Monthly Archives: September 2013

How to grow garlic in the Colorado foothills

**NEW and IMPROVED! Now with more fantastic pictures!** –Oct. 2014

It’s almost garlic-planting time again! Gabe and I try to expand our empire every year by giving out bulbs to our friends and neighbors and then giving them instructions on how to plant the garlic if they so desire. I figure I should share our instructions because they’re awesome and also, I can now just point my friends and neighbors to this post instead of hunting the instructions down each time.

These instructions apply to hardneck garlic. Yes, you can try planting the garlic you get at the store but there’s a good chance it won’t work. It’s best to get your bulbs from a Farmer’s Market or order the bulbs from a seed supply company. That way, you’ll know if you have hardneck garlic or the other kind that you can braid and use as decoration.

So, I’m going to break this down by season. Hardneck garlic stays in the ground over the winter, much like tulips. Here’s a basic year-long plan for growing this fabulous stuff in the Colorado foothills:

September

Make a comfortable, delicious bed for your baby garlic cloves. Add compost and make sure the dirt is soft and has no lumps for 6-8 inches down. You’ll be planting cloves 2″ apart so plan your garlic bed accordingly.

Compost

If you’ve been making compost, now is the time to use it! This is our little compost bin. See? Greenery at the top, dirt at the bottom! It’s magic.

Big bucket of compost

This is the delicious compost, a whole bucket-full!

  • Garden bed

    So obviously, the bed has been empty for awhile. It was the summer veggies and they’re long gone. So we need to turn the dirt (dig it up), remove the weeds, pick the rocks out, and break up the dirt clods. Then we’ll mix the compost in and make it all delicious and soft.

    Digging in the dirt

    Dig, dig, dig!

    Lovely garlic bed

    See how pretty? We’ve just tilled the compost into the dirt and brought the remaining dirt clods up to the surface to break apart. We’re just about ready to plant.

After the first frost

Remove any loose paper from the cloves but don’t peel them. The hard paper skin is their pajamas and they will get cold if not properly dressed for the winter.

Basket o' garlic

Here are a bunch of garlic bulbs! We’re gonna plant ’em.

Inside a garlic bulb

First, you have to unpeel the bulb and pop all the cloves out.

Breaking out the cloves

Gabe, here, separates the cloves because it’s finger-hurting work and I am very delicate and fragile.

Plant garlic cloves flat-ish end down, pointy side up. Put them 2 inches down and 2 inches apart. Gently and lovingly pat dirt over the cloves and say sweet things to them like, “Goodnight, dear baby garlics. Sleep well all winter. I will see you in the spring. I love you. Night night” or sing lullabies.

Garlic bottom

This is the flattish end. It’s going to sit in the dirt.

Garlic clove

The pointy end is the top. It’s going to stick up.

Planting garlic

See? I’m about to put the clove, flattish end down, into the dirt. Then I’m going to push it down so it’s nearly covered.

Garlic in dirt

There it is, pointy end up, pushed into the dirt.

Garlic babies

Voila! All the little garlic cloves tucked into their dirty rows, ready to be covered over so they can go to sleep for the winter.

Cover bed with a nice, warm blanket of grass clippings or rabbit/chicken straw or anything nourishing yet warm like that.

Let sleeping garlics lie

We just pushed the dirt back over them all and patted them down. Easy!

Sleep tight, baby garlics

Final step: Cover with blanket. Old straw, in this case. Grass clippings, leaf mulch, old straw from the chicken coop or rabbit pen, those all work, too. Then water it really well.

All winter long

If there’s no snow on the bed, make sure it gets watered weekly. You may have to add mulch if the straw/clipping blankets blow away. Don’t let the dirt get too exposed and don’t let the bed get too dry.

Spring

Garlic shoots should start popping up between March and May unless it’s a mild winter, in which case you might see them earlier. If they do pop up earlier, keep them snipped back until March otherwise they’re just going to get crushed in spring snows and then they’ll have to start over and that is a pain in the butt for them. If they DO get crushed by spring snows, don’t worry. They’ll be fine, it just takes them awhile to recover.

Leave whatever mulch is left on the bed but you don’t need to add more. Start watering a couple times a week if there’s no snow/rain. Beds should not dry out from here on out.

If you feel like it, you can plant carrots, small red radishes (not daikons), green onions, marigolds or bush beans between the rows (bush beans would go in the squares of no-garlic areas instead of between two garlic babies)

Summer

Garlic will start to make seeds in the June timeframe (earlier if it was a mild winter and they’ve had a longer growing season). The seeds are called “scapes” once they’re harvested. Search for images of scapes on Google so you can see what they look like. They’re long, curly stems that usually come from the top-ish area of the garlic stalk. Once they’re curly and they start to have a seed pod at the end, clip them off near the base of the seed stem where it comes out of the garlic stalk. You can cook these and they’re really expensive at Whole Foods so you can totally feel like you just saved a ton of money on a gourmet plant piece. Just Google “scapes recipes” and you’ll find all sorts of stuff. I guess you can make pesto out of them, too. Neat, right?

Scapes

Those curly things are the scapes! See where they’re a lighter, brighter green down where they come off the main stem? That’s where you cut them.

Our garlic patch in July. With strawberries. And milk cartons. Don’t judge.

July/August

Once the leaves on the stalk are mostly dead and the base of the stalk down by the dirt is sort of squishy/no-longer-firm, it’s time to dig the bulbs out of the ground. This could happen as early as July or as late as September, but usually this happens in the first couple of weeks of August. Dig the bed from the outside, loosen all the dirt, then pull up the garlic bulbs by the stalks. If the bed got really packed over the summer, you’ll have to dig gently around each bulb to get it out. DO NOT RINSE BULBS; just brush them off with your hands as well as you can. Get as much dirt out of the roots as possible.

See how they’re all turning brown and look all dry? It’s nearin’ pickin’ time. This was taken about a week before we harvested.

Once they’re all pulled and de-dirted, put all of them – the whole plant – root-side-down in a paper bag and store said bag in a cool, dry, non-sunny area for 2 weeks. If you have more bulbs than bag space, use more bags.

After 2 weeks, your babies are cured. Remove them from the bag and cut the stalk off ~1 inch above the bulb. Cut the roots off. Now you have real garlic to eat or replant. We usually save about 1/3 of the bulbs to replant, then consume the rest. The important part is to be impressed with yourself and to love your homemade garlic.

Not our best year for garlic, but not bad. We took these puppies, stems and all, and shoved them into a paper bag. Then we stored them in the basement for two weeks to cure.

Evie inspected the bag-packing process to make sure we’re doing it right. Because this is, apparently, very difficult and must be managed with care. Thanks, Evie.

We store our to-be-eaten garlic in a cute little basket in our fake pantry, but you can put it anywhere it’s not going to get moist or overly cold. TLC has some tips on storing garlic, but do NOT listen to them about washing off the garlic after harvesting because HELLO! They’ll turn into gremlins if you get them wet. Or they can potentially get moldy. Same thing.

All cured and ready to go. The basket is the eating garlic, the purple square is the gift garlic, and the red tin in the to-be-planted garlic.

Edit: See also: This post from Mary Jane’s Farm

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Filed under Adventures

Ghost hunting in The Brown Palace

I don’t know if you know this, but I’ve got a damn awesome sister. I hated her in our youthful days; it’s alarming to realize that I now love her so much, I would be willing to chop her into tiny pieces and gobble her up. That’s a compliment, trust me.

Little B and I share birthdays this month. We’re five days and twenty-five years apart. We’ve co-partied for our birthday celebrations before and it’s always good fun but guess what Noelle did this year?

She took B and me to The Brown Palace for a night of ghost-hunting and a day of fancypantness!!

Here’s how it went down.

I go to Denver often enough to know my basic way around so I offered to drive. Noelle and I dressed up because…well, because. I mean, it’s not like either of us get that chance too often. B wore teenage gear because she is sixteen. The point here is that none of us were in shorts and tank tops, ok? Anyhow, my car doesn’t have air conditioning anymore and it was a hot day so we arrived all sweaty and gross. Noelle told me to give the car to the valet. I’m sure he was not glad to hop into our girl-sweat infested vehicle, but he didn’t complain and we didn’t care because we had arrived for our birthday adventure in overheated fashion! Yay!

Noelle, B, and I, sitting outside of The Brown Palace, ready to begin our grand adventure.

We checked in, dropped off our luggage, and B changed into a skirt because we made her. We had some time to kill before our ghost tour and since we were suffering from starvation, we decided to gnosh on appetizers down at the Ship Tavern. Also, Noelle and I enjoyed refreshing adult beverages while B had a Sprite.

It’s on the pointy end of the building.

B’s choice of appetizer

These kept jumping out of the fry cone as the server brought them to our table. It was like they were alive, leaping about, falling to the floor, sprinkling parmesan all around the room. Had Hansel and Gretel had these, they definitely would have been able to follow their trail back home.

This is what was left of the crabcakes by the time I remembered to take pictures. Here’s the dumb thing: we didn’t want to fill up because we were going to have dinner later. So why did we order 3 appetizers? Yeah, we filled up.

Tasty adult beverages

After flinging fries hither and yon, we exited the eatery and waited for our tour guide who turned out to be the actual hotel historian! Her name is Debra. I didn’t take her picture. I don’t know why.

She started by telling us she couldn’t say, “Oh, yeah, we have a whole passel of ghosts in our hotel,” nor could she tell us about anyone who may or may  not have fallen/leapt to their deaths from the 7th floor to the marble atrium below because none of that is allowed. However, she could tell us about “unexplained phenomena” other guests, as well as staff, had experienced while at the Brown Palace.

So we started with a short history of the hotel. It is 121 years old and the only hotel in Denver that has operated continuously for that amount of time. It was owned by the Boettchers for awhile and they’re the reason it didn’t have to close down during the Depression. Yay for smart business decisions!

Now, here’s something I hadn’t known: The hotel gets its water from an artesian well that is around 16 stories deep. People who know about ley lines and ghostly things have said that the well goes deep enough to pass near/on a place of otherwordliness (I am totally paraphrasing all this, by the way) which could be why there are so many instances of “unexplained phenomena” in the ‘ Palace. Of course, as Debra said, this hotel has been in operation 365 days a year for 121 years. The odds are that with that many souls passing through the building, a few are bound to stay.

We visited the former gentleman’s club where one tour group saw a man come from the bathroom only the bathroom was nothing but a wall.

A man walked from this panel and some of the members of that long-ago tour were all like, “Who the hell is that guy? He’s not part of our group. Is he a staff member?” but no one recognized him. Also, they realized much later, that the bathroom from which he’d emerged was actually a wall.

We visited the Presidential Suite and heard about a woman who had owned one of the apartments on the 9th floor, had lived there many years and died there in the arms of her nurse. She had been a cranky thing, according to legend, and in later years, when the hotel took tour groups into her former suite, the front desk’s phone rang, the call coming from her room, yet there was never anyone on the other end. The thing is, at the time, there was no phone in that room because it hadn’t been remodeled as a hotel room yet.

There was also the story of Lizzie. She was not very old when she fell from the 7th floor banister. When she landed on the marble below, she lost consciousness but, according to everyone who had been there at the time (I think in the 20’s or 40’s), she came to and walked it off a little later. There’s more to that story but you can go take the ghost tour, yourself, to find out. Just remember to ask how many people have fallen from the 7th floor.

View from the 7th floor. You can’t see the 8th floor because it’s all walled-in and that is because it sports an art-deco style rather than Victorian.

I didn’t see/feel/hear/experience anything unearthly but Noelle did and B thinks she may have. While we were in the former gentleman’s club (now an event room), Noelle and B felt something cold pass between them. I only felt air conditioning. When we walked down the stairs from the 8th floor to the 7th, Noelle got vertigo. I did, too, but mine came from going from the art-deco-style back down to the very busy, very patterny, somewhat overwhelming Victorian style below. While B and I leaned on the banister rail of the seventh floor, Noelle had to back away because she felt sick. Like, puke-out-her-guts sick. Once we made it to the floor below, she was fine. When we went back up to where she’d felt sick, she was fine. She thinks someone had jumped from there and the leftover trauma made her sick. I blamed the crazy carpet.

You can see how walking down stairs and into this busy-ness could cause vertigo.

Noelle is trying to catch orbs but her camera won’t work right there.

This all goes along with Noelle’s hypersensitivity to anything from other planes and my complete inability to sense things not right in front of me. It’s been this way our whole lives. It used to make me jealous, but now I’m used to it.

After the tour, we ran about, retracing our steps and taking pictures. Then we walked the 16th Street Mall, ate gelato, got henna tattoos, rode the mall shuttle, laughed as B had her tattoo removed by a stumbling homeless man carrying a washboard, went to the Tattered Cover only to find it had closed two minutes before we got there, and finally wound up back in our room where we listened to a wedding party play loud music until midnight.

B gets henna-ed

Noelle gets henna-ed

Moments before the Most Horrific Experience.
It was like this:
We’d just gotten our henna tattoos and were walking along, walking along, getting tired.
We wanted to go to the Tattered Cover but it was so far away.
We got on the mall’s shuttle bus.
Noelle said, “Uh oh, here comes a guy with a washboard”
A man with an enormous backpack, several jackets, dreads, and a beard got on the shuttle, carrying his washboard.
Britt’s eyes got big (She doesn’t see homeless people in her life. They don’t exist where she lives. This was surprising for her)
The man, unstable on his feet, fell into/jostled against her arm, against her new tattoo.
Britt’s face grew horrified. Then she looked at her arm. Her birthday tattoo was gone.
She gave the man a look of evil.
Washboard Man had taken her birthday tattoo.
Britt has decided she is not a fan of homeless people who carry washboards and take off tattoos.
He got off at the next stop.
We laughed at Britt’s terror and indignation.
We did not do a good job at making her a more compassionate person.

This is the tattoo that was scraped off by the shuffling Washboard Man.

The next day, we got to loll about lazily (awesome!!) before getting up and successfully visiting the bookstore. We returned to the hotel and wrapped up the adventure with a super-fancy Afternoon Tea. It was 100% fabulous.

It is time for Afternoon Tea!

“One lump, or two?”

Noelle and I got champagne with fruit juice and B had fruit juice in sparkling water. Because we were extra-fancy.

What is the title of the person who takes care of you during tea time? The Tea Mistress? This is the pouring of the tea by our tea mistress, Hiwat.

The seriousness of the consuming.

It was a fantastic birthday present for both the 16-year-old and the 41-year-old. Noelle, you are the BEST PRESENT-GIVER EVER! Thank you and I hope you had as much fun as I did!

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Filed under Adventures, In someone else's backyard, My Dearly Beloveds

Milestone Marker: 1 Year

As of today, this blog has been alive for ONE WHOLE YEAR!

kermit-yay-flail_2745106_GIFSoup.com

YAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!
(courtesy of GIFsSoup.com)

When I opened this baby up for business, I had a couple of goals in mind. Just so you don’t have to go find them yourself, I’m going to list them here.

Purpose:

I think a blog could be a good exercise in keeping things concise, for working on my actual writing skills, and in finding my voice.

And how has that been working for me? Well, I edit as I write now. When I started this whole shebang, I wrote pages and pages of stuff and had to edit it down to a much smaller piece. It was tedious and painful and because I only have small windows of time in which to write, I had to find a way to become more efficient so I could get more done. Turns out, being able to figure what’s going to get cut in advance helps a ton. Why didn’t I have this skill earlier in life? It would have helped me immensely in school.

As for my writing skills…well, I suppose readers would be a better judge, but…no, I don’t think I’m becoming a better writer. In fact, I think the opposite is happening. I’m becoming a faster writer, a more thoughtful-of-the-process writer but I think I’m backsliding when it comes to the actual telling a story aspect. Because I’m so busy zipping through and not pouring everything out onto the page, I don’t get to uncover the little gems I like best in my own writing. There’s less drama, true, but also missing are those wonderful little quips that fall out when I’m writing to tell a story. Writing to keep to my goal creates a totally different style, one that’s not so great, actually. Honestly, while I like the structure of making sure I have a post up every week, I don’t enjoy the actual writing so much anymore. It’s so boring.

And finding my voice? No, I’m not finding my voice. Do I even have a voice? I don’t know. But it’s not showing up here. So I’ve taken to writing in my diary when I can and working on stories in those rare moments I have nothing else I need to do. Maybe my writing style and my voice will show up there.

These were my stated goals:

1. Post once a week.

You know? I’ve been pretty damn good about this. I skipped one week and I slapped together a couple of pretty weak posts when I couldn’t think of anything else to write but hadn’t finished editing any of the drafts in the hopper. But there is something there for every week and that is actually impressive. Good job, me!

2. Post only on the following topics:
My Adventures to include those that happen in my own backyard or while I’m housesitting as well as adventures abroad
-Tales from Toiletopia. A few people already know this: I LOVE toilet stories. I have great ones and I enjoy those told to me by others. Potty humor just cracks me up! Because I am a 12-year-old boy, apparently.
-My journey to writerhood. I don’t imagine there will actually be too many posts about this topic, but you never know. Crazier things have happened.
-My Dearly Beloveds. All the fun stuff about friends, family, and my cats or any future critters who join our circus.
-My Phenomenal Fake Life. This will be about the amazing things that happen in my life, only it’s the life that only exists in my imagination.
-My Opinions On Stuff. Probably reviews on books and movies. Maybe thoughts on video games. Who knows. I’ve already got a whole slew of book reviews up onGoodreads, so maybe just general things that entertained me. Or maybe this is where I’ll go all ranty and stuff. Who really knows at this point.  

I’m going to be honest – I stretch those topics like they’re made of Silly Putty. I run so loose with this self-imposed rule, there’s no point in the rule. But I made those topics into categories (I think they show up over there –> ) and since I like to lump things together, they stay.

3. Posts will have a one page limit.  A Word document page, I mean. That’s, what? Around 450ish to 700ish words, depending on spacing? 

Ok, I tried. I really did. I had given myself wiggle room for actual stories and the infomercials I didn’t know I would write and really tried to keep everything else tight. But, come on, I have a lot to say and even with my new, efficient editingness…I’m weak, ok? WEAK! I love words. I love to write them and type them and say them and I don’t want to hold them back! They have things to do, stuff to say! I need to give them their freedom! Even so, I’ve been fairly good at keeping most posts under 900 words (the picture captions do NOT count toward that number because that would be dumb. Those are totally different stories)

So what have I taken from this exercise?

Well, maybe I’m not a writer, so much. I might be a better editor. Or perhaps web comic illustrator.

Will I continue with the blog?

Yes, I will. I like it. Despite everything I’ve said, I enjoy reading back through my posts. I look for progress, for ideas, for…I don’t know. But you know what I like best? The comments. My commentors are so good at their job! That is what brings me the most joy.

Ok, that’s not all true – I also love watching my little map fill up; I feel like I’m taking over the world. As of this post, my blog has been viewed in 54 countries! And you know which country* is my biggest fan? Turkey. They always search for “ekgo” and wind up here. I love you, Turkey! Thanks for all the hits! I think you’re looking for a band or a singer and I am sorry I am not that person, but stick around anyhow! It will be fun!

*The US, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia are numbers 1-4, respectively, but don’t count because those are all friends and family reading whereas I know NOBODY in Turkey but get traffic from them at least twice a month anyway.

Will I still follow all my rules?

No, probably not. That page limit rule is going right out the window. While I don’t want to go crazy and write tomes of crap, I also don’t want to limit myself anymore. I tried my best, it didn’t help my writing, I’m letting that restriction go. Starting now. We’re already around 1,000 words and I have more to say. Like pondering whether or not I will keep with the post every week rule. I need to make time to write and this seems to be the best way to do it because I’m held accountable even if it’s only to myself. I mean, it’s obvious if I didn’t take the time to create a post because nothing appears. It’s sort of hard to lie to oneself when the evidence is ON THE INTERNETS!

And since I’m on the topic of me, here are the stats I find the most interesting regarding my site:

My most popular posts are:

#5: My True Friends: A Spoken Word Poem It comes up in a lot of searches for spoken word poetry about friendship. I can only imagine how surprised the readers are when they find out the poem is about poop.

#4: Pushing Up Daisy This post got shared a couple of times on Facebook so the readership skyrocketed for a couple of days. I don’t know how I feel about my dog dying being popular. Both good and not good, I guess.

#3: Merry Christmas, I Know About Your Affair, Pt. 3 So the weird thing is parts 1 and 2 didn’t have as many readers (though they’re in places 8 & 6) and I wonder why the final post got so many views? I guess some readers didn’t care what happened in the first two parts of the story and just wanted to skip ahead to the end?

#2: Stalkers: A Serious Post I can’t explain this one. It went nuts the week it came out and I don’t know why. Yes, I should be running Google Analytics on this site and no, I’m not, and yes, that’s a terrible oversight but moving on: I really don’t know what happened with this post.

And my very most popular post: When You’re Sure, You’re NovaSure This gets at least one hit every week. It’s been retweeted, it’s been shared, it comes up in searches for NovaSure, endometrial ablation, mammograms, periods…pretty much anything that has to do with womens’ health. I sort of feel like maybe I’m helping people find information they need. I like that.

What do my top posts tell me? There are two meant-to-be-funny ones, one of which is part of a super-long story and the other is full of good search terms. The other three are serious, one sad, one scary, and one medical-y. Yeah, I don’t know that this tells me anything, actually.

In the name of fairness (and self-promotion), I will also list my bottom posts (not posts about my butt. I don’t actually have one of those, even with a poem about poop). These all have less than 15 views (though that will change if you people click the links below. Mwahahaha!)

Third from the bottom: Writers, Come to Me Yeah, I know exactly why this one didn’t do well. It was one of those I just wrote on the fly and shoved out there to have something in the space. It was totally random and it is not very fun to read. It does have good pictures, though. I mean, come on, there’s a squirrel!

Penultimate bottom: Little Housesitter On the Prairie Honestly, I thought this one would be more popular. I mean, it’s all deep and thoughtful and crap, it’s got pretty pictures, and it’s short. What’s not to love? Something, apparently, because it was not loved.

On the bottom: Maxwell Bug: Good To the Last Dot This never shows up in searches. Ever. Because there are no search terms. Also, it’s about bugs and if anyone remembers the Maxwell House commercials, I can see how one could assume by the title that I was grinding up insects and making a hot beverage of them and, really, who wants to read that? Probably no one. No one but me. Because that sounds pretty hilarious, actually.

But wait! There’s more!

This is where I share the strangest/most delightful search terms to have shown up in my stats. They won’t compare to anything Jeneral Insanity or Sunny Days in DC get, but they’re still pretty odd.

why are my feet dying up and scabbing Dear Searcher, I am sorry I could not answer your question. I don’t actually know why the internet even sent you to me. If foot lotion + wearing socks and shoes isn’t working for you, you may want to see a doctor.

hoofy and coop I, uh…what? I don’t even…how did that lead here? Seriously!

beautiful blonde women santa lingerie naked I know exactly what this hit on but it cracks me up every time I see it because I have absolutely no relation to (or with) beautiful blonde women in Santa lingerie who are also naked.

dumbass children This is one of my tags so, again, I know why this search landed here. What I want to know is why this searcher was searching for dumbass children. You can just, like, go outside and wait a bit and BAM! There they are.

use these letters to form a word e k g o and c Again, I know why I got this but I want to yell at the person who typed that into their browser, “THE ANSWER IS GECKO, YOU FREAKIN’ CHEATER! YOU SHOULD HAVE WORKED IT OUT ON YOUR OWN, WITHOUT THE INTERNET!”

what percentage of people get punctured from novasure WHAT?? DUDE! My doctor never listed puncturing as a possible “By the way, this could go wrong” scenario! Holy hell! What is happening in those backalley ablation clinics???

my sister is white trash and also i thought i knew all the things from my white trash childhood Just…BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

unsolutioned ails I…don’t even know…what this means. I should probably Google it.

And to the person(s) who keep trying to find out: straw bale garden combustible? Well, they are made of STRAW BALES and those things go up like, um, a piggie’s house on fire BUT! They are also used in flood areas because they retain water like mad so if you keep them well-watered, you’d have to use gasoline to get them to light. Ok, I don’t know that for a fact, but, logically, if you water the bales when you water the garden, they shouldn’t burst into flames. Unless it’s spontaneous combustion, like you get when you keep oil-soaked rags all stacked up in a corner. In which case, just make sure there’s nothing else flammable near your spontaneously-combusting straw bale garden.

And now to bring this all to a close: Happy birthday to me and to my blog. Thank you, readers who read this every week! I hope my stories have made you laugh a bit. Thank you, readers who pop in and comment! I love hearing from you! And thank you, random person who found this via a crazy search. I probably didn’t answer your question (unless it was about exploding straw bale gardens) but I’m glad you came by anyhow. I look forward to abusing you all for another year!

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Filed under My journey to writerhood, My Opinions on STUFF

In lieu of embarrassing my own children…

I don’t have any fruit from my loins to embarrass. However, I have the next best thing: the fruit of my siblings’ loins!
Actually, gross.

Today, Little B is 16.

SIXTEEN!

Holy hell.

I’m not really ok with this for a number of reasons. But this isn’t about me. It’s about The B.

Oh, she was so young. SO YOUNG!
July 4, 2008

She’s a funny person. And smart. And sometimes a major dork. I would have liked hanging out with her had I been her contemporary and I love hanging out with her as her awesome Auntie Shrew.

She’s also horrible. Here is proof:

Once upon a time, we all lived together in a neat little house on a corner. Noelle was a waitress, I was a librarian, and Little B was a three- or four-year-old. I worked days, Noelle worked nights and we took turns caring for the Little B. Being from an educational background – librarian, remember – and abusive, I forced Little B to do things she didn’t want to do, like learn stuff. And what’s a good way to learn things? Why, by playing games, of course. We played all sorts of games – board games, imagination games, we raced up stairs to see who could get to the top first. It was all in the name of learning. Part of my teaching process was to help Little B understand that SHE CAN’T WIN! because that is a valuable life lesson. Everyone else in Little B’s up-to-then-short life let her win at games, but I didn’t. I figured she’d get much more satisfaction from winning when she did it on her own (also, little kids are the only people I can beat at games) and so that is what we strived toward, though I knew full-well I had a good ten years of being the victor. Also, because I’m a bad person, I’m fairly sure I probably yelled things like, “I BEAT YOU!” every time I won because I enjoy stating the obvious and making children cry.

Only, this bit me in the butt.

I had to go to Target one day while I was on Little B watch so I packed her into the car and off we went. We did what we needed to do and then there we were, in the check-out line.  The cashier made polite conversation, asking how our day had been and at one point in the transaction, she mistook me for Little B’s Mommy. Little B was quick to correct her, saying, “She’s not my mommy. She’s my Auntie Shrew. And she BEATS ME.”

You can imagine all the explaining that happened afterward, as well as the looks I received. I’m pretty sure Security followed me to the car just to make sure I didn’t kill the kid in my cart. And that is what retribution at the hands of a just-out-of-toddlerhood child feels like; she won.

There’s something about Target for Little B, apparently. Not long after they moved out and onto their own lives, Noelle took Little B to Target for some shopping. They were in the clothing section and Little B was in the cart, all squirmy and feisty, asking to be let out. Noelle told her that she could come out of the cart only if she stayed right there which Little B promised to do. Noelle looked at a couple of articles of clothing, looked down…and there was no Little B. She was gone. Noelle called out for her, probing, then irritated, then panicking. There was no answer. Noelle did what moms do in this situation – she went into hysterics and found a Target employee who took Little B’s description and radioed in a lost child. Little B was super cute and was always being approached by strangers, offered candy or money, and generally cooed over. It was clear that some freaking weirdo had lured Little B away from her mom and was probably already driving off with her. Noelle met managers and other important people at the front of the store. They were going to do a sweep and call the police but then the radio cackled and the missing child had been found. I know all the parents are already nodding their heads, knowing what’s coming next. They found her quietly crouching in a round rack of clothes because she thought it would be funny to hide from her mom. She’d been perfectly still, perfectly quiet the ENTIRE time. Talk about patience. And evil.

And you wonder why I beat her.

This is my most-favorite picture of Little B who is little no more.
Summer 2009

Dear Little B,

I love you so much. I think you probably know that. I am incredibly fortunate to be your aunt and I would even kidnap you and make you my own if I could. That is how much I love you and I don’t even like kids. Well, not much, anyhow. But I am no longer comfortable calling you “Little B.” You are as tall as I am, your shoe size is bigger, and you have boobs. You look all womanish and you are not little. You are big. Big and strong, neat and hilarious, artistic and amazing. So I’m dropping the “Little” even if it makes us both a bit sad because you can’t be contained in that word at all. There is nothing little about you as you become this larger-than-life real person.
Happy Sixteenth Birthday, B. I cannot WAIT to go ghost-hunting with you!

All my love,

Auntie Shrew

 

P.S. I can still beat you at running up stairs because you run like an old lady, like Grammy.

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Filed under Adventures, In my backyard

The bone box

The Peloponnese, Greece
2003

Somewhere in the Lower Mani, we stopped to stretch our legs. Thordis took us down a dusty, narrow road that ended at an old church, one that had originally been built in the 1000’s and boasted primitive Byzantine architecture.

image

Aya Stratigos, if my diary is to be believed.

We couldn’t go inside so we strolled through the graveyard, instead. That is where I learned about old Greek burial rites. Traditionally, the corpse was interred for three to five years before being exhumed for examination. If the bones were clean, the soul had gone on to heaven and the remains were washed and housed in the family mausoleum.  If there were still bits and pieces of body left, things hadn’t gone well for that soul.

Not everyone could afford to build a small house for their dead so some bones went into community ossuaries and some into bone boxes, small above-ground graves. Or coffins. A mix of both, I guess.

As we explored the cemetery, I was surprised at the number of newer mausoleums and monuments. I don’t remember if the graveyard was still in use but it had been in the last century. A thousand years of bones eternally slumbering together. We have nothing like that here in the States.

As I crested a hill, I found my eyes level to one of these bone boxes, a rectangle of stone almost 3′ long and 2′ wide with pieces of slate making the cover. It was ancient, encrusted with lichen of varying colors.

No, not a skull. It’s just a coincidental rock.

Once on higher ground, I could see the stone roof shingles had fallen in, exposing two skeletons. Their gray bones huddled together, skulls at the head of the box, resting atop the pile of their bodies. One skull was nearly upside down but still staring straight at me, the other skull leaned its cheek against the first, watching its mate. They were open to the sky, to the sun and rain, to the light of day and the stars of night. To eyes like mine. I wanted to cover them back up, to return their privacy and their protection, but I didn’t know if it was right to touch their resting place. It’s not my country, I didn’t know the rules.

Thordis was right behind me; she also saw the pieces of slate as well as the trash that had fallen inside the small tomb. She reached in, removed a plastic cup, then started to rebuild, gingerly putting each rock piece back in place. I hurried over to help; we reassembled the roof, forming a whole out of broken parts, covering the residents once again, returning them to the dark, to privacy, to peace, keeping them from rain and sun, from prying eyes and curious hands. In that moment, I loved them. I felt like a caretaker tucking sleepers in at night, wishing them lovely dreams. Also in that moment, I saw that doing the right thing is far more important than following social norms, perceived or otherwise.

This post is dedicated to Tyler who reminded me to tell this story and is for Thordis who gave me the gift of this experience in the first place.

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Filed under Adventures, Out & about or abroad