Posts tagged gardening

This is not farewell

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I recently spent an evening listening to a 90-year-old woman talk. If you’ve never listened to a 90-year-old person talk about his or her life, you really should. Our conversation gave me a lot to think about.

Aunt Susie told me about her life; about her decision to marry a widower with 13-month-old twins instead of pursuing her own dreams, about raising 8 children while working in a nursing home to make ends meet, all the while taking care of a child who was in and out of the hospital. She told me of the pain of losing that son at the age of 18 after 13 years of illness. “I still miss that boy,” she would say. She has buried two husbands. She has housed and nurtured foreign students, been the live-in companion to the developmentally challenged, and adopted the 30 descendants of her deceased sister, in addition to her own large extended family.

Now in her 90’s, she starts her day by praying for each family member by name. There are over 200 people on her list, so this takes a while. People will approach her with personal needs and she prays for them. She calls one friend on a daily basis to pray with her over the phone. Aunt Susie has no idea how her friend’s problem can be solved, but this doesn’t stop her from praying for her. She’s confident that God knows the answer.

She journals. She writes down the minutiae of life: the phone calls she made, what she had for breakfast, which appointment she had at 10:00am. It keeps her mind sharp. I wonder what she would think if I told her that people are doing this on something called the internet for the whole world to see. She would probably think me insane.

She also journals about sermons she’s heard. Helps the teaching to sink in, she says. One would think that someone who spends that kind of time praying and reading her Bible would have no use for the sermons of people 30 to 50 years her junior, but she does.

And finally, Aunt Susie makes cards. Personalized birthday cards for the people in her life, complete with dried flowers arranged on the front and a verse or poem chosen just for them. Sometimes she makes up to six cards a day. She probably uses more stamps in a month than I have in the entire last decade.

Aunt Susie spends her time serving, praying, and counting her blessings. She is blissfully unaware of reality TV, which movies are now playing, what Lady Gaga tweeted about today, or who has posted new photos on facebook. She never has to check her e-mail, pay a cell phone bill, or install a firewall on her computer. What matters in her life are relationships with people and her Lord. That’s it. And I envy her for it.

Having said that, I already hear the rebuttals: “She’s 90 and living in a retirement home where all her needs are met. You’re 32, caring for a young family, networking with people, paying a mortgage, saving for retirement and your kids’ education, and trying to keep your ear to the ground so as not to appear totally stupid in a conversation.”

I get that. And still I envy the simplicity of her life. I envy the peace that emanates from her well-organized mind. I envy the discipline she has developed in her formative years and maintained in her later years. I envy the quiet of her inner being, the attitude of rest in her manner. Her contentment with her situation. The total absence of striving after meaningless things. I cannot help but compare her simple life to the social networking noise, the frenzied pace of technology, the worship of the environment, and the pressure to do it all because you are Woman!

So for this reason (and because it’s gardening season) I have decided to take a hiatus from blogging and unnecessary use of technology. This does not mean I will not return to this place to write down my thoughts in the future. This blog will still exist. But I have decided not to care about how many people follow my blog, or whether they care about what I care about. I have decided that, for now, I’d rather invest my time in training my children and being with my family than writing about it. I’d rather be in my garden than sitting in front of my computer writing about it. I have decided to invest my precious time in the relationships that are right in front of my nose instead of bowing to the pressure to “follow other blogs so that someone will follow yours.” This is the reason I left the juvenile medium known as Twitter, why I can’t be bothered to post statuses on facebook, and why I leave the computer off on evenings and weekends. As far as I’m concerned, this metal box full of chips and wires gobbles up too much time that could be spent doing other useful things – like riding my bike to visit a friend.

To be clear, I am not bringing my laptop to the curb. I rely on it for everything from banking to e-mail communication to running my piano teaching business. With the change of season, however, I am once again putting it in its proper place of servitude, and elevating relationships and real-world, tangible, sensory-stimulating things and activities to their rightful place of importance in my life.

The very first blog post I ever wrote began like this: Technology and I have come to a tenuous agreement: though I hate it and it hates me, neither of us are going away, and so here we are, coexisting in a space called Debbiesblog. (Now creationcarekids) As any shrink will tell you, a relationship where both parties are seeking their own advantage is doomed to failure, and so it is when I attempt to coexist with technology. My dear readers, do not let this temporary separation distress you, however. This is not good-bye, but merely see you later…

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A Quiver full of Blessings

When I consider all the evenings Oliver and I have fallen into bed, utterly exhausted by our three boys and their antics, yesterday seems even more surreal. While on most evenings I find myself praying, “God just give us the strength for this next half hour of showers and tooth brushing,” yesterday I found myself thanking God for the three amazing gifts that never cease to surprise us.

After a lovely day of gardening and playing outside, we had just finished supper when a landscaper friend came by the house to give us some advice on our outdoor plans. We left the boys to play inside so that we could both be part of the consultation. Every now and then I would check on the boys, just to make sure that there wasn’t any trouble. After all, in my experience, war will break out between those three within about 2 minutes of being left to their own devices. Though I didn’t actually see them, their quiet voices assured me that there was no reason to worry. “They’re probably just looking at books,” I thought. Still, strange…

As we were wrapping up the consult with the landscaper on the front porch, we spied the kids inside, jumping around in the living room, obviously trying to get our attention. Seeing that they were all happy and smiling, I simply smiled, nodded, and returned my attention to our friend. All of a sudden it dawned on me that Teddy was wearing PJs. Come to think of it, so was Sammy. Upon closer inspection, even Caleb was in PJs, which surprised us, since Caleb does not dress himself yet. “Too bad they don’t know it’s shower day,” I commented to the two Dads standing on the porch. “They’ll just have to take everything off again.”

At that point I noticed, however, that the boys’ hair looked wet. “Teddy,” I asked our 7-year-old through the window glass, “Did you shower?”

“Yup!” he exclaimed, obviously tickled pink that I was slowly putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

“Did you shower everyone?

“Yup!” he said again, a giant smile on his face. “We even brushed our teeth!”

I couldn’t resist re-introducing our trophy children to our family friend, who was as shocked as Oli and I were.

As we were preparing to begin the story time ritual a little while later, Caleb suddenly entered the room saying, “I yat a poop!” Since Caleb still prefers the diaper to the potty for this particular bodily function, I assumed he was stating a fact that was in the past tense. I quickly ushered him into the bathroom, where it turned out that his pants were clean and he was eager to sit on his little red pot.

From his vantage point watching the exciting drama unfold in the doorway, Teddy was quick to tell me that he had already put Caleb on the potty before his shower. (Trust me folks, this kind of thing happens all the time when you have trophy children.) Apparently Caleb was having a great potty-day, because his subsequent potty-success sealed the deal on an incredible day.

We read stories snuggled on the couch in front of a warm fire, and finished off the time with some acappella singing. When we got to Peter Lutkin’s The Lord Bless You and Keep You – which I have been singing to all three at bedtime since they were nursing babes – I decided to take the two older boys to sing in Caleb’s room, who was still awake in his crib. As we stood in the darkness by his crib singing the familiar strains of this beautiful hymn of blessing, Caleb joined his little voice to our dissonant chorus. Although we don’t yet have harmonizing voices, that day we had harmony in the home. It was there in the darkness that I mentally bottled the moment; a small preserve for the next time they’re at each other’s throats and I’m losing my mind. For all the trouble they are, children are indeed a blessing.

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Spring already?

Since it’s the last day of January I feel it’s appropriate to begin a countdown to gardening season. There are only 108 days left until I can put in my vegetable garden! On second thought, this is quite depressing, given that winter has only been upon us for 41 days. On the bright side, gardening season really starts before May anyway. My tulips and crocuses will be in full bloom much sooner, not to mention the dandelions. I can hardly wait.

Any gardener can relate to my feelings of anticipation. Even non-gardeners can appreciate the glory of spring with its fragrant blossoms, brilliant colours and the promise that snowsuit season will soon be behind us for another year.

Parenting is a lot like that. Sometimes it feels like we’re stuck in one record-breaking stretch of winter where there is no fruit – nay, not even a bud – in our children. We spend countless summers preparing the soil of their little hearts, praying for rain, adding fertilizer, pruning, and loving on that little sapling in hopes that one day it will bear fruit. I am here to tell you, folks, that there are signs of spring in our family’s garden. Yesterday I discovered a shiny little fruit on one of our little saplings.

In Teddy’s class there is a troubled child whom we shall call Nick (not his real name). Nick joined the class in the middle of the year. It soon became clear that Nick had some problems making friends. His way of getting attention was to hit, spit at, pester, push, or in some other way irritate his classmates. His idea of “play” was limited to anything involving weapons. In no time at all he was well-known at the office and by the parents of Teddy’s classmates.

My gut instinct was to advise Teddy to stay away from the child and make sure he tells the teacher about Nick’s inappropriate behaviour. This is also the side of me that just wants to call the police about rowdy neighbours instead of talking directly to them. It solves nothing. Still, when another child spits at your child, you want justice.

Instead of seeking justice we decided to pray for change. We made the choice to think and speak of Nick as a troubled child, not a trouble-maker. Of course Nick knew that what he was doing was wrong and that it would win him no friends, but something was obviously compelling him to act that way. From the little we found out from Teddy (not the most trustworthy bearer of accurate information, mind you) Nick came from a broken home. Although this does not always result in children exhibiting bad behaviour, Nick’s behaviour could certainly be explained by trouble at home. Although we don’t know any details, I invited Teddy to project himself into Nick’s possible situation: most likely he wasn’t seeing one parent most of the time. It’s possible that he did not feel secure in their love for him, which caused him to come to school already bent out of shape. Maybe his need for love was not being met at home, and his “love tank” was perpetually empty.

His problems were only exacerbated by the fact that he had joined his class in the middle of the year and was trying to find his place where everyone already had theirs. His attempts to impress the others with his knowledge of guns did not impress his teacher. He perpetually placed second in two-man running races at recess, which is to say that he came in last place all the time. This is a big deal in a subculture where being the fastest boy means everything.

Time went on and the Anti-Nick movement grew. Based on their children’s bad experiences with the boy, parents began going to the vice-principal with the issue. He did what he could to reason with him and explain how to be a friend if he wants to have any. His behaviour seemed to settle down somewhat, but there were days when his “happiness balloon” lost air all day and was totally deflated by3:00pm (according to Teddy). We maintained that Nick needed a good friend if there was to be any hope of his behaviour changing.

One day I asked Teddy if he would consider a play-date with Nick. “Of course!” said our son, who would consider a play-date withIran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if it meant that he could host someone and possibly share a meal with them. When he mentioned it to Nick at school, he was immediately open to the idea. Although we haven’t managed to arrange the details yet, the thought alone seems to have changed something between the boys.

Yesterday Teddy came home and announced that Nick had told him that he was his only friend. At recess Teddy had been playing soccer with his buddies when he noticed that one of the girls in his class was irate with Nick. Apparently, a switch flipped and the mental movie of his Mommy talking to him at breakfast about Nick started playing. He walked over there and explained to the girl that Nick was not a bad kid, but that he wanted to make friends and just didn’t know how. He told her that he would feel a whole lot better and be a whole lot nicer if someone would just be his friend. At which point he turned to Nick and said, “Right Nick?”

I can imagine Nick’s surprise at this point, but he agreed with Teddy that yes, this was the correct analysis of the reason for his angst and aggression (though I don’t think he used those terms). After this, the two boys went and found a place where melting snow was dripping from the roof, and had a great time sticking their heads underneath. It didn’t seem to matter to Nick that their game had nothing to do with guns. “You know Mom,” said Teddy as he concluded his story, “I think Nick is actually a really good friend.”

I think I could say the same about you, Buddy.

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Compost: From Yucky to Yummy

Our corn patch

A few years ago my husband Oliver read a book about composting which has forever changed the landscape of our yard. I grew up with a father who, after having read the same book, began to compost on a scale that rivals our municipality’s mammoth piles of smoldering organic matter at the local dump. While I do admit to some slight exaggeration, Dad claimed a parcel of land for his composting pursuits that equaled the size of what most people in suburbia call a backyard.

For most of us, the notion of compost involves a Black Earth Machine (or some other black barrel) into which we deposit our kitchen scraps and hope for the best. For years we “composted” in this way and really only harvested a few shovels full of compost each year (if we even harvested any compost at all).

After reading the aforementioned book (which I would recommend here if it weren’t German and probably out of print) Oliver built a simple 3’ x 9’ wooden enclosure that resembles a small animal pen of sorts. The walls are three feet high with no lid. One of the long sides of the enclosure is made of horizontal planks which can be removed when the compost is ready to be harvested in the Spring.

Surprise squash among the corn

Oliver has a compost “recipe” which includes leaf mold from last year’s raking effort, kitchen scraps from our Black Earth Machine (where animals can’t access it), assorted yard waste, agricultural lime, and blood and bone meal (available at garden and home centers). After harvesting the previous year’s batch by shoveling it through a chicken wire sieve into a wheel barrow, he puts together his organic trifle, covers it with come clay (if available) and dried ornamental grasses (a remnant from our “winter-scape”) and lets it sit for a year. Because we do not include meat or dairy products and all the fresh kitchen scraps are safe in the Black Earth Machine, we do not deal with rodents or a stench of any kind.

This year we turned a section of lawn into a new corn patch and added large amounts of Oliver’s compost to the soil before planting the corn. The corn patch, incidentally, belongs to the kids. I’ve found it to be more fun for kids to watch corn grow than carrots, for instance, since the rate of growth is unbelievable, and there’s a real sense of satisfaction for them. Each day we headed out to our little patch (no bigger than 36 sq. ft. or so) to see whether that corn had germinated. After about 14 days we rejoiced to see little green spikes sticking out of the soil. Success!

After a few days we weren’t just watching corn grow anymore. Other than oodles of crab grass (which Mommy ended up weeding, of course), what came up out of our “compost garden” were around 10 little squash plants, 3 or 4 melons (we suspect) and about 80 tomato plants. Squash is a great companion plant with corn since it grows along the ground among the stalks, shading the roots and helping with moisture retention. The melons we’ve allowed to stay as well, just to see what will happen. But what about the tomatoes?!?!? Why did I ever buy transplants?

I decided that it was criminal to pull them out as weeds, so after letting

Our chemical-free green space

them establish I offered them on, a group that lives by the motto that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. I’ve been able to adopt my little tomatoes out to several new homes, although by now they’re getting to be so big that I probably won’t be able to transplant all of them anymore. So, despite the fact that corn and tomatoes aren’t the best companions (they are susceptible to the same worm) we will live and let live in the compost garden, and see what happens!

Composting has truly changed the landscape of our yard. It’s not so much the heap, which I had dreaded would be an eye-sore in the beauty of our green space. As it is, the heap is obscured in front by corn and on top by a few squash plants spilling over the edge (another uninvited yet welcome garden guest). Looking around at what’s growing in our garden, most of what we see has to be attributed to the silent workings of the compost with its nutrients and microorganisms. I think there is a beautiful broader illustration here of how even the yucky things in our lives, in the hands of a capable Gardener, can become something outstanding and fruitful.

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Suburban Strawberries

perfect homegrown strawberries

It is June, and for those of us living in the northern hemisphere, that means strawberry season. Strawberry season at our house begins after weeks of watching the agonizingly slow succession from bud, to blossom, to hard, green fruit, and finally to glorious red morsel of horticultural perfection. That first juicy berry is carefully and dutifully divided up five ways so that each member of the family can partake of the elements of this annual ritual. I am not exaggerating when I say that the strawberries from our patch are sweeter than any local or imported fruit we have ever tasted. I’m sure it’s because we don’t irrigate our berries, but I like to think it’s simply a reflection of our joy in growing them.


Our children love to pick strawberries. Let me rephrase that. Our children love to eat strawberries. At the age of six – and being a self-starter by nature – Teddy is a real help in the task of harvesting. When he comes home from school he heads to the patch and eats. If Oli or I are harvesting Teddy will gladly pitch in and help fill the bowl. His younger brother Sammy, on the other hand, is another matter entirely.


Today I suggested Sam come outside with me to do some weeding in the garden.
“Yay!” he cried as he ran to the door to put on his shoes. His 4-year-old enthusiasm lasted about 5 minutes, at which point he had pulled out about 4 weeds and announced he was “boiling” and needed to stop.


I suggested he get a bowl from the house to harvest a few berries, thinking that would entice him to stay with me in the garden for a little while longer. Initially he wasn’t too thrilled to have to walk all the way back into the kitchen (!) to get the bowl, but once I assured him that he could also eat berries while picking them, he perked right up and went to fetch the bowl.


Boiling no more, he began picking, informing me of every ripe berry he found. At one point he proudly showed me what he had picked. “Look Mommy! Look at my bowl!” It didn’t take long to count the four strawberries that constituted his harvest. Instead of picking more, Sam slowly ate the few strawberries that were left in his bowl, at which point I took over the strawberry picking. This suited him just fine, since he was now relieved of the task of picking, and he could eat from the bowl that was becoming full faster than he could eat. When it became too hot for him he suggested I go push him on the swing for a while. Sure, Sam.


Sensing a teachable moment I explained to Sam that he cannot have it both ways: have Mommy pick his berries while simultaneously pushing him on the swing. In fact, after a while, I cut off the berry supply, explaining that pickers get to eat and kids who wait to be served will have to wait a long time.


What can I say, except that kids are not born with an appreciation for work! Left to their own devices they will most likely chose the path of least resistance and leave the work for the other people in their lives: their parents, their siblings, their roommates, or their spouses.


our open-air grocery store

Lucky for him, Sam is just beginning his apprenticeship as a garden helper. Other program points in the coming years will include weeding (and sticking to it), working with compost, tilling the soil and of course, harvesting the produce. That little vegetable patch will teach our children a very valuable life lesson: the joy of breaking a sweat working, and the thrill of a job well done when they bite into that first ripe strawberry.


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Real Life in HD

It’s spring, and the world outside your back door is changing. Have you noticed? I mean really noticed. Really noticing means sitting outside to watch the sunrise/set, putting a few flowers or vegetables into the soil or a pot, quietly watching the early-morning bustling of the birds as they prepare their nests, or going for a stroll to take in the plethora of sights, smells and sounds of this season that is characterized by new life and unstoppable growth.

Many years ago this would have been a silly question. Which Canadian wouldn’t want to spend as much time as possible out of doors in May after having been cooped up for the previous six months? While I still want to believe that this has not really changed, I am afraid that for some people, it has.

In a recent episode of Doc Zone on CBC television I was amazed – nay, repulsed – to learn of the effect BlackBerries and the like are having on our collective brains and behaviours. Texting, though a very recent phenomenon, has taken the world by storm and has invaded every place in our society. A study was done on a university campus to test people’s ability to multi-task. Observers recorded the reactions of students walking across campus to a clown riding around on a unicycle. Not surprisingly, 100% of those engaged in conversation with an in-person friend noticed the clown. Only 25% of those busy texting did. The surprising (and worrying) fact was, that most of those conversing with their online friends in egregious English (can you tell I’m not a texter?) actually claimed to be completely aware of their surroundings while engaged in the act of texting. This obviously raises issues like people’s ability to control a vehicle safely while being distracted by the use of technology.

The issue of texting and driving is not a new one, and I do not wish to discuss it here, although it certainly does need to be addressed. It seems odd to me, though, that the only time we will consider a behaviour harmful or even destructive, is if it takes the life of, or seriously injures someone. Is anyone talking about the broader impact on relationships in a world where people care more about what their friends in a virtual place are doing, rather than what’s going on right in front of their noses?

Although this documentary addresses texting in particular, I would implicate other virtual communication platforms in the same crime of destroying relationships. Before everything I say here gets discredited as being the crazy words of a hopeless traditionalist, let me say that I am not against the use of technology. There is a place for facebook, e-mail, cell phones and texting. We must admit to a collective problem, however, when people are checking themselves into internet de-tox centres to become free of their addictions (ironically enough, the centre I’m referring to in Washington is only a few kilometers away from Microsoft itself…). 

Before we shake our heads though at people who are “so far gone” as to need help to quit an addiction to technology, I would challenge each of us to consider our own behaviour. What is the longest you can comfortably be away from facebook? What if you were to lose your cell phone? Provided you do not need to be reached for work reasons, how quickly would you need to replace it? I would even challenge some of those work reasons, however. We tend to believe that we are irreplaceable, and that all hell will break lose if we are not available for comment. If even Green Party leader Elizabeth May can get by without a cell phone, most of us probably could as well.

I would challenge each of us to consider what would really happen if we were to get off the technology treadmill for a few days – maybe even weeks – this summer. Remember, ten years ago most of us had no cell phone and were not on facebook, and yet the world turned even then. Twenty years ago most of us would have spent long weekends outside in the garden or with in-person friends. Fifty years ago we would have actually sat outside on lovely spring evenings instead of staring at an LCD screen in the basement. Does anybody out there even care, or am I the only one?

The real question is, does all of this preoccupation with technology really make us any happier? I use the term “preoccupation” instead of “use” purposely. Most of the technology we use is not a means to any useful end – it’s a distraction from the useful end. Is a job really that terrific if you’re always “on”? Even doctors have times when they call in a replacement and go on holidays. Are you really that much more in-demand than the person whose mandate it is to save lives on a daily basis? Emergency personnel get days off – lots of them. This is so that they do not get burned out by their stressful professions, and can continue to serve and protect with excellence. Are we, in our everyday lives giving ourselves that opportunity for refreshment?

A compelling point brought up by some experts interviewed for the CBC documentary was that all of this point-form speech and one-dimensional communication is actually making people incapable of having a deep thought. We are becoming a society of puddle-dwellers, incapable of devoting any appreciable time to pursuits such as creativity, which requires time and depth in order to unfold. According to the experts, our capacity for anything more involved than “lol!” and “lmao!” is disappearing. So what are we going to do about it?

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