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PLAY – the Best Medicine

A couple weeks ago Floey and I went for a long morning walk, and it really felt like summer for the first time this year. The sun had warmed the air to the mid 70s, a few white clouds floated in the bright blue sky, the birds were singing, and cornfields were showing off neat rows of 2-inch baby plants. Floey trotted beside me on her 16-foot extendable leash, watching carefully for any movement along the side of the road that could indicate a chipmunk, rabbit, or squirrel was hiding from us.

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As we walked along the country road that goes by our old farmhouse, a song that was popular when I was in high school popped into my mind – “Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer.” In my mind, Nat King Cole was singing it, and I was in the driveway of the farm, washing my first car, a 1963 Corvair. I remember I did that on perfect Sunday afternoons in 1966. That song made me smile and feel good 51 years ago, and it made me smile and feel good now as I was walking Floey.

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Dust off the sun and moon and sing a song of cheer.

When Floey and I got back home, I said, “Alexa, play Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer by Nat King Cole.” My Amazon Echo gadget accommodated my whim, and I listened to the song just as I had remembered it.

Danny and Marian in first go-kart

We also built go-karts.

Summer is my favorite time of the year for lots of reasons. Most of my happy childhood memories took place in the summer – planting tobacco, baling hay, playing cowboys and Indians in the barn, walking down to the woods to explore, playing croquet on the front lawn. There was always lots of work to do, but there was always enough time to play, as well. Now that I’ve grown up, I find that it’s much harder to find time to play, although I’m usually most successful in finding time for play in the summer.

For the month of May, Joan Chittister wrote in the “Monastic Way” devotional pamphlet all about the importance of finding time to play. She started by quoting Proverbs 8:30, “I, Wisdom, was God’s delight day by day, playing with God every moment…”

fullsizeoutput_208aI’ve never used words quite like that to talk about “playing.” But as usual, Chittister gave me something to think about every day. One day she quoted Albert Einstein, “Play is the highest form of research.” She went on to explain, “Play frees our minds to think things we have never had the opportunity to think before. It enables us to come to know ourselves in other ways. It prompts us to think differently – about old things and new.”

Another day she said, “Adults get so work oriented, they forget to keep on growing. As a result we risk never becoming the rest of ourselves. To know who we are and what we can be requires a great deal of aimless activity…”

The next day she added, “To be really happy, we have to discover how to play as well as how to work.”

One of my favorite reflections of the month was on May 23. “Play … gives the mind room to think about more than the present. It provides the space we need to remember what life was like before arthritis of the soul set in.”

“Arthritis of the soul” is an image I won’t forget. I have a little arthritis in my knees, hips, and wrists. I don’t like it, and I do whatever I can to keep it from getting worse. I certainly don’t want to develop “arthritis of the soul,” and if taking time to play can prevent it, finding time to play will become a new priority for me.

So, how do I play as a “mature adult?” I’m not sure that rounding up my cousins to play cowboys and Indians in the barn will be quite as much fun as it was 60 years ago. Chittister had a suggestion. She said, “Get up tomorrow and go do something you’ve never done before. Then, decide if you’d like to do that again. If not, try something else the next day. Keep trying until you discover a whole new part of you. You’ll like yourself a whole lot better if you do.”

I think I have a few ideas of my own about how to play, too. Going for walks with Floey is fun and provides aimless time to think. Going on a treasure hunt with Mim usually ends up at a resale shop where all kinds of discoveries can be made – especially in the book department. Cuddling up with a good book can provide hours of escape from reality. Sometimes playing through a songbook of golden oldies on the piano can be unbelievably refreshing.

Now that the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” are here, I’m ready to play. I need to prevent “arthritis of the soul.” And, as Joan Chittister says, “There’s no substitute for knowing how to do nothing [i.e., play] without feeling guilty about it.” And now you know how.

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Floey and I also play with gardening on our deck.

God’s Garden – and Mine

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I think God laughed a little at my lazy approach to gardening on the deck this summer, but decided to bless it anyway. The lettuce did very well in its bed of Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix. We’ve had several salads, and the lettuce keeps coming back when I cut it. It’s not quite as sweet and tender as it was a month ago, but it still makes a good salad. We had a few little radishes, but I think I made the mistake of planting too many seeds too close together. I wanted to get as many radishes as possible out of my bag of Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix. A couple weeks ago I pulled out the remaining radish greens with their scrawny roots, and planted the rest of the radish seeds from the package. I spaced each seed more appropriately, and this crop is coming up nicely. We’ll see if July is too hot to grow radishes, or not. It’s all an experiment.

IMG_1268The three tomato plants are doing very well. I transplanted each plant from the Deerfield Greenhouse into a larger pot filled with Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix. We’ve been eating fresh-picked tomatoes almost every day for weeks. Wonderful! A few of the leaves on two plants are starting to turn yellow, so I don’t know how long our prolific tomato harvest will last, but we’re certainly enjoying it now.

Fortunately, God has blessed us most from the gardens of our friends who still live in the country and have really big gardens. They have brought us asparagus, beans, cucumbers, different varieties of tomatoes and radishes, and various kinds of summer squash. And black raspberries!

Can you believe that the same God who thought up the idea of asparagus, lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, and tomatoes, also created black raspberries! And just think about all the produce that is yet to come as gardens continue to mature this summer and fall!

God spoke: “Earth, green up! Grow all varieties of seed-bearing plants, every sort of fruit-bearing tree.” And there it was. Earth produced green seed-bearing plants, all varieties, and fruit-bearing trees of all sorts. God saw that it was good. It was evening, it was morning – Day Three. [Genesis 1:11-13 The Message]

I’m discovering that God thought about nourishment for all of creation, not just us. This morning I went for a short walk in our back yard, near the pond. Lots of wild milkweeds are in full bloom. I expect to see many happy butterflies fluttering around any day now.

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Five years ago I wrote about “An Abundance of Tomatoes and Thistles” in this blog. I just discovered (by trying to follow an inactive link) that my blog posts from 2011 are no longer available on the Internet. (I switched blogging applications in 2012.) Here’s a flashback to when Whispering Winds was an active retreat center, and I was learning to share “my” tomatoes with God’s chipmunks. (This blog post is also included in my first book, LISTENING FOR GOD: 52 Reflections on Everyday Life.)

August 22, 2011:
This is a good year for cherry tomatoes at Whispering Winds. In the spring I planted a couple plants of my favorite variety, “Sweet 100” and one new variety that was simply identified on the tag as “large red cherry tomato.” For the past few weeks Charlie Chipmunk and I have been sharing an early abundance of the “large red cherry tomatoes” and a few of the “Sweet 100’s.” Charlie has decided that every tomato he tastes is worth eating in its entirety – no more taking one bite out of the tomato and then moving on to the next one like he did last year. This way, there are plenty of tomatoes for both of us, and for our guests, too. Unfortunately, Charlie has figured out that the “Sweet 100 s” are the sweetest of all tomatoes, so he gets most of them. But the “large red cherry tomatoes” are good, too, so everyone is happy.

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Charlie Chipmunk keeping a close eye on the tomatoes in the raised bed at Whispering Winds.

This is also a good year for thistles. That might not seem like a good thing, unless you’re a goldfinch, or someone who loves to see goldfinches. They’re my favorite songbird. Seeing a goldfinch perched on top of a bright purple thistle blossom reminds me of taking walks with my mom and seeing goldfinches perched on thistles along the roadside. She called them “wild canaries.” I’ve seen more goldfinches this year than ever. Almost every time I take a walk I see one or two, and smile, remembering my walks with Mom.

Late summer is a time for enjoying the abundance in God’s creation – the abundance of cherry tomatoes if you’re a person or a chipmunk; the abundance of thistle seeds if you’re a goldfinch.

I love the sights, sounds, and tastes of summer. As I walked around the pond this morning snapping pictures of the milkweeds with my smartphone, I was startled by the splash of a frog leaping into the pond right next to me. I guess I startled him, too. Then I started listening more closely to all the birds singing.

Last Saturday was the perfect day to enjoy summer with all our senses. I grilled really long hotdogs from Jones Dairy Farm in nearby Fort Atkinson, Mim cut up a fresh cucumber into a vinegar and sugar water mixture, and all of us – Carolyn, Anna, Martha (the three 95-year-olds), Floey, Mim, and me – had a picnic on the deck, with sweet, juicy watermelon for dessert (plus a few Oreos).

God certainly knows how to delight our senses!

Happy Summertime!

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Floey served as Anna’s foot rest, and enjoyed a soothing back massage throughout lunch.

God and I Planted a Garden. And it was Good.

D400-0068-091.JonWarrenGod spoke: “Earth, green up!
Grow all varieties of seed-bearing plants,
Every sort of fruit-bearing tree.”
And there it was.
Earth produced green seed-bearing plants, all varieties,
And fruit-bearing trees of all sorts.
God saw that it was good.
It was evening, it was morning – Day Three.
[Genesis 1:11-13  The Message]

One of the delights of summer that I’ve enjoyed every year of my life (except maybe the first year) is eating fresh vegetables from the garden. Sweet corn was my favorite. Then plump red tomatoes were my next favorite. And leaf lettuce, spinach, radishes, carrots, peas, beans, and cucumbers. And all kinds of melons. There were a few things I didn’t like – especially onions and beets – but most things were delicious.

I can remember helping Mom and Dad plant the garden in the spring. The first gardening job I was taught to do was to place bean seeds in the inch-deep trench Dad had dug with a hoe. Then Mom covered the seeds with her hoe. It was fun for the whole family to work together on the project. But the most fun of all was watching the seeds sprout and grow into little plants, and then grow bigger and bigger until we started to pick the “fruits” of our labors and eat our first radishes and lettuce.

Danny and Marian - husking corn

My brother Danny and I spent many summer days husking sweet corn for Mom to freeze.

Every year Mom found something new in the seed catalog to experiment with. Some of the experiments were wonderful successes. Others were not. One success was the first year she tried planting zinnias so that we could have lots of cut flowers throughout mid to late summer. Every year after that we always had lots of zinnias.

One failure was a mixed flower border mat. It was a special paper, one foot wide and ten feet long, covered with seeds. It came rolled up in a mailing tube from the seed company. The instructions were to unroll the mat on the ground where you wanted a border of mixed flowers to grow, cover it with a thin layer of soil, and water it regularly. I don’t think even one flower sprouted. This easy flower border was just too good to be true. It was Mom’s worst failure of all her gardening experiments.

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I love all the bright colors of zinnias, especially the unexpected light green ones.

During the twenty years I lived in Chicago, I still was able to enjoy fresh vegetables from the garden. Mom and Dad kept planting huge vegetable gardens (and more and more cutting flowers) even when there were just the two of them living on the farm. Throughout the season, Mim and I made frequent trips to Wisconsin to load up on vegetables and flowers.

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Mom sending fresh-cut flowers from her garden home with me to Chicago.

In October of 1986, Mom passed away. In the spring of 1987, Dad still planted two huge vegetable gardens. All the rest of us still had to eat…. (He skipped the cutting flowers.)

Marian - Dad in Garden - close

Picking vegetables for me to take home to Chicago

The year Dad died (1991), he had finished planting his two huge gardens before he got sick. When he was in the hospital, he kept asking Mim and me to check on the garden. The new potatoes should be just about ready to dig. He died on June 19, and he was right. The new potatoes were waiting to be dug up. Mim and I spent most weekends for the rest of the summer of 1991 driving from Chicago to Wisconsin to tend the garden (and clean out the house).

The next year Mim and I moved to the farmhouse, and we planted our own garden. We bragged that our garden was the same size as the whole lot of our two-flat in Chicago – 30 feet by 120 feet (half the size of my dad’s gardens). We obviously grew more vegetables than we needed, but that meant we had plenty to share. We also had plenty of cutting flowers.

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Part of our crop of pumpkins

When we moved from the farmhouse to the condo in 2007, we gave up gardening. I’ll admit, I miss it. So this year I decided to try an experiment – just like Mom might have tried. I have a tiny garden on our deck. I got the idea from something I saw on Facebook. I purchased two bags of Miracle Grow Potting Mix. I punched lots of little holes on one side of the bags, and placed that side down on a grate on top of a small table. Then I cut the top off the bags, and planted two rows of lettuce with one row of radishes between the lettuce rows. I also have three potted tomato plants.

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So far, my garden is thriving. We ate our first tomato last week, and I picked three more yesterday. We feasted on our first fresh-picked baby lettuce and mixed greens salad for dinner last night. Mim has been thinning out the radishes a little by eating some as sprouts. I think I can declare this experiment a success.

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Ripening tomato almost ready to pick.

For flowers, I bought a “hanging basket” of petunias from a garden center and placed it in an old wooden wheelbarrow. It doesn’t provide any cutting flowers, but I placed the wheelbarrow on the patio right outside my office – so I have a perfect view of them when I’m sitting at my desk.

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In the second creation story of the Bible, the one that focuses on the nature of God and man and woman rather than on the seven-day creation process, God is revealed to be a gardener.

At the time God made Earth and Heaven, before any grasses or shrubs had sprouted from the ground – God hadn’t yet sent rain on Earth, nor was there anyone around to work the ground (the whole Earth was watered by underground springs) – God formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man became alive – a living soul!

Then God planted a garden in Eden, in the east. He put the Man he had just made in it. God made all kinds of trees grow from the ground, trees beautiful to look at and good to eat….

God took the man and set him down in the Garden of Eden to work the ground and keep it in order….

[Excerpts from Genesis 2:5-15 – The Message]

In the process of writing this blog post I googled “garden quotes” to see if I could borrow the words of someone else to express the profound amazement and delight of gardening. Lots of excellent quotes popped up on my screen. Here are the three that got the most “Amens” from me.

I think this is what hooks one to gardening: it is the closest one can come to being present at creation. [Phyllis Theroux]

If you’ve never experienced the joy of accomplishing more than you can imagine, plant a garden. [Robert Brault]

I think that if ever a mortal heard the voice of God it would be in a garden at the cool of day. [F. Frankfort Moore]

I know all these statements are absolutely true. Even when the garden is a tiny one on a deck.

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Remembering My Dad

Carl Korth

Carl Korth

My dad's confirmation picture

My dad’s confirmation picture

I haven’t bought my dad a Father’s Day present in more than twenty years. He died 22 years ago. But with all the advertising on TV over the past few weeks, I’ve been prompted to think more about my dad, about the kind of dad he was, and about the kind of presents he liked to receive, and to give. I think his favorite present was one he gave both to himself and to his family. He really liked to take his whole family – three kids, their spouses, and all the grandkids – out to a restaurant for dinner, preferably a buffet. He was proud of his family, and he liked to show them off, especially on Father’s Day.

He came from a large family himself. He was one of ten kids. His family had the Korth farm on Rock Lake in Lake Mills, Wisconsin – the farm that has now been turned into a county park, “Korth Park.” As one of the older boys in the family, he had to drop out of school in seventh grade to go and work as a “hired hand” on another farm to help support the family. The blessing in disguise for having to be a country school drop-out is that is how he met his future wife. The farm where he worked was in Cambridge, only a couple miles from the farm where my mom grew up.

Sitting with his granddaughter, Cindy.

Sitting with his granddaughter, Cindy.

When my parents were first married, my dad got an assembly-line job at General Motors in Janesville. But as soon as their first daughter came along my mom and dad bought my mom’s family farm in Cambridge from my grandparents who retired and moved into town. My dad was destined to be a farmer.

As a farmer, my dad worked hard. The only time he was in the house instead of working outside was during mealtimes and when he was sleeping. Fortunately, mealtimes were times of conversation as well as eating.  I remember talking a lot about the weather, but that’s really important to a farmer.  We also joked and laughed a lot.

When my dad “retired” – that is he sold the cows and just raised corn, he took over primary responsibility for vegetable gardening from my mom.  He kept two huge gardens and raised enough produce to keep our whole extended family fed year around, plus have enough to give away to friends who came to visit. He loved spending time in the garden. Weeds didn’t have a chance. He knew how to use a hoe well, and he cleaned and sharpened it after every use. I still have the hoe in the garage, although I haven’t used it since we moved to the condo.

Picking some vegetables for me to take home to Chicago

Picking some vegetables for me to take home to Chicago

The only thing he liked better than spending time in the garden was going to the restaurant in town to have morning coffee with all the other retired farmers. He hated to spend the money on coffee, but the life of a farmer is solitary, and this was how he could get his social needs met. One year I gave him a jar of coins for Christmas – so he could have right change for the 35-cent bottomless cup of coffee. The restaurant had raised the price by a nickel.

On April 2, 1991 my dad turned 87. We all got together to celebrate his birthday. A few days later he was out on the tractor, working up the soil for his huge gardens. In June, just as his gardens were beginning to flourish, he got sick and was diagnosed with leukemia. He died within a few weeks. I guess we could say that our dad’s last present to us was another huge vegetable garden that we enjoyed all summer long.

Working up the soil for his last garden

Working up the soil for his last garden

The Message of Two Cornstalks

Abbey posing with our two cornstalks

This morning as Mim and I were walking Abbey I asked Mim if she had any ideas for me to write about in today’s blog. She responded, “How about the two cornstalks growing next to the road at Whispering Winds? Remember Jesus talked about seeds that fell on good ground.”

It’s actually been kind of fun watching those two stalks of corn grow this year on the edge of the lawn, right along the roadside. Last winter the snowplow scraped the edge of the lawn as it barreled along Highland Road. A few chunks of sod were torn out of the lawn. We added some soil and sowed some grass seed over the damaged area in the spring, but as dry as the spring and summer was, the seed never germinated. Last year there was a cornfield across the road. (This year it’s soybeans.) Somehow a couple kernels of corn found their way onto our patch of open soil that had been unwelcoming of the grass seed. The corn sprouted easily, and two proud stalks of corn have been growing all season. Mim decided to mow around them to honor their persistence. Despite the drought in our area of Wisconsin, these two plants of field corn have done fairly well. The wildlife (raccoon, probably) have enjoyed a good harvest.

So what did Jesus say about seeds? In Matthew 13:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying, “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on the rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

Jesus’ disciples asked him what he meant by this story. Apparently, it wasn’t just about growing corn to feed the raccoon family. In verse 23, Jesus explained, “But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit…”

So, what is God trying to tell us by having two cornstalks grow on the good soil on the edge of our lawn at Whispering Winds? Perhaps, it’s as simple as “Take time to smile at the little miracles we see all around us.” Or maybe, to some people driving by, the message is “Bloom where you are planted.”  Or to others, it’s “See. God really watches out for the needs of her creatures, even the raccoon.”

Playing Games with Chip and Randy

My friend Chip, the Chipmunk

 

Chip, the chipmunk, and I have been playing a game lately. It’s a combination of “Hide & Seek” and “Cops & Robbers.”  I’m undoubtedly dating myself, but my brother and I used to play both games with our cousins when we were kids. We chased each other and hid all over the farm – in the house, the barn, the sheds, and outside.

Caught nibbling on a green cherry tomato behind St. Francis’ back.

The way Chip and I play the game is that he’s the robber and I’m the cop. He tries to steal a cherry tomato and I try to bring him to justice by snapping a photo as proof of his crime. As soon as he sees me approaching he finds a hiding place, either by darting into a hole in the corner of the raised bed if he’s close to that corner, or he scurries out of the bed and into the downspout.

I play a similar game with Randy Rabbit who likes to steal the leaves off the green bean plants.  Apparently, he thinks they’re quite tasty. Unfortunately, Randy is a better thief than I am cop. I don’t think I’ll get any green beans from the raised bed this year.  At least I’m getting some cherry tomatoes. My six cherry tomato plants are yielding enough tomatoes to share with Chip. My three rows of bean skeletons just have a few blossoms.

Chip peeking out of the downspout.

Playing these games with the chipmunks and rabbits that live at Whispering Winds has prompted me to think about who really is the “owner” of these vegetables. Who is most entitled to the beans and tomatoes? Should Chip and Randy really have first dibs on the produce? Or, should I?

Believe it or not, I think the Bible addresses this issue quite directly. In Matthew 6:26, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”  That sounds like God intends for the wildlife to be entitled to whatever they eat. But then he says, “Are you not of more value than they?” So maybe I should have first dibs on the vegetables, and Chip and Randy should be content with the leftovers. God has given me a bigger brain. I should be able to outsmart Chip and Randy.  I guess I’ll keep trying, but I’ll remember to share. I’m sure God loves Chip and Randy, too, and wouldn’t want them to go hungry.

Fortunately, neither of them eats zinnias. Jesus also talked about flowers in the same conversation recorded in Matthew 6. He said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” [Matthew 6:28]

I think the main point of this whole passage is summarized in verse 34, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” But I think Jesus is also telling us that God cares about the plants and animals of the world, too.

My summary of this whole passage:  Don’t worry. Trust God. And share.

“Consider the Zinnias…”

Garden Guilt


Gazing Ball “planted” on a mound of mulch where Gary Gopher damaged the Russian Cypress last year.

Friday I worked hard. I was inspired by all the yard work some special guests did for us a week ago. Thanks, Mike and Sherrie! They spent a long weekend tackling the outside jobs I never seem to get done. Keeping up a three-acre yard takes more than three hours of lawn mowing every week – it takes many more hours of weeding, trimming, weeding, pruning, weeding, fertilizing, weeding, cutting asparagus, weeding, cutting flowers, and weeding.

The most physically demanding work I did on Friday was spreading mulch around the shrubs and plants in front of the house, especially in the spot where Gary Gopher has done the most damage to the no-longer spreading Russian Cypress shrub. I decided to “plant” a gazing ball there on top of a fresh bed of mulch – something without roots that could be damaged by Gary and his friends.

I also weeded the raised bed – my vegetable garden. This year I’ve planted green beans, yellow beans, and zinnias in the bed and cherry tomatoes right below it. (We can’t eat the zinnias, but they sure make nice cutting flowers in the late summer.) Some lettuce and parsley seeded themselves from last year’s garden, and plenty of chives and dill came back, too. Bringing the bed into a weed-free condition took me less than an hour.

St. Francis stands at the end of the raised vegetable bed between two different varieties of cherry tomato plants.

Some change from the olden days, when my vegetable gardening followed the patterns set by my parents. The garden measured 30-feet by 120-feet, the same size as our whole lot when we lived in a Chicago two-flat. In our big garden days, it took a tractor and plow to get the soil ready to be planted. Then it took me a whole day, sometimes two, to plant everything.

It was fun to plant two or three kinds of radishes, three or four kinds of lettuce, two kinds of swish chard, early and late green beans, yellow beans, purple beans, peas, and sugar snap peas (for the sweetest, juiciest crunch you can imagine in a salad). Then I planted the zucchini and other summer squash, followed by cherry tomatoes, yellow plum tomatoes, early tomatoes and beefy tomatoes. Potatoes were next – redskins, Yukon gold, and just plain old spuds. The last section of the garden was for vine plants – cucumbers, watermelon, muskmelon, pumpkins, winter squash, and gourds. If there was any space left, I planted a variety of flowers for cutting, mostly cosmos and zinnias. Some years I planted a border of marigolds all around the garden as a relatively ineffective deterrent to rabbits, chipmunks, and gophers.

Our big vegetable garden – c. 1997.

The easy part was the planting. That was hard work, but it was also a time for dreaming about all the mouth-watering vegetables we would be eating – soon! That’s when I really paid attention to whether or not “the farmers” needed rain. I waited patiently for the gentle rains to come to help the seeds sprout.

Finally, the first sprouts appeared, along with the first weeds. I tried everything to beat the weeds into submission – mulching with straw between the rows, investing in a Mantis small rototiller, investing in a bigger Honda rototiller, placing landscape fabric between the rows… I finally gave up and agreed to peaceful co-existence with the weeds. After each good, soaking rain, I’d spend several hours pulling out the biggest weeds to keep them from choking out the vegetables. That approach of periodic weeding within each row, in combination with the landscape fabric between the rows, seemed to work best.

Back in those days, my whole summer was filled with hard work and guilt – guilt that I wasn’t spending even more time weeding, pulling radishes, cutting lettuce, picking beans or peas or tomatoes or cucumbers or zucchini. Or freezing more vegetables. Or giving away more vegetables so they wouldn’t rot in the garden.

Making chili to use up all the tomatoes. Every year Mim made enough chili to last all winter.

But my days were also filled with eating lots of really good fresh vegetables that I’d grown myself, with a little help from God. I guess Mim helped a little, too. She like to dig the potatoes. She also froze a lot of the vegetables for us. And, every year she made many batches of chili to freeze to use up the wheelbarrows full of tomatoes I harvested.

About ten years ago, Mim convinced me to sow the garden with grass seed instead of planting rows of vegetable seeds. She said we could get all the vegetables we could possibly eat from the farmers markets all around us for a lot less work and guilt. I agreed – but it’s not true. I can buy lots of fresh vegetables, but they’re not as fresh as the green beans I pick myself just before I cook them. And no cherry tomato I buy at a farmers market will ever be as sweet and juicy as one I pick off the vine and pop directly into my mouth, still warm from the sun.

Today’s vegetable garden, fully weeded.

So, my compromise is the raised bed planted mostly with vegetables and herbs with just a few flowers. It’s easier on my back and my guilt. A few weeks ago I raked the soil, added a little fertilizer, and planted the whole thing in less than an hour. The beans and zinnias are growing nicely.

On Friday, after weeding the bed, I went into the house to pour myself a glass of iced tea. As I looked admiringly out the kitchen window at my two short rows of 10-inch tall bean plants, I watched a rabbit hop across the lawn and patio, leap onto the step I use to climb into the raised bed, and jump right into my garden. He ignored the self-seeded lettuce and went straight for the leaves of the bean plants. He knew what was good! I grabbed my camera and ran after him. I got a blurry picture of his escape.

In the olden days, I didn’t mind sharing my huge garden with a few rabbits and chipmunks, but now that my garden is so much smaller, I’m much more selfish. I guess I’ve exchanged guilt for selfishness. Fortunately, God’s still working on me.

Randy Rabbit nibbling the leaves off a green bean plant.