Saturday, February 20, 2016

Why Shmita? Wait… what?

Once upon a time if someone had said the word shmita to me, I might have replied, “Bless you!”  It is an odd sounding word to my English tongue and understanding.  It is a Hebrew word meaning to release and occurs every seven years.  It can also be called a Sabbatical year which we may be more familiar with in the academic setting.  Professors or teachers take a Sabbatical year off from teaching to pursue travel, study or writing while still getting paid by their university or college.  It too is usually on a seven year rotation.

So what does shmita have to do with me and my garden?  Well, it is probably what I will say this year in response to the very common question I am asked, “How is your garden growing?”  We are introduced to this precept in Exodus 23:10 where the Heavenly Father is instructing the children of Israel on what is now referred to as the Sabbath Laws.  He in essence is telling people to take a day off once a week and to take a year off every seven years and during that time He would provide for His people.  How cool is that?  This concept is revisited many times through the scriptures including in Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, the Chronicles and Nehemiah.

T and the dogs enjoyed resting on a frequent basis.  I should have joined them more often as now I cannot cuddle up with all my boys again.  I do still have the most important one though.

So the question can still be asked, what does this ancient idea have to do with me and my garden?  Well, I believe that I was created by a supremely intelligent creator who truly understands how I work and how to best optimize the use of this body as well as the planet He put me on to live.  Scientific studies show that taking a day of rest every seven days is extremely beneficial.  Most farmers, horticulturalists and botanists agree that the land needs to have a rest period to rejuvenate and reclaim nutrients that have been depleted from the soil by harvesting.  This Biblical idea of a strongly encouraged rest period every seven days or years is completely validated by our “modern” sciences.

A Monarch butterfly at “rest” for a moment on a buddleia so we can enjoy its beauty.

I believe that the first job that God gave man was to be the caretaker of the garden.  This garden provided everything Adam and Eve, along with their children, needed to thrive.  This responsibility was pretty amazing in that they could choose to do whatever they wanted.  The instructions on how to do things God’s way were pretty specific but in the end, the gift of free will allows us to make choices for blessings or for curses.  As we know, you can ruin something pretty fast when you are only concerned about what you can get out of it rather than what is best overall.  I could (but will not) insert a rant here about all the ways we are deliberately destroying our world and people in the name of greed.

So simple yet so beautiful…  annual California poppies

So while scripture seems to specify that the land rest was to be done in the land of Israel, T and I have decided to practice this here in the United States.  Does this mean we think everyone should do it here?  Um, well since we are pretty sure that we aren’t doing it “right”, we aren’t going to point any fingers.  Emphasis on the word practice here.  However, in looking at scripture, we have come to realize a couple of things.

Not only is the land resting, the people are resting too.  But their faith is getting a pretty good workout.  You see, to rest the land for one growing year actually means that you will not have a harvest for almost two years.  This idea to release, to shmita something, to let go, means that I am giving up control.  The people in Biblical times were asked to give up control of providing for their family’s most basic needs.  I am giving up my control (what little I have of it over nature) to grow my food and how much I will have.  The control that I release from my tightly clenched fist allows me to grab onto a mustard seed of faith.  Faith that He will provide for all my needs. The promise given in Leviticus 25 and 26 is that you will still be eating the harvest from the sixth year in the eighth and ninth.

T and I had a recent discussion about what this actually looks like because these chapters were covered in his Bible reading schedule last week.  Both of us had previously thought that this just meant that the sixth year’s harvest was going to be huge and wondered how perishable items would last almost three years.  I also thought because of the prohibition against harvesting or reaping in your fields as stated in Leviticus 25 meant that you can’t pick anything in the 7th year because that would mean you would be harvesting.

However in verse 6 it states that, “Whatever the land yields during the Sabbath year will be food for you…” which sounds like a contradiction unless it is making a point of a principle of the definition of work.   To fully harvest and put up a crop is a lot of intentional, ongoing work and in my small garden that might mean growing, planting, tending, watering, weeding, staking, picking insects off, and defending against disease.  All this is being followed by harvesting, preparation and preserving.  On a Sabbath year I am not supposed to do any of the above and yet I can go out, pick something that is a volunteer, prepare it for dinner and eat it.  The issue is rest, rest from labor.  Yahweh is fully capable of providing plants that grow and produce without my intervention.  That makes me very interested in what will come up in our gardens this year on its own.

Matthew 11:28 – 30 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  The yoke referenced here is a yoke that is put on a team of oxen to pull a plow and represents His instructions given in the scriptures.  Even though you are asked to do something, you are not doing it alone for in the yoke with you is Yeshua.  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me…”   He makes it light and easy because it is His power enabling me to do the work.

Rest… in miniature
That little bench up there in the upper bed?
I have sat on it perhaps three times and not for long when I did.

I have given you a long history and Bible lesson to explain the why of what I mean when people ask me how my garden grows this year….  I will say we are resting, shmita.  Very nice.  Ok, what do we think that will really look like in our yard?  We have 12 raised beds which are designated for annual food growing and that specific space will be what we are resting this year.  The perennial food plants we will take care of but not put up for ourselves.  Perhaps we will offer our organically protein laden apples to our neighbors to glean from.

I will also not be starting food plants for our garden this year but I do hope to start flowers.  These will go outside of the food garden beds to continue to promote our beneficial insect populations and because they are pretty. We plan to redo several flower beds and the ailing goji bed this spring as well.  We will have time to do this as we won’t be focused on the food garden.

Perhaps I will pull out my foraging pamphlets and go searching for wild edibles and will have time to go for walks in the woods and on the beach.  I guess I really don’t know how to rest.  With all of the seating in our yard, I rarely ever make use of it.  The moment I sit down, I see something that needs to be weeded or fixed.  Perhaps I will have to practice just enjoying my yard.

A dew covered spider web makes one slow down
and appreciate the incredible artwork of a small arachnid.

As for the question of food?  I am truly blessed by abundance in my area.  I will be faithful to the farmer’s market and will be purchasing more than I usually do from my favorite vendors.  The grocery store carries many organic products and I currently have some canned food from this past year left.  We will not go hungry.

We had warm temperatures and the snow is shrinking in dirty piles…
this makes one hope for spring despite the calendar telling me it is still two months away yet.
These crocuses are from a previous spring.

Shmita…. Bless you…

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Things that remind me that I am loved

I was standing at my kitchen sink doing dishes and contemplating the two orchids who currently call that window home.  The stories that are connected to those two plants brought a smile to my face and the idea for this month’s picture blog.  To take pictures of things that remind me of the love someone has for me.

The view out my kitchen window.

Yes it is February and Valentine’s Day is here, but that is not the point of this blog. My thoughts on the commercialization of a single day of the year when your “love” is exploited by retailer’s opinions and the “required” purchases of unethically sourced chocolate and roses are probably obvious.  I believe that shows of affection and love are just as important on every day of the year for everyone, regardless of the status of one’s “love life”.   Everyone should feel loved every day and wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could each be a reminder to each other?  You are loved and lovely.  Now if you had a wonderful time and made this day special for you and your special one(s), I am truly happy for you and encourage you to do it again on some random day just for fun.

Ok, rant over, back to my pictures.  Several items immediately came to mind for this blog but for the rest, I literally walked around my house and just looked at things.  I took 167 photos, culled out the duds and ended up with 101 pictures to choose from.   Once I got started, everything in my house reminded me that I was loved.  So instead of taking you for a three hour tour (did anyone else sing Gilligan’s Island just now?) of my home, I’ll just give you the highlights.

My wedding bands and wow, my hands look like my mom’s hands.

Obviously this one is a no brainer, my rings remind me every time I look at them of the covenant my husband and I made to choose to love each other for the rest of our lives.  Yes, chose to love.  Love is a choice, an action.  It is not a feeling, for feelings are very easily swayed by what is comfortable.  Some days being married to me is not comfortable for him, yet he perseveres and loves me anyway.  He is my best friend.  Fun fact:  I take off my rings frequently when playing volleyball or working in the garden to protect them from harm or loss.  The multi “diamond” band is actually a cheap $15 ring from Walmart that stays on when the more expensive rings are taken off so that I am still “labeled”.  Ahem, there is also a story about the importance of being labeled.

Second year of bloom from this Sukkot gift

This orchid was a gift from a friend of mine who lives in Alaska.  She is a Master Herbalist who travels down to Missouri to attend the same Sukkot site (a Biblical celebration in the fall) that we have for the past several years.  She purchases plants and gourds to decorate the outside of our worship building each year and in the fall of 2013 she found this orchid on clearance at Lowes and couldn’t resist.  Now for an orchid to be on clearance means that it has already bloomed and is now just leaves and only a fellow plant person would dream of giving it as a gift… but she is and she did and it was lovely.  I was very excited to find it outside my door on the last day of the feast and knew exactly who had gotten it for me.  She is also the person who saved a fig plant for me that was being given away in the campground.  She would have loved to take it home herself but couldn’t because of her airline flight, and knowing that I would be delighted with it, saved it for me.  Both the fig and the orchid are doing wonderful.

I believe this mystery fig (no one knew who was giving them away to find out its name) is a Turkey fig.  It and the Chicago Hardy Fig that I also have are both hardy to zone 7.  I bring them in every winter since I want them to eventually grow into small trees rather than die back to the ground and perhaps lose them if it gets too cold in my zone 6.

I am a saver…. Perhaps almost a hoarder if I were not married to my husband who definitely leans towards minimalism.  Also the fact that I find it difficult to function if things are messy around me has turned me into a very organized saver of things.  Every box is labeled and most things all have a home, including all the cards, invitations and thank you cards I have received over the years.  I have a large book that I tape all my cards into and occasionally go back and read the handwritten notes people have sent me.  I have many cards thanking me for help with different projects, weddings, parties and volunteering that I have been blessed to be a part of and this is a small way to be reminded that everything I do is important and when I feel unlovely and unneeded, to take my mind off myself and think about how I can show love to someone else in service to be a blessing.

Thank you notes from a wedding, anniversary party I helped with, handmade card from my sister, art class thank you and birthday cards.
Cards from friends, baby shower gift thank you, cheering me up card and a Happy Sukkot card from my sister – in- law.  That is a picture of one of her foxgloves from her garden.

The truly best way to deal with being in the dumps is to think about what you are thankful for.  There is a book called “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp which describes the idea of listing over a year’s time one thousand things that you are grateful for and how it can change your life.  Our small attempt to remember and celebrate our gratitude is recorded on our new Thankful Board.  We write down at least one thing every week on Sabbath and more if we think of them during the week and put them up.  At the end of the month, I put them into a scrapbook and we start over with a clean slate.  We have fun with it drawing small pictures and coming up with sometimes odd things that are meaningful to us but may make no sense to others.  That is ok, it is our thankful board.

The purple butterfly was cut out on my new Cricut Explore One.
I am still undecided if I am thankful for it yet.

I found the metal at our Restore shop, it was a stove pipe that T flattened out.  $2  The frame was found glassless, thus cheap, at a second hand shop. $1  I also found the magnetic pen and paper holder at a second hand shop. $1  My dad made the MDF board for me and I painted it with chalkboard paint and outlined the routed groove in it with white paint.  Pretty much free.  I then wrote on it with chalk and T hung everything up.  The push pin magnets were taken from the fridge.  I cut out a different shape for each month to make it interesting.

My camera was a gift from T and is one that I enjoy using on a frequent basis.  The lens cap holder was mailed to me from people who watched me “lose” it multiple times during a feast and did something about it.  I don’t remember their names now but I remember their thoughtfulness.  Best camera accessory ever!

T received this camera as a bonus from work about 11 years ago and a few years later gave it to me to use.  You have to understand that T is a computer programmer, tec guy extraordinaire and he takes his toys seriously. I am married to a geek people, a really cute, smart one, but still a geek.  His nickname is TAC man, how cool is that?  I do not touch or mess with his stuff.  Not because he is mean but mostly because I know it would cause him stress and he just wants to make sure that it doesn’t get broken or used improperly.  So when he gave it to me to use with no strings attached, that was a pretty big deal.

I really love this camera and have taken thousands of pictures with it.  T grabs it whenever we want to take pictures of the garden or cool stuff.  It has come on lots of hikes, taken wedding photos, graduation photos, Feast event photos and photos of things that interest me and probably no one else in the world.  It is beginning to show its age and the flash no longer works.  This has made me have to learn how to use the manual controls and to stand really, really still and breathe out and hold when I push the button and wait until the shutter goes.  It reminds me that he loves me and trusts me…  Price wise it is up there with the cars and wedding rings and so to replace it may not happen for a while but every time I pick up “T’s” camera, I am reminded of his love.

My baby Etrog plants came from seeds given to me this past fall.
Life is always such a wonderful gift.
This baby spider plant is a gift from my little sister.
It is in a pot and saucer that she painted.
My tzit tzit hang on my bathroom mirror,
ready to be color coordinated with my outfit.

Strings seem like a funny thing to remind one of being loved but that is what they have come to mean to me.  In the Scriptures it is recorded twice (Numbers 15:37-41 and Deuteronomy 22:12) that God asks His children to put blue tassels on the fringes of their garments.  These tassels are called tzit tzit and can be made in many different ways.  The main requirements being that they have a blue thread or string in them and that they are a fringe or tassel like ornament attached to clothing.   I have in the past, when explaining what these strings hanging off my shirt or pant loops are to the curious, said that they were to remind me to obey my Heavenly Father’s instructions.  This is still true, however, why should I obey?  Because all those instructions are for my benefit and blessing, given by a loving Father who knows what I need and how I should live.  They are a reminder that He loves me so much and I can show him that I love Him by my obedience.  My obedience does not earn His love, oh no, that was given and my salvation paid for before I was ever born.  My obedience demonstrates my trust in His wisdom and that His ways are so much better than my ways.  So these colorfully braided and sometimes beaded strings remind me that I am precious in His sight.

My Bible is filled with reminders that I am loved.

In the end, I cannot rely on any person to give me love or even myself to love me enough.  My faith and hope can only rest in Him, the one who created me, gave me life and continues to sustain me every moment of every day.  I am loved.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Failure is not fatal… mostly… unless you are dealing with plants.

I live in zone 6, actually it is probably more like 5b with a few micro climates.  I enjoy a great number of plants who like to live in my area and many more who will not live outside of my freezing winters successfully, like tulips, daffodils and lilacs.  They need the cold in the winter to make their life cycle complete and to bloom.  So with all this abundance, why do I desire to grow plants who are most definitely Mediterranean or tropical in origin?  I dunno… probably cause they are really neat.  My date palm, orchids and avocado tree attest to that.  I collect plants that need a greenhouse to coddle them, hence the reason my very patient husband sometimes complains that he lives in a jungle.

I have wanted an olive tree for several years now.  I can’t exactly explain why I want one; it is definitely a want as I am sure the effort of keeping one alive would not be worth the small amount of fruit we might harvest… maybe.  In any case I wanted one and purchased one at the Farmer’s Market this past fall.  A vendor there obtained one for me from her sister who grows them.  I paid $18 for a small but lovely looking plant.  I was thrilled.  While purchasing said plant, the vendor, who knows that I am fairly competent with plants, told me no less than 3 different times to not water it too much.  I earnestly followed her advice and my olive tree was dead in under 2 weeks’ time.


I want to jump up and down and yell and rant at the person who gave me such bad advice, blame someone.  Cry over the loss of this plant that I have desired and finally gotten permission to acquire, now to just have it die on me.  ME, the plant guru.   Embarrassment that I killed a plant, frustration because I really don’t know exactly what I did wrong, sadness for the loss and wanting so badly to blame anyone but myself for the failure.  So the plant sits on my plant rack.  My initial hope that if I watered it more, it might come back from mummyhood, has been thoroughly crushed by time.  This plant is not coming back despite the fact that it still looks ok having been dead these past three months.  I even prayed for it in desperation but apparently my Heavenly Father had a greater plan and lesson for me to learn.

My husband T has been listening to a Gut Summit Webinar online in which different holistic doctors, specialist, researchers and experts share their experiences and thoughts on the incredible complexity that is the gut and its effects on the human biome.  You do know that there are more “other” things living on and in you than there is of “you” right?  Anyway, one of the speakers spoke about how devastating stress can be to your body and introduced a new psychological idea that I had never heard of… and I have a degree in psychology.

My understanding has been that when a person is confronted with stress of some sort, the person has two ways to react: flight or fight.  This is pretty common knowledge and I have never questioned it.  However, this speaker introduced a third option that seems so obvious to me that I am slightly amazed that I have never heard of it before.  Freeze.  The brain perceives a threat and has to make a decision to fight it or to run away.  What if that decision process is so overwhelming that the brain can’t make a clear choice and just freezes? Now if a tiger is sitting there… you are probably lunch in an evolutionary setting.  Good thing I don’t believe in the theory of evolution.

However, it got me to thinking.  Failure or rather the threat of failure can cause me to freeze.  I am fairly competent at many things, school was easy for me, so is drawing, sports and talking to complete strangers.  I have been blessed by many successes in my life due to the gifts Yahweh has given me.  The flipside of these blessings is that I view possible failure as fatal and a punishable offence.  This of course is to be avoided at all cost due to both the repercussions on my ego and my perfection scorecard.

Thus I find myself avoiding situations where I know that I am not proficient and might fail.  I do not enjoy learning something new because the fear of failing is looming over my head and when I get “lost” I tend to shut down and freeze.  Emotion overwhelms logic which leads to a cascade of catastrophic failure.  At least that is what it feels like, but is that the truth? This tendency can make my world very small and I miss opportunities to try new things.

If my self worth is based on my achievement in a certain capacity, I will never measure up.  Failure will always be threatening to me, to who I am, rather than attributed to the possible outcome of a particular venture.  Separation between the two is necessary in order to function, to unfreeze and to live.  So despite my usual competence in green thumb territory, my olive tree died, a fatal end to a mistake I made.  It is a sad thing but a tragic thing would be my refusal to try again.

It has sat on my plant shelf reminding me that I messed up.  Reminding me of how I want to take it back to the farmer’s market and plunk it down in front of the vendor who gave me bad advice.  I want to drop the blame with a heavy splat in front of her too.  This my friends is called unforgiveness.  Ah… there lies the core of the problem.  Failure is not forgivable in my world.  Unforgiveness equals death which is fatal.  Perfection and failure, two ends of the pendulum’s swing and neither one is where you can live.  One is unattainable, the other undesired.

If I believe that I am loved, that forgiveness is available for the asking, then failure is not fatal, not the end of possibilities.  Yes, the consequences of my mistakes still stand, my tree is dead, but I am not dead.  I do not need to be frozen in fear.  I can forgive myself for following well meaning but inaccurate advice.  I can forgive the well-meaning vendor who didn’t realize that I would take her so literally.  I can forgive the olive tree who died on me when I wanted it to live so badly.  Forgiveness….

So where to go from here?  Well, I think the first order of business is to compost my tree, clean out the pot and put something living in it.  Second is to ask my Heavenly Father to forgive me for my attitude and grumpiness about the whole situation.  And finally, perhaps I’ll find an olive tree again to add to my little indoor forest of food plants.