Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Ken's backyard whimsical village

Ken called two weeks ago Monday as he prepared for an extended trip. “I’ll get Mike,” I said. (The two of them visit frequently.)

“No,” said Ken, “I called to talk to you.” The raspberries in his back yard were ripening quickly, he said, and should be picked while he was away. Was I interested?

So I agreed that I would pick the berries whenever I could. He would also invite a neighbor to pick, he said.

The Kingdom of McKim
Ken left Wednesday. Thursday my phone rang. (Yes, I actually heard it and answered.) It was Ken, calling from New York, about to leave for Vermont. “I picked three quarts of raspberries Tuesday night,” he said, “so they should be ready again tomorrow.”

“What about the neighbor?” I asked. Efforts to contact the neighbor were unsuccessful, he said. The berries were all mine. “WooHoo! Yes!” I thought. Aloud I said, “Sure, I’ll pick. Don’t worry about it.”

Of course, I feel badly for the efforts Ken has put into this patch only to miss berry season. I’ve consistently picked two to three pints every other day or so, putting most of the berries in the freezer. But at the last picking, many of the berries were over-ripe, so today I decided to make raspberry jam.

Both my parents were jelly makers. Mother was particular and stressed that the recipe must be followed to a “t” to ensure success. I guess my dad thought that rules were made to be broken because he took liberties and success was not quite so certain. Okay, to be frank, I’m more sloppy with my measuring than Mother would like, but more obedient to the rules than my dad. I’ve had some failures, but only when I tried to cook jelly without pectin. In other words, I know where I went wrong.

So, here I am in town making raspberry jam on a hot day. I would have eliminated the seeds and made jelly, but my food mill and canning kettle are on the farm, so freezer jam it is, complete with seeds. I didn’t like the idea of not cooking the berries and the sugar, as per the instructions for freezer jam, so I retrieved my new stockpot from the storage shed and cooked it. In the years when I didn’t have a canning kettle, Mother would always say, “Just put it in the freezer,” so that’s what I did. KW

[Monday evening (June 27), I opened the slider for Bess and observed an eerie scene -- a thunderstorm in the making, the setting sun reflected on the clouds.]

Sunday, June 26, 2016


Neighbor's lawn
Hallie & Nick's lawn
Daughter Hallie wrote: “Our grass has some brown spots--it gets to where it's not worth trying to keep up with watering. [The neighbors] didn't even try. We're almost the only people whose grass is mostly green.” I had to chuckle to myself since she was saying the grass is greener in her yard than the other fellow’s.

Hallie and Nick are remodeling an old Tudor, built in 1929, in a traditional Seattle neighborhood. That set me to thinking about my growing up years in small town America. Our neighborhood was also established in the 1910s and ‘20s when residential areas were designed with a grassy parking strip between street and sidewalk. I guess that was the vision for the ideal community in those days. The parking strip technically belonged to the city, but it was the responsibility of the homeowner to maintain it.

Family home, 1959 -- note brown spots in parking
Back in the day, having a lovely, lush green lawn was the homeowner’s goal. I would go so far as to say that keeping one’s lawn green was a responsibility of home ownership. We wondered about people who let their lawns turn brown in summer. That said, I do remember Mother explaining that we didn’t own the parking strip but had to water it anyway, and it took a lot of water to keep it green.

Especially in the day when most people didn't have sprinkler systems, brown spots were bound to develop in the yard. No matter the type of sprinkler you used, it would miss certain spots -- undetected at first -- which would then turn brown. As a girl, I was assigned to take a hose and water the brown spots, so I know from experience that it took a lot of water to turn a brown spot green. In fact, even as a child, I wasn't sure it was worth my time and effort -- or the water. But – we lived on a river and thought water was plentiful. Of course, we paid the city for the water, but again, we accepted that obligation.

When Mike and I married (1975), we also lived in a well-established old neighborhood with lawns, sidewalks, and parking strips, but attitudes were changing. The world was learning about water as a precious resource. Cities were charging more for it, rationing it, and begging us to conserve it. Some homeowners began to complain -- even rebel -- about watering the parking strip they didn’t really own.

A neighbor two doors up the street demanded that the city pay for the water to maintain their parking strip – or else. Of course, the city said no, and didn't care about the "or else," so our neighbor ripped out the grass, filled the strip with gravel, and built two raised bed planters out of railroad ties in the space. Their comment was that it took too much water to keep the strip green. (Hmmm. How much did it cost to build the planters, plant with annuals, maintain, etc.?)

I myself thought the planters were an eyesore, but our elderly next-door neighbor's comment caught my attention. “I don’t like it,” she said of the planters. “I like to look down the street and see the continuous green of the parking strip.” Her point was that the planters interrupted the consistent flow that drew the eye, a bit of the vintage design for life right before our eyes. Well, that was the old community plan, the old vision – beautiful but already past its time. 

Mike & Kathy's drought-tolerant landscape
Today we build neighborhoods without parking strips and often without sidewalks. And some conservationists encourage opting for landscapes that take less water than grass. KW

Friday, June 24, 2016


Here we are – a summer day at the farm. It’s 46 and raining. The high today might get to 58. I’m wearing a sweatshirt. Mike started a fire in the fireplace.

When Mike and I moved from the “big house” in 2004, efforts to sell my old Singer sewing machine cabinet were futile, so we brought it to the farmhouse. It wasn’t easy, but with son Clint’s help, we carried it to an upstairs bedroom. I said I would use it as a sewing table and if I didn’t, I’d use it as a storage cabinet.

I wasn’t sewing much at that time, but when I retired, I worked my way into it again. However, my new machine, a Bernina, did not fit the old table. The situation was otherwise awkward in that one of the cabinet doors blocked the natural light and the other rattled against the table as I sewed. I made do anyway, since it was what I had.  

Then I saw that I could improve things by removing the table from the cabinet and bringing in a portable sewing machine table. Mike agreed to help. So, last weekend we visited the local Jo-Ann shop where I purchased the table with a “50% off full-priced item” coupon. (Otherwise, the price would have been – well, twice too much. One has to work the system, you know.) And the other day, Mike helped me fix my sewing area.

We removed the table from the cabinet with Mike singing the praises of the electric drill. Then we set up the new table – a simple matter of unfolding it and making sure it was set correctly for the sewing machine.

“How hard would it be to turn the cabinet?” I asked, and Mike said, “not very,” and he rotated it 90 degrees. Now I have improved storage, improved natural light, and a better table for the sewing machine. I feel a new OttLite in my future.

“I never expect to use this table again,” I said to Mike, “but we should probably keep it someplace.” So, Mike carried it out to the barn. That’s what you do if you have the space – you keep things.

And so, what’s happening in the vintage sewing room? Not much, but there’s a plan. We’ll talk about that later. KW

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Behind the grove looking over the north field
A couple of weeks ago, I was really frustrated about my garden at the farm. If gardening is an exact science, I am clueless. The Montmorency sour cherry tree is in distress. Nothing seems to germinate in my raised beds. The raspberry patch is on the pitiful side. I just wanted to sit down and eat worms. Gardening is a lot of work just to watch it fail. But enough of the maudlin. I mustn’t give up.

I always think of the farmyard in terms of a wonderful country garden – you know, daisies and dahlias and peonies and roses – but that just isn’t going to happen. I am a believer in environmental change. We have little summer rainfall now and weeks of high temps. So, I said to Mike, “Why don’t we just plant perennial drought-tolerants and see what happens?” He was all for it, especially on the bank at the back of the house, which is difficult to mow.

So, I went shopping for perennial water-wise plants but experienced sticker shock at the nursery. How much do I – or more to the point, how much does Mike – want to gamble on this experimental project? I decided I needed to think about it and quietly made to leave, but just then a passing shopper said, “That basket is empty.”

“Yes,” I said in apologetic tones. “I just can’t make up my mind to pay the price.”

“It’s wasted effort to plant seeds this year,” she said. “If you want a garden, you’re going to have to buy the plants.” She seemed to be an authority. I left the nursery empty-handed but feeling better about my gardening efforts. If other gardeners are struggling . . . well, misery loves company.

So, I took Mike with me to the garden department at the local mart, and we selected four potted “sun-loving” perennials for that problematic bank. Four potted zinnias in the clearance section also called to me, reminding me of that picture of Grandma Ina and Aunt Lynn in front of their beautiful garden. Yes, the zinnias looked tough, but they still had promise, and at 69 cents each, I figured I couldn’t go far wrong. Then I paid an exorbitant $3.00 per plant for two summer squash. 
When we got back to the town house with our box of plants, Mike set them in the shade under the maple tree, one of Bess’ lounging areas. When she spied that box in her place, she was taken aback. “Arrrooo! Bark! Bark! Bark, bark!” she exclaimed. Silly Bess! 
Much more to be done here

Today we're back at the farm, and I'm happy to say that my gardens are looking good. Last week was cool week with some rain -- just what transplants need. I picked a pint of strawberries today and the plants are blooming again. Mike and I put new fencing around the apple tree and removed the fencing from the pie cherry tree, and I watered. I found a smallish rattlesnake at the front steps this afternoon. KW 

Monday, June 20, 2016


The Town House

My big sister Harriet lives a few miles from me, and we see each other frequently. In between times, we keep in touch by email. Yes, it’s silly, but it seems to work for us, and it has the advantage that if she shares a memory, I can save it. You see, Harriet and I are 19 years apart, so it's fun to compare notes on life with the folks.

Last week, I wrote to Harriet under the subject “Cleaning” as follows:
Harriet & Kathy c. 1952
“As I was cleaning my dirty drawers and cupboards, I thought of Mother. I hated to clean my room because the lint and hair got caught in the cloth and I just couldn't get rid of it. So, I asked if I could use paper towels, and she gave me an emphatic “No!” citing the expense. So, I explained about the hair and she said, 'It just shakes out.' I've never found that true. Today, in my own home, I take a roll of paper towels with me when I clean.”
Harriet responded:
“Mother also taught me it was the height of extravagance to use paper towels, and for years I used rags and hated them.  We used lots of rags on the farm anyway.  When we got the motor home, I found that I could clean the entire bathroom with Lysol spray and a paper towel and throw it away.  Then I didn’t have to haul dirty rags around.  The sky didn’t fall and we didn’t go broke, so now I use paper towels a lot. Rags are good for dusting, but Swiffers are better.”

Image courtesy Miller's Last Resort
Swiffers? Swiffers?!! Is it really okay to use Swiffer dusters? I have two on the farm – a short and a long handle – but somehow they just seemed too easy to be effective. Cleaning means suffering – creeping along the floor on my hands and knees to dust the baseboards, removing the problematic clutter from surfaces so that I can wipe with a rag, arguing with myself over which horrible spray product will help me catch the most dust -- and often giving up before I start. But with Harriet’s affirmation of the Swiffer, I tossed one in the cart as we shopped yesterday.
At home, I assembled the duster and proceeded to dust the breakfront with its many dust-catching doo-dads. I was done in a flash. I went on to the organ, the end tables, and even the remote control. When I came to the coffee table, I lifted the clutter with one hand and swiffed with the other. So quick! So easy! Who knew?!

I might not have written this post except that Chris over at the Last Resort recently discovered a Swiffer duster at her parents’ house and decided to get one of her own. Read about her experience here. KW