Listen up, weeds. You have no place in my garden … or my head

October 29, 2013

DownloadedFile-12We have a little garden in our new house.  It is not large by South Africans standards but when you have to maintain it yourself and have no access to a gardener or cheap labour, it is big enough.

I am excited about the prospect of developing a green thumb.  Many people find gardening relaxing and an outlet for their creativity and this appeals to me.  I am keen to grow some of my own fruits and vegetables since organic produce at the supermarket is expensive.  I bought a how-to-start-a-veggie-patch book in French so I could kill two birds with one stone.  A friend gave us a lawnmower and I bought gardening gloves for Al, Megan and me.  Al bought a chainsaw to trim the hedge.  I still need to arrange a rake and a garden shed for storage but, other than this, we are all set.

This is the first time I have had a garden of my own to manage. I didn’t realise it would be so much work.

In French, weeds are called les mauvaises herbes, which means ‘bad grass’.  The first step seemed to be to get rid of the bad grass before I could focus on the good stuff, such as organising my veggie patch or planting new shrubs or watering the lawn.

This weekend, I rolled up my sleeves, put on my gardening gloves and I started weeding.  I want to annihilate all weeds before winter so that when spring comes, we can hit the ground running with the more fun, creative stuff.

DownloadedFile-8There are a lot of weeds because the old owners lost motivation once they sold the place.  It took me forever and I am still not finished.  At frequent intervals, I stood up and stretched out my crooked back and wondered how much longer it would take.  Weeding is the pits primarily because you need a lot of muscle power and brut force to yank out the weed from the root.  Often the weeds were entwined around the grass so I had to be clever about how I untangled and then pulled them without bringing the fluffy green lawn along too.

I think gardening is similar to fishing.  It is time-intensive and the solitude is an opportunity to contemplate deep things, such as the meaning of life.

As I was weeding, I ruminated on how my garden reminds me a lot of the inside of my head.  I have a lot of foliage up there.  Some of it is well tamed, such as the lawn.  The lawn in my head is soft, green and fluffy.  It’s the good stuff and is worth keeping.  It is all the thoughts that are positive and uplifting. I like to lie on my back and starfish out on the grass in my head. It is the self-talk that builds me up and energizes me.

DownloadedFile-11Interspersed among the green lawn, good-quality shrubs and the pretty flowers in my head, there are some weeds.  These are my negative thoughts.  They are my bad grass, my mauvaises herbes.  They are a problem and must be eliminated.  In some people, these weeds in the head are the what-ifs and if-onlys.  Thank God I have very few if-onlys these days.  My weeds are predominantly fears and, like the weeds in my garden, can get out of hand.

My anxieties grew wilder after Megan was born because I started to fear all sorts of things I never bothered about before such as her safety and health and life happiness and things that are mostly beyond my control.  I fear something happening to separate me from my little poppet and that undercurrent of anxiety is a big weed with deep roots that can be suffocating.

I learned a few lessons about both the human psyche and gardening during my weeding this weekend:

  1. Weeds have deep roots and it is very hard to pull them out.  But they must go.  There is no place for weeds in my garden just like there should be no place for random negative thoughts and fears in my head.  The thing to remember is, you must pull them out at the source, at the root.  You can’t just pluck off the leaves because it is simply superficial change that doesn’t last long and they grow back.  You need to identify the source, the root cause and then yank it out once and for all.
  2. Maintain your garden on a daily basis.  Your garden, or the inside of your head, needs constant daily maintenance.  As soon as you leave it, the weeds, the negative thoughts pop up.  As soon as you see a weed, zap it.  Don’t leave your garden untended because then the weeds jump in and take over like they are in charge, which they are not.
  3. Weeds are wild and pervasive.  There is no structure to them.  They grow wherever.  They entwine themselves around the good stuff and dominate and overshadow it.  Weeds are ugly and pop up uninvited, like most negative thoughts.  It is difficult to focus and appreciate the good stuff when there are so many weeds about.

As I was weeding, I watched Megan skittering around the garden, clapping the air while she practiced her newly discovered skill of walking.  I gazed at her as she waddled about like a gleeful, drunken sailor.  My heart burst with love.  I overflowed with warmth until it became like a fierce spring in me, as if it was above and beyond love, like some sort of madness or possession.  I briefly imagined what life would be like without my daughter and was overwhelmed by a disorientation or nausea, like one feels when looking down from a high building.  I wanted to run after her and squeeze her tight and never ever let her go.  And then I stopped and thought, ‘That is a fear.  That is a weed.  WEEDS MUST GO.’


We have moved!

October 22, 2013

I haven’t blogged in ages because we moved house and my mind has been too spun out and tangled to write.  Moving has sapped every scrap of my energy and spare time.  It is not for the faint-hearted.  It doesn’t matter whether you move five minutes up the road or to a different city or country; it is totally hard-core.

images-7Alastair, my mom and I worked like maniacs.  I have never been so physically exhausted in all my life.  The thing that tipped me over the edge was the hoop-jumping required to meet Swiss standards of cleanliness when one moves out of rented accommodation. We deep-cleaned our apartment with toothpicks, earbuds and toothbrushes.  It grated me that, when you sell a house, there is no requirement to clean it with your tongue, as there is with rented accommodation.

I was so glad to see the back of our apartment.  I loved living in it but the legal requirement to find the next tenant (which we couldn’t!) and cleaning the place until it sparkled was stressful and I handed over the keys with glee.  Thank God we passed the hour-long handover inspection.  When the surveyor had his nose to the windows and floors, I wondered if we had done enough.

Our little old landlady arrived to inspect too, which sent me into a tizz for she was tough as nails.  She negotiated the financial terms of our exit in French, despite being able to speak fluent English.  She put me on the back foot and I hated feeling so tongue-tied and cap-in-hand.  She got a couple of thousand out of us as our penalty and that’s why I didn’t feel bad cleaning her oven with the same steel wool I used to clean the toilet.

images-48Moving is a lot like The Memory Game.  I played it as a kid.  Cards are laid upside down on the floor and, when it is your turn, you must turn over two at a time and remember where cards are so you can match pairs.

In all the mess, I would see the scissors and think, ‘There are the scissors.  I will need them later.  I must remember where they are.’

Half an hour later, when I needed the scissors, I would scratch my head and wonder where the heck they were.  It was endlessly frustrating because I knew I had seen them but I could never remember where.  I would drift around, scratching in this box and that one, like some sort of agitated hamster.  It happened repeatedly.

Our new spot is further up the mountain, in the countryside.  Farms surround us.  I can buy raw milk, eggs, butter and cream straight from the source.  I can personally thank the cow or chicken that gave it to me.

I hear cow bells and smell cow poop from my house.  Who would have thought that cow dung would make me feel so centred?  After living in concrete jungles such as grey, damp London and the rat-race that is Johannesburg, my entire being is in a state of giant exhalation.  A friend visited and said, ‘Wow Julie, it feels as if you are out in the sticks.’

‘Yes, and that is just the way I like it.’  I replied.

My French teacher’s granny is 102.  I said that she must be the oldest person in France.  He replied that there are over 10,000 centenarians and they mainly live in small, rural villages in France.  We philosophized that fresh air, open space, daily physical labour, living off the land and no persistent stress were the keys to their healthy long lives.  Ok, so now I have the location.  I must just adopt the stress-free mindset and maybe I will live to 102 too.

Living in the country has a few cons, such as a lot more flies and there are mosquitoes the size of small birds. It is 8 minutes longer to drive into town, but seriously, what is an extra 8 minutes in the big scheme of things?  The house also needs some TLC, which sometimes frustrates me because I can be very I-want-it-all-and-I-want-it-now.

I am still not used to living in our new place.  I feel as if I am a visitor in someone else’s house.  It hasn’t sunk in that the oven is ours, the kitchen counter is ours, the windows are ours, the boiler is ours.  Sometimes, I wash my hands in the bathroom and I look at the tap and think, ‘Wow, those taps are MINE’.  I even own a chimney.  I’ve never in my whole life had my very own chimney.  We had to professionally clean it in preparation for winter and it felt weird and Dickensian organising the services of a chimney sweep.

I’m still getting used to the rules of the village.  It turns out that our village has withdrawn from the crèche network, which means that Megan will possibly lose her cherished place next year.  What a bummer.  Once again, I am at the mercy of The System and there is nothing I can do about it.

images-70We don’t have weekly rubbish collection.  We must take our black bags to the local dump, the déchèterie.  We must weigh every bag and pay 85c per kg of waste.  I don’t mind because it is an incentive to recycle and I have been doing this militantly, to the point of OCD.  I regularly lift our black bag and estimate the weight and then wonder how I can reduce it further and save a few cents.

So, in summary, the hard work was worthwhile.  I am not just talking about the physical graft of the past month.  I mean our hard work since we were young. This house is our little rainbow, our life gift after years of grafting, sacrifice, saving and dreaming.  University, accountancy articles, our qualifications and long hours in the office (especially for Alastair) have paid off because we can now see the fruits of our labour. I think of those moments of misery in my dead-end, soul-corroding jobs and, although I still feel I duffed in my career choice, I am glad it earned me some cash to contribute to a little house in the countryside, where I can smell cow poo.

Today I took this picture during my walk with Megan.  Green.  Green is my new favourite colour.