The Bean Harp

This morning when I went out to check on my garden, guess what I saw? Half of my pole beans have sprouted! (I planted two different varieties and only one has sprouted so far.) I immediately knew what I’d be doing this afternoon.

But meanwhile, I had a tutoring session to prepare for and other school-related stuff. I met the blond brothers on Zoom today and it went pretty well.

Afterward, I went out to mail a letter and then returned to start work on my bean trellis. First, Jasper had to drill the holes for me. Then I spent a very tedious hour out in the carport in the unseasonable heat, sweating as I threaded cord through all the holes.

Just as I finished, Jasper came out and commented that my trellis looks like a giant harp. So henceforth it shall be known as the bean harp. He helped me re-install it at the end of my raised bed, and now when those bean seedlings grow taller they will have something to grab onto. The beans are at the northern end of my garden so when they grow up onto the trellis they won’t be shading any of the other vegetables.

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Meanwhile, I now have at least 35 asparagus spears, some of which are over a foot tall. (I only planted 20 crowns, so obviously multiple stems are sprouting from some of the crowns.) And some of my New Zealand spinach is sprouting also.

My sunset walk today was warmer than I would like but it was still so nice just to be outdoors. I saw very few people, but I did get to wave to some neighbors whom I very rarely see.

The Human Alarm Clock

As I’m sure you can understand, my mother is frequently on my mind lately. Several times a day I think of something I want to tell her—but I can’t. So I’ll keep sharing some of my memories of her here.

Often, when my alarm goes off in the morning, I think of my mother. As you know, most of my education took place at various boarding schools starting in third grade, but during the times that I lived at home as a teenager and young adult, getting up was a real challenge, as it so often is for people that age.

My dad’s method of rousing me from slumber was very direct. Pummeling my bedroom door incessantly with his fists of thunder, he would accompany the horrendous pounding by heartily bellowing a wake-up song to the tune of “Reveille.” I had mere seconds to leap from my bed and appear at the door upright and with eyes open before he moved to Phase 2, which involved stomping into my room and ripping the covers off my cowering body. Dad only had to wake one of us up this way in the morning. If it was me, my brothers knew to jump out of their beds and appear at their doors before he started pounding. No one could sleep through that din.

My mother, however, was much less direct. Hers was a kindler, gentler method. In fact she rarely if ever actually told me to get up. During the year I lived at home and worked between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I obviously had to get up in time to make it to work every day. In order to get there on time, let’s say I had to leave the house by 6:45 (I had to be at work downtown by 7:30).

I would set my little watch alarm for 6:00, knowing I could push the five-minute snooze at least a couple of times. If I had not appeared in the public area of the house by 6:15, my mother would stand outside my door and I’d hear a polite little tap, followed by her quiet voice saying, “Linda, it’s 6:15.” She always spoke quietly so as not to wake any of my brothers who might still be sleeping.

“Okay,” I’d say, glancing at my watch to verify that it was indeed 6:15. Then I’d pass out again until the next time my watch alarm went off or until my mother felt the need to return. “Linda, it’s 6:22.” If I still failed to appear, the announcements would come closer together. “Linda, it’s 6:27.” “Linda, it’s 6:31.”

She never yelled, never told me I was a worthless lazy so-and-so, never ordered me to arise from my bed. She just continued in her self-appointed task as a talking clock, giving me the opportunity to make my own life choices. I knew I could go from lying in bed to walking out the door in under ten minutes. I don’t think I was ever late to work.

My mother also used this indirect method when it came to household chores. If the dishes weren’t washed in a timely manner, she’d say, “Did you remember that it’s your turn to wash the dishes?” Or, “I noticed that the living room hasn’t been vacuumed yet.” These seemingly innocuous observations were a warning. Failure to act on the implied instruction would result in escalation in the form of my dad’s involvement. As you have no doubt gathered, he wasn’t subtle at all. I learned to recognize my mother’s gentle comments for what they were—inflexible commands which if ignored would lead to consequences.

I think her goal in using this approach was to encourage us to become self-motivated, rather than to only do things out of fear of reprisal. As much as possible, she made it my responsibility to make the right choices, rather than forcing them upon me. I have always appreciated that.

Adventures in Walmart

So . . . ahem . . . I seem to have forgotten to post yesterday’s entry until about 30 seconds ago. Sorry about that.

I was out the door early this morning to be at our nearby Walmart when it opened. I think I was able to get everything on my list, including the last ham in the store and finally, a large bag of rice. Although I don’t eat rice myself anymore, my family loves it and I hated to think of running out. Many people in the store were wearing masks. Everyone I encountered was so friendly and polite.

Today was another day of work without any teaching, so I was able to get a lot of grading done. There is still plenty left! And of course I went out to check on my garden a few times, and to top off the water in my ollas. I now have 21 asparagus shoots, some of which are nearly a foot tall already. I am still waiting for my last few seeds to arrive and am so impatient to get everything planted. I do have a few lettuce sprouts coming up, and also some of my New Zealand spinach.

Lucy made Denny’s pancakes for supper. You may remember that she was a chef at Denny’s for the summer three years ago. She and Tanner are still doing their classes online.

Jasper and I went out to look at the super moon as it was rising this evening. I do love the moon so much and wish we could see it better as it rises. There are so many trees in our neighborhood that we can’t get a clear view of the moon until it is quite high in the sky.

Interminable

Ever had one of those days that just seems to go on forever? Today was that kind of day for me. It felt more like a week, and there was no particular reason for it.

I am taking a break from teaching my two English classes this week so I will have time to get caught up (I hope). So I spent the morning helping Jasper with homework.

Over lunch, I worked on my grocery order and a couple hours later Aldi delivered it. Then I had an online tutoring session and did some grading. Watered my garden. Made supper. Went for my walk, which was less painful because I had a three-day break. But there was still more day!

So I did some critiquing and more grading and researching while my longsuffering husband worked on our taxes.

Remember on Saturday I had 5 asparagus spears? Today I had 16! And a few teeny tiny lettuce shoots. Can’t wait to see more seeds coming up.

Palm Sunday

I learned a new hymn this morning while watching a Palm Sunday service in Scotland.

Ride On, Ride On in Majesty

Henry Hart Milman


Ride on, ride on in majesty!
Hark! All the tribes hosanna cry;
O Savior meek, pursue your road
With palms and scattered garments strowed.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die:
O Christ, your triumphs now begin
O’er captive death and conquered sin.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
The wingèd squadrons of the sky
Look down with sad and wond’ring eyes
To see th’approaching sacrifice.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
Your last and fiercest strife is nigh;
The Father on His sapphire throne
Expects His own anointed Son.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die;
Bow your meek head to mortal pain,
Then take, O God, your pow’r and reign.

Bananas & Goop

Last night I had one asparagus spear in my new asparagus bed. This morning I had five! That is a relief to see them coming up so quickly. Nothing that I planted from seed has sprouted yet. (I planted two-year asparagus crowns.)

The weather was too wet for my husband to do yard jobs today, so instead he took the van in for new tires. This is an unwelcome expense at any time, but especially now! The old ones did not last anywhere near as long as they were advertised for. By the time these new ones wear out, the van will probably be dead too. It is a crotchety and geriatric vehicle, but helpful for Walter’s work.

Speaking of his work, although he still has his full-time job, his supplemental evening job is suspended for at least another month, which means a challenging loss of income for us. I know thousands of others are experiencing the same thing. It’s scary! I had to sit down and create an “emergency budget” to get us through the next few weeks. One upside—we aren’t spending much on fuel since we don’t go anywhere!

Jasper did a little project for me today since he didn’t have to work. He made a frame for my bean trellis with leftover pvc pipe from my garden dividers. It still needs some holes drilled and cording added, but I’m so glad to have it. This is already the nicest garden I’ve ever had.

I have begun excavating the piles of stuff in my schoolroom so I will have room to do my grading in there instead of on the dining room table. My other alternate grading location is the guest room, which is currently occupied. I found some things which have been missing for quite some time. It is good to have at least one workspace cleared.

By the way, I am still lighting a candle on my porch every night. I had my husband install a hook so I can hang my candle holder and that way I know the candle won’t blow over and set anything on fire . . . assuming it ever dries out enough around here for things to burn. It’s a great reminder for me to stop and pray for all of us in this unprecedented crisis.

Since the loss of our mother a little over a week ago, my brothers and I have been talking and texting quite a bit, and one of the subjects that came up was my dad’s legendary contribution to our family’s culinary history. I’m talking about that classic Dad dessert, “Bananas & Goop.” I thought that during this time of sequestration, perhaps Bananas & Goop should make a comeback. It was a staple for our family during our years in Zambia, because bananas and Goop were pretty much always available.

So here’s how you make it: peel a banana and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Pour Goop over it according to your taste and tolerance for Goop. Chow down. Perhaps you know Goop by the name that’s actually on the can it comes in: Sweetened Condensed Milk.

In a fit of nostalgia, I made Bananas & Goop for my crew tonight. I got fancy and put some whipped cream on top, but that is hardly required. Sadly for me, I can no longer eat bananas, and certainly not Goop, but that’s no reason to let the tradition die.

Parting Shot:

A family photo taken in Zambia when I was a teenager. We had no idea how dorky we looked. In our defense, it was the 1970s. And hey, we were happy because we got Bananas & Goop on a regular basis!

Changed Plans

Today, I had expected to be in Tennessee with my parents. For weeks, I had been planning to leave after my Geography class yesterday and drive to Memphis, continuing to Crossville by midday today. Instead, I am still in my usual chair with my computer, “sheltering in place.” But of course, there’s nothing I can do about it.

It is a week since my mother passed away, and there are times when it still seems so unreal. I suppose I will always think of her and miss her when I read an especially luminous phrase or sentence—only now I won’t be able to call and read it to her so she can share my appreciation.

Normally I go grocery shopping on Friday mornings—but these are not normal times. I had a series of brief video chats with my students this morning so they could recite their memory poems for me. This afternoon I did have a brief errand to run, but most of the time was spent on school-related things. Friday afternoons are often reserved for some kind of social life, but neither of the friends I hoped to call today had time to talk to me. All this hanging about at home doesn’t seem to have made anyone any less busy!

I am quite enjoying the challenge of creating meals from the freezer. Tonight it was chicken cacciatore and spaghetti and garlic toast.

This evening my brothers and I had another online chat with my dad. He has a long list of things to do and is slowly working through them all. Some tasks will no doubt be hampered by the restrictions that are now in place. And we will continue to make sure that he receives daily calls from us. It feels odd to be so separated in our common grief, but at the same time I am so grateful for the technology that enables us to gather electronically.

Also: I found an asparagus spear poking out of the ground today!

Online Geography

Sorry I dropped the ball yesterday. Just too tired to stay up even later and try to write something coherent.

Yesterday I tutored the blond brothers online. I’m already tired of not seeing my students in person.

Afterward, I planted things! I planted green pepper and parsley plants, and the rest were seeds: beans (2 kinds), squash (2 kinds), lettuce, and nasturtiums. I’m holding off till next week on the okra to make sure it is warm enough. I’m trying to focus on vegetables I can actually eat, so that’s why there is no corn or carrots or potatoes.

Working in the garden has been very therapeutic for me as I try to process the enormity of my mother’s passing. It doesn’t bring back any heart-searing memories because my mother was not a gardener. During the years we lived in Africa and HAD to have a garden, that was my dad’s domain. My mom appreciated vegetables and beautiful flowers, but she never had any interest in tending them.

For me, gardening takes me back to my childhood, when we had to learn gardening in school (boarding school). Each semester we were divided into gardening teams and given a plot on which we grew vegetables for the school, and were paid about five cents a pound for them. Even back then, that wasn’t much money! But I learned to love the chance to be outdoors and nurture living things. And now, gardening seems to take me back to those simpler days. However, I know that a couple of months from now it will be hard to make myself go out in the heat. . . .

Today was Geography day, but it started with a birthday breakfast. Since Lucy and I weren’t even in the same state on her birthday, her breakfast was postponed by almost three weeks. This year’s menu is a Scotch egg, a bagel with cream cheese, hash browns, a banana, and of course tea. I made enough Scotch eggs for all of us because why make only one?

Then I helped Jasper finish working on his Geography report by requesting and receiving some fabulous photos from a high school classmate who grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Of course, I had to do the class completely online, which meant I also did not have to cook for it. But it seemed to work out pretty well. We could all see and hear each other, and also the video and photos I showed. So I guess we’ll be doing that for the rest of the month.

Since we didn’t have to make a geography meal for lunch, I went ahead and planned African food for supper. We had everything we needed in the house, so why not?

While the others ate, I went for my walk. These days it takes a fair amount of courage to go for my daily walk. The pain in my knees and legs has not diminished and often keeps me awake at night. I thought my faithful walking would help, but it hasn’t—so it’s hard to make myself keep doing it. Yet every evening when I get out into the fresh air and walk around the silent and deserted campus, I’m glad I made the effort, even if it comes at a cost. I time my walks so that I’m able to enjoy the sunset and the cooler temperatures—at least while we have some cooler temperatures! If the gym doesn’t reopen by June I may have to resort to morning walks . . .

Planting

This morning I had my younger class online. For that class I use Facebook video chat (the moms’ accounts) and it has worked very well. I just miss seeing the kids in person! And I felt bad that they had to do their presentations online.

This afternoon I went out to plant my asparagus crowns in my new asparagus bed. It was cool and overcast most of the day, but while I was out there working the sun finally came out and it was a beautiful spring day. The asparagus bed is sheer personal indulgence because asparagus is just one of many vegetables that my husband won’t eat—but I love it. There are no dividers in it because it is all the same thing.

Then, when my husband came home from work, he set to work installing the ollas in my main vegetable bed and then building the square foot framework:

So tomorrow, I will plant a few more things! I am still waiting for my tomato seeds, so they are going to be very late. But I have high hopes for this year’s garden. I have wanted to do proper square foot gardening for at least 20 years. The hard part is going to be continuing to do the work after it gets hot.

I didn’t talk to my dad today but one of my brothers did and learned he had been very busy talking to various friends on the phone. I am so glad people are reaching out to him.

Still Too Far Away

Yesterday I got up early to make cinnamon rolls. The sourdough dough had been slowly rising all night and I needed to be up early enough to give the rolls themselves time to rise before baking. It was one little way to remember my mother, who often made cinnamon rolls for special occasions. I am trying to confine my baking to sourdough as much as possible so I don’t deplete my meager supply of yeast.

The rolls were a big hit! Of course I did not have any but it was good to know they tasted okay. Afterward I watched a church service online (in Scotland) and all three hymns were so meaningful to me—I sang along with them despite my tears.

Then it was time to get some work done. My hardworking husband had offered to help me get a little more set up for my garden. We got my two barrel planters ready to go and also installed the olla in my asparagus bed. And as if on cue, today my asparagus crowns arrived. I hope to plant them tomorrow as today was too rainy.  I also pruned my hydrangea bushes which are starting to leaf out, and prepared and planted another container with three kinds of mint. I neglected my previous mint plants to death but hope to do better this time. I need Jasper’s help (and probably Walter’s too) to finish setting up the “big” bed so I can get it planted.

I worked on school tasks too, but to be honest I am struggling to focus.  In the evening the kids had set up a group video call so that they could talk to me and so that we could celebrate Daniel’s birthday a little late and Flynn’s birthday a little early. Spring is birthday season in this family!

Today I made it through my high school class using Zoom for the first time. I still have a lot to learn but I liked it so much better than Skype.  One of my students has dropped out so close to the end of the year because of the virus situation.

This afternoon I had a tutoring student. With this student I talk on the phone while we both go ever his papers on Google Docs. That works well too.

When my tutoring session was over I braved the great outdoors to go to the credit union and Walmart. Stocked up on dog food and a couple other things. They still don’t have any rice.

Meanwhile, all day no matter what I was doing, my heart was in Tennessee with my dad. He had five friends accompany him to the cemetery for my mother’s burial. It was difficult to be made aware of the finality of it all. There was no service—just my dad putting in seven spades full of dirt, one man singing an appropriate song, and Dad finishing up with prayer. Who knows when we’ll be able to have a memorial service? I had planned to drive there on Thursday, but obviously plans have changed.

This evening my brothers and I had another group chat with my dad so he could tell us about how everything went. I think these family virtual get-togethers have been a very positive thing.

Parting Shot:

Lucy and Tanner with their finished painting from Saturday.