Good, Hard Work

16 Apr


So sorry about that, leaving you without a new post for a week.  I hope that if you celebrated a holiday, it was full of fun and family and food.

And if you didn’t celebrate a holiday, I hope that you at least celebrated spring, because if New York is a state to judge spring’s springiness by, spring, she has sprung!

In the past spring has always meant renewal to me; flowers and birds and rabbits.  But this year? Spring is all about pain.

My muscles haven’t stopped aching for weeks.  Up at the house we have been doing a lot of hard, back-breaking work.  We are trying our damnedest to rescue the garden from the encroachment of nature. You see, our garden was carved out of a high bush blackberry patch and neglected for at least one summer, if not two.  And to top it all off, its enormous space was very badly used.

There were only three beds in nearly 480 square feet.  We’re aiming for eight.  Two big ones for greens and tomatoes and six smaller ones for things like beets and peppers and eggplants and lots and lots of chicories, radicchios and kale (and maybe just a few overflow tomatoes).

It’s surprising to me how relaxing I’m finding the garden work.  I really enjoy the sweaty, gritty work of cultivating punctuated by moments of quiet struggle with the enormous woody blackberry roots.  I love listening to the birds and the small scurryings in the woods beyond the blackberries, and to the muffled hoots and hollers of our neighbors.

In my garden, no one is asking me to define the usage rules of had vs. have, or telling me to figure out how to run a department while giving each person a one week furlough, or how to define a depression or asking me if I’ve heard anything about more layoffs.  Perhaps you’ve guessed by now, but things aren’t going so well at work.

But I’m lucky.  I still have a job.  And I have a place to escape from that job.  And just last weekend, I had the opportunity to have all the local family over for a delicious Easter dinner.  I marinated a boneless leg of lamb in harissa and roasted it in the oven (basically this recipe writ very large), and whipped up some chickpea gnocchi, and a ridiculous raw beet salad from Jamie Oliver (make it and then let it sit for a couple of hours before serving, a crucial step the Naked Chef neglects to mention).

My stepsister brought a chocolate and Heath bar cake for her dad’s birthday and our parents brought stories from their recent trip to Egypt.  We laughed and ate and ran around the yard with the kids, who were fascinated by the big pile of dirt Isaac and I have removed from the garden.  And I only mentioned work once, in passing, to tell my mom that they had fired my boss, while she was somewhere along the Nile, in the last round of layoffs and that I’ve been left to lead, not because I’ve finally earned it, but because I’m the last man standing.  And then we went back to stirring and sniffing and laughing.

Food has sneakily become something new to me over the past few months.  I’m creating my own dishes less frequently, and when I do make something up, they generally flop.  I’m cooking more frequently from magazines and books and blogs, because all of my energies and free time are going into my future food.  The garden.

I am so looking forward to that first day when I can walk out back–with the beautiful basket Isaac’s mom got me for Christmas and a sharp little knife–and harvest some vegetables and then barely cook them at all and serve them for dinner.  But I’m also afraid that day may never come.  I’m worried that I’m being too fast and loose with the garden, not taking enough time to do things exactly right.  I’m worried my garden won’t produce.

But I’m probably crazy, because a few things are already coming up.  I just have to be prepared to fight the good fight against evil bugs.  I’ve got a big pile of grass clippings at the ready, and a little can of ashes.  I will not let them win!

So, wherever you are and whatever your situation is: employed, unemployed, overemployed, underemployed, I hope you have a place where you can be quiet and happy, where you can escape your computer and coworkers, where you can whip up something delicious for your friends and family.

Where you can do good, hard work instead of just work.


8 Responses to “Good, Hard Work”

  1. Jennifer Hess April 16, 2009 at 9:20 am #

    Beautiful. Beautiful photos, and a beautiful sentiment. Congrats on being the “last man standing,” and here’s hoping it continues to be so, and that you can continue to take refuge in your garden and the things you create to share with others.

  2. Christina April 16, 2009 at 9:23 pm #

    Hang in there. It is tough times, indeed.

    I’m so happy that you have the garden to help, and believe me, I know how much it really does help. Here’s a couple things I need to keep reminding myself about my place (so you don’t worry so much about whether your plots will produce or not):

    1) If you get it all done now, what will you do later?
    2) It takes years and years to establish great veggie-growing soil.
    3) If everything grows the way you want it to, what chance do you have to learn? And, if every variety suits your garden perfectly this year, then your room to explore every other variety is limited in the future. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I want to try growing EVERYTHING.

    Work wise is terrible in my ‘hood too. So many of my coworkers are getting laid off–the CA budget crisis has magnified the global crisis, especially in the public sphere. My husband’s job is touch-and-go, and it’s all very frightening. Here is how I’ve been coping: I quit the gym, I began running the trails and the Rose Bowl instead, and I started riding again.

    A horse can take care of a lot of ills.

  3. Christina April 16, 2009 at 9:24 pm #

    Oh, and if I don’t tell you enough, you rock.

  4. ann April 17, 2009 at 5:38 am #

    Jenn — Thanks! It’s hard to stay positive these days, but man oh man do we have to!

    Christina — I quit the gym too! I go running in Central Park. I’m sure I might regret it sometime in the middle of December, but I’ll rethink things when that time comes. I wish I could still ride, but I’m so worried about falling. And no one should ever ride a horse if they’re afraid of falling. There’s just no good in it. So I go visit a farm near the house that has herds and herds of little bay yearlings, Morgans maybe. That sure scratches the horse itch. They’re so curious and hilarious.

    Good advice on the planting. I’m so sad I can’t go see them this weekend. I’m staying in the city to go to a friend’s birthday, so Isaac is going to have to relay how they’re doing in words and pictures. I’m so anxious to hear how they are! Hang in there, I hope all goes well for you guys. You rock too!

  5. bloglily April 18, 2009 at 5:53 pm #

    Oh, Ann, your spring is so beautiful! And yes, it’s good hard work that’s needed right now, for all of us. xo

  6. Margaret April 19, 2009 at 7:25 pm #

    It seems to me you’ve taken the focus off of dissatisfaction, and placed it squarely on the one bit of life that one can shape and experiment with, in our society: sustenance. I’m dissatisfied with my job, and I am also choosing to focus on creating new combinations of meals (although pretty simple ones, admittedly) to invite friends over for and to create good feelings with. Because we often don’t get that good feeling at work, it is essential to balance our efforts with an outside interest. It is so great that you have a garden plot to play with and nurture! I haven’t found access to a community garden, nor have I gone in for a CSA share, since I live alone and it would go to waste. But I’m trying, and I perk up quite a bit when I visit your blog and see your positive spins, thoughtful musings, and evolved perspective. Thank you for sharing; it is appreciated.

  7. Toni April 19, 2009 at 11:44 pm #

    Ann, your blog is always a joy to read, and your photos are positively lyrical. As for the garden, try to remember that the garden is really a metaphor – it’s a process. Sure, you’ll get your tomatoes and peppers etc., but you’ll get so much more than that. You’ll get to engage with life in the most direct way, which is ultimately the most satisfying. If you can try to focus more on creating the soil you want, the end results will turn out better and faster than if you focus on the end itself.

    Now there I go – sounding like a freakin’ philosopher! Sorry ’bout that!

  8. ann April 23, 2009 at 7:20 am #

    Lily — Thanks! Hard work, or a trip to Connecticut perhaps?

    Margaret — That is a very estimable way of handling things you have there. And from the looks of it, you’re creating some wonderful, comforting food for your friends and family. Hang in there, we can all get through this together!

    Toni — Those are such good thoughts, thanks for being a philosopher! Your musings are always welcome here :-)

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