For three days I haven’t been fun to live with. Preserving the harvest, fulfilling my writing deadlines, managing my family’s outrageous expectations of motherhood, and doing all of this without losing my ever-living mind. Even the dogs are keeping their distance.
Oh, and there’s something else…What was it?….Ah yes. The garden. I actually have to tend to it in order to keep this three-ring Sisyphean circus going. No problem. I’ll just take care of that at 4am in between coffee and a good cry.
I share the above not for sympathy, but because you might be in the same leaky boat; and when the words “Something’s gotta give” come out of your mouth more than six times in a day, but the only thing that’s giving is the tenuous grip upon your sanity, the last thing you need is me telling you how fabulous 45 quarts of tomatoes look sitting next to a farm-to-table meal I whipped up whilst writing a thousand words on dry soil conditions.
Preserving the Harvest or living up to expectations?
Unfortunately, we rarely see the cost of what it took to preserve that harvest and get that farm to the table (in my case, $50 of takeaway Thai food the night before). Our social media-driven world thirsts for gorgeous Result: smiling kids, clinking glasses, panoramic views and thinly-veiled one up-manship.
It is not enough to merely experience a moment – that moment must be shaped into premium content. Process is acceptable, but should be arranged in five neat steps and tied in rustic jute – there is no place at this farm-to-table for the exhausted.
This is of course inconvenient, because we are, most of us, exhausted. Think how many times you’ve asked a friend how they’re doing; how they’ve replied “Busy”; and how you’ve nodded with the empathy of the damned only to find yourself in the same exchange two months later.
Process is acceptable, but should be arranged in five neat steps and tied in rustic jute – there is no place at this farm-to-table for the exhausted.
So, going back to my previous assertion that something’s got to give, and the assumption that most of us get so tied up in our own handmade knots that we don’t know which string to pull, it’s time to start tugging gently on one or two ends. It’s time to step back.
I’ll go first, and in order to do so, I ask you to indulge me in a story.
Once upon a time…
About fifteen years ago when Youth and Naiveté had persuaded me I was inventing things like pickling, yogurt making and breast-feeding the way that only Youth and Naiveté can persuade, I met an older woman on a garden tour.
Her garden had three edible plants – a tomato, a pepper and a large stand of basil; and yet her ornamental beds stretched for hundreds of yards. How someone could garden with such passion, yet overlook the opportunity to fill plates and pantry with homegrown produce completely baffled me.
She loved her flowers and asked what I was growing. And as I babbled on about flowers and edibles, she stopped me with, “Do you can?”
I replied proudly in the affirmative. Not only did I can, but I pickled and froze and dehydrated and ketchuped. And I kept track of it all in a little OCD ledger. Preserving the harvest like a rock star.
“Oh honey, I used to do all that stuff too,” she said dismissively, and added “You’ll learn.”
Ha. I had no intention of ‘learning,’ unless it was yet another way I could stay up until one-thirty in the morning shredding my endocrine system upon the altar of Domesticity & Career. Youth and Naiveté were quite firmly in charge – whispering ever in my ear – and I ashamedly assumed that my elder was not my better.
I was wrong. I did not possess a houseful of adult relatives or a vast network of stay-at-home friends that would have naturally accompanied some of these tasks 70 years ago. I did however possess two tiny children, a house and garden that needed a complete renovation, and a dimwitted desire to prove I could do it all.
A few short years later the endocrine system was thoroughly and expertly shredded (I don’t do anything by halves), and I found myself forced to take a few steps back. Several actually.
Stepping back, taking stock, preserving sanity.
The process taught me a valuable lesson: just because I could do something, didn’t mean I should. I had to start saying no. An even shorter year later I was taught another valuable lesson: that my raging Type A personality required a thorough check up every year.
And it looks like I’m due for my annual inspection.
Is all this to say that we shouldn’t can the tomatoes, re-paint the living room or write the novel? No. Not at all.
Instead I believe that we need to find and fight for what is bringing our families and ourselves a quiet, centered contentment, and say no to the rest of the noise. That might mean one less organization to join or one less project to start or one high-stress promotion to refuse.
In simple garden terms it could mean we forget about growing flea-beetle infested eggplants, and focus instead on the ease of tomatoes, the peppers, and the basil. Or it could mean that we focus more on our vegetable garden and the harvest to the exclusion of other things. These choices are extremely personal and based upon many factors.
Be prepared for some pushback
Some people will respect your self-awareness and some will not. Some have too much invested in showing the rest of the world they’re doing everything and keeping it together to not feel threatened by you choosing another way. You’re not going to change their minds – or their verdicts on how industrious you should be. Just ignore their tight, ever-fixed smiles and pray for their cortisol levels.
We live in a frighteningly busy world, and it’s not going to hand us a gift-wrapped break. We’ve got to take that break for ourselves – and defend it.
This applies to a great deal more than plants and dirt. Just saying.
Very much so. 🙂
I always look forward to your posts.
You have used one of my favorite phrases that lead to sanity, Marianne. “Just because I can, it doesn’t mean I should”. Giving yourself the gift of determining what matters to you, not to your image or even those around you. A question I’ve come up with (as I am now reaching semi-old lady status) when I’m getting a bit overstretched is “what am I trying to prove to who and why?” with its important followup of “do they know or care?”. Good luck, it is the crazed garden season.
Absolutely! Love the ‘do they know or care?’ – LOL
Good thoughts Marianne. We too canned in our early days, and my son did some canning this year. But more often than not we quarter the tomatoes and freeze them or cook them down to sauce and then freeze them. The blueberries are little frozen marbles now in the freezer and we use them all year long. I should comment on the eggplants. We grew the seedling eggplants transplanted to the garden and large Thanksgiving Farm purchased plants side by side. The TF plants are still yielding wonderfully as they have all year long, whereas we got just a few out of the seedlings which were shredded by flea beetles. It was a very good lesson for the future.
That is GREAT to know John. Gives me new hope, and I guess, new packets of expensive eggplant seeds to add to next year’s seed exchange! I will plan on this myself.
This surely hit home. Each year we re-adjust what to plant, how much to plant, how to share what we plant, etc. I try some storage methods, and those that work, I keep, and those that don’t, I let go. This year’s revelation was cucumber juice – not ever cuke need to end life as pickles. Some pickles, lots of healthful juice! Much to learn at each season. I so enjoy your newsletter. (I already bought the book.)
I juice cukes too – and my chard and tomatoes. Great way of using excess. So glad you’re enjoying the book – -MW
My Mantra has always been, just because I can doesn’t mean I should. Unfortunately I seem to forget it most of the time. Back in the day, when the kids were still home, I ran a field grown nursery on our property. I served on two boards. Was room mother, and chaired the school’s big fundraiser. One day I realized I wasn’t having any fun. I wasn’t much fun to live with either.
One by one I started saying no. And I slowly regained my sanity. Fast forward to 2020 and I’m in a garden club chairing numerous committees and a rep for another garden organization. Then quarantine hit. It actually forced me to reexamine my priorities. It was amazing what I didn’t miss. I started saying no again and the huge weight was lifted.
Life is way too short to be so stressed. No one will remember how many organizations we belonged to or how many committees we chaired. Although I do think your pantry is amazing!
Thank you. An annual check is definitely needed. The quarantine came as I was finishing my second book, and when everything was cancelled with speaking appearances, tours etc… I realized that there would have been no possible way I could have made my deadline AND completed all the events I was committed to, and my editor would have wanted to kill me. I really didn’t see that coming. I too am happy to be reexamining once again. -MW
Ahh yes, you say it well! I struggled for a long time to realize that I didn’t NEED to grow vegetables. I’d watch every season as my tomatoes rotted on the vine and broccoli went to seed and feel guilty, yet for some reason I found the time to take care of my ornamentals and flower garden! 🙂 This year, I planted zero vegetables, but I miss not being able to stroll through the garden snacking on fresh peas and greens. I suppose I can’t have it all…still trying to find that happy medium.
Ornamental gardens give us enough guilt as it is. 🙂 I’m pairing down my veggies to some strong mainstays and trying to stop growing the ‘fluff’ when others can grow it better. Here’s to all of us finding that happy medium!
Gave up veggies years ago. This year, due to virus, didn’t open the garden. Also gave up thinkingardens. Still knackered – I measure this by how many times a day I say f… off to an inanimate object. Just saying. I know it’s not encouraging. Just maintaining an ornamental garden does this.
Anne – THANK YOU for the belly laugh – though I am very sorry to hear that thinkingardens is taking a hiatus. In the midst of the summer grassy weeds there is a fair amount of profanity round here too. -MW
This brought back such memories. I knew maybe I was overdoing my “womanly” quest of doing everything, and doing it alone, with a nursing baby, a traveling husband, a new community with no family or friends, when I found myself and baby so long lost on a dirt country road searching for an advertised field where I could pick some kind of berries, I had to stop and nurse her. Soon a car approached and a county sheriff’s deputy approached to check on my welfare. When I explained the situation, unimpressed with my earth mother quest, he just shook his head and walked back to his car. I turned my car around and went home. No quitter, I still made jam – for the freezer, from grocery store peaches – which my husband never ate. Now in my late seventies, I am perfectly happy with a few ornamentals in pots. But now someone has given me potted oregano and basil, plus hands full of her own basil – with instructions on drying. Her cut basil is in a washed jar which formerly held purchased spaghetti sauce, in the nether reaches of the refrigerator, where I have been looking past it for days.