Wednesday, August 18, 2010

summer garden expectations

I was so happy that we finished a project this year. I asked for a garden this spring and that's exactly what I got. I showed you pics of it back after I first planted in June and now it is in full festoon. We harvest the beans, nasturtiums, herbs and squash every other day and still more come. I get so much pleasure from the snaking vines, the scents, the 8 foot tall towers of sunflowers. But, I am not a perfectionist in the garden. I've read some books, looked over the seed packets, and still my garden has issues. I am trying to look at this in a philosophical way and I'm learning about expectations.

I almost gave up on the beans. I almost pulled them out at one point in early June. They looked so wilty, so weak. And then, finally, they took hold and VA-VA-VOOM! Holy Moly! My beans are insane producers. I love hunting for them, my hair falling in my eyes (ok, I hate that part), searching through the dense underbrush of bean foliage and nasturtium tangles. There are always a zillion hiding out deep in that forest. Every day I get a full bucket of beans and then I make a marinated bean salad that is perfect summer potluck fare. Garlic-Dijon-Champagne vinaigrette over green and yellow beans (recipe below). Marinate all day. No cooking necessary. Crunchy, garlicky goodness!

The Cinderella pumpkin plant, below, is immense, taking up a full 12 foot bed. One seed made that plant. One little seed. I am awed by that kind of power. There are so many shoots and new pumpkins that I'm constantly cutting it back, giving some hope and energy to the ones already developing. It's hard for me to prune my veggies. Must be something in that that I could psychoanalyze, but suffice it to say I hate to minimize potential harvests. What I've found though is that some plants need the sting of the pruning sheer to flourish. The tomatoes are covered with blossoms but no fruit has appeared. The tomatillos are covered with empty paper lanterns but are waiting for the juicy green fruits to fill them from the inside out. Now that I see the wasted opportunity, I actually appreciate the idea of gardening with some reserve, with some self-control. It's like having a good sense of boundaries with your kids. A little uncomfortable to have such hard edges sometimes, but it's what they need to feel safe and to ultimately flourish.

When I planted the garden I had a combination of anxiety and impatience. Anxiety that nothing would grow and no patience to wait the time necessary to fill the empty spaces in between the plants. (I used to be like that with boys too, hating to wait for them to call me back, anxious about the future and the past until I'd talked to them again. It's been a long time since I had to play those games, and luckily, the guy I eventually got didn't seem to mind at all when I called him back right after a date!) So I planted plants in those in between spaces and now there are corners of the garden that I believe are suffering from claustrophobia. The bush beans are starting to keel over and the squash has stopped producing new fruit.

Of course, it's late August and we've barely had a handful of long, warm days. The wind from the ocean blows every afternoon and often brings a heavy wave of fog with it. There are mushrooms sprouting in our brand new organic compost + soil mix. I water by hand, but I'm never sure which things need more and which less.

But I guess I'm feeling sort of Zen about it. I accept it as it is. No need to improve. Everyone's having issues with their tomato crop this year. You can see many of my tomato plants have keeled over, musty and skeletal. I am thinking about planting a winter garden soon. My palate down in the garden needs some cleaning out. Lettuce, winter squash, maybe some Brussel sprouts. Lots of possibilities.

Honestly, I'm just glad we got through our challenges this past spring and were able to put a garden together.

I think the garden is helping me to deal with dashed expectations. Or maybe I should say "altered". This is somewhat of a struggle for me, the perfectionist homeschooling mom. I hate to live with no expectations, and yet every time I make a to do list for the boys or pile up a stack of books and materials to share with them I find that their agenda is apparently different from mine.

This year I've been collecting books that seem to relate to this place, our land, Mother Earth, Northern California. I have a strong urge to get us up and out of the house and to focus our attention on the horizon as well as the minutae around us. On our table is An Everyday History of Somewhere and Keeping a Nature Journal, a stack of brand new spiral bound sketchbooks, and some watercolor pencils. I have dreams of hiking and spotting jackrabbits, sitting quietly and watching hawks and vultures soar overhead. Honestly, we could sit on our deck and do some of that, but I want us to venture out a bit as well. 

We homeschool year round, meaning we don't stop in June and start up in September, but we've been so out of kilter with Ben's surgeries, camp, camping trips and the like that we are not in a rhythm other than being in an unsatisfying one for me. I've started waking the boys up a bit earlier (9 am, not so early!) and writing a to do list of sorts on the white board the night before with things like: "Some things we may get to..." at the top. Maybe I'm not being forceful enough, but I've learned this much at least: If I force it they definitely don't show up!

I started reading An Everyday History to them yesterday. They were oh so resistant. For three days I'd written it on the white board and they'd avoided it in one fashion or another. But finally, I made them sit and listen yesterday. And guess what? They LOVED it. Toby has to figure out sitting quietly and focusing, but they all were intrigued by this lovely storyteller's history of the native peoples and animals of Northern California. Today I didn't need to coerce them at all and they even asked when we'd be reading it.

Tomorrow we head out to the annual California Homeschool Association conference in Sacramento. A weekend of fun, inspiration, and time in the pool with our friends. I haven't been looking forward to it nearly as much as in years past, but I'm starting to get excited. This year I'm volunteering in the exhibition hall rather than going to the lectures. This year I'll hang out more than soak up new information. I know more about what I want from our homeschooling life already six years into this life. But still, I'm trying not to have too many expectations, even low ones, of the weekend ahead, and yes, of the year ahead. I'm trying to let my garden teach me something. Having expectations often means having dashed ones.

That's such a negative, glass-half-empty kind of outlook, you know? Instead, I can choose to embrace the uncertainty, I can choose to wait with quiet patience and embrace the anxieties that go with not knowing what will come. I can also trust that if something fails, something else wonderful may fill the void left behind. I can do that, I'm sure.

Tomatoes are usually our favorite crop. But this year it's the beans.

Garlic-Dijon-Champagne Vinaigrette Beans

Bucket o' beans
Nasturtium flowers for garnish
Dijon mustard
Champagne vinegar
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Trim beans. Place in a large ziplock plastic bag. In a bowl mix 1 T mustard, 1/2 c olive oil, 4 T vinegar, and 2 chopped cloves of garlic. Mix till they are fully incorporated. Pour into bag. Squeeze out air, zip closed. Toss until beans are covered with marinade. If there doesn't appear to be enough marinade, add more olive oil and vinegar. Marinate several hours in the fridge. Turn a couple times throughout the day.
To serve: Place in a serving bowl, pour marinade over beans, salt and pepper to taste and decorate with clean nasturtium flowers (I soak these in water to make sure the ants have evacuated!).

1 comment:

G said...

I'm so glad you're all enjoying that book! My boy is intrigued just by the (extended) title, so I'll think we'll give it a try.

Speaking of giving things a try, I've got green beans marinating in the fridge right now! Your recipe sounded perfect for this hot day.