Merlot Mudpies

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

Mom? I tomato? April 29, 2008

Do you remember these pots? I mean, specifically, the ones in the front row with the sign reading, “Red Tmato.”

Seed pots

Really, honestly, I did everything but everything wrong and bad to the little seeds we put in there. Even the way I harvested the seeds is a horror story to any truly loving gardener. But hey, it was at the beginning of my having gotten the bug…so I guess I’ll cut myself a little slack.

It all started at Trader Joe’s a few months back when, totally nonchalantly like I have probably 100 other times, I picked a pack of organic Sugar Plum grape tomatoes off the produce table and plopped them in the cart before heading over to get Eamonn some string cheese. I’d read around on the You Grow Girl site a few times by then and so the idea of harvesting seeds must have been floating around in my head somewhere already at that time. Later that evening while I prepared pesto and angel hair for dinner, I let Eamonn have one of the tomatoes even though I knew what he would do: bite into it bravely, since mommy and daddy seemed to like them so well all the time, then get a taste, make a face, scrape at his tongue and hand the squished tomato back to me saying, “Here go, Mom. Mom? I candy?” You know, the usual.

Only, with that particular tomato, when he bit into it, it sprayed all over the kitchen out of the two sides of his mouth. “Oh, Eamonn!” I said and grabbed a napkin to begin wiping tomato juice off the kitchen floors and walls, along with some cat fur, a dust bunny, and a pistachio shell I found under the fridge. He responded with, “Mom? I candy?” See? Some things are as consistent as the sunrise. I got up off the floor and headed for the trash then then, looking down at my paper towel I thought, “Hey! Seeds!”

I didn’t know that you’re supposed to ferment seeds to get their protective, germination-hindering coats off. I didn’t know how gingerly many tomato plants across the nation and probably the world were started and cared for. I just looked around for a sunny place in my kitchen, shrugged, folded the paper towel and set it on the kitchen window sill because, hey, even I know it’s not good to let seeds mold.

After Ella and I potted those seeds on the day my mother went to the hospital, I figured they were a completely lost cause. Not knowing how long they took to germinate or that they’d probably be a bit slower due to the coating still on them, I gave them no thought, almost no water, and only a cursory glance now and again while we cared for my mother, dealt with her death, and began to grieve. I mean really, we didn’t even just plant seeds — we planted pieces of the paper towel with the seeds stuck to it because we couldn’t scrape them off — why would they grow? Somewhere in the midst of all of it, I think the day she came home for the last time, I went to her yard to clean it up a bit and weed in the hopes that she’d have the energy to come outside and sit awhile to enjoy it all. Part of my cleaning up was to empty soil from dead plants and plantless pots into a large garbage bin.

I emptied our seed pots. That’s how convinced I was there was nothing going on in there. And when I did, low and behold when I looked down, I found seedlings! Lots of them! I screamed right out loud, grabbed them back out of the garbage pail, and buried them back in their pots and set them back on the retaining wall. I even watered them. And sure enough, a few days later, they began to break the surface. 22 of them by my last count.

22 little seedlings in three pots being watered intermittently. Finally, out of desperation to see them live, I gingerly used pointed sushi chopsticks (highly technical tools, indeed) to separate the roots of the seedlings and plant them each in their own pots shared only with one or two of their companions. Because we have almost no room they lived in a RubberMaid bin that I took outside each morning for some sunlight and brought back in before I went to bed.

About two or three weeks ago I took them to Ivey Ranch and gave some of them away and found what room I could for the 7 I had left. I prayed for them, the poor little guys, because they were badly planted, root bound, and horribly mistreated as they went into the ground.

And now they are thriving. They are the only batch of plants I’ve put in that haven’t fallen prey by at least one to some type of predator be it aphids, rodents, or earwigs. They just sit there and grow. What was once a little batch of seeds I wiped off the floor and threw in the trash and completely gave up on is turning into this:
Sugar Plum seedling

Can you really love a plant? If you can, I sure do love these guys. They make me teary. They are the little plants that could. They are as tenacious as weeds when they aren’t supposed to be. I will harvest seed from them and grow them every year the Lord allows me to grow things. And I will make Eamonn like them so much that, when he’s done spitting out a jelly bean with a wince he’ll say, “Mom? I tomato?”

Hey. A girl can dream, can’t she?


You Win Some, You Lose Some

We’ve had several days of 90+ weather here in SoCal and I hadn’t been to Ivey Ranch in two days. I was scared of what I’d find when I got there. What I found, however, is a garden that for the most part is thrilled with all this sun. I have peppers, tomatoes, squash and potatoes thriving and all sorts of other things going on that thrill me to the core.

Eamonn was his sweet normal self, making friends with Bo and Casey who have been flirting with him for ages now — I think they know little boys usually drop a lot of food. E is no exception and soon they’ll be lapping up goldfish and popcorn galore, I’m sure. Their owner, Len, let E help him water and play with the dogs while I snapped photos in my plots. Eamonn was in heaven.

Eamonn, Bo and Casey hang out in the garden.

Eamonn waters with Len.

I lost an okra plant and most of a sugarsnap pea as well as cilantro and parsley to the rodents. I need to do something about that. But it’s hard to be too upset when I was left with so much other bounty.

I have a lot of things I want to say but they haven’t taken shape yet. So I’ll share a few shots of things that made both my heart and my eyes well at their beauty today. Flickr on the sidebar gives you a link to the rest if you’re interested:

Hidden away beneath foilage, blooms begin.

Lavender blooming.

A marigold after a drink.

My red bell pepper plant.


Pictures and Some Links

Filed under: cancer,death,family,grace,grief,loss,mom — Mary @ 12:35 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I keep meaning to mention that my sister-in-law posted a web page with pictures of my mom through the years that we showed at her memorial service.

She also posted a link to my mom’s memorial booklet which our whole family wrote (me, Dad, and my brothers) and Crista put together. A dear friend, Dean, printed them for free at his business and they did an amazing job. We couldn’t be more thankful to him for doing it.

Lastly, the service was recorded and is available to anyone who would like to listen.

Through it all you get a strong theme, I think: Love.

One of my favorites:


It’s In There April 28, 2008

Kate said regarding a seedling she knows has begun to hatch down under the soil, “I love growing. It’s in there!” Her “there” was referring to a pot of soil she’d taken a picture of. I’ll out her by outing myself: a lot of us garden addicts are diggers even though we know we shouldn’t be. Wondering if anything is happening we finally root through the soil in anticipation…to confirm that hope that something, indeed, is in there growing, becoming, living!

This weekend I was squatting on my haunches staring hard at my current batch of seed starts. “Fawning over your seedlings again, I see.” Ryan observed wryly. I blushed and smiled at him. I feel like a kid when I look down at them, ponder the seeds I put in the soil days or weeks before and these growing amazing plants I have as a result. It’s amazing! Miraculous! A joy to behold!

Now that I’ve started a few batches of plants of my own and don’t just buy starts at the local gardening centers, I view my seeds in a whole new way. I ponder the packet labels and the plants and veggies and flowers they display and then look at the little dry, dead-seeming kernels that pour into my hand. And to steal Kate’s words, I think, “It’s in there.” And it amazes me every time.

If you’ll allow me to work a metaphor into the ground:

It makes me think of the adage, “What you see is not always what you get.”


Andrew Peterson has a song called Mountains on the Ocean Floor that I listen to over and over and over again. How often in my own life have I tried and failed and tried and failed again and again to change things only to feel that they are always the same? How often have I looked at a situation that seemingly has no solution, no end, no possible resolution? Peterson sings about mountains forming in the deep, down below where any eye can see, under a surface that seems unmoved and unchanging day after day. There in those places, it’s true, mountains form.

On a smaller but no less amazing scale, for seeds the same holds true. In these little husk-covered kernels, dead to the eye, buried in the soil, hidden away from everything, change is happening, life lies in wait. It’s in there.

It’s in there. Have hope.


Crying Over Spilt Milk

Filed under: cancer,death,family,grace,grief,mom — Mary @ 11:15 pm

We had dinner at my Dad’s yesterday.

Grief is beginning to be a companion. It’s strange where and when it strikes.

What you don’t realize about death is how high it takes you in some regards. It’s almost like the reverse of a much-anticipated vacation where you can’t wait ’til it’s here, then you’re excited in the midst of it, let down when it’s over, but glad for the memories once you have a little space from all the commotion. Losing a loved one seems to be this chain of events in total relief: You dread the day it’s going to happen, then you’re smashed and senseless in the midst of it, yet carried on the high of friends and family you haven’t seen all together in one place for a time and all the memories and love shared, but once you have a little space from all the commotion some of the strangest memories and realization of loss begin to set in.

Driving to Dad’s from Trader Joe’s yesterday I stopped at a light at the hospital entrance for perhaps the first time since Mom passed. I looked up at the corner room I knew had been hers in her last lucid days and my heart ached. I thought for a moment, “Guy, if I could just walk up there one more time. If only she were THERE so we could pop in and visit.” I caught myself in the absurdity of it. Longing for her in a hospital? No. Of course I don’t want her there. I shared it with Dad last night as we sat in the kitchen with a lifelong friend, Lola, and a glass of wine.

“Ah…but that’s it…no you don’t want her at the hospital. A visit though…that’s the thing.”

“Have you begun to feel the lack of her, too? So strongly?”

He winced and nodded. “Oh, yes. Just now as I washed my hands I was thinking how dearly she would have loved to be here to see Eamonn, and eat a meal and hear the conversations we’ve had.”

We talked about Heaven, about whether or not she knows us here now, what kind of memory we have once we are there, gone from here. My dad surprised me.

“I hope not — I hope she’s so taken with it all…with that ‘wonder-world that opened upon her astonished sight.'” He glowed for a moment with the thought of it, and then we both melted to teary eyes a little. He was referring to a daily devotion from Morning and Evening by C.H. Spurgeon for February 7 that he had happened upon and read to Mom before we knew how soon she would be dying. “I think I’d like that read at the service,” she’d told him. And it was.

We hash it over and over but what it comes down to is that we miss her. She has left a mom-sized hole and the lack of her hurts.

I ventured to the Village Kitchen earlier this week with Eamonn. It was the first time I’d gone without a flock of family since she’s been gone. I was fine until I sat down and reached to open cream for my coffee. Chemo had killed so many of the nerve endings in Mom’s fingers that she was nearly completely numb. We both like creamy coffee and so, though she had figured out how to open her creamers with a butter knife in one hand on her own, I always opened her cream for her as well as mine. How ridiculous it was sometimes was to try to control a toddler, get my morning fix of caffeine in, and manhandle those darn little creamer tops at the same time — four between the two of us for each mug. We used to laugh about it and she’d look across the table at me and shrug in her own mom way as she fumbled and spilled the creamer. How little this is, this memory. And how much would I have paid to open her creamer for her that morning earlier this week?

The tears came. I have a deeper supply than I ever knew. I don’t heave and sob but they just flow and flow and flow. Through ordering, through pancakes, through two mugs of coffee, barely stopped up through the paying and tipping and gathering of belongings to leave.

“Mom. Are okay?” Eamonn asked in his unique toddler drawl. “Mom. Are sad?”

“Yes, bud. I’m sad. I miss Grandma and it makes me sad; it makes my heart ache.”

And so, our hearts ache and we miss her as we wash our hands and drink our coffee — while we wait to meet her there in that wonder world she now calls home.


Farmer is the New Tan April 22, 2008

Filed under: garden — Mary @ 5:36 pm
Tags: , , ,

Ryan and I are currently arguing about which is hotter: My farmer’s tan or his wet suit tan. My contention is that my tan was earned while working to feed the family which makes it inherently more hot. Food is always attractive. I see no holes in my logic. It’s bullet-proof.

You know you’re all jealous.


Community Garden Shaken by Strawberry Massacre April 17, 2008

IVEY RANCH, CA — Gardeners were shocked today as 6 strawberry plants were left in critical condition after having all their berries and blooms cut off, along with most of their leaves. Carnage was strewn throughout the neighborhood of C10 where the event took place, and many of the other community inhabitants were left speechless by the violence carried out by new gardener, Merlot Mudpies.

“It’s just…they were so young. She’d (Mudpies) only put them in on Sunday and they all just seemed so vibrant and filled with life.” This anonymous gardener went on to state that Mudpies had always been a quiet, friendly gardener in the area and no one had expected anything like this. “They were just such nice little Anaheim berries. It’s just sad. Just so, so sad.” lamented another concerned neighbor, “I really hope she knows what she’s doing.”

It all started when Mudpies spoke to a gardener down the aisle from her own plots. This anonymous and acknowledged master of berry growing was watering his own lively and amazing row of strawberries when other gardeners saw he and Mudpies conversing. “She said something to him about her strawberries needing to shape up and look like his, or else…” the owner of a nearby plot stated, making a slashing motion with his hand across his neck. “He asked if she’d fed them and she had, and then he told her he might need to cut all the leaves and berries off and let them re-grow. He said she needed to do it for ‘their own good’.” the witness went on to state in a chilling recounting of the events.

Whether this was a fit of jealous rage and strawberry envy or a caring act by a concerned gardener has yet to be determined. Local authorities have no comment as of yet. However, other strawberry plants will not rest easily in coming days until they see whether their violently trimmed brethren recover.

“Shocked. We’re all just shocked.” another gardener said, and then mumbled, “But if it works, my strawberries are next.”


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