Gardens 2016

Truly, the wildest garden we’ve had.  Queen Anne’s Lace has taken over the wildflower garden.


If you can get to the hammock, you can sail in it.

And the Secret Garden

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Titan Sunflowers in the vegetable garden


Son of Wyatt

Volunteer pumpkin


A whole lot of weeds  cabbage, carrots, onions and tomatoes

But if you wade deep enough, you’ll be rewarded with blackberries!


Spring Gardens, 2016

First up, the Secret Sun Garden:


The lilac in the corner is one I planted our first spring in the house, 12 years ago.  IT has thrived and brought so much joy, but this year just didn’t come back. I cut down what I could in the hopes I could revive it….but this might be the last bouquet:


And this is what the Secret Garden looks like now:


Not as bare as I thought it would be, for the ivy that has covered the wall.

I got something really special this Mother’s Day.  My mom gave me a part of a lilac that has grown at all of my homes.  It was part of the hedge between us and our neighbors in Milwaukee, where I was born, and it was the first lilac at our home in Hartland, where we moved when I was eight.  Now, it has a new home in my own garden.  I didn’t think I was sentimental, but meet my newest, oldest plant (let’s call it Ingrid):

Ingrid blends in so well (she’s in the center), it’s like she was meant to live here.

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The kids decided the front planter shouldn’t be a dirt/rock pile for digging in this year, but a rainbow garden instead:

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Although the cat thinks this still makes suitable sunbathing spots.


The vegetable garden, meanwhile, is suffering from neglect.  Not that the rhubarb minds:

When I say “Take as much as you like,” I mean, really, take it.  And more.

I’ve just been ignoring it.  My youngest gardener got excited back in March when we had an early, false, spring and we put some seeds in,


but this is what the beds look like today:


Those are mostly “volunteers” in the beds.  Catnip, calendula, tomato, pumpkin, sunflower, parsley, chives, sage, mint, and dill have all thoughtfully re-seeded themselves.  The kids have plans for a fairy garden and they want to see which gets bigger, Sunzilla or Titan sunflowers.  They also want to harvest potatoes and onions again this year, have carrots, kohlrabi, and nasturtiums  to eat on the run but like me, they just don’t feel up to turning the beds over and planting.

This is the first year I haven’t had the vegetable beds planned out.  I usually have it mapped by February.  I guess we don’t need to run a one-family CSA every year.  Maybe what we already have and do is enough this year.

Forced Vacation

First day of summer vacation over here and the kids are enjoying being together.  It’s the honeymoon phase and I hope it lasts and lasts.  They are playing “Amoeba”, each in their sleeping bag, “eating” stuffed animals (followed by the requisite “pooping” of animals out the side zipper, of course), and occasionally “shedding” of the skin to make offerings to the Queen Amoeba.  Other than getting their sleeping bags down an hour ago, they are entirely self-sustaining.  Oh, joy!

I am enjoying this far more than I should.  I was ignoring the approach of 100 some days of unstructured time, but my body was not.  Three weekends ago I got a cold that flattened me.  Two weekends ago I had an allergic reaction that flattened me.  Last weekend I threw out my back and, wait for it, it flattened me.  I’m still recovering.  One of these years I’ll learn how to sit on the sofa and give myself enough time to recover.  It was not this year.  Instead of lying low, I took a bunch of pain-killers and muscle-relaxants and planted the last dozen seedlings and buried a big, dumb, baby crow that fell from its nest.  Yes, I reinjured my back.  Yes, I got another two dozen mosquito bites and had another allergic reaction.  Yes I got flattened AGAIN.

Somewhere in there, I also had an eye appointment.  One that I was pretending to be just a regular check-up.  It wasn’t just that.  A few months ago my neurologist saw something in my right retina that called for the expertise of an ophthalmologist.  I dutifully made the appointment, found someone to watch my youngest and went.

The first test, the field vision test, is the one I failed.  It doesn’t have anything to do with the technician saying that the test is a common one they do for patients with MS.  She said that so casually while adjusting the computer, but she must have excellent peripheral vision because she suddenly turned to my wilting, punched-in-the-gut self.  “Oh.  Wait.  You DO have MS, don’t you?”

“Um.  No.  Not really.  I mean, yes.  Sort of.  It’s like a precursor. It could turn into MS.  But I’m fine. Technically…..Um.”

“Oh.  Well.  This is a field vision test. It’s a good test for everyone.”

So I did the test and I knew I was failing it when I did it.  There is a semi-circle on the outside of my right eye’s field of vision that is a bit of a blank.  I have to go back in two months to do that again, but I know the results will be the same.  The excellent news and what I should be focusing on is that both retinas and optic nerves look great.  Instead of celebrating that though, I took my dilated eyes and deflated self to the bakery and have been eating my way through the last week.

I’m a planner.  I’m sitting here, thinking about my “comeback” because that’s how I always think about these things.  Which might be part of the problem. I’m all about getting Deliberate, Inspired and Going (thanks Brene Brown!), but sometimes I should just sit the hell down and eat a donut. Someone go get me a donut!  That is going to be my new way:  Demanding donuts, Asking for help.

I actually sent out a rare but critical distress beacon to my best and brightest earlier this week and accepted someone cleaning my kitchen, bringing me tea and chocolate, helping me parent with virtual shots in the arm.  Only another mom knows you can’t pick up a damn thing off the floor and that you might be nonchalant about it but the disgusting mess in the kitchen is filling you with rage at your own incompetence and the slobs you live with.  Only another mom picks up your antisocial daughter and entertains her and feeds her lunch and drops her off several hours later while you do absolutely nothing.  Moms to the rescue.

As long as I’m spilling my guts, lets talk about boot camp.  I haven’t been going (and yes that is partly why I threw my back out, ‘cuz no back and ab strengthening is going on here) because I don’t know what to do with my daughter.  She’s overwhelmed by the kids’ room, and she can NOT be in the gym with me anymore, not just because of her walkout stunt–but also because it is now a gym rule.  Great!  I could go at 6:15 am, (which would require me to go to bed a half-hour after the kids and therefore forfeit almost all the time I get with my husband) but get this—the kids who used to sleep in until 7 are getting up at 5:45 these days and my husband is either working or working out then, so there’s no one to watch them anyway.  (BTW, whats-her-name with the three kids under three and the stupid six-pack and the “what’s your excuse” thing, STFU.)

Anyway.  Today is Day One.  Day one of summer vacation, day one without massive doses of Bendaryl, Demerol, muscle-relaxants, or other pharmaceutical help (hopefully).  Day one of ruling from this sofa, and so far, so good. Now, I have to go, because the Amoebas are trying to eat the cat and he’s too sweet and dumb to stop them.

The Week of Boredom

Maybe you saw this coming. In any case, it is probably long overdue.

I said this yesterday on Facebook:

“So. This morning’s walk to freedom was inspired by “boredom”. Apparently HER CHOICE of lying around, eating snacks, playing on the TRX cables is “not fun” to which I responded through clenched teeth “You have no idea how BORED I can make you.” Enter “It Is Boring And You Hate It, So We’re Doing It Now!” Week. First up, a trip to Home Depot in which you walk around after me for an hour while I look at tile, pick up paint chips and put together potted annuals in my head, then don’t buy anything. No Sulking Allowed. Next, a loooong drive home with (gasp) no snack, deliberately passing the bus stop and walking back to it from the house to pick up big brother and No, I’m Not Carrying You. Later, I think a nice Gross Salmon with Grosser Fennel Salad for dinner will round out the day nicely.”

I am so angry about her comment about being bored.  My right hand has been on fire the last day, so apparently demyelination is sensitive to fear and rage, too.  She has no idea how much I do, correction have done, so that she would NOT be bored.  The errands I squeeze in to the few hours I have when she’s at school.  The calendar filled with fun, little, enriching classes, the videos she gets to watch while I make dinner.  Well.  Not any longer.  All of that is over.  I’m nothing if not a reactive parent.

The next time she gets to sit down in my gym with snacks, books, unicorns and blankets, she’ll recognize it as a gift.  Instead of running to Target for two things and to Whole Foods for another this morning while she was at school, I went for tea and had a text conversation with a good friend about waxing versus laser.  (Spur of the moment.  I’m not used to this yet—next time we’ll try to actually have tea together I hope while we talk about Big Things .)

Instead of prepping the garden beds so she and I could plant peas this afternoon, I ate frozen cookie dough and read some Flavia de Luce.  Instead of picking up her room so I could put her laundry away, I sat and wrote this.

This afternoon, she can put her own laundry away after she cleans her own room.  She can help me turn over the garden beds.  She can go to Target and Whole Foods with me, and no, we’re not getting treats or whatever crap thing she sees in the checkout.  If I do it, she does it.  She thinks that forty minutes of sitting around while I workout is interminable.  You’re looking at whole hours, days of it even, now kiddo.

I’ve coddled her, I know. Because I can and I wanted to, and that got punched right out of me yesterday morning.  This morning, like every morning she dragged her feet and said “I don’t want to go to ‘chool.”  And this morning, unlike every morning before it, I said “Too bad.”  When she putters around and has selective hearing about the things I tell her, she doesn’t get the jolly song and dance, she gets one-word commands, mostly “NOW.”  I haven’t forgiven her yet for scaring me and I know, though she doesn’t yet, that our relationship has changed.

I feel for friends of mine who have children who abscond, sad that these parents have to have multiple strategies for keeping their kids safe.  I don’t think that panic goes away, and every time a child is missing it is terrible.  The thing the blew me away with my daughter is that I know she is completely sure of herself, but I always assumed her timidity and need for proximity to me would just last.  Forever.  Or at least until the first day of school when she would happily part from me and hop onto the bus.

I thing I’m getting it, this new part of the parenting thing.  One boring day at a time.

Things That Got Better

Last year, I needed spring so badly and it took so, so long to arrive.  This year, I didn’t need it quite so badly, but you bet I celebrate whenever it comes.  It’s unseasonably warm so far, this March in Madison.  The first day of the month, a bitter cold day, my first-grader told us “March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb!  Did you know that?”   It has led to my daughter saying “Mommy!  It’s ‘nother LAMB DAY!  ALL the days are LAMBS, Mommy!” I’ll take that cuteness anytime!

When my hands first went numb last year and after that intern poked his head through the door, dropped the bomb on me “that we’re thinking this is MS now,” and walked out, I thought about what I would lose.  And gardening was one of the first things that came to mind.  Nevermind that I couldn’t write with a pen or hold a knife to cut up, well, anything.  How would I be in my garden?  How could I be?

By April last year, the numbness had mostly diminished, but brushing against anything would leave sandpaper vibrations behind for hours.  Planting tiny seeds was challenging and weeding was miserable.  I mean, you know, miserable and it made my hands zing.  “Adaptive technology” to the rescue:  I made the kids plant everything and didn’t weed.  When the summer got into it’s hot months we used the drip irrigation sysytem—actually, no.  We just stopped watering, let the kids eat whatever they found, and bought a CSA box for the fall.

This year is amazing in how different it is.  It’s still cool, so cutting down the garden from last year is not as challenging plus, my hands are not as reactive.  The really great things, though, are the difference in the kids.  I can be in the garden and they can just play in the dirt in the next bed, or their clubhouse, or run around and do whatever things kids do on a lamb day.  They don’t need me.  And it’s lovely.  They don’t need me to play with them or find them things or do things for them.

In part motivated by the principles of Montessori, and in part by my own realization of what would my children do if they didn’t have me?  I started deliberately teaching them things, like how to make a sandwich, and making them do things, like get their own cup of water.  I moved things around so they could get to plates and cups and silverware.  So they could reach the pb and j, fruit and snacks in the refrigerator, cupboards and counters.

So now, when they’re playing in the dirt and say “I’m hungry” I can just say go get yourself something to eat.  AND THEY DO.  My dad has been saying for years that it was a pretty good day when us kids could dress ourselves.  Yes it is.

Muddy little hands

The last big difference this year is the cat who is no longer here.  We lost our good cat in the early fall and I haven’t missed him terribly, until this first day in the garden.  He was always there, but especially on this day of warm dirt and new sun.  He had absolutely no hunting skills and a big, big heart.  He just wanted to be near his people, or in a sunny spot and if he could do both at the same time he was content.  The other two cats are hunters and lurkers who hide in the bushes and leave chipmunk organs on the front step.  They are just as likely to poop in the garden as they are to sit in it and keep me company.

So, what am I trying to say?  That between the growing independence of my children and the natural behavior of my house cats, I’m alone in the garden this spring.  And it is surprisingly really, really nice.

Orange cat in the yard
A brief, tender moment with Seamus.
Emerging daffodils
The neon of the first daffodils.

This Too

I’ve been putting it off, but rising anxiety prompted me to finally look into the side-effects of medications I might be prescribed for CIS in a few weeks.  If you are curious, there are only four out there, of the twelve drugs available to slow the progression of MS.  All four of them are injections, self-administered.  Barf.

We’ll see, though.  I have two appointments in the next few weeks with two different neurologists.  I have been given the choice to not do anything at all, and so far that is the route I’ve taken.  The second appointment is when I believe I’ll be told some more numbers and we try to guess what my likelihood of having another attack/progressing to MS is.  And if that probability calls for preventive measures.

I’m not entirely stress-free on other fronts, either.  I’m working really hard at bootcamp these days (holla, Fit Moms!), but there’s something there that isn’t quite right.  I’ve been getting overwhelmed and panicked.  Maybe it’s the intense claustrophobia I felt working out in the small room the other day, maybe it’s just my body “doing some emotional processing” like my favorite yogi once taught me, or maybe I’m just tired from all these extra late-night snuggles my koala needs.  This too shall pass.  Until then, my husband has offered to make me a t-shirt that says “I Might Cry.  Or Punch You.”  Heh.  He knows me so well.

My intuitive, sensitive little daughter is going through another round of what we call “Full Koala” around here.  Preschool has gotten a little harder for her (Thanks, Alice!), her tummy hurts, and she has been crawling into my bed earlier and earlier in the night these days. (Thank you Jim Gaffigan!  “My wife has instituted this opendoor policy, where if one of our kids wakes up and has a nightmare, they’re welcome to come into our room and pee in our bed.”  tee hee!)  I made my choice about this a long time ago.  Give her enough time and security and she’ll bloom on her own. These two hothouse orchids of mine wilt when pushed and thrive when they are ready.  Every once in a while, though, I feel a little squeezed, a little impatient.  I’m not looking for a magic bullet, but I may be waiting for a ton of books from the library called things like Quiet Kids, or The Shyness Breakthrough, Nurturing the Shy Child and Growing Up Brave.

My poor husband takes the brunt of this when the kids are in bed and I tell him to “Go away.  Right now.  I have not been alone for one moment in three days.  I love you dearly but go away now.  Take these damn cats, too.  Fine, you can sit on the other sofa, but I swear to god, don’t speak.”  He’s a good sport, bless him.

About a year ago, I told a friend that true-to-form, my daughter’s snow angels were even pressed against the side of mine. She still is.  Today, we got a sprinkle of fresh snow and she asked if we could make “a snow angel, and mine angel will be right next to you, and you can be the angel’s mommy.”  Of course. Of course we can.

A snow angel mommy and girl
Here. Just here under my wing, doll.

Oddly, I’m not tired of winter or the cold yet.  I don’t mind bundling up, or the shoveling, or the early dark this year, but I am missing walking barefoot through the yard.  I do miss the green and feeling the heat of the driveway.  I’ve never experienced winter this way before.  Must be the work of the new skylights.

All of this calls for action, so I made my annual “save me from winter” trip to the garden center yesterday.  I already have my seeds and the dinosaur terrariums made by the kids from last year’s trip are still mostly alive, so I came home with a giant pink cyclamen to brighten up the windowsill.  And new tea towels.  And two baby kalanchoe plants in bloom because my daughter fell in love with them.

Pink cyclamen, orange cat
Cyclamen, Stuart-Approved

I also had a couple dozen things that needed to get done yesterday, but instead gave the pothos and the croton a nice soak in the shower.  I sprayed all the dust off their leaves, gave them a trim, and huffed the scent of warm, wet dirt for a while.  Ah, summer!  Then I dismantled the dish-washer and cleared out the gunk in the trap and behind the seal.  Why must I clean the things whose job it is to clean? Why?  Nonetheless, it sparkles now and I feel accomplished in a way I’ve been missing for some time.

Those things, and a steady diet of raspberries, red peppers, avocados, (and popcorn), eaten while sitting with a goofy four-year-old in the bay window have me in a late summer mindset.  Everything is flush.   This too shall pass.

Raspberries, Avocado, and red pepper.
Le Cure de Soleil et Fruits Expensive

The Vegetable Garden Begins

I got my seeds delivered this week! I am excited! The garden doesn’t look like much right now…..

Snow covered garden beds

but I have hope.

Every year is different in the garden. I don’t think we plan on putting in any new beds this year, but you never know. The last few years have started well and then attention and watering dwindled and I don’t even know what we harvested.

The plan this year is to stick to stuff we actually know will grow AND that we will eat. The kids are mostly feral during the summer and eat all the radishes, carrots, kholrabi, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, raspberries, strawberries, black and blue-berries and grapes before it gets in the house (basically everything except the kale).  We’ve tried sweet corn and had the world’s smallest harvest:

World's smallest sweet corn harvest: one tiny ear
It was really good, though!

I also bought them all my seeds online this year. I can find seed brands and varieties I like at a local store…but buying them there would probably mean bringing one or two children with me and then we end up with fourteen packets of radish seeds, eight varieties of sunflowers, and twenty packets of things that don’t even grow in Wisconsin without a greenhouse. I prefer to buy my seeds from Botanical Interests or Renee’s Garden. Because they have the prettiest packages. Oh, and because I know they aren’t owned or somehow connected to Monsanto in any way. (I have so much rage toward this evil empire, I won’t get into it here. All I will say is that if you, too, would like to make sure they are in no way making a profit or continuing to steamroll the vitality of the earth on your little piece of it, check here for a few ways to garden without them.)

The list of vegetable seeds for summer, 2015  is:  Carrots, Cabbage, Cucumber, purple hull Beans (so we can find them in the jungle come harvest), Fennel, Kale, Kholrabi (Q’s favorite) , Lettuce, Radishes (the Bean’s favorite),Sugar Snap Peas, Summer Squash and Zucchini, and Pumpkins and Jack-Be-Littles for decorations.

Botanical Interests seed packets Botanical Interests seed tapes Botanical Interests Sugar Snap Peas

I won’t be starting any seeds indoors this year.  We’ve had some success with artichokes and tomatoes and peppers, but I’m not up for giving up the bay window to moldy seed pots and inevitable over-watering by the young helpers this year.  I’ll get robust little seedlings from the farmer’s market instead, come May for tomatoes, peppers, broccoli and cauliflower and probably seed potatoes because it is such an easy and fun one for the kids to plant and harvest.

My herbs will be Basil, Cilantro, Parsley, Dill and I can never resist thyme, rosemary and oregano plants.  I have some seed tapes for scallions and a few lettuce varieties this year so I hopefully don’t have to thin them.  Those ones always get away from me and then are thin and ratty and inedible.  The tapes make it really easy for the kids to help with the itty-bitty seeds too instead of using the little seed-dropper or fingers.

No winter squashes or gourds, no chard, no parsnips or turnips or spinach or arugula or garlic or edamame or quinoa .  Less is more.  At least this year it is. For flowers in the vegetable garden, the calendula always comes back from it’s own dropped seeds and usually some rogue sunflowers and nasturtiums do too.  Every year, I think about making a sunflower house or tunnel, and it never quite turns out. Sunflowers have a mind of their own, you know.  I haven’t decided to make a go at it again this year or not.  The last thing is the zinnias.  I like to plant them from seed, even though it takes a bit to get going, but then there are nice shocks of color all through the second half of the summer.

Jack-Be-Little pumpkins and a stealthy cat
Stuart is ready for the cat-days of summer.
Nasturtiums, edible lovlies, although we never eat them
Sunzilla will return! I believe this one was named “Wyatt” by a visiting gardener




Happy Garden planning to you, too!