On preparing for spring. Hahahahaha.

They say it’s spring now.  I say: we have double-digit negatives most nights this week.  They say spring is coming.  I say: we have to get through mud season first, and we’re a far cry from the kind of thaw that entails.  Basically, I’m a cynic.  It’s seasonal.  It’s Maine. It’s Vitamin D deficiency.  Whatever.

I did, however, replace a broken shop-light today so that I can start my third and fourth flats of seeds in the basement.  My onions, leeks, brussels sprouts, cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers are all going strong.  (Trying cinnamon sprinkled on the soil surface this year to fight the damping-off I’ve struggled with the past two years…Have you tried that?  Is it a myth?)  I’m fired up about the parsley, the new lavender, the zinnias, the basil.  So, in essence, I’m ready for the theoretical reality of spring’s approach, but in my heart of hearts, I believe we’re stuck in sleet-land forever.

It’s this way on all fronts sometimes: you have a nice morning with one son, and that afternoon the second one pukes all over.  You book a fun new consulting gig only to learn that issues of responsiveness might be a drag.  You foolishly sign up to run a training session for a board you serve on, then find someone awesome to run it for you, and then find your leadership partners are reluctant to bring in someone else, which was the whole idea in the first place.  GET WITH THE PROGRAM, WORLD.  Enough puking and dragging-of-feet.  Let’s make some plans and get ’em done.

So I’ve got my graph paper out for the garden, and all my gorgeous books on potager designs; I’ve got a new necklace and a new lipstick for when the consulting gets its act together; I’m getting VERY CLEAR with my board partners about the limits of my available time for volunteer program design and delivery.  It might still be winter, or even mud season, in the spirit of the world, but I’m heading for the bright lights of summer.  Are you with me?

On putting things to bed.

The rain is falling outside for the first time in weeks; it’s a sound I love.  It’s also surprisingly cold, and the leaves are suddenly coming down faster, and it makes me realize that this weekend, or maybe next is peak leaf weekend.  And then we’re heading downhill fast toward the dead of winter.

I try not to think this way, most of the time.  I try to stay more centered in where I am and what is beautiful there.  And so I’m supporting those habits by spending a lot more time appreciating the rituals of fall, especially since this is the first year in a while I’ve had that luxury.  (Babies do not permit a great deal of house-and-garden time, at least not mine.)  So here’s what that looks like:

1. Mums on the steps, orange, white, and maroon.  A daily reminder of what’s lovely and right, even when we’re barreling past them with arms full of squealing, squirming kids en route to or from some hideous ordeal like the grocery store.

2. PUMPKINS on the steps.  This is totally new to me, since I’m one of those freak shows who sees the pumpkin primarily as a foodstuff rather than an item of decor.  But today at the farmers’ market, as I’m asking Ezra if we should buy one pumpkin “to look at and then to eat,” our farmer Trent Emery (of Emery Farms; love them a lot) points out that he has sacks of ten pumpkins for ten bucks.  Sugar pumpkins.  In great shape.  Decorate and then devour.  That’s right.  Who am I to say no to a sack of pumpkins?

3. Leaves actually getting raked.  Since it’s been so dry, they’ve been incredibly easy to manage, and it’s become my little twenty-minute workout to whisk them into the driveway and then on down the slope to our Massive Epic Leaf Pile at the bottom.  The kids are doing a banner job of breaking them down into the leaf-crumbs that I like to put all through my garden beds, so this is a win-win-win.

4. Finally doing some serious weeding of the garden and, eventually, harvesting the last of things.  But if the weather is mild, we can harvest kale without protection through early December.  Putting the garden to bed isn’t quite as finite and rhythmic a process as one might imagine.

5. Mulching the perennial beds.  Poor things, they straggle through the summer without the moisture they need because I’m cheap and water-conscious (okay, and lazy), and then fall comes and they get an inch of mulch and suddenly revive.  Makes me realize what lovely gardens I’d have if I, you know, tended them.

All this settling in, tending to, quieting down has made me think more about the kids’ bedtimes, and ours, too.  After all, we’re organisms in need of rest as well.  I’ve tended to focus on the obvious: the stories, the sips of water, the schedules and routines.  But I find the outside gives me new perspective on the insides, too.  My understanding of the value of blankets shifts after watching the plants respond to the mulch: it’s not just about keeping out the cold, but about snuggling, protection, nests.  My imagination of my children’s needs shifts after thinking through the garden soil and its many forms of symbiosis: no organism stands alone, and sometimes we want company and stories together, and sometimes we just need the nurture of one primary caregiver.  Sometimes we need water, sometimes mama milk, sometimes a snuggle-animal, sometimes light, sometimes dark.  We probably meet the needs anyway, since that’s pretty much our job, but there’s a difference between scattering fertilizer and layering compost.  There’s a difference between rushing through a story and giving the characters their full voices.  I save the singing for the crib-time, after the nursing, just as I save the compost for the spring, just as I rarely water.  But why?  My garden survives on this rhythm, but it could do better.  Listening and watching and smelling and being THERE can help us understand the whole range of organic needs that our people and plants profess, including the need to thrive, to blossom, to yield fruit, to be the whole and stunning miracles they can be.

On Nemo, of course

Image

It’s not like we can write about anything else today.  At least, not those of us who live in the 3-foot zone.  But it does help to remember a few things:

1. This is one of the few winters where a storm like this wouldn’t make it impossible to see out our driveway.  Some years, it’s been like a cavern, with snow banks eight feet high on either side.  This, all things considered, is not all that severe.

2. We haven’t lost power!  Hurrah!  Celebrations!  Naturally, I kept expecting us to, so we had the woodstove on all night (including a 2:30 am run to reboot).  And then we had to do some emergency baking — Mimi’s German Apple Cake, from Rustic Fruit Desserts (the best such cookbook I’ve found).  These are not awful things.

3. Kind neighbors are glorious: one such just snowblowed (snowblew?) out the worst of our four- and five-foot drifts.  I heap blessings upon him and his family.

4. There were brownies.  From the day before.  All chewy.  And Len was too sick to really compete for them (yes, I will make this up to him, but for Nemo, well, it was what it was).

5. The beauty of all this snow is astonishing, and if you catch me at the right moment, I am even capable of seeing that.  Witness.

6. And we are, after all, heading inexorably toward spring.  See?

Bulbs in pot

On letting go of the story line

Pema Chodron, in various of her works, talks about “letting go of the story line” as one of the crucial skills that enables us to stick with the practice of living, of being present to our lives.  I had never even heard the concept until I went to a retreat she was running at Omega when I was 35 weeks pregnant.  The retreat was called “Smiling at Fear,” which seemed like a good idea, as I had just left not only a job but a whole career I’d spent 15 years building AND I was about to have my first child.  I was working and working at the concept of befriending my negative emotions and I just couldn’t see how you make friends with a runaway train and I was feeling the old desperation rise up in my throat.  But then she said that about the story line, and how we spend so much of our lives acting out particular stories that we feel define us, and all of a sudden I could see it.  Even THIS, the process of wanting to shift something and not being able to, was a story line I was committed to.  So what happens if we let go?  Well, it turned out that letting go of that one meant that I could just BE there — in a beautiful warm room with two extraordinary friends and several hundred other fascinating people.  With a wise and holy teacher before me and another one inside me: that joyful acrobat in my belly has never since stopped teaching me.  I was able to breathe, to stretch, to sit in quiet and gratitude.

I think often of the challenge of setting down the story line, and less often I actually remember to do it.  But sometimes life surprises me.  Yesterday, for example, was full of surprises.  My 14-year-old car had been making some terrible noises, and I realized that I really didn’t want it on the road, much less carrying me and my two precious babes.  I had convinced myself that it was a clutch problem, or worse, and that now, here, finally was the repair job that would be the death of Hubert (yes, after the excellent bloodhound in Best in Show.  We generally name our cars after dogs).  So I prepared for the worst by doing what I do: managing for time and money.  We spent some time looking up used cars online, and I concluded that Tuesday’s lineup of meetings would give me only four hours for car repair, so we’d better the diagnostics done Monday.  I called the shop (Center Street Auto in Auburn, Maine — if ever you need anything, they ROCK), and they graciously agreed to take a quick look for diagnostics if I came in at 11.  So both boys and I “took Hubert to the car doctor.”  Twenty minutes later, they handed back the keys, having identified and fixed a loosening wheel (!!!).  No cost, no trouble, no major life shift.  Oh!  Look at that.  I had the story all wrong.  Which is reason number 2 for setting down the story line: first, it makes you crazy if you let it define your life, and second, you might not even have the right story.

When we get home, I gratefully remove all the winter accoutrements from our three persons and head to the kitchen to figure out lunch.  But there’s water in the disposal (which is the only drain in our kitchen sink and which, we know from past experience, has no main drain cleanout beneath it, so any serious problem in the pipe becomes a serious plumbing issue in the house).  AH, I think.  There it is.  Not the car but the plumbing.  THAT will be our major problem.  But before I despair completely, I figure I’ll do the recon I’d feel stupid to skip: and of course, the under-sink unit had merely become unplugged somehow.  Crisis averted.  Story line aborted.  Or perhaps there’s a different story line starting to form: maybe I am a resourceful protagonist who can sometimes solve her own problems and so doesn’t need to freak out about them.  Everything in its own time, eh?

It was a sunny day, and warm (upper 20’s), and we still had a nice foot of snow on the ground, so I hauled both boys outside after naptime.  The storyline there is about hassle pre- and post- and about crying over snow in the wrists while we’re out there.  But I announced we’d have outside time, and by golly we did.  Ezra helped me pull Malachi in the little red sled and went down the hill twice himself; he even made the lower half of a snow angel. Twenty minutes of enjoyment outside and we went in for warm snacks.  The sun slanted glowingly into the kitchen; the neighbors’ trees were all bronzed and rosy at their tips; the startlingly clear sky showed not one but three jet trails, brighter than light, converging slowly toward Portland. Of course there’s going to be whining, I thought.  Of course the snow gets in at our wrists, right where our skin is most fragile and thin.  But this does not mean we stay inside.  We try to remember that we will warm up again; we zip up and tuck in and open our eyes to the sky.