Archives for posts with tag: satisfaction

One of my favorite ways to eat tomatoes (works best with cherry tomatoes): halve or roughly chop tomatoes; add a few cloves of chopped garlic; douse with olive oil; shower generously with salt and pepper; and, finally, sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of sugar. Roast in a hot oven (400 degrees F) until the tomatoes start to brown and the oil and tomato juices are bubbling (about 15 minutes).

The high heat and small amount of sugar will cause the liquid to thicken into a syrup as the tomatoes cool. Spoon them onto toasted slices of baguette, with or without a schmear of ricotta, for a version of crostini that is hearty enough as a main course.

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You need three things for effective weeding: the right conditions; the right tools; and the right attitude.

If any of these are missing, weeding can be miserable. Weather too dry? The weeds snap off at the stem. Too windy? Their seeds are scattered about the yard, making your efforts pointless. Too hot? You get worn out (and possibly sunburned) before getting much done. On the other hand, a day or two after a long, soaking rain, many weeds will practically jump out of the soil on their own.

The best tool for most weeding is your hands. But for certain types of weeds, specialized implements are essential. For example, dandelions have a long taproot that extends deep into the soil. It is exceedingly brittle and without a tool that can break up the earth around the taproot (see May 11, 2013), attempts to remove the dandelion will leave most of the root behind.

The hardest thing to calibrate is attitude. At its most fundamental, weeding is a chore and like most chores, it falls low on people’s lists of preferred activities. It’s bad enough when you have plenty of time to get the task done, but if you are feeling rushed or desperately desire to do something else instead, weeding can feel like torture.

Still, despite the considerable downside potential, when all three factors—weather, equipment and enthusiasm—are in place, weeding can be immensely satisfying. For me, it becomes almost meditative and when I get into a groove (or what Daniel Pink would call the flow), I can clear a large area before eventually tiring out.

And that’s a good thing, too: last year’s bumper crop of dandelions was followed this year by an exponential increase in their population. Even if I spend an hour a day in the groove, it will take me until fall to get them all (and that’s not counting the purslane, bitterroot and crabgrass).

We spent a few hours yesterday (before heading up to Stonecrop Gardens; see March 22, 2014) and again today, cleaning up the ornamental gardens. Saturday’s session was particularly enjoyable because the temperature quickly rose into the 50s. One or two dark clouds passed by, trailing a sprinkle of light rain, but otherwise it was sunny and warm.

Today was a different story as the weather returned to a more wintery state, including a chilling wind.

We cleared away the scruffy remnants of the Russian sage, penstemon (a variety of foxglove), black-eyed Susans, Siberian irises, and hostas. In the main ornamental garden beds, Rachel pruned the hibiscus (we have three) and some young lilacs. Together, we tackled the Japanese maple, a gift from the mason (and natural gardener) who constructed our stone walls and stairs.

We’ve been putting this off for a few years now and I hope that we did not wait too long. The maple had grown taller than we wanted, more upward than outward, and was threatening to obstruct the view from the patio that overlooks it. We clipped its upper branches and the skyward pointing portions of its perimeter branches. It looks a bit awkward now (most things do immediately after pruning) but its appearance should improve once the leaves sprout.

Up front in the hosta beds, we had a bit more work to do. I’m not sure when we last weeded this area (mid-summer, perhaps?) but it was in dire need of it today, especially the bed to the left of the stone staircase that leads from our front yard up to the labyrinth. The grade is steep here and the plantings a mixed bag. We’ve been slowly making a transition to flowering bulbs and groundcovers such as sedum and lily of the valley but mostly, the plants here are unwanted—weeds, by definition—and we removed many of them.

Weeding is very satisfying—the difference between before and after can be striking—but it is also back-breaking. After two hours in the bracing cold we were worn out. The ornamental beds are now clear of old growth and we were heartened by the signs of spring—snowdrops and crocuses at long last!—that are slowly emerging.

One of the ways I know that spring has arrived is that for the next few weeks, the sun will shine directly through my office windows. With no leaves on the trees to filter it, the bright light makes it difficult to see the screen of my computer but the solar heat on my face feels great.

Another indicator that spring fever has hit is my desire to get out into the garden and start doing something. The draw is getting stronger every day as more snow melts to reveal another task that needs attending to. This was a rough and stormy winter and consequently, the yard is in disarray. Order must be restored! In other words, it is time for spring cleaning.

Most of our work over the next week or two will be in the ornamental gardens. We don’t do a lot of cutting back in the fall—usually, only enough to facilitate leaf removal. In particular, we leave the black-eyed Susans and butterfly bushes in their bare-branched state to provide decoration and keep the garden from looking too empty. It is pretty, especially against the neutral background of winter white (i.e., snow), but as a result, the gardens are filled with dead wood.

To make matters worse, heavy snow came early this year and buried some of the plants we might otherwise have tidied up in the fall. These include the hostas, Siberian and bearded irises, and day lilies. In other years when we have left them, the faded leaves look crumpled and haggard by spring; this year, being crushed by snow for three months has done nothing to improve their appearance.

The first order of business, then, will be to trim everything back to make room for new growth. Clearing away last year’s detritus will also allow the sun’s warmth to activate the bulbs and rhizomes that have been lying dormant since the fall. In fact, small, spiky leaves are already poking up amongst the matted clumps of spent bearded iris leaves and I spy, with my little eye, a crocus peeking out through the cloud of desiccated Russian sage bushes.

I have some reservations about jumping back into it. Yard work is physically demanding and can be overwhelming (it sometimes feels as if the entire world needs tidying up after winter). But I know that it will also be immensely satisfying, a literal cleaning of the slate as we start the new gardening year.

Finally, a crack in the ice, a fissure in the hard shell of cold that has been this winter.  With temperatures in the upper 40s and a splash of warming sunshine this weekend, winter has moved on, having overstayed its welcome by a week.

It left some baggage behind—there is still more than a foot of snow on the ground.  The continued warm weather will get to work on that, slowly, but it will be another week or two before it is all gone.  The mountainous piles of snow in mall and supermarket parking lots—some of them six feet tall or higher—will take even longer to melt.

The thawing is a reassuring reminder that the seasons do change and that soon enough (or maybe not, for some people) the polar vortexes will recede back into the artic where they belong.  Until then, we must continue to prepare for warmer weather and the outdoor growing season that comes along with it.

Of course, there is nothing yet that can be done outside in the garden.  Indoors, however, plenty of tasks need attending to.  The basil, rosemary and first sowing of lettuce have all unfurled their first set of true leaves.  By now, they have probably used up most of the energy stored in their seeds.  I mixed a little fish emulsion with water in a spray bottle and gave all of them a quick boost.  Not long from now, I will pot them up.

According to the seed sowing calendar, I am a little late starting the eggplant and bell peppers, but only by a few days.  I filled another half-tray with soil mix and planted six eggplant (Black Opal) and twelve bell peppers (six Orange Sun and six Quadrato d’Asti Rosso).  We now have one and a half trays of seeds and seedlings warming on the heating pads.

Gardening is not all glamor and glitz.  In addition to sowing seeds, repotting seedlings, building compost bins, and other photogenic activities, there are less tidy chores that must get done.  For example, before starting on the sowing today, I washed up the small plastic and terra cotta pots that were still dirty from last year’s use.  It wasn’t a pretty sight when I began but it was immensely satisfying to see the results of my spring cleaning.

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.