Green stuff, Summer, Projects

Yesterday I graded All The Things and then filed All The Grades. At home I drank sherry, had a bath, and crashed.

Summer started this morning, and despite my protests about being overly married to this house, I started with housewifery. I put out the bags of yard waste from my weekend endeavors, did some more weeding and spraying of bellflower, thought about the way it and the thistles were resisting the Very Nasty Weedkiller recommended by people at the gardening group I attend sporadically, and laughed at them a little more. Clearly they think of gardening as a genteel hobby, whereas the way I do it, it’s more like habitat reclamation. Or terraforming. Some of us just can’t do things the easy way. The clematis, at least, is doing beautifully, and the little volunteer clematis is back with buds on.

I like the thistles, or at least I love the goldfinches who perch on them to eat the seeds; the yellow and purple are beautiful together. If we weren’t trying to move, I’d just let the thistles be. But I don’t think most people want to buy a yard full of thistles.

Anyway, then I did a load of laundry and some ironing, because secretly I like ironing if I don’t have many other more important things to do. My linen will wind up crumpled, of course, because that’s the nature of the beast, but at least it won’t look like it spent the winter in a ball on the bottom of my closet. There are degrees of rumpled.

After lunch I turned to scholarly endeavors for a couple of hours.

I am waiting for a blast of e-mailed temper from my Brother Less Reasonable, since the other one has found an appropriate assisted-living facility to which to move our father. Less has already stated that he is categorically opposed to such a move. But he’s outnumbered. Maybe he’ll realize that that dignified silence might be the better part of valor.

Well, I can hope.

Time for exercise and bill-paying. There will no doubt be TV later. With sherry. Such an exciting (well, satisfying, anyway) life I lead.

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What is all that green stuff?

Fortunately, there is sunlight and something approaching warmth.

Unfortunately, that means the creeping bellflower is coming back.

Fortunately (at least for my back), the returning bellflower is in the graveled bit around the garage where I feel justified in using weedkiller rather than painstakingly digging it out.

Unfortunately, I haven’t even got around to that small task.

Fortunately, I do have this afternoon free, because Sir John is going out (which I had forgotten all about).

Unfortunately, I have lots of worky-work that needs to get done rather soon, and I may be doing that rather than gardening.

Fortunately, I’m still feeling very calm about work.

Unfortunately, I think I might need to feel rather more urgency about it, so that I get on with it instead of blogging and making extra cups of tea and all those other not-working activities.

Fortunately, I probably have good blog-fodder in a series of e-mails between my brothers.

Unfortunately (for any remaining readers) I can’t face going through them to pull out the good bits.

Fortunately for my brothers.

Unfortunately, I think I have run out of excuses.

Fortunately and unfortunately, I have only two more teaching days. Not much prep left, and not even a huge amount of grading, but various other deadlines and ancillary projects (like “buy new laptop”) are now looming large.

 

When Reading Is Doing

It’s Saturday morning, sunny though cold, and I have loads of things I could pick out to do: stretch, go to the gym, pack/de-clutter, grade (the current batch of papers look quite good; this will not be a purgatorial task), work on my application for Full, work on The Last Overdue Revisions, color while the light is good, play with my kitties, futz about on the Internet (oh wait . . .), and what do I do? Put together a bibliography for an article I want to write, on a text I’m teaching, a text that hasn’t received enough attention IMHO. I’ve ILL’d one essay, and I can get several others in hard copy at my library, and there’s one book I’m dying to get my hands on that may require a field trip because there are about 7 copies in the world and they don’t circulate.

(Another obsessive un-answerable question: why are there not copies in UK depository libraries, when it was published in the 20th century in London and copies are supposed to go the BL, the Bod, and CUL? Did someone not send them? Did someone not catalog them? Are they somehow catalogued by something other than author and title? I have poked around in the online catalogues, and I do know how to use them, and this book does not turn up. My lawful-good-J side is deeply disturbed: something went wrong in the book world. I tell you, were I not an English professor I would need to be a Literature Detective.)

Someday when I’m futzing about online I really should create a blogroll. I spend quite a bit of time reading blogs by delightful-sounding women who enjoy food, crafts, gardening, restoring old houses, and similar pursuits that I prefer reading about to doing. Despite all the well-meant advice on the Chron fora and similar places about Getting A Life and Pursuing Hobbies Outside of Work, what I really want to do, what I get excited about and spend sunny Saturday mornings on, is reading, researching, and writing. I’ve tried the gardening, restoring, crafts, and so on. They sound like fun. The results look good. But I just don’t get fired up about things I can do with my hands. Except write, which is manual labor, as Colette said.

I have other projects I need to finish right now, so this putative article will go on The List (I have learned the hard way not to get distracted by the New Shiny). Someday I will get to it, and my future self will be happy to have the core bibliography assembled and some basic thoughts outlined. Maybe next spring, when I hope to teach this text again.

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.

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.