Thursday, May 08, 2008

Gardens, Budgets, Projects

So it's summer--or at least, summer insofar as us academics are concerned. I submitted my final grades for the spring semester yesterday, the annual end of the year luncheon for all faculty and staff is tomorrow, and graduation is Saturday. Then comes a couple of weeks of meetings and summer registration work, and then it's June, and my summer schedule--only one class this time around, plus a couple of workshops I'll be giving for secondary school teachers--will begin. I'm ready for it.

I've got quite a few things to occupy my time over the next three months or so, before we head out across the country for a long (and--given rising oil prices--perhaps our last for a long time) trip to see my family in Washington state. A paper to put together for a panel at APSA, an old paper to polish for submission somewhere, several smaller writing projects that might actually pay me something, and books to read or reread in preparation for some new classes and responsibilities that I'll be taking on in the fall. But that's all...what? Work stuff. What's on my mind for this summer that doesn't involve me sitting here in my office, looking out of my third story window at the Friends University campus?

1. The garden. I've already mentioned that we're trying to make an even larger and more successful effort this year than last; this past weekend, we put in 15 tomato plants, a couple each of zucchini squash, cantaloupes, cucumbers and pumpkins, about five red and green pepper plants, and four rows of corn. We were hit with some heavy rains and hail over this past week, and we've lost some plants already, but we can get replacements in. We didn't do potatoes or onions; perhaps it's too late for this part of the country? I should look that up. Potatoes are easy: just drop pieces of cut up potato (so long as each piece as at least one eye on it) into a six trench, then cover them up and water them well; at least, that always worked for us while I was growing up. Onions I can remember my family having a somewhat more difficult time with. But we ought to do onions, since if we did, and the tomatoes come through, then combined with our herb garden, we might be able to make and preserve salsa produced almost entirely by ourselves. (Salsa is probably our second biggest and messiest canning project every summer and fall; only applesauce is more of a hassle. But we, unfortunately, don't have any access to apples of our own.) Well, we'll see. Our garden space is still new, and the soil--which is heavy with clay--will probably need a fair amount of work (composting mostly, though getting some worms in there would be even better) done this summer and the summers following before it becomes really productive. But I'm up for it. Anything to have some fresh corn on the cob that we wouldn't have to run to the supermarket to buy...

2. Our budget. For most our married life, we didn't have any savings, always living just over the edge of what we could afford, and paying off the credit cards and unexpected costs as necessary to keep us from going all the way over. But the house has changed things. Between all the additional expenses that home ownership entails, a car accident last year, increasing food prices and costs at the pump--I just heard a Goldman Sachs analyst on NPR predict that oil prices could hit as much as $200 a barrel by next summer, which could mean as much as $7 a gallon--all put together have really hit us hard. Well, no, let me qualify that: we're not in any truly hard place: the house payments will be made, the health insurance premiums will be met, etc., etc. Our position in America's middle-class is, I suppose, secure. But there are heavy changes coming down the pike, I think, and we're looking to find ways to cut back on expenses or increase our disposable income even just a little bit, so we can start making some headway on paying off the credit cards and stocking up on necessities while we still can. Unfortunately, all of our brilliant plans thus far have mostly come up empty, or run up against the realities which lifestyle choices have forced upon us (higher than typical food bills because we patronize local farmers, a single income so long as we still have children at home during the day, etc.). The single biggest problem, I suppose, is that we probably bought a little more house than we reasonably should have, and it's not in a neighborhood where prices are appreciating, and plus we've only been in it for 18 months; refinancing therefore isn't a practical option, and that means our biggest monthly expense can't be budged. Ah well--welcome to the real world of responsible adulthood, I suppose. Did I say these were issues that were on my mind this summer? Scratch that; this is on our minds all the time.

3. So what projects do I have in mind for when I'm not working on writing, not weeding the garden, and not messing with the checkbook? Well, of course, I'll let me inner geek out, a little. The Dark Night will be released in July, and dammit, we'll be there opening night; I have a review to follow up on. I have a copy of Tolkien's The Children of Hurin sitting on my desk that I'm anxious to dive into. And, well, that old fan fic thing is still calling me... But, hey, I'm also a philosopher, even when I'm not teaching it. And so, inspired by Camassia's comment on my most recent post about Damon Linker and religion (incidentally, where have you gone, Camassia? I used to read you all the time, back in the day), I'm going to make a goal to finally make it all the way through--and blog about as I go--Charles Taylor's A Secular Age this summer. 776 pages (851 with notes!) of theology, philosophy, European history, and political theory--almost none of which, I am confident, that I'll ever be able to directly bring up in any class I teach here at Friends. That just means more fodder for posts here! Aren't you excited? I knew you would be.

Best wishes for whatever your summer plans may be. Check in here, when you have the time; I'm sure I'll be around.


Damon Linker said...

Actually I am excited that you'll be blogging Taylor. I'll follow along with you and comment when the mood hits me.

The Modesto Kid said...

potatoes are easy

Indeed -- last summer some chunks of raw potato were dropped on our compost heap somewhere along the way, and managed to elude the pitchfork for long enough to take root -- I was surprised to find potato plants grouwing out of the heap in mid-July. I transplanted them and we had small, tasty potatoes in the fall.

What are good vegetables to grow in a shady garden? We have some sun in our front yard but the back yard is totally shaded. I planted a small herb garden in the front this year, which is my first foray into food gardening.