Category Archives: Dirt Under My Nails

Pulling weeds.

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I’m not sure what it is about pulling on gardening gloves and getting out in the dirt that invites philosophical introspection for me… but it does. Sometimes, it’s just a great quiet time to not have to think about anything except getting rid of weeds and cut worms. Other times, there is a great metaphor in the work that settles down over my shoulders and wraps me in a gnat infested, dappled-shade-colored hug. Today was one of the latter.

The last few years have been a struggle for me. I may have been depressed, but I never pursued any professional opinion on the matter so I can’t say that’s technically true. I was working, I had a kid that was having difficulty in school, a kid starting college and joining the Army, another kid who was having difficulty accepting adulthood and was still living with us, and a grand-kid who was living with her mom in our house. It was busy… I didn’t have time to be depressed, or even just really sad and frustrated, if that’s all it was.

But this summer started off with me leaving my job, and since that unexpected move, things have changed. We were fortunate enough to have a good financial cushion in the bank, although it was intended for things like a deck and maybe new floors – not food and gasoline. But at least it was there – I didn’t have to go get a job at the local gentlemen’s club. Gentlemen everywhere are relieved. 🙂  I spent the summer hanging out with my son, helping my sister move to Oregon, helping my daughter move into her own place, and cleaning out closets. There are more closets waiting, but the work has begun on getting the weeds out of my life.

This feels sooooo good!

This feels sooooo good!

Metaphorical weeds are just like regular old weeds. They suck up all the nutrients and sunshine and water, and leave the herbs and flowers we wanted to see struggling to mature. We spend years cultivating an education, make the proper choice in a spouse, provide music lessons for the kids, and have a stack of great cookbooks on the counter. But our “weeds” grow up and choke out the beauty that can grow from the seeds we have planted. When we fill our lives with clutter – physical and psychological – the creative moments, and the moments of sincere enjoyment of the life we are living, are buried. I have begun to pull weeds in my life, and I believe it’s going to help me focus on the things that truly make me happiest; being creative and enjoying my family.

This summer, as I organized closets, and decorated the newly-vacant guest room, and cleaned the guest bathroom, I realized the things that had been cluttering my head and my daily schedule were going away. As those weeds were pulled,  the creative part of me began to peek out again. Or, I guess it’s more accurate to say that it began to bloom. It had remained there the whole time – it just wasn’t thriving.

See what you find when you clear the weeds?

See what you find when you clear the weeds?

Aside from the psychological weeds, I had also let a lot of physical weeds grow up around me over the last few years. I spent time and money stockpiling materials that I was sure I would use eventually… things that would be great once I had time to come up with an idea. And of course, those ideas would need to be followed by time to actually act on the idea. The end result is that I have a Large Amount of stuff that I am now finally ready to thin. I think I have a handle on the time and inclination I have and can fairly judge what piles to keep, and what I can let go. My husband will be thrilled. 🙂

So, today, as I pulled weeds and contemplated the creative projects I had waiting for me in my workspace, I felt good knowing that things were headed in the right direction. Eventually, I’ll stop lying in bed worrying about money. Eventually, my hair will stop thinning from stress (why can’t I lose weight when I’m stressed instead of hair!!??). And eventually, I’ll look back on the last few years and feel confident that they were incubation years; that the things I was learning and the people I was meeting were nurturing me, even as I was unable to act on their help. There will be more weeds, of course, but I’m hoping that they’re only in the garden.

Chickens and other old/new hobbies

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Chickens and other old/new hobbies

I’m not sure what happened to suddenly make backyard chickens so popular. Maybe it’s the economy – a handful of chickens cost less to buy than a nice dinner out. Maybe it’s the next step for those of us who have been recycling and buying second-hand for a while… we look around for the next challenge. Maybe it’s just a hipster thing. But if you hang out on Pinterest or read a shelter magazine, or pretty much just talk to anyone under the age of 50, you’ll end up hearing about their plans, desire to have plans, or how they executed their plans to build a chicken coop and welcome a little flock of fluffy ladies into their family.

When I was a girl my grandparents had a great chicken house built out in the woods, between their house and their enormous garden that provided countless jars of fresh-picked delicousness throughout the year. The memory of gathering those eggs has always stayed with me. The soft clucking of the hens as I unlatched the gate, the warm nest and feathers of the broody ones that only chided me a little as I took their eggs out from under them and put them in my basket. Later, sitting on the ground in the run digging hundreds of earthworms out of the ground when the chickens were gone.

I guess I’m joining the trendy urbanites who have decided to build a little coop and start collecting eggs. I’ve reserved six baby chickens to be delivered on April 28th. I’ve been reading about the care and feeding of chickens, and researching coop plans, and – just as important – trying to figure out what to name them.

The breeds I’ve chosen are Cherry Egger, Production Black, Gold Sex Link, Black Australorp, Partridge Rock and Ameraucana. One of each. They’re being hatched by a local farm, so they’re already proven in the climate and environmental pros and cons of the Ozark Mountains.

Usually, when I latch onto a new project like this, the hubster looks at me sideways and goes about his business just trying to stay out of my way. This time, however, he’s all about getting those chickens. He’d love to get ducks too, in fact. The biggest drawback there is that we have no water in the backyard. Kind of a big deal, that.

He went by the local Tractor Supply Company yesterday and picked up a little baby chicken kit with a feeder and waterer and mobile fencing… none of which we really need, but I’m happy that he’s going to join me in this adventure. We drew out a plan for the coop and run today, and it looks like he won’t get too crazy… he tends to overbuild, overplan, overspend on almost every project he undertakes. I love him dearly, but he’s a little impractical. From discussions I have with girlfriends, I don’t think he’s the only man like this.

But chickens are only one thing I’m going to do to try to make our family a little more conscious of our impact and responsibility to our home planet. In addition to harvesting some yummy fresh eggs I’m also planning to can my own veggies this year… I am joining a CSA and will be frequenting the local farmers’ market, since I can’t seem to make any tomato plants put on more than 3 fruits. I also want to put up some laundry line to cut down (a little) on the time we spend using the electric dryer. We already have a composter, but it’s been pretty lonely. I’ll be utilizing it more often – while I’m heading out to check on the chickens and take the sheets off the line…

Here are some of my favorite ideas for chicken names, thanks to my friends on Facebook:

Twilight females – Victoria, Rosalie, Bella, Renee, Esme and Alice

Grease (is the word) – Frenchy, Sandy, Rizzo, Marty, Vi and Blanche

Happy Days & Laverne and Shirley – Laverne, Shirley, Pinky, Joanie, Marion and Leather (remember her??)

Harry Potter – Hermione, Luna, Bellatrix, Lily, Minerva and Ginny

Musicians – Carly, Joy, Babs, Whitney, Florence, Adele

Hollywood – Kate, Audrey, Marilyn, Lauren, Ava, Rita

So, tell me… are you raising chickens? Composting? Canning your own veggies? Planning any of those? And please, feel free to chime in on name ideas. I have a few weeks to decide. 🙂

The end of an era.

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In 1966 my grandfather built a house on some property that my grandmother inherited. My mother had already married and moved away, but my siblings and I spent most Christmases and weeks every summer there.  We explored the woods, climbed on limestone bluffs full of fossils, picked blackberries, helped plant the vegetable garden, harvested the produce, learned to paint with my grandmother, rode in the back of grandpa’s pick up to feed the cattle, gathered eggs, fished in the river, roasted marshmallows in the fireplace… so many of our favorite, formative memories and experiences were created there.

On the eve of the property being sold on the courthouse steps to the highest bidder, I thought I’d put down a few of my favorite memories…

My grandmother was an artist. She took lessons from one of the leading tole-paint artists in the 1970s and sold her beautiful items at craft fairs throughout the Ozarks for years.  She had a room in the house dedicated to her painting. It was a delightful room full of paint, brushes, bookshelves full of books, and had a large bay window. I loved to watch grandma paint, and have a few things that she let me paint alongside her. One day she invited my brother and I to gather flat river rocks from the gravel driveway and let us paint little faces on them. I was impressed and a little jealous that my brother’s rock faces had better eyes than mine did. No wonder he went on to be a brilliant illustrator.

Walking through the woods in the spring looking for fern fiddleheads and wild violets.

During the summers before central air was installed it was seriously warm at night upstairs where the bedrooms were located. A box fan was placed at each end of the hallway outside the bedroom doors and the windows were opened to allow air to circulate through the house. The fans created a hum that harmonized perfectly with the raucous noise of the cicadas that started up at sundown each evening.  I will always enjoy the sound of tree frogs and cicadas at night – it’s not just a memory but a sensory feeling of peace and security that settles within me when I hear those noises. It’s a sign, to me, that all is right with the world.

Christmases at the farm, when we were there before the 25th, involved scouting out the perfect tree. Very often, grandpa had already located a contender and we would trek with him through the woods or ride in the back of his pick up to the bottom pastures to offer our approval and beg him to let us help with the sawing (the answer was always – appropriately – no). Cedar trees often grow along fence lines on farms in the south, and the aroma of fresh-cut cedar will always be a favorite of mine.

Fresh tomatoes, still warm from the vine, sprinkled with sugar. Mmmmmm….

Another scent that stays with me is a combination: fresh sawdust and cigarette smoke. My grandpa was a Marine in the South Pacific during World War II. Along with all the other GIs, he was provided with free cigarettes on a regular basis. I’m not sure what the reasoning behind that was, but the result was that he started smoking. I don’t actually remember seeing him smoking often, but I know he did while worked in his woodworking shop on the farm. When I went to see him in the shop there was always a specific smell that permeated the air. It was also in his shirt when I hugged him goodnight. It doesn’t sound like a smell that would be pleasant, but I love it.

Helping grandma hang clothes on the line outside the pump house/laundry room.

My grandmother made fantastic home-cooked meals that included a huge selection of vegetables from the garden, canned tomatoes, and beef that was probably raised on the farm. Whenever she made pie crust she cut the scraps of pastry into little strips and sprinkled them with sugar and cinnamon. The pies were wonderful, but the little strips of baked pasty were perfect.

Grandma used to put on rubber boots at dusk and beat the bushes around the patio with a hoe to chase out the copperhead snakes so she could mangle them.

Helping grandma hang clothes on the line outside the pump house/laundry room.

It’s ironic, I think, that on the day that the property will leave our family the trees are bright green from the recent rain, the iris are blooming and the woods smell fresh and musky. It’s one of my favorite times of year there, and every spring I’ll wish I could go back.

Ahh… a nice quiet evening.

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The society we live in is so incredibly focused on convenience and getting things done quickly, we have completely lost the connection we once had to doing things for the sheer pleasure of doing them. Sweeping and raking, to me, are actually relaxing. Maybe I’m nuts. I feel good to know that I’m getting a little exercise, and at the same time I can listen to the sound of birds, talk to my neighbor across the street… just enjoy my neighborhood.

Yesterday evening my neighbor several houses away was using a blower to move his grass clippings around, and my hubby and I literally had to raise our voices to speak to each other as we played with our son in our front yard.  What a waste of energy and invasion of the peace and quiet of the evening.

And now, I am vowing to quit complaining… I sound like a crochety old woman.

Lovely red lobes of goodness!

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The moment has finally come after weeks of nursing and digging and weeding and propping and weeding some more… I have harvested a tomato! Of course, if I were any kind of decent blogger, I would have taken a picture of it hanging on the vine, and again after I sliced open it’s juicy goodness… but I guess I’m not very good at delaying gratification. I knew it was out there – I was making dinner – I picked and sliced and ate. Done.

When I was a little girl I visited my grandma and grandpa every summer. Grandma grew tomatoes, and every time we were at the table there was a plate of thick slices accompanying the meal. Initially, I sprinkled sugar on my slices, my young tastebuds thinking that food was only worth eating if coated with sucrose. I have since learned that the best way to eat them is sans sprinkles, and preferably warm, straight off the vine.

My second favorite way to eat tomatoes is canned. Grandma made canned tomatoes, and the Ball jars lined the shelf of the laundry room, along with the greenbeans. The sweet corn was stored in Tupperware containers in the chest freezer. When grandma went into an assisted care facility we had a yard sale and took some things to Salvation Army, but I kept the pot that she used to can tomatoes. I really thought I would use it. I had a hard time growing my own, but I could buy tomatoes at the farmer’s market and just can those. But I never did, so I sold the pot at a yard sale recently. Part of me was sad to see it go, but another part knew that if I haven’t canned tomatoes by now I probably never would.

Now that I have a decent crop I can rejoice as their skins start to gradually turn yellow, then orange, then red. And I can think of grandma as I eat my tomatoes. She would be proud. I just won’t tell her I sold the canning pot…