Preparing for a Season of Dormancy

This past weekend was one of those gorgeous autumn days with warm weather and blue skies. Because we had early snow and frost, we decided to spend this beautiful day winterizing our garden and yard. I had already pulled our vegetable plants after the first frost but we went through our containers, tilling in the compost we had been turning since last winter. We spread mulched leaves over the tops, tucking our garden into bed until spring. I trimmed our perennials back, cut the vines down, and Frank cut down our sad and struggling peach tree.

To the left: garden beds, trimmed and covered with mulch, ready for winter. To the right: a double barrel compost turner

A couple days later, we woke to an inch of snow and seeing how neat and tidy it looked over our gardens made me happy. This feeling is deeper than my check-box personality, though seeing everything exactly as it should be does give me joy. Really, spending the day working in our yard was redemptive. This time last year, Frank was recovering from losing a third of his blood and spending three days in the ICU due to an ulcer. We were also recovering from the mess and repercussions of a drunk driver running through our backyard fence and into our yard.

Last year, gardening was the last thing on our to-do list. We let everything just kind of die and settle into the winter. But we saw the impact this year. Our vegetables never thrived and even our tried-and-true perennials were a bit lackluster. All spring and summer, I was reminded of the importance of doing the work that leads to rest.

I needed this tangible reminder the planning it takes to enter a season of dormancy and unseen growth. I just returned from a week in Israel-Palestine, listening and learning about the region. It’s an understatement to say all that we experienced was complex. It’s not a two-sided issue or one with easy answers but a constant reminder of the importance of listening to multiple narratives.

I went on this trip expecting it to be a culmination of sorts. A year ago, in the midst of all that home chaos, I left for the Ruby Woo Pilgrimage. It was the longest I had left my family and the first time I had done something this big for my own learning. Like any true pilgrimage, I left with more questions than answers, more realization that it was a step along the journey. From there, I enrolled in a class about Indigenous Voices, learning how I can better balance the narrative taught by school and society. Another stepping stone on the way.

I suppose I wanted this trip to Israel-Palestine to bring about all that I had learned. I wanted to walk away with tangible takeaways and next steps. Instead, I entered into the complexity of stories. I traveled with a liberation theologian, who has listened to multiple sides but choses to stand with the oppressed. I met a women who is working in Hebron, one of the most antagonistic areas in the region, listening to her stories of daily aggressions. And I had the privilege of meeting a women whose job is developing curriculum to teach about peace heroes, those men and women who bridged the divides and worked toward mending what seemed impossible.

Again, I left with more questions than answers and wondered what the next steps on this journey would entail.

I like the process and understand its importance but if I’m honest, I often use the journey as a means toward the destination. I like the sound of the journey being the goal in itself but the reality feels so much different. I want to know that all these markers aren’t just for me. But maybe it’s ok if they are. Maybe all that does need to change and deepen is my own perspective.

I was thinking about this past year as I dug our compost into the garden beds. Everything takes so much time. Our compost had been turning and added to all year. We saved our scraps, filled the bins, turned them, and turned them, and turned them. Compost itself takes a long time to make. And then to till them into the soil. To prepare it for six months of quiet and refueling. If you were to visit our home, I doubt you would look at those garden beds in awe. You would see bins of dirt, waiting for spring. All that work for something that looks very similar to what we started with is unseen, unnoticed.

I’m remembering to mark the process on this journey. I don’t know what all of these moments will mean – from our family’s crisis to my own journey to how it impacts the way we parent and raise a new generation. What I do know is that the unseen work of composting and tilling and of getting a garden ready for winter is what reaps benefits in the spring.

Maybe next year we’ll plant a garden that is abundant because of our preparation. Maybe we’ll let the ground lie fallow for a year, letting the nutrients rest and recover. Either way, I feel settled knowing that the work has been done to prepare for that time.

After a year of intense journeying, I’m wondering if I need my own season of lying fallow. Of reading fewer books about these big topics, of staying closer to home, of letting all that I have seen and learned sink it and re-nourish my faith and my outlook.

What are some markers in your own lifelong pilgrimage? What are you learning about the importance of all perspectives and narratives?

The Compost Heap: A Newsletter

After hearing about the need to start a newsletter for a few years, I’ve finally decided to jump on the bandwagon. I like the idea of having a more conversational “this is what I’m into” sort of thing that doesn’t really fit in with the blog. So, I’d like to introduce The Compost Heap: Digging into the Soil of Ideas.

The Compost Heap

I wrote about Natalie Goldberg’s analogy to the craft of writing as a compost heap – that it takes time for our experiences to decompose into the rich soil of essays and poetry and stories. In this newsletter, I’ll give you a glimpse of what I’m processing.

You’ll get an essay, books I’m reading, things I’m learning, poems that are impacting my thinking, and other daily life and behind-the-scenes snippets. This is where I’ll share links to other great articles from around the web, any news that’s happening here, and where I’ll host my book giveaways.

I hope you’ll join this new conversation! You can sign up by clicking this link or the image below.

The Compost Heap

I’m looking forward to this new adventure! Is there anything you’d love to see in a newsletter format that doesn’t make it onto the blog?

Leaning Into Ideas Rather Than Details

I just finished reading This is Not a Border: Reportage and Reflection from the Palestinian Festival of Literature, one of the most stunning collections of essays I’ve ever read. I spent over a month slowly reading the words, letting them sink in. Some days, I’d take a break. Often, I would only read one or two essays a night.

grown-up-1637302_960_720As December drew to a close, I knew I could have sped through a few more essays at a time to get one more book read before the year ended. Instead, I chose to savor each story and poem.

It’s with this mindset and intention that I’m entering 2018. After spending a few years tracking my reading goals with a set number, this year I decided to take a break. I’ve made a list of twenty books I’d like to read, and I know more will come. I want to slow down, to savor, to go deeper into these books.

It’s not that I didn’t learn a lot last year or that I rushed through my books. But sometimes, when a number is attached to a goal, I make it about the destination rather than the journey. I’m learning that some years are for measurable goals and other years are for visions and ideas.

I have a friend who creates categories she wants to learn more about each year and tailors the books she reads to those categories. Other friends do a “clear the shelf” challenge, where they stack books on a shelf in their home and try to empty it by the year’s end. (I suppose this is similar to my list…)

I was thinking about goals I have for this year and many of them are like my reading list. I have some ideas and hopes but none are conducive to creating a spreadsheet or checklist. I like that this year of lean in means leaning into the ideas rather than details. I’m not throwing out details but I’m also holding my goals a bit more loosely. I have a feeling that things are swirling around this year and I want to be open to learning rather than achieving.

In her chapter called “Composting,” Natalie Goldberg says,

“…we collect experience, and from the decomposition of thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this does not come all at once. It takes time. Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil” (pp 18-19).

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

Especially now at the start of the year, in these months when we turn the compost and wait for spring, I’m setting my goals knowing that there is some waiting to be done. I’m resting with an overarching vision of my year.

This is pretty counterintuitive for me. I like checklists and goals but it also feels peaceful and right. Maybe this year of lean in will mean big things but right now, lean in means leaning into immeasurable goals.

How do you set goals? Are you a checklist person or an ideas person? Have you ever switched up the way you track your goals?

Compost

We are probably the world’s worst composters. We don’t follow the 2:3 ratio at all, but simply throw any food scraps into our counter top container. In the winter, we’ll empty it about once a week; more in the summer. If I’m being conscientious, I’ll tear up our paper towel and toilet paper tubes to throw in for brown material. We rarely water or turn it. In the spring, Frank will do an aggressive push and water and turn it every week. In about a month, all of our neglect has turned into spreadable dirt.

Dirt from our composted veggies
Dirt from our composted veggies

When we started researching the composting process, about four years ago, I soon got overwhelmed by all the information. I read the Botanic Gardens’ website about using 2/3 greens to 1/3 browns and it started to sound a bit too much like chemistry. Then, we chatted with a couple at an information booth at the farmer’s market. The woman told us to not worry – just throw our extra food and plant cuttings into the compost, water, mix, and see what happens. She said it takes a lot of effort to mess up a compost heap. With these words of wisdom, we decided we were ready to enter the world of composting.

Bea loves “helping” with the compost and is beginning to understand the process a bit more. I’m excited that her relationship with waste and trash will be more about repurposing and being a good steward of what we have. (There’s a great book on composting for kids from the Teenie Greenies series.)

The most encouraging thing for me about this process is that we don’t have to stress about it. It’s not really one more thing to add to the list, but just part of our routine. And, I love the tangible reminder that our leftover scraps can be made into something useable.

Here are a few practical ideas to get started on your own compost:

1) We use the 3-stage system. People told us that it’s easy to build your own, but we learned early in our marriage that it’s best for us to buy ready-made. We found one for $50 at Home Depot. It’s great because we can move the stacks, depending on where we are in the process.

3-stage system
3-stage system

2) We invested in a counter top bin with a charcoal filter in the lid to keep out smells. Especially if (like us) you don’t empty every day, it’s essential to keeping the smell of decomposing food out of the kitchen.

Counter top bin
Counter top bin

3) Even though we don’t follow the 2:3 ratio, it is important to remember not to put animal byproducts in your compost. Industrial-level operations can handle things like that, but cheese and meat will attract pests in a backyard compost.

4) Don’t stress about it! We’ve had the occasional mouse enjoy our unturned scraps, but we don’t have any rat infestations or anything like that. Like the woman at the farmer’s market said, it’s pretty hard to mess up!

Do you compost? Do you have any advice for those who haven’t yet started?