There’s Not a Name for This One

I took my dog out tonight earlier than usual.  In part it was because if I waited much longer I knew I would become one with the couch.  Also because this heat has gotten me so exhausted that I know that my life and livelihood needs me to be getting more sleep.  So earlier to rise is (hopefully) on the horizon. It’s a different vibe going out just an hour or two earlier.  Even though there weren’t a lot of people out and about tonight, there was a handful.  And while there were not many milling about, there was a sense of activity in houses that usually are quiet and sleeping by the time I pass by.  I didn’t feel as free to examine their yards the way I usually will stop and study how a rose is supported in one neighbor’s yard or what’s in the freshly spread mulch in another’s.  I got quickly into the zone, though, and my dog and I were right in step.  I struggled with her when I first got her.  She always pulled when we walked, and was too antsy.  Over time, we’ve settled into this, though, and I’ve only realized in recent weeks what a mediation it is to spend this brief, and usually daily, jaunt with her.

As we were rounding the corner to almost our block, not too far from the subway station, I saw a man and a woman crossing the street.  Maybe they were from Bangladesh, maybe Pakistan.  She was in a traditional sari.  He, I don’t remember.  I couldn’t tell whether he was child or husband, but I sensed almost immediately that there was discord.  In the middle of crossing the street, with me and my dog just about ten or so feet behind them, he dropped three bags on the ground.  I could tell from their shape they were shoe boxes.  She barely hesitated, and kept right on walking.  Flip, click, flip, in sandals that neither hurried up nor slowed down.  I almost asked if he wanted help picking them up.  It crossed my mind how I commit to wishing fellow elevator dwellers a good day when it’s just down to the two of us.  Then something stopped me.  I crossed off to the side and kept walking.  Sometimes it’s better to have to stand alone in the evidence of your anger.

I walked the rest of the block home.  We passed by the first sunflower of the year I’ve seen.  I noticed the hydrangeas, which this year have been more full and color-bursting  — like they had been dusted with magic pigment — than I’ve ever seen them, showing just the hint of receding, withdrawing to take their seasons’ rest.  I wondered if it’s too late to plant some sunflowers.  They just make me so damn happy when I see them.

I wondered at my lack of anger as of late.  It’s like it’s just an emotion that’s deserted me, and that feels so alien when I encounter it.  I understand being annoyed.  There are many things I disagree with — ineffective or ineffectual methods and approaches that get my goat.  But nothing really ‘burns me up’ lately.  I wonder if it’s the heat.  I wonder if I can take some credit for the wisdom to move away from sources of those things.  I wonder if I’m just lucky right now, and should not spend too much time thinking about it because certainly something will come along that will boil my blood.

I walked up the stairs of my front porch and went to get my key.  My mother is visiting.  The door was unlocked.  I thought she was locking it behind me.  She left it unlocked.  That could have been quite dangerous.  I open the door.  Every light is on.  That is expensive.  It is warm.  She is coming in the back door, and has just had a cigarette.  I tried very hard before I finally quit, after more than twenty years a smoker.  The temperature starts to rise.  I kick off my shoes, and come upstairs to write.  It’s not really such a big deal, after all.  She very well may be my favorite person on earth.  And our time here is short.

But she did just come to tell me the fan was on too high, and to micromanage though she really has no clue she does it.  “I’ll be right down,…”  “Oh, no, don’t feel like you have to,” she starts to tell me.  She is not understanding my tone.  “I’ll be right down, Mom,” I say with enough strain in my voice that she understands the message (“please get out right now.  Leave me alone.  You have just walked into my space uninvited and told me how to do something differently I have not asked you about.  I love you but sometimes you drive me crazy.  Maybe you even make me angry”).  Bah, in a minute I’ll be down there with her enjoying a glass of wine and sitting again in the moment of “our time here is short.”  I guess anger has its place and purpose.  It’s as much about how it’s expressed as it is how it’s felt.  I’m just not crazy about either.

Clearing Clutter

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I woke up this morning thinking again about the importance of clearing clutter.  This is true in our gardens as much as our lives.  Then I read this.  It brought yet another dimension to the benefits of removing the things that no longer serve us.  The way another friend put it was to walk away from the things that no longer serve us, grow us or help us.  I remember hearing one interior designer say that everything she owned had to serve at least one of two purposes: it had to be either beautiful or useful.  I was out in the garden fairly late into the evening last night, after a rain.  I’d had some marigolds to accompany the tomato plants but didn’t have time to put them in the ground earlier.  So I squished around with my rubber boots in the mud and got the eight of them in the ground.  Now that everything is pretty much in and where it’s going to be (but never say never — I seem to always find a spot that needs a pot or a pot that needs a resident), my focus now will be to clear away the clutter from my garden.  I do have lots of seeds and tools that I’m not using.

I think it’s easy for gardeners in particular to hold onto the things we don’t really want or need because there is always another season.  My friend, the clutter buster, though, would remind me that when you clear space, you make room for something new and better to come into your life.

QUESTION:  What have you had a hard time clearing from your collection of garden supplies?  What do you save and what do you toss year to year?  What are you on the fence about letting go of?

Go ahead … gimme the dirt!

Toward a New Understanding of Privilege

We passed by her, and it was almost a comical sight. It really looked like someone had set her out just as a casual means to be rid of her. Like maybe she was the mother-in-law, and the husband had promised his wife he would take dear old mother out for a walk, in 90+ degree weather. But it was night, and it was dark, so it was cool enough for her to get out of the house, right? We drove by and as we did, the image didn’t seem so funny. She sat alone, about 20 feet from the corner of the block in Park Slope, hunched over in one of those seat-walkers with wheels. I thought about me and my crew parking our minivan and tromping into our house just ten minutes away. I asked my partner to turn back. When I got out and approached her, I thought for sure the old lady would tell us her kids were just around the corner, or had run in to drop something off in the building across the street. She waved in the direction of the grocery store and mumbled something about “over there.” It wasn’t long that I was able to figure out that there was nothing waiting at the bodega for her but a carton of milk and some paper towels. Teresa was alone. She had gotten herself to the corner but couldn’t go any further. I asked her if she wanted water and she said yes. All I had in the van was a mostly empty plastic cup of water with lid and straw that I had gotten earlier in the day from the Green Fig. Most people would turn up their nose at drinking after another person they’d just met. Teresa sipped it gratefully and without hesitation. When I made the trek down the block to the bodega, I learned from the clerk and his young friend that she goes there daily, stocks up on groceries, often several bags full, and carries them on the stubby arms of her little push chair. The clerk noted that lately she wheels herself around the grocery store and then stops and rests a few minutes before heading back out. But she didn’t use to do that.

About an hour or so later, Teresa and I had made it from where I met her, about three buildings down. It took her three stops and starts to make it that far. At one point, she started telling me about how she worked for the hospital for twenty years. I didn’t ask any questions. She pushed the loose wispy strands of silver white hair from her face, and looked into my eyes as she talked to me with a voice thick from age or accent. Even though I knew she was making an effort to strike up a conversation, I had my family, including a two-year old long past her bedtime, waiting in the car, and I didn’t want Teresa to use her energy sharing life stories with a person she’d never see again. I think there was something, too, about it that vaguely reminded me of when my grandfather was 90 years old, and dying, and recounting to me what he had done with his life. I wasn’t ready to be the repository again. Instead, I encouraged Teresa on, telling her she was doing a good job. Even though I didn’t want to, I reminded her to take it easy and rest if she wanted. I wanted to lift her up and swoop her straight to her door. I wanted to throw her in the back of the minivan and drive 30 seconds to get to her house. I wanted her to have roller blades and whisk herself off into the darkness of night. I wanted to not be reminded of the fragility of life.

She wore battered brown hush puppies that scuffled along the sidewalk. A neighbor came down the street with her own young son, apparently afflicted by MS or some other disease, and Teresa encouraged me to scoot closer to her, to let them pass. The woman looked at me curiously. I thought maybe she knew Teresa, and would offer to take care of them both. I was hoping that someone we would pass would know Teresa, and would thank me for the time, and get her safely home to a nice, clean apartment where she had top-notch A/C, and someone to take off all the heavy layers of clothes she wore, and tuck her deformed body into a comfy cool bed. No one stopped. In the breaks, I learned that she had a fan but no A/C, and that she hadn’t been feeling well lately. I got the impression she had no real friends or family around. I learned she is fiercely independent. She tried to pay me for the milk and paper towels. By now my older daughter, “A,” 22 and recently graduated from college, was out on the street with us while my partner waited patiently with the younger one in the car. When we got to Teresa’s door, A motioned to me to get the keys from her. They were hooked onto a safety pin that was in the pocket of her nurse’s jacket. I offered to help but, to my amazement, Teresa was able to unhook them and hand them to me. Neither of the two keys opened the front door. I buzzed all three buzzer, and wondered if what I would say would make any sense to the inhabitants. I barely had the words out of my mouth when I was able to push the door open. A young, good-looking man came down the stairs in t-shirt and shorts and began helping us get Teresa and her little push-wheeler up the three stairs to the hall of the building.

As she struggled against those steps and crossed the threshold of the building, she said, “I think this is my last time out.” I immediately tried to brush away the implications, and told her yes it would be smart to stay inside for a few days, it was expected to be very hot out, and maybe she should wait a few days. We both knew better.

Between getting her from the record heat outside into the stifling and oppressive heat inside, A and I learned that the neighbor had helped her outside that night, that she used to own the building but had sold it to someone and in exchange was living there rent free. That she had no family that he knew of. That the landlord/super/new owner (?) would sometimes check in on her and take care of her. That she had said earlier that she wasn’t feeling well and someone might need to take her to the hospital.

The apartment was the opposite of what I had hoped to see. Her keys dangled from the door. A cockroach greeted us as soon as we stepped in. There were boxes of food on the counter, a small lamp with broken lampshade and just an exposed light bulb as the sole source of light. The fan wasn’t plugged in, and I didn’t know how Teresa could possibly have bent down to turn it on. I plugged it in, and helped her into her chair. She pulled off three layers of shirts, one a long-sleeved dirty sweatshirt, until she was sitting in a loose t-shirt the bright fuchsia color of the new rose on my front porch.

In the process, the fan stopped working. A pointed this out to me, and I jiggled it till it worked again. I asked Teresa if I could open the windows more but she wanted me to close them all the way (I didn’t tell her that I wouldn’t do that but of course I didn’t). We exchanged numbers with the neighbor after learning that he had called the super, who wasn’t coming. Teresa said all the super cared about was money. I tried to ask if she had any family we could contact but she said they were all in Brazil. After about ten minutes of lingering, I finally said good-night to Teresa and left as she sat in her chair by herself, her silver hair swooping out from the loose bun at the nape of her neck, in the shadow of a the large hump that is her back.

I we got a text message from the neighbor about an hour later saying that she was feeling better. I couldn’t get the image of the dirty kitchen and filthy refrigerator out of my head. Worse was the image of Teresa alone in the nearly dark room, silent except for the struggling hum of the tiny fan. She seemed so familiar to me. I still can’t shake the feeling that I know her from somewhere. Maybe she is the universal embodiment of all that I fear of loneliness and old age. Maybe, too, that the scene showed me how much we all rely on each other, and the fragility of that.


The Many Means of Therapy

From a generous gardener in the neighborhood…


To a creative gardencentric therapist…


whose sign I found posted on the “community board” at Flatbush Food Co-op on Cortelyou…


To Friday night mighty jazz jam sessions at Williamsburg Music Center at Bedford & S. 5th (it’s a non-profit org founded and run by the amazingly talented and community focused, greener-than-green thumb, Jerry Eastman)….


To blueberry cake in the fridge when I get home, to be married with the most delectable ice cream anywhere to be found (a sinful scoop each of Brooklyn Bell’s brown sugar whiskey vanilla and BB’s black chocolate) …


Sour cream and maple frosting topping it in and off…


To the sunlight through the edible leaves…


To sage to burn (or smudge) to keep out pests (mosquitoes detest this) and establish harmony in the heart and home….


To Wednesday morning jazz and eggs to break Tuesday’s fast. Topped with herbs from the garden…


May you welcome summer this week with a celebration of all your tools of healing, peace and power.

Romance Dies from Unnatural Causes

This was passed along to me recently…

Although the reports are that Romance died this week from unnatural causes, some suspect the fickle candle of life flickered its last flame due to old age. She spent her last years in the Happy Valentine Assisted Loving Facility where, in later years, her visitors were few and far between. Some came to mourn her, while others came to encourage her to hold on. Still others came merely to pay their last respects, knowing the end was inevitable.

Romance’s absence will leave a hole in our hearts, but she will be especially missed by her friends Tenderness, Grace, and Forgiveness, who were there even when she was wrapped up in her own dalliances.

Maybe more than anyone, Romance will be missed by her longtime sweetheart and dedicated companion, Humor, who stayed by her side through thick and thin till the very end. Their chemistry was legendary, even accounting for the rare spat when Romance felt she wasn’t being taken seriously. Their occasional bit of discord was always dissolved in laughter.

Romance is survived by her mother, Love. Her father, Logic, who left before Romance could walk, was last spotted wandering the streets of Wisconsin, looking dazed and slightly confused. While, over the years, there was talk of a possible reunion, somehow the timing never was quite right.

There will be no wake or special services for Romance. She wanted to go the way she came, quietly, so you couldn’t peg the moment of her arrival but once there, you never wanted her to leave.

Theories abound as to the source of her demise. Some say neglect from her larger social circles played a part. Others point to the tin soldiers of technology and their arsenal of gadgetry. An older acquaintance of mine used to say concealment is sexy. Assuming that the case, the creation of the tools of endless access must certainly take a bow here. No more waiting by the phone, or wondering if he, or she, or they are thinking about you; our feelings are cracked, split, and splattered on the plasma screen, if not by ourselves, then by the incessant observers.

Still others say she simply felt useless. It’s true she hadn’t danced of late. All the movies did was frighten her. And she was distracted during dinners out by the number of fellow patrons openly snapping photos if their food. She found it unappetizing. So she and Humor stayed in most nights, dining on cold pizza and drinking the occasional bourbon.

They say that true Love never dies. Romance being the only child, maybe she inherited that trait. Listen for her closely. Her knock is very soft. If you’re lucky enough for her visit, make sure you let her in. She just might’ve brought her old friend with her. Let me tell you, they make quite the pair.

The Cherry Fairy

We went cherry picking in the backyard Sunday, June 3.  I’ve had the tree several years, but this was the first year there was a real harvest (in past years there have only been a handful of pickable non-mealy ones).


My partner and I climbed the tree with paper bags slung over our arms.  He took the upper branches.  I braced myself between the fence and the lower branches.


I saw a lot of cherries fall.  I caught some.


I dropped them into my bag as fast as I could.  A little girl, probably about six-years old, in the row of houses behind ours sat in the window watching us, while her mother cooked dinner in the kitchen behind her.  At one point I had to lean over, nearly into our neighbor’s yard to reach the cherries on the farthest extending branches.  She giggled as she chewed on some candy, watching us.


Some of the cherries were not ripe.  We probably could have waited an extra day or two.  But it was Sunday, my family was in town.  We had food on the grill, and gardening getting done.  In the end, we got about two big bags full of cherries.  There were still more higher to the top.  I wanted to climb up high to pick them but my partner told me to leave them, saying, they’re God’s tax.  I let them be.  He thinks he’s pretty funny.  He usually is.


We’re going to make cherry ice cream but for now, we have about two large soup containers filled and three gallon freezer bags.  We ate some and are saving the rest.  I might put my new canning skills to test.


Putting Your Weeds To Work

Out of curiosity and in a baby step toward frugality and self-sufficiency, I have started a weed garden composed of the varieties of “weeds” that occur most prominently and persistently in my yard. I have uprooted them and transplanted them into containers of a variety of sizes to observe them only slightly removed from their natural habitat. I want to identify/classify them, learn about them, and figure out how to make them earn their keep. It’s not a renter’s market, and real estate in Brooklyn is not cheap. On top of that, with all of us being told we can become backyard farmers by trading in our $300 skinny jeans (which I personally never have owned but whose presence is nonetheless ubiquitous) for an equally priced pair of torn, ripped, and patched and otherwise used and abused vintage workerman’s dungarees, my little plot of land is screaming for the showiest and most table worthy vegetation gentrification.

With that in mind, I am cleaning house on my weeds, trying to identify the ones taking up the most space and putting them all to work. Of course, many are already paying their dues, serving as decoys for the unwanted pests and attracting other, beneficial, ones. I don’t want to disturb the equilibrium and natural state of things too much – just want to be trying to get the most out of my yard’s inhabitants.

That said, I’m starting by looking at a very common to this area plant, by the name of plantain, though it’s not the banana variety.

Wildman Steve Brill recommends against eating it, simply because it’s not that tasty, but it’s widely hailed as a cure all for skin intrusions from mosquitoes to minor scrapes and burns. It’s best if used within 10-15 minutes of a bite; within that time, a quick treatment can fully cure a bite by removing the poison. Take a leaf, crinkle or smash it up between your fingers, and place it directly on the bite for a minute or so. The relief should be felt almost immediately. One thing I’m unsure of — anyone? anyone? — is if it is still effective when not immediately plucked from the plant. In other words, if you’re hiking and spot some, and want to take it along as an impromptu first aid kit, how long will it maintain its healing properties? This may be a question for the Wildman himself.

Plantain is also a worker weed because it is deep-rooted and can help open up and break up soil to help water find paths to more fragile rooted plants. This is especially helpful in areas such as ours (NYC) where the soil is so heavily clay-like.

Plantains? They’re keepers. Leave some in your yard close to more delicate plants (or try transplanting them), and keep some in a pot on your deck or near your front or back door for emergency aid when the mosquitoes get hungry. I found mine are thriving in planters (while other weeds are not do keen on such domestication).

QUESTION: how are you putting your plantains to work for you? Go ahead … Gimme the dirt!



Monet’s Garden at NY Botanical Garden

I’ve been noticing lately on my night walks the effort that goes into plants that are front-facing.  Even plants and flowers in windows or window boxes, and the warmth they bring to the neighborhood, are impressive for what they say about the home’s inhabitants.  It says they care, that they want to bring beauty to where they live, that they want to share.  This spirit of a gardener was never more evident to me than this weekend.

This weekend we took a jaunt to the Bronx where we saw the fruits of the labor of love by the growers (isn’t that a great word for gardeners — I love the multiple meanings) at the New York Botanical Garden.  We took in a dizzying array of colorful flora, and delighted in this garden inspired by Claude Monet‘s own at Giverny.   Spattered throughout the stunning visual inspirations are placards with quotes from Monet centered loosely on the theme that flowers are what inspired him to become a painter.  To him, his painting and the garden he so lovingly tended were inseparable.  His creations — both the gardens and paintings — tell us he was right.


We got to the garden Saturday morning at 10:15 (NYBG opens at 10:00 a.m.), and already the line for parking stretched into the street.  I’d recommend an early a.m. weekday visit in order to be able to have time to take in all there is to see here.  You may also want to download the NYBG app before your visit, to get the most out of it.  I started to download the app but got impatient and set out to catch the sights…


The scent and the sights are swoon worthy.




These orchids — which came in a variety of striking colors — from all sides, look like tiny slippers.  I only took a shot straight on, so it’s a little hard to tell, but turn it on its side and it looks like you could slip one of these on a fairy’s foot.



The variety of plants and flowers occupied the floor, the ceiling and everything in between.  If you didn’t look up, you would have missed this curious beast, above.

The plants included a smattering of edible variety as well.  Here is a striped pineapple.  There were also orange trees, and a grapefruit tree too.  Yum!




And, of course, it wouldn’t be complete without the water lilies.  There are two large ponds with water lilies and a variety of other plants.  Colorful and people-friendly fish apparently keep away pests and feed on the moss of the underwater stones on which some of the plants are growing.  The littlest visitors seemed most interested in following the trail of the fish as they swam the length of the pond.


Many thanks to the New York Botanical Garden for bringing a slice of Monet’s inspiration, literally to life for us.  The painstaking research and growing they did for us is yet another example of the generous spirit captured by Monet, and shared by gardeners throughout the world.

As breathtaking as it was, just a quick peek here, to see Monet’s gardens which were resurrected from disrepair after WWII, tells me I need to take a trip to Giverny soon.

Aimee’s Canning Class

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of learning how to can from a seasoned practitioner, our friend Aimee, over at Red Garden Clogs. I never canned before but feel like I can do it (safely) now. We made pickled jalapeños (with garlic and allspice) during the class, and got to taste test some she had already made. They were so delicious on crunchy, natural corn tortilla chips. They pack a punch but are not burn-your-mouth/regret-it-later hot. I’m looking forward to enjoying our batch later this summer with farmers cheese on lightly grilled flatbread. Uuuuuumm.