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!

Life is Worth Living

Life Goes On

As I sit here and type, life goes on all around me.  Sounds of Julian Lage’s latest album drift in from the dining room.  I can hear the three older children chatting and laughing while washing the dinner dishes.  A few of the other children are playing on the swing set out my window with my husband.  And I just finished folding a load of laundry.  It’s rather peaceful around here.

But in the meantime, the media spins and screams and dictates and shames all day long.

What to do?  Today I thought I’d offer a few suggestions that might help.  Read through them if you want.  Take what you need and discard anything that overwhelms you.

A Few Thoughts to Consider

  1. Sigh.  Maybe it’s time for a “media” break?  If the news is getting to you, shut it off.

I hate to be a downer, but I don’t think this is going away anytime soon.  Think of 9/11.  Think of all the security measures that resulted from that tragic event–the security measures that came and stayed.

As our culture becomes more and more obsessed about health (and less and less concerned about the soul), there will be fewer and fewer personal freedoms.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this didn’t happen every year–I mean a Mandated Stay at Home Law every winter and spring.  New viruses will come after all, and we’ve just set a precedent–lock down for everyone.

That’s kind of a depressing thought, however true I think it is.  So for me, I’ve got to step away from the media for awhile.

2.  This may sound a bit crazy, but assess your local situation as regards to the Sacraments.  Are your bishops and priests finding ways to nourish your souls?  If not, consider moving to where these things are happening.  For if our culture continues on this current trend of limiting personal freedoms and shutting down the Sacraments, it will be necessary to have courageous bishops and priests willing to sacrifice their lives, perhaps literally, to ensure the survival of the Faith.

If you’re curious, our priest here delivered a dynamite homily yesterday about seeing this current situation for what it is.  He starts at about 17:20, and I can tell you, he had our attention.  (Yes, that’s my kid screaming about halfway through.  Embarrassing.)  We are so thankful for his witness.  And for our bishop.

3.  Organize your family life.  You need a schedule for everyone’s sanity.  If you struggle with this concept, get a copy of Holly Pierlot’s A Mother’s Rule of Life.  She gets her priorities right–prayer first, everything else next, etc.

4.  Speaking of prayer…have you considered praying the breviary?  These are the ancient prayers, psalms, and readings of the Church.  They are the Church’s Divine Office–a heartbeat of love to the Father.  Of course I would recommend praying the Roman Breviary, but if that’s too much for you, start with the Christian Prayer book.

If you’d like more information on the breviary and it’s history, read Pius Parsch’s The Breviary Explained.  My husband couldn’t put it down.  Consider giving that book to your husband for Father’s Day.

5.  Learn how to garden.  Now I am no expert at this, but over the years my husband and I have just plugged away at it, and it’s always been rewarding.  Even if we have crop failures, like the year we thought we planted cucumbers, but didn’t, or the time the carrots didn’t come up, or the time the boys pulled all the onions because they thought they were weeds…  But something always does manage to grow, and it’s fun eating it.

6.  Enjoy a glass of wine with your husband tonight.  Let the kids watch Lilies of the Field and play a hand of cards.

And Just For Fun

A reader was recently inspired by my post on Art Walls.  She made one of her own, which I’ll post below.

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It looks great!  I especially love The Little Flower.

Did anyone else make one?

Kim's Kitchen, Life is Worth Living

Chopping Tomatoes With Patrick Coffin

I have a tomato problem.  I didn’t think it would come to this, but it has.  There are just too many tomatoes in my garden.  Every day the children are bringing in buckets of them.

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The Latest Bucket

I thought that having six tomatoes plants would be manageable because I treated them so poorly.  In fact they’re just lying all over the ground in a tangled mess.

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Remember this photo from early September?  Utter neglect.

But I guess one can mistreat tomato plants, and they’ll still produce.

This is a problem because I don’t “can.”  I don’t know how to can, nor do I have any desire to can, but I do hate wasting good produce, so lately I’ve been making fresh salsa every day.

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Making fresh salsa.

But that still didn’t get rid of all these tomatoes.

So I sallied forth and made my very first pot of homemade tomato soup.  I did this by roasting a bunch of tomatoes, onions, and garlic first.

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Here’s a pan ready to go into the oven.

Then I blended them all in batches with basil from the garden.

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Blending.

My husband loved this soup, but the children thought it needed a little cream cheese.  Me?  I don’t care, I’m just trying to decide what I’m going to do with these:

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More tomatoes

In the meantime, what have I been listening to while chopping tomatoes?  The Patrick Coffin Show.  Have you heard his September interview with Joseph Pearce?  It’s soooo entertaining!  He and Pearce talk books for an hour and a half.  It’s delightful, especially because they’re mentioning such great books like Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Belloc’s The Path To Rome.

Speaking of good books…if you’ve never read Joseph Pearce’s autobiography Race With the Devil, you should.  I have a tremendous respect for that man.  He went from being the leader of white supremacist group to writing Catholic biographies and editing a series of literature books for Ignatius Press.

Incidentally, my local Saturday Morning Book Club will be reading Pearce’s book Unmasking of Oscar Wilde in a few months.  I can’t wait for it.

 

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!