Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Sitting Zazen Among the Onions

Those are some weedy onions.
This is probably going to sound crazy.  But, I'm used to the stares and finger-pointing now so it's okay.

I like to sit in my garden.  Literally sit in my garden.  On the ground, next to the onions, on a small cushion I purchased just for this exact use.  I like to sit there and pull the weeds out of my garden one by one.  When I run out of weeds within easy reach, I scootch my cushion along the path and weed some more.

My husband finds this all quite ridiculous.  I find it relaxing.  Sitting amongst the onions and cabbages is calming.  They are endlessly patient as I tease the bindweed out from around stems and uproot the pigweed and black nightshade pretending to be a pepper plant.

More onions with fewer weeds.

I pull the weeds.  I listen to the wind and the birds.  Cars go by on the street.  Trains roll by on the tracks horns blaring at the crossing.  Children ride bicycles or skateboards or those crazy hoverboards down the hill chattering with each other and laughing. And yet, I calmly sit with dirty hands and extended posture as I stretch to reach a weed just barely at my fingertips trying hard not to lose my hat or get a muscle cramp.

Happy onions.  They really seem happier once I've pulled most of the weeds.
There is a smell in the garden.  The smell of the earth and of growing things and of things rotting back into the earth.  There is a complete cycle there.  A cycle of birth, life, maturity, death, and the waiting for rebirth.  All of these things I ponder as I pull the weeds and clear the way for my desired plants to flourish, and therefore, nourish me in body as well as spirit.

My very first cabbage.
I've grown a lot of different things in my gardens over my lifetime.  In good times and bad, my garden has been my sanctuary.  It is a portal of sorts for me.  A portal to a very special and spiritual place that I just can't find any other way.  It is like brushing my fingertips against some divine being...being in the presence of something bigger than myself.  Sitting in my garden, the world shrinks down to a tiny place where there is just soil and weeds and pulling and scootching and more weeds with a constant undercurrent of my thoughts.

Zen.  It is very zen.  It is all so temporary and yet it is all so constant.  The garden is my constant companion.  Even in the dead of winter, the garden is there waiting for me.

The first harvest of the season.
It calls me and I go.  I grow the things. I watch them sprout and grow.  I tend them and they bear fruit which I consume and preserve for later consumption.  I share the bounty with those around me.

But, if I'm honest with myself, even if there were no bounty I'd do it just the same.  For me, the act of gardening is more than the sum of its parts.  It's more than a means to an end.  It's a life-giving process.  It's a part of something bigger than me.  Something that accepts me as I am...even with all the scootching on cushions and weed pulling and funny hats and contortionist poses.  It fills more than just my cupboards and my stomach.  It feeds my soul and fills my life with meaning.  I belong there.

Me and some of the tomatoes.
Kinda swell picture of the okra in the early morning.
The absolutely enormous flower of a volunteer squash vine.  This flower was at least 8 inches across. I can't wait to see what kind of squash grows from it!

The first broccoli of the year.  It was tasty in stir fry.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Sometimes It's Enough

You may or may not know that I started a new job about two months ago.  I left the world of health care behind and landed right back in a lab.  It's a little different from what I'm used to, though.

I am a legit miner.

I work in a sand mine.  It's really just a big ol' pile of sand.  The company I work for dredges sand out of a river, washes it, grades it, and sells it.  My little bit in the big picture is in Quality Control.  That's right.  I measure sand.  It's every bit as exciting as it sounds.  But, it is infinitely better than the last job I had.

As I said, I've been at the job about two months now.  The last couple weeks, I keep getting the same question:  "So, how you like the job now?"  It's asked with an air of anticipation and a bit of a smirk.  I'm not sure what they're wanting to hear so I usually give them a thumbs up and say something like, "It's all good."  Last night, someone went a little further though.

"No. Tell me what you really think."  What I really think?  I was lost for words at the moment wondering if they wanted a litany of complaints or a realistic assessment of the job so far.  So, I decided to give it some thought.

This is what I think:

My job is physically and psychologically challenging.  I work hard on my feet for 12 hours at a stretch often without much of a break.  I have to eat almost literally on the run every night.  The work is strenuous and dirty and often requires intense mental focus.  I hurt myself in a hundred little ways almost every night.  Some nights I'm riding the learning curve with a crop in my hand.  Other nights I'm dangling from the same curve by my fingernails. 

About half the time I am required to work in a railroad loadout bay taking samples of sand while it is being loaded into railcars and tractor trailer rigs using a sampling device that weighs roughly the same as your average sledgehammer.  The equipment is heavy.  The loadout conveyors are loud.  The locomotives are very loud, very hot, and VERY smelly when you are positioned above them as they go by.  The sieving machines I operate are loud and clunky.  The clanging and banging and hissing and roaring is enough to drive me right out of my damn mind sometimes.  There is sand and dust literally everywhere.  Everywhere.  If there is a horizontal surface, there is sand and dust on it.  The personal protective equipment is cumbersome.  There are two separate radio systems that I have to monitor for clues about what is going on around me.  The radios add a layer of complexity in that much of the time I cannot understand a word of what they are saying.  I'm hoping that improves with time.  The best thing about this part of the job is I get to spend a lot of time outside.  It's also the worst thing about this part of the job.

The other nights, I work in the main lab.  It is not as smelly. But, it is by no stretch even a tiny bit quieter.  On those nights, I spend my time chasing timers as I move from one process to the next often tracking multiple tasks at the same time and trying to stay on top of the paperwork and data entry.  The best part about working in the main lab is I don't have to go down then back up a flight of 37 stairs to get to the bathroom and back to my work. 

Yes, I've counted them.  Last night, I was up and down those stairs six times.  It doesn't seem like much on the surface. But, try doing it while wearing a respirator and steel toed shoes...and carrying a bucket full of little bags of sand all while trying to maintain three points of contact for safety.

My co-workers are a motley crew for sure.  They are all honest to goodness people with foibles and quirks I find enchanting and irksome by turns.  Most of them are just ordinary people living ordinary lives and hoping for a couple beers after work.  The language is often coarse...most especially when things aren't going to plan.  The common denominator is they all know their jobs and are doing their best to do their jobs.  It is a production environment, after all.  Our paychecks are tied directly to our productivity.

In the mornings after I've waded through the dunes to file my retained samples and cleaned up the accumulated sand from my workspace and passed on any tidbits of wisdom from the night to the oncoming crew, I clock out and head to my car to drive home.  I'm exhausted both physically and mentally.  I hurt in a minimum of four different places.  I'm filthy and I usually have sand in my hair, my ears, my socks, and sometimes my underwear.  If I'm lucky, I remember to take off my hard hat before I try to get in the car.

By now, I imagine, you're wondering why in the world I stay.  If it's such a challenge, why would I do this?  Well, I could give the pat answer about the money and the benefits being good.  And they're not bad at all.  Lots of the time, I couldn't give you a really good answer to that question other than I've had worse jobs.

My commute is about 30 minutes.  Vastly improved from the 90 minute commute I used to have.  The highway winds through some lovely countryside that is nearly always shrouded in mist early in the morning due to the presence of several creeks, rivers, and sandpit lakes.  I dodge both living and road killed critters of every stripe along the way.  I get a little time to decompress.

This is what greeted me this morning as I headed out to the 'parking lot' to my car. 
On my way home, I stop at the Picofarm and check on the garden and the rabbits in the cool of the morning.  When I get home, I feed the dogs then take a shower to get the sand out of my ears.  It's still quiet at that time.  I have a small snack and I settle into bed.  I work night shift on a rotating schedule that has me on duty 7 of 14 days. It's more than full time hours but it feels like a part time job.  It's a job that I can leave at work and not even think about until I have to be back in a couple days.

I've lost a little weight.  I've gotten physically stronger.  I'm considerably happier than I was even three months ago.  By that assessment, I'd say I'm actually thriving.

No.  I did not see this coming at all.  This is not where I'd hoped to be when everything fell apart a few years ago.  But, I'm still kicking. 

Sometimes, that's enough.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Late Spring Update

It happens every year.  I get going on the garden and everything else goes by the wayside.  Here's a little update on what's been happening here at The Slice.

Onion plants

After trying to start onion seeds and wasting three packages of seeds in the process, this is what I have.  One onion.  I hope it gets big enough to eat.  I had ordered a bunch of onion plants online,  I was sorely disappointed in what I got in the mail.  But, I planted them anyway.  A lot of them seem to be doing okay in spite of their spindliness at the beginning.  Good thing my neighbor gave me the rest of his sweet onion sets.  They're growing really well.

Watermelon radishes

Germination was iffy at best for me this spring.  Every last one that did start to grow almost immediately bolted and set seed.  I will try again in my fall garden.


Holy cow have they been growing like mad!  I discovered that one of the cabbages I bought is actually a cauliflower, but what the heck?  Let's see how this turns out.  The broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts are all doing very well.

Sweet potatoes

Following the disasterous results of the first attempt at growing sweet potato slips, I tried again with a new potato and got some very small slips.  They were really tiny so I just planted the whole potato in the pot.  We shall see what happens.  I also bought a couple plants at a local garden center as well as some mail order slips.  I was deeply disappointed in the slips when they arrived.  But, I planted them anyway and more than half of them have new growth.  If I actually get enough sweet potatoes, I plan to try canning them this fall.


The okra was a last minute addition to the garden plot this year.  I impulse bought a fifty cent pack of seeds at the local dollar store. I think every last one of them came up. I don't even know if I like okra.  Guess I'm going to find out.


Chamoe is also called Korean melon.  I totally blame Hollis for this one.  I ordered the seeds and planted them out about 10 days ago.  These are the babies. 


My hubby built a new trellis.  By the time it was done, most my vining crops had been planted elsewhere.  So I plan to train whatever sweet potato vines I get if I get any at all.  I also planted a few Sweet Dumpling squashes in the farthest pot.  They will probably climb the trellis all by themselves.


Other than a little flea beetle damage and a healthy coating of weeds, the eggplants seem to be doing just fine.  I planted three varieties...maybe four...and they're all growing well and fixin' to flower soon.  I tried an eggplant recipe that a friend cooked for me last week and it was edible.  It is my goal in life this year is to find an eggplant recipe that I like.  We shall see if my hopes are in vain or not.


My beefsteak plants have set their first greenies.  The Homestead plants were first to the mark this year and I noticed some Romas today as well.  The plants are looking fabulous.  I added some 'Jubilee' tomatoes that I impulse bought.  They're orange tomatoes and I love them.


I have severely curtailed my squash planting habits this year.  I've planted only delitica, sweet dumpling, black beauty zucchini, and yellow crookneck.  Above is an image of my delitica seedlings which were ALREADY being menaced by the evil and dastardly squash vine borer just today!  Blasted things anyway.  My plants are small on purpose to hopefully avoid infestation.  We shall see how it goes. I'm hoping to avoid the use of the dreaded garden dust.  But, I will if I have to.  I've also found a few squash volunteers from last year's plantings.  I've decided to let them grow and see what I get.  And maybe the vine borers will menace the volunteers instead.


In addition to the chamoe melons, I have Sugar Baby watermelons and Minnesota Midget cantaloupes.  This picture is the watermelons.  The cantaloupes have only just sprouted in the last couple days.  Hoping for some juicy melons this summer.

Well, that's about it.  See you later!