The Well-Traveled Lettuce

Although the intense swings from summer to winter that have posed as spring have me fairly convinced that the apocalypse is upon us, no, scratch that. BECAUSE the intense swings from summer to winter that have posed as spring have me COMPLETELY convinced that society  is teetering on the verge of collapse, I have renewed my commitment to learn how to grow my own food. As some of you may recall from last year, gardening is a challenge for me.

For one thing, plants apparently need sun or something, and my apartment doesn’t come with any. In college, a good friend gave me one of those plants with the broad, shiny leaves you get in the grocery store as a dorm-warming present. I named it Joseph. That thing survived seven and a half years of complete neglect, minimal sun, and occasional deadly encounters with cat teeth. I was convinced he was going to outlive me. Then we moved to this apartment. Joseph hung in like a trooper for as long as he could, but apparently even undead plant require either sunlight or water.

Rest in peace, Joseph

John got me an azalea plant for Valentine’s Day, and I was really torn. What I said was, “Oh, that’s so sweet. It’s lovely. Thank you for not buying me cut flowers, which I have ethical objections to unless they’re locally grown.” What I was thinking, however, was more like, “MURDERER! What did that poor plant ever do to you?” Sure enough, within days, it was on its way out. I didn’t even bother trying to rescue it. I mean, azaleas are meant to me planted, for one thing, and though John might have been trying to make a statement about the state of our apartment (hey, he knew when we got married that I don’t dust or wash floor unless the offending surfaces are dirty enough to make my feet black), there still isn’t enough dirt in here to plant a small bush in. John made a valiant attempt to rescue the azalea. He put it in the spot with the least indirect light and constructed a reflector from cardboard and tinfoil and proceeded to water the plant more than any plant in our household has ever been watered. In retrospect, that might have been part of the problem…

Azalea? Goner.

We did okay with a few of the shady herbs last year, in that we got sprouts, but the only herbs that grow well in shade are herbs I have never used before. The borage was pretty, but seriously–would you eat fuzzy leaves? ┬áIntimated by the alien herbs, we never watered or thinned them, and they too died.

This year, things are going to be different. I have proof:

Well-Traveled LEttuce

This, my friends, is the most well-traveled lettuce you are likely to meet. These little seedlings have traveled approximately 2,000 miles, which is 500 miles further than the average head of lettuce travels from the farm to the family table. I believe they prove the exception to the rule that says the further food has traveled, the less nutritious it’s going to be, but only because I don’t believe it would be particularly smart for commercial enterprises to build gardens in their semis and then drive around letting people pick their lettuce from the back of the tractor-trailer truck.

In my case, however, it makes perfect sense. I mean, I’m not driving the plants around for their own sake. It’s not like I think the soothing rhythm of the road and the soothing excess of carbon dioxide is going to make them grow better. I happen to drive close to 2,000 miles in a typical month because my family is in Maine and my job is a split-shift nightmare half an hour away. My car, however, spends most of its time parked in gorgeously sunny parking lots and has a large amount of glass in its structure, making it, in essence, a magical mobile greenhouse. I say magical, because those greens that I thinned from my lettuce beds this afternoon are the first food I have produce since the two best tomatoes ever I managed to coax from a plant back in college.

I’m also growing tomatoes in my car. See?

The tomatoes are in the middle.

In other news, I’ve finally decided on a name for my car. Marjory. She’s a trash heap alright (more my fault than hers), but she’s reliable, and something good seems to be coming from her, so I think the name is fitting.


Dreams Be Dreams

Do you dream much? I do. My dreams are something of a standing joke between John and I. Whether it’s a function of my biology or my sleep schedule or some occult genetic gift (that was a joke, Mom), I often wake up with vivid memories of long and insane dreams that stick with me through the day. They play across the emotional spectrum from hilarious to horrifying and the horrifying ones don’t go away easily. I’m really not sure if my Telly Monster personality is what makes the bad ones hang around or whether it’s the clinging bad dreams that have turned me into a Telly Monster, but I’ve been dreaming like this for as long as I can remember.

Possibly the most vivid dream I have ever had was when I was in oh, fourth or fifth grade, I guess. I was in Girl Scouts for a short time, and I’m pretty sure the dream was concurrent with that experience because in the dream, my mother was baking a pickle cake for my troop. I had discovered a tiny spark of fire in my bedroom closet and called my parents. Instead of putting the flame out or even calling the fire department, my dream-parents started packing to move. For some reason, and essential part of this move was baking a pickle cake for my Girl Scout troop. The dream ended disjointedly with me being tied to a chair in the kitchen, covered in spiders, while the house slowly burned down around my ears.

It was a bit traumatizing, to say the least.

The first time John learned about my crazy, half-lucid dreams was when I woke him up in the middle of the night, sobbing hysterically because I had just dreamed about someone in my family dying. I had been dream-visiting a hotel with my mother, my aunt and uncle, and my grandmother and grandfather and the place was a complete maze. We couldn’t find each other in the dining room, so my mother sent me to go find the others. The concierge ended up directing me outside, where I walked down this long and eerily quiet path in the woods to a mossy green clearing. My grandmother was outside the trailer, crying, and I didn’t want to go into the trailer, because I knew on some horrible level that I would find someone dead inside. Sure enough, the concierge came along the path, only she was a funeral director, and she made me go into the trailer. It was blue inside and as cold as a refrigerator but instead of finding a trailer’s insides, there was a small stone chapel and my grandmother was sitting alone at the front, crying.

I woke up with tears running down my face from that one, woke John up to reassure me that it was just a dream. When I dream like that, it takes me a few minutes to sort the dream events from reality, which is far from easy when you’re half asleep.

I dreamed last night of an old friend who died a few years back. He was never a close friend, but he was one of those people I had known since we were pretty young kids. I don’t know if it gets easier as you get older, but I had a hard time with believing this friend was gone in the first place. My generation is still supposed to be young and immortal, you know? In my dream, scattered among seriously disturbing events like the death of my husband and my parents’ imprisonment for credit card fraud, this friend was bright and alive and generally the sort of person I suppose he’d have grown into. When I woke up, it was easy to laugh off the bit about my parents committing any financial crime and not too difficult to reassure myself that John was still alive. It wasn’t so easy, however, to remember that my friend isn’t out there growing into an adult, as I am.

By the morning light, my post-dream disorientation feels silly. Dreams are only dreams, neh? All the same, I’d take my dreams while a smaller dose of realistic syrup if anyone made the offer.


More Sweet Than Bitter

John and I drove to Maine again this weekend. We seem to be getting up there a lot this semester, which is great, but I wish our reasons for going this time had been a little less sad. A dear, kind lady with a bright spirit passed away last week. It’s hard to put her relationship to me into words. Technically, she was my mother’s sister’s husband’s mother, which I guess makes her a great-aunt of a sort to me. Sentimentally, she was one of the kindest and most joyful people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, and though I never had the chance to know her very well, she was still one of the people I was always most delighted to see at a family gathering.


Funerals can be unnerving things to attend. Grief touches people in very different ways, and it’s hard to know how to offer some consolation for the loss of someone who loved them, whom they loved. So John and I, along with two of my sisters, erred on the side of solemn respect, dressing in black and arriving to the cemetery early.


An hour early, actually, as it turned out. The funeral was being held in the far northern reaches of Maine, and we weren’t exactly sure how long it would take to get there. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except for the fact that the cemetery was about half an hour past civilization and we hadn’t wanted to stop on the way in, just to make sure we had enough time to get there. Girls being girls and two-hour car trips being two-hour car trips, this meant that my sisters and I all arrived at the cemetery with full bladders to discover that there were neither public bathrooms in the vicinity nor did we quite have time to turn around and find any.


It’s okay, you can laugh. We did. And I think it’s the mark of a great person’s life that we could enjoy a chuckle about our discomfort beside her ashes and know that she (and her loved ones) would find no disrespect in our laughter. I didn’t see any crying beside the grave on Saturday, but many wide smiles over the memory of the life our friend lived. She lived a life full of joy and adventure, and it showed on the faces of the people who came to say their goodbyes.


I was not looking forward to our visit to Maine as we hit the road north Friday afternoon because I’ve been lucky enough to have said goodbye to very few people I’ve cared about, and I’m rubbish at processing the sadness of loss. I turn into a weepy mess very, very quickly. So it surprised me a little to find that I didn’t struggle to smile at the floating eyeball situation of my sisters and I as the funeral ended, and it surprised me to realize that I felt completely, peacefully happy a few hours later as I sat with my husband and father beside a bonfire, plucking out old Irish ballads and drinking songs on the guitar with my youngest sister.


I think I will call my life well-lived if someday people can sit beside my grave with memorial smiles on their faces, their happiness at having known me outweighing their sadness at losing me.