Another Surprise

July 28, 2010

A mouse in the compost bin!

Today was a day of surprises. I walked through the garden this morning expecting to deadhead balloon flower (did that), pull algae out of the pond (did that) and see cabbage butterflies (did that too). There were pleasant and confusing surprises in store as well.

The sunflower (yes, the mystery flowers are starting to bloom and it really is sunflowers) that bloomed yesterday has been chewed, chomped and tattered. I suspect Japanese beetles and I’m freaking out. My parents have them in Manteno and annually, I hear the wail of frustration from my mom. They decimate her garden each July and August – between her own Damn Rabbits and the Japanese beetles, she has just about given up. Just a little research gives me a possible cure – a spray that smells of garlic, which should be the same Liquid Fence that (barely) keeps the Damn Rabbits away. I am willing to give it a shot, so I’ll be spraying that liberally in the very near future.

The algae is now at “pain in the arse” point. The heat and the bright sun combine to create a little Henry Ford-like algae manufacturing plant right in my pond, blooming in mats, strings and sheets, clogging the pumps, the fall and the turtle every few days now. Barley balls might help and I think next spring I’ll need to change out the lava rock in the waterfall.

And pop! There are now mushrooms everywhere, everywhere, everywhere under the pin oak. All that sitting water, all that new rich soil, all that mulch keeping the ground damp means mushrooms. And I have no idea what kind they are. Seems that there are over 10,000 species just in North America alone, so identification would be challenging at best. They are delicate and ecru colored, growing in groups between the hostas and astibles and primrose and hydrangea. They are everywhere.

The sweet potato vine has completely engulfed everything else in the container on the front walk. No sign of the geraniums or lobelia or spike. Just sweet potato vine and lots of it. This is why I don’t do containers. Because I can’t do containers. They just never work for me. The vine is pretty, a lovely chartreuse green, but I wanted the pink geraniums too.

The butterfly bush has bloomed faster than expected too, already covered with deep purple spikes, calling those butterflies and bees. Next to the butterfly garden is the saddest piece of lawn care I’ve ever seen. This section seems to attract every weed; sticker bushes, clover, thick grasses, dandelions, crazy things with prickles – we have them all between the house and fence towards the front. And really no where else. Is it the lighting? Is it the moisture there? Is it our Insane Neighbors?

Green beans are all finished, the last few hollow and tasteless. I pulled all those plants out and they are ready for the compost bin. The purple runner beans have also produced their last, but I’ll have to wait until fall to clean that out. The zucchini leaves now have powdery mildew, which can be eliminated with a spraying of – isn’t this crazy? – milk! That will also be a project for this weekend. Brussel sprouts are getting taller and we’re enjoying the green peppers at dinner and with scrambled eggs – and also just eaten like apples out of the garden.

And pop! There are bell flowers on the bump next to the pond again. They seem to have budded and bloomed overnight, as I hadn’t noticed the regrowth of buds. It is pleasing that they’ve bloomed again, a smaller and unexpected renewal of that elegance and beauty we enjoyed earlier.

A walk through the garden may yield things I expect, but I really love the surprises.

Yesterday, Tony called me outside to “deal with this.” “This” turned out to be a dead mourning dove, a plop of grey feathers right in the middle of the flagstone path. While Tony loves to sit outside and work the crossword puzzle to the backdrop of the garden and the spu-lunk of the pond and he’ll haul mulch, go to nurseries, dig holes and mow the lawn and he is always game to hike, walk or bike in the great outdoors, he has been known to destroy a pair of sunglasses because he thought it was a snake and dealing with dead things is completely out of his skill set.

So while Tony jumped inside and surfed the net to find out how to dispose of a dead bird, I eased the bird onto the shovel and gently placed him under the bell flower on the berm.

Although none of my skin came within 18″ of the bird, I came inside to wash my hands, much to Eliza’s pleasure (she was standing in the doorway throughout the procedure, parroting “now go wash your hands, wash your hands, you’ll need to wash your hands.” – like father, like daughter).

Tony then gave me full instructions on the disposal of a dead bird, which were rather like dealing with nuclear waste. Plastic gloves, plastic bags, more plastic bags, plastic garbage can.

I don’t think so.

We need to respect that circle of life, and as long as I can place this dead bird out of the way of my dogs and not worry about small children coming to touch it, I’m going to make sure he’s returned to the soil. I have no desire to have my remains sealed in plastic, then concrete and then buried to be preserved for decades and I don’t want that for this dove either.

Later in the evening, I was again surprised by his mate by the thistle seed feeder (say that 10 times quickly!). She took off into the air in that rush of whistling feathers, all alone and it seemed wrong. I hope she finds a new guy soon so she won’t be lonely.

The dead dove was gone by sunset. Not sure who sneaked in there and grabbed him, but isn’t it nice to know that his end was beneficial to someone?

Eliza says she wants her ashes spread in the gardens of the Art Institute of Chicago. I admire her creativity in this thinking, declared when she was about 6 years old.

Not-final-at-all resting place for the mourning dove

I really like the fact that someday, many many many decades from now, her great-great-grandchildren (She will live a very long, happy life, you see) will lay her to rest where she can do some good.

It was time for a radical haircut today, as the flowers are drooping, fading and drying out. It is a day to deadhead. You might think deadheading is just whacking everything off, but it’s not. At least, not always.

There are several plants that do get whacked; chives, yarrow and catmint are three that I take down to just a few inches above the ground. I gather the stems in a bouquet and then, using my Fiskars, I cut that bouquet clean off. The remaining stems spring back like a cowlick cut too short and set about regrowing. This is the second cut back for the chives and the first for the yarrow. The yarrow was a mess, falling all over the bed and grass like a drunkard. I’m not sure if the yarrow will come back and set flowers again. I do know that I’m going to try to cut that back before buds set next year, to keep it shorter and therefore have the stems remain upright and sober. Catmint grows like a weed, so I know that will always come back.

The coreopsis is a tricky one. Because it’s a mass of buds and dried blooms right next to each other, we have a choice to make. We can trim dead heads one by one with scissors, a very tedious, exacting and boring task. We can also just whack the dead heads off and hope we don’t snip too many buds in the process. The second method is the one I prefer. I whack, but carefully, only trimming off the last 2-3″ and thereby saving many buds, but losing a few in the process. This technique makes the plant come back a little bushier, a little healthier, a little more prolific.

Balloon flower must be done carefully. The buds and blooms appear up and down a long stem, very close to each other and in no real order. If you whack back, you’ll lose everything. Using scissors, or even a fingernail, each drying bloom has to be snipped individually. Fortunately, these are easy to snap off; all the blooms are in a row. What might be a tedious job is very simple and goes quickly. This must be done often, each morning as you stroll by and each evening as you unwind for the day.

And then there is coneflower. First, we must take a deep breath and come to terms with cutting back all this color and texture and glory. Coneflower really don’t look sad for a long time and their whole dying process is very intriguing to watch. When they are blooming, they reach their petals up to the sun, then out to the sides as the center rounds out. When they are dying back, those petals fold down to the ground and the cone forms, higher and higher bumps the middle of the flower – all the seed heads sticking up and out and prickly. The color just fades to a grey purple, then the petals drop and the cone remains, a treat for goldfinches and other birds.

This year, I was determined to do a cut back as the experts recommend – I never have before, I’ve always just enjoyed their cycle. And then I would pass gardens where the caretaker obviously did cut back, as they had fresh new color while my beds were fading into grey. With scissors in hand, I took each bloom in hand and scanned down along the stem until I saw where that new growth was valiantly making an effort. Sometimes, I took off just that one bloom but often, it was 5 or 6 blooms that were being pruned. Yes, it was difficult, but my anxiety was assuaged by the fact that of those 6 blooms, only one had any real color left. This new growth is not where leaf meets stem in any old place. There has to be a cluster of new leaves at the intersection, the faintest hint of a flower bud, and then we cut.

This whole process changes the garden significantly, for the course of several weeks if not for the remaining of the season. It is bittersweet, as I dread getting rid of the color and the majesty, but I know that when I cut back, it will give us another rush, more glorious, longer-lasting and well worth the sacrifice.

balloon flower before pinch back

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

July 23, 2010

Just as I received an email from the village warning me about the dangers of being outside today, I braved the heat and left the air conditioning.

My god is it hot. The goldfish swim languidly, the bees hover listlessly. It seems that it’s even too hot for the birds, as I don’t see any flying or perching. They must be too hot even to splash in the pond. The lilies shrink and shrivel and the stamens dangle, like an old woman who’s skin and bone. The garlic chive is budding, but without enthusiasm. The phlox is a burst of magenta among the grasses, like the well-watered impatiens.

It is hot. The cicadas buzz and click in the trees, adding to that feeling of intense heat, reminding me of hot summers, baking hot tents and hot bacon on the fire.

When I was young, my family was great campers. Almost every weekend until my brother started playing baseball, my dad would pack the trunk like Harry Houdini, my mom would pack a cooler with food all wrapped in tin foil, chopped, seasoned and ready to cook on the campfire, and Rich and I would climb over the sleeping bags wedged on the backseat floor and start aggravating each other. Rich liked to perch in that space between the two front bucket seats, and I liked to sprawl on the seat and put my feet up in the back window. (When we were bringing cacti back from our California (and the entire West) trip, that habit was unfortunate, as the cacti sat on that back window to bake in the sun. I can’t tell you how many times I accidently bumped into those spines and spikes and slivers – ow.) The cicadas ticked each morning and we would bake in the heat of the tent until could stand it no longer. That heat always compelled me to get up alot earlier than I might have liked. The smell of eggs frying and bacon grilling had something to do with that early rising too.  For me, the sound of the cicadas is the sound of White Pines, Cass Lake and many other places we pitched a tent in the summers. It is the sound of hot summers and heat, heat and heat.

It is hot. Before I am halfway around the house, while I’m still leaning over the veggie garden and twisting off (more) zucchini, I can feel the sweat along my back, my head and my arms. The watermelon that hangs through the wire looks more and more like Jacob Marley, the panty hose resembling that bandage around his jaw as the melon grows to the size of an adult’s head. There is another good size melon on the ground, but that one is not Dickensian. I am a great deal confused as to where all the other melons are. I will see them in droves, hairy little eggs, and then they are gone. I believe the birds are eating them, as it’s certainly not the rabbits. Another modification for next year – bird netting draped over the top. Can’t any of the Wild Kingdom appreciate that we need to eat too?

It is hot. There is one large yellow butterfly (maybe a Clouded Sulphur?) that flits away before I can make a photograph. The milkweed is a drying, dying tangled mess of petals. The coneflower are drooping, fading into grey. The scabiosa sits, the bee balm sags and the hydrangeas have given up for the season it seems. The sunflower follows the sun with its buds, soaking in the heat. The milkweed bugs dot the butterfly garden in singles today; no one is interested in copulation in this weather.

It is hot. From the look of the Doppler, it’s supposed to start raining tonight at 8 pm and continue right on through for over 24 hours. My aunt is coming for breakfast in the garden tomorrow, but we might have to eat the spinach quiche in the house and look out the window.

At least we won’t be hot.

Miss Havisham’s House

July 21, 2010

Spiderwebs everywhere – everywhere – EVERYWHERE. Webs like foam lay on the grass like fairy veils, dotting the lawn every few feet. Webs of string, long horizontal threads and little else, trace through the air from the garden chicken wire to the neighbor’s fence, from tree tops to the lawn, from the wall to the hose reel.

Charlotte webs, those perfect Halloween webs, spiral between spaces on the reel, between plants, between containers and plants, between the rope on the bridge. Veils lay on the brick edgers, flowing into the grass like water caught and transformed. Webs cluster under the bridge, webs spiral between the cattails, thread over the spitting turtle to the anathera on the other side, all perfectly placed to catch the flying or jumping insects that frequent the pond.

Webs on all the windowsills and around the doorjambs. Webs on garden tools untouched for just hours. Webs everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.

And the funny thing is that if you’re not looking for them, you wouldn’t really notice them (except for on those sills and jambs). They are soft and subtle and invisible throughout the day. For just moments at sunrise and again at sunset, they sparkle and twinkle, like silver threads. The spiders are big and hairy, small and elegant, red, black, white and brown. They have long legs, shorts legs and sometimes a combination of the two.

Sometimes the spiders themselves seem to be invisible, hidden in the webbed whirlpool of a hole. Often, they are front and center, hanging in the middle of a spiral, or crouched upon a thread. The webs can be pristine, newly spun, new construction in an older neighbor, or they can be oft-patched, holey and rehabbed way beyond the original structure.

Tonight I cleaned the pond filters to bring the gurgler back to gurgling, get enough of a surge to make the water fall and make the turtle spit instead of drool. I got a fistful of webs in unexpected places and a faceful of threads when I should have been more careful. Those 27 cent goldfish are huge now, and comfortable in their home, knowing they’re the ones who’ve made it past the crisis point, happy in their survival. They swam up to inspect my arms and hands as I looped algae into clumps to remove it from the water. They are courageous – or they know they can swim faster than I could grab, even if I was so inclined.

The grass is like hay, rough on your feet, with hardly a memory of the lush, cool green of just a few weeks ago. The weeds are rampant, happy and flourishing in these prairie conditions that grass is not cultivated to endure.

It is July, hot, scorching, baking and brutal. I hear rain is called for tonight. I sincerely hope we get it.

Hot Bug Sex

July 20, 2010

Hot, hot and hot. The weather is hot, the leaves wilt, the flowers droop, dry and drop.

For the diamond-blazed bugs on my milkweed, though, this is the perfect time for them to have a hot (ahem) time themselves. At first, I thought there was one bug, one of those mad evolutionary modifications where it looks like it’s coming and going so a bird won’t know which end to grab. It was long and orange and black, with shining diamonds, waving antenna and flailing legs. The acrobatics accomplished were death-defying. This thing crawled in perfect sync up the milkweed blooms, over leaves, completely joined, never faltering. “Wow,” I thought. “I’m going to have to look this one up!”

Then I noticed the poor lonely heart bug, all by itself on another plant. “WOW,” I thought, looking back on the still-joined and still-meandering couple, “Now that is really some impressive mating!” When I looked it up (after many unsuccessful searches for “orange and black beetle” and “diamond orange beetle” and “black diamond beetle”, I finally just typed in “orange and black bug” and ta da! Google came through) and discovered it was a milkweed bug, I also found that they can stay coupled like that for up to 10 hours. Since this is a family blog, I will let that pass uncommented upon. But it does make me grin.

The hibiscus are gorgeous, dramatic and elegant, like an Asian geisha, white and pink and delicate. The bushes are abloom, two in the back and one coming in front, and I no longer have (much) envy for the enormous red hibiscus on the corner in my neighborhood (Well, okay, I still do. That red one is magnificent).

In the Tribune’s gardening section this past Sunday, there was an article about a woman who cultivates a large and lush shade garden. And of course, she made the obligatory comment about how she clips the flower stalks of the hostas immediately, as they aren’t that pretty. I’m really tired of hearing this remark. Hosta flowers remind me of bicycle flags, something that is unexpected and useful. The pale lavender trumpets feed the bees and the butterflies and the symmetry is stunning. As a designer, I love balance and I love surprises. Hostas, when flowering, do both. You have this long, thin stem from out of nowhere that reaches up and up, with flowers that are elegant, at a direct conflict with the ground-hugging, heavier foliage. What a delight for the eyes and the senses! When those flowers die, you get a perfectly spaced ladder of dried stamens, like quick brush strokes on a canvas. Really? I’m supposed to admire that you get rid of this before you get a chance to experience it? Not so much.

More (and more and more and more and…) zucchini! Roma tomatoes blooming, swelling and growing in multitudes. I trimmed back the watermelon, about 14 feet of vine and dozens of blossoms. I’m hoping this means all the energy will be concentrated into the vines and melons I left. The hanging watermelon is starting to bow the chicken wire and the panty hose swing needed to be adjusted. I hope that whole panel doesn’t crack from the weight. The purple runner beans (still such a let down every day when I cook a batch) are putting all their energy into the beans; the leaves and stems are drying and browning. The brussel sprouts get taller, the green peppers bigger and bigger. The upside down tomato continues to disappoint. The view of my porch was terrifically marred and for one stinking tomato.

Deadheading has become a frequent job, as the gaillardia stems are forked and each fork has the potential for two more flowers – but they are not always seen budding there. I must be careful with my pruners. The coneflower is also sensitive; I don’t want to cut off buds. The balloon flower could be (and often is) deadheaded twice a day, but those are simple to snap off with my fingers. While deadheading in the front, the pampas grass was rustling, sounding very much like a rattlesnake.

Hmmmmm….. it’s been a few hours. Wonder if those milkweed bugs are still going at it?

Lazy Grasshopper Days

July 18, 2010

A long weekend with many family events precluded any real time spent in the garden, but there were a few things of interest…

Saturday, I got up to a dramatically changed backyard as our neighbors had pulled down their whole fence before 8 am. Because the dogs chains are long enough to go into their yard sans fence, I put on my pink cotton muumuu and headed outside to make sure Griffey didn’t take a chunk out of somebody’s calf.

My pink cotton muumuu started as a joke. When we were in Florida, I used my mom’s because I had forgotten a robe. Well, I loved it. Big and airy and all covered up, zippered so it wasn’t gaping open all the time. It was a laugh in Florida and then when my parents came home, my mom headed to Wal-Mart (shudder) and bought me one. Eliza laughed and laughed and then was very afraid because I was really glad to have it. I use it in the morning and to curl up at night and watch movies. It is still a joke, but a very useful one.

My neighbor and I talked across the yard about the fence, about our kids, about their growth and her impending empty nest as her youngest just graduated from high school and will attend school out of state. They lost a son two years ago and she said she feels that now, they have reached the new normal for their family. Sometimes, talking to people who’ve lost children, I feel obscene – and so fortunate. The Black Hole could easily have swallowed Dominic entirely and while the fight was long, ugly, slow and painful, he was pulled back from the abyss. He now survives, more and more whole each day. While our family has been damaged in many ways, we will be able to heal, and we are always able to hold him, laugh with him and watch him grow. Through all the horror, we are blessed.

A new fence would go up by the end of day Saturday, although we were not around to watch its progress. Saturday night, I walked out onto the patio to see how nice and tidy, new and clean, it would look. Both my eyes with the fence and my nose with the fragrance were delighted. The scent of all the flowers, especially the lilies and the gaillardia, hung heavy in the hot, wet, still air. The fence is still the stockade type (sigh) but now it is straight, undamaged and attractive.

Today, I noticed the monarch butterflies have begun feeding from the milkweed and the liatris. They seem to float on the breeze, seemingly rudderless.  Then they surprise you with a sharp turn or a quick dive, apparently in complete control all along. Friday, I bought windchimes at the grocery store, noticing them while looking for bug spray. A pink one with butterflies and ribbons (which really captures the mood and feeling of a butterfly) and a blue one with steel birds now hang on each side of the ridiculous, waste-of-time tomato planter.

This evening, I noticed that the heat had wilted many things but I was in a very lazy mood, probably brought on by that heat.I attached the house hose to the garden soaker hose and turned it on, watering the veggie garden and perking everyone up. I put my sprinkler attachment on the hose in the back garden and doused the impatiens, the lilies and the hibiscus.

A big brown grasshopper leapt out of the impatiens and came to rest on the sedum as I watered. Droplets trickled from his antenna and his legs; he was much annoyed.

As a child, in late July, the south side of our house would be covered, just covered in grasshoppers. Every day, every year. My brother Rich, neighbor Dawn and I used to sit there with huge glass jars that smelt of salt and vinegar we’d salvage from Grandma’s basement. (Dawn was a guilty secret from the nuns, as she didn’t attend Catholic school, but we so liked to play with her -same age as me and right next door! Such temptation! We had no choice but to be led right into it.) We’d fill those jars with twigs and grass and punch holes in the lids with a nail, always hoping to shape the opportune size of opening; just enough for air, but small enough so the grasshoppers (and later in the evening, the lightning bugs) couldn’t escape.

Then we’d wait until the bricks were bathed in sun, hot and dry. That’s when the grasshoppers would come, to bask in the heat. They were so easy to catch then. Drugged with sunshine, they moved slowly if at all as we cupped hands around them and dropped them into the jars. The goal was always to find and catch the biggest one. We’d wrinkle our noses about the “tobacco juice”, brown and sticky and next to impossible to wash from our fingers. Every morning, no matter how small we’d made the holes, the bugs were gone.

As to the stockade type of fence, I am undecided. On the one hand, they are unfriendly and confining, sealing you into your yard and away from your neighbors. On the other hand, they give you privacy and allow you to run around in that pink muumuu without repercussion.

Now that I think about it, Grandma and Grandpa always seemed to have a vast supply of huge glass jars on hand. They must have eaten alot of pickles.

Deceitful Vegetables

July 14, 2010

This morning, I watched a robin splash in the pond and then perch on the fence to groom herself. It was like watching Eliza get ready for the day.

The robin sat down ruffled, fluffed, feathers all askew – a real mess. Then she dried herself off by moving her wings and tail in a way that’s almost impossible to describe. It certainly wasn’t flapping. It was more like a vibration, but not really. Kind of like twitching, but much faster and more vigorous. Flutter is too gentle, because it was really a powerful movement. I think agitate comes close; quiver is much too timid.

I digress!

After she was dry, she preened and smoothed her feathers and arranged her wings and stroked that red breast until she was pretty as a picture. And then, much to my surprise, she dove right back into the pond.

Yesterday, the stargazer lilies that we purchased at the Chicago Flower show burst into bloom. They are deep pink, a lipstick kind of color, and have the strangest little splinters of pink growing from the sepals. The stamens dangle like earrings and bob and dance. Tony looked at them and said “We did good.” They are stunning; bright, majestic and real show pieces in the garden. They face my office window, so I am enjoying them all day.

The hibiscus is blooming too. Big dinner-plate size flowers, almost white but with a blush, a hint, a touch of the palest pink. They are thin like tissue paper and flap in the breeze. The dianthus I transplanted is still not happy in its new spot, but it didn’t like the old spot either. The new ones in front aren’t blooming either – I think this is a “wait until next year” situation.

The lily of the valley are setting big fat seeds, green and round and earthy. I found a spider’s web between hosta stalks and saw her path of destruction – a line of sedated and webbed insects that she’ll eat at her leisure. I thought of Bilbo Baggins and his friends all bobbing in a line, captured by the giant Spider. We need a Sting here – or do we? Isn’t she entitled to eat too? And if those are all mosquitos in her web, I’m good with that.

The liatris gets more mop-headed by the day and the coneflowers just keep blooming. The grasses cannot be appreciated or understood in photographs. The pampas grass is sharp and seems to fountain out of the ground. It rustles and whispers and rattles – covered with tiny sharp hairs. It is an experience of sight and sound and touch – it cannot be captured in a photograph.

But I tried anyway.

There was a Red Admiral butterfly in the garden that I believe was auditioning for a modeling career. For 26 photographs, it stayed on the same small group of flowers, gently opening and closing its wings, turning to different angles, seeming to pose for me in all different positions. When I finally reached saturation point and moved on to the milkweed, it actually followed me, like it was still eager to be photographed. Either that or my hair smelled good.

If you stand under the arbor now, you can smell honey.

The monardia (bee balm) continues to bloom, making the transplanting transition successfully. The phlox has lost its mojo. The watermelon grows and more form along the vine every day now – I can see them and notice them. Dominic finally noticed the panty hose and was confused.

The purple runner beans are ready for harvest, so we had a batch last night. I was really geeked about them, as I picked the biggest and nicest purple beans and put them in a pot with regular green beans, thinking of how pretty that mix of greenn and purple would look on our dinner plates. Put water in the pot, put the lid on and lit the stove. Minutes later, when I drained them into a colander, I was so so so disappointed. All the purple had simmered out of the beans, leaving them just as green as the regular beans. And I’m finding there is no way to mitigate this unless we eat them raw.

I am so disappointed. I feel betrayed by these beans, all the anticipation for naught, all the careful watching useless. Those beans lied to me.

Gout and Enchiladas

July 11, 2010

Thunder, lightning and crashing outside now. The garden really needs it, especially the hostas that were transplanted yesterday. It is pouring over the gutters in sheets and at the corners like a firehose. Tony is disappointed that we are not catching all of it in rainbarrels. I think that, if I let him, he would dig up the whole yard to install one of those giant cisterns and put a pump at the kitchen sink so I could wash dishes that way. He’s such a Greenpeacer – and he washes the dishes most of the time anyway.

The sun was bright and hot this morning, though. The butterflies fluttered, the bees buzzed and a squirrel tried to rob Invisible Neighbor’s spanking new feeder. It has a squirrel baffle, so down he slid and  thumped onto the ground. He then tried to act like he planned those acrobatics all along. I watched him get his dignity back while I walked to the edible garden. The watermelon vines are now forming melons and melons and melons. I am just about giving up on the idea of spinach planting this weekend. There is just no room.

The path looks crisp and clean now, but needs a bag of sand dumped between the stones. The stargazer lilies are just about ready to bloom – should be mid-week. I thought I bought red, but they are looking like pink now. We’ll see when they open. I think those mystery plants in the front are sunflowers. I hope they are as they will be so dramatic there when they grow and bloom.

The compost bin is definitely well-sited now. Easy trip from the back door and the patio is uncluttered and clean. We need some chairs there behind the kitchen windows. American Sales had some great purple adirondacks for sale, but when I pulled one off the stack and sat it in, it was dreadfully uncomfortable. I slouched, I sat straight, I half- slouched and I practically laid down. They are at an awkward slope for any kind of conversation. I think they’d be good for sunbathing, but at This Home Of SPF 80, we don’t do such things. So I am still chairless.

Neither Here Nor There bed needs help. Lots of it. That is definitely a project for the fall. I’ll sit on the lawn and stare at it for about an hour, sketch some plans on graph paper and then start uprooting and replanting. I’ll cover it all with a thick blanket of mulch, so it will be ready for next spring. I have coneflowers from the front beds that I can add and lamb’s ear to eliminate. There are a few very sorry evergreens that can come out, and some that have taken off like a rocket that will stay and be made into focal points by judicious plant spacing.

I’ve decided that the upside down tomato plant is a complete joke and will not be repeating this experiment next year. Eliza and I tried to go to World Market yesterday to buy windchimes or mobiles to hang from the porch and found it had closed. What a disappointment! Where am I now supposed to buy cheap decorations made in third world countries by underpaid labor? The closest one is now in Naperville and frankly, the gas expended driving there would probably equal the cost of such goods at Pier One.

My friend Lori was in this week to settle her parent’s house for their move and we went to dinner (El Cortez of course. Lori tells me whenever she dreams about me, Mexican food is always involved – isn’t that funny?) and then back to sit on my patio, eat blueberry truffle pie and enjoy the beautiful weather. It was warm, crisp and bug-free. We sat there chatting, catching up, worrying, sharing and rejoicing until it began to rain, and then continued in our library. We had a lot to chat about as Lori lives in Florida now and it hurts my soul. We have been friends since we were high school freshmen and she is as close to me as a sister. On the surface, we are not alike. Inside, we are simpatico, respectful of our differences and delighted in our similarities. When people ask how we’ve been friends for so long, I tell them this story:

Tony was suffering from this horrible pain and swelling in his feet – for days and days and it wouldn’t go away with any pain relievers. He could hardly walk. After days of suffering, he went to the clinic and the doctor diagnosed him with gout. I could not stop laughing. All the way home, I laughed. The whole time we did the research on the internet, I laughed. Putting ice on his poor feet and filling his prescription, I laughed and laughed. I was, of course, sorry that he was in such pain and very happy when he started feeling better so quickly. Whenever he told anyone about his gout, they put on a sympathetic face and creased their brows and said, “oh, that’s horrible! I’ve heard it’s so painful” while I continued to laugh. Not one person could understand why I couldn’t stop laughing.

So I went out for pie with Lori and told her Tony had gout. She burst out laughing and said, “Who is he? Henry the Eighth?” She got it. She gets me.

I hope you are lucky enough to have a friend like that. Someone who understands you heart and soul, someone who sees what you see, someone who loves you completely with your warts and all.

And I hope that friend never moves to Florida.