Monday, November 10, 2008


I can tell fall is here in lots of ways... Nature's palate has shifted on the color wheel, for one. I want to hibernate, for another. I don't kick off the duvet in the night anymore and the cats are cuddling against me in bed without being coaxed.

The dark creeps in before I'm ready, and the morning sun has a chilled kick to it. The trees are beginning to do their strip tease and some are already naked and shivery. Fall is here.

The spider lilies tried to warn me a month ago with their red wispy fingery blooms, but I didn't want to do more than appreciate their beauty. I was in denial of the coming changes.

Pomegranites are in their prime right now, and that is a sure fire tasty sign that fall is not going anywhere . This year, pomegranites are the hot fruit, baby. They cure all, prevent what isn't even known yet and their nectar is available in lots of combinations of juices.

Many years ago, a very dear friend introduced us to a dish his mom made called, Ahm. She was from a far away culture, from another world.

We never knew how to spell it, so i made up the simple spelling and we've kept it. Ahm because it is Ahhhhhh and Ummmmmm all in one. The dish has pearled wheat, pecan halves, golden raisens and pomegranites in it with anise, the spice that resembles a licorice flavor.

As with any recipe, I've altered it over the years a little. The girls never liked the anise, so i cut it back until this year when I just didn't add it at all. The pearled wheat is sometimes substituted with bulghur but it isn't the same. Sometimes I put chopped pecans in instead of halves. Cranraisens or regular Little Miss Sunbeam raisins instead of golden. But to tell you the truth, Ahm is a simple, magical dish and substitutions don't do a thing for it. Aside from the anise, I rarely change the ingredients anymore.

The recipe is ancient, and has been in my friend's family for longer than he can say, and now we have made it a tradition in our own family- plus I've passed on this to my extended family as well. This year, two of my work pals were in my office, and suddenly one said, "Oh! pomegranites!! It's that time of year again! When will we have ahm???" I have to say that I just loved that. They both like it and my boss does too. I tell you, it is a magic potion.

There is a nice combination of TLC that goes into every batch. Comfort and calm, with a crisp burst of sweetness in every bite. The combination of the simple ingredients come together and mix around with each other and then suddenly a nectar is born. No kidding.

It's a love/hate thing. Most people either love it or don't care for it at all. It is chewy, but crunchy. Sweet and tart and it is fresh but feels like you are making an ancient connection somehow. Pomegranites have been around since Biblical times. I think that's neat.

When we first became spellbound by this delicious delicasy, we decided to add pomegranite plants to our backyard garden. We had plants shipped from Texas and they rooted well and settled right in with the cherries and apples and pears and kiwi. Fall came along, and we had 4 or 5 plants full of beautiful fruit. I entered one in the state fair and won first prize. The specimen was pretty amazing. The color was one that crayola has yet to create. The shape and size were in perfect sync. wow.

Problem was that the first freeze killed every blame one of them. NC just doesn't hold the heat long enough for the fruit to completely ripen. So close.... so close..... ugh.

Since that time, I look and buy in the stores. This year, I noticed the fruit is bigger than usual, and more readily available. I'm sure it is because of the health effects through marketing. I suspect in a few years we'll discover they've been genetically altered to give us the bigger and earlier availability, but until I know this, I'm buying and making and sharing. That's the best part. sharing.

Seeding the fruit takes a while. It is a very hands' on activity. I watched a great old movie and seeded 6 over the weekend. Steady working the seeds out is a calming activity for me. I'm sure to find pomegranite spots for days in random places. Lovely color, but the seeds are tricky. They spit quite a bit. Can you blame them? Working over a big bowl with some water in it helps. A soothing dish to make ......

Fingers don't absorb as much of the color as they do with strawberries, either. The hue is temporary.

I usually simmer the wheat while I'm working with the poms and after the wheat is the texture I like, i cool it in the colander and then it is just a matter of mix and store. It lasts about a week.

With the popularity of it around here, I'll be making another batch in a week or so. Fall is here. So say the pomegranites, anyway.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

A picture worth a thousand bulbs

Friday i noticed two Fall crocuses popping up and looking around. There were a few of their friends coming up in 2nd and 3rd place. I discovered FALL crocus this year and bought just a few for home, CG, and church. I was so excited to see something rearing it's little purple head, that I called my boss and asked him to come see.

He is so good with people's excitement. He came along readily. We walked to the church sign and I let him find the blooms on his own. They are teeny tiny, but for me, they are a sign that things are really trying to grow. Either that, or they are trying to hitch a ride on a passing car.

My boss noticed with genuine kindness and then it happened.

I could actually see the vision of all the flowers popping up NOW instead of in the spring.

I saw a blanket of yellow daffodils reaching up to greet the world and I saw the horror of that thought on my boss's face. His mouth dropped and he twitched a little.
" Are you SURE they are supposed to be up now? NOW? What about the Spring? Are the other ones coming up too? Now, remember... Easter is in APRIL this year, not OCTOBER."

Once I realized why he was stressing, I reiterated, " These are FALL flowers. I only got a few. The rest are SPRING flowers and they should come up in early spring. Don't worry. Only mother nature knows when they will really pop, but they are cozy in the dirt and they are sure it is still Fall. These few bloom now to give the head's up to the rest of the crowd. The Fall bulbs let the spring bulbs know what to expect."

I think he appreciated the purple blossoms much more after that.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The gardening snowball effect continued

This entry is prefaced by the previous 3 or 4 entries - starting with October's entry. Plant self-revelations. They go together, I think.

Since the shopping center fun (I prefer to call that day operation Plant Rescue), I have been on a mission to find and trade plants. Here are some of those examples-

I needed Liripe, bigger than I already had, for the CG Community garden. Anna had some growing on its own in an isolated part of the yard. I didn't ask if there was a behavioral reason for the separation from the other liripe in her yard, i just took my pitchfork and dug it up. That's called unconditonal liripe love. She showed me her backyard and mentioned she wanted to make a daylilly/iris prayer garden. Later, I dug up some irises, and answered the response on a neighborhood elist request for anyone needing iris/daff/daylilly thinning and I dug up some lilies. Then I visited Julia's garden and she had a spare lenten rose. The trade made Anna happy, and the CG look a lot better.

Someone at home church was looking for some irises, and was lamenting about how hard it is to keep the wild ferns down in their yard. A few days later, the trade took place. I brought the iris, he brought the ferns.

A friend from work church picked up on the planting energy, and wanted some iris and periwinkle. I went by and it was really fun to do a little weeding and pet her dog/child and visit. I could see their energy picking up. They are going gung ho on the yard now. I hope to see their progress tomorry. If not progress, then at least hugs.

I saw on the elist where someone had done their yard over and had an overage of sod. The CG yard has a few tire ruts in it, so i went and filled my trunk with rolls of sod. After, I drove by home church and passed by a friend from church. Possessed with the excitement of such a good find, I blurted out, " Only because you know and love me- do you need any sod?" Now, this is not exactly the greeting one would expect, so she and her partner sort of stopped and stared at me a minute, as if I had just spoken Greek. I think they were expecting me to say, " Hi! glad to see you!" and were trying to make my " Hi! do you need any sod?" sound like the greeting they were expecting. Then, the magic of the gardenese kicked in. " Well, actually yes. we DO need some sod." They followed me over to the alley way where the free leftover sod sat and they were thrilled but had no bags. NO worries!! I am now manufacturing trash bags in my trunk. We loaded her up with a bag of irises from my backseat as well!!

Yesterday I was dropping off a church key to my oldest daughter. In the ten seconds it took to give her the envelope, I noticed 3 small ferns growing along her front wall.... Let's just say they aren't there now. I don't really recall getting the pitchfork out of my trunk.

Today,I was walking through a parkinglot, and I found a random elephant ear plant that was so overflowing its small bed, it was sending a few ears out and over into the drain. I pulled one up and brought it home. Yes, today I adopted a purple elephant ear. People in the parking lot watched me and probably wished they knew why in the world would I rescue a strange elephant ear. Just because I could, that's why.

Yes, the gardening snowball effect is alive and well. I need a plant, you have one. I have one, you need one. I need to plant some. You need to see some growing. We talk and build community with people and nature ....

Today at the CG, I looked over all the plants I've put in this season and came up with this.
The garden has come from 15 different sources- yards- shopping centers-friends' plots- 15.
Wow. I think I've put a village in my friend's yard.

My other boss at work wants me to continue the planting. I guess an overzealous church secretary-turned-planter is cheaper than using a "real"landscaper; he's on the train, the wagon, the wheelbarrow. He wants to see if we can convert pinestraw beds into sustainable gardens. I'm in baby, plus, this should make the stewards of the earth committee happy.

I ordered a few plants to get us started, and I'm looking for more. Today, after pulling some periwinkle and digging more irises at my place, I put them in the ground at work church. Next spring, if they live, we'll be on the road to creating color on the church grounds. I'm excited.

My angel friend on the phone tonight also said, "OMG. One day , we will pull up and the church will be gone. hidden away like a secret garden" or something like that. She's really a little concerned that a forest might move in on the root tails of my periwinkle. She's also wondering if these bulbs and plants don't grow, well, maybe I'll need therapuke in a big big way.

Only the shadow knows. I can tell you one thing, though. She, and the other staff may think I'm a little over the topsoil on this gardening thing, but it has created a really nice connection and sense of community not to mention the cheap entertainment.

I still worry a bit about my car becoming a terrarium. I won't be surprised if I climb in to drive one day and see sprouts. Plants are supposed to increase the air quality, right?

The gardening snowball effect- shopping center plant rescue

I was talking tonight with an angel friend of mine and sharing this update with her, and i randomly said, "Maybe this gardening thing is really some sort of therapy for me." She, being wise and NOT ME, said, "Ya think?"

The community garden (CG)benefited greatly from the shopping center haul. I mentioned this upcoming event in a previous blog and I am here to say that the experience has created a snowball effect in my gardening. I am NOT a landscaper. I am a planter. i plant. I weed. I get plants and plant them. That's it. No guarantees. This task of planting hurts my back, but it heals my heart. Yoga helps the back, so it all balances out.

I mentioned an important date. The day the landscapers change out the plants at the shopping center. The day came.

I was at the shopping center at 7am. No landscapers. I ordered breakfast in the restaurant where the manager first told me about the changing of the plants. Still no trucks. There I sat in my work clothes, in wait. Suddenly, one, then two, then several more trucks began to pull into the center parking lot. Men got out. Men pulled plants out of pots. They were at the other end of the lot from where I was, and time was short. I drove over and asked if they were pulling plants today and they said, yes. I asked what would happen to the plants, and they said they were dumping them in the truck and carting them off. I asked if I could have them when they were thrown away and they said, what did I want? I said, caladiums and ferns. They said, with a handfull of irritation in their voices that it would be a while before they got to those. Then,.....then....I said the magic words. "Well, actually, I have a pitchfork in the trunk of my car, I can dig them myself."

You would have thought I was the dentist saying, "No cavities!"

The men finally smiled at me and said with a little bit of caffeinated enthusiasm" Have at it, take what you want! It's less work for us!! Have at it sister!!"

I drove back to the restaurant where the staff was waiting for the trucks, and held up my pitchfork. "He said we could DIG!!" Well, they pulled boxes out of mid air and I shared my pitchfork and, like Edward Scissorhands, we cleaned out those pots in seconds. The manager asked for my information so she could call me in the spring because it was so much fun.

I toured the rest of the center and by 8:30, I had a literal jungle residing in my car. My little VW cabrio had elephant ears hanging out the window, ferns, caladiums, two trees that looked like lantana, and multiple mystery plants stuffed in every spare corner. There were leaves and stems dragging the street like when you close your coat in the car door. It was Fabulous, I tell you. A traveling nursery. With the radio blaring, I sounded like a modern day icecream truck only with plants.

Well, my boss shopped from the car, as did co workers. Several people wondered how I would ever get the dirt out, but i wasn't worried. Even though I had put the goodies in bags, the dirt escaped with fervor. There were inches of dirt in the seat, on the dash, and on the floor. My only concern was knowing my convertible top had a leak, and if we had rain before I could clear out my inventory, well, I admit I was a little concerned about rooting plants in the floorboards of my vehicle. A novel idea, but not one I really wanted to see up close and personal.

In two days' time, the plants were transferred to new dirt. I have maybe a hundred caladium bulbs sleeping on newspaper in my green room. along with a tree hoping to live long enough for me to give it to one of my daughters for Christmas. The rest are in the community garden, my gardenette, and at co workers' houses, and home church friends' houses. Isn't that neat?

The gift that keeps on giving. Dirty, in a good way. Something happened that day, coupled with the growing pleasure of working the community garden, I was finding community through sharing plants, and I was feeding my problem solving hankering by figuring out how to find plants that I needed and connecting the needs of others - a plant switchboard sort of. It became theraputic for me.

Usually, I refer to therapy to therapuke because if you are really doing the hard work therapy requires, it feels puky. But this therapy had no puke in it. Just dirt.

Bulbs for Easter continued

A person came in for some assistance. One of my jobs is to work with people who come in for help. I call them Avon people because at home church these folks have to ring the bell to come in. At work church, there is no doorbell, but i sort of hear it in my head when they enter. This is a very challenging part of my work. I think to myself with every person I talk to, "This could be one day, this could be me. One month late on my rent, and this could be me. An extended illness, an expensive car repair, and I become an Avon person." Being a single parent has put financial security in a space ship and has sent that concept into outer space.

The reality of helping our Avon people is that some people really do need help, and others are just working the system. Since I am not in a position to judge the difference, I've come up with a system that helps me decide what we can do to empower rather than enable. The system is simple. It is the same system that I relied on to help me understand my children when they were teenagers. I ask questions. and I listen.

I guess I could write a whole long story about assistance but i really only need to say that on this day, someone who really needed help came in seeking it. We talked, and I gave what I thought we needed to, and then I gave him resource suggestions to help him find more help. He, like many, asked what he could do to pay us back. Most of the time, this is a question that comes from a sense of pride, and most of the time, all of the time since I've been doing this, the question evaporates when they walk out the door.

This man sounded like he really wanted to do something to repay us. I told him to let that go, and that is what we are here for. Then, I paused. I knew he had been a working man until recently, and I knew he was in his mid 40's and had an unexpected heart ailment and I knew that major heart surgery often brings depression with the recuperation. I thought how helpless it must feel to suddenly, literally over night be without independence. So, I said, " Well, I'm planting bulbs in a week, do you want to help?" and he said, yes.

I didn't expect him to return and he didn't the next week. But- he called and asked for a raincheck, so I gave him one and lo. LO! Friday morning, there he is sitting on the bench in the lobby waiting for me.

I told him I was so glad to see him, and that I really just wanted the company, I didn't want him to think he was going to be working for the help we had given him. He was shocked. I said it would be the biggest favor to me if he could help me by being with me while I dug. So, together, we went outside and he snipped open the bags of bulbs and I planted them. The 700 planted bulbs grew to 1,000. ( FYI: If they don't grow, I'll deny this entire series)We chatted, he seemed to need to talk, and doing a simple mindless task such as repetitive planting is a good, safe way to just chat. I took him up the street for lunch later and left him there with a friend to take him home; both of us feeling a little better about the world.

So, the idea- the great idea my boss had that sounded so simple showed its true colors. Planting bulbs has already turned into planting good things with others. See how smart that man is??

Bulbs for Easter

My boss is a creative lunatic. He dreams up ideas that blow us all away, once we can understand the concepts. As long as I've been working for him, I have known this to be true. I've written of several instances where he's given us crumbs from an idea he's in the midst of creating, and although it is a wonderful thing to brainstorm, it is a near impossible task when you are brainstorming with a category 5 hurricane.

This year, he decided that giving the congregation bulbs to plant would be a good tactile/visual lesson on how we are growing in our faith... Greater things God can do with us -for us- at us..... and he thought if every member planted their bulbs, they could bring their flowers on Easter Sunday and Woah Baby!! We'd have SOME floral cross that day, sister!! The idea is brilliant. Amazing. Lovely. True to his talent. ...but as I sat next to him listening, a tiny centipede of reality began crawling around my head. " What if people don't plant their bulbs? What if only 3 people plant their bulbs and they don't grow? What if we have a flowerless cross? What kind of Easter would that be?" said my centipede realist. So I suggested that we order extras and I'd plant them in front of the church so we could use them if we needed them. He gave me the okay. I envisioned a lovely wave of yellow daffodils welcoming Easter morning.

I asked the landscapers to till narrow beds that ran in front of the bushes and they did, thank gosh. I looked at the newly turned dirt and felt sad that we couldn't have a little color to let us know Easter was coming. A little pre-bloom. So, I ordered 200 crocus bulbs as well.

One Friday, I put on my farmer -me overalls and planted the beds.

I invited the Wee Care preschool kids to help me plant the crocuses. I explained to the enthusiastic three year olds that bulbs had tops and bottoms just like us. Their bottoms are bigger like us, too and they wear special underwear that feels like paper. They want to reach for the sun so they point up. They need the same things we do to live- food, water, and love. Their food comes from the dirt, the sun and the rain. They were able farmers and helped. Some of the crocuses will be greeting the spring mornings from the tilled up beds, and some will be springing forth from the bushes and the grass. I figure Mother Nature is random, and who understands that better than a 3 year old, right?

700 bulbs later, my fingernails were unrecognizable and I had bonded with the dirt. My being was benefiting from the spiritual connection with nature. I stood and looked at the beds and thought what it might look like in the spring. hmmm. something was missing. The crocus bulbs had run out . I needed to order more. No. there was more going on here...Suddenly, the color left my sight and the grounds looked a little dull. Everything looked black and white.

I walked around and went to the corner where the brick church sign sits. That poor sign is the welcoming invite to all who drive by. "Come in!!" it beacons. But the brick stands alone. A sad semi circle of pine straw sits at its base, a flat and brown audience. sighhhh.

I went back inside and ordered more bulbs and then I ordered some special flowers just for the sign.
I thought about what I would like if I were standing on a corner waving people into my house and I ordered tiger iris, mixed daffodils, crocus and Fall crocus with a few delicate drippy white bell flowers to tuck into the corners. There. That is better. whew. Now, all I have to is wait.