an intention

Commit.

It came to me on my mat. Flat on my back, as shavasana was coming to an end. Commit. Imke – our instructor, our guide – encouraged us to revisit the intention set at the start of our practice, and to release it if it no longer served us. I hadn’t really set an intention at the beginning, but here it was. Commit, and commit fully. Commit to myself, commit to those around me.

I have long lived the habit of keeping my options open, perhaps as a defense mechanism, for if you don’t commit, you can’t get hurt, right? I’ve puzzled through the years at the feeling of disconnection I carried as a teenager and young adult, and over the last week or two since this intention presented itself to me, have begun to consider that perhaps I held myself too closed off from people, even friends, not quite committing to my relationships and yet always stunned when I got left out or let down. That changed a bit in college, thankfully. 

To commit, to be vulnerable. To not live as though I am always waiting for something or someone better to come along, but to welcome opportunities and not hold them at bay. Not at the exclusion of all else, but contrariwise, being honest and open and accepting of the good things that come my way, with confidence that it is ok to do so. The idea of keeping my options open was always meant to provide freedom of choice when in actuality, it kept me from really and truly choosing anything.

And so, two small steps.

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Bread. I have now made bread by hand. I have also accepted a friend’s invitation to learn. To join her in her kitchen, to listen to her instruction, to be open about my own ignorance on something and allow myself to be taught – not by a subject-matter expert, but by a peer. Why is it so difficult to admit what we do not know?

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Kayaking. Yesterday, I went kayaking. One-on-one with another friend. A week or so ago, I boldly asked if she would take me, and she enthusiastically agreed. I was not immediately coordinated (the fear of ‘not being any good’ has held me back from so much, too much), but got the hang of it by the end of the outing, and it was a beautiful experience – talking, paddling, enjoying the sun and the breeze and the water. Why is it so difficult to ask for what we desire?

I don’t know what will be next, but I hope I remember to say yes. Yes to the invitation, yes to myself, yes to all of the options that will help me grow and connect and be real.

in the garden: august 11

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Oh my, it is hot here, and not just by Maine standards. We hit 97* today, maybe higher. Everything is parched and crackly. I’m trying to carefully water my plants in the mornings and evenings, and when I forgot to water altogether several days ago, I thought all was lost. Thankfully most things bounced back, though my pumpkins have a few crispy leaves that won’t recover.

The tomatoes are loving the heat, though I do think they’re the only ones right now. I need to scout out some taller stakes and retie the long drooping arms. They’re trailing along our paths and are in serious danger of being trampled.

I’m told to expect three days of rain starting tomorrow, and while I am hoping that’s true, I’ll believe it when I see it.

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The blackberries along the edge of the yard are still producing like crazy, and my girls are scarfing them faster than I can pick. My triceps and shins are scratched and scabby from the brambles, but I can’t pass up free fruit. Swee ate that entire pint above in the time it took me to water the rest of the veggies. It’s no wonder blackberries command such a price at market.

I’ve always been a hobby gardener, planting mostly tomatoes and peppers. I did two short rows of rainbow carrots one year, and the entire crop was just enough to use in a shepherd’s pie. That was eye opening. However, this year I’m truly getting a glimpse of how much space and work would be required to actually farm and produce enough for us to eat. This is the biggest garden I’ve ever had. We harvested the broccoli from five plants last week and it was barely enough to feed all of us at one meal. How many rows of broccoli would we need to plant in order to have several side dishes worth, and then put some in the freezer for winter? I don’t know the answer to that.

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Our chickens are almost 16 weeks old, and from what we’ve read, could potentially start laying any time now. We’ve opened up the nesting boxes, though I haven’t seen any of them show any interest in exploring as yet. They do, however, like to snatch grasshoppers out of my hand and run away to devour them. June bugs and ants are also favorites.

So there we are. We didn’t produce nearly what I thought we would at the start of the season, but still more than we ever have before. I suppose that’s the way of it, hmm?

What are you bringing in from the garden this week?

 

 

 

only four

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1. Roosters. Plural? Maybe. I think there’s still a teeny chance that Dottie is a she, but (s)he has been making a noise that sounds an awful lot like a traditional cock-a-doodle-doo. I’m way bummed, and can’t imagine dispatching either (s)he or Pansy. Maybe we shouldn’t have named them, because goodness, I do like them both.

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2. Bread! I’ve still not attempted my own by hand (meaning sans breadmaker), but we checked out the Maine Artisan Bread Fair last weekend, and interacted with a lot of people who know what they’re doing. As usual, I’m glad we took the girls because they need to be out and about, learning how to handle themselves among other people, but really, I feel like we missed a lot because we were chasing and instructing and parenting.

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3. Sunshine. Lots of it lately, and not much rain. The gardens are dry and the ground is cracking. Our lake is so, so low. All that sunshine makes for gorgeous days however, with puffy clouds and big happy flowers. Our first sunflower opened yesterday, and the rest look ready to burst.

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4. Fall? Maybe soon. Yellow leaves are drifting down onto the town beach, and the nights are crisp. My girls are back in long-sleeved jammies with pants, and there’s a scent to the air that makes me think of football. I’ve been watching our pumpkins swell and grow (gardeners: do I need to do anything with them other than make sure they stay on the vine?). Our apple tree dropped a lot of fruit during a rare storm, so I’ve gathered it up for the pigs next door. We’ve been budgeting for snow tires, and talking about how to get the snowmobile running for this winter. Seems odd to have such conversations in 87* weather, but we know the cold is coming.

And that’s all I’ve got right now. Balance has been elusive this past week, and I’ve been left feeling like I’m burning the candle at both ends. I suppose that if there’s food in the fridge and on the table, and if my littles are smiling and (somewhat) clean, then it will all iron itself out in the end, yes? Of course it will. And a little seasonal shift to refresh us all might actually be most welcome.

 

eating locally (at least for the weekend)

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We came home with four pints of berries and two very stained little faces for $11. I have to say, I think we got the better end of the deal because I’m positive those little girls ate at least a pint between them, maybe more. Swee filled one of the pint boxes we purchased, though her hand went to her mouth just as many times as to the carton. Beans didn’t even pretend; every single berry went into her tummy. Together they charmed two different grandpa-types, both of whom “helped” them pick despite being strangers five minutes before.

We plucked the first cherry tomatoes this morning, and soon after, found a cucumber hiding under the leaves. My big helper, who doesn’t care for tomatoes, distributed her finds to everyone else, and the first cuke went to work with daddy in his salad.

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We made it to the farmer’s market this afternoon for the first time this season. It was bustling and lively. Cars lined both sides of the road, and boats were coming and going from the dock at the rear of the market space. I remarked to J at one point that it was wonderful to know people now, though how interesting to realize that everyone we knew was working, not shopping. I suppose that’s what separates the tourists from the locals. The ice cream bus, the woman selling handmade dresses, even the mandolin player – all acquaintances from our little village. We bought carrots and kale, purple beans and sunflowers, and two strawberry pops that were gobbled before making it into a photo.

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With the girls in bed and J at work, I let the chickens wander the yard as I poked around in the garden. Out came the last of the chard, three tomatoes and three more cukes. I moved some broccoli that was being crowded out by the volunteer sunflowers (cheeky chipmunk planting birdseed!), and pulled a few weeds. I’ll need to make sure my pickling supplies are stocked up because I think we’ll be buried in cucumbers soon.

It doesn’t get much more local than this. From the berry farm two miles away, to the market with vendors and growers from around the area, to our own scrubby little back yard, right now it’s easy to eat locally. It’s an area in which I need practice – mainly learning to plan the menu around what’s available rather than the shopping trip around the menu. I think we’re almost at the point financially where the grocery budget won’t have to be what suffers when things are a little tight, which will do wonders for the choices I’m able to make. I’ve gotten really good at feeding us healthy food on a small amount of money, and haven’t fallen into the trap of buying processed crap, for the most part (there are always a couple of snacky things that wind up in the cart). But I’d like to make a shift to a more local diet.

I don’t know what that will look like when the weather shifts. I don’t know if I can convince the girls to eat root veggies, or J to forego meat – the latter not because it’s unavailable, but because I think it will still be out of our price range.

I’ve been reading a lot about food lately. I finally finished The Omnivore’s Dilemma which I started way back in my Food & Politics class at Johns Hopkins. I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and marveled at their family’s ability to produce so. much. food. To be honest, I struggled with both books, a little bit, and I think it’s because both authors were coming from a place of such privilege – money, connections, land. Great points were made, and there was so much interesting content, but it was a little hard to connect.

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I finished Ben Hewitt’s The Town that Food Saved just this weekend. I don’t usually buy books, but picked this one up at our local library’s used book sale for a dollar because the title grabbed me. I was doubly interested when I saw the author’s name, because I thoroughly enjoy Ben’s blog. His tale acknowledges that eating locally can be a real challenge when you’re living paycheck to paycheck, and dives into what needs to happen for a local food economy to really be a viable option for normal people. It was an interesting read.

So! As with everything, we’ll keep taking baby steps.

I’d be interested to know what successes (and failures!) you’ve had on this same journey, as well as any tips for us!

in the garden: july 21

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The pumpkins are taking over our sitting area. They have tumbled almost completely out of the raised bed, and are creeping towards our chairs and gliders. Huge yellow-gold flowers are in varying stages of openness, and below each one is a round, green mini-pumpkin. The cucumber vines are similarly flowering, smaller lemon-yellow blossoms hiding beneath the canopy of leaves. Broccoli looks like broccoli now, a fact that tickles Beanie’s funny bone whenever she peeks inside the leaves.

We’re not harvesting anything right now. The chard and strawberries are done, and the tomatoes aren’t anywhere near ready. I overheard another gardener at yoga the other night, bemoaning the slow season, so I don’t believe it’s just my small patch that’s lagging behind the calendar.

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Our chickens will be thirteen weeks old this coming Sunday, and are allowed to free-range the yard in the evenings. We let them out when the girls go to bed and they wander around our ankles as we unwind by the fire. Tonight they joined me as I read, pecking at the dandelions underneath the glider. Only Pinky has been bold enough to investigate the veggie patch so far. Dottie is the biggest, and at the top of the pecking order. She seems to be something of a barnyard mutt with crazy coloring and fuzzy feet.

Pansy and Petunia, the Silver-Laced Wyandottes, are referred to as “the twins” because for a long time, only I could tell them apart. You can see, however, that Pansy has developed a substantial wattle, very distinct from her sister. She has also taken to making noise in the morning, a sound very much akin to a rubber chicken. We are wondering if perhaps she will soon be “the chicken formerly known as Pansy,” requiring a more masculine moniker. We shall see.

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We acquired two cast iron skillets, so some re-seasoning is on the list as my next project. Beanie and I foraged some black raspberries last week, and my little helper helped herself to several tremendous mouthfuls. With a scant cupful leftover, I tried Molly’s puff pancake. I enjoyed it, which is good because I ate it for breakfast and lunch since no one else did. Some of those strawberries we picked were plunked onto homemade shortcake one evening. I managed to freeze a few, but most of them got gobbled right up. I’m hoping to sneak out early one of these mornings to pick raspberries up the road.

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I’m enjoying the cool evenings, even more because I am not enjoying the heat of the late afternoons. I shouldn’t complain because soon the snow will fly, but for now, I’m happy to light the lantern and relax in a hoodie with a good book and my chickens.

 

 

poppy

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The green wheat’s a-growing,
The lark sings on high;
In scarlet silk a-glowing,
Here stand I.

– Cicely Mary Barker, “Poppy” from Flower Fairies of the Seasons

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The poppies in Swee’s wildflower garden opened this week, a bright contrast to all of the green around us. She loves the Flower Fairies, and it’s been such fun connecting the pictures and poems with the real things growing. 

I don’t have much experience growing flowers other than marigolds and petunias, but would love to branch out with all kinds of perennials when we finally land in a place of our own. Until then, we’ll enjoy the surprises this seed mix throws our way. I think the cosmos are next…

strawberries

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I am finding that as I get older, I feel others’ tragedies more strongly, and I suspect that as a mama, it’s because I now have more to lose. Perhaps it’s also because social media brings everything into my living room, and I am reading the words and seeing the photos of friends and loved ones in pain so quickly afterward.

There have been unbearable losses this week, and much sadness and uncertainty.

My sorority sister lost her young husband suddenly. He was a veteran (like J) and they have two girls, aged 2 and 4 (like my girls). I am hurting for them. A family that is very special to us received a shitty diagnosis for their 5-year-old son, and I am hurting for them as well.

And unless you live under a rock, or even just in a self-imposed bubble, you know at least something of the violence people in our country are visiting upon one another. It is a heavy, heavy time.

Our little house in Maryland sat fewer than ten miles from the worst of the Freddie Gray riots. J was here and we were there, and while ten miles is a lot of distance in a city like that, it was all still so very close. Selfishly, I am glad that we are now living in relative rural safety. I like knowing that our water supply isn’t tied up in a city-wide system, and that I won’t wind up in a gridlock on the beltway should we need to leave the area.

I don’t believe that this is my season to be an activist, at least not outside of my own home. My responsibility right now is to my children, to keep them safe and fed, and to shield them as much as I can. To show them what kindness looks like, and encourage them to spread that kindness. To care for our community, and to be as self-sufficient as possible so that should the worst happen, whatever that may look like, we will be ok.

So today we picked strawberries. Lots of strawberries. We went as a family. We bickered on the way, but we showed our girls how you can disagree and then find resolution. We connected with the other people in the strawberry patch and talked about everyone doing their share of the work (an ongoing lesson, of course). We taught them how berries grow, and we let them gorge themselves on warm, healthy fruit.

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Tomorrow, I will put those strawberries away – in freezer bags and in jars of jam for later, in bowls for snacking and shortcake for sharing. Tomorrow, I will begin to take stock of what we have in the cabinets – food, first aid supplies, water. Tomorrow we will continue this important work of raising good, kind, decent human beings. We will see what happens, but we won’t do nothing.