Garden Bounty

I know I’ve been quiet lately. It’s been a difficult summer. Not in a catastrophic way, like our last few years, but one of those where so many smaller things pile up that it suddenly becomes too much to take, especially for someone with chronic depression. I haven’t had my normal outlet of hiking for some time. Jim got a bad burn on his leg early in the summer (luckily it has completely healed–even the scar isn’t bad) and I hurt my foot last month. We have been paddling a few times–lots of fun, but not as often as I would like. Last month everything seemed to happen at once and I got to the point where I just had to hold on tight and ride out the storm. I’m finally reaching the end of this one and my saving grace has been my garden (and having the time to be out in it).

Gardening requires patience. You can’t rush it. Even when it’s exploding with produce that must be picked, you can only go so fast. This gives the mind a break from life’s chaos. The combination of being out in the elements, working in the soil, smelling the vegetation, and slowing down has a wonderful soothing effect on the soul. I have a chair near the vegetable garden and often just sit and listen to the bees. Even watering can be a relaxing routine–Jim fills the cans for me as I water (though next year we will probably look into a more efficient system!)

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I have always enjoyed gardening, but this year it’s taken on a new meaning, as we can really use the food–it helps with the grocery bill! We are making an extra effort to not be wasteful and it’s paying off with a freezer full of goodies, plus lots of fresh meals. I have only purchased lettuce once in the last several months and haven’t had to buy tomatoes since mid-July. Sunflower seeds are being roasted today, tomatillos have been roasted and frozen, zucchini grated, kale leaves packaged, salsa and sauces made and frozen. Peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers are all going strong. Fall seeds will be going in soon.

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An abundance of fresh produce can encourage a search for new recipes. We’ve tried zucchini raviolis and lasagna, using strips of zucchini in place of pasta. Both are wonderful and the raviolis make a pretty spectacular presentation, especially when topped with a sauce of fresh picked tomatoes and herbs. Our simplest go-to recipe is to take whatever has just been picked and put it in a freshly made tortilla (super easy to make!).

Growing your own food is incredibly satisfying. I’m very lucky to have room for a big garden, but even a few potted plants on a windowsill, balcony, or counter will give you a connection to nature. Many vegetables grow well in containers on a patio or deck. Tomatoes and strawberries can grow in hanging pots. Herbs can be easy to grow and have so many uses in both cooking and beauty products (I use a rosemary rinse for my hair). You can start small and still enjoy the benefits!

Happy gardening to all of you!

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Lower Big Quilcene Trail

We hit the Lower Big Quilcene River Trail a little over a week ago, on one of our rare non-rainy days this year in the NW. We got lost on the way but saw a bear crossing the Penny Creek Road, which made the extra time worth it (I would rather see a bear from the car than on the trail right in front of us!). The directions we followed weren’t great–actually the signage in the area isn’t great. Stay left when Penny Creek Road splits. Follow the signs for the trails, even though Lower Big Quilcene isn’t on the sign. It is marked once you get on the right road, and it’s the first trail you come across.

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This is one of those trails we put off, as it wasn’t rated highly in our Day Hikes book, but it has the advantage of being open most of the year! We have found that these easier trails are quite lovely in the spring. Not crowded at all and lots of little waterfalls everywhere, which will probably dry up later in the year. They also have a bit of sun, as the deciduous trees haven’t fully leafed out yet. And quite honestly, sometimes you just need to get out and commune with Mother Nature. It’s amazing what it can do for high blood pressure and depression. Try it!! This trail was pretty easy, with no major elevation gains. It is long if you do the round trip (almost ten miles for us) to and from Camp Jolley. You don’t always get that close to the river but you can always hear it it–sometimes a distant melody, sometimes a raging torrent. Always beautiful!!

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We saw quite a few Trillium that have survived our recent downpours. Also lots of yellow violets and even a few bleeding hearts in the sunnier areas. Salmonberries are flowering as well. Rhodies should be blooming soon, but maybe a bit later than usual with our weather this year.

We usually try to be well prepared for our hikes, and generally they are not that difficult. So far, we are definitely day hikers. But sometimes we over look little things. I wore the same hiking boots I have had for the last several years, with no problems at all, but I recently purchased a new pair of fairly spendy lightweight hiking socks. They did not work!!! Try new things on short trails! I ended up with four blisters and a bloody toe, simply because of my socks, which didn’t breathe as advertised and moved around too much because they weren’t as thick as my normal socks. Won’t be wearing them hiking again!

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http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/lower-big-quilcene-river

The Dangers of Too Much Stuff

Here in the US, we live in a culture that promotes the acquisition of stuff–lots and lots of stuff. We have ridiculous sayings, like “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Really?? What the hell do you win? This need to keep up with the Joneses, the need to acquire more and more, has caused countless problems in our society, but I’m not going to discuss the political or cultural ramifications of stuff. What I want to talk about is how it affects you if you are suffering from depression or dealing with chaos in your life.

Like everything else, stuff in moderation is OK, but many of us spend our whole lives collecting more and more stuff that ends up in boxes, basements, attics, garages, storage units, closets, and extra rooms. We pay money to store boxes of stuff that is never opened. We save stuff that friends gave us years ago. Are you really going to forget that friend if you get rid of the trinket they gave you at 18? We save clothes that need mending, even if they are 15 years out of style or we weigh too much to ever fit in them again. We save paper from ages ago. If you are my age, you don’t need your college transcripts, your first resume, or the documents from the first house you owned (unless you still live in it!). If your child is 25 and has a college degree, you don’t need every piece of high school work. If you put all the good photos in albums, you probably don’t need the crappy ones left in the box (and I am very guilty of that one!). If you are not using that stuff, there is a mighty good chance you don’t need it. Certainly there may be family treasures that are worth saving. There are documents that you must save. Photographs bring back lovely memories and keep the good times alive. But be real folks!

Stuff can be stifling. It can halt creativity. Too much stuff can surround us with stress, and if you are already feeling like you are on the edge, that stuff can be downright debilitating. Depression often causes us to be unable to start a project that appears too daunting. People who don’t have it will never understand, but the idea that we might start something and not be able to finish easily is sometimes viewed as just another failure. Or it may be that going through all that stuff reminds you of all the good intentions you had that were never accomplished–more failure. The problem is that the more you accumulate, the more likely you feel that failure just by opening the wrong door. You walk in a room and have to walk right back out because you can’t deal with all that stuff. It has physical effects that are not pleasant.

There are books out there that deal with this subject. I think some of them go a little bit too far, or are daunting in themselves, but they have a point. If it doesn’t bring you happiness or have some value or function (my can opener doesn’t make me happy but I do need it), it might be time to toss it. That in itself can be an issue, as we are often overwhelmed with what to do with things. We paid a lot of money for this, or we know that is in fabulous condition, but where does it go? If you have to make too much effort to get rid of things, you won’t. Unless something is truly valuable (like heirloom jewelry, a fancy car, or vintage furniture), you may find greater value in getting it out of your house rather than worrying about getting something out of it. I’m not suggesting that you throw things away (unless they really are junk). You should always recycle or donate when you can, but don’t have 27 boxes all going to different places. They will just end up staying right where they are. Keep it simple.

Getting rid of stuff does require the right mindset. It can be depressing in and of itself. It is overwhelming. It can be especially awful if you have lost someone and are going through their things (you need to take your time with this–it’s a whole different issue). You need to take advantage of the feeling when it comes along. Sometimes it can actually feel good to get rid of things, and when it does–go for it, even if you have to put off something else. You will feel better in the long run. Getting rid of excess stuff can help us step away from the rat race and find some balance in our lives. For those of us dealing with cosmic crap, that can be huge. We are not defined by our stuff, and we need to be able to see that.

I would love to hear your point of view on the matter. Any tips or suggestions?IMG_9663blog

These Lemons are Downright Rotten

A friend of mine recently told me she was missing my blog posts and I realized it had been quite some time since I wrote anything. So here’s my reason why. I apologize in advance, as this is going to be a bit of a rant, and I had hoped to keep this blog upbeat for the most part. But it is a blog about coping with major life changes, and sometimes you just need to blow off steam.

A few weeks ago, my husband got a call out of the blue that we thought might be a big change for us, finally in a good way. He got his job back, after a year and a half of being in limbo. The HR department sent him forms to fill out and he was given a date and time to report back to work in two weeks. We were stunned, and then relieved. A huge weight was lifted off our shoulders. It took several days to sink in but it did. One of the reasons I haven’t posted is that I was trying to decide how to continue the blog, as we would no longer be semi-retired.

Luckily, we made no huge financial decisions, because we failed in an age-old lesson–don’t count your chickens before they are hatched. Poor Jim showed up to work at the crack of dawn on Tuesday and was told, “Oh sorry. You don’t have a job after all.” Wow. Stunned once again. If they had called us a day or two after the first news, we would have been OK. After all, nothing much has changed–we are right back where we were a month ago. We didn’t go out and buy a new car or book a month-long tropical vacation. Our big splurge on hearing the good news was buying six fruit trees. I think we can recover from that expense! But the emotional impact is huge. I feel like we have gone back to the beginning, and we are now going through all those awful feelings once again.

We will manage. We were managing. We will continue. We have good supportive friends and family. We have each other. We have a house that’s paid for. In the grand scheme of things, we are better off than a great many people. But it still sucks. It seems like a really nasty, extended April Fool’s joke. And no one likes to feel like a fool.

My next post will be more positive, I promise!

Jim Finds His Artistic Side

I’ve always been the artistic one in our relationship. But with all the extra time on our hands from our unplanned retirement, Jim is exploring his creative side as well. He’s always been good with woodworking and made quite a few shelving units for our last house. He recently made a spice rack for me, and that has launched what may become a new little business. At the very least, it keeps him busy in a productive way.

His latest projects are making use of what’s growing on our own property, mainly in the form of small Douglas Firs that were never thinned properly when the property was owned by one of the local timber companies. Thinning out the smaller trees helps our forest environment and provides lots of wood that is just right for wooden coasters, spice racks, a shot glass display, and shelves for the liquor bottles. His next project is a display railing for my decorative plates that have been in their boxes for years. We’ll also be using some of the timber for our garden planter boxes (and some more hugelkultur piles). The rustic look of the fir looks just right in our little country home.

In addition to being a practical and thrifty way to added needed things to the house, the focus that comes with creative projects can really help in dealing with stress and depression. Regardless of what you plan to do with the final project, there is a sense of accomplishment. Even if it doesn’t come out quite the way you planned, there is always something learned in the process. If others compliment you on the work, there is that little boost to your ego. That might sound conceited, but there is a feeling of loss and damage to self-esteem when you find yourself retired without planning to be, and when you are at an age when it can be difficult to find a decent job to replace the one you lost.     

We are looking into the possibility of attending some local craft fairs to sell my photos and Jim’s woodwork. We’ll let you know when our first fair comes along! In the meantime, drop us a line if you are interested in the coasters or racks.

Explore Your Creative Side

I am a photographer. I enjoy most types of photography but am especially drawn to abstracts. I love the idea of capturing moods and the fluidity of time rather than freezing moments. If you are a creative type, you know how much your work can nurture your soul. But creativity can ebb and flow, and nothing puts a screeching halt to it quite like an unexpected disaster and the depression that can come with it.

My husband lost his job over a year ago. It wasn’t the only major setback we had at the time and all things together took quite a toll. I didn’t pick up my camera for months. I finally went to a counselor and I can tell you, it made all the difference in the world. She encouraged me to start shooting again–slowly, just for myself. I think that’s the key. Do it just for you. We tend to be our own worst critics, so don’t try too hard. Just do it. You can delete, rip it up, throw it away, but don’t give up.

Keep a journal of your feelings. You don’t have to show it to anyone, but if you are going through problems with someone else, it might be a good way to show how you feel when spoken words don’t always come out the way you want. A friend of mine is also having a very difficult time. She gave me some great advice. She draws in her journal, as she is an artist, but she was getting caught up with the whole perfection thing. The solution–use crayons!! You can’t be perfect with crayons, plus they are fun and might just put a smile on your face (get the big box!). If you are a photographer like me, you can sketch out ideas for shoots. A writer can use them too. Filling a whole page with pen or pencil can be daunting, but write big with those crayons and that page will fill up quickly. Let your inner child out and begin to feel joy in your art again.