Merlot Mudpies

Can a blog be about gardening, cancer, family, food and life all at the same time? Oh good.

Band-Aids and Home Depot March 31, 2008

Filed under: garden,grace,ivey ranch — Mary @ 1:03 am

My Jocelyn came to see me today and we traipsed off to the Home Depot with a few planks in mind for my garden plot. It turns out you can get a whole lot ‘o cheap wood at Home Depot! For what I thought I would pay to do one bed, we ended up building all three of my large beds and both of my small ones. We even have enough wood and stakes left over to frame up the whole length of my 2-foot bed which runs the entire 26’ ft. length of my plot. It was positively amazing. We got completely carried away and lost track of time with all we were doing. I have Band-aids wrapped around both my thumbs where I ripped open blisters while pounding in stakes, digging in compost, and cutting chicken wire. Pure. Heaven.

What we divas did:

  • Framed 3 5′ ft x 5′ ft beds
  • Framed 2 5′ ft x 2′ ft beds
  • Dug in an entire wheel barrow of compost
  • Planted 3 zucchini, 4 yellow crook neck squash, 2 green beans, 3 holes of potatoes, lemon basil, 3 sugar snap peas, 6 marigolds
  • Caged all our seedlings from rodent attack with chicken wire cages
  • Staked our pea seedlings
  • Drove frantically to Panda Express to buy a furious husband a very late dinner
  • Drove frantically home with said dinner to guiltily apologize

All in a day’s work, aye?

I have to say that time spent with Jocelyn is like no other time I have. I come away with aching stomach and face muscles from having laughed so hard. She is that sort of friend who just GETS you. We stood holding onto each other in fits of laughter at Home Depot over some joke about ordering ply-wood to be cut for us to the point that the poor man helping us finally asked after the noise of the saw, “So, what were you ladies laughing so hard about?” We explained. He stared. I said, “You’re sorry you asked now, aren’t you?” and he said, “Well, yeah. A little bit.” I really won’t even try to explain the joke because it is HYSTERICAL, but utterly lost in translation outside of our weird, perfect little connection.

All this is to say that this evening, sans ticking off my long-suffering hub, was a beautiful and perfect cap to a really wonderful day.

If you at all identified with my meltdown and resulting desperate prayer the other day — or were even just interested by it — then I highly, highly recommend you listen to a podcast of Kevin Daane delivering “More Than Spin.” It is not up on the website yet, but it should be within the next day or two. This morning, after hearing it, I turned to my Dad and simply mouthed, “Wow.” I left New Life this morning so incredibly thankful to have been there, and it seemed as though Kevin could have prepared that same sermon if he had been asked to speak specifically to the week I just had. That’s one of the lovely things about the gospel — it speaks to you where you are, even when we’re all a bunch of different places.

Pictures of B10 will be forthcoming in a day or two.

I am off to sleep quickly and, I’m sure, dream of things growing in my garden.


God in Gardens and Other Random Thoughts March 29, 2008

Filed under: garden,grace,rambling thoughts — Mary @ 4:04 pm

One of my best friends, Brooke, and her lovely Carlos came to my rescue today. Epiphany or no, I’m still dealing with a 2-year-old while sick and while he’s sick. Couple that with a husband having to work a lot of overtime and on the weekend, and you get a tired, stressed out mommy. I say that with a certain amount of shame because I know that there are so many people in this life — countless people! — who have things going on so much greater than what I’m experiencing. But nonetheless, Brooke decided I needed rescuing and I took her up on it after much hemming and hawing. She and Carlos and their male pit bull named Gracie came and picked up Eamonn and took him to, not one, but TWO parks and fed him popsicles and generally let him have the run of the land for a few hours while I did some luxurious things like eating a yogurt and banana in complete silence, took my antibiotic while actually getting to sit down, drinking half a cup of coffee all at one time and then lying down for a solid hour. It was amazing.

I say lying down and not “napping” because, well, I mentioned the half cup of coffee, right?

While I was lying down, not surprising to any of you, my mind tramped all over my garden plot and the second one I’m hoping to take.

The thing is, I can’t go to my plot or think about it without beginning to think in poetry. As Meg put it the other day, it is the Great Metaphor. Gardening, for whatever reason, is the thing that people use most to describe life: its trials, its successes, its length, its process. As a Christian I believe that God walked in a garden at the beginning of our time, using this place of growth and life and provision as the location He chose above all others to commune with Adam and Eve. And later, it then dawned on me, Jesus — God incarnate — chose a garden in which to pray. If my memory serves (it’s embarassing that I don’t know this more surely), a garden is where he also chose to be betrayed, and to hand himself over to the death he knew he must die.

Something else that strikes me is that I never “got” gardening until very close to my mom’s death. She would pull me constantly out into her yard to show me fruit on a Christmas cactus, encourage me to look at the detail inside a flower, show me new growth on her orchids, revel in the jagged-heart shape of begonia leaves. And I didn’t get it. I would go. I would give barely interested “Ohhs” and “Ahhs” over the things she saw and I was left completely flummoxed by her delight, her joy, the praise that just flowed out of her when she was surrounded by her plants. It got to the point where I would just say to her (few moms probably could so sweetly take the bluntness of their daughters as my mom did mine) with a helpless shrug of my shoulders, “Yeah, it’s pretty, Ma. But…” And then we would just laugh at each other — laugh at the distance between us that just couldn’t be helped.

Even as I started this venture into B10, my goal was “useful” plants, plants I could cook, plants I could eat and…well…MAYBE some nasturtium and wild flowers. I didn’t expect to be taken hold of. I didn’t expect to be drawn to this little plot of land with an ache. I didn’t expect to think about my life when I pull weeds, water new seedlings, build cages to keep out pests, work soil and amend it and do all the other things a garden requires. I expected to learn, sure, but not about myself. Not about my faith. Not about my mom.

This is the part where I cry because I’m doing a lot of that suddenly these past few days.

I regret not having known this joy before my mom passed away. But there is something about this that makes me not so sad: My mom saw the beginnings of the spark for me. As I’ve said before, these were some of our last mundane but utterly important and precious conversations. My mom knew, I think, where it would head for me. And really, how lovely a gift, that I am now getting to know and understand a new part of my mom even after she’s gone. How much more dearly do I hold these things than I would have had I begun to learn them before she was gone? There are so many things I know that I have taken for granted and this, blessedly, hopefully, is not one of them.

This is barely a cohesive post. I’m sorry. But now you know where my mind rambled while I didn’t take a nap and my son reveled in playing with Brooke and Carlos.


Believing in Myself March 28, 2008

Filed under: grace,grief — Mary @ 5:47 pm

The trouble with people telling you how well you are handling your mother’s death, no matter how lovingly they mean it, is that you might start to believe it. “Yeah,” I’ve been telling myself, “Here I was scared that I would fall apart and I’m doing okay! I’m staying busy, I’m not crying, this is good. I’m doing great.” And this is all fine and good until you consider my trip to True Value Hardware.

See, I romanticize things. I can’t help it. Every big experience I try to anticipate gets worked into gauzy-fuzzed golden-toned images of what I want them to be. But my daydreams rarely anticipate the harshness of reality. When I got married I did not anticipate having to frankly bump up against my own spoiled tendencies. It was all honeymoon, kissing and flowers in my mind. So with a baby: stuffed animals, luxuriating with a cuddly angel in bed and reading stories all day long was where my mind went. It didn’t wander on to why being two is labeled “terrible.” And somehow I managed to mentally assign grief this same, softened image. Holding my obedient and cuddly son I would weep softly into his hair. Walking hand in hand with my husband on the beach, tears would fall just as the sun dipped below the horizon and we would embrace in a picture of love and support.

Well, or, if you’re me, reality will be that you will go into True Value Hardware to buy steer poop for your garden and while you are standing at the counter asking about loading the poop into your car a country song will come on. The country song will be about how the crooner loves someone a million different ways and it will be incredibly cheesy. You will pause and take a gulping breath mid-sentence and then, to your horror, you will begin to cry in front of the neck-tattooed cashier whose eyes get a little bigger as she snaps her gum at you while waiting for you to finish your sentence. You will rush out of the store, embarrassed and red, grab the bag of manure to stuff in your car and then swab at your face with your hands only to realize from the smell that you forgot to wash your hands first. Then you will sob all the way home and then fight for control so that when you walk into the house, you have a not-so-convincing cheery smile on your face for your family. Not once that whole time will you allow yourself to think the one thing at the heart of it all: You miss your mom. You miss her so hard it’s like a punch in your gut if you dwell on it at all.

Yeah. That was me a few days ago. And I would have kept it up, too, if I hadn’t gotten sick. Such deep denial is simply not an emotionally or physically sustainable thing.

As I chugged along I kept complaining that I had hay fever. Finally, desperate and miserable, I went to the doctor on Tuesday afternoon. While Eamonn climbed me and turned the lights in the office off and on while I tried to remain unflustered for the nurse practitioner she told me, “You are sick, Mary. Like…really, really sick. Let me look…oh yeah.” It turns out I had two ear infections, a sinus infection and strep throat. “You need rest.” she said. “Who can you call to help?” I choked back tears again and felt like I’d been choking on them for years, not just weeks. “Are you under a lot of stress right now?”

I blurted out, “Well, my mom just died. Like really recently. Like not quite three weeks ago.” and she sort of got this shocked look on her face and then I went into this whole “No I’m FINE! Really, I’m fine. I mean I’m not FINE…she’s dead, but I mean…but I’M fine…you know?” and then I just sat there blinking, too sick and miserable to say anything else.

And then I carried on again for a few more days but with small awarenesses pushing themselves to the surface. “You do not pray,” My mind whispered at me. “Eamonn is testing you, yes, but your fuse is too short with him,” it said. “You are being terribly ugly.” And I was. I was ugly in my mind if not on the surface, and I was being ugly on the surface quite a lot, too. I was cursing under my breath at every perceived slight by fellow drivers. I nearly took the pharmacist’s head off when my prescriptions were not ready. And Eamonn. Oh, poor Eamonn.

It finally came to a head yesterday. I was so short with him, so unwilling to budge with even the smallest thing. I had become rigid and angry and self pitying and self loathing and it was all coming up to the surface in front of my son while he, made totally uncertain by my change in mood, came unwound the way only a two-year-old can. When he wasn’t whining he was testing. If he wasn’t holding on to my leg and standing on my foot while crying to be held, he was throwing everything off the sofa onto the floor. When he wasn’t chasing the cat he was spitting out food and laughing his naughty laugh over it.

Finally, completely overwhelmed, I burst into tears. I went on a ridiculous tirade about his needing to learn to behave, that he needed to understand that I just COULD NOT TAKE ANYMORE. I picked him up and put him in his crib because I was too upset to know what else to do. I’d hollered at him all day between pleading and negotiating. Hollering was not going to do any good. It only made me feel uglier and made him more fractious. Standing, then, sobbing in my kitchen with Eamonn sobbing in the back of the house, I heaved and cried in front of my stove and only at that point did I finally pray.

“Oh God, Oh God! I miss my Mom! If only I could hug her one more time. I want to hear her voice again because I can’t remember how it sounds. And forgive me. Please forgive how ugly I’ve been. I hate the way I am treating my son. I hurt. Please help me. I hurt so much. I know she is with you — I know that’s true. But Lord, even though I believe sometimes it all feels so intangible, so far away and so hard to hold onto. Please, help me. Please forgive me for not praying, it just hurts so much. Please, help.”

It isn’t a pretty prayer, but it’s a fairly accurate account of what came out of my mouth. Out of my heart. And oh, it hurt. But the pain wasn’t the all-consuming hopeless pain I’d feared. It hurt, but it didn’t burst me into a million shattered pieces like I’d thought it might. And looking back, I had a few clear thoughts for the first time in a while.

I had stopped praying because I had stopped allowing myself to really think about Mom. I had stopped really thinking about Mom because, as family was leaving town, as activity and busyness and events had wrapped up, real life stood lurking in front of me utterly changed without her. Thinking about that was, I thought, too powerful a hurt. It was too powerful a hurt because somewhere along the line I’d begun to believe that I was handling things so well. With that thought, I had forgotten that I am carried totally, utterly, and completely by God’s grace.

My mom faced death with courage and peace because she did not face death alone. I, too, can only face her death with courage and peace if I face it acknowledging with all my heart that the same God who stood by her and carried her must be the one to whom I look to stand by and carry me.

I am not handling my mother’s death very well. On my own I get frightened and ugly. I yell at my two-year-old, get wrapped up completely in myself, stumble around and get nowhere at all.

But I am being carried so very well. And so with tears, thanks, pain, love, grief, and faith I am trying to remember to relinquish myself over to my Savior. I miss her so dearly and in Him, Mom and I will both be okay.



Visiting Time is Done March 27, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mary @ 12:16 am

Eamonn in the gardens with amazing and wonderful Grandma Kathy taking pictures:

I am having trouble coming up with words these past few days. Some of this is sadness. Some of this is that I have two ear infections, a sinus infection, and strep throat. Some of this is just that I am tired. I’ll think of something to say soon.


Accomplished Afternoon March 23, 2008

Filed under: garden,grace,ivey ranch — Mary @ 12:19 am

Today Meg, my sister-in-law, and I went to B10 so that she could see this plot I’ve been talking about to the point of obsession. I have to say before I get ahead of myself that I did not end up getting B9 — the lessee of that plot suddenly reappeared at the end of the week and claimed her plots after about 6 or 7 months of dormancy. Apparently she had been ill. Given this information I can’t be sad and now I have my eye on C10, the agreed upon community blight of Ivey Ranch. But that’s another story.

Anyway, Meg and I arrived after a few days of neglect on my part to find that Dick had rototilled my whole plot for me! All my soil was so soft and lovely and clean of weeds I could hardly believe it. Not only that, but someone had left 9 tomato cages for me and a roll of chicken wire. Top this onto the sun screen Lynn built for me the other day to protect my little herbs until I get them planted, and you begin to get an idea of the generosity and heart I encounter every day when I go to Ivey Ranch.

Meg and I had only intended to tour the plots and then run some errands but when we saw that tilled earth just waiting to be touched, something got into both of us and we lost our minds for about two blissful hours. It all started with this wishful thought on my part:

“I wish we had a tape measure so I knew for SURE the exact dimensions of my plot.” I have learned not to trust the guys who sweetly “guesstimate” dimensions and directions for me. More on that and the direction of North later.

Meg said, “Oh…I keep a tape measure in my glove compartment!”

What girl does this and how can I not adore her for being the one? We raced to the car and got the tape measure, my work gloves and some bottles of water. Not only that, Meg had an exacto knife so since we didn’t have any paper she cut up an old paper grocery bag and grabbed a pen to plot out my garden design. Armed this way, we got to work on our hands and knees in the dirt and decided how we would set up the plot. I did not have my camera so I will need to go take pictures this weekend, but I ended up with 3 large beds 5 feet across, 2 small beds two feet across, and one long bed against the back fence that extends the entire length of my plot. All of this is accessed by 18″ inch paths which we then proceeded to dig through my plot, building up dirt into the bed areas.

Proud and glowing at the end of it all, I went and dragged Barry over to see what we’d accomplished. “Well, I’ll be!” he exclaimed, laughing his big Barry laugh. “You girls actually got some work done! I thought y’all were over here just yapping!”

We assured him that women can “yap” and work at the same time. He was appropriately impressed.

Barry seems to think that “I have gardening in me.” If my mom knows what’s happening here still, I’m sure she has to be laughing at that. I can kill a plant faster than anyone we know. But somehow my new plants are surviving. In fact, they are thriving while they sit in my shade corner patiently waiting to be planted.

Somehow, this makes me feel a little more grown up. A little steadier on my feet. A little more confident that I am in the process of making something beautiful. I know it’s still just dirt in neater piles right now, but my plot is gorgeous and I could stand just looking at it for far longer than I really have time for if I were able to.

Pictures soon.


I am clearly insane, but quite happy at the moment March 19, 2008

Filed under: garden,ivey ranch — Mary @ 1:11 am

I risk posting a picture twice because I would like to move your focus:

I first posted this so folks could see the progress I was making in B10. Well, just to the left of B10 is B9, another 20×15 plot of weedy possibility. And now it’s mine. I take possession on Thursday and will post pics! They are side-by-side plots and there are a ton of materials in this one. I will most likely take the fence in the middle down and use that material for building raised beds and cages as well. My neighbor, Teri, is going to be working the plots with me, too.

I now totally, without question, unequivocally have room for watermelon and pumpkins. And really, what is a garden without those?


Grieving March 18, 2008

Filed under: grief — Mary @ 1:54 am

Grieving is such a strange process. It’s something you sort of always know that you will have to do and it seems like something you should know HOW to do — as though it is a natural process. But when I say that I think of something my father said before Mom died. “I am so tired of hearing people say that death is a natural part of life! It’s not true. This is not what God intended! This is not how He meant it to be.” I know my logic is probably faulty somewhere along here, as it often is. But it would seem to me that if death is not natural, neither is the process of grieving a death and maybe that is why it is so hard. Maybe our hearts weren’t built to hold this pain or to miss the people we loved so dearly in this way. Maybe that’s why we refer to our hearts breaking — this is not the function for which they were intended.

Driving home from work today with Eamonn in the back seat we were singing “This is the Day that the Lord has Made” at the top of our lungs (he likes to holler, “AGAIN!” every time the track finishes so I’ll replay it for him) and I looked out over a valley to the side of the freeway that was awash in sunlight. It was covered with poppies and mustard and it really was a stunning thing. My instant thought was, “Oh wow. Mom would love to see this!” Always before I would dial her up immediately and tell her but with a punch to my gut I realized that I could not. As I have been doing this past week and a half, I stopped and immediately forced myself to remember that she is seeing things now that would put anything this Earth has to offer to shame.

Ella asked Crista the other day what Heaven was like and Crista told her, “Ella, imagine your very best day.”

Ella imagined.

I think it had to do with going to Disneyland, visiting all the Disney princesses, and knowing my niece, there was likely candy or cake in there somewhere. Crista told her, “If you were in Heaven like Grandma is and someone came and told you they wanted you to leave so that you could go have your best day here, Heaven would be SO MUCH better that it would seem like the person was telling you that you had to go get a spanking.”

I believe this is true. I believe it with more of my heart than I would have been willing to test a few weeks ago. Sometimes the scariest thing about faith is that it is so often untried. We hear stories about martyrs and heroes of the faith and I often find myself wondering, “In the face of all that, could I still believe? Is this just a crutch? Will it hold me up?”

I am being held up.

And yet, I hurt. Tonight, just before I started to write this, I dared to look at a picture of my mom for just a little too long. She was so lovely. She could not smile without a spark. She could not go through a waking day without being kind. She was not perfect but oh, she was lovely and as kind as you might ever meet. And I miss her so. The pain of it frightens me, the fear of how deep it goes is overwhelming.

So I sit here at my kitchen table and write and cry and pray. I don’t know what else to do.

My friend Jen pulled me aside at Mom’s memorial service and she gave me two large stones. One was rose quartz and the other was blue kyanite and they both are beautiful. She gave them to me for my garden. When I told my mother-in-law she said, “Well, that’s biblical! In the Old Testament, didn’t they place stones to mark a spot that was Holy or where they had an encounter with God?”

I have been taking my grief to my garden, praying there in the dirt and weeds, and this is where I will take my stones.

One more step in the lesson of grief learned and — sitting here right now as I think about it I realize that — already I feel a bit better.


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