Monthly Archives: June 2017

Tuesday, Already

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Today is Tuesday. Tomorrow, it’s back to the hardware store, for another five-day run of long, busy days, with only bits of remaining energy left for my own stuff, crowded into the fringes of the days. So, I always have big plans for my “weekend,” which this week included Sunday as well as the usual Monday and Tuesday. Plenty of time, right? As always, my list of things to accomplish was much longer than the hours available.

Sunday, a friend was coming over to help me level and set the posts around my garden. I’d offered him dinner, in exchange for his help. I started my day catching up on the news, then my writing. After that, there was some necessary house-keeping to do, so that a guest would not be shocked, or have qualms about having a meal here. I cleaned the bathroom, and swept a mound of sand and dog hair from my floors. I cleared the mountain of bills and other paperwork from my dining room table, and put a fresh tablecloth on it.

I put dinner together, so that I wouldn’t have to deal with food after working in the garden. I boiled eggs and potatoes in separate pans and put together a potato salad. I made a side salad of romaine, peppers and carrots. I floured and browned chicken thighs, then put them in a baking pan on top of a layer of sliced red peppers, and smothered with barbecue sauce. I assembled a rhubarb crisp, to be baked at the same time as the chicken, then covered and refrigerated all of the dishes.

By that time, I had a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. I tackled those, and moved a load of laundry through the system. I doused up, then, with mosquito repellent, and headed outside. I took the dogs for a short walk, then moved a bail of straw and mulched around a row of plants. I pulled some weeds, picked some berries, and debated whether the “field” that is my back lawn would be dry enough for Monday mowing.

When my friend arrived, we spent a good two hours getting my garden posts lined up correctly, and set firmly in place. I was hoping to get the tops lopped off level, too but, it turned out, the one job took long enough. We were stepping and digging where I had newly-sprouted seeds; I was nervous and testy. He was critical of the posts I had chosen, and my alignment. Several holes had to be re-dug, to move the post two inches in one direction or another. I had put the chicken and dessert in the oven halfway through our project, so dinner was ready when we finished. A good meal and some relaxed conversation was – I hope – enough to show gratitude for his help, and a little remorse for my crankiness.

He left right after dinner. I spent another hour outside pulling weeds and moving straw, until it started to rain, foiling my plans to finish mowing on Monday. The evening was – I thought – well spent, laying out plans for all I intended to accomplish the next day. “A good list is half the battle,” I told myself. I plotted a whole series of chores and stops in town, so that today – Tuesday – I could stay right at home, to concentrate on writing for the next issue of the magazine, that is coming up close on deadline.

Monday was productive but, just like the day before, each task took longer than expected, complications and diversions got in the way, and I accomplished much less than I intended. I had four people to track down about past-due accounts; I managed to catch up with only one of them. In my pathetic attempt at bill-collecting, I devolved into a hard-luck story and tears, which threw my mood into a downward spiral for the whole day. There was a long wait at the bank. I got side-tracked at the hardware store. Another stop was at my aunt’s house, to clean her floors. As I was leaving, she asked if I would come back tomorrow (Tuesday) to help her with another project. Of course.

So, here is Tuesday, already, and I still have a long list of things I have yet to get done, on a day that I can’t, after all, spend exclusively at home. Not only that, but it’s already 10:30 in the morning! If there is going to be any hope, I’d better get busy!

 

The Best-Laid Plans…

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My garden plans changed a little over the course of the last week.

I was making slow but steady progress, using the longer days to work outside after coming home from my job. I’d greet the dogs, deposit the mail, my purse and lunchbox on the counter, grab my tote and head for the backyard. First, an all-over spray with good, “deep woods” style mosquito repellent. Then more of the same ingredients, but in an oil, rubbed onto face, ears and scalp. Then, to work! One shovelful at a time, I’d turn over the soil, then drop to my knees. I’d pull the grass and rake out the long roots with my fingers, tossing them into the five-gallon bucket that followed along with me.

When the bucket was full, I’d dump it into the wheelbarrow. When the wheelbarrow was full – after two or three bucket-loads – I’d wheel it to the front of the property, where I am slowly building a woodland garden among the trees near the road. At this time, it looks like mounds of windfall branches, grass-clippings, leaves and weeds, plus the rotting boards from my old shed hidden in the low areas…but eventually, it will be lovely: finally smoothed out, covered with wood chips, and planted with spring flowering bulbs. Then, I’ll have to find another place to dump my yard waste!

On the way back down the driveway, I stop near the garden shed and dismantle a bail of straw. I found I cannot lift a whole, wet bail, and the tires of the wheelbarrow won’t support that weight, either. So, one half bail at a time, I bring straw to the garden, to mulch around the plants and the paths between the rows.

Some evenings, I’d get enough digging done to go over it with the rake, and plant seeds. I am alternating, this year: thirty-six-inch wide beds for mass plantings; 18-inch beds for plants in rows. Every bed is twelve foot long, and divided from the next by a twelve inch pathway. I’ve had wider paths…and there are advantages…but this year I am trying to eliminate weeding by leaving few open areas.

At the front, there is a narrow bed planted with butternut squash. A narrow pathway separates it from the next, wide bed, which is planted all over with peas, four inches apart in every direction. I accomplished that by laying my muffin tin into the freshly raked soil, and pressing it down to leave an impression. I repeated that all the way through the 36-inch by 12 foot bed. I then dropped a pea seed into every other depression, all the way across the surface.

I did the same thing near the back of the garden, in the bed for beans. Bush beans – planted in muffin-tin spacing – take up the first third of the bed; pole beans, planted against the back to grow up the fence, and around a tepee there, take up the back third. Radishes are scattered in the sheltered space inside the tepee; cucumbers and marigolds take up the rest of the bed.

A narrow bed – against what will be the back wall of the garden – has zucchini and two other types of summer squash. Two other narrow beds were planted with tomatoes: one row of a beefsteak type; one row of Italian plum tomatoes. One old automobile tire sits at the back of the walkway, filled with dirt and one pumpkin plant.

That’s where I was at last week. I had two wide beds yet to dig, rake and plant: one with lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard; one with kale and Chinese cabbage. One narrow row was left, for carrots and turnips. More than half of my pile of straw still had to be moved, and arranged around the garden to keep the weeds out. A dozen marigold plants still waited, under the shade of the cherry tree, to be tucked in around the garden to fill in and brighten it up.

Then…because things rarely go according to plan in my world…things started going awry. First, my back went out. Work continued, but slower, and with a lot more groaning. Then one night, exhausted from digging and raking and hauling, and distracted by ripe strawberries on my vines, I left my garden tote outside. That night, it rained. Hard. On my pruning snips, measuring tape, scissors, twine, muffin tin…and all of my seeds. Good, for the plants and seeds already in the ground; ruination for the rest.

Having come this far, I was not about to quit. It was getting almost too far into the season for salad greens, anyway; they should have been planted weeks ago. It was getting too late for most seeds, in fact, with our short growing season up here in northern Michigan. The few remaining annual and vegetable plants in the garden section of the hardware were put on sale, 40% off. I’d improvise! I bought twelve more tomato plants, six “Early Girl” and six yellow ($1.97 for six!). I picked up three acorn squash plants, and one more pumpkin. One narrow bed for tomatoes, one wide bed for tomatoes sharing space with a pumpkin vine, and one wide bed for acorn squash. I tucked the marigolds in where they’d look pretty, and called it done.

Except for the straw. And the fencing. And the cleanup. And then, of course, if all goes well, I’ll be complaining in the fall about the work involved in preserving the harvest from twenty-four tomato plants. For the moment, though, I just want to bask in the success of finally having the garden planted!

 

Timeout for Art: A New Venue

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It would be impossible for me to deny that I am not good with change. Too many negatives? Let me state clearly: I HATE CHANGE. I want things to remain predictable, comfortable and “as they always were.” It often makes life difficult, as things rarely cooperate.

This year, Livingstone Studio – the little gallery that has carried my art work during the summer season on Beaver Island for the last twenty years – is not opening. The owner, Sue – who I love – will not be there, ready to offer a chair in the shade, a chat, and an occasional glass of wine. The little, crooked-walled log cabin gallery spaces, jam-packed with all kinds of magical wonders…closed. I’ve been mourning for weeks!

This year, I’m showing my work in a new venue. Beaver Island Studio and Gallery has lots of natural light, broad expanses of white walls, and lots of details that help to break up the space and add architectural interest. Lois – who I also love – has gone out of her way to encourage me, listened to all my misgivings, and welcomed my work in her space.

I should be thrilled. It’s the “I hate change” part of me that is holding me back. I feel disloyal, as if I’m denying how important Livingstone Studio was to me. I truly considered just taking a break from showing my work altogether. Time to grieve, I thought. I had to kind of talk myself into moving on.

The new space has also made me somewhat self-conscious about my art. I feel like when I moved out of a cute – older but personality-filled – little lake cottage into a brand new townhouse. All of a sudden, all of my belongings – which I treasured – seemed drab and inadequate. I was afraid that – in the new pristine surroundings – my art would not hold up. I had to work up my courage to go see it.

Yesterday, I finally took a few minutes to walk through. It was a quiet day, so I was able to wander the gallery without interruption, alone with my thoughts. Lois was careful and thoughtful in her presentation, and everything showed well. There is a nice flow from one room to the next. I’m still getting used to the change, but feel like this may work out.

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Just a Glance

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This time of year, there are blooms bursting open all over my yard. The intense red of the poppies always makes me smile. Day Lilies are opening in yellows and oranges. Purple Iris stand along the walkway to my kitchen door. Peonies are just starting to open.

Can I share? Maybe. It takes a little thought. Too broad a view will show the things I’d rather not reveal:

  • A huge swath of backyard, still unmowed, is looking more like a field every day. When it is dry enough, I continue to plug away at it; I mowed for an hour last evening. When the grass (which, in my case, means anything green that grows in the yard) is three feet tall, it holds moisture and tall stalks bend rather than break as the mower passes over them. It takes several passes to get it down. The back lawn is not yet photo-ready.
  • I’m making progress every day in the garden spot. Still, there are several beds that are not yet planted, that have taken this opportunity to grow back up in weeds. They need – when the ground is dry enough to work – to be hoed and raked before I can put the seeds in the ground. The whole area is surrounded by a series of poles all standing at various angles. When the young man came to help me, I had him dig the holes and stand the posts in the holes. I told him not to “set” them, with small rocks and dirt, as I wanted to go out with my level, to make sure they were straight, before making them permanent. Once that is done – if it is ever done – I have to take a chalk line and line level to mark the top, and have someone come with a chainsaw to cut the tops off in a straight line. Then, the  whole area has to be enclosed in deer fence. And all before the deer discover that I have good things growing out there. Until that is done, it’s not ready for a picture.
  • The large area that used to be part of the garden, with beds for strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and asparagus is a mess! It is a combination of tall grass, holes where I have dug up things for transplant, and lumps of sod left behind. The tall grass makes raking impossible. I’m thinking this way: Once I get the rest of the lawn mowed, so that a major incident with my mower would not bring everything to a grinding halt, I will take my tough little lawnmower through that area, letting its blade break up the clumps while cutting off the tall grass. Then, I should be able to rake it out smooth. Until then, no photos.
  • There is still a large cluster of  stuff – for lack of a better term – that was removed from the old shed before it was torn down, that won’t fit in the new shed. Included in the mix are an old rain barrel and a pile of five gallon buckets used for hauling weeds or covering tender plants if frost is threatened. Important, but not photogenic.
  • Another mound sits near the outdoor spigot. Some things are trash from this year that I just haven’t yet taken away for recycle: empty flats and plant pots and fertilizer bags. Others are things that used to have a “home” on the inside of the fence line (funny how a fence creates a “room” and things get shoved to the edges) that now – since the big fence has come down – do not have a place. The compost bin, for instance. And the trash can that houses my charcoal and barbecue supplies. Not good subjects for a photograph.

So, I go around to the flower beds, and zoom in. Close enough to see the ants on the peonies. Close enough to note the tall stalks of grass among the poppies. Close enough to see the chewed day lily blossom, and the many spent blooms that a bit of time spent dead-heading would eliminate.

 

I may as well just show the whole thing!

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Late!

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I’m up early today, trying to make up for all I didn’t do yesterday.

I don’t set the alarm clock on Sunday morning. I don’t have to be at work until 10:30; sunshine streaming in and the dogs needing out always assure that I’ll be up in time, no matter how late I was up the night before. Not yesterday.

Yesterday morning, the dogs had each made a trip outside before 6AM. I had taken the opportunity – while I was up – to empty my bladder and get a drink of water. The windows were open to a cool breeze; gentle rain was coming down. I was cozy and warm under a heavy comforter, with Rosa Parks curled up at my feet, Darla snoring from her bed close by. A cloudy sky blocked the morning sun. There was nothing to drive me from my bed. I thought of waking up, then let myself drift back into sleep…until I finally reached out to turn the clock around, to get an idea of the time.

TEN O’CLOCK!!!

I jumped out of bed. First, to the kitchen, to start the coffee brewing. To the bathroom next, where I ran the sink full of hot water for the sponge bath that would have to replace the shower I had planned. Having gone to bed with damp hair the night before, my hair was sticking up in a dozen directions. I wet it down and dried it into what could only be described as “better than before.” I washed, dressed, and brushed my teeth.

I filled two tiny dishes with soft food for the dogs. By that time they had roused themselves, too, and were not-too-enthusiastically considering another trip outside in the rain. “You’ll be fine,” I told them, “stay inside.” I filled my thermos and poured a cup of coffee. As I put down the dogs dishes, I reminded them that this was a short day, and told them to take care of things. Purse, thermos and coffee cup in hand, I was out the door.

Seven and a half miles is the distance to town. When I was considering this property, my Dad said, “That’s an awful long way from town, Cindy.” At that time, I was living outside of North Branch, driving ten miles to bring my daughters to ballet lessons, fifteen to visit my parents, and more than twenty for my classes in Flint, Michigan. Seven miles seemed like nothing…until I moved here.

Gas prices are high. I consolidate trips. I almost never come home and then go back to town, no matter what exciting event is taking place. The roads are, for the most part, unpaved, narrow and curvy, often littered with fallen branches. One must always be on the lookout for wildlife: chipmunks, black squirrels, wild turkeys and white-tailed deer think nothing of crossing the road without warning. So I did think about Dad on Father’s Day, and his sage advice about the long distance from town, as I made my way to work.

It gave me some comfort to have that cup of coffee nearby, though it was much too bumpy a ride to try to get a sip. As I rounded the church hill, I was glad to see Mass was still in session, for the church-goers often make their way to the hardware store as soon as the service is over. I made it to work no more than three minutes late, with customers already waiting at the door. I mixed two cans of paint before I had my coffee, and the day continued busy.

By the time I got home, I was ready for a break. As it was too wet for gardening or yard work, I took the dogs for a short walk. We then convened on the sofa to watch a movie and nap. After that, a drive to Fox Lake and then down to the frog pond. A late dinner completed the day’s theme.

Yesterday, I was behind all day. Today, I’m getting an early start.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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“One step forward, two steps back.” That is often descriptive of the way I fumble through my life. Today, it chronicles the little tortuous dance I’ve been doing, while mowing my grass.

How did it get so long? It seems that through the months of April and May, whenever I had time and inclination to mow, it was raining. When the sun was out, and the weather was dry, I was at work, or deeply embroiled in other, more urgent activities.

In the spring of the year, most everything seems urgent. Business is picking up; work days are exhausting. Art work has to be readied and delivered for display in seasonal galleries. If spring cleaning is going to get done…well, now is the time. If I’m going to have a garden, it has to be planted now.

More than anything else, the garden can’t wait. Our season is short here, in the best of years. My home is in a little pocket of low land in the center of the island. I often get the first frost in the fall of the year, and the latest one in the spring. If I am going to have any hope of harvest, I have to get things planted!

So, there were many days that were suitable for mowing, when I was hoeing or digging or overseeing the tilling and setting of fence posts. There were evening when – instead of starting the mower – I used what time and energy I had to pull a few weeds. I spent one long, difficult day preparing the beds and transplanting raspberry canes and asparagus roots. When I talked myself into mowing for a little while that evening, rain gave me a welcome reprieve.

But, the grass continued to grow, more heartily after every shower. Yesterday, after a morning spent putting seeds in the ground, I looked up to realize I was living in the middle of a field! I couldn’t put it off any longer!

I have a sweet little push mower that starts every time. It has high wheels in back that make pushing easier. It muscles its way through reeds and tall grass with barely a complaint. Those are all the things I love about it. It is not self-propelled, however. It takes a lot of energy, on my part, to keep it going through the field of tall grass that is my lawn. It tends to bog down when the grass is wet, and dense, and woody…and that’s exactly what it is right now.

So, one step forward, two steps back. The forward motion makes a little headway; the backward motion takes another swipe at reeds and stems that tend to bend over rather than be cut off, and gives the mower a chance to discharge the clumps of straw-like cuttings that want to cling to the blade.

The job is hard! My back is protesting already, from the work I put it to yesterday. I’m having ibuprofen with my morning coffee, in anticipation of another long day. It’s also less than gratifying.

Normally, a fresh-cut lawn is a welcome sight, making all the shrubs and plantings look better against the trim backdrop. It smells good, and it’s soft to walk on. Not this time. My grass grew so long, the stalks are tough, and sharp when they’re cut. The grass formed clumps, so when it’s mowed, bare patches of earth are revealed. Every pass of the mower is marked by irregular mounds of clippings that will need to be dealt with later. “Better than before” is the best I can say for it, this time.

Still, that’s encouraging enough to send me outside for another day of the same. So, I’m off to the yard, to continue my little two-step.

Morning Calm

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Yesterday, the winds blew a gale here, tossing large branches into the roads and knocking out the electricity. This morning, it is calm. My mind has been roiling for days now, over a couple interactions that I initiated, and that didn’t – through my own clumsy handling – go over as I intended. Today, I feel more serene, and am trying to put it all in perspective.

Most – maybe all – of the good relationships I enjoy with friends and family members involve me keeping my mouth shut. I picture Archie Bunker, giving me the warning: “Stifle…just STIFLE!!!” Of course, it’s good advise that I would be wise to pay attention to.

I have a long life of strong opinions under my belt. Nothing productive can come of rehashing old disagreements in order to present yet another argument in favor of my stance. There is no sense in going over – with my grown children – my reasons for a particularly harsh discipline decision that I made more than twenty years ago. No good will come of suggesting my brother’s memories (going back even farther) – of what a mean sister I was – might be faulty. I have a good memory filled with wonders and joys, but also peppered with slights, disagreements and hurt feelings. They are better just left alone.

In the present, I am surrounded by people I love, respect and admire…but who, of course, I don’t agree with on everything. All relationships are better when the focus is on shared values and opinions. Though I am often secretly aghast at comments regarding political, social and economic viewpoints, coming from people I know to be kind and thoughtful human beings, I have learned to keep quiet. Generally, I save my voice for when it can actually make a difference or – in cases of oppression or discrimination – when it is impossible not to speak up.

There have been a couple exceptions lately. In both cases, I spoke up not to berate another person’s standpoint or to contend my “rightness,” but just to state my opinion. It felt necessary. I was sure, if I didn’t offer my perspective, for whatever it was worth, it would continue to eat away at me.

“Speaking up,” contrary to popular opinion, is not easy for me. It takes a great deal of shoring up of my confidence and my viewpoint. By the time I actually do it, I have covered the position so thoroughly in my mind, that I come across not as someone offering my “two-cents-worth,” but as a patronizing, know-it-all, higher moral ground, preaching from the pulpit, arrogant snob. I hurt feeling. I damage relationships. I leave shadows where there used to be light. Communication goes on, but it is now strained.

I explain. I try to explain, anyway. It all sounds like I’m just re-presenting my opinion. I try to apologize without reversing or rescinding the things that I felt I needed to say. It’s still there. What was a small dark area that was eating away at me has now transformed to something gnawing at someone else…and I am the center of it. For days, it has been wearing on my mind.

Yesterday, the buffeting winds matched my mood. Today, it’s better.