There are lots of things that satisfy me about gardening. Here are some of my favorites.
Preparing the Soil:
Yesterday afternoon we were weeding the garden. I've planted carrots, Swiss chard, Chinese cabbage and lettuce in long rows, along with onions and potatoes. Every year for nearly twenty years I'd get a 10-yard dump truck load of mushroom manure from the Mushroom Farm in Petaluma. In case you don't know how much that is, it's a pile that would nearly touch the second story of a house! I'd work this into the dark clay soil one wheelbarrow at a time (and yes, my arms got sore). I usually got a sunburn on that day, and for a week afterwards, the whole yard smelled like a manure pile.
To me, it smelled like Heaven! Really! So, last night, as I was pulling these weeds, they came out so clean, the soil was so balanced and lovely, with just the right amount of moistness and nutrients, it was pure pleasure. My remaining little plants are standing straight and tall this morning. A great garden takes years in the making, because it has to start with wonderful soil.
I've hired gardeners to help with some of the heavy labor, and help set up irrigation systems, something I've not taken the time to learn. Some day. All of them remark how they'd like to put in this system and that, to help with the watering. And they'd look at me strange when I'd tell them, “But I like the two hours a day it takes to water.”
I really do. I look over the leaves as the wand spreads the wet goodness and washes away the dirt and grit, I watch as it sinks into the soil. I snip the heads off flowers while I water (I wear an apron with clippers, a small shovel, mosquito repellant, some assorted seeds for in-filling, a couple plastic plant identifiers and a permanent marker, along with some string). I replant seeds that didn't come up, or replace a plant that won't grow properly with a new seed, or bury the seeds I'm dead-heading back into the soil to create volunteers. It's the tending it takes to notice, adjust and gently coax and guide my garden into a thing of beauty.
And it very much is like writing a book.
Small shoots of cabbage and lettuces are plucked for salads. Othertimes I just thin the plants so that the ones remaining have room to grow. When your fingers work the soil so carefully and closely, you see things you would miss otherwise. Last night I discovered one of my baby praying mantis bugs. I put a larvae of them on each of two rose bushes in my garden out back. Each is supposed to harvest about 500 little mantis, who are voracious eaters of aphids and other non-beneficial bugs. Since he was crawling over the little pile of weeds, I carefully cupped my hands around his little 1/2″ body and placed him back in the roses where he could find the best food. Unless I'd been on my knees doing this job, I'd have missed getting introduced to him!
Every year my garden takes on a new personality, like the books I write. Working on my hands and knees, or watching from above carefully, helps me get to know the garden that wants to reveal itself to me. Yes, I don't grow the garden. The garden grows all by itself. I just place the order of things, set the stage for the play they create all their own. It is a very magical experience for me. It's like discovering characters that fall in love, or experience hurt or happiness in my books.
Taking the Bounty:
Harvesting comes along with the changing of the seasons. Like in the Bible, the time to sow and time to harvest. When I remove something, I can replant, or put something else in its place. Or, I can let the ground rest. Like one of my favorite signs over my desk states, “My garden isn't dead. It's sleeping.” Letting a garden rest is a good thing.
Eating the first fruits of my labor is always a joy. I've now had my first sunflower. My first handful of sugar peas, flat French beans and we've juiced lots of baby Chinese cabbage and bok choi plants as we've thinned the mounds. I've had a half dozen cherry tomatoes already and am on my second cycle of lettuce. We had enough small patty pan squash for dinner last night too.
And that reminds me, time to get the refrigerator cleaned out, because I'm about to become inundated with good, healthy food!
As you see, I could go on and on. There is one mindset for a flower garden. Another for a food garden. And I like to mix them together as well. I think lettuce grows well at the base of a trellis of sweet pea blossoms. Calendulas help with the moths that bring aphids and also discourage gophers. The garden changes every day, and each day it emotes different emotions as I tend, watch and enjoy seeing it transform before my eyes.
It is truly a living work of art. Hopelessly addicted. In love forever.
My father is gone, and every Father's Day I get over to his grave to leave some roses from my garden, and at Christmas I like to bring him drumsticks so he can keep playing. Dad was an engineer, and looked about as wrong as wrong could be as a drummer, with his hair fringe, and jerky motions, and the fact that he had to bite his lip and frown because he concentrated so hard on keeping up with the beat. Like everything he did, even making music was hard work. But he loved hard work. Always did and I'm sure he's working hard now.
What I learned from my father was how to survive. He was a very smart man. He did very well in school, but his childhood was marred by the fact that his own father suffered severely in World War I in battles in France, and basically came home mentally broken and eventually was sent to a state hospital until he could fight his way out. He never talked about his Dad's trials, or the fact that he had to get up at one or two in the morning to sing hymns or those Tennessee Ernie Ford songs, and that his mother got up and played piano for him. It was just a fact of life.
His father wore pajamas all day long after he came home, and wore an apron, was the chief housekeeper and cook for the family, and Dad had many tales about those days. He'd come home, throw his books in the corner, and not return until dinner, then after dinner he studied into the night. It was his way of dealing with the unknowns of living with a parent who was mentally ill for most of his life, in an environment where he didn't feel safe.
But Dad was never bitter. He loved his Dad. And as I was the oldest granddaughter, I loved him as well. Quirks, crying jags, days in the bedroom with the shades drawn and the arguments at the dinner table or the early morning songs my brother and I heard when we stayed there for a week at summer time, all seemed part of life. We took it just like my Dad did.
We were opposites in personality style. He would prepare and take copious notes. He hated to not know everything and so spent hours and hours researching thing. He once took apart our television set just because he wanted to see how it was made. He went to the dentist one time without novacaine so he could experience what that felt like. He was the perfect grandfather for my kids, even sliding down brown hills on our property on a cardboard refrigerator carton with the kids, and hitting a tree. He had to go to work the next day with a black eye. His commitment to the family was 100%.
As my mother was getting weaker from the ravages of cancer, he cut a fresh rose for her every day and brought it into her room. He took it as his job to take care of her those last 14 years of her life, and when she passed over, he was left without a job in life. Though my mother had gone, he was not ready to stop being a husband. So, at 80, my dad remarried, something none of us ever thought would happen and lived another ten years. I credit some of this to my new mom, Eunice, whom he loved with everything in his being, another testament, and another lesson to us all.
But the funniest thing I remember about Dad was a conversation we had at one of my son's soccer tournaments in Davis. He'd gotten married the previous year. My mother had been buried in a plot in the lawn of our local Memorial Park. He'd bought the plot next to her, but now that he was married again, his priorities had changed.
He asked my permission to have my mother moved to the mausoleum, where he had a spot next to her, but the two of them would rest beneath his current new wife and her deceased husband. “Sharon, when I die, I'd like to be buried next to both my wives.”
I thought about it for a minute or two and then answered him this way, “I'm okay with it, Dad. But let me ask you this. Are you planning on getting married a third time?”
Forgive the use of some of these promo pictures, but they are some of my favorite father/daughter images and I thought you wouldn't mind.
Happy Fathers' Day. Hope you spoil him, or spoil him in your dreams.
I have been funding part of this movie through Kickstarter. It is a project I believe very strongly in. If you want to read or listen to a very compelling story, listen to the audio book (which I recommend): Code Name Johnny Walker. It's about the Iraqi interpreter who saved so many SEAL's lives and a man whose hand I'd like to shake some day and say thank you. He was legendary for not only his dedication to the troops, the SEALs, but served at great cost to his own family. He now lives in the San Diego area, I believe.
Here's a further update on this movie, and they have just cast the lead role, announcing it today. I'm thrilled.
Tell all your friends about this wonderful project and let's all go and support it when it comes out next year. A true story that goes across religions, countries, loyalties, talks about love and family. This man loved his country and worked hard to save it. I know some day he'd like to go back and finish the job. But right now, we are lucky enough just to have been able to rescue him and hopefully keep him safe.
In my books, the interpreter is named Jackie Daniels. He appears in SEAL My Home and SEAL My Destiny, and again in True Navy Blue: Zak. All of these books are on audio.
One of the things I was most touched by was what he did on his first week back in the States. He went to McDonald's and bought his kids hamburgers and milkshakes, using real US money. And on Sundays, he likes to go to flea markets just to see what Americans discard. I'm sure when he walks up and down the stalls, those people have no idea what a giant of a man he is and was.
It does feel good to spend time as a writer in the company of readers. It's lush and feels wonderful! One of the best things about being a writer is to know that we are an important part of avid reader's lives. It is an honor, and it also comes with it a bit of a burden, to continue to deliver content and new story lines. I'm up for the challenge!
There are lots of things we do to become visible, and I've lined out some of my concerns in my post of last Sunday here. As you know, I have some things about this whole field that trouble me greatly. But, it is the platform we have, it is the platform that has given me the ability to sell my books in the open market.
My own future direction is to stay in the vein of interest for readers, and not to artificially create it, which some forms of advertising and promotion feel like. Certain types of “fandom” experiences feel that way too. Yet, we want fans. How do we know when we've crossed the line?
I guess the readers get to choose. My attending events like this, I get to become a “person” they know, not just read. That's important. I want to be generous with my readers, but I understand I won't win them all. But they are my life blood.
I've seen first-hand how the ebb and flow of popularity can change in a year, in a few months, even in a week. The bottom line? Be ready for the long haul, and don't get attached to any temporary setback. The long haul means basking in the glow of success, as well as plodding through the mud when we get discouraged. Most readers don't understand how writers sometimes get discouraged.
I have a great life and a great family I don't get a lot of time to be with. That has concerned be a bit this year. So, I may be cutting back on my travels and appearances. I'm going to choose wisely the reader events where I get good one-on-one interaction, not just ones where I party or get drunk with readers. That's not me. My breakfast this morning, as a wrap-up to Lori Foster's event, is just perfect: with either other wonderful ladies, where we got to talk about Navy SEALs, and hopefully answer their questions about me, my books and how I write. I love talking about my experiences. I also love it when family members bring new readers or members of their family along. Those readers I will do almost anything for.
So, you may not see me at the really big conventions. Not at the crazy conventions, or the ones where they specialize in over-the-top behavior. I'm a product of my generation, and a lady, even though I do write spicy books. Am I a non-fiction writer where I give 100% accurate portrayal of what being a Navy SEAL is really like? Heck no. I'm a novelist. I take stories and situations and make them into things I would like to read. I embellish! Some are based on true events, but most of them are my active imagination! And I think that's what's wanted and needed.
So, I go home to California tonight, thinking about getting into the next book to finish, spend time in my garden (some rescue will no doubt be needed, but not making anyone wrong for that), and some personal reflection time on what I want to do going forward. I know that I have some things I can assist my family in financially, and will be cutting away at other things so I can be a better contributor. It no longer is okay for me not to be available, or be traveling so much. Life is short and the grands grow up, and I want to be a part of all that.
So, it's balance I'm seeking. I have a good life. I'm taking care of my health. I'm blessed with a wonderful family and have been very successful in all the businesses we've had. Part of doing something for me is not only being a romance writer, but being a better wife, mother and grandmother, and perhaps have some time for friendships. I've neglected some of these in the past, and that's something I'm going to focus on most of all.
It's always good every once in awhile to get off the treadmill and make sure that my goals and dreams are all aligned with what the rest of the family wants and needs. And then, of course, I can add that extra bit of sparkle and fantasy. My rose colored glasses are still firmly in place. But those glasses have given me far more in real life results than a magnifying glass ever could. It's a balance of both worlds.
And I hope you'll continue to join me there.
As writers, we use social media to spread the word about our books and find other writers and fans who have the same interests as ourselves. We are, unfortunately, tied to it. People sell services, claiming to have the answer. Seminars are created and money is sometimes well spent, but most of the time it is wasted.
Now I'm beginning to rethink my strategy. It's all a guessing game, fueled by money and power, and I have to say, greed. Our social media providers are making tons of money, bleeding off our hard-earned dollars, controlling more and more what gets seen, shared and promoted. We have to buy ads to be visible, so it actually pays to make people invisible. We stand in line like lemmings to try to learn the “secrets”, when there are none. Who cares about being “visible” when the cost is greater than the gain?
Hard to play in this field when the rules have been kept from you. Or you have to throw a ton of money at things and learn by trial and error. I know because I've been unfortunately the victim of some of this.
I'm starting to not be okay with that. At some point, when can these big social behemoths start taking responsibility for our losses? Losses of money but also now losses of life. These same social media “partners” of ours are used to spread hatred and help train people who would destroy free and open peoples everywhere. And I find it on both sides of every political spectrum.
So, when do I begin to consider myself part of the problem if I don't start to stand up and object?
It's just a conversation. But I'm wondering at what point does it make sense to earn a living where I have to use the very services that are used to enslave and hurt people? Free speech is supposed to be open and honest, but doesn't mean people have the right to shut others up. I am ashamed of some bad behavior and hysteria dividing us. I'm ashamed of the fact that I have to keep my mouth shut too much of the time to satisfy someone else's idea of PC thinking. Violence, disguised as protests, is still violence. Let's call it for what it is. Taking away someone's right to speak is still stealing from someone else in the name of “correct think.”
It will never get better until people begin to question and speak out about these things, and endure the brunt of the criticism leveled against us. I want to be part of the solution, not aiding part of the problem. I'm listening, Facebook, Twitter and so many others. What role will you play, or are you going to just continue to take our money and laugh all the way to the bank?
It is a difficult conversation. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't start being had. If we don't start asking, perhaps we will never really be free. Perhaps those rights will be taken from us. We will be told how to think, how to act and how to not offend. If we do it often enough, we might forget as a people the days when free thought and being responsible humans prevailed. When we could disagree but not resort to violence or be so small in our thinking that we have to cut off anyone else's opinion?
We might forget what it feels like to be free. And yes, that means sometimes we'll have to fight to defend it. Freedom is precious. But it can be so easily taken away. I don't want to live in a world like that.