Holding a Dream … Lightly

Bucket List

noun

a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying

Merriam–Webster

It doesn’t seem as if it were that long ago that I started hearing about bucket lists. People would ask me what was on my bucket list. I could not answer. There are always lots of things that I want to do. Did I have to choose? If I tried to enumerate every idea that came to my mind, I would have a list that no one could accomplish in a lifetime.

The notion of keeping a bucket list seems too inflexible to me. My hopes and aspirations are fluid. Circumstances change and I want to be able to change my dreams accordingly. So I think it is good to have dreams, but to hold them lightly.

Sometimes interests change. Back when I was in my early thirties, I bicycled with three friends as far as I could go in a week. Two of them were bicycling across the country. I had only a week’s worth of vacation time, so I went with them from Seattle, WA to Libby, MT. For a long time after that, I had the dream of one day bicycling across the country. That dream got modified – taking an entire summer off did not seem feasible – maybe I would bicycle across the country in stages, a week at a time. Pete even offered to be my sag support. When we moved to the midwest, the thought of driving out west to spend a week bicycling seemed like too much effort – too much driving, too much time away with both the driving and the bicycling. So I didn’t pursue the dream. For a while, a long while, I felt badly about abandoning that dream. Was I was just giving up? Was I not persistent enough? But, in fact, my interests had changed. Holding tightly to that dream brought about feelings of guilt and shame. I’m glad I realized that I’m in a different place now and I don’t have to be tied down to that dream.  I’m happy to just go bicycling along the roads and bicycle paths in Albuquerque.

I don’t want to hold on to a dream so tightly that I would be devastated if, for some reason, I could no longer pursue it. I have hobbies that give me a great deal of pleasure and that I’ve always thought I would continue doing for the rest of my life. I love to spin and knit and play the recorder. But my thumb joints are giving me problems. They ache when I overuse them in any kind of gripping motion.  Right now, I’m trying to figure out if there are modifications that I can do (hand position, equipment, materials) to alleviate the problems. I know that my thumbs are likely to continue to get worse. So I am also thinking of other activities that I can do that won’t put strain on my poor thumbs. I want to be able to transition (and plan that transition) from one dream to another.

Sometimes, holding on to a dream too tightly blinds us to other possibilities. For many, many, years, I’ve held the dream of, one day, having a little residential–sized pipe organ. Such things do exist. I’ve played on little pipe organs in practice rooms at music schools and dreamed of having one of my own someday. Being a bit of an organ snob, I didn’t even consider anything other than a pipe organ. Then, a year ago, when I actually had the opportunity to buy a small pipe organ (albeit a bit bigger than I had envisioned), I started re-evaluating that dream. Though I now have tall enough ceilings that a small pipe organ would fit the space, I live in an apartment building now. I have neighbors who share walls, ceilings, floors. I realized that I wasn’t playing the piano very much because I did not want to disturb my neighbors, especially at odd times of the day or night. Only then did I start to think that a digital organ, with headphones, would be much more practical. Technology has improved a lot and I found a digital organ that I really liked. I had to let go of that dream of a pipe organ to fulfill my dream of just getting an organ of my very own. Holding on tightly to that dream of a pipe organ had not allowed me to think of any other possibilities that would have given me joy and fulfillment.

Do I still have dreams? Oh, yes. Pete and I think about going to France for a year. But that may morph into something else. Perhaps exploring all  the Amtrak routes, stopping off at places we’ve never been to and then hopping on the train again to go to the next place. Perhaps it will be buying a little camper van (an old VW would be perfect!) and traveling around the country for a year. France is still a dream – but one that I am holding on to lightly. And, in the meantime, we can go to Paris for a few days on a vacation.

I’m fortunate to have many interests. I’m fortunate that I get excited about the prospect of doing many different things. If accomplishing one of my dreams does not work out, there are a number of other dreams that can take its place.

So hold on to those dreams … but lightly.

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Mum’s Legacy of Canning Tomatoes

This year, I once again have many tomato plants in my garden, tomato plants that I started from seed. And I’m looking forward to having enough of a tomato harvest to be able to can some tomatoes for the upcoming winter.

It was my mum that taught me how to can tomatoes. Until the last year of her life, she helped me with the fall canning. I miss her.


First  published on goshencommons.org on December 15, 2012

I come to her apartment and find her trying to stand at the sink, legs shaking a bit, and then sinking back to her wheelchair. I wheel her to her desk and see her hands fumbling as she tries to open Christmas cards. She starts asking me a question but has a hard time remembering the words. And I wonder. Will my mama be able to can tomatoes with me next fall?

I didn’t start canning until my mum, Nina, moved to Goshen in the spring of 2000. She was the one who had the equipment: large pots to cook the tomatoes, the canning pot, the brilliantly designed jar lifter such as I’ve never seen anywhere else, and the all important Ball Book of food preserving. Most importantly, she had the experience, so she could guide me in the ways of canning tomatoes.

Before the deep freezer came into our lives, my mum and aunt canned blueberries, cherries and tomatoes. After the freezer, the blueberries my family picked went into the freezer. Other fruit became more readily available all seasons at the grocery store year round. But they still canned tomatoes. Later, they stopped canning altogether as tomatoes, fresh and in tins, could be purchased as well. But my mum still kept all the canning tools and equipment and that equipment moved with her from Washington to Indiana.

We developed a system and it hummed like a well-tuned production line. We all had tasks to do. All of us, Pete, my mum, and I, would peel the tomatoes. While the tomatoes were cooking I would set up the table for filling the jars. And then the canning production would begin.

  • I would bring a hot jar to Pete.
  • Pete would fill it and pass it to my mum.
  • My mum would make sure that the jar was filled to the correct level, run the rubber spatula to get rid of air bubbles, wipe down the edge of the jar and put on the lid and band.
  • I would take the filled jar back to the stove and the boiling water canner and bring another empty hot jar to Pete.

As I grew other vegetables in the garden, we introduced my mum to other canning recipes, and she gamely went along with all of our experiments. All our canning occurred at her house, using her pots and canning tools. There was the year of the cucumber. Who knew that planting one row of cucumber plants would yield more cucumbers than we could possibly eat? So we made dill pickles, sweet pickles, cucumber chips, bread and butter pickles. Three years later, we are still eating some of those pickles. We made blueberry, cherry and raspberry jam.We bought a Victorio strainer and made tomato sauce. We made pear chutney one year and pear sauce two years later. We canned habernero peppers. We made a sweet hot sauce and salsa.

Over the last couple of years, my mum started slowing down. She spent more and more time resting. But she still wanted to be part of the canning process. Last year we did about three runs of canning tomatoes and she did her part.

I’ve only ever canned with my mum. I think she has taught me well what to do. But as I see her now, I wonder whether she will can tomatoes again. And I wonder also, will I?

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Pints of Pickles

In 2009 and 2010, I made a serious gardening mistake. I planted, not one, not two, not three, …

… altogether too many cucumber plants!

The result was 52 pints of pickles (and quite a few quarts of pickles as well).

It is 2017 and we still have some of those pickles!

And yet, this year I planted cucumbers. Why? Alas, we had eaten all of the bread and butter pickles.

And so it begins, with a mere 7 pints of bread and butter pickles.

The question is, when, and after how many more pints, will it end?

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Drawn to Spinning in Spite of a Mind Made Up

During the Month of July, while bicyclists tackle the Tour de France, spinners round the world participate in the Tour de Fleece.
The Tour de Fleece has 3 objectives:

Challenge Yourself.
Spin.
Have fun.

While there are no hard and fast rules, there are a few basic guidelines:

  1. Spin every day that the Tour rides and rest on the rest days.
  2. Spin something challenging on days when the Tour is tackling the challenging mountain stages.
  3. Wear yellow on the final day to announce victory!

I’ve always thought this would be fun to do. So this year, I’ve joined a team and am trying to spin every day of the tour. My local yarn store (LYS), The Yarn Store at Nob Hill, is helping our team, Team Spinsters of Nob Hill, by providing incentive gifts (cycling caps and water bottles) and spinning fiber, as well as hosting our weekly Sunday gatherings.

I haven’t been spinning much in the past few months, but spinning is something I really do love. And yet, many years ago, I was dragged into this hobby quite reluctantly.

The story, first published in 2013 on the Goshen Commons website, tells that story.


, Goshen Commons

 

To turn, turn

will be our delight,

‘Till by turning, turning

we come ’round right.

“Simple Gifts”

On Saturday, as this post is being published, I will be at Lindenwood Retreat Center with about 20 other people. Something will be turning — much to my delight. I will be spinning. Not spinning as in a form of exercise on a stationary bicycle at a gym, but spinning as in making yarn from fiber. Some day, the yarn I am spinning will become something warm and wooly.

Spinning seems an appropriate interest for a modern homesteader. After growing my own produce, making my own clothes is a natural extension. (By that reasoning, I should really be sewing as well, but that only happens rarely.) Taking this even further, I would be raising the sheep from which I get my fiber, but I can’t really do that on a city lot. So, I do the next best thing and buy fiber from some of my spinning sisters at this retreat who do raise sheep.

I got into spinning quite reluctantly. As a teenager, I had decided never to do anything remotely resembling traditional household work. So I didn’t cook. While in graduate school, I subsisted solely on cheese sandwiches and ice cream. I did manage to keep the apartment somewhat clean and I did do my laundry. But I certainly didn’t do any crafts: be it sewing, or knitting or crocheting.

One day, a friend told me about a spinning class she had taken at a local yarn store. She was eager to show me what she had learned. She assured me that I would love learning to spin. She was insistent and she was a good friend, so I decided to humor her and let her show me. But I had already decided that I would definitely not like it.

We got together one evening and she showed me what to do. It’s a complicated process in which you have to coordinate hands and feet. You draw out of the fibers (drafting), letting them feed onto the bobbin, all the while treadling to keep the drive wheel moving. But, maybe because I am an organist, I picked up on the rhythm of the movements quite easily. And, in spite of all my internal efforts to reject the entire endeavor, I fell in love with it.

A month later, we moved from Chicago to Seattle. In my first week in Seattle, I found a yarn and fiber store. Before the week was up, I was carrying home a box with a disassembled spinning wheel. That evening, I put it together. And I have been using that spinning wheel ever since – for 23 years.

Spinning is an activity in which I relax. It is the perfect remedy for a hectic day. When I start a spinning project, I usually have no finished product in mind, so I don’t feel driven to get something done. I can easily just sit down and spin for a few minutes or for an entire evening. It is meditative. I concentrate on the rhythm of my hands and my feet. I feel the wool sliding through my hands, the lanolin acting as a natural hand lotion. I hear the whir of the wheel, often the only background noise. It is a time to just be.

So, I guess the moral of this story is to keep an open mind and never say “never.” You don’t know what you will like until you try it.

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The 2017 Garden

For a number of years, my gardening endeavors got more and more ambitious.

I started on Vashon Island, WA, with a small strawberry patch and a couple of tomato plants. The strawberry patch got larger. The vegetable garden grew to flank the entire side of the house.

I got carried away my first year in Goshen, IN, bringing home 18 tomato starts from my first trip to a nursery. That afternoon was spent frantically double digging an area in the backyard so that I had some place to plant 18 tomato plants.

In the ensuing years, my garden grew bigger and bigger until I was not only using my own backyard for strawberries, cherries, asparagus, herbs, but also the entire empty lot next door.

In 2015, that empty lot was no longer empty, but filled with all manner of edible plants: perennial and annual vegetables, grains, fruit trees and berry bushes, an amazing hops trellis, and a small greenhouse. The front half of the lot was filled with small fruit and nut trees and a variety of berry bushes some of which I had just purchased from Raintree Nursery. I was at capacity and well underway to becoming a true urban homesteader.

The garden layouts that I had created in prior years no longer sufficed. I purchased an app to keep track of where everything was. With the app, I managed to catalogue the back half of the empty lot.

Layout of the Beriewede Garden 2015

I never did get around to drawing the layout of the front.

That was the year that everything changed. By the middle of the summer, we had purchased a condo in Albuquerque, NM. By the start of 2016, I had moved to the southwest. Living in an apartment, I no longer had a yard of my own to convert into a tiny farm.

But there was a community garden.

In 2016, I had one row.

In 2017, I have two rows.

I’m seeing a pattern here.

In 2018, … ?

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I’m happy

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Vegetative vs. Generative – or How to Grow a Better Tomato

My garden in growing, in spite of this week’s 100+°F temperatures. I don’t remember last June being so very hot and others who have lived in Albuquerque say that these temperatures are unusual for this time of the year.

In spite of the heat, my garden seems to be thriving. And this year, my tomatoes are doing well so far. I’m trellising the tomatoes using the Florida Weave. Flowers are being pollinated, fruit is setting, and I’m looking forward to a good harvest.

This heat does put stress on the plants in the garden and I’m reminded of the difference between the vegetative and generative stages in the growth of a tomato plant.

In the vegetative stage, the plant is lush with abundant foliage. In the generative stage, the plant starts producing fruit.  Stress causes the plant to go into a fruit producing generative stage in an attempt to propagate itself.

The following post was first published on the Goshen Commons website in 2013 and discusses these two stages, particularly for tomatoes.

Enjoy!


I am learning new things all the time working at Clay Bottom Farm. One of the farm’s specialties is its crop of tomatoes: yellow tomatoes, red tomatoes, big juicy and tasty heirloom tomatoes. The tomato plants in my home garden seem to be a bit scrawny. Their stems are thin and weak. I look at the thick stems of the Clay Bottom tomatoes and wonder what I could do better. This post summarizes what I learned last week on the farm.


It is likely that I have not achieved the best balance between the vegetative and the generative stages in a tomato’s growth. A growing tomato produces both leaves (vegetative growth) and fruit (generative growth). A big plant with lots of leaves and little fruit is in a primarily vegetative stage. A plant producing a lot of fruit but with a thin stem near the top and flatter and fewer leaves is primarily generative. There are potential problems if the tomato plant is excessively vegetative or excessively generative.

In a vegetative stage, most of the plant’s energy from photosynthesis is directed toward producing leaves and stem, not fruit. A plant that is excessively vegetative may have delayed development of fruit and when fruit does develop, the fruit is small. In a generative stage, the plant’s energy is directed toward reproduction, creating flowers, buds and fruit. If a plant is overly generative, it may stop growing new leaves at the top, consequently slowing or stopping growth, and, in turn, the production of new fruit.

Balancing the two stages is key for healthy plants with a good yield of fruit.

There is quite a bit of information available about balancing the vegetative and generative stages of a greenhouse-grown tomato. A farmer growing tomatoes in a greenhouse has some control over the environment in which they are grown. My tomatoes are outside in my garden and I don’t have as much control over temperature and humidity. But I still can apply some of the principles (next year, of course) in my own garden.

  • Early on in a tomato’s growth, I want to encourage vegetative growth (leaves and stems). That means giving the plant lots of nutrients (from my compost pile) and making sure the plant gets enough water.
  • Then, when I see the first little fruit, I want to begin encouraging generative growth. That means stressing the plant by reducing its water supply and depriving it of extra nutrients.

Maybe, if I remember this sequence of steps next year, I will get better looking plants and a good harvest of tomatoes.

References:

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And This is Why I Love NM

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Foraging Honeybee

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A Pendulum of Hope and Worry: The Tale of a Bee Colony

If at first you don’t succeed ….

Our bees died over the winter.

This time I expected it. We learned a lot about bees over the previous season including how to check our bees for varroa mites. In the fall we did a sugar shake to see whether our bees had a mite infestation and were horrified at how many mites we saw. It was already late in the fall, too late to do a brood break and requeen the colony. We didn’t want to use chemicals. After reading about all our options, we decided to smoke our hive with fuel from the creosote bush. We read in Les Crowder’s book that this was somewhat effective. When we checked the colony after a couple of weeks of almost daily smoking, the mite numbers had indeed diminished. We were happy.

But then our bee population declined dramatically. We did a final inspection before closing up the hive for the winter and saw only a few bees and no queen.  Still hoping for the best, we sandwiched the brood with honey and pollen stores, closed the hive, and sent good thoughts to the tiny colony.

This spring, when we opened up the hive, our fears were confirmed. There was a small cluster of dead bees on one or two bars. That was sad. However, the upside was that our honey stores were pretty intact and we managed to harvest a bit of honey.

If at first you don’t succeed ….

Try again

So now we have a new colony of bees. We got this colony from a beekeeper who was splitting one of the six or more hives she keeps in her backyard. These bees came from stock that has been in Albuquerque for a while. They are acclimated to the temperature and the weather. They survived the winter. We hope that  this time, our bees will survive.

And we begin again with hope.


, Goshen Commons

Amazing how long a human being can be in a state of hopeful denial.
On Friday, Sept. 13, my bee colony met death and death won.

I debated long and hard  whether or not to write this post. So often, in social media, we share highlights and successes. In this blog about city homesteading, I acknowledged that I was not an expert and still have a lot to learn. But did I really want to share about a failure? After writing a post on how I was trying to be a bee guardian and why I thought that a top bar hive was a good way of providing a more natural habitat for bees, did I want to admit that my bees died? Would that mean that I wasn’t a good bee caretaker? Would that cast top bars in a negative light? But, in the end, because both success and failure are learning opportunities, I decided that I would write the story of my bees.

I got my bees at the end of July 2012. They were delivered, along with my hive, from Wisconsin. It was an established small colony with about nine or 10 bars of comb already started. That fall, the bees were busy, gathering and storing honey. I worried about them because I had gotten them so late in the season. Would they be able to store enough honey for the winter? Would there be enough bees so that they could adequately huddle over the winter months and survive the cold?

Winter came and I continued worrying. But bees are used to seasons. I just hoped my colony was strong enough to survive. In late winter, on warm days, I was happy to see bees emerging. When spring came, the bees went off on foraging flights and came back laden with pollen, even though I couldn’t see any flowers blooming yet. I was happy. They were going to make it! I added a few empty bars to the back of the hive to give the colony room to expand and began feeding them some sugar water.

Spring is a tricky time for bees. The weather starts getting warmer and the bees begin leaving the hive to forage for nectar and pollen. But temperatures can fluctuate and a late cold snap might catch bees unprepared. The bees might not be able to cluster together to keep eggs and larvae warm. I watched the activity in and out of the hive anxiously and was relieved when it seemed that the bees were doing what bees are supposed to do.

At the end of June, I started worrying that something was wrong. The bees had started making some new comb in May, but then the work stalled out. Furthermore, it looked like there were significantly fewer bees in the hive. I followed a suggestion to add an empty bar between bars with brood comb (combs that have eggs and larvae) to try to instigate their need to build comb. I was confident that this would work and my bees would continue building up the hive.

A month passed and the bees still hadn’t built any new comb. I was confused. I didn’t know what they were doing. I was seeing many more male drone bees and not as many female worker bees. Furthermore, though there were plenty of flowering plants nearby, the workers were not bringing pollen back to the hive. I started asking some questions on an online forum and was told that I might not have a laying queen bee. Once I had a fertile queen, the workers should start collecting pollen again.

Clearly, it was time to do a more thorough inspection of the hive. I opened up the hive in late July and saw some hopeful signs. It looked like there were some queen cells and, while one of them was closed, a couple of others looked open. Perhaps a queen had hatched. Also, there were more bees inside the hive than I had expected, especially toward the entrance, where an active queen would normally be laying eggs. The bees near the entrance became quite agitated when I was pulling bars off to inspect. I was sure they were protecting a new queen. With renewed hope, I put everything back and covered up the hive.

I now had formulated a scenario of what had happened: my bees had swarmed sometime in June, which accounted for the fewer number of bees we were seeing; something had happened to the queen that was left in the hive and the workers had to make another queen – hence the queen cells; a new queen was being made; bees know what they are doing; everything was going to be fine.

After a couple of weeks I finally saw some bees bringing back pollen. Even though the population still seemed pretty small, this activity was a very hopeful sign.

Hope turned to dismay at the beginning of September when the population suddenly spiraled downward. I saw hardly any bees outside the hive. Upon opening up the hive for another inspection, I saw dead bees on the floor of the hive, yellow jackets inside probably feasting on honey. There were more bees inside than I had expected to see. That was a good sign. I decided to reduce the size of the hive so that the remaining bees had a smaller territory to defend from the yellow jackets, so I pulled off some of the bars that had comb and honey and closed off two of the entrance holes. I also saw little white worms that I hoped were bee larvae but that I suspected were larvae from pests, either small hive beetle or wax moth.

It was time to bring in an expert. Andy Ammons from Goshen College was going to come on Friday to help me figure out what was going on.

On Friday, I came home from work and saw what I interpreted as a miracle. Bees, many bees, many many bees, all clustering around the entrance of my hive. Hope surged. Even though I knew it wasn’t really the right season for it, I assumed a swarm had found my nearly empty hive and was going to take up residence. Little did I know what really was going on.

Andy clued me in when he arrived. It was not a benevolent swarm. Rather, bees from other colonies, maybe many other colonies, had discovered my weak, failing colony and had come to rob the honey.

The activity of robber bees is amazing to see. It is a frenzy of action as the bees focus on one thing and one thing only – get honey. They pay no attention to anything other than to eat through wax and get to the honey that is stored in the comb. The few remaining guard bees of the original colony stood no chance against the invasion. We saw some fighting, invaders attacking the guard bees and overwhelming them. We saw drone bees, from my colony, begging invaders to feed them honey and invaders oblige. We witnessed the end of my colony, but it was still a pretty impressive sight.

That night, we salvaged what remained of the ravaged comb. There was a tiny bit of honey in some of the cells, but the robbers had been very thorough. Fortunately, for us, we will be able to harvest some honey from the bars we pulled off from our last inspection.

In this tale of the bee colony, I alternated between hope and worry. I clung to all those little signs that seemed to indicate that things were going to be all right. After it was all over for my colony, I posted in our family Facebook group: Amazing how long a human being can be in a state of hopeful denial. My sister in law replied: That spirit has changed history. Not all bad. 

There is always next year.

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