Browsing Archives for July 2010

There have been a lot of ups and downs with my garden this year. I have been battling bugs for months attempting to stay organic by handpicking the eggs and the bugs and spraying homemade garlic oil, neem and dish-soap on my plants, but after several weeks of this laborious regimen, I went out to my garden to find a new crop of squash bugs crawling all over my patty pan squash and pumpkin vines and in a fit of rage I went out, bought some Sevin and blasted the pestilence out of my garden. It seems to have worked. The squash plants perked right back up and are currently flourishing, but I did spy an adult squash bug yesterday and so will have to  spray another round of Sevin on the plants.

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I harvested my onions. They are sweet and delicious.   I probably could have let them grow bigger, but their patch was being taken over by a rogue band of volunteer tomatoes.

Just for the fun of it I decided to braid them.  I am always looking for ways to connect to my inner pioneer.

I dug my potatoes.

You ain’t never tasted a potato until you have tasted a freshly dug Yukon Gold.  They are sweet, tender and melt in your mouth.  We have had chicken fried steak twice since the harvest, just so we could eat these potatoes with a proper side of gravy.  I also made two batches of potato soup ‘starter’ by mashing these potatoes with bacon, a bit of chicken broth and seasoning and freezing them.  I will add the milk products when I am ready to make the soup as I read that frozen milk products have a tendency to curdle when they are re-heated.

I have had a weird cucumber year.

Cucumber beetles have killed about half my plants the and the other half are deeply scarred from the experience.

I bought a type of cucumber seeds this year that were purported to be ‘pickling cucumbers’, even though last year’s pickling attempt was a disaster, I wanted to try to make them again.

But these cucumbers are so small and so misshapen that I have just thrown my hands up in frustration and walked away from any type of pickle proposals.  And I don’t think they should be called ‘pickling cucumbers’ either!

I think they should be called ‘the first generation born after the nuclear holocaust cucumbers’.

Every once in a while I get a cuke that actually looks like a pickle.

But the rest look like pickle mutants.

Or pickle grubs.

I have more green bell peppers than I can possibly use and I don’t even like green bell peppers.  It’s probably my least favorite vegetable, but I adore red bell peppers and any variety of spicy pepper (in reasonable amounts).  Last year, all of my pepper plants failed, so this year I planted twice as many plants thinking maybe one or two would survive and guess what?  They all survived!  And they are thriving.  I can pick three or four green bell peppers a day.  I take bags to work and to my neighbors and to every cookout I attend.  So far I have managed to stay one step ahead of my green pepper plague, but there is also an accompanying psychosis that is just as debilitating as the green bell pepper plague.

Because I really just want to grow red bell peppers and I certainly  understand that the green bell peppers will eventually turn red if I just wait long enough, but here is my dilemma.  Once a pepper plant has red peppers on it, it shuts off – meaning it stops bearing fruit.  Unfortunately I find that I am completely unable to shut off my pepper plants in July.  It’s as if I were shutting down the town swimming pool during a heat wave!  I can’t do it.  It’s the practical Western Kansan in me – the inner homesteader who lives in a dug out and survives on tumbleweed and raccoon in the winter months.  I can’t allow myself to shut down my pepper plants just so I can have my precious red bell peppers!  What am I?  Some kind of self absorbed monster?  This gardening project is not just about me – it’s about… it’s about… uh… food… and uh… making yourself eat food that you don’t even like!

And so I suffer through bags and bags of green bell peppers.  Burying them in salsa and stir fry and getting rid of as many of them as I can.

Surely there is a name for this condition.

High Plains Pioneer Green Bell Pepper Syndrome?

And then we arrive at the tragic conclusion of this chapter in my garden update when the most beloved character hurls herself off the side of a cliff for the love of a tomato peasant over a tomato king.

What????

Never fear – it will all make sense at some point.

Possibly…

In short -

My tomatoes are a disaster.

Last year my tomatoes were a triumph. An absolute victory over the stubborn patch of prairie that I call my garden.  I had more tomatoes than the tomato king who lives in tomato land and rides throughout his tomato kingdom surveying his tomato people atop his tomato horse named Sir Tomato.

But this year my tomatoes are full of worm holes and the leaves have all turned yellow and spotty and have dropped off the plants.

The tomato king is not pleased.

But I have sprayed them and am at least getting some fruit that is not covered in black worm holes.

Besides!

A secret tomato rebellion building.  A sturdy crop of volunteer soldiers have poked up through my onion patch and they are healthy, thriving and loaded with tiny green fruit.

Will they tyrannical tomato king finally be overthrown?

Will this uprising lead to reform and democracy for tomatoes everywhere?

Tune in to the next garden update for the startling conclusion as a lackluster gardener learns that of all the varieties of tomatoes she planted this year, the ones that plant themselves are her favorite.

Weeds in Wheelbarrow

July 28th, 2010

I gotta barrow, gotta barrow full of sunshine…

Sorry.

It was really late when I wrote that caption.

Throughout my life, prayer has played various roles depending on how holy I was feeling and how much I believed.  When I was in high-school, college and on up through my twenties, I prayed all the time.  I had this non-stop running conversation with God going on in my head.  I prayed for friends, relatives and co-workers.  I prayed for the people that I knew who were dabbling in Buddhism, vegetarianism, feminism and environmentalism that God would save them from the eternal lake of fire for their despicable heresy.  I prayed for my friends who were gay that they would accept Jesus and stop being such a heinous abomination before the Apostle Paul, God and me.  I prayed for strangers as they walked by and I would ask God to touch their hearts, their minds and draw them close to Him.  I prayed for people while I was having conversations with them, asking God to use me to show his love and share the gospel with them.

When I was in college I added fasting to my regular prayer regimen.  I made the startling discovery that fasting amplified my  prayers and I certainly wanted God to hear mine!  Evidently God hears you better when you have an empty stomach, except of course in the case of famine – where either people who are starving don’t pray or it doesn’t count as fasting unless you actually have food to give up.  (Boy that God… he sure is a picky bastard!)  But like most things that involve unnecessary hardship – fasting did not come naturally to me.  I am not built to suffer, I am built to indulge.  So I was constantly changing the rules about how long I was going to fast and what constituted a real fast and if fasting through my afternoon snack would be good enough for God.

“Dear God – Today I will fast until supper.  I will spend this day reflecting on your supreme glory and lifting my voice as a humble servant on behalf of all the people in this world who do not have a personal relationship with you.  BUT!!!   I am going to let myself have a soda at lunch time God… a regular soda…not a diet soda… and I can have as much juice as I want all day long and I am not going to start this fast until I finish off this bag of Twizzlers and the rest of the Corn Nuts.  And also,  I can have a cookie at the union if I start to feel really weak, but I will not get a latte to go with it Lord.  I will only get a regular coffee, with a tiny bit of cream and no sugar.  Okay… maybe only one packet of sugar, but only one packet God.  And then I will skip dessert at dinner to make up for the packet of sugar – unless dessert is really, really good.  Then I will skip dessert tomorrow instead.

As I got older, got married, and had babies, the habit of fasting disappeared and my prayer life dwindled.  I had too many diapers to change and nursing moms don’t ever skip a meal.  When I did pray, it was generally for my husband who was not exactly ‘on fire for the Lord’.  Somehow I had managed to marry and make lots of babies with a man whose knowledge of the bible was pathetic and whose basic understanding of evangelical Christianity was abysmal.  I married a Catholic who went to parochial school through the sixth grade and if he worshiped anything – he worshiped it wrong.  Everyone knows that Catholics don’t know the real God.  They are terribly confused.  They worship the pope and Mary, instead of Jesus.  I was sure that God had sent me into my husband’s life to save him and his entire family of devout Catholic Mary worshipers from an eternity in Hell.  So I was always begging God to ‘get a grip on my husband’s life’.  Turn him around Lord!  Bring him close to you Jesus – the real Jesus – not the fake baby Jesus that is really just a prop for their fake Mary god to hold!  Discipline him God and bring him to the truth of who you really are!

But then I would freak out about the whole ‘discipline’ thing.  I had been taught that God disciplines those that he loves and that means he basically beats the shit out of his favorite people by giving them cancer or giving their babies cancer or letting them be paralyzed in a fiery car accident or melting their faces off in a propane tank explosion.  So my prayers always had distinct parameters.  I would try to back-pedal my way out of being disciplined by saying things like…

Bring my husband to you Lord, but please don’t hurt my babies to make it happen.  Please God!  Please don’t hurt my baby!  I want my husband to know you and love you as much as I do, but I don’t want you to give my baby cancer to teach him about your infinite love.  So if you could get a hold of my husband’s life without giving my baby leukemia, I would really appreciate it.  Thanks God!  Love you!  You are so awesome!  And please don’t give my baby cancer God.  Please!!  Thanks God!

But the thing is – that Christians are supposed to trust God and believe that he is always taking care of them.  So if our baby gets leukemia, there is a reason for it.  It is part of God’s plan.  It will only bring us closer to God and make us stronger for Jesus.   But I didn’t want my baby to get leukemia for Jesus.  If God had to give my baby leukemia to bring my husband to Jesus, then I would prefer that my Mary worshiping Catholic husband just went to hell.  I’m sorry honey – but I did it to save our baby!

I do remember a brief revival in my ‘married with babies’ prayer life when my third son Drew became very ill.  He was a plump, rosy cheeked, eighteen month old, when he came down with pneumonia, spent 13 days in the ICU and eventually had emergency surgery to remove a ‘rind of pus’ that had walled itself off in his lung making it impossible for even the most potent antibiotic to kill off the infection.  Every time he coughed, the infection would break through the pus wall, flow into his blood stream and his fever would skyrocket back to 105 degrees.  After attempting to siphon the infection out of his lung with two different chest tubes, the pediatrician finally decided to send him in an ambulance to Wichita for surgery.  By the time they sent Drew to Wichita he had stopped eating and was being fed through his veins.  He had grown very weak and you could see all the bones in his back.  We were very scared.  I distinctly remember sitting beside Drew’s hospital crib in Wichita promising God that if he got my baby out of that hospital whole and healthy, I would re-dedicate my life to Jesus.  I would go to church eight days a week, I would teach Sunday school, I would host bible studies and volunteer to run VBS for the rest of my life.  I would give all my money to the poor and spend every free minute for the rest of my days walking the streets in Mexican villages converting all the Mary worshiping Catholics to the correct version of evangelical protestantism.  But I also knew that the odds were very strong that Drew would get better regardless of my prayers.  While at that hospital, I saw moms and dads with seriously ill children that were much sicker than my baby.  It was highly likely that Drew was going to survive this ordeal, but looking at those kids, I could see that their odds were not as good.  This left a grave imprint on my mind, knowing that God was going to spare my baby, but some of those kids were never going to see another Christmas or another birthday no matter how hard their parents prayed.

My baby did get better.  We brought him home.  His emaciated body had grown so weak in the hospital that he was unable to walk and he had stopped talking.  He was a year and a half old and he could no longer sit up by himself.  But Drew healed quickly.  He had youth on his side, a devoted mother and spastic brothers who kept up tornadic activity around him all day long.  Drew gained weight, and within a week he stood up on his skinny legs and tottered across the room.  He shoved fist-fulls of macaroni and cheese and fat sausages into his mouth and soon started talking again and he hasn’t shut up since.  In just a few weeks time, except for the scars on his stomach and back, you would never know that he had been so incredibly sick.

And who did I owe for the miracle of my son’s recovery?  Who did I have to thank for bringing my baby back from the brink of death?  Why God of course!  God healed my baby!  God brought him back.  The team of doctors, surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, radiologists, x-ray technicians,  pharmaceutical researchers, surgical tool inventors, paramedics, hospital administrators – what did they have to do with anything???

Except deep down I knew that if Drew had gotten this sick just a mere fifty years ago, his chance of survival would have been almost nil.  I knew that the ability to operate on an infant – the tiny tools, the properly sized respirators, the correct dosage of drugs, these were all new technologies.  God didn’t save my baby.  Humankind’s ingenuity saved him.  Dedicated doctors, curious researchers, caring nurses, organized administrators, hard working people – they saved my baby – not God.  But of course, even though on a certain level I understood and fully accepted this idea, I still thought that ultimately it was God who decided who lived and died and that advances in science had nothing to do with the delicate thread of human life. If science saved my son, it was because God ordained that science save my son.

So did I keep my hospital room promises to God?  Did I keep up my end of the bargain???

Well…. sort of...

My husband was a medical resident at the time of Drew’s illness and I had three young sons (18 months, three and five).  We went to church sporadically, but we were not exactly stalwart in anything religious at this point in our lives, but I never forgot the promise I had made and when my husband took his first job as an MD, I eventually got ridiculously involved in a church and I think you could say that I kept up my end of the deal I made with God in return for him saving my baby by using all the advances of modern medicine.

As we began to go back to church and got more and more involved, I introduced the idea of prayer before meals to my family.  It became a habit, a ritual, a customary pause before meals.  The boys all became good at saying prayers at dinner.  One son in particular was masterful at meal time prayers.  He was the one we paraded out when the grandparents were visiting, knowing that this boy had the proper amount of reverence, devotion, fervor, gratitude and also he was wonderfully concise.  My youngest son however was a horrible pray-er.  He was awful.  He just couldn’t do it. We would try and make it really simple for Jack.  Just say three things you are thankful for Jack – just three things.  Just say, “Dear God thank you for __________ and ___________ and __________ ” But Jack could not come up with three things.  He would pause and stammer and wait and lapse into silence while our spaghetti got colder and colder and colder.  I think Jack thought that his three things had to be three amazing things, or three thing that no one else would think of or maybe Jack just wasn’t particularly thankful for anything.  After all, he is the baby of the family and usually gets everything he wants within seconds.  Perhaps gratitude was a foreign concept to him?  Do you understand gratefulness if you have never actually wanted for anything?  Or maybe Jack just thought the right people to thank were the people that actually took care of him – his brothers, him mom, his dad.  Maybe Jack – still being young and very left-brained, considered thanking an invisible deity to be strange and nonsensical.  Or maybe he just enjoyed the extra attention he got when he couldn’t think of anything to say during his prayer.

Giving up family meal prayers was probably the most awkward part of becoming an atheist for me.  (Aside from writing about it on the INTERNET!)  We would sit around the table staring at each other waiting for some kind of signal to start our meal.  How do we know when to eat?  What is the new signal?  We need a new ceremony – a song, a poem, a very short story, some kind of ritual that lets us pause and see each other prior to digging in.

And then I became an atheist making every prayer I have ever said – moot.

Still – losing one’s faith is not just a new way of thinking, it is also about establishing new habits and getting rid of old ones.  Up until six months ago, it was still very much my habit to pray and prayer is not an easy habit to break.  I went through a transition phase where I prayed to God by saying – God… I really don’t believe in you anymore, but on the off chance that you actually exist, could you help me find my lost earring? And then if I found my earring, I thanked God by saying - God, I am not sure you are even there, but if you had anything at all to do with helping me to find this lost earring – Thank You. Of course I knew that these prayers were absurd.  I knew there were people starving and dying from easily curable diseases and women were being raped by husband’s with AIDS and children were being turned into brutal soldiers and babies were suffering from abuse and neglect.  So I would add a little tag at the end of my prayers that went something like this… And God if you could please stop all the immense suffering in the world that would really be great.  You are so powerful Lord -so wise and strong and loving… so if you really do exist -  just please make it all stop.  Right now.  Thank you.

As my prayer life and my faith diminished, I found that the only time I prayed was when I couldn’t sleep.  Usually this was because I was worried about something and that worry was usually centered on one of my children, but I had some serious problems with praying for my kids at night when I couldn’t sleep.  First off – I had to apologize to God for hardly ever praying anymore and for not really believing in him anymore and then I had to spend some time promising to believe more and to pray more before I could even get to what I was really worried about.  Finally – I had to deal with the fact that I was laying on my back staring straight up at the ceiling while apologizing for never praying anymore which was not exactly a very reverent position.  Would it be better if I turned over on my stomach?  What if I laid on my side?  Do I really have to get up and kneel beside the bed?  What if my Mary worshiping Cahtolic husband wakes up while I am kneeling beside the bed?  That would be kind of embarrassing plus I would be committing the sin of demonstrating my holiness in front of someone and then I wouldn’t get the extra credit for holiness – because my husband had seen it.  And I knew that Christians are only supposed to be extra holy in secret when only God can see it.  This results in an awesome prize in heaven instead of the crappy earthly prize of only being seen by other people.  What I really needed to do was get up and go into the bathroom, lock the door and then kneel down and pray.  But was it really okay to pray beside a toilet?  Isn’t that kind of sacrilegious to pray beside the shitter?  I guess I could tiptoe out to the living room and kneel down by the couch to pray.  That would probably be the most pious thing to do, but what if someone wakes up and finds me kneeling down by the couch praying?  Not only do I lose my awesome prize in heaven, but my kids might freak out and my husband might think I had lost my mind.  It’s probably best to stay here in bed, losing the pious points, but also not disappointing God for being caught being holy or praying by a toilet.  Praying in the middle of the night was an exhausting ordeal – which was good.  I usually drifted off to sleep in no time.

Besides my middle of the night prayers were usually just more desperate pleas to ward off ‘God’s discipline’.

God – I know we are not exactly the most Christian family on the face of the earth and if we really loved you as much as we should, we would sell everything we had, give it to the poor and go open a missionary hospital in Africa.  I know we are not really obeying your word by living a very comfortable life in America and by occasionally purchasing things on clearance from the Pottery Barn catalog – but could you please not give anyone in my family leukemia to make us better Christians Lord?  I promise to start having early morning bible studies with my kids and to read a James Dobson book with my husband if you please don’t give us cancer to bring us closer to you God.  I will also start to give a full ten percent BEFORE TAXES GOD… no… I will give eleven percent!  ELEVEN PERCENT GOD!!!  BEFORE TAXES GOD!!! And I will never buy anything from the Pottery Barn catalog again!  Just please don’t give my babies cancer!  And please don’t kill my husband in a fiery car crash!  Eleven percent before taxes GOD and no cancer!  Okay God!  Okay?  Thanks God!  You are the best God EVER!!!  And sorry for laying here on my back while saying this prayer.  Just remember -  no cancer God!  You are awesome!

A few days ago, I was visiting a friend’s house and a meal was served.  The food was laid out on the kitchen counters buffet style and we went around the kitchen filling our plates with hamburgers, hot dogs, and garden fresh tomatoes.  The food looked delicious, but just as my kids and I were about to dig into the condiments, someone behind us intoned, “Let’s pray.”  My children were their usual tumultous pile of boyhood and didn’t hear the request to pray until the prayer was halfway finished.  It was one of those Mary worshiping Catholic prayers… “Bless us O Lord and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from your bounty…..“  I whispered to my kids, “Boys… boys… they’re praying.”  My boys quieted down and caught maybe the last dozen words of the prayer.  I still have an automatic impulse to direct my kids to quiet down during a prayer, but I did say, ‘they’re praying’ instead of ‘we’re praying’, so a shift has been made.  Perhaps someday I won’t feel the need to stop placing pickles atop my hamburger when others start demonstrating public piety to an imaginary deity.  I don’t need to thank God for my food.  Even if there was a God, I wouldn’t thank him for my food unless he started giving food in equal amounts to everyone.  Every good parent knows better than to give some kids plenty and other kids nothing, and yet if you examine the world situation, and believe in a ‘father type god’ you would have to admit that he is a pretty crappy parent with a penchant for severe favoritism.  When I want to show gratitude for my food, I prefer to thank my husband for bringing home the bacon so that I can buy groceries and myself for growing a fabulous garden and Kay for raising some fine grass finished beef and Darla for her free range eggs and a nearby dairy for it’s delicious milk from healthy cows and my sister for a generous amount of pork from her home raised pigs.  I am not sure where the line is in terms of respect for the prayers of the household that is serving you homegrown tomatoes on a hamburger buffet, but I do know that I am perfectly willing to prostitute myself and at least be quiet for a few moments of prayer so that I can enjoy the food and the company.   But I don’t think I will shush my kids again.  I am sure that someone else will do it for me anyway.  At this point in my life – prayer is a supremely silly act and though I am frequently silly around my kids, I don’t need them to see me pausing in respect so that other people can speak to an imaginary deity that only gives food in abundance to those with the money to pay for it.