August 25, 2010


Slowly the evening changes into the clothes
held for it by a row of ancient trees;
you look: and two worlds grow separate from you,
one ascending to heaven, another, that falls;

and leave you, belonging not wholly to either one,
not quite as dark as the house that remains silent,
not quite as certainly sworn to eternity
as that which becomes star each night and rises—

and leave you (unsayably to disentangle) your life
with all its immensity and fear and great ripening,
so that, all but bounded, all but understood,
it is by turns stone in you and star.

- Rainer Maria Rilke

August 17, 2010

Garden chats, in four parts

My garden is at the bursting point, a phase I missed out on last year when we had to move juuuust as the good stuff was coming in. So, some observations.

I. 'When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds attached to it the rest of the world.' - John Muir

In that moment, there is nothing more marvelous and unbelievable than eating a tomato, fresh from its earthy bed, still sun-warmed. It's good to be reminded that this is where food comes from, not in piles of identical flawless clones in grocery store bins.

II. Aliens

All of a sudden, my garden is their nursery. And the problem is, between seed exchanges and the odd additional plants I bought when I thought my seedlings weren't going to make it, I have no idea exactly what kind of tomatoes these are. Besides killer ones, of course.

The CD serves both as a reference for the size, and to date myself.

And how crazy are THESE?

Same story, with the mysterious grab bag seeds and the limited space and when it came down to it, I had to choose just one single plant. Because squash plants like to basically swallow you whole if you stand still for 10 minutes. So, this was the one I picked, and it spat out these. Google tells me they are "scallop" or "patty pan" squash, which brings to mind Little House on the Prairie for some reason.

III. Lesson: learned.

This is how you know I'm a novice gardener: I hate thinning plants out. I'm told I need to do it, so they can grow to their fullest potential and not be cannibalizing each others' nutrients, but I feel terrible pulling up perfectly healthy, wee baby plants. They didn't do anything wrong! Except decide to get all clingy and share the same square inch of dirt! But I learned. Because if you don't thin, this is what happens.

By the time I pulled out three that were tightly wound together, I got the point. Digging them out was like trying to pry a cork from a bottle with your fingers, they were so crammed together. But I left some behind, so hopefully they are breathing tiny carrot sighs of relief and sprawling out a little.

And how beautiful are they, really? With their full heads of hair. (It is so weird to me that we eat the leaves of some things, the fruit of other things, and the roots of everything else. Who ever looked at a pineapple and thought, 'I bet there's something delicious under there!')

IV. Dinner.

I don't have any pictures of this final part because I was too hungry to wait any more, but: curry + carrots + squash made a lovely soup. It felt a little early to be eating squash soup, something definitely autumn-oriented, but it made me excited for fall and also relieved that the patty-pans weren't going to waste. They did not disappoint.

August 14, 2010

and the world spins madly on

I have gotten into this strange, slightly creepy pattern of discovering a blog (although usually it’s one with a huge readership and didn’t require much ‘discovery’), becoming interested and curious, and reading mile after mile of its archives. Usually it’s the things she has to say, or the way she says them, that pulls me in and makes me want to learn more about her (and so far, these have all been women anyway, so the ‘she’ is accurate). (I know I go a little crazy with the parentheses, but it makes sense to me. Sorry if it makes it more confusing to read. There is no easy way to organize my brain.)

In the case of my most recent time-sucker, it was a tragic event and the unfolding story around it that caught my attention. This couple unexpectedly lost their first and only daughter before she even hit two years old, and both of them (although more so in the wife’s case) documented the subsequent deluge of grief in their writing.

This is where I mull over the fact that grief is a strange phenomenon, but not so strange between strangers. Everyone’s grief is different, so much so that to categorize and file it away under that one word—the mental, physical, and emotional toll; the ebb and flow of feelings; the ‘time period’ (with no definite ending); the altered reality—must have been dreamed up by someone who hadn’t ever grieved a beloved person. Like so many emotional experiences in this life, someone tried to stick a word to something that can’t be named, like running after a wicked thunderstorm with its label on a post-it. Almost too ridiculous to bother. But to someone who has never watched the sky turn green and a funnel cloud touch down in their backyard, it’s simple to slap that post-it to the photo and move on. Labeled and filed. Done. I have progressed through the Seven Stages Of Grief and I am done. Check the box and continue on my merry way.

Nine years ago today my mom died. Nothing at all like losing a baby girl. But so much of what I read from these two mourning people was a true and accurate testimony of what it’s like to be the one left behind. To be the one left in the wake of someone’s inexplicable vanishing. I found myself in tears or letting loose sighs I didn't even realize I was holding in at the end of many of their posts because I have shared those same thoughts or wished those same impossible wishes. (C.S. Lewis and Nicholas Wolterstorff also put relatable emotions into words; I’m sure there are many more out there I simply haven’t read.)

I know it sounds weird to identify so closely with strangers, but with loss, you either get it or you don’t. You either think at some point you ‘get over it’, or you know that no one ever does. The individual who came up with that cliché ‘time heals all wounds’ was misinformed, because it doesn’t tell the whole story. Time heals the skin visible to the world, but leaves you with a tender scar and a quieter, unseen hurt, like a low-lying, slow-moving stream. The torrential flood does drain away, and sometimes you can go a while without a ripple in the current, but it’s still flowing, steady and silent most of the time. That loved one may not be present any more, but their very absence has its own presence. An empty hole is still a hole. And the timeline of your life is forever divided into the time before and the time after.

Eventually, I will have lived more of my life without her than with her. More people will know me in a context with her absence than a context with her presence. The reality is that time lurches steadily forward, but tiny parts of my brain and my heart just won’t buy it, and float along that deep smooth current, quietly looking backwards all the while.

August 12, 2010

razor burn is for girls

So, for who knows what reason, the most contentious discussion topic in my family lately is that of shaving; specifically, women's legs. Even more specifically: why women's legs.

There are those of us who think it's a ridiculous, unnatural, misogynistic social construct; there are those of us who are grossed out at the thought of leg stubble in any amount; and there's my youngest stepbrother, who asked me why girls just don't shave their arms, too. I was speechless at that one. Because we're not all little Michael Phelpses and don't grease our whole bodies in olive oil in an attempt to be the first human body to break the sound barrier? Because I don't want to spend more time in the shower than I do sleeping? Because you don't have any hair on your face yet, let alone your body, so you don't yet know what contortions you'll put your face through for the rest of your adult life, therefore I can't tell you to multiply that square acreage by 2,000 and you get my to-do list in the shower?

To be honest, there are bigger problems to me than the moral arguments to be had around shaving and not. And I'm sure there are valid points to be made. But those points are not the point of my story. The point of this whole thing is this: I have been using crappy $2 used rusty machetes to hack away my leg hair all spring/summer. And then yesterday, buried in the half-used shampoo bottles I couldn't bear to throw away and insanely opted to haul 1,500 miles across the continent, I found my GROWN-UP RAZOR. With extra replacement blades. And it was like rubbing buttered peach skins against my shins in comparison.

Give it a week. Maybe ten days. I'll be back to hating shaving like the rest of you, don't worry.

August 11, 2010

coming up for a breath

I was going to do a "here's our summer so far" picture-post, because I have more of those right now than I do words, but then I looked up and it was August 11th, which is hardly midsummer.

It's more like the time most kids are really reading their summer reading assignment (too little too late, munchkins!) and if you don't have a tan by now, don't even bother. You won't work up a decent base in time to nicely contrast all those white clothes that have been out of storage since May. Although, no matter how my summer goes, white is usually like camo to me, anyways.

Every store has already forgotten summer even happened, despite the evidence of the temperature outside and the time the sun goes down and the number of tomatoes my garden is burping up. Unrelated: does anyone have a good recipe for homemade tom
ato sauce? Anybody?

Another thing preventing me from doing previously mentioned picture-post is that I've been using my decrepit old camera more lately, which requires film and does not allow you to see the photos until you run them through chemicals in the dark, and that whole process demands a few more loonies and toonies than I care to part with. Now will one of you go get granny her slippers? But really, some of our outings this summer have been captured on both cameras and I'd like to have all the pictures together before I post anything.

Just to reassure you I'm not dead or collapsed in our apartment from the weight of the humidity in my hair, here's a picture from this past weekend when my dad, stepmom, and youngest stepbrother came to visit.