Tag Archives: gardening

Good Things #34

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In February, I woke up every morning thinking: Maybe it’s warmer today.

In March, I wake up every morning not believing that it will ever. be. spring. again.

[This place exists, right now as I sit in a snow flurry. It’s called Capri. And it’s way warmer.]

Dad planted some seeds Sunday and we have plans for flowers this weekend. There’s the skeleton of a greenhouse in the backyard, but it’s crooked because it’s sitting on top of a foot of snow.

I got a phone call asking if I’d teach the chicken class again this spring. I was shocked because a class of two doesn’t sound like a success to me, but why not? I had fun, and I liked showing off our “big red barn” of a chicken house. It’ll give me a reason to keep wanting to have chickens because there’s something about a long winter that removes every desire to keep having them. By May I plan to have a new brood of chicks, anyway, so that’ll be another addition to show whoever might sign up. Last year, we ended up talking about writing as much as we talked about chickens – seems the same kinds of people are interested in the same kinds of things.

I am 3/4 of the way done with my second grad school class and I’m close to rejoicing.

This is a song I loved my junior year of college. Justin McRoberts came to our school and for months I made fun of his silly poster that hung in the dining hall: eyes down, shaggy hair, he looked like the quintessential too-serious musician. We went to his coffee-house-style concert and my opinion completely changed. He made us laugh. He joked about being Mexican and Irish and how short he was. I love this song because it is despair and hope all rolled into one.

The excitement of my grammar school Latin students to see my Italy and Greece slide show is overwhelming. Of course, I’m not dumb, and I know that at least part of them is just excited to get out of some translating. But still. I’m terrible with technology so all I can do now is cross my fingers and hope the slide show works…

Read A Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp if you need some encouragement in gratitude. Her style can be a little distracting at times, but it’s beautiful and thought-provoking.

Good Things #9: A Melancholy Monday

Sometimes it’s like second nature, writing these “Good Things” posts. Other times, it’s a little harder, and I have to set aside my somewhat gloomy mood to remind myself of the blessings.

This is one of those Mondays.

But I know that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:18), and I cling to this, even when I don’t understand.

Music. Probably fitting my mood on this overcast day, the Zac Brown Band’s “Colder Weather” is beautiful. Such good lyrics.

Rain. I usually praise God for the sun, for its warmth, but I’ve been truly thankful for the sound of rain lately. While I was at the ocean all last week, my garden grew unruly, and I am grateful for the rain and even the weeds – they remind me of the passing of time, and I don’t want to let things slip too easily through the cracks. I have a lot of work to do to clean up.

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Prayer. I do not understand prayer. I don’t really understand why we do it, how it works, or why God wants to hear from me. But I do it anyway. There have been times when I have felt deep communion with the Lord through prayer, and other times when I feel like I’m speaking to the ceiling. I am grateful for a God who hears me, even when I can’t tell. He knows me better than I know myself, and I put my trust in that knowledge. I prayed on my knees last night for the first time in a few months, and even though answers weren’t crystal clear, I knew that I was pleasing to Him.

I am thankful that there are Good Things even when they’re difficult to see.

Good Things #8: Willing to be Dazzled

[I wrote this post as part of the Love Yourself link-up started by my friend, Anne. It goes beyond loving yourself – it starts by allowing things to dazzle you, and then, maybe, you will dazzle yourself.]

I am sitting at a round wooden picnic table. The sun is blaring hot and it isn’t even 9:00 in the morning. The beach is quiet today after a people-packed weekend – there isn’t a single person on the sand.

For my beach read this summer, I packed Bridget Jones’s Diary. I’ve never read it before, even though I’ve seen the movie, and I thought it was a pretty light book for the ocean. Poor Bridget. I sometimes see myself in her, but most of the time I just wonder: What were you thinking?!

I also brought along some Mary Oliver. My first impression of her was not so grand; nature poets don’t hold my attention as much as they should, perhaps. But every now and then I come across a gem, a piece of honest beauty.

Still, what I want in my life

is to be willing

to be dazzled –

to cast aside the weight of facts

 

and maybe even

to float a little

above this difficult world.

I want to believe I am looking

 

into the white fire of a great mystery.

– The Ponds

This hit me in a gentle strong way. Maybe I can’t help having moments of darkness, but perhaps they are made darker by my unwillingness to be dazzled. Maybe it is this small, simple thing that makes life sharp and pulsing.

Maybe it’s this willingness that sets people apart.

The sun is hot as blazes on my right arm. I’m already sweating. But the sea is sparkling in the light, the grasses on the dunes are waving in the breeze, and there is a calmness to the air that settles me.

Shift your focus and you see differently.

The thing is, not everyone can do that. Or at least, not without help. There have been times when I’ve looked at something straight on, I have known that it is beautiful and good, but I’ve not been able to see it. I’ve known but not experienced. I’ve touched but not tasted.

A lot changes when, for a few months, you think maybe your life will never be the same. Maybe, in fact, it’s almost over. You know you are dramatic, but you also know that no one is above dying.

And later, a year later, you are digging a hole in your garden, in which you will sink a spidery rosemary plant, and you look at your arms and marvel at their strength, at even the swinging motion it takes to dig.

One day, you are driving, and you look at your hand on the steering wheel and think, This is my hand. It is no one else’s. And that is shocking to you.

You see, for the first time, really, the sharpness of green grass against blue sky, and you wonder how you looked at the same landscape for the past twenty years but never really saw.

It is perhaps the first time in your life you can honestly say:

I have rejoiced in my suffering. I have praised God for my discomfort. I have been made weak that His strength would show.

That is how I am willing to be dazzled.

Rain and Foolishness

For the past five days, I’ve slept to the sound of rain. I wake up in the middle of the night and listen – sometimes it’s fast and pounding on the window, other times it’s soft and I can hear it flowing smoothly through the gutter. I’ve had to wear my blue raincoat to school, or I’ve chosen foolishly to forego it, hoping my brazenness would end the drizzle.

Overall, though, I don’t mind. A lot of people I’ve seen this week have talked about missing the sun, about longing for the rain to stop. Sometimes I understand, lamenting the warmth of the sunshine. Mostly, though, I’ve been enjoying the coolness of rain. It’s so much easier to drive in to school every morning to the softness of a gray morning than it is to teach Latin during a 75-degree day when I long for the beach. And it’s a lot easier to give into my desire to curl up on the couch and read Prodigal Summer or watch Arrested Development reruns when the rain gives me such a good excuse.

[One of my favorite Latin words is imber –  “rain shower”. The sounds are soft on your tongue.]

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I waited all afternoon for the rain to let up a little. Six basil plants were sitting on the counter, waiting for the ground, and a clump of zinnias had grown far too tall for their little navy pot. Finally I gave in, donning my raincoat and a backwards Red Sox hat, and headed into the rain.

I worked alone, which is rare around here. Not because everyone loves working outside, necessarily, but because usually we feel guilty staying indoors when someone’s in the garden. Today, though, I dug holes alone, trying not to plant the basil too deep. I have a hard time judging depth (hence my lack of talent in the visual arts department), but it came out okay. Dirt got all over my hands and I thought about how much better it feels to work in the cool spring than the humid summer.

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What I didn’t think about, though, was the fact that the camera was sitting in the rain. My sister came out, surprised and angry to find it on the porch. I’d put it under the plum tree, but really, what good does a little branch do? She brought the camera back in the house, wiped it off, told me I was dumb for bringing it out. I was angry and brought it back out, covering it in a towel and putting it this time under the much more formidable birch tree.

After a moment, though, I realized I wasn’t mad at my sister. I was angry at myself.

It had never occurred to me not to bring the camera out into the rain. I didn’t once pause and think how foolish it was to bring such a good camera (that isn’t mine, by the way) and set it on the edge of the porch. I am constantly surprised by my lack of attention to practical things.

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I finished planting and weeding. I took some pictures of my garden in the rain. There is an imperfection in gardens that I love; no one can tell me that my garden isn’t right, that things aren’t the way they should be. I’m heavy on the bee balm and light on the tarragon, and that’s the way I want it. Gardens are bare, naked, showing more about you, perhaps, than you’d like.

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So, it’s still raining and the camera’s fine. I will probably do something un-thinking again, and probably soon. I sleep with the window open, even in the rain, because listening to it fall is more important to me than dry shades.

Introducing: Good Things

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I’ve written about this before, and it’s no surprise to most of America: Mondays can be tough. I’m blessed this year to have a slow start to my Mondays – the mornings consist of grading, lesson planning, poetry reading, and apparently, blogging.

It won’t always be this way. I’m sure soon I’ll have to begin bright and early at some beloved or not-so-beloved workplace. But for now, I thought I’d start a little tradition:

Mondays Are For Good Things

I know, that’s not really a thing. But let’s make it a thing: I thought I’d share some of my favorites on Monday mornings. You should share some of your favorites, too. Leave a comment with the latest thing that’s pushing your buttons (in a good way).

So here are four to start with.

Music. I went to a concert last weekend, and I am currently listening to these guys non-stop. How could a self-respecting English major not be intrigued by a band name like Ivan and Alyosha? I love their folky-alternative sound. Their lyrics give some food for thought, too.

Gardening. Dad and I went to the nursery and bought plants yesterday afternoon in the April sun. We got parsley, creeping rosemary (for my rock wall), vinca (I love this beautiful little purple flower!), alyssum, and pink and red bee balm. I planted them all in an hour, but it took almost as long just for me to decide where to put them. I’m not anal about many things, but words and gardening seem to be two of those things. The dirt felt chilly on my bare hands and the sun felt hot on my head, so it was a good combination.

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Gyming-it-up. After writing about my hate-affair with running, I can honestly say that I am looking forward to going back to the gym today. Who knows what’s next? Maybe I’ll become an internationally acclaimed salsa dancer! The world is my oyster.

Poetry. One of my all-time favorite poems just happens to be about spring. Leave it to e. e. cummings to pull your heartstrings and wow your intellect in the same blow.

i thank You God for most this amazing

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

What are you enjoying this week?

The Writing Life [and its many components]

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The feeling I get standing in the wings, waiting to walk out on stage.

The scratchy grass on my back, the sun too bright in my eyes, and the smell of the earth baking.

Singing “Caput, umeri, genua, pedes” (“head, shoulders, knees, and toes”…or feet, technically) til I feel like I’ve gotten my workout for the day.

Digging in the cold, icy earth first thing in the spring. Clearing away old brush. Seeing nothing but gray-brown until one sunny morning green shoots magically appear.

The moment I scan through the mail and see in beautiful or messy or barely-there handwriting my name and address. Opening a letter that’s traveled from Pennsylvania or Maine or Switzerland. Remembering that geography isn’t strong enough to destroy good friendships.

The ocean, cold and thick with seaweeds. The feeling of rough sand on my feet, when I can barely see because the wind is whipping my hair in my face. The long stretches of days when for a moment I truly think it will never end.

When I walk around the corner at a museum and come upon a life-size sculpture. The lines of the body, the artistry in the way the cloak is draped across the torso, the way the sculpture seems to be breathing right there in front of me.

Explaining the word “etymology” to a too-young class because they’re too excited to wait. Opening their minds up to the beauty of language and the world ahead of them.

The way I feel when I’m surrounded by people I love. Maybe at my house, maybe at a dark cozy restaurant, maybe at a beach house or church or the lake.

~     ~     ~

I don’t think it’s possible to be a writer and love only writing.

Last summer, I wrote a post about my plans to write when I was at the beach for a week. I foolishly anticipated long stretches of time when I would be able to read and write to my heart’s content. What I forgot to factor in was people: the people who make everything worth it. Who can turn down a four-hand cribbage game with the Gram, a brother, and a cousin? Who can stay cozied up on a beach chair while everyone else goes for a long ambling walk along the ocean? Who asks a room-full of family to “Please stop singing along to the record player because I’m trying to write?”

Some people probably do, but this girl finds it pretty difficult.

Writing is a solitary act in so many ways. Right now, I’m sitting at my kitchen table, waiting for the water to boil so I can fill my french press. I’m alone, and that’s okay for now. In fact, it’s rather nice. In the long term, though? Not so much fun.

Maybe there is a writer out there who loathes people. Maybe he sits at his desk for ten hours a day and throws his hands up in gratitude that he never has to interact with anyone. Maybe he doesn’t like music or art or the outdoors or any of the other beautiful things of life.

I don’t think I’d really connect with whatever he wrote.

~     ~     ~

I had a long talk with a friend from college. He was asking what I was up to, what life looked like lately. I told him about teaching Latin (“You wouldn’t believe it! When I teach them derivatives it’s like they cannot believe ‘manipulate’ comes from manus and they freak out.” Granted, this is only my younger grades. My high schoolers are a little less enthused.), directing Alice in Wonderland (“Do you know what it’s like to have those songs stuck in your head ALL THE TIME?”), and applying to MFA programs (Um, scared.). It was in talking with him that I remembered one of the best parts of being a writer: Everything I do will add to it.

I came across this woman from Colorado. We’d actually met briefly four or five years ago, but I found her because of Twitter (that all-too-kind-suggester thought we should be friends). We’ve been writing back and forth, and she was telling me about applying to grad school – but in history, not writing. What is history if not stories? What is music if not stories in sound? And what is good conversation if not a sharing of our personal plot lines?

Being a writer is like having the biggest job description ever.

Do I make my money from writing?

Not yet.

But writing makes you look at the world and your life in a different way. It makes you more attuned to the little things, and it reminds you that sharing those experiences and being able to reproduce a moment of truth for someone else is your job.

[Over-nighted my last MFA application. Any nervousness I would’ve felt was nervoused-away in the days leading up to it. I popped it in the mail between Latin classes, and I’m currently attempting to pretend to forget.]

Writing (and reading) connect us to each other. Just as I met Anne who’s going to study history, I can write about any of those things and someone in the middle of South Dakota or Canada or the United Kingdom probably loves them too. It’s all part of living the Full Life, like I tried weakly to express in an earlier post. It’s one of those constant discoveries I keep discovering.

Do I regret going for walks at the beach? Playing cribbage and screaming during games of Taboo? Do I wish I’d really committed and sat down and written line after line of poetry or what-have-you? No way.

Work

It’s the Yankee in me.

I put a lot of value on hard work.

When we were little, Mom and Dad made us work in the yard, around the house, every weekend. I hated it, for the most part. I remember one day – I was probably around seven – it was warm and sunny and all the neighbor kids were running around, laughing, playing tag, I don’t know what.

The four of us were weeding the garden alongside my parents, grumbling the whole time.

I remember my Dad saying, “When you’re through with this row, when everything’s weeded, then you can go play.”

I also remember saying something along the lines of “why do we have to do this when all the other kids don’t have to?”

And, the classic reply: “Someday you’ll thank me for this.”

Well, Dad, I guess that day is here.

We spent yesterday morning putting the garden to rest. The sun was bright, the air was cool, and the work loomed ahead of us, daunting. We pulled up all the woodier plants (broccoli and brussells sprouts get huge!) and threw them out back (Dad’s trying to minimize bugs next year, so we’re getting rid of the old plants). We took out the tomato stakes and piled them up, unknotted and threw out the rags we’d used to tie the plants to their stakes.

I harvested the last of the carrots. It’s hard to get them out of the cold ground without snapping them, but some survived.

Dad and I emptied the compost pile that’d been lying low all season, spread it out over the dirt, and my brother tilled it in.

When we were done, the place looked beautiful. Not nearly as sad as you’d think. Like well-deserved rest.

The girls got the last of the cucumbers.

~         ~         ~

Now, let me get this straight: I am not a naturally hard worker.

When I was around ten, I remember thinking, I wish I weren’t so lazy. And then, like a lightbulb, I realized, I don’t have to be lazy. I can choose to work hard.

This was a revelation. I had thought up to this point that some people were born workers, and some people were born lazy.

This might be true. But it goes a lot further than that.

Every day I struggle to use my time wisely. To complete what I should complete – to give it my all.

 

Work hard in the garden.

Take care of my chickens.

Sell honey and eggs in a timely manner.

Sing.

Write.

Clean, do dishes, you know.

Write good lesson plans.

Teach engaging lessons, even when I’m exhausted.

Read my Bible.

Pray.

These are the things I must work hard at.

Work, outside of our workaholic culture, is a good and beautiful thing.

Welcome Back to the Farm!

It isn’t a stretch to say that my hometown is small. Very small. Not the smallest, but close to it.

The farmers’ market started up again, and it’s like going back in time. Everyone knows everyone, and if you don’t, you pick up on it really fast. The coordinator is funny – he walks from table to table, chatting it up, and one question can get him going for twenty minutes. I thought had the gift of gab.

I wouldn’t say we make a killing at this farmers’ market. Dad’s not quitting his day job and neither am I. But this stuff is right up my alley. I hear such interesting stories from all different kinds of people. The old man next to me farms and sells clams. Yes, apparently one can do this. I learned about infusing honey with vanilla and lavender and cinnamon last week from the certified herbalist (yes, apparently one can be a certified herbalist, as well). I can’t wait to try it; can you imagine a little vanilla honey in your tea? Or cinnamon honey on your toast? I smell another blogpost brewing.

So that’s what I’ve been doing with my weekends. It’s not a bad way to live. Spreading love through sweetness and bee talk.

Kitchen Gardens and Maintenance

I woke up to the second day of rain and cold. I love cozy days like this – partly because they give me an excuse to be a little lazy.

I thought I’d listen to something while I made my breakfast. Ted Talks is definitely a go-to lately. There are so many interesting things to learn about, and when I hear these eloquent, educated, passionate people talk about what they’ve discovered, I get fired up. There is hope when you know people like that exist.

I listened to this talk, My Subversive Garden Plot, while I boiled water for my french press and made poached eggs on toast.

I thought, as if I really needed another reason to get more involved in the garden…! And then I went on his website to learn more about Kitchen Gardens International. Its title makes it pretty obvious, but it’s an organization that started in Maine, and it’s dedicated to expanding the number of gardens and gardeners around the world. Doiron talked about the fact that in the next fifty years, we will need to produce more food than the world has produced in the last 10,000 years.

When I hear things like that, my initial reaction is fear. But followed quickly after is excitement. I can see my chicken run from the backdoor (granted, it’s raining, so the smart girls are warm in the henhouse), and I can’t wait to collect those first eggs from a new flock. We finished putting the garden in last weekend (Dad and I always have differing opinions – he put a bunch of lima beans in, and I absolutely detest lima beans. Oh well…diversity…). I filled my herb garden with sweet basil, purple basil, parsley, oregano, upright and creeping rosemary, three kinds of thyme, and beautiful white, purple, and orange flowers.

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I love planting season. Not so much weeding season. I have a bad track record for maintenance. I wish I could say it were just with the garden, but my writing, my reading, my knitting, my music, pretty much everything I do is affected by quick boredom and inability to FINISH WHAT I START.

That’s my goal this summer – maintain! Maybe if I start with my garden it’ll spill over into the other aspects of my life.

Maybe this summer I’ll be ready for the Farmers’ Market!

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The Dirty Life

Okay, I admit it: I definitely judge a book by its cover.

But even more than that: I judge a book by its title.

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I saw this book in the “Self-Sufficient” section of Barnes and Noble (forgive me, small independent bookstores! you are still my number-one!), and I bought it. I love the title, and no, I do not care that it was coined to catch people just like me, those of us who are easily amused. I went home immediately and started reading, getting engrossed in Kimball’s love story (Mark was just about to make a move!) when, to my horror, I found that the book was MISSING 30 PAGES!

You cannot imagine my anger.

There was no way I was going to read ahead, so I had to wait two days til I could get a new copy.

I am about 2/3 of the way done now, and I love it. Kimball is honest and I find that pretty refreshing; she doesn’t pretend that the love she and Mark have makes farming easy.

And she’s had her own mishaps with dumb mistakes.

There are a lot of moments in the book that I appreciate, but here are a few:

One of the gorgeous and highly annoying things about Mark’s personality is that, once he bites into an idea, he’ll worry it to death, exploring every possibility, expanding it to the point of absurdity and then shrinking it back down, molding it around different premises, and bending logic, when necessary, to cram it into a given situation. No matter what he is doing or saying or thinking, the idea is perking away in the background of his formidable brain, details accruing (57).

A farm is a form of expression, a physical manifestation of the inner life of its farmers. The farm will reveal who you are, whether you like it or not. That’s art (157).

I was in love with the work, too, despite its overabundance. The world had always seemed disturbingly chaotic to me, my choices too bewildering. I was fundamentally happier, I found, with my focus on the ground. For the first time, I could clearly see the connection between my actions and their consequences. I knew why I was doing what I was doing, and I believed in it (158).

The only annoying thing, then, is the fact that I was not the person to write this book.