Category Archives: work

Going forward all the way to flowers.

My post of last night seems melodramatic today. I wanted the main point of it to be courage, because that is the aspect of God’s grace that seemed to be given, and that is a positive and going-forward kind of energy.

Today I enjoyed housework, and as I was beautifying my house I thought about how I would like to spend more time on housework than I have been doing. My next thought was, How is that going to work with your desire to spend more time reading, and walking, and more time in the garden? And writing letters and book reviews…. ?

I didn’t waste time on such practical questions, but I vacuumed and dusted and wiped and scrubbed for a few hours, to the point where it was obvious I only had one more bit of housework to do: bring in some flowers. That, as I soon realized, created more mess, because I don’t have a cutting garden.

After I wandered around the paths I had a big jar full of a wildflowery kind of assortment, from which I made a couple of wonky “arrangements,” and in my wake, on more than one horizontal surface, were wide trails of litter: pieces of lavender stem and echinacea petals and parts of lambs ears that were dried and falling off. At least one tiny spider and one ant jumped off and ran away somewhere… But all in all the flower-arranging was a satisfying treat I gave myself, and I still had time for writing this little report.  🙂

Caleb’s my man.

I came to the last page of Middlemarch, and it’s not even the last day of June! Ah, but now begins the work that is harder than the reading: sifting and organizing my thoughts about the story and stories of that novel so as to write some of them here in a way that might edify.

In the meantime, I have to say that I love the character of Caleb Garth more than anyone. His kind of “business” is not at all what people think of these days who are majoring in Business in college. They often think mostly of making a living somehow, but Caleb is intent on improving the land and doing good by people, the livestock and the earth. He often forgets to make provision for his own financial needs, and loves nothing better, as he says to his wife, than:

“…to have a chance of getting a bit of the country into good fettle, as they say, and putting men into the right way with their farming, and getting a bit of good contriving and solid building done — that those who are living and those who come after will be the better for. I’d sooner have it than a fortune. I hold it the most honourable work that is.” … “It’s a great gift of God, Susan.”

“That it is, Caleb,” said his wife, with answering fervor. “And it will be a blessing to your children to have had a father who did such work: a father whose good work remains though his name may be forgotten.”

A good man or woman adorns the earth by his presence alone, but if in addition he is able to oversee the wise management of farms and estates, with honesty and without greed, it is satisfying and holy work.

The last two weeks I’ve been working at less enduring tasks, but I’m still pleased with the results. Of course, there is always my garden which I tend. In the third year of being on my own I became acutely aware of the importance to my heart and psyche of my house as well, of the whole property that is mine alone now, and which I manage and am responsible for. The changes in my feelings are complicated and subtle; I see how God and His angels carried me through the time when I seemed to have little strength of will to apply. Now we will see how He guides me in this new phase when I am ready to participate more fully in my own affairs!

I’m working on the sourdough bread experiments again — yes, and they result in very short-lived products of my efforts, being highly desirable consumables. Today a Swedish seeded sourdough rye boule that is still rising will be cooked in the Dutch oven. Last week, these loaves:

But no time yet, to dwell on details of dough and ovens, or on great themes of Middlemarch, because Pippin (who took the photo in England above, by the way) is arriving with two grandchildren for a few days. I’ll be taking care of Ivy (almost 6) and Jamie (3) while she attends a conference for work nearby. Scout won’t be in the group because he is backpacking with his father.

I’ve joined a book group of women in my parish. I didn’t finish the recent read, but I’m confident that I’ll have time to read Fidelity by Wendell Berry before our next discussion this summer.

My computer is giving me fits as usual, and the Computer Guy is on his way, so I will get back to my real, tangible work now, and give him this space, and see you next week! May your summer reading and work be satisfying.

Taking toxins with my joys.

Gardening has been  challenge of late, what with miserable weather, a sprained finger, and now the toxic latex sap of my euphorbia, or spurge.

I had a wonderfully satisfying day yesterday – went swimming, planted my vegetables, and then trimmed back the lovely euphorbia that had been flowing all over the wall in my front garden. I had done this job at least twice before, but the volume of plant material that I was removing this time was so much more than in previous years — in line with the saying about new landscaping: The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it LEAPS! The picture below is from about a month ago, before my spurge had completed the leap, when it was just starting to spill prettily over the wall.

As I cut the spent flower stems last night I noticed the flowing sap, and it reminded me of Elmer’s glue, white and sticky, as it dripped on my shoes and hands. I had a splint bandaged to my sprained right forefinger to keep me from using it, and the bandage got wet with euphorbia juice. When I dumped clippings from my trug into the yard waste bin little flowers and leaves stayed behind, stuck with the glue.

After I finished the job and spent a long time getting the stuff off my hands, I took a little walk just to loosen up the kinks from stooping over my garden tasks. I climbed into bed so pleased at my productive day.

This morning early I became aware of a rash on my left hand, then on my forearms, then my right hand…my face…eventually my neck. My tongue burned. A thought began to rise to the surface of my messy pond of a mind: Hey, did I hear that this plant is poisonous? Ahem, yes, Gretchen, you did!!

Dave of Dave’s Garden doesn’t think these plants are much to worry about, compared to poison oak, for example. But The Guardian says that one berry if ingested can kill a child. Wikipedia tells us that the genus Euphorbia has about 2,000 members. You probably knew that poinsettia is a member? And maybe you heard the urban legend from 1919 ! that a child died after eating a poinsettia leaf. But the Christmas plant is only mildly toxic, after all, and a child would have to eat about 500 leaves to suffer for it.

Why I didn’t suffer until this third time is probably because of several factors: I wasn’t wearing gloves — though I was wearing long sleeves, so I don’t understand about my forearms being so affected. I’m pretty sure I cut the old stems off in a greener, wetter stage than before, so maybe the sap was more and more potent. Then there was the sheer quantity of plant matter being carried here and there, dumped, swept up…

I took a Benadryl, I applied hydrocortisone and aloe vera. I haven’t felt up to going anywhere, distracted and stressed as all this reaction has made me. But I wasn’t incapacitated, either, so I decided to tackle the snowball bush. I had thought for months that I would hire someone to prune it as soon as the flowers faded, but recently I decided to Do It Myself, because you know, if you want a job done right…? I’ve had two different “gardeners” botch jobs in the last couple of years, while I, on the other hand, have pruned the snowball bush many times over the last three decades. Though admittedly never at the age I am now.

Below you can see the bush,  beyond everything else, the left side short, the right side thinned but not short yet. And you can see the purple Pride of Madeira or echium having filled out, a few of my prunings in a pile, and the Jerusalem Sage blooming yellow..

I worked at it a couple of hours, never needing a ladder, and I am about 80% done — with the pruning. Getting all of the discards into the yard waste bin will take a few weeks, I’m pretty sure.

It made me so happy to be doing my own gardening. I was smack dab next to the currant with its big leaves that smell so good. The snowball bush (viburnum) hadn’t been pruned for a few years, so it had gotten out of hand. My plan is to get it down to a manageable size and prune it every year, and then it will be a breeze!

Tonight I’ll go to bed joyful again.