents you really need—you don’t necessarily need a lawyer to write a will or medical power of attorney.  She also has checklists to help you make sure all the information your loved ones need will be easily available, saving them the heartache of worrying about your credit card bill while they try to adjust to life without you in it.

Yes, Miss Chef and I are pretty well prepared.  But in going through the Details list, I learned that I had never named beneficiaries for my employer-provided life insurance and retirement funds!  Here I was, assuming Miss Chef would have more than enough money to take care of my funeral, and she would have had to fight to get it.

So, learn from my mistakes.  If you care about your spouse, your children, your living family, take 15 minutes to visit the site.  It will give you a great idea of where to start, and show you how simple it really is.  You don’t have to write your will today.  You can do it tomorrow after work.  Or set aside a couple of hours to do it this weekend.  Just do it.  It’s the best gift you can give to those you love.

Friday, March 8, 2013




This whole grief thing is…like exploring a new part of the world. 

Miss Chef is still in Alabama, figuring out her mother’s estate and putting into motion the plans for her dad’s and brother’s financial futures.  I am still Home Alone, keeping our little household functioning at some minimal level, waiting anxiously for her to come back and assume the primary place in my life.

The flowers continue to bloom, but it’s still too cold to plant the garden.

We have ants I can’t get rid of.

I’ve had my fill of tuna casserole.

Work has been agonizingly slow and boring.

I don’t have the motivation to blog, or even read blogs much.

I’ve made it to the gym twice this week.

Rosie wants more walks.

One day a couple of weeks ago, I was moving laundry from the washer to the dryer. I pulled out a pair of footie-style socks I don’t remember having ever seen before. Light blue, similar to the background of this page, fluffy in an artificial-fiber kind of way. The kind of thing, I thought, you might be given in a hospital.

Were these, I wondered, Miss Chef’s mother’s socks? Had Miss Chef been wearing these?

The thought of her wearing her deceased mother’s socks saddened me—like a brick upside the head. Whoa. With our physical and mental separation, it’s easy for me to forget that we’re still in the middle of this loss. We haven’t really faced it head-on.

We are both in limbo.

One more week, and Miss Chef will be home.  I will no longer be fully responsible for myself, the house, the dog and our social lives.  Miss Chef will no longer be fully in charge of her family’s day-to-day functioning.  We can turn back to our regular schedules, start making more definite plans for our immediate future.

But the truth is, the end of her stay there will be only the beginning of her grieving.  Miss Chef has been purposely setting aside thoughts of her mother, and her mother’s absence, in order to focus on the tasks at hand.  She is particularly good at compartmentalizing her emotions, and while that can sometimes be troublesome, it’s been very useful for her now. 

We’ve talked a bit about the fact that she’s been putting off facing her emotions until she comes home.  And I know that, just as I look forward to the joy and relief of having her here, I will have to continue being strong and patient for her as she begins that painful process.

I think.

The fact is, neither one of us really knows what to expect.  Miss Chef has has never been through such a great loss, and neither have I.  I don’t know when she’ll feel it hit home, or how.  Neither one of us knows how she’ll react when she does.  Will she need me, or will she prefer to shut herself away from me for awhile?  Will she be unmoored, or continue to bury herself in work to keep her bearings?  There’s no way of knowing, so we’ll both be going through this swamp for the first time, finding our way together.

I’m sure those of you who have lost a parent understand.  For better or worse, they leave their fingerprints all over our souls.  They model the clay of our personalities without even trying.  And I’m sure in many ways it takes their absence to put into relief every nook and cranny of ourselves that we owe to their existence.  There is no way to prepare for that.

I will need lots of patience.

We will both need lots of time.

Still, it’s just early spring here.  We may have a long way to go, but the days are bound to get brighter.