The Zen of Weeds

monks2There is a Zen monastery somewhere in the Himalayas which required its novices to go door to door in the village, offering to clean the villagers toilets. They believe that cleaning toilets day after day strengthens the values of  compassion, service and humility.  The other Buddhist value this service highlights is that no task, no matter how menial or dirty, is of sacred value if approached with dignity and attention. (Wouldn’t you like to have these guys come to your door and offer to clean your toilet?  More welcome than the Mormon guys, I’d say.  And their robes are cool too.)

I have spent the last few (beautiful, sunny) days weeding our flower gardens.  I say “flower gardens” symbolically, since there are no flowers currently blooming; the tulips and daffodils experienced a short life this spring with the late cold snap.  All of the others beauties are slow to come up… after having seen what happened to their brethren who bloomed “on time” in a frigid early April.  So the rest of the plants stayed underground a bit longer in a defiant act of self-preservation.

yellow woodBut I diverge.   (No, that’s not the right word, that’s what roads do in the yellow wood. A reference for you literary readers.)

But I DIGRESS.

I am practicing my Zen values by weeding hour upon hour, carefully pulling all those little buggers up by the roots, digging under them with a trowel until they surrender.  There are thousands. The work is tedious, hot, and brainless. But oddly satisfying.

This is NOT me.  I don't wear a hat and have a MUCH better tan.

The Zen Masters say that while practicing work – in this case weeding – you must empty your mind of distracting thoughts so that you are totally present in the moment.  You must consider each weed and each clump of damp earth, contemplating your existence and your role in changing this cycle of life. (Yes, contemplate that you are the Grim Reaper of Weeds.)

To which I say — POPPYCOCK.

To empty your mind while weeding is to throw away an opportunity for all kinds of distracting thoughts.  Creative ideas.  Gratitude for friends.  Anticipation of trail rides to come.  Plans for farm improvement. Consideration of what color dress to get for son’s upcoming wedding. Achy knees and that getting old sucks. What to name the new chicken. (Marilyn).

distraughtOkay, okay…. I didn’t think a SINGLE MOMENT about world hunger, the tragedy of the stolen girls in Nigeria, the Syrian war, the impending environmental collapse, the political dysfunction in Washington….I reserve those thoughts for a limited amount of time in the day, or I might kill myself.

But the Zen of weeding allowed me, hour after sweaty hour, to consider my existence as a 60-something, small farm, retired, outdoor-loving, introverted but socially-acceptable woman, examining the minutiae that make a life. Perhaps you might say these nuts-and-bolts incidentals are insignificant in the scheme of things.  Perhaps. But perhaps these life details are all we have.

And DARN, my flower beds look GREAT!

BEFORE

BEFORE

AFTER

AFTER

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I Burned the Christmas Tree

burning treeYes, here it is MAY, and I finally burned the Christmas tree.  Watching it burst into flames (it was kinda dry, do ya think?), there was a strange feeling that I got which burning any other tree would not have caused. What is it about Christmas, and Christmas trees, that on a warm beautiful May morning, it is so touching to watch one burn?

Let me explain.  Each year we cut our own tree at a local tree farm.  Traditionally we do this the weekend after Thanksgiving. Often it stis in our living room un-decorated for a number of weeks… just seeing the green and smelling the pine smell is enough.

Eventually I decorate it (and as the years go by, the decorations get more and more minimalist).

xmas treeWe take it down AFTER January 1st (we are not those Take Down the Tree December 26 kind of folks).  One year I actually left it up until Valentine’s Day, but that’s another story.  After it’s down, we put it out on our back patio for the winter because the birds like it there… they sit on it, occasionally build a nest in it in the spring, and we put bird food out around it.  We can see it from our living room so it is something fun to watch.

Then, sometime in the spring – Usually March, we have a major BURNING party… well, not a party but you get the gist.  I am the pyromaniac in the family so it gives me a thrill to set the tree and other assorted downed branches on fire.

This year, the burning party didn’t take place til last week.  Very late.  The grass was green, the trees in bud, the spring flowers out.  And I was feeding a roaring hot fire. The last thing to go on the fire was the Christmas tree.

burning treeAs I watched it crackle and flame, I felt the anticipation, joy, and sacredness of the Christmas season come back just for a few minutes. The tree was “giving up its life” for our pleasure, but seemed to do so with pride and joy and beauty. It was beautiful even as it burned, and it’s shape stood out among the other odd shaped limbs and branches.  It stayed on the top of the burning, never rolling over, like a candle lit facing the sky.

I love spring. And can’t wait to get our Christmas tree again in December. The cycle of life.

The Outside People

I went to church yesterday morning.  With a bit of regret, I have to confess.

UUCLBannerSmallIt’s not that I don’t like our church.. I do!  I like the services, I like the minister, I like the topics of the sermons and I like the friends I have there.  I truly am glad that such a church exists.

The problem with Sunday morning church is….. It’s INSIDE.

The sanctuary is dim compared to the brilliant sun of the spring morning.  Small windows tease you with the robin’s-egg-blue sky, the emerald green grass, the golden air infused with sun. I watched the windows as music and talking surrounded me, wishing I were outside.

So to the list of what makes all of us unique, add this one:  INSIDE OR OUTSIDE person?

If it isn’t already totally obvious, I’m an outside person. Happiest and most at peace when working on something — anything — that keeps me outside.  Choice of hobbies — those that keep me outside.  Horseback riding, hiking, mowing (is that a hobby?), gardening, even cleaning stalls. I can even take most winters outoutsideside if dressed right.  Well, OK, this winter’s sub-freezing temps DID make me glad we had a heated house and a woodburning stove.  The outside urge in me quit for a long stretch of days.

Of all animal species, why are humans the only ones who build huge, square shelters we call homes? What is it about flat floors, flat walls and flat ceilings that make us feel safe?  Boxes.  Homes made of box-rooms stacked next to each other or on top of each other. You know the straight line is not one from nature.  Human beings created the straight line. No tree, no plant, no river, no mountain is formed in straight lines.  From what deep sense of humanity did we start surrounding ourselves with straight lines, when nature tells us otherwise?straightlines

I ponder these things as I look straight ahead at our straight bookshelves filled with straight sided books, wedged between two straight walls sitting on a straight floor. While outside the (straight) windows, trees curve and bend in the morning breeze.

bending tree woman

Solitude Matters

Once again I read that phrase “WORK HARD, PLAY HARD” as a command to readers to Grab Life By the Tail and “Just Do It”!

Boy, I am tired of that whole mentality.  It is just SO American to encourage us (especially those working for a corporation) to be busy-busy-busy all the time.  When you stop working at your office (or orchard or retail store or…) then you need to jump into some sports clothing and ..

Hit the Slopes!get-up-you-lazy-bum-2

Grab the Bike!

Saddle the Horse!

Snatch the Tennis Racket!

Dig out the Baseball Glove!

Ad infinitum..

What ever happened to the value assigned to

quiet contemplation?

Of closing your eyes and resting them from the glare of the computer screen?spider-web-79920

Of examining a spider web in all its glory?

Of sipping coffee while imagining life after death?

Of writing a letter to a long lost friend?

Americans are so GO GO GO all the time.  It’s killing us, everyone complains of being too busy, stress is creating health problems…. yet we cannot let go of that thought that if you are not DOING SOMETHING PHYSICAL (and preferably competitive) you are wasting your life.

OK, I admit it…. deep down I’m lazy.  I say, let’s create a LAZY CLUB and never have a meeting!  Homework assignment:  Sit for at least 30 minutes and don’t do ANYTHING. (Don’t even write a blog….)

Let’s hear it for muscles that are NOT stretched and taut.garfield

Let’s hear it for dirty houses and unmowed lawns.

Let’s hear it for the quiet sound of:

Tennis rackets sitting in the corner

Bike wheels still as a mouse

Girths untightened and saddles resting on their racks

Sneakers hiding in the dark closet

ContemplationBooks whose pages aren’t turning

The un-rustle of newspapers gathering dust on the coffee table

Dishes sitting in the sink

Now that’s my kind of quiet. Take a deep breath. Hear your heart beat. Think of old times. Picture your loved ones. Pet your cat. Exercise your eyebrows if you must. Up down, up down….

And maybe if you are feeling particularly unsettled at all this quiet…smell a flower loudly.  It will give you a false sense of doing something.. yet it is a truly and wonderfully lazy activity.

LAZY “UN-AMURRICANS” UNITE!

Take back life.

Do I or Do I Not Want To Do?

I stole this title from the NY Times Magazine section.  It caught my fancy, since this is a question we struggle with every day . Well most of us.  Maybe not the pope or Mother Teresa or dedicate activists.

I HAVE TO OD WHATIf you are working (for a paycheck), you may say “I do not want to do my work today.”  Yet you will because you have to feed, house and clothe yourself.

If you are not working (aka retired, home with children, unemployed…) , you may say “I have to do this (whatever) today”.  But you really don’t want to.   Despite your “freedom from a job”, the Have-To Cultural Police take over your psyche.

WHY do I go through a whole day doing “I HAVE TO” things?  When I get to the end of one of these days, nothing really good has been accomplished.  For example:

I haven’t saved the world from hunger
or stopped a war.

OK, that’s an unreasonable goal.  Let’s come closer to home:

I haven’t rescued a friend from an unhappy situation.

I haven’t even made my yard look more beautiful (although I question the value in doing that, in the scheme of things.)

I haven’t made a new friend.

I haven’t created a work of art, or a touching poem, or an interesting story.

I haven’t even done anything on my Bucket List.  Or anything to get me closer to my Bucket List.

Letmake-a-lists talk specifics.  Here is my “Have-To” list for today, February 12, 2014:

Have to go to church to return dishcloths I took home last week to wash.

Have to take (horse) fecal samples to vet clinic for testing.

Have to pick up halters I had repaired at local tack shop.

Have to go to Non-fiction Writing Class (OK– One thing on today’s list that helps get me closer to a Bucket List item)

Have to write Marketing plan for National Horse Trail group.

Ironing1Have to iron some shirts (Oops, had a typo for a second there, it said “iron some shits“.  Maybe it was a Freudian slip, since ironing shirts is kind of in the category of ironing shit … unless I can find a good classic movie on TV at the same time.)

Have to sort out old tack (which is laying all over my bedroom) to sell at an event this weekend.

Have to dig out instructions on how to get ready for new window installation, which is tomorrow.

Have to….

I won’t bore you with the rest.  I am starting to bore myself with this list. ZZZZZZZ-Z-Z-Z

GRRRR… Well, I HAVE TO go now because I HAVE TO go do my errands (see list above). Somewhere in this mindless chaos of errands I hope to find beauty and peace.

Dear Reader: May your days be filled with lots of “I WANT TO”
… and not so much “I HAVE TO.”
WHEE-E-E-E-E!

horse water

Birds on a Wire

birds on a wire5In honor of Arsenio Hall, makes you want to say “Hmmmmm…”

Why do a flock of birds ALL perch on the same telephone wire, shoulder to shoulder, all facing one way, peering out into the distance?

There are so many telephone wires to choose from!  There are so many trees to choose from! (If I were a bird, I’d want to perch in a tree… better grip, prettier scenery..)

How do they pick that one wire?  Is it the Big-Man-On-Campus Phenomena? BMOC bird decides, ‘Yup, this is the one.”  Then all the hangers-on to BMOC:  the adoring girlfriends, watchful sisters, little snotty-beaker brothers, his  “I love you man” crew, nagging cousins, grumpy grandpas, sweet grandmas – do they all follow him to the wire and settle in?

Shoulder to shoulder… it couldn’t be for the warmth, since rarely do their feathers touch.

birds on a wire6Do they jostle as they settle in, bumping left and right :

“Hey move over, I don’t have an inch of room here!”

“You need to lose some weight, fatty!”

“Yeah well the worms were so good this week”

“I don’t care, move over, lard ass!”

“Now, now children, there’s enough room for everybird!”

“I’m not perching by HER! She’s got worm breath!”

“Yeah?  Who says, skinny legs!”

An on and on, until everyone settles down, fluffs up their feathers, tightens their grip on the wire, and stares forward.  Suddenly, SILENCE.  Just 100 bird stares looking across the distant hills.

Now, my dear reader, you may wonder what is going on in those tiny birdbrains.  And so do I.

Are they dreaming of warmer days?  Are they trying to recover from the dizziness they got circling around for the past hour looking for the perfect wire?  Are they thinking of recipes for sauted worms?  Are they planning the next nest build – what type of twigs make the perfect nest, how to pack it in, what crook in what tree is ideal? Are they looking for predators?

bird poopMeanwhile, I am in a car driving under the wire. Glancing up, I step on the gas as I pass underneath.  If they decide to SCHLAT while I’m underneath, my car will be SLICK with SCHLAT SPATTER. (Repeat that ten times…)

And as I disappear in a cloud of frozen car exhaust, are they watching us with their own bird questions?

cars on road“Why are all those cars going down THIS road, when there are so many others to choose from?”

“Geez, those cars STINK!  Let’s get outta here!”

“Why is that person all alone while that other person has four other people with him?”

“What type of cars are the red ones?  Do you think they are related to our buddies, the cardinals?”

“Where are they going?  To buy worms?”

“Why is that person chirping while driving?”

“What is that square little thing with a bright screen doing, held in her hand?  Maybe it’s a high tech worm finder!”

“OOPS, watch out, those two cars almost ran into each other!  Spread your wings and fly away from there!  Danger, danger!”

Wave to the next batch of birds who settle on a wire where you drive. A little friendliness might encourage them to hold their SCHLAT just a bit longer. And don’t use your high tech worm finder while driving.

texting

Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

Ok, so this is like TOTALLY CREEPY!

seegerThe last week I’ve had that song in my head.  You know how it goes when you get a tune in your head and it won’t go away.  I decided that if that song is going to be so pertinent, I need to write a blog about it.

Where have all the flowers gone? Long time passin’… Where have all the flowers gone?  Long time ago….

And THEN….and THEN…. Pete Seeger dies.  The father of “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”, among so many other classic folk-protest songs.  Was I having some kind of premonition?  But I have never had any particular relationship with Pete Seeger, other than appreciating his singing and his dedication to social issues.

Perhaps others around the world found that song coming into their heads too, right before he died? It makes you want to believe in some energy source that swirls around the world… Does Steven Hawking have anything to do with this phenomenon?

If you remembered the Seeger Flower song:  Remember Haight-Ashbury?

How about “If you’re going to San Francisco… Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…”

Used to be San Fran was THE place to be.

The hippest of hip.  The coolest of cool. Love.  Peace.  Free love.  Weed. (formerly known as pot)

portlandia-cool-wedding-fred-armisen-carrie-brownsteinWhat I wanna know is:  Where is the Haight-Ashbury of 2014?  Where do 18-25’s flock to now?  How do they escape THE MAN?

Portlandia?

Licking the Mixing Bowl

licking the bowlDoes this sound familiar to you?

Mom is baking a birthday cake, or cupcakes for a Sunday School picnic.  You all line up begging to be allowed to lick the mixing bowl clean. UMMM… chocolate cake batter!  It takes about 15 minutes to finish it off, fingers sliding over every square inch of the bowl. The mixer beaters are more fun and messier, getting your tongue into and around all those metal bars.

But alas, here we are at middle age – the age of being healthy, watching your weight, or salt, or carbs, or fats, or  …

I’ve got a substitute for the chocolate batter licking:  Licking the Vitamix Bowl clean.

It has all the satisfaction of getting the goodies out of the corners, all the taste sensations of fresh and sweet.. and none of the calories. Unless of course you just made a homemade milkshake.

applesauceI use the Vitamix to make homemade applesauce.

Recipe: Apples and a touch of lemon juice. Thanks to sister-in-law Sonya for the recipe.  I was never a great cook, but I can handle this one. I can count to two.

Tim Allen

OK now, get out your blenders and rev them up.  (AKA “Tool Time”  Tim Allen. Grunt.)

Return to that nostalgic time… just close your eyes and PRETEND it’s chocolate cake batter.  Or better yet…. oh heck, go ahead and make the cake batter in the blender. No kitchen appliance should become a part of your kitchen until it’s been anointed with chocolate.  So sayeth Ginny.

The applesauce can wait.

vitamix choc

What a wonderful mess

Me and My Big Mouth

Yesterday I posted a blog saying I was praying for snow.  Me and my big mouth.

It sounded all so romantic.  Now look at it!  School cancelled, wind whipping, chickens freezing their chicken feet off.

View out my back window, morning of Jan. 21.  IT WAS 47 DEGREES YESTERDAY.

Yes, I’m on my way out to the barn in a few minutes.  Horses need some treatments for mouth ulcers.  (Don’t ask)

You can start sending me hate mail now.

snow-lex

What if this were the last snowfall?

snowflakeI’m sitting in our living room looking at the dusting that we Kentuckians call “snow”.  It’s white, it’s cold…. I’m pretty sure it’s snow.

After living in Michigan for many years… now there is some SNOW! You haven’t experienced The White Wonder until you live in one of the Great Lake states, where the forecast is often for 8-10″ in a single snowfall.  Where it doesn’t melt all winter, but keeps piling up by the side of the road. Where your windows get frost on the INSIDE, because it’s THAT cold. Where everyone with a brain carries salt and a shovel in their trunk.

On the other hand, Kentucky snow is pretty much wimpy… not much, not so cold, and melts down in a few days.

Regardless of this anemic snow climate, I still love waking up in the morning to a white back yard, to trees and shrubs covered with white icing like cakes, to the glitter of crystal ice on the fish pond on our patio.

I am not one who would move to Florida when I get old.  (Notice the “when I get old” part — since I still consider myself young…..Idealism or denial?  OK, Don’t answer that question! That’s a whole different topic….)

I listen to neighbors and friends when there is a forecast of snow:  moaning, complaining, worrying,  frowning, planning their emergency trip to Kroger for bread and milk “just in case”. And of course, leaving work early before the first snowflake hits the ground.

SNOW!!! YIKES!!! YUK!!! BRRRRR!!!

So I got to thinking:  What if this were the last snowfall?  Ever.

snowmanWhat if the global warming predictions came true overnight, and you never saw a soft white flake drifting out of the sky, swirling around looking for a good place to land, and settling quietly between two blades of grass.

Never could look out to the grey light of morning to see a white blanket over the back yard?

Never again watched kids form snowballs – or build lop-sided snowmen – with their frosty mittens?

horses-snowNever again bundle up and walk out into a snowstorm, feeling the cool wet flakes hit your cheeks and lips?

Never saw your horses standing quietly in their paddock with a layer of snow on their backs, like large gingerbread cookies covered in white icing.

The end of snow… unimaginable!

inconceivable  

I’m praying for MORE SNOW this winter.

No hate mail please.