Wild in the Garden, Garden in the Wild

Wild in the Garden, Garden in the Wild

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The backside of the garden has gone a bit feral on me this summer. Actually, the whole veggie garden is pretty feral — there’s way too much grass, and weeds, and because I’ve been experimenting with broadcast sowing, things are just coming up where they will, or not. Domenica Marchetti, of the new book Preserving Italy (blog posts to come), has been using the hashtag #gardenofneglect, and that’s kind of how I feel about mine this summer.

Or do I? Is it neglect, or have I finally gotten the garden to where it pretty much does what I want it to, without a whole lot of work? A couple of years ago I read Masanobu Fukuoka‘s book The One Straw Revolution. Fukuoka turned me definitively away from row planting, and although I’m not nearly as observant as I should be about what will sprout when, and how to plant vegetable crops so that they’ll shade out the weeds (will anything shade out my Bermuda grass?), the book did turn me toward a richer, messier mode of gardening, and one that also somehow broke through my notion that flowers don’t belong in the veggie garden.

A couple of years into the most-casual adoption of the Fukuoka “method” — one I think of as “throw out the seeds and see if they take” and “plant stuff that will reseed by itself” — I have a wild and messy garden, but one that produces greens in abundance, the beans are doing great this year, the tomatoes are a little slow, but this is also the first year I haven’t started my own, and the identification sticks got lost, so I’m not even sure what’s out there. But I’m starting to get Yellow Pear cherry tomatoes, and two different red ones — one a tiny bright red, and another that’s over on the purpler end of the spectrum, and I seem to have planted at least one beefstake — which is unusual for me. Our season’s so short, I don’t usually bother. The flowers are also doing great — I have a big Monarda that came back from last year, and finally got a Gaillardia to take root. I have a couple of echineacea’s that I’m babying along in the veggie garden before transplanting them into the flower beds (which I don’t water as much as I should do, hence they need to be big enough to survive). The borage has gone to town, and is self-seeding all over the place, and I have the wall of sunflower and cosmo and hollyhocks that I envisioned in the long bed along the fence.

It’s a messy garden, but I think it’s the garden I’ve been intending to grow all along. I look out back and it just says abundance and color and food and joy. Which is what I wanted. A feral garden on the edge of miles and miles of wild country.

When the Fruit Comes to Town, We Make Jam

When the Fruit Comes to Town, We Make Jam

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I’ve been waiting and waiting for “the Utah Fruit Guys”  to come to town, and Wednesday evening, there they were at the Farmer’s Market. I did my graduate work at UC Davis, and the University of Utah, both of which are located in the midst of serious orchard country — and it ruined me for grocery-store stone fruit. So I wait. Every year, I wait and wait for the Utah guys, or sometimes we really luck out and get a truckload up from Colorado’s western slope — but we wait for real fruit.

And then we make jam. I was out of raspberry jam so I was thrilled to find beautiful flats at the market on Wednesday. In general, I don’t really believe in buying fruit to make jam — for me, it’s always been about being creative, and using up the excess from my yard, but I make a runny raspberry jam that I particularly like, and I was out of it, and so I spent what seemed to me a small fortune on a flat of nice raspberries.

So here’s the the other thing about the fruit coming to town, raspberries don’t last. It was Wednesday, right in the middle of the week, and the job-I-haven’t-quite-stopped-working-at-yet has been really busy. So I washed and weighed the raspberries (after a gentle spin in the salad spinner), and put them in a container with about 1/3 the sugar I was planning to use for jam. I like a runny jam, one that can be used as a topping for ice cream, or as a filling for cake, so I use 3/4 of the weight of the fruit instead of a 1:1 ratio. I gently shook the sugar into the fruit, and left it to macerate overnight — it’s a trick I picked up from Marisa McClellan at Food in Jars. It bought me some time, since I didn’t want to refrigerate the fruit, which spoils the flavor, but raspberries will go moldy in a flat second so I didn’t want to leave them out overnight.

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It wasn’t until late the following afternoon that I had a free minute to cook them up, and as it was my first batch of jam for the year, I had to give my Beautiful French Jam Pot a little scrub, as well as wash up a flat of brand-new half-pint wide-mouth jars. I threw the jars in the oven at 225 to sterilize, added the rest of the sugar to the berries, and set them over a low flame to start cooking down. A couple of podcasts later, the fruit had gone shiny and thick, and it was ready to jar up.

Here’s the thing about making stuff, when you’ve been doing it a while, it’s not such a big deal. You get better at it. I’m still amazed when I run into people who think it’s magic, this ordinary preservation of delicious ingredients in season. I put up 11 half-pints and one leftover pint (in the fridge) during an afternoon when I was also fielding emails, and handing off files, and it wasn’t a big deal. Except for the waiting part, the waiting for good fruit.

Ever since we lost our cherry trees two years ago, I’ve got one eye cocked for the End of Fruit. For years I took that grove of cherry trees down the block for granted, and even after the guys who owned the lot built a big building there, they told me of course I could still pick cherries, and that no, of COURSE they weren’t going to bulldoze that grove, their mother would kill them if they messed with her pie cherries. And then we had a killing frost — it went from 65F to -10F in less than 12 hours, and we didn’t know it until spring, but it killed every cherry tree in town. My beloved grove is gone, and I’m hoarding my last few jars of precious sour cherries. I know the East Coast lost their peach crop this year, and when it seemed our Fruit Guys were late, I started googling to see if there was any problem with the Colorado and Utah crops. Perhaps it’s the other reason I can, to preserve what we have, to shore up our stores against an uncertain future. At any rate, I’ve got enough raspberry jam for a year, and more peaches than I can eat fresh this week, so there will be more noodling around with fruit.

 

Theory of Minor Demons

Theory of Minor Demons

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Himself has a theory about minor demons — minor demons are what beset you when you are unduly annoyed by other people, usually other people who are just going about being the other people that they are, without any intention of bothering anyone.

The first time we encountered minor demons was years ago, when we were hiking in the Columbia Gorge on a trip to Portland, and we Could Not Get Away from these two chattery teenage girls on the trail. We’d hustle to get ahead and get some space between us, and they’d pick up their pace. We’d drop behind to let them get ahead, and they’d stop at a fork in the trail, chatting innocuously, but loudly, and loitering until we’d caught up with them again. Then they’d fall in, right behind us, chattering. On a trail. In the woods. Where we’d hiked to have a little peace and quiet. Could not shake them.

Minor Demons, Himself said after we finally managed to escape them, just as we re-entered the crowded trail from the waterfall, when it was too late and it didn’t matter anymore.

I had a week of Minor Demons. There have been too many people here in town — there was a big free concert on Main Street, a huge success, ten thousand people packed into three blocks having a great time and spending money in local businesses. I’m two blocks away, so starting mid-afternoon, my street filled up, there were crowds heading over, there were just people hanging around. It was fine, I told myself. People like this kind of thing. Its good for the town. And it was. I was on a deadline, and had to work, but people were happy, they liked it, they danced and sang along and had a great time.

But then, three days later, the PBR Bull Riding at the Rodeo Grounds across from Himself’s house. It was raining. I was still on a deadline and was working. I left here late and went over to his house and there was not a parking spot for blocks. It was raining, and I was tired, and I’d been working two jobs all day and I was Just Over It. Plus, there was loudspeaker announcing in that Gee-Shucks rodeo voice that is so annoying, and did I mention, even in my tiny new car, there was no where to park for blocks?

I came storming into Himself’s house In A State.

Minor Demons, he reminded me.

I hate crowds. It’s one reason I moved to Montana. There’s fewer than a million people in a state the size of most of the northeast. I am a short person and I get enormously claustrophobic in crowds and this summer, with the highest-ever visitor numbers to Yellowstone and through town, it has been A Trial. I like my nice quiet life that just hums along on its steady baseline of routine, and there have been too many people, and too much noise, and sirens and car wrecks and forest fires and crowds and by Saturday night I had just Had It.

And this is the minor demon part. Minor demons are things like this, things sent to test us. I don’t work in tourism, but most of my friends and fellow townspeople do. Tourism is great for our local economy, and is quickly becoming the major economic driver of the state. Which is great for things like pushing back against the two gold mines they want to build in the Paradise Valley, and perhaps might even help us save the grizzly bear after delisting.

I know all this. But Saturday night, when I was tired, and there were too many people, I lost my damn mind. Minor demons. They’re sent here to test us. I might not believe in big-G G-d anymore, but I certainly believe in minor demons. And Saturday night they got me.

We had a rare open night at Himself’s cabin last night, and one peaceful sleep, with no noise other than coyotes hunting bunnies in the willow thicket, went a long way toward quelling the minor demons.

Making Stuff: Dilly Beans

Making Stuff: Dilly Beans

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Enough talking about making, let’s get to work — it’s summer, and our Hutterite neighbors are filling the local grocery with their lovely green beans — so today it’s dilly beans. They’re so easy, and they’re a huge improvement on the sludgy canned green beans I grew up on (if you want to preserve plain beans for winter, I’d go with the blanch-and-freeze method. They stay much nicer than the pressure canned ones.)

So, I use Michael Symon’s pickling brine recipe from his Live to Cook. It’s dead simple — half and half vinegar to water, 2 tablespoons each salt and sugar for each 3 cups of liquid. Then aromatics. I’ve been doing a bunch of pickles lately, so I splurged on the half gallon jug of organic apple cider vinegar, but you can use any vinegar, including the plain white vinegar that you might also use for cleaning. It’s perfectly fine. Mix the water and vinegar in a pot, add the salt and sugar, and bring to a boil — these are cold-packed pickles, meaning you pack the vegetables in raw (cold) then cover with hot brine, and process in a water bath.

I’m fairly loose with my pickles — for dilly beans I sliced about a clove of garlic per jar into thin slices, added about half a teaspoon of dill seed, and a little bit of dried red pepper (off my ristra from last year’s garden peppers). I like a little heat in my dilly beans, but if that’s not your thing, leave it out.

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I did have one exciting moment – when I put this jar in the hot water bath, I heard it crack. This happens sometimes, and it’s nothing to panic about, but it can be a pain. I used my big flat Chinese spider strainer and a pair of tongs to scoop the broken jar out and into a bowl, then dumped the beans and aromatics into a new jar, added more brine, a new lid and ring, and back it went. Good as new.

Fifteen minutes in a water bath, cooled on the counter, and then into the pantry with the Persian Tarragon pickles and the Pickled Carrots I made last week. Because the light has changed, and even though we’re suffering in the bright heat of a Montana summer, when the wind blows and the humidity drops to less than the percentage that lumber yards use to kiln dry wood, that time of year when it feels like the whole world is going to burst into flame out here — but the light has changed, and we got a little rain last night, and you can tell that winter is coming. So time to put up the pickles …

How Routine is a Creative Practice

How Routine is a Creative Practice

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I’ve been walking this same two mile stretch of road every morning pretty much since Hank-dog came to live with me two years ago. It’s a quick drive out of town, and there’s usually no one else there, which is important. Despite having made most of my close friends upon moving here through our dogs, at this point, I don’t want to chat on my dog walk.  Also,  there aren’t many cars. Hank and I are still working on the concept that cars do not need to be herded (neither do runners, or bicyclists).  So for two years I’ve walked exactly the same stretch of road, and I’m the opposite of bored by it. It’s both the same, and different every day. The colors of the vegetation change in the creekbottom below the road. The sky is a different blue with different clouds every morning. The wildlife changes —  one morning it’s a hawk and a goldfinch, eyeing one another from two branches high in a cottonwood snag, another day it’s the kingfisher diving for minnows, and nearly every day the blue heron rises out of the creek on his enormous wings. Right now, the chokecherries are coming ripe, which means I’ve got an eye out for bears.

It’s not just the ever-changing details that keeps this walk crucial to my day — it’s actually the routine nature of our walk that opens up my head and activates both my powers of observation and creative thinking.  Because the structure of the walk is the same, the task doesn’t take up any head space, which allows my mind to wander in the best kind of way for that 40 minutes every morning. I’m not there to accomplish anything other than giving both Hank and myself a little exercise, and practicing Not Herding Inappropriate Things. And because I’ve deliberately chosen a road where I don’t usually run into people, it gives me a solid 40 minutes to talk to myself, usually in my head, but sometimes, yes, I find myself muttering out loud. This road has become the place where I think up ideas, where I outline essay and story structures, where I talk things over with myself. Sometimes I dictate into my phone — I’ve discovered that if I pull up a Google doc, I can dictate in the roughest of rough drafts, which as someone who loves editing, I’ve discovered is a great way to jump start a piece, or get myself unstuck.

I’m with Flaubert, who wrote: “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” It has always been the central project here at LivingSmall — to pay off the house, to bring my expenses down so I can afford to chance a freelance life, and to build for myself the kind of domestic routines that allow my brain the space to roam, to make things up, to imagine worlds in which all kinds of things can happen — and then to get those worlds down on the page.

For me, routine is the mental scaffolding that allows the work to get done. It’s not that I go dog walking in order to produce ideas, it’s that when I go for a dog walk, when I let my mind drift — when I look at a landscape both as deeply familiar as this one but which is, because it is a natural place, is also always in flux, different colors, different birds, sometimes the cattle are in the bottom, sometimes they’re up high — all this makes space for ideas to emerge.

Our culture has become so obsessed with productivity, so addicted to the drug of busyness, that we forget how crucial daydreaming is to our mental wellbeing. It’s difficult to advocate for taking a walk, for daydreaming, for carving out time to protect those routines that feed our creative processes, when we’re all struggling so hard just to make a living.

Figuring out what routines we need seems to me one of the biggest challenges of building a creative life. For one thing, it seems so precious and bourgeois — oh poor me my challenge is not to survive and put food on my table and make sure my kids have shoes but to figure out my perfect little artistic life —  but if we’re to get the work done, it’s one of the most important things we need to not only figure out, but to protect.

I’d love to hear from you all in the comments — what routines work for you? Do routines work for you, or are you the kind of creative who needs to shock your system once in a while? It’s been ages since we’ve had a commenting community here at Livingsmall, but it was always one of my favorite parts of blogging, and I hope that (if you’re out there), you’ll join in.

Building A Creative Life

Building A Creative Life

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For many years, I thought of my maker projects and my writing as separate. More than that, actually,  I got into a bad habit of thinking of them as oppositional — as if my making was only a kind of procrastination or evasion from writing. I felt guilty about it. As if spending time in my garden, or putting up a batch of jam, or making a shirt, or learning to knit socks was somehow betraying my “real” creative work, which was supposed to be writing novels and essays.

About a year ago I got really interested in the notion of creative practice. This is quite a common idea in the art world, but writers don’t tend to think in these terms — or at least not the writers I came up with. Process was fine, but the point was publication. Where you were published was frequently not as important as the fact of publication, especially when I was still in academia. And there was a hierarchy. “Little” magazines at the bottom, then real magazines — the ones who paid — and at the top, publishing a book. That I published a book with a commercial publisher was sort of a big deal back in the day. But as the years have stretched on, and I haven’t managed to finish another book manuscript, I’ve gone through many cycles of despair and reinvention, then gotten stuck and have done it all over again.

It was in those down times about a year ago when a manuscript I’d been struggling with had come apart, again, that I discovered a group of knitters in the UK who were building these really vibrant networks of creativity. They had podcasts and book projects and were starting their own lines of yarn and making patterns and researching the history of knitted textiles in the British Isles in ways that seemed enormously exciting. Kate Davies, for example, who writes these beautifully-researched books on Fair Isle knitting, or yoked sweaters or haps … books that include not only terrific patterns, but these essays about the history of these handicrafts, and the women who made them, and the economic conditions that helped turn these things into the luxury items of their days. Turns out that Kate has a PhD in 18th Century History, and an academic career cut short by a stroke she suffered in her early 30s. She reinvented herself entirely — took the thing she loved doing, and in exploring it deeply has built a truly creative life for herself, as well as a business. Felicity (Felix) Ford is another one I’ve been slightly obsessed by, because again, she has that combination of true enthusiasm and academic and artistic expression that just makes my heart sing. Also known as Knitsonik, Felix is a sound artist and knitwear designer who wrote the absolutely astonishing Knitsonik Stranded Colorwork Sourcebook which is my very favorite kind of how-to book. There are patterns, several really wonderful ones, but just as my most beloved cookbooks are a collection of recipes in service of teaching a person how to really cook — how to think about flavors, how to acquire the techniques needed to make those flavors and textures happen, how to set you free to truly cook on your own, Felix’s Knitsonik Stranded Colorwork Sourcebook is all about learning to really see, and then to translate what you see and love into patterns that can be knit into any number of garments.

I am not a particularly visually adept person. My mother is a talented visual artist who can draw and paint, but that’s never been my strong suit. And what I loved about Felix’s book is that it is rooted in place, which has always been the source from which my writing begins. The book is a workbook of sorts, leading the reader through several of Felix’s projects where she takes elements of the landscape that she loves — whether it be the brickwork of her hometown Reading, or an ancient stone wall, or the meandering highway over which she commuted to a University job — and rethinks them as colors and patterns that can be translated into the medium she loves, knitting. I was set on fire by this book. I was SO excited about the way it had me looking at colors, and patterns, and the contrast between colors and patterns — every morning for weeks. My morning dog walks took on a heightened sense of thrill as I tried to translate the shapes and colors of the mountain ranges, the sky, and my beloved creek bottom where we walk every morning with it’s willows and bullrushes and blue heron and cows. And while I’ve yet to knit anything from it, that it opened up my creative mind again, got me thinking and seeing and simply being excited about creating again — that was enough. (Although I do have plans for a very special pattern I want to develop using her methods.)

Felix has a terrific Knitsonic podcast, which seems to be on hiatus at the moment as she works on a project for the Dickens museum on Catherine Dickens, Charles’s long-suffering wife who he both divorced and erased late in life. And that podcast led me to a few others that also felt really inspirational — KnitBritish and A Playful Day in particular — podcasts that take on the big question of how do we build creative lives that will also support us? They’re women telling stories about making up their own lives, and interviewing others who have done the same — built creative businesses that not only support them, but feed their creative practices.

All this has been in my head this year as I’ve been planning my Great Leap into Freelancing. I have a stack of writing projects, and for the first time in decades, I’m sending things out. For ages every manuscript submission felt life-or-death to me, as if it was the Final Judgement on whether or not I was any good at this. Maybe its getting to that age where a woman famously doesn’t give a shit anymore what other people think, maybe it’s having a solid footing underneath me for the first time ever — a settled domestic life, a safe home — or maybe it’s just a very belated sense of confidence in my own talent, but sending things out no longer seems like such a big deal. The next challenge is going to be figuring out how to find paid work that isn’t so divorced from my creative life as that I’ve been doing these past fifteen years or so. It was a deliberate choice on my part — I wanted a job that didn’t creep into those creative parts of my brain because I thought it would compete. And perhaps I was right, or right for what I needed at the time. Now I’m in a different space, a space of really exciting creative brainstorming. The three things I love: making, wilderness, and writing are all right here — and my goal is to bring them into some sort of constellation that allows me to pay my bills while doing good work — work that brings creative energy into not only my world, but becomes an expression of that energy out into the universe. I have no idea how I’m going to accomplish this, but the challenge has me waking up mornings with a head full of plans, plans that it looks like I’ll have time now to start putting into place. It’s so exciting. Terrifying, but exciting.

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On Quitting my Day Job

On Quitting my Day Job

 

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I took the leap.

I gave notice at my day job.

It’s pretty terrifying. I have a few things in the pipeline, but it’s a big risk. I’ve got another month of steady work, then it’s me and my little freelance shingle, hoping I can make it work.

And this is the photo I’ve been looking at every time I get spooked. That’s my friend Dennis, who died last month. Denny was the first person outside of my family who truly saw me. We spent the summer after I graduated from high school leading canoe trips in the Boundary Waters and talking. It was one of those summers you hope for any young person you love — we were besotted with each other. We spent every waking moment together, and most of it we spent talking (no surprise to anyone who knows either of us). He was never my boyfriend — he was three years older than I am and had a girlfriend at college he was moving in with, and I was a very young 17 year old that way. But we loved one another. I have the letters he wrote me on birchbark to remind me. And then, years later, when I was suffocating in New York City, and flailing around trying to figure out what to do with myself and frightened I’d made a terrible mistake and had ruined my life, Denny came to the rescue again. He got me a job at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, and backed me up when my mother was furious I’d left a good job in New York City to go be a raft guide, and loaned me a boat so I could learn to really paddle. Denny was in love with Nancy by then, who he married, and had two gorgeous girls with, and just left behind.

Dennis lived every single day to the fullest. He was the most enthusiastic person I’ve ever known, and the most authentic. He spent a lifetime teaching wilderness EMT courses, and saving people’s lives. He and Nancy took their girls on an adventure of a childhood, living in an RV while they taught courses all over, from the Southeast, to Alaska, to Arizona and finally settling, in a real house, in Maine. That Denny could get a chronic illness, and then a very quick cancer and then die has shaken even me, the woman who has lost so many people I really love, to the core.

There is no time to waste.

And so, I’m jumping off the rock even though the timing is not ideal. Look at that photo. It’s cold in that photo. Denny’s jumping in even though it’s so cold there’s no leaves yet on the trees – that water is COLD — and yet, there he is, leaping into the river — for what, I’m not sure. To demonstrate something for a river rescue class, perhaps to actually rescue someone, perhaps because he’s Denny and he always jumped in.

The house is paid for. There are two half-written novels and a pile of essays that might, someday come back into a nonfiction book. There are environmental issues I want to write about and essays I’ve been dictating into my phone on morning dog walks about knitting and sewing and creativity. I went to a reading last week, and for the first time in fifteen years looked up and thought I’m ready to get back up on that stage.

I accomplished my goal at my day job. I paid off my PhD. I paid off my house. I have money in my retirement savings.

And now it’s time to leap.

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On Paying Off My Mortgage

On Paying Off My Mortgage

Livingsmall Goal # 1 Done! House is paid off!

On Friday, I wired the last payment on my house.

I own my own house. No one can make me move, ever again, if I don’t want to. For someone who went to six grammar schools and moved pretty much every 2 years until I was 35, this is huge.

This has been the primary goal of LivingSmall since day one. I moved to Montana because it’s beautiful of course, but primarily I moved here because I could buy an inexpensive house. A house I could afford to pay off.

I did my masters degree at UC Davis, where I applied in large part to study with Gary Snyder. I’m not a poet, but I figured if Gary was there, something cool must be going on. Gary’s biggest advice to us budding writers was not about poetry, or even about writing. “Find a cheap house,” he said. “Someplace you can pay off. If it’s cheap and you want to live there, there’s probably also other artists there.” That’s what he did all those decades ago on the Yuba Ridge, and what I was looking for in Livingston was something similar.

So that’s what I did. I came up here in 2002, seeking a cheap house, and a found one in a town full of artists, and writers, and musicians, and fishing guides, and electricians and carpenters and schoolteachers.

I built a garden, and fixed things up bit by bit. I paid cash for everything I did on the house and while I’ll need a new roof next year, and I have to repaint some things, and while there are always things I want to do in the garden, I own my house, free and clear.

In the process I built a life. A life that as some of you who have followed me a long time know, was nearly derailed entirely the first year I was here. As I tell people when the story comes up, if you’re going to have a disaster, have it in Livingston. Everyone came. My kitchen filled up with people that first night, and they’re all still here. I’m still here. We are all here together. We’ve seen one another through other disasters. We’ve all brought food to the Elks club for funeral parties, but we’ve celebrated kids birthdays, and book launches, and year after year of rodeo parades.

It was not a mistake, my project of living small. There’s more big news to come, but for now, I’m going to take a moment in my back garden, where the beans are shooting above the trellis, where the sunflowers and hollyhocks are blooming great shoots of color into the sky, where the chickens I just deloused are clucking around in their coop while I wait for Himself to come home for dinner and a Red Sox game on TV. It is not the life I thought I wanted, but it is a better life than I ever could have envisioned.

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On Not Starting Seeds …

On Not Starting Seeds …

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Tomatoes and peppers, germinating.

For the first time in as long as I can remember, I’m not starting tomatoes and peppers this year.

It’s taken me several weeks to admit this to myself. I kept pulling out seed packets, and sorting through them, and then I just didn’t get to that next step, actually planting them. I don’t know what my topor is about on this front. Usually, I find starting seeds around the vernal equinox therapeutic. The first task of spring. Getting seeds in, waiting for the little sprouts, thinning them and transplanting them into bigger containers. We’ve shot round the sun once more, the light is coming back, there are new seeds and soon the garden will be back up and running and I’ll be eating my own greens again.

But this year, I just haven’t gotten it done.

Maybe it’s the ankle surgery which has taken the stuffing out of me more than I wanted to admit. It’s nearly better now. I still can’t walk very far, but I’m walking without a splint, and without much of a limp. I’m back on my bike in the mornings which is making both me and my under-exercised border collie much happier. But I’m behind. There are so many chores that slipped while I was stuck on the couch. The house is a mess. The laundry is done, but not folded. I’m finally baking bread again. The yard is full of dog shit and the veggie beds need weeding.

And it’s been a tough few weeks mentally. My cousin and her husband lost their beloved, charming, funny 26 year old son to opiate addiction. I couldn’t get home — I was still on crutches and the last minute flights were all multiple layovers — it just broke my heart. He was their only child and my godparents only grandson. There are very few times I regret moving away from my family and the people who raised me, but that was one of them. I’m heartbroken for them, and just wanted to be there, where I could give Denise, and her husband Fred who we love so much a hug, could touch them and hold my Aunt Daphne’s hand and even though he’d hate it, hug my Uncle Denny. We’ve all been through everything together, and it was so upsetting not to be there.

And then last week we lost Jim Harrison, only six months after his wife Linda, who I adored, died unexpectedly. I first met Harrison at UC Davis 24 years ago, and he’s one of the reasons I moved to Livingston in the first place — I figured if that wild man was here, and getting work done, then it had to be an interesting place. And for the year I dated the Mighty Hunter I got to spend a little more time with the Harrisons, since Dan guided Jim for decades. That was the year I got to go to the Three Nights of Amazing Food when Mario Batali came to town bearing white truffles, and huge steaks and the most amazing lamb meatballs I’ve ever eaten. But mostly, I’m friends with Harrison’s daughters, and I’d see him around town, and there was some smooching of cheeks, and you’d usually get groped a little because we loved him, but he was a dirty old man, and we all worried as we saw his health deteriorating. Linda’s death hit him hard, and while it wasn’t a surprise to hear he’d died last week, it was a shock. It feels like a planet imploded.

But seed starting has always been my stay against grief, and I’ve been kind of beating myself up, wondering why I just can’t seem to get it together. It might be that my wee greenhouse room is full of geraniums and books and ideas I’m working on, and somehow, I just didn’t feel like moving everything for seed trays. I’ve got a tiny bit of momentum again, and a space that I like working in, and every time I pulled out the seed packets, it felt like a distraction.

So, I called my friend Marnie. She starts tons of tomatoes and peppers every year. She’s got a bigger greenhouse than I do, and her starts are fabulous — tall and stocky and ready to go by Memorial Day, which is when we plant outside around here. I stopped by yesterday and we did a little seed swapping, and she agreed to start a few of the varieties I really love — Jaune Flammé and Principe Borghese for instance. And she showed me what she’s been starting, including a whole bunch or tomato varieties I’ve never planted before.

So here’s to sharing the load. Many thanks to Marnie for starting the seeds this year while I retreat to the greenhouse to write. And somehow, at some point, the yard will get cleaned up.

Back to Work …

Back to Work …

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Five weeks ago I had reconstructive surgery on my left ankle, and I thought that being laid up would be sort of useful. That I’d get a lot of work done. I’d read books! I’d get back to the one I’m writing! I’d knit (I did knit …).

The truth is that I seem to have spent most of the past five weeks fucking around on the internet. And complaining about not being able to do anything. I got nothing useful done.

And so, I finally had to face up to the fact that I needed a new planning regime. I have not been using my 3 days off work productively, and as one does, I’ve been watching good ideas float off into the ether, and things I meant to write about drift off, happily unmolested by my attempts to corral them into meaning.

So I pulled out the planner again, and went back to a method that’s worked for me in the past. It’s nothing fancy — just identifying at the beginning of each year, month, and week what you intend to accomplish, then keeping track of the steps you take to make those things happen. And re-evaluating at the beginning of each week and month. Basic stuff. Keeping on track stuff. Making yourself account for your time so that if you do do something as ridiculous as spend an entire afternoon following rabbits down Twitter holes (or looking at knitting on Instagram) you at least have to own up to it.

We’re just about at the vernal equinox, which I think of as a sort of new year, so here’s to resolutions, and to getting more things accomplished, and to breaking loose from my drifty, pleasant, but ultimately unproductive state …