Monday, January 22, 2007

Chicken Business

Saturday I met with a great group of writers at the North Canton Public Library. I was a guest workshop leader with the Greater Canton Writers’ Guild, where I spoke on the topic of Writing Creative Nonfiction.

Creative Nonfiction is a genre that combines the creativity of fiction and poetry writing with the research and fieldwork of a journalist. The genre has been around for years in the form of essays and magazine articles and is often the style used for memoir. The writer of creative nonfiction usually writes in first person out of their own experience. Their quest for knowledge might lead them on an “adventure.” One source called this “immersion.” Other techniques the writer uses to gather information might be interviews, reading and research. Many creative nonfiction pieces have an element of subjectivity. so in that way they aren’t exactly like journalism.

The best creative nonfiction includes personal experience but goes well beyond the individual and personal to look at a broader topic that impacts many of us. The piece will be reflective since the writer must distill and shape her experiences, memories and things she’s learned in the course of her “adventures.”

In our class we took time to write short personal experience sketches and then talked about how they could be a springboard for a larger creative nonfiction piece. It was interesting to see the potential as we listened to several class members read their pieces. I didn’t read mine to the class but you can see it below.

Here is what I wrote during our class:
I had just finished putting eight large hair rollers which I secured with large bobby pins in my damp shoulder length hair. “Girls, don’t you think it’s about time to get out to the chicken house?” Our mother rarely gave any direct orders but her questions were usually enough to send us on our way. My sister and I grabbed our barn coats. Mine was an oily, gold colored reversible parka. The scent of chicken house lingered in the corner of the garage where it hung. I put a clean nylon scarf over my head and double-wrapped my curlered hair.

Dad was waiting with the egg carts filled with filler flats and a full spray bottle of mineral oil. He and I started on the left side, my sister went by herself to the right. We pushed the cart down the aisle and grabbed handfuls of white eggs from the wire trays where they rolled immediately after the white H&N leghorns had laid them. Some were still warm—a couple were damp. The noise in the place was cheerful with the cackling of several thousand hens. They lived three to a cage and spent their lives doing nothing but eating, drinking, laying eggs and talking to us when we came by. Dad said they were happy and I never doubted that a bit.

Our dogs, Toby and Trixie, who were a mix of golden retriever and cocker spaniel, could wander in the chicken house since the birds were all in cages. They followed us down the aisles snuffling up the soft-shelled eggs that slid through the wire. They had the shiniest coats of any dogs in the neighborhood.

Dad and I worked fast and took pride in our ability to grab up to four or even five eggs in one hand. We dropped them into the filler flats, points down, and when a flat was full we sprayed them with mineral oil. The oil sealed the pores and helped them stay fresh longer. Then we grabbed a new flat, gave it a half turn and placed it on top of the first one. We continued down the row with Dad and me facing one another piling the flats of eggs as we went. When the cart was full, we pushed it into the cooler and grabbed a new one.

The smell in the caged layer house was “intense” to say the least. I always worried that my hair smelled of the chicken house. That’s why I wore two scarves. But gathering eggs was my first job and it provided our family a good livelihood on a 48 acre farm in the 1950s and 1960s. I didn’t know many of the realities of agribusiness and probably none of us thought much about what was happening to small farms—or what would become of them as the years went by and “progress” and “technology” was applied to what my dad liked to call the “chicken business.”

Note to my readers: Here my musings stop for now, but my interest in this topic is building. Will I go out and immerse myself in the issues of egg production, packing and marketing? Why are few of these “caged layer operations” as my dad called ours, no longer in production? Where do supermarket eggs come from today? There is so much I don’t know and the lines above only hint at a beginning. Will I brave the sights, sounds and smells I’m bound to encounter if I set out to find the truth about the scrambled eggs on my breakfast plate? Maybe. Perhaps.
Lofty Thoughts

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Other Arrangements

I do most of my writing in the loft of our house. We have one of those open floor plans with a vaulted ceiling, and an open staircase. There are Palladian windows to the front of the house but my desk sits on the upper level directly in front of an east window. From here, I can look out over the woods. On a winter’s day like this one, I have a view of the fields beyond the woods and the neighboring farmland and buildings. At night, I catch a glimpse of the lighted steeple of the church where I worship.

The condition of my loft suggests to me the condition of my soul. The overall impression is chaos. Last summer the loft became more and more cluttered as I spent time in the garden and preserving food. It was a season of life that didn’t lend itself to reading and writing. The papers, books, notebooks, file folders and odd debris piled up on the floor, tables, desk and even on the chairs in my writing space.

“I should clean up this mess,” I said to myself more than once. And then one time I heard a still small voice say, “I’m here with you. Sit in this mess and listen to Me for once.”

“Huh?” I asked. “You’re okay with this mess?”

“Yup!” The Goddess was grinning at me.

“Okay,” I said. I felt uncomfortable and relieved all at once as I un-piled my meditation chair and sat in it. I sat staring at the mess. Then I closed my eyes. It was hard to sit in that messy room day after day but I disciplined myself to do it. Occasionally I moved a pile from one place to another but I mainly sat there I with my deep breathing, meditation, prayers and holy reading. I said “Yes” to the mess and let it be there.

I got to a place of strange comfort with the messy piles and forgot to judge it most of the time. I watched new books of poetry and inspiration pile up as I returned from conferences and meetings but felt little need to read them. Folders from the latest workshop lay abandoned on top of an unfinished book (I have five!). The closet spilled over and I had to rummage to find instructions for changing the printer cartridge.

But at 55 West & Co. where I work part time, I was learning that I like to arrange things. One day I stacked up a couple dozen small stands into a pleasing, eye-catching display. Next, I tackled the front windows to create an almost storybook tableau. At home, I painted the dining room walls with texture, moved furniture and hung new pictures. I decorated for Christmas and created lovely scenes in our great room. The loft was messier than ever.

In December, a Carolina wren took shelter in the Christmas wreath on our front door. One evening she flew inside and knocked a small object from a shelf in the loft. It hit my computer keyboard and broke the comma key. The next day, I dumped a basket of old magazines and began filling it with odd remainders from my journey--books I no longer wanted, some inspirational bric-a-brac, decorations that don’t inspire me now. I took them to “Gypsy Sue” who will pass them on to people who can use them.

I gathered my overstuffed notebooks onto a shelf and filled a garbage bag with paper and old magazines. I moved some furniture in my loft but stopped short of painting the walls orange. (Orange is the color of creativity; that waits for another time). The desk remains in front of the window.

At work it seems when we move stuff around, it sells. New stuff comes in. Just when I think the place looks great, some furniture sells and other arrangements are required. In the “lofty” place at home, I notice that God is less of a cleaning service than I’d once suspected. The longer I sit here, the more I think getting messy is even part of the whole plan. I might be troubled by a mess but The Holy Homemaker isn’t as bothered as I once imagined. She stretches out her hand and invites me to rest. “Sit here in this mess with me,” She says. “Later—after you and I have spent some quality time together—we’ll make other arrangements. “

Lofty Thoughts

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Incense? Not a Problem!

The catalogues telling me what to buy have been arriving daily for the past few weeks. Most of them go unread into the shiny new trashcan in the kitchen. I did take a few moments to look at a catalogue from a company peddling religious icons and other religious wares. On a back page, I read this statement: “We can solve your incense problems.”

I hadn’t been aware of having any incense problems but it got me to wondering about incense. On my first day at the new job at 55 West & Co., Stephanie, the store’s owner, went through the list of procedures for opening the store each day--such things as wiping down the marble ledges in the exterior entrance, turning on the lights and music and . . . lighting the incense.

Stefanie said customers have varied reactions to the Nag Champa incense made in India. Nag Champa is often used in cathedrals (not without problems, apparently!) The pungent odor reminds some customers of high times in the dim city apartments of their wayward youth. As I’ve already said, so far, I’ve had no “incense problems” to speak of myself.

At 55 West & Co. we burn Sai Baba Nag Champa. According to their literature, it is enjoyed by millions and is the most popular incense in the world. Nag Champa is a hand-rolled blend of highly fragrant rare gums, resins, powders and pure Mysore Sandalwood Oil. It has been “appreciated for decades as an exceptional quality incense for deep calming meditation and for creating sacred spaces.” The scent of it will linger for in your room for hours.

Soon after I began my job, we ran out of the little sticks of incense and resorted to re-lighting the small remaining sticks left in the jar of sand behind the counter. Everyone breathed a gigantic sigh of contentment the day we received a huge shipment of Nag Champa and the store again smelled the way it was supposed to smell. Nag Champa adds something indefinable yet intriguing to the atmosphere at 55 West & Co. Stephanie sometimes describes what goes on in the large rambling two-story building in Millersburg as the “55 West Experience.”

Incense is only part of the “55 West Experience.” Other elements include the interesting and often funky music constantly playing on the stereo, the eclectic mixture of old and new home furnishings and apparel, and the hand-crafted, off-beat and interesting wares for sale throughout. Many visitors can’t resist the lure of “Salvage Central” in plain view but off limits to customers. There Stefanie and her crew give old tables, cupboards and chairs a quick coat or two of thin paint pastel colored paint. The creaking staircase with two landings leads to another whole floor of equally interesting stuff.

The place is a sensory feast and now that I’ve been working there a few weeks I’ve begun to unravel the mysterious draw the place has for me. According to Stefanie, people come back because of the entire atmosphere, including the friendly, energetic staff, and the relaxed ambience, the quirky merchandise and the strange aura of creative energy that seems to hover in the air of the store. She didn’t mention the dog, but I suspect some come in just for the chance to give Stef’s dog, Otis, a pat on the head as they walk by the counter.

As I listened to my new boss talk about her philosophy, I felt relief that she didn’t use words like “marketing,”, “customer service” or “retail sales.” In the end, her message was about the same as the words of one of my first employers, a newspaper editor whose parting shot was “Just be interested in other people and you’ll do fine.”

Maybe incense is the opposite of nonsense, I don’t know. At times the store takes on the qualities of a sacred space. It is not so far-fetched as one might imagine—the store as a cathedral. Here are objects artfully placed; light shines onto surfaces, people kneel to peer inside a cupboard, or raise their arms to lift something. There is a friendly welcome, someone willing to listen and care about your life. There is music, energy and respite from both the drudgery and madness of everyday living. In addition, there is that soothing scent, so indescribably aromatic, exotic and mysterious that it seems to awaken one to the sublime.

I have considered, this Advent season, sneaking into our church each Sunday at 8:00 and lighting a stick of Nag Champa. Then I would be singularly responsible for solving our “incense problem” something few people even know exists, unless they’ve lately perused a religious catalogue.
Lofty Thoughts

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Work History

I'm still catching up on a back log of life that flew past so fast I didn't take the time to chronicle it. Reflection is a necessary part of life for me and happens whether I get around to writing the reflections or just reflect in my head. A recent reflection related to my work history and the latest development in that department.

After almost two years of unemployment (by choice) I saw an ad for a job that seemed like it was a good fit for me because of past work history. It involved working with a church agency in communication and marketing. "Here I am, send me," I told God. "That is, if you can use me and want me there..." I filled out a lot of paperwork, got references and waited. In a few weeks I learned they'd decided not to hire after all due to a too-tight budget.

By now the idea of a part-time job sounded good to me, so I opened the newspaper and read the want ads, which I do sometimes just for entertainment (strange, but remember, I'm a novel writer looking for ideas, too). Under General Employment I read this ad: "Looking for outgoing creative people for P/T & F/T positions in fun new boutique in Berlin. Ideal candidate will thrive in a high energy and constantly changing environment . . . . Stop in at 55 West & Co., Millersburg for application."

It was this last bit that got my full attention-- the "boutique in Berlin" wouldn't ever cut it otherwise. But, 55 West & Co. is a store I discovered a couple of years ago. The owner, Stefanie Kauffman, is the epitomy of "outgoing, creative, high-energy." She has amazing charisma and her store is full of old cupboards, retro tables, and a variety of aging home furnishings, along with interesting accessories and other quality products that reflect a philosophy of sustainable living with style.

The day after I read the ad I went to see Stefanie. I filled out an application. She was seemingly thrilled and flattered that I'd want to work for her. I didn't tell her, but I think there are probably people who would pay HER for the privilege of hanging out at 55 West. The ancient two-story store building used to be Maxwell Brothers Clothing store for men. It has original tin ceilings, brick and plaster walls and wood floors. There is a hand-painted sign that says "Salvage Central" and behind that, a workbench and usually several dirty and scratched tables, shelves, you name it. A long wooden staircase of twenty some steps and two landings leads to the second floor where there are shelves with a gazillion throw pillows, hand-made rugs, and a large variety of Woolrich clothing. There is lots of stuff everywhere, too numerous to mention.

Stefanie called a few days later to invite me to an interview held in the office/workroom which defies description. I plunked down on a Victorian era sofa covered with canned-pea green velour and told Stef and her assistant, Jamie, (both of them are very thin and much younger than me) among other things that I think her store is a living metaphor for life--all of us with our dents and scratches and peeling paint, and that the restorations are another reminder that we still have value and in fact, we're treasures.

Apparently my interview was successful because I basically named my preferred hours (no evenings or weekends) but my new boss did extract a promise from me that I'd work one Saturday during October, my choice. She also was thrilled to learn that in a former (work) life I'd been a seamstress.

My new job is one of several I've had over the course of my life, beginning with a job gathering eggs in my dad's "caged layer operation." I've also taught third grade in Newfoundland, taught sewing in a fabric store, sold shoes and edited a church paper. My longest tenure was at the mental health board where I worked for ten years doing community relations.

During the past few weeks a lot of these memories have come flooding back, and some of my well-honed skills are back at the game. The "homes" of my two most recent jobs have both moved to new quarters. The other week I sat in a meeting at the conference office where I hadn't been for probably ten years. The pictures I'd loaned them were still on the walls there, but when they moved two weeks later, they returned them to me.

A few days after that, I went to an open house for the mental health board. They've moved into a great new office building thanks to the work of Julie, my replacement, who convinced them they were much too crowded where they were. (She was right). They're in a completely different part of town now, too. I signed up for the doorprize they were giving away--a free massage. This was the first time I would actually be eligible to sign up. Before, I was the one to find these prizes and call the winners. This time, low and behold, I WON!

These moves make me realize the truth of the saying "Life moves on." There is just a tiny bit of nostalgia as I think about these places I once worked and of course the friends I made in both jobs will always remain my friends.

I think of my life sometimes as a big adventure. I am constantly surprised by the things God brings into my path--and the people. I thought of that last evening when Stef, my boss, invited the entire staff to the store for our own private pre-holiday sale. After a bit of a sales talk which was given in her own zestful style, she sent us upstairs to the Victorian sofa. I along with my dozen or so new "sisters" at 55 West decked ourselves out in outlandish costumes from the store's jewelry counter and vintage clothing stock. I wore a "mink" stole, a felt and satin trimmed hat with a veil and earrings that are three sizes bigger than any I ever dare to wear. Stef's dog, Otis was in the picture too and the photographer actually got a shot where it looked like he was kissing her.

The next day I told Stef that driving home I couldn't believe I'd found my way to this store where incense and music and friendship create something that is--well--indefinable. She gave me her characteristic grin, the charismatic smile and said something that made me feel good, like there was no other place on earth for me to be but in this funky (word she says she uses too often ). place. Her new slogan is: "quite possibly the coolest store on the planet."

I am still trying to wrap my mind around a God who looked at me and said, "No, no, I don't need you to market Sunday school materials or work in mental health, I've got this other job for you at a funky store...Is that okay? And by the way, you can play dress up and arrange furniture and talk to lots of interesting people. Just let my love show while you're there if you can manage that, okay?"

"Yeah, sure, God. . . whatever You say. "

Quite possibly, I'm working for the coolest God in the Universe!

Lofty Thoughts

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Summer Backlog

Summer Backlog

It’s been far too long since I’ve “blogged.” All I can say is that it is summer and the garden and travels are keeping me away from the computer. Excuses, excuses! For awhile there I was over-run with garden produce, especially tomatoes. Now I have plenty of pizza sauce stored in the basement. Lots of other stuff too!

We went to Virginia to visit Laura and Brandon and see their new home awhile back. They bought a brand new townhouse with lots of stairs. On the middle floor it even has two staircases. You might say it has a built-in stair climber for exercise. It will be great to visit them and not have to stay in a motel. While we were there, Laura and I made grape juice. We also visited a winery, a flour mill, a pottery, an herb farm and the Cyrus McCormick farm where we saw the actual blacksmith shop where 16-year-old Cyrus created the first reaper.

A few days after we got home the great spinach scare was in the news. I had to gloat over my own freedom from bagged spinach and a lot of other supermarket wares. Nearly everything we eat lately is coming from my own sources—either our garden, or places that I am well acquainted with. We are mostly vegetarians during the summer since everything tastes so wonderful straight from the garden. We supplement the vegetable and fruit diet with some seeds and nuts, grains and beans, and eggs and cheese from our local farmers. It sounds almost romantic, doesn’t it?

I do feel a kind of romance about my life. But growing and putting away crops is sometimes difficult, time consuming work. That was made quite clear to me on a hot day when I volunteered (or rather begged) my neighbors to let me help make hay. Nine-year-old Edna was learning to drive the team, Rex and Ron, while her father, Reuben, loaded hay. I talked them into letting me learn too. It was a bumpy ride around the field on a wagon with no rubber tires. The horses weren’t as easy to manage as I imagined. Esther suggested they might not be used to the chatter between Edna and me. I was surprised how touchy they were to the tension on the lines and the amount of skill it takes to manage two lines for each horse. I also helped load bales onto the elevator. My neighbors don’t bale the hay until they take it back to the barn. That seems an odd rule and adds an extra step in the whole process but it’s their way. Reuben only mows and dries a few loads each week since he has another job off the farm.

I like the idea of small farms and fields and home-grown food. The old ways of crop rotation and the concern for tending the land is an important value that I saw in my parents and grandparents although we never really talked about it in quite that way. I grew up in an era when farmers were making a transition to being more businesslike in their work, which I admit provided a decent living for us. Now I am more aware of other issues, including the damage to the earth thanks to agri-business and the “experts.” I suppose all the revolutions started with Cyrus McCormick who was tired of swinging the scythe to cut a field of grain. I cringed to see a field of no-till that had been wiped clean of vegetation courtesy of Round-up on the way down the lane to visit old Cyrus’ farm, located near the Virginia Ag research center.
There is a good mini-history of the agricultural revolution written by Art Bolduc in the summer issue of Farming Magazine. It was fun to see the home place of Cyrus on our trip to Virginia and then read that history and see the old ways still being used locally. But my trip around the hayfield made me realize the reason farmers want those labor saving implements.

This winter I’ll be baking with the stone ground flour I bought at Wades Mill in Raphine, Va. It is far superior to other flour and I have a stash in my freezer for holiday whole wheat rolls. It was surely been a good summer in so many ways. Maybe sometimes the best thing I can do is suspend my need to be an observer of life and dive into the real thing for a spell. Guess that’s my best excuse for being so negligent here on the blog.

Monday, July 24, 2006


Three years ago I said goodbye to my 1993 blue 4-door Honda Civic. It was the first car I’d ever purchased brand new. I drove it for ten years and 110,000 miles with no problems at all. I sold it to a college student, the first person who stopped by to see it after I’d posted signs in the windows. I took a pro-active approach to selling and wrote “Buy This Car.” It worked, but I had to include lessons for her in driving a standard shift.

I replaced the Civic with another one; they’re great on gas mileage. I briefly considered a CR-V, possibly a “previously owned vehicle” as they like to call them at College Hills Honda. We ruled that out in favor of another new car. One phrase kept going through my mind: “My next car is going to have a sun roof.” For some reason I had been saying this to myself for months—possibly years. A sporty black Civic on the lot had a bunch of fancy extras—including the required roof. I still remember where I was standing when I spied the black Civic Coupe and decided that was my car. The salesman, Ernie, had a bit of a frown and my significant other asked, “A two-door? Are you sure?”

But, I was sure. I thought of the times I’d taken passengers to work-related meetings and the two-door excuse suddenly seemed appealing; selfish of me, in retrospect. The coupe looked even sportier. I had just applied for a job in Holmes County (which never actually materialized) and had a fleeting mental picture of myself cruising down a certain shady winding road to that new job in the new car. A week after I drove it home, I suddenly had an attack of environmental remorse—I could have gotten a Civic hybrid and the only reason I didn’t consider it was that it didn’t come with a sun roof!

The day we bought that black Civic, a certain woman who isn’t, let’s say, my favorite friend of all time, happened to be browsing on the car lot. She popped off with a comment that had no basis of truth but implied I’d slept in a tent with a strange man on a bike tour we both were on together. (Long story I can’t go into here!) My Significant Other needed some further explanations after that one! As it turned out, this was only the beginning of a lot of future bad Car-ma still in store.

About a week later, I took my new car to visit my family. I should say, “show off my car;” I was still in new car heaven. On the way, I decided to go through a car wash to make sure it looked completely fabulous. I had already noted how quickly black gets dirty. I’d been forewarned about that too by people in the know. I drove into the car wash, which had one of those tracks and somehow I got my tire stuck between the track and the washing mechanism. I sat there under the soapy shower trying to figure out what to do. Finally, I blew my horn until another customer came to see what was going on. In the end, I had to call AAA. A tow truck driver jacked up the car and eased it out. Otherwise, in the very first week, my new car would have had a nasty scrape on the left front fender.

I averted that scrape, but as the weeks and months wore on, I seemed to be prone to small mishaps. Once someone side-swiped me in a Wal-mart parking lot and left some white paint on the drivers’ side door. Another time I got too close to the mailbox and skinned the back of the mirror. I backed into the woodpile at home and suffered an attack by a prickly bush that encroached into the first parking space in the lot at work. (It was the parking space reserved for late-comers, I realized afterward.) Keeping the car clean was a losing battle. The black interior didn’t look so much sporty as linty, with stray blond hair and crumbs of food scattered over the seats.

When our grandchildren rode with me we had to have a lesson in entering the backseat. Then a new grandchild came and I had the added fun, on a few occasions, of trying to secure a car seat from the front entry. I couldn’t put my purse or a bag from the store in the backseat without sliding it forward. I became a master at wrestling large items into the car, including 6 ft. folding tables, display racks, flea market finds and Berlin Flyer wagons.

The crowning moment of humiliation came on a day when I was traveling to Holmes County on Rt. 241. My mind was elsewhere—on my future announcement of resignation from my job. Then I wondered if I had lunch money in my purse and I looked down to reassure myself. At that exact moment, the cement mixer truck in front of me slowed down and signaled to turn onto a road I didn’t even know existed. When I looked up, I had rammed into the trough that extends from the back of his truck and lost all control of my final destination.

I came to rest unhurt. The car was wedged against a giant maple tree and for a fleeting moment I hoped the car was “totaled.” An hour or so later, I drove it to AutoWorks in Holmesville where it was eventually given a $7000 beauty treatment. I rented a four-door Civic that didn’t even have automatic windows—let alone a sun roof--and wished I could just keep that car.

I drove the black Civic Coupe many more miles after the accident. On an icy morning, I skidded into a curb and drove the car for weeks with it out of alignment. When I belatedly realized what had happened I had to buy four new tires.

On hot days, I’d open the sun roof and turn on the air. More times than I can count, I stuffed things into the back seat and juggled cargo and passengers. One evening I drove out on a country road to do an errand. I was having trouble finding the house number and when I turned around in a driveway, I backed the car over the culvert. There I was, stranded with the left front tire wedged in the ditch and the back right tire high in the air. It was enough to make me cry, (literal meaning).

I began talking about selling the Civic Coupe. I knew it didn’t make sense from a financial viewpoint. You always lose appreciation when you sell a relatively new car. A car you buy new and service regularly is a known quantity when compared to a “pre-owned vehicle.” My Significant Other kept driving home these points with a phrase I must have heard two dozen times. “If you sell it you’re going to ‘take a beating,’ he kept emphasizing. (Why do men persist in using such violent language?)

What he didn’t understand is that I’d already taken quite a few beatings as a result of owning this car. I defied conventional wisdom and printed from my computer files the “Buy This Car” sign. A day or two later, the neighbors four doors down drove up in their large pickup truck to take a look. They said my Civic Coupe was the perfect solution to their need for a car that would get good gas mileage. It was a done deal in no time.

Less than a week later, when I was getting our other car serviced, I wandered over to the Pre-owned Vehicle section and asked to talk with Ernie. He was more than willing to show me a “very clean and well-maintained” 2000 CR-V. I took it for a spin. The things he said about it were all the things he’d said three years earlier when I’d looked. His wife drives one and loves the many convenient features. There is even a built-in picnic table. This one also had both a CD player and a tape player so I could still listen to the old favorite cassettes. It also had shiny wheels and a bug deflector. The previous owner was a schoolteacher who took “meticulous care” of it and traded it in for a new one.

I took a real beating when I bought it. It is three years older than the car I sold; it doesn’t have power door locks or a sun roof. It also has twice as many miles on it. But I’m excited about being able to haul cargo and passengers with ease. It isn’t easy to live with constant reminders of past mistakes, and that’s what I had to do nearly every time I got into the black Civic Coupe. My son-in-law called it “buyer’s remorse.” I called it bad Car-ma.

It may be poor judgment, irrational, and silly of me, but from the driver’s seat in the 2000 CR-V, it makes perfect sense to ditch bad Car-ma and replace it with positive Car-ma. There is a better ride ahead for me, I’m sure. When we wrote down the “Vin Number”—the number assigned to every vehicle manufactured—I noted that my silver “certified Pre-owned CR-V” had a number that started with my initials: JHLR . . . .The R was there for my Significant Other—his first name initial. He needed to know this was good Car-ma. The transaction, I predict, will please both of us and will come to have a meaning far beyond the initial and completely obvious financial flagellation.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Right At Home

Lofty Thoughts

Right At Home

It would make a great magazine article: "Gardening with my Amish Neighbor." Strangely, most of the time, I completely forget how special my experiences are; I am too busy fighting off potato bugs with Esther and hacking weeds at the other end of the row she started working on while I was still trekking down her lane. I take my time and admire the clover field to my right or the wild cherry trees that drop a generous birdie feast over the gravel to my left.

I have lost count of the years I’ve known Esther. Once we were strangers who lived across the road from each other. Then one winter I invited her over for tea and asked if I could pay her to grow some vegetables for me—I explained the concept of a CSA (community supported agriculture). By the time I quit my job in Wooster, I counted among my newly acquired blessings that of having more time to work in “our” garden.

This morning I hoed some of our 28 tomato plants and Esther told me she thought the hoe I have been using for the past three years is responsible for making me tired. She is partial to a small three-pronged hoe her daughter Edna picked up at the flea market. After trying it, I was inclined to agree.

Tools were of concern today. Reuben has again misplaced the shovel and Esther wants to dig out the comfrey plants that are still coming up two years after we moved the herbs to a different spot. She likes the blue flowers they produce.

Soon, we moved from working in the “big garden” to the “little garden” which has a wonderful rich loamy texture. The big garden is only a few years old. In a former life it may have been a gravel pit, for all the stones that keep surfacing. We’ve managed to kill off most of the thistles in it by spraying them with vinegar, but it isn’t especially fun to work there.

The little garden was perfect for working in today, with exactly the right amount of moisture in the soil. Not only that, it was cool and breezy. We took off our shoes and I worked for several hours pulling weeds and the lettuce and spinach that had gone to seed with some radishes that would never make it in the summer weather. I only stepped on one stone the entire time I worked.

I accidentally pulled up a carrot while I was weeding. I was getting hungry and wishing for some water to wash the carrot. Edna brought a bucket and the next thing we were having a garden lunch of (very) fresh carrots. Edna and Esther each found a large one but I contented myself with several smaller ones wrapped in some romaine leaves. About an hour later, we ate oatmeal sandwich cookies and had a glass of water as we sat in the shade of a maple tree.

While I was weeding, I’d noticed the run-away chamomile plants. They’ve spread from and earlier herb bed to the pasture on the other side of the picket fence. Now I know why Esther frowned when I brought her a packet of chamomile seed in the spring. “What part of the chamomile plant do you use to make tea?” I inquired of Esther today.

“You dry the flowers,” she said.

“Do you have any idea how many hours I’d have to sit at my computer doing Internet searches to learn all the things you’ve told me this summer?” I asked my neighbor. I’m suddenly struck by the way my life has taken a turn for the better since I’ve gotten to know my neighbors.

While Edna and I took care of the last peas, Esther got the job of cleaning out the garlic bed. She had to contend with the drifts of asparagus that kept falling across her back as she worked. Edna and I were pulling over gown peas off the dying vines and shelling them into one of four large stainless steel bowls she’d brought out—far more containers than we needed.

Rover barked and we looked up as a pony cart rolled down the lane. Esther went to talk to the young people in the cart. In less than a minute, they’d turned around and were trotting back up the lane. They had only come to let the Millers know there would be another neighborhood ice cream supper next Thursday—the pony express.

I wriggled my toes in the soft dirt and stretched. Above me the windmill creaked and the little bantam rooster continued to crow even though it was afternoon. My dog, Beau, and Rover chased each other around in the lawn. It was only half mowed. A visitor had interrupted Esther while she was mowing it (with a push mower) last night.

Before I left, I went into the house to wash my hands at the sink inside the back door. There is no mirror above the sink; no pictures on the wall except for a calendar or two. There is no television, phone or radio. There is an “ice box” in the “wash house.” My neighbors manage to live on a couple of gallons of gasoline a month. There is an engine to power the washing machine and another to pump water when the wind isn’t blowing. For some reason, I don’t think a lot about any of this when I’m there. In fact, most of the time, I feel right at home.