Gardening: Morning glory and blackberry bushes

With the beautiful weather we’ve had lately, and new patio furniture encouraging us to sit outside, I am once again motivated to work in the garden. I spent most of the year watching our garden to see what would grow. Now I’m feeling more aggressive — ripping out weeds and trying to help the other plants flourish.

I have some trouble with this process. And not because I’m lazy. No, the trouble is that wildflowers and weeds are attractive to me. For example, at first I thought our morning glory was gorgeous, with its white, trumpeting blossoms:

2014-07-10 Morning glory
A morning glory blossom, distracting me from its evil vines

But then I watched as it crept over every other plant in the garden, strangling them and stealing their sunlight. Finally I gave in — the morning glory had to go.

I also defended the blackberry bush at first. I love blackberries. But the branches have been invading the surrounding bushes, winding over and through them, far overreaching their limits. And after reading up on pruning blackberry bushes (and the positive impact of pruning on berry yield!) I’m going after those prickly invaders, too.

2014-08-04 blackberries
A single blackberry blossom and bunches of promising unripened berries

Thankfully, my parents are in town and pulling out bindweed is my mom’s idea of a good time. So the two of us pulled and unwound and ripped out a good chunk of the morning glory. And then I spent some time ripping out more. I cut back some of the blackberry bushes, and the results were pretty dramatic. We only worked on a relatively small part of the garden, but I’m proud of how much we accomplished.

Here’s how it looked just a month ago:

2014-07-08 garden

And here it is now:

2014-08-04 garden

Don’t look too closely, though — there are some giant thistles in the back corner of the garden. I really want to pull those down, but first I have to work my way back to them. There’s a good deal of grass and horsetail to get through first, and there are some other unknown plants in the middle of the garden that I’d like to identify before banishing them altogether. Oh, and then there’s the dandelions …


Walk to Deganwy Castle

Summer has truly arrived in Conwy. A warm, humid, sunny day enticed us out of the house for a long walk from Conwy to Deganwy Castle. We took a route around Conwy Harbor, appreciating the wildflowers and berries growing alongside the path.

As we came into Deganwy, we passed the marina and headed straight inland toward the hill. We almost missed the path that snuck around and behind a stretch of houses. The path quickly wound into bushes and fences and we emerged at the top of the hill into a field full of grazing sheep.

Across the field we found a set of stiles leading us over the fence, and we continued on toward the ruins of Deganwy Castle. The ruins are mostly a suggestion of what used to be there — a pillar here, a piece of wall there. We speculated about whether the fields of thistles and nettles were a natural castle defense started long ago or a more recent defense against the sheep wandering all around us.

Done exploring, we wandered back down the hill, around into town, and past an ice cream shop. By the end of the day, I was left with another reminder of summer: a pink nose and rosy shoulders as punishment for forgetting my sunscreen. It was worth it.


Conwy Harbor

Conwy bridge

“I remember the night, on my first visit here, when I lost my way and ended up driving across this bridge toward the castle,” said my husband. “I didn’t know I’d end up living next to it.”

We decided to walk to the grocery store yesterday. My muscles were aching from a morning yoga practice, but the weather was glorious. I couldn’t say no. I grabbed my walking shoes and my messenger bag, and we were out the door.

It was a bit over a mile, cutting through town and across the bridge out of Conwy. We filled our bags at Tesco and started meandering back — and as we crossed back over the bridge, we had to stop to enjoy the view. The castle loomed ahead and the boats floated in the harbor, under the setting sun.

“I remember the night, on my first visit here, that I lost my way and ended up driving across this bridge toward the castle,” said my husband. “I didn’t know I’d end up living next to it.” But here we are, and I’m so glad we did.

P.S. If you’ve been following my Stories from Iran, I am writing more to share with you. I just needed this little interlude to share the beautiful evening I had. :)

Stories from Iran: Tea

As I shuffled into the kitchen in the morning — slightly jet-lagged but mostly just my usual pre-coffee, bleary-eyed self — my mother-in-law hurried over:

Chai mikhai?1

The pot of tea had been brewing since she had woken up, nestled on top of a kettle of water. I nodded and managed to mumble, “Are, mersi,”2 as I found a seat around the kitchen table. A tray of neatly arranged glasses waited on the counter and she poured a measure of thick tea, diluting it with the hot water.

Later in the day, while I was sitting in the living room, my sister-in-law carried the tray of tea cups into the room, the tea already poured. She brought the tray in front of me:


I took a cup and she continued around the room. Those with a sweet tooth popped a sugar cube in their mouth and held it between their teeth while sipping the steaming tea. I never quite got the hang of that, so I spooned in granulated sugar, aware that I was the only one making noise as the teaspoon clinked against the glass.

Of course, it wasn’t just tea. Some afternoons a bowl of dates was set on the coffee table (is it a coffee table if you only drink tea there?) while other days we had grapes or pistachios or sweets. The Turkish delight my husband and I had brought from our stop in Istanbul came out regularly, especially when friends came over to join us.

Over the weekend, at a family gathering, tea was offered at every turn. First, my husband’s aunt brought out the tray:

Chai mikhori?4

Each person in the room then received a plate piled high with grapes, sour cherries, peaches, banana, cucumber. As soon as a teacup was emptied, it was swapped for a new cup. And then came the pastries, along with more tea. And on, and on, until finally dinner was set out. (Of course, dinner wasn’t truly over until everyone had a cup of tea.)

No matter what time of day, wherever we went, there was tea. It was part of every social gathering. While we crowded around the television at midnight one night, cheering on the Iranian football team in their World Cup match against Nigeria, the table was littered with tea cups — plus a tray of sweets, a dish full of watermelon, bowls with the remnants of dark chocolate ice cream, and a plate of cheese puffs.

And along with the tea, I learned the many ways to show gratitude. I was never allowed to clear my own teacup and plate, and I was ushered out of the kitchen before I could wash a single dish, but with every cup I could at least offer my thanks and appreciation:

Daste shoma dard nakone.”5

  1. “Would you like tea?” 
  2. “Yes, thank you.” 
  3. “Please, help yourself.” 
  4. “Would you like tea?” (Literally, “Do you drink tea?”) 
  5. “Thank you.” (Literally, “May your hand not hurt.”) 

Stories from Iran: The Flight

Train to Tehran 2

At about 3am, the pilot announced that we were getting ready to make our descent. I pulled out my scarf and put it over my head.

“A lot of your hair is showing,” my husband mentioned as he looked over.

I pulled the scarf lower, wrapping the ends around my neck and checking again to make sure the edges covered my neckline. I had been scouring Manteaus Daily for weeks, marveling at all the styles and trying to get inspiration. I had browsed British stores online, hunting for a makeshift manteau that was sufficiently modest to not raise eyebrows at the passport check, while trendy enough that I wouldn’t feel silly on the streets of Mashhad. I’d felt like I hit the jackpot when I found a Laura Ashley shirtdress similar to one worn by an Iranian golfer, but all of a sudden the neckline felt too low and I picked at the hemline, wishing it were longer.

I glanced around the plane at the other women, wishing I could pull off their effortless style. My hand went to my scarf again. Am I the only American on this flight? Probably. I touched my neck. What if my scarf slips while I’m carrying my bag? I nudged the edge of the scarf a little lower.

Finally, we rolled up to the gate and the doors opened. As I pulled my carry-on over my shoulder, I tried to memorize the feeling of the scarf on my head, aware of how it moved as I stood up. Clutching my passport, I maneuvered out of my seat and down the aisle.

All of sudden, there we were, standing in front of the border guard. Handing over our passports, smiling. (Oh! Maybe I’m smiling too much. I should look down at the counter.) And then, all of a sudden, the welcoming phrase, “Khosh amadid.” The passport was sliding back over the counter to me, freshly stamped, and we were continuing through to doors.

For the first time, I was in Iran.


Exploring Chester


We decided on a whim to join some friends who had planned a visit to Chester — it’s less than an hour’s drive from home, which makes it an easy day trip. Normally trips like this result in all sorts of photos to illustrate the experience, but I came back with a grand total of four photos. (That happens when I get more focused on absorbing experiences than documenting them.)

Instead, I present a list of the things that stuck out the most:

  • Posing as Captain Morgan on a statue commemorating a different Captain Morgan
  • Watching baby ducklings paddle furiously along a canal, their mother guiding them to the edge of the water as canal barges glided past
  • Wandering through the Roman gardens and amphitheater, appreciating the artifacts but wishing they weren’t quite so carefully manipulated and reconstructed
  • Eating incredibly tasty Thai food, well worth the short walk outside the city center (especially given that it resulted in the nice walk back along the canal)
  • Walking the city walls, looking down at the street below and discussing the etiquette of the gentleman walking along the edge of the sidewalk back in the day to protect the lady from getting doused in sewage water
  • Stopping along the river to look at a bridge and ending up watching seagulls float right up to the edge of a little waterfall before bursting into flight to save themselves at the last moment

All in all, a pleasant day with just the right mix of history, serendipity, and good conversation.


When I woke up today I had one glorious thought: Summer is here.

Our days are 16 hours long, with sunrise this morning at 5:11 AM and sunset at 9:10 PM. The sun is shining, birds are singing, and the temperature is up to 66°F (19°C).

Weather Today

Wait, what? That’s right, mid-60s are enough for me to feel like it’s summer here. I woke up this morning and pulled out our lawn mower, to attack the ridiculously tall grass in our garden. Halfway through I could feel my cheeks turning red, and by end I was sweating. I promptly came inside and opened all the windows in the house.

I admit it doesn’t feel like my childhood summers. Those were characterized by nearly 100% humidity and temperatures blazing around 90°F (or sometimes higher). Skirts or shorts with tank tops and ponytails were the norm, and nobody liked leather upholstery because you’d have to peel your skin off it to stand up. In the afternoons, we’d run around outside and then escape to cool off in the basement, or the library’s air-conditioning, or the public pool.

As I sit here thinking about it, the breeze coming through the room feels a little bit cooler. Maybe it isn’t really summer yet. Maybe I’ll just go take a walk on this gorgeous spring afternoon.