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Lifecycle of the Monarch Butterfly

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One of my favorite parts of our yard is the butterfly garden we put in a few years ago. This year it didn’t look quite as pretty as it has in the past, but the honeybees and bumblebees still went wild for the catmint, and this year the milkweed (we put it in last year) attracted monarchs.  The milkweed is, frankly, not an especially attractive addition to the garden. I didn’t realize how big it would get and put it in the front. It gets so tall that the big central stalks snap over to the ground. And, again, it ended up covered in millions of little aphids. Though this year I did see a couple of ladybugs on them as well. However, none of that matters because, as I said we did see a few monarch butterflies flitting around the yard and on the plants.
More monarchs
To our absolute delight right before we left we saw a handful of monarch caterpillars on the plants. Since we’ve returned I’ve counted 11 at a time on the plants, ranging in size from tiny new ones with itty bitty squished up stripes, to great big ones chomping away on the milkweed leaves.
Caterpillar Eating Milkweed Leaves
And yesterday I saw an actual chrysalis dangling from one of the leaves! I’ve seen all this in butterfly exhibits at botanical gardens and zoos, but never right here in my own yard. I’m pretty thrilled about it.
Monarch butterfly lifecycle
Apparently it takes 10-14 days to transform into a butterfly inside the chrysalis, so it will be a little while before it is done. In the meantime, I can’t wait to see if I find any more chrysalises and also how I can prevent the aphids from killing off these plants next year.

Travelogue: Road Trip to Michigan

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We’re back! We had a fantastic road trip adventure. We drove to Michigan and back with many exciting stops along the way. I can’t tell you how many miles we drove, but I can tell you we listened to 15 hours worth of audiobooks (a straight drive to our destination is 11 hours one way, so we didn’t listen all the time), counted 37 different U.S. license plates, went to Tim Horton’s 3 times, and bought many souvenirs.  Here’s the day by day travelogue of our family vacation road trip:

Day 1: Saturday.  We left NJ and headed to Pittsburgh. I lived in Pittsburgh for the year I went to library school (at Pitt) and loved it. I was pretty excited to see it again and reconnect with a library school friend.  I’d done this drive many times and good grief Pennsylvania is a wide state. It’s a six hour drive across it.  Unfortunately, part of the highway was closed, which added a fair amount of time to our drive and took us through rural mountainous PA. We also started the trip off on the right foot with a spontaneous stop at Roadside America, which I’d seen the signs for years and years. It’s a dim and dusty Pennsylvania Dutch tchotke place and we didn’t bother seeing the miniatures as we didn’t feel like paying admission. The reason it’s so notable from the highway is the gigantic farmer statues. I think they used to be attached to a wagon-hence the hunched posture.
Finally we made it to Pittsburgh and went out to dinner with my friend and her family. We ate a restaurant that I’d eaten at often and it was just as tasty as I remembered. Then we headed out to the Duquesne Incline, which is a fabulous car that goes up the side of Mt. Washington. Though I’d hoped for a nice daylight family photo, it was pretty awesome to see Pittsburgh twinkling and spread out below at night. The rivers look lovely, Point State Park fountain is lit up, and there was a Steelers game in progress lighting up the night. Through the binoculars we could even see a ref and some players on the field!
Sunday: The next day was hitting all my favorite places and showing the city to Paul, Clark, and Tabitha. I drove them through my old neighborhood, pointed out my favorite cafe, my apartment building, and places I used to go.  We had breakfast at an awesome breakfast place (which has apparently gained a bigger presence in the 15 years since I lived there and has several locations.) But the real eating highlight was eating Burnt Almond Torte from Prantl’s. It’s a heavenly concoction that this bakery is famous for and I ate it many times.  I’ve tried to recreate it myself, even. Conveniently it turns out that they now sell a bite sized version. So, while we waited for our table for breakfast (which was next door to Prantl’s) we stood on the street and I finally was able to bite into some real burnt almond torte. I nearly swooned it was so delicious. Oh, those crispy sugary almonds! Look how excited I was in anticipation!
My first bite of burnt almond torte in years-just as heavenly as I remembered

Beloved Burnt Almond Torte.
We parked by Phipps Conservatory-a beautiful botanical garden, and walked over to the Cathedral of Learning. The Gothic architecture in Pittsburgh and the historical buildings are really amazing.
the buildings of Pittsburgh are truly stunning

Inside the beautiful Cathedral of Learning
The Cathedral of Learning is owned by the University and does hold classes and lectures in it. But what is of note are the “international rooms.” These are rooms that completely-from floor to ceiling to doors to windows-made in styles and from materials native to particular times/places.
(I’ll add here that I was excited to see all this, but grouchy because a. my camera battery died b. my phone died. so, c. all pictures were taken with Paul’s phone and d. I was wearing my prescription sunglasses and accidentally left my glasses in the car so e. had to keep squinting at things/wearing dark glasses indoors.) From there we crossed the street to visit the Carnegie Museums of Natural History and Art.
I had the fondest memories of these museums and very high anticipation. My bus stop was in front of the museum, the library is attached, and I bought a membership and would often visit just one or two special things to see. Two things I especially fondly recalled were miniature rooms and a diorama of a lion attacking a camel and the Bedouin fighting it off. Both were still there, though there were far fewer of the tiny rooms than I’d remembered!

The kids loved the dinosaurs and rocks and minerals and really, it’s just a terrific natural history museum. Then, through a hallway and you’re in an art museum with a fantastic collection. Tabby exclaiming that she could totally make a Jackson Pollack:
Paul and Clark discussing one of my favorite Van Gogh paintings.
Discussing a favorite Van Gogh
I flitted around happily seeing all the things that had been favorites and was thrilled that both kids were pretty wowed by the enormous Monet waterlilies. We stayed until closing and then had the rest of the night just eating dinner and at the hotel. I would have loved to have just walked around my old neighborhood, but the kids weren’t up for it, so that was the end of our Pittsburgh time.

The next day, Monday, was our drive to Pittsburgh.  Waiting for us at the end of the drive would be our good friends, the Parks, who had moved away last August. We’ve missed them very much and couldn’t wait to see them again. They live in the thumb of Michigan and our route took us through Toledo. Clever Paul found that a highlight of Toledo is to eat at Tony Packo’s, which was apparently made famous by Jamie Farr on M*A*S*H. They serve a Hungarian style hot dog with a chili sauce, which you can also get atop spaetzle.
It was all incredibly delicious. And for a famous place, not to big, delightfully uncrowded, and we availed ourselves of their gift shop. Oh, and the thing there is that when celebrities visit (as they do) they sign hot dog buns. Hundreds of buns were on display.
Signed buns at Tony Packo's, including Wayne Newton, Alice copper, & art garfunkel
Finally we arrived in Michigan in time for dinner. Hooray! You might wonder what we did in the car all those long hours of driving. Well, I’m very fond of car games-I’m thinking of animal, I’m thinking of a person, etc. We only did a little of that because everyone else is hooked on audiobooks. So we finished listening to a wonderful book called Liesl & Po, then listened to another that I wasn’t that into, then we listened to a 10 hour book called The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle, read by Bronson Pinchot. It’s quite amazing. Even if you don’t follow the story Pinchot gives Jim Dale a run for his money in terms of being the world’s best audiobook reader. His voices are incredible and hilarious and great for this series.  I also occasionally embroidered, we had ample drawing books and colored pencils, and we counted license plates (37.)
In Michigan we stayed with our good friends, Megan and David, and their four children. It was wonderful to be with them, and they are lovely hosts. The kids basically picked up right where they left off a year ago and spent a lot of happy time Minecrafting together and what-not.



Tuesday we went to Frankenmuth, which I had seen billboards for and heard about and was pretty excited to check out. It’s a Bavarian town in Michigan, and home of Bronner’s-the world’s largest Christmas shop. The town itself is very pretty-lots of flowers, fudge shops, etc.

And Bronner’s?

Bronner's Christmas Wonderland
And, oh my God, it was everything I could have wanted it to be. You’ve literally never seen so many ornaments in your life. And the organization! Unicorns over here, shop by color over here, desserts, fishing, camping, cars, professions, dogs, cats, angels, gingerbread, etc. We didn’t even see it all!
(We did have the unfortunate experience of accidentally leaving Tabby there. I was by myself for about 25 minutes, checked out, returned to the car where Paul was and he said “Where’s Tabby?” I replied “with you” to which he said “no she’s not.” Turns out that when I split from the group she came after me, but I didn’t know that, so Paul thought she was with me. She very cleverly remembered instructions and when we raced back inside we found her patiently sitting on a chair waiting to be found. Phew!)  Outside the building are gigantic nativities, Christmas greetings in all languages, a “Silent Night Memorial Chapel”, and gigantic decorations. Since our travel souvenir of choice is a pencil and a Christmas tree ornament we were pretty set.
The next day we all went to a beach on Lake Huron.
Lake Huron-vast
For East coasters seeing a Great Lake is pretty mind-blowing. It’s so big it might as well be the ocean, but it’s not salty and there are no big waves. (and for me I had absolutely no worries about crabs or sharks.) It was so restful to just sit in the water because you are not buffeted by tide and waves.
The whole gang self-timered at Lake Huron
It was a wonderful experience. After that we drove a little bit to Port Austin, which is on “the tip of the thumb.” (In case you didn’t know, Michigan looks like a mitten and there is a thumb.) There was a beautiful 1/2 mile breakwall that we all walked along.
The "tip of the thumb"
Then out for pizza and gigantic ice cream cones (they scoop them big and cheap out there in Michigan!) and a geocache.
The next day our friends went to work and we took our kids into Saginaw to visit a Japanese teahouse. That was very enjoyable, but overall Saginaw was kind of down and out and depressing. We ended up doing a bit of back to school shopping at some outlets. This was probably the only day we had frustrating getting lost, not following directions, huffing about and switching drivers. But even that turned out ok because I felt bad that I was so tense that when I drove past a bakery with the best name ever-Butter Crust Bakery-I pulled in and got us delicious (and cheap!) baked goods. After dinner that night we all drove out to get up close with one of the many windmills dotting the landscape.  Yes, wind turbines! Michigan was a big surprise to us–super flat, the roads are so long and straight you could see your turn a mile and a half away, and very remote. In the midst of the fields were all these gently turning, modern art looking, windmills. They were ENORMOUS.
Friday we bid a sad farewell to our friends. It was really great to just hang out with them, for the kids to play together, for the grown ups to stay up late watching movies and talking.


We planned our lunch time stop to coincide with driving through Ann Arbor, which I had visited once when I lived in Indiana.  We thought we’d stop at the famous Zingerman’s, but quickly changed our minds when we saw the line. No worries, though! Ann Arbor is a beautiful, lively, college city with ample great eateries and shops.  I wish we could have spent even more time there. As it was we ended up eating at a Vietnamese place where you ordered at a window and then hoped there was a chair available on the sidewalk. Oh my God, this was one of the best meals ever.
Then a little college town shopping, because where else can we get Clark a baja so he looks like a hackey sack player? Or a trio of instruments made in Bali, including a didgeridoo? (and yes, you do see that right-both boys are wearing Pokemon shirts.)
Finally we buckled back in and settled in for some serious driving, finally making it across Ohio and into Clarion, PA for the evening. We stayed at an Holiday Inn that features the at once best and worst hotel feature ever-a swimming pool inside that all the rooms face onto. Our room door was literally steps from the pool (which has a big dome over it, a “holi-dome”). Best because we immediately went swimming in the super heated pool. Worst because can you even guess how much sound carried and how incredibly noisy it was??
In the morning it was time to finally complete our journey and get home. But to the kids’ surprise (well, Paul told Clark) we weren’t quite done yet for half the way there we stopped for “lunch” but were really stopping at Knoebel’s Amusement Park! It’s an old fashioned amusement park in PA and really quite big. A lot of people camp at the campground that goes with it. And you don’t pay to go in just for the rides.
Paul & Tabby on a Ferris Wheel
And apparently you can bring your dog with you because tons of people had their dogs walking around the park with them. (Note: it rained on us and I did NOT have ponchos this time!) Tabby rode her first grown up type roller coaster with me-a wooden one that was extremely thrilling. She LOVED it! (The last 20 seconds were marred for me because Tabby’s shoe came off and it was brand new and all I could think was “of course.” Shockingly, the happy ending is that the shoe remained in the car with us!)

IMG_9896 We rode many other rides and had an especially happy ending of Clark (who is much more nervous about rides than Tabby and hadn’t gone on much) riding a rather terrifying spinning ride and ultimately loving it.  So after spending the whole afternoon there we finally finished the last leg of journey and returned home Saturday night.

Phew! It was a long and tiring week, with many hours in the car. Except for a few rough patches, we had a really wonderful time. This trip probably exposed the kids to more different parts of the country than they had seen before. We all marveled at the flatness of Michigan, the wonder of a Great Lake, and all sorts of other charming regional things we discovered. Hooray for summer road trips!

Caterpillars & Butterflies

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Last week we had the pleasure of watching over the chrysalises of three polyphemous moths.  Our friends had carefully taken care of the caterpillars, watched them eat and grow, and then build the chrysalis. Unfortunately for them they were on vacation when they were due to emerge, so we watched them. All three successfully emerged and flew off into the night.  They only live for three days-they emerge and then need to mate before they die.  These moths are beautiful and also HUGE.
Polyphemus moths

Polyphemus moth
Aren’t they pretty? Now here in our own garden we’ve had some happy caterpillar excitement. There are monarch caterpillars on the milkweed! The poor milkweed is positively ravaged by the aphids. I’ve seen two ladybugs out there, but I’m sure that’s not enough to gobble the thousands of miniscule aphids.
Aphid Eater
This morning I saw a great big fat monarch caterpillar and a medium sized one.
Monarch Caterpillar
A couple hours later I went back outside and sadly didn’t see the big one anymore, but did see not only a few teeny little ones, but also what I believe are the monarch eggs (a single egg that looks like a poppy seed on the underside of a leaf.) I do hope they survive and are able to make their cocoons. The butterfly garden has not looked especially beautiful or colorful this summer, so I’m extra glad that it has at least proven to be a good habitat. And the bumblebees are going crazy on the catmint.

In the vegetable garden the carrot tops are home to a few black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.
Meanwhile the rest of the garden looks dry and crazy, but filled with tomatoes.
The morning glories run rampant and glorious.
The Garden in Mid-August
And in the pumpkin patch there are lots of gourds, huge leaves, big yellow blossoms, and adorable jack-be-little pumpkins growing.
The Garden in Mid-August
The blackberries are winding down and my freezer is filled with gallons of frozen berries waiting to be made into jam and blackberry-infused vodka.

Patchwork Picnic Quilt

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Patchwork Quilt
It’s finished! I am in love with the patchwork scrap quilt.  I don’t know how many picnics it will see, though.
Patchwork Picnic Quilt
It’s super soft and cozy and I imagine it will be wonderful to snuggle under, bring on trips, sit on outside, and all sorts of things.  The inspiration for this quilt came from both a beautiful vibrant patchwork quilt of squares I saw on Flickr, and also the urge I’ve been feeling to make quilts with the scraps I have.  I chose to use straight up squares (the finished size is 5″ squares) and there are ten rows of ten.  I used only fabrics I had, and deliberately arranged them to be pleasing, but not necessarily coordinating.  I kept it bright and pretty and only used cottons (no corduroy, flannel, voile, etc.)  I decided to make a border and was able to use even more pieces, especially pieces too narrow to be squares. To bind it I used a lovely chambray I had for skirts for Tabby. The rather neutral blue is just right. I’m very proud of my nicely mitred corners.
I'm particularly pleased with the mitred corners
I did the binding in one day, staying up way too late so I could have it done for my arbitrary deadline of today. Mostly because I wanted to take pictures of it in the field down the road, on the big hay rolls. Yes, I trucked us all into the field for a photo shoot of my inanimate object.
who doesn't love climbing atop at hay roll and posing?

For quilting I did a diagonal line through the squares. Originally I thought I would quilt it more, doing another diagonal the other way to make an “X” through each square. That would give a denser flatter quilt, but I knew it would also lead to pulls and imperfections. I opted for the lines one way and actually really like it. Also, I usually go for a thread choice that’s not noticeable, but I opted for a hot pink thread, because why not?
Tabby with the finished product
It’s super soft and fluffy, but I’m sure it’s quilted enough to keep the batting secure. Speaking of soft–the backing. Liz mentioned to me she had a quilt that had a flannel sheet as the backing. I’ve used flannel in quilts before, but this gave me an idea. I had a set of flannel sheets from college that I loved. They were blue with polka dots and bunnies and so soft. I wore the pillowcases and fitted sheet completely out, but couldn’t bear to part with the flat sheet. Now the special sheet lives on as the super soft backing of this quilt and will get more use out of it this way. (You can see it in the picture of the mitred corner, above.)
I’m really thrilled with how this came out, plus it was a super easy satisfying quilt to make. Many of the fabrics were ones I used in aprons, some are things I had in my stash that I didn’t know what to do with. It makes me happy just to hold it!
Patchwork Quilt-finished!

Mini Break!

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Watkins Glen State Park
Last week we took a short vacation-just 2 days!-and it was wonderful. We were booked for 2 nights at a hotel with an indoor waterpark and figured if nothing else it would be fun to stay in a hotel and just swim and swim. But of course we had to find more to do! A friend told us about beautiful Watkins Glen State Park, about 1 hour away from our destination. Although our trips are always fun and exciting with a big dash of serendipity and spontaneity, let me tell you how much they differ from what we plan. Here’s how I envisioned last Tuesday: 8:30-12:30 drive to Watkins Glen. Lunch up there. 1:30-2:30 visit state park. 2:30-3:30 drive to hotel. Check-in and be in pool by 4pm for rest of day. Here’s how it really went down. Although it seemed like we were leaving only 20 minutes later than planned, by the time we really were on the way, had stopped at Wawa, and got going it was 9:30am. When we got to Binghamton we thought we could duck into the city and find a place for a charming lunch. But first there was a bit of traffic, then we chose a poor exit (you are not finding a good lunch next to the bus station and stadium) and eventually we just left and got on the highway again. Then we were all very hungry and fortunately the next place we saw a sign for a was a diner that Paul remembered fondly from a meal there 15 years ago with his friend and friend’s parents, so we stopped. It was called the Blue Dolphin, which I found very funny in the middle of New York state. So diner lunch, then back on the road and finally at Watkins Glen at 3. We got a map, changed into sneakers, and in my finest moment of preparedness ever which I will undoubtedly brag about for the rest of my life, I put ponchos into my bag (it was thundering a bit.) We set off into the gorge. Because that’s what this state park is all about–an amazing gorge that you can hike through. It’s 1 1/2 miles from end to end. In the first mile you see 19 waterfalls! And there are something like 800 steps to climb. It was breathtaking.
Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen State Park
Truly a magnificent work of nature. Everything made us exclaim, and Paul and I particularly couldn’t get over the beautiful smooth organic shapes that the force of water had created over thousands of years.
Watkins Glen State Park
About 10 minutes into the walk a lady passed us quickly, saying, “there’s a storm coming.” And indeed it was a little more thundery and gray. And then it rained. A big summer downpour. We hid in one of the little overhangs/tunnels and decided to just keep going. I whipped out the ponchos to the awe and envy of all around us and we put them on and just marched along.
How proud and prepared was i when I whipped out ponchos for our 3 mile hike in the pouring rain? Spectacular gorge and waterfalls in Watkins Glen, NY
It rained the entire rest of the way, though letting up to a drizzle sometimes. We were pretty much the only ones on the path and I can’t tell you how proud I was of the kids for not whining or complaining, but just keeping going. And it was so worth. These waterfalls and rock formations were beautiful.
Spectacular gorge and falls
We got to the end, used the restrooms there, turned around and headed back-this time on a different trail that was mostly above the gorge.
By the time we got back to our car it was after 5:30. We toweled off, put our soaking wet shoes and socks into a bag, and were soon warm and cozy in the car heading to our hotel.
The waterpark
We arrived at 7:15 to find out -crimp in plans!-that the mid-week hours of the pool were only noon-8pm. Raced up to our room and into our suits and down to the….wave pool! I’ve never swum in a wave pool before and it’s my new favorite thing. All the fun of gentle ocean swells with none of the sand in your suit or sea creature worries. It was very nice and then we had a late dinner in the hotel restaurant. Our room was charming and had a fireplace that we kept going to dry our things. In the morning we followed directions and drove through the adjacent state forest to get to a town that had a Tim Horton’s. to our delight and surprise it turned out to be the same one we had stopped at on our way to Syracuse in June! So we had a happy Tim Horton’s breakfast and then found 5 geocaches, which included a nice playground where the kids played for a while. We picked up sandwiches at a local dairy/deli, as well as some of their own ice cream to bring back our room, since we had a kitchen in it. we cleverly ate lunch in the room and then went down to the pools shortly after they opened. The pools included the wave pool, an outdoor pool, an indoor/outdoor hot tub, indoor slides for kids, a big water tower and some tiny slides, and a couple of big slides that grown ups could go on, too. I refused to go on the big spiral slide that you had to lie down in, but the slide that you sat on a tube in was loads of fun.


The waterpark

The waterpark

We did it all for many hours before taking a break for the arcade and a trip into town to eat a burrito at a local Mexican place. Then we headed back for evening swimming until it closed. Back in the room it was ice cream and games before bed. It really was a lot of fun and we all had such a good time. The next day we pretty much just headed home. It was a really nice getaway!

Bring on the tomatoes

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The tomatoes are ripening ever rapidly.
I finally picked the humongous oxheart tomato and it weighed in at 1 1/2 lbs.
Oxheart Tomato

Oxheart Tomato
BLTs and homemade pizza were on the menu this weekend to take advantage of them.
Pizza Redux
The delicious Jersey corn is making an appearance now, too, and we had friends bring up 3 dozen from the farmstand by their house.  Sunday morning Paul efficiently cooked and zipped it and packed it for the freezer. We set aside some for a perfect August dinner: a tielle made with zucchini, potato, and tomato (tomatoes and zucchini from the garden); corn on the cob, and peach crisp for dessert. Oh, and while everyone had their BLTs for lunch I had a BLC-bacon, lettuce, and some of the just cooked and zipped corn. It was heavenly and tasted like summer. Tonight I took all the tomatoes and roasted them and packed them for the freezer.  Oh, and we also ate roasted beets and carrots straight from the garden. The beets were sweet and delicious I couldn’t believe it!

Our weeds may be crazy as ever and our garden rather jungle like, but I have to say that this summer I am absolutely thrilled with the look of everything-bright cheerful annuals in the front yard, clusters of swaying Queen Anne’s lace, bright gaudy gladiolas scattered about, the fluttering fabric wreath,  the ever expanding gourd area with its huge bright yellow blossoms and trailing vines
Nice Pistil

In Gourd City
and the morning glories that, despite my best efforts, grew up all over the peas and are now blooming.
Morning Glory
It’s all quite beautiful! Oh! and the milkweed has paid off as we’ve had sightings of several monarch butterflies. We were all really excited by that and they are so striking looking.
More monarchs
And I’m really pleased with everything we planted this year.  The only things we didn’t plant that I wish we had (*take note, Future Sarah) are green beans and butternut squash. And everything we did actually plant is stuff I am happily eating and harvesting.

Remember I mentioned the Scraptherapy book and concept? Well I still haven’t done that, but I have felt inspired to make a scrap quilt-one made entirely of squares (inspired by one I saw on Flickr) and to start using pieces in my fabric stash. Once I got going I couldn’t stop and I dumped out all of my fabric (which is still waiting for me to put it away) and cut out 100 5″ squares.
Scrap Patchwork: In progress
It’s meant to be bright and cheerful, not necessarily coordinating and ultimately be a picnic quilt. You know, for all those picnics under trees we have? Well, at least in my head that’s what it looks like. I’m sure this won’t be the final layout, but I rather liked this second layout of all the squares.
Scrap Patchwork: In progress
Wouldn’t this be a fun quilt to lie on or snuggle up with? Sweetie thinks so
Scrap Patchwork: In progress

Garden Whimsy

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Garden Whimsy
Remember the fabric scrap wreath I was making yesterday? I finished it and hung it in the garden. More strips of fabric were tied around the edge of the lower half and the flutter beautifully in the breeze.
Garden Whimsy
I hung it high on the garden gate where it is cheerful and lovely. I hope it brings a smile to the faces of those who pass by-it’s definitely bringing a smile to mine.
Garden Whimsy
Oh-and the state of the garden? In the words of one young visitor, “This looks like a jungle.”
"Your garden looks like a jungle."
Jungle it might be, but it is filled with two ripening watermelons, one beautiful red cabbage, tons of tomatoes, and despite my best efforts to weed them out-beautiful morning glories. Oh, and let’s not forget all the zucchini.


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