Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Gardening Lessons

Childhood memories of corn stalks towering above me in my parents' backyard garden in New York, and rows of glass jars of home canned fruits and vegetables stirred a little bit of hope in me about tending a small garden in our suburban Florida yard (tropical south gardening zone.

I'd made one try at growing tomatoes in our sand back yard when our boys were young, and that dismal experience along with a very full schedule had pushed home gardening totally off my radar until recently.

My daughters-in-law have enriched my life with so many joys and new experiences and "the garden experiement" this year came about largely because of the two of them. Michelle has been nurturing an interest in modified suburban "homesteading", and Amber has shared wonderful memories of gardening with her grandmother as a child and eating the bounty from her families' gardens all summer long. A garden at Grandma's house would give each of them another experience to share with their kids.

I dipped my toes in last summer with a couple pots of basil. That went well. I used the basil in cooking, made a couple batches of pesto, but mostly enjoyed glimpsing flourishing pots of herbs from my windows. Kyle made me a compost pile enclosure and I faithfully added and turned it all year. I found fruit and vegetable plants sprouting in the compost and started saving seeds when I chopped up our veggies.

 After a month or two of skimming through a square foot gardening book and listening to pre-school grandchildren urging me forward - "When are you going to get chickens , Grandma?" and "You DO have room for a cow in your backyard, Grandma"- any vestiges of self-restraint departed when I passed easily assembled gardening boxes and seed collections for sale in Sam's Club.

I ordered a couple huge bags of vermiculite from a local garden center, added peat moss and cow manure to my compost and vermiculite, assembled my garden boxes (recycled plastic) and planted seeds with my grandchildren. Trips to garden centers for more "supplies" meant I also came home with more seeds - "Sunflowers for the grandchildren!... I should have planted lettuce - ohh, they have heirloom varieties!", starter plants - "ummm, rosemary and mint and ... pineapple sage?...I wonder..."

We've been in the middle of helping to build Kyle and Michelle's house every weekend (and plenty of other days) and common sense was shouting "RESTRAIN YOURSELF" so I told myself "no grand goals for this season's garden other than to water it, learn from it, and hope to harvest SOMETHING.

It has been enjoyable. Except for the mosquito bites I get every single time I "tend" the garden for 60 seconds or longer, if I'm not covered head to toe in clothing or repellant.

I was able to harvest at least a tiny bit of tomatoes, green peppers, yellow squash, jalapeƱo peppers, eggplant, and bush beans.  I forgot to pull the onions.

Tomatillos are ready to pick now and I have used some of all my herbs:  basil, rosemary, oregano, mint and pineapple sage.

The critters got all of the cucumbers and most of the tomatoes.

A couple things I've learned from my Gardening 101 course:

1. "Mel's Mix" is good stuff.  It's made of equal parts vermiculite (coarse, if you can get it), compost (5 different sources, if you can manage) and peat.  My mix ended up being a 4 part mix with purchased "garden soil" as the fourth part, since I didn't have the book to refer to on planting day.  This mix is crumbly not clumpy - it holds water and plants well and supposedly I will only need to replenish the compost each season.

2.  Tomatoes eaten within minutes of picking from your own garden really do taste way better than store bought, and tomato plants really do need supports to lean against.

3.  Beautiful flowers on some of the vegetable plants can compensate somewhat for small veggie yields.

3.  Small critters and bugs REALLY love tender veggies.  Getting my harvest before the critters do is definitely going to be the biggest challenge I'll face.  More research is in order.

In tropical south Florida we have spring and fall gardens as summer is just too much sun and heat.  I hope to plant some cabbage, broccoli and a few other fall crops.   Next spring planting I hope to make a vertical support as described in Square Foot Gardening and train some of the plants to grow vertically for better air circulation, and hopefully less pest feeding and more more people feeding.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Bungalow Heaven

Funny how things work out sometimes. It's been a crazy busy time as we've been helping our firstborn son and his wife build their new house and get their existing house ready to sell, hoping it would sell by the time we were done with the new house. As it turned out, the old house sold before we were done with the new one, and so son, wife, and 3 kids moved in with us for the time being.

We lived together before for a few months 6 years ago when grandchild #1 was a newborn....when we didn't also have a young woman living with us....who had just returned from her summer vacation. We all get along pretty well, but husband and son also work together all day 5 or more days of the week, and what young American mother wants to share tight spaces with her mother-in-law 24/7?

Enter the bungalow heaven. Sam and Amber graciously offered to share their restored bungalow in the city with us for for a bit, to give us all a little more space.   So I am taking a break from our busy pace and enjoying quiet evening meals with my husband (no TV-hooray!) and slow starting mornings with coffee and computer (in spite of a couple disagreements with the coffee maker)  in a beautiful old home in an area filled with restored craftsman and bungalow houses, with front porches aplenty on quiet streets lined with mature oaks.  (For regular readers of Amber's Blog, the homes pictured are typical examples of the scenery, not the Samber home.)

I marvel that I can walk or ride my bike a short distance through these relatively quiet neighborhoods for restaurants or groceries or banking or library, pedal to downtown museums, a local university, or along the gorgeous 3.5-4 mile bayshore boulevard overlooking the bay for walking/biking.

I've lived in this area for most of my life, but because I live and work across the bay, I haven't made time to explore the city much for history and culture and fun activities. I'm usually driving through or stopping only at contractor's offices or government buildings, or the Samber house.  But this week I discovered opportunities for a group bike ride featuring city restaurants and a walking historical tour of Ybor City, both of which made my "fun things I'd like to do" list.

I've watched fish jumping in series and shore birds fishing with the downtown skyline and harbour shipping yards for a background.   I found the locations (previously unknown to me) of two great photos by Amber, posted to her blog (note the difference between her shot and mine :-), and I hope to  find another (the chain and tank) in my meanderings.

I watched a rider in training coax her horse through some jumps at a stable just steps from the water's edge of the bay. I ate a gyro and overheard a t-shirt and jean clad couple at the table next to me discuss their potential partnership, marketing strategy and profit, with the slowly dawning realization that their business was prostitution for out-of-town clientele willing to spend BIG bucks for a "high-class" "model". wow. what a person can do in the city.

Tomorrow will have to be a heavier work day to make up for what I have NOT accomplished these past two days, but I definitely do not regret taking time to enjoy this bit of bungalow heaven.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Happy Discipline

Our desktop computer (with all my photos) has been paralyzed since the heavy storm that moved through our area last Thursday, but hopefully, soon, I'll have it back, with all bits fully restored and accessible. My body is reluctant to fully cooperate with my ambitious to-do list today, but at least I can post thank you's from the sofa with a borrowed laptop...

I am grateful for:

246. the almost four-year old's enthusiastic rendition of "Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho" (with much repetition of "Jericho, Jericho, Jericho, Jericho, Jericho, Jericho...etc.) throughout the day

247. the same child saying, "Listen to me hum, Dama" (imagine the same tune, hummed with great emphasis)

248. happy celebration of grandson's first birthday...a year of vibrant health and development and engaging personality

249. simple, joyful decorations from creative daughter-in-law, which I could adapt and copy for other grandchildren's birthday celebrations - all four birthdays fall within a 5 week time period.

250. sons and daughters-in-law who have been so gracious and generous in inviting us to be a part of their children's lives

251. getting to know Amy, who has lived with us for about 10 months now. She enriches us with her laughter and with skills, gifts, personal history and perspectives that differ from ours.

252. Prema's self-occupied, quiet deportment at the library

253. that our grandsons love books and stories so much

254. the "nesting tree" during nesting season at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary - although standing directly below it can be a messy affair, the sheer number of nests with attending parents in one tree is pretty amazing

255. Prema shooing a bird off the "people path" at the sanctuary, while signing "wrong"

256. fluffy, grayish-white baby pelicans on their nests (the one time I don't take my camera!)

257. young women with busy lives, "baby bumps" and laughing children, reminding me of those chaotic years filled with so much energy and purpose, seeking healthy friendship and growth in the practice of intentional gratitude

258. those same women modeling good listening and balanced participation for this older woman, so in need of practice in humble listening

260. delicious left-over taco salad at the Samber house

261. home-made chocolate chip cookies and mmmm good coffee

262. Sam sharing his protein shake that included romaine and blueberries...light and surprisingly tasty! (I have not liked the taste of any shakes or smoothees I've made that have included green veggies - and I love most green veggies)

263. Front row seat for a dramatic electric storm, in my car, on the Howard Frankland, above the middle of the bay

264. that the large oak limb, torn from a tree in our yard during the high winds the next day, did not hit our house or my car

265. neighbor and helper who were sawing it into manageable chunks and throwing it on their trailer to haul off before I was even aware that it filled my driveway

266. windows surrounding me at home, providing theatre to the incredible energy and rains of the storm

267. that our desktop mac did not fully fry in the multiple power surges and drops

268. that we have a wonderful mac repair company across the bay

269. that we did not lose electrical power and I was able to keep sewing birthday projects

270. for birthday secrets, arriving by mail, and coming to life by our hands, and the happy anticipation of Isaac's enjoyment of all of them

271. the joy of finding and giving simple gifts that are in sync with an un-spoiled, creative child's development and play interests

272. family fun with water balloons

273. readily available, affordable gasoline

274. another weekend of cooler, dryer, WONDERFUL weather for painting, electrical installation, and clean-up at the new house

275. Prema's continued excitement/enjoyment over wearing her birthday Mary Jane shoes

Monday, March 21, 2011

Nails of Gratitude

holy experience

I raced through my first reading of Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, gulping it down,  feeling the sharp pierce of pain that shattered hearts and dulled lives into numb existence, and nodding in agreement, through mouthfuls of words, at the discovery and practice of the life-giving, life-sustaining discipline of gratitude expressed with such aching beauty.

I am reading it slowly this second time, reading, re-reading lines, paragraphs, quotes; copying portions into my journal, thinking about the difference that the deliberate, frequent practice of gratitude has had at various points in my own life.  I am also trying, once again, to be more deliberate about writing down some of the "small" gifts I notice and receive each day, pounding nails of gratitude to displace nails of accusation and scorn.

A few thank you's from my journal this past month:

203.  quiet comraderie with sister and mother

204.  buckwheat crepes filled with ratatouille

205.  in tiny french restaurant, with dark wood walls and bottles

206.  and open door that embraces sun drenched sidewalk and small shops

207.  creeping in traffic past famous shopping circle with car show I had once imagined as a "possible weekend getaway" and realizing the stress the crowds and traffic would have caused us and the utter disappointment I would have struggled with at the unfulfillment of expectation of joy, had we made that excursion

208.  passing many singles, couples, and families on the bike trails of this Gulf coast island

209.  serendipitous happening upon weekend art show with travellers who want to "stop and take a look"

210.  moments of reading stretched on pool deck lounge chair with bright music filling my ears

211.  tiny, eager hands choosing packet of flower seeds to plant

212.  same hands "needing" Grandpa's hammer to pound post on brick patio

213.  scaffolding set up by the stucco crew and loaned to son for us to use for remainder of the rental month, giving us access to the second story roofline trim, soffit and walls to paint before the roofers install edging

214.  Eli's enthusiasm for filling the fountain and mixing peat moss, vermiculite, and compost

215.   Isaac's excitement over planting the seeds

216.  morning songs of birds, calling to day

217.  Eli, just shy of 4, swinging, laughing, "Look, Grandma!  My shadow is following me!...Why is it following me?"

218.  lightning flashing in black of early morning

219.  doors open to all the sounds of first waterfalls, then fountains of rain from the roof and gutters, which eventually slow to a quiet drip and a whisper rain, and the birds begin their morning songs

220.    the prized possession of berry stained face, tongue and fingers

Friday, December 31, 2010

Long Loved Love

Our son and his wife left a "Happy Anniversary voice message the other day when they couldn't reach me in person.  I laughed when I heard the smile in his voice and a laugh from his wife at his side: "We're glad you're still married."

So am I.

During the first decade or two of our marriage when many thunderstorms of conflict seared our souls with pain, David and I frequently reminded ourselves that we had meant our vows of lifetime commitment to each other, and we would not consider divorce as a viable option of "solving" our problems.  At one point we even agreed not to wield it as a verbal weapon in our fights - just as we promised not to storm off angry or hurt in a motorized vehicle, setting ourselves up for vehicular manslaughter or suicide.  

There were a few occasions when each thought the other so disgusted or disappointed on multiple relationship fronts that we wondered aloud if our partner desired divorce ; but always, upon further reflection, the answer was "no - divorce would make more problems than it would solve."

We have been married long enough now for each to have gone through some pretty devastating dashing of hopes, desires and expectations in our relationship.  We have each had, at different times, to very deliberately choose to find ways to live with, love, respect and support each other in the face of (still!) unyielding differences of  values, motivations, and goals.  

When I look back now, I see the first twenty years of our union as necessary training to strengthen our "humilty muscles" to prepare us for complete exposure within the transparency of our relationship.  We needed the humility practice to be willing to allow the skin of self-protective reasoning to be pulled back, to see the tentacles of SELF beneath so many actions and motives we had previously labelled pure. 

It has been our attempts these past 15 years or so to know, communicate and reconcile the deep, unyielding differences between us that have really stripped the scales from our eyes to see our "SELF" motivations and agendas, to empathetically feel, not simply know, just how much we have unintentionally wounded the other - simply by being ourselves, by pursuing our goals, powered by our differing pasts, values, sin patterns, and ego drives.

This truth-telling and stripping, painful as it has been, is one of the treasures to me of our long-term relationship.  Like Eustace's experience in C.S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, it has taken Another, with better eyesight, sharper claws, and a willingness to tear deep to the diseased underlayers, to uncover and strip us of our deepest layers of SELF.  

I'm not saying that the process is done.  Only that the divine claws within the paws of our mate have done what we, by ourself, cannot do, even with the best intentions and disciplines.  

Monday, December 27, 2010

Working Man

holy experience

On this Multitude Monday I give thanks for David, my husband of 35 years, as provider.  

Thank you, David, for working so diligently to provide so well for me, our children, and our grandchildren over all our years together.  I am grateful that you are a man who sees the opportunity to work hard to provide for your family as a blessing and that you simply love to work.

Thank you for being willing to leave the house in the dark of morning all these years of our marriage, to work long days, and then come home to love and play with your family.

I'm grateful that you've been willing to dream, push forward and take calculated risks that have enabled our business to grow and provide for many.

I'm also very grateful for your integrity.  I've seen you tell the truth and do what was right, even when it was costly, time and time again.  

I thank God for the care and compassion you have for the employees (and their families!) who have worked alongside us in the business.

I greatly appreciate your humility in apologizing to me, you sons, and your employees when you have realized your  "bad behavior" toward of us.  So many people refuse to humble themselves publicly when they have been wrong - what a gift to have a strong husband who nevertheless humbles himself before a child, a wife, an employee, a contractor.  Thank you.

Thank you for trusting God to provide work and payment and wisdom during some very challenging seasons of our company.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent Wait

One of the first ASL (American Sign Language) signs I learned after Michelle and Kyle brought Prema from Kolkata, India into their home was "wait" - both hands extended, palm up, with all the fingers waving, like an upside down movement on a computer or piano keyboard.  Prema had NO symbolic language and I had very few ASL signs at my command, so I used it a lot in all my interactions with her those first few months.

Venir:  to come.  Advent: 1. an arrival; a start or commencement 2.a. (usu cap), the coming of Christ into the world  2.b. (cap) the penitential season beginning four Sundays before Christmas

It's a season of waiting, looking forward to a Coming.  We celebrate the waiting with candles and colors, with words and song, with groaning hearts that strain to see.

Last Sunday evening, I sat with Eli on my lap and Prema at my side at FBCIR's Christmas program, listening to Grandpa David play his trombone with the orchestra and enjoying all the choral groups and ensembles.  We try to take advantage of local programs that have a chance of communicating Biblical stories visually in the forms of nativity tableaus and re-enactments as well as great music, because Prema's world, even at Christmas time, with all its boisterous activity and noise, is silent.

We sit up front, directly in front of the interpreters for the deaf, close to the manger and hay, three year old Eli looking and listening intently to everything, eleven year old Prema watching with wandering attention the interpreters, the changes in spotlights and choral ensembles.

I watch my grand-daughter move in and out of attentiveness, think about the scarcity of visual story for her in this sound-focused performance and wonder how she will ever understand God's story and offer of life and love for her:  How can she know the choice You give her to know you, God?  Her ability and motivation to take in and learn are so scant, her language so limited .... Kyle and Michelle have, with much purpose and pain, been living a daily definition of love for her this side of the veil....but having once been abandoned by love, can she know it now? Will she recognize it and draw near when she sees in it You?

"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

The music is wonderful, the narrative thread simple and cohesive.  Delight sits on my left with Eli, while Sorrow, mourning Prema's loss and alone-ness, squeezes in on my right.

 Children skip down the long aisles waving circlets of streamers, banners of "light" call forth joy.... I love it......but I am waiting for the drummers.

David had informed me earlier that my favorite part of last year's program would be repeated:  a drum corps regiment, pulled from various local high schools marching bands, spread out in the aisles of the mega church sanctuary, each drummer standing erect in uniform with a spread of drums hanging from his shoulders, waiting for the "Drummer Boy" soloist to finish, awaiting the haunting choral descant, "I'll play for you.....play my drum for you".

The sound explodes in the air as sticks hit drum rims, skins and sides, clacking, pounding, reverberating, piercing the night.  We thousands of listeners almost collectively hold our breaths as we experience the cadence performed by the drummers around us, among us.  The sound fills our ears, our bodies, our souls.  I turn away from the drummer four feet to my left to look at Prema on my right to guage from her reactions if she can feel any vibration from the engulfing sound.  No.  She does not.

"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him....Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God..."

You became man for me, but what will You do for her?  How can she receive You?  How can she understand and believe in Your name?  Will You take her in Your arms at her passing from earth, open her ears with the breath of Your whisper?  Put language and understanding into her being?  Will you beat a cadence that envelops, enchants, enflames HER with knowing?  Will You?  Will You?

The drumming continues, drummers' bodies erect, hands flashing, pounding rhythm.  My lap still holds and my arms still surround Eli, but my body is shaking with sobs that no one hears over the sound of the drums and tears are coursing down my face.   "I'll play for you....play my drum for you..."

This is the joy, the purpose held out to us.... to play for You, to offer our best, to live Your love day after day, in desire and discipline, in dream and despair, in delight and drudgery...while we wait.  Wait for the day when eyes and ears will be opened.  Wait for the day when WORD will be known.  Wait.  With arms outstretched, palms turned up, fingers moving.  Wait.  While all creation groans.  

Wait and watch, 
groan and hope.  
for God to become baby, 
slaughtered Lamb, 
triumphant Lion.

I do not want the drumming to stop.  I want to bury my groaning and hope in the crack of the sticks, in the flash of the hands, hide in the beat, hide in the sound.

The drumming stops.  Silence reigns.  Then with collective breath we shout and cheer.

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." 

So we wait. 
We trudge with bags heavy 
with groaning and hope 
to the top of the hill 
in the dark of night 
for a glimpse of a star, 
a stable, a babe,
to remind us LOVE hears, 
LOVE knows, 
and LOVE, also, 

Emmanuel.  God with us.