Category Archives: Sustain

August, All of a Sudden

Just like that, July is winding down. And whoa, here comes August—the big month on the Vineyard. It’s exciting and a little scary all at the same time. Celebrity sightings. (Bill Murray! Ted Danson! Meg Ryan!) Fireworks. The Fair. And a whole lot of traffic. Business is heating up at the farm stand, but we also get a lot of “drive-thrus” who barely brake to see if we have any tomatoes before they move on to the next farm stand.

100,000 people come to the Vineyard in August. (That’s 80,000 more than live here year-round). There is every possible kind of event and activity to go to if you’re on vacation and have that lovely thing called leisure time: Shakespeare, concerts, film screenings, regattas, farmers’ markets, poetry readings, book signings, auctions, art shows, community sings, bonfires, yoga on the beach, flea markets, antique shows, wood-fired pizza night, wild-life walks, sea glass hunting, fishing, surfing, swimming, you name it. Even Roy and I took off our farm boots and gussied up for an art opening down at the Old Sculpin Gallery in Edgartown last Sunday. My friend Katie Hutchison’s evocative photographs were on show, and this year I treated myself to buying one for my office. And today, I put the high heels on again—this time to sign books down at Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven as part of Tisbury’s Celebrate the Arts festival.

Back at the farm, it’s a strange time. Anticipating the August crowds and the ripening tomatoes is a little nerve-wracking—will the two come together to make the farm stand profitable this year? It’s hard not to think of August as an all-or-nothing-proposition, but in reality, we are still thinking ahead to September and October and planting more crops. September is a good month for the farm stand, and last year we stayed open all the way through November. So yesterday Roy planted two more rows of potatoes, and I tracked down my cranberry shell beans to plant for a fall harvest. With any luck, we’ll get another bed of carrots sowed soon, too. And before you know it, those 50 baby chickens (now nearly pullet-sized, growing their combs) will be laying eggs. This fall, we’ll finally have all those eggs everyone is always asking for.

In the kitchen, I’m taking advantage of the first sweet corn from Morning Glory Farm and making lots of corn sautés with our lovely skinny green and yellow beans added in. We made Backyard Berry Ice Cream this week, and we made three kinds of pesto with our lush basil. We made a batch of deviled eggs with some of the pesto, and we brown-braised our Red Gold potatoes with garlic, a couple garden Serranos, and a few leaves of chard wilted in at the end. And I am just like everyone else on this island—chomping at the bit for a juicy ripe red tomato. There’s one I’ve got my eye on in the garden. It might be ready tomorrow or the next day. But I think it’s taking its own sweet time just so it can show up on August 1.

Ants-in-My-Pants Excitement

Roy got me the best birthday present any one could. He invited my best friend to come visit and help us celebrate. Eliza and her husband Chip arrived yesterday, hopping with their bikes on to the freight boat at the last minute after driving down from Maine. It’s almost embarrassing how excited I get about seeing Eliza, but honestly I hope I never lose that stomach-fluttering kid-like glee. (We’ve been friends since we were babies.)

This morning, I was thinking about this squirmy ants-in-my-pants excitement I get about special things. (It drove my Mom crazy when I was a kid—I never sat still!) I happened to be looking back at pictures from the farm this week—the beautiful yellow beans we’re growing for the first time and our very first strawberries and blueberries. These things just knock my socks off! How lucky I am to be surrounded by beauty and friends this weekend. So what if my heart sometimes skips a beat? It’s a small price to pay.

A Radio Tour and One Very Special Garden

This week I started my “radio tour” to promote The Fresh & Green Table. I do this from home, which is very cool because I do not need to dress up, put on makeup, cook tasting samples, or make ferry reservations.

In fact, except for the 15 to 20 minutes I’m on air (and the fact that I have to pay very careful attention to the special Google radio calendar the PR folks have set up for me so that I don’t miss a time switch), I can still forge ahead with all the projects I’ve got swirling around at home.

The biggest challenge so far is getting Farmer not to bark (usually when a farm stand customer comes down the driveway) or play with his squeaky toy while I’m recording. I have to sit in the living room with the land line and the book in my lap (no multi-tasking for those few minutes), but Farmer doesn’t quite understand that I haven’t plunked down on the couch to play with him. Most of the spots so far are in the morning so I try hard to not only get the harvesting and farm stand set-up done before hand, but to also get Farmer’s special field walk in, too.

Still, radio is fun—especially if the hosts are engaging—and I enjoy it. But we’ll see how I feel after a few weeks since I’m supposedly on the hook for 15 to 20 hours of this, which my friend Katie kindly pointed out adds up to between 60 and 80 radio spots! Yikes. I’ll post a partial schedule of spots on the home page here, as I will be on all over the country.

We are still madly trying to keep up with things in the garden—especially the tomato staking, turning beds over for second season crops, watering (rain is nonexistent), weeding, and pest warfare. But every time I let myself go out there (it’s so hard to concentrate on all my desk work and recipe deadlines when the garden is calling), I feel like I’m entering the Magic Kingdom. I continue to be fascinated and amazed by little seeds germinating, blossoms turning to fruit, berries ripening; how it all happens when you’re not looking is the essence of the magic show.

To that end, the very best thing I did all week was to help Libby plant her garden. At long last, we finally got every other bed and path laid out, shaped, planted, mulched, irrigated, etc. so that we could concentrate on her little plot. Since the new part of the garden tumbles down a gentle slope, we laid out the beds running across the slope, but with a big center path cutting through them down to the lower gate. We worked down one side of the slope, making beds as we went, and then came back up the other, which left us with the last bed actually right back at the center of the garden—where the hoses, the buckets, the tools, and our feet usually meet. There Libby’s garden came to rest. I am so glad of this, as originally it was planned for the bottom of the garden—a place that seems very far away now. I love the idea that her space is right in the thick of things, and that amidst all these business-like rows of market vegetables lies a comely patch of flowers and seedlings with a lovely little brick path right up the middle of it.

Libby laid the bricks and chose her garden stars from a stash of tomatoes I saved, from a trip to the nursery to look at flowers, and from some of the existing rows of veggies. From the beginning she’s had her eye on the Bright Lights Swiss Chard—especially the pink stalks–and in fact has been nursing a “sick” chard  in a small “plant hospital” she created several weeks ago. Despite the heat, we successfully transplanted that chard and another, as well as some cosmos for her flower row. She also picked out a pale pink primrose and a stunning candy-striped geranium at the nursery. We sowed carrot seeds (her favorites), several kinds of lettuce, and a few Ring of Fire sunflowers from a seed packet Dad picked up. She chose a Sun Gold and a Juliet plum tomato to plant (she’s hoping to bring her mom plum tomatoes later in the summer), and best of all, at the nursery we found one of those charming Alpine strawberry plants with the teeny tiny strawberries dangling off it. We gave that a place of honor right between the carrots and lettuce. The two chards flank the entrance, which is marked by a very cool glass-embedded cement stepping stone that she and I made from a kit her grandmother Peg (Roy’s mom) thoughtfully gave her last Christmas.

I wasn’t sure at first how excited Libby was going to be about having her own garden. She is, first and foremost, an animal and living-creature lover. (Dad got her a butterfly net last week and she trailed around with this all over the place.) I thought to myself that maybe I was just trying to hand the keys to the Magic Kingdom over to her for selfish reasons. But I watched her enthusiasm build as she realized the garden really and truly was all hers. I watched her run to the truck when Dad pulled into the driveway and drag him out to see the garden. I listened to her ask if we could go out and finish planting the second day. And I listened to her (a girl who holds her emotions close) say, “This is so awesome.” More than once.

While we were planting and chatting, she told me, out of the blue, that she plans to be the first woman president of the United States. But first she is going to be a veterinarian, she said. I had to smile, because only that morning I’d been giving her a little spiel (while we were playing Gardenopoly and she was raking in the money, as usual) about her future, how she should be sure and look after herself, develop special skills and a good career, work hard and save her money, etc. etc. I know, I know, she’s only nine.

But tomorrow she turns 10. And four days later I turn 50. And from where I sit, I see a very smart little girl with an entire world of possibilities and opportunities ahead of her. And while I know that I have Grace and luck to thank for many things, I’ve also pursued what I love with a passion and never shut the door on learning. I’ve had amazing teachers along the way who’ve taught me the thrill of planting the seed and watching it grow—no matter what kind of “garden.” It’s an honor to get to pass that thrill on.

Don’t Miss the Magic

Blink and you miss the magic that happens this time of year in the garden. Me, I actually have to remind myself to look up and all around me, as I tend to focus hard on one thing at a time (a trait—along with nearsightedness—that I inherited from my father). I can be concentrating so intently on picking peas that I don’t notice the ruby red nasturtium blossoms that have flung themselves out from a dark cool hidden place among the pea vines and are spilling across my feet. Without my glasses on, the world can be a blurry place, too.

But I don’t want to miss anything. The other day I happened to have the camera in hand when a butterfly landed on our new coneflower, blooming in a smoldery pink and orange hue that reminds me of a Peter Max sunset poster. It’s lovely to capture this in a photo, but even the camera can be a hindrance to just experiencing a warm early summer day.

I am trying to find more time in the day to simply take it all in, so I got up extra early this morning, just after the sunrise. Nothing’s more beautiful than the garden in the fuzzy morning light when all the plants are shiny and taut. It’s the best time to harvest leafy things for the farm stand, too, while they still have water in their stems and before the heat of the day comes on. Tiptoeing around this morning with Roy, who’s always an early riser, we made all kinds of discoveries: four big cucumbers, fully ripe, which we had completely missed, lying on the hay mulch beneath their blowsy leaves; potently fragrant fresh basil absolutely ready for harvesting under the Remay; little green tomatoes everywhere; a frog living in one of the bean beds; the first ripe black raspberries down near the old barn foundation; a new swath of wild pink roses in bloom by the chicken coop; wren babies in the barn; our own first ripe blueberry. Much later on, I took patient Farmer for a long walk and we saw tiny pink blossoms on new raspberry canes and sampled our first ripe wild blueberries. Farmer played his favorite game of hide and seek with the  bunnies, and on the way back we stopped to say hello to the chicks, who rushed to the fence to greet us.

The rest of the day—the parts in between—were more focused and less serene. I think I’ll get up early again tomorrow.

Whistle While You Work

My favorite episode of I Love Lucy is the one where she and Ethel go to work in a chocolate factory and are assigned to wrap chocolates that pass by on a conveyor belt. The belt speeds up and they can’t keep up so they start stuffing candies in their mouths to hide them. Life on the farm is a little bit like that right now. The days speed by, and it’s impossible to keep up. You know what you’re supposed to do, what the next thing on the (mega) chore list is, but just when you decide to go plant that row of beans, a crow flies into the barn and gets stuck in a window, the dog throws up something he’s found behind the barn, three customers come down the driveway looking for eggs (and you’re all out), and Sugar the Aracauna chicken has escaped from the chicken yard again and is digging a dust bath in the perennials. And drat, you realize you forgot to check on the babies (the baby chicks), who are really teenagers now and eat and drink like crazy.

You must look pretty silly, you realize, with a hen tucked under one arm, a jug of water under the other, trying to shake a stick at a crow, and check the inside of the dog’s mouth all at the same time.

You finally decide to go inside and get some work done (work as in recipe-testing, writing, that sort of thing), but pass by the garden on your way in and realize every single bed needs watering, the cover has blown off the arugula, and you haven’t dealt with those earwigs that are eating the bok choy or the weeds taking over the chard bed. There are two hundred tomato plants, half of them knocked over by the wind, staring at you, saying, “plant me, plant me.” You check the farm stand and it is out of lettuce, so you have to decide whether to harvest more or to go out to the road and erase “lettuce” from the sign. There are eight flats of peppers and eggplant seedlings on the work table waiting to get transplanted into bigger pots and a flat of basil begging to go in the ground.

Back inside, you recalibrate and set a very simple goal—a recipe test using three ingredients—rhubarb jam. Whew, you manage to accomplish that, but then complicate your life by trying to pull off a grilled chicken recipe test for dinner. You go collect the last of the day’s eggs, trek to the compost pile, put Sugar back in the pen again, and go inside and start chopping ginger and garlic just as Roy pulls in.

Discussion ensues: Do we work or eat? It’s a toss-up…we thought maybe we’d finish digging the beds for the tomatoes tonight, but Roy also wants to get some work done on the babies’ big-girl coop, which has risen to the top of the priority list. He needs to move some brush, too, so as the sun slowly sinks, he moves from tractor to mower to tiller to shovel. From yard to garden to bed. I finish watering, organize the tomatoes, move bags of cow manure into the garden.

It’s time to lock up the ladies (the hens) for the night, set the rat traps (yes, rats), cover the brooder box, shut the garden gate. Move all the flats of peppers and eggplants back inside. Turn off the hoses. Cover the hay with a tarp. Rake. Pick up odd bits of trash. Watch the bunnies come out to feed. Shut down the farm stand, bring in the sign, record the day’s sales. Plan tomorrow morning’s harvest. Where did the day go? In only a few hours, the alarm will be going off, and we’ll be doing it all over again: Harvest, wash, water, weed, dig, till, plant, mow, tie, clip, cut, cook, grill, nail, sand, haul, stake, scoop, pin, rake, level, sweat, smile, laugh.

A Poem and Blueberry Blossoms for a Rainy Day

Looking Out

 

Rain today is grace
out my window,
here inside
a pool of warm soft
prayer for a day
gained like the gift
of a blue hen’s egg
in the barn’s new hay;
a simple wool sweater
cocoon of words and
songs and coffee all
morning and into
afternoon’s breaking
clouds, pushed on
by a front insistent
on sunshine for the
sweet, long-shadow
close of day.
–      SM, April 29


Rifling through a drawer this week I found a poem I’d written in April—April of 2008, not long after coming to the Vineyard. But it felt familiar and comforting and perfect for this April (well, May now) and this rainy week. So I share it with you. And I’m sharing this beautiful picture of blueberry blossoms in our garden, because they fill me with hope and excitement. And because once again I don’t have a new veggie recipe I can offer you this week. Ironically, it’s not for not cooking. It’s just that I’m beholden not to publish the recipes.

I feel blessed with all the good work I have on my plate right now—writing, cooking, creating—but like Shylock’s pound of flesh, it’s all spoken for. I can’t share recipes or writing with you that’s bound for publication somewhere else down the road. I bet a lot of cookbook author-bloggers have this dilemma—you can be developing new recipes all day and not be able to share even a small bite with your blog readers. So it goes.

Since I have blueberries on the mind (not only am I excited about having our own bushes this year, but I’ve been cooking with blueberries this week, too. Yes, out of season—another quirk of the recipe development life), I’ll share a simple and delicious recipe for a crisp over on the Edible Vineyard site, just in case you can’t wait for summer.

And for those of you wondering how the baby chicks are doing, I share these pictures of Bambi, Libby, and Farmer. Bambi is chick no. 49 and has been living inside the house in a box on my desk under a lamp since the day after the chicks arrived (she was tiny and hadn’t figured out the food-and-water routine). I’m afraid chick no. 50 died rather suddenly last Saturday afternoon. We had high hopes for her since we’d managed to bring Bambi back from the brink with plenty of water and food, but this little gal was already on her way out when we took her out of the brooder. Libby was here and we shared that sad and inevitable aspect of farm life together. Fortunately, the other 48 are zipping around the brooder, growing their wing feathers already and eating and drinking (and napping) like crazy.

Meanwhile, we are using this time with Bambi (short for bambino) to teach Farmer about chickens—a couple times a day we take Bambi out to hold her and let Farmer sniff her. He gives her a kiss (a big slurping lick, which, yes, could be interpreted many different ways) and then moves along. Bambi seems nonplussed and hasn’t tried her beak out on him yet.

There’s all kinds of other stuff happening on the farmette; for instance, we now have a tractor. And it was free. I am not kidding—free (and it works). But that’s a whole ‘nother story. With the work Roy’s already done with it—and the 60 animals—it just seems like we blinked and the farmette grew up and became a real farm overnight. It must be meant to be, I guess. For now it’s back to desk work for me on this grey day, and may we all wake up tomorrow to sunshine and blueberry blossoms and little “cheep cheep” noises coming from a cardboard box.

While the Cat’s Away

Under cover of darkness, we stole off the Island last Sunday and whisked Libby away to Florida for five days. It felt very sneaky, leaving the farmette and our jobs this busy time of year. And risky, too, what with hundreds of new seedlings in the garden and many still under lights inside. Not to mention live animals who, unlike plants, need fresh food and water every day, not just occasionally. But I shouldn’t have worried; many good friends stepped in to care for chickens, bunny, lovebird, seedlings, and dog. Despite the heat wave while we were gone, the garden is thriving (see the radicchio and bok choy pics below) and the hens are happy. So is our resident mouse (or mice), who chewed his way through insulation again to come have a party inside while we were gone. Fortunately, he (or them) mostly feasted on bird food.

Considering our Florida adventure, a mouse party was hardly much of a price to pay. Between an airboat ride in the Florida Everglades, holding a baby alligator, petting a sting ray, visiting dolphins, catching baby lizards outside Roy’s parents house, collecting sea shells, and spotting at least two dozen different kinds of birds, Libby got a National Geographic wildlife week—and a visit with her grandparents—to remember for a lifetime. We didn’t come home with a pet pelican, but I’m still not convinced there wasn’t a lizard in Libby’s suitcase.

Of Sky Miles and Staying Grounded: Edible Travels with Susie

Last Wednesday, I got on a plane to California kicking and screaming. Or I should say, I got in the car to drive to the ferry to get to the mainland to drive to Boston to get on the first of three airplanes to Santa Barbara. This is how it is with me these days: I hate to travel. I’ve always been a homebody, but I’ve never loved a “home” (and all that goes with it) quite as much as I do now. I just hate to leave the Island.

But flying back on Sunday, as I began to write this blog somewhere over Nebraska, I had to smile at myself: getting out every once in a while is good for me! (Except for the part about nearly missing my first plane on Sunday due to, uh, my ignorance of Daylight Savings Time. That nearly did me in.)

I have no right to complain, as I was invited to attend the annual Edible magazine publishers conference and the Edible Institute that followed after it. There are now 72 Edible magazines, including, of course, our own very fabulous Edible Vineyard, as well as our neighbors Edible Cape Cod, Edible Boston, and Edible Rhody.

The absolute coolest thing about these magazines is, in fact, that they’re local. No national magazine can connect you to the local food movement in your own backyard like these guys can. But there’s also a collective inspiration in the group as a whole. When you sit down to read a stack of these magazines (as I did in preparation for my trip), you see that everywhere across the country from Portland to Orlando, local heroes—fishermen, school lunch cooks, cheese makers, beer brewers, market organizers—are tackling the crazy problems in our food system one town, one day, one meal at a time.

In Santa Barbara, I got to meet and listen to some of these local heroes, as well as some national heroes, too. I had a quirky, peripheral duty at the conference: I was there to coach Edible publishers about magazine editing—that particularly funny skill I honed for many years and am now able to pass along from time to time. (It’s a change of pace from cooking and farmette-ing for sure!) But after teaching my classes on Thursday and Friday, I got to hang around on Saturday for the first day of the Edible Institute, a gathering of sustainable food folks put together by Tracey Ryder, co-founder of Edible Communities, and Bruce Cole, publisher of Edible San Francisco.

Listening to the speakers, I was alternately charmed and horrified. Charmed by the likes of Anna Larsen, an outgoing San Francisco entrepreneur (and part-time opera singer) who’s created a seafood CSA (Or CSF)—a way to link consumers directly with their fishermen. Larsen buys fish and shellfish that’s no more than 48 hours out of the water directly from the fishermen, then has it skinned and filleted, and gets it to her weekly subscribers the very next day. Larsen’s “Siren SeaSA” has a long waiting list, despite the fact that customers don’t always know what they’re getting until the last minute and they might get something—like whole squid or sardines—that they’ve never eaten before. It’s an exciting idea that I imagine we’ll see growing around the country.

The horrifying part came when book author Jonathan Bloom took the stage. I heard about Bloom’s book, American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It), when it first came out a couple years ago. But for some reason the stark reality of this problem did not sink in until I heard him say in person, “Every day in this country we waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl.” Unbelievable. The food waste starts with growers who discard unmarketable food and it continues on down the line to supermarkets, restaurants, and home fridges. When asked what the most tangible, productive step in the right direction might be, Bloom indicated that European countries are successfully banning organic waste at landfill, and that this could be something we could embrace. (Short, of course, I was thinking, of changing our cultural mindset overnight). In other words, if a truck could not go straight to the landfill with the less-than-perfect tomatoes, the trucking company might start figuring out how to get the tomatoes to a food bank (at best) or a compost area (at least).

There were other moments that completely stopped me—listening to journalist Tracie McMillan talk about working in the garlic fields (in 100-plus-degree heat for $2 an hour) for her undercover work for her new book, The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table was certainly one; watching a clip of Roberto Romano’s film The Harvest/La Cosecha, about child farm laborers in America, was another.

But there were plenty of hopeful moments, too, and I have to leave you with my most favorite. Watch this episode of The Perennial Plate, and you’ll see the work of a young chef and a young filmmaker who have driven around the country making a weekly documentary about real food, about cooking, about life. (This episode, “God’s Country,” stole my heart, but there are plenty more to watch online.) Both Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine are lovely and down-to-earth in person. They said they might be visiting the Vineyard some time soon—great news!

Now if I hadn’t gotten on that plane for Santa Barbara, I would have missed a lot. Sometimes my plate seems full enough, but then I realize I’m the kind of person who’s never been shy about second helpings. And I have to remind myself that if you’re someone who cares a lot about how the world eats, every once in a while you’ve got to sit down at the table with strangers.

Could You Have Nest-Box-Checking Disorder?

Anyone who works at home should have a chicken coop. Forget rummaging through the refrigerator, surfing Facebook, or even sneaking a spell on the couch to flip through catalogues (I never do that)—checking the hens’ nesting boxes for eggs is the best procrastinating maneuver ever. I should know. I’ve been getting up from the computer about 12 times a day to go outside and look for eggs. I guess I have Nest-Box-Checking Disorder, because I can’t help myself. Finding an egg in the hay—especially when it is still warm and I can hold it in my cold hands like a little hot water bottle—is like Christmas morning, over and over again. (Much better than Groundhog Day.)

During the darkest days of winter, we were only getting a couple of eggs a day. Now that the days are growing longer (we’ll have a whopping10 full hours of daylight on Feb. 11), the ladies are laying more. (Some gals were molting, too, so they were redirecting their energies towards changing their feathers rather than laying.) Sometimes when I go to check, there are three or four eggs lying together—almost always in the same box, as these girls have a strange preference for crowding. We keep a special bowl in the mudroom for collecting the day’s eggs, so that anyone can add to it. (Roy often checks the boxes first-thing when he comes home from work, as he has Nest-Box-Checking Disorder, too. The hardest thing to do for both of us is to refrain from checking when Libby is here, because, after all, it’s not a very nice thing for an adult to usurp this especially kid-friendly activity.) At the end of the day, we count up the eggs, ooh and ah over the different shapes and colors and speckles, and refrigerate them.

Even if there aren’t any eggs in the boxes, I still get a kick out of visiting with the ladies. They make all kinds of clucking noises and rush from their outer pen to greet me, as they know I often have lettuce or hamburger buns or leftover roasted vegetables for them. It’s a good life these gals lead; we just got them a special heated chicken-waterer so their water isn’t frozen over in the morning. (Actually, the present was more for us, as walking back to the house to change the water every morning is a pain.)

While I love checking on the ladies, I have elevated the art of procrastination to include all of the animals on the farmette. Cocoa Bunny literally runs circles around her cage if you bring her a green treat (like these Brussels sprouts), and Farmer is up for a good walk about a zillion times a day. Most mornings, and usually almost every evening around dusk, Farmer and I track the wild bunnies, which thrive here in a Watership Down kind of way. God knows how many there are—maybe thousands? There were so many tracks in the snow this morning that Farmer’s nose was snow-encrusted with all that sniffing.

If all else fails, my last procrastination technique is to look out the window right next to my desk. If there aren’t birds snacking at the birdfeeder Roy has kindly hung within my sight, then a group of six or eight wild turkeys is often strolling by, just a few feet away. They’re good for a glance or two. But I don’t think I’ll ever get Bird-Watching Disorder. After all, looking out the window is not half as much fun as actually getting up from the computer and walking outside. And coming back in with something good to eat.

Cow-Spotting, Garden-opoly, A Girl, & A Dog–Reasons to Forgo New Year’s Resolutions

Lately I’ve been accomplishing nothing and enjoying everything. This may seem like a small matter, but for me it is a big deal. For years I rushed from one thing to the next; I couldn’t stay still long enough to appreciate and experience the good stuff right in front of me. I thought being goal-oriented was a good thing; now I think that strategy is flawed. That’s why I don’t make so called “New-Year’s Resolutions” which I think we forcefully and awkwardly impose on ourselves to manufacture some sort of tangible (usually physical) benefit, while we leave our inner selves untended to. My only real goal these days is to stay present in my life. This means slowing down, being patient, and listening to what the universe is trying to tell me.

This weekend that meant watching a little girl grow. We picked Libby up and brought her out to the Island on Thursday and returned her to Falmouth Monday night. Roy is working hard on a house renovation, so Libby (and Farmer, aka The Black Rider) and I set out to have a good time together during the day while Roy worked. By the end of the holiday, it wasn’t just the physical time spent with Libby that I enjoyed so much—it was the surreal sense I got of watching her personality forming, her confidence building, her creativity exploding, that made my spine tingle. Never could I have been a witness to this in my old life; I believe that’s why Libby showed up in my life when she did.

We played four rounds of our new board game, Garden-opoly, a thoughtful gift from my sister Eleanor. And this is just uncanny: Libby won almost every time, just like she does when we play Monopoly. (I thought maybe I stood a chance with this game; when we played with Roy on New Year’s Eve, I was in the lead before we went to bed. That was the best I did all weekend.)

Many people would find endless hours of board games and being beaten by a nine-year-old hard to take, but the giggles and smiles and gleeful squirming were just priceless. Plus, there’s a whole improvisational story line that arises when someone’s hot—we started calling Libby “Miss Gardenopolis.” Watching her organize her properties (her favorites, not surprisingly, were Tomato Terrace, Green Bean Bypass, and Strawberry Fields), stack her money, and build her “greenhouses” (aka hotels) made us proud. (It makes me think she’ll make good financial decisions when she grows up! Her biggest strategy is to hide one of her $500 bills under the board until late in the game. She doesn’t buy every property she lands on, either—how can that be?!) And seeing her exercise a bit of charity and kindness was gratifying too—she would occasionally offer to lend me some money or overlook a debt, and she chastised me when I passed up an opportunity to visit the “Free Compost” corner, where hundreds of dollars awaited. Libby’s prowess at Garden-opoly also makes me realize that I made a good decision to add a “Libby” section to the new expanded vegetable garden this year. I’m sure it will prosper.

On Friday, Farmer and Libby and I went cow-spotting down at the FARM Institute, taking along our cameras (Libby got one for Christmas) to photograph the interesting beef cattle lolling around. (Fortunately, Libby is crazy about animals—probably even more than I am, so farm trips are easy entertainment for us.) Afterwards, we went shopping for the ingredients for home-made pizza (her favorite—she is chief “decorator”) for Friday night and roast chicken and make-your-own-brownie sundaes for New Year’s Eve. (Fabulous brownie recipe here. Pizza recipe coming in new book.)

Probably the most fascinating thing for me was seeing how Libby entertained herself during those times when I did need to do a little desk work or a few house chores. One morning, she built an elaborate “condo” out of leftover Christmas boxes and home-made confetti for her collection of little toy lizards. There was also a larger toy dragon protecting the kingdom from intruders. (And an entire narrative to go along with this.) But I especially loved watching the games she devised to play with Farmer. Often a dish towel or a kitchen apron would make it into the  mix—either used to dress up Farmer, who doesn’t seem to mind a bonnet or a skirt—or as a bullfighter’s cape. (Toro! Toro!) Ring-Around-the-Rosie was popular…though noisy. (Everything shakes when these two race around the downstairs of this tiny farm house, which literally has only three rooms—not including the mudroom—on the first floor, and also has terribly uneven floors.) Hide-and-seek was popular, too. And occasionally, Libby (who is tiny for her age) would actually get on top of Farmer and ride him like a horse. Amazingly, this dog thinks there is nothing more fun. (He’s been a total nut since she left.)

Since Farmer and Libby wear each other out, eventually Farmer climbs up on the couch and passes out. Then Libby, in her feetsy-pajamas, lays down next to him and rests her head on his chest. Roy smiles and I just sigh. Watching these two befriend each other is a hoot. And spending time with Libby isn’t just rewarding—it’s a whole lot of fun.