Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Maybe the Garden Isn't So Bad After All...

Gardening isn't so bad after all.  Maybe I did get a little bit of my grandpa's green thumb in my genes.

Today I picked my first okra crop.  I spent well over an hour and a half in the garden and wound up late for work.  It was 75 degrees and cloudy, a beautiful day to work outside.  I suppose the serenity of it all caused me to lose track of time.  That, and the fact that I had twice as much work to do.

I think gardening is sort of like a video game in that it gets more and more complex with each new step.  When you master level 1 of fighting off big weeds and protecting baby plants, then you move to level two, which is fighting off billions of tiny weeds, watering constantly and still protecting the plants.  Level 3 combines all of this plus evil grasshopper ninjas.  (The secret to that level was finding out about a magical dust that kills off the villain.)

Today I entered level four.  Not only was there big weeds, little weeds and grasshoppers to be fought, but now there was a beautiful menagerie of dead grasshoppers and baby frogs to avoid, plus you have to harvest the crop.  One may think harvesting okra is quite simple.  Well, it is and it isn't.  The picking is easy because you simply break, twist or cut the stem off from the plant and through the fruit in a bucket.  The hard part is knowing when to pick it.  Just like those darn video games, timing is everything.  Pick to early and the fruit isn't ripe, but pick a day or two later and the darn thing is 6 inches long and tough as a rock.

I'm not the hardest working Gardener there is, I'm trying, but my time commitment to the garden has been about one morning a week, sometimes two.  One week ago I tended my garden and was very pleased.  There were lots of baby sprouts of okra, and several small squash plants growing.  It had finally rained a few inches, for the first time all summer!  That rain brought lots of growth, a skip-watering-free card, and the addition of baby weeds solidly covering the earth.  What blows my mind, is less than a week later, the baby okra sprouts are already overgrown and too tough to eat!  Where did the time go?  They grow up so fast...

Luckily it is raining again this week, 1 inch yesterday and it is currently falling outside my window.  We've been in a drought so long I guess I don't actually understand the role of rain.  For the first 2 months of my gardening career I relied solely on water out of a hose for nourishment, but the last two weeks have seemed like a vacation because nature has basically taken care of itself.  I guess that's sort of how the whole thing works, isn't it?  You plant the seeds and help them out along the way, but the end result is up to nature--it's up to God.  Perhaps this is how child rearing takes place too.

I have been pleasantly surprised at the simplicity of gardening.  I am the type who doesn't do anything without reading a book about it first, and when I took on this whole project I had envisioned grandpa being my book, holding my hand through each step of the process until I knew with somewhat certainty what I was doing.  It hasn't been like that at all though, really, with the exception of the first planting and weeding, I've pretty much done everything on my own.  The level of my family's farm and garden expertise is so high that explaining the basics isn't something they can comprehend.  I could tell by the way my elementary questions were handled by my grandpa and dad.  It's like their minds literally could not register the fact that I didn't already know this stuff.

While I love the farm and the earth and all that jazz, I've never really been an A+ farmer's daughter.  I was in 4-H and FFA, but that was all rather socially obligated since I didn't show animals.  I thought about showing a pig once, but dad said I 'd be the one getting up at 6 every morning to feed, water and walk it, so I decided not to.

A large majority of my childhood was spent playing on the farm.  But I didn't drive tractors, collect eggs and milk cows like one might assume.  My cousins and I ran around the open spaces creating forts and houses, games and adventures.  When we were forced to retract inside for dinner (lunch), we would clean ourselves up and eat with the family, afterwards finding new escapades involving grandma's lipstick and old dresses.  My Dad was always on the tractor working hard and the men in the family would assure my girl cousins and I that we needed to help grandma in the kitchen, rather than our dad's on the farm.  So we did, and I'll tell you what, I do know how to make a mean chicken fried steak, but ask me about acres and cattle and I might give you a blank stare.

It's not that I disagree with my spot on the family farm so much as it is that I just don't learn things in a normal way.  I have to see things written out on paper or acted out in front of me.  If we're going to talk numbers of acres and numbers of cattle blah, blah, blah...you better hold your tongue till I have a pad of paper and a pen to take notes on.  Then I need a good hour or so to commit this information to memory.  That's just the way I learn.  Unfortunately, farm life seems to be less educational and more intuitive.  I guess that's what I mean when I say the simplicity of gardening surprised me.  With little to no instruction, each day I show up at the farm with a tank top and some muddy tennis shoes.  I then rummage around till I find a pair of gloves and grandpa's assorted hoes.  After that I pretty well dive into my work.  Each visit presents something different, and each visit I learn something new.  If something odd happens I ask dad or grandpa and they of course, always have the answer.

Actually, I did stump them one time.  Last week after gardening, I cleaned up and got ready for work as usual.  Later that morning I was sitting at my desk when I caught a glimpse of my shin.  I screeched and rolled my chair back from behind the dark interior of my desk.  I blinked hard and my stomach rolled up in a knot as I realized I had large red blotches all over my legs, from knee cap to ankle and from shin bone to the fat of my calf.  Medical things really creep me out, and especially ugly, unexplainable creepy medical things on my own flesh.  Eww.  I looked and I looked and I couldn't turn away even though my stomach was getting incredibly weak.  How awful, how embarrassing, but what was it?  I went home at lunch, eager to show my mom my disgusting news, but she was at sewing class.  So I slapped on some Aloe Vera gel and went back to the office.

It wasn't until late that night I had the opportunity to show my folks what the garden did to my legs.  Horrified, they both asked if it was chiggers.  I had assumed that myself, but because they didn't itch I wasn't sure what to make of them.  Mom suggested I take a benadryl and Dad said the same.  So for a full week, I had to wear pants to work in the Oklahoma July heat of 107 degrees.  It wasn't easy, but I couldn't expose those disease-looking legs.  Fortunately, the bumps eventually went away, and before returning to the garden today I lathered myself in Avon's Skin-So-Soft (an old tradition of our family) and so far, have seen no return of the bumps.  What they were exactly, still remains a mystery.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Day 1: Blocked Creatives

Yesterday in art class I spoke of this to another young woman in the class with me.  She was an art teacher for K-5.  She just finished her first year and hated it, yet signed up for a second year anyway.  We talked about how we both had great jobs, yet felt completely unsatisfied--like we were longing to do something else, something creative.  But the question lingered, do we do that now and risk poverty, or are we supposed to be miserable the first 40 years of our life so we can comfortably enjoy this freedom on the backslide?  As my new friend Kristen said, “Sounds like a miserable way to live, to me.”

But as I looked around the room at the other 6 students, four of them had shared stories about miserably working for corporate for ++ years before they finally retired and began to pursue art.  Between the other two students, one was a local artist who owned her own family gallery and taught metal-smithing regularly, and the other was a middle school art teacher who lived on a farm south of Eureka.  Although she said she enjoyed her job, she also said she hated dealing with students all day.

So what were we really doing there?  It seems as though we were all just looking for validation as artists.  Are we good enough, Barbara?  Is this okay?  How does this look?

I don’t think these questions were as much physical as they were spiritual.  We were asking for healing to our broken spirit.  Too many times people told us we couldn’t, and this was our small, 3-day escape into a dream we might like to pursue some day.

One student I particularly felt for.  She sat in the back of the room and seemed to enjoy herself more than any of us.  She laughed and played and encouraged the rest of us.  When she shared her story it was a similar path I have seen myself on.  She was almost an art teacher.  She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Art or Psychology or something, and then spent 40 years being a waitress.  Throughout these 40 years she had always dabbled in painting, yet never fully pursued it.  She has always wanted to be an artist.

Two my left were the two Lindas.  Linda O. and Linda G.  Linda O’Neal was 71, though she didn’t look a day over 50.  She was a fun, spunky, I-can’t-believe-your-a-grandma type.  She had been a hairdresser for 25 years, then in her 40s decided she wanted to be a nurse, so she did that for 25 more years before retiring.  Now she and Linda G. are part of an art gallery in Hardee, Arkansas.  They spend all their time taking and organizing art classes.  They group together with 29 other women to run this gallery and keep the spirit alive.  She was fun and helpful and peaceful.

Linda G. was originally from Boston, and her accent stuck in my dreams after day 1.  Fun and yet the most boisterous student, I see her story as somewhat sad.  She was one had worked corporate for many years, finding herself very successful and very miserable.  She retired and moved to Saint Croy in the Caribbean for a while, where she met her current husband. He owned land in Hardee, and that is where she moved and met Linda O.  The two were the best of friends and quite a hoot to fellowship with.

The ESSA intern, Anja was 3 years younger than me.  She is a student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.  Born and Raised in Bentonville, yet her parents own a restaurant in Eureka Springs so she spends much time here.  She is majoring in Art and Drawing.  She told me of her dreams.  She said she would take any job she could get after graduating so she could eventually move up to a high-paying, well-respected job.  She is going into her junior year.  I said the same thing when I was her age.  A year later I was miserable.

Life is a funny thing.  What are we all doing here?  Why do we have desires and longings and pains that won’t go away unless we do a certain thing.  It’s called purpose, but why is it such a consuming thing?  Why can’t we just turn it off and be happy?  We can turn it off, but happiness is not the result.

I don’t want to have to wait till I’m 50 to uncover my inner artist.  I want this heart of me to grow up with me, flowing over with love and confidence.

It’s a spiritual journey and I need the help of self and Christ to nurture this desire.  I know without a doubt I am born to write and paint.  I am born to dance and sing and love.  

Where do I go from here?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Transportation: Alone

Yesterday was a day of victory for me.  I did something I have never done before but always wanted to do.  I began my vacation by myself.  I traveled 6 hours in a car with just me.  Well, technically it was just me, but I also had my navigator (GPS), my soul singer, (Stevie Nicks), and my guardian (God.)

When I woke up yesterday morning my first emotion was fear, then a smidgen of anger and an ounce of hurt.  Why didn't anyone want to have fun with me?  Immediately I sat up in bed and prayed it over.  I prayed that God would use this trip as a much needed spiritual journey.  I reminded myself that I am strong and whole and comfortable with just me.  I need no one else to have a good time.

After that I was back to being overly excited.  I got up and tended my garden in the sunrise, which was absolutely beautiful.  Peace filled my lungs as I (for the first time) patiently and tenderly cared for each of my little plant babies.  Actually they aren't babies anymore, they are probably, oh I don't know, preteens.  And by the way, I would like to say that I don't hate gardening like I thought I did.  I'm just lazier than I thought.

After getting the garden ready for my absence, I went home, showered and got ready for a big day at work.  All morning I finished the final preparations for the office and sitter.  At noon we had a big meeting and I spent the afternoon catching up on what the meeting's outcome had assigned me.

By mid-afternoon I was ready to go!  I packed up my mom's very large SUV, changed into some jeans and flip-flops and out the door I went.

The first 45 minutes all I did was listen to worship music.  By the time I hit Lawton I was so refreshed I felt like I had already been on vacation.

So much of my inward stress seems to spring from not having enough alone time.  I have known this since January, but I have yet to find a solution.  In a small town where no one can hide, it's hard to find a quiet cubby to exhale in.  Oh how despartely I need those sweet moments of solitude though.  This is one reason I had looked forward to traveling alone.

From Lawton to Tulsa I let Pandora pick the tunes.  Shuffled stations of Tom Waits, Keller Williams, Janis Joplin, Jesus Culture and David Allen Coe left me with a wide variety of entertainment.  I sang and giggled and rocked out all by myself, which somehow made it more fun.

About the time I got to Tulsa my eyes started driving me nuts, as they often do.  Pain and dryness set in and I feared I would have to pull over and rest my eyes, though I didn't want to because it was going to be a late arrival as it was.

Pinching and rubbing my lids, I carried on and toughed through.  I made it to the Arkansas state line before my first stop.  Of course my first action was a stateline-selfie.  Because why not?  Then I stopped at McDonalds and ordered a dollar chicken sandwich and an Oreo McFlurry because the last 10 miles all I could think about was ice cream.  I ate my delicious and nutritious meal at a table by myself and smiled at how pleasing it was.  I LOVE people watching.  There was two people who sat near me, working on their laptops and taking notes on pen and paper.  I wondered if there was a college nearby or if they were maybe doing a Bible Study.

After Mickey D's I drove across the street to the Family Dollar where I picked up a simple breakfast for the week and some trail mix for snacks after class.

By this time it was around 7:30, which was exactly on schedule, but since I was staying at a Mom and Pop I thought it a good idea to call my host and up date him on my late arrival.  Much to my surprise he said a 9:30 arrival was fine.  He informed me of my cottage number and said he'd turn on the air conditioner and leave the key on the coffee table.

After one more quick stop for fuel, I was back on my way!  This time Kid Rock sang to me until I reached Springdale.

This is the part that brings me pride.  If you know me at all, you are probably aware of the fact that I am directionally retarded.  I can't find my away out of a shoe box.  My GPS is my best friend and I do not even mention some of the familiar locations that call for my dependence on this gadget.

But at that moment in my trip, I was about an hour and a half out and my poor, stupid phone could not keep up.  I had plugged it in to charge since the beginning of my trip, but between the GPS, Pandora and roaming, my battery was actually still uncharging itself.  So I did what any intelligent person would do, yet I was surprised at my thought process--I wrote out the directions for the rest of my trip and turned off my phone.  An ornery grin filled my face as I realized there was a very good chance I would get lost and yet it was sort of a fun game to try and test myself.

I have made this trip a couple times in the past few years and for some unknown reason it seems to stick in my brain.  I have a sense for this trail, yet I can't seem to find my way to the nearest town from where I grew up!

So now the fun began.  I actually had to read the road signs I was following.  (Brilliant, I know.)  Turn by turn I followed HWY 412 to 42E and then 23N.

On a poorly marked side road (that I did not miss, by the way) I saw my turn that looked like it led into a nursery rhyme about over the river and into the woods.  I made my turn and what I saw made my heart jump.  Eureka Springs: 28 Miles.

Alas!  I was on the home stretch!  I sent a quick Snapchat to my friends and family and proceeded on with Fleetwood Mac's Greatest Hits playing.  I had also rolled down my windows at this point and was thoroughly enjoying the Arkansas air.  It smells so different than Oklahoma air.  It's moist and earthy and has hints of pine and other trees we've never seen in Southwest Oklahoma.

Turn by turn my grin got bigger and my singing got louder.  I was BEYOND excited to arrive in the wonderful place I had been daydreaming about since this time last year.

As I inched closer the familiar signs of all the attractions began to pop up behind each curve. "Quickley's Castle", "Come see 100 different cats!" and "Train RIDES".  Oh, how I loved this place.  So magical.  So weird.  So quirky.  It fits.

Then, my intersection and I knew to turn left.  My GPS had remained off and I had made it to Eureka.  Nothing and no one could stop me now!

As I found the road my cottage was on I purposely took a detour to downtown.  I had to see all the little shops and attractions I had so ceaselessly creeped on for 365 days.  My heart fluttered and my gut screamed with excitement!  I'm here!

A few curves and another turn and I made it effortlessly to the cottages.  So proud, I was.  I had made it.  Not just alone, but without a GPS on the last half, and without any major damages to the vehicle.  Thank you, Jesus!

All this to say, traveling alone was a great experience for me.  I had suspected I would be bored with myself and start bugging people via phone call after the first 45 minutes of my trip, yet never once did I desire to pick up the phone.  Music and my soul and the wheel was just about the most refreshing combination I have had in months.  And my vacation has only just begun.

Transportation: Skateboarding

Transportation.  It's something so undeniably basic to the human existence that we can all relate to it in one form or another.  It's an element of our survival, innovation and communication.  Over the years society has evolved through several different types of transportation, but the message beneath them all is the same.

In my year away from school I learned a lot about transportation.  I conversed with motorcyclists for the first time.  I bought my own truck.  I learned to change air filters and give rides to people who couldn't afford a cab.  One of the most fascinating to me, was being introduced to skateboarding.

I'd never had much interest in skateboards.   That was, until I found out you could use them for distance and not just for tricks and show-offy things.  A friend of mine had a house we all hung out at.  His skateboard was always in the corner, although I'd never seen anyone ride it.  It was oddly long and mysterious.  One day I finally asked about it.  My curiousity had gone mad wondering about this strange but familiar object.  No sooner had I asked than the whole gang had organized a skateboarding trip to the nearby state park.

"It has a bad trail you can ride on.  It's smooth and goes on for a good 4 miles."

The thought of riding a 4-mile trail on my first try scared me quite a bit, but my friends assured me I'd be fine and told me to wear old jeans so if I fell I wouldn't tear my knees up.

That scared me even more.

Needless to say, the next day a group of five of us drove up to the mountains and began our journey.

Rule number one of skateboarding is, sometimes you gotta bail.

Sometimes you gotta bail?  I asked.

Yeah, there are going to be situations that happen and all you can do to get out is bail.  Like...fall off.  But don't worry, you may have a scrape or a bruise, but then you just gotta get back on.

Okay, so what's rule number two?

My "instructor" laughed and said that was all the rules he'd heard of for longboarding.

Longboarding is what made the board different, I found out.  It was a special type of skateboard used for distance riding, not for tricks like I typical saw teenage boys do.  I was told that longboarding was more relaxed, better for traveling and very popular in the beachy areas of the world.

Cool.  I liked the sound of that, so I stood awkwardly at this long, black board with wheels.

What do I do now?

Hop on and go, girlfriend.

I was slightly confused.  I had read no instruction manual and had been given one very vague rule to follow...how was I supposed to just "go?"

After the other four people assured me I'd be fine if I just went for it, I put one foot on the front of the board, facing it straight forward with the length of the board, then I hopped a bit and placed my back foot almost in the a like position.

One of the guys stopped me immediately and pointed out that my front foot needed to be at a 45 degree angle with the board and my back foot needed to be laid across the width of the board, to stabalize me.

I had snowboarded before so I somewhat understood this, however it still felt extremely awkward.

After gaining the proper stance I made a small kick and went a full two feet.  Scared but excited, I looked around to hear everyone telling me to try it again but a little harder.  So I did.  I pushed a little harder and went a little further and caught a bit more adrenaline.  The five of us pushed a little ways and I was thrilled!

Then we came to a curve in the road.

Ahh!  What do I do?  I hollered out in panic right as I jumped off my board and sent it sailing in front of me at full speed.

Needless to say I eventually got the hang out it, and before the end of the first two miles I was feeling pretty proud and confident of myself.

I guess one good trip was all it took.  From then on I was hooked.  I started skating here and there around my neighborhood and working areas.  By the end of the summer I was heading back to school and I needed a good way to get around campus in a short period of time.  I knew I was getting a skateboard.

So I saved up every cash tip I got for several months; carefully putting each dollar into my envelope labeled "Skateboard."  Pretty soon I had a little over $100 and school was beginning soon so I began my search for the perfect beginner board.  I asked friends and online chat rooms and the experts online at "TheLongBoardStore.com."  After weeks of advice and contemplation I decided on a XX" pink and black Sector 9 board.  The front had a small pink "9" on it and the back was pink wordage and simple.  It was a shorter board in the longboard category, but this fit my needs and my budget so I ordered it and eagerly waited for the postman.

2 weeks later I was walking through the apartment looking for a remote or something.  My cousin walked in the door with some of our friends and the door had remained open for a second.  I looked up in time to catch a glimpse of the UPS man with a long brown box.  Instantly I jumped over the couch shouting words of excitement like I had been waiting for the package my entire life.  The delivery guy chuckled and I asked if it was my skateboard in his hand.  He said he had no idea but I could sign his electronic device and find out if I wanted to.

Within 5 minutes I had that sucker ripped out of the box and ready to hit the pavement.  Our small group of friends gathered outside to watch and laugh as I showed off my very limited but exciting skills.

I rode my board every day for the entire semester, over 3 miles to school and back each day.  Every time I rode I made a new friend or gained a different kind of respect in some weird way.  I enjoyed the pace, the ease and the adventure.

There's something lovely about skateboarding.  Something about it that you don't get from other types of transportation.  A certain feeling of freedom fills my heart as I sail down the road.  It's what I'd imagine flying to feel like.  On a board you are constantly propelling forward with effortless power, not the powerless effort we so many times find ourselves in.  It's a symbolic reminder that when we let go and quit trying so hard, life will take us where we need to go.  We don't have to control and force and push and shove, just relax and ride, man.

Longboarding isn't about showing off and proving yourself.  It's about embracing the spirit of independence with humility.  One step up from walking, and a step behind a motorcycle.  Longboarding captures the free spirit within each of us.  Carefree posture and an offset stance allow rythyms of positive energy flow through the body without so much as blinking an eye.  The slight waverings of the hips achieve balance on the board and a release of tension in the mind and spirit.

I love longboarding.  It clears my head in ways that running and walking do not.  I feel empowered and carefree all at the same time.  It fits my style and connects me with a different group of individuals. And it is the physical symbol that life goes on, whether we want it to or not, and regardless of our actions, sometimes you just gotta bail.  But always, always, get back on. 
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