Saturday, December 8, 2012

Keeping an Open Mind

I have been busy absorbing this new place I call home. I have had many experiences and not much time to actually write about them. Here’s one I’d really like to share.

I have been visiting this region for the past 25 years and have owned a house here for seven years. During that time, I have mostly interacted with locals through the hardware stores, grocery stores, and fast food lines. In the process, I formed the opinion that people around here aren’t very friendly. In the very places where I would expect a smile and friendly greeting in the Northwest, I was not greeted at all and rarely even given a smile.

Honestly, it’s one reason I didn’t want to move here.

Now I am working full-time at the local hospital and part-time at the winery. I have found that I misjudged people. It may be that people in minimum wage jobs are unhappy and lack the people skills that are necessary to survive elsewhere. But it’s also true that the professionals I work with at the hospital are a great group of people. They are intelligent, friendly, and fun to be with.

When I’m at the winery, I make a point to welcome each guest when they walk through the door. I always smile. These people show up expecting to taste some wine and leave feeling like they have just had a fun experience. That’s my goal. I want everyone to feel like they are welcome and comfortable in our tasting room. In the process, the customers tend to return the friendliness and share a bit of themselves. It is really fun to hear about people from near and far, their connection to wine (or lack thereof), and how they ended up in our winery.

I look forward to more interactions with the people here as I settle in. I have barely scratched the surface of the quilting scene. Someone asked me which guild I had joined. Though I haven’t joined any, the message was clear that I have several to choose from. I’m not currently involved in education, but we are hoping to move our son here next year. That will also open some doors and enlighten me. I will now know to walk through those doors with an open heart ready to receive new friends and ideas.

Thank you, Southern Maryland, for showing me you are more than I thought. In return, I hope I can live up to your expectations of me.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Vineyard Year

It is November, and the grape growers in my family are ready for a break after the long, arduous harvest of this fall. Unfortunately, we have very little downtime in a vineyard the size of ours. With smaller vineyards, growers can take most of the winter off. With much larger vineyards, corporations use machinery or legions of migrant workers to help them. We, however, only have ourselves and a few local teens who help us out. Here, in a nutshell, is our year. It tends to consume every weekend. Rarely is there a weekend when no one is in the vineyard.

Pruning – This is when the canes of dormant vines are removed (cane pruning) or significantly trimmed to within 2” (spur pruning)of the cordon. Pruning allows all the energy to go into forming new growth in the spring. The goal is to have all vines pruned by bud break.

Shoot thinning – After bud break, the vine will start producing many new shoots from which grapes will emerge. We want to limit the number of shoots to concentrate the energy to a few strong shoots.

Shoot positioning – The vine doesn’t know that growers prefer that all shoots go straight up. We must train them with special notions such as tapes and rubber bands for just that purpose.

Fruit removal – As in shoot thinning, our goal is to concentrate a plant’s energy on a limited number of clusters per shoot.

Leaf pulling – With warm days and occasional showers, leaves tend to suddenly sprout everywhere. The goal in pulling is to protect the fruit from the harshest sun while still providing airflow and enough sunlight for ripening.

Hedging – We cover our vines with bird netting (see below), so we need to hedge the tops of all vines to keep them clear of the netting wire.

Netting – Our particular farm happens to be along a major north-south flyway. As the birds fly over us, they see an opportunity to refuel. We have seen blocks of the vineyard stripped of grapes by birds. As a result, we cover all our vines with very large nets.

Lateral removal – The vines are always looking for ways to grow and expand. We, however, prefer that they only concentrate on ripening the grapes. Lateral shoots are like a distraction, and we try to remove them.

Harvest – Before the actual harvest, we clean the clusters of any bad fruit. We also try to remove leaves to help the harvesters find and access all the clusters easily. All at once, we canvas the varietal and snip off the fruit before placing them into lugs (ventilated plastic containers).

Net removal – The final big job in the year is to remove all those acres of nets and then store them until next summer.

Downtime – This is not an official term, but one I made up. It’s essentially the time between the last harvest and when the vines go dormant. This year, we expect about six weeks.

Since we are a young vineyard and are still expanding our fields, our downtime tends to be spent working on residual planting activities in new blocks of vines. We might be found running wire for trellises or prepping land for spring plantings. Once we are more established, we will have less of that. We also use the time to do maintenance on fencing, tractors, and other machinery. The house on the property could also use some maintenance as could the Christmas trees that we grow in adjacent fields.

This list is very generalized. The details can differ among regions, varietals, and farmers. I don’t include any irrigation because we are a dry (non-irrigating) farm except during severe drought. I also don’t include the spraying of fungicide (necessary in this humid climate) or regular mowing to keep the land between the rows passable and the grasses from competing with the vines.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Name Game

When we began having children, we had to tackle the question regarding how our children should address adults. Many of our adult friends wanted children to call them by their first names. (I’ve noticed that a majority of those people are also Baby Boomers.) We decided, however, that we wanted our children to use a title in addressing adults. For the most part, adults were Mr. or Mrs. Last Name. (We made exceptions for our very close friends like Hope and Theresa whom I’ve known forever. They are honorary family, so we didn’t require quite the same level of name respect.) We knew that we were considered old fashioned, but the policy seemed to work well for us.

On the flip side, we also asked to be addressed as Mr. and Mrs. Byrne by the many youth that we worked with. Consistency is important in raising kids. No sense in requiring them to say Mrs. Smith while allowing Mrs. Smith’s kids to call me Lyrel. Again, it worked for us. I don’t mind the “old fashioned” moniker for this issue.

Fast forward to present day Charlotte Hall. This is a rural village located in the outskirts of a major metropolitan area. I don’t work with youth here, but I’ve encountered quite a few adults. I’ve noticed that many of those adults insist on calling me Mrs. Byrne even after I’ve pronounced my first name for them. I’m not talking about one or two people. It’s the culture here. In fact, I’m working with a fencing contractor right now who refers to himself only as Mr. Jones. I don’t know what his first name is. He always calls and says, “This is Mr. Jones of Jones Fence.”

Suddenly, I’ve gone from being old-fashioned to progressive without even changing my views! (Sounds a little like a political race, don’t you think?) I don’t know if this approach to names is localized to my village or region or if it extends beyond and is an East Coast thing. Maybe most of the country is this way and only Seattle (or more likely, the entire West Coast) is progressive.

It’s a weird transition. Just as my adult children’s friends are starting to call me Lyrel, my new adult acquaintances are calling me Mrs. Byrne. Either way, I suppose it’s better than, “Hey, You!”

Monday, September 17, 2012

Festival Time

I worked my first wine festival this weekend at the Maryland Wine Festival in Westminster, MD. I spoke with a couple who said they last attended this festival about ten years ago when there were 18 wineries represented. There are now 60 wineries in Maryland, and I suspect most of them were at the festival. That’s a lot for a small state.

We were swamped the entire first day though the Baltimore Ravens seemed to suction off the crowds the second day. People told me that the Port of Leonardtown Winery had one of the busiest tents, which says a lot about our wines. I didn’t talk with anyone else from any other wineries. I didn’t taste a single drop of wine. I don’t even know the names of the wineries who shared our small pavilion with us. It was that crazy. Rumor has it that our sales more than doubled a busy day at the winery. One of our customers was a judge in the recent Maryland Governor’s Cup Wine Competition (where our Chambourcin won Best Red, McIntosh Run won Best Fruit, and Autumn Frost won a gold medal). He came to our booth because he said he was impressed with our wines and wanted to buy some for himself. Yes!

Law enforcement officers were plentiful both at the event and on the roads surrounding the town. They take drunk driving very seriously. That’s a good thing because next week at the same general location is the Carroll County Craft Beer Festival. (Is there not much else to do in Westminster?)

I naïvely thought I would get a chance to walk around and talk with other wineries about not only their wines, but their vineyard activities. I had no idea that festivals were manned primarily with volunteers. Volunteers promise to help out a winery for a given number of hours. In return, they get free admission to the event, a free wine glass, and a free bottle of wine. They usually aren’t grape growers, winery workers, or investors. They are wine drinkers who like working with people, love the freebies, and take the burden off of those who are already working so hard to make the wines. Now, if we could only offer them a crash course on how to pronounce rosé (roh-SAY), chamboursin: SHAM-bohr-sin, and Wicomico: Why-CAHM-i-ko.

Wineries attend festivals to promote name recognition, encourage people to become familiar with their wines, and to move product. Volunteers attend because they get to do a few hours of work and then play the rest of the time for free. The public attends because festivals make it easy to sample a large number of wines without having to purchase a large number of bottles. They can do side-by-side tastings and compare with ease. Participants also get live music, good food, wine-related vendors selling wine supplies and various arts and crafts. They seem to attend in groups of friends or families with blankets and chairs, coolers, and plans to stay the entire day. I’m sure many memories are made – and some are lost due to excessive alcohol consumption.

One common question I heard was, “Where is the port in Leonardtown?” Thanks to Connie and Wikipedia, I now know the answer. Sadly, I didn’t know over the weekend. Wikipedia states, “During the Civil War …, Leonardtown served as a busy port and steamboat landing. Until the passing of the steamboat era, steamboats carried goods and passengers all over the Chesapeake Bay area well into the 20th century, and a floating theater docked each year at the port, providing entertainment.” So now you know, too.

Honestly, this was a Maryland festival, but so many people didn’t seem to even know their own state. Here are some real conversations I had:
Him: What is near Leonardtown? I don’t know where that is.
Me: Uh, near Patuxent River NAS.
Him: Nope.
Me: Waldorf.
Him: Where?
Me: Washington, DC. [We’re an hour and a half south of there.]
Him: Okay.

Him: Where are you located?
Me: In St. Mary’s County in Southern Maryland.
Him: Where’s Southern Maryland? [no kidding] Is that the Eastern Shore?
Me: Think of us as the Western Shore. [We are the peninsula on the west side of the Chesapeake Bay.]

The skeptics were in plentiful supply, too. The following conversation happened way too many times:
Me: Hi, can I interest you in a taste of our 2010 Chambourcin? It recently won the 2012 Maryland Governor’s Cup gold award for red wine.
Him: I’ll be the judge of that. [tastes] Wow! That’s good!

Working all day at a festival beats working all day at the farm. I guess I like the hubbub and multitasking of the event over the peacefulness of a field. I prefer interacting with interesting humans over interesting wildlife. I’d rather cut some foil than prune some vines. I suspect I’ll be volunteering at more festivals and building a collection of stories to share.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tully, Come Home

My dog, Tully, walked away from home last Thursday night. Almost exactly eight years ago to the day, he walked into our lives with the same love for life that probably caused him to leave us last week. In 2004 we found him at the Bellevue Humane Society where he stole our hearts. He loved nearly everyone he met with an enthusiasm we humans could learn from. He was playful and smart and loyal and lovable. He really was nearly the perfect canine companion for our family.

Tully was cared for by my parents for the last two years to help out my family as we were in the middle of the extended move. Mom and Dad needed a dog in their lives, and Tully took his duty as lovable pet very seriously. Other family members have also taken care of him on occasion. I have heard time and again how great a pet he was for them.

Tully has been a loyal companion to me. By night, he lies next to me on my bedroom floor. By day, he is usually within inches and always within feet of me. When I move, he moves with me. One of his few faults is that he likes to roam the Charlotte Hall neighborhood in the evenings if he can sneak away. Even then, he usually returnes within a couple of hours. Sometimes he smells like skunk; always, he returns smiling and eager to tell of his adventures.

Last week, he didn’t return.

I have searched the area roads around our house, reported him missing to several local authorities, and I have longingly stared out the back porch hoping to see him romping back home. Thinking anything could have happened to him in the vast woods adjacent to our property, I searched the area with my nephew. We found no evidence of Tully. I shudder to think of the possibilities, so I try not to. Instead, I hope that either someone took him in, or he suffered a quick end.

I miss your unconditional love and your yips while you dream. I miss your smiling face and your warm greetings for everyone you ever met. I miss the only dog I’ve had in my life since I was four. Please, Tully, come home. You are loved and you are missed.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Allison's Umbrellas

When I decided to make Allison a quilt for her high school graduation, I thought about who she is and how I could best represent her in fabric. I also wanted to honor her Seattle roots. I pored through quilting books and browsed quilt shops, but nothing really grabbed me. It was evident that Allison’s quilt was going to be another Lyrel original. With the help of Pam at Quiltworks Northwest in Bellevue and Wendy at Material Girls Quilt Boutique in La Plata, I was able to pull together my various scraps of ideas into a cohesive pattern that tells the story of my girl. In the process, I also pulled together the two cities that I have been living in.

Allison’s Umbrellas is based on the theme of using eight-sectioned umbrellas as the basis of telling the story. Although Seattle natives rarely use umbrellas, the image works. The spotted blue and gray fabric (which I found in Maryland) signifies the raindrops. The gray field behind the umbrellas signifies our constant gray skies. I don’t want to sound dreary, but that’s the reality of weather in the Northwest through much of the year.

The twelve umbrellas each have a different theme: drama (with pictures describing the titles of some of the plays Allison has been in),


family (I won't divulge these, but Allison knows what represents who),


Maryland and DC (with fabrics found in Washington),

school (her high school mascot was the Totems; she was very active in Club Operation Smile),


Sammamish/Santa Clara,



Washington State,

and Coldstone (her employer).

The backing is made of solid dark blue minky fabric (found in Maryland). Allison has asked me for years to make her a minky quilt. This was a concession to her. If you’ve never felt it, suffice it to say that it’s the softest fabric ever made. Period.

The quilt had been put aside when I left Maryland in April because the sewing machine was also left there. I didn’t rush into working on it when I returned in July because of the chaos of the move and how warm the quilt would make me while I was working on it. Last weekend, Peter asked me to finish it by this weekend so Charles could take it to Allison. I finished it last night.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Taxes, Schmaxes

Let me begin by saying that I have nothing against paying taxes. I know that the taxes I pay go for services that I appreciate: police, roads, education, libraries, etc. You’ve heard it all before.

The owners of our farm have discussed turning our farm ownership from a partnership to a limited liability corporation. I don’t know much about the differences between the two, but I’ve heard that we would be at an advantage to do so. This discussion has been going on for several years. Today, I asked what was keeping the owners from completing the process.

In a word, taxes. Apparently, the State of Maryland believes that it’s entitled to a large chunk of change when businesses change their legal designation. Rumor has it that the cost runs at about one percent of the total value of the business. I suppose that large businesses that have substantial income can afford such things. After taking a very close look at our books today, I discovered that our farm wouldn't be able to afford to stay in business if we changed our designation. We simply don't have it.

So, Maryland, how can you justify such high taxes? What benefit will we – or the people of this state – gain from them? Especially in this economy, it seems that the state should be trying to help businesses succeed. Sure, charge a reasonable processing fee. Even the government has its expenses. But allow businesses to make smart financial choices without the state greedily consuming more than the businesses would gain.

I’m getting my information second and third hand, so I may be missing a big piece of the puzzle. I’m happy to consider such information should I become aware of it. In the meantime, I’m going to start paying more attention to how our elected officials approach small businesses. I have a lot to learn about both politics in Maryland and being part of a small business. I hope the learning curve isn’t too steep for me.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Kayaking on Mallows Bay

Erin has one full day in Maryland between spending her summer as a Girl Scout counselor in Washington and the school year as a student in Massachusetts. I decided to take advantage of this one day by taking her kayaking with me at Mallows Bay. A week ago she was kayaking on the Hood Canal; today, she was kayaking on the Potomac River.

We put in the kayaks at the relatively new Mallows Bay Park that opened two years ago. In less than five minutes, we were alongside a rusty ship that marked the southern edge of a large wooden ship graveyard from World War I.
Sources vary, but I’ve read that over 200 ships are in this bay. Many were between 250 and 300 feet long when they were built.

Off in the distance, we could see the Virginia shoreline, including the Quantico Marine Base.
We saw marshland to our north and steep cliffs along the Maryland shore. The sky was overcast and a little threatening; the water was its usual murky green with about 12 inches of visibility. A few boats sped by providing us with the only wave action we encountered. The river is so wide at this point that even these waves were pretty small.

Most of the ships in the graveyard were just below the surface. As we neared them, I saw strange rows of something sticking up through the water. Upon closer review, I realized that they were steel bolts from the hulls of the ships. The local water fowl population uses them as perches.
Then I realized that there were many of these rows throughout the bay. Each row signified another ship laid to rest. Occasionally, the kayak would bump into something just below the surface of the water that I hadn’t even seen.

As we paddled around, distant islands revealed themselves to be yet more ghost ships. These ships have become part of the local ecosystem. Over the years, they have started growing plants and even trees on them!
The distant marshland I referred to above turned out to be the hulls that were closer to shore and, therefore, were seeded more easily by the shore birds.
The environmental disaster of all these wooden ships sunk in one location has given rise to a profusion of protected artificial reefs where wildlife can flourish.

Kayaking among the ships was peaceful. The birds fished and flew, some cried at us while others watched quietly. A blue heron amazed me with its beauty and the osprey amazed me with the size of their nests.
Something in the water would come up for air from time to time. I never saw the animal, but I heard it and saw the ripples.

As we returned to shore, a kayaker with fishing poles was just getting in. I asked him what he was fishing for, and he said he was looking for snakehead. So, while one ecological disaster has been averted, it seems another is threatening. Such is the way of life.

I haven’t been on the water for a number of years, but I love it. This trip has renewed my desire to explore many of the waterways in Southern Maryland. We are on a peninsula bounded by the Potomac River to the east, the Patuxent River to the west, and the Chesapeake Bay to the south. Just think of the possibilities. I am no longer able to portage canoes, but I am open to other explorations. If any of my water-loving friends want to go out with me, I’m all for it. Besides my neighbor who lent us these kayaks, I know of several kayak rental companies in the area. One puts in on MacIntosh Run just opposite of the Port of Leonardtown Winery. Anyone up for some paddling and wine tasting?

For those who prefer the virtual experience to the on-water experience, the following video on YouTube is a good rendition of what we saw:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Visit from Allison and Lucas

In late July, our daughter Allison visited for two weeks with her boyfriend, Lucas. He had never been to this area of the country, so they visited such places as Washington, DC, and Williamsburg, VA. We also took him to several of the “must-see” places in Southern Maryland. Yes, there really are places like that around here (Bert’s 50s Diner, St. Mary’s Landing, and Sandgates, to name a few) The one below is the Tequila Grill where we went for Charles' 15th birthday.

Peter’s sister and her family took all of us out on their boat to a peaceful spot on the Patuxent River. The kids have now experienced the torment of jelly fish.

Lucas also had an invitation to earn money helping us out at the farm. He is young, tall, and full of stamina, so we happily enlisted his help. I wasn’t with him every time he worked, but I do know that he impressed the older family members with his work ethic and abilities. He helped us mow using the Skag, put up acres of bird netting, run catch wires for the new vines, and various other farm tasks. Overall, I think we got about 60 hours of work out of him. Did I mention that he was here during a stretch of 90+ degree days? He now knows what it’s like to sweat through clothes without even lifting a finger. He understands how humidity increases ones perception of heat and interferes with the body’s ability to cool down naturally. He said he won’t complain anymore about working in 70 degree heat for his parents back in Bellevue.

Allison also helped out some at the farm, but I chose to use her organizational talents to help me put the house together. She has a little OCD, so she was a perfect candidate for such work. With her help, we emptied most of our boxes and even found homes for most of the belongings that were in them. Several areas of the house begged to be reorganized to accommodate us, and Allison went to work sorting and organizing.

We aren't really the taskmasters that you think. The kids spent significant amounts of time asleep, playing XBox, and playing in the pool.

This is really just a long way of saying that Allison and Lucas were wonderful helpers to us during our initial weeks in our house. They worked hard and maintained a positive attitude and a sense of humor throughout it all. They also got to have a significant amount of time together before they left for colleges in different states.

Thank you, Allison and Lucas. We loved having you and look forward to more visits in the future.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The West Coast Girl Goes East Coast

I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been too busy living. I will try to do better because I have lots of observations about my new life.

In the past month:
• We completed our final move to Maryland.
• We hosted a number of family members from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.
• Peter became a godfather to an adorable little cousin.
• I’ve become an official resident of Maryland with both a license and voter registration.
• We have covered the vineyard with bird netting. Though we have nothing against birds, we have everything against them eating our profits.
• I have placed a German exchange student with a family in Great Mills.
• I have worked at the winery helping label bottles and working the tasting room. I have also applied for a solicitor’s license so that I can sell our wine to stores and restaurants within Maryland.
• We have made many kebabs! I have also diced our abundant peppers and frozen them for the winter. I’ve cooked our abundant tomatoes and made them into sauce. And I’ve turned our excess basil into an excess of pesto.
• Our dog has reacquainted himself with the local skunk population.

In the upcoming month, I will be:
• Sending Peter back to Seattle for a month.
• Kayaking with Erin at Mallows Bay Park, a WWI ship graveyard on the Potomac, considered to be the largest in the Northern or Western Hemisphere (depending upon the source). (See for an excellent history of the site.)
• Driving Erin to college in Massachusetts. Since she is near the King Arthur Flour complex in Norwich, Vermont, I hope to also pay a visit there. Charles and I will return via New York’s Hudson River Valley, so he can see where his grandpa grew up.
• Sending Charles back to Oregon. We’ll see him again in December.
• Overseeing installation of a fence around part of our yard. It will contain dogs and kids and keep out cars that try to drive over our septic field.
• Keeping myself busy in Maryland while Peter drives Allison to college in Silicon Valley.
• Driving to St. Louis to deliver an antique china cabinet to my brother.
• Taking over the treasurer duties for the farm. If any of you remember my accounting issues overseeing Girl Scout cookies sales at $3 a box, you’ll understand my apprehension.

With any luck, I will write more about many of these topics in the coming days.

Friday, July 27, 2012

My New Reality

Charles and I flew in to Baltimore-Washington Airport on a redeye Wednesday morning. My dad picked us up at the airport in time for us to meet the moving guy delivering our four Relocubes to our house. No rest for the sleep-deprived and weary. Along with Allison and her boyfriend, we immediately began unloading the cubes and settling into our “new” house.

It’s a funny thing when moving into a house we’ve owned for seven years. I keep thinking this is just another trip. When people ask if I can do something in a couple of weeks, I quickly scan my mental calendar for my day of return to see if I’m even going to still be in this town. Uh, yes, yes I am. It’s difficult for me to make plans more than three weeks out because of this wall I’ve built. This is not home. This is where I visit and have fun and maybe work on the house and the yard. Not anymore. This IS home.

The house has been furnished with a mish mash of our own items, thrift store finds, and many items donated by anonymous friends of the family. While I very much appreciate all the generosity, we’ve been replacing many of those items with our own. Now that we are completely out of Bellevue, this house is finally starting to look and feel a little like it’s ours.

I’m a relative veteran to transition. Our last big move was in 1993 when we moved from Virginia to Washington. That was with a one-week-old baby, but we didn’t own much or have a big family. Though we left behind extended family, most of our friends had already settled in other areas. It was an opportunity that carried very little baggage and held little to no regret.

Now we are here – or I am. Peter returns to our condo in Redmond in a few weeks to spend another month there. We’ve begun our next stage of life together. I don’t know that our daily activities will involve children, education, or Little League, but they will be full of new opportunities for us to grow together and as individuals. It’s an opportunity to spend more time with our aging parents and our estranged friends and family. It’s not exactly a new beginning, but it’s a new adventure.

In this era of Facebook, blogs, and email, my hope is that my friends in the Northwest will remain my friends even as I develop new relationships close by in Maryland. This is uncharted territory for me, but I’m confident that it will work. I’m happy, sad, terrified, excited, frustrated, exhausted, and ready to go. Thank you for holding my hand as I jump off this cliff...

Friday, July 20, 2012

Hurry Up and Wait

A lot has happened since my last entry. In late June, I drove across country in my car by myself. It was nice to have my thoughts to myself for a few days even if those thoughts included where to find an urgent care facility. I also visited my brother Stuart and family in Chicago on my way out. They offered me rest and resuscitation to get me through the rest of my drive. Last week, we moved into a small condo in Redmond, and our furniture is awaiting delivery in Maryland.

During my trip to Maryland, Gerald bought 100 kebab skewers before discovering that we already had close to 100 in a drawer. Our new goal: to make this a kebab summer full of adventures and explorations of the culinary sort. I hope to have a blog entry about that coming soon.

Currently, I am in the condo surrounded by everything I could want nearby: grocery stores, a mall, a bookstore, a new park, restaurants, public transportation, and all sorts of other businesses and amenities within walking distance. It is a super convenient location which requires very little driving. I find myself quite happy in my new little (850 sq. ft.) digs with two of my children extremely close at hand. I’m almost sad to be giving it all up to live in a large (6000 sq. ft.) peaceful and secluded home in the country. Almost. Life is full of trade-offs. This is another one.

Why am I still here? My son had to order glasses, but they are taking a while to get delivered. Once they do, we will be on a flight to Maryland where we will join Peter. We had a few mix-ups in the packing process. I will be taking an extra suitcase with items that should have gone directly to Maryland. I suspect someone will do the same in the opposite direction. The cat will be going to Maryland next week with Allison and her boyfriend. He (the cat) gets to stay there and adjust to all that is new … and the dog he thought he got rid of forever.

The peppers and tomatoes that I planted in April are ripe and ready; the flowers and herbs are showy and strong; the grapes are thriving. The pool is crying out for us to host a party with friends, family, and fraternity. Stay tuned ….

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

We’ve Been Busy

Since I last wrote, I’ve been busy taking care of the rest of my life’s issues. The oldest returned from college; the middle is about to graduate from high school; and the youngest has drained us of energy as we helped him through a rough patch. We also listed and sold our house and bought a condo. And I’ve been spending a lot of time at the high school finishing up some volunteer projects. Life in the country really hasn’t been forefront in my thoughts much at all. When thinking of Maryland, I primarily think of my looming lone drive across country to take my car there. I have been ripping audiobooks to my phone to help keep me entertained during the 40-hour drive. I have also been working with Peter to decide what goes to Maryland and what goes to the condo. We are still working on how to get the cat out there and when to schedule a visit by our middle child and her boyfriend. We thought we had this figured out, but then the youngest delivered a health concern that has put a wrench in our plans. This is all to say that I haven’t blogged because I have been more focused on my family and the issues in Washington than on anything in Maryland. I expect to drive out during the last week of June and will spend a week there before returning to Bellevue. My final move there will occur by the end of July, health matters willing. I’m eager to experience the country life on Kathleen’s new boat, so I can blog about life on the river. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Stop This Nonsense!

I recently planted a bunch of flowers, vegetables, and herbs around my house. Immediately after, we were hit with a day in the 90s and several other really warm days with no rain. Despite my daily watering regimen, my plants were drying out and the dirt around them was getting hard and cracking. I knew that I needed to mulch my beds, but I just hadn’t quite found the time. Last night, I made the time.

I showed up at the large warehouse in search of regular mulch. I quickly learned that “regular mulch” is akin to looking for “regular sneakers.” What kind of mulch was I looking for, the sales girl asked. I tried not to sound snarky in my reply. I want the kind that helps retain moisture and reduces weeds. I stumped her. She quickly excused herself to find someone more knowledgeable about the issue. Soon a boy, who may have been a whole two years older than the girl, approached me. I gave him the same line, and he told me to use this mulch. I was standing in an aisle with probably 50 variations of mulch and he told me to use the one right at the end next to him. I suspect it may have been the highest priced mulch of the bunch.

Some mulches appear to have weed deterent chemicals imbedded in them. I didn’t want that. I just wanted plain old everyday mulch. I didn’t want the rubber stuff that’s used on playgrounds. I wanted the kind that is natural and slowly breaks down around my natural plants. The one he pointed to appeared to meet these basic needs.

The next question stopped me. What color of mulch did I prefer? What? I chose not to take Botany, but I do believe I understand enough about plants and mulch to know that mulch is made from shredded wood. Wood can be a variety of colors, but it’s a safe bet to say that most are a hue of brown. I had my choice of brown (“color guaranteed to last a whole year!”), black, or red. Being the natural girl that I am, I went with brown.

When I returned home with my bags of mulch, I again pondered the color question. Did I make the right choice? Brown is rather boring, after all. Should I have gone with red? Our chimneys are red and our pool is edged in red brick. Our porch floor is painted brick red. Maybe the red mulch would color-coordinate better and enhance the beds. Or maybe black would look good. Our house is large and white. Black would provide a good contrast to that which would make the plant colors really pop. Why didn’t they offer blue to go with the color of my pool or green to blend in with the weeds that might get through?

Stop this nonsense!

Manufacturers provide the products that consumers are asking for, not the products that consumers really need. What we need here is plain mulch that protects our plants and slowly decomposes over time. What we need is practical, not ornamental. The flowers are the ornaments.

I’m happy I chose brown. It will nicely offset the reds and purples of my tomatoes and peppers. It lets the natural colors of my marigolds shine brightly without competing with them. It provides the perfect backdrop to my purple and pink petunias.

Brown in the perfect color.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Smart Retreat

Usually, Peter is the one who retreats to Maryland for long stretches of time. He can work remotely and also take care of the house, the yard, and the vineyard. He’s pretty amazing that way. This spring, however, Peter suggested that I be the one to go to Maryland for the extended trip. Peter joined me for the first two weeks, but he returned to Bellevue to take care of our daughter and cats and to umpire for the Little League season.

I was initially reluctant to commit to the big trip. I am not as capable as Peter in getting lots of physical labor done in a day. I am more easily distracted and injured. I’m not strong enough to do some of the work that is required. I tend to be lawn mower challenged on this property. Time has once again proven the wisdom of Peter’s suggestion. (The man is rarely wrong … it’s so frustrating!) Not only have I had a good opportunity to move from Bellevue and adjust to living in Maryland, but I’m also slowly strengthening my body as I learn when to stop and take a break and when to keep going. I have been submitting my resume to various employers in the area and researching many local companies with the hope of landing a job by summer. I’m slowly turning this house into a home.

Most importantly, perhaps, I have had a break from my teenaged daughter. I love my daughter and we can get along quite well during times of low stress. This is not one of those times. She is currently choosing which college among the five that accepted her will be her final choice for the next four years. This is a stress-filled decision and not a little prickly to bring up in conversation. When she is stressed, tempers flare, accusations fly, and feelings get hurt. I confess that both of us are guilty of that.

I have chosen, therefore, to consider this break a retreat. It’s a retreat from a lot of the responsibilities that I have in Bellevue, and it’s an opportunity to break the cycle of daughter-mother bickering that can lead to very tense and unhappy homes. Peter is very well equipped to handle Allison and guide her through this process. (We did just do this a year ago, after all.) He offers her a different lens to look through as she considers her choices. He has a sense of humor that can lighten intense moments. In two weeks the decision must be made, and life will move forward. That’s about when I return to Bellevue.

So here I am, retreating in warm (hot!)sun-filled days as I plant flowers and herbs, plan long-term projects, repair and maintain the house, and attempt to find a job. Except for being away from my husband, I’m quite happy with the way things are at the moment.

Thank you, Peter. Allison is lucky to have you as her dad.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Walk in the Woods (with apologies to Bill Bryson)

I awoke today at about 3:30 am with my expected post-vacation migraine. This was a doozy that immobilized me for much of the morning despite my attempts to medicate and rest.

After my headache began to subside a little, I decided that today was too nice of a day to wallow in my misery inside on the sofa with a pillow over my face. My dog, Tully, needed a walk, and I needed a life. I decided to go for a walk.

The Three Notch Trail is a Rails to Trails project that runs in front of our house. I have walked small parts of it, but I haven’t been to the ends. Even during its busiest times, the trail lacks the clutter and danger from cyclists training for big events like the STP (I stopped using the Sammamish River Trail for that very reason.) Instead, it attracts crowds of families with kids on tricycles and dogs on leashes, casual cyclists, and skaters. It is a wild, relaxing respite from the chaos that surrounds the DC area as it traverses farmland, backyards, and woods.

Today I resolved to walk to one end. Tully and I headed north on the trail and walked about 2 ½ miles to the northern terminus in Charles County. The trail is expected to be extended, but for now that’s the limit. On another day, Tully and I will explore what lies to the south.

Along the way, I smelled the wisteria that is in full bloom along sections of the trail and inhaled some refreshing but seriously pollen-thickened air. I saw all the deciduous trees bursting into green, rabbits taunting the dog, the puffy white clouds floating overhead, and the creeks trickling along around me. I listened to the sounds of birds, crickets, bees, frogs, and squirrels. I felt the warmth of the sun and the refreshing breeze as I worked off some extra calories I found while in Europe. I reflected in all that is beautiful in my surroundings and how blessed I am to be part of it.

Am I all better? No. My head still hurts a bit, my allergies are now bugging me, and various body parts are reminding me of their middle-aged existence. Do I care? No. My mind is refreshed and alert, my mood is elevated, and my dog is exhausted. I feel energized and happier than I did before I left home. All the same problems still awaited me when I returned, but I had a better attitude in dealing with them.

The next time someone tells me that they are suffering from a migraine, don’t be surprised if my response is, “Go take a hike!” I mean well.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Roasting Marshmallows

We have been having nightly campfires to burn up some of our huge burn pile that is primarily a result of last summer’s hurricane. With our visiting college students, we sat around the campfire and talked and roasted s’mores and looked at the many stars that are not visible in Bellevue.
The first night Erin insisted that we roast s’mores using homemade shortbread instead of graham crackers. They were delicious, but they were really rich! After that, we branched out into Special Dark chocolate, standard graham crackers, and different marshmallows.

Our next run to the grocery store brought back strawberry and vanilla marshmallows (from the Mexican food aisle). They were really good and worked well with the chocolate. Then I bought the jumbo marshmallows which are only for the super patient roaster who truly appreciates a lot of sugar. (Some people roast it, eat the roasted section, and then continue to roast the middle.) We also tried the flat marshmallows. Presumably, they are for making s’mores indoors in an oven or even without heat. I didn’t roast one, but watching others convinced me that they aren’t a good choice for fires.

Another day found us at Target where they stock marshmallows in “chocolate royale,” and “chocolate mint.” Who could resist? (I passed on the “cinnamon bun” and the bunny-shaped marshmallows.) The problem with these very yummy varieties was that they were smaller than a standard marshmallow but a little bigger than a mini. We needed to roast several at a time and they got messier than normal.

Finally, we had to roast the king of them all: Peeps. The key here is not to let them catch fire. They need to be slowly roasted to caramelize the outer layer of sugar into a perfect hardened crust. Gerald (below) referred to them as crème brulee on a stick. Sublime. I suggest that we start with refrigerated Peeps in the future. They seem to have very soft centers which melt and fall off the stick before the caramelized sugar is perfect. I’m looking forward to the after-Easter clearance sales to stock up on this delicacy.

If you’re in an adventurous mood, stop by. We have lots of wood to burn and lots of roasting sticks available. While we’re at it, we’ll introduce you to fine dining, country-style.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What's In a Name?

From time to time I use names of places that I realized are not universally recognized by my readers. Here is a short list of common places near here.

This is the name given to the house we live in. Apparently, the first person to live here was Dr. Petherbridge with his family. The house was built in approximately 1880 to accommodate Dr. Petherbridge’s family and his medical practice as well as serve as a dormitory for the nearby Charlotte Hall School.

Long Lived For Come at Last
This is the property that the family refers to as “the farm.” Family legend has it that this was the name of a large tobacco plantation along the Patuxent River. Our property, purchased in the 1940s, is only about 240 acres but was part of the larger plantation. The river is three miles east of our land, so the plantation must have been very large, indeed. One building on our land is said to have been the foreman’s home to oversee the slaves who worked the plantation. We also appear to have an old slave cemetery up on a hill. The only markers are large rocks.

Though many people hear us refer to the vineyard and think that’s all we have, that’s not quite true. Only about nine acres are under vine on the property. We also have limited logging, a Christmas tree farm, and lots of woods. The farm has a rental house on it and has previously leased out fields for corn, tobacco, and grain crops.

Charlotte Hall
This is the name of the unincorporated village in which we live. It spans northwestern St. Mary’s County and eastern Charles County about an hour due south of Washington, DC. It only includes about 5.1 square miles; much of that is agricultural. It also includes two grocery stores, a hardware store, and numerous fast food stops. We are fortunate to have a post office that's not closing. The farm’s mailing address is PO Box 1, Charlotte Hall. We would be sad to have to change that address. We own a book that probably describes exactly where the Charlotte Hall name came from, but we can’t find the book.

This the name of the unincorporated area in which the farm is located. It is the region east and south of Charlotte Hall.

St. Mary’s County
This is the name of our county. It is the southern-most county on the Southern Maryland peninsula. It is surrounded by the Potomac River to the west and the Patuxent River to the east. The southern tip juts into the Chesapeake Bay. I am unsure which St. Mary the name refers to.

Named for Queen Henrietta Maria (1609-1669), the wife of King Charles I.
Though Maryland is considered a northern state, it housed many southern sympathizers in this region during the Civil War. Due west of us (about an hour's drive) is Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mending Fences

Peter and I spent yesterday working at the vineyard. Peter’s dad mentioned a few days ago that he suspected deer were in the vineyard.(see the photo of deer tracks)
That’s like saying there’s a fox in the hen house if it had been growing season. Deer can wreak havoc in no time at all by eating all the tender new shoots. Therefore, the entire vineyard is surrounded by nine foot tall nylon deer netting. Since I don’t believe deer use scissors (where would they store them?), I can’t figure out just how they managed to breach the fence in three locations. They aren’t jagged breaks; they’re usually straight lines. (see photo of broken fence, below)

The fencing is also intended to keep out small animals. Unfortunately, the woodchucks had already set up shop within the fence boundaries when the fence was installed. Anyone who has seen Caddyshack will appreciate the futility in trying to eradicate them. Similarly, raccoons can’t be blocked. I will readily concede that they are smarter and more persistent than we humans. (The gluttonous birds require their own separate fencing later in the growing season.)

You’ll notice the bicycle rims that we used to mend the fence at the creek. Peter’s dad has a supply of old, free rims that he gets from a bicycle repair shop. In their repurposed lives, the rims allow water to flow while dissuading deer and other wildlife from entering the “no wildlife” zone. Even if the deer choose to re-break the fence, they won’t walk on the wheel spokes. We think the solution is fool-proof. I’m sure the deer will continue to make fools of us.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Time for a Change

Many years ago my family used to tease one of my brothers because he would tell us he needed a new watch simply because the watch battery had died. In a similar vein, I’m thinking that having a dirty and cluttered house necessitates a move. Okay, he didn’t really need a new watch, and I don’t really need a new house. On the other hand, the fact that I do have a new (loosely defined here) house has opened my eyes to a number of things.

First, the reality that we’re moving across country has inspired us to get rid of a lot of stuff. Everyone knows they have too much stuff, and we are no exception. Peter and I regularly pitch and purge, but we still have too much stuff. I think that’s part of being an American, and I’m embarrassed by it. Peter would say we didn’t toss nearly enough, but I think Goodwill has made a decent profit off of us.

Second, I have found things. I have found missing socks, puzzle pieces, important papers (how did that end up there?), and untold other things. Moving forces us to touch much more of our belongings than we normally would. In the process, we move things around, dust things off, lift up lids, and peer into corners. Some of what I have found is disgusting. With three kids, two cats, and a dog, I guess that was inevitable.

Some found items have been delightful. I have found really funny notes that the children have written. (I won’t share them or embarrass the children here. They get private emails to remind them of their past.) I have found scraps of paper or cloth that bring back great memories. I found love that got buried under the everyday dust of life. And, yes, I’ve found dust bunnies the size of my cats.

Peter has been going through our kitchen cabinets to locate foods that we forgot we had. Luckily for me, he’s an amazing cook who can throw together a really tasty meal using the most unusual combination of ingredients. He does it all without a recipe. I really love that man!

Third, the house is getting cleaned to a degree it hasn’t seen since we moved back in 2000 after a major remodel. I mean all the rooms are getting cleaned and all the windows and all the furniture. It’s amazing. When we moved to Bellevue from Centreville, Virginia, in 1993, Microsoft paid for professional packers to pack everything. (I was seven months pregnant. The packers were a godsend!) Packers don’t know what’s important and what’s not, so they packed virtually everything. I’m sure Peter was surprised to receive trash cans replete with trash already in them! I, on the other hand, am throwing out trash, dusting furniture, and doing what I can to avoid having to throw stuff away as soon as it gets to Maryland. At this point, we have sent three large containers to Maryland. That’s three containers of stuff that is no longer in my way when I vacuum or dust.

Maybe moving is a little extreme of an activity simply to clean and declutter a house. Maybe we just need to reorganize our houses every so often. Pack a room up just to have the experience of seeing everything that’s in that room. Give more to Goodwill than we would normally allow ourselves. Move everything into the garage and only move back the stuff that really matters. Yeah, I won’t do that, either.

And maybe, just maybe, when I’m in Switzerland next month, I’ll buy my brother a new watch.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Pitching, Packing, and Painting

I know I haven’t been writing much lately, but there’s not a whole lot to say. Mostly, I’ve been pitching, packing, and painting. I’ll be gone for most of March and April, so I’m trying to get a lot done now. May and June will be reserved for tying up loose ends and finding a new space in Bellevue.

I’m out of small boxes, and I’m too cheap to actually buy any. Instead, I lurk on Craigslist trying to grab some as soon as they are posted. Sadly, others lurk and grab more quickly than I. I still have plenty of medium and large boxes, but they get so heavy that I prefer not to use them unless I have to.

The painting has been coming along well. I’ve completed two bathrooms, two bedrooms, the laundry room, the upstairs hallway and part of the stairway. They were the biggest offenders, so I feel pretty good about how things look now. I still want to get the playroom done, but it’s not a rush. The rush will be painting and packing Allison’s room in June.

We’ll be moving another Relocube container in early March. I might not post any more until then because I have non-move issues consuming me before then. Oh, and I’ll continue pitching, packing, and painting.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Remember the last time you moved into a new place? You were probably filled with thoughts about how to make that house (or apartment or whatever) into your home. You were thinking about wall colors, furniture, family photos, and everything else that transforms a house from a blocky frame of rooms into a comfortable refuge from the world.

We are in the opposite place right now. My realtor father has told me that the best way to sell a house is to remove all those homey wall colors, picture frames, and personal mementos. When buyers look at your house, they want to see their home, not yours. They want to envision what they can do with it, not what you have already done. As great as you may be in decorating and creating a home for your family, you are not expected to have it figured out for everyone who visits your home with the intent to buy.

So it is now with us. On Christmas we painted over our kids' aquamarine bathroom walls that had sea life handpainted on it for the past 15 or so years. Right now, I’m letting the second coat of paint dry in Charles’ room where there used to be stripes in the Seattle Mariners’ colors of dark blue and teal. I’ve slowly been packing up Erin’s and Charles’ bedrooms and will soon attack the playroom. We are de-homifying our house.

Peter and I are okay with this process because we know of the adventures that lie ahead for us. We already have another house that is becoming our home. Our middle daughter, however, is really struggling. For her, the only child left at home, this is a difficult transition that she prefers not to be a part of. She watches as we paint over the fish she has stared at since she was a baby. She sees me remove family photos and pack them away. Her house is becoming less welcoming and warm to her by every sunset.

I have agreed to let Allison’s room be the last to be transformed. It is painted in two shades of purple, so it really needs to be transformed. I, however, am loathe to kick her out of her loved bedroom full of her life’s knickknacks, memories, and comfort. Much of what she has won’t matter to her in five years, but it all matters so deeply to her now. Come June, that little girl of mine will graduate from high school and then pack all of her belongings into boxes headed for the East Coast. Yes, she has a place in our home in Maryland, but it isn’t a place filled with memories. It will only have her stuff.

This is what is hard for me right now. I’m okay with moving me, but I hurt every time I do something that involves moving the kids. A child’s pain is always shared by her mother, even if not to the same degree. The idea that I am voluntarily inflicting this pain on my child makes it all the worse. We continue to move forward in this venture, but it is not without remorse or even some tears.