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.


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.


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.