Slowing Down (or, What Asparagus Can Teach Us)

Lately, I've been having an interesting back-and-forth conversation with one of my oldest and dearest friends, by email. This is a person I love deeply and will hold close in my heart for the entirety of my life, and on top of that, he works in an industry that has its finger on the pulse of What People Want. The discussion has been about how we connect, what we have time for when it comes to hearing about our friends and family. And his position seems to be this: Facebook is the only possible way to stay connected to people in these busy times.

He posits that there is only enough time for quick updates, read between busy days at work and home, in a brief spare moment, maybe while making some dinner, or walking the dog.

I don't think this position is unique. It seems that pretty much everyone I know buys in to it. I certainly did for many years - I was the queen of brief, entertaining updates on FB.

One day, I realized that these snippets, while convenient, only showed folks the part of my life I wanted them to see. That, if you were to read my updates, you'd mostly think that my life was busy and full, that there were small challenges, but I was making my way through them with humor and courage, that nothing was terribly awful, and that I had it all together. It seemed an advertisement, somehow, for the life I wanted people to think I had. And it wasn't lying, exactly. All those things were happening, and my attitude toward them was often breezy. But it wasn't the whole story.

And if I wanted to be more honest, and share something that really was troubling me, or worrying me, I didn't want all 300 people on my 'list' to know about it. I really only wanted to discuss those things with those closest to me. And I wasn't doing that - in fact, instead of growing closer to people, I was growing apart from the people I cared about the most - I saw that by merely making and reading updates, we were taking shortcuts. We were actually spending LESS time talking about the things that really mattered to us. It was all image and no substance.

So I quit FB. I made a conscious decision to have more authentic connections. I vowed that I would call my friends more often. I promised I would email more. Some friends and I made a pact to write actual in-the-mail letters. I said I would meet people more, have coffee, have dinners, invite them over.

Well, I've failed.

I don't email more often, I don't call more often (I really don't enjoy talking on the phone), and the person I vowed to exchange letters with? We've done it exactly once. In only one way have I improved, and that's to get people together more often. But I'm not consistent. And so I can say that I'm NOT making more authentic connections.

But my heart longs to. And while I'm truly an introvert, I honestly care about my friends and want to know what's going on with them. And I don't think reverting to FB posts is going to make things any better. So I re-resolve to do a better job in this arena. I've made several changes in the past year that involve a slower and deeper connection, and I know I can do this with people, too.

The ultimate expression of 'slower and deeper' is the Slow-Food Movement. One thing I resolved to do, last Fall, was to cook more. I've always cooked for my family, but I often took shortcuts or 'heated' things rather than cooking. I also allowed my kids to buy school lunch more than I wanted to, and our breakfasts consisted of boxes of cereal or waffles from the freezer. I knew both our health and our budget would improve if I vowed to do more cooking. This has been an unqualified success. One of our kids is a very picky eater, but she's tried more things this past nine months than she had probably her whole life before that. She hasn't necessarily LIKED them, but she's tried them. The other kid is always willing, and has discovered a new love for many new foods. As this experiment went on, and as my own health improved, I got more hard-core about it, and I began to do more things like make our own yogurt, or  buy only grass-fed meat. And ultimately this is what led to expanding our garden and growing more food.

None of these things is all that unusual or out-of-the-box: People used to have gardens regularly, keep a pot of broth on the stove, raise chickens in their backyards for eggs and meat, make all their own sweets rather than buying a cookie at Starbucks. None of this is subversive. But it sure sometimes feels like it is, when I'm pouring hand-squeezed lemonade into glass bottles to send with my kids to school.

All this takes time, time that no one says they have. I sure would have said, before, that I didn't have time to do this stuff. And it does make for fuller days with less time for things like reading, or catching a quick TV show. My mornings can be pretty hairy, cooking breakfast, starting things for dinner, making lunches, trying to get the dog walked and the laundry moved around and a trip to the grocery in and all this before heading out to work. But while it's a little crazier around here, the time spent enjoying these homemade items is greater, and the rewards sweeter. Dinner tastes better. Snacks are more wholesome. My time is spent improving the health of my family, not to mention I am voting with my dollars (and even keeping more of those dollars than I used to!) every time I pass by the processed food section at the store.

I discovered that people were calling this 'homesteading,' which made me laugh at first, but then I realized that no one makes time for these arts anymore, and the old-fashioned word was appropriate. While baking bread was a weekly occurrence in my house growing up, now, unless you're a foodie in a major city that celebrates this sort of thing (giving it the 'cool' 'factor), baking bread is a bit of a lost art. It's so easy to go buy it. But when we just go buy it, we are losing something.

I think a lot about the knowledge that's being lost. I go to beekeeper meetings, and I'm the youngest person there, and I'm 46. Who is going to learn the art and skill of making furniture in the future, the way my father does? Who is saving the seeds, so that we have heirloom varieties instead of GMO corn? When I think about these things, I'm glad that urban farms are becoming mainstream. That chicken coops are happening all over the suburbs. That younger people are embracing organic produce from their local Farmers Markets. That a local school teaches fermenting and cheese making. That people are going back to the farm.

And speaking of which, there's no 'fast' in a garden. Once you begin to look at the processes of nature, and growing food, you realize that all your hurry-ups have no place here. A tomato will ripen in its own time, no matter what you do to it. You can make the conditions right, and you can provide everything it needs - but the fruit may still not do what you want it to do.

Take my asparagus bed. Oh, I had high hopes for this, back in February. I bought 24 crowns at my local nursery, envisioning 20 years of delicious spring spears.

Well first of all, you can't even harvest asparagus until the third year after planting, so there's that. Then you have to dig foot-deep trenches for the crowns. So I dug, down through our clay soil, for an afternoon. After you put in the crowns, then you cover up with a very light soil, only an inch or two. I did that. Then you wait until they sprout, and as they grow, you continue to cover them up, until they are flush with the ground. Some of my crowns sprouted, some didn't. I didn't know whether to cover them up, or wait until more sprouted. I kept dithering. Finally I just covered them up. And only one has broken the cover of soil.

Brave asparagus, you are my hero.

I keep waiting for more to pop up, but so far, nada. I may never have the bed I want.
Here's what they should be looking like, right now.


This is the definition of slow. I want asparagus, NOW. I might get it in three years, but even that's not looking likely.

I realize this is good for me, this slow moment, waiting for the asparagus. It's good for me in the way it's good to make an all-day spaghetti sauce, or catch up with a friend over coffee. These things take time, and as priorities go? I think these are the right ones to have at the top of my list.