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Everything Green and Growing

I’ve never thought that I would like gardening much.  Kneeling in the dirt until your knees ache, the sun beating on your back, swatting at insects, yanking up weeds only to have them return as soon as you turn around–no, thank you.  A succession of dried-out, dead houseplants from my year in Texas seemed to confirm my brownthumb.

So I am still surprised when I go out into the garden and spend hours kneeling (on a really cushy pad), in the cool shade, with insects kept away by lemongrass spray, meditatively yanking up weeds–and enjoy it.  Surprised enough, in fact, that I reflexively procrastinate on gardening until it must be done.  I hope that the enjoyment will become a stronger memory than the distaste.

***

In case I forget why I put up with six-month, subzero winters laced with multiple feet of snow–this is why:

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A happy thyme plant on the sunny kitchen windowsill.  Its neighbors are oregano, basil and chocolate mint.

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Last year, for better or for worse, we planted strawberry plants as groundcover in our front flower garden (a.k.a. “edible landscaping”–we are always either early or late to these trends).  They have enthusiastically filled up the available space, and this year we are getting our first real harvest.

They are small, but delicious, and have deep flavor ranging from candy-sweet to tart.

Picking strawberries is like a treasure hunt.  Only the thought of seeing how many I can gather “this time”–and love for my husband–keeps me from popping all of them in my mouth as I go.

A bowl of summer:

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When G.I. Joe Moved In

While Shaun and I were dating, I found a book in the library called Married to the Military* It’s a handbook for military spouses, sort of a bootcamp-in-a-book on everything from how to read an LES (and what that stands for), to what to wear (or not wear) to military functions, to how to stay sane while PCS-ing (at least you can try).  The summary states that “Whether you’re dating, engaged, or married to an active military servicemember or reservist—or you’ve just signed up yourself—you may feel as if you’ve somehow married the United States military!”  Yes.  That handsome man may be wearing a uniform, but sometimes the uniform wears him…and it comes with a whole bunch of strings–and more uniforms, and boots, and field gear, and paperwork–attached.

More than once over the six years of Shaun’s Army career, we felt as though there were an extra, unseen person hitched on to our relationship.  “The Army” was something like an extra spouse or an invisible child to both of us–right down to waking us up in the middle of the night (hello, recall).  It even took up as much space in the house as a third person might have, from two extra sets of boots at the door to a whole room which, at various times, was more or less dedicated to housing military gear.

At times I complained about all the extra space taken up by “The Army,” but I had no idea how much space it had actually claimed until Shaun was discharged six months ago.  Army green and ACU digital camo–which, by the way, seems to camouflage with nothing but itself–was so much a part of our domestic landscape that I took its presence for granted.  Cleaning out, I have been astounded by the volume of gear, and the way it has worked its way into every nook and cranny of our home.  Moving it all out of our house is still an ongoing process, in part because I keep finding tiny items that were hidden away and forgotten, like acorns buried by a squirrel.

So far, the total for reclaimed space stands thus:
-Half of one closet
-One underbed bin
-Two bureau drawers
-Three small bins
-Five 18-gallon totes
-One 32-gallon tote
(And a partridge in a pear tree…)

Please note that this includes only gear, and not paperwork, which is a whole different can of worms which I am currently not even thinking of opening.  Except to say that when I do, there will be a mighty big bonfire (for reasons of catharsis as well as security).

This kind of explains to me why the two of us have felt inexplicably cramped in a 1,200 square-foot, three-bedroom home for the last four years.  It’s because G.I. Joe had basically moved in and spread himself around.

Time to move out, Joe.

*Link goes to Amazon.com, in case you are curious about the book, but just get it out of the library.

 

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Boxes

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Life lately feels like a continuum of boxes.

Mentally, we are checking off the many boxes that will enable us to move to another town, another house: find a new job, find renters, find financing, find a new house, find a way to move between houses.

Our conversations have more frequently consisted of verbally checking off boxes:  “I did a, b, and c today.”  “Were you able to do x, y, z?”  We make a list of tasks and split them between us, and proudly report on our progress at the end of the day.  It’s very romantic.

Most noticeably, we are surrounded by physical boxes, of the cardboard type.  I spent two and a half weeks sorting through and packing up the items which we had stored on the unrented side of our duplex, in preparation for persons yet unknown to fill it with their own possessions. Those few weeks have made me into something of a cardboard box connoisseur.  I am collecting them, in various sizes and shapes, from a variety of sources–book boxes from my work at the library, paper boxes from the office of a family member, Easter candy boxes from the local convenience store.  I am becoming quite adept at eyeballing a heap of variously-shaped items, carefully selecting a box of just the right volume and shape, and packing everything so the contents fit together like pieces of a puzzle.  Sturdy boxes with pre-cut handles are gold, the Holy Grail of packing supplies.  My enthusiasm for them may border on the effusive.

I have also started packing up on our side of the house, choosing the least-used items to pack first.  We have no idea when we will be able to move (this depends on the person(s)-yet-unknown who will hopefully want to rent out our apartment), so I try to keep in mind that I might not have access to the items for months or, possibly, for more than a year. This sort of rigorous selection process has resulted in another round of de-cluttering–“if I really won’t need it for a year, will I ever need it again, and in that case, do I want to spend the time and energy to move it?”  Sometimes, unfortunately, I can’t recall if a certain item has been packed up out of sight in a box, or has been gotten rid-of altogether.  I’ve also started “losing” items, in general chaos that is my house lately, and I’m never quite sure that some necessity hasn’t been accidentally slipped into a box and sealed up.  I regularly check on the cats for this reason.

There are stacks of empty cardboard boxes scattered around my house, waiting to be either broken-down or filled up.  I’m starting to feel like a hoarder.  I try to remind myself that this is temporary, but then I remember that I don’t know how temporary.  I also know that when the time to move actually arrives, it will be much, much worse.  A sea of boxes.  A forest of boxes.  I’ll be wading through them, in every room.  I myself may wind up swathed in newspaper and sealed inside one with packing tape.  If you help us move, be sure to carefully check my labels scrawled in Sharpie, and be mindful of This End Up.

 

 

 

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Etsy Shop: Yes, We’re Open!

Ash & Acorn on Etsy is once again open for business!  Below are the items currently available.  Coming soon: two more candle designs, a vintage wedding dress find, and greeting cards.

The shop had been open only two days when I received my first order, a request for a customized candle for an adult baptism:

The candle is 18-inches, a variation of “Antique Elegance” (coming soon), the larger version of “Antique Grace.”  The request was that a bow and cross be added to the existing design.  It was a pleasure to create!

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Etsy Shop: Coming (back) Soon

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Ash and Acorn on Etsy will be re-opening this week.  I’ve been finding spare moments here and there–like while waiting for my truck to have the oil changed–to work on my beading, and have dozens more ideas in my head for the future.  My shop will continue to have wedding crowns and candles, but will also have other items for sale which share the “cover everything in beads” theme.

Having the shop open while we prepare to move will be an interesting exercise; all my craft supplies are in boxes, but aside from that, are easily accessible.  Conveniently, as I mentioned, beading is a craft which is easy to transport, like knitting, and is easy to do anywhere you are going to have to sit around a wait a while–if you don’t mind a few curious looks.  And if your auto mechanic doesn’t mind the possibility of a few shiny pink seed beads being left behind in his shop….

A glimpse at some of my projects lately, some for the shop, some personal:

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The Fairy House

“It was a blustery sort of day,” and the motley gray clouds were indecisive about rain.  Dampness and uneven light played weirdly with color, unnaturally brightening some hues while sinking others into murky shadow.  The trees swayed this way and that in the gusts of wind, whispering fiercely.  It was beautiful, and very eerie.

 

 

The trail was aptly named “Wonderland,” and although it felt that morning like an otherworldly setting for a ghost story or a dark fantasy novel, it was actually wending its way through Acadia National Park on the coast of Maine–a place less fantastic, perhaps, but to my mind, certainly not less romantic.  It was not well populated, except for Shaun and myself, and a few other determined hikers, likely due to the fitful weather.  So it was easy to feel the wind pull viciously at my hair, and see the strange play of light and shadow through the moaning trees, and believe that around any bend in the trail, one might suddenly glimpse a sullen ghost, or a fleeing dryad.  The goosebumps on my arms were not all due to the chilly mist.

We talked quietly as we walked, and eventually entered an archway of trees that formed a  lush green tunnel.  The floor of the wood was a genial tangle of rocks, undergrowth, moss and fallen leaves.  The wind dissipated among the trees.  It was an altogether friendlier place.

Rounding a bend in the trail, we saw a small, bare-headed, rain-coat-clad figure kneeling at the side of the trial ahead, just before the path disappeared around another turn.   The boy looked up at us as we approached, and we saw that he was around eight or nine years of age, golden-haired, with a small face and large eyes.  As we came closer, he stood up and looked at us expectantly.

“Would you like to see my fairy house?”

We assured him that we would.  He knelt down again and showed us his creation, which was built atop a bed of needles and twigs to the side of the trail.  It would have been easy to miss, had its architect not pointed it out to us.  The roof was a thick slab of moss.  The walls were all of stone, chosen carefully from the the trail, and an opening had been left for the convenience of diminutive house-hunters.

The boy looked at us with some concern.  “Do you think the fairies will like it?”

We assured him that we believed they would.  “If I were a fairy, I think that would like it very much,” I told him.  He seemed satisfied.

Another adult appeared around the next bend in the trail.  “There you are!” she said to the boy.  “Time to move on.”

“I was showing them my fairy-house,” the boy said proudly, indicating the two of us.  The woman held out her hand, and without a backward glance, our young acquaintance skipped away out of sight.

We admired the fairy-house for a moment more, and I snapped a photo.  When we continued on our way, the trail ahead was empty.  We never saw the fairy-house builder again.

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What Will be Left Behind

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All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another. ~Anotole France

***

Anne realized that the end of their life in this dear place drew nigh, and that she must face the fact bravely.  But how her heart ached!

“It will be like tearing something out of my life,” she sobbed.  “And oh, if I could hope that come nice folk would come here in our place–or even that it would be left vacant.  That itself would be better than having it over-run with some horde who know nothing of the geography of dreamland, and nothing of the history that has given this place its soul and its identity.  And if such a tribe come here the place will go to rack and ruin in no time–an old place goes down so quickly if it is not carefully attended to.  They’ll tear up my garden–and let the Lombardies get ragged–and the paling will come to look like a mouth with half the teeth missing–and the roof will leak–and the plaster fall–and they’ll stuff pillows and rags in broken window panes–and everything will be all out-at-elbows.”  ~Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery

***

Shaun is out of the Army now, and has the beard and hair to prove it.  The other day, in public, I saw him out of the corner of my eye and didn’t recognize him.  He came up and lightly tapped me on the shoulder, and I whirled around, wondering indignantly why this total stranger hadn’t just said “excuse me” to get my attention.

Because it was my husband, that’s why.

Being that Shaun is now out of the military, we have decided that it is in our best interest to move to another town.  I am the type of person who becomes content where she is, and the idea of picking up and starting over in a new place is both exciting and overwhelmingly scary.  Part of me keeps asking, “can’t I just stay here?”  We have carved out a little life for ourselves here, with great determination–not the least part of which is the house we bought four years ago.  Like Anne, I’ve sewn my affections into this place, gotten to know it, searched out its history, improved it where I could, made do where I couldn’t, and above all, made it my own.  The idea of ripping out all those little stitches makes my heart ache.  The idea of selling it to someone else–of a stranger sleeping in my room, making dinner in my kitchen–makes me slightly queasy.

Of course, I know people buy and sell houses every day, and very few live in one house for their entire adulthood.  There’s a good possibility that I am overly sentimental.  But I have an idea–maybe a silly one–that places have their own character, formed not just by appearance or by vintage, but by the people who live in them.  Our house was built and maintained for many years by good, respectable people, only to fall into careless hands in the last few decades.  It’s a nice house, a friendly sort of house, but a little sad from neglect.  We’ve done our best in the last few years to improve it, make it look and function well again.  We’re not finished–not even close.  I hate the thought of someone coming along and undoing all of our work, of not appreciating this place for its value, which goes beyond that of a mere roof and four walls.

I’m going to miss so many things about this place.  I’m going to miss the smaller, cozy rooms.  I’m going to miss the large windows, the stained (not painted!) wood trim and hardwood floors–even the places where time has buckled them into fascinating waves.  I’m going to miss the creaky stairs.  In the winter, I will really miss the old metal radiators, which both I and the cats are fond of cuddling up to on a cold day.  I will miss our wall of bookshelves.  I’ll miss watching the sunset out my kitchen window as I make dinner, and the way the plants potted on the sill press their leaves against the glass, eager to catch the warm afternoon rays.

I’m going to miss the row of maples that line the creek in our backyard.  I’m going to miss the pleasure of my neighbor’s beautiful flower-garden.  I’ll miss the gardens we’ve worked to resurrect.  I will miss the little fairy-ring of crocuses in our side yard, the first heralds of spring.  I will miss the two apple trees next to the barn, which provide us with fluffy white blossoms in spring, and the most delicious apples in autumn.  I will miss the lilac bush, and opening the dining room windows wide to bring the fragrance indoors in May.  I will miss our two birch trees, which are gold and white in autumn, and provide a natural bird-feeder in winter.  I will miss sitting at my dining room table with Shaun, watching the birds dine year-round out the window.

I’m going to miss the town and neighborhood itself–the kind neighbors, the way kids feel free to come and go as they please, the ability to walk into the village and go shopping, go out to eat, to the farmer’s market, or, for me, to go to work.  I’ll miss being able to walk to the river, which is the reason this place exists.  I’ll miss seeing all the other beautiful houses that surround mine.

I will miss seeing our grand plans for this house take shape over the years.  I will miss the part of myself that has stitched itself into the fabric of this place, that will remain here when I am long gone.

***

There is an interesting spot next to our carriage house which I ungraciously call “the Junk Heap.”  It is exactly what I call it–the place where past inhabitants of our house used to toss their refuse.  Thanks to our dog, who first alerted me to its presence by digging it up, and to natural erosion, layer upon layer of fascinating material is being unearthed–Mother Nature conducting an archeological dig in my own backyard.  I’ve picked up shards of old glass in all colors, broken bottlenecks, pieces of ceramic, lumps of coal, and bits of metal hardware rusting away into dust.  I hold the pieces in my hands and wonder what they belonged to, who handled them, why they were finally tossed out.  There is one piece, a yellow bit of ceramic with a blue stripe running across it, which looks (to my untrained eye) like it might have once belonged to a mixing bowl.  It puts me in mind of a story related to me by a former resident of my neighborhood; how, when they were children in the ’40s, he and a friend would often come to this house and rub their noses against the front screen door.  The lady of the house, a very kind woman, would always give each of them a cookie.  But his mother always knew where he had been, and would scold him, because the tip of his nose would be blackened from pressing it against the screen.

Before we leave this house I will add my own items to the Junk Heap, some pieces of cracked ceramic dinnerware and some of my less-well-turned-out ceramic projects from college.  In the tradition of ceramicists–and of our house’s former residents–I will smash my pieces and leave them to return to the earth…or be picked up and pondered over by the next person who calls this place home.

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October

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” -Anne Shirley

For the last few months, life has tumbled us around until I feel I barely know which way is up.  Just when I’ve found my feet, the floor is upended beneath me.

Outside my window, autumn at last has the landscape all to itself.  Summer was brazen and persistent this year, but autumn went about its work quietly, gently, using summer’s sunniness and warmth to highlight its jewel-box colors.  Winter is cruel and comforting by turns; spring is a celebration; summer, carefree; but autumn is content.

I have been re-re-re-(etc.)reading the Anne of Green Gables novels.  They are a welcome escape, a place where most problems are resolved to their rightful conclusions. Anne rejoices in each season at its turn, and I join her; but I have a special affection for autumn.  There is something about it that deeply satisfies me, like eating a good meal after you have been hungry, or snuggling down under clean sheets after a hard day’s work.  Autumn fills up my soul with peace and contentment.  It reminds me that however bewildering my circumstances are, there is still constancy in the world.

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
~Maltbie D. Babcock

 

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You Look So Young: Incredulous

The cashier at the grocery store had to ask for my I.D. during check-out today.  Knowing that I will probably be carded until I am age 90, I had it ready.

The cashier looked at my birth date, then at the photo, and then up at me, clearly disbelieving.  He looked down at the photo again, back at me, back at the birthdate again, and back up at me.

I was about to ask if there was a problem when he shrugged and entered my birth date into the computer.  He sighed as my purchase cleared.

“Well,” he said, “You just barely made it.”

Even official documents do not spare me.

(Also…how does a margin of six years constitute “barely making it”?)