I 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.
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?
(Just by way of background: about a month ago, I was running a routine errand on a quiet Friday evening, and while I was at a red light waiting for it to change, an inattentive driver plowed into the back of my little Corolla. I was sore, but OK, but the car had extensive frame damage and is gone.)
The other day I was going through a bag of stuff that we took out of the little blue car before it went to the body shop, and the stuff I pulled from the glove compartment before it went off to the salvage yard when it was declared totaled. Among the stuff: a spiffy, shiny maintenance record. Barely used. I’d also saved the all the receipts from oil changes, and the nice tires I got not too terribly long ago.
None of which matters now. It doesn’t matter that the tires had a good warranty. It doesn’t matter that the engine and transmission and brakes were all in great shape.
Likewise, it doesn’t matter that I never got around to cleaning up those few drops of dried coffee in the cup holder, or wiping the dust off the dashboard.
In his homily on Sunday, Father said that “all analogies limp.” And I’m not sure there’s really one I can draw from this anyway.
I’m just thrown off balance still, I guess. It makes you realize that doing the right things is no guarantee of anything, whether it’s a car’s existence or your pet’s well-being or a person’s life. You can do everything right, you can be the sort of person who (like my little Toyota) generally enjoys perfect health, and you can still die in a freak accident or end up with a sudden catastrophic illness or cancer. Being careful is no guarantee. Being “successful” is no guarantee. We’re all still totally vulnerable. There’s no magic bullet.
This past week was also the anniversary of Mom’s passing, so those emotions are in the mix, too. I remember that after she died, it took me a long time to get over a frightening, paralyzing awareness of the fragility of life. We take for granted that each day we’ll get up, go to work or school or church or the grocery, come home, go to bed. Day after day, year after year. Mostly, we do. And yet, at any given moment, that could come to an end. When Mom died, it was the first time I was really struck by how easily and quickly someone could go from being here to not being here.
At the moment, I’m back to that awareness, and I know it is partly an opportunity to find trust and to think about what truly matters in this life and the next, but mostly it feels like living on the edge of a precipice, and it’s taking a long while to fade.
If there is one bit of worldly wisdom I wish I could convey to my younger self, it is this: don’t be afraid to spend your time and money on experiences.
It’s something it has taken me far too long to learn. It just seemed almost wrong to spend money on trips or concerts or other intangibles that left you with nothing–nothing, that is, except memories.
There is a paradox there, however: it may seem that experiences are fleeting while objects endure, but in our memories, it’s just the opposite.
On top of that, things can weigh heavily on our homes and minds, especially as the years go on and despite our best efforts, they accumulate.
I’m at a point now where I’m concentrating on letting go. Part of this is yet another attempt to work on my poor organizing skills. But another part is realizing there’s a certain peace, a certain freedom in only having what you need, only buying and using things you really want.
I’m not really a materialistic person, I swear. Yes, I like beautiful instruments and other objects. I appreciate good tools. There are things worth having.
But as I pass into another phase of life, I want to pare down, concentrate on what matters, spend more time and money on making memories, not on gathering things.
Unfortunately I can’t go back in time to straighten myself out:
I can’t tell myself to buy fewer instruments/guitars (except that one, because man…) and spend more time and money on camps and festivals and lessons.
Take the younger siblings camping.
Take more road trips, just to explore and appreciate.
Take a cooking class, just for the fun of it.
Take lots of classes just for fun of it.
Find ways to take trips, even if I have to go alone.
Try that restaurant, even if I have to go alone.
Buy flowers once in awhile, even if they’ll fade away.
I’m a little late to the ball game. But I’m trying to embrace experiences a bit more. Don’t let week after week after week slip by unlived in. Call people more. Spend more time with family and friends. Observe the seasons. Check out nearby places. Do things. Learn, even if what I’m learning isn’t “useful.” Stay curious.
I don’t know if I’ve ever told the story of how Halvah came to me.
It was the year 2000, and I had my first grown-up civilian job, doing PC support for a small company in Lyndonville, VT, not too terribly far from the town where I grew up. I got a full hour for lunch, so sometimes Mom would come by and pick me up and we’d go out to eat.
One day at getting-toward-lunch-time, one of the gals at the front desk called me and told me Mom was there. She hadn’t said she was coming, but I still wasn’t terribly surprised. But when I went up to the front to meet her, I found her practically wringing her hands, very agitated. “I did a bad thing,” she told me furtively. “Can you get away for a few minutes?”
Of course I said “of course,” but I was amused and bemused. I followed her out to the car, where she showed me the “bad thing” in the form of a cardboard cat carrier containing a little ball of beige and brown fluff that cried and cried in a gravelly voice.
It turned out Mom had wandered into the pet store in Littleton, NH, which back then occasionally had puppies and kittens–often local “oops” litters. There was a single Himalayan/Siamese kitten all alone in a cage there, crying and crying, and it broke Mom’s heart. She (the kitten) cost $250–a crazy sum of money for Mom–but she shelled it out and fled with the kitten, hoping against hope that I’d bail her out and keep the poor baby.
I mean, really, what else *could* I do? I named her Halvah, because her coloring resembled the sesame candy, and because she was so sweet.A few days later her voice changed to a more normal cry–she’d apparently cried herself hoarse.
In the long run, she turned out to be more sassy than sweet. She is her own cat, sets her own rules, gives affection under her own terms. She doesn’t mind a warm lap now and again, and she’ll greet me at the door, but woe to anyone who might try to pick her up, or pet her an instant longer than she prefers. MAJOR woe to anyone who tries to get her to take a pill or eat a food not of her choosing or deign to allow her nails to be cut. She knows how to strike like a snake, claw like a cougar, and wail like a banshee.
Select Halvah adventures include the time she somehow found a way to get from under the sink to under the floorboards at an apartment in a not-terribly-well-maintained old house, and then got stuck because she insisted on going forward and wouldn’t back up. My brother and I spent what felt like hours huddled on the floor in the middle of the night, calling and pleading with her, while Tam yowled frantically and wanted SO MUCH to go in after her. I imagined having to call my landlord at 2AM to explain that he was going to need to cut the house apart because my cat was too stubborn for words. (She finally grudgingly backed her pudgy behind to the starting point, and Jim and I hauled her out by the legs).
Then there was the time I moved across country. My sister Margaret rode along in the minivan as we transported all my belongings and the two cats from Vermont to Colorado. We discovered pretty quickly that Halvah would cry loudly if we didn’t have music playing, and we further discovered just how much of this country has almost no radio stations. I’d foolishly packed all my music away in an inaccessible box, so we were left playing two CDs my sister had on hand, over and over and over and over for thousands of miles: Clint Black’s Greatest Hits, and an Everly Brothers collection. I will forever think of Halvah and that trip when I hear those songs.
Age is starting to catch up to her now, and she’s showing some symptoms of the kidney disease that took Tam last year. In her case, I know treatment options will be limited: she eats only the food she wants to eat, you can’t trick her or force her when it comes to pills, there’s no way in the universe I could give her fluids. She has very definite opinions, and at her age, I guess I can only respect those opinions and hope she has some good times left.
She’s one of the more interesting cats I’ve known. And she’s still Mom’s little “bad thing,” and I love her for it.
Kids are so awesome and so scary. Everything is new and everything is meaningful, and *that* is awesome and scary.
I mean, you and I can’t remember what we had for breakfast last Sunday, but kids…kids, you never know if that bagel you buy them, the bagel you only buy them because you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to sit down for breakfast at the house, that bagel could become The Bagel, the one bagel to which all future bagels will be compared, the bagel they will remember to their dying day as The Bagel of All Bagels.
Or, alternatively, you don’t know if you’re going to blurt something impatiently and, likewise, they’ll remember those words for the rest of their lives, in all their darkest moments.
I love my nieces and nephews, and I hope some of the experiences we have together are good memories they carry forever. At the same time, I feel like any time spent with kids is such a huge responsibility. I love it, and I’m awed by it, and I am slightly terrified, too.
Maybe that’s a teeny slice of what parents experience. I can hardly imagine. Whew.
For a brief time when I was about 13, I had a contact lens.
Yes, that’s singular. As in one lens.
I have very poor vision in my left eye–unaugmented, I see a matter of inches. As it turns out, I’m actually nearsighted in my right eye as well, and eventually I got glasses. I still don’t see with both eyes together, but whatever.
But at the time, the doctor just wanted to see whether it was possible for me to use my eyes together and actually have depth perception. So they just corrected the left to bring it up to the same strength as the right.
It didn’t work. I saw double, or saw things shifted to one side so I’d go to touch something or pick something up and find it had disconcertingly dodged me. I ended up closing one eye or the other a lot of the time just so I could function. The whole thing rather put me off contacts.
BUT! There was one really cool thing. And I’m never sure why this isn’t talked about more. Am I the only one who experienced this? Is it supposed to be a secret kept by contact lens users? Do I risk being hunted down and silenced? I don’t know.
But here’s what I found: soft contact lenses protect your eyes from onion vapors. Usually I turn into a teary, snotty, miserable mess when cutting onions. I love them, but oh, they hurt. However, I could close my non-contacted eye and slice away.
For a few short months, whenever Mom needed help in the kitchen, I was an invincible onion-chopping cyclops. And that was SO VERY COOL.
I have a tendency to obsess over two or three albums or artists at a time. I’ll spend a month listening to almost nothing but Bach Cello Suites, for example, or play a particular 90s band’s albums on repeat for days at a time until I know what song is coming up next before it starts.
And then sometimes those albums get lost. I have music I’ve not listened to in years. It is the joy and the challenge of the modern world, I guess: gone are the days when someone might have just half a dozen records they know by heart.
As I was setting up a new device the other day, I started scanning through the list of albums in my digital library–so many old friends, so many brief but passionate flings, so many that brought back so many memories. And I decided it might be fun to take a weird little piecemeal stroll down memory lane. (Ain’t it funny how a melody can bring back a memory?)
I’m working my way through them, in alphabetical order, at least the complete albums, and skipping over a few of the Giant Box o’ Bach types. There are some odd juxtapositions (Ray Charles to monastic chant?!), and admittedly my tastes have evolved (and devolved) through the years, so not everything is going to appeal as much or in the same way as it did at one time, but I’m still enjoying the trip.
• 12 Greatest Hits – Patsy Cline (An auspicious start. Love me some Patsy.)
• 25 – Harry Connick Jr.
• Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet
• About Time – Don Stiernberg (swing mando!)
• Achtung Baby – U2
• Acoustic Phenomenon – Patrick Ross (GREAT Vermont fiddler)
• Advent at Ephesus – Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles
• Afternoon in Paris – Stephane Grappelli (Spent a LOT of time with this one back in the day!)
• Alive Again – Matt Maher (which I tend to sing along to and scare the dog)
• All The Good ‘Uns – Ian Tyson (man knows how to paint a word picture…)
• Amahl and The Night Visitors
• An Enchanted Evening With Jose Carreras (which makes me miss Mom, his biggest fan…)
• An Evening in the Village: The Music of Béla Bartók – Jake Schepps (banjo!)
• An Spealadóir – Bua
• Anam – Clannad
• And I Feel Fine: The Best of the I.R.S. Years – R.E.M (how to feel drunk without drinking–hefty doses of R.E.M. over tinny speakers)
• Angelina Carberry & Martin Quinn (Irish tenor banjo!)
• Anthology – Ray Charles
• Anthology: Chants & Polyphany from St. Michael’s Abbey
• Armchair Apocrypha – Andrew Bird
At some point in the past, one of the members of the typosphere coined the acronym UTJU: Update Just To Update. Sometimes you don’t have profound thoughts or an important topic on which to enlighten folks, but here you are anyway. So it is.
Had a very busy weekend, with more ups than downs, so that’s cool. Saturday afternoon I went to a craft fair/bazaar in the retirement community of Ryderwood, WA–a proper craft fair this time, with nothing but handmade goods of all sorts, plus a bake sale. A few of the more captivating things I didn’t buy: wind-chimes made out of bizarre conglomerations of found objects like colanders and cheese graters and flower pots all welded or glued together (I may have one of those someday), and a quilted hanging of a Christmas tree with lights woven into it. That’s probably the only kind of Christmas tree I could really get away with considering the cats, and I wanted it, but at $100 I couldn’t buy it. Would have been a lot of work to make, so I don’t question the price, but I couldn’t. Would be neat for someone, though–something you could bring out every year for years, and the kids would remember it for ages and no one else would have one quite like it.
I did buy a small assortment of items, and not all of them for me. Though, admittedly, two of them were for the cats, which I guess counts as me. There was a lady selling all sorts of felted things–hats and bowls and stuffed animals–and she had catnip stuffed felted mice. I also bought a little knotted braid of scrap material from a lady that made fleece dog beds and blankets–intended as a tug toy for dogs, but Timo thought it was pretty great. Cassia absconded with the mouse, and as of this writing, it is MIA.
Saturday evening, I saw Sierra Hull in concert at Traditions in Olympia, WA–a very small venue, probably only on their itinerary because her bass player (Ethan Jodziewicz) is a local boy. Speaking of Ethan, MAN, he’s good. I hate to say anyone is “the next so-and-so” because that implies they’re not a standout in their own right, so I won’t say he’s the next Edgar Meyer, but… Just a phenomenal musician. Used the bow quite a bit, too, and oh, bowed bass makes me weak in the knees when done right. He did it right.
Sierra has superb mandolin/octave mandolin chops (and is just so doggoned cute and endearing), and her other band member aside from Ethan (Justin Moses) can apparently play the heck out of anything with strings. And they all sing. It was a very good show. Tough in parts, for me–a lot of her recent album is about growing up and moving on and while in her case, this applies to being in her early twenties and dealing with being an adult, I’m kind of in a place like that again/still, and it almost hurt. Plus she did a song about missing your mother, and I bawled and didn’t have Kleenex and felt like a goober.
But yeah, it was a wonderful concert. And we were close enough to the stage that I could just about have kicked it. I don’t think they play places that small much these days, so that was pretty special.
Afterwards, some friends and I went out to eat at La Gitana. If you like thin crust, very fresh and flavorful Southern Italian style pizza, you must go here if you’re in town. Must. It was a little chaotic, though, being Saturday night, and a guitarist and singer were providing live music there (old jazz standards, mostly), which was great, but made it a bit loud for casual conversation.
The server was pretty patient amidst all the commotion, I thought, and made sure to check on us and was apologetic when things took awhile due to the crowd. I meant to leave a decent tip, but when I got home and started getting ready for bed, I discovered the tip money in my pocket. Apparently I absentmindedly stuffed it back in my pocket as we were picking up to go. Leaving her thinking and feeling…I don’t know what.
I felt so bad about it, I tossed and turned Saturday night, and had an odd dream in which I was a settler on a new planet, helping my brother and sister-in-law farm the land, but strangely the new town on this planet had several pizza parlors and I kept doing things that made the managers of all of them think I was an unpleasant nut case.
(Speaking of nuts, pecans grew WONDERFULLY on this new planet, and people there pronounced them peh-KAHN, as is Right and Good.)
So there was that.
After discussion with a friend, I decided to bring the accidental non-tip down to the restaurant when they opened with a note, so I spent Sunday morning writing and rewriting that note. Also drawing margins in the notebook I plan to use for NaNoWriMo. I’d planned to use some smaller notebooks, but I kept eyeing these giant notebooks I had made a few years ago, before all the office stores in town went out of business in spite of all my efforts to keep them afloat.
Seriously, this side of town lost a Staples, an Office Max, and an Office Depot, all within the span of a few years. It makes me sad.
But I do still have several of these notebooks. They’re heavy and a bit awkward to lug around, but the paper is so, so very nice for fountain pen. The one issue I ran into with them for NaNo is that, although I’m pretty good at writing in straight lines on unlined paper, I tend to write almost to the edges, and (especially for fiction), I like to have space to add notes and corrections in the margin. So I’m trying something a bit like law ruling in these, with the help of a few penciled lines, giving myself a generous space on the left to doodle or add notes.
I’ve only treated the first fifty pages, so if I find myself hating this setup, I can go back to using the full page, or experiment with different margins.
Sunday afternoon, I went up to an October festival at the parish where my nieces and nephews go to school. They had half German food and half Mexican food, and my oldest niece decided it would be a very fine thing indeed to have one parent from each country for the sake of the food. And I decided I really need to make another batch of sauerkraut.
There was also a little bit of a bazaar there, with crafts and food and some second hand items. My sister-in-law bought me a late birthday present: a Russian (?) plate with an icon of Christ calming/walking on the sea. I need to find a hanger for it so I can put it up without Cassia experimenting.
The kids got to paint pumpkins and play games and make sticky messes with caramel apples, so a highly successful day, all told!
More random kitten pictures from the weekend, just because. Though they’re almost not kittens anymore! Eight months old now, probably almost as big as they’ll get. Little Cassia is still little Cassia–she’s still under seven pounds. Timo is just about ten now.