Life is Worth Living

Is That Your Garden?

The Flops and Foibles of Gardening in 2020

As I stand in my yard and look around at the deeply wooded ridges and valleys, I think, Humph, I’m not in Kansas anymore.

Actually, I never was in Kansas, but I was living on those same Great Plains for nearly four decades, and now I’m not.  This is my first year gardening in the “Driftless Area” near the Mississippi River.  Driftless Area is a technical term referring to 24,000 square miles of steep, forested ridges that the last Glacier Period neglected to iron out.

In other words, we have zero flat spots in our yard in which to place a neat and orderly garden.

No matter, though!  We’re figuring it out.  Gardening is worth it after all, even if one doesn’t have a green thumb.  Today I’ll show you what our family has done this year, and by doing so, I hope to accomplish one thing:

To give hope and inspiration to those of you who find gardening horribly tedious or overwhelming, like me.

Now, if you’ve got a beautifully well-managed garden, this post will still be for you too, because perhaps, by reading about those of us struggling to keep our thumbs green, you may be inspired to give us your extra lettuce and rhubarb.  For heaven knows ours didn’t grow.

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Check out my pathetic rhubarb plant.

Gardening Tip #1:  Get Somebody to Help

Now I’m the mother of 7 little children.  I need help.  Thankfully my husband is more than willing to bust out the power tools and build something.  Earlier this spring he built a little garden box into the hillside because as I said before, we have zero flat spots in our yard for a traditional garden.

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You may remember this photo from April?

And here it is today:

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This box features one tomato plant, two pepper plants, two broccoli plants, and some basil.  Originally I had planted mint, but it didn’t come up.  I have no idea why.  So after about a month, I drove over to the local nursery to see if they had any vegetables left to buy.  This was really smart on my part because they were practically giving away the remainder of their broccoli plants and jalapeños for free.

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Broccoli.  Looks like some bugs are eating it already.

I’ve never planted broccoli, but I thought, why not?  And my husband loves jalapeños.  So we’re giving it a shot.

But that little box is hardly big enough for everything I wanted to plant.  And so, that leads me to my next Gardening Tip:

Gardening Tip #2:  Get More Help: Enlist the Children

Last year we tried something new.  We told our children that if they wanted to earn some money, they could plant a garden, and I’d buy all the produce.  And they actually did it.  They bought seed with their own money, planted some potatoes, onions, and pumpkins, and took care of it, and I bought it all.  It wasn’t a lot, mind you, but it was worth it.

This year, we knew we’d have to get more creative.  Just where were we going to dig up some earth for the Children’s Garden?  Well, why not try on the hillside?

So, the boys carried up their folding saws and bow saws and hacked away at the sumac in order to clear a patch of earth.  Then my husband hauled up the tiller and did his best to rip up the ground.  Naturally the soil wasn’t fertile, so we added some peat moss and Holy Water.  Lastly, the whole thing had to be surrounded by a deer fence, if we hoped to enjoy any of the produce ourselves.

And this is what we ended up with:

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Notice all the horrid sumac surrounding the thing.

Admittedly, it’s rather small, but I guess something is better than nothing.  This little garden boasts of a pumpkin plant, a few onions, some green beans, a pepper plant, and two tomato plants.

Here is a close up of the pumpkin and pepper:

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I know it’s hard to see through the deer fence, but the pumpkin is in the right corner and the pepper is in the upper left.  The onions in the background aren’t worth even mentioning…

And here’s the tomato plants:

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They look rather unruly.

They had planted cucumbers in there too, but they chose not to grow, which is just as well as they’d likely have vined all over the place.

I tried to get the children to plant beets, as they’re one of my favorite vegetables to roast and eat, but alas, the children positively refused.  They insisted that there was no room for such nasty-tasting roots, which leads me to my third Gardening Tip:

Gardening Tip #3:  Plant Vegetables Instead of Marigolds

Now this hurts me a little, as I love flowers, but if those rebellious children won’t plant beets, somebody’s got to!  So, instead of a row of marigolds, I planted a row of beets (and some onions) right by our front door.

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See the beets and onions in the front row?

Anyone can see that neither vegetable is truly thriving.  I’d like to blame this on the hail that went through a month ago, but really it’s because I’ve got a two-year-old who walks all over it too.

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Oh, but she’s cute!

In the end, I hope this little garden tour inspired you to keep at it, especially if gardening overwhelms you.  It’s always worth it!

Just the other night the children sold me a handful of their green beans.  We haggled over the price.  I told them that the average market price was a $1.68 per pound.  They responded promptly by reminding me that their green beans were organic and likely worth triple that amount.  How outrageous!

Monthly Picks

June Picks: Late Edition

Yes, it is now July, and I’m very late in getting after this.  Somehow the summer days slip by, and I thought, ah well, better late than never.

My Favorite June Things

  1. Jumping off docks at 8:00 in the morning is always a great thing.
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    Exhilarating!

    We spent a few peaceful days at my parents’ lake cabin.  Naturally the children wanted to swim all day.  My only requirement was that they first eat breakfast and then wait that full hour before taking the plunge…yeah right.  They shoveled in breakfast, scrambled into their suits, and literally ran off the end of the dock–end of story.

    And how about me?  Did I follow suit?  Not a chance.  I drank my coffee and read The Remnant on shore.

    2.  Catching Fish is a favorite for the boys.
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The boys caught this thing off the end of the dock.  Don’t ask me what kind of fish it was.  I love to eat fish, but I hate to touch them.

3.  Drinking wine on the deck with my husband and eating olives is a lovely way to spend an evening.

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I buy these from Sam’s Club because they’re reasonably priced.

I think I could live off of wine, bread, cheese, and olives–in all their varieties of course.  I’m pretty sure that all the food groups are present in the above list: fruit, grain, milk, vegetables…  Well, what are olives anyway?  Vegetables?  Fruit?  Meat?  Somebody clue me in, for I’m too lazy to Google it.

4.  I love fresh wild flowers from the backyard for my table every day.

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This is the Little Girls’ job.

The Little Girls supply me with fresh flowers for both the dining room and the breakfast-nook table every day.  They just hike up our hill in the backyard and gather at will.

At our old place in North Dakota, the ditches were very obliging for these kinds of bouquets.  We always found such things as alfalfa, aster, sunflowers or goldenrod.

Here, on the very edge of eastern Minnesota?  I’m still figuring it out.  We’ve got butterfly-weed, clover, fleabane, and what looks like daisies.

5.  Corpus Christi Processions are definitely a June favorite.

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Here’s the start of ours, as they were processing out of the Church.
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Father, Jesus, and 4 “Laymen of Distinction” holding the canopy.
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And heading around the block.

Our Corpus Christi procession featured six Torch Bearers, two Acolytes, two Thurifers, a Cross-Bearer, an MC, four Laymen of Distinction carrying the canopy, our priest, and Jesus Christ King of the Universe.  The rest of us trailed behind in gratitude and thanksgiving.

6.  Another favorite?  Campfires in the backyard with s’mores.

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Sure bliss.

The boys built a fire pit in our backyard up on the hill.  After dousing and sanctifying it and the surrounding area with Holy Water, we proceeded to enjoy a small blaze.  Everyone had to have a bath afterwards.

7.  Lastly, a DIY project.  Who doesn’t need a white cross in their backyard?

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In our neighborhood a couple of houses have erected large white crosses, which they lit up brilliantly during Lent and the Easter octave.  (Given these dark times, perhaps we ought to keep them perpetually lit?)

Anyway, as we had some extra wood lying around, my husband put one together.  And if you look closely at the photo, you’ll also see a small statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus off to the right.  This is our children’s mini shrine.

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Here’s Jesus.  We didn’t want Him to tip over, so we had to “ground” him in a flower pot.  The Little Girls are growing marigolds for Him.
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This is a view of the valley which our Cross overlooks.

DIY: Instructions on how to build your own Cross:

  1. Rummage around the garage for some spare wood.
  2. Get one of your sons to saw two pieces of wood to whatever lengths you desire, allowing extra length for the vertical beam to be buried.
  3. Grab the spare can of white paint from the basement.  If it’s not crusted and rusted over, and if it happens to be an exterior paint as well, paint your wood.
  4. Use one stake and a couple of screws to affix the crossbeam to the vertical beam.
  5. Get your husband to dig a deep hole.  (Who are we kidding?  In this household, my husband’s been doing all the work on this project already.)
  6. Keep digging.  You’ll need the hole to be deeper than you think.  (Apparently 10% of the length of a transmission pole, plus an addition foot, is buried beneath the ground for stability, etc.)
  7. Stand off from afar, as your husband holds the heavy cross, and say such things as, “A little to the left now.  Oh, well, a little to the right.  That’s it.  No, now it’s crooked!”
  8. Send a kid to the garage for the level to place on the crossbeam.
  9. Fill in the hole, crack a bottle of wine, and enjoy it from a distance.
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It’s nothing fancy, but because it’s white, you can see it when you enter the valley about a 1/2 mile away.  I can’t wait to wrap bright, white lights on it for Lent.
Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday: The Grass & Garden Edition

I haven’t done one these in awhile, so here we are.  Welcome to Flashback Friday to those of you who are new to the blog.  This is where I look back on my week and offer a few trifling thoughts.

  1. I am just downright thankful for having grass in the yard.  Yesterday the wind was whipping 40mph and for once, the dirt wasn’t swirling around the house.  If you’ll remember, this is what my yard looked like on June 4th:
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Oh, the dirtiness of dirt yards!  Oh, the agony of planting grass!  Oh, the endless dirt and mud flung into the house by carefree children!

2.  As it is, on September 4th, our yard now looks like this:

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Yes, it’s still patchy in spots, but seriously, it looks great.  It’s a vast improvement anyhow.

3.  And that’s my garden in the center there.  From far away, it looks perfectly respectable too.  But don’t be deceived by those delightful flowers.  Shall we take a closer look?

4.  Here are my tomato plants and onions:

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Tomato plants are on the left.  Onions are in the middle.

All six of my tomato plants are lying on the ground.  That’s because the wind whips them over, and I’m too lazy to walk out there and right those wire cages.  In my defense, I did attempt to stand them upright a few times at the beginning of summer, but those weak things just toppled back over with the slightest breeze.  Likely this is all my fault to begin with, as I ought to have stuck those wire cages deep into the earth, but I guess I didn’t.

Now the onions…that is just not my fault at all.  They look like they’ve been trampled on by a circus parade, and it’s true; they have been.  My 3-year-old and the tornado-wrecking-toddler play in there all the time.

Then there’s this:

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Notice the dead-looking sticks in the foreground?

See this dead-looking bush?  Yep, I guess I don’t know how to transplant rose bushes very well.  It was an offshoot from my grandmother’s rose bush, and I killed it.

Now this rose bush isn’t just any rose bush.  It happens to be descended from a my great grandmother’s original rose bush, which her mother brought from Norway to Elis Island, and then finally to South Dakota over a hundred years ago.

That dead-looking thing is my 3rd attempt at planting it.

5.  But all is not lost.  Even if my garden is a bit unruly and unproductive, I’ve always got the children’s garden.  In fact, they’ve been selling me their produce.  I bought a lovely cucumber the other day for 60¢.  (I thought that I had planted my own cucumbers, but alas, none came up.)

6.  In case you’re wondering, this growing-of-gardens business is what we call Science in our household.  Or Biology.

7.  Lastly, though, I’ll have you notice that my zinnias and marigolds are handsome.  I planted them from seed that I had collected last year.

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Zinnias and Marigolds.  See that bushy looking thing behind the zinnias on the right?  Yeah, what is that?  It was supposed to be cosmos flowers, but there are still no buds.  And no sign of any to come.  And as I do live in the Arctic North, those things better hurry up because it’ll likely freeze next week.

Happy Friday!

Christ-Like Minimalism, Kim's Kitchen

Christ-Like Minimalism: The Kitchen

Today I’ll continue the minimalist discussion with a look at my kitchen.

Disclaimer (Again)

I’ll say it again, always be careful about comparing yourself to other families.  We are all different and are called to different stations in life.  No two families will look alike!  I am only offering one way that works for us.  Maybe an idea or two will stick out for you in the following.

My Kitchen

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So here we go.  The above is my kitchen, which you can see is one big room with the dining room to the east and the living room to the north.  (You can’t see the living room, as I’m standing in it to take the photo.)

I probably don’t need to say that our kitchen is used for preparing food, (I do have 7 perpetually hungry children and 1 husband who is grateful to eat anything) and the dining room is for eating in.  Except that I feel that I do have to mention it.  Not all families cook and eat together.  We do.  So this space is important.

A Note on Beauty

Beauty matters.  Beauty is objective, and it affects us.  I learned this in grad school, studying art and reading what St. Thomas Aquinas and others had to say about it.  But really, I didn’t need to study those great thinkers to know that I am influenced by my surroundings.  Walking into a clean and simple room has a calming, peaceful effect on me.  Walking into a dirty and chaotic room will instantly overwhelm me.

Since I am at home all day, with 7 loud children, I find it very important to live as neatly and simply as possible.  And if I can, I add a touch of beauty.  Maybe it’s a candle; maybe it’s a few flowers for the table.  Wild flowers are readily available where I live in the warmer months, and during the rest of the 10 months of the year, my husband can pick them up from a florist very cheaply, if they’re bought by the stem.  (It’s only arrangements that are expensive.)

I’ll say it again, beauty matters, especially in our culture of throw-away, plastic ugliness.  We are not utilitarian communists after all.  We are Catholics.  Do you suppose Jesus ever picked a bouquet of wildflowers for his mother?  I’ll bet he did.

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Tulips by the stem.  $12.83.  Always worth it, even if they only live for 5 days.

Back to the Kitchen

So in the kitchen, I’ll point out 3 things I try to do.

  1. I try to put very little on the countertops.  In the above photo, you’ll notice that only the items that get used daily get a place there.  This is for both practical and aesthetic reasons, for it allows for more space to cook, and it makes the space seem cleaner and bigger.
  2. Everything in the kitchen has a place.  If it doesn’t have a place, then it doesn’t belong.  And I try to put things in a logical spot.  For example, since my husband and I drink a bottle or so of wine per week, these items need to be easily accessible.  (See the photo below.)  Of course if wine isn’t your thing, then get rid of all those wine glasses taking up space!
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I realize that to some of you, this may seem ridiculous that we own all these wine glasses, but trust me, we use them.*

And lastly, #3.  If I haven’t used something in a year, then I get rid of it.  I’ll highlight that for you again.

If you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it!

Seriously, if you haven’t used that egg separator in over a year, get rid of it.  If you’ve never used that brand new juicer, get rid of it.  If you have two ice cream scoops, get rid of one.  For that matter, how many large, cooking spoons do you have?  Or when’s the last time you used all those cook books crammed in your cabinet?  Or how about those 52 water bottles?

It’s freeing, living with less.  And who knows?  Maybe someone will be overjoyed at finding your mini-muffin tins and champagne flutes at the secondhand store.

Parting Notes

Lastly, I’ll point out a few other practical things that I do in my kitchen.

Here’s a shot of the island.

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Like the countertops, I keep this as clear as possible too, so that it is a space that can be used throughout the day.  Children will do homework here, work on a puzzle, or just sit and watch me chop vegetables.

The other notable thing about the island is that I put all the plates, cups, and bowls in the lower righthand cabinet.  I did this so that the little children need not climb the cabinets to set the table.

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Every day plates and bowls on the bottom shelf, and cups on the top shelf.

The other thing I’ll point out is a shelf by the dining room table.  (See photo below.)

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Note:  Everything has a place.

We keep our laptop here, so that we can listen to audio books during lunch.  (The speakers are on the middle shelf.)  My husband I also enjoy listening to jazz music in the evenings too, so it’s nice to have it readily available.

Next to the laptop are our prayer books for meal times.  This includes the Magnificat for the Mass readings and Butler’s Lives of the Saints.  I also keep the children’s current poetry there too, since we review them at breakfast.

And next to the speakers, you’ll notice a white basket.  This is where we keep our cloth napkins during the day.  After supper, Child #5 empties it into the laundry.

That’s all for today.  If you have any questions, be sure to ask in the Comments Section below.  Others may have the same question!  Or if you have any great ideas to live more simply in the kitchen, post them for us to see.

 

*Two notes here.  1.  We enjoy drinking wine out of proper wine glasses.  Hence all the different stemware.  2.  Did you notice all the glass bowls?  It also may seem ridiculous that I own that many.  And I agree with you.  I think I’ll give away one or two.  But I’ll also have you know that I’ve made progress in this department.  I used to own about 25 beautiful glass bowls.  Not kidding.  People were very generous to us at our wedding.