So: hello, again


I’m back, apparently by popular demand. Thank you, friends (you know who you are) and Bruce, for nagging, I mean, encouraging me to get back to it and start writing things down again.

Truthfully, I haven’t felt much like writing. I’ve had to do a lot lately for work and it’s been hard. Not because I’ve forgotten how or the specific assignments and projects. Definitely, not that. I’ve liked the challenge and the pace. It reminds me of what I love about advertising—the variety, the challenges, the solutions. It makes me feel alive, excited, and energized.

It’s just that I’ve been a little afraid of what’s going to come out. And when.

This winter has been one of the hardest I’ve had in a very long time. An early frost threatened to shut down the entire Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm’s winter production. We’ve purchased way more produce this winter than I intended. Thank goodness for Trader Joe’s and their organic produce selection and prices.

Once I got everything up and running again, we had February and March ice storms. Ice and snow days where I worked from home and the roads were horrible. Luckily the huge live oak that’s been another winter problem (plumbing) came through with insulating leaves that, along with the frost cloths, kept the young radish, beet, kale, lettuce, bok choi, collard green, mustard green, and chard sprouts alive. So there’s the garden. It looks ugly and neglected, yet it seems to have turned a corner now that the snow has melted and turned to rain. It’s waiting for the sprouts to thrive and mulch to keep it all alive.

There’s a silver lining to everything, right? That’s what I try to tell myself. When something bad happens, something good’s around the corner. A door closes and another opens.

The silver lining to the plumbing problem? An awesome and thoroughly modern outflow to the city sewer. Never again worrying about running the washing machine and the dishwasher at the same time. No more plumbing enzymes and emergency unclogging. Truthfully, I am relieved that once and for all the Mortroski Mid-Century’s plumbing issues are done. While I like Jim the 70-something plumber a whole lot and enjoy chatting about gardening with him, I hope I don’t see him for while.

Another thing happened this winter: my grandmother died in December. She was just one week short of her 100th birthday. She had some kind of massive event that left her breathing and just barely alive when she was found. She never recovered from it. To say I was looking forward to her birthday would be a massive understatement. I had plans! I had surprises! I had so much I wanted to celebrate with her! I had been looking forward to it for a really long time! We were going to have fun!

When I found out what had happened, I was devastated. As Bruce wisely pointed out one night in January when I was wallowing in my sadness, I was only thinking about myself, not her, with all of my planning. Would she have appreciated the letters and cards from all over the place? Maybe. Would she have rather I showed up more often to visit her? Definitely.

Yes, I feel guilty. And very stupid for assuming that a woman who was over 99 and very tenacious would be around to see her 100th birthday surrounded by family and friends at a big party. But she’s been part of my life for the past 45+ years? Why should that change?

Because it did. She reached her expiration date and, unfortunately, her frequently repeated remark of “I may not make it to 100” came true. I just thought she was bluffing. I haven’t dealt with it very well, I’m afraid. But I’ve been trying. I know, I know, she lived a good long life. But selfishly, I hoped for one last hurrah.

The silver lining? The lesson? I am trying really hard to really live in the moment. To connect with the people in my life. To really listen. To realize that it might be the last time. To be as kind as I can be.

My grandmother’s house was the only home that has been in my life for my entire life time. My family moved a lot when I was growing up and Bruce and I’ve done a great job of carrying on the family tradition. My grandparents’ house was a lovely brick ranch bungalow built in the 1960s. It was always so clean and well-cared for. And it maintained a lot of its 1960s charm. Interior brick walls. The planter/bookcase next to the front door. Slate tiles. The pink bathroom fixtures and formica countertop with the sputnik pattern. The red power room sink. I’m sure subconsciously it influenced the purchase of our midcentury, which was built around the same time with a similar private area layout.

So when it came time to clean out her house, I didn’t really want to let go. I took worn quilts. I took an afghan in 1970s brown and orange. I took a gravy boat. I took glassware. I took games I played as a kid. I took random things, hoping that surrounding myself with them could bring me comfort.

Even this morning as I mixed up pancake batter for breakfast, I thought of her. It wasn’t even her recipe from the back of the yellow Bisquick box. She made Bisquick pancakes with King syrup for us as kids and it always made her—and us—happy to have pancakes together. In her later years, my brother took over when he visited, making pancakes for her. I always thought that was such a sweet gesture. It’s amazing how a food memory can affect you. Then, I poured orange juice into 1960s style flowered jam jar glasses that I took from her kitchen. I don’t know the whole story behind them, but I wish I did. She gave me 4 others when I was in my 30s and admired them. I now have a set of 6, two red, two yellow, two green. I wash them by hand.

There’s been a lot of death this winter. First, Grandma. Then, Bruce’s uncle. Older people who have both lived long and productive lives. Then came the one just over a week ago that slapped me hard in the face, reminding me that life is a precious gift. My college friend, a mother of 4 young adults, just a tiny bit older than me. She was put to rest yesterday. Hundreds of people attended her rosary and funeral in California. There is no doubt she was loved. She was someone who lit up a room. Someone who was always kind. Someone who helped others. An amazing volunteer. But there is also no doubt of the unfairness of such a vibrant life ending soon. What might have been. Her daughter’s wedding. Her sons’ graduations.

So, I’ve tried to spare you the sadness and the self-indulgent posts where “so” not “sow” or even the always rare “sew” is the focus. Writing nothing if I can’t talk about the plants and the extreme Texas weather or the funny things the Gs do (today, they all had baths and they are finally not completely pissed off at their humans) seemed like the better course of action.

But I’ve really had enough. I’m tired of keeping what I’m thinking and feeling to myself. So this is a fair warning then: it may crop up as the year progresses. Writing is the way I have always dealt with everything, especially emotions, education, earning money, and ignoring that fact has really put a crimp in my style. That’s why you’re getting this long-ass post. Bruce has checked on my several times, since I’ve been banging on this laptop for a while now.

For the last several month I’ve felt rather stuck. I tried doing other stuff. My photography skills are improving, but still, there were days even posting garden photos on Instagram (@julie_petroski) felt hard. I’ve made a lot of soup. Distracted myself with recipes that sounded good. Tried to get zen with dishwashing and household chores.

Even making my usual elaborate to-do lists that I’ve made since college seemed too hard. It’s been hard to think about more than one day at a time. So, better to do nothing and relax, right? Wrong. It’s been unnatural and exhausting. Rather than feeling refreshed and calm as I had hoped, I feel like a bag of knots. And unnaturally tired. My dreams have been strange. Multitasking has been hard. Chores have been neglected. I’ve been losing and misplacing stuff from my silly Invisalign braces to computer parts to favorite pens. I’m thinking it is all a big hint from the universe that I need to get my head back in the game.

Today, the clocks sprung forward. On the 21st, spring will be here. It feels a bit like it’s time to move on. Besides, there are four raised beds and three stock tanks full of little sprouts that you’ll want to hear about.

Thank you for your patience. It’s time to get back to oversharing.