Tag Archives: garden

Weeds

It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? Plants that grow and thrive without tender care are weeds. Plants that require constant tender care, and additives from Big Ag, and glyphosate to kill off the competition, are flowers.

My husband refers to me as “Buttercup,” but I am cultivating my inner dandelion!

In a Mid-Atlantic state, here’s what happens when yard tenders refuse to coddle turf grasses. Gather your vetches and fescues while ye may!

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Hold Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand

To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.…

Auguries of Innocence, Wm.Blake 1757-1827

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Symmetry

A pedestrian event, indeed. I was merely eating dinner. At home no less, with a spouse too tired to leave the house or do much of anything but sleep in front of the basketball game. The simple garden vegetable on my plate resisted the process, by calling attention to its perfection and symmetry.
Meaning no harm, I posted a photo with no caption. Fascinated by things that grow, I do that sometimes. What a furor. I asked whether a scientist or mathematician could confirm whether my little broccoflower spear held within it the mystery of a Fibonacci number, as does a pinecone. Corrected, I now know that the formula which describes the formation of spirals in nature was is called a Fibonacci sequence.

I then asked whether this revelation might not “make theists of atheists, and atheists of theists.” Mistake. Or the most interesting conversation one could have with a diverse group of people. My attempt at making everyone right, “It doesn’t matter whether you call it God or nature,” did not cool matters, but enflamed the conversation. Those who are firm atheists were unmoved; those who are firm believers were incredulous at the inability of their peers to see meaning in nature’s perfection.

I have not returned to the conversation, but concluded that even we, who may not consider ourselves true believers, sometimes catch a glimpse of something more. Clearly I don’t believe the glimpse of something more must be transcendent, it can just as well, more likely in my worldview, be immanent. Yet, it is a glimpse of the extraordinary, the consummate, the perfectly miraculous. Tinker Bell flies by with her little lantern in hand, tiny wings frantically beating, and we catch a glimpse of the eternal. Or we don’t.

The Door-to-Door Salesperson I invited to Dinner

Nothing can inspire fear like a door-to-door salesperson. In sensible people, that is. I want to know all about the religion, the organization, the person at my doorstep. This could get me into trouble. I have disappointed very sincere LDS (Mormon) missionaries.

After a while, it is not fair to let these people return in good faith that they have saved a soul or made a sale, so I have to let it go. I did go just a bit overboard the other day when I heard so much of the young magazine salespersons life story, fictional or not, that I had to invite him in to dinner. We were alone that evening, kids elsewhere, and this young man, from Youngstown, Ohio, about the age of one of our boys. We had discussed the Boys & Girls Clubs. We had discussed the GED and passing the five-paragraph essay by using an example to back up the topic sentences of the three body paragraphs. It was only later that I recalled that he kept mentioning foster homes. I asked him, not knowing his religion, whether he minded if I had a glass of wine with dinner and offered him water or milk. He asked for milk, please, and said his mother sometimes has a glass of wine with dinner.

Does he have a mother with whom he lived? Will this organization really improve his prospects for the future? I fail to see how anyone can afford to go to Paris, much less a bunch of city kids in a van. Was I helping or making things worse? I wish we had a bigger dinner that night, and was glad that we have rich and filling whole milk at home–no skim milk here. He said that he was looking forward to the Chinese food he would have when they got back to the hotel in Cherry Hill. It was 8pm, and I was hungry, so suggeated he eat with us first and with his group later. He was skinny enough.

Two things bother me most about this encounter, aside from not being able to have another conversation. When I asked about girls or young women in the program, he said that the grandmother of the only two girls had asked to have them dropped off at her place in Atlantic City, and they might rejoin the group in September. It struck me later that I wasn’t quite as dumb as I felt because it had taken Grandma a while to catch on, too. Either there is a really Good Samaritan from North Philly putting up kids, and helping them off the streets with haircuts and dress shirts, or there is someone taking advantage of inner-city kids.

The other thing that concerns me is lesser, but I do wish I had stuck with my instinct of saying I had no checks and paying cash. Somewhere a guy may be figuring out how to access our checking account. Any suggestions? Call the bank to alert for any large check or ACH withdrawal? It seems odd that the check has not been cashed. I certainly want no magazines, and most people loathe the conversation most of all. Business can’t be so good that there is no need to deposit checks. It’s not the young salesman I don’t trust; it is some force working behind the scenes, of which he may not be aware. If this Saint Philadelphia had not been starving the kids, I wouldn’t feel quite so suspicious.

The young man took the few remaining cherry tomatoes I had picked and set in a little bowl on the dinner table in hand as he left, saying how good they were. Jersey tomatoes are delicious, and maybe he was just being polite, since I am proud of my little garden. I digress a bit, but the garden is not doing terribly well. I currently mourn one summer squash plant that succumbed to the western exposure and near hundred-degree heat. We also lost our first, early pumpkin last night while it was still green. We suspect a squirrel attack night, so I am in mourning over that, too. The pumpkin plant is a volunteer, and the plant is too large and wild to be enclosed. How can I protect the next pumpkins as they grow?

Why do I have weak moments for door-to-door salespersons? I was once an Avon…girl. Lonely people let me in their homes, and told me their stories. An elderly lady ordered one tiny liostick to be sure that I would return. I wish I had returned many times, just to visit, and that we had become friends.

Not many years later I boldly ventured forth, a Realtor in a short, purple cap-sleeved square-necked dress with matching purple kitten heel pumps. Wearing this possibly unparalleled garb, I knocked on doors, and asked those who answered whether they would like to list their house with me. Even more amazing than the outfit is the fact that some said “yes,” and did so. I did a fine job, and graduated in short order to wearing skirt suits.

A few years after that, I sold all but one of the suits at a garage sale. It was time to stay home with baby and young child. The orange suit still hangs in the basement. The ocean blue and turquoise suits more appropriate for San Diego were sold within ten minutes. My best friend had an aquamarine one, the color of her eyes. Her mom took a picture of us wearing the aquamarine and orange suits, so that is the one that is emblematic of that phase of my life, and time spent with my dear friend, Ann. We didn’t always work and wear suits. We made time for fun, too. Realtors work on weekends, early in the morning, and late at night, so we sometimes took time off to meet and park at 19th Street in Del Mar for a short beach run. We took Thursdays off, and took the kids to a local park or to Sea World. After our excursions, her daughter would take a proper nap of two or three hours, and my energetic son would swing from the pantry doors.

So…that is why I don’t always pretend not to be home when young salespeople come around. People not only invited me into their homes, they trusted me with their life savings. More poignantly, the elderly lady trusted me enough to invite me in, and the teenage mother, who should have been in high school, or maybe even in middle school, trusted me to be in her parents home with her baby.

I will have to find and include the iconic California Realtor photo by the beach in Del Mar, or at least a picture of the suit or pumps. Should I share my trade secrets with those distributing various earnest literature? Looking less serious worked for me.

Disappointed in myself, I will call the bank tomorrow, and let them know the amount for which the check was written. I am normally pretty sensible and consult Charity Navigator before making any donation, but the occasional “random act of kindness” can’t hurt. Or can it? Is that young man stuck in a situation he can’t escape? Did I contribute to that situation, or is the dying business of magazine sales really a ticket to Paris? Have I unwisely jeopardized our son’s not-yet-begun college education by putting us at financial risk?

Yes, I am prone to “escalating thinking.” If I don’t make my very small donation to MSF orUNICEF polio will not be eradicated. It’s not that I am burdened by a sense of my own importance, and definitely not by wealth: My simple, firm belief is that everything everyone does matters all the time.

Eggs, Oranges & Avocados: Self-Contained

Today I packed lunch, dinner, or first dinner, to take with me to work in the afternoon and evening. Not sure which meal I truly packed, but since I am fortunate enough to have food, I attempt not to leave home without it. For the record, I am not overweight, except perhaps by a chart that believes I am still in high school.

As I packed, I ate the less conveniently portable items. Caprese salad made with our own basil. Right. Anyone can grow basil anywhere, but humor me. And since I use no pesticides, growing cherry tomatoes works best for this novice gardener. My self-esteem appreciates your indulgence. No, I did not raise or milk the buffalo that provided the fresh mozzarella. I am not a farmer, just a suburbanite wishing to be more self-sustaining, feeling trapped by forces growing her town into a city. By the way, I think Bill Clinton first used the word “growing” as a verb about expanding the economy. Will I start eating the garden bunnies? I do think that is the right thing for a carnivore to do. The consumption of factory-farmed animals should be avoided.

The items I packed in my lunch bag are self-contained foods: an egg, an orange, an avocado. My goal is to become an avocado. Well, the skin is a bit bumpy: cellulite problem, I guess, but such a gorgeous green color and irresistible. Most of all, elegantly self-contained, while I am all over the place.

Guacamole is also delicious, so maybe I just need to accept the fact that I will blather on, discuss religion, politics, legalization of marijuana, gun control, and the human control of youth called high school as well as incarceration.

No, I am clearly not running for Ms. Mom NJ! I do not want to be a preschool teacher. I wish I did! They must be the most universally beloved of people and especially teachers. Preschool is not yet about containment.

Avocados and eggs don’t have much to do with big news–the military coup foremost in the news–but they are important. The less packaging, whether Styrofoam, plastic, or plastic wrap, and the less cancer-causing, landfill-destined packaging used, the better.

To return to the avocado: it doesn’t know it has cellulite. I neither complain nor reveal, but believe me: I am a hypocrite. If my skin goes all orange-and-avocado peel on me, I won’t do anything drastic: no thanks to knife or suction! But I will probably spend some money on anti-cellulite lotion: Money better spent on something worthy, and social-justice oriented than my epidermis. Socialization is insidious and powerful.

From what I read, I surmise that the SES of most bloggers, aside from you who are in high school or college, is high. Does WordPress provide SES stats?

May Circe please charm you into thinking about these issues and commenting? Do you need to be or feel cellulite-free to be loved?

My best guess, not interviewing on the ground, is that people in Syria and Egypt are currently unconcerned about cellulite. Nor am I. I have many other trivial concerns. And some serious ones as well.

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Whistle a Happy Tune

Do you still whistle? I just tried a Swedish song about whistling & failed. Any fellow Swedes probably know the folk song “Kan du vissla Johanna?” The interlocutor asks Johanna if she can whistle, to which she replies that she certainly can, and then trills away.

So I tried to sing and whistle the song. The singing part went well, but as for the whistling…clearly I need practice! It may have been ten or more years since I whistled last. The first try was just whispery nothings. On the second I hit a few notes. On the third a few more, but the result was still unremarkable at best.

My younger son–not the one who sings so beautifully that friends ask why he is “wasting his time” in law school–has whistled from a young age. He doesn’t reply to many of my random texts, but when I texted “Do you still whistle?”, he immediately texted back that he loves to whistle and does so every day.

When I had my “OMG, I don’t remember how to whistle!” moment, their father, standing right there, whistled a clear and sweet tune. He claims to do so often. Sorry, husbands of the world: mothers of the world are more closely attuned to their sons. But in this case I had failed to tune in to simple joys provided by father or son.

One of my favorite moments of the year is spotting my first firefly. When I excitedly report this, I am inevitably met with “Oh, I saw one a week ago.” This does nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for fireflies.

Mosquitos or not, ninety degrees and humid or not, I insist on dining al fresco. During that time not only fireflies, but also bats flit about, sometimes audibly squeaking. I wonder where they sleep during the day. We make sure to leave the clover patches intact to attract the bunny-of-the-evening. One day a larger bunny may stop, sniff, and nibble, quite confidently, barely out of reach. The next evening the bunny may be smaller, and more skittish, as young creatures are. All of this is my version of “taking time to smell the roses,” a gift my father had cultivated well, and attempted to instill in me as a child.

Why was I particularly attuned to the fleeting gifts around me yesterday? First I brought some lettuce, a whole freshly picked bag full, straight from my garden to my mother, brother, sister-in-law, and niece who had all converged just around the corner. Many of the Golden Globe cherry tomatoes will be ripe by the end of the day today, but there was only ripe yesterday, so it was for mom, naturally. They were all impressed, as though I had performed a great miracle. It is nothing, I thought. But really, it is the product of several years work. First building the garden boxes, then amending the soil, then planting and tending, shading and watering. Watering was crucial when the seedlings first sprouted. hand-watered them then, to conserve water. Now when there has been intense heat and no rain for a few days, I water early in the morning before the sun’s rays hit the leaves of sunflowers, tomatoes, summer squash, pepper plants, carrot tops, herbs, and lettuce. If we did not live on a busy corner at which every large truck or van speeds by, or worse yet, makes a u-turn, and the background noise was only birds, not construction and traffic and the annoying hum of weed whackers, this would be truly idyllic.

But life remains imperfect. Yesterday I learned over and over again of acquaintances, family friends, teachers and students–most in middle years, full of responsibilities for children, spouses, and work–who were struggling with, or have succumbed to the contemporary plague of cancer. The news was so overwhelming that the best response seemed to be that of the victims themselves, to enjoy the day as I was able.

I may whistle a mournful tune as well when I have recaptured the ability, but for now, I am going to work on once again learning how to whistle a happy tune.

Black Gold: The Feel Good Gold

Home compost pile by Circespeaks

Home compost pile by Circespeaks

 

Black gold. Lovely, rich, dark, valuable stuff. Apparently Mayor Michael Bloomberg agrees with me.

Black diamonds are also beautiful and a product of the earth. The calculus about whether or not to purchase and wear black or yellow diamonds is not as complex as the calculus that goes into many decisions. It is not as though I pop into Tiffany’s on a regular basis. Tiffany’s is probably the last place I’d go, even if I were tempted to make a purchase for my next red carpet experience. No, the thought of little Congolese children and larger Congolese adults crawling around in mines has put me off diamonds that I can’t even afford. So my claim is a mere rationalization? I haven’t been sorely tempted.

Today I am not going to dwell on concerns, but on a specific joy. Unitarians might recognize the oblique reference to “joys and concerns.” I have listened to many at the “side microphone,” most of which were meandering as this blog, but I won’t know, and you won’t feel rude, if you walk away in the midst of my digression. Back to compost.

Compost is simply organic matter–uncooked plant matter in the case of home composting–that is mixed and turned, with a shovel or pitchfork, or implement of some kind. In time–not long if you turn it daily–the compost turns back into earth from which the plants grew. Compost is the ultimate in reuse: earth to earth, as all carbon-based life goes. Earth to landfill is a perversion of the natural order of life.

Earth from compost is suitable for potting plants, filling garden boxes, and borders. Depending on how sophisticated a gardener, other amendments can be added to the soil. Some soil amendments mixes contain oyster and other shells for calcium. We purchased some this year, but probably won’t do so again unless we radically expand our garden. I wondered whether this would be safe around people with shellfish allergies and concluded that it probably would not, but maybe the plants grown in it would be. Normally, rather than purchasing soil amendment for our compost pile, we just rinse out our egg shells in dirty dish water, let them dry on the counter, & grind them up with a mortar and pestle, and toss on our otherwise vegan home compost. Eggs can also be an allergen, so skip that if you have any concerns. This sounds like far more work & mess than it is. The shells dry quickly, are ground easily, & transported to the pile a few steps from our front door.

To be honest, now that we have a community compost program, such as the one now being implemented by Mayor Bloomberg of New York, and a small, convenient pail under the sink, egg shells sometimes land there. So does any spoiled food, cooked food, and bones or other organic material not of plant origin. We are, we think, exceptionally careful not to waste food, but surprisingly enough, fill the pail often. Orange peels and banana peels, for instance, do not compost well outdoors in New Jersey, nor do large pits of stone fruits, and more. Corn cobs do eventually, but are quite a challenge that I am willing to forgo.

People are often concerned that compost under the sink is smelly. Our compost bucket has a lid on it, & contains stuff that would otherwise end up under the same sink in a trash can. Does your trash smell good after a few days in the heat of summer? Not mine!

On top of the simple elegance of returning nitrogen to the earth in the form of organic materials instead of chemical fertilizers, composting saves communities money, as land fill fees grow exorbitant. This is the only possible way of the future, so embrace it if you are able.

One other benefit of the imperfect home compost pile is that volunteer plants will spring up from it. Those most likely to do so in our experience have been tomatoes, butternut & acorn squashes, pumpkins, & potatoes. We used most of our compost this year, but I include a photo of the formerly glorious pile. You might notice the wood pile next to it, or the squash plant bursting into bloom behind it. Lots of trees came down this year, taking part of the simple structure with them, so it is simple in the extreme. The compost pile does not need to be contained, but can be, if that might be more pleasing to your neighbors. I think it is better-looking than a big plastic trash can.

You can compost at home under the sink, or in a garage, or basement, even if you do not have a community compost program. Vermicomposting, composting with the help of red worms, takes place in a small bin, and is ideal for those with smaller properties. This I have not tried, though it is most efficient. Those worms love banana peels and even the newspaper with which you might attempt to line your bin!

Happy Composting! This and all future generations thank you.

Father’s Day

CSA Farm in New Jersey by Circespeaks

CSA Farm in New Jersey by Circespeaks

 

Holidays are not always happy.

Father’s Day, like all other holidays, brings with it expectations, often unmet. This year is my first without my father. Last year’s Father’s Day was a black day I would rather not remember, but I do. Though he was not diagnosed with dementia, & I don’t think he had it, he certainly had cranky old man syndrome. The insufficiently meek daughter–neither the adored wife, nor the ever pleasant son–was the target, of his ire last year & things didn’t work out well.
Last Father’s Day was also some sort of Swedish family reunion, with every nook & cranny of my parents’ place filled with talkative Swedes and their offspring. Most speak English, but my father understood Swedish unless spoken very quickly. He was, however, losing his hearing, and stubbornly refused to try hearing aids. Stubborn and probably vain: a normal, flawed human. So social situations were probably frustrating too him. Really, he had no interest in large gatherings, and just wanted my mother to himself. So sharing her with her large family was never much fun for him. He was an introvert.
My brother happened to be away last year on Father’s Day, so my father was pleased that his only other child appeared with a carefully chosen card. Father’s Day followed hard upon his birthday and our parents’ wedding anniversary, for which I produced gifts and baked a coconut cake, but a card may have been my only tangible offering that night.
We all had dinner together, and sat in a quiet area for a while, talking with one or two others.
Then I got up to play ping pong, which ended, boom! crash!, with my aunt’s husband falling down and hurting his foot. A few of us left to attend to his injuries and provide first aid. Never mind that Oskar was head of surgery at a large hospital before his retirement: his cuts were going to be scrubbed out & thoroughly cleaned. My cousin, Maja, and I, in pitiless nurse style, insisted.
After medical duties were performed, I started conversing with my Uncle Erik, sitting at the small kitchen table. There may have been a few Swedes around who had enjoyed the festivities overmuch, but Erik has touched no alcohol for many years, so we were having a sensible conversation. Suddenly my father flung open the cottage door and yelled at me: “Circe! It is time for you to take your family and go home!” This was odd since about fifteen guests would be spending the night, so our presence or absence was immaterial. Or so I thought. No one was going back to CA, Florida, Mass, Sweden, or New Hampshire that evening. Only to other communities north and south in New Jersey. I was shocked.
Here follows the part I wish I could rewind: I did not say “What do you mean, Papa?” nor did I say “Why do you say that, Papa?” I became upset, really enraged; I gathered my belongings, stood at my car waiting for my immediate family members, & said things I wish I could retract. I can be hot-tempered & cantankerous. Is it obvious from from whom I inherited those generally unproductive traits? Though not too useful in modern life, my “fight or flight” response is strong, and when cornered with no immediate avenue of escape, I tend to fight back, if only verbally.
Back to expectations: It turned out, according to my father’s later, revised version of the event, that he had been sitting in the chair where he was left. Rather than engaging in something else, he had been waiting for me to return and converse more with him.
Most years, I did not disappoint. I am sorry that I am left with this memory, but now that I have processed and written about last year’s incident, I hope I can relive happier memories.

Do any of you live with similar regrets? Though I wish all fathers, and their children, a “Happy Father’s Day,” life is imperfect and even tragic. These are often empty words.

On a more pleasant note, our boys helped their father plant a late-blooming native dogwood tree yesterday. Both are here today, & we are all about to go to our CSA farm to pick peas & strawberries & more. Their father seems pleasantly surprised, and presumably pleased, at all this attention. Maybe he managed his expectations well.