gardening, imagination, life lessons, Uncategorized

Wick. 

For the past few months I have been going out to my garden in the evening, digging a hole, and filling it with food scraps. I try to go out at dusk when I still have a bit of light but am less likely to be seen by my neighbors. I am pretty certain many of them already think I am a little strange(an introvert in an extroverted neighborhood), so seeing me dig holes in my yard to bury the ends of my carrots and used coffee grinds would not help my current status. A while ago I read about the benefits of burying compost in your garden to improve the soil. I wrote an entire curriculum on composting for grad school, so I am not new to the concept, but I’ll admit I never thought of just digging holes and burying it. My soil is in bad shape, so I figured, “why not?” 

My garden, or backyard, is half the reason I bought my house. I want to live in the city, but only if I can have a piece of earth to play with. I lucked out finding a house close to center city, but not too close, with a yard that is the same square footage as my downstairs. I want this garden to be happy and healthy and full of flowers, herbs, vegetables, and fruit trees. I want bees and birds and butterflies to make their homes there. I want my daughter to grow up with a green thumb and a love for the outdoors.

When I moved here, the yard was full of waist high prickly weeds and random tools and trash left over from the remodel of my house. The first time I saw it, it was pouring rain and it looked like the yard had been neglected for years. I instantly fell in love. I looked at my realtor and he immediately knew as well as I did that this was the one. I looked at that muddy weed and trash covered yard and all I could see were the birds and butterflies dancing through the lush and healthy garden. I could already smell the lavender and fennel.

My first few months with the garden, I filled 10 or more bags of trash. Broken glass, rusty tools, parts of railroads, statues, dirty diapers, and a variety of broken toys and christmas ornaments were on or sticking out of the top layer of soil. I pulled all of the weeds and pulled them again when they came back. I had days when my arms were covered in scratches from thorns and the stench of old trash filled my nose. I threw out some of my gardening clothes and wore through 4 pairs of gloves. My daughter was strictly forbidden to enter the garden I so desperately wanted for her. By month six or seven, most of the weeds stopped coming back and grass and clover started covering the yard, random morning glories popped up, and birds started coming to my feeder. Still, the yard was mostly bare and after heavy rains, more trash would come to the surface and I would fill more bags with pieces of glass, plastic, Styrofoam, and metal. Sometimes I would come in crying and feeling hopeless that I would ever have a good healthy garden.

The thing is, I grew up watching and reading The Secret Garden knowing that you should never give up on a piece of earth. In the story, Dickon shows Mary a bud in the neglected garden and says it is “wick.” That is, it still has life. It is worth reviving and it will blossom again. Much like The Secret Garden, I heard stories of my yard once being lush and covered in rose bushes by a previous owner who is now gone. I like to think that she also once dreamed of a little piece of heaven in the backyard and the life that is left here is a little piece of her.

 

Each hole I dig is 8-12 inches deep. In some areas of the garden, I dig up a bucket full of soil with little else but happy worms and bugs. However, in some parts of the garden, I have uncovered entire foil chip bags, whole water bottles, tennis balls, plastic bags, whistles, broken glass, and coins. I get a little sick to my stomach at first. This trash is so deep, the only explanation is that someone along the way was literally burying trash. It wasn’t healthy kitchen scraps they buried, it was pollution. I think of my rural gardens growing up; rich clean Central Pennsylvanian and Alaskan soil. It is beyond me why anyone would want to tarnish that which gives us life. Why would they want to fill it with, well, poison? Then I remember that redemption always comes. It may take forever, but it comes. As sad and gross as it is to pull trash from deep beneath my soil, there is great satisfaction in sifting through it and replacing it with fresh watermelon rinds, eggshells, and avocado peels knowing that doing so with gradually clean and feed the soil so worms can prosper and my little piece of earth can produce and thrive once more.

 

 

And yes, there is a lesson in all of this that has not escaped me. My garden, once again, is mirroring my life. I am pulling out the rancid, poisonous things that haunt me and making room for fresh new life to spring forth. I am finding what is still wick and nurturing and caring for it so it will bloom again.

 

“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.” 

~Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

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gardening, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons

the good life

At church today, we talked about “the good life” and what that is to us. Our society defines it as more things; a bigger fancier house, an expensive car, jewelry, gadgets, more money, just more. And it’s never enough. We are told our life will be better and we will be happier if only we had….fill in the blank. It leaves most of us constantly wanting more and not noticing the abundance that already exists in our lives.

As I walked to my car holding Bella’s hand and watching her count the cracks in the side walk, with a nice breeze as the sun was setting and clouds were rolling in, I thought about what the good life means to me. I don’t have a fancy car or a big house or lots of money or a boat or, well, whatever it is that is supposedly going to make me happy. We have a small but nice house with wonderful neighbors and a back yard full of birds, butterflies, and green.  I have a good job, but it will never make me rich. It will, however, provide for me and my daughter and will allow me extra time and extra weeks off to spend with my family. It is also a job I look forward to going to everyday and is full of colorful, wonderful,kind, and supportive people. I have a daughter who came into my life unexpectedly but who fills each day with smiles and laughter and wonder. I have an incredible family and friends who are beyond what I could have ever hoped for. After not going to church for more than five years, I recently found one that feels like home and where I feel like I can just be me and it’s enough. On Friday night, Bella and I went to a thrift store and picked out dresses and old VHS tapes. We went home and put on our new dresses and twirled around the living room while watching an old Disney princess do the same. The laughter and happiness coming from my child was intoxicating. It was the best Friday night I’ve had in a very long time. It cost me $7.

IMG_3448So, though a nicer car or a bigger house would be great, I have to say that I think “the good life” is really all those little moments with the ones we love that fill up everyday and cost us nothing. It’s a roof over our heads and having enough. It’s having a job that makes us happy. It’s little fingers and little toes and big toddler smiles and belly laughs. It
is art and comedy, and dancing. It is something we already have. If we forget that or miss it while we are seeking out the material things that are supposed to make us happy, I think we’ve totally missed the whole point of what a good life really is.

–written on April 19, 2015

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gardening, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, imagination, life lessons, writing

My Daughter is a Horse.

My daughter is a horse. I don’t mean she eats like a horse or looks like a horse. I mean she is galloping around the living room on all fours shaking her head and neighing like a horse. She leaps from couch to coffee table pretending she is leaping over a canyon with a rider on her back. She will only tell me once that she is a “running horse” and then I must understand her. She will stay in character for up to 30 minutes sometimes. She remains focused and true to her character and never breaks. She has carefully studied hours of videos of horses and intently watched horses in real life to perfect her character.

At first I thought it was annoying when she wouldn’t talk to me while in character or that she watched so many horse videos. I kept thinking, “ Gah! I have a weird 3-year-old.” But then, as happens a lot now, I learned something from her. She doesn’t just say “I’m a horse” and then act silly around the living room. She commits. She studies. She will not break. She practices daily. She experiments with how a horse might move on steps or furniture. She reacts to our dog and cat as a horse might react to them. She pulls grass from our yard or on our walks and pretends it is hay for the horse to eat. Her focus and commitment is incredible.

I want to be a writer as much as my daughter wants to be a horse. The difference is I just say it, or don’t say it all but think it, and then I go about my business of doing everything except writing. I am just jumping around life being silly and not having any commitment to my passion. How many of us say we want to do something or be something and then fill our lives with silly things that have nothing to do with what we truly desire? When did we lose that sense of play and of really truly wanting to BECOME something. When we were children and played firemen or police officers or queens, we committed to those roles. We really believed we were those things and we gave it our all.

I recently visited the house I lived in in rural Alaska. We lived on roughly four acres of land in a mostly birch forest in a fairly tiny house. There was an old chicken coop on the property that my siblings and I had turned into a play house. My memories of this place ended at age 10 when we moved. I remembered a white birch forest where the trees almost glowed. I remembered our small patch of grass as a brilliant green and the trails through the woods leading into magical lands of adventure. The old chicken coop was massive and looked like the home of the fairy queen. At night, the Aurora Borealis would dance across the tops of the trees with every color of the rainbow and hiss and crackle at us and we stood below it in our pajamas and moon boots. We could see every star and planet in the galaxy. They were so close we could almost touch them. As an adult, I walked around our old property and everything was just brown. There are a scattering of birch trees, but other trees are there as well. The chicken coop was tiny and not the least bit magical. The place from my memory was nowhere to be found. When do we stop seeing the world as a magical place? When does it suddenly become cynical and ugly?FullSizeRender (5)

Life is magical to my daughter right now. She understands play and imagination. She looks at our mess of an urban back yard and calls it our “secret garden.” She finds the tiniest flower growing from the tiniest weed and jumps with joy screaming “momma, look a beautiful flower!! I’ll pick it so we can put it on our table.” My initial reaction is to protect her from the cynicism and ugliness that I see as an adult. As I have been observing her and recognizing my own sadness, however, I think I am going to take a different approach. Instead of trying to protect her, I’m going to let my imagination come back. I am going to welcome her with open arms. I am going to join my daughter as she neighs and gallops and I’m going to see the magic in our little backyard.
And then I’m going to write about it because that is what writers do.

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gardening, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, Uncategorized

raw and open

Eight years and a few months ago I told a friend that I couldn’t imagine being happier about life and more excited about my future. I felt amazing. I was in the first semester of Grad school, I had just moved into a new house, I had gone from being a couch potato to running races and practicing yoga regularly, I had a new job as the executive director of an organization that brought me joy, and I was in the beginning stages of a new relationship with the first man I ever loved. I felt like I was on top of the world.

Then, like a sledgehammer to the skull, we got the death sentence diagnosis for my dad. He was dying. That’s it. There was no hope given. They could help him live a couple more years, but cancer would kill him and it would kill him soon. My dad. The man who lived his life serving others and would literally talk about what he would be doing when he was 100. He enjoyed life so much that it was contagious to be around him. He had already had cancer twice before and would joke about it. “I don’t get sick, I just get cancer,” he would say with pride.

A church friend recently talked about a garden being the metaphor for our lives and God being the Master Gardener. I have taken this idea and used it to help myself work through this season of my life. As I have highs and lows with my literal garden, I see the parallels with my life. Before the diagnosis, my garden was lush and full of herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Heck, there were freaking butterflies and honeybees fluttering around. You get the picture?

My dad’s diagnosis was the first nasty weed. What followed was three years of watching my father struggle and hope and eventually die. My relationship of three years, the one that was supposed to last forever, died four months later. It was a relationship that might have lasted had it happened at a different time in my life, but sometimes grief has a way of killing things in its path. Three months after my relationship died, I  jumped into a summer fling with a man who I thought I knew and who I thought was an old friend, only to find out he was a complete stranger, was not at all who I thought he was, and I was left to face a pregnancy and eventually parenthood, alone. My lush happy garden slowly rotted and turned into a heaping compost as I blamed the Master Gardener and kicked him out.

Even moments before my daughter was born, I was sitting in the middle of my compost pile thinking the garden and life I once had would never happen again. I was admittedly, angry, hurt, defeated and hopeless. Then, the moment they put that baby girl on my chest and I saw those crystal blue eyes, a small but strong bud popped out of my heap of mush and began to bloom. Trying to keep this “bud” alive and blooming has required months of fighting a broken legal system, three years of pinching pennies and constantly worrying about money, learning how to ask and accept help, and inviting the “Master Gardener” back in.fullsizerender-3

A few days ago, in my actual garden, I spent the entire morning pulling up weeds, removing broken glass, ant hills, and dog poop, and pulling up dead tree trunks. It was the end of a weeks-long project that I was starting to think would take the rest of my life to complete. As I stood in the sun covered in sweat and dirt, I felt the most amazing satisfaction seeing the raw and open earth that I uncovered. It was ugly and beautiful at the same time. Aside from a single strand of purple Morning Glories, everything that had been there was now gone. I immediately started to cry. This garden was me.

My neighbors told me that this garden was once home to beautiful grass, vibrant rose bushes, and lush green trees. After years of trials and neglect, it became the weed covered trash-ridden lot that I purchased a few months ago. It was so bad that one of my neighbors suggested it was beyond repair and I should just fill it with concrete and call it a day. What it is teaching me, however, is that nothing and no one is past redemption. Like my garden, I reached a point in my life where I had to realize that in order for that one flower to grow and flourish, I would have to rip out all that was old, dig up the soil, remove the trash, and start again with new seeds. I would need expert advice and help with the hardest parts of the job. Most importantly, I had to stop focusing on what once was and what I thought it “should” look like. I have to accept what has happened, mourn any loss, and focus on each seed as new life grows and a whole new garden appears.

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gardening, life lessons, Losing Dad


FullSizeRender (1).jpgA few weeks before my dad passed away, I caught him eating a raw potato. A RAW potato. I jokingly asked him if he’d like me to cook it for him. I will never forget his response, “No. I like it this way. It tastes like earth.”

I lived in six different houses in six different towns growing up. Each one of them had an ample amount of Earth. At each house, my parents were adamant about having a garden, fruit trees, and plenty of green. My mom covered the house with plants of various origin and my dad focused on vegetables and fruit trees in the yard. From birth, I have watched the magic that happens when a seed becomes a sprout and a sprout becomes a plant, a flower, a vegetable, or a tree. It has always amazed me and been all the proof I need that there is something greater than myself. I remember living in York County, Pennsylvania, where we had a huge vegetable garden, and hiding between two rows of peas with my best friend. We would lay in the dirt and giggle as we filled our bellies with fresh sweet peas. There is nothing like biting into a crisp pea pod on a hot summer day. It tastes like Earth.

One of the reasons I love the garden and gardening is because it is one of the few places I can still sense my dad’s presence. Just as I can feel him smiling every time I open up a new book, my dad also lingers in the sprouting of a new seed and in each shovel full of Earth as I turn it over to start something new. When I found a house in the city with a big back yard, all I could think about was the garden I would be able to have. It would be the perfect way to honor my dad and share a part of him with Bella.

I definitely have my work cut out for me. In the first year of Bella’s life, I celebrated keeping a human alive while I mourned each plant and vegetable as one by one, they died a slow and painful death. Now I have a toddler that I still have to keep alive(not an easy task) and a yard full of weeds and random treasures that must be dug up and sifted one shovel at a time before I can even think of sowing any seeds. The process is slow and has required quite a bit of texts to mom, consults with experienced urban gardeners, and googling. I’ve also discovered that, for the most part, my gardening will have to be in containers and raised beds; something totally new to me and not exactly what I had hoped for.

There is actual scientific proof that having contact  with the earth through standing in your bare feet, sitting, or lying down on the earth, known as earthing or grounding, actually improves your physiological and electrophysiological health. In fact, when stressed or depressed, direct contact with the earth has been shown to improve your symptoms. I suffer from anxiety and depression and have actually been told that regularly walking through grass or soil will eventually improve my symptoms and balance the cortisol levels in my body. It makes sense. I spent much of my childhood barefoot and covered in grass and mud. There were many times my parents didn’t know where the earth ended and I started. “Earthing” is in my blood, but I have not done much of it in the past few years. It is a therapy I am willing to try and willing to create space for in my backyard.

This piece-of-earth project is not only for me. I want Bella to have the opportunity to ground herself daily. I want her to know what a tomato seed and flower look like. I want her to remember happily hiding in the rows of peas while she bites downFullSizeRender.jpg on a piece of earth. I truly believe an essential part of good parenting is figuring out a way for your child to connect to the earth somehow. Most people my age grew up “earthing” daily and we didn’t even know that what we were doing was actually beneficial to our health and well-being. Today, however, many of us have to work to make that happen for our kids. We are fighting against computers, and smartphones, video games, and bigger flatter TVs with more to entertain our kids every day. We need more hikes, walks in the park or on the beach, and weekend camping trips. And, if we have the space, or even just a pot of soil in the kitchen, we can fight that pesky technology with a nothing but a seed, some soil, and a little water and sunshine.

So, despite the fact that we may not see our first sprout until sometime next year, I’m looking forward to the hours of digging and weeding that Bella and I have before us this fall. I’ll be doing it with my dad’s old garden tools while I think of all his corny jokes and remember how excited he was the first time his fig tree produced fruit. Hopefully, by this time next year, I will be telling you about our very first potato and how Bella and I sat in our garden and ate it raw while we talked about Grandpa Wilcox and how truly delicious the earth tastes.

 

“For the beauty of each hour of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower, sun and moon, and stars of light;  
Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.”

 

 

It Tastes Like Earth

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