Last Year, This Year

Another year begins. I can hardly believe that three hundred sixty-five days have passed. In some ways nothing has changed; in other ways everything has changed. 

Last year I had a sixteen year-old car that I was hoping and praying would make it through one more winter, which it did, and then some. This year, I drive a new car. Oh my, how things have changed. What were expensive upgrades back then are standard features today. It didn’t take long for my sentimental nostalgia over 220,000 miles shared with the old blue lady to pass.

Last year we had already suffered several major snow storms by this time. This year, only the first major storm is pending arrival, and I have been able to get out for walks because the sidewalks have been clear and dry. 

A year ago today, with every good intention, I re-joined the YMCA and started attending Aqua Zumba clsses and even swam laps and beat myself up on the cross-trainer a few times. This year, no renewal. I know better. School takes too much time for making the dues for the Y worth their pennies. Next year there will be no school because I will have graduated. Maybe I’ll join the Y again, but maybe I’ll just walk more.

Last year I was worried about money. This year I’m still worried even though the thin cushion is a little less thin. Last year and this year I know I’m not alone in this. Some things never change. We are never alone in our worry even though worry is one of the most isolating feelings a person can experience. 

Last year JT and KC were half-way through graduate school. This year they are almost done. And soon to be married. Maybe they will be living elsewhere next year at this time, and I don’t just mean out of the house; I mean another state. Or maybe just down the road for a while. I guess we’ll have to see. Next year at this time they will have entered the work force. 

Last year I hadn’t gone for a mammogram. This year I await a six-month’s follow-up to a diagnostic mammogram I had in September, “just to be sure”. Last year I was still denying and dodging my first encounter with a colonoscopy. This year, I’m ever grateful that a pre-cancerous polyp was efficiently and deftly removed by the doctor during the procedure.

Last year the garden was a mess. This year I am perusing the seed catalogs again, hope renewed by fresh cold air and knowing that spring is around the corner. 

This year I’m napping less but wish I could be napping more. Last year I napped more and felt guilty for napping so much. 

I still eat meat, but less of it, and more of it is chicken and fish rather than beef and pork. I still like butter. That won’t change. Last year I had twenty quarts of home-canned tomatoes on the pantry shelf. This year? None. The garden was a mess. I repeat that statement because it’s the first time in thirty-three years that I have felt like a failure as a caretaker of the good rich earth that fills our raised beds. Do we at all understand how important it is to acknowledge where our food comes from and respect the beautiful green and blue earth that feeds us? We don’t manufacture our food. It is grown and raised. 

Last year I was a happy servant to a beautiful female cat who had been my benevolent furry royal highness for nearly fifteen years. This year I realize just how allergic we had all been to our feline friend and realize that my life as a pet owner is probably over. 

Last year on this day the sun rose and set at about the same time, so that didn’t change, but it seems that just about everything in between did. 

Some other things haven’t changed. Light dispels darkness. Kindness trumps selfishness. Love wins every round, every game, every time. 








My Hands Smell like Thanksgiving

I have not just stuffed a turkey, nor is there any company expected to join us for an extravagant meal.

I have been working in the yard off and on this weekend, enjoying the warmth of sun on my back and the heat of muscles being put to use.  Tired muscles and sunshine make for a good night’s sleep.

There is still a LOT of work to do in our half-acre suburban yard, but this weekend I decided to clean out the herb garden while TT transplanted the cucumbers and tomatoes and move them from the front porch to the greenhouse in the back yard.  He also painted the trim around the six new windows we installed just before the hard winter weather hit.  And he fed the bees.

I love to clear out the herb garden in the spring, and yesterday when I uncovered the spot where the chives grow and found them sprouting, I decided while chewing on a short stalk of succulent oniony goodness that this would be my opportunity to indulge in the uncovering of awakening dirt, pruning out of dead stalks, raking out leaves, and delighting in each little discovery of green sprouts.

The oregano always surprises me with how much it has spread.  The two little plants I put in the ground 22 years ago have grown into each other, and come June it will be a fragrant mound of delicate leaves and flowers nearly four feet across and two feet tall.  A regular oregano bush.  When I first tried cooking with fresh oregano I decided that I prefer dried oregano for the stronger flavor and aroma and rarely use fresh except to toss in a salad or as a garnish, but I left the plants in the garden because they are pretty, and it smells wonderful when I run my hands through the tender branches, and now that we have bees, the tiny blossoms are a source of nectar for them.

The sage is my favorite. Once it has matured, it can become quite woody, so every year, I have to go and prune out the dead branches, but it never loses all of its leaves, so as I work on it, my senses are filled with the heavenly aroma reminiscent of Thanksgiving, and it reminds me that indeed, simply by virtue of the fact that I am out in the sunshine working in the earth, I have much to be thankful for.  Sage leaves are long, textured, silvery, and supple, and like oregano, in June it blossoms.  The blossoms, spiky and purple, are also good a source of pollen for the bees.

The horseradish is just beginning to sprout, and quite honestly I have done my best to be rid of it.  I really like horseradish as a condiment, but when I planted it, I had no idea that it was so invasive, so every year I spend quite a bit of energy digging, ripping, and cursing in close proximity to the horseradish roots.  It just laughs at me and tells me it will be back next year, which it is, always in a surprisingly distant location from where I had so diligently labored the previous year.

As I rounded the corner and started to clean out around the blueberry bushes, I caught several whiffs of mint, but neither the spearmint nor the black peppermint have sprouted enough to show above ground yet, but I caught something underneath, and it let me know it would soon be showing itself.  Mint is another invasive herb, but it is easy to uproot, not anchored like the horseradish, and it’s response to being uprooted is generally agreeable and without malice.

I love to add freshly picked mint to taboule when I make it with my own tomatoes, and I find it very agreeable in small amounts when added to my herb mix for roasting potatoes.  And of course, mint tea is always a cooling relief on a hot summer’s day.

The garlic is planted in one of our vegetable beds, and I was pleased to see that it has survived the winter and has sprouted.  Garlic is planted in the fall, it winters over, and we pull the bulbs at the end of the following summer, hang them in a braid, and if all goes well, I won’t have to start buying fresh garlic until late spring.  Last year was not such a year, however, so I am especially hoping that this year will be a better one.

Finding that the thyme I had planted last summer had survived the winter was especially gratifying.  The thyme was a gift from an innkeeper turned friend by the name of Bobbie Farrell.  Bobbie and her husband, David Farrell, both retired college professors from the Cleveland area, own a bed and breakfast inn called The Green Man, about 9 miles south of Wooster, Ohio, where JT went to college. Quite independently of each other, on what we knew would be our last trip out, we each had gifts of plants for each other so that we could always have a fond remembrance of our visits, which were much more than just visits.  On that last trip, David was recovering from a heart attack and we were the first visitors since the event in April, and so TT spent some time mowing their lawn for them, which made David uncomfortable, but I know he appreciated it.

I dunno, to my sensibilities anyway, gardening is so much more than food production.  For me, it has become an approach to living, one that is honest, vulnerable, and clean in spirit.  It means that every meal is a celebration of life and worth a moment of thanks, not just for the food, but for the times when sharing the planet with someone can be a fragrant memory.

Civic Minded Gardening?

It’s just about time to prune the butterfly bushes.

I have a friend who is a master gardener. She would probably call them Buddleia Davidii. She’s amazing. A walking, talking gardening encyclopedia.  She knows the Latin names and growth cultures for scores of different plants and shrubs.  Her gardens are diverse, fragrant, and lovely.  She is also the president of our local garden club, and she is actively involved in beautification projects around town. Her civic minded approach to her gardening skills is enhanced by the fact she does not have to be involved in raising income for her family.  And our city benefits from her ministrations.   She encouraged me for quite some time to join the garden club, but I work full time, which leaves me with few precious hours to care for my own gardens, and the mid-day meetings are quite out of reach for me.

Anyway, I call the Buddleia Davidii by their common name, butterfly bush; which are so named because they are known to attract butterflies (fancy that!). I enjoy them because of their dramatic growth every year.  In the early spring they need to be pruned back to about 18-24”, so for about 8 weeks after pruning they look like lifeless remnants of a neglected garden plot. Then, before you know it, they start to sprout leaves and grow, slowly at first, but once they hit their pace, it is easy to see almost daily changes in these bushes, so that by the time late June rolls around, those odd looking clumps of wood are nearly 8 feet tall and almost as wide, fully leafed out and starting to bud up.  They are fairly late to blossom in my neck of the woods, which makes their purple addition to the garden especially appreciated after the wild rumpus of colors and textures of early June has subsided.

My next-door neighbor used to enjoy the butterfly bushes as well, before she moved west, but for a different reason.  As it turns out my butterfly bushes attract dragonflies.  One afternoon I was out pulling weeds or complimenting my flowers on their colorful costumes, or some other important task, and she wandered over to tell me that in late afternoon dozens and dozens of dragonflies will come around and feast on the dark lavender blossoms of my bushes.  She enjoyed watching them so much, she made a date with herself to watch the dragonflies in my garden a couple of afternoons a week while enjoying a glass of iced tea.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was very pleased to learn about the dragonflies, and I am also happy that my neighbor was fortunate enough to be able to meander freely throughout her yard (and mine??) on a weekday afternoon, but deep inside, way behind the cheerful smile and the heartened response, I was jealous, hurt even.  It felt remotely like it did the day I went to pick up JT at the child care center after a long day’s work, only to learn that she had taken her first steps, and it was not my eyes, my face, and my arms she was trusting on that initial risky business called walking.  I’ll always wish that JT could have waited until after work to walk for the first time, but that night she also took her first steps with me, and we have been traveling companions and celebrating each other ever since.

And I’m OK with the dragonflies too.  It seems I had been civic minded all along, without even knowing it, just by being a gardener.

Houston, We Have Cucumber and Tomato Plants Growing on the Porch

Can’t wait to see this month’s electricity bill, but ah, forget the cost of keeping these little babies warm and bathed in the artificial sun of grow lights – if all goes well, we’ll be eating our first homegrown cucumber of the season sometime in April and maybe, just maybe, our first homegrown tomato of the season on Memorial Day.

This race to the first vegetable started innocently enough, I thought, but I didn’t realize just how strong the competitive streaks ran in my mother-in-law and her son.  Willine and my father-in-law, Al, were not just gardeners; they were subsistence farmers in southern Maine, and they raised all of their own vegetables for their family of nine, and they raised their own beef, had cows for milk and sometimes would have chickens for eggs.  Strawberries, corn, and cucumbers were cash crops which they sold to the local grocery store, to a pickling company in Oxford, Maine, and from their front yard. The money was used to buy school shoes, clothes and other necessities in the fall.  37 acres and some hard labor can produce a lot of food.

And Willine did not like it one bit that our growing season was two weeks ahead of hers, which she realized the first summer we were married and we were comparing notes on how our gardens were coming along.  Within a couple of years, she was after Al to build a greenhouse off her kitchen, and the race was on.  Year after year, Terry would make sure his parents knew when we had pulled the first radish, eaten the first spinach, or lettuce, or whatever he had managed to pull out of the ground early that year (the asparagus was a favorite “first” because, well, it was a favorite to eat), and he would always be satisfied with a mournful cry from his mother when she knew she had lost the race again.  I must state here, however, that a race was never officially declared, but there was no denying it, either.

Now that Al and Willine have both departed the fun of friendly gardening competition has passed with it, but we do both like defying the winter by having a taste of spring before the snow season is officially over.