Come Grow a Tomato with Me

My first vegetable garden was on my apartment patio in plastic containers bought at Home Depot. The vegetables never received any direct sun and did poorly from the start. I eventually replaced the wilting tomatoes with flowers which also received no sun. They looked pretty for my mother-in-law’s visit but died soon after she left.

My second vegetable “garden” was on the kitchen counter in Solo cups as part of my daughter’s homeschool project. To her delight, the green bean plants grew quickly—but then never produced any more than a hint of a bean.

For the next decade I stuck to silk plants inside and a single flower pot by the front door. But again and again, as I replaced those potted seasonal flowers (if I could afford it), that gardening itch kept returning. Finally in my early 40s, I decided it might be time to get it right. With a little more planning and a lot more effort, vegetable garden number three was the charm.

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As a Christmas gift that year, my husband surprised me with all the elements needed for my first backyard vegetable gardening experience, including several bags of beautiful black soil, a must-have in our sandy Florida yard. (Don’t judge him for that; he also gave me a necklace!) The next week I methodically positioned my first plants in the 4×8 raised bed he built. I began to faithfully water my six cabbage plants, three tomatoes, and a few herbs. I watered and waited, watered and waited—and hoped for the best.

Crazy thing, but everything actually began to grow! I mean, I knew that was supposed to happen, but it had just never happened for me. I can’t even tell you how much fun I had watching those plants reach taller, expand wider, and start showing signs of real, edible food.

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And then came the day I realized it was time to snip off and use a couple sprigs of the herbs, harvest that very first cabbage, and start eating the tomatos. I felt like I’d become my dad during our Illinois summers in the 70s when he would come in from the garden completely delighted to cover the kitchen counter with his homegrown produce.

During the next year, my husband caught the gardening bug, too, and our joint efforts resulted in non-stop tomatoes for months and months, even after all the leaves were practically dead on the stems.

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As the tomatoes kept coming, I began to sympathize with my mom’s consuming efforts of trying to keep up with all the zucchinis my dad grew. I personally didn’t grow zucchini, but I felt like I was bonding with her in a new way, realizing her mix of gratefulness and frustration with so many homegrown garden delights. By the end of that second season, I had eaten so many tomatoes I became allergic to them.

Tomatoes on hold for me, and with the extended gardening season in South Florida, Greg tried planting peppers, onions, and carrots. Then one afternoon I walked around our backyard and realized he’d dug up yet another area—to plant carrots.

See, I told you he’d caught the vegetable gardening bug. Then he started planting fruit trees, and even brought home a baby avocado tree for me on Valentine’s Day.

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In the next couple years, we learned how easy it is to grow pineapples, if you’re super patient, that is.

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Of course, along the way, we had to brighten it all with some some orchids, another low-maintenance gardening beauty.

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Admittedly, the perennials I planted around the yard helped during the times the veggies died off and weeds overtook the gardens. During those times, this red shrimp plant just kept showing off its colors.

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After all this time, we’re still planting, watering, and watching things grow. It’s been a decade-long adventure of seeing up close the wonder of God’s artistry. I love it how during at least three seasons of the year, His intricate creation supplies us with fresh fruit, fresh veggies, and produce for juicing, smoothies, and salads.

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I don’t claim to be an expert on backyard farming, nor am I a photographer (except with my phone). But with those disclaimers, I invite you to join me here on my blog. Along the way, if you get the urge to dig a hole in your own soil and grow something edible (or just simply pretty), I’d love to hear from you.

My blog won’t always be about gardening, but you can be sure I’ll be returning to the backyard again and again in my writing. So go ahead and subscribe to Beyond (left of screen) for future ideas, photos, stories, successes, bloopers, and how to be part of this fun and fulfilling “farm to table” and flower-filled living.

(And one last thing. If you love essential oils, they’re going to pop up here, too. What do they have to do with gardening? Stay tuned. Because I’m rarely in my garden without them.)

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Fifteen Easters Ago

Fifteen years ago on Easter Sunday morning, my family and I sat on the far side of the balcony in our crowded church. I had purposely chosen this unfamiliar hideaway, steering clear of our routine place downstairs with the usual mob of friends and acquaintances.

The praise team began singing, and the congregation quieted. I remember noticing how my daughters, 9 and 13, were amused at our new location. They had no idea. My husband threw his arm around the back of my shoulders, but his touch felt strangely awkward that morning. I don’t know why. Maybe because we’d never sat in church together so sick with worry.

I went from bad to worse as the service progressed. Instead of bursting with joy for our risen Savior, I silently endured the singing and ambivalently checked out during the message. (Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?)

Fear of the future gripped me. I’d learned a few days earlier that an ugly “something” was growing inside me, with more tests scheduled the coming week. As I sat in church, I became keenly aware in my heart that life was about to change. I felt terrible, and no wonder. Unknown to me at that time, my tumor was growing at the rate of a centimeter a day.

Church ended, and I had barely heard a word. I’d been thinking about the Easter baskets hidden at home, waiting to be found. And I’d been praying that whatever was coming my way, God would intervene so my girls wouldn’t have to grow up without a mommy. (Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?)

God is never taken by surprise, and at that moment He already knew the number of my days. Of course I didn’t, and I came up with vivid scenarios of the worst. Actually, those imaginations came true almost immediately with surgeries, chemotherapy, weight gain, and a wig that never seemed to stayed in place. But alongside my “imaginations-turned-true” also came something unexpected. Over those hard days and weeks and months and years which followed, I slowly began to know God and trust Him in a way I’d never dared to dream was possible.

Then somehow, in the blink of an eye it seemed, my doctor was jubilantly noting on my charts the 10-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. Driving back to work that spring morning, I realized God had answered the prayers I had started pleading of Him during the Easter service so long ago. My girls had grown beautifully despite, or perhaps through, the trials our family had faced. Jenna was no longer my little 9-year-old, but 19 and in her first year of college. Melissa, no longer a junior higher, was now 23, a college graduate planning her wedding. (I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again, my Savior and my God!)

Today, as I write this, another five years have gone by. Five more years of ups and downs and highlights and valleys. Five more years of birthdays and Easters and answered prayers. Yet as I launch this blog titled Beyond, I’m not writing to just dwell on the past. I’m not writing to merely look back at where I’ve been.

This Easter season, I’m thinking about what’s yet to come and how much I still have to learn about God’s love and grace. I’m here to talk about Jesus, my risen Savior, and the hope I find today in Christ alone.

I invite you to join me on a journey of looking forward, of learning to live beyond the confusion of the moment and instead in the grace and exuberant living Jesus Christ offers.

Beyond, my friends, beyond.

Happy Easter!

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?
I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again, my Savior and my God!
Psalm 42