Sweetness and Thorns

IMG_20170821_191048.jpgI had big plans for my backyard this year, or at least big plans for big plans. I decided that this would be The Year of Preparation for the Most Amazing Garden Ever. I planted a few little things in pots, but mostly I thought big thoughts about the future.

I started a compost bin. I bought a garden cart. I was going to level The Mysterious Lump in the middle of the back yard so I could put a raised bed there next spring. I was going to start some flowers in the shady places under the trees. I was going to start some perennial edibles like asparagus and rhubarb. Above all, I was going to dig up/cut up as many of the blackberry bushes as possible, and keep cutting back any remnants that dared show their ugly little snouts, in hopes that within a year or two, I’d be all but rid of them.

The best laid plans of mice and men…

In the best of years, I have a limited interval between spring fever and the July blahs. Every year by about the third week of July, when I suddenly need to water and weeds grow faster than anything desirable and I’ve not managed to go anywhere or do much of anything I’d hoped to do, I realize that summer is half gone without much to show for it. It hits me like a ton of bricks, and I get depressed. Tradition!

To add to the challenges this year, I was in a car accident at the end of April, right when my fervor was at its peak. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but my little car was totaled and I was stiff and sore for close to a month, not to mention struggling with a heavy awareness of my own mortality.

Before I knew it, my yard was a sea of dandelions, my lettuce had gone to seed, The Lump abided, and the blackberries–oh, the blackberries!

They’re everywhere. There are so many and so thick that if I could afford it, I’d hire a blackberry hit-man. Especially given that not only do I need to pull them out, I also have to figure out a way to dispose of their prickly carcasses. They can’t be composted, they can’t go in the yard waste bin my garbage company provides since they’re considered “noxious weeds,” and I have no way to burn them even if we didn’t have a burn ban in effect and wildfires popping up on a regular basis. I usually have to chop them in tiny bits and feed them slowly into the regular garbage as I can make room, which takes time, and is more easily done later in the season when they dry up and retreat a little.

Time gets away from us so easily. A few weeks ago, my-brother-the-chef, my closest relative (physically speaking) took a new job and moved about three hours away, to Leavenworth, WA. It’s a great opportunity, a wonderful place to raise a family, and I’m thrilled for them. I went up and spent a few days helping where I could as they packed up to drive off into the sunset. Or sunrise, as the case may be.

And then they were gone. Not so far I’ll never see them again, and it’s not as though we don’t live in the age of Facebook and phones. But feel a bit left alone in my weeds and my brambles with many fine plans choked away: I was going to take my nieces and nephews to the children’s museum, to the beach, to the movies. We were going to make Christmas cookies and crafts and hike, when I got around to it. I could have done so much more with them than I did, and now it’s too late. I’m stuck with my choices, or lack thereof, just as I’m stuck with the blackberries.

But since I’m stuck with them for the time being I guess I might as well enjoy the benefits for a few more weeks. There are hundreds of sweet berries, with more ripening every day. I’m not ambitious enough to make anything with them, especially this year, but spending a few minutes a day wading through my dandelion sea to stuff my mouth with juicy blackberries isn’t a bad remedy for the late summer blues. Maybe they’ll motivate me to grasp the moments I have, instead of the moments that slipped away, and see that there is good even in what can feel like wreckage.

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Single Catholic Problem #41 – The Sign of Peace

So let’s say you’re a slightly awkward single Catholic woman, and you’ve been trying very hard to pay attention to the readings and the liturgy at Mass despite all the cute babies (SO MANY CUTE BABIES), and then the Our Father rolls around.

Are you meditating on how the Father gives us “our daily bread,” providing for us in so many physical and spiritual ways? Are you thinking about the ways in which you’ve “trespassed,” and asking forgiveness? Are you considering the times you’ve failed to forgive the trespasses of others as you should?

No, let’s face it, what is going on in your head is more akin to a pool shark strategizing where to hit the next ball. Because in just a second, the Our Father is going to be over, and the priest or deacon will tell us to offer one another a sign of peace, and if you don’t play things right, it all gets pretty weird.

Let’s see…the impossibly young boy and girl in front of me are obviously a newlywed couple, so they’ll turn to one another first, and considering that they’ve been holding hands through half of Mass, they’ll probably be all kissy and huggy and take awhile at it.

The big family in front of me with that INCREDIBLY CUTE bald-headed baby will have to shake hands in every possible familial combo first, so they won’t be done for a bit.

The woman to my right is a wild card: she has a full black veil over her face and knelt for ten minutes before Mass and has a large, well-worn leather Latin missal, so she may consider shaking hands a bunch of Norvus Ordo tomfoolery and not participate.

That leaves the guy in the ancient green polo shirt behind me, the one who smells so strongly of cigars that he’d better not walk too near a smoke detector. For the moment I love him because we are united in our otherness. So I will shake hands with Mr. Smoky, then eyeball veil lady, then turn to the family, then the couple if they aren’t still kissing.

For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever.

 And may I not find myself a pathetic goober, spinning in endless circles with my sweaty hand futilely outstretched. Amen.

Mini-Minimalism

My Dad was a minimalist before it was cool, before there was a movement and a name for it. (There was one exemption from his campaign of what we’d now dub “de-cluttering.” He had so many books they would end up in rows two or three deep on every bookcase, and stacked in teetering towers around his chair and bed. But I digress.)

I remember him ranting about the stupidity of any and all single-purpose kitchen appliances: mixers, cookers, choppers. Who needs a special vegetable slicer or a garlic press or a nut chopper when you have a decent knife and a bit of finesse? Who needs a toaster when you can make whole batches of toast in the oven? For years, Mom hinted at getting a rice cooker: with eight kids and a tight budget, we went through a lot of rice. But Dad pointed out that we had perfectly good pan and a stove.

A few years ago, just before Dad arrived for a visit, I picked up my first electric tea kettle. I remember thinking I should hide it, because I was afraid Dad would point out how unnecessary it was given that a pan on the stove did pretty much the same thing. But I forgot to hide it, and to my surprise, he didn’t scoff. In fact, to my surprise, he confessed to giving one to a brother for Christmas, and admitted to loving his own.

There’s a level of minimalism I don’t care to achieve, even if it might mean clear counters and a kitchen I could fit in a box. I love my kettle. And my rice cooker means I never have to deal with cooked-on rice or carefully watching a timer. I wouldn’t care to go without my marvelously hands-off Instant Pot pressure cooker.

I’m also not going to pare down to six inter-matchable outfits and two pairs of shoes, or a single pen and pencil. Minimalism at that point is a hobby, and I prefer my cluttered writing/drawing/music making hobbies, in spite of the stuff that comes with them.

I don’t have enough enthusiasm about having little to get down to what I could fit in a suitcase, though I have a certain admiration for those who do. I’ve reached a point where I like certain things around to make life more comfortable, even if it means my kitchen will never be perfectly Instagram-able and my desk will remain a bit cluttered.

But–and I know this has been a morbid theme of mine all year, so bear with me–I again and still feel it would behoove me to reach a point where at least what I have, bountiful though it may be, makes sense. If I was to get hit by a bus tomorrow, would my family have to wade through meaningless flotsam just to find the key to the garage? Would they know where to find the cats’ medical records? How much time would they have to spend going through the odds and ends in the garage I was planning to deal with “eventually?”

Or would they at least find my too-many inks and pencils and notebooks in one place, my important papers and keys in a logical spot, and maybe even a list of bills and contact numbers?

I guess that’s one of my goals for winter, provided I don’t get by a bus first. I did do a certain amount of paring down this spring, but there’s still some excess, and things are still out of order. My goal is more “turnkey” than “minimalism.” Stuff doesn’t bring happiness, but some stuff is still pretty fun, and I’m OK with that.

Getting Back on the Horse

 

In the last year, and especially the last six months, I’ve drifted away from regular writing. And I miss it: fiction and blogging and just scribbling down thoughts in a journal.

Part of this is a feeling that I’m out of my depth. Blogging in general these days has skewed from what-I’m-up-to to Categorized Important Topics. In the days when I first started blogging, there were a lot more people just posting statuses and images and a few opinions, mostly for family and friends. These days, that sort of content has shifted to Facebook and other social media platforms.

So maybe this is redundant. Since (despite efforts toward the end of my last substantial blogging spurt) I am not a profound or intelligent or particularly inciteful-on-a-special-subject sort of writer, it may be that my little essays belong in those walled gardens. But there’s something to be said for shouting into the abyss, if only as a means of collecting one’s own thoughts for the purpose of shouting, even without the expectation of response.

Maybe this time, I’ll just be honest, not shaping my posts to an audience, not trying to hide bits of pieces of who and what I am: a 40 year old perpetually single slightly nerdy Catholic woman with too many hobbies, far too many pens and pencils and notebooks, and several peculiar cat-dog-things roaming around. Once upon a time I was sure sooner or later I would be a slightly nerdy Catholic wife with a slightly nerdy Catholic husband and potentially very nerdy Catholic kids, genetics being what they are, but this was apparently not meant to be.

I do have assorted amazing nieces and nephews, nerdy and not, and people I can serve. I have days when I am content to live in the moment and accept what comes, not fretting about the past or sighing about the future. I also have days when I don’t understand how I arrived at my current state.

I have days when I am caught up in my music or my messing around with art objects or my cats. I have days when they feel like selfish indulgences and I feel guilty about them.

I have days when, despite life not turning out the way I expected, I rejoice at how blessed I am, and I feel like I am right where and how I am meant to be.

I have days, especially since turning 40 in October, when a part of me is afraid I only believe because I’m terrified my life will lose any meaning if there isn’t more to it than worldly success and achievements. I’m halfway through the game of life, and there are days when it feels as though I’ve already lost and now I’m just pointlessly pushing pieces around, an endless stalemate.

I’m sure I’m not the only one in my position. It just feels that way at times.

In any case, I guess I may as well start writing about it. I’ll keep me out of trouble for a few minutes at a time, right?