Garden Notes: Small Harvest

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This morning when I rise and take Bonnie out for her morning constitutional I notice the dark lingers longer around the edges of the horizon. The days are already shortening and summer has only just begun taking root in my heart. My garden feels it too.

One of my favorite things about returning home from a summer holiday is discovering what my garden has been up to in my absence. Sometimes I return to find the green beans overflowing the vines—ready to be picked and canned. Sometimes my tomatoes are so ripe the plants bend over from the weight of them. Cucumbers await pickling, summer squash begs to be fried up for dinner, and zucchini fairly overruns that little corner of the yard. Sometimes the garden is a happy thing to return to after vacation, like waking from a good sleep on Christmas morn—all these good things seem to appear overnight.

This year was not one of those times. When we returned from vacation this year, thoughts of the mighty Mississippi and the white sands of the gulf coast still lapping at our minds, I found my garden had been invaded. Last year I had trouble with bean beetles and a red-bellied woodpecker, but this year the word about my sweet little garden seems to have spread to all the critters. Deer and rabbits made short work of my bush beans—chewing them down to little nubs. My summer squash were all but obliterated, only a few spindly vines remaining. And my tomatoes? The birds had pecked holes in several, leaving me with a fierce longing for a BLT.

There was not time to grieve. I went on the offensive. I purchased one of those owl statues at our Home Depot and perched him high above my tomatoes, hoping to frighten off the birds and rabbits. I mixed up my milk solution and sprayed my remaining beans to deter the deer. I cleaned out the deadening squash and cucumber vines and fertilized the meager remains.

Then I watched.

To be a gardener means to be slightly obsessive, I’m learning. I haunted the bay window overlooking the back yard for the next few days. If the slightest movement stirred in the garden, I jumped on it. There seem to be less birds flitting about, but a few brave feathered ones have not been fooled by my new garden guardian. When I found more Romas with puncture wounds in them, I upped the strategy: Bird Block. This mesh lining is draped over the garden so plants are protected from hungry invaders. In theory. We shall see.

We’ve been home from vacation for two weeks now, and the garden is coming around. This morning I picked green beans—let the slow work of stringing and cleaning them minister to my spirit. The harvest will be much smaller this year but maybe that is for the best. We are still having trouble getting back into the routine after my father-in-law’s death. My husband tells me he is can’t seem to care about the usual things. It’s hard to mow the grass, do the laundry, get up in the morning for work … it’s hard to go on as if nothing has changed. Some dear friends have brought us meals every night this week. We have been held in love as we grieve. I feel myself growing soft and fat under their care. It feels nice.

This afternoon I am canning the green beans I picked this morning. Soon I will have jalapeños to pickle and can, and I hope, cucumbers. Time has a way of mending things. Time has a way of softening the wounds.

I’m so honored to be featured over at The Life Letter Cafe in an interview with David Miller. I talk a little about my faith journey and Playdates with God. I would love if you’d join us over there

 

After the Rain

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Last Tuesday I drove home from work in a hailstorm. The rain lashed my ten-year-old minivan and I watched sheets of water shed down hillsides and form streams in the low places. Lines of cars and trucks and vans pulled over onto the side of the road, but I held steady, plowing through fast-running water on the road. I worried about my tomato plants—their new, tender growth vulnerable to breaking. I hadn’t even staked them yet, waiting to see where they might need it most. When I arrived home, the rain was too heavy to check. I stood in front of the bay window and watched the stalks bend under the weight of all that wet.

Finally, in the evening, the sun came out, but it was only a short reprieve. It would rain on and off in sudden, violent bursts for three more days.

I worried about my tomato plants and my beans but the news told stories of nursing homes being evacuated, of children swept away in fast-rising water, of power outages, and burning homes floating down a swollen river. It felt surreal. Then, Friday night we went to a blues festival along the Kanawha River and I was stunned at how high the water was. We were on the University of Charleston lawn, directly across from the capitol building. From where I stood I could see the capitol steps had been swallowed up by the river. Bits of debris and chunks of unidentified objects flowed through the fast-moving waters as I stood on the bank with a lump in my throat.

Yesterday gave us our first day without rain in a while. I slipped on my orange rubber clogs and splashed out to check my little garden. The beans were fine, vining up their trellises happily. But I worried over the tomatoes. They were bent and twisted, leaning precariously in awkward positions—but not broken. I rummaged around in the crawl space under the house until I found my old tomato cages and wooden stakes. I worked for hours, until my fingertips turned green and smelled of tomato leaves. I pinched off low hanging leaflets and suckers, I cut an old pair of panty hose into strips and tied up errant limbs. I worked until my back hurt and my nose was running, my feet soaked from wet grass and soggy earth.

In the paper this morning, there is a long list of things we can do if we want to assist the flood victims and/or with clean up efforts. Local churches and grocery stores are collecting drinking water and cleaning supplies, the Red Cross has set up shelters for people, and a shelter has been set up for pets by the Kanawha-Charleston Humane Association, but if you want to donate to the efforts, here are a couple ways:

  1. Volunteer or donate to the Red Cross. Visit org/local/west-virginia or www.volunteerwv.org
  2. Volunteer or donate to the United Way of Central West Virginia: htt://unitedwaycwv.org/
  3. Talk to your church about making a donation to either of the above, or do what the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston are doing.

There are so many things we can’t control when disasters strike, but there are always ways to help. And I can always pray.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, in her audiobook Seeing in the Dark: Myths and Stories to Reclaim the Buried Knowing Woman, says it is a miracle to be born into this life. ” … given all the things that can occur between conception and birth and beyond,” she says, ” it’s a miracle not only to be born but to remain alive in this this world. There’s a reason … for us to be doing what we do, thinking what we think, feeling what we feel, seeing what we see, and bringing it into a world that literally is starving to death.”

Today I celebrate the lives of those we lost this past week, and all the gifts they brought into this world. I pray with my heart heavy, lift my neighbors up before the One who can bring light to the darkness. I pray as I stake and tie up a tomato plant, bringing order to the mess, pruning to make room for new fruit.

Garden Notes: Velveteen (or One Way to be Really Real)

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Saturday night shimmered with the first fireflies. They beamed at us from high in the Maple tree, announcing summer with each winking light. It has been hot, more like July than May. And now June comes calling with her promise of fresh-mowed lawns and swimming pools. It feels like I blinked and missed spring.

Last night, I picked the last of the kale from my garden. I took the kitchen shears and snipped the leaves down to the quick. Then, I separated out the stems, meticulously pinching each sharp-smelling leaf from it’s purpled anchor. I left a pile of stems and discarded, yellowed leaves for the bunnies over by the fence. Don’t ask me why I would feed those thieving rodents. They ate most of my first kale crop. In the past, I’ve had trouble with deer, trouble with goats, and trouble with a red-bellied woodpecker, but the rabbits have never discovered how to hop up into my raised beds until this year. And those rascals are picky! They feasted on kale but left all my lettuces untouched. But yesterday, as we peered out the bay window while nibbling dinner, a tiny baby bunny peeked out from underneath my lilac bush. My heart melted. Velveteen, I thought, remembering my favorite children’s tale. That tiny face reminded me to love better, to be real.

I only wonder if baby bunnies like kale stems. We shall see. I have other plantlets to worry over now. The pole beans I planted under the greens are already vining up toward the sun, and my cucumbers and summer squash have poked through their seedy beginnings to lift helicopter faces through the soil. I’ve planted about half the tomato and pepper plants for the season, but must wait until I clear out the remaining lettuce to finish the planting.

Have I mentioned how gardening helps me slow down? The mental health benefits of gardening have long been documented. Researchers have linked gardening with everything from reduced stress to reduced belly fat, but for me? Tending this little patch of earth is a way of loving. With each leaflet I free from this loamy bed, I step out of myself and into the beginnings of nourishing. Not just my family, but my soul. When I think of the first garden, I get lost in the wonder of it all—this big magic of growing things, seed planting, pruning, and praying over a patch of soil.

Gardening is a way of changing the world.

And I’ve always wanted to be a world changer. When I grow and eat my own food, share it with others … this is a way of bringing the Kingdom into the here and now. The Holy comes close as I tend this little patch of earth I’ve been given.

That’s really real. Velveteen.

31 Days of the Almost Empty: Growing Season

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Last night we had our first frost, awakened this morning to a diaphanous gossamer on every blade of grass. I forgot to cover what’s left of my garden, the few fledgling peppers waiting to mature. At first sun, Bonnie and I waded through the crispy grass to assess the damage. The kale is beautiful; cold crop that it is. I picked some to sauté with my eggs this morning. Add in a little fresh pepper and onion, and this is my favorite fall breakfast. But the peppers did look a little peaky. The jalapeños are definitely heartier than the bell peppers, but I think both crops will be fine. There is a freeze warning tonight, so I must decide—do I want to extend my growing season just a wee bit?

By now you’ve probably figured out that I have trouble with transitions. I went through a time when I tried to psychoanalyze this—revisited my childhood and all that. These days I find this approach incredibly boring. Knowing the why doesn’t necessarily make a bridge across my neuroses. I’ve labeled myself: Adult Child of Alcoholic, abandonment issues, fear of intimacy … None of these names are very kind.

These days, I see my character traits with more loving eyes. Things, people, moments—they mean a lot to me. This is nothing to be ashamed of.

Tonight, I will drape a light sheet over my garden. I’m not ready for the growing season to end. The weatherman tells me we will have a warm spell next week. This frosty weekend will hurry along the turning of the leaves.

But I hope it doesn’t take my peppers.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. Only a couple days left to leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a cool giveaway!

Almost Empty

Playdates with God: How to Save [Savor] Summer Memories

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The soil keeps giving back and tomatoes flood every counter of my kitchen. Each morning, when I walk Bonnie around the house, we visit the garden. My shirt becomes a basket—I hold up the hem, filled to the brim with romas, with one hand and maneuver the leash with the other.

Life doesn’t stop to wait for the harvest, not in this suburban household. So I must figure out ways to preserve and can in between all the busy-ness of getting ready for a new school year, sending Teddy off to college, extra hours at work, and fading daylight.

Summer is singing its last songs. In the evenings, when Jeff and I do our porch sit, the fireflies dwindle in number. Last night, as we sat in the fading light, hundreds of Starlings flocked to a nearby Poplar tree. When they flew overhead, I heard the sound of the wind rushing under their wings, and I forgave them for robbing my feeders on so many days.

Yesterday, as I stood at the sink washing tomatoes, I thought about my grandmother again. Did she ever wish she only had herself to worry about? Did thoughts of her nine children weigh heavy each moment? I weigh worry against love right there at my kitchen sink and love wins every time. How empty life would be if I only had myself to think of.

We must not wish these moments away. So I roast tomatoes, peel garlic, sauté the onions and put it all together. Then I can all that goodness and put it away to be enjoyed in the cold months.

A memory of summer.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

Laura Boggess