Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Staycation

Yep.  I've done it again.  I've gone and planned a two-week staycation.  This time I only got a few eyerolls and a couple people actually complimented me on my decision.

I couldn't be happier to be right where I am.

It would be nice to be visiting at my Mom's in Colorado.  But, I really would rather go when the weather is nice and we can hike, raft and do some sightseeing in the fine weather that only Canon City can offer even in the heat of the summer.

But, since I'm here and not there, I've found some things to keep me occupied during my staycation.

We put lights on the house as this blurry photo will attest.  We went with the new LED lights this year.  I got a new artificial tree as can be seen in the window.  It is a white tree and I can't get over how nuclear it looks with the lights on at night.

Taken through a window screen. Ick.
One day not too long ago when the weather started to actually turn winter like, I filled my bird feeders so the little charmers wouldn't have to hunt too hard for their dinner.  By the time I got back inside and put my things away, this is what I saw.  That thing was full not 10 minutes before I took this picture.  In less than an hour, they had abandoned the hollow carcass of the bird feeder like a used up roadkill.  It was disturbing.  At times like these, I am vividly reminded of their dinosaur ancestry and ever so grateful for their diminutive stature.
There must have been 100 of them.  Sparrows mostly.  They flocked back and forth between the five feeders in my yard, the neighbor's feeders, the nearby shrubbery and the 'extra' seed I dumped on the ground for the ground feeding doves and bluejays.  If you look closely, you might be able to see a male cardinal near the arbor trying to decide where to go for a snack.  Brings new meaning to 'on the fence.'  I wonder if he felt intimidated by the number of birds?  He did eventually choose a spot and scatter the sparrows with the aid of a couple rauckus bluejays going after the stale bread I also put out. 

Yesterday was cold.  Very cold. So, I spent some time cruising on the internet. At breakfast time, I discovered three very ripe bananas on the kitchen counter so I went surfing for a banana bread recipe.  I happened across the Allrecipes.com website and found a video recipe for banana oat muffins that sounded pretty darn good and looked fairly simple.  So I decided to try them out.  They were, in a word, scrumptious.  I'm fairly certain that I will never buy another muffin mix so long as I live.  Muffins are easy peasy and now that I know, I can't think of a good reason to spend 5 minutes mixing up a muffin mix when I can spend 5 minutes mixing muffins from scratch.

This is what we had for dinner last night.  It is a Korean dish called bibimbap.  Like most Asian fare, it starts with rice and veggies with some sesame oil.  This particular batch included mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and some lovely little sweet peppers I got at the organic market.  Top it off with a fried egg and a little hot chili paste and it not only fills the void, it clears the sinuses as well.  My husband has decided that if vegetarian includes bibimbap, he might be able to do it. Some people add slices of beef.  I like it fine without meat.



This morning when I got up, I was in the mood for something different for breakfast.  I have eyed-up the scone recipes online in the past and they all seemed too difficult or complicated to me.  Since I am on vacation, I decided to take the time to try some more complicated things. 

<insert eye roll here> 

Scones are ridiculously easy.  And tasty.  This recipe came from the Farm Girl Fare weblog and she calls them Christmas Cranberry Scones.  Yes, it was the rave reviews from first time scone makers that gave me the courage to try.  There are several more recipes on her site that I'm eager to try out soon.  Good thing I took two weeks off.

So what are you making this holiday season?  Trying anything new?











Sunday, December 16, 2012

The 5 steps to successful meditation

The last few weeks have felt very busy.  However, just now I was thinking back trying to remember what made them so busy and I got nothing.  I can't think of a thing out of the ordinary and it is disconcerting.

Although the holidays are fast approaching, I have not done much to prepare.  There isn't much need to prepare as we don't have any huge plans with family or friends. The lights are up and so is the tree.  That's about the extent of it.  I certainly haven't done a lot in the way of housework or any extra shopping and today I find myself a bit at loose ends.  There is plenty to do, but I don't really want to do any of it.

That's sort of childish, right?

But maybe not so much.
Getting my geek on.

I woke up this morning to what I thought was a light fog.  Not until I put on my glasses and looked again did I realize it was actually a light snow shower.  It was a surprise that stopped me in my tracks.  Immediately I went over my to-do list in my mind and came upon several things that will now have to wait until later or perhaps tomorrow.  Things that I probably should have done yesterday 'while I had the chance.'  My internal critic warmed up her shrill voice and started the litany of chastisements: If only you weren't so lazy.  If only you had stopped to think.  If only you had done what you were supposed to do.  If only you were smarter.  If only you were younger....thinner....prettier...stronger...worked harder....

Yes.  In the space of a couple of breaths, I went from seeing snow to being old, fat and ugly.  That's harsh.

The things I really wanted to do today were to run a short errand for dog food and to drop off a couple bill payments.  I can actually do them tomorrow if necessary.  They are things I thought about doing yesterday but put off because I was enjoying my day with my husband and doing some things around the house that needed doing and it was raining and cold and damp.  Ick.  My plans for the weekend did not include pausing for a small snow event, therefore I am stupid, lazy and ignorant.  The more I think about it, the angrier I get.

I am none of those things.  I am getting older and I could lose a few pounds and I'm no cover girl to be sure.  But stupid, lazy and ignorant?  Not so much.

The truly sad thing is that I'm not the only one who does this.

Where does this negative self-talk come from?  How do we let it get so ugly?  And why on earth would we listen to and come to believe such vitriol from our own minds? Why is it okay for me to say things to and about myself that I wouldn't take from anyone else? Why do I accept that this is okay when I wouldn't have a friend in the world if I spoke to others that way?  I don't know the answer to any of that.

The only thing I know is it has to stop.  For me, if not for the whole world, it has to stop.  I think there are lots of reasons that it's gotten so bad for me. It could be a self-esteem thing or a middle age changes thing.  Regardless, it has to end.  I think I may have found a way to stem the tide a bit.

Meditation.

Yeah, it sounded nutty to me, too.  But, what the heck, I sat down and tried it the other day.  I went to my yogaglo.com account and found a short meditation video that didn't sound too 'out there' and gave it a go. I couldn't get comfortable, I couldn't focus and my mind kept leaping from one topic to another almost frantically.  It was frustrating and I almost gave up until I found a beginner's series on meditation on the same site and I decided to give it another try.

It worked.  It really did.  I was slightly stunned. Just like anything else, meditation requires a foundation of knowledge, a path of practice and persistence.  Here is the foundation, according to Harshada Wagner's beginner's series at yogaglo and so far, it's working for me:

  1. Be kind to yourself.  I could learn a lot just staying at this step for awhile.
  2. Get comfortable.  How you sit or the position of your body isn't important.  Be comfortable so you can stop worrying about doing it 'right' and just do it. If you need to move to get comfortable, move and don't worry about it.
  3. Relax your body.  Tension is distracting and counterproductive.  Of course, if you're comfortable, relaxing will be so much easier.
  4. Connect with your breath.  Let the thoughts that come and go do what they do: come and go.  Contrary to popular opinion, you cannot stop your thoughts completely.  Your breath is your focus.
  5. Let go and be patient.  Like all good things, meditation takes time, practice and patience.  After all, life is about the journey, not the destination.
Meditation does not have to be some esoteric practice limited to some hermits in the Himalayas.  Meditation is a useful tool and can be accessible to anyone who wants to try to use it.

Have you done any meditation?  What is your experience? What tips would you have for someone who is just starting out? 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Jumping on the Bandwagon

There are so many things out there to watch out for these days.  I read a lot online and in print about the dangers of this food or the perils of that drink.  My spam filter gets loaded up with dire warnings about how avoiding this one test will decrease my chances of cancer 10-fold with another message telling me that the same test will add 20 years to my life.

Being of the analytical mindset like I am, I spent a great deal of time trying to tease the truth out of all these pronouncements of impending doom.  I thought that maybe if I just understood everything, I'd...well...understand everything.

Now that I've typed it out, that sounds a bit foolish.  If I had only done that a year ago, I would have saved myself a lot of time, work and heartache.

Besides, nobody can understand everything and nobody has ever been able to tell me anything without me verifying it on my own. So I spent all that time trying to figure stuff out really pulling my hair out and worrying over the bits and pieces not lining up.

One day I sat on my bed surrounded by notes and notebooks and slips of paper and Internet printouts with tears of frustration in my eyes.  I had sorted out the articles and emails and websites.  I had broken the over-riding theme down to the very essence of truth in the middle.  That truth is this: They're lying to us.

The food companies who come out with a new and improved product every other day designed and destined to improve our health, make our teeth white, shrink our backsides and ensure our sexual virility don't have our best interests at heart.  In spite of the hype and the advertising and the shiny, fancy packaging that says they care, they don't.  It's all about making a buck and not worrying about the consumer in the end.  Corporations are, in a word, evil.  As I came to this realisation, my tears of frustration became tears of rage.

I sort of lost it.

I tore up the notes and slips of paper.  I threw away the scraps and the notebooks.  I even broke a pencil.  It was cathartic and exhilarating.  This is what I got out of it and believe me, I've read it 100 times online and in print but it hadn't sunk in until now:

Eat real food.  Eat food that your great grandmother would recognise. Eat food with ingredients you can pronounce and ingredients that sound like actual food in and of themselves.  Eat the stuff with a short enough history that you can trace right back to the farm.

Products with artificial this and modified that aren't actually food because they didn't come from a farmer's field.  They came from a laboratory.  And, as much as I love my lab job, I know it's not a place that I want to cook my dinner.  After all, we have signs everywhere telling us that food and drink aren't allowed the lab.  Is it just me, or is that a bit ironic?

Did you know that the artificial colors in some fruity sport drinks are actually derived from petrochemicals?  How the hell is that food?  And how the hell did that get approved by the powers that be?

So, yeah.  Here I am with another epiphany that roughly 100,000,000 people have already had.  I'm stepping up on the bandwagon.  I don't expect it to be painless, but here I go.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Traditions--Breaking New Ground

Traditions are funny things.  Back in the day, before divorces and re-marriages changed everything, tradition was important to me.  It was about stability and continuity.  It was about not forgetting important things.

Thanksgiving always meant turkey dinner with dressing cooked in the bird, candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with gravy, green bean casserole and that jellied cranberry sauce that comes out in the shape of the can if you're very careful. It also meant at least one short moment of tears and sadness for Great Grandpa and his mad turkey roasting skilz.  Even now almost 40 years after his passing if I think about it too long, I'll have to cry again.  These are the kind of tears that can only be silenced by the suitable application of Dream-whip on the pumpkin pie.

Thanksgiving was Mom, Dad, brother and me and our attending spouses and children.  It was coming together at Mom's and spending the day in the kitchen with her while the guys talked politics and football in the living room.  It was drinking Pepsi out of the glass bottle it came in and opening the kitchen window just a little to let out the steam from cooking the giblets for gravy.

Except for remembering Great Grandpa, none of that stuff happens anymore.  My family has scattered and we are not close like we once were.  It's made me very sad and very angry some years.  Angry and sad enough to make up my own traditions.

The first tradition I made up is the one where we have anything but turkey on Thanksgiving day.  It's sort of become a challenge to think of something new and different every year.  When I think of it, it seems a little silly to use that one meal as a symbol of all the plenty we are thankful for.  It makes more sense to me to celebrate with something different from the vast selections available every year.  The 'plenty' we have is so much more diverse than turkey.

The second tradition comes in the form of banning football, the viewing of football or the discussion of football in the house on Thanksgiving Day.  I don't care who's playing who or what title is on the line.  I don't even care if it's Huskers vs. Sooners.  No football.  Period.  Call me un-American if you like.  I'm fine with that.

The third tradition is one that ties into Christmas.  We used to go shopping the day after Thanksgiving.  We always said we didn't want to, but we always managed to forget something at the store or break something important that we had to replace immediately.  I don't remember it ever being done specifically on purpose.  It just always ended up that way.  These days, I shun Black Friday specials.  I don't look at the circulars.  I don't read the spam emails.  I don't listen to the ads on TV or the radio.  What's more, I refuse to listen to the Christmas music until no more than seven days before Christmas and certainly not on Thanksgiving Day.

The act of buying presents for those people on my list has always been gut-wrenching for me.  So I don't really do that anymore either.  I've always enjoyed making things as gifts even if they were not particularly well-received. I have never been very good at figuring that sort of thing out.  But I do enjoy making things, so there.  The joy is in the giving whether they like it or not.

The funny part is, now that all the Thanksgiving traditions I cherished from childhood have been replaced with other traditions of my very own, I don't feel any less stable, life is continuing and I haven't forgotten the important things--the things that make me feel grateful:

  • The roof over my head;
  • The food in my fridge;
  • My family and friends, both near and far;
  • My husband without whom none of this would be nearly as appealing;
  • And the freedom to enjoy it all as I see fit.
  • Oh, and Great Grandpa's bitchin' mad turkey roasting skilz which I inherited from my Mom.  Love you, Grampa.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Walk on the Wild Side

If you've read my blog at all, you probably know that I spend a considerable amount of time in my car driving to and from work.  I pretty much whine and harp on it every chance I get.  But it's not all bad.

Most of my drive time is spent at one or the other, and sometimes both, twilight times every week day.  Pretty much year around the morning drive is conducted at least part way in the grey of early morning. During the late fall to late winter time frame I get darkness and/or twilight both coming and going.  My Dad and my husband have admonished me countless times on the dangers of driving on Nebraska highways during these times because of the opportunities to encounter our native wildlife.

Mule deer in Rocky Mountain National Park
What they're getting at is my chances of hitting a deer while traveling at highway speeds is somewhat enhanced during the time of day when visibility is limited.  Of course they're right.  But there is a compelling reason to be out and about especially at those particular times.

Every single day, without fail, I see one or more natural wonders on my drive.  In the mornings, I am most likely to see deer as they leave their beds and begin for forage for food.  Just this morning I watched a lone deer standing in a light fog on what used to be a corn field delighting in what the harvester left behind on the ground.  There must have been a PILE of corn there judging from the way it was chomping and glancing around nervously then chomping again.  I almost ran myself off the road watching it enjoy the corn.

Photo Credit:
Henry Zeman/NWTF
It is also not uncommon for me to see wild turkeys.  I've spent this summer watching a particular group raise their poults to fledglings and beyond.  Usually, I see them grazing quite close to the edge of the highway shoulder just outside the tall grass in the ditch.  I say grazing because I see them snooping around in the grass and eating something.  Insects?  Tasty green shoots?  I don't know what wild turkeys eat.  A couple of weeks ago, I saw a flock that was at least 50 strong.  It was a stunning sight.

I have seen rabbits, raccoons, opossums, domestic cats and the occasional badger or coyote.  I also see birds of prey like red-tailed hawks, Swainson's hawks, American kestrels and once I got up close and personal with a huge owl that flew about 10 feet in front of my car as I drove home late one Saturday night after a dance party.  I didn't stop to ask him about his heritage so I couldn't tell you what kind he was...or that he could have been a she.  How should I know?

When a llama puts its ears down, it's warning you to back off.
Living in this part of the world, I almost have to see animals everywhere I go.  Cattle and horses are kept on nearly every farm.  Just about five blocks from my house is a small farm where they keep llamas.  I look for ducks every time I pass by.  I can't help it.

But without a doubt, my favorite time of year for wildlife watching is the early spring.  Every year, at least once, I pass over the crest of a hill on the highway somewhere and I am rewarded with a fabulous view of an enormous flock of migrating fowl either flapping along overhead or pausing to rest and forage for snacks on a dormant corn field.  Snow geese really do look like drifts of snow from far away.  Really, really. It's pretty cool.  Other than the geese, the best part of spring is the crane migration.

The Central Flyway of the US goes right over top of central Nebraska.  My little town is on the eastern edge of that flyway.  We see a lot of birds here.  But, as you travel west along Interstate 80, the number of cranes, like the sandhill crane, goes up almost exponentially.

Sometimes my friends from other parts of the world will ask me what it is that keeps me here.  There are no major metropolitan areas nearby.  There are no popular professional sports teams to speak of.  There are no celebrity hang-outs even close.  Maybe those are some of my reasons.

I know what makes me happy.
I love the land.  I love the animals both wild and domestic.  Nothing makes me happier than to see a herd of cattle grazing in contentment on a field of corn stubble or to watch the youngsters kicking up their heels in the midst of a herd of cows.  Well, nothing except maybe a flock of chickens on the green, spring grass...especially a flock of white Silkies.  But that's another blog post.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Gift of Presence

Fall has come for real in my neck of the woods.  I spent an enchanting 30 minutes or so the other day watching the leaves fall from the neighbor's ash tree.  They were a beautiful golden color back lit by the sun and very difficult to look away from.

It's a part of my annual 'slowing down.'  It happens every autumn to some degree.  The winds begin to sharpen and change direction, the leaves turn color and fall and I take a breath after the hustle and bustle of summertime to slow the passing of time and drink in the last bits of sun and warmth.  Of course time doesn't really slow down, it only seems that way when you are 'present.'

That's what I've been working on the last few weeks.  Following my epiphany about my inner guide, I've been looking at  the way I have been spending the time I've been given.  And, probably predictably, I had another epiphany.

It doesn't matter.  It doesn't matter how I spend the time I've been given as long as I'm present in that time. When I take a free moment and just be still, it's easy to get lost in the laundry list of things that need doing or should be done.  Letting go of the should haves and living breath to breath is calming.

I've even found it to be useful at my workplace and it's lead me to learn something new about myself.  The pace gets hectic on a regular basis with two or three or more people all wanting something from me at the same time.  There are people in this world who can multi-task. I am not one of them.

This is not the end of the world.

Actually, once I figured this out about myself, my work day got a little easier to manage.

I was recently put in charge of organizing and executing the on-the-job training for a new hire on my team.  Because of a lot of factors that I won't enumerate here, this became an overwhelming ordeal for me.  It was too much to do this and my regular work at the same time.  I was pretty much at the end of my rope.  I asked my co-workers for help; but, other factors made that difficult to come by.  Feeling frantic, I did what lots of women do when they feel overwhelmed at work.

I went to the ladies room to bawl my eyes out.  It helped a little and in the tiny moment of clarity that only soul-rending tears of frustration can bring, I made a decision.

I decided to just do my best.  I decided to apply the gift of presence to every moment of my day.  From getting out of bed in the morning, to driving, to doing my job and driving home again, I want to give my full attention to what is in front of me.  To be present and do my best.

That's all anyone can ask of me.  It suddenly occurred to me that it is also all I can ask of myself.  I am, after all, my worst critic.



Saturday, October 6, 2012

Respite

I've been sort of MIA lately.  Things have been cooking along in the garden and the recent overnight freeze should effectively end the gardening season for this year.  Now I face the daunting task of pulling out and hauling away a lot of dead garden plants.

This makes me sad but I've come to understand the need for the period of rest nature takes every winter.  I've been having my own period of rest.

Dotti-Dog--
Demon Arm Twister
I messed up my shoulder last winter playing with my dog, Dotti-dog.  She's an English Pointer/Crackhead cross with more energy than 10 Jack Russel Terriers.  Anyway, long story short, after a summer of heavy garden work, I found myself with a nasty case of frozen shoulder.  Not to worry though, it's getting better with some professional help, some time on 'the rack' and an appropriate amount of swearing.

Back to that period of rest.

I've been sort of down and out about my condition at times. I've spent a lot of time sitting in quiet contemplation mostly in my garden until a couple days ago.  Brrr...

When you slow down and be still for a time, you begin to listen to things more carefully.  The chirping birds and the wind in the trees will speak if you listen to them.  So will your heart. 

Mine had been talking to me for some time.  Not in the immediate, in-your-face way that a heart attack speaks but in the gentle, listen-to-me way that a patient friend will use when they are trying to tell you something important and maybe difficult.

What my heart was telling me is this: "Yer not getting any younger, sweetie."

Things that I once did without a second thought had become at best difficult and at worst impossible.  Like mowing the yard or carrying in the groceries from the car or reaching into the backseat of said car for a tissue.

It makes you think.  It made me think anyway.

So, I used this respite to think and come to some decisions about my life.  Yeah, yeah, the retirement thing is still on and I love where I live and my garden and all the things that go with it.  But I came up with a list of things that I think we all can relate to and benefit from.  I'm sure your Mom told you all these things at one time or another.  I think we could all use a reminder so I'm going to tell you again:

  1. Sleep more.  As a nation, we are sleep deprived.  My plan is for 7 hours a night.
  2. Exercise more.  As a nation, we are getting fatter and more unhealthy.  My therapist has sparked a renewed interest in weight training and I plan to pursue that interest with enthusiasm.
  3. Laugh more.  Life is already so serious!  And worrying about it doesn't make it better or go away.  So laugh already.  Enjoy life!
  4. Love more.  How can that be bad?  I'm not talking about sex.  I'm talking about love.  Love more beginning with yourself.  I get that now.  It's kind of a trite but true saying: You can't really love anyone or anything without first loving yourself.  So get on with it already!  Treat yourself with the same sort of care you would lavish upon someone you really love.
This is what happens when I have spare time on my hands.  Maybe I'll plan a regular respite and see what else happens.

Peace.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Unveiling

Do you ever wonder how many times you have to learn a lesson before it sticks?

When I was young, and I was young once, I used to think that once you got to be a certain age, you figured everything out, bought a house and planned for retirement.

I was right about everything except the part where I figure everything out.  I haven't figured out a damn thing.  That fact is obvious everywhere I look.

Take Lisa, for example.  Lisa is a dear, precious soul who has been a brilliant light in my life.  She has listened to my complaints and troubles.  She has hugged me and smiled and reassured me.  She has told me to eat seasonally and listen to my body.  Over and over again.

One time, Lisa told me that my most important and best guru is my inner teacher.  My inner guide.  I almost laughed.  My analytical mind immediately dismissed that as ludicrous.  After all, I haven't figured everything out yet so the answer must be out there somewhere.  I just need to 'friend' the right person or make the right google search to find it.

Not too long ago, I was reading Lisa's blog.  She was talking about the chakras and what they mean.  She shared an assignment she had finished.  The assignment was to discover a song that resonated with you and a particular chakra.  She listed out her songs and it was an impressive list.  Lisa did her homework and a carefully crafted list of the perfect songs was the result.  Or so I thought.

I took this assignment on for myself.  Since then, I've listened carefully to hundreds of songs looking for clues as to which particular chakra they could represent.

Nothing.  Not a single song worked for me.  I decided this was an impossible task and gave up without having chosen even one song as a starting place.  What happened next is probably predictable.

This morning as I was driving to work, I was listening to the radio.  It was an ordinary morning with the usual drive to work and the same DJ on the same old radio station I've listened to for years.  Today he played a song I hadn't heard in a long time.  As the familiar melody began, it happened.  I felt as though my true voice had been freed.  My throat opened and I sang at the top of my lungs. I carried the tune with confidence and satisfaction.  Every word rang solid and true in my ears.

I was speaking my truth using the words of a long dead musician.

On the heels of that realization, the floodgates opened and song after song came to mind for me.  Long after I'd gotten to work and started my day, I would hear a new song in my head and know it was the right one.  I came home from work with Post-it notes in my pockets with snippets of songs written down.

But the crazy part isn't the songs or the list.  The crazy part is I think I may have figured it out.  Maybe not everything, but the most important thing.  The sad part is that Lisa told me several times and I didn't hear her.  I was listening with my head and not hearing with my heart.

She said (using words to this effect), "The best guru is your inner teacher.  If you listen to her and follow your heart, she will never steer you wrong."

I still have a lot to learn and a lot of listening to do.  But today I felt a fundamental shift inside myself.  It was a sense of things clicking into place.  It felt...right.  And you know what the thing that feels 'rightest' about it is?

It's okay.  Well and truly okay.  It doesn't matter what other people think.  Not of me or my list or this blog.  None of it matters.  What matters is what comes from inside...from that inner teacher.

So.  Now, for Lisa and her wisdom, here is my list:


Thus endeth the lesson.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Word for the Week 07 September 2012

Today there was a decidedly cool crispness to the air.  While we pulled weeds from the cracks in the driveway concrete, my husband and I tried to define what we were feeling.  It was sort of a smell and a feeling and a sensation.  We couldn't really come up with a description we liked.  The closest I can get is 'umami.'

'Umami' is a word we've borrowed from the Japanese who define it as a savory flavor distinct from saltiness.  Wikipedia says:

Umami has a mild but lasting aftertaste difficult to describe. It induces salivation and a sensation of furriness on the tongue, stimulating the throat, the roof and the back of the mouth...

Tomatoes have umami.  Jasmine green tea has umami.

Autumn has umami.  At least it did on this late summer verging on the tiniest beginnings of autumn day.  This autumnal umami reveals itself through the length of the day and the angle of the sun and in the way the wind freshens and brings a gentle but distinct chill along.

Autumn has a way of sneaking in the back door while I'm not looking.  One day I'm happily tending my tomatoes and the next thing I know, the cucumbers are stalled out and the sweet potato vines are yellowing.  I start to think about taking down the hanging baskets and I wonder where to store the pots for the winter.

Oops!  I said the 'w' word!  Next thing you know, I'll be saying the 's' word.

I gotta go check my tomatoes.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Already?

I am so not ready for it, but it looks like autumn is coming anyway.  We were out on the highway yesterday afternoon in the 100 degree heat and I noticed that some of the trees are starting to change color already.

Already?  It doesn't seem possible.  I still have seeds to plant and tomatoes to pick and store.  What about the pepper plants?

There are LOADS of green tomatoes out there just biding their time getting ready to turn a lovely shade of red and grace my salad plate under a little vinegar and oil dressing.

I finally, finally have luffa gourds growing on the crazy-long vines on the back fence.  They need another month of warmth to really get big and mature.  Just how big do these things get anyway?  The luffa on the right in the picture is about 10 inches long.  According to this article on davesgarden.com, the fruits average about 24 inches long depending on the variety.  Also, fun luffa fact, the gourds are actually edible until they get to about 6 inches long. I don't think I'll be eating any though. As I was working with the vines this summer, I noticed that luffas have a distinctive odor. It's not terribly pleasant. At least not to me.

Wow. Twenty-four inches?  I guess mine still have a ways to go.  But never mind.  I still have things to keep me occupied as we transition to fall.

We've gotten a pretty good harvest of peppers so far. There are lots of really small fruits on the plants and, with the weather as it is, I'm looking forward to another harvest in a couple weeks.  I chopped up a couple dozen and packaged them individually for the freezer. 

The jalapenos have been particularly fruitful this year. I put up two peanut butter jars of 'pickled' jalapeno slices for those wintertime nacho cravings. I hope they keep well in the fridge.

In other news, the fall flower garden has begun its annual show.  The stonecrop has just started to flower and already the mason bees have found and swarmed all over the tiny, star-shaped blossoms.  The asters will be next, but they are a bit more shy than the stonecrop and they won't come out for a little while yet.

But, one of the surest signs that fall is on the way is the annual Monarch butterfly migration.  Last weekend, I spent a little time on my porch watching for and counting the Monarchs as they fluttered by heading south for the winter.  In an hour or so, I saw 17 butterflies.  Practically a stampede!

So, yeah.  Fall is coming.  But until the autumnal equinox on Saturday, September 22, I maintain that it is in fact still summer.  I'll get the iced tea.  Meet you on the porch.




Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Vacation Plans

Ever since my co-workers found out I'm taking a two-week vacation, they have been plying me with questions about my plans.

"Where are you going?"

"Have you made reservations yet?"

"Are you driving or flying?"

"I hear Minnesota is nice this time of year."

You should have seen the look on some of the faces when I told them I hadn't planned to go anywhere.  At all.

"You're just...staying home?!?  That's not a real vacation.  I would never do that!"

"Don't say that too loud!  They'll call you in to work if they know you're just at home."

I know that they mean well and are really just asking out of curiosity and to pass the time of day.  But it made me think about what people in general believe a vacation should be.

Merriam-Webster defines it like this:

1: a respite or a time of respite from something : intermission
 
2a : a scheduled period during which activity (as of a court or school) is suspended b : a period of exemption from work granted to an employee 
 
3: a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation <had a restful vacation at the beach>
 
4: an act or an instance of vacating
 
 
After thinking about it, I decided I identify best with the first definition:  A respite or intermission from something.  Sometimes, when I am particularly frazzled by work, I see the weekends as mini vacations.

The 'traveling vacation' is way down the list at number 3!  While I do enjoy a change of scenery now and again, coming home is often a serious letdown for me.  After spending a few days or a couple of weeks enjoying myself tremendously, I come home to vacation laundry and a yard full of work and a kennel bill.  There's the hustle to get the grocery shopping done and put everything away and back in order before it's back to the daily grind.

I don't actually get away from it all.  It just waits for me to come back.

When this year's vacation time rolled around, we set it up to happen while some family we haven't seen in years will be in town.  I get to see someone I've waited a long time to see and I get to spend more time in my own little backyard sanctuary.

That sounds like a respite to me.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

My Oasis

Isn't it lovely?  This green oasis I've created in my back yard?  What was once as flat and featureless as a patch of prairie has become lush and green, and dare I say it, fecund?

It has.  I love it.  My husband has threatened to get a monkey and a parrot and pipe in jungle noises.

This is what used to be the east end of our clothesline.  We built an arbor in the fence along the south edge of the property and used the existing clothesline lines as a vertical growing surface.  Now, walking under the lines is rather like passing through a jungle landscape.  All temporary of course.  The gourds are annual vines and when the frost finally does them in, I'll be bringing in the gourds for drying and tearing down the vines.


The really great news this week is that I finally have baby luffa gourds! This is the first of what has now become 5 babies maturing slowly on the vine.  I'm now hopeful that if the weather holds out and stays warm long enough, I'll have luffa sponges to play with this winter.

In a normal year, I'd say I don't have much hope.  We usually get a killing frost near the end of September or at the latest, mid-October in my neck of the woods.  But I've read a few long-range weather forecasts that warn we could be experiencing warmer than usual temperatures into the end of October.  That would be great for the gardening season.  It would also be a little freaky.  Even though it almost BURNS to say this, hopefully, this winter will be more normal in the way of precipitation.  Another dry year would not be good regardless of how much I despise the snow.  It's not the snow's fault.  I just hate driving in that mess.

Just in case you're wondering, here are the little Tennessee spinner gourds.  They have gone batshit crazy and I have what could be dozens of the little fellas.  I see 8 or 9 just in this little photo alone.  But, I have a project in mind for them.  Last winter I found an artist online who dries and paints the gourds to make Christmas ornaments.  Hers are gorgeous!  I don't believe for a minute that mine will be as pretty as the two I bought from her, but I'm going to try it out for myself anyway.  I love nature crafts like that and this one has me inspired.  So look out family!  You might be getting gourds for Christmas.

On a related note, I discovered a stash of dried birdhouse gourds in my storage building the other day.  Looks like I'm having a gourdy winter!


The eggplants just keep on a-coming.  Fortunately, I discovered that my boss has a fondness for them.  So I unloaded shared my prolific harvest with him last week.  I have another friend at work who likes them as well and she'll take some off my hands.  I love to grow them and if I can feed some friends in the process, that makes it all the sweeter for me.




Last week I finally decided to try drying my extra (!) cherry tomatoes.  I cut them in half and put them in my handy-dandy food dehydrator and a few hours later, voila!  Tomaisins!  They are so tasty!  I almost can't wait for it to be February so I can get some out and put them on my pizza.  I have a feeling we'll wind up with lots of tomaisins this year. I don't know if I have to, but we put them in little snack bags and store them in the freezer.  It doesn't seem to change the texture or flavor.

Well, I'm on vacation for a couple weeks here.  We have family we haven't seen for a very long time coming in for a visit.  Really looking forward to it.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall

This is what I awoke to this morning.  The picture was actually taken this afternoon. But I think you get the idea.

Rain.  Lots of it.  Coming down in buckets.  It has been so long since we got any substantial rain, that I rushed outside to see it up close.

I stood under the cover on the patio and gaped in awe at the torrent coming out of the downspout and wished I had gotten the rain barrel project started this summer.  We would have had several barrels worth.  It was, in a word, spectacular.



It was so spectacular that I slipped from the relative dryness of the patio into the onslaught and spun in circles in the rain.  It was freezing cold and delicious!  My bare feel splashed in the grassy puddles on the lawn beside the garden.  I was drenched in a matter of moments.

All of the plants in the garden were soaking wet.  The gourd flowers that I had so patiently awaited, were tattered and windblown.  The pepper plants were sagging heavily with the weight of wet peppers and leaves.

This is the rain gauge from my back garden.  It's kind of hard to see, but we got more than 3 1/2 inches of rain in just a couple hours' time.  What a blessing.  By 5:00PM, I swear everything looked greener already.

We took a drive up the highway to check out the local creeks and rivers.  Most of them have dried up almost completely.  Many of the rivers had a small stream running and some of the smaller creeks were full to the brim with freshly fallen rain.

The biggest river in our neck of the woods, the Platte, has been completely dry for weeks.  I had hoped that this would help restore the water flow.  Unfortunately, I think all the rain was south of the river basin.  The riverbed was still bone dry.

Seeing something like that is a little frightening to me.  I've seen the river low before, but I've never seen it dry up and turn to dust.  The local farmers assure me that this has happened before and the river will be back before I know it.  Some have even gone so far as to tell me that it's not dry from the farmers irrigating their corn and soybean crops.  All the irrigation in this neck of the woods is from ground water.  Anyway, we won't run out of water.  It can't happen.

I remain unconvinced.  I have just enough water science in my training to understand how hydrostatic pressure works.  Sure, they might not be irrigating right from the river, but they've pulled so much water out of the underground features that there isn't anything left to go downstream. The farmers poo-poo me and my scientifical leanings.  After all, I'm not a farmer.  What could I know about it?

A little, maybe.

I know that water rights have been a bone of contention since the American Frontier got out to these parts.  I know that water, or the lack thereof, was a prime mover in the Dust Bowl years.  I know that the Dust Bowl is the reason for all the trees in the windbreaks in the Great Plains. 

I also know, because I'm seeing it with my own eyes, that those windbreaks are slowly being dismantled.  Every summer a few more trees are torn out to make room for another half an acre of corn or soybeans.  Every year, another windbreak is taken out.

This is also frightening to me.  I've read the accounts of the people who lived through the dust storms.  About how they couldn't keep it out of the house no matter how many rags they stuffed in the cracks.  I read about how when the wind finally stopped blowing and they were able to pry their doors open and shove aside the mounds of sand and dust, the farmers found their livestock suffocated, choked to death on dust, in what was left of their fields.

It's frightening to me because once this very summer a dust storm blew through our little town.  We went into the house and turned on the scanner in time to hear the local cops making comments on the 'huge wall of dust' that just came through and how creepy it was coming up out of nowhere all of a sudden like that.

It puts a knot in my throat and a stone of fear in the pit of my stomach.  We have made so many dreadful mistakes.  We have much to atone for.  We have much work to do.  How can we just stand by and let people forget the lessons that history has taught us? 

Can this be fixed?  Or will that hard rain fall after all?






Friday, August 17, 2012

Garden Update 17 August 2012

Wow.  It's been a couple weeks.  Things have been busy at the homestead lately.  Here are the latest garden happenings:

We finally have some peppers setting fruit.  These are a couple of tiny peppers that will eventually turn into this:
I found this beautiful orange pepper hiding behind the swiss chard when I decided to pull out the greens and get them in the freezer.  Those greens were beautiful!  Even with all the harvesting for fresh eating, I wound up with 12 portions of swiss chard in the freezer for wintry stir fry dinners.

There were a few random beets left in there also.  So pretty and so tasty.  I grew Bull's Blood beets and they are so sweet and wonderful.  My husband ate them and actually asked for more.  Win!

Speaking of beautiful things...the eggplant has gone barking mad and has become super productive since the temperatures cooled down about a week ago.  I have so many eggplants, I just don't know what to do.  Fortunately, I hear my boss likes eggplant.  So I may have some brownie point material here.

The cucumbers have been producing like crazy.  I've put up a couple jars of 'Sun Dillies' and they just keep on coming.  They don't look all that good in this picture.  I think there is a fungus amongus.  But it doesn't seem to be affecting the fruits or the fruit set.  I'm almost tired of cucumbers.  Almost.

Here is my last pic of the day.  These little fellas are Tennessee Spinner Gourds.  They only get about 2 to 2 1/2 inches long and they are the cutest little things.  I planted four different kinds of gourds.  Two types actually germinated and only the spinners are producing.  But, I think I might be on the verge of actually getting luffa flowers.  There were a few male flowers today and a couple of female flowers that looked like they might be considering a courtship.  Time will tell.  I will report with pics if they have a successful rendevous.

Unfortunately, it didn't occur to me to take pics until it was far too late.  I harvested about 50 jalapenos today.  As an experiment, I sliced them all up and put them in a 50:50 vinegar:water solution with some kosher salt and I have the jars sitting out back on the concrete paver with the Sun Dillies.  No, I didn't put dill in the pepper jars.  I'm hoping they make nice pickeled jalapenos and I don't have to process them with a water bath canner.

Lastly, I have some pole beans getting close to being of a size to harvest.  Not many just yet.  But I'm hopeful.  There sure are a lot of flowers out there.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Going Solo

For most of my life, I have preferred to go it alone.  An introvert by nature, my instincts lead me through a life where the only person on whom I must depend is myself.  That is what makes this story so disconcerting for me.

About 20-odd years ago, I started practicing yoga in my living room with a video tape.  For a number of years, I was content to practice along with the lady on the TV screen.  Over time, I mastered what I thought was the 'routine' of yoga through her instructional videos.  I thought it was pretty cool.

Then one day I happened to catch a TV program about yoga and my eyes were opened to the possibilities.  I always knew there were classes out there with impossibly thin and limber young women coercing others into pretzel-like shapes with calm aplomb.  I knew that the attendees would wear either long-sleeved leotards or organic cotton/bamboo blend yoga capris with hand-embroidered lotus flowers on the backs of the calves.  Tres chic.  And so NOT me.

What I didn't know is that a real yoga class is made up of real people wearing sweatpants and t-shirts and yes, the occasional yoga top and/or capris.  Real people with tight hamstrings and sweatpants and bandanas who actually started to sweat when they got into it. Real yoga classes had chanting and breathing and actual meditation.  Meditation?  For real? I had no idea these things happened anywhere near where I lived. I thought they were all out in California or on some mountaintop somewhere where people had nothing but time to intone aum and contemplate the tip of their noses.

I happened across a studio one day while visiting our local farmer's market. So, throwing caution to the wind, I tried a class. I was immediately hooked. Soon I found myself entangled and finally almost 2 years later nearly suffocated with it. After a less than stellar exit from the studio following my final class there, I promised myself I would never do that to myself again. I would never let myself fall into that same 'joiner' trap.

But of course I did. That's another blog with a similar ending that I haven't had the courage to write yet.

This blog is about going solo as the name implies. And I am getting to the point.

I had just had a falling out with the woman who I saw as my primary teacher over, of all things, my desire to learn to teach. I loved her. I would have done anything for her. Then she cut me. Deep.

I pushed everything about it away. I pushed my practice away. I shoved my desire so far down it was impossible to see or even feel anymore. For several years. I told myself that there was no point in even trying. I stopped practicing. I packed away my yoga books and equipment. I got on with my life.

Then, I ran into a friend from that studio on facebook. She's teaching yoga and ayurveda in Iowa these days but she comes to town on occasion to teach. Meeting with her re-ignited that old flame in my heart. As time goes by, the flame glows brighter and I feel drawn back to my practice.

Then, of course as it always happens, reality smacks me in the ass and I have to stop and think. I realize that I can't go back where I was and the logistics of finding and attending a new studio are complex with my current lifestyle. So, naturally, I did the only thing I could possibly do in that situation.

I gave up. If I can't go to a real class with a real teacher and be a part of something 'real,' why bother?  Well, I'll tell you why.

A couple days ago I read a blog post on elephantjournal.com about practicing at home. The author was talking about the fact that, as a teacher, she encourages her students to develop their own home practice. After all, yoga is about only one person, isn't it? It's about developing yourself. It's about...okay this is out there. It's about finding yourself and then being okay with what you find.  Very new age of me, huh?

So I put away the DVDs that I didn't want to do and turned off the computer and rolled out my mat.  With Deva Premal wafting from my boom box, I sat on my mat and started. I had no game plan. I had no idea where I was going with this practice. I was just going to go. I had my blocks and my strap and a brand new purple bolster. It was shakey, treacherous ground for me the woman who requires a list and a plan for everything.

Aaaaaaaannnnnnd GO!

It was magical. I spent 45 minutes twisting myself into my own little pretzel designs stiff though they were. As I came out of savasana, I had to stifle a laugh. What the hell had I been thinking? It still makes me smile.

So that's it. That's what going solo is all about. It's about knowing something about myself, then forgetting it only to have karma come back around and remind me of the fact that I am, by nature, a loner. How in the world could I let that slip my mind?

Thanks to Lisa Munger  and her blog From the Ground Up for lighting that flame in my heart again. I owe you one, aum girl.

Namaste.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Saying Good-bye

I am always surprised when it happens. I am always surprised when I have to say good-bye to someone and it does not come easily. Even when I know it's a good thing.

Yesterday was a friend's last day at work. He and his family are re-locating to Oklahoma. He found a fantastic job that will let him stretch his abilities and grow in his career and I hope he will be happy and really come into his own there.  I am very happy and excited for him and his family. What an adventure they are embarking upon!

He and I worked together for 14 years.  That's a pretty long time in this industry. Add to that the fact that he taught me the basic job that I do every day at my desk and in the lab at my bench. Every single day, I use the skills that he taught me when I was a novice chemist. When we said good-bye yesterday afternoon, after his going away speech and after everyone wished him well, we shared a friendly hug and when we parted and smiled at each other, I could see the tears I felt stinging in my eyes reflected in his. If I'm not careful, they'll come back again today with a vengeance.

The only things he and I have in common is our profession, the enjoyment of a good belly-laugh, and our passion for living life to the fullest possible extent. All the details are different for us. Still. I find myself missing him the way you miss a favorite, comfortable chair when it finally gives up the ghost and you have to discard it.  It's not something you want to do. Something...someone...familiar is gone and although I know he's only an email away should I choose to write one, it's just not the same.

I feel sad. I am attached to things the way they were and now they've changed. Recently, I've come to learn that being attached to things...even to people...is the source of much of the pain in life. I've made an effort to loosen my grip on some of my personal attachments with varying degrees of success. I am, after all, a work in progress. Part of my process of letting go is just allowing myself to sit with the attachment and feel whatever emotions that attachment evokes in the current situation. Last night, as I sat on my yoga mat in the darkness of my room, I let the twinges from this separation twang at my heart and I reminded myself that all is as it should be.

In an effort to wrest myself free of this particular attachment, I would like to share something that has always been special to me. My favorite teacher in high school (Hi Mrs. Caleca, wherever you are!) sent me on my way in life on my graduation day with this blessing. Even though I know he likely will never see this and I am not a religious person, he is a Christian man and I know this would be something that he would like. I did not get an opportunity to share this with him yesterday.

So here goes.

Ahem.

For my friend, Matthew:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

So long, Matthew. Godspeed.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Waiting for the Peppers

The plants are beautiful.  I planted several different types of peppers this season:

Jalapenos because they are my favorite peppers with heat.  Habaneros are too hot and I don't enjoy the flavor.

Bell peppers in three varieties.  California Wonder, Chocolate Bell and an orange variety whose name I've forgotten.

Pimento peppers are my favorite of the sweet bell type.  They have a lovely pointy shape and are heavy walled with few seeds.

Red hot chilis.  I enjoy growing them because they are easy to manage, prolific and drying them is a cinch.  They turn my winter time stir fry suppers into something wonderful.

So far, I've not harvested a single pepper other than a few little bitty chilis.  There are a couple jalapenos on the plants and I've seen one little bell that will probably be orange if it gets to maturity.  It has been frustrating me a bit.

I did a little digging around online and I discovered that not too many people are doing very well with their peppers this summer.  The super-heated summer we've been 'enjoying' in the Midwest is notorious for inhibiting bell pepper fruit set.  So we get lots of flowers but zero peppers.

Darn.

Those that are doing well with their peppers are doing so with heroic efforts. Providing shade and cooling water spray for the plants during the hot parts of the day can improve yields.  Unfortunately, this sort of intensive pepper care is beyond the scope of my current capabilities.

Darn.

The good news is that all is not yet lost for this year.  As the summer draws to a close and the weather starts to cool, the peppers will wake back up and begin to set more fruit.  I remain hopeful that Mother Nature will cool things down again.

I'll be ready and waiting.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Garden Update 22 July 2012

It's been about a week since my last photo dump from the garden.  So here we go again.

A couple days after I discovered the squash vine borers, I decided I had nothing to lose but seeds.  So I poked some more squash seeds into the pot with the surviving squash plants.  Yes, I know the older plants look puny and I have no idea why.  Every other year I have grown squash they virtually took over the entire yard.  This year, not so much.  Maybe it's the pot.  Maybe they need fertilizer.  Maybe they're just puny squashes.  I don't know.  But as you can see in the photo, the new planting is coming up nicely and in record time!  The first set of seeds took almost 2 weeks to emerge from the soil.  This planting was up in 4 days. That's got to be some kind of record.

The Roma tomatoes are finally growing and flowering. No fruits yet, but there's still time.  These were really a last-minute, impulse purchase at a big box store that shall remain nameless. I was pretty happy to see these little flowers open up the other day. 


Remember this little guy?  Yes!  That's the first eggplant I ever grew from seed.  It's still hanging in there and has about doubled in size since the last time we looked at it.  I have not figure out yet when that variety of eggplant is ready to harvest.  The other eggplant, my second ever grown from seed (I promise I'll stop saying that bit about growing it from seed...someday), is about the size of my hand.  I read online that when they get to be about the size of your hand and have a shiny surface, they're ready to pick.  This little purple fella is going to be made into a hummus-like dip this weekend.  I will report the recipe and the results as soon as I get there.

 

Speaking of eggplants...I discovered this little, odd-looking eggplant last night as well.  The variety is almost certainly an Asian type but I haven't located the seed packet yet to determine the specific variety so I'll have to report back later.  It's certainly pretty.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

AAAUUUGGGHHHH! Blog Episode One: The Squash Vine Borer

I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. This gardening season was going very nicely. No major problems except for the odd little weevils that attacked, skeletonized and destroyed the mustard greens in my mesclun salad mix. It was ONLY the mustard greens. Apparently, we have very discriminating weevils in Nebraska. Who knew?

I dislike the mustard greens anyway, so no biggie to me.

But this. This is unacceptable.

I stepped out to the garden to water the plants in pots and examine the tomatoes for peak ripeness. That's when I noticed the squash plants didn't look right. By 'right' I mean they didn't look green and upright. In fact, they looked downright yellow and wilty.

So I grabbed the hose and, as I started watering, wondered how on earth I could have missed them yesterday. Upon closer examination, the truth was revealed: tiny, itty, bitty little sawdust-y holes at the base of some of the vines.

Squash vine borers! AAAUUUGGHHHH! I almost choked on my gum.

After a few moments of impolite comment, I reluctantly pulled out the vines that looked the worst and examined the remaining plants for holes. Not all of the vines were affected and, after some research, I concluded that they must be the butternut squashes I planted. Butternuts, for some reason, seem to be less affected by the borers. I'm still working on my seedling labeling skills so I'm not really sure which varieties are still alive.

Here's what I learned about the borers today: Squash vine borers overwinter in the ground as pupae and emerge in the summertime as adult, clearwing moths whereupon they set out in search of a likely looking squash plant on which to mate and lay eggs. When the eggs hatch, the little larva bore into the vines and take up residence inside the stem blocking the flow of water and nutrients to the plant which eventually dies. Once the larva matures, it digs down into the ground to pupate so it can emerge next year to ruin someone else's squash plants.

Lovely.

Organic controls of the squash vine borer are aimed more or less at prevention rather than destruction. Basically, the idea is to exclude the adult moths from your baby vines. This is best accomplished by learning to identify the adult moths and then, once you spy them buzzing around, using floating row covers or another mesh type barrier with tiny holes to keep the adults from laying their eggs on your plants. The eggs are most likely to be laid during the second half of June or so in my neck of the woods so putting up the covers for a few weeks during June and July should do the trick.

If you really want to try to save the affected plants you have, there is one thing you can try. Sterilize a sharp knife and use it to slit the stem of the affected vine upward starting at the point where the larva bored into the stem. When you locate the larva (or larvae), stab the heck out of it/them with the knife. Then carefully reposition the vine and bury the cut portion in the garden with dirt and keep it moist. With luck, the vine will put down more roots where it is buried and the plant may live. Then again, you might wind up with a dead squash plant buried neck deep in your garden.

Fortunately for you and me, the borers only have the one generation every year. So, chances are they have probably done the damage they were going to do already. It's going to be close, but I think I can set out another planting of seed and maybe get a few squashes before winter sets in. The seed packets all say 95-105 days to maturity and I have right about that many days until first average frost. I have nothing to lose but the rest of my squash seeds, right?

At least next year, I'll be ready for them. The little...darlings!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Why this place?

Most people you could talk to where I work would probably agree that I'm a bit of a nut job. It doesn't bother me much. I've been called worse.

You see, I live in a small, quiet town in the middle of Nebraska roughly 80 miles from my place of employment. It's not quite the middle of nowhere, but you can see it from here. My little town is a 'farming community' which doesn't exactly mean what might be inferred.

It used to be that a farming community was a town where family farmers could go to do their banking and buy tractor parts or seed. A farming community was where they kept the bar and the post office and possibly the sheriff's office if you were lucky enough to be at the county seat.

Most of that stuff is still here, but some of the soul has gone out of the place. A lot of the store fronts downtown are empty. Many of them have fallen into disrepair and some are possibly beyond repair without a big injection of cash. 
There isn't much of that around here anymore either.

Personally? I blame many things for the slow and painful decline of this little town.Generally speaking, many of the kids in these small towns are chomping at the bit to get out as soon as humanly possible. Very few of them have any intention or desire to take over where their father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and in some cases, great-great grandfather left off. No, mostly they stick around long enough to graduate high school and head off to the big city to college or whatever else their life holds in store.

Farm economy and government intervention has done little to help the family farm even exist much less thrive. The arrival of corporate farms in the 80's certainly didn't help much. Many folks got out of farming either willingly or by force. Those were dark times indeed.

No. Things are definitely not what they were when my grandfather farmed his land on the edge of town. But I digress.

With all of that in mind, my husband and I moved from the city to this rural space about 6 years ago. A lifelong city kid, my husband longed to live in the country. He dreamt of a farm for the two of us to live out our lives together. A place where the kids and grand kids could come and enjoy the peace and quiet.

A little slice of heaven, as it were.

That's where the 'nutjob' part comes in. Why in heaven's name would someone with a good job in the city move lock, stock and tea kettle out to the boonies? Why would she move so far away that her commute takes three hours out of every work day? I actually had a couple of reasons.

First of all is family. My Dad grew up here and lives in the next town over. There are dozens of people here who knew him, went to school with him, knew my grandparents, and knew my Dad's seven siblings. There are generations of my kin buried in the local cemetary. Living in a place like this gives one a sense of history. It gives me a feel for my roots. It makes me wonder if that's what it's like living in another country with a longer history than this one has. A sense of place is, I think, necessary for good mental health.

Secondly, I grew up in a small town that is actually a bit bigger than this one.  After 30 years in the city, I had had enough of the hustle and bustle and constant noise of living in a densely populated area. The car alarms, the traffic and the thousands of people rushing about at all hours are nerve-wracking. The hoodlums (yes, I said HOODLUMS) vandalizing and stealing whatever they can at all hours of the day or night in front of God and everybody instilled a constant thread of fear in me. The nightly news consistently filled me with dread. The city went from a place where I felt relatively safe on my own when I first moved there to a place where I wouldn't walk alone after dark. It became a constant source of stress, a place of little sleep and a place of zero sanity. I spent the last few years making sure to lock myself inside my house for fear of home invasion. I remember one particular night standing stock still and terrified in my bedroom closet listening to what sounded like gunfire outside my home and my husband stood near the front door with his deer rifle peering out into the night.

Enough already.

Here there is peace. Here there is room to stretch out your legs on the porch and sip tea in the evening. Here, I can walk the 5 blocks to the grocery store after dark and not worry about being accosted or even if I left the garage door open. Here, even if they don't personally know who you are, everyone waves as you walk or drive past. Here was my chance to live my own dream and possibly create the foundation of my next career...a retirement gig of sorts.

This is where I find myself at mid life wondering what's next. I'm still figuring that part out but I am fairly certain there will be chickens involved.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Weekends

If you need me, I'll be in the garden.
Ah! The Weekend.  I see it in my head that way with capitol letters.

It's pretty glorious: Two whole days of not driving for 3 hours a day and not spending 8.5 hours struggling and raging against the machine. My garden beckons and my dogs pounce and bounce with delight when, on Saturday morning, I emerge from my bedroom and dig out a couple scoops of dog chow and start the coffee pot with my current favorite weekend brew.

Of course, there are the usual chores and all those things I have to do to keep things moving as smoothly as possible.  It is really nice to have a couple days that I am not expected anywhere in particular nor do I have to complete anything under a deadline.  The time is more or less all mine and that in itself is relaxing.


But for me, the real quality time happens in the evenings on the weekends.  The pretty much self-imposed demands of the day have been met...or ignored and I'm free to enjoy some time just enjoying my life.

The picture above is the garden we started building this spring as it looks in the early evening hours this time of year.  This garden space along with the covered patio you can't really see in the picture takes up about one third of the space in what serves as our back yard. The neighbor's house and tree gives us some much-welcomed shade along about five or six o'clock We were a little worried that there wouldn't be enough sun to grow tomatoes.

As if.  Apparently there was no cause for alarm as we have tons of little green tomatoes coming on.  I know I keep mentioning the little green tomatoes but I can't help it.  Last fall was a long time ago.

The shed in the back was there when we bought the house. The little herb garden that you can almost see in the upper left area was put in last year as an experiment.  But everything else is new this year. I am ecstatic about these developments and have so many more things planned for the next few years. This year, we're hoping to get a couple more beds put in and some more fence work done.

Oops! Time for my Saturday afternoon lounge around the garden.  I'd better get my iced tea and head out!  I'm taking my tomato basket just in case.

Have a good one!