Dirt on My Kitchen Table

I never had an indoor plant that survived longer than a month. I remember walking the aisles of Market Basket and gazing longingly at the tiny African Violets in their foiled pots. I’m not sure how many my parents bought me over the years — at least three or four — and their purpley-pink flowers looked soft and adorable on my bedside table. For about three weeks.

We are a family that gardens, yet we are embarrassingly bad at keeping indoor plants alive. I’d say I have a brown thumb, but I don’t. At least not with every green thing. Before I went to college, my herb garden flourished, twisting and vining around the small stone walls we built. In our big garden, there were always cucumbers and tomatoes, onions and swiss chard.

Just never plants in my cranberry-colored bedroom.

Morning glories in my old herb garden.

When I lived in Somerville, an orchid a student gave me languished in my window: too much sun, too much water, too much attention. A succulent turned brown and squishy (who knew you could kill a succulent?!). I felt like a murderer; one born of neglect as much as over-care.

[You can imagine my fear when Gabe, on our third date, walked over the bridge towards me with a big white orchid plant in his hand. I’d been known to kill before, and I’d probably do it again. I tend to connect plants and trees with certain instances; would this, too, speak doom to our budding romance?]

[Said orchid has never flowered again, but it is not actually dead. Read into that what you will.]


I’ve been waiting for my own farm since I was six years old and read Little House on the Prairie — held it like this rosy dream in front of me, like some sort of reminder that even if things aren’t as I’d imagined, someday they would be. Somehow I would find a way to weave writing and singing and family and farming and teaching and faith in a way that would bring me my deepest joy.

Sure, I had (have?) delusions about farm life. I thought staying home every day and tending to my gardens and animals would be this relaxing, idyllic life. Even after years of tending to chickens and working in my parents’ garden, I was able to maintain the misguided notion that farming would help me escape the fast-paced modern lifestyle. Now, I still long for a plot of land, a rolling meadow, goats and chickens and bees. I want a life that connects me with the earth so that my mind doesn’t float too far up in the clouds.

[“This is life,” she said as we walked on the boardwalk along the river. “This is it.” And I realized hours later — or maybe a day — that I can’t keep waiting for things to happen. When I get my farm. When I figure everything out. When I finally stop this yearning. This is life. This is it. What do you want it to look like?]

Plants and art make sense. Gabe’s Mitza made this for us on our wedding day, and the pottery dish is a Christmas gift from my mother.

When we moved into our new home, a condo with no yard, one of the first things we did was buy plants. After potting them, watering them, and distributing them to various sunny windowsills, I was shocked at the amount of ease and beauty they brought to my life. What is it about green things? Suddenly our high-ceilinged home was brighter, cozier, more alive.

I wish I could say that I’ve turned over a new leaf (that was unintentional, but I’m keeping it), and that every plant we bought remains luscious and full and growing. That is not the case. We have a fussy plant that I’ve moved twice, but it still isn’t happy. I tried watering it. I tried not watering it. I would sing to it if I thought that would work. We have a big palm behind our bed that graces us with its browning tendrils upon waking. What is wrong with it? I cannot guess.

Last week, my parents gave me basil, thyme, mint, and oregano after our trip to California proved too long and too dry for the herbs I had (not pictured). I drove to Lowe’s to get terracotta pots, and I couldn’t resist the little succulents leaning ever-so-slightly in their mini-pots. I’m a sucker for spider plants with their babies dangling down, begging to hang from our tall shelf. I bought more than I’d planned.


I spent my afternoon re-potting, watering, arranging, tending.

I spent my afternoon with my hands in dirt (on my kitchen table, not in my garden).

I’m excited for the day when we will be able to have our own farm. When the plants I grow will grow food for our bellies and deliciousness for our taste buds. But right now, I am grateful that I’ve somehow kept a few plants alive, that I am able to bring to life my girlhood dream (even if it’s in terracotta pots), and that dreaming is beautiful, but it is most life-giving when it connects with the world as you find it.


Good Things #34


In February, I woke up every morning thinking: Maybe it’s warmer today.

In March, I wake up every morning not believing that it will ever. be. spring. again.

[This place exists, right now as I sit in a snow flurry. It’s called Capri. And it’s way warmer.]

Dad planted some seeds Sunday and we have plans for flowers this weekend. There’s the skeleton of a greenhouse in the backyard, but it’s crooked because it’s sitting on top of a foot of snow.

I got a phone call asking if I’d teach the chicken class again this spring. I was shocked because a class of two doesn’t sound like a success to me, but why not? I had fun, and I liked showing off our “big red barn” of a chicken house. It’ll give me a reason to keep wanting to have chickens because there’s something about a long winter that removes every desire to keep having them. By May I plan to have a new brood of chicks, anyway, so that’ll be another addition to show whoever might sign up. Last year, we ended up talking about writing as much as we talked about chickens – seems the same kinds of people are interested in the same kinds of things.

I am 3/4 of the way done with my second grad school class and I’m close to rejoicing.

This is a song I loved my junior year of college. Justin McRoberts came to our school and for months I made fun of his silly poster that hung in the dining hall: eyes down, shaggy hair, he looked like the quintessential too-serious musician. We went to his coffee-house-style concert and my opinion completely changed. He made us laugh. He joked about being Mexican and Irish and how short he was. I love this song because it is despair and hope all rolled into one.

The excitement of my grammar school Latin students to see my Italy and Greece slide show is overwhelming. Of course, I’m not dumb, and I know that at least part of them is just excited to get out of some translating. But still. I’m terrible with technology so all I can do now is cross my fingers and hope the slide show works…

Read A Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp if you need some encouragement in gratitude. Her style can be a little distracting at times, but it’s beautiful and thought-provoking.

Rain and Foolishness

For the past five days, I’ve slept to the sound of rain. I wake up in the middle of the night and listen – sometimes it’s fast and pounding on the window, other times it’s soft and I can hear it flowing smoothly through the gutter. I’ve had to wear my blue raincoat to school, or I’ve chosen foolishly to forego it, hoping my brazenness would end the drizzle.

Overall, though, I don’t mind. A lot of people I’ve seen this week have talked about missing the sun, about longing for the rain to stop. Sometimes I understand, lamenting the warmth of the sunshine. Mostly, though, I’ve been enjoying the coolness of rain. It’s so much easier to drive in to school every morning to the softness of a gray morning than it is to teach Latin during a 75-degree day when I long for the beach. And it’s a lot easier to give into my desire to curl up on the couch and read Prodigal Summer or watch Arrested Development reruns when the rain gives me such a good excuse.

[One of my favorite Latin words is imber –  “rain shower”. The sounds are soft on your tongue.]


I waited all afternoon for the rain to let up a little. Six basil plants were sitting on the counter, waiting for the ground, and a clump of zinnias had grown far too tall for their little navy pot. Finally I gave in, donning my raincoat and a backwards Red Sox hat, and headed into the rain.

I worked alone, which is rare around here. Not because everyone loves working outside, necessarily, but because usually we feel guilty staying indoors when someone’s in the garden. Today, though, I dug holes alone, trying not to plant the basil too deep. I have a hard time judging depth (hence my lack of talent in the visual arts department), but it came out okay. Dirt got all over my hands and I thought about how much better it feels to work in the cool spring than the humid summer.


What I didn’t think about, though, was the fact that the camera was sitting in the rain. My sister came out, surprised and angry to find it on the porch. I’d put it under the plum tree, but really, what good does a little branch do? She brought the camera back in the house, wiped it off, told me I was dumb for bringing it out. I was angry and brought it back out, covering it in a towel and putting it this time under the much more formidable birch tree.

After a moment, though, I realized I wasn’t mad at my sister. I was angry at myself.

It had never occurred to me not to bring the camera out into the rain. I didn’t once pause and think how foolish it was to bring such a good camera (that isn’t mine, by the way) and set it on the edge of the porch. I am constantly surprised by my lack of attention to practical things.

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I finished planting and weeding. I took some pictures of my garden in the rain. There is an imperfection in gardens that I love; no one can tell me that my garden isn’t right, that things aren’t the way they should be. I’m heavy on the bee balm and light on the tarragon, and that’s the way I want it. Gardens are bare, naked, showing more about you, perhaps, than you’d like.

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So, it’s still raining and the camera’s fine. I will probably do something un-thinking again, and probably soon. I sleep with the window open, even in the rain, because listening to it fall is more important to me than dry shades.

Introducing: Good Things


I’ve written about this before, and it’s no surprise to most of America: Mondays can be tough. I’m blessed this year to have a slow start to my Mondays – the mornings consist of grading, lesson planning, poetry reading, and apparently, blogging.

It won’t always be this way. I’m sure soon I’ll have to begin bright and early at some beloved or not-so-beloved workplace. But for now, I thought I’d start a little tradition:

Mondays Are For Good Things

I know, that’s not really a thing. But let’s make it a thing: I thought I’d share some of my favorites on Monday mornings. You should share some of your favorites, too. Leave a comment with the latest thing that’s pushing your buttons (in a good way).

So here are four to start with.

Music. I went to a concert last weekend, and I am currently listening to these guys non-stop. How could a self-respecting English major not be intrigued by a band name like Ivan and Alyosha? I love their folky-alternative sound. Their lyrics give some food for thought, too.

Gardening. Dad and I went to the nursery and bought plants yesterday afternoon in the April sun. We got parsley, creeping rosemary (for my rock wall), vinca (I love this beautiful little purple flower!), alyssum, and pink and red bee balm. I planted them all in an hour, but it took almost as long just for me to decide where to put them. I’m not anal about many things, but words and gardening seem to be two of those things. The dirt felt chilly on my bare hands and the sun felt hot on my head, so it was a good combination.


Gyming-it-up. After writing about my hate-affair with running, I can honestly say that I am looking forward to going back to the gym today. Who knows what’s next? Maybe I’ll become an internationally acclaimed salsa dancer! The world is my oyster.

Poetry. One of my all-time favorite poems just happens to be about spring. Leave it to e. e. cummings to pull your heartstrings and wow your intellect in the same blow.

i thank You God for most this amazing

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

What are you enjoying this week?

Turkey What?

After work yesterday – after a day of 5th and 6th grade Latiners, being interviewed for the 6th grade newspaper (Yes! Finally, celebrity status!), and a couple hours at the desk sorting out parent-teacher conference schedules – I headed straight to an indoor farmer’s market.

My mother was waiting eagerly for me. When she found out she had to run the “honey table” alone for the first hour, she wasn’t too thrilled. (“Wait. I have to answer their questions?”) And when I walked into the community building, it felt like entering a small church: everyone stared at me because, clearly, I was not yet part of their group.

“So,” Mom said, looking at her small pad of paper, “I’ve sold a turkey candle, a large muth jar, and a regular jar.”

Now, you’re probably wondering what a “turkey candle” is.

I was too, when my Dad came joyously into the living room a few weeks ago, a small yellowish thing cupped in his hands.

“Look, Catherine! A turkey candle!”

Dad had gone online and purchased a candle mould – shaped like a turkey.

I looked at it skeptically. Who in the world would buy such a tacky thing?

And I said as much.

Dad was slightly offended, turning on his heel and saying over his shoulder, “You’ll see!”

Yesterday, I did see.

We sold a total of FIVE turkey-shaped candles.

I was shocked. They were flying. Like hotcakes. What I couldn’t believe was that right next to these tacky little gobblers were beautiful wax skeps: classy, smooth, beautiful. Skeps are the rounded hives you’ve probably seen in cartoons.

I just didn’t understand it.

We’re going back next week, and I’m sure Dad’s planning to replenish his flock, because as he said, “After Thanksgiving, all these turkeys are going back into the melting pot.”

It’s their last shot.

That just goes to show you I don’t yet understand the candle and honey market.

Go, Dad.


It’s the Yankee in me.

I put a lot of value on hard work.

When we were little, Mom and Dad made us work in the yard, around the house, every weekend. I hated it, for the most part. I remember one day – I was probably around seven — it was warm and sunny and all the neighbor kids were running around, laughing, playing tag, I don’t know what.

The four of us were weeding the garden alongside my parents, grumbling the whole time.

I remember my Dad saying, “When you’re through with this row, when everything’s weeded, then you can go play.”

I also remember saying something along the lines of “why do we have to do this when all the other kids don’t have to?”

And, the classic reply: “Someday you’ll thank me for this.”

Well, Dad, I guess that day is here.

We spent yesterday morning putting the garden to rest. The sun was bright, the air was cool, and the work loomed ahead of us, daunting. We pulled up all the woodier plants (broccoli and brussells sprouts get huge!) and threw them out back (Dad’s trying to minimize bugs next year, so we’re getting rid of the old plants). We took out the tomato stakes and piled them up, unknotted and threw out the rags we’d used to tie the plants to their stakes.

I harvested the last of the carrots. It’s hard to get them out of the cold ground without snapping them, but some survived.

Dad and I emptied the compost pile that’d been lying low all season, spread it out over the dirt, and my brother tilled it in.

When we were done, the place looked beautiful. Not nearly as sad as you’d think. Like well-deserved rest.

The girls got the last of the cucumbers.

~         ~         ~

Now, let me get this straight: I am not a naturally hard worker.

When I was around ten, I remember thinking, I wish I weren’t so lazy. And then, like a lightbulb, I realized, I don’t have to be lazy. I can choose to work hard.

This was a revelation. I had thought up to this point that some people were born workers, and some people were born lazy.

This might be true. But it goes a lot further than that.

Every day I struggle to use my time wisely. To complete what I should complete – to give it my all.


Work hard in the garden.

Take care of my chickens.

Sell honey and eggs in a timely manner.



Clean, do dishes, you know.

Write good lesson plans.

Teach engaging lessons, even when I’m exhausted.

Read my Bible.


These are the things I must work hard at.

Work, outside of our workaholic culture, is a good and beautiful thing.

Kitchen Gardens and Maintenance

I woke up to the second day of rain and cold. I love cozy days like this – partly because they give me an excuse to be a little lazy.

I thought I’d listen to something while I made my breakfast. Ted Talks is definitely a go-to lately. There are so many interesting things to learn about, and when I hear these eloquent, educated, passionate people talk about what they’ve discovered, I get fired up. There is hope when you know people like that exist.

I listened to this talk, My Subversive Garden Plot, while I boiled water for my french press and made poached eggs on toast.

I thought, as if I really needed another reason to get more involved in the garden…! And then I went on his website to learn more about Kitchen Gardens International. Its title makes it pretty obvious, but it’s an organization that started in Maine, and it’s dedicated to expanding the number of gardens and gardeners around the world. Doiron talked about the fact that in the next fifty years, we will need to produce more food than the world has produced in the last 10,000 years.

When I hear things like that, my initial reaction is fear. But followed quickly after is excitement. I can see my chicken run from the backdoor (granted, it’s raining, so the smart girls are warm in the henhouse), and I can’t wait to collect those first eggs from a new flock. We finished putting the garden in last weekend (Dad and I always have differing opinions – he put a bunch of lima beans in, and I absolutely detest lima beans. Oh well…diversity…). I filled my herb garden with sweet basil, purple basil, parsley, oregano, upright and creeping rosemary, three kinds of thyme, and beautiful white, purple, and orange flowers.


I love planting season. Not so much weeding season. I have a bad track record for maintenance. I wish I could say it were just with the garden, but my writing, my reading, my knitting, my music, pretty much everything I do is affected by quick boredom and inability to FINISH WHAT I START.

That’s my goal this summer – maintain! Maybe if I start with my garden it’ll spill over into the other aspects of my life.

Maybe this summer I’ll be ready for the Farmers’ Market!


Unexpected Helpers

Today has been on and off rainy (thunder cracked at lunchtime and sent me and the boys I was watching back into the house — picnic aborted!!).

But after that shower died down, we headed in the truck to my house. I promised I’d show them the chicks in my room (yes, still in my room…don’t ask).

I removed the cover and held the baby over the box. His eyes lit up. I picked up a fuzzy yellow chick and held it up to the baby. He reached out, and I said “gentle” and he was. He was so gentle I couldn’t believe it, his tiny fingers barely grazing the soft down of the chick’s head. He looked at me, questioning, and then did it again.


J. (he’s nearing 5 and curious) looked and asked questions.

“Where is their food?”

“How do you feed them?”

“Where are the eggs?”

That last one was my favorite.

After trying to explain that no, the chickens don’t eat the eggs, they lay them, we went outside to the hen house so I could show him. There, four eggs in a box, ready to eat.

Then, with J. fascinated and distracted by feeding the hens grass, I took the baby to my garden, plunked him down on the path, and started clearing away deadness from last year.

He looked around, pulling at dead grass, watching me as I moved around him. I brushed some dirt off the large flat stones, and he copied me, his tiny hand flashing across the ground.

And then he put that hand with a handful of dirt into his baby mouth and smiled.

(P.S. I made THE MOST AMAZING GRANOLA two days ago. Thank you very much.)