Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Best Gifts

I hardly recall the dinner I had with a college friend the first Christmas after I had graduated. I remember we ate at Bob Evans. I vaguely remember snippets of the conversation. The one vivid memory of that evening was the gift that he gave me. He was still in college and was, as most college students are, rather short on cash. I did not expect anything from him at all. We were just meant to meet for dinner while he was in town visiting family. I remember what he gave me, though, because it has always been the symbol of what makes a gift really special to me. 

He pushed the gift bag across the table, apologizing for its meager contents. Inside was a box of tea, and in 1995, it likely cost him less than $4. But it was also so much more than just a simple box of tea. You see, I had studied abroad for a semester the year before in Salzburg, Austria, and he knew how much my time there meant to me. He had gone to an international market in his hometown and spent quite a while, he said, looking for something that might trigger those fond memories. What he had given me, in fact, was fruit tea from Germany, and everything printed on the box was in German. I was touched by the sentiment, and the time and care he took in choosing the gift considerably increased its value  to me. I think it was the first time I recognized that there is a real art in gift-giving.

Happily, I have been more aware of such things since that incident so many years ago. I have been the lucky recipient of presents that span a full range of costs but convey the much more valuable idea that someone has really thought of me--who I am and what makes me tick. I hope I have done the same for others. It does mean so much. In fact, I opened an unexpected gift two days ago to find something that struck a similar chord. As I looked at it, I imagined my friend coming upon this mug and actually thinking of me--of me, and I was touched. 

How perfect a gift is this?

I was sipping tea out of my new mug yesterday afternoon when another gift was generously being bestowed on me. We finally enjoyed the most substantial rainfall we've had since we moved here in June. It continued into the evening, and I fell asleep last night like a little kid on Christmas Eve, wondering just how much I would find in the morning under the trees surrounding the pond. I wanted to be the first up to record the change. Apparently, I've been very good this year, and I'm feeling quite grateful. 

It's a pond again!

So today I wish you all a very happy Christmas filled with the invaluable gifts this life has to offer us every day and, more importantly, the eyes to see them and the heart to give them.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hatching Plans

Every new garden needs attention throughout the year. Even though no flowers are in bloom, even though many things have been shriveled by the freezing temperatures at night, much work remains around here. Now that the semester is over, Turfman and I have been spending a good hour each day planting the remaining spring bulbs we have. I just returned from the hardware store with enough lumber, screws, and olive oil (for the wood preservative I make) to build two more raised planter beds. Once those are finished, we'll still need to build seven more to complete the garden layout. And then there's the fence that we'll have to build around it. As I said, there's much work to do.

On the colder mornings, though, I've been spending time working out a garden design for the front yard. I can spend most of my time in the warmth of the house with my colored pencils and drawing template and only dash outside periodically to confirm a measurement. I can spread copies of Gardens Illustrated out in front of me and dream. I sift through my packets of seeds to see what I have to work with (and occasionally to have a little bit of a panic over just how many seed packets I have). These are the times when everything is possible and I begin to wonder (with great anticipation) just how it will all turn out.

I am painfully aware that by sitting here and drawing out my dreams I'm also creating more work for myself, but it's the kind of work that keeps me going. So watch that space in the photo. It will figure prominently in the story of this place during the next few months and hopefully in the years to come.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Settling Down

Once again, I've been away from the blog for longer than I had hoped. It is all my fault, a simple case of poor time management. The first semester back teaching full time after many years away was a little overwhelming. Now that I've successfully navigated it, I'm focusing my efforts on getting everything else back in order.

It's nice to be in a colder climate under such circumstances. In Florida, I would likely have been  fretting over lettuces and carrots and other such things. I'd probably even be mapping out my seed starting schedule so that I could be ready for the early spring planting season there. But I've been waking up to freezing temperatures here lately, and that forces me to take things a little more slowly. Though some lettuces, kale, mustard, and carrots are still putting on growth (albeit really slow growth), the vegetable garden is relatively quiet. Only the garlic is still hard at work underneath its mulch blanket. As for the ornamental side of things, everything is silent.

The garlic, kissed with frost, is snuggled under 6" of mulch

And so it is that I now wake up to find unique treasures outside each morning. The pond has been freezing along the margins for the most part, but the shards extended further this morning. I had been lamenting lately that the scene here has become so monochromatic, but the view from the front porch this morning proves I needed a change in perspective. 

The pond & bridge in the morning light

The beautiful icy filigree on the pond surface

Viewed through the lens this morning, the world seemed upside down, but I think it finally made me see things differently. The trees reflected beautifully in the water's smooth surface, and the sun set their branches alight. 

A new way of seeing things

Soon I'll be building additional planters for the vegetable garden in preparation for next spring. For this week, though, I think I'll bask in the warm feeling that I really don't need to do anything at all and everything is as it should be.