Tag Archives: family

Beam Me Up (or Down), Scotty!

Dad’s crabapple in bloom.

WHAT I WOULDN’T GIVE for a 21st century hovercraft or one of those Star Trek transporters — anything that would beam me from Martha’s Vineyard to Delaware (and back, of course) in an instant.

Visiting my dad and sister every five or six months just isn’t enough. When you’re not there, you miss things. Little things, like the joy my sister is getting from the puppy she very fortunately brought home right before Covid. Lucy was the cutest puppy ever, and now she is as fast and agile as a speeding bullet (and still ridiculously charming).

Next up from little things are medium-sized things, like time spent reading (aloud, together) a packet of old letters retrieved from my sister’s attic. These are letters from me to her, my 12- and 13-year-old self to her 18- and 19-year old self when she left for college and I clearly missed her. (And apparently, while she was gone, I was in charge of covering up her teenage misdemeanors, like hiding ashtrays and parking tickets from my parents. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for my very cool older sister.) She saved all those letters. We doubled over in laughter reading them.

Then there are bigger things. My sister and I always wind up talking about our childhood, and it is reassuring to know that our memories are in sync, that the things I wonder about sometimes – did I imagine that or exaggerate it in my head? – really did happen. Even though we were (are) nearly seven years apart, it was just the two of us, and only she and I have that shared experience of our particular family dynamic. 

And when it comes to little things and big things about seeing my Dad (who will turn 91 this summer), well, every day of this visit has been full of both.

We’ve made multiple trips to his favorite nursery (an amazing place filled with acres of plants), wandering the hoop houses, where he greets the owner and his son like old friends. (The Itoh peony pictured here, called Keiko (which means “adored”) is a present he bought me there several weeks ago. How it – and several dozen other plants – are going to fit in my car for the ride home, I don’t know.)

The other night we sat on the couch paging through a landscaping book together for nearly two hours, talking about trees and shrubs and flowers and gardens. Not only has he already transformed our garden here in Delaware in only three years, but he’s now helping a friend by designing some beautiful perennial gardens for her, too.    

Last night Dad walked into my room with a small decorative box in his hands. “Have I ever showed you my little box of sayings? Just about everything I believe is in here. All the quotes are on scraps of paper, but could you type them into the computer for me?”

Wow. A life philosophy, honed over 90 years of living, stuffed in a little box. I have been unfolding and folding up the little pieces of paper, reading and re-reading them. It’s like someone handed me a very special batch of fortune cookies. Dad cookies. I recognize many of the scribblings, as Dad has quoted (and requoted!) them over the years. But a few are more obtuse and I think of them when I see him deep in thought. And some are just more poignant than others.

Since my mother’s death, I know that much of his daily activity – gardening in particular, playing bridge with his lady friends, talking on the phone with his daughters — is engineered to fill the hole my mother left.

So it isn’t surprising to me that this quote from Samuel Johnson is one not just folded up in the box, but also printed out from the computer and left on his bureau.

“He that outlives a wife whom he has long loved sees himself disjoined from the only mind that has the same hopes, and fears, and interest; from the only companion with whom he has shared much good and evil; and with whom he could set his mind at liberty, to retrace the past or anticipate the future. The continuity of being is lacerated; the settled course of sentiment and action is stopped; and life stands suspended and motionless.”

He is also quite fond of this saying (attributed to various):

Happiness is –

Someone to love.

Something to do.

Something to hope for.

I picked those two to share with you (I don’t think he’d mind) not just to show what matters to him, but because of where we all are right now, and because we are so sculpted by the love we feel for the important people in our lives, whether they are family or friends. (Some we get to love for a very long time, some for a short time.)

And because as much as I love my Dad and my sister, I miss my partner. In a very palpable way. (And Farmer of course.) I will be glad to be home — the other home, the one that is now my real home. But of course as soon as I get there, I will be longing for that Beam-Me-Up machine. A quick check-in with dad, coffee with my sister. Is that so much to ask of modern technology? I know, I chose to live on an Island many miles away. Oh well!   

A flowering tree is an invitation to lie down on the grass and look up through the branches.

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The Road Home

THE RAINS came gently last night after so many weeks of dry weather. I lay awake with the window open, listening to the burbling and thrumming, thinking of rainy days at summer camp, stretched out on my bunk reading comics and writing letters to my mother. And of afternoon thunderstorms in Washington, that lush city of trees and parks and steep avenues, my hometown, built on a swamp.

Tomorrow I get on the boat at 7 a.m. and drive backwards in my rainy memory, first to Virginia and my sister, then to Delaware and my Dad. Maryland, like my mother and Massachusetts Avenue and Northwest Washington, in the rearview mirror. But like so many tricks of the mind, not really gone.

I have been up and down I-95 hundreds of times in my adult life, moving as I have from New York to Connecticut to Rhode Island to Connecticut to Massachusetts. (Good Lord, more than 20 domiciles in all that. ‘Just keep moving’ was my mantra for too long.) I have also hopped on the boat, as we call the ferry, to get over to America probably hundreds of times since I moved to this Island 13 years ago.

And yet I always get a little nervous.

This afternoon I got my first vaccine. It took me four tries and three weeks to get an appointment at our hospital, but I am very grateful to have nabbed this jab before traveling. And that my various allergies seem not to have caused any side effects.

I am leaving the boys behind. We joked that I should have created a You Tube video for all the watering and care of seedlings and dahlia tubers and garden beds and awakening perennials that will need to occur. Not necessary, as I know the one who can use the telephone (the other has paws) will not hesitate to send text messages and photos with ‘Help!’ Emojis. At least this rain, a rain that has turned from gentle to drenching, postpones the watering. 

I don’t like leaving them, and I am such a homebody (one who has not really minded the decreased social activity of the pandemic times) that it feels unsettling to go. And yet I want to see my Dad and sister so much.

That’s how it goes. I’ve worked too hard in the last few months. Written and edited literally thousands and thousands of words. Spent too much time in front of the computer. My neck hurts and I’ve gained weight from eating too many chocolate chips and sitting too much. But I’m listening to that. Getting up from the chair will be good.

One bright note on all that work: I wrote two gardening pieces last week, one on (you guessed it) a group of spring-flowering plants I’m in love with — hellebores (pictured here). We ventured over to Polly Hill Arboretum to see them in bloom and walked the path to the Far Barn, past the magnolia, the stewartia, the rhodies waking up. Polly Hill is magical.

Last in my rambling pre-travel thoughts today: I am reading Lab Girl. Have you read it? Somehow this memoir floated around me, just published, when I worked part-time at Bunch of Grapes bookstore for a year and a half. (That time was crucial in rebooting my love of reading.) And yet I couldn’t grab it; I shelved it, sold it, brushed dust off of it. Read the jacket copy. But never bought it and took it home. The time wasn’t right.

Books find you when you’re ready, and now is the perfect time for me to read how one woman (a very accomplished scientist) manages her passion for plants and science and discovery along with her clinically overactive brain by writing things down.

I just read this paragraph and want to share it with you. It comes right after she learns about the death of her favorite childhood tree, a tree who’s life – a life with milestones – she never really considered until it died. (Does everyone have their own childhood tree? I never thought about that.)

“Time has also changed me, my perception of my tree, and my perception of my tree’s perception of itself. Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life. It has also convinced me that carefully writing everything down is the only real defense we have against forgetting something important that once was and is no more, including the spruce tree that should have outlived me but did not.”

There is a lot to unpack there, which I haven’t time to tonight, but perhaps you will. I will turn it over tomorrow as I take the familiar road home, bumping into bits and pieces of my past along the way.

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Talking to Mr. Ed — And the Living and the Dead.

Early evidence of animal-talking propensity. Photo by Katie Hutchison, 2008.

THERE IS A HORSE in my neighborhood I am trying to get to know. I talk to him. So far, unlike Mr. Ed, he has not talked back.

I talk to Farmer a lot. He rolls over and looks at me with those big brown eyes, as if to say, “Oh, mommy, stop babbling. Just rub my tummy.”

Lately I’ve been talking to the plants in the garden. They are just coming around after a long hard winter, so it is very important to give them a pep talk. I coach the tiny rhubarb leaves and the hellebore flowers every day, give the shaggy carpet of young chives a pat, and cheer on the arugula that hunkered down and shivered through the winter under two layers of row cover. I tell the tiny sedum buds how fetching they are.

I always talk to myself out loud when I am cooking dinner, even when there are others present. This is partly because I am multitasking (who isn’t when they’re cooking dinner?) and I’m afraid I’ll forget something. Make the salad dressing. Flip the sweet potatoes. Turn the flame down. Spin the lettuce. Grate the Parmigiano. Set the table. Get out the matches. Rotate the chicken. Pour the Pellegrino. Warm the plates. Wipe up those bread crumbs. Don’t forget the nuts in the oven. I smell something burning. NUTS! Refill sea salt. All out of sea salt. Open chile crisp. Stir the shallots.

At night I talk to God. This doesn’t always go so well, because I am tired and my brain is like a Slinky flopping over itself down the stairs, tumbling from one subject to the next. But I try.

I also talk to my friend Judy, who isn’t around anymore. She died four years ago. Sometimes it is hard to remember when someone died, but I know for sure it was the winter of 2017, because one of the last things my friends and I did was gather around her hospice bed (which was set up in her living room), so that she could give me my 10-year sobriety coin (my anniversary having been Christmas Day of 2016, the day I found out Judy’s cancer had spread).

Judy meant the world to me. And to my friends who were there with me that day. And many others. She was the kind of person who made everyone feel special. I could talk with her about anything when she was alive. Lately I have been reminiscing about a picnic lunch we took at Polly Hill Arboretum, about a drive we took around the Island, about sharing her favorite chocolate cake at the Black Dog. Talking all the time, about good stuff and the difficult stuff.  

So I just keep right on talking to her.

For years I talked to my grandmother Honey after she died. I still do sometimes. 

I don’t know if you do the same thing – talk to dead people – but it can be quite cathartic. It’s also rather interesting to think about who you choose to talk to. For me it is the people I think understood me best. And people I loved for their joie de vivre, for the way they lived their life knowing the best part was right there and then.

I have no idea whether they are listening. I am always conjuring visions of the cartoonish ghosts portrayed in George Saunders’ novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. (The novel is fiction, but the fact is that President Lincoln did visit his son Willie’s grave frequently after he died, staying well into the night, presumably talking to him at length.) In the book, the ghosts in Oak Hill cemetery are those folks who, for one reason or another, are stuck in the Bardo, the in-between place between life and death. They are a motley but caring crew, and when Willie joins them, they become concerned when Lincoln’s visits seem to be keeping Willie stuck in the Bardo, when really the young child should be moving on to a better place. And they set out to do something about it.

And I have just finished re-reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved, where the ghost of a child who never moved on (from a particularly hideous in-between) manifests in the lives of her family so profoundly that she is physically present. Yikes.

I’m not sure how I got from the subject of one-way conversations (whether with an animal, a plant, a pot on the stove, or a missing person) to the subject of ghosts. It’s just that I began to wonder the other day why I do all this talking (other than my obvious verbose nature, which I am so stuck with that I’m sure I will be bringing it with me into the Bardo). Why all the talking when there’s (presumably) no one to answer?

You probably guessed already that a lot of it is a nervous habit, a way (yet another way – you can’t say I haven’t started a great list for you!) of soothing anxiety. But I think there are other reasons. There’s an urge to connect – certainly with a horse or the dog, the hope is that it isn’t really a one-way conversation but an introduction of intentions, a way to express affection. With the plants I’m growing or the dinner I’m making, again I think I want to be connected to the process in an intentional and joyful way. I want to notice what miracles are going on, what alchemy is happening, how the puzzle of getting dinner on the table can be solved in a given time frame.

With people who are no longer around, the desire for connection of course intensifies. Not only do I wish those people were still here, but I like to pretend that they actually are and that engaging with them is still possible.

Honey, Uncle Doug, and Uncle Rodney are no longer around. But Dad (in plaid) is.

But I have the great good fortune of still having someone very important to me (and very old!) alive. My father.

And the way I connect with him is by talking. On the surface of things, I talk with him because he lives hundreds of miles away, alone, and I worry he might be lonely. But I also talk with him because I enjoy talking with him. He is smart and thoughtful. I learn from him. He’s always brimming with some new bits of information — a plant he’s fallen in love with, a Julia Child recipe he’s made, a story about our family. I talk with him because I love him. And I talk with him because I can’t bear the thought of the day when the conversation will only be one way. 


Book Recs This Week

Lincoln in the Bardo, By George Saunders

Beloved, By Toni Morrison


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The Year in Photos: Green Island Farm, 2014

January

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2014’s best moment: Little Barney comes in from the cold

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February

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Paulie’s last stand.

March

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photo-12Egg production picks up big-time in spring.

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Turning over the new veg field in the “back four.”

April

10171130_10203818806489450_6846942003228336987_n DSC_4091Onion and potato planting in the damp new days of spring.

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May

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11 may photo-291 photo-293 photo-294And we’re off! Baby kale, Baby bok choy, radishes–and lots of seedlings.

June

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It’s all happening fast now–berries, basil, carrots, and…plenty of daylight

July

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Blueberries, black raspberries,  yellow pattypans, purple eggplants, sunny sung olds, cheery calendulas–June is color at last.

August

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Tomatoes, of course. And new chickens. And lots of ribbons at the Fair, oh yeah!

September

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Serious harvest time.

October

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October is the best.

November

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December

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photo-308 photo-305photo-307And to all a good night. Cheers to 2015!

Missionaries of Joy, Peace on the Farm

Xmas card 2014PicMonkey CollagebChristmas came early for me this year. I got the best gift I could have asked for—a visit from my Mom and Dad last weekend. Since they live in Delaware and I live on an island in Massachusetts, we don’t get to see each other all that often.

But next week, these two, Pauletta (aka Perky) and Bob, will mark their 60th wedding anniversary. So the trip north was an early celebration. Though we dragged them all over the place and they enjoyed meeting our friends, I think Mom had the most fun playing board games with Libby back here in our cozy living room. (I believe the cute photo of Perky and Bob below was taken in 1956 during a trip to Hong Kong while my Dad was a Navy officer stationed in the Philippines.)

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Among other things, we also got 200 more chickens last week. I got to help Roy clean the coops in advance of their arrival. Yay. My least favorite farm job without a doubt.

While our friends from Burr Farm were unloading the chickens (actually 16-week-old pullets), another friend, artist Heather Goff, was visiting the farm studying our older hens, looking for inspiration for one of her daily sketches. (She produces a stunning sketch every day, which I look forward to seeing on Face Book every night. You can see them all here.) I love this one.

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Now Roy and I are scurrying around finishing up deadlines. I had five quinoa recipes to turn into Vegetarian Times today. Summer recipes, testing in December. 

We finally got the Christmas tree inside this morning. We bought it last Saturday at Morning Glory Farm while Mom and Dad were here, but it has been sitting outside patiently waiting to go on duty. Barney the kitty, having already knocked one of my Nativity angels to the ground and decapitated her, has been running around the house in circles since the tree came in. (Farmer is just rolling his eyes and wearing his strap-on reindeer antlers like a good sport.) Can’t wait to see how the decorating goes. Tinsel should be popular.

Christmas Eve we will have dinner at our friend Judy’s house. Beef tenderloin. I will bring a potato gratin and Brussels sprouts. Chocolate cake for dessert. Simple, peaceful, lovely.

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We will madly finish wrapping Libby Joy Riley’s Christmas presents, which all seem to be in very large boxes this year. (Yes, Libby’s middle name is Joy.)

Then we are planning a trip to Boston after Christmas to see The Nutcracker.

The days will soon be longer. I’m glad. The darkness bothers me, I have to admit. But one of my favorite psalms (to paraphrase) reminds me that darkness may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning.

DSC_1798And as Pope Francis said this past Sunday, we should all be “missionaries of joy,” as it is the best gift we can give our friends and family during the holidays. Christmas is joy, he said. Maybe some days we have to practice being joyful if it isn’t exactly coming naturally. But really there is joy all around us. We just have to grab a little and pass it on.

Roy, Libby, Farmer, Barney and I wish you a holiday season filled with much (sharing of) joy and peace.

 

 

Blue Ribbons, Burgers & Blackberry Ice Cream

A light rain drizzled down on us tonight as we trudged back across State Road from the Fair grounds to the farm. Looking back, Libby noticed our feet left a pattern on the rain-glossed blacktop. It’s almost as if we’d worn a path in the road with so much criss-crossing. You could even see Farmer’s paw prints. (Yes, Farmer got to go to the Fair—three times. French fries—yes; cotton candy—no.)

Now we are all a little comatose, having eaten ourselves silly for four days. Because of these darn free passes the Fair folks give us every year, we indulge ourselves ridiculously and eat nearly every meal at the Fair. This year we made a habit of trying as many different things as we could—barbequed ribs, chicken tacos, steak tacos, pizza, burgers, veggie tempura, sausage and peppers, French fries, corn on the cob, strawberry shortcake, fruit smoothies, ice cream, fried dough, cotton candy. Yes, you read that right—it is not the healthiest list of food. But we had a blast and took Iphone pictures of most every dish to document the extravaganza.

Back at the farm, at least Libby and I added some veggies and fruits to that list, since we were harvesting (and snacking on) tomatoes, green beans and blackberries together in between Fair forays. But then we had to go and make ice cream. I know, I know—what a crazy weekend to make homemade ice cream. The problem was, I had promised Libby that we’d make our annual batch of berry ice cream while she’s here on this visit. A promise is a promise. And this year, we are overflowing with blackberries, and I’ve been picking and freezing the ripe ones every day.

Fortunately, making ice cream happens in small steps which you can squeeze in between Fair visits. You make berry puree. Chill it. Make custard. Chill it. Combine puree and custard. Chill it. Put mix in ice cream maker (the old ice cream maker that doesn’t freeze very well). Put ice cream maker back in freezer and stir every once in a while. Give up on getting anything that’s really completely frozen. Eat soft-serve blackberry ice cream: The absolute most delicious stuff in the whole world. I promise. Libby promises. Even Roy raved.

And speaking of raves. We’re voting MV Ag Fair 2013 our fave so far. Not that winning a blue ribbon for our eggs, our green beans, our cosmos, and Libby’s plum tomatoes has anything to do with it, mind you. But it did put us all in a dandy mood Thursday. And then the sun shone bright in a picture-perfect blue sky for three days. There was a soft breeze and there were stunning sunsets. We saw lots of friends. A mommy sow had 10 piglets in the animal barn Thursday night. (We went to look at these little tiny creatures maybe 12 times after that.) Roy won stuffed animals (a pig and a frog) for both Libby and me. Farmer made new friends and ate his first onion rings. He and Libby are passed out on the couch, side by side. Exhausted, stuffed, happy.

Beauty and The Beast

The day before we go to pick up Libby, we tell Farmer, “Guess who’s coming tomorrow?” First his ears perk up, and then, when we say, “We’re going to get LIBBY!” he runs around the living room and jumps up on the sofa to look out the window.  “Where is she? Where is she? I can’t wait! I can’t wait!”

By the time Libby leaves, Farmer is so exhausted that he climbs up on our bed and doesn’t move for two days.

He loves that girl like nobody’s business. And she loves him. A little girl and a dog, made for each other.

This is the kind of weekend when farm chores can be overwhelming, and Farm Dog and Farm Girl are both co-opted into helping. Roy is teaching Farmer to herd chickens. Plus, Farmer has to keep an eye out for customers coming down the driveway and duly alert us when he sees them. Libby, admittedly, is a good deal more helpful than Farmer. Together, we’ve been moving seedlings back and forth from the house to the greenhouse, planting more flower and vegetable seeds, picking lettuce, washing lettuce, packing eggs, putting the covers back on the garden beds that blew off in the wind the other night, and weeding  her garden plot.

Since these two hard workers deserve a break, Roy has taken them for a romp down at Quansoo beach.  Actually, they just got back, blowing in the back door, giggling and jingling. Libby is covered in sand and has a big grin on her face. She fell in the water apparently. Fortunately, Farmer didn’t have to rescue her. All is well. They had fun.

They will both sleep well tonight.

 

 

 

These Are The Days

Lest you think we are all farm and no play around here…Yesterday we took advantage of a 24-hour visit from Libby and the most beautiful day we’ve seen in months and headed up to the clay cliffs at Gay Head for a spectacular beach walk.  My Iphone ran out of juice, so I didn’t get to document Libby covered in clay from head to toe. (We always forget to bring appropriate clean-up materials on this kind of walk.)

While Roy looked for arrowheads and Libby painted herself with warrior clay, I lay down in the warm sand with my face to the sun and almost fell asleep. In my head, Keith Urban’s song, These Are The Days, was playing. Partly because I was thinking, “These are the days we’ve been waiting for all through the cold mucky winter.” But also I was thinking how great it is to be present and to know that it absolutely does not get any better than it is right in that moment.

Maybe all that sunshine was going to my head—it is incredibly uplifting after all. And no doubt we are very fortunate to live in such a beautiful place, though we tend to forget it sometimes. But no matter where you are or what the weather is this Easter weekend, I hope you find yourself walking into the light, enjoying moments with your family or friends, and remembering to take a mental snapshot of what you love most so you can conjure it up on a rainy day.