Growing Old Connections

I can feel the dirt sneaking its way into my gloves, leaving grit in my fingernails. The fabric is coated in rubber, but soil seems to happily ignore this feature. I pause and find gratitude for the small level of protection. Gratitude and slowness in the moments that are slow enough to notice have been my saving grace during quarantine.

While each day, hour, minute seems to jump in levels of uncertainty, moodiness, job duties, and needs, we’re now mostly able to ebb and flow as a family along with the fluctuations. 

For the most part, we’re sharing an inflatable life raft. When someone falls out, we’re nearby to pull them back to the reality of the boat. When one of us starts flipping out over homework or an infuriating social media moment, we’ll regroup and remind each other just to focus on the motion of rowing, together.

Togetherness will get us through.

Strangely enough, this doesn’t apply to being with anyone outside our raft. Right now, our mental health and ability to survive relies solely on keeping our little life boat afloat.

When we were first starting to get the hang of the situation, emotions ran high and we threw spaghetti at the wall trying to determine what would work for us to keep a semblance of normality. We had uncomfortable Skype and Zoom calls. Unnatural attempts at driveway-window chats. Facebook Kids. Anything to try to connect with nearby family, but none of it seemed to stick or work to form connections.

Turns out, what worked the most was us. Our closely knit group of hilarious, creative, passionate little people…and the two parents who are just lucky enough to get to share in their lives.

Emotions still run very much hot and cold; I can’t change who I am just as much as our two-year-old can’t change her own speech delay. We are who we are, and somehow we’ve all grown to accept each other with far greater understanding while being squished together in close quarters. 

But, while we miss the family and friends and connections outside our home (and, sure, chat via the window or a good, old-fashioned phone call), my connections have started coming from unexpected family members.

The ones that have long since passed.

As part of my quarantine birthday this year, my husband renewed my Ancestry account. I hadn’t worked on my family tree since our firstborn was still in diapers. Two more kids later and it seemed like no better time than to give me a distraction with doors into the past.

What can I say? He gets me.

So, while I enjoy the occasional chat with my own mom, one of my favorite connections is to people I’m revisiting or, better yet, meeting for the first time. My husband’s long lost family from Italy. My grandmother’s British side, leading me to wonder how they would’ve felt about the deeply rooted Irish contingency that took over most of my bloodline.

Having experienced the life-shaping loss of a parent at a young age, death and the relationships we share with the departed are large, looming life themes for me. The grandparents who stepped up helped mould my mind, my sentiments, and my philosophies, and gifted me with the perspective of history. 

Each time that I click a new leaf and discover a new name, I greet the person with excitement. I wonder a hundred or more things about their life.

I make assumptions about the difficulties that they must have endured simply to survive in a certain place at a certain time. I give thanks that they did, and know that the tough survival instincts many of us have lost aren’t truly lost; they were passed down, but have laid dormant until this very unique, challenging time. 

It’s here to slow us down, to make us sit with discomfort, and recognize our ability to do hard things in order to survive and thrive. I live my 21st century life, performing my job and teaching my kids through technology. But the historical passion and interest I’ve always had is bubbling to the surface like sourdough fermenting; I may not be living with such difficulties, after all. Seeing these names and reading my son Farmer Boy everyday brings it all home. A pinch of perspective can have soothing effects.

So, as I continue to turn the dirt in my hands and plant new seeds in my brand new raised bed, I’m feeling more connected than ever.

Hoping to see new leaves spring forth, a bridge between now and then.

I’m learning the lessons they teach from the grave. Their resilience. Their ability to create a life and survive with far worse circumstances. I yearn, more so, to know those lessons that have disappeared. The common sense connection to nature and the seasons. When to plant, when to prepare (always). How to sustain a family. 

My garden is late this year, but I will grow for them.

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Together, Apart”.

Black Thumb

I love green. It means so many things: eco-friendliness, newness, fresh living plants. It’s my favorite color, and in fact it’s my eye color. What’s not to love about green? Well, for the plants I haven’t had luck with, apparently lots.

When we moved into our house a few years ago, vegetation was the last thing on my mind. I was much more focused on the interior “let’s make it ours” aspect of being a new homeowner. Don’t get me wrong – I’m still concerned about our view around the joint. And, we’ve had two years of quasi-successful (our first year was definitely better) herb and vegetable growth. But, I’m dying to create an exterior space to be proud of – while keeping it, hopefully, relatively low-maintenance. Since, y’know, I’m all about making things easier (a new take on simplification) as life gets a tad more complicated around here.

Last summer, we said a sad goodbye to the honkin’, troublesome, older-than-God tree that made it near impossible to grow much in the front border around our house. Some deep roots are still underground (and, at times, viewable at the surface), but we feel a lot safer when strong storms hit the area.

Let’s just say that I’m pretty ignorant about all this stuff. I’ve discovered that we’ve got plenty of early-season bulb flowers (daffodils, tulips) that pop up this time of year, but the organization of it all is pretty haphazard and not attractive in the least (and half of them don’t bloom – the biggest challenge here is the angle of the house; our east side gets an okay amount of sun (I’d say partial) while our west gets damn near nothin’). I’ve tried adding some annuals each year, getting rid of the hostas (after we had success with one and major failure with two others), putting in some ferns (also haven’t done very well), and a couple of boxwoods and a hydrangea – which I’m clearly not advanced enough to master. *sigh*

So, while it seems that I can handle growing edibles, my green thumb ends there. I’m going to do some more research and find some blogspiration, and ask that anyone reading who may have a bright green thumb (I know some of you must!) for any low-maintenance plantings that work well in Upstate New York, feel free to blurt it out! The biggest challenge, ultimately, is the fact that we don’t have much (or equal) sunshine, so it’s difficult to keep things symmetrical. Here are some pictures from a) FOREVER ago and b) the best the space has ever looked (after I transplanted hostas, added solar lights and mulched)

The ivy below the windows on each side of the foundation has started causing some problems, so I’ve been working on digging it out for good over the past year – ‘cuz goodness knows it keeps coming back. Some opinions that I need:

– Paint the foundation a deep tan (and the shutters glossy black)? The roof is hunter green and I hate it, but hey, it’s a roof…and our front door is a bright, cheery red. The porch needs some paint to let it blend in more, but I’ve gotta have “the men” in the family take a look at its stability first.
– Red cedar or plain ol’ chocolate brown mulch? Or none of the above?
– Ditch the stone border? We’ve got lots of brick floating around (that I’m considering Craigslisting) but I feel that it would probably also look kinda ghetto. So, just go “sans stone” or work with it?
– What plants have you had luck with, or do you think might work for this space? I’d like to add a few different levels for the eye to look at, but of course the ultimate goal is just to have a space that CAN grow. 🙂 I’m up for greenery like bushes or dwarf trees OR a variety of perennials. Any ideas would be great!

On a side note, another “just need the money first” project that I’m dying to take care of before we ever try to sell this place is having the driveway done (it’s been decades), which would include amending our sidewalk situation. Seriously, if you look down the street (a very long street, at that), the only “break” in the sidewalk is where our driveway takes it over. Silliness! It drives me crazy. Plus, the unevenness of our driveway can’t possibly be good for our cars. Every time a visitor comes, I feel ashamed that they have to pull into this crappy “whatchya think of me now?” first impression. So, clearly we won’t be DIYing that undertaking – but, man, will I be a happy camper when it’s done!