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In the Yard

garden guru

The joyful noise of our Minneapolis neighborhood

There’s much to delight the senses when warm weather arrives, but I believe it’s the soundtrack of summer I enjoy most. The crisp snap-slap of a screen door. The steady ka-thunk of soccer balls across the lawns. The jingle-clank of sailboat moorings. Now that temperatures are flirting with fall, I take stock of those sounds and listen a bit more closely, storing them up for the muffled quiet of winter.

Screen door sounds are part of summer's soundtrack.

Several houses ago, we lived in a leafy sheltered enclave. However, our backyard butted up to a busy avenue. We listened to the roar before buying but decided we could live with it. We likened the ebb and flow of traffic noise to ocean waves, the tide coming in and out with rush hour timing. And although it faded into the background most of the time, I hoped our next home would be somewhere peaceful and serene.

Upon moving to Minnesota we found a home overlooking a marsh nestled into trees at the end of a cul-de-sac. It was indeed quiet. Too quiet. Nothing much happened. The only people passing were those lost and looking for lake access. I loved to watch the wildlife but found myself missing the fray.

Our new (two years in) and hopefully forever home is in the thick of it. It's located steps from the city lakes with people-populated sidewalks and trails … and noise. Our street fills up with parking space hunters when the bands strike up down the hill. We can walk down and join the audience or sit on the porch and still hear. Yet we don’t mind. To us it’s the joyful noise of people working and playing, living their lives alongside us.

Just like before, we studied the neighborhood before making the leap. We agreed that we wouldn’t complain about unpleasant noises, since we knew this going in. We do understand when folks talk about the increasing thunder from airplanes as they lower themselves for landing. We understand when folks are upset about loudspeakers from the bandshell. Those people were here first, when it was a more peaceable place.

They have the right to be upset when jets wake them from their sleep. For someone like me, with a fear of flying, I watch the planes overhead and feel thankful for being snug at home. And when I do fly I think of all the planes I’ve seen going overhead that somehow made a safe landing, over and over again, and I’m reassured.

Sure, there are sounds that grate on the nerves, lawnmowers, loud engines, etc. I’ve even been known to moan when the birds start singing so early after a restless night. Still on those weekends when it seems everyone is at their cabins and the neighborhood is hushed, I find myself wishing for more than the distant hum of downtown.

We realize we like the hubbub, the hustle-bustle. For us the sounds of the city are truly songs in the key of life.

At harvest time, a gardener's bowls carry memories and more

Each summer my garden has its bumper crop. This year it’s cucumbers. I got a little impatient and sowed seeds a second time thinking it might have been too cold for the first ones to germinate. And then, for good measure, I bought a few seedlings of another variety. They all came through in the end. Two vine-laden teepees later and I’m covered with cukes.

So out come the bowls of summer. I never tuck them away too far. Some of them even hold places of honor on the countertop. But now they are put to use, as they should be, preserving summer for the darker months to come.


In one bowl, those prolific cucumbers are brining as I write, weighted down with a heavy plate that fits just inside the rim. This bowl belonged to Grandma Schlipf. It’s that creamy-colored heavy stoneware with the rough edge, so huge I can hold it with both hands and still struggle. So big I can knead dough inside of it during the winter. In summer it holds the harvest-plenty as I try hard to keep up and put up the best of the garden.

I never met Grandma Schlipf; in fact she isn’t even my grandma. She lived on a farm I can see from my in-laws picture window. My husband thinks I idealize farm life, yet still I’ve often tried to imagine my life in her tidy white farmhouse with the iconic red barn. He’s probably right; I’m sweating up a storm in my air-conditioned kitchen as I put up a single batch of pickles. I don’t have family and farm chores to perform while I mince around my marble countertops. I do wonder what delicious treats she produced from this bowl I made such a special point of procuring. I like to think there’s good juju at the bottom.

Everyone around my age knows the next bowl, a sizable yellow Pyrex bowl, the largest in a nesting set, the others descending green, red and blue. I have two sets, my mother’s and then a back-up set just in case. Anything made in the yellow bowl will taste fabulous because it has love embedded in it. She was a frustrated gourmet, clipping out magazine recipes she wished she could try, while in reality cooking for a picky meat-and-potatoes man. (Don’t worry, Mama, it all ends well -- your granddaughter is now a food editor at your favorite magazine)

Another bowl is always filled with mixed feelings when not full of cherry tomatoes. A soft jade-y green like so much California pottery, with subtle ridges and a good heft. It is also the perfect foil for golden peaches blushed with pink. My half-sister handed it to me on a visit we tried to make normal. Two sisters sharing a love of kitchenalia divided by mental illness or meanness -- the answer never became clear. No matter, when things in the kitchen are chaotic I make sure to put the green bowl, the sacred vessel of what might have been, up and away in a safe place.

Do you have everyday kitchen items imbued with memories, special meaning? Feel free to share your story in the comment section.

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