Gardening, Food

Mikey had a swim party at the YMCA over the weekend. As we were walking out, I noticed a missed call from my neighbor across the street. She’s retired and in her 60s, and while we are friendly and talk whenever we cross paths, we aren’t in the habit of calling each other Sunday evenings.

I envisioned all sorts of tragedy, but decided to focus on fires, burglaries, and something with the dogs. I shored up my spine, ready to accept whatever she had to tell me and listened to her preliminary greetings with baited breath until she got down to it.

“Jules, would you like some red leaf lettuce and spinach? My crop just came in and I thought I’d share the bounty with you.”

I said yes, of course, but forgot to ask her is she was also growing chamomile in that garden of hers. I could use some.

There was a large bag of greens on our doorstep when we got home. I had a bowl for lunch the next day, and I will have another today. This, along with all the gardening magazines on the newsstands, reminded me that one of my life list goals was to start a garden. I don’t even know where to begin.

I saw my neighbor the next day and went over to thank her for the greens and ask for gardening help. She claims to be an amateur, but agreed to help me get started. I’m really excited. I can’t wait to be outside, under the sun, doing whatever it is people who garden do.

The greens I ate for lunch inspired me to cook dinner, something I feel like I haven’t done in far too long. With the boys sick so often, and then me sick last week, lately all we eat are cobbled together meals without flavor or nutrition. I made white bean chicken chili and scratch cornbread. It tasted great and everyone had seconds, except me. I saved myself for dessert, which came in the form of esophageal flambé. Delicious!

I haven’t been abstaining from flour and sugar for months, and I have the heartburn to prove it. I fell off the wagon December 26th and haven’t been able to get my groove back due to resistance and petulance. I see so many wonderful recipes, eating philosophies, and life experiences surrounded and celebrated by food that I find it difficult to commit to one way of eating for the long haul. Every good diet faction is headed by an even better spokesperson. They are convincing, every last one of them.

To eat differently is to single yourself out from the crowd. I know many people who thrive on the attention and live to tell the world they are raw vegan fruitarians allergic to coconuts, but that’s not me. I’m the introvert in the corner who can’t eat a spoonful of oatmeal without my chest turning into a smithy, but will lick the bowl clean if you tell me you made a double batch of Quaker Oats just for me. Hurting your feelings bothers me more than heartburn? I am weird.

One day everything will fall into place for me. I know it, and I’m not worried about it. Until then, I’ll keep eating my neighbor’s organic lettuce.

p.s. As a reader already observed, the second to last paragraph of this post has a lot in common with this post. It’s all interconnected, and I actually wrote a great deal more last night but edited it out. It sounded gloomy and morose, the opposite of what I wanted.


Jules Kendall writes about books, family, and easygoing simplicity.


  1. says

    I love organic lettuce. I really want to have a vegetable garden one day in my yard. Nothing like fresh vegetables (and the peace of mind that goes with them).

  2. says

    It’s also a dream of mine to have a garden one day. I’m an apartment dweller right now and make do with potted herbs, but some day I’ll have a proper garden.

  3. says

    My dad and mom both love to garden, for different reasons though. My dad, feels its therapeutic to play in the dirt (I wish I felt that way when I pulled weeds) while my mom is happiest with the mere accomplishment of growing something, anything. Both accept the labor involved without a grumble, it’s actually inspiring. When we were little my dad would come home from work, change into his grubbies and head outside to water, pull weeds or whatever garden task was on the front burner. I asked him a few years ago about this routine, diligence and persistence of this practice he still keeps to this day – he said it was his way of decompressing, thinking out his thoughts, reflecting on the day and playing in the dirt reminded him of being a kid. Hmmmph.

    There is nothing better than lettuce from a garden… well, except a tomato from a garden. Be still my stomach.

  4. jeanne says

    Jules, good luck with the garden. It is well worth the effort! My husband commandeered the strip of yard abutting a neighbors fence, where previously were our scraggly hedges. It is not huge. He plants veggies every year and admittedly has a family nursery background, so is not really a novice. I have a picture of my daughter at about age 4 holding up the first bean she picked. It is such a great thing for kids to see and take part in. Plus the food is wonderful, even if the crop is fairly small. Think about the message you are giving your boys about growing their own food, and eating off the land. At the very least, throw a few tomato plants (as well as basil, parsely, dill, etc) in some large pots, if not the ground and see what happens. It’s fun!

    • says

      I know, I get more and more excited every time I think about it. Today I spent a while researching veggie gardens in flower beds/border gardens since we have such a long and large expanse to fill. I didn’t find much.

  5. says

    Gardening is one of the sweetest, most satisfying acts that life has brought. From seeing the first sprouts push through the earth, to tending each luxurious leaf, to reaping the last morsel gleaned from the ground. Just the thought of it all, makes me want to break the frozen earth and get this year’s garden started.
    On a different note – diet. Unhealthy food is so addictive, and I am an addict. I can go weeks eating ‘healthily’ and then someone will bring something into the house (be it potato chips or candy), and I’ll be off the wagon faster than an electric shock. It isn’t enough to know that this stuff that I’m putting in my mouth is terrible. I hate eating it. I love it. I hate it.
    Anyhow, not sure what my rambling point here is. Maybe it is to say, that you’re not alone. That breaking the flour and sugar high is incredibly hard. That grocery stores, winter illnesses, vitamin deficiencies, TV commercials, and sedentary lifestyles all propagate and promote unhealthy living. Starting small, with a bowl of organic lettuce, picked fresh from the earth is an incredibly good place to start. A twenty-minute walk around the block. An hour in the yard. All these little things will add-up, until one day, you’ll wonder what heartburn actually felt like…because it is just a very, very distant memory of how things were, and no longer are.
    Good luck Jules.

    • says

      Don’t get my husband started on this subject. He is convinced manufactured food has additives that are as addictive as nicotine. I think he’s right. I’ll bet than in 10 years a lot of those foods will be as reviled as cigarettes, and that one day a huge lid will blow off the top of a very hush-hush way of doing business.

  6. says

    I have such a soft spot for gardens. My earliest memories are of my great grandfather’s garden which then became my grandmother’s. She didn’t grow quite as much in the end as she use to but, I am so happy that Sam got experience it as well. I am expanding my vegetable garden a bit this year and spent some time in the seed aisles last week. I won’t ever grow as much as my grandmother did, but I’ll see what I come up with. Anyway, you should definitely go for it!
    I remember a business lunch where the two people that I was with ordered a goat cheese salad, naturally I ordered one too because ordering something different would have brought about too much attention and me focused conversation. I hate (as in loathe) goat cheese. I finished it and nodded when they praised it. Blerg.

    • says

      I would have done the same thing with the goat cheese salad (though I love goat cheese). Isn’t it so weird what we do?

      I have zero experience with gardening and zero family history. I’m charting new territories!

  7. Cathryn says

    I have some arugula ready to plant right now; it is my attempt to garden. I grew up with a gardening mom with an amazing green thumb. I did not inherit a green thumb and it has been so hard to garden/compete with all those amazing memories of lush, bountiful vegetable gardens. I also live in a cooler climate which does not help. But I am trying this year!!!
    Looking to change our eating habits, my husband and I have discovered slow carb diets. I would never have guessed we would enjoy beans so much and it helps me to feel satisfied without sugar/flour. We are still trying to get the hang of it and are trying to be understanding as we find what works best for us. We started with breakfast and the amazing energy we have from this one change encourages us to try again each day.
    Good Luck on your garden!

  8. says

    I started gardening two summers ago in large metal buckets and pails from Home Depot, with literally zero idea what to do. Our yard is so small that we have no space for an actual garden, so now I hang buckets and ruined our outdoor dining table by turning it into a garden table and have them stacked on every deck railing and its GREAT. Growing your own food and then eating said food is one of the most immensely fulfilling hobbies I’ve ever taken on. Two basil plants (pluck the flowers once they appear!) will yield more pesto that you know what to do with. Tomatillos and tomatoes for the best, freshest salsa. Ah! Now I’m excited to start planting again!

    Good luck with your garden!

  9. Sandra says

    Vege gardening is a great activity for the whole family. I plant, watch grow & pick, the husband weeds & the boys participate in all areas. One even prides himself on his corn crop each year, calculating germination rates & yields combined with fertilizer trials – you can tell he is a farm boy! So go for it.
    I agree that many people thrive on the attention they get from eating a different diet – I mean why do they need to make a big thing of it? I am not constantly going around telling people I eat a ‘normal’ diet!
    Jenn nailed it in her comment regarding lifestyles. I don’t believe cutting flour & sugar from diets is the answer – it has just become terribly trendy. I believe everything in moderation.
    More and more I see people I know become unhealthy and then I look at their lifestyles. Too many takeaways, too much booze, too much couch time. If only they could see what they are doing to themselves. Once again I am not a fitness freak or a health nut. I am someone who has always had to work at keeping my weight to a reasonable curviness, I love food but have learnt in my 43 years that I have to control my portions & have managed to ditch (mostly) my sweet tooth. I am not a natural athlete and can find many reasons not to take a walk, but know that the benefits far outweigh the negatives, the hardest part is getting out the door.
    Happy gardening – look forward to watching the progress via your blog :)

  10. says

    Mmmmmm … fresh lettuce!

    My poor balcony garden is completely dead. I don’t have a green thumb, but I love my fresh herbs so much that I persevere each year. I need to get started on that. California weather really gives us little excuse for a failed garden.

    I’m still contemplating posting about it, but I’m currently attempting to simplify the whole eating situation by simply aiming to eat vegetables at every single meal and trying to make 1/2 – 3/4 of my food intake come from produce. I’m hoping that focusing on eating *more* of something good will be simpler than keeping track of rules or restrictions. Fingers crossed, possible post at some point if I ever figure out how to properly word it. I love reading posts about eating, but they are so tricky to properly write. I can’t think of any other posts that require quite as many explanations and disclaimers and back stories.

    Naturally, I made a spreadsheet where I can pat myself on the back when I remember to take my vitamin D and fish oil and eat my veggies and put my fluoride on my teeth at night. No point in taking the trouble if I can’t gloat to myself about it later.

    • says

      Haha! I love you and your spreadsheets. :)

      I love to read posts about food, too. I wrote for so long last night, and it pained me to delete everything I wrote, but it had to be done. I found myself doing just what you said–qualifying, explaining, disclaiming, trying not to offend…bah. I feel like it’s often a conversation best had in person.

  11. says

    I know this is not intentional, and when I think about your blog and the content I normally find here it absolutely does not come to mind at all… In fact, I don’t even know why I feel such a need to even comment on it, other than that it is just so out of place, but the advertisement I am staring at while looking at the lovely picture of your organic salad in a pretty vintage bowl is one for a Mc Donald’s happy meal. Life can be is so ironic, can’t it?

    Gardening is a bittersweet activity for me. I love being outside in the sun with my children. I love seeing the new life that comes about from the fruits of our labors. But with everything else on my plate with four kids running around, it is certainly more than I can keep up with at times, and that is a sad reality for me, because I have to be honest… I have killed an unmentionable number of plants :O( I wish you the very best, though!

  12. says

    I just started a small vegetable garden (4’x8′ ) and I’m also going to have a small herb garden. I totally identify with not knowing where to start. I have a dear friend who’s thirty years older than I and she is the one who has guided me so far. It’s awesome to have someone across the street for you! It’s been a wonderful and fun experience for me. Good luck diving in! :)

  13. says

    Must be nice to have fresh lettuce from the garden in February! Up here in the frozen northern tundra (Michigan) we’re supposed to wait until Mother’s Day to plant things outdoors!!!

    I come from Kansas originally, we had lots of space for a garden and grew everything imaginable from peanuts to parsnips (my parents, of course… I was a PITA teenager who didn’t want anything to do with it). Each year we would thin it down to whatever flourished the best in the harsh Kansas heat and tasted the best. Love your blog…

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