#Hope · Farmers Market · Gardening · grace · Spirituality

Abundance

My kitchen window is lined with bright red tomatoes, a bowl of peaches sits on the dining room table and purple bell peppers fill a shelf in my refrigerator. The freezer holds bags of squash, green beans, crowder peas and okra.  Each evening Keith and I sit down to salads topped with cucumbers, peppers, and home-grown tomatoes. We feast on tomato-bacon sandwiches, slathered with good mayonnaise. I like mine with cheese toast.

 Earlier in the summer we were overrun with cucumbers and squash from my little garden. They have played out, but I’m still getting handfuls of little round salad tomatoes from my bushes, which I pop into my mouth like candy. My peppers are finally growing, and I’m waiting until they reach a rich red color before they are picked and packed away in the freezer for this fall’s chili.

We have been in a time of abundance.

As much as I love this summer eating time, I’m thankful that I don’t have to depend on what I grow to last me all winter. I can’t imagine what it was like when farmers knew that if the frost came late or the rains didn’t fall, they faced the prospect of going hungry.

I think that’s why the theme of abundance is so prevalent in the Bible. People in Biblical days lived close to the earth without a grocery store around the corner. They survived through lean years and fat years and appreciated having a bountiful supply of food. They recognized that they could not control the rains, so they put their trust in God to supply their needs.

I’ve been studying about grace lately, and I am struck by how often God’s abundance is mentioned in the New Testament, especially in relation to His provision for us:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance. (I Peter 1:2)

            I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)

            Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us. (Ephesians 3:20)

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

When I read these verses, I’m reminded of how lavishly God wants to give me love, peace and grace. My cup runneth over with all the mercies He pours out. All I have to do is open my heart and accept His good gifts.

I’m learning to enjoy and embrace the blessings of today and not worry about tomorrow.

Abundance doesn’t last in the garden. The hot summer days are getting shorter, and the crops are starting to die back. I found out this weekend that my favorite vegetable stand, Ricney Farms, is closing for the summer. Our days of fresh tomatoes are coming to an end.

But we will still have abundance, just in other forms. We look forward to cooler weather, apples from Ellijay and pumpkin pie. God’s grace will still be there, in all its forms. The face of abundance changes depending on our season of life.

Living close to God is like eating summer tomatoes all year long!

What is abundant in your life right now?

Farmers Market · Gardening

A Place for a Tomato

Some women love clothes. Some have a weakness for jewelry.

I can’t resist summer vegetables.

I stopped by the Farmers Market at the Calhoun Depot on Monday and went a little crazy. I left with three kinds of tomatoes, including a purplish heirloom variety and the most wonderful sweet cherry ones that are like having summer explode in your mouth, green beans (white half runners), yellow squash, okra and two kinds of peppers, although the farmer gave me the banana ones, so they don’t really count. In my defense, I did not buy the purple hull peas or the interesting striped squash or any of the homemade jams – but there’s always next time.

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My Farmers Market dinner!

My weakness for summer vegetables goes back to memories of my childhood when my mother cooked okra covered in oil in her black cast iron frying pan and boiled green beans all day with a big chunk of fatback. Summer dinners always included fresh tomatoes and I loved them on a big crispy biscuit with mayonnaise (still do!) The squash was baked into a casserole covered in cheese and the butter beans were almost more butter than bean. All of that together with some greasy fried chicken and fresh peach pie meant good eating – and may be why I wore those chubby girl dresses.

I remember the smell of vinegar throughout the house when Mama was making cucumber pickles and the mess in the kitchen when she froze cream style corn. But as a child of the suburbs, I was removed from the actual work of growing the vegetables. My father tried to put in little gardens at our various houses, but our shady neighborhoods were never conducive to sun-loving tomatoes.

My grandfathers were the gardeners, each with his own large plot behind his house where we children were forbidden to play for fear we would trample a tender squash or knock over a stalk of corn. Their gardens became mysterious and magical places, fueled by Beatrix Potter stories of animals living among the plants, losing shoes and jackets as they scurried among the rows.

Summer visits to my mother’s parents in Eastern North Carolina always included at least a few hours shelling butter beans while sitting in the metal chairs on the wide front porch. No one seems to plant these anymore (known by some as baby limas) and I’m sure it’s because they are so labor intensive. We seemed to constantly be working, pulling the strings from the butter bean pouch and sliding the three or four little green jewels into our colanders. Our reward was the bowl of butter beans on the dinner table that night, swimming in melted butter, next to the corn on the cob, more butter slathered across its steaming kernels.

(Crowder peas, also known as purple hull peas, take almost as long to shell, but you do get more peas from a pod, and they make a satisfying clink as they hit the colander.)

When Keith and I moved into our farmhouse thirty years ago we were excited to have a garden. We plowed and tilled the sunny spot behind our house, digging up hundred-year-old pieces of pottery and even older arrowheads. The rich black dirt took our seeds and fledgling plants and miraculously — vegetables grew! Each year we experimented, trying broccoli, lettuce, zucchini, sunflowers and all colors of peppers. We grew sweet corn, green beans (blue lake), rows of okra that got so tall I had to pull it down to cut it, and butter beans on little bushes.

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Our garden in 2014

Keith loved the planting but not so much the weeding and picking, so I learned to use a hoe and worked on my tan pulling up the invading grass. My neighbor Zeta, who knows all things about gardening and cooking, taught me when to pick the crowder peas (before the hulls get brown and dry), how to use a knife to cut the pesky strings off the half-runners and the art of canning tomatoes in a hot water bath. (Keith was afraid I would blow the house up if I used the pressure canning method.)

I learned how to tie the tomato plants to a stake to keep them from falling over and to wait for the tassels on the corn to turn black before yanking them off their stalks with a twist. I found that the squash were best when they were small and tender but that the green peppers got sweeter when they stayed on the plant long enough to turn red. Cutting okra with my garden shears was best kept for the end of the day so that I could jump in the shower to get rid of the itchiness that came from brushing up against the leaves.

Keith got interested in heirloom tomatoes and for several years ordered seeds from the Burpee Catalog and carefully grew them in tiny pots under grow-lights at his office. Later he transplanted them into the ground with a shovel full of lime. The planting of the tomatoes took on an almost reverent quality, similar to rituals performed by the Old Testament prophets.

The richest I’ve ever felt was having a kitchen counter full of tomatoes waiting to be canned and being able to share with my “town” friends.

As the years have gone by, our garden has grown smaller and smaller. When June rolled around this year we didn’t have anything planted. I couldn’t stand the thought of no garden, so I went to Calhoun Farm Supply and bought one cucumber, two green pepper, and three tomato plants and stuck them in with my daylilies. Getting them in the ground so late means I’m still waiting for the first baby buds to appear, but the tomatoes have grown enough that they needed to be staked and the cucumber vine is climbing the fence I put around it. I go out every morning and track their progress, hoping that the rabbits are not doing the same.

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My tiny garden

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I remember my mother saying many times that my grandfathers just liked watching their gardens grow. I get it. I hope I will always have a place for a tomato plant.

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Christianity · Spirituality · Uncategorized

Our summer garden

Summer 2014 has been the year of the garden for Keith and me out here in Sugar Valley. The rain and sun have worked perfectly together for us to have our best garden in years. Our cup runneth over with tomatoes, cucumbers, okra and green beans, with corn coming soon. It is the richest feeling in the world. 

Each morning is a treasure hunt as I go out to see what the day’s harvest will bring. I pull back vines and leaves in search of the crisp cucumbers and squash, then move onto the tomato plants which are straining at the twine we wrapped around them in June. I love finding the green beans hanging at the bottom of the plants, just waiting to be pulled off. The okra is not as much fun, requiring long sleeves and a certain bravery to head into the heavy foliage, which makes me itch.  I leave that to Keith as much as possible.  

 

I was raised in the suburbs, but I was always attracted to the country life and I am blessed to live here. I love the simplicity of picking food from a plant in my yard and eating it. Working in the garden gives me such a connection to people from the past. We don’t plow with a mule and I don’t wear a bonnet and long dress, but otherwise not much has changed with growing vegetables in a hundred years. Fortunately though, I am not dependent on our garden for food over the winter. If the early frost comes or the rains don’t fall, I know that I will be able to buy what I need at the store. I can’t imagine how stressful life was in the days when the garden meant life or death.  

Canning our tomatoes

 

Working in the garden makes me feel close to my family. Both of my granddaddies put in big gardens and loved to watch things grow and I think about them when I am out pulling weeds or checking the beans. My 85 year old aunt Mary Frances once stayed up all night with my mother in the hospital, then went home and planted tomatoes. My uncle Maynard loved his big garden, and was working there one March day when he fell over and died from a heart attack. Daddy loved to garden but by the time he was retired, he and Mama were living in a neighborhood with big shade trees which were not very good for vegetables. He filled his yard with impatience and azaleas instead.

 

In a few short weeks, I will be back to school, getting up before dark, wearing my long pants and nice shirts in place of shorts and tshirts, and being forced to be inside. I will miss the peace and quiet of my garden, the hawk who calls each morning, and the dew on my shoes as I hunt for cucumbers. The plants will soon start to shrivel up and quit bearing their treasures. As the days shorten and a few cool breezes start to blow, we will pull them up and plow them under and the fall will be here. Gardening teaches me to enjoy the bounty I have right now, because tomorrow it can be gone. 

 

One of my favorite things from my parents’ house is a metal sign Mama gave Daddy to put out in his flower bed. It reads: “The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth,  one is closer to God in a garden than anywhere else on earth.”  I have it by my flowers at the back steps and look at it every day. I think about my daddy filling his backyard with flowers, my granddadies bringing in bushels of butterbeans and corn, and all the ones who tilled this garden before me. We are all connected by our love of getting our hands dirty and watching things grow. Just as Adam and Eve heard God walking in the garden in the cool of the morning, I hear Him rustling in the leaves and we enjoy our time together. 

 

 

Uncategorized

Time to play in the dirt

As the ad for the garden center says – “Time to go play in the dirt!” – now that summer is here, it is my time to play in my flower garden. We started working several years ago on a large area for my “play garden”. Keith marked off a large kidney shaped area, had dirt brought in and I spent one whole summer mixing peat moss in and spreading the dirt around. Then I started transplanting from different plants we had in our other overgrown beds and looking for anything unique and colorful.

Over the years, I have come to feel like our flowers are old friends, and I look forward to seeing them each spring. Around the middle of February, our little daffodils quietly push their heads up and say “Hang in there, spring is around the corner!” We have transplanted hundreds of what I call the “wild”daffodils, little yellow guys that are kind of quiet, but are so welcome! They truly give hope during a time when we are tired of cold. A few weeks later, their “store bought” cousins come up, big and showy, with several pretty combinations of pale yellow and deep orange centers. Then about the end of March their other cousins, the small sweet smelling narcissus come out. I love to pick these to put in the house because they make the whole place smell wonderful. The daffodils keep us going through the still cool days of March.

As April comes along, our irises make their appearance – tall and gorgeous, but short-lived. Some of my irises came from my grandmother’s house and I love the different colors mixed together.

Next come the daisies. For years before we started the garden, we had a little patch of white daisies that bloomed at the side of the yard until Keith would mow over them. So after we started the flower garden, he dug a few up and we planted them. The next spring these nice little flowers that we had rescued from the lawn mower turned into gremlins! They ran and cavorted all over the garden like a bunch of unruly kids! They have taken over, but because this is my play garden, I don’t mind. I have enjoyed their cool crisp white flowers against the coneflowers that have started blooming, and soon I will pull them up and cut them back to get ready for the stars of the garden – the daylilies.

Keith and I fell in love with daylilies when we first started sticking stuff in the ground. They have got to be the easiest flower to grow as long as they have a sunny spot and the different types are endless. We have a long row that gets overgrown with weeds, so we chose the prettiest and rarest ones to put in the flower garden. Last year we bought a few more and I am anxiously waiting to see their colors. They will bloom for most of June and that is when the yard is at its finest.

As the dog days of summer come along in July and August, I will enjoy the multitude of colors blooming. I am always looking for something new and different to stick in my garden. Driving back and forth to North Carolina when Mama was in the nursing home, I would stop at farmer’s markets and garden centers and get a new flower every time. I have a neat plant called a balloon flower that sports purple flowers that look like little Chinese lanterns. Orange coneflowers, yellow lantana, burgundy dahlias, and a beautiful lavender butterfly bush are already coming up. I am going for the English country garden look, not formal or rigid – a place without rules. When I am feeling the pressures of meeting everyone’s expectations and dealing with the stresses of work, my flower garden is a place that is just for me, done how I want it.

Gardening teaches me patience and makes me look to the future. We recently got a bunch of free trees at the Garden Club Arbor Day giveaway and planted some dogwoods in the garden. I will be 70 or 80 before they are any size! I hope if I am not here to look after them that someone will. Like my Daddy and Granddaddies before me, I love to watch things grow. My cat Nellie sits by me as I pull weeds and pinch back flowers, and I listen to the birds and God and I talk. Sounds like a pretty good way to spend the summer!

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