Archives for posts with tag: emotional response

The weather outside is frightful—lots of snow and very cold—but the heating pad (on the seed starting apparatus) is so delightful.  And since there’s no place to go, let it grow, let it grow, let it grow.

I’m referring, of course, to the herb seeds, the first of which sprouted today.  No matter how often I see a brilliantly green seedling pushing its tiny cotyledons up through the soil with a stem no thicker than a piano wire, I am still exhilarated by the sight.  It makes me want to sing.

The first herb seedlings to appear are a few of the basil—no surprise there—and a single rosemary.  The latter is a surprise considering that according to the seed packet, rosemary can take as long as 28 days to germinate (it has only been seven).

It is possible that the seedling growing in the rosemary row is, in fact, an escapee from another row.  Most of the herb seeds are miniscule (a poppy seed would be huge in comparison) and one or two oregano or spearmint seeds, for example, could have gone astray while I was sowing them.  I’ll know when the first set of true leaves unfurl.

When I finally kiss Rachel good night (how I’ll hate going out to shovel snow tomorrow), while she really holds me tight, all the night long the seedlings will be warm.  Let them grow, let them grow, let them grow.

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Do you believe in Christmas miracles?

About a week ago, it seemed that we had a lock on a white Christmas.  Two snowstorms each dropped about six inches of snow on the ground.  Our world was robed in a one-foot-thick blanket of pristine white powder, softer than the fluffiest fleece.  By day, we were bathed in the light and warmth of the reflected rays of the sun and by night, we basked in the cool, silvery phosphorescence of amplified moonlight (or would have basked had we ventured outside).

Then, rudely, we were subjected to 24 hours of steady rain accompanied by temperatures reaching into the mid 60s.  The warm shower rinsed away the snow and by yesterday morning, almost all of it had disappeared.  Any clumps that remained—mostly spots where plowed or shoveled snow had piled up—were icy and grimy, dirtied by the splashing of passing cars and covered by windblown debris.  With no snow in the forecast, our hopes for a white Christmas had vanished.

But then, just before sunset last evening, we noticed a slight sparkle in the air just as the last rays of light were streaming through gaps in the clouds.  We did not give it much thought until later, after our Christmas Eve feast, when we spied scattered glints of reflected light coming in through the dining room windows.  We switched on the floodlights that illuminate our back yard and there before us was an expanse of sparkling white.

Unbeknownst to us as we were eating our celebratory meal, just enough snow had fallen to coat every surface with a thin layer, only a fraction of an inch thick, of icy white crystals.  There was not enough of it that I needed to shovel, or even sweep (thank goodness!), but it was more than enough to ensure that Christmas morning would dawn thoroughly and unquestionably white.

The mini-snowstorm might not have been a miracle—the National Weather Service has missed forecasts before and will undoubtedly do so again—but it certainly seemed miraculous, appearing as it did without warning and in just the nick of time (the St. Nick of time?).   The sight of it lifted our moods immeasurably as we headed off to bed to dream of the presents and stockings that would be waiting for us this morning.

There was an amusing Op-Ed piece in today’s New York Times wherein the author, Ben Schott, proposes a selection of new German compound words that “express the inexpressible” (see Schottenfreude).  Of the neologisms presented (excerpted from an upcoming book), my favorite is, “Fingerspitzentanz”, which he defines as “tiny triumphs of nimble-fingered dexterity” (isn’t that redundant?) or what I would call the joy of simple tasks done with the hands.  “Kinking a metal tape measure into a corner” and “Inserting a USB plug right-side up, first time” are two such tasks—exhilarating in their small way—that I can relate to (although the latter almost never happens).

If it were my book, I would add another word, “Laubrechenzufriedenheit” (leaf raking contentment; my apologies to speakers of German), for the immense satisfaction that can be achieved after completing what might be considered a menial activity or chore, especially when it has been done well.  The feeling of accomplishment that follows the completion of a significant project or attainment of a lofty goal is more readily recognizable but, almost by definition, much more rare.  The commonplace and mundane tasks, such as making dinner, clipping the fingernails and, yes, raking the leaves happen much more frequently but are no less important to quality of life and peace of mind.  And after all, as my father often remarked (in lieu of criticism), if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing right.

Most if not all gardening activities fall into this category of quotidien chores that provide for almost constant gratification and these daily successes and feelings of reward are probably a major contributor to gardening’s popularity (they are for me).  It helps that many garden chores are relatively straightforward and therefore easy or quick to master and accomplish with flair.

Now, it is not that expansive, longer-term gardening goals, such as creating a huge, formal garden over the course of several years or expanding a vegetable garden until it serves the entire neighborhood, are not worthy of attention—they are—or that arriving at them is not a significant accomplishment (the neighbors would certainly appreciate either example).  Rather, the path to those larger goals can be embellished by a series of lesser rewards that encourage progress.

Gardening can be a noble pursuit but at its core, it is a humble one.  To do it, one must get one’s hands dirty.  And that, at the end of the day, can be immensely satisfying.

Warning:  Insect photo below.

Fall returned this week, like an old friend who had been away visiting others for a few months (family in the southern hemisphere, I believe).  It is good to see the autumn come around again and bittersweet to watch as our houseguest, summer, packs up and leaves.  We had some good times these past three months but we’ll have more fun with a different crowd in the months ahead.

The changing season gives me a warm feeling, even while the weather is turning decidedly cooler.  On the one hand, a swim in the pool has almost suddenly lost its appeal (time to close it soon) and I can actually wear long trousers, having faced up to the possibility a week ago.  In the morning, I need a sweatshirt when I go out for a run.

On the other hand, sleeping is much more comfortable.  The air is crisper—although not yet as dry as it will be in winter—and warms up by late morning.  It can be almost as hot as in summer, in an absolute sense, but the heat is usually moderated by cool breezes.  The sun is lower and shade is more plentiful; it provides a handy respite from the still-intense rays of light.  All things considered, this a good time to be outdoors.

Unless you are a vegetable.  Many of the plants have withered away, leaving only bare spots behind.  I’ve already mentioned the shortening day and increasing solar screening by adjacent trees (see August 25, 2013).  Now, with overnight temperatures dropping into the 50s and 60s, the vegetables’ growth rate has slowed to a crawl.  The tomatoes, green beans and squash are still producing but not as much and not as often.

The vegetables are starting to miss their summer companion and will soon be joining its exodus from the garden.

It almost always pays to give something a second chance.

This morning, one of our cars would not start.  Every day or two for the last two winters, I have been diligently firing up our older car, especially when the temperatures are very low, to prevent its battery from losing its charge (we had a lot of trouble with this a few years ago).  But I never expected our newer car—a hybrid—to have any such trouble.  After all, it has a gigantic battery which powers the car when it is in electric mode.

Nonetheless, the engine did not turn over when I switched on the key.  Instead, every indicator light flashed on and the dashboard screen displayed an error message.  I switched it back off and tried again with the same result.  Putting the transmission in gear similarly had no effect.  This car wasn’t going anywhere.

So I went back into the house, took a deep breath, calmly considered my options and devised a rational plan for how best to proceed.

Believe that?  Actually, I ranted and raved about the incompetence of battery and automobile manufacturers, scolded myself for not starting the car at all the previous day, and generally swore a blue streak for several minutes.  There was nothing calm or rational about my response.

Once my blood pressure dropped a bit, I sat down at the computer to see if I could troubleshoot the problem.  I didn’t have much luck but I did learn that hybrid cars have a second smaller battery, just like any other car, which is used to start the engine initially (it is not until the system is in operation that the hybrid battery is employed).

I next called the service department at the nearest dealership.  They were not much help (apparently, the error message our car displayed covers a wide variety of ailments) and explained that if the car would not start, we had no choice but to have it towed into the shop (i.e., they didn’t think a jumpstart or other do-it-yourself procedure would work).

That didn’t help my blood pressure.  But in a moment of calm, I decided to give the car a second chance (well, technically, a third chance).  It may simply have been wishful thinking on my part but taking the time to try starting it once more would not take any effort and would only slightly delay the unpleasant task of calling AAA to have the car towed.  I had nothing to lose by trying again.

And sure enough, the car started up as if nothing had previously been wrong.  Only 15 minutes had passed and the temperature was still below freezing; nothing had changed since the previous attempt.  Who knows what the problem had been but apparently, the car just needed a few extra moments to wake up this morning.

So, next time I will try to skip the emotional outburst and go straight to the calm, rational—and, when dealing with human beings, compassionate—response of giving one more chance.

(As it turned out, we were in the neighborhood of the dealership later in the afternoon and took the car in for a free check.  According to the car’s computer, the voltage of the starter battery had indeed been low.  There was no indication of why the voltage recovered without any external intervention.)