Tag Archives: garden

My Life as a Dig

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Today is Tuesday, the day I set aside for memoir-writing-based-on-belongings. My inspiration came from my friend, Mary, who is working on a similar project. She calls it “My Life as a Dig,” as she excavates memories through possessions accumulated over a lifetime. I – wanting to be different while appropriating her idea – called my entries “Artifacts to Memories.”

Not today. Today all excavation has been done in the garden. For that, I have stolen Mary’s title, because it is most appropriate to my day’s activities. With necessary breaks to refill my water bottle, doctor my persistent head cold, or check on what our president is up to, I have spent this day with my hands in the soil.

Though I wasn’t feeling well, I forced myself to get outside to work at least part of the day yesterday and the day before. Progress was slow; there was still an awful lot to do. Today, my last full day off, I started the day with a long list of things I wanted to accomplish. Sprinkles this morning made everything seem more urgent. Rain will bring the mosquitoes: then every chore will be complicated by protection – in the form of netting, added clothing, and chemicals – from the biting insects.

Also in my plan was transplanting strawberries, raspberries and possibly rhubarb. If rain was coming, best to get those tasks done so that the showers could help settle everything nicely into its new location. In order to do the transplanting, I had to prepare the bed. When my young helper was here last week – with the rototiller, no less – I purposely had him avoid that spot, as there were a few stray poppies I wanted to relocate first.

That’s what I started with today. I moved four Oriental Poppies to the long flower bed. Also a bulb that I believe is a Casa Blanca Lily – long forgotten among the overgrowth there – and a couple day lilies.

Next, I dug out four lengths of vented PVC pipe that I had buried between tomato plants as a means of getting the water down to the roots. I used to bury plastic milk gallons, with small holes along their bases, and their spouts above ground. Every day I would fill each jug with water, so that it could seep out at the root zone. The jugs got brittle after a season, and would break apart in a mess of plastic shards. The PVC pipe was my attempt at a similar but more lasting solution.

Finally, I was ready to begin digging the bed. It was overgrown with blackberry brambles, wild strawberries, clusters of a noxious weed that sends a thick beige root straight down into the earth – impossible to pull – and grasses. Quack grass and crab grass are both plentiful. Just like with buttercup and butternut squash, I can never remember which is which.

I think it’s the quack grass that grows in a circle, in a dense mound that is hard to pull, and that the mower scrapes across, leaving an ugly scar. If that’s right, then it’s the crab grass that is my worst enemy. Crab grass, with its long, white roots that travel miles, it seems, to make it into my flower beds, that twist around the day lily tubers or the corms of iris, ensuring that to pull it and its offspring out entirely would mean disrupting everything else in that bed besides.

I attacked both today, and anything else that kept company there, one shovelful at a time. Push the blade into the ground, tip it back, flip the mound. Drop the shovel, then, and dig in, pulling out plants and roots. Shake every bit of earth away, as topsoil is precious on this sandy island, and toss the rest into the wheelbarrow. Check the hole for rocks and roots, then dig in again. One scoop at a time, one row after another.

I hauled away five wheelbarrows full of roots and weeds. I doubt my knees will ever be the same; I wonder if I’ll ever get the dirt out from under my nails. I have not yet put together the raised beds for my berries, or laid down the weed barrier, or transplanted a single strawberry. Still, it was a productive day.

Artifacts to Memories: Things I Can’t Let Go

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There is a lot of stuff in my life. I was hoping for a more delicate term, but “stuff” seems apt. Gifts, purchases, hand-me-downs and inheritances. Sixty-four years worth of accumulated belongings. Enough to divide into several categories.

There are the things I hold on to for their sentimental value. Ranging from drawings and cards that my young daughters made more than thirty years ago, to photographs, to little gifts from friends and family, to my very first hard-cover chapter book, to my dining room table. The table was a junk store find that my Dad brought home, that was used as our clothes-folding table and extra-seating-at-holiday-time table for most of my life. Then, moved out to the garage, it was my brother David’s work and party table (the surface gained a few cigarette burns and saw marks from that phase), my sister Sheila’s table to relax with a book and a beverage…and finally my dining room table.

There are things I keep because they are necessary, or because they seem necessary to me. Most of my clothing fits this category…but so do many books, plants, baskets, candles, art supplies, art work, and a large collection of flat, round stones. I know there is too much. I go through periods of purging and paring down. These “necessities” are spared, because the thought of losing them gives me heart palpitations.

Then, there are the items I hold on to, because of an – often unrealistic – idea of the person I would like to be. A collection of beautiful yarn waits, in a basket with crochet hooks and scissors, for the day when I am transformed back into the woman I used to be: a young mother, making gifts and treasures from bits of yarn. Other baskets, boxes and suitcases hold fabrics, embroidery floss, needlepoint canvas, rug-making tools and accessories, and quilt squares. My life doesn’t have room for the activities associated with all of this “stuff,” but I can’t give up on the idea that it will.

That young woman that I was, along with a Katherine Hepburn/Jo March/Martha Stewart-esque vision of a person I would like to be are evident in excesses throughout my house, from bookshelves to closets to kitchen cupboards. I would like to be someone who drinks tea, does yoga, listens to cool jazz, wears hats, raises chickens, grows all of her own food, reads the classics, and hosts lovely dinner parties…including trifle for dessert. I am not, but many of my belonging would lead one to think so.

That is the crux of the problem, when faced with getting rid of things I don’t use. I love that young woman that I used to be, with a dozen projects going and a whole lifetime ahead to finish them. I can’t seem to let go of her, yet. I still picture myself with chickens and a big garden, doing yoga, jazz music coming from the stereo, James Joyce on my nightstand. Until I give up on the person I was, and the person I want to be, I can hardly give up her accessories!

 

Running on Empty

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I have often remarked that when things start to slow down around here, I’m right on top of it. I slow down, too. I’m not so quick to speed up when business speeds up in the spring. September presents its own set of problems.

Let’s look at just one of my jobs: the hardware store. Business has fallen off, sure, by a good percentage over what it was a month ago. Let’s say business is a full quarter less than it was. Okay. One month ago, we had four full-time employees, one adult working part-time, two students working part-time and a few young people working occasionally.

Come September, we are back to two full-time employees and three part-time employees. Plus, we’re all tired from the busy summer we just came through. And we’re still pretty darn busy! I’m  ready for a break! Though I know we are fortunate to still be getting the customers, I am worn out. I’m at least ready for business to slow down as much as I have!

Then there is the news magazine. It is a  year-round job, and demands every spare minute I can give it. My cleaning job is always there, too, even when it’s September and I am exhausted. And it’s blackberry season. At least every other day, I have to make the rounds to pick a few cups. I enjoy a bowl of berries with milk after dinner, and freeze the rest. They will add interest and vitamins to my cold-weather diet, and remind me of summertime in the dead of winter. No matter how tired I am, I can’t pass them by!

Another problem is this: all summer long, my life has been pushed to the side to accommodate my many other obligations. Everything has been neglected. My house needs a good “rafters to floor-boards” cleaning. My lawn needs to be mowed. The garden and flower beds, which were left to fend for themselves all of this year, need attention before they go completely wild. My dogs want the time and attention I’ve been promising them for weeks. I know how they feel. I’d like to collect on the professional haircut, teeth-cleaning, facial mask and leg-shaving that I’ve been promising myself!

Finally, I’ve been dying to get into the studio. Ideas have been popping! In years past, when things slowed down in the month of September, I took to my studio and started projects that would keep me busy through the whole winter. Lately that hasn’t been possible. Less studio time generally results in fewer ideas and less inspiration. This year, when I’m fortunate enough to have the urge and the purpose, I have to find the time…and the energy.

Energy is something I don’t seem to have, in this busy month of September.

Walking with Dad

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I was about half way to Hannigan Road yesterday, walking my dog down the Fox Lake Road, when I heard the low rumble of the County road truck. Darla does not chase cars, or even seem to notice them, most of the time. She barely gives them a glance as they go by. If I don’t grab her and pull her away, she won’t even yield her walkway, which is right down the middle of the road. We’re working on it.

However, all of my dogs have always hated the road trucks. Perhaps it’s the sound they make when scraping gravel or snow from the roads, or just the noise of the diesel engines. It might be because they pass by slowly, sometimes stop nearby, and often turn around in front of my house. I don’t know.

Maggie looked at cars as a means of meeting folks, and would run right up to them and jump on the door to greet the driver. She’d always want to attack the road truck, though. Clover was afraid of cars, and generally gave them a wide berth. Except for Randy’s car, which she would lay in wait for, and ambush as he drove by. And the road truck, her mortal enemy. She taught Rosa Parks everything she knew, so the little dog grew up hating the road trucks, too. Now Rosa has taught Darla, and my quiet household erupts in wild leaping and barking whenever one of them drives by.

Not knowing how Darla would react when encountering the truck on the road, I hurried to grab her collar and lead her to the side of the road. We waited together until it passed by, then continued on our way. The truck was grading the road yesterday. With the big blade down but at a slight angle, it was scraping and leveling the gravel road, one half at a time. As it went down one side of the road, it pushed a mound of dirt and leaves into the center. It would do the same thing coming back down the other side of the road. A final pass would “crown” the road, smoothing the dirt mounded in the center.

As we continued our walk, my Dad had joined us. It was the smell that brought him to mind. In the same way that freshly cut grass transports me back to my childhood summer Sundays, when Dad would mow the lawn, worked earth brings thoughts of the spring of the year, and Dad in the garden. Dragging the plow behind his small tractor, he worked the clay soil every year, trying to soften and enrich it with additions of grass clippings, manure and mounds of seaweed.

I think Dad always had a garden. When we were tiny, he worked up a small plot of ground, and taught us to space the seeds by measuring the distance with our hands. He was always thrilled to see things grow. He would compete with any of his gardening friends for the earliest radishes, hottest peppers, tallest corn or largest squash. He was proud to carry in a harvest of peas or beans or tomatoes.

Though Dad was a smart man with good stories and many abilities, the garden is what I associate most closely with him. When I leaned close to give him a hug, for most of his life Dad smelled a little of smoke and tobacco; there was usually a hint of beer or something stronger; always, Dad smelled like the earth. It makes me happy that – as the old woman I am and almost twenty years after my Dad has left this earth – something as simple as the smell of freshly turned soil can bring him right back.

Tuesday: Exercises in Writing #12

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Today’s writing prompt comes from the website thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts. The one I chose suits me today, as I’ve been thinking about gratitude lately. According to Professor Richard Wiseman, scientific studies support the notion that simple gratitude is one of the quickest and easiest ways to change the level of happiness or contentment in your life. My mother would agree. She was big on counting blessings. Because tomorrow is my birthday, and I’ve been struggling with the idea of a list, I think this is it!

Gratitude: Write a poem or journal entry that is all about things you are thankful for.

I am grateful for:

  1. my father, who taught me about hard work and hard laughter, who loved children and chickens and growing things, who always tried hard, and maybe suffered from a lack of appreciation and respect. Sometimes it takes a few years to see how important a person is, in the big picture.
  2. My mother, who lived her life without preaching to her children about how we should live ours, but who – when death was near – demonstrated beautifully all the essential elements of a good life: faith, kindness, strength and love.
  3. My siblings, each for their own good reasons, but first Brenda who will always be older than me…I am forever grateful for that!
  4. Ted, my first brother;
  5. Sheila, who loved a daring adventure, and often turned her life upside-down for it;
  6. Cheryl, who truly lives every single day;
  7. Nita, who has given me some of the best laughs of my life;
  8. Robin, who’s enthusiasm is contagious;
  9. David, for – and in spite of – his crazy view of the world;
  10. Darla, who lives forever in my mind as a beautiful pink-faced infant with a Cupid’s bow mouth and deep blue eyes;
  11. Amy, the baby;
  12. and Bobby, the little one we didn’t get time to know, but always loved anyway.
  13. Brad, who – though not a brother – has always seemed like a member of the family.
  14. My former husband, Terry, who was with me through so many moments of my young adulthood, I can’t imagine that I’d be the same person if I’d lived that part of my life without him.
  15. Dena, a sister-in-law, who has always felt like family to me.
  16. Pat and Jack, my mother and father-in-law who were in exactly the right place in my life, when I needed them.
  17. My daughters: Jen, who at her birth forever changed my view of life and what’s important in it,
  18. and Kate, who’s view of the world has often opened my eyes. Both girls have given me more love, laughter, joy and good memories than I would have ever imagined possible.
  19. My grandchildren, each one a joy: Mikey, who called me this morning for a chicken recipe and a heart-to-heart talk;
  20. Brandon, whose stubborn moodiness is overshadowed by his brilliant smile;
  21. sweet Madeline, who loves animals and Paris, and who once told me that I am “the nicest woman in North America” (which, by the way, might be a great line for my tombstone!);
  22. Tommy, whose smile and gentle disposition make me happy;
  23. and Patrick, whose face shows his curious, thoughtful nature.
  24. The aunts and uncles and cousins who shaped my childhood,
  25. and the nieces and nephews that have enriched my adult life.
  26. The friends that I’ve known since childhood, who remind me, by their presence, of who I am based on the child that I was.
  27. The friends that I’ve gained at various points of my adult life, that have helped me form and solidify parts of my character.
  28. Linda, who fits both categories, having come into my life at a young age…and stayed.
  29. Many teachers over the years, but first: Sister Marietta, whose beauty and kindness opened my eyes to a whole new world;
  30. Miss Timpone, who taught me to love literature;
  31. Mrs. Bates, who made Art History resonate;
  32. Doug Warner, who broke down the elements of design so that growth was inevitable;
  33. Tom Nuzum, who encouraged innovation in art-making;
  34. Pat Mishina, who changed all of my ideas about what art could be;
  35. Marcia Watson, who gave me a love of clay;
  36. Noah Alonso, who helped me push all limits in ceramics, and who – years later – kindly related to visiting friends that I was one of the best students he ever had;
  37. Jim Fiegan, who opened my eyes to print-making and all the wonders of Collagraphy;
  38. Mary Blockma, my friend, accomplished writer, artist, entrepreneur and  wonderful teacher;
  39. Jim Stambaugh, who never taught me, but whose lessons I’d overhear when I was working at the school, and whose kindness made my life richer;
  40. and Donna Stambaugh, whose classroom I was honored to work in, for the chance to watch her educate, elevate and inspire.
  41. My dogs, who make me smile every day: Rosa Parks, who presence has given me comfort and joy;
  42. and Darla, who is a wonderful walking companion and has gotten me moving again.
  43. The waters all around me: Lake Michigan, for it’s size and majesty,
  44. offering big waves and sunsets over the water at Donegal Bay,
  45. and long stretches of white sand beaches,
  46. driftwood,
  47. shells,
  48. feathers,
  49. and smooth stones;
  50. Fox Lake, for it’s proximity to my house, with calming water views and colors in the fall;
  51. Barney’s Lake for the surprise it always offers, coming down the hill toward it;
  52. Miller’s Marsh for the water lilies and beaver-chewed stumps, and for the dozens of little frogs that enjoy the cool shore;
  53. and Font Lake for a sweet memory of fishing there with a friend.
  54. My little, unfinished, falling apart house, for the warmth and shelter it provides.
  55. My studio space, for the possibilities there.
  56. My desk and computer and the ability to write.
  57. My big, old, round, wood dining room table.
  58. My mother’s cedar chest.
  59. The funky little coffee table I made from an old suitcase.
  60. My little piece of land here, with the woods and the wildflowers, old maple trees, wild blackberries, and a spot for a garden.
  61. The trees all around me, in every season of the year.
  62. Books: those I’ve read, and the ones I have yet to read.
  63. My dependable little car.
  64. This life, and all it has brought to me so far.

 

 

 

No Matter

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I didn’t plant a garden this year. No time. I’ve also not had time to weed, water and prune the flower beds and the beds of strawberries, raspberries, asparagus and rhubarb. I’ve complained about it on a regular basis, anticipating the worst.

“I have to plant…” changed to, “If I don’t plant…” which then became, “Since I didn’t plant a garden…” and the sentence always ends, “I’ll be having to watch it grow up in weeds.”

In other circumstances, if I could not plant a garden, I could let it go back to lawn. That’s what my brother has done – shockingly – with the large parcel that my Dad used to turn up every spring. Other than one small, fenced patch of garden, the whole space has gone back to green grass. You’d never know it was once covered with tomato and squash vines!

I plant my garden in raised beds, in rectangles four feet wide and twelve feet long. Some are framed in with cedar boards; others have stakes at the corners only. All, by the addition each year of compost and manure, are raised above the level of the narrow pathways that separate them.In addition, the garden is bordered with deer fence, supported by cedar poles.

I cannot wrestle the lawnmower into the fenced garden area, remove all obstructions of wood, wire or twine, and trim the overgrowth. If I could, and if I did, the raised beds would give the area the look of rows of shallow graves…not the manicured lawn I would hope for.

So, I watch it grow. Occasionally I sigh at the grasses in the pathways and the weeds crowding the berries in their patches. I whine about my lack of time, and how I miss the garden. I complain at every radish or cucumber I have to buy at the market.

Yesterday, coming home from a jaunt to Fox Lake with the dogs, I noticed the climbing roses are opening on the trellis beside the front door. Mint and other wildflowers are blooming under and around the service berry bush. The tall orange daylilies are showing off in the borders and beside the kitchen door. I looked toward the garden, ready to sigh my disapproval. Instead, I smiled.

Brown-Eyed Susans are  at their peak, keeping company with the wild Marguerites. St. John’s Wort shows off yellow flowers next to white Bladder Campion and Yarrow. Magenta Sweet Peas climb into the lilac bush. Milkweed perfumes the air and boasts floppy pink flower heads. One red Hollyhock stands at attention.

In a year when I had no time to give it, the garden gave beautifully back to me!

 

 

 

 

The 52 Lists Project #26

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List the things you would change in your life right now if you could:

  • I would be financially secure enough to choose when, where and how much I worked.
  • I’d be able, too, to spend time away from the island, and be closer to family and friends when I wanted to.
  • My house would be finished…not fancy, but cute. I’d have hardwood floors in the bedrooms upstairs, and in the living and dining area downstairs. There would be linoleum in the kitchen, bathroom and entryways. I’d have 1 x 6 boards painted bright white as baseboards, and old-fashioned metal cabinets in the kitchen. I’d have a separate studio combined with a garage. That way, I could turn the studio upstairs back into a bedroom, so I’d have room for guests without turning the living room into a camp.
  • I would have more time.
  • I’d have my garden tilled up, planted and weed free.
  • I’d be better organized.
  • I’d be a better housekeeper.
  • I’d be a better person: less self-absorbed; more attentive to my family and friends. I’d send cards – on time – for birthdays and other special occasions, and pay more attention to important events in the lives of my children and grandchildren. I’d be freer with hugs, say “I love you” more often and listen better.

Of everything I’ve listed here, the last entry is most important, and most possible. It doesn’t involve drastic changes in finances or time or energy…just commitment.