I guess I considered myself an involved parent when it came to our old school. I volunteered at school; I belonged to the PTA; I brought stuff in when the teachers needed things. Whatever. None of it required all that much effort on my part, is my point.
And I am nothing if not lazy by nature.
It’s become apparently very quickly that the new school—having less money, fewer resources, and plenty of parents who don’t help out in any way—needs a lot more in the way of parental participation. I am trying to do my part even though, honestly, sometimes it feels like Just One More Thing piled on top of an already overfull schedule.
This morning we slept late (bliss!) and had our typical Saturday morning pancake breakfast. Then I went and put on some old clothes and headed over to the school to spend a couple of hours weeding.
Let me tell you about me and weeding. How can I say this? I HATE WEEDING. I like planting things. I like pretty flowers. I detest sitting in the dirt and clawing around for the thing that don’t belong there and trying to pull them out without breaking them.
And here in Georgia, we don’t actually have dirt. Oh, the locals call it CLAY, this stuff in the ground here, but DO NOT BE FOOLED. What we have in Georgia is Red Cement. I still cannot quite believe that plants can live in this substance. And weeding takes on a whole ‘nother level of suckage, because the ground is not willing to give up anything without a fight.
My OWN flower beds are a tangled mess. Other than a single frenzied session that was not so much WEEDING as it was RIPPING (to a soundtrack of me repeating, “What IS this vine? Where did it come from? Is it a weed? I think it’s a weed, I’m pulling it out!”)—precipitated by the realization that something was about to grow ALL THE WAY INTO THE POOL—I have not touched any of the greenery around the house. Possibly because I hate to weed.
So WHY was I heading over to school to weed?
Because it was a work day to clean up the gardens, and I happen to REALLY REALLY REALLY like the gardens there and think it’s neat that they have gardens at an elementary school. And because I want to help. And because I had a brief but extremely paranoid fantasy about how if I didn’t show up, people would talk about me.
Well, there were fewer people there than I expected (though still a good crowd). I walked up and asked what I should do and someone told me where to go and what to do. I got down on my knees and started digging and pulling.
I tried to follow all the instructions I’d been given.
1) Pull out the grass. Check! Difficult going, but clear enough to figure out.
2) Pull out that stuff that looks like this other stuff but isn’t. Hmmmm. I may have fudged on this one a little bit. It turns out there’s a weed that looks an awful lot like lemon thyme but isn’t. (There may have been a few collateral thyme injuries.)
3) Leave the passion flowers because the butterflies really like them, but pick the passion fruit and do go ahead and pull the vines if they’re choking something else. How do I know if it’s choking something else? Well, at least picking the fruit was straightforward.
I could not believe the size and proliferation of those passion fruits, given the relatively delicate vine they come from. It was on perhaps my sixth or seventh trip to dump a few palm-sized green fruits into the waiting bucket that the woman in charge asked me if I’d ever had one before. I looked at the mound of them there, good-sized but bright green.
“Nope,” I answered. “What color are they when they’re ripe?” She laughed at me, but in a good-natured way, as she explained that some of them were already ripe. She picked through the bucket and selected one, then broke it open and handed me a piece.
Like pomegranates, passion fruit looks like rotten monkey brains on the inside. How anyone ever figured out to EAT it is a mystery, although I strongly suspect it was someone blind who did it the first time. Anyway, it was delicious. I followed her instructions to eat only the inside (although later, another woman told me the skin is edible as well), and then went back to my corner to weed some more.
People came and went, and I chatted briefly with a few people. One woman offered me her work gloves (I prefer to weed bare-handed, though I regretted that after piercing myself on some thorns), another showed me how to use one of the hand tools to slash at the grass and pull it up more quickly.
Towards the end of the work time I noticed that a woman whom I sort of know (we’ve talked a couple of times) had a few long pieces of rosemary set aside. I asked where that was in the gardens, and she pointed it out (I had been right over by it earlier, of course, and not even noticed because all I could smell over there was passion fruit). Then there was something of a group conversation about how any time you need fresh rosemary while you’re cooking, you could just come cut some at school. Everyone chuckled. The woman with the cuttings said she was going to plant hers.
“You can grow it from cuttings?” I asked. Oh yes, she assured me, so-and-so had told her how to do it, and you know, once you plant it, it just takes off (that part I knew was true, if the giant bushes at school are any indication). “Is there any more? I love rosemary.”
I really do love rosemary. I love it so much, I suddenly forgot that I KILL EVERYTHING and became convinced that if she would only tell me what to do, I could have my very own live rosemary plant instead of something dead like everything else I’ve tried to grow.
[Small digression: The only plants I was ever able to keep alive OUTside my old house were the hostas, which spread to alarming proportions no matter what I did. There are hostas here, but I like to refer to them as Tasty Deer Snacks, because mostly they are little stumps where the hostas used to be. And the only plant I was ever able to keep alive INside the house was a schefflera I bought as a tiny thing and then managed to grow to an impressive size over the years. I had to leave it behind and I remain convinced that I will never be able to keep a houseplant alive for that long ever again.]
Well, the next thing I knew, we were headed ’round back to the composting area, because somehow the rosemary trimmings had been dumped back there along with everything else. We chatted as we walked back there, and waved to the folks we passed (who were working on other parts of the garden) and brushed dirt off our knees and arms as we walked.
The smell of the rosemary hit me even before my eyes registered the sheer volume of it tossed on top of the pile. We agreed that it was a shame to waste it, and each gathered up an armload to rescue. She told me how to plant it (based on the instruction she’d just received), and I told her how to dry it (based on a somewhat dusty memory of the year a friend’s rosemary was plentiful and she showed me how to tie it in bunches and hang it from the rafters in the garage).
We carried our bundles back out front and lingered a minute, finishing our chat. “I really enjoyed talking with you,” she offered, as we said our goodbyes.
“Likewise!” I answered, wondering what sort of dork actually says “likewise” but feeling pleased to realize that it was absolutely true. I’d spent the morning weeding and was feeling perfectly cheerful. I waved with my free hand and carried my bounty out to the car and went home.
Back home, the kids crowded in while I picked through the pile of rosemary, deciding which pieces to plant and which to dry. I poured potting soil into one of the pots I’d intended for strawberries (but then hadn’t been able to find in July, as Georgia is apparently unaware that they could grow strawberries all freaking summer here if they wanted to), then carefully stripped the bottoms of half-a-dozen branches and poked them into the soil. I set the pot out on the deck.
Then the kids helped me hold a large cluster of pieces together while I bound them with string, then hung them in the garage.
I kept out a few clippings and took them inside, then enlisted the children’s help in stripping the little leaves from the stems and putting them in a baggie. Otto came inside while we were doing it and breathed deeply in the middle of the kitchen, then started detailing his plans for rosemary chicken in the dutch oven this week. I can tell that I’m adjusting to the weather here (only 85 today! practically cold!) because that sounded amazing and perfect, despite how little we’ve been cooking in the oven this summer. The kids dared each other to taste the little leaves, with Monkey eventually chewing piece after piece (“It’s spicy!”) while Chickadee asked me how it could taste so awful plain when it tastes so good on everything else.
Once we finished with the pile I’d designated for stripping, I put the bag in the fridge and cleaned up the stems. That left just a couple of pieces, which I stuffed into a jar with some cracked garlic cloves and a cup of olive oil. I have been craving a nice crusty bread ever since.
Later, I hummed in the shower while I scraped clay out from under my fingernails. I swear my fingers still smell of rosemary.