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Gardeners plan … the Goddess laughs

Vegetable gardening is in my blood on both sides.  My mother’s father had a farm in Norway and my father was raised on a farm in Texas.  We had vegetable gardens and berries at our house and I love to eat food that grows in the yard. One of the first things I put in my garden when we bought the house we are in now was a rhubarb plant I bought at our town garden club plant sale.  It has provided many stalks for crisps and pies, goes well with strawberries, and is currently on track to take over the entire garden.

Last year I decided to save some seeds for this year’s garden.  I saved delicata and butternut squash seeds that had been locally grown by an organic farmer (Upswing’s Brittany Overshiner) as a hopeful experiment. 

Meanwhile, and unrelated to that decision, I bought some carving pumpkins, decorative pumpkins, and winter squash to eat last fall. 

The seeds, much fussed over and occupying a place of honor on the dining room table, were stored in envelopes. We enjoyed the squash, pumpkins, and jack-o-lanterns, and like good diligent homeowners we composted the uneaten bits of squash and post-season decorative pumpkins, including the seeds.

When spring came, we added compost to my garden and planted tomatoes, carrots, peppers, leeks, bush beans, cabbage, lettuce, radish, cucumbers, marigolds, nasturtium, delicata squash and butternut squash. 

And all of those things grew. 

But also there were many squash plants appearing.  They popped up in all the beds, and even in the walkways.  I started pulling them since I didn’t want them to shade and choke out what I’d planted.  Apparently, our compost pile had not heated up enough to kill off the seeds we’d composted and they were everywhere; clearly we did a good job of mixing the compost since it appeared no square foot in the garden was without a squash plant!

After the first week or two of pulling them out to protect my delicate new seedlings and sprouting seeds, I decided to leave a few.  Some part of me just couldn’t bear to pull them all out.  I started to notice that they were not all the same:   the leaves were slightly different from one plant to the next, which piqued my curiosity, and so I watered them along with everything else, cut back what was untenable, and waited.

It’s August as I write this.  My garden has pathways through it… they are narrow.  It’s like a jungle in there.  I have a range of winter squash – the same kinds we ate last year, there are decorative pumpkins, big carving pumpkins and there are even some delicata and butternut squash, though it’s not clear they are the ones I intentionally saved and planted.  I’ve also read that cross-pollination results in hybrid/mutant type squash so there will likely be squash that aren’t exactly like anything I bought last year.  

I’m rolling with it, viewing this as an exercise is humility and a lesson in letting go. After all, it’s rare to get more than you asked for.

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What grows here

We have a modest vegetable garden; it’s not large. We spent weeks mulling over the layout last winter and settled on a 22X45 area with a bunch of 32 inch wide rows. My old back can’t lean any further than that to pick and weed.

Though modest, the garden has character. The compost this year, it turned out, was full of live winter squash and pumpkin seeds. They grew among my leeks, my tomatoes, in the bed that actually was planted to be delicata squash, among the lettuce and now they are taking over the walk ways and fences.

There are squash hanging all over the place in there.

My son’s friends were over the other day visiting and when they left he let me know how impressed they were with my pumpkin patch. The one I didn’t plant. No mention of the killer rhubarb, carrots, or cabbage.

I’d like to note that last year I planted pumpkins. I got 2 and they were tiny. I guess they needed more compost.

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Round 2: Jon wins (with an assist from Tristan)

Two days of cutting and measuring thanks to (shocking) custom woodwork behind the cabinets and stove — and the microwave is mounted! Jon did the lion’s share of the work with Tristan helping raise the oven, bolt it in, and correct for a small drilling miscalculation.

My contributions: to point out the vent wasn’t quite lined up and needed a nail in order to line the exit duct up with the microwave fan flap, some help with measuring, and two botanical cocktails when we were done!

A mint julep using garden mint and a gin cooler using st Germaine, basil and cucumbers from the garden. Yum!!


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Our microwave has been on a slow decline for months. It runs but doesn’t actually heat the food some percent of the time with that percent increasing week to week. Until it started running continuously when we closed the door. So it is time to replace it; we shut the electricity off and ordered a new one, which didn’t go well, but that’s another story requiring wine or some other pain-reducing libation.

The previous owners installed an updated kitchen years ago – in its day it was beautiful and it has held up well.

Last year the dishwasher went and Jon spent many hours of his life trying to repair the one we had with my handy, fix-it-if-you-can brother. They got it going for a time but when it pooped out again we called a plumber to come and install a new one. The microwave – we are on round one. Jon is trying to install it.

I am tempted to put a time capsule in the enclosed cabinet ends – the bits that aren’t accessible until you pull out the microwave. I wonder how long it will be before someone opens it up. 10 years? 5?

We’ll go to round 2 tomorrow evening after Jon returns from his shift at the hospital or the following morning if he can’t find the will to face it. The new microwave has different installation specs (of course it does) from the last one. But even with that understood, everything here is so custom that no project goes easily. Every electrician and plumber that’s come in here has been challenged by some boomerang the house throws, spending hours over budget to figure out how to make something work – and even with that added investment and effort sometimes things don’t work out as planned.

Welcome to Miller Hill Farm.

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Today on the Farm

Today was hot and sunny in Holliston. A workday for me, but I had a chance to grab a few things from the garden and grounds. The yellow pear tomatoes and cucumber for lunch, the bush beans for dinner, and some hydrangeas for the counter and peppermint for water.

Generally it’s hard to break away from work – meetings, and the real work between them have a way of gluing me to my seat. But outside the sun shines on the farm and there’s so much happening — so I try to get outside at lunch and then after work for sure.

Tonight we made dinner on the grill and because I had some frozen fries from the market we took a toaster oven outside and plugged it in to cook them without heating the kitchen.

We have resisted putting air conditioning in because the house is so sprawling the cost to run it would be crazy. Plus they are so ugly hanging out of the windows. We avoid cooking/baking during hot days. The kitchen itself is “new” – from the 1900s, we think. The original – now called the “keep” at the center of the house – hasn’t been the house kitchen for some time. We aren’t sure who moved it to the annex that was once a 1900s garage for Porsche’s – but today it sits in an addition to the east side of the house which we think Sam Elliot built for his Porsche collection.

Sam Elliot – a wealthy Boston real estate man – bought this house as a summer retreat for his family in the early 1900s. They spent lavishly, installing an in ground pool to the south west of the house, a giant cistern under what is now the kitchen, and was once a garage that was attached to a barn on the east side of the house, and a west wing of two 14 by 14 bedrooms. Sam was a Porsche enthusiast, and old photos of the house show our present kitchen with garage doors – no doubt there to house the Porsches that we have photos of him and Anne Elliot, his wife, in.

The previous owners of this house were kind enough to leave us the history they collected, which includes some photos of the Elliots enjoying their summer property, and we’ve begun to build on it, intending to leave more still for the next owners.

More on the history – and some of my partner Jon’s research – in the next blog.

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Major Miller’s House

This New England house was built around 1750 by Major Jacob Miller of Holliston, MA. Jacob fought in the revolutionary war with Paul Revere, who most certainly was in this house. They fought together at what is now castle island and Jacob was at the battle of Lexington, too. During the war, Jacob gifted Rever land at the bottom of the hill we live on – Miller Hill – to hide his family out during the war. And John Adams’ family had a house around the corner on Adams Street. The place is storied.

This house has a spirit of its own. It was home to the family that built it for over 100 years and to several families since. Now, I live here with my children, partner of 7 years, and our two dogs and cat. The energy of the place has a way of welcoming people and making them feel safe. Many have remarked on it when they’ve visited.

I dare say the house hasn’t changed much from when Jacob built it. It retains its old beams, its old horsehair walls, its old floors, the revolutionary irons in the fireplace, the old chimney stack…

The old kitchen, called “the keep,” has a great old mantle and parson’s cabinet – a hidden panel that concealed a shelf for liquor, in case the parson turn up – liquor was strictly forbidden in colonial times, apparently. I am thinking of using it to hide my booze from my teenagers.

We’ve been here for almost four years, now. We reinforced the floors, adding columns in the old fieldstone cellar to support the sagging old wood beams, swapping wallpaper for colonial color paints, and trying generally to keep up with repairs and updates to plumbing and electricity. The previous owners did a beautiful renovation, replacing 12 over 12 windows and generally updating electricity, fixtures, siding, etc… and the grounds. There are 3.5 acres of land previous owners have grazed their horses on and, rumor has it the Millers grew hemp. We’ve saved 2 of 3 giant old ash trees and my boyfriend has learned a lot about John Deere tractor maintenance.

We’ve made a kind of project of the place, creating a reasonably large vegetable garden and I’m creating a kitchen herb garden, too. I prepare food from our garden, we keep chickens, and I cook with and make tea with the herbs I grow. And it seems to me that all of this effort on such an historic property deserves to be shared, so I’ll be posting updates and stories about the house here. I may even change the title of this blog if this sticks.

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Finding One’s Shadow at Midsummer

When the sun is at it’s zenith the shade is an inviting place to rest. Looking up at our benefactor is worth a moment’s attention. Inevitably the shade of a tree is so much more pleasant than the shade of a building. The sun through the leaves is alive, moving with the breeze and reflecting sunlight in patterns on the ground around you. Conifers are the most cooling shadow makers but at mid day their branches don’t offer the shelter we can expect from deciduous trees.

Our own shadow’s aren’t as magnanimous. We “throw shade” to cast doubt, protect ourselves, or even to harm another. Fear, insecurity, whatever the impetus, it’s a rare human that doesn’t “throw shade” once in a while.

At midsummer it’s hard to spot your shadow. It’s almost like it doesn’t exist. Invisible or tiny as it is on inspection, our shadow is still active, though. Still informing our feelings and thoughts, driving some small or large part of what we say and how we see the world. I think sometimes our shadows envelop us – shading the world around us. Other times, like mid-summer, it’s the ground we are standing on.

The next time you feel bad, whether frustrated, angry, hurt, or irritated, stop to look for your shadow. It will tell you what’s bothering you if you ask it. Armed with that information you probably won’t throw any shade.

Imagine an ant in your shadow, how cool it must be for the little creature to enjoy a bit of cool. Even ants can make good use of a shadow.

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Not Dead = Alive.

I’ve never felt more alive than when I was in graduate school studying religion and it’s sisters religious philosophy, theology, and history. I would sit up in the middle of the night, sometimes, with a thought I needed to jot down about something I’d read of Frederik Nietzshe’s. Or about one of the gnostic gospels – a realization or question.

Life marched on, I left religious studies behind because I had children I needed to support. I worked in an office and nursed, diapered, cooked.

Years later, now, my children are growing up, becoming more independent. We are looking at colleges for my oldest, and his little sister is not far behind. She starts high school in September. She still needs plenty of support and parenting but gone are the days of constant supervision. She has her friends, now. So I find myself increasingly free to fill my time outside of work.

I don’t believe in coincidences. This year I stumbled over two people who studied religion at Harvard in graduate school, as I did. Both of them have taken their passion forward – one as a career, another as a writer (part-time outside of her regular work, I think?). They are both amazing, powerful, compelling people with so much to teach the world, so much to share. And they aren’t afraid to do, that, either. To open their beliefs and selves up to a world of people seeking meaning and comfort.

None of the three of us are Christian. Dustin Diperna is a follower of Tibetan Meditation. A spiritual guru of Integral Spirituality, and of meditative practice. Meggan Watterson is a fierce voice for the divine feminine, telling the stories of women who’ve lived lives of devotion and left legends, texts, and preached love, healing, and a connection to the divine. Her books and monthly sermons are a ministry of love; she also teaches meditation, but of a different sort than Dustin’s.

So I’m starting to feel an old spark, which has been for many years more of a pilot light, reigniting into the bonfire it once was in my heart. Humanity can never leave God behind. You know why? Because God(dess) is what animates us; we become our most actualized, happy, even joyful selves when we live and experience love, which comes from our souls. Love is our soul’s nature. And that’s expressed in our stories and practices of the divine.

George Lucas called it The Force. Marvel calls it superpowers. Christianity has Christ, the miracle working embodiment of love, Islam has Muhammad, the prophet of the divine, and Buddhism has the Buddha, transcended of this world with his deep understanding of the nature of reality. Hinduism has a host of gods and goddesses that embody power, compassion, and wisdom, including Kali and the local goddesses that protect and support ordinary people throughout India. Spirit is everywhere. It’s the urge to help other people, to show compassion, to care for ourselves, to live a life that transcends the lowest rungs of Maslowe’s hierarchy.

Yeah. Be alive to what matters to your heart. Be alive to what brings you joy. Plug in to your passions, your body, to love for yourself and for this great big world full of crazy people. Because for this part of the journey – this is where it’s at. For all of us.

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This morning the lightest frozen dew was sparkling in the grass when I went out to open the barn doors for the chickens. On hearing my approach they started to cluck, their voices reaching out into the morning sun from behind the south-facing wall of the old clapboard building. 

When I opened the door two house sparrows swiftly flew out, threading a line through the chicken wire I stapled up to protect my girls from hawks. And today the sun is shining. There’s no wind. It’s a beautiful morning. 

Buddhist tradition has it that the way to contentment is to achieve full attention in the moment. To observe, to rest, to attend to breath, to sound, to sensation. 

I may not have been sitting in a traditional meditation pose but those moments in the yard this morning were filled with contentment and peace. Just noticing the sun, the soft air, the sparkling frost in the grass poised to melt away for the day, the greeting of chickens waiting for their morning scratch. 

I’ve experienced the same thing during my morning commute. The sun rising on tree tops, the fog on the Charles River here west of Boston, snow resting on every limb, making everything all around silent and brilliantly white. 

The key is to turn off the radio and look around, look up. Listen and breath. Let the thoughts that are flowing in your mind go for a moment and rest your attention on what is around you, next to you, in front of you. 

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Loving Gaia Part 2

The New York times has a climate section.  In it they report about what’s happening – it’s a mix of science and politics.  They also offer articles about ways individuals can be more aware, and live with less of a footprint; topics range from using less plastic to maximizing energy savings.   I don’t see much written, though, about how people are dealing with climate change in their emotional lives and what their personal relationship to the planet is. 

A friend we’ll call Kara (to protect the innocent) recently related a story to me about the pastor of her church.  On a volunteer cleanup day she noticed the church pastor toting around a big can of Roundup with a spray nozzle attached to it.  She asked him what he was using it for.  He cheerfully replied that he sprays along the stonewall in the front of the church to kill the weeds.  Situated on a hillside near to the ocean, the church’s stonewall hosts runoff that makes its way into waterways which in turn empty into the ocean.   

Kara asked if he wasn’t concerned about the water table and the ocean?  His friendly response was “well, the harbor is really dirty anyway, so what’s the difference, right?” 

After pausing to gather up her best diplomatic self, Kara finally came back with “Uh, well.. the young people have been growing oysters in harbor in an effort to restore the ecosystem in there, and that could kill them faster than the kids can grow them…” She forced a toothy grin,  “something to consider.” She then went on to point out that “the initiative came from the most disgusting harbor in the world- New York, where kids have been farming Oysters to restore their harbor for years and they have seen a marked improvement.” 

Her story finished this way: “He bobbed his head and said ‘Oh, that’s interesting’… in a somewhat agreeable and ‘I’ll consider that’ kind of way. He disappeared with his Round Up.” 

For me this story brought up the question:  what is my unique and individual relationship with the planet?  What are my feelings?  And what is the pastor’s relationship to it? Does he feel the planet is invincible and will carry on just fine whether he sprays RoundUp or not? Or does he not care? I feel sure he does care but hasn’t thought about his responsibility to the soil he lives on.

For me, the sight of the setting sun lighting up treetops lifts my spirits. I garden to be close to the soil, and in relationship with plants. Being in my vegetable garden gives me a feeling of deep well being that nothing else matches. The earthy sweet, sensual smell of vegetables ripening in the sun, tomato leaves fluttering in a breeze, basil reaching into the sun, bursting with peppery vitality.

My boyfriend feels happiest on his bike in the woods. He relates to the landscape’s challenges, memorizes the terrain, and feels satisfied and alive pedaling over challenging mountain biking trails.

For most of us, it’s at least one thing and for many of us, if we stop and think about it, there are a lot of things that join our hearts to the planet. Maybe we take those things for granted; after all, we feel entitled to our planet and it’s always been there for us.

The snowdrops emerged in our yard today. Delicate little white bells that announce spring’s arrival here in the northeast – our first flowers of the season, and they don’t stay for long. I could not resist laying down in the grass and getting to their level to look at them.

An ephemeral gift from the great mother of us all.

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