taking pictures 2011 – September “Look on Inward Glory”

That’s it!  All the eggs in this past year’s carton:    October 2010, November 2010, December 2010, January 2011, February 2011, March 2011, April 2011, May 2011, June 2011, July 2011, August 2011 and that brings us to

September 2011 – “Look on Inward Glory”

Not many pictures from September but I really like “Look on Inward Glory” — I wonder why?



taking pictures 2011 – June “Wing It”

(#9 in a series) The pictures that took me when I took them:   October 2010, November 2010, December 2010, January 2011, February 2011, March 2011, April 2011, May 2011, and now . . .  

 June 2011 “Wing It”

“Wing It” has so many things I love — the details of veining, the luscious purple, the translucence, the evening slant of light. Though it was a close contest for me between this “Wing It” and “Uphold My Dignity” — which I loved because it turns upside down so many expectations.  A picture of a pink peony that emphasizes the strength of the stem, the definite vigor of the sepals.  For June, why eye… was full of flowers.  The most effective, in addition to “Wing It” and “Uphold My Dignity,”  probably “Edge in Sweetly” and “Bloom Bluer.”

taking pictures 2011 – February “Take Tulips 2 Tango”

Fifth in a series:  the pictures I liked best over the past blogal year:  October 2010, November 2010, December 2010, January 2011 and now  . . .

February, 2011 – “Take Tulips 2 Tango”

I had such fun with these white tulips.  They showed up in  “tongues of love, the lettered heart, and other bad translations” and then again “in different lights”.

I chose this one particularly for the romantic shadows and the tender way the leaves touch petals, but I also loved other tulip pictures:  “Consider the Other Side,” “Ripple,” and “Speak Softly” especially.  Which is not to say I am not still very much liking “Triangulate” and “Look Where I’m Standing“.  I’d never realized how anthropomorphic tulips are.  Maybe that’s why I love them so much?

Future Cycle: Small Town Revival (of 24 : 7) Backyard Bounty

I sent out a survey recently and got back some great answers . . .

Q: What one change would you most like to see in our town?

A:  . . . that everyone in St. Helens would keep a garden along with a few trees and then insist that their children tend to the weeding, watering and harvest. It does not matter big or small. It only matters that the youth learn to work and to have responsibility for something.

That would be a good change.

What could be more local than eating from your own backyard?

Unless, of course, it would be eating from your front yard?

Or how about not-technically-your-yard but still right out front?

Or your side yard – as a compromise between front and back, and still more local than even the closest farmer’s market?

I used to think a garden, to be a garden, had to look like this . . .

But it could look like this . . .

Either size garden will grow beautiful beans.

And it’s amazing how much harvest you can get from a small garden plot.

And not just how much harvest.  It’s not after all square footage that matters.  It’s not even really the pounds of produce or the number of bushel baskets.

It’s the value of the harvest.

Say that I’m underwhelmed with the nutrients my family’s not going to get from fresh corn on the cob and so – though I love a good ear of sweet corn — say I’m less than eager to give that much time and place in my life and yard to grow it.

I may feel just fine about buying sweet corn once or twice from Sauvie Island or a local farm stand or even the nearest grocery store and being fully satisfied that I’ve tasted summer.  And all for less than the price of a bad movie.

But other crops are going to give me more bang for my buck.  If I want to freeze some berries for a little bite of brightness in the bleak midwinter, a berry patch is going to give me back far more of my money’s worth.

In fact, according to Steve Solomon’s Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, berries and herbs and lettuce greens may be far more thrifty and profitable for you to plant if your space is at a premium.

On a relative scale of Most-Valuable garden vegetables “per square foot of garden per the amount of time that area will be growing the crop,”  Solomon rates herbs, carrots and lettuce greens the highest.

Top 10 Most Valuable Veggies to grow

  1. Fresh herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, parsley, etc.)
  2. Carrots
  3. Beets
  4. Parsnips
  5. Loose-leaf lettuce
  6. Most other leafy salad greens
  7. Scallions
  8. Spinach (for salad)
  9. Kale
  10. Swiss chard

And for all that high value, herbs and lettuce have got to be some of the easiest plants to grow.

Have you ever checked out the price of fresh mint in one of those little plastic clamshells?

This year I bought a 4″ spearmint and the same size peppermint and stuck them in pots on my front porch.

They’re pretty.

And on this northern side of the house they stay green even when we forget to water them.

And now I have fresh mint whenever I want to put some in my pesto. Or chop some up for my vanilla yogurt dabbed on fresh fruit.  Or to sprinkle over watermelon.  Or to make this fantastic sauce (adapted from Fast Vegetarian Feasts by Martha Rose Shulman).

Fresh Tomato-Mint Sauce

2 lbs tomatoes, peeled and seeded

1 small clove garlic

1/4 cup fresh mint

1/4 cup red wine (or balsamic) vinegar

2 Tablespoons olive oil

Salt & pepper to taste.


Chop everything up fine.  Or blend together.  Or mash in mortar and pestle.  Then drizzle in the oil and add salt & pepper until you absolutely have to have another taste just to make sure it really is that delicious.


Serve chilled.  Or room temperature.  Or heated through over a medium-heat in a medium saucepan.

This sauce is — let us not be coy — utterly divine over cod or halibut.  Or Spanish omelettes (aka fritatta aka tortillas españolas).  Or even ordinary boiled potatoes.

And my pretty little mint plants (shown here at the front door with swooningly fragrant heliotrope and a new patch of parsley) will live from year to year, will even give me a few small leaves through the winter if it doesn’t freeze too hard, will come back strong come spring for never a penny more — except for maybe some fresh potting soil sometime.

Is this a good thing?

This is a very good thing.

Am I so pleased with myself?

Well, why else would I be bragging?

Like my respondent above, I too would love to see a food-garden in every yard in town.  But I do get that there are years where the full-furrow garden plot is just more than a person can bear to contemplate.

My dears, I’ve been there too recently myself.

When the best I could do was to stick a fuzzy purple sage and a pretty lemon-edged thyme, a handsome and self-sufficient rosemary and some pretty purple basil along the front path – at least they were handy for quick snips to go into soups or salads or baked into bread.

And for the least I could do, that wasn’t too bad.

But I realized this year I could save a significant amount of my grocery bill if I went beyond herbs.  If in addition to that cheerful sweet-scented lemon-flavored marigold I picked up at Ace Hardware (Tagetes lucida, aka ‘Lemon Gem’ and very edible) — if in addition to the parsley by the front step, in addition to a little patch of cilantro amid the flowers, a few quick-growing radish wherever there was an open spot  —  if  I also tucked some gorgeous lettuce up under the northern eaves of the house. If I also tossed down some seed for some tasty arugula and salad spinach in that swathe that never really dries out, that only gets a little sun first thing in the morning and late in the afternoon.

Let me tell you — I’ve already recouped the price of the seed packet (still more than half full) several times over.  And I’m still picking satisfying salads almost every day from my first sowing.

Do you know how much money our family isn’t spending on Spring Greens this year?

And my salads are more beautiful (and tasty) (and ultra-fresh) than ever.

My dears, if I can do it, I don’t think there’s anybody who can’t.

(Even if I still don’t have the walkways in.)

Not that saving money is the only reason for growing a garden. Steve Solomon lists among the least bang-for-your-buckworthy veggies most of the usual garden lineup (in decreasing order of value per square foot per day taking up that precious space in your yard):

cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bulb onions, winter squash, sweet corn, watermelon, pumpkin.

But I know someone who uses both pumpkins and corn as an ornamental planting along her driveway.

And myself, I don’t mind making room for long-growing cabbage when not only is it wonderful in autumn soup, but makes such an exquisite ornamental.

So should you put a vegetable garden in your backyard?

That’s hardly for me to say.  After all, you might want it in the front.

And you certainly don’t have to wait until next spring to get started.

In Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, Steve Solomon says August is a great month in our neck of the woods for planting

endive and spinach, overwintering cauliflower, loose-leaf lettuce and overwintering bulb onions.

According to Farmer Don at Kruger Farms, now is also the time to plant

overwintering broccoli, broccoli raab, kale, winter beets, and late spinach.

Even in September you can still put in hardy salad greens that will keep fresh food on your table all through winter:

like endive and corn salad.  Not to mention garlic and shallots for next year.

“Great garden, isn’t it?”  calls a lady from a neighboring yard when I stop on my morning ride to take pictures of someone else’s plot.

“I love it,” I call back.

“You know I’ve heard some people are even planting gardens in their front yards.  To make their yard more neighborly.”

And I love that, too.

another new premise

What is the premise of your story? Describe it using the what-if formula by replacing the parentheses with details from your story: “What if a (flawed) (protagonist) (encountered some problem) and had to (overcome the flaw) to (solve the problem)?”

Steve Alcorn, Write Fiction Like a Pro 

What if a ( stubbornly but inconsistently persistent/ easily distracted/ overly pessimistic/ unrealistically optimistic/ only theoretical/ short-tempered/ self-doubting/ continually reinvented) (writer/ gardener/ bicyclist/ beekeeper someday/ city planner/ personified city/ nation as a whole)  (crashed in the stock market/ suffered colony collapse/ had her garden destroyed/ saw her family scatter/ lost her way/ lost her cool/ lost her marbles/ lost her car keys) and had to (get focused/ give up/ persist/ get busy/ speak out/ count to ten/ push ahead/ stick with what she’s got/ tighten her belt) in order to (save the day/ save the date/ balance the budget/ revive the local economy/ rebuild the garden walkway/ build the city on the hill/ feed the family/ finish up this blasted bottle-necking book)?

How’s that for a promising new premise?

By the way, have I ever mentioned that my house has no front door?

The door that looks like a front door, acts like a front door, is called the Front Door, is in fact on the back of the house.

It’s the door closest to the kitchen — furthest from the driveway — what in any reasonable house would be the Back Door.

Before I realized what was so nigglingly wrong with this house — i.e. that there was no real front to it, that it was always turning its back on you no matter how you circled to approach it — before I took steps to more clearly signal — by fiat if not in facto — which door was “Front Door” — people never knew where to come.  They’d knock at the laundry door or come to the sliding glass door downstairs instead.

Are we surprised that I live in a backward and resistant house?

Though it galls to admit, I must have chosen this unreasonable, refusal-to-face roundaboutedness because it felt so terribly familiar.

I always come in the back door.

I’m happiest living halfway up, halfway down the hill.

Coming at things indirectly is the way I feel most at home.

Maybe next week  I’ll get back to straightforward Small Town Revival – which series I am (usually, most days) burning to explore and for which I have posts sketched out from here to October.

This week however, I’m spending my mornings taking my first fearful-of-breaking-eggshells-abandoned-out-of-cowardice-plus-my-own-inability-to-structure-it novel through an online writing course focusing on Structuring the Long Form — which is embarrassing — true literature ought to just come on wings, not be written by numbers — but I’ve got to get this thing out of the nest and winging away from me.

While my afternoons are all pick-axing clay, toting rock and gravel, and dumping wheelbarrows — sweating it out while my lemon-scented Mexican marigolds and beautiful cabbage grow steadily, fearlessly, and unself-consciously (despite deer and moles).  And are beautiful as well as useful.

And the excavated, re-assembled garden path begins to reclaim its rightful road.

Whatever else it might be, this garden-making, garden-remaking is so wonderfully comforting that . . . if you don’t mind, I think I’ll get back to it now . . .

Future Cycle: Small Town Revival (of 24 : 2) Old-Fashioned Roses & Community Spirit

“Do you mind if I take some pictures of your roses?” I put one foot down, pausing in my morning ride to take in the glorious burst of blossom.

They aren’t really her roses.

They’re also mine and, if you pay county taxes here, yours, too.

But she’s the one out there in the welcome sun, weeding out the sow thistle and pruning back the spent blooms.

It seems right to ask for her permission.

She looks up and grins, “Sure.  Go right ahead.  Come right in, but be careful.  Some of these are really thorny.  But you’ve got to get up close to smell them.  You want me to move out of the way so you can get pictures?”

I put the kickstand up, “Actually, I wanted you too, working with the roses, if that’s okay.”

Happily, this pleases her.

I tell her, “I like the hat.”

“I got it from Walgreen’s,” she says, “It works well.”

The roses are even better up close.

And unlike most of the pampered darlings growing in unquestioned abundance in Portland’s Test Rose Garden, all of these are heavily and beautifully scented.

“Did you smell that one?” she points it out to me.

“I did.  It smells almost like raspberries.  I’ve never smelled one like that before.”

“It’s wonderful,” she says.

“So do you volunteer here?”  I’m wondering if she’s doing this on her own?  or maybe part of the Master Gardener program?  employed by the parks department?

Volunteer.  She’s here most mornings, when it’s not too rainy.  I love volunteers. The whole idea that some things are so worth doing, we don’t have to be paid to do them.

Or are willing to be paid in other forms of remuneration, “It’s great here,” she gestures at the sunny square bordered by blooms. “The roses, the baby birds back in the corner making their noise.”  I can see from her face this public space is also a Secret Garden, full of healing and quiet delights.

“Do you want me to hold that one up for you?” she offers. “So you can get a better picture?”

“So how’d you get started?” I ask her.

A friend’s family member was doing court time and she’d given her a ride.  Sitting in the car. Bored to death. “I saw those roses needed help.  They needed some work, so I just called up at the people at the county. It’s not about the money, I told them. I’ll just do it for free.”

She turns back to her work.  She’s got an assistant today, a young guy, highschool-aged, and she sets him a last task before he breaks for lunch.

I bend over the sweet-scented bushes to get some close-ups.

“But you’ve got to look at this one,” she points out another I haven’t gotten to yet.

Soon she’s walking me around, showing me the best ones. (They’re almost all the best for something.)

“Who planted these?” I ask her.  “Do you know?”

“I don’t know,” she says sadly. “They’re old bushes.  They’ve been here a long time.  I mean, look at that old stone in the old courthouse.  Maybe they’ve been here that long.”

Then she points out the healthy, leathery leaves of one variety.  The shape and pale shades of another.  The deep sweet smell of another.  “This one isn’t Mr. Lincoln.  It’s similar.  But Mr. Lincoln is a little deeper, a little bigger.  I’ve been trying to figure out what this one is.”

Her love and knowledge is apparent. I have to ask her if she grows roses of her own.

She did, when she was living at her dad’s.  Now she’s homeless.

“Oh, look at this one!  Do you see that?  And they’ve still got the dew on them.  That makes a good picture, doesn’t it?”

It’s not just the roses.  She points out the magnolia trees that grow in front of the new courthouse.  “They only bloom a short time in July and last only about a week.  This is the best time to see them.”

And the baby birds squawking in the background. “They’re scrub jays, hear that?  Steller Jays have a call more like this – and she scritch-scritches just like the birds that used to come eat the cat’s food on my back porch.

When it’s time for me to get back on the road, I have to thank her.  Not just for the almost, not-quite spent roses she snips and gives to me to carry in my bike basket.

Not just for her pleasant welcome.  Not just for her willingness to be photographed, her eagerness to introduce me to each rose.

I’m grateful for what she’s doing – on her own, with what she has – to make my town a sweet place to be on a sunny morning.

And if you’re looking for someone to lavish your roses with some well-deserved attention, let me put in a good word . . .

what MAKES it | BREAKS it 

    • + volunteers
    • + community spirit
    • + public gardens
    • + talking to strangers
    • + old-fashioned roses
                • – homelessness
    • + wildlife/ birds
                • – a few roses trampled on, broken off “by rowdy kids”