Cover of Uncluttered by Courtney Ellis

Drinking Deeply – A Guest Post by Courtney Ellis

Early in our marriage my husband Daryl and I lived in southern Wisconsin, where the soil is so black and rich it seems like Narnia—you could plant even a lamppost, and it would grow.

We grew a garden—our very first—astounded by the fat cherry tomatoes that burst from the ground, the jalapeños spiky with spice, the mint that threatened to take over it all. We bought a compost bin and churned our kitchen trash into new soil, eggshells and coffee grounds and potato peelings dissolving to feed next season’s harvest. Our toddler son watched spiders and ate dirt and laughed and laughed. After stressful meetings at work, I’d kneel amidst the greens and pull weeds, nature’s best therapy.

Gardening is easy, we thought. Growing things is simple.

A handful of years later we moved to southern California with a postage-stamp-sized patio. We sprinkled herb seeds into a pot and called it a garden. I gave the whole thing a good soaking. Then, running from one meeting to the next, one activity to the next, one errand to the next, we completely forgot all about it.

Anemic basil sprouted halfheartedly. Rosemary wilted. The mint never even made an appearance.

Gardening is impossible, we thought. Growing things is silly.

Between Wisconsin and California we’d jammed more and more into our schedule until we were spinning like tops with barely a half-hour to microwave fish sticks for the kids (now there were two), much less tend to slower, greener things. Our marriage, our family, and even our miniature garden showed the strain.

It’s a humbling thing to admit you’ve come to the end of yourself. That you have limits and you’ve reached them. That there is simply no farther you can go, no harder you can push, no thinner you can stretch.

Daryl and I looked each other in the eye and said, “We have to stop.” Slowly we began to detox from an overpacked calendar, learning to say no, to make scheduling sacrifices, to listen to our souls.

In the middle of our uncluttering journey, we moved to a little house with a backyard, its soil as hard-packed, hot, and arid as I imagine the surface of Venus to be. I hammered together raised beds. The kids and I scooped soil into them, sowed seeds, watered, and waited.

Gardening is slow, we said. Gardening—like anything rich and beautiful and important—takes time.

Those little raised beds became for us a symbol of choosing to do less so that we could hear from God and one another more. As we watered and waited and watched, we began to hear the ancient pulse of an earth set spinning in motion millennia ago by a God who loves us enough to offer us deep, slow, lasting joy in an instant gratification world.

My son, now six years old, wandered through the backyard yesterday, paused for a second at a raised bed, and raised his voice.

“Hey Mom!” he yelled. “Look! Kale!”

COURTNEY ELLIS writes and blogs at CourtneyBEllis.com. Author of Uncluttered: Free Your Space, Free Your Schedule, Free Your Soul, she lives with her husband and three littles in southern California. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

The Joy of Seed Catalogs

Seed Catalogs are the Promise of Abundance
Photo by Natalia Fogarty on Unsplash

They started arriving the day after Christmas. Their covers glossy with photos of tomatoes and okra or matte with sketches of stylized gardens surrounded by sunflowers.  As each one arrived, I caressed it and stacked it on the counter to peruse later.  (I don’t dare open the cover until I have time to get lost in carrot options.)

Seed catalogs are the promise of abundance, and I love them for that.

This year, though, I’m handing off much of the planning and planting to my dad because, well, by the time planting time comes, bending over is going to be a challenge for me.  I’ve sent him my list of desired veggies, and he will use his vast horticultural prowess to put together a plan for us.  I love my dad and adore working with him, so I’m really excited.

I can easily get enticed by all the fun stuff – purple carrots and tomatoes that supposed to taste a bit like chocolate, but this year, we’re going traditional – popular varieties that grow well in our space.  We’ll have broccoli and cabbage, lettuces and radishes early, and then, on will come the squashes and tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, melons and beans with the pumpkins and winter squashes bringing up the rear. Oh, and of course we’ll grow lots of cucumbers, but on trellises this year to save space and stop the thieving of two hound dogs.

Today, I’ll drop all the catalogs off with Dad, and he can choose what to order where.  I will miss them, but with the promise of abundance growing inside me, I’m also glad to hand them off to capable hands and concentrate on the little man we are growing.

If there’s something you’d like us to consider growing for the farm stand, please let us know. We’ll do our best to accommodate.  

 

A Garden Is a Lesson in “Good Enough”

A Garden in a Lesson in Good Enough
Our garden this morning.

For the past 10 days, I have been weeding one garden bed a day. If I had kept up with the garden in the first part of the summer, this activity would take a few minutes each morning. But because I was so fatigued in May and June, the weed situation was a bit out of control.

This morning, I finished the last beds in the greenhouse, which were pretty good considering that Dad had been helping to tend those faithfully.  I stood up and wanted to glory in my accomplishment, but as I walked with a basket full of tomatoes past the rest of the garden, I couldn’t help but see them: those returning weeds.

I started to let myself get frustrated, started to further test my back by pulling them all out, but instead, I took a deep breath, remembered what it had looked like, and came on inside.  The weeds will wait for round two when we get back from North Carolina on Sunday.

I’m an Enneagram Type 2, which means my first and deepest (not always altruisitic) desire is to be helpful. I also have a Type 1 wing, which means I have a tendency toward perfectionism. It’s that Type 1 that was urging me to “get it right” this morning.

But if anything is a concrete reminder that most of the time “good enough” is just fine, it’s a garden. So today, I’m reveling in a totally weed-ed (if not weed-free) garden. P. Allen Smith, I will never be unless I get his staff. But my garden is beautiful, imperfect but healthy and vibrant . . . and it’s feeding lots of people.  Ah, there’s the balm for my Type 2 self.

Fun quiz – what’s your favorite vegetable? Let me know in the comments below. I’m already planning next year’s garden, and I have a couple of empty spaces for late summer-fall crops now.

A Good Weekend’s Work

This weekend, Dad, P, and I put in a total of 37 person hours of work.  We are tired, but we are happy.

The completed garden beds.  If you look closely at the closest bed, you can see the cabbage seedlings.
The completed garden beds. If you look closely at the closest bed, you can see the cabbage seedlings.

Here’s our list of accomplishments:

  • Finished 150 feet of raised beds using all recycled materials – old fence posts and retired telephone poles.
  • Cleared branches and twigs from the main trail head.
  • Burned branches and twigs.  Twice.
  • Limed and fertilized the pasture and yard.
  • Planted four fruit trees.
  • Seeded wildflowers on the south-facing hill by the farmhouse.
  • Re-attached the mower deck to Vulcan.
  • Solidified plans for the flower garden, fire pit, and barbecue area above barn.
  • Trim dead magnolias in the hopes that they return from root.
  • Planted swiss chard, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, and two kids of lettuce.
  • Tired Meander out completely two days in a row.

Sometimes, the best kind of relaxation is hard work.

Now, P and I are going to buy some grass-finished steaks, make baked potatoes, and relax for the evening.  May you feel as much good fruit in your weekend as we do in ours.

75 Potato Plants

Dad assures me that one potato plant equals one meal. . . so I can eat potatoes once a week for more than a year . . . or I can sell them at the farmer’s market over the mountain . . . or I can share them with people.  I imagine I’ll eat a lot of potatoes with a lot of people.  This makes me immensely happy.

The first onion.
The first onion.

Today, in addition to 75 potato plants (russet and red), Dad and I also planted two kinds of lettuce, radishes, carrots, kale, spinach, and onions.  Plus, we sprinkled a few peas around the stumps that grace the middle of the garden, our recycled trellis.

The soil is finally warming to spring, and I could feel it beneath my fingers as I brushed the faintest level of soil over the tiny, missile-shaped carrot seeds.

I can almost taste them.

And I hope that come summer, when my mudroom is brimming with the earthy scent of potatoes, you will come, let me boil you some. We’ll slather them with fresh, local butter and eat them with our fingers, to remember the warmth of spring soil.

***

P has drawn me some lovely designs for a logo, and we will be picking one soon.  My hope it to put this logo – as well as P’s sketch of the farmhouse – onto mugs, t-shirts, and journals.  To do this, we need some potential “investors,” who might purchase such a reasonably-priced item to support the work of God’s Whisper.  If you think you might make such a purchase, could you leave a comment below?

Also, if you could share this blog with your friends and family who might be interested, I would be so grateful.  Thank you.