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Banana Bread

Just baked banana bread

Yum!

Just returned from a much needed vacation in Hawaii.  Okay, it wasn’t necessary to vacation in Hawaii, just necessary to get away.  Hawaii is one of my favorite places to visit, usually the island of Maui.  This time it was Oahu and Waikiki beach.  We finally relaxed on days 6 and 7, just in time to return home.  I wanted to thank my co-workers for holding down the fort while I was gone.  My sister, who spent 4 days with us, took them macadamia nuts.  So I decided to make something.  The first thing that came to mind, because it reminded me of Hawaii, was banana bread.  And my favorite banana bread recipe is from Nigella Lawson’s book, How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking.  She in turn borrowed it, with some tweaking from someone else. (You’ll have to check out her cookbook to find out whom).  Despite the title, the cookbook and the cook are the total opposite of Martha Stewart.  That’s probably the reason for the title and definitely the reason I adore Nigella.  In my kitchen, as in all of my life, I am extremely messy.  Some of you who know me and how I dress have probably been thinking that all along.  I can cook and I can bake, yes.  But I have one of several addictions that I’d like to confess and that is collecting.  In this instance I collect cookbooks.  I try a few recipes out of each of them and then they languish on the shelf.  So it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that I made it to page 33, baked the banana bread and really haven’t made much else from this cookbook.  But I would never part with it.  And the banana bread is awesome.  It calls for rum-soaked raisins!  It’s easy, breezy and yummy!

Banana Bread

scant 1/2 cup golden raisins

6 tablespoons or 3 oz bourbon or dark rum

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup sugar

2 large eggs

4 small, very ripe bananas, mashed

1/4 cup choppped walnuts

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

9 x 5 inch loaf pan, buttered and floured or with a paper insert

Put the golden raisins and rum (or bourbon) in a smallish saucepan and bring to the boil.  Remove from the heat, cover, and leave for an hour if you can, or until the raisins have absorbed most of the liquid, then drain.

Preheat the oven to 325 deg F and get started on the rest.  Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium-sized bowl and , using your hands or a wooden spoon, combine well.  In a large bowl, mix the melted butter and sugar and beat until blended.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, then the mashed bananas.  Then, with your wooden spoon, stir in the walnuts, drained raisins, and vanilla extract.  Add the flour mixture, a third at a time, stirring well after each bit. (I always get this wrong and mix everything together in one bowl in order.  Somehow it still works out okay.)  Scrape into the loaf pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 1-1 1/4 hours.  When it’s ready, an inserted toothpick or fine skewer should come out cleanish.  Leave in the pan on a rack to cool, and eat thickly or thinly sliced, as you prefer.  Makes 8-10 slices.

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From the moment that I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I fell in love with Michael Pollan’s writing.  Witty, intelligent and clear, he never forces you to agree with him but allows you to come to your own conclusions.  Since The Omnivore’s Dilemma most of his books have dealt with the subject of food and what we eat.  In a book review, The NY Times described him as a “liberal foodie intellectual”.  Watch his appearance on Stephen Colbert’s show.  Check out his website. 

Currently, I am reading his first book (at least I’m pretty sure it’s his first book), Second Nature, A Gardener’s Education.  The American Horticultural Society chose it as one of the seventy-five greatest books ever written about gardening.  It is laugh out loud funny.  I’m pretty sure my fellow passengers on a plane ride to Colorado wondered what I was guffawing over.  I enjoy writing that takes a realistic, irreverent and funny look at any subject.  Add in a dose of 3 taboo subjects, sex, politic and religion and you’ve got my attention.  If the subject is gardening, cooking, eating or writing then I’m hooked.  Second Nature hooked me big time.  Pollan weaves a tale of his personal experience with gardening that draws on his father’s rebellion against lawnmowing, the history of trees, his own battle with a woodchuck, and Thoreau.  And he comes up with some very interesting thoughts about the subject.  “Another day it occurred to me that time as we know it doesn’t exist in the lawn, since grass never dies or is allowed to flower and set seed.  Lawns are nature purged of sex or death.  No wonder Americans like them so much.”

If you are easily offended, don’t read this book.  If you think that a huge front lawn and a nice low hedge are the epitome of middle class virtue, don’t read this book.  If you just want to be entertained, don’t read this book, although you probably weren’t thinking about doing so anyway.  However, if you have any interest in nature, plants, gardening, the use of pesticides, or you’ve ever picked up a gardening catalog definitely read this book.

Currently, I am finishing Chapter 11, “Made wild by pompous catalogs”.  Then Chapter 12 and the fun is over.  Thank you, Mr. Pollan for making me believe I am not weird or alone.  Thank you for helping me see that there is room in the gardening world for all different types of people.  Most of all, thank you for allowing me to think!

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Sex in the Garden

On Facebook not too long ago I asked whether I should read Anna Karenina.  I am not, I repeat not, a romantic.  Most people would think that I am.  Look at the name of my blog.  I like a cottage garden and I like Adele.  However, I am an introvert and a thinker.  I like Jane Austen because she is satirical and made fun of the conventions of modern society.  I do not believe in “soul mates”.  In fact believing that another person can fulfill your dreams is to me insanity.  I am the mistress of my destiny and definitely not in need of a man to make my life complete!  (I will write later about my women’s rights tendencies).

So why did I start to write this?  Oh yes, it was to say that I finally picked a book to start reading and I made the right choice!  I am reading “The White Garden” by Stephanie Barron.  Stephanie is the author of the Jane Austen Mystery series and an historian.  She is an excellent writer.  In addition, she wrote “The Flaw in the Blood”.  I purchased “The White Garden” after a failed attempt at reading “Mrs. Dalloway”, written by Virginia Woolf.  I find that I often have problems with celebrated novelists.  That makes me feel unworthy and somehow like trailer trash.  More often than not, I prefer easy reading.  So I often remind myself that I really am not that smart if I prefer to read all of Alexander McCall Smith’s books but cannot slog my way through “Mrs. Dalloway”.

Only pages into “The White Garden” and I am entranced.  Okay, it is a little hokey that she uses the term, “she is a gardener” at least three times.  However, by page 11 there is talk that Vita Sackville-West wrote about “what was most intensely intimate, including sex.”  And there is nothing that I like more than a book about gardening and sex!

When I was dating my husband, we had a very stimulating discussion about plant sex.  Okay, you’re going to think I am virginal and prudish, but it’s true.  It is surprising in our day and age that skirting the subject of sex is actually more titillating than discussing it openly.  And I do find that like Vita, “the act of plunging her hands into dirt and making things bloom had been as intimate as sex…”  There is passion in the garden!

And so I will continue next time.

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I love to eat!  Seeing me, you would naturally assume that.  I am fat.  I know that.  Knowing that I love to eat, I finally realized I will never be thin.  Thin people either don’t love to eat, are far more disciplined than I am or have an incredible metabolism.  I didn’t mention exercise.  Oh well.  What a relief to admit I will never be thin.  There’s still the possibility that I could dig down deep and cease to be fat, but I will never be thin.  That dream is dead and the burden with it.

I love to cook, too.  Especially if there is no time constraint.  For me, baking is the best.  I didn’t realize until recently that there are different types of cooks based on their personalities.  I like a recipe.  I like to measure and follow the directions.  So baking is great.  If I do everything according to the recipe, I will get the promised product.  I can actually go on autopilot a little bit.  Not a lot, mind you, or I could end up adding twice as much or half as much of something or leaving out an ingredient entirely.  No, I am talking about calmy and meditatively proceeding through a recipe, especially one I have made several dozen times, and feeling all my emotional baggage from the day drain away.  I think the stirring is the key.  Stirring is like rocking in a chair.  There is rhythm and repetition.  Chopping is a close second to stirring in meditative therapy.  Of course, I am a slow chopper.  I wish I had learned the correct technique to make a whole onion into a pile of small diced pieces in a matter of seconds, but that is not something I have mastered, even after watching Julie and Julia.  Perhaps if I chopped quickly I wouldn’t feel as relaxed.  Hard to say.  I do know that I can get lost in chopping.  Ahhhh.

Now give me a new recipe, especially if it is one that requires multiple bowls or steps, and give me a time constaint and you have a recipe for disaster.  When cooking a new recipe, it is best to give oneself plenty of time.  That allows for a sense of discovery and it helps overcome the panic when you realize it is going to take you twice as long as the recipe said.  Your husband is hungy, you’re hungry and you have to chop 5 different ingredients, plus go out to the herb garden and harvest flat-leaved parsley and thyme.  (See note above regarding chopping.)  It is much better if you are in a hurry to go with an old stand-by or at least have everything prepped.  Ever wonder how the top chefs are able to demonstrate a recipe so quickly and smoothly on television?  Their sous chef has prepped and measured all the ingredients for them.

My passion for food makes me a good cook, I believe.  Can a thin person for whom food isn’t their thing actually be a good cook?  Is proper technique the only necessary element or does a truly good cook imbue their creation with love?  That’s where I was tonight,  making lemon bars from scratch.  I used to have the recipe memorized I’ve made it so many times.  I was stirring the egg and sugar mixture that goes on top of the hot crust.  And I was thinking.  Thinking that I love food and I love to cook and I’m not a bad person for that.  Just because someone else may imply that they are better because they really don’t care about food, and they are thin doesn’t mean I have to believe it.  There’s nothing wrong with me.  I am who I am.  And I’m okay with that.

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Wheat Free

I’ve given up wheat.  Being overweight and loving food more than exercise, I am obsessed with diet books.  Sure I could be satisfied the way I am jsut enjoy life, but like every American woman I want to be model perfect.  The fact that I never was nor ever will be, despite reaching the correct weight, model perfect is not a deterrent in my quest.  Therefore, I am obsessed with diet books and excerise magazines.  At the same time I have been subject to what I call gastronomical distress.  A quaint term for diarrhea.  I have narrowed the culprit down to dairy or wheat.  Obviously being fat, I am not suffering from celiac disease.  However, gluten intolerance takes on many forms.  So when I came across a book entitled The Wheat belly Diet, I was intrigued.  The claim was that wheat has been hybridized so much that we have no idea how current human bodies react to current wheat dna.  We’re seeing an increase in autism, obesity and diabetes.  Could this possibly be related to our overconsumption of the “new” wheat?

It’s a great book.  It makes a great argument for low carb and paleo diets.  But I have tired in the past and failed at low carb.  The idea of eliminating just wheat (and fresh dairy, as I’m still thinking it causes me problems) was inticing.  It didn’t seem quite as restrictive. I could eat corn tortillas, crackers made without wheat, and dessert (providing it was wheat free-no more birthday cake).  The thing is, it’s not that easy to entirely eliminate wheat from your diet.  It is found in so many foods that it is mindboggling.  Of course, that in and of itself should be a red flag.  Did you know that most soy sauce contains wheat?  So therefore anything with soy sauce has wheat-no more teriyaki chicken unless it’s homemade.  You can find wheat-free soy sauce (temari).  Puffed rice cereal contains wheat, as does flavored coffee.  It begins to seem like anything processed contains wheat.  And for the most part, that’s a good rule of thumb.  AS a Slow Food proponent, I am supposed to favor real, non-processed food over the Big Macs and Wonder Breads of this world.  I even got into an argument with my Mom.  She’s probably frustrated with my and my sister’s eating rules.  Anyway, we were talking about the tail gate party for this weekend’s football game.  Mom is making this wonderful breakfast casserole called sausage fondue.  The backbone for this dish is bread.  Any kind of sliced bread.  Her friend is bringing pigs in a blanket.  I have eaten both of these dishes before and they are delicious!  They are so good the temptation is great.  Then my mom proceeds to tell me that another friend may be bringing donut holes and didn’t I think we could use a bread.  My reply was, “Don’t you realize that everything you’re serving contains bread?”  Then everything spiralled out of control and she wondered what I could eat and I felt I had to reply that she could bring whatever she wanted and I wouldn’t die if I ate it.  But what if I really did have celiac disease?  What if my diarrhea was so out of control that I lost weight and became anemic?  (This is where, as a horribly programmed American female I say, “wouldn’t that be nice!”)  And my only source of nutrition at this event is the fruit salad that she is bringing and the vegetables that I have volunteered to bring.  And we wonder why we are all so fat and sick when what we eat all day is a breakfast burrito, a hamburger with fries or maybe apples and macaroni and cheese.  Who eats salad, let alone sauteed kale or swiss chard?  So that has become a mission in life, to acquaint people with vegetables and show them how delicious they can be.  Now I hate to admit that I love vegetables and I eat them regularly but I am still fat.  (Hence the obsession with wheat).  Personally, I am trying to buy organic produce; free-range, organic chicken; grass-fed, hormone free beef and cooking healthfully.  Of course, I know I have to increase my exercise, which I did initially but have fallen away from.  So now I am pouring over cookbooks to find another version of boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  When you read about what the Hollywood stars eat it is broiled seafood and steamed vegetables.  I’m not sure I could eat that every day for the rest of my life.  So maybe my goal should be to be 20 pounds lighter.  I’ll achieve that by giving up wheat (and most of the processed foods I’ve ever consumed) and by exercising.  Not more, just exercising.  I could be happy with that!

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It’s finally here, the first frost.  I actually ripped out most of my geraniums on Saturday because I couldn’t wait for mother nature to get rid of them for me.  I don’t know whether it is my personality or my profession, but I have no qualms about removing still alive plants that are at the end of their season or simply not performing well.  (I’d like to think I have a little more compassion when it comes to humans and animals.)  So in my view, Geraniums really shouldn’t be around in October.  October is the month for mums and pansies and other fall things.  My husband, on the other hand, can’t bear to part with even the most diseased, tired looking plant.  This year the geraniums stuck around a little longer because they really looked pretty good and many were in the ground.  I changed out about half of my planters a couple weeks ago, but I left everything in that was planted in the ground.  On Saturday I couldn’t bear it any longer and I ripped most of them out.  I wanted to rip all the annuals out but I thought I better humor my husband.  He cleans up after me in the garden, so it’s a good thing to make sure that his ideas for the garden are considered.  I didn’t get quite as much done as I had planned.  I did plant all the bulbs I had brought home.  That’s always a good thing.  Plant everything you already have before bringing more home.  And I do still have to bring more home.  I ended up planting a lot of bulbs around my roses.  As I was planting, Mitch mentioned that the rose bed would look awfully bare in early spring.  What better way to add color but spring-flowering bulbs?  So into the ground went crocus, daffodils and hyacinths, some of which I had ear-marked for planters.  Of course, since I planted them in the rose bed and didn’t have more to plant, I didn’t have to clean out all the planters.  This week’s frost will take care of what I didn’t remove.  Next week I can pop in some more bulbs and flowering cabbage and pansies.  We’ll see.  I did harvest most of my green tomatoes.  I’ll see if they will ripen inside.  Probably by then I’ll be sick of tomatoes but at least I will feel like they didn’t completely go to waste.  Also, I harvested raspberries.  I can’t wait to prune those back.  They’re getting a little gangly.  More than anything, I’m ready to spend a little quality time with a good book.  Can’t believe I’m looking forward to the rain.

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Ah Autumn

Warm days, crisp nights and the golden glow of autumn light. Fall is my favorite season. I have been enjoying the fine weather we have been having the past weeks. I’ve been driving with the top down on my VW Beetle convertible and grooving to America. Life has been grand. In the past week I finally got sick of the purple wave Petunias in the ground, the geraniums in a pot by the front door and the mexican marigolds in my raised garden beds. So I ripped them all out! Friday afternoon in the 85 degree weather I was out in the garden in shorts and a hawaiian shirt, sweating as I pulled all that stuff out. Then came replanting. Pansies and mums were added to existing pots with grasses in the center. I left the Margarita Sweet Potato Vine and Coralberry Punch Callibrachoa in the pots by the garage. They’ll die eventually but they still looked good. The Milionbells in the pots by our electric box, however, did not and they were swiftly removed. I had selected some bulbs and managed to get them in the pots, too. I didn’t work as long as I had hoped but I got all the plants I had brought home planted and the plants that were really bugging me removed. I added a Swiss Chard and some lettuce to my raised bed. It’s a little late but I’m counting on a little more warm weather before we get a frost. I may even try to cover the beds with remay or something. We’ll see. It felt so great to get it done! Never mind that the rest of the yard is a jungle and we never really enjoyed our back yard at all this summer. I was glad to get a start on decorating for fall/winter. I’m hoping to get the rest of the bulbs planted next weekend and change out a few more pots then. Right now, for me, it’s all about soaking up as much sun and autumn air as I can. And enjoying life.

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It’s September and we are in my favorite time of the year.  You can call it autumn, but it really starts in mid-summer.  My favorite months are July-October.  This year, I have not enjoyed my garden as much as I would have liked.  Mitch and I have spent hardly any time outside.  We seem to be working on the computer 3 nights a week, spending time with family or relaxing.  And the one or two weekends we had off together were 90 degrees.  I was pretty worn out by last Sunday.  Now we are into the football season and as season ticket holders, we will be spending a lot of time at Reser Stadium.  I am hoping for one day or a few nights to really soak up the atmosphere of the garden.  Then I am going to chop everything back!  It is getting very overgrown.  Perhaps we will have more time in November and we can go out in parkas to enjoy.

I am harvesting vegetables from the raised beds.  Lots of beans and Sun Gold tomatoes, a few zucchini and a first harvest of the new planting of lettuce.  The blueberries were very productive.  The strawberries so so.  I still have basil to turn into pesto, but not the drive to do so.  I am going to have a ripe Momotaru tomato soon and we can see if it really is the best tasting tomato.  From the kitchen window I can see the Goldsturm Rudbeckia.  They always give me joy.  They sweet golden heads with a black eye are very appealing.

I finally ripped out my Pretty Much Picasso Petunias.  They were quite exuberant.  I was ready to see the other plants around them.  I am actually feeling ready to plant pansies!  This is the earliest I have ever had that urge.  What’s going on?  I just feel like clear cutting the whole yard.  I must have overplanted it in preparation for “the tour”.  I’m over that and ready to go back to a more tame look.  And I am so over garlic.  It’s not worth the work and the space for me.  Oh and have I shared that I cannot successfully grow mint?  I keep getting these little green worms that totally destroy the leaves.  I am so bad about spraying.  Anyway, I am going to rip it out and replace it with an ornamental of some kind.  I am excited that there is now a granular form of cinnamon oil to deter slugs and snails.  The spray worked wonders for Karen and the one time I tried it for me.  A granule would be so much easier to apply.  I am looking forward to seeing that in the spring.

 

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Who am I?

Me, a good gardener?  Ha, ha, ha! LOL in text speak.  Who do I think I am? Shall I list my recent mistakes?  Let’s start with the raspberries.  I was out picking them tonight.  I moved our raspberry bed this year.  I had one, yes one, plant-an Amity-by my blueberries.  Of course, given the nature of raspberries, it spread.  It was all okay and manageable until I discovered it had spread into the neighbor’s yard.  He sprayed it and we got a little residual damage from that.  The raspberry then crept beyond it’s borders in our yard and appeared next to the house in an area I could not easily weed.  so I decided it was time to have a dedicated, contained raspberry bed.  Mitch created a lovely raised area surrounded by rock and I transplanted 3 plants.  Two were the original ones that I translocated and I added a Heritage.  Then the transplanted ones displayed herbicide damage and I brought in a Caroline, which I had wanted to plant instead of the Heritage in the first  place.  Now is the appropriate time to tell you that the bed is bordered on one side by a fence and on another by a landscape bed.  I am still able to crawl through the landscape bed.  Not so with the fence. The raspberry bed is only 2 1/3 feet wide.  Picking, however. is an issue!  Whereas the original Amity plant produced a few canes (albeit enough to satisfy my raspberry cravings), the Heritage produces so many canes it is mind-numbing. The bed is chock-a-block full of canes.  Picking through all of that to harvest is insane.  Add to that the fact that I forgot you had to look underneath to find the berries.  It was not easy.  I like easy.  And I got clawed in the process.  Obviously, I did not think this through.  I definitely should not be an authority on raspberries.  On the other hand, I am always surprised to learn that most people do not know that raspberries spread!  When I share with them that mine travelled to my neighbors yard, they truly are surprised.  Add to that that you need to support them….well.  Okay, maybe I do know a little more than the average joe, but really-would you trust my advice?

Next topic-the weather.  What is with the rain?  Everything in my yard is bowing down, and noting above, it is not in worship of me.  Perhaps, the plants are worshipping God.  Maybe they are just as tired of the weather as I am.  On the plus side, I was able to be totally lazy and watch movies all weekend and not feel guilty.  However, Sunday night I had to pick strawberries and blueberries that were ripe.  The birds got some and the slugs got others.  There were still plenty to enjoy.  I realized that I missed that harvesting, messing around.  I should have been out, just enjoying.  There were enough gaps in the rain, right?  Oh yeah, I have no idea because I was watching movies all weekend.  I did enjoy myself.  My husband and I connected and relaxed.  Nothing in the garden is dying or in ill health.  It was a nice weekend.  We finished with a nice pasta dinner, utilizing everything I had to use in the fridge plus the zucchini I had harvested from the garden.  Dessert was the berries I picked!  Yeah for local dining.  The weather has even seemed to put the pests at bay.  No spider mites!  Aphids are not a big problem.  Even the little green worms seem to not be that big a problem.  But the mildew!   Okay, maybe next week we get the warm weather that puts the mildew at bay and brings on the mites.  Here’s hoping

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A sigh of relief escaped my lips on June 19th!  On the 18th 190-230 people toured our garden.  It was a rewarding and humbling experience to talk to so many people that paid good money to see my garden as well as 5 others.  I’m glad that the Linn County Master Gardener’s had another successful garden tour.  The weather was cool and drizzly, not the best for touring gardens.  At least, we didn’t have to feel guilty about not working.  Gardeners are such wonderful people.  It is always a pleasure to mingle with them.  Very rarely will you find a cranky one and even rarer still, an obnoxious one.  Perhaps gardeners are more in tune with nature and therefore more centered.  Or perhaps, all of them like me have had our best laid designs ruined by frost, rain, deer, snails or Willamette Valley clay.  Gardening is always a challenge!  The rewards are breath-taking.  Just to be able to say, “I grew that from a seed” is uplifting and yet humble at the same time.  It’s like I’m saying to myself, “I can’t believe I actually grew this beautiful, flowering plant from a dried up, hard seed.  I just can’t believe it.  It’s a miracle.”

Back to the present, I enjoyed it but I am really glad it is over!  I actually had a day last week, when I didn’t have anything that I absolutely had to do.  Oh I had laundry that needed to be done (and I did 2 loads).  There were 1 or 2 plants I had brought home after the event that I planted.  But it was my day off and I didn’t have a list a mile long or anything that had a timeline.  It was wonderful!  I sat outside and read an e-book on my I-pad until the neighbor’s contractors and the heat forced my inside.  Tipper, my dog, and I had a most glorious day.  Mitch and I finished it off with a simple supper and a bike ride to the Pix theatre to watch “Larry Crowne”, followed by a glass of wine at Vault 244.  It was wonderful.

I worked the weekend and then came the 4th of July.  Somehow I managed to avoid any work on the 4th.  No watering at the nursery!  Mitch and I stayed home and relaxed.  We worked when we felt like it and relaxed the rest of the time.  It was an amazingly mellow holiday.  Only Tipper was agitated, by the fireworks of course.  She seems to be back to normal today.  We followed the whole day up with a productive snail/slug hunt.

Tonight I worked again at the computer.  I admit to feeling lazy.  It is hard for me to keep up my intensity at this time of year.  The beginning of summer always seems to call for embracing and celebrating freedom and partying.  I feel such a primal urge to …I’m not even sure I know what I want to do, just that I feel like I can do it! I’m free.  I want to simply loll around and breathe in everything.  This coincides with a lazy spell for me.  I fight it every year.  If I do not keep up my fortitude? my commitment? my intensity (yes that is it) I fall behind.  You don’t believe me?  If I lose more than a day or two of intensity, I fall behind a week.  It is horrible.  This year I have fallen so far behind, I fear I will not ever make it up.  I will have to (and I already have) concede many tasks that I simply cannot complete.  That is at work.  I easily concede tasks at home that I cannot complete.  I either hire them done or live with the consequences.  At least I think I have a slightly tidier house than a prostitute but perhaps only slightly cleaner.

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