Monday, January 30, 2012

Me and J-Lo and Outdoor Twister

Last night we were watching TV when a clip of Jennifer Lopez came on.  She’s beautiful.  Really beautiful, but I noticed that she had a few wrinkles around her eyes which is something I hadn’t noticed before.  Who knows?  Maybe those wrinkles have always been there and I’ve just been looking at other things . . . At any rate, I took the observation and ran with it.  “Hey honey, do you ever think that celebrities are aging faster than we are?  I mean, it seems like it wasn't that long ago when J-Lo was the fresh face of Hollywood and now she’s looking older than we do.” 

There was a brief pause while my wife thought of a nice way to put it.  “I think we look a lot older than we think we do.” 

I’m squarely in my mid-30s (dangerously close to adding the -to-late to that "mid") and, like most people, I still think of myself as a much younger version of myself.  But there are some signs, which I suppose I have chosen to ignore, that I am aging at least as quickly as Jennifer Lopez is.

Exhibit A – The other night I was tucking my daughter into bed and her entire prayer that night consisted of this: “Dear God, thank you for a very good day.  Thank you for Daddy and Mommy.  Please help Daddy not to get any more gray hairs.  Amen.”

Where did that come from?  Sure, I’m not a toe-headed, sun-bleached-blond kid anymore, but I’m not really gray yet.  Not unless you count my facial hair which is shockingly grey when I let it grow out (something I’m less and less likely to allow). 

Exhibit B – We keep our dishwasher detergent under the kitchen sink.  Every time I bend down to grab a Pre-Soaking Powerball thing I find myself thinking, “Wow, I need to stretch more.” 

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.  I love using these things.

Exhibit C – For at least a dozen years after I turned 21 I would be asked to produce my ID when purchasing alcohol.  Now when I go through the self-checkout lane at the grocery store all I have to do is look up at the attendant and hold my 6-pack of beer up so they can see it and override the system controls so I can complete my purchase.  There’s simply no doubt I’m old enough to drink legally.  Perhaps I should be thankful that California law has recently changed and the purchase of alcohol is no longer permitted in the self-checkout lanes.  It’ll give the clerks a chance to flatter me once more . . . or confirm the truth. 

Final Exhibit – I went out for a little late winter clean up in the garden recently.  Our winters are mild enough that weeds and seedlings seem to grow all year so there was a lot of hands-and-knees kinds of chores for me to do.  Weeding on your hands and knees is hard enough by itself.  Mix in a few plants that you are trying to work around and it becomes a game of outdoor Twisters.  Right foot mulch, left foot brick, left hand pushing on tree trunk, right hand weeding!  I was able to manage for a while* but somewhere between crouching like a baseball catcher with one leg out

and lunging forward to grab a weed like an Olympic curler, my body decided to revolt.

As I lay on my side in the leaf mold and mulch of the garden bed, unable to move because my out of shape butt cheeks and quads had constricted to the point where I was momentarily paralyzed from the waist down, I had no delusions of youth whatsoever.  Nor dignity for that matter. 

What do I take away from all this?  Aside from the obvious, which is that I’m no longer 18 with the flexibility of a Gumby doll, I am starting to realize and accept that I am not immune to the ailments of aging.  And suddenly I regret having fast-forwarded through all those segments of Gardening by the Yard that talked about pre-gardening stretching, the correct way to use a shovel and how to stay hydrated while working.  

*a relative term, to be sure.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

“The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means; the future alone is our end. So we never live, but we hope to live; and, as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable we should never be so.” –Blaise Pascal

As adults who have schedules to keep, events to plan, milestones to achieve, and a vague sense of when those things need to be given priority, time is something we have a pretty firm grasp on even though most of us would admit that the lack of time is one of our biggest disappointments.  Time is ever-present in our minds.  We know how much time it takes to brew a pot of coffee and how many minutes it takes to get to work.  We know how many years it has been since we graduated from high school and about how many weeks it has been since we called Mom.  But there are other elements of time that we struggle with: how to use our time to the fullest, how to make sense of the limited time we have, how to prepare for tomorrow while living today, or how to honor the memory of yesterday without sacrificing the importance of the present.

My schedule is never really this full, but I know some who would say this is a light day.

My daughter, on the other hand, is still young enough that she hasn’t quite figured out the nuances of time.  Anything that happened previously happened “yesterday” even if it happened that morning.  Anything that has been promised to her in the future (like a trip to Disneyland) is “sometime when [she is] older”.  It is such a simplistic interpretation of time.  I sometimes find myself trying to correct her or at least coax out of her which “yesterday” she really means so I can follow what she is saying.  But I wonder if I should just let her figure it out on her own?  She seems completely satisfied not knowing the difference and I can’t really say that I am happier or that I make better use of time than she does.  One thing I cherish about this time in her life is that everything that happens to her happens in relationship to the “right now” of her life.  It's as if kids can't help but seize the day.

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow - First Blooms!

While in my garden yesterday - and I do mean yesterday, as in the day before today - I noticed that a plant I bought and found a place for last year had finally bloomed.  Seeing this otherwise nondescript plant finally in bloom made me remember the two reasons why I brought it home in the first place: 1. When in bloom it looks great and 2. It has a name that makes me happy: "Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow."  Although my pictures don’t do it justice, the looking great part should eventually be self-evident especially as it increases in size and the blooms multiply.  Even though I can’t seem to take a good photograph of a blue-blooming plant, I can try to explain why I think the name is so great.  It is called Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow because each individual bloom spends about a day of its life dipped in purple then the next day it turns blue, and the following day it turns white.  On any given plant you will see blooms at all three stages. 

A "Yesterday" Bloom.

Are we homosapiens not unlike this plant? One day we are young like my daughter is and life is a brilliant purple haze. Seemingly too soon we find that the color of life has changed. Life is still wonderful but we see it differently. Things aren’t always so vibrant but there is an enduring beauty to life and by recognizing the changes we go through it helps us appreciate what we were and what we are becoming. And then, before we wither away entirely, we relax into a pleasing pure white.

I know that’s an overly simplistic timeline of life. I also know that the truth is that as we age we still have the capacity to feel younger than we are.  Take a kid to a professional baseball game or take them trick-or-treating, watch them open presents on Christmas morning and you'll feel that youthful magic again.  And sometimes we feel older than we are.  Like when a teenager finds a cassette tape in the car and asks “what in the world is this thing?”  Or when we find ourselves talking about IRAs with our friends at the bar instead of joking about whatever young people joke about these days.  All these feelings and thoughts, these stages in life, these different colored blooms, can, and do, happen to us all at once.

Hiding in the background is a "Today" bloom.

To me, this is one of the greatest joys in gardening: if we are willing to occassionaly overlook the chores that need to be attended to and just experience our gardens, we can find symbols, metaphors, analogies, and morals to take with us when we leave the garden; each truth being a different colored bloom for all the yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows in our life no matter what color they are.

I Feel The Earth Move Under My Feet

I heard Carole King's voice singing "I feel the earth move under my feet" when I saw today that the USDA had finally released an update to their US Plant Hardiness Zone chart.

Somehow, without moving to a new house my garden has become a zone warmer.  What was once just a Zone 9A garden is now a wonderful 9B garden.  What does this mean for me personally?  It means that I now have access to 2,023 plants at Annie's Annuals that will grow in my backyard.  Yesterday there were only 1,925 plants I could grow.  So there's that. 

This change has been a long time coming (22 years since the last update).  In the meantime, most people who care about this sort of thing had already adjusted their zones in their own mind or switched over to a different system such as the Sunset Western Garden zones which looks at your location's overall climate including summer highs, length of the growing season, rainfall and humidity and not just winter lows like the USDA chart does.   

I don't really see this making a huge difference in the way I garden.  To me, it's more of an acknowledgement on the part of the USDA that their previous map was so 90's and was overdue for a makeover.  It might also say something about global climate change . . . but I'll let the USDA speak for itself on that "hot" button topic. 

I'd love to hear if anyone had a more signficant change in their official zone rating and what that means to them as a gardener, if anything.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Winter Yawn

Well, we got those winter holidays out of the way, didn’t we?  Now I’m ready to get down to the business of spring.  If only time and the weather would cooperate. 

Truth be told, the weather has more or less obliged my desire for some outdoor activity.  It’s been unseasonably warm and shockingly dry here during months that are typically cold and wet.  Except in the crisp, blue-sky mornings . . . man, it’s been cold in the mornings.  Like actually below freezing cold and not just wimpy Californian cold. 

Lamb's Ear - You have no idea how much restraint it has taken to not prune the dead leaves.

Which leads me to a minor confession:  I have taken a perverse pleasure in surveying the frosty carnage in my garden.  Let me be clear, I don’t want any of my plants to die but checking on their health is the closest thing I can get to actual gardening these days unless you count turning the compost pile and sowing cool season vegetable seeds.  Sure, sowing seeds is, by definition "gardening", but it doesn’t feel like it.  It feels like poking something in the ground and then waiting for two weeks before anything happens.

This is a picture of Flat of Italy onions.  Only you can't see them because it's just potting soil and seeds right now.  Doesn't look like gardening, does it?

In spite of the warm and dry weather there isn’t much to do but dream, and yawn, and wait.  Every gardener not living in San Diego knows this and deals with it in their own way.  We either read gardening books, try to find a gardening show to watch on TV (good luck with that), plan the destruction and rebirth of another section of yard, or order way too many tulip bulbs and seeds.  I am guilty of all these things. 

The waiting is, in fact, the hardest part.  It feels like a burden.  It feels like a punishment for loving something forbidden.  It feels like a long-distance relationship before there was e-mail, Skype, and Facebook.  But I am trying to make the best of it.  I’m telling myself that these times are necessary.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder so perhaps winter makes the garden grow better?  (I’ll let you know if I ever start to actually believe that.)         

This Lady Fern was a beautiful green until about two nights ago.

As I write this, dark clouds haunt our skies.  Rain is finally coming.  Proof that nothing lasts forever.  Not even winter. 

Daffodils have emerged.  I hope they know what they're doing.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A "Regular" 2012

Doesn't it seem like we are all making resolutions and telling people about them or we’re telling people why we don’t make resolutions?  I do make resolutions but I try to be creative with them.  One year I thought it would be fun to learn something new every month and I stuck with it for a while.  One month I learned how to juggle, another month I learned to roll over in a kayak, and then I tried to learn how to return phone calls.  The last one was the most difficult and is something I still struggle with today.  I really dislike answering the phone.


This year I resolved to at least try to go “Number 2” every single day.  Yeah, I know.  That’s not really the sort of thing people should announce to the world.  I just figured I’d be happier and healthier if I was more regular, colonicly speaking.  It’s just a little ironic that the resolution itself isn’t exactly, you know, regular.

I’m going to stick with that resolution but I’m adding to my plans for 2012.  Cat, who blogs as “The Whimsical Gardener”, wrote about centering her resolutions around a single word.  For 2011 that word was “espy” and this year it is “stretch.”  You should read both posts in which she explains why she chose the words and what they meant to her.  They have the ring of wisdom to them and are just a few thousand rungs higher up on the evolutionary ladder than my resolution to go poop every day. 

Inspired by what I read, I decided that I would spend 2012 with the word “cultivate” in mind.  I recognize that my life on January 4, 2012 has a perspective unique to today and I also know that life on December 31, 2012 will feel in many ways like a completely different life.  That is why I like Cat’s idea to choose a word rather than a specific goal.  By having just a single word to keep in mind we are free to grow, change, and strive for things throughout the year that we can't possibly conceive of in January. 

And that is great for me because I don’t know how my life is going to change in the coming year.  But I do know that if I work to cultivate relationships with my family and friends that my life will be richer for it.  I know that if I cultivate better habits for how I spend my time I will feel more satisfied with myself.  If I cultivate parts of my character I can improve the course of my future.  And if I cultivate a real vegetable garden for the first time ever I will be better fed and hopefully get more fiber in my diet which will have the added benefit of helping me with that other resolution.  So here's to 2012 and all that it will bring! 

*As a postscript, my ADD led me away from blogging long enough to click on over to Botanical Interests and place an order for some vegetable seeds so I can get started cultivating that new vegetable garden.  I have ordered from them in the past and I was very pleased with my success with the seeds and their packets are like little pieces of informative art. 

Each packet has an illustrated picture of the vegetable, common and botanical names, a plant tag, and information on when to plant and harvest.  As a hidden bonus, the insides of the packets include tips, recipes, pest control ideas, and a little history.  All for about $2.00 a packet.