Category Archives: Gardening

Off-Track

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Clearly, my writing practice has gotten off track. Sometimes that happens when I’m focused on getting other areas of my life in order. Sometimes it’s just one more thing in my life that has fallen into disarray. That’s how it is right now. Chaos.

Summer is a busy time here on Beaver Island. Things are going on all the time. It starts with Memorial Day, and special events for the Beaver Island Birding Trail. There’s a Bike Festival. When we get through the Fourth of July parade and festivities, we are faced with, in quick succession and sometimes simultaneously, Baroque on Beaver, Museum Week, the Beaver Island Music Festival, the Beaver Island Jazz Festival, several art events, Home-Coming, and the August Dinner. There are art classes, movies, yoga classes, and special events at the library.

Work is exhausting, with longer days filled with heightened business. “How is business,” people often ask. “Really busy!” is my reply. Invariably, the response to that is something like, “Well, that’s good!” Yes. It is good. We need the busy summers to sustain us through the slower seasons. Still, I bite my tongue to prevent saying how tired I am, and how much my feet hurt. “Good, my ass,” I think to myself.

Yesterday, I painted and framed, preparing work for the Museum Week Art Show. I worked several hours on the next issue of the Beacon. I pulled some weeds from the flower beds. I did some very necessary cleaning. I spent, I admit, at least a couple hours in lazy self-indulgent relaxation, recuperating from the past week.

Today, I made two trips to town to deliver nine pieces to the Gregg Fellowship Hall for inclusion in the art show. I stopped at the marina to make the final payment on my car repair. Post Office, gas station and grocery store completed my list of errands. I stopped at Aunt Katie’s to tidy up. She is still convalescing on the mainland, but I like to keep an eye on things.

My cousin, who was cutting and bailing hay across the road from Aunt Katie’s, told me there was a broken bail I could have, if I’d get it out of his way. So, I drove onto the field and, armful-by-armful, loaded the bail of hay into the back seat and onto the front passenger seat of my car.

Home, I unloaded the hay onto the pallet near the garden shed, on top of the few remaining bails of straw. Unloaded the twenty-pound bag of dog food. Went back for the toothpaste, bottle of wine and “Iron Out” rust remover, and the stack of papers that came in the mail.  Laundry next. I put in a load of towels with the rust remover, then gave the toilet, tub and sink a shot of it, too. I tossed all of the rugs outside for shaking, and swept through the whole house. Shook the rugs and brought them back in. When the washer was done, I put the wet things in the laundry basket, and started a load of dark clothes. I took the towels out to the clothesline. I fed the dogs.

Finally, I sit down to write. It is after eight o’clock in the evening. It has just started to rain (of course…with laundry on the line!). I haven’t started dinner yet. Tomorrow, it’s back to work. I think it’s time to open that bottle of wine.

 

 

A Morning of No Enthusiasm

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Sometimes, I wake up early and can’t fall back asleep with rampaging thoughts of all I need or want to do. Not today. I lay abed long after I woke up, trying to drum up a little incentive to get up.

There was a cool breeze coming in through the open window; I was cozy under the soft comforter. Darla, from her spot beside the bed, had rested her big head on my chest, to accept all the attention I could give her. She rewarded me for the petting with an occasional big lap of her tongue on my face. Rosa Parks, not to be left out, had nestled in to the space under my other shoulder, so that my second hand could scratch behind her ears. Her throaty murmurs – the closest thing to a purr I’ve ever heard coming from a dog – let me know she was enjoying the interlude, too.

Finally, I got up and made coffee. Last night before I went to sleep, I’d jotted some notes in my journal as reminders of what I wanted to accomplish today. There it was, if I needed a refresher. There is house work, yard work and garden work. There are bills to pay and bookkeeping to be done. I have a list of stories and articles to prepare for the next issue of the Beacon.

There is a long list for the studio, including cleaning and clearing space, preparing work for the Museum Week Art Show, and packaging a collagraph to be mailed out. There is old work to finish and plans for new work waiting. As I am wise to my wily ways of avoidance, procrastination and trade-offs, I rarely allow myself to go to the studio first. It is reward, for jobs well underway or tasks completed.

Sunday mornings used to be an exception to that rule. When I had television, my Sundays started in the studio, with the TV tuned to CBS Sunday Morning, coffee conveniently on the shelf beside me, and whatever I was currently involved in, on the drafting table in front of me. It was a lovely way to wake up, and made this day of the week stand out.

When television went digital, the only way to get a signal out here in the middle of Lake Michigan is to pay for satellite TV. I’ve never been much of a TV watcher. For the news, Jeopardy, and a handful of other programs, it hardly seemed worth the cost. I do miss that excuse to spend Sunday mornings in the studio, though!

Now, I get my news from the computer, where one link leads to another, and it’s easy to waste an entire morning following a single event. It’s also simple, from this spot at the desk, to click over to social media, to see what’s going on there, and comment on a status or two. Before I know it I’ve wasted half a day.

It’s afternoon, now, on this precious Sunday. It’s high time to get into gear, and find a little energy and enthusiasm for all the things that wait for me!

Nothing’s Lost In God’s Kingdom

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I have a co-worker who insists that, to find anything, one must state – out loud and with confidence – “There’s nothing lost in God’s kingdom.” I have to admit, it has proven to be a pretty reliable method when I can’t remember where I left my coffee cup or when one of us has misplaced the hand-held computer. It’s not working so well at my house.

Losing things is easy for me. I spend far too much time looking for stuff. To compensate, I try to have a place for everything, and stick to it. In an extra file drawer, there is a slot specifically for tape, another for tape measures, and a third for staples and staple guns. Pens and pencils always belong in a cup on the desk; the dogs leashes go in a basket by the back door; my purse always hangs on the back of my desk chair. Those designated spots have added hours to my life, that otherwise would be spent searching.

It’s a good system, but there are flaws. Sometimes, that’s because an item is unusual or new, and doesn’t have a designated place. Most often, it’s because I neglect to enforce my own rule about putting things where they belong…or, I get scatter-brained. Lately, I’ve been doing lots of talking out loud about nothing lost in God’s kingdom while tearing around looking whenever a new possibility crosses my mind…and – so far – to no avail.

First, I lost an envelope. A customer handed it to me while I was working at the hardware store. It was addressed to the Beaver Beacon, and I believe it held a check for three subscriptions. I didn’t open it, but folded it twice, and tucked it into the left front pocket of my blue jeans. Then, I continued my work day. When I got home, I worked out in the garden for a couple hours. Later, I showered, put on pajamas, and dropped my clothes into the laundry basket.

I woke up the next morning with a start, having remembered the envelope. It was not where I expected to find it, in the pocket of my jeans. Then the search began. Could it have fallen out in the garden? In the car on the way home? At work? Might I have shifted it to another pocket? In my jacket, maybe? Or tucked it into my purse? Could I have accidentally thrown it away, with stickers, tags and other detritus that I pick up at work and carefully only put in my right-hand pocket?

You can see where this is going. For three days now, I have been looking for the missing envelope. I have searched the house, yard, garden, car, and the hardware store. I have gone through all pockets and every trash receptacle. I have gone through every pile of papers, every nook and cranny. The envelope is lost.

Yesterday, in an amazingly productive day, I finished mulching the raspberries, put up tomato cages, fenced in the garden, and finally completed the mowing of the back yard. At one point I brought the camera out, to document my progress.

I photographed the lawnmower, nearly invisible in the last patch of really tall grass. I took pictures of the garden, the flowers, and the finished lawn, complete with towels hanging on the clothesline in the background. I photographed one hundred feet of deer fence rolled out over the grass in my front yard while I trimmed twelve inches off, so that it would be the right height. I documented the tangled snarl of deer fence after it was dragged to the back, and as I fought to wrangle it around the posts that border the garden. I took one final picture of the fence, finally in place.

In between pictures, I was careful to put the camera on the potter’s wheel, along with other necessities I had brought outside. When I was done for the day, I gathered up scissors, pruning shears, staple gun, two boxes of staples, graph paper tablet, pencil, camera and coffee cup, and carried it all inside.

It was after my shower, while the dogs were having their dinner and mine was cooking, when I went to download the pictures from my camera. Where was the camera?  Scissors and pruning shears were in the basket by the back door; the tablet and pencil had been deposited on the dining room table; staples and staple gun were in their proper file; my coffee cup was in the sink. No camera!

I checked outside. I retraced my steps inside. Then I did it again…and again. I tried bribing the dogs, “Find the camera, and I’ll give you a treat!” I chanted “There is nothing lost in God’s kingdom” while continuing to search. Is it sitting in plain sight, and I’m just overlooking it?

Disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to post photos of my productive day, I decided, instead, to share photos of my “reward.” On the day that I got such a huge list of things accomplished, I was treating myself to a T-bone steak dinner with asparagus spears and sauteed mushrooms on the side. I’m not big on photographing food, but it would be compensation for not being able to show the other pictures. Then, it struck me. Without a camera, I can’t photograph my meal or anything else. The camera is lost!

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!

 

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.