Saturday, June 28, 2014

10 Real Life Gardening Tips I Learned the Hard Way

I think we can all agree that the majority of my blog posts are about spiritual matters so this time I wanted to share a different side of myself with you. I love gardening. My parents get a big kick out of this since I hated working in the garden growing up. I think that was mostly because I didn't appreciate, well, much of anything as a teenager. As an adult, wife, mother, responsible citizen who lives in the current economic climate I've really come to appreciate a lot of things I didn't back then. Hard work, the value of a dollar, where real food comes from, just the joy and satisfaction of seeing your hard work pay off are all a few reasons I've come to love gardening; not to mention, gardening is an extremely rewarding spiritual experience as well. But there are also many frustrations about gardening I didn't quite share in as a youth. Which brings me to the point of this post. I've compiled only a few of the major mistakes, twists and turns, gardening has showed me to share with all of you. If you're a beginner I hope you find this list helpful. These are just a few tips to get you started.

1. Dream big, start small.

My garden has easily doubled in size every year. I'm already making plans for my garden next year and it will be twice as big. I'm glad I started out small though. Oh I had vast and wonderful dreams for my little garden that first year. I planted carrots. A lot of carrots. At the time I juiced about a pound of carrots every morning. I envisioned myself strolling out to my garden every morning, pulling a few fat juicy carrots for my morning juice, plucking other wonderful ingredients along my way like kale, mint, garlic, parsley. So more then half my garden was carrots. Well here's the deal about carrots. Once you pull them, they're done. Not like a tomato plant that keeps producing. One and done. That's how carrots work. Also carrots take FOREVER to grow and mature. I planted early spring and finally by November I just pulled them all up. I got one tiny harvest of sour, dirt tasting, pinky sized carrots. But you know what? I learned from that. I learned a lot from that. It takes time to learn what kind of soil you have, what plants need what to grow. I learned carrots don't grow very well in the soil I have in my backyard. I learned that I don't like one and done plants. I learned that gardening helps you grow patience not just vegetables; that was the hardest lesson of all. So my advice is dream big, dream real big. Think about all the different kinds of plants you'd love to grow but start small. Instead of planting 10 rows of one thing plant 2 or 3 of one plant and see how it does. Especially if it's your first year. Generally the first year isn't that great even if you know what you're doing. So don't invest a lot of money, time, and energy in a huge garden that very well won't produce much at all. I learn something every year about different plants and I've talked with gardeners who have been gardening for 30 + years and are still learning new things.

2. Don't neglect your dirt.

If you're like me and have 4 kids, a large dog, and a cat then you are probably about sick of poop. That is until a truck load of horse, cow, goat, rabbit, or chicken crap gets dumped into your garden. NEVER have I been so excited to dig in cow poo as I was that first year. I personally unloaded 400 lbs of organic cow manure into my garden. Hmmm let me rephrase that. I didn't *personally* *unload* 400 lbs of manure. But I did, all by myself, unload 400 lbs of manure from my van onto my garden. (Oh here's another tip, if you're serious about gardening invest in a truck!) I was pretty much just as excited about cow poo the second year I did it as well! What kind of dirt do you have? Sandy? Clay? Brown, red, black? I'm pretty lucky in these parts. Most of Oklahoma sits on a clay foundation but my back yard is full of some of the darkest, richest black earth you'll find. Stick a shovel in my back yard and you're bound to hit a worm, no lie. So figure out what you have to start with and what plants like it or don't like it. Then fertilize, fertilize, fertilize. I prefer organic and here are some ways I've found work for me:
Organic manure. Get it wherever you can find it. Places like Lowes and Home Depot usually have 40 lb bags of it pretty cheap (although it gets more expensive every year!) Often times you can find it on Craigslist from farmers or ranchers who give it away as long as you can haul it off. Just be sure to double check that no chemicals/pesticides/weed killers were used around the compost pile because this can totally screw your garden.
Compost kitchen scraps all year. All year I keep a big plastic ice cream tub (got plenty of those lying around) with a lid under my sink that I can fill up. My kids take turns taking it out to the garden to dump when it's full. You can actually find pretty nice looking compost bins for this purpose that can sit on your counter. But with 4 kids I can never have anything nice.
Grass clippings, leaves, mulch. These all make great compost. Great to mix in before you start and great to mulch with once your plants have come up. Basically you only want organic materials so no cat litter, grease, plastic, although cardboard and coffee filters are great.
Buy organic fertilizer. There are lots of options, pellets, powders, mixes. Every year before I plant, after I've readied my soil I dump a big tub of organic fertilizer over my garden, especially right before it rains so it can get nice and soaked into the earth.
There are also lots of homemade fertilizers for different plants you probably already have the ingredients for in your kitchen. Epsom salts are great for tomatoes and peppers. Banana peals and coffee grinds are great for tomatoes as well. Egg shells are an excellent source of calcium for plants with blossom end rot. Pinterest is a wonderful resource for all kinds of fertilizer recipes.

3. Thinning is your friend.

Probably one of the hardest things I've had to do as a gardener is thin out my vegetables. Why would I want to pull out a perfectly good plant? Thinning out certain plants is really one of the best things you can do though. Carrots, beets, pumpkins, squash, okra, leeks, are just a few that I can think of that really benefit from being thinned out. They all need room to grow. Root veggies can be especially deceiving. They can look fabulous on the top but if they're all crammed together they don't grow down, they grow up. So for example, you can have a gazillion beautiful carrot tops (told you I learned a lot about carrots my first year) and literally no carrots. Not all is lost though, many times you can do something with those plants that have been thinned out. Beet greens are super yummy, so thin those babies out and toss in a salad. Squash, cucumber, zucchini, pumpkin, they all transplant pretty easily. So if you have three or four sprouts next to each other and you have room spread them out once they are a few inches tall. If you don't one will end up taking over and the rest will die off anyway.

4. There IS such a thing as too much love.

Wait a little while after planting before you start to weed your garden, especially if you're not 100% sure what your sprouts look like. Spinach in particular looks a lot like grass. I usually wait until my sprouts are all a few inches tall before I go to town weeding. I did learn this the hard way the first couple years after pulling out a lot of my sprouts thinking they were weeds. Doh! *hand to forehead* Another way we can love our plants to death is by watering incorrectly. Yes there is a right way and a wrong way. A lot of plants have their own preference but I pretty much water all mine the same way cause I'm just bossy like that. Kale for example prefers to be watered the same amount the same time everyday and since I grow a lot of kale that's when I water everything else. It's much, much better on your plants to water only once a day. Give them a good soak preferably morning or evening. This way they form longer roots and are heartier plants. There's also such a thing as over watering. If the ends of your produce start to rot or if your plants start to yellow, especially leafy greens, you're probably over-watering. Sometimes this can't be helped because of too much rain. I lost a lot of beautiful spinach plants this year to too much rain. You can also over-love your garden by too much pruning or what I like to call, "impatient pruning." Impatient pruning is when you see a bit that needs pruned but are too lazy to get the proper tool to prune with so you yank off the branch, shoot, blossom, leaf, stem, or sucker and accidentally rip your plant out of the ground.....don't ask me how I know that.

5. Don't let your weeds take root.

Once you are completely sure what is weed and what is sprout feel free to weed away to your little hearts desire. As soon as you see that little weed pop it's head up yank it out of the ground. Don't let it go to seed or you'll have a full blown invasion on your hands. I personally have a bowl designated for weeding in my house. It's labeled "attitude adjuster." Just ask my 8 year old. This system works pretty well and weeds are really not a problem for me any more. Seriously though, going a day or two without much weeding probably won't hurt but eventually the grass and weeds WILL take over. I became very aware of this last year when I was 8 months pregnant in July and it became literally impossible for me to bend over; what am I saying I stopped bending over the minute I found out I was pregnant.

6. Know your enemy.

This is a big one. I lost a whole crop of squash one year to vine borers because I didn't know what was happening until it was too late. And nothing brings the "f" word out of me like a blasted squash bug....OK OK OK, nothing makes me *think* the "f" word quite like a squash bug. They are foul and disgusting creatures and you do not want them to infest your garden. There are just far to many pests to name and suggest remedies for in one blog post. So do your research. If you see a bug, don't assume it's OK because it's probably not but there are a lot of friendly bugs so don't just start smashing. If something weird starts happening to your leaves, vines, roots, or stems inspect the plant thoroughly for any sign of insect activity immediately. Don't wait and see what happens because what will happen is everything will die. Nothing more frustrating then leaving your garden healthy one night and waking up to it half dead the next morning. One caterpillar alone can decimate a lettuce crop in one night. Something nibbling your fruit after you've waited patiently for forever for it to ripen? Rabbits, mice, squirrels, moles, birds....all easily remedied by a feisty cat. Seriously. That's my advice. Get a cat. Haven't had a problem with animals sneaking in my garden since.

7. Don't be afraid to get dirty, or smelly.

Cow manure, squished squash bugs, sweat, these are a few things I've had to overcome once I first started gardening. Now, I'm not a girly girl by any means but dirt (haha who am I kidding? Cow poo!) under my finger nails was a new experience for me. I wonder now why I would even bother painting my nails. Actually. No. I never wonder that, the thought of painting my finger nails never even crosses my mind any more. Dirt, sweat, bugs, whatever the residue is called that gets on you after touching a tomato or squash plant and makes you itch for forever, it's all part of it and if you want a successful garden you're going to have to roll up your sleeves, have a designated pair of shoes JUST for gardening, and get used to crap getting under your nails. Literally.

8. No shame!

Failure is not just an option. It's a given. There are so many variables, pests, and learning opportunities that sometimes things are just going to go wrong. There's no shame in that. Sometimes you'll rip out your own plant accidentally, or over-water, or be too tired to water or weed, or you'll plant too early or too late or it will be too hot or too cold. Epic failure is part of the gardening experience. Sometimes plants have a mind of their own and just won't produce for many different possible reasons even if you do everything perfect. The reward is totally worth it but if you let every dead plant or tomato that's already half eaten get you down you will miss all the joys of gardening. Obviously there's nothing like bringing in a big harvest but gardening is like it's own parallel universe, stuff just happens sometimes that's out of our control and it happens to the best of us so there's no shame in it. If anything it's the gardener equivalent of battle scars, something to brag about and freak out the civilians with.

9. Don't go it alone.

Of course you should have your significant other be on board and on the same page. My husband is all for a bigger garden, less he has to mow he says, but he's not majorly into gardening. He helps me with the heavy lifting and is supportive but doesn't like to talk about seeds, compost, or bugs; nor does he share in the depth of my hatred for vine borers and squash bugs. I have friends that garden and I thoroughly enjoy sharing many conversations centered around those topics with them. Facebook gardening groups and blogs are also great resources. I'm part of an awesome group about urban gardening and it's full of advice and opportunities to share pictures and condolences for dead plants. Like I said before, there is always something to learn, why not learn from someone else's mistakes?

10. There's a reason He walked in the garden everyday.

Maybe I'm just super spiritual but with each of the points above I can't help see an underlying spiritual lesson to be learned. Life is a journey we learn along the way; we start out humbly but that doesn't mean He doesn't want us to set our sights on bigger goals and dreams. No matter what, you can't forget about or neglect your foundation. Sometimes it takes intentional maintenance to keep our core beliefs, the foundation of our faith healthy. Without it nothing good can grow out of our lives. If we've believed one lie it can shape every aspect of our life. It's important to drink deeply from the well of His Spirit daily, to let our roots grow deep into His Word and Truth so we won't be swayed by the storms of this life. Because there is a very real enemy that would try and rob you of the fruit in your life. We have to stay vigilant, knowing his plan is half the battle. The Word says, "resist him and he'll flee." Guard your heart, your mind, don't let yourself be taken in by his schemes. Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid. Darkness, dirt, hard work, it's all part of this life. But you are strong, capable, created with a purpose, and you can do it. And when you still manage to fail? Do not be ashamed! We've all been there. We've all fallen short. But there's a reason the Father walked in the Garden with Adam every day and there's a reason you should walk in yours every day. Relationship. When you put your heart and soul into it, no matter the out come, you won't be disappointed. Don't neglect your garden, and don't neglect your relationship with your Creator. Let Him tend your heart as you tend your garden. Watch the seeds come to life. Enjoy the fruit and share it with your loved ones. And feel free to share it with me any time! You're not alone!

If you have an awesome gardening experience I'd love to hear about it. Comment below and share this post with your friends if you've enjoyed it!

Friday, June 27, 2014

One of Those Days

Ever had one of those hair pulling, scream out loud, make you want to cuss, foot stomping, fist pounding days?

What do you do when that happens? I'm still learning how to handle these times like a mature Christian adult woman and not like my 3 year old. But I gotta say, it's hard! After fighting the urge to rant and vent on Facebook or call my friend and rage about the injustice of it all, not too mention doing all the things I mentioned above, what do I do with all this negative energy?? I'm sure there are lots of books out there on how to handle "those" days. They probably recommend finding an outlit, a way to displace all that negative energy into something positive, like doing things like yoga, meditation, taking a walk, or keeping busy with a hobby like gardening or wood working or, I don't know say, blogging. And those are all well and good and I do plan to go pull some weeds in a bit after I'm done blogging. But I'm really trying to discover how I can stop and in, not just those disappointing moments or moments of heart break, but also times of frustration and even joy and let the Father breathe life into every part of the situation and my heart. I want to share every aspect of my life with Him.

Warning: Rabbit Trail Ahead:
How does He do it? How does He love us so? We are such a frustrating species! Sheesh, I mean really. I feel like generally speaking I'm a pretty loving, forgiving, good natured person. It's in my personality to go with the flow, take life as it comes, not stress about things. I'm usually not easily angered and just being a parent has taught me sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo *deep breath* sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo so so so much patience. AND YET, still I find myself so frustrated at times with people. And I know I must really frustrate people too. A LOT. And by people of course I mean my husband. So HOW does The Father do it? Just love us despite it all? I want to be more like Him in this area. I want to love people even when they are frustrating.

Choking back my sentiment, I refrain from blasting on Facebook or from gossip. Instead, I fall humbly in worship. And in that weak and vulnerable moment, I know He sees me. He sees my heart. He sees my frustration. He sees the injustice. But He also sees my own weakness. And He doesn't blast me. He doesn't shame me for my judgement or lack of compassion or understanding. He doesn't expose my own lack of consideration for people at times. He just loves me. In that moment The Spirit comforts me and breathes peace on my soul. I no longer feel the need for retribution. Forgiveness comes easy. Can I learn to walk in such grace all the time? Can't this be my initial response? It can be so hard sometimes to choose to die to your own desires and instead choose to be more like Him. But the more we offer up of ourselves the more He gives back of all that He is. The more like Him we are the more we gain in the end.

Sure there are times when the truth, spoken in love needs to be said. Absolutely. But this can't be done out of our own sense of what righteousness is or our own desire for justice or retribution. It must come from a place of true compassion and true forgiveness and yes, relationship; if speaking the truth only makes YOU feel better it's probably best left unsaid at the moment. Trust Pappa to be the one to handle it in His own way in His own timing.

It's amazing what just being in His presence can do. My frustration was totally deflated and my attitude totally changed. It might sound too easy but Jesus is really the answer to every problem. Re-calibrating, bringing Him back to the center of my focus, of my life is how I can handle stress, frustration, disappointment, injustice, and even success and blessing. He is the well from which we can draw out every resource. We do not have to be dependent on our own ability for self-control or patience and thank God for that! Because I'd be a screaming, head banging, foot stomping, fist pounding lunatic right now.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Walking Through Disappointment

Someone asked me a while back when I was going through a really difficult season of my life how I was able to stay positive. My response was that for most people somewhere a long the line lies disappointment, whether that be financial struggles, health issues with your child or parent, or even just a lack of relationship and dependence on the Father. I told my friend that I was choosing to trust that this life is not the end of the story, that I still had so much to be thankful for and that if I trusted Him, fixed my eyes on things above, I could get through anything. The truth is this life can easily be filled with disappointment, disappointment in others, ourselves, or even filled with the deception that somehow God disappointed us. This world is full of heart ache but it's not forever. How do we make it through those hard seasons of disappointment? How do we still live a hopeful, joy-filled life in spite of experiencing crushing disappointment? I want to share with you a few things I've learned so far, a few pearls of wisdom that haven't failed me yet and have really got me through those barren places of my life.

Number 1: Forgiveness 
I don't think I could say enough about it. The act of giving and receiving forgiveness has completely and utterly transformed my life and set me free. Let me stop right here and say I've been wrestling with this blog post for a few days because of this lesson on forgiveness. I don't take lightly how hard the message of forgiveness can be. While praying about it a little while ago I asked Pappa, "Why isn't forgiveness one of the fruits of the Spirit?" And this is what He said, "It's not a fruit because it's the tree." Forgiveness is the Spirit. Forgiveness is Jesus and when He's planted within you, you have the ability to forgive. All those other fruits are fruits of that Tree of forgiveness, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. We couldn't have any of that if it weren't for the forgiveness that was planted in our hearts to begin with. It's a gift. Just as He's given us forgiveness He has lovingly given us the ability to forgive others. I believe it's because we were never intended for a life where forgiveness was necessary. Unforgiveness is part of this world and it leads a dark and miserable place that He doesn't want any of us to live. When we're not able to forgive in our own strength He gives us grace to walk forgiveness out one day at a time, one minute at a time sometimes. And sometimes He can change our hearts in an instant, whether that's through a change of perspective or a deeper revelation about the situation or a miraculous healing of our hearts. And as we forgive we are set free. Free of the hurt. Free of bitterness. Free of the dread of running into the person we need to forgive. Free from fear, and I've come to realize that fear is largely linked to unforgiveness issues. The gift of being able to forgive others is so overwhelmingly loving on the Father's part. He understands the world we live in and the likelihood of the hurt we are liable to experience. Instead of having to carry all that hurt and pain around we can let it go through forgiveness and experience freedom. Please know I don't mean to trivialize any hurt or offense you may have experienced. I know this is not a Disney movie. I'm not so naive that I don't understand serious trauma and dysfunction others can cause us. But I can testify that no matter what the offense, you can be free from it. Why does He let those hurts happen to us in the first place? Well that's a blog for another day, and I don't have the answer other then it's just part of dysfunction of this world. I've asked Him many, many times why and you know something? He doesn't ever have an answer for me either. He's only ever given me a deeper understanding of His love for me and even the love He has for those who hurt me. And sometimes that's STILL not enough for me. But His grace is sufficient to get me through it in that moment as I surrender and allow Him to move in my heart and as I lean into His gift of forgiveness.

Number 2: Forgiveness
Ha! See I told you I couldn't say enough about it! But this time I want to share the other side of the coin that is the gift of forgiveness. I struggled for a long time with not being able to receive forgiveness. I believe that was largely in part to the fact that I'm acutely aware of my unworthiness and likelihood to mess it all up again and again. How could I receive His forgiveness when I know in my heart I'm just going to sin again. But the truth is, He is worthy. What does that have to do with forgiveness? His ability and willingness to forgive is His prerogative. Is it right for me to doubt His grace? Or the amount of grace He's capable of? He is worthy of my surrender. My surrender to His will, to His desire to move on my heart, and His ability to forgive me no matter the sin. By not receiving that grace I've put myself in a place of pride and false humility and that's one place I've learned is not fun either! He's so worthy of our trust and surrender so let go of that veil of shame and let Him cleanse you, again and again and again.

Number 3: Hope for Today
I think the biggest joy killer and peace robber is worry. We all know that right? I mean that's kind of old news. But how do you walk that out? When money is so tight and you don't know how you'll pay the next bill? What will those test results mean for your child and family? What if the house doesn't sell? What if you don't get that job? What if God doesn't heal you? What if your husband never gets free of addiction? What if there will never be peace in your home? Now, now don't worry...Yeah. Right. At least that's how I used to feel in my own valley of disappointment. But somehow, you can shut all that down even for just a second. Focus on the right now of the moment. Close your eyes and ask yourself, "Where is God?" He's with me. Breathe. What's He saying? He's saying He loves me. He's saying I'm beautiful. He's saying I'm enough. He's saying He is enough for me and I choose, in this moment to believe Him. Right now. Today. He's enough. I have hope that He will fulfill that promise just for today. When you have nothing for tomorrow, no idea how it will work out, you can have hope, just for today.

Number 4: Perspective
So I hope I'm alone in saying that upon occasion I may or may not have the tendency to be slightly self absorbed. But I wouldn't blame you if I'm not the only one. It's SOOOOO easy to do these days. Everything around us encourages us to live life all about ME and to want what we want NOW. It can be so easy to get caught up in our own drama, and sometimes it's kind of superficial like spilling coffee on our shirt on the way to work or getting a flat tire with a van load of kids. And a lot of our drama is #firstworldproblems. But. Sometimes we have legitimate drama, real heart wrenching, gut clenching issues and sometimes we've just barely got our heads above water so excuse me for not caring about your expensive phone being dropped in the toilet drama. Am I right? Maybe you're in that disappointed place and you just wish the people around you would get some perspective! You've got your own problems. So you are probably thinking this lesson is about teaching those superficial people about getting some perspective right? Don't you know me by now? The truth is if you're in a valley, and I know this next part is gonna hurt, Pappa's going to use it. He's going to grow you in a way others will never understand. This low place is really an opportunity to go deeper, deeper in Him, deeper in trust, deeper in faith, deeper in love. And that is the perspective I mean. So when I say to get perspective I don't mean, be happy to eat your vegetables because of all the hungry children in the world, (although that is true and you should) what I mean is set your sights on things above, on things eternal. "Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." (Hebrews 12:1-3). I know looking up when you carry such a burden can be really, really hard and it takes a lot of self control. But you can do it one moment at a time. It's why He gives us daily bread. Hope for today. Provision for today. Grace for today. Peace for today. That's all you need every day.

5. Thankfulness
Now here is where I say be happy and eat your vegetables because there are starving children in the world. I wasn't going to include this one in this blog because I thought it was a little too obvious. Yet, I know, for me at least, I still need to be reminded. Often. This IS a fallen world and there is always someone going through something worse then I am. Maybe something about my situation is so disappointing but my children are all healthy. Not every parent can say that. At least I HAVE children, not everyone who wants a child can have one. You get the idea. Maybe it's an issue with your spouse. Maybe it's hard to be thankful for the one God gave you right now. Can you find one thing you appreciate about them? Often times it will be the one thing that drives you the most crazy! At least it is for me. My husband is a rock. He's solid and dependable. When he commits he always follows through. He's not flighty or tossed to and fro. He doesn't scare easy and he's not easily provoked. And that makes me crazy sometimes! Why? Because I'm the total opposite and could be quoted in saying I feel like he's the rock tied around my neck dragging me down! But only in my most dramatic moments of course, because I am thankful for those qualities. He's saved us from some pretty horrible ideas I've had that at the time seemed brilliant. But seriously, maybe it's just a small tiny thing you can hold onto for today. I'm thankful for clean water, and a working washing machine, and children who sleep through the night, and breakfast in the morning. Those are small things to me but I guarantee you someone wishes desperately that they had what I have.

So there you have it. 5 simple steps to help walk through disappointing times in life with hope and joy. Simple right? But definitely not easy! Please share in the comments below if you are walking through something and would like prayer or if you have your own experience and lesson that has helped get you through hard times. Somewhere up there I should have included how much it helps to be encouraged by loved ones who truly see you and care about what you're going through even if it is superficial. Nothing is superficial to Him, He cares about what you care about!