At last, August

July seemed like a very long month, perhaps because I was so busy. But the last three days of it also seemed very long, perhaps because I wasn’t trying to do very much, which I think is the secret of extending time. I kept thinking, “Is it still July? It’s still July. There’s some summer left. Wow.” I was surprised both that the trees and flowers were so late-summer looking, rather than early-summer as when I left (i.e., the trip was All A Dream and I was only “gone” one night), and that the season wasn’t even later (I was in Faerie and time stood still, or flowed more slowly, there than here). But here we are, on schedule.

The garden is shaggy but recognizable. Both creeping bellflower and bishop’s weed are making some attempts to return, but these attempts are as yet feeble and so I am pleased that I have made such progress against them. The mulch I spread lavishly before leaving is hosting lots of shoots grown up from bird seed, not to mention now being spread lavishly over the patio, because the beds need some sort of edging to hold the mulch in place. It has clearly been at least a couple of weeks since anyone mowed the lawn, and the shrubbery is growing enthusiastically over the walks it borders. On the whole, though, the garden has held up fairly well.

The house . . . Sir John has nearly emptied the TV room, and presided over some repairs, and moved around Stuff that needed to be moved so that those things could be worked on. Progress has definitely been made. And yet there is still a lot to do. There are more repairs to organize, more boxes to pack, and all the packed boxes still need to leave for rented storage space. I had hoped a lot of that might happen in my absence.

This experience, combined with a party we went to this weekend, have me thinking a lot about order, chaos, and stuff. Things. Objects. I feel like we have a lot of stuff. I am none too good at getting rid of stuff once it’s in the house. On the other hand, I do fairly well at not bringing it home in the first place. The friends who hosted the party have lived in the same four-bedroom house for probably 30 years, during which they raised one child and did a lot of traveling. They are musical and enjoy folk dancing; they read widely; they enjoy cooking and gardening. Every room is crammed with books, CDs, and souvenirs. The music room (probably originally intended as a small dining room), which faces south, has a windowsill overflowing with plants, pictures on the walls, multiple smaller instruments besides the piano, books, sheet music, and more. The family room has three large bookcases (not shelves, multi-shelf bookcases) full of cookbooks, as well as many and varied souvenirs of travels. The living room holds the music library as well as a multi-shelf case of small dolls in various national dance costumes and other dance souvenirs. And so on, with every room. Jet-lagged and needing to be quiet for a bit, I wandered around trying to find a place away from people for a few minutes, and the amount of stuff all over made me feel like there was nowhere to be quiet even when there weren’t people in the room. It’s not really into hoarding territory, by my standards (and my dad really is a hoarder, so I do know what that looks like). The house is livable and safe. But it does testify to a life lived rather than curated.

We also have friends both of whom are immigrants, and whose house shows that they left a lot behind when they came here. Everything is chosen. The furniture is colorful, the walls are white, a few choice objects are on display. It’s a restful house. To be sure, I don’t know what the private rooms are like. I have never seen them. Maybe they’re the house’s Id.

We’re somewhere in the middle. Books are our particular vice. Sir John is untidy and leaves piles of paper around much as a snail trails slime. Cat paraphernalia (beds, toys, scratching posts) also appear in every room. As do the cats, though we’ve cut down significantly there: when we had five, it really did seem like there was another cat everywhere you looked. Anyway, I’m trying to live with the current state of chaos: boxes in the living room, a stack of chairs (which we have agreed to de-accession) in the dining room, Sir John’s piles, my not-quite-unpacked luggage in my study, along with a single box of to-be-packed things that I need to pack. Behind the boxes, I’m beginning to see a pleasingly cleaned-up version of our house: what we might look like if we lived a curated life, rather than one in which Sir John can’t keep up with his mail and both of us are always accumulating more books. I prefer the boxes to the crammed shelves of our friends’ house. I hope there will come a time when we can cut back more on the stuff, yet keep what is important to us.

I guess that’s what this rambling post comes down to: trying to work out what is important. I know, people (cats) and experiences are important, and the rest is just stuff. But some stuff matters more than others, and I don’t like regretting the loss of objects I was too hasty about letting go. Once I’ve lived without some of it for awhile, we’ll see whether I say “Why was I keeping that?” or “Hello, there you are!” when we unpack the stored boxes.

In the meantime, August: balancing the work (finish summer projects, prepare for fall), the house stuff (as above), the life (take a week off and have some proper vacation time). I hope this, too, will be a long month.

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The Battle of the Bellflower continues

(I swear I’ve wandered into Emma Newman’s Split Worlds, and am caught up in a nasty feud with the Campanulas.)

I finally got around to tackling the lawn. Well, I mowed it, anyway, and did some digging in the bare bits preparatory to re-seeding, and then I had a go at the unfamiliar broad-leafed weeds that had cropped up, which I thought might be courtesy of the birds scattering seed.

But no. The unfamiliar broad leaves seem to be what happens when very old, rather dried-out bellflower roots decide that they’re not dead yet and start putting out new roots and leaves. So now there are much larger divots in the lawn than there were before, and I regret mowing before digging because the damned stuff regenerates from fragments and it’s probably like morcellating tumors and there will be new little plants all over in short order.

There are moments when I can recognize how irrational I’ve become on the topic of creeping bellflower. After a digging session, I dream about its roots. They branch and grow before my dreaming eyes. I am awed by its ability to transmogrify; it manages to look like other plants it grows near, at least for a time when it’s young: clematis, violets, coneflower. Eventually it gives itself away, but it can rouse doubt for long enough to put down good roots. If this goes on long enough, I will suspect roses, peonies and zinnias of being bellflower in disguise. It even sprouted under a thick layer of pine needles under a pine tree, which I expected would provide a strong disincentive for any plant to grow.

Grrr, there go, my heart’s abhorrence.

Another dispatch

I will modify my complaints about the (lack of) effect of RoundUp on creeping bellflower. It depends on how well established the plant is. One thoroughly drenched plant in a crack in the sidewalk is now looking dead as a doornail, and a good thing, too, since I am not going to take a sledgehammer to the path to the garage in order to dig out that plant. I expect it was a relatively recent sprout from seed. Various other patches are still flourishing like the deadly sins, looking green, bushy, and smug. Those, I bet, have huge deep roots that are going to be a bugger to dig up.

I have now dug out the patch of bellflower by the clematis. I delayed tackling that because I was reluctant to risk killing the clematis (one purple, one red-violet, both glorious). That was where I started carefully painting the poison onto the leaves of the demon plants. I think I spritzed them twice after that, and they still looked . . . not healthy, but certainly not dead. When I dug, I found that while there were some new, plump, happy roots that had clearly sprouted recently, I was also able to dig out a great quantity of large old roots, many of which seemed rather sickly compared to the roots I dug out of a different bed last year. So the herbicide has some effect, and maybe if I just kept spraying it would eventually do the job. But I don’t trust bellflower not to come back, or develop a resistance, or something. So the digging continues. However, I feel somewhat more optimistic about the possibility that I really will be able to get rid of Campanula rapunculoides. Eventually.

I do hope I haven’t killed the clematis. I tried not to hurt it, but a lot of its roots were exposed for awhile, and I broke some. When I finished, I reburied its roots and gave it a drink. If it survives my excavations, I’m sure it will be happier not to be competing for resources with the invading Siberian.

No news is good news?

I feel like I should update the blog, but nothing much is going on. Still grading, still digging up bellflower, still neglecting research to make time to de-clutter/pack up the house, which is still going very slowly (because grading, commuting, exercising, and gardening all take time), still working on getting Reina and Basement Cat to get along again (okay, sort of, in the living room, not okay in “home territory” like the rooms where each sleeps). Nor do I have any interesting thoughts about topics of the day. I am boring.

But at least I can report that everyone in my household is healthy and we have no bad news to deal with. I’ll just be keeping on till the end of the semester comes. Maybe I can find some writing quotes to post for your inspiration, if not for mine.

Update from the front lines

The war on the creeping bellflower continues.

Early on, before I identified the stuff, I hired a gardener to help me figure out how to manage the plants that were taking over. Although bishop’s weed is common in gardens around here, and bellflower is, sadly, more common than it ought to be, she didn’t recognize either one. I wish I had recognized this as a bad sign. However, she did have a good eye for design, and a good team for digging, so she was some help. Nonetheless, she had a naive and touching faith in the power of grass and mulch to choke out weeds, and in short order I was digging bishop’s weed and bellflower out of the newly installed sod.

Later I joined a local gardening group, hoping that there might be some member with good advice. Hah. “Why are you digging?” they said. “Just use RoundUp,” they said. “It’s resistant to herbicides,” I said, and they scoffed.

Well, I am here to tell you that their faith in RoundUp is similarly naive and touching. Last week, I carefully painted it onto the leaves of the bellflower; days later, the weed continued to flourish madly. I said, “OK, no more Ms Nice Gardener,” and spritzed with abandon. The bellflower remains green, healthy, and undaunted, though the herbicide did take care of a few dandelions and similar ordinary weeds in the vicinity. I am really not bothered by dandelions and other such innocent flora. At this point, I am thrilled to see Creeping Charlie spreading in the one bed where I am pretty sure I have eradicated both bellflower and bishop’s weed, because that means that all more serious threats are gone. In all my digging, I killed the iris, but I seem to have succeeded in dissecting the bellflower roots away from the roots of roses and hostas, and I think I salvaged most of the bulbs.

But really, if you have bellflower, you would be better off hiring earth-moving equipment to remove all the topsoil, and then start over. I do not know what I am going to do where it has grown around the roots of the oak tree.

Doing and dreaming

There are those who do, and those who dream.

It has taken much of my life to realize that there are very few things I’d rather do than read about doing. That number keeps shrinking. You might think eating would be a definite Do, but as I am at present on a fairly restricted diet, there are a lot of foods I enjoy only vicariously, by reading about other people’s enjoyment of them. Easy country walks fall into both categories; travel to countries other than those in Europe and North America, however, is strictly Read/Dream. I also love reading about detectives solving murder mysteries, and about Bren Cameron translating for aliens, but I have zero desire to do either, myself.

Currently I have tabs open for four gardening blogs, whose archives I am reading with considerable pleasure. And then I look at my own garden, and wonder how much work it needs to make it possible to offload it, along with this house, onto someone else, and how much of that work I’m willing to pay someone else to do. Despite all my efforts, the garden is still afflicted with creeping bellflower and bishop’s weed; various ornamental grasses and flowers that dry to ornamental interest need to be cut back now that it’s spring; the lawn is patchy; the flowerbeds are covered in last year’s leaf mulch, though some bulbs are popping bravely through.

The gardening blogs I’m dipping into are almost entirely those of people living in the U.K., with a far kinder climate than U.S. zone whatever I’m in (five? six?). Their “winter garden” pictures are of greenery artistically rimed with frost, at times when my garden is usually under a foot or two of snow. At the end of February, their gardens are farther along than mine is in April, and their idea of a baking summer afternoon is what the thermometer here hits by 10:00 a.m. on a July morning before soaring into temperatures that demand drawn curtains and air conditioning.

Possibly in other circumstances, I would be a gardener, as in other circumstances, I might be a number of other things that, either by decision or happenstance, I am not: a mother, an interpreter, an accountant, a superstar scholar, a third-grade teacher. But I think I should pay more attention to what I like to do, and not assume that the things that interest me in print are things I want to do IRL. Gardening is hard on back, hands, fingernails and complexion. I am fair-skinned and not particularly sturdy, in fact in some ways rather fragile. I can see that there must be great creative satisfaction in producing a glorious garden, but it is clear to me that what I like most is reading. I’m just as happy to spend my outdoor time going for walks on which I admire other people’s gardens. I do want some small private place where I can sit outdoors to read on a nice day without being spare-changed or otherwise harassed, as too often happens in parks, but a balcony, patio or front stoop would suit me fine.

Change activities

Hey, Dame: what are you doing indoors on a gorgeous fall afternoon?Go outside! Don’t hang around reading blogs because you’re too lazy to get up.

I’ve finished a decent writing stint. It would be a good thing to go cram some yard waste into bags, and take the leaves Sir John raked and spread them in the flower beds to be mulch. And if I were not a professor who can always find something to write, read, or prep, and if I were not afflicted with more garden than I actually want (eyes-bigger-than-stomach syndrome is not limited to food), what would I do with myself?

I’m bad about hobbies. I enjoy reading about the Desert Knitter‘s creations, but having made more than a few attempts at handwork, and hanging out with knitters pretty regularly IRL, I’m quite sure needlework is not something I want to pick up. I like jigsaw puzzles. I like going for walks outdoors, and admiring scenery/other people’s gardens. (Just because you like to look at something doesn’t mean you need your own one. Why didn’t I realize that sooner?) I don’t particularly enjoy activities that get my hands dirty or banged up. I enjoy coloring in coloring books for adults, but I don’t seem to spend much time on the one I have, even though I can think of one or two coloring books on different themes that I’d like to acquire. Sometimes I listen to music and think I should do that more often, and then I completely forget to do it for weeks or months. Does waving feather toys for the cats count as a hobby?

Probably my favorite “hobby,” apart from reading, is studying foreign languages, which could also be classified as “professional development,” since languages are a medievalist’s stock in trade. Even if I took up a language that was in no way connected to my research it could probably be useful in teaching or student outreach, somewhere along the line.

So I’m off to tidy the garden, which I have come to think of as a task, much like housework, rather than a hobby, as I once hoped it would be. I’ll enjoy being outside, and doing the clean-up will probably make me all the happier to get back to my computer or a book. I prefer to think of myself as ideally suited to being a professor, rather than as lacking the imagination or initiative to take up hobbies.

 

It’s August! Panic stations!

A few years ago, I wrote about oh-shit-it’s-August-syndrome, when the summer hits the fan, as it were, and it’s hard to decide what most urgently needs attention because it all does, but time is limited and yet it’s still so hot that it’s hard to believe that anything really is urgent.

I thought I’d revisit that post to see how much of it can be recycled without updates.

OK, so there’s what I really have to do, and there’s what I really want to do, and there are all those things that I thought I’d like to get done but need to let go of. And then there’s the question of whether some elements of the last group don’t actually belong there.

Check, check, check. That paragraph works.

It’s August. Classes start in two weeks, with faculty meetings beforehand. Besides writing and class prep and having some last bits of summer fun, I have a couple of medical appointments I’m taking care of before classes start, and possibly one or more dentist appointments depending on whether a sensitive spot calms down or gets worse. (If it’s going to get worse, I wish it would just come on and do it already, instead of waiting for the first or second day of classes.) I’m pretty clear on the have-to (syllabi etc, and at least one House Thing) and the most definite want-to (a little more fun reading and a sewing project).

Classes don’t start for three whole weeks! I’m starting early on the panic. Only not so early, because I’ll be away during the faculty-meeting week. So actually I only have about ten days. Wheeeee! Down the panic slide we go! Never mind last bits of summer fun. I’d be thrilled to get the writing and class prep done in the time. The medical stuff happened in July (excellent, pat self on back) and I have only one more dentist appointment to go, which should be a quick and easy one. There are no house have-to’s, though there are a batch of house things for which I need to organize people to come and give estimates. Still, those could happen any time over the next eight weeks or so. Sooner is no doubt better than later, but I’m not going to put those on the must-do-now list. No sewing projects (well, unless visiting a tailor counts, and again, not urgent). There’s no fun reading I’ve been putting off.

But then there are writing-related but not-writing activities, which are desirable but not really essential, like tidying up my home office. . . . There is a heap of paper stuff that needs to get filed.

The home office is fine. I can even see wood on my desk. I tidied it a few weeks ago. It’s true that means there are heaps of paper in the guest room that I need to sort out, but out of sight is out of mind, and at the moment that is A-O.K. I can use sorting them as a procrastination activity when I start getting things to grade! Isn’t that great planning?

Since I got back (not counting writing done on the plane), I’ve produced . . . let’s see . . . Basement Cat, get off my research journal . . . about 2000 words. These are what I might call “focused pre-writing,” rather than true rough-draft writing, because the section presently under construction didn’t get as much pre-writing as the first chunk I wrote. But that’s fine. This stage of writing has to happen sometime, and I might as well do it now, while I’m on a roll.

Since I got back, I’ve produced roughly 3000 new words. Very roughly. It’s hard to be sure. There has also been a lot of editing in which words get tinkered with, cut, re-written, and so on. The current version of the MMP-1 is just shy of 10K words, but I think I’m done with it, except for sorting out its footnotes properly in the style required by the journal to which I plan to send it. I really want to send it and have it be Someone Else’s Problem for awhile. There are plenty of other things to work on.

Nobody sits on my research journal these days. Sometimes Reina sits behind my monitor, but I am in her bad graces at the moment because of unlawful confiscation of licensed weapons cutting her claws. It’s true, when the children grow up you miss the things that used to drive you crazy.

So [should I focus on] writing syllabi . . . and hacking back the horribly overgrown and weedy garden? Actually, I am terribly tempted to abandon the garden until frost kills off some stuff—this seasonal nonsense is good for something!—though I do rather fear What The Neighbors Will Think. . . . I could give up on the sewing and garden instead . . . if we ever get a cool enough day that I want to be outside.

Write syllabi, work on revisions, and hack back the garden. Not that I care what the neighbors think. The front looks all right and the back is nobody’s business. But I’m making progress with the bellflower and I’d like to keep on rather than letting it grow back. The weather is certainly a consideration. We had a pleasant weekend, so I did some more digging.

So, it looks like I’m doing rather well compared to four years ago. That’s a very pleasant discovery. Now to pull a conference paper out of . . . wherever this one comes from.

A garden is a loathsome thing, God wot

When I lived in my third-floor walk-up, I had pots of flowers and herbs on the back stairs, and dreamed of a larger garden.

When I lived in my townhouse, I had a plot roughly 10′ by 10′, plus another bit about 4′ by 3′. I crammed in roses, day lilies, Asiatic lilies, a butterfly bush, iris, spring bulb flowers, hostas, and a clematis. I still dreamed of a larger garden that I could divide into “rooms,” each on a different theme.  I also spent a lot of time drowning beetles that liked to eat the roses.

I now have a larger garden, not the huge one I dreamed of, but normal city-lot sized garden. It was very pretty when we bought the house, color-coordinated in shades of purple and white. Iris, hyssop, nicotiana, roses, ornamental thistles (the goldfinches love them), clematis, assorted other hardy flowers and herbs. Including campanula . . . oh, wait a minute.

I now see the point of lawns: they are a low-maintenance way of providing space between you and your neighbors; you can hire someone to come and cut the lawn and trim the shrubbery and you’re done. You do not have to spend hours ripping out creeping bellflower, and then ripping it out again, and again. I found some tiny little lemon balm plants struggling for survival underneath it. I didn’t think there was anything that could choke out lemon balm. Morning glories have spread from somewhere (those tiny little seeds . . . ) and I’m unpicking them from the roses (ouch).

The hostas are holding their own fairly well against the bellflower. I may try to plant a sentinel ring of hostas around the iris and the roses. But I’m now dreaming of a condo with a balcony where I could grow a few flowers and herbs in pots.

Weeding is FUNdamental

Morning writing time today went on the incredibly overgrown garden. I didn’t exactly mean to do that, but such is oh-shit-it’s-August syndrome. I took my tea outside to get the paper, and pulled a couple of weeds, and it was so nice out (yes, nice! not hot! not cold! pleasant!) that I did a few more, and I thought, well, twenty minutes or so and then I’ll go write. There were a lot of weeds with obnoxious roots that wanted to break off, so I was about to stop when I hit a damper patch where they came out easily, so I kept going.

Eighty minutes and a backache later . . . it was clearly breakfast time for me and the cats. And then yoga. And then a vet appointment. And a scheduled House Maintenance Thing. Then I dashed off for my last chance at seeing a friend in a performance.

Tomorrow night there will be a different friend, in a different kind of performance. Opportunities like this are why I live here and not within walking distance of campus; but they are definitely disruptive to work, too.

But the most overgrown part of the garden is 3/5 improved. It’s actually easier and quicker to pull out the big weeds that are there now than it was to deal with the smaller ones that were there before I went to England. Another reason to procrastinate! Woot! Wait till you have big easy problems instead of small difficult ones!

Wait, what?

Anyway. This means that tomorrow I have to get some mulch, to stop (or at least slow) the cycle of weeding and not-weeding.

Syllabus. Book. If I wait, will they turn into big easy problems?