And So It Goes…

1 December 2019

It’s done. The era is over. We sold our TreeHouse on the 25th of November 2019. We owned that house for 31 years, 1 month, 10 days (11,393 days), almost half our lives. It’s now someone else’s house and home. End of an era. Adjusted for inflation, we came slightly short of breaking even, which our agent told us is pretty good, considering wear and tear… but that doesn’t factor in all the improvements and upgrades we did. I’ll miss the great deck and the grapevine-covered pergola the most. We won’t miss the order-of-magnitude increase in area traffic over those years. Farewell, TreeHouse! You served us well!

(We live fulltime at the Ballot Box in Maine now, so the saga will continue over on the Ballot Box Blog. The link to that blog is below the header image above…)

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Changes Are Afoot…

6 June 2019

Boy are they ever! It’s been ten months since the last TreeHouse blog entry, but we have NOT been idle. Construction was delayed a few months on the Maine house renovation by an AWOL excavator (plan was to start in July, didn’t start until September). Nothing can start until the excavation is done, so our schedule got out of whack right out of the starting gate. We retired on schedule in late January, began the herculean task of cleaning the southern abode of 32+ years of clutter and junk, and began the bi-weekly trek north to observe the progress and consult with the general contractor on the various “challenges” that crop up when you’re doing major renovations to a 150-year-old house.

We’ve kept a web journal of the construction progress as lots of friends and acquaintances are interested in said progress (a page, cleverly titled “Changes are Afoot,” on the BallotBox sub-site of the Family TreeHouse web site), complete with photos of the progress.

But this is the TreeHouse blog, so the stuff happening to the abode that we call the TreeHouse is whats on-topic here!

The TreeHouse, circa May 2013

We’re selling the TreeHouse! It’s a 5-bedroom split-level on about 16,000 sq. ft. of corner lot in West Woburn, MA. Built in 1985, bought by us in 1989, upgrading from a tiny 200-year-old 2-bedroom house just off the town center in Lexington, MA that we bought in 1982 (the year our youngest [of two] was born). This Woburn house was attractive to us as it had a finished in-law apartment and my father had just lost his sister-in-law housemate, was living alone in the house I grew up in, and was deteriorating from loneliness.

It’s served us well, but retirement opens up lots of new possibilities, so we’ve decided to opt for the slower-paced life on the mid-coast of Maine, where a traffic jam is waiting for a driver not terribly skilled at parallel-parking while they maneuver into the on-street parking space in front of the Reny’s department store in downtown Damariscotta, and the scenery in mid-coast of Maine far outweighs the strip-malls and 4-lane highways of the “north of Boston” suburbs.

Selling a house at any time is a big undertaking, but selling a house after living in it for 32+ years is a bigger project than one might think, especially if one is an “I-might-need-that-someday” (IMNTS) homeowner. For example… we all buy electronics equipment – TVs, Stereos, DVD players, Computers, Microwaves, Clock-Radios, Printers, Scanners, Boom-Boxes, … you get the idea. These things all come in sturdy cardboard boxes, usually with Styrofoam corner- or whole-box- padding. These electronic items also occasionally need repair or get moved or get passed on to someone else, so the IMNTS homeowner will save the box and the packing, “just in case.” I did that.

The “just in case” scenarios do occasionally crop up, but NOT for EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT! One in fifty, maybe? So is it worth saving every single box for that one-in-fifty chance, especially when one can buy a sturdy box and bubble-pack and Styrofoam peanuts at an office supply store? I know the answer now!

We had an attic FULL of empty electronic boxes… x286-vintage computer boxes, CRT monitor and TV boxes, VHS player boxes… 90% or more were orphan boxes for long-disposed-of equipment. But when a piece of equipment died, did we hunt down the box it came in to dispose of both together?? Of COURSE not!! So all those orphan boxes had to be extracted from this fairly-inaccessible crawlspace attic. Our 66-year-old knees couldn’t crawl into the spaces to retrieve the boxes where our 35-year-old knees put them! We had to hire some young whippersnappers to do it for us, then we had to sort through the boxes to identify the ones we still had the equipment for (VERY few), THEN we had to break down the boxes and dispose of the Styrofoam!

Above is one-day’s recycling of discarded boxes. The 12 or so unbroken boxes on the left side contained all the Styrofoam chunks and went onto the trash truck. The 50 or so broken-down boxes (big ones tied in bundles, small ones in bins) went into the paper recycling truck. They took it all!

We also have a secondary attic… the loft over the oversize 2-car garage! It’s full of hard stuff (not empty boxes) that also fell into the IMNTS category… a car-top carrier that was used with our 1988 minivan and MIGHT be needed again… a bunk-bed frame and sturdy platform… an antique drafting table I refinished maybe 30 years ago… lawn toys… old yard tools… etc. etc. etc. The loft will be attacked in a similar manner, but the whippersnappers will bring a dumpster this time. We’re paying now for our indecision all those years.

Now add this amount of work to the knowledge that we’re NOT moving to a new house… we’re moving to a house we’ve owned and used a lot for ten years. We’ve got two houses worth of furniture AND OTHER STUFF to fit into one house! We have a step-based process for dealing with these things; anything we don’t want to keep but that might be of value gets posted on eBay (for small mail-able items) or Craigslist (for bigger items to be picked up). If it sells, that’s great. If it doesn’t, it gets posted on FreeCycle in various towns in the area. FreeCycle stuff is free to a good home, keeping it out of the landfills. Anything that doesn’t get taken on FreeCycle is offered to Goodwill. Anything that Goodwill won’t take gets put out for the trash early enough that the ubiquitous trash-pickers get a chance at it.

Needless to say, this has been a long and tedious process. It’s not done in a weekend. Any advice we might be able to offer would focus on curbing the IMNTS gene that makes you want to save stuff that MIGHT be of use…. some day!

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Mid-August Update…

8 August 2018

It’s been a quiet summer at the TreeHouse so far. Not a lot of exciting info to report. Gene’s retirement date has been announced at MITRE: late January 2019.  Lynn and I have been working with that date in mind for a while; work has begun on cleaning out the TreeHouse – no small feat with 30+ years of clutter accumulated – and arranging needed repairs and maintenance in advance of putting the house on the market (we’re relocating to Maine in our retirement).  There was no need to announce the retirement at work way in advance.  My management position replacement has to be advertised for internally early enough to be able to select the replacement and have enough overlap to let the new stuckee come up to speed, so now is about the right time.  Informally I gave my boss about a year’s notice so she could start planning out a strategy, but the next level up and the people who work for me will be informed now so planning can proceed. My Excel retirement countdown spreadsheet tells me I have 5 months and 16 days left as of today, which is 169 days or 24.1 weeks or 0.461 years. It’s also 122 weekdays or 118 days after deducting holidays or 106 days after deducting holidays and vacation days… but who’s counting!

We hosted a cookout for the VOGT side of the family to meet the newest member of the family – grandson Alexander.  Had a good turnout; my two local sisters and their spouses, and most of their kids and grandkids, and a few long-time family friends. Burgers and hot dogs; the usual cookout fare. Alexander turns six months old in a few days… time flies.

Lynn’s spent most of July and some of August up at the Ballot Box by herself, enjoying the peace and quiet.  She may also spend most of September and October up there as well (as long as the renovations don’t get in the way), her favorite time of year to be up in Maine.  I invade for occasional weekends, traveling up and back on the Amtrak DownEaster train that picks me up at the Anderson Regional Transportation Center in Woburn and drops me off at the Brunswick ME train station (the end of the Amtrak line) about 26 miles from the Ballot Box .  We’ve planned a sweeping renovation for the Ballot Box to accommodate full-time residence by two folks that have more (and larger) toys than most.  Now we’re in a holding pattern until the excavators show up to start prepping the lot for a new garage slab and house foundation expansions.

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Lots of Stuff Can Happen in Almost 6 Months…

11 May 2018

Jeez I’ve ignored this blog recently! The last entry (26 November) was entered just after I got back from a two-week business trip to the Dominican Republic, and now almost six months have passed.  Let’s see… Christmas, Winter, New Year’s, Grandson born, another tree fell in the back yard, another trip to Bulgaria, another visit from my Wyoming sister, a visit from my Colorado nephew and grand-nephew, a 65th birthday (and commensurate signing up for Medicare), not much, eh?

We planned on spending the week between Christmas and New Year’s in our usual way – up at the Ballot Box in Maine – but Lynn came down with rhinovirus Christmas evening so we delayed heading north until the 29th (Friday).  We laid low for our few days in Maine, extending a day to the 3rd. Winter was delayed – as it often is – but made up for the late start by whacking us with three Nor’easter blizzards in the span of a week during March. Our first grandchild – Alexander Paul – was born 9 February… a little peanut but way cool!  My sister flew in from Wyoming for a short visit to the place of her roots, longing for a taste of a damp and wet winter rather than the windy and bone-dry winters she’s become accustomed to where snow sublimates rather than melts and a gentle breeze is anything under 40 mph.  My nephew brought his son east to his dad’s roots during his first spring break from college in Colorado to experience humidity and lobsters and fresh seafood.  I turned 65 this January, with Lynn about to follow this month.  I also made a third trip to Sofia Bulgaria in April, related to checkups on work that was scheduled based on our observations from our last trip in August and September.

We – or rather, our neighbors, who graciously chipped in to cover a portion of the eventual removal cost – lost another swamp-willow during the 3-blizzard week. It landed 99.44% in our yard (so my responsibility), same as what happened 2 years ago.  THIS time, instead of threading it’s way down, missing our birch and the pergola, it landed right on top of the pergola (see panorama photo – look on the right side). I’m an old-school physicist who understands F=ma, so I built that pergola to withstand a Chinese space station landing on it, and the tree had ZERO effect on the pergola except to plunk right down on top of the massive Concord grapevine that shades all who stand underneath the 10′ x 20′ structure.

My original plan to enlist willing friends to help remove the offending ent got kiboshed when I got scheduled for another two-week trip to Bulgaria during that window of time when the snow would be gone but the grape arbor would not yet be sprouting leaves and creepers to entangle the downed tree, so I had to hire a tree removal company to do the work.

They showed up (while I was in Bulgaria) with a monster crane and lifted the whole tree off the pergola and up OVER all the other trees.  My neighbor got a video of it…

Not many words for a six-month summary… perhaps I’ll elaborate on some more aspects in the near future.  Check back…

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And Now Back From Two Weeks in the Dominican Republic…

26 November 2017

We’re up in Maine for Thanksgiving week plus… and I’m just back from yet another business trip and another country notched on my passport – two weeks in the Dominican Republic assisting with site surveys for potential locations to install a communications system for the military.  I flew down on Sunday the 5th of November, and flew back on Saturday the 18th.  We used the Marriott Courtyard hotel in Santo Domingo as our base camp, and traveled to a number of military installations to survey their facilities with regards to connectivity, stable power, and backup capabilities.  We worked on Veteran’s day so that “holiday” time off got carried over and was applied to a different day while I was up here in Maine.  The exchange rate was about 50 DR pesos to one US dollar, and they use the familiar dollar sign ($) to label their prices too, so it was a bit disconcerting to see a cheeseburger priced at $650 on a menu (at 50 pesos per dollar, that cheeseburger was only 13 US dollars). Pictures of some of the non-military DR sites we saw are here.

Our Thanksgiving celebration this year was different than in past years.  Megan and Dan were celebrating with Dan’s family this year, and Audrey’s gastroparesis made her want to just forget all about Thanksgiving and eating, so with my very recent return from the 2-week trip we decided to escape north on Tuesday the 21st (I needed one day in the office to file my trip paperwork and catch up with other stuff) and stay through Tuesday the 28th.  Our Thanksgiving feast was celebrated with Lynn’s sister Jan and her wife Joyce at the Squire Tarbox Inn and Restaurant, a delightful 1760-era edifice on Westport Island in Wiscasset (no swimming required; there’s a nice bridge connecting it with the mainland). The gourmet chef has chops (Swiss-trained, chef at New York’s Four Seasons restaurant and Rockefeller Center, etc.).  We got on the wait-list, then got promoted to reservations! Pictures of the facilities (and a snap of the day’s menu) are here.

We also wanted to head north to consult with a designer we’ve engaged to give us some ideas on how to expand the Ballot Box for permanent residence.  Our planned retirement date is only about 14 months away, and our plan is to sell the house in Woburn and move permanently to mid-coast Maine.  But we’ve had the Ballot Box for 8+ years now, and we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a little too small for us as our only home.  We both have too many toys to fit us and them into a 960 sq. ft. home.  We’re contemplating a few solutions.  One is to expand the Ballot Box (hence our conversations with the designer/architect).  We’re also weighing the option to buy a bigger house, so we’re also working with our real estate broker friend up here to begin looking at houses on the market as a possible replacement.  We’re keeping our options open.

So we’re two days from December and the holiday season is upon us.  Damariscotta had their Christmas kickoff yesterday with shops open and restaurants offering hot spiced cider and such, and Santa was enthroned in the theater in the center listening to all the children’s wish lists.  The festivities culminated with a very noisy parade with Mr. & Mrs. Claus in a horse-drawn wagon followed by elves and reindeer, and blaring and screeching fire engines with dancing firemen on top. The cacophony was amazing! We scooted to the local Thai restaurant in town after Santa went by but before the full parade had passed, to beat the crowd and secure a table – it worked perfectly!!



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Back From Two Weeks in Bulgaria…

11 September 2017

I just got back (Saturday) from two weeks in Sofia Bulgaria, observing and certifying the acceptance testing of a contractor’s installation of a Command and Control (aka “C2”) system for the Bulgarian Ministry of Defence (MOD). The trip was initially scheduled for three weeks but our team finished up the work early so we scooted home early.

This was my second trip to Sofia this year – I had a whirlwind 5-day trip back in June (three days traveling, two days of meetings) to provide engineering support to a project that had been on-going for about five years.

This flight over was a three-hopper (Boston-Newark, Newark-Munich, Munich-Sofia) which took about 21 hours, counting layovers. We left on a Friday and arrived on a Saturday (flights east are cheaper overnight) so had Sunday available for travel recovery.  I spent the day walking around the city with a colleague and his wife (she had joined him on the trip as a vacation for her).  Got some pictures of the city as we walked around.

We stayed at the Sofia Hilton for the two weeks – a very nice hotel.  My usual routine was to get up around 6:15am, shower, get dressed, and hop on the internet for an hour catching up on news and checking work and personal email.  Sofia is seven hours ahead of the US’s east coast, so it was about midnight when I was connecting; I’d get the score of the day’s Red Sox game (I actually caught the end of the 19-inning game live via NESN-Go game streaming), some local and national news, etc.  The team would gather in the Executive Lounge for coffee and a light breakfast, then hop a cab to the Ministry of Defence building.  Cab prices in Sofia are dirt cheap – a cab for the four of us to travel the 2-3 miles to the MOD would cost 4 lev – about $2.50.

We’d get to the MOD about 9am, badge in to the building, work until 12-12:30 or so and head up to the officers’ café on the 9th floor for a hot Bulgarian-style lunch (soup and salad and a main dish) served restaurant-style (not a cafeteria), which cost us about $1.50.  Then we’d work until 5:00pm or so, badge out, grab a cab (another $2.50) and head to the hotel.

Sometimes a few of us would head out to a restaurant for dinner while the others would hang around the hotel and hit the lounge or the bar for a light dinner.  One night we went out with the Bulgarian Military folks we were working with to Chevermeto (ЧЕВЕРМЕТО), a cultural restaurant with traditional folk dancing and singing, Bulgarian cuisine and drinks. Lots of fun.

The weekend Saturday we stayed over four of us took a tour to a 10th century local Christian church (Boyana Church) and then took a two hour bus ride into the mountains south of Sofia to visit a 10th century orthodox monastery (Rila Monastery).  Photos and video from that trip are here.

The trip home was a little more direct (SOFIA-MUNICH, MUNICH-BOSTON) but still took 16 hours with the layover.  It was a long trip but was productive, successful, and educational! Glad to be back home though!  I may be going back in the spring, but nothing finalized yet.



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Another Country Notched on my Passport, Another Deck Sealed…

13 June 2017

2017-06-06 pano

Sofia Panorama from the Hotel

I took my first business trip of 2017 last week; a 5-day trip to Sofia Bulgaria (3 days spent traveling, 2 days of meetings). I haven’t been traveling much on business these past few years:

  • 2017 – 1 trip (so far)
  • 2016 – 0 trips
  • 2015 – 1 trip
  • 2014 – 1 trip
  • 2013 – 0 trips
  • 2012 – 0 trips
  • 2011 – 1 trip
  • 2010 – 3 trips
  • 2009 – 10 trips
  • 2008 – 8 trips
  • 2007 – 17 trips

Not that I miss the “good ole days” of lots of travel (I don’t!), but I had never been to Bulgaria before (business or pleasure) so I added one more country to my list, which is always a bit exciting.

2017-06-05 16.05.55The meetings were being held Tuesday and Wednesday, so to be there in time for the meetings (and keep the trip under budget) I had to leave Sunday afternoon and fly overnight to Frankfurt, transfer to a flight to Sofia (the Bulgarian capital), arriving Monday afternoon.  I was staying at the Sofia Hilton – a nice hotel to be sure, so Monday afternoon I walked past the National Palace of Culture to the Boulevard Vitosha, where all the open-air restaurants, souvenir shops, and boutiques are.  Great people-watching territory!

2017-06-05 15.32.41

Communist Memorial to Bulgaria’s 1,300th Anniversary

The next two days were spent in meetings, with lunch provided, and Thursday was the long-haul day to return; up at 2am (7pm the night before, Boston time) to ride with my colleague to the airport (he had an earlier flight so I got to the airport with a few hours to spare), 2-hour flight to Vienna, 3 hour layover, 9-hour flight to Newark, 4-hour layover (plane was delayed), 2 hour flight to Boston, then an hour in traffic on 93 in the taxi, pulling up to the house at 7pm – 24 hours on the road!


I had way too many hours on my timecard for the week already, so I took Friday off to recover.

Deck Panorama 2Saturday and Sunday was spent staining/sealing the deck, having power-washed it in preparation a few weeks back. It was hot work, but at least it didn’t rain!  It’s a lot of work, but it looks nice when it’s done, and the water beads up on the surface instead of soaking right in!

2017-06-13 18.43.30

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Where Does the Time Go…?

Let’s see… 19 August 2016 to 4 March 2017… that’s over six months; 28 weeks and a day; 197 days. Definitely shirking my blogging duties here.
Lots of water (and snow!) under the bridge in 197 days. We had to cancel a wedding, hosted the fewest trick-or-treaters in all our years at this house (probably because we don’t set up the decorations and spider-webs and music/sound/PA system for the visitors like in olden days), broke out our winter village set-up for the Christmas season with the realization that we will have only a few more holiday seasons in this house to set the village up on the custom-made terraced platform that fits on the ledge over the door, enjoyed a Between-Christmas-and-New-Year’s week up north, and we endured a mini version of the 2015 winter where we got precious little snow until late January then got whacked with three blizzards at both houses in a span of about three weeks – the snow blower got a bit of a workout.
Our youngest daughter vacated the in-law apartment in the basement in October and moved out on her own to an apartment in Haverhill MA. Lynn finished Megan and Dan’s wedding quilt (eight years in the making – interrupted by car-crash recuperation).  We retired the big green recliner-couch in the family-TV room recently and replaced it with a powered double-recliner-loveseat that will better fit in the Ballot Box in a few years.  We’ve had some limbs come down in the back yard from the neighbors’ pine trees. No damage to anything (yet) except the trees. Pine trees grow quickly and age quickly so it may be time to chat with the neighbors about a mutual project to minimize any possible future damage.  I managed to clean out half the garage, enough to get Lynn’s car under cover for the winter. That also made it easier to clear the driveway with only one vehicle (Gene’s) out and in the way during snow blowing.  We got teased by Mother Nature just recently with 3-4 days of late-Spring-like weather (sunny, temperature hitting 70°F), followed by another 3-4 days of single-digit temps at night. My mother used to call that “Pneumonia Weather” (and she pronounced the “P”). We’ve been chasing the turkeys away from the bird feeders on the deck recently – they’d eat us out of house and home if we let them.
Now you know why it’s been 197 days since the last blog entry… Nuthin’ happenen’ here!  🙂
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It’s Been a Brutal Summer…

19 August 2016

It’s been a miserable summer at the TreeHouse – hot, sticky, muggy, but little or no rain, so we’re officially in an “extreme drought” northeast of Boston, and our lawn looks like it! We’ve sworn off pouring treated drinking water onto our lawn for a number of years, and in past years it hadn’t been a problem.  But this year, it’s a problem.  Most of our lawn is now brown, except for the southwest corner that got the benefit of a failed flower-sprinkler-timer that shut on and didn’t shut off over a five-day period that we were up in Maine.  The sprinkler timer was supposed to water the marigolds that line the front walk for 90 minutes every two days via a couple of soaker hoses that run along the front walk on either side. The southwest corner of the lawn was under water when we finally got home, and that area has endured while all the rest of the lawn went crunchy long ago.

The muggy heat has put a crimp in my ability to do much yard work either, so the shrubs along the front of the house are in extreme need of trimming too, but that won’t happen until I can bring the electric hedge trimmer back down from Maine.  Maybe in two weekends.  Sigh!

Woburn has a enacted a voluntary water ban (don’t water on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays).  The only watering we do is for flowers; 2 hours on the raised flowerbeds out back once every five days, one minute of the drip system on the deck each morning for the four hanging plants, and occasional watering of the front walk marigolds when they look like they need it.  The raised-bed watering also nourishes the Concord grape vine on the pergola so it’s flourishing.  I’ll have to start keeping an eye one the grapes now to make sure I harvest them after they ripen but before the birds get to them.  I misjudged last year and didn’t get any harvest. I assume the birds enjoyed them.

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Back in the Groove (or Furrow)…

(click on thumbnails to see full-size images)

12 JUNE 2016

IMG_20160613_064956234_HDR-33pct20xA couple of hundred years ago I started a Mother’s Day tradition at the house in Woburn… the girls (at ages 7 and 9, with help and guidance from Dad) would plant “Yellow Boy” marigolds all along the curved front walkway.  We’d plant them on Mother’s Day (much to the occasional rainy-day chagrin of the girls) and Mom got to do whatever she wanted while we worked.  She usually sat in the shade, sipped her coffee, and offered occasional advice to the workers and the “knows-nothing-about-gardening” supervisor.  Sold in flats of 48 plants each, and spaced at 6 inches apart, it took a little over four flats (192+ individual plants) to trim the entire walkway.

I continued the tradition as long as I could, but as the girls grew up and went off to college and one got married, scheduling the planting event on Mother’s Day became harder and harder.  Eventually Lynn and I picked up the grunt work from the girls, which meant we could postpone the actual planting by a few weeks to avoid the late spring frost troll that occasionally showed up, trying to kill uncovered early plantings around Mother’s Day and the few weeks after.  The 90+ feet of bright yellow marigolds became a neighborhood landmark over the years.  We would have perfect strangers stop and chat while we were planting, telling us how much they enjoyed and appreciated the look of the yellow border.  One unrecognized neighbor thanked us for planting such a stunning display as he often used it when giving directions to his house… “Take a right at the house with a gazillion yellow flowers along their front walk…”

Last year was an aberration.  Lynn was in recovery mode from the accident, and I had a few more “ODARs” (Other Duties As Required) on my To-Do list associated with the recovery period, so we skipped the annual planning tradition and just mulched the empty flower-beds along the walkway; nothing got planted.

This year we resumed the tradition.  Lynn found a couple of flats of “Yellow Boy” marigolds at the local garden center last week (a bit late in the season for whole flats, that’s usually an earlier-in-the-season option) so she grabbed them.  I weeded and raked and sifted the flower-beds Saturday and early Sunday to remove the weeds and the ever-present pebbles and stones, and we set up an assembly line Sunday afternoon.  4725333775_d03783f952_bWith Lynn’s bad ankle and my bad knee we were a lot slower than usual, but we made up for it by spacing the plants 12 inches apart instead of the usual 6, so it was half as many marigolds and half as much work (yeah, right!).  At this stage of growth they look more like runway landing lights than plants (see the image at the top of this blog entry for this year’s photo right after planting), but time improves them!  The photo at the right is a shot taken in 2010 to show what the marigolds WILL look like after a month or so of growth.

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