Backyard Ballad: Peonies and Phlox Edition

backyard ballad, backyard love song, family, friends, garden, personal growth, photography, small town life

As you may have gathered, flowers are my weakness. I love them. I love the way they look, I love the way they seem so fragile but are actually so strong, I love the patterns, the scents, the colors.


One thing I keep coming back to is how fleeting they are.

When we arrived at the end of May the lilac bushes and trees were BURSTING, and if you drove with the windows down you could smell lilacs all over the country. Then they were gone, and the rhododendrons erupted and there were huge bushes of purple and pink and orange flowers in front of houses up and down every side street.


These rhododendron pictures are from a house up the street. There’s an old man who lives there and he used to know my Nana since he lived next door. We talked about her briefly and I took pictures of his flowers and, since he was having his weekly moving sale (yes, really, he’s had it every week), I bought two vases for $1 each.


Then they were gone and wild phlox appeared, lining the roads, hiding in groves, bordering meadows and fields.


The phlox was everywhere, purple upon purple upon purple. Then the roadsides were mowed and the deer got hooked on the Phlox Phad and ate them all up.

Then there were peonies, and they are almost gone. They super-inflated and then exploded and the peony heads are lying all over people’s lawns, looking exhausted and like someone let all the air out of their tires.

This last picture is one I took a few days ago. I bought myself a peony bush and it’s my favorite thing. I planted it by the front porch and two weeks later there were two giant pink flowers bobbing around and now the petals are decaying on the ground, but look at this photo, isn’t it gorgeous?

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Backyard Ballad: Spring Skies

backyard ballad, garden, personal growth, Uncategorized

As Spring draws to a close, I thought I’d share a few pictures of the backyard sky from the last month or so.


Not technically the backyard, more like the neighboring side-yard…


A gorgeous sunset from the side porch.


A soggy, soft sky after a rainy day.


An approaching thunderstorm.


Also not technically our backyard, but it’s my aunt’s backyard, and she only lives a mile away 🙂

Adios, Spring! And here’s to a wonderful Summer!


The First Backyard Ballad

backyard ballad, Uncategorized

I think I’m going to start a new feature called “Backyard Ballad” in which I post a couple of snaps of whatever is happening around our yard.


She really, actually enjoys mowing the lawn.

We have flowers and animals and get-togethers and campfires and hummingbirds and hammocks and I think this would be a nice way to look back and remember the little moments which make this place so special to us.


A well-earned rest

I thought about calling it Back-yode, like an ODE to the backyard, but I talked myself out of it instantly and then I wrote this sentence.


These few pics are from one of the two sunny days last week.


We called these “spit bugs” when I was a kid. These little insects leave white, bubbly blobs on long grasses which look a lot like spit; ergo, spit bug. I just checked on Wikipedia and apparently, they are more well-known as “froghoppers”* and can jump “many times their height and length.”

Anyway, when we were really little we used to pick them up with our fingers and look for the tiny, little green bug inside them.

That is an activity that I have outgrown.


And this is a pretty little catnip plant** which we planted after Brother T cleared the back part of the yard.





*of the superfamily Cercopoidea

**better known as nepeta cataria

Troy Farmer’s Market

family, garden, photography, small town life

Allow me to continue the trend of writing things more than a week behind schedule.


Last Saturday we joined my dad’s brother and one of his sisters and went up to the Troy Farmer’s Market. It was excellent! Troy used to be a garbage pit of a city, and now it is slightly better!

I shall tell this story through the medium of artistic photography:*


The entrance to the market.

Below, Sister thinks, “Wow, Troy isn’t so bad after all!” This was right before we witnessed a voluble domestic dispute. It involved a man dragging a woman behind him and then when a ton of the farmer’s market crowd went to intervene, she screamed at them, “LEAVE HIM ALONE, HE’S MY BOYFRIEND.” So, Troy.



Me and the Tomato Lady:


Every time she told me about a new tomato variety (purple ones! striped ones! pink ones!) I got excited and asked for them and then she would hunt around for a long time and then they would be sold out. I asked what one of the varieties tasted like and she said, “Have you ever had lap sap sue tongue tea?” and I was like, “No.” And she said, “What about Mountain Russia Floo Flah?” and I was like, “No.” And she said, “Do you like smoked tea?” and I was like, “I don’t think this tomato sounds very good.”


Sold out of almost all of them!

We met a lovely woman who keeps goats and makes soap and lotion out of them. I bought a lotion because 1. it smelled good and 2. after Claire used the goat prop below, I felt like I had to.



That’s MY sister!




The woman selling these lettuce seedlings didn’t wear shoes.

Mom, we thought you would appreciate this hymnal of temperance songs:

There were all kinds of plants, seedlings, meats, coffees, homemade pastas, breads, bagels, carbohydrates of all sorts!




Unless it is Claire, I don’t want to put people’s faces on the internet without them knowing about it or signing off on it, so here we see the back of Uncle Gee’s head and the back of Aunt K’s head as well as the requisite tote bags.

Just look at these beets:


Here is an obligatory shot of artisan bread product:




The first chocolate milk I’ve had in about a decade. So good.

Until next time, Troy!


* Please construe the word “artistic” very loosely


culture shock, family, friends, personal essay, photography, small town life

Good morning! A short post to start the day, and then maybe like eight more posts because the internet has decided to upload pictures? We’ll see.

I thought I’d show you a few of the things that have inspired culture shock in the last two weeks since I’ve returned to America. There are always things…not the ones I expect…that throw me for a loop. Sister and I often discuss how we are back in our own country, but having spent so many years overseas, we don’t quite fit in. There are…apparently…many things that we should just know, but we don’t! Such is the life of a third-culture-kid.

America is BIG. The big-ness of it hits me in different ways. When it comes to driving somewhere, you have to drive FAR, and that doesn’t faze anyone. Any place within an hour’s drive in any direction is considered do-able and local. The hills and the meadows stretch on and on and on. This is the big-ness which I love. I like that it makes me feel like a small part of a huge thing, and I like that the roads are overgrown with wildflowers and more trees than I’ve ever seen anywhere else. I like that our history is so upfront and personal, that America is still fairly wild, that there are far, far more birds that fly past my window than cars.


This is a giant bear claw mark on my Aunt’s house, about a mile from our house. Bears are making a come back around here!

And then there is the big-ness that I don’t like.

Our area has a population of 5,402 spread out over a lot of land. Two miles up the road from us is the grocery store, which used to be a small-ish, manageable, slightly run-down place. Then they replaced it. With a fortress. It is the size of a small airport. For all I know, it is ALSO a small airport. It is open 24/7. There is just no reason that anyone around here needs to run to the local store at 3 AM and I have personally only been able to bring myself to go inside it a couple of times because it is just SO OVERWHELMING.

There is a big-ness in the book stores, the grocery stores, the construction stores, the clothing stores, the stuff stores, the more stores, the even-more stores that I can’t tolerate. Things are cheap. If you want cheap, there is cheap. Walmart is KING of the cheap, but this is what happened to me when I made the mistake of venturing into Walmart.


Sister found me here, on the verge of a panic attack, hiding behind the cooler.

There are so many options. The options sprawl out in front of me and I–who am not good at making decisions–find myself paralyzed.

Here is how you buy a loofah in Europe: You go to the store and if they have a loofah, you buy it. If they don’t have a loofah, that is to be expected, and you will be fine.

Here is how you buy a loofah here in a small town in the middle of nowhere:



Yes, the following options are available:

  • textured
  • net
  • scrubbie dubbie
  • delicate
  • exfoliating
  • charcoal-infused
  • and men’s, which are not different from the other ones.
  • on a stick
  • on a different kind of stick
  • on a stick that is ergonomic
  • on a wooden stick with a sponge
  • on a wooden stick with a different kind of sponge

And Target. Oh my goodness, let’s not go THERE ever again. Behold what Target hath wrought:


Poor Sister. All we wanted were chips!

And then there is tipping. Let’s save that one for another day. But America, just pay people a living wage! It would make everything so much easier!


The other day we met Aunt K thirty minutes away for dinner and WONDER WOMAN. (I loved Wonder Woman!) We went to a place called the Recovery Room, which made the following bold assertion:



While you’re eating.

Here is what that looks like, and pretend you’re not good with sensory overload:

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SCREENS EVERYWHERE. This was just from my seat at the restaurant. Some of the TVs had four different screens within the screen. Every sport imaginable! Lots of people talking at me! SO MANY DIFFERENT SCORES.

The menu did not have any vegetable untouched by cheese or meat, haha, and because of the decision-paralysis discussed above, this is how my ordering went down:

Waitress (SUPER PEPPY): Have you decided what you’ll be getting tonight?

Me (paralyzed from the menu, points to childhood favorite): The chicken strips?

Waitress: GREAT CHOICE. Okay, will you be having that with a special shake spice blend?

Me: …what?

Waitress: Will you be having that with a special shake spice blend? We could do ranch, or adobo, or habanero, or–

Me: No.

Waitress: And what dip will you be having?

Me: …I…thought it came with the honey mustard?

Waitress (positively chipper): IT SURE DOES, but you can get another dip, too! Ranch? BBQ? Sweet and sour? Or maybe–


Waitress: SURE THING. Okay, and would you like regular fries, onion rings, sweet potato fri–


Waitress: SOUNDS GREAT. Okay, and to drink?

Me (going crazy): Iced tea.

Waitress: Regular, lemon, raspberry, sweetened or unsweetened?

Me (puts my head down and begins to sob uncontrollably).


I think four chickens had to die for my meal.

In no particular order, a few other culture shock moments:


The deer ate ALL THE FLOWERS. Ughhhh.


There are yard sales everywhere.


Finding the car battery and figuring it out made possible thanks to Uncle M.

I can hear Brother T and Sister in the other room cackling over Parks and Rec, I am drinking coffee with half-and-half, and later I plan to go and buy the best burrito I’ve ever had in my life. There are beautiful things here. It’s just better for everyone if I don’t go into a box store ever again.


We are coming for you, Taste Box.

Geraniums, As Promised

family, memorial day, personal essay, small town life, Uncategorized

The Ghent Union Cemetery has a very old hand pump and a watering can. It’s about half a mile up the road from our house, surrounded by land that used to be the Gilbert farm.


Mornings were so painful for me as a kid. In fact, they still are! Yuck. I hate waking up. I mean sure, they’re beautiful, and everything is quiet and new and peaceful, but…I really like sleeping.

The bus came around 7:35 when I was in middle and high school. J and I would stand out at the end of our driveway in the chilly morning air and Mom would wave at us from the window and we would watch the bus appear around the corner far down the road and get bigger and bigger as it came closer. I’d sit with Jessica and when we were little, little kids we would play Miss Mary Mac and always hold our breath when we went past the cemetery until we passed a white house and then we could let it out again. Why? I don’t know.

Mom: Why are you holding your breath?

Me: You are supposed to hold your breath when you go past graveyards until you get to a white house.

Mom: Don’t do that, it’s superstitious.

Me: Okay.

(but sometimes I still did it, anyway)


I used to see cars there, and people, and sometimes backhoes. It was a club I didn’t belong to–having someone there I knew and loved. Now I do belong to that club. Yippee. I’d like to return my membership card?


Some things about the cemetery:

  • It is a very peaceful, pretty place.
  • The old pump is pretty cool.
  • I recognize so many of the last names on the headstones!


  • There is something about the idea of knowing where you’re going to be buried before you die. I saw a headstone–so elaborate!–and it is a husband and wife and it has their birthdates but neither of them have died yet! And their headstone is ready for them. How strange. For a long time now, I haven’t even known what country I’d be in from year to year, but Nana knew where she would be buried, and so did Doris. They knew where they were going after they were buried, too, and I’m with them on that one. Thank goodness I can look forward to seeing them again. Death is too hard without that hope. In fact, it’s too hard even with that hope, but would be unbearable without it.


  • The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) association puts flags on the graves of any serviceman. There are also plaques for where they served. This is my grandfather’s, he served in the Navy on the USS Texas in WWII and was at the D-Day Invasion. My other grandfather served in WWII as well, in the Pacific. History!




Geraniums and Gravestones

family, personal essay, small town life, Uncategorized

In a freak accident, my spin-instructor aunt had her ankle bone broken in two spots about six weeks ago. It is appalling! Exactly the kind of thing I wouldn’t want to happen to ME. I assume, going forward, that it will be her Achilles Heel.


I have learned a couple things from her accident.

  • It would be easy to ask why it happened to her. It would be so easy to ask God why He didn’t just…stop it from happening. Why not move the lady that fell on her a couple inches to the right and PRESTO everyone is fine. Instead, my aunt’s attitude has been to try and find the good that has happened because of this accident, and to try and find where God has met her despite her circumstances. In the kindness of the staff at the hospital, in the visits from old friends, in the newfound pleasure in journaling, in the lack of pain.
  • I have also learned to stay away from women who seem to be physically unbalanced when on staircases in public venues.
  • Rest is critical when getting well. That kind of goes for anything.

Because of the big clunky boot she has on her leg now, her mobility is restricted for the time being. One of the results is that she can’t put flowers on her parents’ graves this Memorial Day, which is a thing she does every year. She just pulled into the driveway (I love that I live in a place where people pull into the driveway) (actually, her husband pulled into the driveway, as she has a broken ankle) and had a flat of geraniums on her lap. The cemetery is about 1/4 mile up the road and she asked if we’d put them in the ground later today when the drizzle stops and maybe the sun peeks out.

Of course. I’d love to. Do you know what a feeling it is for this transplanted geranium to be able to go do that? (I just called myself a geranium. Was it weird? It was, right? I won’t do it again. Maybe.)

It’s a really good feeling. It’s another one of the feelings that fills me up.

Later, IF THE DRIZZLE EVER STOPS DRIZZLING, Sister and I will go up to the cemetery and put the geraniums there in anticipation of Memorial Day on Monday. Someone from the VFW will come by and put a flag in the ground to mark my grandfather’s service on the Texas during the war. According to my aunt, some other people will make the rounds to make sure that the children and grandchildren have been appropriately respectful and have marked the graves with flowers and geraniums. Isn’t that funny?

Old Guy: “I noticed no one put geraniums on Harold’s plot this year.”

Old Guy’s Wife: “Well, his kids have been pretty busy. And that one daughter broke her ankle and can’t get around yet.”

Old Guy: “When I had two broken ankles and a bullet hole while snipers took aim at me, you didn’t see me not putting geraniums on the graves of my elders.”

Old Guy’s Wife: “Very true, dear. There’s really no excuse.”

Anyway, I’ll take a picture later and try not to be maudlin.

But it’s hard, because when you miss someone, there isn’t really anything you can do other than miss them, and wait for the feeling to pass.


All ground is hard until such time as it isn’t.

garden, gardening tips, personal growth

Well, when I woke up Saturday morning I knew considerably less than I know now.

I’ve talked to aunts and uncles and cousins and friends and neighbors. I’ve discovered there are gardeners hiding all over the place, and they are thrilled to offer tips and tricks. I like tips and tricks. I also like finding secret gardeners. Here are some things I’ve learned:

  • Start small! That’s what everyone keeps telling me. I have decided to ignore this piece of advice and have the entire yard plowed up to start a produce stand.
  • If there are brown holes all over my lawn (there aren’t), that means skunks are poking around digging for grubs (we’re good so far).
  • Rows should go north to south. Sun is good, shade is bad, unless you have been working in the sun, in which case you will go and hunt out the meagre shade nearby and think about how hot you are.
  • Corn and melons are friends, plant marigolds next to tomatoes, and let pepper plants touch because they like to hang out together and gossip about the other plants.
  • Plant taller crops to the northwest so that they don’t cast a shadow over the rest of the garden.
  • Our sump pump ran for a solid month this winter, Dad, and the hose fell off every five minutes. Our neighbors kept running over to fix it in order to keep our basement dry. I learned that yesterday and I’m putting it here because I’ll probably forget to tell you.
  • Much like having a favorite burger place or type of pie, everyone has a favorite garden center, and they greatly disdain all other garden centers.

Regarding sweet corn:

Apparently it is hard to grow? This much I know: I love sweet corn. I’ve had a few types recommended to me. Bread and butter is one, and Silver Queen is another. According to my dad, my great-grandfather was the one who first introduced Silver Queen to the area. He had a legendary green thumb. I never knew him, but I am going to put my garden on the last half-acre of the old family farm, and that’s the closest I can get to knowing him, isn’t it? The cemetery is half a mile up the road, and if I get some Silver Queen to be proud of, maybe I’ll drop in and let him know. However, I probably won’t share the sweet corn.

Regarding potatoes:

My mom has pictures of her on the back of a potato harvester. Neighbor Bill has informed me that the way to discover if we can grow potatoes is to go find a potato with eyes. Cut it in half. Put it in the soil about yay deep (indicates with hands), and see what happens. Once there is blight in the soil, it’s hard to get the blight out, so maybe you’ll get a potato and maybe you won’t.

Regarding myself:

Despite a lifelong reluctance toward asking for help or admitting I am in any way not on top of things, when I do ask for help, no one laughs at me. Contrary to my expectations, everyone is kind and helpful. Is that unique to gardening?

Experienced Gardener: How’s your water?

Me: …………watery?

Soil can be: dusty, loamy, acidic, alkaline, dirty, muddy, rich, earthy, peaty, soddy, grassy, and it can smell like the most wonderful thing.

I still don’t know what loamy means.

All ground is hard until such time as it isn’t.

Alex’s Garden


My childhood home has been un-lived in for a lot of the last decade. We were transplanted (is that too on the nose for a gardening blog?) when my parents took jobs that moved us overseas. From a small half-acre in Upstate New York to Iceland. From the lush and green country side to a lava field where nothing seemed to grow and the nights were so long they never seemed to end.

In the interim between then and now there have been a lot of moves. A lot. There have been a lot of new houses, new experiences, new people. There have been new countries, new cities, new addresses. You should see the address book on my Amazon page, it tells a story. There have been really sweet times, and really hard times. Our family unit has changed shape, and the way we fly apart and then come together again reminds me of the way a jellyfish moves through the water.

I’m back now, and it feels good. Yesterday, I sat in my grandmother’s rocking chair. Last night, I slept in the room I slept in as a child. Today, I need to return my aunt’s pizza tray. The mundanity of that fills me up.

When we were little, we bought our Mom day lilies and fruit trees to try and fill up the big empty yard. Some of them survived, and most of them did not. When I came home for a summer a few years ago, I went to Walmart and bought some discount flowers on my aunt’s advice and I stuck them in the ground. I divided up the big, bulbous end of the yellow Daylily we had given my Mom years and years ago and I tried to make a little flower bed around the porch. It was my first foray into gardening as an adult and when I left at the end of the summer family members sent me photos of the lilies blooming the next spring. That felt really good.

I’ve wanted to grow things for a while now. I think I crave the roots. Having so few myself, I think I want the stability and semi-permanence of putting something in the ground and watching it grow and succeed and thrive.

I thought I’d start this blog, a journal of my first real gardening attempt, from the very beginning. I thought I’d muse on my own self, my own roots, my own attempt to put some down after the transience and unpredictability of the last thirteen years.

I want a garden. I want to eat tomatoes that I grow myself. I want to know what loamy means. I’m a novice. I have recently (this morning) learned what a zinnia looks like. I still have to work to remember the difference between an annual and a perennial, like when someone holds up their left index finger and thumb to remember which way is left and which way is right. But I think I’ll get there, and I think I’ll be discovering things along the way, and I think there will be healing, and I hope there will be tomatoes.