Upstate New York – Favorite Photos

School is in full swing and it’s officially Fall, but I am still in Summer mode. I am trying to catch up with all these little things that, if I don’t do now, will never get underway. This blog, the girls’ blog (a private blog that I share with family), photo albums, cabinet organization (right?), closet organization, school paper organization, etcetera. Super dumb stuff, but necessary because given my OCD tendencies, it serves me best to just plow through and get it done. Otherwise = mental.

So…instead of going on and on about how awesome our family vaca was (which I’ve already mentioned several times), here are some of my favorite shots from our trip.

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Bull Calf

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This little guy gets his own post because he’s just so darn cute!

My cousin Darryl bought him from another cousin of ours, Travis, who also runs a dairy farm. One of my favorite things to do on the farm as a kid (I spent a lot of time at Aunt Betty’s in the summertime) was to visit the calves every day. They are timid, but also very curious, which makes for a very sweet combination.

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Views From the Kayak – Upstate New York

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Last month, our family of four, plus the dog, drove 600 miles from Grosse Pointe to Glenfield, New York. My Dad has a spot on a small no-motors-allowed lake at the tip of the Adirondack Park, where we spent most of our time.

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Some of my favorite times were spent out on the lake on the kayak. In the mornings, the lake is like glass. I got up close to waterlilies and purple pickerel…

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picked wild berries….

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and just enjoyed being alone.

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I almost got caught in a storm once, which was scary, but I made it back to shore in time (and I did get a very good workout that day).

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My sweet buddy Sam got very upset whenever I went out on the kayak. If he wasn’t held back, he would try to swim out to me, which is concerning since he is not as great of a swimmer as he used to be.

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His eyes (or perhaps his smell) are still excellent, though, as he could spot me from far away, and would run to the edge of the dock to await my return.

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Saying Goodbye: A Tribute

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I wrote about one of my first encounters with my neighbor Shirley here. I met her in the spring of last year, while she was in her backyard (and I in mine) tending to her garden.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that she played an integral part in getting me excited about my own garden. At most, I’ve watched my Hawaii family expertly grow and care for flowers (orchids, roses, bird of paradise, red ginger) and produce (mangos, papaya, peppers, jackfruit, tomatoes, ginger root), but hadn’t done much of it myself.

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On top of that, gardening is so different in the Midwest than Hawaii or California. In Hawaii, you plant something and it just sort of grows (except my mom/auntie have not had success in growing cherry tomatoes, whereas they grew like weeds for my grandfather, who planted in the same spot). San Francisco is a little trickier because of the fog and cold, and I didn’t get much opportunity (except for pruning) to work with plants while we were there because we had a shared backyard and finicky neighbors.

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Here in Michigan, zone 5 (didn’t even know what a hardiness zone was and that you even had to pay attention to them), the weather plays a huge factor on what you can plant and when. And shade plays a big part as well, which is tricky with our backyard, which is bordered by massive maples and evergreens. And let’s not forget soil acidity. GAH.

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Sedum, ground cover. The first plant we transplanted together.

She taught me how to divide plants, how to transplant them – what soil/compost mixes to use for planting, which plants like shade vs. the ones that like sun, which ones are good for ground cover, perennials vs. annuals, etc.

She reminded me that transplants take a year or two to really flourish (she gave me so many last year. Half my beds are filled with flowers/plants from her garden), so this spring was very exciting as I watched the different plants rise up from the ground, strong, healthy and happy.

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I was aware that Shirley had cancer. I had heard from a couple people (bless this town), though never from her personally. On the outside, she was just as healthy and happy as those spring plants, but this summer it hit hard, and she passed away Saturday morning in her sleep.

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I didn’t have a chance to see her during her last days. By the time I figured out that things weren’t going well, her visitor list was limited, as she needed to reserve her strength. Fortunately, I was still able to communicate with her through email – via her daughter, who relayed sentiments from me to Shirley and vice versa.

I was able to tell her how much she meant to me. More than a teacher or a mentor, she was someone who came into my life when I was feeling not so great about having moved here (small towns are hard to crack, especially as an adult). And being able to work the land gave me a connection to Grosse Pointe that I desperately needed.

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Her daughter wrote back… “Did (Shirley) ever tell you how she became interested in gardening?” (no, she did not) “It was not from her parents–they never gardened. It was a neighbor who gave her a paper cup with a few seeds planted in it which she put on her windowsill. It was the first thing she ever grew.”

She also expressed that “she is happy to know that some of her favorite plants will live on in your (my) garden” and I promised her that I would continue to have the girls plant with me and help tend the land, even though they might not do things exactly the way I want. I promised teaching with patience, in her honor. It’s going to be really hard, but I am going to try my best to stick to that promise.

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One of the most memorable things I learned from Shirley was to say goodbye and thank you to my garden. One afternoon I saw her and her husband walking slowly around their garden, and she told me she was saying goodbye.

My first thought was, “why? what happened? are you moving?” What she meant was that gardening season was coming to an end, and thus she was no longer fertilizing, dividing, weeding. The plants would be left alone to their own devices until the following spring, so she was thanking them for being a part of her garden and saying goodbye until next year.

And so I say goodbye and thank you to you, Shirley. Thank you for being a part of my garden and goodbye. Until we meet again.

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The August List – 2016

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August brought more summer heat, but also much-needed rain. It was another busy month, but we got to slow way down for a couple weeks when we took a road trip to upstate New York, where my Dad has a cabin at the tip of the Adirondacks and where many of his/my relatives still live.

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1)  We started a new rewards system for the girls this summer (got idea from a husband’s cousin). Each stick represents a number of plus or minus points, which translates to the same number of minutes, which they can use at the end of the week for app time (kid apps installed on my iphone). The system sort of tapered off during our trip, but we will amp it up again when school starts. It seems to work well.

Note: the fact that we are so strict with our girls regarding screen time is ironic, as my husband and I are tv and phone addicts. But if I recall, Steve Jobs was the same with his kids, so there.

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2)  This is my Instagram suggested viewing. Chickens eating. Lordie.

When I’m on as The Garden Detroit, I try to engage with other users, mainly farmers, who are often animal-lovers and I cannot stop “liking” videos of baby animals (mainly bunnies. or goats.) eating! They pop up with tags like “carrot” or “lettuce” or “eatyourgreens.” So silly.

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3)  Two days before our NY road trip, we went as a family to a Tigers game, our first of the season. It was a picture-perfect day with a beautiful view from our seats.

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4)  My husband and I were able to sneak away one evening for some adult time while we were in New York. We drove to nearby Lowville, to a craft brewery and taproom called BarkEater. Very cozy spot with a great staff (you know you’re in a small town when the server asks what brings you to the area and then “yes of course I know your dad”).

We started out with their tasting flight. I found most of them to be quite good, but ordered a glass of wine, as is my preference (they offer wines from local winery Tug Hill Vineyards), but I should have stuck to the beer. Wine varieties they carried were too sweet.

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5)  It was hot in New York, as it has been in Michigan all summer. On one particularly hot and muggy day, I drove the girls to Mercer’s Dairy for ice cream cones. I hadn’t been there before, but it was a very stressful drive through winding country backroads for 20 minutes until we finally reached the highway an easy 30-minute drive to Boonville.

On the way there, the skies turned heavy and dark, so I quickly ushered the girls inside once we pulled up to the shop. Mercer’s is famous for its wine ice cream, which I totally poo-pooed until I tried it. Surprisingly refreshing and yummy, though I can only speak for the strawberry champagne.

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As soon as we got our scoops, it started pouring rain. But I had to get a photo of a cone with the sign, so I grabbed my daughter’s mint chocolate chip (my scoop was in a cup) and ran outside. I got drenched (and left my daughter a little perplexed “Hey! Mom!”) but I got the shot.

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6) While visiting cousins on Lake Ontario, we (me, cousin Melanie, her daughter, and her new baby girl) took a walk as part of the baby’s naptime routine. It was nice to see all the pretty lake homes and we passed an old barn along the way and one quirky, multi-colored home pictured above (it’s vacant – surprise).

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7)  We also passed this tree, which I was curious about, as I didn’t recognize the fruit/seeds. My cousins told me it was a chestnut tree – who knew!? I’d never seen one before that I can recall. I didn’t realize they had spiky outer shells. Pretty cool.

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8)  While visiting Aunt Betty at Murrock Farms, I asked her about a photo in her living room. It was my grandmother Lucy (and Aunt Betty’s mom). She also showed me two photos of my grandfather Harrison Stackel, who died before I was born. She said they were chauffeur’s license photos (which back then I believe were like driver’s licenses). Such a contrast. As were their personalities, so I hear (I can only vouch for my grandmother, who I dearly loved).

Aunt Betty, by the way, is as amazing as ever at 92. She just finished reading Hillary’s America (no judgement!) and made biscuits that morning, which we ate for snack after a tour of the farm, which she accompanied us on.

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9)  This teepee has been in our seven-year-old’s room, but I set it up outside one day in hopes of giving the girls a new interest in it. When I was a kid, my sister and I looooved small, private spaces and would have been beside ourselves to play in a tee-pee, so I’m disappointed they don’t use it all that much.

I’m thinking it may get more use once both girls can read (and both write complete sentences without help). Not giving up quite yet.

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10)  I took the girls to Detroit’s Avalon Bakery earlier this month. We got sandwiches and sat outside for lunch. The sandwiches were so-so (I am also not a big sandwich person) but the bread there is really delicious and the treats were also very good.

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11)  While on vacation, I missed the Garden’s huge tomato boom. I was lucky to get some before and after my trip, although not in the quantities I would have gotten had I been here. Still, I was able to roast enough for a large jar, have made marinara sauce twice, bruschetta countless times, BLTs and chili. It’s been so awesome to have farm-fresh produce all summer! Sign up with your local CSA program next year, so worth it.

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12) I pass this mural when I come home from working at the Garden. It’s really sweet, I think and I finally stopped to take a closer look and to snap a photo.

So many great photos from our road trip, which I will share soon. The girls start school next week (Michigan is so late! I’ve been seeing back-to-school pics from friends for weeks now) and I am looking forward to that, but not to the end of summer. As the girls get older, summers seem to get more fun because we can do more, whine less and stay out longer. Michigan summer weather certainly helps (I’m often reminded of San Francisco summer weather with photos of friends wearing jackets and scarves, so I am grateful, even with our drought).

Wishes for a lovely September!

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Arborvitae – New and Old

IMG_7240 (768x1024)When we moved into the house, there was a row of arborvitae trees about 20-25 years old along our east fence that were beginning to hang into our neighbor’s driveway.

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They had also grown tall (20 feet-ish?), thus blocking out much-wanted sunlight in our very shady backyard and also becoming scraggly and sparce.

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About four weeks ago, we finally pulled them out and replaced them with 6′ tall arborvitaes. It’s going to take a few years for them to fill in and create the kind of privacy we had before, but they look much nicer.

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We thought all was well until our neighbors (who had an arborist over for dinner who gave them the info), that our trees didn’t look good and that they needed more water. AND that they were planted incorrectly and probably wouldn’t last beyond two or three years. Oh boy.

Long story short, the landscaping company we used came back and fixed everything and added a sprinkler/drip hose system so hopefully those trees will last another 20 years.