Our last frost date was February 25…

No deep thoughts this week, so here’s the garden update:

The scraggly bush-tree that was a stump when we moved in 2 1/2 years ago has shown its true colors.

Japanese magnolia

It is most definitely a Japanese magnolia, which I have wanted in my yard since I first met one almost 20 years ago at Tulane. Score one for the house, and one for being too lazy to dig out the stump before we knew what it was.

It’s time to bring in the cabbages, but I’ve lost the cabbage soup recipe I used last winter that the kids loved. If you have suggestions, please send them my way.

I harvested about a gallon of curly kale yesterday, all from a roughly six-inch by two-foot space. Bunches of cilantro are next.

Salad, smoothies, soup…

I wouldn’t have harvested it all now, except that it’s time to start planting, and I need to sheet mulch this bed before we put tomatoes in it. Craig is determined to have a repeat of last summer’s Wall of Tomatoes.

I invested in a grow-light this year, and the first seedlings are ready to harden off, so that we can plant them in…

Ready for plants!

THE SPACESHIP BED! We have grand plans to turn the whole back yard into garden beds, and this one is the first. Three walls complete (thanks to a diligent and creative husband) and it will be a while before the fourth, so it’s been double dug and will soon be planted with the zucchini, anise hyssop, and oregano from under the grow-light, as well as lots of other goodies. It just happens that, with the keyhole walkway, it looks a little like a spaceship. Hopefully it will be less noticeable once the plants are in.

I also pruned the climbing rose WAAAAAY back, which is a little terrifying. But the guy on YouTube said it would make it happy…I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Turns out I have one Deep Thought after all – it’s been a good two days (or week…who’s counting?) digging and lugging and planting a little. Even when it seems like I’m just piddling, not really accomplishing much, it’s still been refreshing, and at least felt like I was doing something worthwhile. Which maybe says something about the importance of the worker part of Peter Maruin’s worker-scholar ideal.

And, God willing, there will be vegetables from some of this work on our table three months from now.

Playing Pretend

Another gem from bygone days

I was digging through old unpublished posts, in case there was something I had forgotten to finish up, and found this little jewel from 2018. If I were just disciplined enough to keep track of all the hilarious things my kids say when they’re “playing pretend!” I have no idea what the game was, but it included these quotes:

“Oh, no, I forgot my parents!”

“Wait, you can’t use a carseat for an altar.”

“You just knocked in the back of the church!” (as opposed to the front, apparently)

They almost feel like a writing prompt: write a story including all of these quotes…they were part of a story once, maybe they can be again!

Art for All

I spent my snow-day laundry catch-up time watching this video of Malcom Guite’s book launch (if you haven’t experienced his beautiful poetry, check it out here), and I have some thoughts.

To give credit where credit is due, this video from Alastair Gordon and friends about art and faith (also laundry-folding entertainment in my house) started me thinking about some of these things. If you have time, both are worth watching.

A recent attempt at homeschool art class

Something that struck me about the artists (I’m lumping poets, writers, and other makers in to the group “artists” here) in both videos was their humble acceptance of the goodness of their work. I tend towards a shrug and a deflection on the odd occasion when someone complements my work. It still feels like an indulgence to take the time to “make” at all, and to think that my work is well done, or stranger yet, serves some greater purpose, feels arrogant.

So it was both jarring and illuminating to see artists discuss their methods, their motivations, and their finished work as if it were totally normal to spend a work-day sketching by the seashore or filling enormous canvases with paint or scribbling sonnets – and to do it intentionally for the glory of God.

At the same time, it was helpful for me to see people whose expertise is in different fields appreciating the art. Like maybe, just maybe, art isn’t some special language only accessible to people who have earned an MFA.

I love the idea of art being just another one of the many ways a person might be called to serve God and neighbor. I guess in my mind art has always been set apart – as if a special kind of people who lead a radical kind of life are the only ones who can make art. These chosen few have special studios and strange ideas and are often anti-social. (Although, by that standard, maybe I have two out of three – no room for a studio here!) They also have nearly unlimited time to work on their craft, perfect their style, and make lots of mistakes on the way to finished pieces.

It’s been hard to see myself as part of this world, however much I might enjoy creating in my spare moments. I suffer from a distinct lack of studio, precious little time, and a dread of mistakes.

My studio – a roughly 2×2 secretary desk (which I would not trade for the world)

So it was good for me to watch these artists be normal people with families and big ideas, and to see that they simply have made the choice to make art their lives, to hone the gifts they were given, and to think deeply about how to best share those gifts with the world. Not to say that that’s easy, but it’s so helpful to see both that it can be done, and a glimpse of how a person actually goes about doing it.

Kissing Naptime Goodbye

We’re in one of those times of upheaval: the three-year-old has decided he’s outgrown afternoon naps.

I hate to complain, since he has napped every day for three solid years. That’s nothing to yawn at. Still, I would really prefer he keep it up for another year…or three.

The problem is that this is a child who is never still when he is awake, and needs eyes on him at all times. And we had all planned our quiet work time – my writing, the girls’ focused school time – during Jacob’s nap.

So that time is now gone.

This is a dance I’ve done many times at this point in my parenting career. As soon as a child settles into a schedule, and I figure out how to make the best of that schedule, here comes a growth spurt…and we start again from scratch.

It’s always frustrating to have my schedule up-ended like this. I’m one of those people who doesn’t deal well with surprises. But I would have hoped after 14 years of this cycle I’d be used to it, or at least aware of it enough to deal with it promptly and creatively.

I guess I still need a couple more years of practice.

To my credit, I did recognize what was happening quickly. And I did (almost) immediately start to brainstorm a new routine which would still get me my writing time. But that didn’t stop me from ending up on the verge of tears as the noise of little people swirled around me during what was supposed to be my designated writing time.

So we’re experimenting with assigned toddler-watchers (while I hide in my bedroom), and I’m considering moving my writing time to after 9pm (ick) or searching out kid-friendly nature shows to function as sedatives (also ick) all while doing lots of deep breathing exercises.

Prayers and shipments of tea are welcome.

One Person’s Trash…

Some days it feels like our family’s mission in life is mostly to keep other people’s stuff out of the landfill.

In the last couple of weeks Craig refurbished (another) hand-me-down laptop and we laid a walkway made of brick salvaged from a demolition in our neighborhood. (I will be eternally grateful to the neighbors who helped us cart all those bricks home!) Nearly all of our clothes and furniture are second hand, as are the dishes, though I admit that I dream of someday purchasing myself a beautiful matching set when there are no little hands to help me break them.

We currently have a rescue dog, hand-me-down cats and garden plants, and second-hand chickens, some of which came complete with a coop.

I realized as I glanced around our bedroom that almost every item of furniture could be counted either as a hand-me-down or an heirloom. (I’ll leave you to decide which is which.) And without stretching our budget to include more “consumer goods” we have a full life, and a remarkably full house – so much so that I’m constantly hauling things off to Goodwill.

I’m not complaining – I’d rather be given a slightly-used pair of shoes for one of the kids than pay $50 for them and wonder what kind of sweat shop I’m supporting with my purchase. And it’s not like we don’t buy new things sometimes. Socks, for example, are best when fresh, in my opinion. It’s just hard to wrap my head around how there can be so much stuff in the world that we can fill our house to overflowing (almost) without ever buying anything new.

Also, as I look at the piles building up in the corners (again), it occurs to me that I need to accept that it’s probably not my job to keep things out of the landfill, especially things I didn’t buy in the first place, lest we all go the way of Hanta in Too Loud a Solitude. (Which you should read if you love darkly beautiful books about…books.)

In the meantime, I guess I’ll continue keeping our local thrift shops in business…

Reading in the Darkness

I have to admit that I was reluctant to begin reading Darkness is as Light…even though some of my own reflections are in it. It’s intended to be emotionally heavy (and it is) and I wasn’t sure that was what I wanted in my life at the moment.

On the other hand, I also felt guilty for not reading it. After all, here were other women like me who were willing to share their stories. I had already received emails from some of the other writers expressing how much they were enjoying the book (in general, not my contributions specifically.)

So I prepared myself to have my heart broken, and started reading. My reaction to these reflections really surprised me. Many of the stories come from places of deep pain, yet I found myself turning to God in prayer after many of the reflections not with sadness or anger, but with gratitude.

I felt I had to thank God for creating these women; for walking with them through their trials; for protecting them when they were in danger; for leading them to help when they needed it; for giving them the courage to share their stories. I found myself asking God to continue to bless these women I had never met, to guard them in their faith, to help them through their continued struggles.

The witness in these pages isn’t so much about pain as about faithfulness: our faithfulness when we turn to God in our in our joy as well as in our need, and His great faithfulness to us at all times. If there is one thing these stories brought home to me, it is that God is richly present in our lives.

So I just want to thank Summer Kinard and all the contributors for making this book happen. It has been a great blessing to me, drawing me deeper into prayer and reminding me of God’s unending care for each of us. It turns out it was exactly what I needed in my life right now.

Third Time’s the Charm

It’s happened twice now: my daughter has requested that we grow Brussels sprouts in the garden, and I have sallied forth to the local garden center right around October and returned with cute little baby brassicas. Only weeks later do we realize…these are not Brussels sprouts.

How can this happen twice, you might wonder? The first year they were cabbages. And a Brussels sprout looks like a cabbage on a stick, with little buds all over the stick. So I kept watching these cabbage-shaped things and waiting for the stalk to shoot up. Needless to say, it never did.

This year, I resolved to try again. The plants were clearly labeled. I brought them home, my daughter happily planted them in her little patch of garden. We waited. Giant green leaves and a knobby white center emerged…we had planted cauliflower.

This year’s first “Brussels sprout”

I thought my daughter was going to cry. She loves Brussels sprouts and she had waited a year and a half for these. And they were cauliflower. (In my defence, they’re all in the same plant family. The little ones look enough alike to my untrained eye…but I digress.)

There was no point in digging them up by the time we realized the mistake, and it was too late to try again this year. So we watched the cauliflower grow to a pretty ridiculous size, and then I chopped one down and brought it in for dinner.

Whatever the ancients may say, I think that ambrosia might just be home-grown cauliflower. It was really, really good.

When we realized that we could cook and eat the leaves like any other green…well, it almost made it worth the four square feet of garden each plant took up to make its tasty head.

And it almost made it worth missing out on the Brussels sprouts, again.

So I went to the freezer section at the grocery store, loaded up on bags of Brussels sprouts, and we’re making the best of it. I also added one thing to the wish list attached to my seed catalogs: Brussels sprout seeds. If those grow up to be kale…well, I guess at that point I’ll concede defeat.

An Open Letter to Our Senator

I generally try to stay out of politics, especially online, but I guess the stress of the last year is getting to me…and I have accepted the challenge from Summer Kinard (the editor of Park End Books and Darkness is as Light) to blog more frequently in the New Year. So, since I had already written this letter to our illustrious senator John Neely Kennedy, I now share it with you, and check off “blog this week” from my to-do list.

If you’re wondering what I’m responding to, the statement Kennedy, Ted Cruz, and others posted can be read here.

Dear Senator Kennedy,

I am writing to you as one of your constituents from Lafayette. I was initially happy that you won election to be our senator, as I had heard you on Jim Engster’s show several times and found your ideas to be reasonable and generally in line with my own. Since your election, however, I have been repeatedly disappointed in your continual pandering to the whims of President Trump and the far right wing of the Republican party, sometimes even to the detriment of your own constituency. 

Up to this point, I have considered this the sort of “playing politics” that we can’t seem to escape in today’s political climate. While I wasn’t happy about some of your statements and votes, I have not felt compelled to contact you until today.

This morning it came to my attention that you intend to vote to reject the electors of states whose elections were decided by narrow margins. I think this is a terrible idea, and there are several reasons why. I will follow the format of your public statement to elucidate them.

First, your concern seems to be not that there actually was election fraud, but that many people BELIEVE there may have been election fraud. While I agree that it is vital in a democracy (or a republic) for the people to have faith in the public institutions, and the elections process in particular, I find it disingenuous for the very people who have stoked, if not created, this distrust with their own statements to now say that distrust is so rampant that we should not trust our elections. If you want people to have faith in the elections, please convince your fellow party members to stop lamenting (without evidence) how fraudulent they are.

Secondly, in the statement you suggest that if the Supreme Court had heard the two cases that were brought to it, this whole problem might somehow have been solved. The Supreme Court is not required to hear all cases brought to it; it is its prerogative to decline to hear a case that it finds to have been satisfactorily dealt with in the lower courts. It is telling that out of the dozens of voter fraud cases which were lodged after this election, only two even were worthy to be considered for a hearing by the Supreme Court. To claim that the election ought not to be certified because Republican lawyers brought a slew of unsubstantiated claims of fraud and the Supreme Court declined to waste their time any of them is ludicrous.

If your true motive is to shore up faith in our elections, it is unclear to me why Senator McConnell has not brought to the floor a request for a special commission prior to now. Why wait until two weeks before the inauguration, when he has had two months since the election to address this problem?

If you’ve read this far, Senator Kennedy, I commend you and thank you for taking the thoughts of your constituents seriously. I’d like to take just a moment more to express to you why I think that it is so vitally important that you vote to accept the electors of all the states on January 6. 

As you are well aware, we are in an extremely divisive political climate. We have had an election; all the evidence suggests that it was as free and fair as could be hoped. Undoubtedly, if there were actual evidence of the sort of wide-spread voter fraud that the Trump administration, for one, claims, they would have brought it out long before now. Yet this has simply not happened. Thus based on the evidence, to continue to claim that the elections were “rigged” is not only a lie, but is the very basis for the lack of faith in elections that you and your co-authors lament.

It is in your power, and the power of your Republican colleagues, to change the narrative. I understand that voting to reject the electors will play well with much of the staunchly conservative base here in Louisiana; I implore you to step above petty politics and look out for the good of the nation as a whole. Take a stand for the truth, Senator Kennedy. If there is no evidence, despite two months of searching by election officials and Republican supporters,  why drag our elections through the mud any longer? 

What our country needs to restore its faith in our elections is not more grandstanding, not more political theater, and not a 10-day commission. It is for men and women of good faith to tell the truth about the facts as they are, and to allow our political process to continue to work, as it has done for over two centuries now.

Thank you for your time, Senator Kennedy. May God bless you in your work on our behalf, and I wish you all the best in this new year.

Happy New Year, y’all.