Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lover vs. Fighter

Winnie was visiting Lauren's school at recess-time, which, as you can imagine, is an every-man-for-himself free-for-all of tricycles, woodchips, and tag; kind of treacherous for a little girl who hasn't had much time to develop the cunning social dis so often utilized in playground politics-and by the way, those six-year-old ladies can freeze you out if they want misinterpreted hairflip and suddenly there aren't enough parts in the Hannah Montana game to go around. So-there I was on the bench, nervous she'd get her feelings hurt by an older girl, or take some sand in the eye, or be the last trike in a pile-up and therefore responsible for the ENTIRE domino of rear-enders (lawsuit!) when I realized she was actually doing great; seemed confident, was holding her own remarkably well in the sandbox. I felt comfortable enough in the COMPLETELY fenced schoolyard to take my eyes off her and visit with the teacher a few minutes, after which I noticed she'd ventured to the "upper" part of the playground, where the swings are, along with bigger slides, and certain doom. Her brother, ever-protective, saw that little polka-dotted body headed for trouble and was, I assume, spurred into action not just by brotherly love, but somewhere deep inside he must've heard the strains of the theme from Greatest American Hero: the kid ran, arms flailing, calling her name like she was about to go over a cliff, when really, she was only three rungs up the Coil Climber. Still-he rescued her. I walked over to help with the dismount, and between his Big Save and my arrival, some sort of skirmish had erupted between Lauren and another boy, the heart of which I haven't uncovered. What I did hear, however, still has me in stitches:

"You wanna piece of meat? You wanna piece of meat?"
This from my first-born, complete with come-and-get-me-arms and a grimace the likes of which I haven't seen on that sweet face.

The other kid looked a little dumbfounded-perhaps he was thrown by the piece of me vs. piece of meat mix-up; I actually had to bite my lip to keep from laughing, turning away to assemble my Stern Mom Face while they continued their stand-off.

"Wow-I really hope you two can work this out," I said, my go-to Love and Logic line. The opposition looked at me, exasperated, and threw up his hands. "There he goes again, threatening to beat me up. That's the second time this school year", like he almost couldn't believe it himself.
I looked at my Mr. Tough Guy-a little puffed-up and proud, but for Pete's sake....scrawny and six. If we're talking in terms of meat, a piece of him would be a.....cocktail meatball. Or a scallop wrapped in bacon on a toothpick. He is SO big-hat-no-cattle, and for now I am really okay with that. We've got years to hone the nunchuck skills, and lucky for the other guy, only four days of school left. I'd say he's safe.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A few weeks back, the school sent out an all-call to the parents of kids with summer birthdays-reminding us if we wanted to celebrate our child's special day before classes let out for the year, we could bring in a snack before recess and observe their "unbirthday"-a VERY important occasion in a six-year-old's life. I'm usually pretty low-key about this sort of thing, believing that the main point is the fame--your kid gets a little kindergarten glory and wears the birthday crown, maybe even gets to be the line leader instead of the dreaded caboose, although I'm pretty sure the caboose gets to turn out the light--and that, my friends is power. Anyway, my thoughts regarding the menu have been pretty simple-boxes of animal crackers one year, ice cream cups the next. Low cost, low fuss. This year, because of our move, all my baking stuff is either boxed or....elsewhere, and having only just returned from a three-week separation from said birthday boy, I experienced the following perfect storm of emotions: pressed for time/harried, guilt surrounding lack of domestic service, and love of cupcakes, with love of cupcakes being kind of an umbrella over those other two feelings--all this to say, I opted for a REAL birthday treat I knew would be somewhat lost on the indiscriminate palates of my son's classmates: two dozen vanilla/vanilla and vanilla/chocolate cupcakes from Little Cake Bakery complete with fondant flowers (a tribute to our greenhousing future ) on one half, and the ever-popular crushed oreos/gummy worm combo on the other half, because in kindergarten, gross is really where it's at. I picked them up today in the tiny little storefront in Buckhead...the space is so dear--very simply decorated, with a few cafe tables, a chandelier and just the right amount of less-is-more-cuteness. Of course, the deliciousness is beyond compare. ComPLETELY worth the price, especially since some kids were out sick today (hope it's not serious!) and there are enough cupcakes left for us each to have one for dessert tonight. The mini-celebration was sweet, with the typical birthday tune and optional "cha, cha, cha" my boy requested. He also asked for an additional blessing of the cupcakes, feeling that the lunch-time prayer was not sufficient for such bounty. I was really proud of him in that moment, because dang it, he may not have mastered all his sight words this year, but the child is thankful. Thankful. There was a short Q & A about the day he was born, during which he told a story about how when he was a baby I used to tie him up with string so he wouldn't cry. (?) And that's when I made my getaway, just as the DFACS paddywagon pulled up.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Love, Loss, and What We Ate

I arrived back in Atlanta a few days ago, just in time for a round of parties that have left us all strung out on love and refined sugar, my two drugs of choice. The decadence of the last 72 hours has been almost embarrassing, as we begin the long goodbye to a city we grew to love and the people who made it home for us. Sunday night was a big dinner with lots of friends, delicious grilled salmon, cheese grits and cold beer, with kids trading Legos and riding Big Wheels in the driveway and being generally adorable. Monday morning we all overslept AND had a Field Day lunch to pack-which can't be any old lunch, but instead, something SUPER special and only marginally healthy. We opted for a Whole Foods cheese calzone, giant chocolate chip cookie, and container of pomegranate seeds punctuated by the occasional blueberry. And of course, a pumpkin muffin for strength. Thirty dollars later, we were picnic-ready and Field Day was relatively hitch-free, despite some over-zealous knotting for the three-legged race which translated into my son being dragged up one side of the course and down the other and then of course, the tears. THE TEARS. We could barely transition to the passing-the-orange-under-the-chin game, which is really hard to cheer on. I heard someone yell to their son, "Come on, you've got a HUGE chin! You can do it!" I mean, do we really need to be feeding their Jay Leno complexes? Anyway. We made it to the water balloon toss and all was well. Monday night, another soiree, complete with lots of (happy) tears, snacks involving goat cheese, an outdoor fireplace, lights in the trees, and the kind of gracious host who has a supply of pashmina shawls to pass around after the sun goes down. I kind of wanted to stay there forever, but they ran out of cupcakes. You'd think I'd have been stuffed by then, but no-we decided last night was to be our last feast at Canton Cooks, the best Chinese hands-down, where they just kept bringing more food for the lazy susan and some of us kept eating it. They had me at hello with the Prawn Chips, but then when they put the Salt and Pepper Shrimp with jalapenos down RIGHT in front of me-something you can't get just anywhere--I really had to strike while the iron was hot with that one. Oh, and the expertly fried rice. By the time this afternoon rolled around it had ALL caught up with me and I was forced to lie down in a food coma for about 15 minutes, and what did I do with my leisure time? Read a cooking magazine. I know. I have no idea, either. It's like they don't make food in Ohio. Luckily, Joshua came home and had us all doing chores so our muscles wouldn't atrophy- thank goodness we sent the kids to bed at 6:15, or else I'm sure we would have eaten them.

Like a Garth Brooks Song

I am such the absentee blogger, I know, but I HAVE been working my arse off, literally and figuratively, with nary a moment to stop for meals, let alone some frivolous blog post. It’s make hay while the sun shines around here-weeding, watering, stocking, container designing-yesterday I finished the last custom planter from an order of thirteen, all ginormous, mostly Italian terra cotta and heavier than a dead priest. I’m super-relieved but a wee bit nervous as two of the arrangements kinda look like prom dresses from the 80’s, and that might not be what the customer wanted, although he used the term “showy”, which to me usually means one thing: The Bedazzler. Thank goodness I was able to restrain myself as I’m sure New Guinea Impatiens do not take well to rhinestones and grommets. Time will tell, I suppose, as the order is picked up in a few days. In any event, business is booming, in spite and maybe even because of the weather. Afternoon rains were forecasted all week, meaning the masses come out in droves to get material and get it in the ground before the showers start-kind of like stocking up on bread and milk before a blizzard. We have a mad rush in the morning, slow over lunch, then around three, a major downpour, no customers, and time to restock and fill custom orders. I actually like these kinds of days-the rain so loud on the roof-it’s a little terrifying, kind of exhilarating- but I haven’t experienced any lightning yet and I don’t know what the protocol is. Do we close up and go home? Ignore it? Hide under the re-potting table? I probably should find out because when it comes to electrical storms, you know I don’t mess. If anybody thinks I am going to stand there like a human lighting rod, they got the wrong girl. I can deal with thunder, even hail, but when the sky lights up right over my head, all my irrational thought processes kick it into overdrive and I am a hot mess. Case in point: the other evening in Atlanta, midway through my weekly Trader Joe's run, there was a thunderstorm straight out of the book of Revelations and although whilst purchasing all manner of pantry staples I remained fairly oblivious to the torrent outside, once I was paid up and bagged and in my car I LOST IT. The lightning was THIS CLOSE and I could barely see to drive, certain I'd be fried at any moment by a rogue bolt of electricity. I remembered how, as a little girl, walking home from the pool on a thundery afternoon I felt fairly confident that the Jellies on my feet (I had them in several colors) would protect me from being electrocuted-but NOW, I live a life without Jellies and in fact, left my go-to rubber-soled Diesel slip-ons at Viet Nails and am now, essentially, the aforementioned human lightning rod. I called my husband for moral support while simultaneously making myself as small as possible (thank you, Bear Grylls) which is kind of hard to do when you're driving, but inclement weather calls for, among other things, extreme flexibility. I made it home unscorched, grateful for my life in the same way I am after a plane lands safely. I'm really benevolent-saint-like, even, for about two hours. Anyway-I better get some Jellies for the greenhouse, is all I'm saying. Summer hasn't even started and the best storms are just getting warmed up.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Another long day requiring a deep-clean steamy shower complete with Crabtree and Evelyn Gardener's Hand Treatment and yes I used it on my feet, along with a pumice stone, loofah, salt scrub and plenty of hot water to boot. So, squeaky clean and cozied up with my PowerBook, I offer you this delightful piece of Americana:

Yeah, I know, for some of you this is just another day at the office. It happens all the time: right smack in the middle of the week, when you're up against a deadline and deals are coming down like space capsules-you get "the call" from your assistant. "Excuse me Mr. So and So, it seems we have some cattle in the front yard." You pick up the phone and call yourself a wrangler, order in some cowhands, get the dog warden--or maybe you don't do anything at all because you have this kind of relationship with cows. There they go again, you say. Mooching off my Wi-Fi, looking in the windows, talking about me to the other cows. I hail from a different land, though. In Atlanta, people don't have herds of cattle congregating on their property. We have people working on our landscaping, or drunken Georgia fans, or sometimes a flock (?) of locusts. Cows were a rarity-until recently. I was in the back of the greenhouse, putting together a custom order; I'd propped the screen door open with a cement block so I could feel the wind blow across the fields and on my back. Every few minutes I have to step outside for a's like retreating from a smelly August sidewalk to the lobby of an air-conditioned high rise--pure bliss. I love the greenhouse, but dang is it ever hot. And, as I may have mentioned- dirty. I am so channeling my inner Scarlett O'Hara these days; not the green velvet dress from curtains Scarlett, or the Scarlett in mourning who donates her wedding ring for the good of the Confederacy, but the Scarlett on the road to Tara, after she and Rhett have left a burning Atlanta and he leaves her to pull the horse and cart the rest of the way alone. I'm dirty and I swelter, but I'm learning to embrace it. I'm bringing it back. I may start a perfume line. ANYWAY-back to the cows. So I'm standing there, sweltering, when I hear, on the walkie-talkie, the wee small voice of one the employees alerting me to "cattle on the property." Of course, in my world, this is like saying Michael Jackson has mated with an aardvark and given birth to a Leprechaun, and Angelina's adopting ALL of them, right now, in your front yard. When you hear this kind of news you GO GET YOUR CAMERA. Which, of course, I did-I TORE out of there, ran helter skelter to my car, retrieved the camera, dashed UP the driveway, around the house (remember we're talking acreage) in search of said cows, which by then had made their way to the far side of the neighbors' yard in order to avoid certain capture from the two teenagers who'd nearly caught up to them, thus my photo op was "ruint", as my mother would say. It was still pretty wild, only I kind of wanted the guys to have lassos, but I guess they just planned on wrassling them cows to the ground. Everyone, including the cows, looked mostly panicked, and I must admit even I had plotted my own escape as I rounded the southeast corner of the house, right before the cows were supposed to come into view--I thought if one of them came at me with his/her horns I'd go ahead and shimmy up one of the pillars on the front porch and hold on tight while simultaneously yelling for help. Fat chance, you say? Well, yes I see your point. I haven't shimmied up anything since elementary school gym class and even then I only got halfway up the rope. But I wasn't about to be gored by livestock then, either, was I?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Written LAST Monday but who's counting?

My mother is hosting her bridge club tonight. The folding chairs are in place; the tables set with scorepads, sharpened pencils, and the playing cards used just for these evenings--secret decks forbidden for use in the card-house building and gin rummy marathons my sister and I were hooked on. Her prettiest bridge tallies adorn the sideboard-vintage, homemade, too special to ever use. I still don't know where these things are kept, and have never thought to ask. I'm terrible at cards-Euchre eludes me, and I'll pocket my spoon at three of a kind if I have a good enough hunch. Someday, though, I know I'll inherit the trappings of Bridge Club, whether or not I'm bona fide. My mother's mother was a member, and her association with these women is a cord that connects them, still. Some of my earliest recollections include these women, and this weekly ritual, and although some of the mystery and formality is gone, and about half the original members have died, what I consider to be the hallmark of bridge club abides-meaning, the snack selection hasn't changed. After many years, despite countless advances in the industry, including various interpretations of rice, soy, and pita, Bridge Club menu features the same glorious stuff of my childhood, and I couldn't be happier about it. Ladies and gentlemen of the internet: presenting the lesser-known crunchables; beloved, unsung heroes of the chip aisle-Bugles, Combos, Funyons, I salute you.
The buildup to Bridge Night was short but frenetic. Our mother would remind us, "You know I have bridge tomorrow night", and we would all agree to remove our shoes from the landing and not dirty the downstairs bathroom, or disgrace the lower level of our home in any way-including, but not limited to: walking through the middle of the freshly-vacuumed living room and disturbing the sweeper marks, leaving homework strewn on the kitchen counter, and eating. In particular, there was to be no cross contamination of the Snacks. No opening of the puffy foil bags, no excessive or unnecessary handling of them, really it would be better if we just didn't look at them. That's the message I came away with. They were exclusive, and special-just like the Bridge Club ladies, who were also loud, and coughed a lot, but that's beside the point. I learned that if you are quiet, and helpful, you will be rewarded in Pringles. I believe that heaven will be much like this.
Once the members arrived, I was instructed to take drink orders and pass out the sacred refreshments, which had been arranged in four silver dishes, each in the shape of a different playing card suit and covered with a clean tea towel. In exchange for my tableside service, and my sparkling manners, and for not defiling the sweeper marks, I received a nice mixed-grill of snacks to take to my room in secret. A potpourri of artificial color, dehydrated potatoes, and MSG, washed down with a Diet Crush if I was lucky. For me, Bridge Club evenings always culminated in pure decadence- with me in bed, thumbing through my mother's magazines; radio on, snacks by my side. The party downstairs typically went later than 11:00-and even though I usually complained when my sister's Bon Jovi got out of control, knocking emphatically on the wall separating her room and mine to signal my displeasure, I didn't mind the cacophany of voices on those Monday evenings. The white noise of Bridge Club-low laughter, the tinkling of ice in glasses, an occasional hacking cough you'd swear needed medical attention, and finally, the ladies' noisy departure underneath my bedroom window as I hovered between sleep and dreaming--it was the noise of the familiar, it was comfort. Tonight I'm in the basement, freshly showered from a long day at the greenhouse-I've stolen away with my snacks and soda-be still my heart, it is a Diet Crush. Still lucky, I guess.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Served with a smile

Yesterday marked my one-week anniversary of full-on country greenhouse ownership. I thought there might be a wittier way to say that, but apparently not--growing is labor-intensive, but at its root (ha!), a pretty simple endeavor. I mean, most of us know how to carry a plant along from infancy to flashy teenagerhood, past the awkward in-between stage and into the beauty of blossoming, when the flower has never looked better and knows it. This is the beauty part of growing...looking out at a chock-full greenhouse and, as the proprietor, seeing what other people, my customers, see: wild possibility; the potential to have the garden of one's dreams. It really is something. Unfortunately, though, I also know what it looks like in January: empty. All seven greenhouses bare, except for a few things carried over in the one we'll heat year-round, two or three lone plants on the warming bench looking a little worse for the wear. The rest is up to us. We'll order the seeds and cuttings, fill our trays with potting mix, and it's off to the races in a kind of lather, rinse, repeat scenario that plays out several thousand times over. I know I said it's simple-if we're talking a few plants here and there, or even a hobby greenhouse. Greenhouses, though? Full of flowers I grow myself? That people will pay real money for? There is so much planting-and planning, and exquisite timing, that to think about it for more than a few minutes each day, for now, is completely overwhelming. But-once this selling season is over, and all the retail issues are shaken out and sifted, and we sweep and scour and organize the barn and put the signs away and take a breath, me and my sweet husband will sit down at our kitchen table and map it out. We'll pore over notebooks-full of teeny-tiny handwriting left by the previous owners, and things that were second nature to them will emerge from between the lines, and with the dates and figures, together, he and I will crack the code. For now, I'll do what I know-I'll peddle the wares. I'll visit with customers, water the plants, replenish the stock, make it look beautiful, and move the merchandise-which, if you ask me, is really just about getting underneath people's skin; seeing what they want and delivering it with a big smiley bow. I'll reapply my deodorant several times before noon because man is it hot in there, I'll get a real nice tan no matter how much sunscreen I apply, and I will confuse Lobelia and Phlox and Bacopa at least once every day. I will make mistakes. I don't have to be an expert, right? This is as much about moxie as it is about plants. Courage. Pluck. Grits. I think I got it. The rest is bound to come.