So what did I really do this summer?

As the days visibly shorten and the night air takes on a kind of crispness, I find myself evaluating what I’ve accomplished over the summer before my mind turns to all that needs to be done before God coats my world in ice and snow.

It’s been a very busy summer. I barely had time to enjoy any of it, but I did have some special times with family and friends — and my four Brittany dogs, of course. But I wouldn’t say there was much “down” time.

Regardless, I managed to conquer a couple things on the list I shared with you in April.

I did clean up some of the old rotting apples under the trees on my front lawn in the spring, and I find myself picking up apples now too before I mow. I want to minimize the attractiveness of the area immediately around my house to critters such as porcupines that forage for such delicacies under winter’s snows.

I learned my lesson in that regard last winter.

My future son-in-law pruned some trees and bushes for me with his pruning saw, but there’s more to do. I’ve been picking away at the chore as the moment moves me, and as I look at my trees and shrubs and try to envision what I want the result to be.

It’s a process, and I can live with that.

But at least I can drive in and out of my driveway without being attacked by overhanging branches.Thank you, Daryl.

My neglected hosta bed got a little attention, although not nearly enough. But the well-established plants seem to be holding their own. The lilac bushes too need additional love and care, but I’ve had a good look at them and have the seed of a plan.

Nothing scarier than a woman with a plan.

The lawn is easier to mow — finally, toward the end of summer. The dirt last winter’s plowing had deposited onto the lawn still is in clumps in a couple of places, but most of it is smoothed out again.

I surveyed my yard after spending four hours mowing and trimming on a recent Sunday, and felt like it was mostly under control. The neighbors will not have to gang up on me for a lawn intervention afterall.

But you can’t win at everything.

Three of my four Brittany dogs check out the fence line along the straw bales. They are Thistle (closest), Quincy and Bullet.

Three of my four Brittany dogs check out the fence line along the straw bales. They are Thistle (closest), Quincy and Bullet.

I’m thinking since I failed miserably this summer at my second attempt at straw bale gardening, perhaps that particular method is not for me.

The straw bales nestled up against the dogs’ chain link fence from last year’s attempt seemed to be just right for planting in the spring. I added the recommended amount of dirt, fertilizer and some pea seeds and watered. And watered. And fertilized. And watered.

The result was a half dozen pea plants that managed to grow about 6 inches high, began to get runners and then just stopped growing. Something wasn’t right in the chemical balance and I didn’t have much time between family and dog events to figure out how to fix it.

Plus, the straw bales were a haven for rodents, which attracted my hole-digging Brittany dogs on the OTHER side of the fence. They were constantly trying to figure out ways to get the mice.

Bullet (left) Thistle and Quincy check out a scent from one of the straw bales.

Bullet (left) Thistle and Quincy check out a scent from one of the straw bales.

My new plan for the remaining straw bales is to move them out back, break them apart and forget straw bale gardening. Let the mice and the snakes and the birds and anything else that wants them have them.

I would use the straw to start a compost heap, but I can only imagine what critters THAT might attract.

A counterpoint to my dismal failure as a straw bale gardener was my resounding success with the salad garden I planted in the overgrown raised bed near my front entrance.

I cleaned all of the old plant life out of the bed, refreshed the bed with new growing mix and composted cow manure, and planted lettuce, radishes, spinach, swiss chard, carrots, beets, green beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes.

I retained one small clump of chives from the several that had contributed to the bed’s disarray and will replant a small patch of garlic this fall.

I’ve enjoyed eating the fresh vegetables out of my little garden, and its success has given my self-confidence a little boost I think it needed. I’d lost a lot of self-confidence about dealing with things in and around my house after my husband Jim died from pancreatic cancer in December 2010.

It wasn’t that I was incapable of doing things or that I didn’t have the intelligence to figure out what to do; I simply lacked the confidence to carry out what I thought should be done. My tiny victories have grown into small victories, which have become more visible victories.

Large enough that even I can see them.

There still is plenty to do on my list. I have a lot of cleanup to do. Tree branches, and bushes, and the dilapidated whiskey barrels need to be hauled away, plus the small pile of debris that I needed to haul away at the beginning of the summer.

But that task requires digging out my little tow-behind trailer, and probably putting new tires on it. The old ones aren’t in great shape, and don’t seem to hold air very long. But I will just haul the trailer to my favorite garage and let the people there do what they are trained to do.

I don’t have to do EVERYTHING myself to feel accomplished. It’s enough to feel efficient sometimes.

And I never did tame down the huge weeds or sumac around the workshop. Perhaps in the fall, when I also have some other minor repairs that need to be done to the buildings before snow flies, I will tackle those things.

The important thing is that I recognize them as my own, and I’m not in a panic because they are mine alone.

There are always tasks to be done. So many it would be staggering to list them all. But I realize a person doesn’t have to be widowed to feel overwhelmed. Homeownership can elicit that feeling in anyone.

And somehow having that feeling common to lots of people makes the prospect of dealing with it all less terrifying.


Quincy tries to refine one of the holes leading to the straw bales that his mother Thistle dug earlier. Thank you Thistle.

Quincy tries to refine one of the holes leading to the straw bales that his mother Thistle dug earlier. Thank you Thistle.



Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.