What makes Cape Cod special?

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Countries, geographic areas, cities, towns, even neighborhoods have a special local character.  Writers may reference local color.  Mention lobster; think Maine.  Blue crabs; Chesapeake Bay.  Philadelphia is known for its steak sandwiches; Georgia for peaches.  Trancendentalism, must be Concord, MA.  Rip Van Winkle, the Hudson Valley, NY.  Whales: Nantucket or maybe Bedford, MA;  alligators, the Florida Everglades.

Since I’m spending time on Cape Cod, I’ve been thinking, “what makes Cape Cod special?”  What places, objects, words characterize, symbolize Cape Cod?

 

Cape Cod is definately nautical.  Salty.  Breezy.  Ocean waves (I recently read,  “my memories come in waves”). The Cape is sandy beaches, marshes along the bay, high– very high — sand dunes and “kettle ponds” left behind by retreating glaciers.    Sail boats, kayaks, Boston Whalers.  Lighthouses (20 of them), the first on the Cape was Highland (1850s),  now part of the National Seashore (1960s).

There are scallops, clams, and, yes, lobster — its delicious in a traditional roll.  Cod once schooled off shore but have moved North, but striped bass, flounder, mackeral, and tuna are still caught locally. Wellfleet oysters are well known.  Corn, tomatoes and cranberries can be local.

There is the typical Cape Cod house architecture.  Gray cedar shakes, white trim, a long sloped roof.  Flowers in the garden, hydrangea especially.   Years ago we took an architectural walk on Nantucket.  The guide joked that building codes had created a “Disney” effect to local architecture.  I read in “Country Living,”

“Though it was originally developed by colonists from England, today the Cape is perhaps the most quintessentially American of all architectural styles. It conjures up feelings of warmth, coziness and nostalgia, and for good reason—the style has been most popular during the times in which we, as a country, were desperately seeking a sense of “home. The earliest capes in America were built in small New England towns during the time of American colonization, when the country was first developing an identity. Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, the Cape experienced a resurgence in popularity that quickly spread throughout suburbs nationwide—and thus the style is associated with the serenity, regularity and strong family values that defined the post-war years.”

The last sentence about resurgence reminds me:  My parents came to the Cape for their honeymoon in 1946.  Father bought Bayberry candles to resell in his Bristol, Pa store.  No one bought them.  He would joke, “Bristol wasn’t ready.” I don’t know if they still sell Bayberry candles on the Cape. I think Yankee Candles in Hayannis.

Images of the Cape landscape are dominated by the immense sand dunes in the National Seashore, Eastham to Provincetown.  We can thank President Jack Kennedy for preserving that section of the Cape.   Think Cape, think beaches, they are on the Bay side and Ocean side. First Encounter on the Bay is where the Pilgrims first encountered natives.  And there are marshes, Nauset Marsh is special.  There are also the kettle ponds, created by melting ice blocks during the ice age.  Great swimming holes.  The glaciers were also responsible for the dunes.  Although the shoreline dominates there are forested areas — mature pine and oak are common.

The Cape is a mix of villages/towns.  Each has a unique character.  The names flow, Sandwich, Mashpee, Falmouth, Yarmouth, Dennis, Harwich, Barnstable, Brewster, Chatham.  Hyannis is probably the most famous, the Kennedy compound, the ferry to Nantucket.  Orleans is midway at the elbow.  Then Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and finally Provincetown.  About ten towns host a summer baseball league (since the late 1800s).  College players spend the summer, coach young kids, and are scouted.  Many towns sponsor farmer’s markets and outdoor band concerts.

Various authors are associated with and symbolize the Cape Cod.  Eugene O Neil wrote and produced in Providencetown.  Henry David Thoreau visited and wrote a memoir, “Cape Cod.” And of course, Henry Beston immortalized the Cape in his Beach journal, “The Outermost House.”  I must include “House at Nauset Beach” by Wyman Richardson and Robert Finch and John Hay’s “The Great Beach.”

Jack Kennedy on Cape Cod: “No two summers on Cape Cod are quite the same.”  Maybe that makes it special.

Some photographs from internet; some I shot.

 

 

 

 

 

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Getting Away

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Frequently books can be a passport to escape from our daily routine. They can transport us to new shores, new adventures.  We meet people that don’t live next door or around the corner.  I’m drawn to books that describe “escapes” made by their authors.  Journeys, travel logs, memoirs.  Brought “On Whale Island : notes from a place I never meant to leave,” by Daniel Hays to Cape Cod this week. Finished reading it this rainy, overcast day.

Hays and his father built a twenty-five sail boat and sailed it around Cape Horn. That’s the bottom of South America; not an easy sail if I recall correctly.  He shared their sail in “My Old Man and the Sea (1995).  Hays grew up in New York CIty, went to a Vermont boarding school, with money inherited from a grandmother he bought a 50 acre island off the coast of Nova Scotia, you guessed, Whale Island.    A place to escape in the summer; he and his father built a small house there.  After the Cape Horn sail and book, he returns to graduate school and an internship in Idaho as a guide to troubled kids. There he meets Wendy, and her son Stephan (about 10).  Marriage.

Hays yearned to “get away,” “pack it up,” “escape civilization,” “get off the grid.”  He dreamed of following in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau.  With the book royalties in hand, he convinced Wendy and Stephan, to move to Whale Island. It’s remote, cold, isolated, basic, primitive.  They last one year.

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“On Whale Island” is the story of that year.  It’s written as a diary, Day 1, Day 25, Day 200; most entries are in Daniel’s voice but Wendy and Stephan contribute some.  It’s not an easy life; cutting wood for heat and cooking (how much is needed); fixing or enduring house leaks (some won’t go away); creating, repairing, a water and sewage system (can be disgusting).  They seem to buy most of their food, with a boat trip into town.  Daniel has a gun (part of being a man in the culture and for him) shoots a few ducks; helps Lobster men and gets a few of the catch.  But no mention of gardening.

Wendy longs for a more civilized life.  While Dan is satisfied with a whalebone sink, plywood and foam rubber bed, Wendy wants a house that doesn’t leak and store bought furniture.  She ocassionally gets a package from mail order.  Daniel records their frequent outbursts, arguments, blow ups; usually followed with some humor and promises.  I found this very real, how couples can manage or work through different perspectives, dreams?

Daniel worries about a lot of things.  Survival,  being an accepted man with the local boys, his relationship with Wendy, and relationship with Stephan.  He writes frequently about his ability to be a good father.  He also admits to medications he takes for depression, mood control.  And he likes his rum.

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The environmental “escape” part of the story are the glimpses into life in Nova Scotia, on a remote island; the weather; daily chores; contacts with locals (some interesting characters).  Chapters are introduced by quotes, many from “Walden.”  “I should not talk so much about myself if there was anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.”

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Hays’ own writing contains quite a few quotable lines. I liked, “I want to stay forever. I want to become a professional scrounger, find a way to make seaweed taste good, trade labor for outboard-engine gas — better yet, trade the boat in for an old sailboat . . . Grow potatoes, set out fish traps, hunt, grow a beard, forget my social security number.”  No TV or internet on Whale Island.

For the past few days, I traveled with Daniel to the wilderness, to an island in Nova Scotia.  In fact, we both escaped.  But after a year Daniel and family returned to Idaho and I’m back in Cape Cod, in ten days, Yardley.  I’ll read another book; take another trip. Explore, experience, enjoy.  There are different ways of “getting away.”  I need to keep searching.

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Many Thanks Until Tomorrow

IMG_2911Most mornings during my wake up wash and other early morning rituals, I give thanks.  Maybe it’s praying for me.  I’m certainly not religious, practicing a specific faith, but I do believe in the spiritual.  I believe we need to express our thanks for our lives, accepting the trials and troubles; celebrating the joys and successes.

This morning after 71 passages around the sun, a memorable birthday, many messages from friends, a day with family, I was extremely thankful.  Native Americans probably have a ceremony.  So for me on this Wednesday, 25th, in July, 2018, I give thanks.

First I am thankful for another day.  The sun has risen.  I’m awake, thinking, moving, tasting life yet again.  I’m thankful for Diane, it was 50 years in 2017.  The past several years have been difficult for her, as she deals with her personal aging, and the caring I need.

I’m thankful for my immediate family, daughter, Jenny and husband, Rob.  And in a very special way, their children, my grand children, Eli and Viv.  I am oh so thankful for Eli’s recovery from neuroblastoma; and for Viv’s childhood honesty, humor and smile. She even gave me a birthday kiss.  I’m thankful for my four sisters (Cissy, Vicky, Marylee, Liz), their spouses (Louis, Ted, Norval) and their children, and their children.  Then there are the many cousins, their spouses and children.  Most mornings I mention many of their names but there are so many, I’ll spare you. But cousin Ellen and cousin Bill, come immediately to mind.   You get the idea.

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I am thankful for ancestors that have passed.  Those I knew and those I never met.  The Italians and the Irish.  The believers and non-believers.  Particularly my parents who led full lives, mother’s tragically cut short by a hit and run driver.

I am thankful for friendship and all those who have been part of my life these many years. Some sent me greetings yesterday.  It’s interesting there are several groups besides relatives; Bristol and Yardley people; school friends; and students and colleagues, particularly HGP.  Names float by, Paglione, Taylor, Sears, Gallagher Corley, Alonzo, Honan, Posey, DiGiesi, Figliola, O’Connor, Buscaglia, Bonnema, Buettler, Carmine, Cavanaugh, Dye, Ditchkofsky, McCullough, Horch, Ramirez, Rosenthal, Kriven, Thomas. . . . .

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I am thankful to live in a country with a democratic government and free press.  I am thankful for my talents (whatever) and interests.  The opportunity for a formal education and what is learned from being in the world — Peace Corps, travel, and local explores.  I appreciate and give thanks for years of teaching, hoping I opened the eyes and hearts and minds of a few students.  There have been so many at St. Michael’s, Holy Ghost Prep, LaSalle and Holy Family.

The list can go on and on: clear air to breathe; good food and drink to nourish; the ability and places to walk; the sights, smells, and textures of our world.  I am thankful for trees, flowers, the wind, birds, dogs (Nala), sailboats, music, books, the list goes on and on.

I’m quite uncertain about a single creator but I’m thankful for the spirit (or spirits) that animate my life and my world; your life and your world.

Morning ablutions do end; until tomorrow.

 

 

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Moving on

I was born July 24, 1947 at Nazareth Hospital in northeast Philadelphia, twelve miles from Bristol where my parents lived and where I would grow up.  I was a baby boomer, my father was in the Navy during the war; mom worked and waited for him.  They were married in 1946.  Since they were the first their group to have a child, my father was sometimes called “father” by friends.  I doubt if many care about the details of my life but after 70, 71 to be exact, years, I find the need to reflect and record.

My life history is one fairly typical American. No Tom Jones or Ishmeal here.  Immigrant grandparents, religious family (Roman Catholic), small town, self-employed parents (father, Vince, an appliance store, mother, Cis, a dress shop), four sisters (Cissi, Vicky, Marylee, Liz), college, married young, Peace Corps, one child (Jenny), two grand children (Eli and Viv), single family home, 40 plus years in high school and college teaching and administration, political and community involvement, local and international travel, hobbies (reading, writing, photography), 67 at retirement, too quickly followed by major medical issues.  My life in under 100 words.

This morning at six I am sitting in a screened porch on Ayers Pond, Orleans, Cape Cod, MA.  The sun is up and beginning to reflect the sailboats in the marina.  I have a cup of coffee and blueberry muffin from a great local bakery, yogurt and blueberries.  The bird feeder needs to be filled.  In the next two hours the rest of the house will get up, Jen, Rob, Eli and Viv, my wife of 50 years, Diane.  It’s our third year in this house; six consecutive years with the Kwait’s on the Cape and decades of spending summertime in New England.  Life is good, still.

Last year we had to leave Orleans after one week — what do they say, “getting old . . . you can fill in the blank.  At home in Yardley, I ended up in St. Mary’s Hospital for ten days.  Then months recovering. In 2015 I was hospitalized for months.  Last night I got into the kayak, paddled around the Pond.  Although I needed help getting out, I proclaimed a second recovery, back to what is now normal.  My birthday wish is that I can ride a bike sometime today.  It’s been two years, but I thought it was something you never forgot.  I remember getting my 80 year old father on a bike in Nantucket.

Recently I’ve heard echoes of my mother’s admonitions,  “Can’t means I won’t”  or “It’s the little things that count.”  “Haste makes waste.”  On parents: Tim Russert, “The older I get, the smarter my father seems to get.” And then there was Twain, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”  Took me till 71?

My new tagline’ slogan, is “reflect, recharge, renew,” seen on a church in CN while driving to the Cape.   I could add “relax” and make it the four “Rs.”  Blog and journal writing documents my reflection.  I constantly look at the present through the past.  Our personal history flows from all that we’ve experienced and done.  Our present is  also influenced by our world, economics, politics, social trends, technology, war and peace. John Muir, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” It’s  frightening but the current administration in Washington is influencing who I am today.

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For months I’ve been in overdrive recharging.  Now that time has passed,  I need shorter periods of recharge.  It may be an afternoon nap; a shower, a day alone at home, two weeks on Cape Cod, anyone. It’s a constant process; always has been; but more critical as we age.  A long walk this morning along the bay shore was refreshing (another “R” word.  Lunch was a lobster roll and clam chowder from Young’s at Rock Harbor.  This afternoon I’ll rest and recharge before a Birthday  dinner, hopefully at the Marshside in Dennis.

The task of “renewal” has been more difficult for me.  I want to have some plans, goals, dreams, something new in the final period of my life.  At the Smithsonian, retirement year one, I bought a small journal with a historic world globe on the cover.  It was to be for my dreams, aspirations, a bucket list if our will.  It’s still pretty blank.  For most of my life, photography has been a creative outlet.  I’d planned on a new more professional camera and lenses.  But I haven’t bought it yet; just take many pictures with my phone.  I thought about volunteer work.  More traveling.  Writing a book.  Change. Renew?

My mother again, “For good ideas to be worthwhile; they must be put into action.”  I’m not worried.  Life is good, remember.  And I know I’m “moving on.”

 

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Books: the Facebook seven

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I’ve become careful about what “games” I play on Facebook.  This quiz will tell you how old you are; another your level of education or favorite food.  Then there are posting competitions. The craziest was the “ice bucket challenge” a few years ago.  More recently was the movie challenge, post a photograph from so many days that influenced your life.  No commentary.  I did respond however to posting seven days of favorite books.  It was an interesting exercise.

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Day one I posted Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.  For many years a copy of one or other Sherlock book would be on my night stand.  Evening after evening I’d read a short story or chapter in a novel.  I thought I was in London, in 221 B Baker Street with all the atmosphere Doyle created.  I enjoyed the Holmes Watson relationship.  And I reveled in the chase, guided by the science of deduction, observation, details, facts before theories.  In my bedroom closet is a collection of Holmesian related books and magazines.  A bit of an obsession.

 

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Day, book two.  “Beautiful Swimmers: waterman, crabs and the Chesapeake Bay,” by William Warner.  I clearly remember finding this book on a rack in John Wanamaker’s.  The cover looked so interesting; maybe you could judge a book by . . . I’d never been to the Chesapeake and rarely if ever had blue crabs.  But I was captivated.  Specifically I wanted to try soft shell crabs.  At Holy Ghost Prep I asked one of the Giordano boys (Ninth Street Italian market), “Can you get me soft shells.?”  They weren’t in season. My first taste was in Cape May, visiting Jerry and Kate Alonzo.  It was a stand or food truck, Jerry and I bought soft shell sandwiches.  They’ve been a favorite ever since.  This year on a week trip to the Eastern Shore, I had soft shells three times.  The best actually were several weeks later in Cape May.  Some books don’t let go.

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Book three was “Walden,” by Henry David Thoreau.  I think  I discovered it while attending Boston College, not far from his Concord home.  I was drawn to the economy of words and economy of life.  Living away from it all, listening to the wild, the trees, growing beans, reflecting and writing.  Henry was my type of guy.  Amazing but I never visited Walden Pond until several years ago when we stayed in Concord for several days.  We made the pilgrimage to the reconstructed cottage, statue and the original site.

 

IMG_2902Book four.  “The Sun Also Rises,” by Ernest Hemingway.  I discovered modern American literature in a summer course I took at Council Rock after my sophomore year.  I was searching for identity and signed up as Paul Profy (Paul is a middle name), an alter ego.  There was Vince and there was Paul.  When the instructor called out my name I didn’t respond, a girl next to me said, “Is that you.”  I responded  “Oh, yes.”   Rainy and I would date for the rest of High School.  But more significantly was my exposure to Hemingway.  Later I was an English major at BC — how strange that meant English Literature major, British and American.  For my first paper, I read Hemingway.  All of Hemingway, short stories, novels, poems.  I read every piece of criticism in the BC library and visited other university libraries.  I even read doctoral dissertations.   I recall one, “The insect symbolism in the Nick Adams stories.”  Give me a break, I thought.  What can I write about.  My instructor, John McCarthy, suggested, why not compare Nick Adams (young man in many short stories) and Huckleberry Finn.  I did.  A year later a Hemingway critic, Carlos Baker, published a book with the comparison.  Did McCarthy know?  Of all the Hemingway canon, I chose “The Sun” with its lost generation, expatriates, hanging out in Paris and Spain, a world of drinking, bull fights, writers, artists and lovers.  It could have been other Hemingway; I liked them all.

 

 

Day five I turned to children’s books.  And there are many.  “Nobody’s Boy,” by  Hector Malot was a gift from Aunt Lucy.  My father read it over and over when I was quite young.  I loved the story of the orphan who eventually found his mother.  But with a recent re-read, it didn’t hold up.  Another early favorite was “Uncle Wiggley,” by Howard Garis.  A collection of short stories about Mr. Longears, involving some danger escaped, help from Nurse Jane, and an ending that promised the next story. For the FB posts I chose two, “The Velveteen Rabbit,” by Margery Williams.  I read it to Jenny, night after night.  Her teddy Durgin (Boston born) talked to her just like the  the rabbit that was real when loved.  And I included  A.A. Milne’s “Winne the Pooh.”  Such a delight; characters, adventures, serendipity, messages.  I could read it again and again.

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Book Six.  “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain.  Hemingway said, “All American literature come s from Huckleberry Finn.”  I read it as a kid, a college student and as an adult.  It is certainly all American, characters and themes.  Huck rebels against civilization, convention, American hypocrisy.  I get so annoyed when it is banned for racial language.

 

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Concluding this exercise wasn’t easy.  For my final book, number seven, I chose “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.”  My love for local history, a memoir and an amazing character that takes center stage.  Franklin in well Franklin.  They broke the mold.  Who can forget his arrival in Philadelphia, two rolls under his arms, encountering his future wife.  Or his twelve step program for overcoming vices. Great autobiography.

This is one FB game I enjoyed.  Interesting choosing books.  I should re-read all of them.

 

 

 

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Morning in Orleans

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Yesterday we left Yardley at 9:30, the Highlander loaded with kayak, beach chairs, umbrella, kids toys, fishing poles and everything else needed for a two weeks trip to Orleans. It was a nice sunny, not too hot day but traffic was heavy. We took the NJ turnpike, NYC route. After the George Washington, we got on the shaded Merritt Parkway to Milford, CN. The Merritt was part of the route to Boston College in the 1960s. Memories.

We stopped at the Guilford Lobster Landing to have a roll ($17) and officially mark our return to New England.  Not much else on the menu, we did have a few stuffed clams and chips.  No inside seating; no credit cards.   At the same dock area there are two other seafood choices, Guilford Mooring, a fancier sit down restaurant which we haven’t tried, and  Pa’s Place, another small breakfast, lunch stop. A larger menu than the “Landing” but also known for their lobster rolls.  Last year we tried a Lobster “shack” in another town but didn’t like the atmosphere as much as Guilford.

 

Traffic was surprisingly light going over the canal.  We took the Bourne bridge and headed to 6A since we needed gas.  Although it’s slower than Route 6, it’s more interesting, studios, restaurants, shops, B and Bs.   In Barnstable we stopped at a market for beer (Alagash White), prepared lasagna, and oh so tasty oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  In recent years we haven’t explored 6A very much.  We decided it would be an activity this trip.

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This is our sixth consecutive year in Orleans, sharing a house with the Kwait’s.  For the first years we stayed on Pilgrim Lake.  It was a nice place, secluded, large deck,  the kids could kayak to a small beach across the pond. Fishing was good; the snappers were huge.  But there’s always greener grass.  Diane found another three bedroom about 10 minutes from Pilgrim Lake.  The new cottage was on Ayers Pond, connected to the Namequoit River that empties into Little Pleasant Bay and the Atlantic.  A major difference in the setting, Ayers is a marina where wooden boats are built. So the Pond is filled with sail and motor boats.  When we arrived yesterday, there was a group taking paddle board lessons.  We could probably take sailing lessons.  The fishing hasn’t been as good as Pilgrim.   Theoretically we could kayak to the ocean at Chatham.  The best feature of the house (8 Peck’s Way) is a screened in porch with a Pond view. My place to sit, reflect, read, write, watch birds, feel the breeze, listen to the wind.  I need  chimes like we always had in Nantucket.

For ten years we rented a cottage on Nantucket.  Usually  two weeks.  I’ve previously written about our golden years there.  Unfortunately, the owner, John sold the property for about 2 million. Maybe in 2006.  The price wasn’t the cottage which was moved but the property which was on the edge of preserved moors.  We couldn’t find anything like it.  The following year we rented on Cape May Point, then tried Orleans, when Eli was about two years old.  Another year we were with Eli and Viv at Harvey Cedars, Long Beach Island.  But then for several years when Eli was being treated for neuroblastoma, there were only weekend jaunts.  Finally we went to Pilgrim Lake, as close as we could get to our Nantucket experience.

Diane and I have had many other Cape adventures.  Her family vacationed here regularly. My first visit was September in my sophomore year, several of us rented a house for a few days.  No memories.  The most memorable visit with Diane was a day trip on Easter Sunday, probably in 1968.  We were married, had a gray British Sunbeam, c. 1959?  Great, fun car.  We drove to the new National Seashore (a Kennedy initiative), and cavorted on the sand dunes.  I’m sure a no-no today.  When we returned to the car, late afternoon, we discovered that our car keys were lost in the sand.  What to do?  A fireman came to our rescue (amazing, ten cents in a pay phone call).  The Sunbeam had a crank start if you wanted. Our rescuer crossed some wires, turned the crank and we were on our way back to Boston.  Several months later a car thief did the same thing and we lost our hot rod.

For most of the years that we rented on Nantucket, we spent several nights in a B and B on the Cape.  Usually nights before we took the ferry.  Usually it was along Route 6A, the road we traveled yesterday.  On the little time we had, we explored craft and art studios, especially the many potteries, had several favorite restaurants, The Impudent Oyster (still there) was one; Christine’s (gone); both in Chatham. We stayed in the Captain Freeman Inn in Brewster, nice location near restaurants and a busy general store.  Another was the Nauset House Inn in Orleans.  We remember riding our bikes from there to Nauset Beach.  There were others; names forgotten.  On these trips, we’d lunch and shop in Hyannis before boarding the ferry.   Although we thought of ourselves as Nantucket people, we got a taste of the Cape.

Yesterday we passed a church with signage, “reflect, recharge, renew.”  It captured my current thoughts on life but particularly travel, especially in retirement.  On Nantucket and now on the Cape we’re in no big hurry.  It’s not new territory we’re compelled to explore.  This morning I filled the bird feeder and this evening I sit with squalking Blue Jays, a Mourning Dove and variety of smaller birds.  Chipmunks and small brown squirrels scurry around the porch.

 

Today we had showers off and on.  A walk along the river in a small preserve near the house was cut short due to bugs.  So we drove outside of town to a dead end on the Bay.  Thankfully the town allows several cars to park and access the beach.  An easy peaceful walk.  While out about, we stopped at Nauset Market, wine and a sandwich for lunch; Cottage Street Bakery for muffins and macaroons; a local farm for corn.  All familiar spots.

In the afternoon, we organized the house.  Kwait’s will arrive tonight.  We read; took a short nap.  I’m listening to the rain. We’re on Cape Cod. “Reflect, recharge, renew.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Individual and History

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I recently finished reading, “The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty,” by Sebastian Barry.  Although I don’t read many novels, I decided to get it after a FB recommendation by Trish O’Connor.  Barry is an Irish writer.  I totally enjoyed his lyrical, creative, Irish use of language. In addition there was a fair amount of local vocabulary that sent me to the dictionary.  At times the dialogue reminded me of my grandmother speaking.

I grew up in Bristol Borough, with an Italian father and Irish mother.  As a child although we went to the Irish parish (St. Mark’s), I wanted an Italian identity.  Then in college I read Leon Uris’s “Trinity.”  My eyes opened to Irish history and heritage, particularly, “the troubles,” the Irish drive for independence.  I wrote mother proclaiming that I accepted my Irish heritage even if we didn’t know much about our ancestors.

The “Whereabouts” opens in Sligo, western Ireland, at the turn of the century.  Eneas parents are tailors in a mental institution. His Pappy is also a musician and Mam loves to dance.  Simple people, they live quiet lives, raising their kids.  Eneas isn’t exceptional in any way, has no great talents, is a pretty average kid.  Growing up he has one good friend, Jonno Lynch.

During the first war he joins the British Merchant Navy and is stationed in Galveston, TX.  And so begins his wanderings.  Back home he cannot find employment and so joins the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC).  Basically he is a British policeman.  Unfortunately many in Sligo and Ireland, the Irish Republican Army, (IRA) are rising up against the British.  The IRA were known to kill members of the RIC who they saw as traitors.  In 1921, Ireland was partitioned and the Irish Free State was created.  Even though he was not political and left the RIC,  Eneas became a marked man.

Since he did not feel safe in Sligo he travels, ocassionally returning to visit his parents.   He serves in France during WWII. Lives in Lagos, Nigeria where he makes a close friend, Harcourt.  Eneas’s life changes when he gets a pension due to his military service.  He and Harcourt open a home for sailors outside of London.

Eneas’s friend, Jonno, became an Irish patriot.  Several times he warns Eneas that “they” are after his life.  Jonno shows up at the sailor’s home.  He is accidentally shot by someone traveling with him and Eneas sets the building on fire to destroy the dead body. But Eneas thinks Jonno is calling to him and he runs into the fire, to his death.  His wanderings have come to an end.

It was a good story but what struck me most was how historical forces beyond our control can shape our lives.  Eneas wasn’t political, wasn’t particularly pro- Irish or pro-Bristish.  But his service in the Royal Irish Constabulary earned him a label, led to his future wanderings and eventual death.

How many lives of my generation were determined by Vietnam.  Those that served, obviously those that died but even those that resisted, or made career choices based on the war and draft.  How many lives of today’s immigrants driven by economic, social or political turmoil in their home country wander, seeking a new life, seeking asylum in the United States or European democracies.  How many have hopes and dreams shattered by the current Trump administration.

How often do forces beyond our personal, individual control determine our life choices?

 

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Independence Day Reflection

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I’m waiting.  Am I waiting for a cure?  Am I waiting for political harmony?  Cooler weather?  Or am I waiting for Godot?  With temperatures in the high 90s the past few days, I’ve been inside most of the time.   Brief early morning forays into the garden, harvesting, staking, weeding.  Not too long.  Kwait’s dog has been with us since they are at LBI for a few days.  So I’ve stayed in the house with Tosh while Diane takes Nala for a morning longer walk.  The AC is on, but it has a hard time keeping up with the heat.  It’s July 4; a holiday; independence; barbecues; fireworks; a celebration freedom.  Why am I waiting?

There have been several feel good, let’s bury the hatchets, stop arguing politics, we can get along, listen and trust each other articles that I read.  I strain, yes, that would be good.  But . . . but . . . I don’t feel it.  Independence, freedom for me is having control.  It’s a bad trip if I’m in the hands of fate, circumstances, or other people.  I’ve been struggling with my medical issues; will I be able to; do this; go there; can I do what I want?

Our political climate leaves me feeling powerless.  In the 1960s, I was a 20 year old who thought our country, the world, was ripe for positive change.  Equality, equity, independence, more freedom.  Sixty years later; I repeat, sixty years later we have Trump and company.  They are rolling back civil rights, environmental policy, worker protection, the safety net for the poor and disabled, affirmative action, women’s rights, gay rights and the list goes on.  Our Allies are our enemies; dictators are our friends.  And somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of Americans like it.  I don’t feel very independent, free or in control.

The Declaration Of Independence

” No taxation without representation.” One in a list of complaints the American colonists had against the British government in 1776, listed in the Declaration of Independence.   If I was a Pennsylvanian then, I suspect I would have been on the side of revolution, independence, and freedom.  I’ve tried today to reconcile that spirit with my current “I’m not in control feeling.”  It’s not easy.  But I’m hopeful.

There was some garden harvest today.  I enjoyed reading an Irish book, “The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty” recommended by Trish O’Connor.  I dealt with my medical issues.  And I thought about things. I don’t have answers but I will wait, hope and yes, prevail.  Maybe I am still independent; maybe I’m free. Maybe.  Damm it.  I am.

 

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Retirement Five Begins

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I’m amazed. I’m beginning my fifth year of retirement. Year 1 was great; year 2 found me hospitalized;  recovery in the third.  C-diff put me down for months beginning last July.  Fortunately there’s been no recurrance. But it led to a pretty uneven, sometimes rocky year four – relapse and recovery, I’ll call it.

I could call it “The year of the wood stove.”  From October through March I built a daily fire burning over a cord of wood.  Many afternoons were spent in front of the stove with a book or late afternoon nap.  The year could also be labeled, “The year of the new dog.”  Nala came in November.  She is a medium size black rescue from Alabama (we’re not sure, Border Collie?  Labrador?).  From the beginning she was easy going, calm with minor bad habits.  She even gets along with CheCho, the cat.

 

 

With Nala it’s been “The year of walking.”  I’ve been walking fairly regularly since retirement on the canal behind our house.  A mile has been the typical walk.  Diane walks Nala locally in the early morning but likes to take a late morning or afternoon longer walk.  She drives somewhere.  I skipped most cold days in winter but with Spring weather I have gone more frequently.

 

 

We might go somewhere on the Delaware Canal. In New Jersey there is Washington Crossing State Park, Goat Hill Overlook (above Lambertville), Baldplate Mountain, Fiddler Creek, Rosedale Park (with a dog park), Mercer Meadows . . . We also go to the Delaware and Rariton Canal near Stockton, Prallsville Mill or Bulls Island.  A ranger at Bulls Island recently guided us to a huge dog part in Horseshoe Bend State Park in Frenchtown.  It’s a long ride but a nice outing. Closer to home is Core Creek and Tyler Parks.   We might do some of this walking self-motivated but it’s necessary when you have a dog.

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Some days we include food shopping as part of our outing.  There is always NonSuch Farm outside Doylestown.  We sometimes do much of our weekly shopping there.  A great selection of local vegetables, fruit, dairy, meats, breads and snacks.  On a longer drive to Peace Valley Park, we will go to Tabora Farm, fantastic bakery, and good take out sandwiches to eat at Lake Galena.

In New Jersey, there is Blue Moon Acres outside Pennington.  Their micro greens are famous but the market stocks all local product from Griggstown pot pies, to cheeses, produce, honey, and preserves. They also run some classes and special events.  In Hopewell we go to the Brick Farm Market. They have a good take out deli and backery, meat and cheese counter and some local products.  Near Titusville is Gravity Hill Farm, a small market featuring their produce and plants, they also host Roots to River Farm (New Hope) and the Farm School.  Diane and I, Jenny, Eli and Viv have all taken cooking classes at the Farm School.

We also go go several seafood markets, Nassau Street, Buckingham and Heller’s in Warrington.  We took several trips to Island Beach State Park in early Spring.  It was cool and windy but we can take Nala on a Beach walk; we’ll sit in the sun for a while, then drive to Point Pleasant’s Shore Fresh Seafood Market, local flounder, local scallops.  The best.

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Food adventures include our “weekly” lunches out.  The Pineville Tavern is a standard.  I recall going there in the 70s after working with John Paglione on the Daniels’ farms — milk cows, chickens and hay.  No craft beer then; did we drink Bud?  We try to find new restaurants.  The Blue Bottle in Hopewell was a great surprise.  Don’t let the plain track house fool you; the food is excellent.  We also really enjoyed finding Under the Moon in Lambertville, Spanish, some tapas.  Inn of the Hawke and Marhaba were also new in Lambertville.

We also rediscovered several local restaurants this year.  We returned to the Lambertville House and Earl’s in Lahaska (closed due to a fire). We would go back to both.  The Brick Hotel in Newtown was the subject of a TV expose.  Hard to imagine returning there but we read that the restaurant had a complete make over and new owner, Rocco’s at the Brick.  The porch was delightful on a sunny winter; food was great.  We went back with Pagliones.  In the 1970s the Washington Crossing Inn was a favorite.  But it changed hands and we stopped going.  This Valentine Day we returned to an excellent meal and great server.  Similarly, in the 1990s, Bowman’s Tavern ( a different name) was a favorite. Their wood grilled pork was one of my early retreats from a vegetarian-chicken menu.  It’s back on our list of good nearby lunch spot.

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Doctor appointments and the theatre provide reasons for eating in Philadelphia.  We tend toward lunches the past few years.  Talula’s Daily is near my doctor’s office.  We’ve gone to Jones and Amada after appointments.  The Plough and the Stars and Amada after shows at the Arden Theatre.  Had a lot of Garces gift cards and thought we should use them given his financial troubles.  Our only evening meals this year were Cafe Bombay in Bristol, Mica in Chestnut Hill and several nights out at the Yardley Inn.

 

 

Our big meal out was a 50th anniversary party brunch at the Black Bass. Several sites were considered and several guest lists developed but given my medical issues, it was delayed a few weeks and just immediate family were invited.  Jenny organized everything and it was a fantastic afternoon. Fifty years; difficult to imagine.

We went to fewer theatre shows this year.  Last June during our trip to Long Beach Island we saw Footloose — an afternoon performance in the reopened Surflight theatre. Lots of slow walkers, canes and several wheelchairs as we join the afternoon theatre goers.  We also saw A Doll’s House at the Arden; but nothing at McCarter.  Our Christmas play was taking the kids to see Annie at the Walnut.  We also took them to Peter Pan and Snow White at the Arden.  Eli has been going since he was four and we realized that he is probably outgrowing children’s theatre.  Similarly he and Viv now order off the adult menu.

We did a lot less traveling this year. Last June as mentioned, we spent four nights in Long Beach Island.  The Victoria Guest House was located on the common in old Beach Haven.  I recently read a Time article, “Why doing nothing is the most important thing you can do.”  Relaxation, total leisure, hanging out, is important to health and mental well being.  So often we are driven by the work ethnic.  Even “vacations” can be driven.  LBI for us was “doing nothing.” We sat on the front porch or our second floor private porch.  We wandered the neighborhood, sat on the bay or the ocean.  We swam in the Inn pool.  There were plenty of close restaurant choices.  We had dinner at well known Black Whale and Parker’s Garage. But the best meal wasz in a quieter classic Italian, Stefano’s.

On a rainy morning we went to the New Jersey Maritime Museum. Quite worth the time.  But our real find was across the street — Polly’s Dock and Clam House.  The bayside signage caught our attention but surprise, a few picnic tables on a dock with tourist fishing boats and teenage boys hanging about. A family was ordering chicken nuggets.  I was worried.  But on the limited verbal menu was a bucket of clams. Wow.  Memories of buckets we ate in Boston.  Delicious.  Unfortunately we didn’t know it was a BYOB; a cold beer would have been great.

 

 

 

In July we drove to Geneseo, NY to visit Kate and Jerry Alonzo.  Jerry is a Boston College friend and was the best man at our wedding.  He was also visiting us the night Jenny was born. Long, close connection.  Jerry is a semi-retired judge, woodworker.  Our first major activity was viewing a show of his work, featuring a large piece on Justice.  Jerry gave a fantastic tour of the exhibit to a class of special education students.  We walked and ate along the Erie Canal, went to a lumber yard where Jerry buys some good wood.  Drove around Rochester and walked downtown Geneseo. Visited the local Trappist Monastery where Jerry has built some pews.  We saw their new sleeping trailer but rain stopped any attempt to take if for a spin.  Diane and I thought we might buy one but aren’t sure now. Could I handle it? Meals at the house were great, Jerry is also a solid cook.  Unfortunately my C-dif started on the first night, had no idea what it was.   Although I functioned ok during the day, nights were bad and I lost my appetite.

We left for Ithaca, NY where we had reservations in a Hampton Inn.  C-diff was taking its toll.  We visited Cornell’s Ornithology Lab.  I was surprised, only a small museum and one walking trail.  More a place for research and scholarship.  We explored a bit of the Finger Lakes but my appetite was gone and was glad when we headed home.

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My primary care Doc, Sullivan from Yardley Penn prescribed an antibiotic.  It didn’t work; he didn’t respond to calls.  The C-dif improved; or did it.  At the end of the month we drove to Cape Cod.  C-Dif returned with a vengeance.  I spent several days with minor beach trips, lots of sitting around the house, no appetite.  After a week Diane and I decided to drive home.

One of my surgeons ordered stool and blood tests.  I got a call.  Go to the ER.  I was dehydrated.  Went to Saint Mary’s.  My stay was ten days.  The only silver lining was my search for a new GP.  I found a functional internist, Val Koganski, not with Penn but I think the man for me.  I signed up for his conserge service. Blood work and long office visits, I’m  now taking a variety of supplements.  But I think it’s helped, restoring energy and quality life.  Will see how our relationship plays out.

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Seeing Jerry Alonzo in Geneseo, in his woodworking shop, creating, showing, even selling,  makes me pause, think, what am I doing?  Maybe “nothing” isn’t really enough.  Then there is David Sears, retired teacher, painting and doing nature sculpture.  He’s carved out an new life in Maine.  Phyllis Gallagher, retired from Holy Family for several years is shooting pictures, making and attempting to sell canvas prints.  Read two of Bill Pezza’s books: “How Bristol Won” and “Homegrown.” Bill has continued to write and is an amazing town activism.  What am I doing?

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We didn’t take any trips in the Fall or Winter.  I looked for B and Bs with fireplaces but the cold weather seemed to keep us in Yardley.  Finally we decided on a trip to the Brampton Inn in Chestertown, MD in May. We’d stayed there years ago; it was on my radar due to room fireplaces; and had a dog friendly collage next to the main inn.  Chestertown was a town I once thought we might purchase a second, then retirement, home.  Delaware river flooding washed away the idea.

The Brampton cottage was perfect, if expensive.  Nala could run free on the extensive grounds.  Turkeys, rabbits, deer, snakes, turtles, small birds, even an owl joined her.  We used the cottage kitchen for take out.  Breakfasts in the main house were fantastic.  Nala went to several restaurants.  The first was Shaffer’s Canal House in Chesapeake City.  Very friendly.  Soft shells in season.  On our day exploring Rock Hall (with Taylor’s we charted sail boats there in the 80s) we ate at the traditional Waterman’s Crab House.  Instead of cracking crabs, we had soft shells. A favorite since I read “Beautiful Swimmers” by William Warner in the 1970s.  Actually had them three times on this trip.  We took several drive-walk explores in the area.

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Our first trip for Retirement Five was a week at Town Bank in North Cape May.  Diane found a dog friendly fenced cabin and beach.

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The C-diff aggravated my fistula.  So in addition to 10 days in the hospital and follow ups with my cardio Doc and surgeons, I went in for a minor fistula related surgery.  Recovery ate up the fall and then the cold winter.  The year of the wood stove.  To my surprise I only read about 25 books.  I started on the four foot stack of film books (for years I taught a course in American film and American culture).  As I had done with my photography book collection, I intended to read and then sell.  Although I reduced the stack, it still looms high.

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I also continued my “re-read” program.  Memoirs and travel were favorite choices.  “Colors of the Mountain,” growing up during China’s cultural revolution.  “Bella Tuscany: the sweet life in Italy,” one of Frances Mayles enticements to visit Tuscany.  “The Hungry Ocean: a swordfish Captain’s journey.”  Linda Greenlaw, a woman boat captain; good read.  “On Mexican Time” by Tony Cohen, another couple living outside the U.S. and writing about it.  “The Last Man in America” by Elizabeth Gilbert was strange biography of Eustace Conway, nature enthusiast, frontiersman, pioneer. Then there was Michael Pollen’s “A Place of my Own” an account of his building a small private room/cottage in his backyard.  And Tony Horowitz’s “Blue Latitudes: boldly going where Captain Cook has gone before.”  There is a genre of retracing the steps of famous travelers. A good topic for another blog.  “Once Upon a Town: the miracle of the North Platte canteen” by Bob Greene did inspire a blog discussing when Trump believed “America Was Great.” He’d love Greeene’s writing.

There were some new books. A selection: “Draft No 4: on the writing process” by one of my favorite writers John McPhee.  “Paper: paging through history” by Mark Kurlansky, another book in the single object genre.  “Mr. Dickens and his Carol” by Samantha Silva was a Christmas gift novel that I enjoyed.  Another gift was “The Reporter’s Kitchen” by Jamir Kramer.  I journaled that I need to re-read it.  A very difficult read was “The Old Wierd America” by Griel Marcus.  It’s about Dylan and The Basement Tapes but not having the music made it hard to follow.  Finally about the only local history book I read was “Philadelphia: finding the hidden city” by Joseph Elliot and others.  I had hoped it was get me back making my Philadelphia explores but it hasn’t happened yet.

I watched about 40 films in retirement 4.  Most were classics; some inspired by the film books I was reading.  In june it was “The Wild Bunch” (1969) followed by “The Sweet Smell of Success”  (1957) and “On the Waterfront” (1954).  Then the 40s with “The Lady Eve” (1941) and “On the Town” (1949).  Many of the movies were watched from Turner Classics on my I-Pad; some were a Netflix disc or streaming Amazon.

Many of the movies like “The Great Santini” (1979), “Bell, Book and Candle”(1958), “White Heat” (1949),  “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” (1973), “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951), “Run Silent, Run Deep” (1958), “Back to the Future” (1985), “Spirit of Saint Louis” (1957) and “Midnight in Paris” (2011) were movies I’d seen before.

Some were new to me, like “Mozart’s Sister (2010), “Becoming Jane” (2007), “Jackie” (2016), “Sense and Sensibility” (1995), “Peyton Place” (1957), “Paterson” (2016), ” Home Alone” (1990).  Sometimes a book or stage show leads me to a movie, watched “Under the Tuscan Sun” (2003).

There was “To Have and Not Have” (1944), “Action in the North Atlantic” (1943),  and a new Bogart, “In a Lonely Place” (1959), discovered due to director Nicholas Ray.  Also watched Ray’s “Bigger Than Life” (1956).  Enjoyed “Hugo” (2011) and “Harvey” (1950).  Current politics led me to “All the Kings Men” (2006) and “All the Presidents Men” (1976).

A few are among my favorites “Beckett” (1964), “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962), “A Thousand Clowns” (1965) and in December, “The Lion in Winter” (1968).  I also rewatched most of Ken Burns, “Vietnam.”  Another blog topic. “Dunkirk” (2017) was one of the only new movies I saw.

 

 

 

Retirement year 4 is hard to rate.  C-diff took its toll.  We didn’t travel much but enjoyed many local walks, wood stove afternoons.  I wrote about fifteen blogs, read and watched movies.  I journaled regularly. The garden last summer produced even though I didn’t have the energy to maintain it.  This year we added more raised beds and the garden has been doing great.  With help from our neighbor, Chris Thomas, I’m planting more frequently, but fewer plants, learning about insect and weather damage. Our “greens” harvest is extending into the heat of summer.  I did some baking throughout the year.  We visited with Eli and Viv fairly frequently.

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So what are my goals for retirement, year 5?  I should buy a Nikon and start taking more photographs.  I need to become more independent, take my Philadelphia field trips.  We should plan a longer trip — maybe involving a plane flight, Caribbean, Southwest, Seattle?  There are house projects and organizing, selling that we (I) need to address.  I had hopes to begin volunteering somewhere; it needs investigation.  Finally continuing the grand kids contact, reading, walking, cooking, eating well — all the daily routines that make retirement great.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gardening

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Gardens were not a part of my first hand experience growing up in Bristol, PA in the 50s and 60s.  We lived in an apartment. There were of course many in Bristol with yards and gardens but not my immediate family.   My Uncle Joe Porfirio (he didn’t Anglicize his name like my grandfather) had a large typical Italian garden on Monroe Street.  Once or twice a year, his daughter Mary would host an all day Sunday Italian picnic.  I’m sure some servings came from the garden.  “Mange, mange.”  We ate and drank all day.

On Mill street across from our apartment, Mr. Mignoni had a back yard garden.  He even had a fig tree which he toppled and buried each year.  When my cousin Bill was cleaning out their house, he offered us Mrs. Mignoni’s canning equipment including dozens of jars (some 2 quarts).  We had them until I disposed of them after a Yardley flood.  There were many other Italians in Bristol with gardens; I don’t remember any in in the Irish neighborhood.

My first experience with gardening was in the early 1970s. At first it was a small flower garden when we lived on Canal Street.  Later it expanded to vegetables when we lived with John and Barbara Paglione outside of New Hope on Old York Road.  We were “back to the earth” not a commune (only 2 couples) but an intentional living community.   John and I were working on the Daniel Brothers farms in Pineville.  Of course we would have a garden.

We borrowed or rented a Roto-tiller.  The yard was big and sunny.  We planted tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, lettuce, cucumbers. There is a photograph of Barbara with a huge bundle of beautiful beets. We tried carrots, potatoes, even corn. What we didn’t grow, we bought in quantity from local farms.  Corn — 100 ears — in a burlap bag from a local farm.   We canned enough tomatoes to last a year (Mrs. M’s jars).

When we moved to Yardley I established a small vegetable garden along the side of the house, railroad tie logs, lots of manure fertilizer.  I grew some crops for several years.  In the back Diane had an herb, flower garden.  Some things never change.  But preoccupied with work, Borough Council and other volunteer organizations, I stopped.

 

 

About fifteen years ago I started gardening again.  About the same time I began making bread, something I did regularly when we lived in New Hope.  Back to the earth, part two, maybe.  I did the required tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, maybe some lettuce.  The railroad ties were gone and no gardening for a few years.  Then I started and the garden area expanded to about 3O0 square feet.

About 10 years ago, we had to remove a large oak in the back yard. More sun; a new garden about 30×20, 600 square feet. Last year I put several 18 inch high 4×4 raised beds in the front. This year I added more.  Currently have a total of 8. Both years my neighbor, a professional gardener got leaf mold and mushroom soil to fill them. Actually in the first year she planted them to show off her gardening business.  She also installed a watering system.

 

I’ve had great harvests the past six or so years.  Sometimes 300 pounds of tomatoes.  We can or freeze.  Some are delicious heirlooms.  We eat peppers but I freeze them to use throughout the year, scrambled eggs.    Sometimes I pickle cukes and/or make sauerkraut from cabbage.   Most years we have lettuce salads daily through June. This year it will last till at least July.

This spring I planted several varieties of lettuce, kale, spinach, bok choi, radishes, swiss chard, peas,  fennel, koholrabi, and beets.  Much more green than we can eat.  My sister Liz, Jenny and friends have been helping.  Also I have tomatoes (maybe 25 plants, this year), peppers (several varieties), beans, several types of eggplants, squash, and cucumbers.  Some years we’ve had sunflowers, pumpkins, or winter squash. Actually the pumpkins and squash have some years sprouted in our compost heap.  Last summer I planted Long Island Cheese pumpkins but they took over the back garden when we went to Cape Cod in July-August.

Several years ago I planted rhubarb (died out) and asparagus, it was great last year but seemed to have died out this year.  Traditionally I haven’t paid a lot of attention to blights or bugs.  Neighbor Chris is helping me.  I just bought a sprayer and pyrethrum organic insecticide and she’s recommended a copper fungicide for tomatoes plants.  Chris has also guided me in planting less, caring more, and increasing variety.  I think it’s taking hold and improved harvests are coming.

Gardening is work. The raised beds do make it a bit easier.  There is the soil preparation and planting, weeding, harvesting and usually preserving.

But it is so rewarding.

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