How to Be Idle and Blessed

I remember the first time I heard the line from Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day.” After contemplating the world of a grasshopper on a summer day, Oliver asks her reader if they know how to really pay attention, how to be still and quiet. The poem ends with an oft-quoted question:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

A bunch of green asparagus spears in a brown wooden bowl on a butcher block table.
Photo by Stephanie Studer on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking about this phrase a lot these days, as we emerge from winter and tax season, as leaves start to spring onto branches and we start thinking about school ending and summer beginning.

When I first heart this question, I felt an urge to think about grand goals, wild dreams, and hopes beyond my imagination. I took it seriously, this call to live into my one and only precious life. I don’t want to waste a thing. What will I do with all these unexpected opportunities, with all that I’ve learned, with all that I hope to accomplish?

Suddenly this question turned into a to-do list. First, I’ll read these books. Next, I’ll take this class. Then, I’ll reflect about those experiences as I make a plan of action to implement my newfound knowledge. Last, I’ll be an expert in this new field, finding opportunities to share and participate in new conversations.

I don’t think those hopes and goals are unrealistic or out of the realm of possibility. But I do think I’ve completely missed the point of Mary Oliver’s question if that is my takeaway.

In the middle of the poem, before this famous question, Oliver notes,

I don’t know exactly what prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

As we enter this season of spring cleaning, family recalibration, and these last weeks of the school year, I can let my list for what a One Wild and Precious Life looks like completely overwhelm the call to be idle and blessed.

I’m learning to balance this blessed observation and living in the present with the need to sit down and do the work. Sometimes the work is that playtime idleness my girls crave. Sometimes it’s the mundane chores of cleaning and cooking. And sometimes it’s the actual work of sitting and writing or crafting ideas to the page. Nothing is as set and clear as I’d like it to be.

I’m remembering this poem in this season of life, though. That my call is to deep observation. That learning takes years and often the outcomes aren’t what I was expecting.

This season of quiet and growth has lasted longer than I expected. I know that planting seeds and putting down roots can take years. I love what my friend Tina says about growing in the longterm. After she planted asparagus, which takes three years to produce, she reflected,

 It takes commitment to plant asparagus, and perseverance. More than that, it takes vision. To plant something right now that won’t bear fruit for years to come requires vision. It requires we trust that the good life is not always the immediate life. The beautiful life is not the quick life. Instead, it is the cultivated, grounded life. It is the life that believes in waiting for the fruit, in holding out hope that something good will come, and it is the belief that trusts in the work we cannot see with our eyes.

Tina Osterhouse, On What’s Saving My Life Right Now

So, to mix metaphors and ideas, I’m planting asparagus and fruit trees, I’m taking time to observe the grasshopper and small details, I’m leaning into this space of the quiet and quotidian.

I’m remembering to hold myself to a different standard, one that is more about planting and less about harvest. I’m doing the work, in hopes of a fruitful result but I won’t know for sure until late summer. And that’s the beauty of life and learning and gardening, isn’t it?

What are you planting this spring? Do you like growing quick lettuces, late season tomatoes, or longterm asparagus? How do you balance that waiting?

Harvest Comes at the End of the Season

Even though we’re back in school and everyone is looking forward to all things autumn and pumkiny, our garden is still in the height of harvest season. We planted our veggies at the end of May and spent most of the summer watering and watching our plants grow. We have volunteer spaghetti squash from last year (or from the compost – who knows?) and we have an abundance of cucumbers and tomatoes. Our squash had an ok year and our green peppers were the best we’ve ever seen.

chad-stembridge-96380-unsplash
Photo by Chad Stembridge on Unsplash

I always get antsy for our harvest in mid-July. The plants are big and leafy but we get very few vegetables. Maybe a zucchini or yellow squash, but nothing impressive. Not yet. I always have to remind myself that the harvest really happens in August and into September. In fact, by the end of September, many tomatoes wither on the vine because we’re already moving on to more wintery recipes. (I know this makes us terrible farmers but it’s true every year.)

We’re three full weeks into our second year at our walkable neighborhood school. First graders still need a parent to pick them up and, even though this sometimes conflicts with Elle’s afternoon rest, I don’t mind carrying a sleepy preschooler to pick up her sister each day. These twice-daily treks to school have become a ritual of community that I would miss if we drove or if Bea rode the bus.

The faculty knows us and always say hello. We greet parents who are new friends and wave and connect with those we knew from last year. We walk home with a group of latch-key kids I’m getting to know better and yesterday I sent a note home with one of those girls, asking her mom to text about a play date.

Women from my Family Literacy group who have moved up due to language gains stop me, saying they wish they were in the beginner class so we could still see each other. Bea’s best friend’s mom joined Family Literacy and we got together last Saturday for henna.

IMG_0605If last year was for starting small roots in new soil, this year is seeing the shoots come up from our work. I don’t think we’re even into the leafy stage yet but I’m starting to see the results of our seeds. Last year, I was so excited about our new school and all we experienced that first year. Our kindergarten teacher was incredible! I made friends through Family Literacy! It was feeling like home.

And just shy of a month in, I’m amazed at how much deeper these relationships are growing. Even our new friendships feel deeper somehow, knowing we’ve been here a year and we’re committed for the next seven or so years as our girls progress.

Someone recently said that the word season is an overused term, especially in Christian culture, but as I watch our garden flourish, even when I’m ready to wind down and move into a cozier place, I can’t think of a more apt comparison.

We have planted seeds and are watching them poke out of the soil. I’m remembering that planting takes time, that vegetables don’t ripen until the very end of summer, and that our bounty gets us ready for a new season entirely.

I’m remembering, as we transition and make space with one foot in this new community and one still firmly in our preschool community, that I most likely won’t see the actual fruits of the intentional relationships we’re making for quite some time. Friendships take time and cultivation and community doesn’t happen quickly – no matter how I wish it would.

I’m learning to enjoy this space. To look at my plants with pride and anticipation of the fruits they will bear. I know not to rush things but to walk gently through the process.

What overused metaphor do you love for your life? Are you a gardener? How do you handle waiting for your harvest? 

Delighting in New Creation

Last weekend was our first normal post-tax season weekend. We went out for brunch with my parents on Saturday morning, headed to Home Depot for gardening supplies, and spend Saturday and Sunday outside digging in the dirt.

garden-1176406_1920Well, Frank spend Saturday and Sunday digging in the dirt. The girls “helped” and played with neighbors. I watched them, reconnected with our neighbors after wintertime, and squeezed in bits of writing and editing as I could.

I love watching Frank prepare our garden each year. After long hours indoors, the weather is cooperative and his schedule is free to be outdoors. Every year he plans our vegetable gardens, moves the pots and redistributes the soil. We decide how many tomato plants we really need and if this is the year cucumbers will grow. After watching our peach tree succumb to frostbite our first year, we’ve tended it and have spotted the first blossoms. I play more of a consulting role – affirming that we’ll probably use five different types of tomatoes; wondering if we really need to try peppers again.

I like gardening but I like reading a book in the hammock better. Frank comes alive in the garden. Watching him this weekend gave me a glimpse into our retirement years: Me with a lemonade by my side watching Frank putter around. I think he’ll be one of those old men who has a magnificent garden, living up to his patron saint’s attributes.

This weekend reminded me of N.T. Wright’s book, Surprised By Hope. When talking about building God’s new kingdom he says,

“You are – strange though it amy seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself – accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation… every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support for one’s fellow human beings nad for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures… all this will find its way throug the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make” (pg 208).

Wright is saying that when we create and grow and use our passions and gifts, we are bringing about a new heaven here on earth. When I think about my own passions, I sometimes wonder how lounging in a hammock will bring about a shift in our broken world. And then I see Frank happily turning the earth, bringing new life to our garden, teaching the girls about soil and seeds, and I see a glimpse of this new heaven here on earth. I can completely imagine Frank for all eternity teaching others about the magic of our earth and delighting in what life springs from a mix of compost, soil, and water.

Remember, we are still in Easter celebrations. Jesus has risen from the dead but he has not yet ascended into heaven. We are still in the midst of rejoicing and awe. As we continue to emerge from winter and bask in the spring sunshine, I hope to keep this at the forefront – that what we are planting and creating now is a small glimpse at what will be planted and created when our earth is restored.

I am remembering to celebrate and hold this awe of Easter present as we participate in this new creation.

Are you still celebrating Easter? When is the last time you caught a glimpse of God’s redemptive creation?

Books Referenced:

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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?

Garden

“Come! Come, ‘Ma’oes!” Bea eagerly led any guests to our home straight to the tomato plants, towering over her 11-month self. Once she discovered our garden, and especially the delicious cherry tomatoes, Bea wanted to share her wealth with others. At any given moment, her small mouth would be stuffed with red (and often green) tomatoes, as though the plant would suddenly wither and she would have only what she had squirreled into her cheeks.

Tomatoes off the vine
Tomatoes off the vine

Many guests over the summer bonded with Bea behind those tomato plants. You knew you were part of her pack if she led you to the raised beds at the back of our yard. This small act of hospitality reminded me how simple giving to our friends can be. People were delighted to share her tomatoes, and not just because she was adorably offering them. I don’t think relationships require much, and I often need to remember that generosity and hospitality can start with simply sharing a few cherry tomatoes off the vine.

Linked with Lisa-Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday, a time to sit and write without editing for 5 minutes.