On major changes, letting go, and giving in

As one could infer by the last two (very old -sorry!) posts I wrote here, I just may be a wee bit obsessed with gardening. I had an amazing first gardening season in 2015 where I learned so much and was eager to put all this new knowledge to good use in 2016. And an update: got that dehydrator! Woot-woot!

Around the end of January 2016,  I went through my seeds and tested what I had from last season to determine which  were still viable.  Already, I was off to a better start – I  was able to restrain myself from growing my tomato plants in February! I re-read my gardening journal entries and noted the locations that worked for certain plants, and what didn’t, and made a new “plot plan” for the 2016 season. To recap: we have a few garden boxes at our house that, based on their sun exposure, are best suited for herbs or low light pants, and we rent a garden plot locally.

This year, we decided we wanted to add another, larger garden box. We asked our landlord and he emphatically gave the okay. It should be noted that no matter where we grow in our backyard, the light will always be fleeting. We’re quite nestled in the mountains of the North Shore, surrounded by a good little green belt. At the peak of summer, we get about 6-7 hours of direct sunlight, and depending on the area of the backyard, sometimes less. Still, having this extra bit of space was going to be awesome for maximizing our yield. We were stoked!

Concurrently, I began planning and preparing to go back to grad school. For a while, I had been considering when was the right time for me, and decided sooner rather than later. I knew I didn’t want to stay in the position I was in currently, even though I really enjoyed my workmates and my job. I didn’t always feel challenged enough and knew I had more in me to give. Plus, I believed the further along in life I got, the harder it would be to make the leap and go back. No, it was best to go now while I was still young and while my husband and I were relatively debt-free and with minimal expenses. So I began the process: talking to my husband, talking with my parents, talking with my coworkers and past professors all to garner support.

I put together a proposal for my application and secured the necessary documents and referrals for my admission to the program. And I was accepted for entry into the program for the January 2017 intake! I was thrilled!

At the same time, I began to start the seedlings of certain items and had planted a few plants already. Then something really amazing happened… I became pregnant!

My husband and I had been trying for 8 months, and we were thrilled to learn that I was expecting. To add to this joy, just a few months prior I had conceived, but then miscarried at about 9 weeks. Miscarrying rocked me in a way I was not prepared for. I think one aspect of the trauma of my miscarriage, aside from the loss itself, is both my husband and I had been proud that it hadn’t taken us that long to get pregnant. Dare I even say we might have been a little smug about it, or perhaps a fairer judgement is we were just blissfully ignorant to the possibility that such a beautiful gift could be taken away and so were ill prepared when it happened. We both worked at recovering in the ways we needed: speaking with friends and family, lots of crying, hugging, kissing, holding each other. We also talked about what we would like to do moving forward, and agreed we still wanted to continue to try, but that we were also going to go about life as usual.This attitude also applied to my grad school application.

Some people are going to read that and think how crazy that is of us to do; how crazy that is of me to do. You have every right to think that, but I guess that is an honest example of mine and of my family’s personality. We were now hyper aware that getting pregnant could potentially take us a couple attempts before we conceived, and it was therefore important to me and to my healing process that I not put my professional goals on hold, and move forward with my application. If both happened at the same time (pregnancy and grad school) we would figure it out. I just didn’t want to forestall one aspect of my life for another, and potentially end up resenting that decision if things didn’t go as planned.

Before moving on, I want to take a moment to express the following to anyone reading this that might need to hear it: I don’t like to think of things as “blessings”, so I will say I feel very privileged to have been accepted into grad school, but also to have conceived shortly after my miscarriage. I am profoundly grateful for my personal and professional luck and I do not take that luck for granted. I know life doesn’t always work out so simply. My good fortune over the last year is not lost on me.

GIVING IN. LETTING GO.

Just as things were starting to come into bloom, my energy began to plummet. The first trimester completely drained me. I wasn’t sick, thankfully, but I could barely make it through the afternoon without a nap, let alone through an entire day of work. It turned out my iron was a little low and that played a small factor, but it certainly wasn’t the only reason why I was so drained. I’ve learned since getting pregnant just how much work and energy is required to make another person! My body was putting in overtime to create our baby. No wonder I needed to lie down after I vacuumed the bedroom.

To make matters more complicated, my husband had flown back home to be with family for three and a half weeks right around the time my energy completely tanked. Obviously the timing of the trip was unintentional  ( we had booked the tickets months in advance), and I was doing fine before he left. This dip was unexpected and he felt terrible! Now we know, and we certainly won’t be planning trips and babies around the same time in the future, but it meant I really was on my own when I needed him more than ever. Thank god for friends and family who stopped by to help out, cook food, take me grocery shopping, and in general support me in his absence.

The thing that suffered the most was our poor garden. Okay, maybe it didn’t suffer the MOST, but to watch it decompose, wither and dry up, or rot on the vines so difficult for me. I had been so looking forward to really giving it my all this season, and early spring had been awesome! We had so much lettuce and spinach, and other yummy greens growing to eat; yet, when July came around and things really started to burst, I was on the couch napping every 4 hours. Weeding? Not likely. Watering? Not possible. One day when I was feeling slightly more energetic, I took myself out to the backyard to pick some salmon berries and that little bit of activity put my back out and put me on the couch for two days. As hard as this was to admit to myself, I needed to slow down.

Slowing down is, to put it lightly, challenging for me. I’m sure that characteristic is evident by now. It was also a hard to effectively communicate how drained I was through distance to my husband. Not being here, he couldn’t really see the change in front of him. Sure, we were talking on the phone and via FaceTime, and I was telling him about my experience, but it didn’t quite hit home in the same way until I joined him in Ontario near the end of July.

As we had planned, I flew out to meet him and his family and to partake in a wedding at the end of July. We also had an amazing trip planned with his dad and step mum to Boston which I was determined to go on. We had Red Sox tickets, for goodness sake! The plan was we would drive to Boston, which we did end up doing, but we had some car troubles that really ate up the amount of time we had to tour the city. Then there was the heat, which was unlike any heat I as a West Coast girl had ever experienced before. It was like passing through a wall of soup when you stepped out your door. I’ll never forget sitting in the dining space of the hotel in Boston and watching the weather channel describe the humidity as “obtrusive” one day. OBTRUSIVE! My energy certainly hadn’t improved either, so to try and walk around in the humidity, feeling exhausted, puffy, and always dehydrated, but working hard to squeeze everything we missed with the car delays in… eventually I had had enough. I broke. I gave in.

After our quick trip in Boston, we headed back home for the remainder of the summer and I fully surrendered to the new  state of “me.” I started asking for more help from my husband, which he gladly gave. We worked harder as a team than we ever had before. I knew it was a strange adjustment for both of us to have me be so thoroughly dependent on him, but my growing belly happily  reminded us why.

Even though he now had an intimate understanding of first trimester pregnancy, I think he was still shocked when we came home and he saw our abysmal garden plots. I admit I was shocked too! I had kind of been avoiding going outside. Everything was rotting or dead. I knew as soon as I looked at our plots that the damage was irreversible, but he told me we could salvage some of what we had planted. I think he said this because he felt so terrible about not being at home much during the summer. So we let plants rot a little longer in the ground until finally I said we needed to throw out the dead garden because it was making me depressed.

Maybe the saddest loss from the garden, though, were the apples. The two trees had really blossomed the year previous. I had made jars upon jars of apple sauce, and dried apples for back country snacks. We were looking to double our load this year, but were heartbroken when our landlord phoned and said he was going to get a group to come over and pick them to distribute to food banks before they all started falling and the bears started coming around. We both looked at each other with great disappointment, knowing we had missed our chance.

One day we were discussing the garden, and my husband casually mentioned that he was upset we didn’t get as big of yield this summer. I was so hurt by this. I sat with that emotion for a bit, and then later spoke to him about why his innocent comment stung so much. I didn’t realize until the garden got going how badly I had wanted to have a big yield too, nor did I grasp how personally invested I was in its success until it began to run away from me, that its failure felt like I had failed. The reality, however, was it failed because sometimes gardens fail. It took a backseat to life, and that was okay. That’s the lesson the garden can offer to its gardeners: sometimes things happen and its beyond anyone’s control. Death is just as much apart of the garden as is life. Our bad year was no one’s fault, nor was it worth beating ourselves up about. Letting go was okay.

By giving in I eventually came to a place of great acceptance. The plans I had made didn’t work out because they just couldn’t! What’s that line from that John Lennon song? “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” So very true. It can be hard to let go of the things you want, but in this particular case, doing so was for the absolute best reason possible.

I am happy to report that my energy returned to me in the second trimester and that overall I have had an absolutely wonderful pregnancy. Feeling and seeing the growth inside of me has brought me and my husband a profound level of joy. I am now in the beginning/middle of the third trimester, eagerly awaiting the next growing season while also making plenty of room for acceptance and forgiveness for “life, as it happens” along the way.

 

 

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On Gardening, and Reaping More Than What You Sow (Part Two)

You know, the difficult thing about writing a two-part blog post is not that you have to follow through with the second part, but that you must do so in a timely manner…

In my previous post, On Gardening, and Reaping More Than What You Sow (Part One), I looked at my history to pin point the who, what, where, when, and why of my peeking curiosity and newly found interest in gardening. For this second installment, I would like to share with everyone the resources I used, my successes and failures, what I learned from my first official growing season, and what our plans for the future are.

On my way

I believe it was late December, potentially early January that I happened to be touring around one of several libraries on campus where I work. This particular library I frequent because it is the visual arts library as well as music and architecture, so there are always great texts to browse through on a break. It also, when checking the catalogue, seems to be the library that has the landscaping and gardening books. I was fully committed to the 2015 growing season, especially after my husband and I found out we were going to be given a garden plot to work in the community garden space. There really was no option to turn back. As if sensing that I needed guidance, one rainy day while roaming the stacks, the “book Gods” bestowed on me a resource that I believe should be seminal for the contemporary, urban, super-beginner, lady gardener: You Grow Girl, by Gayla Trail.

Gayla’s book is not only aesthetically appealing (she comes from a graphic design background. Her and her husband are creatives, and it shows in this pleasing collaboration between the two), but the book is also well written for beginners. She has a knack for getting the message across in an accessible manner. She is empathetic to the beginner because she was, herself, unexposed to gardening until in her late teens/early twenties, though she writes extensively about her connection to the earth since an early age on her website. She’s also excited about people wanting to garden, and it’s that enthusiasm that encourages you to leap forward and try. I also found Gayla’s style of writing humourous. Many times, I was laughing out loud while reading on the bus or in bed. Laughing reading a gardening book! Who knew that was possible?

Briefly mentioned above, Gayla’s website, yougrowgirl.com, is a recommended follow up after reading You Grow Girl, the book. Her site has been active for an impressive 15 years, so you can imagine the amount of information available to you. There are minimal overlaps between what is included in the book, and the books that have followed, and what is on her website too! Instead, you’ll find great recipes, drool-triggering photos of her own garden, topical blog posts, interviews/tours around other gardens in Gayla’s neighbourhood, as well as great think pieces. It’s a delightful site to visit every now and then.

Gayla also created helpful guides on popular topics, such as seed starting,that live on her site. I highlight this one in particular because it is extremely helpful if you decide to start growing from seed. Being naive, I assumed there was something terrible with buying seedlings, or transplants, from a garden store versus growing from seed. Gayla’s book doesn’t cover gardening from the beginner scenario where one purchases transplants from a garden store, but she doesn’t condone it either. Instead, she warns that it can be extremely costly to purchase transplants each year, and you miss out on the benefit of growing from seed: you know exactly what treatment your seedlings have received, whereas it’s a complete mystery when you purchase from a garden store.

I wanted to try out growing from seed. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it full on! I knew from the book that in order for seeds to grow in my climate/winter/house, I needed to have a lighting system; a daunting project to tackle. However, it was a surprisingly simple set-up: garage lights that can hang by a chain (so their height can be adjusted as your seedlings grow), a shelf to hang the lights from, a timer for the lights, trays for your seedling starters to sit in, seeds and your own starter kits (whichever you want to go with. I used empty transplant pots from the plant store I had with the intention of recycling, and seed starting soil, but there are complete kits you can purchase as well). Also, I suppose not to be overlooked, you need the space. Thankfully, we have a little room  available for our grated shelf and lighting system. One trip out to the hardware stores around town and I was set and ready to go!

Successes and failures

I truly could go on ad nauseum about the minute details and discoveries of my experience with seed starting and gardening, but  I think it’s more interesting to you, readers, if I group together the things I feel were successes, and what were failures. So to begin with the aforementioned, let’s review what were the successes:

  • The Light Set-Up — Seriously, this was easy. Almost everything can be sourced online through Amazon, if you do not have a car. I was able to purchase all my items at my local hardware stores. I will say this: make sure you have the right measurements for your lighting and shelving system that suites your house or apartment! The last thing you want to do is have to deal with returning items that are too large for your space. I almost bought the incorrect size of lights for my grated shelf because they were on sale. They would have been 6 inches too long! The assembly of this system, however, was short and sweet. One afternoon and I was making seed starting pots before dinner needed to be made.
  • The Gardening Journal — In the book, Gayla recommends getting (even creating!) your own gardening journal to reflect on the season’s events. As you know, I am a big proponent of journalling, and so I cannot endorse this enough. I’ll add an amendment for anyone who is a beginner: buy it at the outset of the season. I found it useful to journal as I went, rather than waiting until season’s end. The entries don’t have to be Shakespearean prose (mine were more like “to-do” lists or reminders), but they serve as a valuable resource to read back as the months pass, and when next season comes around.
  • The Seed Starting — Being new to this cultivating thing, you’ll have to excuse my gushing over something so banal. Everyday after work I would peek at my seed starting station and was amazed to see the activity going on in those pots. I assumed because I was a beginner, everything would die on me, but nothing did! As a result, I started too many plants and wasted some seeds, but it was a great exercise that I learned a lot from, including that I can grow from seed and my seedlings can become full grown plants!
  • The Garden Plot — If there were an unsung hero award for the season, it would be the garden plot. I couldn’t say I felt so positively about it in the beginning. I found it difficult to get into the routine of going over there and checking on our plants as much as they needed in early spring. As a result, we lost a lot of good plants. My hours played a big part in that, but they were permanently changed for the better in summer, and so we were able to make a more concerted effort, and reaped the rewards of that. I also learned that the plot was something I just couldn’t get to everyday, and that was okay. In future, I need to adjust my plans and plant plants that don’t need watering everyday in that location.

And now… the failures:

  • The Garden Plot (in the beginning) — A piece of advice Gayla gives is to be realistic when it comes to your gardening goals. Critically evaluate the amount of time you actually have and whether the types of plants you’re choosing to grow are suited to your schedule. You save your self a lot of money, work and frustration doing so. The garden plot was a new venture for my husband and I, and now we know how to better use it. For next season, I’ll be switching up plants so they get the most out of that space, which is high exposure to sun. Hello tomatoes and cucumbers!
  • Eager Seed Starting — In general, I started my seeds way too early. Like, late January, and because of this I’m surprised we didn’t lose more plants to disease or lack of proper sun exposure than we did. We lucked out that when faced with no other option than to throw the plants outside and hope for the best, the weather turned. We faced what would be one of the hottest summer’s on record for BC. Not to sound like a broken record, but I thought most plants would die on me, so I started my seeds early, and en masse. Next season, I’ll give myself a little bit more of a grace period.
  • Too Many Seedlings To Plant — Again, I’ll cough this up to being new to gardening, but I had no gauge as to how large some plants could expand to, or how much they crawl.  As a result, I lost a lot of plants from suffocation (plants need air just like you and I!) or because they had inadequate structures to crawl up. I now know from this first experience how to properly support – literally and figuratively – my little plant babies as they mature!
  • No Flowers? No Pollinators — As is the case with many beginner gardeners, my focus this season was purely edibles. I wanted bounty! I wanted veggies and herbs, but didn’t pick up on the value of planting pretty flowers, that not only add colour to your space, but bring those wonderful pollinators to your plants. When they come around, you find your crops give you a lot more yield.
What Did I Learn?

I learned to not over do it. It’s easy to get carried away creating your dream garden that you forget it takes a lot of work once things get growing! They seem so small as little seedlings when you plants them in the ground, but read the seed packets people! It’s detailed how much space you need between each plant for a reason! Thankfully, I know myself. I have a tendency to do too much in the start out of sheer enthusiasm, that I end up overwhelming myself with too much to handle and become turned off. I mentioned previously Gayla warns about being realistic in terms of your garden goals and the time/space you have to give, and I am thankful I heeded that warning for the most part (those zucchinis were crazy! Planted way too many). As much as I wanted all the veggies in the world, I knew tackling that right out of the gate was a fool’s game.

I learned to be observant. There is so much you can glean from this wonderful organic system, our planet Earth, by truly slowing down and letting it tell you what it needs. It wants to thrive! Only through careful attention which is the result of slowing down can you really begin to understand your garden. Being observant means follow through, however, with research into your soil, your zone, your plant selection, your molds and diseases, or pests as these issues arise. Observing your plants day after day was what I discovered was the best way tackle any issues early on; early is key. You’ll be a very profitable gardener in terms of yield as result, as well as a bit more relaxed.

Last, I learned to be forgiving when it comes to plant death. As if I haven’t pumped Gayla enough, she also produces a podcast: Whatcha Growin? She interviews a different gardener within a different zone and level of experience each episode, and one of the best things I took from these podcasts is no matter what level you are at, you will have things die. You will kill plants. Almost everyone interviewed talked about how they kill plants all the time, and how that is a fact of gardening, and something most beginners misunderstand and get down on themselves about.

Now what?

What’s next, you might be asking? Well, my husband and I have committed to next season’s garden plot.  We concluded the plot is an invaluable space for us. We’re lucky now to have a bit of yard to work, but eventually we’ll move. Who knows what kind of an arrangement that will bring, if we’ll have the same luck with our new landlords? In this case, it’s beneficial to have an already established space.

As of this weekend, I’ll have closed down the garden and will begin planning for the next season. I didn’t get things going early enough in spring for truly ‘early spring plants’ like lettuces and strawberries, and missed out on fall plants like squashes.  Next year, I’ll try to incorporate these into the season’s plan.

And, we bought a green wall! My husband worked with one of the individual’s who builds these lovely units. He asked if I wanted one. Yes, of course, was my response! So, we purchased it and it’s just now ready to be picked up and installed (I’ll write a post when it is). We are so excited for this unit because it will provide us with lovely herbs, lettuce and spinach, or whatever we choose to grow, year round.

Finally, with first growing season under my belt, I’m confident the next round I can bring a greater yield to our household. I didn’t get the cucumber yield I wanted,  and we lost a lot of tomatoes because we simply didn’t know what to do with them all before they rotted. I’ve found some no pressure-canner-required recipes for tomato sauces and salsa, and am looking forward to next season to really give my pickles a chance.

I also told my husband all I wanted for Christmas was a dehydrator (hint hint)!  We enjoy hiking and doing over night camping trips, and my husband works a lot of contracts  in the back country throughout the year. We were lucky to head over to Twill & Timber’s for Christmas last year and were able to try out their dehydrator. We brought home a good yield of dried foods that at this time have all been used. It was wonderful to have these essential, high-nutrient foods available to eat during a back country trip. Getting a dehydrator will save us money on food items for overnight trips and lower our level of food waste.

I’d say that’s about enough for this entry! There are a few other resources I used this season that I will add below. Right now, I’m off to take advantage of this sunny Sunday in October and close up the garden.

On Gardening, and Reaping More Than What You Sow (Part One)

After a whirlwind romance, that cultivated into a happy marriage, I found myself for the first time since moving out of the proverbial nest in possession of a yard (or a spot of yard), and knew this was my chance to finally foray into gardening. I was 28.

IN THE BEGINNING

Growing up, my parents maintained a well manicured yard. It seemed like my dad’s specialty was in caring for trees (oh, how I miss the yellow leaves of fall from those three ginkos that grew in the front). Mum always grew daffodils in the front yard and lovingly tended to a lilac bush that reminded her of her grandmother. There were never any edibles, to my memory, but I’m sure if I am wrong I will be corrected in the comments section later (thanks mum! :-P). My family was not, however, an “outdoors” family.

Still, I wouldn’t say I suffered from a lack of exposure to the outdoors in spite of having a family that didn’t “rough it”. My memories are filled with hours lost in play and imagination outside. I often played in the trees that divided our backyard from our neighbours’, making mud pies and pretending I was a witch! The neighbours had three daughters, the oldest of which was a great playmate of mine. We often ventured into the ravine that budded alongside her backyard. Our houses were at the tail end of a trail that ran along the west edge of an elementary school backfield. Mine, in fact, was the last house before the ravine began. A part from occasionally waking at 7am on a Saturday morning to a soccer game, and children’s names being yelled by their parents, it was an idyllic setting to grow up in. I spent long hours on that field, under the massive chestnut trees, playing in the wooded area that existed a little past the ravine. There were large rocks scattered all around that were perfect for climbing over and hanging off of. I couldn’t tell you how many times I rode my bike around the concrete path that traced the outer edge of the field. And lest I forget that wonderfully deep hill that was the hill for tobogganing!

Thinking about this now, I guess it isn’t so surprising that later in life I began to develop an interest in gardening. I was outside a lot! But I always assumed because I recall being terrified of bugs and hating to get messy, that the desire in my late twenties to be outside with bugs, getting messy seems counter intuitive. I also never took part in the gardening my family did. It was always a chore for the adults, and from what I could see it wasn’t something that brought them a whole lot of joy. So where was this all coming from?

I have shared what I believe is one aspect already, my childhood backyard. Another, I know came from living in the basement suite below an older couple who gardened fervently. They had a beautiful vegetable garden which tending to was a task that consumed most of their time. They were generous and caring, always giving me veggies and fruits to eat. My little kitchen window looked out to the backyard where I could see them sitting beside each other each day, looking over their plot. By watching how they worked their garden, I learned gardening was about patience and dedication, characteristics I could definitely get behind. Once they asked me if I could pick the potatoes while they were away. As payment and thanks, I could take however many I wanted. I’ll never forget the joy I got from digging my hands in the ground and pulling up dozens of golden potatoes that tasted like nothing I had purchased in the supermarket.

Another aspect is my long standing appreciation for the beauty of a garden. Being a visual person, you’re especially attracted to beautiful things and derive a lot of pleasure from being in the presence of that beauty. I had a dear friend growing up whose mother was an avid gardener. Her space was transcendent to walk through. It felt like a story book’s enchanted yard. I admired it greatly. This garden was a magical space that seemed to change every day. There was always something new popping up. As I watched the space’s transformation, I saw my friend’s mother hard at work outside. From this I understood in order to create that kind of magic, it took effort and hard work.

Then there is the bounty! Pretty flowers are marvelous to look at, and great for bringing pollinators, but nothing beats eating home grown tomatoes, plums, beans, carrots, lettuce… all the good stuff! Reward for your efforts in the form of food is a-ok in my books!

I also cannot deny the influence of my current time. When I go online it feels like everyone is DIYing, and doing it well. On some level I wanted to be a part of the “make it yourself” culture on my own terms. I am already a crafty, creative individual that I thought trying my hand at being a cultivator was just the venture for me. The only problem was I had absolutely no idea where to start. So, I did what any good library technician does: I took out books to research.

STARTING OUT SLOW

Some books were so totally over my head, it is a wonder I even stuck with the idea. Some were too specialized, and others unbeknownst to me were not suited for my gardening “zone.” Even those that proposed to be for beginners were difficult to wrap my mind around. I felt like most overlooked just how “beginner” beginners were, and glossed over key terms that I needed to have broken down for me. It was extremely alienating and deterring. So, fed up with my searches, I decided to try a practical approach. I went to the local garden shop and bought a couple house plants that I stuck on my patio (at this point, I had moved into an apartment with a patio), and felt my way about it. Some lived, some died. It was disappointing when they did, but I learned about failure and letting go which is pretty key to gardening I’ve come to understand.

I did, however, manage to keep a few plants and learned it was because by complete fluke, I had purchased some that faired well in the conditions I put them in. These were truly house plants, and ones that loved the south facing screen doors of my patio. Lots of sunshine meant lots of growth! These minor successes were confidence-boosting enough for me to keep the dream alive. I could do this!

Enter my husband: a do-it-yourself-on-your-own-terms kind of guy. This man has been the source of so many positive things in my life, including my development as a gardener. In the early stages of our courtship when my plants were still growing at my place, he and I decided to fix up the garden at his place. He was (and we are still) fortunate to have the best landlords possible. They let him have rule of the backyard. At the time there were two flower boxes, and an old fire pit no longer in use. These outlined the patio area. To the left and below the bedroom window was another planter box. We decided to plant some herbs in the flower boxes and fire pit, and beans in the planter box. Knowing my success rate was 50/50, I prepared myself for impending death. Many of these plants would not last. But… they did.

In fact, things flourished. The lush soil of the North Vancouver area was just what these plants needed to grow. We also had early morning to mid afternoon sun. No baking heat in the evening, which after some research I realized was the ideal setting for the kinds of herbs we had planted. It was such a thrill to come to his place and see their progress, to pull from what we had grown and eat it. Yes, there were a couple snags (the mint developed a fungus, aphids on the dill, and the beans we left too long without picking that they became mouldy), but overall it was a success.

By the time summer was over, I had moved in. Feeling emboldened by our minor gardening successes, I announced I wanted to really try my hand at growing edibles. We kicked around a couple of ideas of how to expand our space, but knew there were legitimate limitations. As accommodating as our landlords were, they weren’t going to allow us to dig up the whole backyard to make raised beds. My husband did some research into garden groups and garden plots for rent in our community. We found a community garden group that had a wait list, but was looking to build a new garden in the area. If we were willing to help out on building day we could have a plot. And so we did! Eventually we were able to transfer to a location that was even closer to our home. Everything was falling into place.

All this, however, did not change the fact that I was still clueless about how to start a garden. I needed to hit the books again if I was really going to take a crack at this, though I was worried I would come up with the same depressing results. Little did I know, I was about to stumble upon the best guide out there for beginners…

Stay tuned for part two!

On Milestones

Archive from July 6, 2015

While touring around on my lunch break today, a thought came to me: a year from now I will be 30 years old. I know age, and the age of 30 for that matter, frightens a lot of people, but I can honestly say I do not fear ageing or entering my third decade. I can’t wait, in fact.

I came to thinking about turning thirty, and a piece I made in 2011, 25 for 25, because on my ride into work I listened to the NPR TED Radio Hour podcast episode on Shifting Time. As I have mentioned, time is an eternally elusive and fascinating subject for me to think about and explore in my work. As with each episode on this podcast, Shifting Time grouped a collection of different TED speakers discussing time as it relates to their research and art, but the talk I enjoyed the most was Dan Gilbert’s, about how we think we, ourselves, are static in who we are after a certain point in time. That is, once we turn a certain age – 30 for example – we presume we will remain the same person that we are at that age for the rest of our lives. When in fact, Gilbert’s research at Harvard has shown that the only constant thing about us as time rolls on is our continual evolution. Like, wow! Let’s think about that for just another second: stasis of self is an illusion! And, Gilbert adds in his interview with host, Guy Raz: “…so is the present. Time is real only when we thinking about it in terms of the past and the future.”

Known as the quarter life, and a milestone year, I was interested in recording an ‘in the present moment’ video of the 25 facts I knew about life from 25 years of living; 25 lessons learned. The inspiration (and the moment) occured at the dawn of a new chapter in my educational and professional life, which of course was affecting my personal life, and so feeling the impact of change, I hastily wrote the 25 points I felt summed up my understanding of life onto a piece of paper and recorded them on my home computer. My computer’s camera and mic are not quality pieces of equipment, but quality was not the point of this piece. It was about that moment, about capturing the feeling of the present as the past informs it and in anticipation of the future. For the most part, the words flew out of me (there’s something about creativity under the right circumstances, hey?). I remember feeling a little rushed with the last three or four points, and wishing while I was recording that I had taken more time with them, but then that would have defeated the purpose of the work. Spontaneity turned out to be key subtext to the context of the piece.

I recorded several takes of me reciting the 25 lessons, each take getting worse and worse and worse as I tried to editorialize my “free-flowing” script. A compulsive perfectionist, I was determined and adamant a clean, one-shot take would do the trick. After several tries (without checking, I think I did 7 or 8) I just had to quit and accept what I had was all I had to give at the time. I left the takes for several months before ever wanting to look at them again.

2011_J1
25 for 25. Image of installation for Apolaustics show, Higher Learning, 2011

Months later, I was putting together works for a show with a group of friends ( we were calling ourselves the Apolaustics) at the University of the Fraser Valley, and I decided it was the right time to revisit the work and edit the content I had. I sat down and watched from the beginning the takes of me reciting my 25 lessons, covering the screen with my hand in preparation for embarrassment. Soon after I pressed play, however, that embarrassment dissipated. This person in front of me was so familiar, and yet, unknown. Her struggle sounded and looked familiar, but it also sounded childish or nostalgic. So in the past! I was finding, with several months of distance between her and I, as much as I sympathized with her pain and frustration, I was more overcome with the awe of transcendence. I was and was not that person in the video. She was I and she was my other. It became very clear that what I had captured was just as much about 25 lessons learned in the life of 25 year old Jennifer, as it was about capturing a moment that was both present and past. I had changed so much since that person I was watching pressed record. Here was someone working through a moment that was seemingly insurmountable, turning its effects over and over in her mind, again and again, trying to get at something but never quite reaching it. The several attempts at a clean take became humorous, and I could laugh at myself fidgeting, adjusting my top, rewriting some lines that after the ‘umpteenth’ take I felt I had a better version of. I could laugh at what I thought I knew then and what life had taught me since.

But the difference between the present and the past is that the conscious present is an awareness of the past in a way and to an extent which the past’s awareness of itself cannot show.

– T.S. Elliot

In the end, an unedited ‘as shot’ version was what was installed. I had been working through a collage series, mixing together wall paper I had purchased at a thrift store, and had one piece with a large white space below that worked perfectly for projecting 25 for 25 onto.

The night of our opening, I received a lot of interesting feedback from coworkers, friends, family members, and attendees of the reception. A lot of people wanted to give me advice, saying things like, “Ah, you don’t need to worry about this stuff now.” Or “You’ll find this interesting to look at in another 25 years.” One attendee who had just finished her graduate degree in Lachanian theory was very interested in discussing my repeating ‘patience is a virtue’ to my audience (it’s a lead in to the first lesson I recite, and with my desire to get a perfect take, I repeated it over and over and over). It’s been so long since that night I can’t remember what she had drew from it, but I remember her confronting me saying something like: “Well, hey, hold on here. Patience is a virtue? I’ve been patient listening to you fumble through this…” It was a great night, and thus far the moment of my post-secondary career as an artist I am most proud of.

So what’s next, now that 30 is on the horizon – another milestone ahead! As I build this site, and work through my ideas by looking to the past and reflecting, inspiration is filling my mind. I feel a revisit of 25 for 25 is in order, but whether it will be approached spontaneously or not, I cannot say at this moment. I will have to work through this over time. What I can say is I would enjoy exhibiting this work, and preferably in North Vancouver somewhere, as the relocation to this area has undoubtedly affected me.

Stay tuned!

On Creating “Works” and “Makes”

Archive from June 23, 2015

During the creation phase of this site, I was playing around with several titles for the “Works” and “Makes” pages, and was surprised by what a challenge I found it to agree on which terms to use. In my head, it’s pretty obvious the difference between the two: one page is for projects I have worked on, and the other is a page for items I have made.

But wait… aren’t these the same thing? For me, not necessarily. For others, perhaps, or perhaps not at all. I think each person’s answer is founded in their own subjective views of what constitutes as art, or not.

What is art? It’s a question almost as old and longstanding as art itself. Why is something art, and another thing not? Can something transform into art? If so, how? When? Can it revert from art into something else? Kitsch? Who or what decides? Although there are many examples in history to choose from, I love the story of when Monet put up his paintings for the first time in the French Salon. Although this story is not singularly Monet’s. Often the French Salon was shocked by other renegades such as Manet and Cezanne (where are those guys now, anyways?), but when he did, the art world was transfixed. Our rubric for evaluating art was being challenged! Here were works that were so against everything we understood to be art, and yet they compelled us. They captured our attention. We hated them. We loved them. We were reacting not only to the work but to its creator’s radicalism.

Fast forward some years and Duchamp is placing a urinal with a fake name scribbled on its side onto a plinth. Several years later, Piero Manzoni cans and exhibits his own feces, and in our present century, Jeff Koons is running a factory of workers who produce all his art for him…. the question of what is art? is posed again, but from different vantage points. In the case of Duchamp, he is proposing all it takes is a mark – the artist’s mark, or signature – and anything can be art. Manzoni pushes this further by presenting the excrement of the artist, suggesting if Duchamp is correct then perhaps the concept of art, or art itself, has gone to shit. With Koons and his artistic team, we are left asking who is the creator, really?

What is interesting to me about Koons is not just his concept but how his hand seldom touching the work he exhibits upsets certain viewers. Many contemporary artists come under fire for working with a  team of employees. Damien Hirst will receive the same silly criticism every now and again, usually after he has a blockbuster turn out to one of his exhibits. And it is a “silly criticism” because this form of production has been in effect since the age of the guilds (if you think Michelangelo painted the entire Sistine chapel by himself, you are grossly incorrect). That one man conceived the idea but then outsourced the production of it is no different than anything else mass produced. In our time of hyper consumerism and mass manufacturing, his work could not be more astute. What I think Koons’ work reflects on is how deep concepts of ownership and possession run with people in stark contrast to what they believe art should be. His concept isn’t new. It’s all too familiar. It’s ‘transaction’ and ‘commodity’ on display. No matter how badly we’d like to believe art and consumerism are mutually exclusive, Koons reminds us they never really have been.

So what is art, then? What does this have to do with my “Works” and “Makes” pages? I think I have lost track. Let’s see if I can bring this home.

There was a professor I knew who had a very successful, active art practice outside of teaching that took them all over the world, exhibiting in national and international galleries. What a dream! To teach art and make art, and through which have the means to live. This same professor also worked under a pseudonym making and selling popular wall art for business/hotel lobbies — a lucrative and equally successful endeavour.

I mention that not to necessarily condone this choice, but to question it for my own purposes. I feel the choice to create under a different name is out of embarrassment and I guess I don’t completely understand why. Is it so shameful to be equally successful at making mass produced art? Does it make you a true artist if you only show in galleries? Is it an impediment to one career to be known as well  for a very profitable other? If art is, at the base, a commodity, why does a pseudonym even need to exist? It’s creation whichever way you look at it. Can you make things and create works as one persona? Or must they be mutually exclusive? Can you create as artist and …artisan?

As I have mentioned before, I have so many things to share with the world through different avenues of expression. I enjoying making and creating, and I hope that I can do so from a place of intention that represents me, wholly and completely. I’m not trying to be a purist, and I’ll bet this may be read as slightly smug by some. That is a fine assessment. On some level, I guess I admit I hear it to. I understand that in one circle my works will be accepted and in another, perhaps not, but I have no intention of hiding either. Art is… so many things and I intend to work. And make.

On Journalling

Archive from May 14, 2015

I have been writing in a journal since the age of seven, though my dedication to the craft has waxed and waned over the years. What has remained consistent over time is how the act of journalling has saved me. Even now, when life seems to be handing me too much and solutions far from attainable, journalling helps me find clarity amidst chaos. I journal when I feel myself turning inward and shutting out life and those I love. I journal when emotions cloud my vision and I need perspective. I journal to help my mind tune into the tasks at hand. Truly, the act of journalling is cathartic and grounding.

Only recently have I begun to appreciate and love my method of working my concepts out through journalling. Part of that acceptance and love resulted in the creation of this site, which over time I hope will become a rich archive of thoughts.

When I was in art school, high emphasis was placed upon working  through your ideas conceptually in your sketchbook. This does make good sense: your sketchbook is the map of your ideas. Sometimes, it is the ability to trace backwards that saves you. Rather than gently adopting this practice, however, I aggressively devoured it, taking full ownership with grave seriousness. Yes, I viewed a sketchbook as a valuable place to work things through, but  I also took a severe view, that a sketchbook filled with drawings was empirical evidence of one’s deserving to call themselves an artist. I saw a full sketchbook as proof of one’s level of dedication to their craft, a measurement of one’s seriousness about their success. Success on whatever terms, it didn’t matter to me. If you wanted to go corporate, gallery, craftsman, teacher, or artisan that was your prerogative. What mattered to me then, of myself and my fellow classmates, could be summarized by artist, Joan Jonas: “The answer is the work. To work. To care about the work.” An empty sketchbook  to me said “wanderer,” or “lost soul,” and I wanted nothing less than to be wondering or lost.

I can hardly type these words of admission out now. It was such an unfair, hypocritical rule of judgement. Time, thankfully, allows for perspective if one chooses to look back and reflect. Now I understand everyone creates differently and at different speeds and volumes. Why I couldn’t accept this fact then I can only cough up to youthful arrogance with something to prove. To whom? Myself I guess, but what self I imagined I was proving this to, I still do not know. Truthfully, I hardly ever wanted to sketch my ideas out. I wanted to write them out. I was deeply ashamed of that for a very long time. I had worked in my mind writing my ideas out was antithetical to what a serious artist –a true artist– would do.

I forced myself to do the opposite of what felt natural to me. I vowed to suppress the urge to write, with slips here and there. I worked to fill blank pages (which, believe me, are equally as terrifying to face by someone who considers themselves creative as they are to someone who considers themselves not) with smearings of pastels and mixings of oils, cut outs from national geographic magazines paired with funny drawings, passée wrapping paper found at a thrift store glued onto canvas and worked over with acrylic paint, all in search of something I did not know. All the while, I drooled jealously over the pages of my classmates’ sketchbooks, effortlessly bursting with drawings, collages, paint samples, and photographs of inspiration. I envied their carefree, intuitive approach. Without knowing, I was wondering. I was lost.

There was always a feeling of without at the end of a project, always a feeling of reaching for something within but always moving ever-so out of arm’s reach. For a long time I misunderstood this feeling inside as a form of artist block, even though it was. It just wasn’t the form I expected. I’m not proposing that writing is the key to releasing me from my captivity, from my wandering or my being lost.  Is it really captivity? It’s too early to tell, and clearly, the issue is bigger than the solution of, “Oh, I just need to journal and then I’ll finally feel like the creative soul I know I am.” I  recognize in the past, with a few exceptions near the end of my post-secondary experience, there were  elements of withholding in the way I worked because I didn’t think what I had to say, literally, was deserving. I hope to change that here. Now. I have so much to share creatively with the world, whether through writing, design, or installation. I offer this page and the others as examples of that breadth of creativity.