Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Good Morning's Work


I am an impulsive gardener. Truth be told, I am impulsive about most of my projects and it drives Bubba crazy. He says I am a "project starter." But I think, having grown up on a farm, the gardening project-starting is the one that makes him the most nuts. It's not that I don't think about gardening. I ruminate on it a lot, it's just that when I decide to do something, it is generally spur of the moment, most often in the morning, and I haven't always anticipated how much work it will take to complete.

I would love help, but most often because of my timing and the projects I choose to undertake, Bubba's not all that excited about pitching in and I really can't blame him. For the last few years, I've been determined to have a successful vegetable garden and the indoor planning stages involve gardening books, graph paper to map out planting sites and timelines of when to plant different varieties of plants. That all sounds very organized and clear, but when it comes to getting outside and actually doing the work, I'm a whir of energy and dirt, handfuls of tools and bags of dirt and gloves and dog-in-tow, whipping willy-nilly from place to place according to my own internal whims.

This year I decided to get some help from a woman who gardens for a living. She came out and sat with me for two hours, asking questions about my goals and preferences, walking my yard and looking at which places get the best sunlight and asking which existing plants I was willing to remove in order to accomplish my veggie gardening dreams. It was terrific. I forgot to tell her about my impulsivity.

She pointed out two possible places for my vegetable garden, both of which would entail removing large swaths of lawn (not likely to make it past Bubba's filter, but I didn't tell her that). She said that the reason I've struggled in the past is because my original site is surrounded by trees that have grown up considerably and there just isn't enough sunlight during the day in our short growing season. After she left, I walked the yard myself and ruminated. Very near to her ideal site, we have a bed planted by the home builder with ugly evergreen shrubs, most of which are near-dead 10 years later. I decided that would be good enough and Bubba concurred.

Near-dead or not, those shrubs wouldn't be easy to get out, though. That was six weeks ago and I've waited for the right opportunity to get help removing them. In the meantime, I followed garden-diva's advice and started seedlings indoors. Thanks to her expertise, I successfully started 40 artichoke plants, 30 tomato plants, 30 cauliflower starts, narcissus, and basil. I was so pleased at their incredible growth that when it came time to thin the seedlings I nearly cried. I apologized each time I tugged a tiny plant out of the dirt and set it aside because it was jammed too tightly against its neighbors or just too small to make it. Even after I ended up with this bounty of plants I knew I couldn't possibly support, I couldn't imagine tossing all but the ones I had space for, so I began offering them to neighbors and co-workers. Finally, my herd culled to the plants I would keep, I was ready to plant.

Today dawned a perfect day for it. After six days of solid rainfall, the ground was soft and pliable, the weeds easy to yank, and the morning promised to be free of showers. Unfortunately, those evergreen shrubs still taunted me. Downing a quick latte, I headed out with my impulsive-gardening tools; hand pruners, long-handled pruners, spade, leaf rake, trusty JetCut saw, and horihori. I knew there was no way I had the strength to uproot the buggers, so I simply whacked the branches back to the trunk, raked the debris into the yard waste container, pulled the smallest roots that radiated out from the plants and cut through the rest with my hand pruners. Amazing how sad I was to thin my seedlings, and how pleasing it was to get rid of these bushes. In the end, I was left with four knobby trunks, 2-3 inches in diameter, and clear dirt around them. Bubba came out to survey (and shake his head), and I headed for my compost mix and seedlings.

As the dog looked on jealously, I dug and worked the soil and planted my babies. The extra few days hardening off in the rain had only strengthened my plants and they went in to their new homes easily. Who knows if my efforts will pay off handsomely? I'm certain I will at least get some vegetables out of this deal, and if I don't, the hard work in the clean air and the satisfaction of having removed those nasty old evergreen shrubs and the lessons learned are enough for me this year. I'll undoubtedly come up with some new project outside next Spring anyway.

I wish I had before and after photos to post, but the impulsive nature of my gardening means that I didn't think of taking any pictures until the shrubs were half gone already and I was covered from kneecap to toes in mud. You'll have to content yourself with pictures of someone else's garden that I've appropriated from the web.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The More Things Change...


The more they stay the same.



Two weeks ago the weather shifted. I went from searching for new ways to wear my long-sleeved shirts to digging out my capris and sandals. The seedlings I started indoors were ready to sit outside during the day. Bubba and I pulled the deck furniture out and we started a new family tradition of playing catch in the front yard after dinner. Even though it was only mid-May, the string of sunny, warm days and watching my seedlings thrive and stretch in the sunlight convinced me that this was it - warm weather was here to stay.

Five days ago the most recent weather front moved in and we returned to cold, rainy, grey days. Instead of pawing at the door to get out and roll in the warm grass, the dog now dashes out, pees with supersonic speed and races back to the dry safety of his bed. The hammock Lola dragged into the backyard to read in last week sits soaking wet and the gutters are constantly gurgling. Funny, but the longer the rain stretches in to the forecast, the more I realize that, with as much certainty that I had that the warm weather was here to stay, now I'm certain that we are in for weeks of soaking rains.

Why is it that, despite all of my experiences to the contrary, whenever life's circumstances change, I become convinced that this is just the way things will be from now on? Even though I know that change is inevitable and nothing can be static for long, there is something inside me that knows for sure that this time, this shift has put us in to a mode that will be much harder to change.

I do the same with mothering. When Eve began rolling her eyes at me and dismissing my opinions, it became a harbinger of doom. Surely, now, she has moved into that realm of teenagehood where she will want to spend less and less time with me and criticize my every thought and action.

It takes energy to remind myself that I need not make this a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I respond to her and Lola as if their current attitudes are not simply passing phases, I risk cementing them or, at the very least, prolonging them. Instead, I need to remain confident that this too shall pass and I must simply find the joy and peace in these moments while they are here.

Today, instead of gardening like I had planned to, I think I'll take advantage of the rain and clean out the refrigerator and settle in with a good book to read. When the sun comes back, I'll tuck my seedlings into the warm earth with the knowledge that the rain will return to nourish them from time to time and all is well.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pondering


I overheard a conversation at work yesterday and realized this morning that I hadn't been able to get the little shards of it out of my mind, so I figured I'd better share it.

I work at a private Montessori school that serves kids ages three through 3rd grade. I am a true believer in the Montessori method, having experienced it as a kid in preschool and witnessing how well it served my kids, and then being a part of it by working with parents and teachers at the school for the past several years. I love that it is geared towards inspiring children to investigate the world and honor their curiosities, wherever they lead them. I love that it serves both children who are shy and outgoing, language-oriented and math-oriented, concrete thinkers and abstract alike. I love that it doesn't matter if your child has the attention span of a hummingbird or can sit for hours doing the same task over and over - Montessori fits.

In the past few years we have seen an increase in the number of kids with special needs coming to us. We contract with an outside agency who assesses children in their classrooms and then works with the parents and teachers to craft a plan of action to make this child's school experience more successful. For many of these families, the cost of additional treatments outside of school becomes overwhelming pretty quickly and in the last two years we have had a few kids who split their time between the local school district and our school. Generally speaking, these kids spend the first half of their day in a Head Start-like program in the public school and then are bussed to our school for the afternoon.

The conversation that came up yesterday was in reference to our summer program. A couple walked in on Tuesday to get information about our programs and after about 30 minutes of talking at the front desk, I took them on a quick tour of the school. As we popped into the safety of an empty classroom to get a closer look, the mother cleared her throat, looked down at my feet and asked, "Have your teachers worked with kids on the autism spectrum before?" It may have been my imagination, but I swear she flinched at the end of her question as if waiting for me to call the whole thing off. I was touched by her concern and understood her hesitation to share this information with us. Many of the private schools in our area simply won't consider serving an applicant with special needs and it was clear she'd been burned before. She assured me he was high-functioning and said he would be transported to our school via school bus at 11:45 every morning.

We finished the tour and she signed him up for afternoon classes all summer long. Yesterday, my co-workers expressed their shock that the school district was spending tax dollars during the summer to transport kids on buses. To be fair, we have all recently discussed the fact that the transportation portion of the school district's budget uses the most money and we have experienced difficulties with getting our kids to the public schools because of the limited transportation options. My neighbors have been told that our bus stop will likely be irrevocably eliminated next year and they will be forced to drive their kids to school or to another bus stop instead. In light of that, it does seem odd that the accommodations made for special transportation are so flexible.

Or maybe they aren't. Because I have only experienced taking kids off of those buses and escorting them inside our school, I can't say for sure. What I do know is that the indignation expressed by some of my co-workers was surprising to me. One of them said, "I don't want my tax dollars used like that!" and I was shocked.

For the special needs kids who come to our school, I know that the special accommodations their parents make are enormous. They are all working long hours to pay for special therapies and spending inordinate amounts of time researching school options that will work for their kids. I have no idea what things are like at home, but I can't help but think that the fact that the school district is not only offering to serve their kids, but transporting them to private schools in the afternoon to boot is a huge relief.

My gut reaction is to say that the better we can serve all of the kids when they're young, the better off we will all be. If it's the difference between these buses sitting idle all summer long in a lot or using them (and giving some driver a much-needed paycheck during the summer) to transport a small number of kids to and from programs that will give them continuity and a leg up, I can't see how it's a problem.

Okay, I've vented. The shards have worked their way out of my brain. It's your turn to weigh in.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Leaping


I'm more than a little bit scared. Taking a leap of faith is not something I'm very good at, probably because I don't do it very often. I am much more comfortable with concrete, printed instructions and paths that are well-lit and previously laid out. Give me a balance beam over a small chasm and I'm okay - so long as there's something underneath my feet. Ask me to make my feet leave the ground and sail over that chasm and trust that things will be okay and you're asking for the near-impossible.

Despite my comfort zone, that's exactly what I'm doing. For over a year now, Bubba and my lovely, always-right friend Carrie have been imploring me to quit my job. I've resisted for so many reasons - most of them come right back to my comfort with doing work that is simple, predictable and doesn't push me, but now I've done it. Come June and Kindergarten Graduation, I'm done at the school. I know that means that I'll have to make a truly concerted effort to sell my book to an agent or publisher. I know that it means I'll have to put my money where my mouth is and really try to write for a living. Although I honestly feel that writing is my 'calling,' it has been so safe and easy to put it off due to parenting obligations and other various things over the past several years, that I am out of practice. If it weren't for this blog I don't know that I would write a word very often.

I'm starting my 'retirement' off right - with two weeks in Hawaii. Bubba and I are taking the girls on a kick-off-the-summer vacation full of sunshine and swimming and sleeping in. We get back on a Saturday and the following Monday Eve and Lola are off to basketball camp every day for a week. I guess that's when I need to buckle down and ignore the laundry/cooking/yardwork and prove to myself that I made the right decision. It's not the safe choice, I know, and like I said, I'm more than a little bit scared. I'm not honestly sure how this will all go and I know that that is part of the journey, but the uncertainty is my least favorite part of it all.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Changing the Landscape


The grape hyacinth bulbs I got from my dad for my birthday one year have taken over. He was frustrated with me when he asked what I wanted for my birthday and all I said was, "bulbs." I have always loved the idea of putting something into the ground as the soggy, gray weather is setting in as a promise of the Spring to come. Every February and March when the new green shoots poke up from the saturated ground I catch my breath in anticipation. By the time the colors burst out of the crocuses and irises I'm hooked. To Dad, it was definitely not an exciting gift - a plastic bag of roots and onion-looking bulbs. To me, it spoke of possibility and the future. True to himself, he always got me what I said I wanted for my birthday, so when the box of tulips, daffodils and grape hyacinth bulbs showed up I was thrilled.

The first time I opened the bag of hyacinths I was surprised to see the collection of little white pearls inside. I was used to the bigger bulbs of daffodils and had never planted these before. I tucked them in to the soil surrounding my Japanese Maple near the front door of the house and forgot about them. Just after the crocuses bloomed, I noticed wide grass-like greens coming up and within a week the flower bed was a sea of purple flowers. Every year since, these little kick-ass bulbs have doubled and tripled themselves until this Spring when there were so many they were literally crawling over each other and popping up on top of the soil. Even though I pull out several handfuls every year to share with neighbors who want them, I still have more than I need so it's time to share on a larger scale.

We're having a garage sale this weekend with our neighbors and last week I sat and pulled hyacinth bulbs out, gently brushed the dirt from them and put them into small paper sacks. I attached fliers with planting instructions and am planning to give them away with every purchase tomorrow. Each bag has nearly 50 bulbs inside.

I considered charging for them, but it seems that the more precious something is, the more freely I want to share it. I have kept some for myself, but the idea that Dad's gift to me will soon be blooming all over the place brings me almost to tears. Asking people for money seems blasphemous. My payment will be that every time I drive through a neighborhood and see grape hyacinth blooming, I'll think of Dad and his love for me.
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