Wednesday, March 30, 2005

E2, Brute?

My lower abdomen, proud host to Follistim, Gonal-F and Repronex, has begun to take the form of a three-dimensional Seurat painting. Get the right perspective on it and the dots form a pretty pointillist scene--maybe a park and some women with parasols? The work may not yet be complete, but it's already so colorful.

My be-Luproned inner thighs--well, now, they're more of a traditioinal impressionist collection of dark-dappled smudges with flecks of blue and yellow. No waterlillies or cornfields here, but perhaps a starry, starry sky?

And today, to further decorate my person, I have commissioned this lovely abstract blue-green piece on my left-inner elbow, entitled "E2: Day 6 of Stims." Not, perhaps, something the SF MOMA would be bidding for just yet, but give it a few years to appreciate: they probably didn't want the all-black painting or the bowl-of-hard-candy-as-sculpture number right off the bat, either.

Though being the canvas for these potential masterworks can be painful, and I sometimes resort to visualizing my happy place...


 Posted by Hello

...as the needles go in, I try to remind myself: One must suffer for her ART.

Monday, March 28, 2005

On the Lamm

Jeff has the fever. Again. Is it in the Ikea air? Do they pump some magical, selective substance through their blue-and-yellow HVAC system? First it was the bunkbeds; now it's the Lamm.

I had my first small break on the job search front today--an interview with a technical recruiter--and, to celebrate, Jeff took me to Ikea to buy some cheap area rugs we'd been looking at for our garage renovation project. (Digression: Is it still a rug when it's made of some sort of reed? Or is it a mat? In my heart, I feel that rugs should be soft and squishy and...and...loomed, I guess.)

Anyway, when wandering the crib section, which I'd never done before, I came upon the Lamm. I mewled an involuntary little baby-item lust squeak. Jeff looked over and said, "Oh," with a little smile, then promptly walked off. I followed with a sigh a moment later, knowing that it would be folly to continue to ogle the Lamm.

Guess where I found Jeff?

Searching the shelves. For a Lamm. The Minnen Lamm, to be precise: pillow cover and crib sheet. $9.99.


 Posted by Hello

Friday, March 25, 2005

Mrs. Bugs sends her regrets...

The year Jeff and I got married, we attended a grand total of eight weddings spanning both coasts and a couple of spots in the land-locked middle. The following year, there were seven, sprinkled up and down the West Coast. Three years ago, there were five; two years ago, three; and last year, two. We've been to intimate weddings, big weddings, religious weddings, pagan weddings, humorous weddings, expensive weddings, rugged weddings and pot-luck weddings. But of all the weddings we attended in these five years, not a single one was of the shotgun variety (though one couple did get knocked up a few months after announcing their engagement and before the big day).

When we got the invite to the latest wedding, we were a little surprised: Jeff's friend, the groom, had only been dating the bride-to-be for about a year, and had famously talked of his disdain for marriage, the meaningless piece of paper, yadda yadda. Apparently, however, he also had a disdain for functional prophylactics.

So their wedding registry? Babies 'R Us.

And the date? Day 9 of stims. Known to the rest of the world as next Saturday. Also known as, a herd of irate rhinos couldn't prod me into going.

Any suggestions on how, exactly, I should word my RSVP? Bugs is profoundly sorry for herself and cannot stand the thought of attending. Best wishes to the lucky fertile fuckers and their little fucking bundle of joy! Something like that, maybe? Oh, and I could also use some thoughts on the gift, if you have any ideas.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Some kind of crazy

As I may have mentioned once or thrice, I do not have a job. I haven't had a job since last June. My unemployment has run out.

Jeff has just the smallest tatter of a job--a joblette, if you will. There is a bit of work for him, but the company prefers not to pay its contractors unless sued. So, he only plays at rewriting their technical manuals, preferring not to spend much time on the project until and unless they start paying his invoices, beginning with the ones from last summer.

So we have no job. No job prospects. No income. No self-replenishing savings account. What we do have is truly fucking excellent health insurance, thanks to the fact that my old employer was based out of Massachusetts, where comprehensive infertility coverage is required by law. The COBRA payments may be eating up $722 per month, but what's $722 when you're talking unlimited IVF coverage, meds included?

I couldn't possibly waste the coverage. That would be crazy, right? However, now that I'm hurtling Lamborghini-like down the ART expressway---well, now is probably an imperfect time to start really considering the ramifications.

You see, if I do get lucky with this IVF cycle, I will be pregnant and unemployed, with my health insurance running out just around my due date. And that's a bit on the crazy side too, isn't it? I will be overjoyed at the prospect of a baby, yes, but I will be faced with the daunting prospect of finding a job while pregnant. And not just any job, but enough of a job to cover the mortgage and the insurance and the bills and the groceries for not one, not two, but three people*, even if one of the three doesn't eat much pricey gorgonzola. And if my one brief pregnancy is any indication, I will be nearly incapacitated by morning sickness for at least two months. (Can you imagine a small, incoherent, pale-skinned fountain of spew? Yes? That's me!)

I would not be good at job hunting while pregnant. In addition to the potential mid-interview spewing, I am not good at hiding things; I might just feel compelled to tell the potential employer right up front. I know I shouldn't, but that might be hard. I would feel somewhat duplicitous if I were to take on some engrossing managerial job--the kind that would pay me what I need to earn for all that mortgage and goronzola nonsense--then start a thousand things and, a couple of months later, have to take off for my (doubtless unpaid) maternity leave.

There's a much less fancy-tickling possibility, or even probability, of course: if April's IVF is not a success, what then? Sans pregnancy, I can go out and look for a job wholeheartedly--if my heart still has some wholeness to it--but, even if I manage to get a position, I will somehow need to explain away the half-dozen monthly doctors' appointments and the "vacation" I'll need for the next cycle in July. Or October, if it comes to that.

It's hard for me to accept that, if I am not pregnant this year, I most likely never will be. My chances of having the insurance or the resources--or the heart--to continue with IVF after our coverage runs out seem slim. Crazy-slim, in fact.


*Jeff, bless his hard-working academic soul, doesn't have the kind of job skills that would bring in a mortgage-making salary. See, he spent his twenties getting educated, and, alas, what is one to do with postgraduage degrees in the history of science, exactly?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Bug Bear

Have you ever taken one of those free online tests that have word problems interspersed with geometric puzzles and the like? In the end, the insightful computer program is supposed to tell you whether you are inclined to the visual or the verbal. I have taken two of these tests and, on each, received the irritating pronouncement that I am “right in the middle.” I was also offered an “in-depth personality assessment” for just $29.95, but, as I declined, I can’t say with any certainty what that result is supposed to mean.

Since I’m feeling kinda talked out right now, and the Lupron is making me borderline incoherent (please tell me it’s the Lupron, people, please), I thought I’d express this post in pictures. Perhaps it’s what the in-depth personality assessment would have recommended.

The photos (the product of my Unemployment Celebration Spending Spree camera) each captured a moment of gladness that I want to remember: something to grab onto with all ten of my short fingers, to hug like a teddy bear, in case this IVF is a failure.



This is Archimedes, my alarm clock and companion for eighteen years and counting. Posted by Hello


We were sad at not finding the big bald eagle colony that evening. We were getting cross, bickering over a map, when we came across this beautiful egret and a hundred white birds, all apparently posing for the camera.  Posted by Hello


We stayed until it was dark. I took 200 pictures. Klamath Lake, Oregon, October 2004. Posted by Hello


Archiemedes being curious. I think she knows when we've been seeing other birds. We hang our heads and try to explain that we still love her best. Posted by Hello


True love in Utah. Jeff loves to hold the camera at arm’s length and snap us smooching. He usually manages to shoot the pictures right up my nose. Near Arches National Monument, August 2004. Posted by Hello


For the last time: my father's Christmas tree above the antique mechanical carnival "board" in the living room of the house I grew up in. My brother will be taking over the tree duties next year, and the board will be in the nether reaches of San Bernardino County, in a matchy-matchy tract home full of matchy-matchy furnishings, but at least it'll still be. My dad thought nobody would want it, and he was planning to have someone throw it in the trash for him. Los Angeles, December 2004. Posted by Hello


Bluest and placidest thing in the history of blue and placid: Crater Lake, Oregon, October 2004 Posted by Hello


First tomato seedling of 2005: Pink Odoriko Posted by Hello


Great Egret wading underneath the Hayward Regional Shoreline Interpretive Center, August 2004 Posted by Hello


Freesias have taken to our yard. Posted by Hello


As have the volunteer bluebells. Posted by Hello


Nasturtiums are trying to take over, with our blessings, but they have blackberry vines and ivy to contend with. Clearly overmatched.  Posted by Hello


Calla lilies are also fond of our yard. Very fond. WEED fond. Posted by Hello


Freesias cavorting with our potted heavenly bamboo Posted by Hello


Right around CD1 of another awful letdown cycle, this was Mt. Lassen National Park near sunset, with a bonus rainbow. It was a Tuesday; we were the only people there. October 2004. Posted by Hello


Rainbow sherbet Posted by Hello


And again with the leaves. But there was this ray of light, and this one leaf, and everything else was really dark, so I had to stop and shoot it, and Jeff was really irritated because of the mosquitoes… Posted by Hello


And if I can't have my own...well, at least I can steal borrow.  Posted by Hello

p.s. I’m giving up the ghost on calling my husband “J”. His name is Jeff. Not exactly unique and instantly identifiable; what possessed me to hide it? In fact, his whole name is so generic that I could give it to the CIA on a hot terrorism tip and they would still never find him.


p.p.s. If you like pretty pictures of flowers, check out Wavery’s fabulous Garden Porn.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Hip and cool and cutting-edge?

Is IF now the hippest thing on the planet?

The best show on television--nosing out BBC's The Office by mere inches for the win, in my book--now has a bonafide infertility theme. A comic infertility theme. Yes, indeedy, I'm talking about Arrested Development here, folks. Genius! Pure, unfettered genius, I say!

We finally watched the episode from a week ago Sunday, which we had been holding onto in our TiVo list for a full seven days so we could properly savor the anticipation. I will not say much more because I do not want to sully the brilliance of the show with my hackjob of a recap, but let it be known that the words "your mother's fertile womb" were used to great effect.

How cool is that?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Needling

Thanks to all who commented for the ideas and commiseration on the Blogger woes. I'll definitely be researching the other free services.

So, I started the Lupron shots yesterday. I'm to inject them in the upper-inner thigh gloop--of which I have plenty, thank you gorgonzola--each morning at around 9:30. Actually, I should clarify that I don't have the spine to do the shots myself (the damn thing is still missing; not even a post card), so J. mans the syringe while I offer up a piece of pinched flab and close my eyes like the big-ass chicken I know myself to be.

Now, the needle is tiny, even by my sharp-phobic standards, and it can't be more than half an inch long. It's also wisp-thin, hardly thicker than one of my more robust hair shafts. But for some reason, it just does not want to slip cleanly and quietly into my thigh. Instead, it stings for a second as it starts to press into the flesh, then makes a rather horrid popping sound when it penetrates, reminiscent of the vacuum seal pop as someone in another room opens a fresh bottle of Snapple.

Don't get me wrong: it doesn't really hurt, just stings a little. Even I, Queen of the Wusses, can't complain of pain. But the sound is a mite disturbing. Pop! Like I have a tough leather hide that has to be muscled through.

J. has shown great skill in his past needlework--only had one small bruise from the dozen Gonal-F and Follistim shots he so expertly administered back in January. I can't figure why this would be any different, except that he's working with a different patch of fat. He's coming in from the right angle, and he doesn't seem to be taking it too slowly. Sure hope he hasn't lost his injectibles touch, as it looks like we'll be up to a full four daily shots*--yes, I said four--starting March 25th.

*Was to have been three, but, according to my IVF coordinator, Repronex can't be mixed with Follistim in the same way it can be combined with Gonal-F (something to do with the way they package the drugs for mixing? I didn't get the whole story.). Gonal-F is not on my insurance company's formulary, and they haven't yet been persuaded to make an exception. And, you know, what the hell, what's one more shot when you're already reminiscent of a Christmas orange? (Do you know what I'm talking about? It's a winter Valencia poked full of whole cloves till the fruity sphere is nearly covered in aromatic brown bits. Then you hang it in your kitchen and it fools the neighbors into thinking you've baked a pumpkin pie. Did everyone make Christmas oranges in kindergarten, or was it just me and my super-kooky school?)

Friday, March 11, 2005

Blogger death throes?

Is it just me, or is Blogger behaving very strangely? I can't leave comments on Blogger blogs today; half the time, I can't pull up the Dashboard. Last night I couldn't publish (in fact, I don't know if this post will publish, now that I think of it). And I got a DNS error when accessing "www.blogger.com". Anyone else? (Doh! If you are having problems, maybe you can't post a comment in reply, eh? If that's the case, maybe an email? I love the emails, they make my inbox happy.)

No pulling up stakes for me and hauling my blog over to Typepad, like so many of the cool chicks are doing, as freeness is key when jobless. And I've usually had good luck with Blogger, for it being free and all. But I'm starting to get frustrated.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Now completely de-boned!

(*overhead cyberpaging system*)

Ahem...urrr...is this thing on? Oh! (*feedback*). Ummm...well...if anyone finds a lost spine, could you let me know? I thought it was white but, now that I think about it, it must be a sort of yellow color. I think I lost it a couple of weeks ago at Dr. Meow's office, but it could also have been on the drive over, or the drive back. Maybe somewhere along the route? Anyway, if you see a yellowish spine, not very big, lying around anywhere in Oakland or San Francisco, I'd really love to have it back. It's not worth much but it has sentimental value. So if you find it, call me, OK?

. . .


If I could write poetry, I'd pen an Ode to My Missing Spine. Because it's gone. Just...vanished, with a quiet Pffft. (O, Spine! How I did take thee for granted.)

Until a few weeks ago, if questioned on the subject, I would have said that I was a give-me-the-bad-news-first kind of gal. Be prepared!, I would say to myself at every opportunity. Know what could go wrong. Pick at it, prod it. Think it through. Don't get taken by surprise. Dee-fense. Dee-fense.

This was how I managed every stressful life event from eighth-grade algebra tests to buying a house to receiving performance reviews. If I knew where the weak spot was, I could find a way to strengthen it, or work around it, or at least throw up some decorative screens. (Sometimes, to be perfectly honest, I even secretly reveled in bad news, simply because I had seen it coming.)

Since the day I picked up The Orange Folder, however, I haven't been able to locate even a little bit of balls (a little bit of ball? Nothing sounds right here.). I took The Folder home, fully intending to pick it up and dive in immediately, as I had with everything else on the subject--read every line twice, at least--but instead...instead...

Instead, I put it on the green-tiled coffee table and admired the contrasting colors for a week. When guests came one day, I moved it to the bedroom bookshelf. A few days later, still intending to pore over it thoroughly--any minute now, really--but beginning to chastise myself for being unusually chicken, I placed it on the kitchen table. Where it sat, untouched except for my one calendar-grabbing foray, for a good two weeks. Every time I went near it, something in my brain rebelled, telling me I should back away slowly, no sudden movements.

Other tasks would be unnecessarily invested with urgency--my brown heels for a nonexistent interview have a tiny scuff: must polish them now!--but I was becoming less and less inclined to open the damned Folder. Finally, two days ago, I managed it. Not because I had found my spine--nosiree, Bob--but simply as an act of self-flagellation. I was feeling so low about not having a job, not having a baby and not getting up the energy to do anything productive with my life that I figured I should just heap it on. More guilt-ridden misery, please! So I opened it up.

To be honest, The Folder wasn't quite as bad as I had anticipated. Not quite. Yes, in the "Informed Consent and Disclosure for In Vitro Fertilization" form, there were some doozies about OHSS and attendant ruptured cysts, severe vomiting, visual disturbances and shock, with the words "life-endangering" tossed in lightly for flavor, like a dash of aged balsamic. But the very next warning on the list was, "The performance of blood tests might result in discomfort at the time of venipuncture and a bruise developing at the needle site." Seriously: a full bullet point devoted to warning me about a blood-draw bruise. Kinda made the whole thing seem silly.

There is the "Informed Consent for the Administration of GNRH Agonists in Conjunction with Controlled Ovarian Hyperstimulation" form, which promises headaches and fatigue along with the teaser that it might kick in a little short-term memory loss, just for fun. The "Informed Consent for the Administration of Gonal F, Follistim, Fertinex, Repronex, Pergonal, Humagon, Metrodin and hCG" was even more entertaining: significant abdominal distention! Emotional mood swings! High-order multiples! Hypertension! An "unclear but possible link between the use of fertility drugs and ovarian cancer!" Hoo-boy, this is the good stuff.

But the form that really got to me in the way I had feared was the "Informed Consent and Disclosure for Cryopreservation of Embryos." In this one, The Patient and The Partner are asked to select from an array of options in case one of us dies: "In the event that the Patient should die first, Patient and Partner agree to the following disposition of the cryopreserved embryos...." Does the Partner want to have them destroyed, donate them to the physician for research or have them transferred to another uterus? And vice-versa--all are options. Bizarre, disturbing, sad options, but ones that need to be spelled out, I suppose.

We pondered briefly, but agreed that "The Survivor" should have unfettered rights to do with the embryos as he (or I) see fit. And we laughed a little over the "Disposition of embryos in the event of divorce" section: can you imagine how odd it would be to take custody of frozen 8-celled globs in exchange for, say, relinquishing your stake in the living room furniture? How strange it would feel to consider them simply property, to be divvied up like any other asset?

The process is still daunting to me--the thrice-daily injections, the side-effects, the horrible waiting and fearing and hoping--and my blasted spine is still missing. Will I be too big a wimp to make it through without a breakdown? Will I be pathetic, lying around whimpering and saying, "Woe is me"? Probably. But at least The Folder is no longer lying orangely on the table, gathering coffee rings and reproaching me.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Manure! Worms! Wilt!

I am still plugging my infertile ears and loudly proclaiming "na-na-na-na-na-na-na" when it comes to thinking/talking/writing about the IVF elephant in the corner. Instead, I will continue to think only of tomatoes! More tomatoes! All tomatoes, all the time!

For the tiny fraction of a percentage of readers who may be interested, I will herewith give our recipe for growing the world's most perfect food in containers.

Containers:
Standard 30- and 55-gallon trash cans, the bottoms drilled liberally with drainage holes. The larger containers we reserve for the bigger beefsteak tomatoes (Brandywines, Paul Robesons, Old Germans, etc.), the smaller ones for cherries and saladettes (Stupice, Sun Gold, Green Zebra, etc.). Containers are ideal if you have gophers, nematodes, poor drainage, insufficient soil temperature or soil-borne fungi or disease. One other advantage to containers is that you can use copper tape around each bin to discourage snails and slugs.

Water:
We have had great luck with our drip irrigation system, which J. rigs up each March. It uses a minimal amount of water while ensuring a consistent level of moisture. And since tomatoes are prone to molds and mildews, it's best to keep overhead watering to a minimum so the leaves stay dry most of the time. Oh, and one more thing: One year, we were not very bright and didn't set up the drip hoses till after we'd planted the seedlings. Wrestling stiff hoses around tender little plants was not easy. We have been brighter since then and now make sure the hoses are in place right off the bat.

Filling:
We use a base of 1/3 steer manure and 2/3 standard potting soil. We then mix in a substantial amount of compost (from our bin this year, if the volunteer worms do their wriggly magic) and a liberal sprinkling of Osmocote slow-release vegetable fertilizer pellets.

Support:
We have a crazy setup of steel posts and chicken wire and cable ties that I won't even try to explain coherently. However, my sister, who has a tremendous annual crop, swears by the simple four-sided tomato cages. As with the hose system, it's important to put in your supports before planting, so as not to damage any roots.

Planting:
We strip off the lower sets of leaves and plant the seedlings "up to their necks," as my father once said. The fine white hairs that cover tomato plants are actually incipient roots, just waiting for a little soil and water to spread out. This helps get the plant established quickly, and provides a nice sturdy root base for the explosive growth. (Tomatoes grow more quickly than the Las Vegas suburbs, once their roots get going.) We also give them a little liquid fertilizer--we usually use Quick Start--to ease the transplant process. Once they're snugly in place, we cover the soil around the plant with newspaper and organic mulch--this year, we're planning to use the copious pine needles from one of our trees as the mulch layer.

Maintenance:
Tomatoes love to be watered regularly and deeply. In our area, summers are fairly dry and warm, though we get the occasional morning fog, and our plants are happy with daily drip watering for about fifteen minutes. We usually set up the timer system to go off at around 9:00 a.m.--early enough to minimize evaporation but late enough that the plants don't sit around damp for hours. On those unusual 90-plus-degree days, we sometimes supplement with a second drip or spray watering in the late afternoon.

Every two weeks or so, starting when the plants reach about two feet high, we feed them with packaged tomato food--a scoop of blue powder to each gallon of water. Tomatoes can absorb nutrients right through their leaves, so this is a time to make an exception to the no-overhead-watering rule. We failed to use a liquid fertilizer one year and our harvest was much less impressive, and the fruiting season shorter.

Ick:
For aphid control, we have often bought packages of ladybugs and let them go to town on the tiny pests, but found that these supposed "ladies" would much rather sunbathe naked on the garden hose or take up co-ed residence in our neighbor's salvia plants than eat their demure weight in aphids. So now we just let the aphids be, and find that they're mostly gone by June anyway. We haven't had problems with the other major tomato pests--those of you who commented about picking hornworms from your plants gave me shudder-filled nightmares, just so you know--but we have dealt with our share of blight and wilt. And all I can say is, as heartbreaking as it may be, if you see a problem on one plant, throw it away immediately. I have done otherwise, thinking a little copper soap or silent pleading would make it well again, and paid the price of infecting the whole entire crop with blight.

Silly trick that may or may not be useful:
Our Brandywines and other big beefsteaks often have early-season blossom drop, which can occur when the flower fails to pollinate (though I think it can also occur when the nights are not yet warm enough). To encourage pollination, you can gently "flick" the blossom, which is supposed to take the place of an excited bee. I cannot testify that this works, but I read it somewhere and like to flick, so why not?

Tomorrow, after we get our taxes done, we'll take a preview swing by the fabulous hardware store/nursery where our local grower sells and see which varieties she's hawking this year. Our online shipment should be here Friday. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Love Apples


Still unable to bring myself to delve too deeply into the contents of the chill-inspiring orange folder, yesterday I did manage to extract the clever color-coded cycle calendar from the inside pocket, albeit with one eye closed, head turned away and wearing the same expression I use when sticking my hand in the garbage disposal to locate an errant cherry pit. The calendar, thoughtfully provided by the IVF coordinator, showed me in big blue letters that I am not to start anything new until the 11th (first up will be Lupron, 10 amps). Until then, I am at liberty to be as carefree as any 35-year-old, hormonally altered, pessimistic woman on the verge of her first IVF cycle can possibly be. In a celebratory mood over the week-and-a-half respite before needles, I knocked back a couple of glasses of Two Buck Chuck (the Shiraz--it was lovely) and had fabulous, unconcerned, non-procreation-related sex with my husband for the first time in ages. Jeebus Cripes, I had forgotten how relaxing it could be.

Inspired by Lawyer Jen's lovely Ode to Spring, and since I am always looking for good reasons to avoid the rest of the orange folder's many frightening forms, I thought I'd share one of my biggest passions with you; my spiritual retreat, my religion: heirloom tomatoes. I will not attempt to draw any barren/fruitful infertility/tomato parallels here because, though there are so many to draw, I really just don't want to think about infertility right at the moment. For once.

Tomatoes have always held great power over my psyche. As a child, when my peers were bribed to clean their rooms with M&M's or Nacho Cheese Doritos, I was coaxed with the promise of extra 'maters on my dinner salad. These were never home-grown, as our yard lacked any direct sunlight, but even the mealy, cold supermarket variety made my little heart sing with joy.

When J. & I started looking to buy a house in '99, a sunny garden was our one unassailable requirement: we were willing to compromise on layout, number of rooms, neighborhood and state of repair, but we would not do without a great space for our as-yet-imaginary tomatoes. I figured I'd save a good $300 a year just by growing my own, but mostly I wanted the satisfaction of watching them take root and flourish. I was wrong about the saving money part--containers, dirt and fertilizers are pricey--but not about the satisfaction.

Our small Oakland bungalow ended up having a perfect, if unconventional, tomato yard. Terraced into the gentle hillside in four substantial levels, there was ample sunshine but poor soil. So we improvised, using giant plastic tubs, Rubbermaid storage containers and, eventually, 30- and 55-gallon trash cans, all carefully perforated for drainage and placed for maximum sun exposure. That first summer, we had nine plants--Brandywine, Stupice, Sun Gold, Black Krim, Green Grape, Golden Persimmon, Costoluto Genovese, Green Zebra and Yellow Pear--and a harvest of gargantuan proportions.

Every warm day, from the moment we put the first plants in soil, I would come home from work, take off my shoes, slip on my flip-flops and head to the yard to commune with the seedlings. Just sitting there, or crouching below them, taking them in. Every day, there would be something new to marvel at: a two-inch overnight growth spurt, the unfurling of leaves, the first flower buds, and then the miniscule green fruits nestled in their tiny green stem-hats. Every year, I've parked myself next to the plants of an evening, willing them to grow, marvelling at their vigor, monitoring every spot and aphid, and being oddly moved by them. They make me feel both grateful and humble.

When the very first one got around to ripening--a wee Sun Gold, early June 2000--we cut it and fed the halves to each other like cake at a wedding. It was sweet and tart and perfect. By August, we had more tomatoes than any two people and their five closest neighbors could eat. Heedless of excess and mouth sores, the next year we upped our haul to twelve plants, supplementing our internet supply with several new varieties from a local nursery. The year after that, we added six more garbage cans and made a special trip to a renowned Pasadena nursery--carrying more than three hundred varieties--and carefully drove the five hours back home with the seedlings lounging on our back seat. The year after that, though J. protested vigorously all winter that we should moderate our habits, he quickly fell victim to the siren's call (Thai Pink, she whispered, and Juliet and Dona). We ended up with twenty-two.

Two years ago, we learned the joys of Aunt Ruby's German Green--a big, full-flavored, juicy and beautiful beefsteak that ripens to the color of a pippin apple, shot through with gold and pink on the blossom end--but only after early blight decimated our first planting and a freak May hailstorm doomed the second. It was a disappointing yield, since our third round didn't get established till June, but I was still out there every day, basking in the tomato love.

Last year, we tried to curb our tomato gluttony as we were planning to be gone from the Fourth of July till mid-August--tomato primetime--and limited ourselves to nineteen plants. As we were driving through Oregon and Washington, Canada and Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, I missed nothing from home except my tomatoes. I worried about them obsessively--what if the automatic drip system broke, or the timer battery died?--and had convinced myself that there would be nothing left but sere yellow husks flopping weakly in bins of dust. I had tomato nightmares and even woke up crying once.

When we were driving lazily through the streets of Salt Lake City, still four days out from our planned return, I realized that I was truly agitated. Partly it was due to my unwelcome menstrual guest, proof of another failed month, but it dawned on me that a large measure of my angst was stemming (apologies; couldn't resist) from the tomato-death fears. Not wanting to admit this, I asked J. what he wanted to do. Stay around Salt Lake City for couple of nights, as planned? Or maybe, just maybe, start heading West as fast as our Accord could take us? He took one look at my pleading face and headed directly for I-80. We were home the next evening.

When we arrived, before unloading the car or even remembering to turn off the burglar alarm, I rushed through the house, tore open the back door and stood in amazement. There were two terraces of unusual trees--eight feet high, deep green--accessorized with what looked to be an odd assortment of colorful christmas tree ornaments. I gawped and sputtered and started to cackle with glee: It was a tomato forest.

The cursory harvest from that first evening--it was pitch dark not half an hour after we arrived--was enough to cover every available surface in our kitchen. There were a dozen Old Germans, each three pounds and the size of a Nerf ball. Czech's Excellent Yellows were dripping from the counters. Sun Golds were spilling forth in nubby orange waves. A hundred Stupices vied for space with twenty Pink Odorikos on our dining table. Mule Teams and Black Princes jousted for room on top of the dryer.

Best tomato harvest ever. And we're just about ready to start again: this year's first seedlings will arrive next week.



(p.s., I'll be down visiting my father for a few days. Should be back posting Monday or Tuesday. If you are feeling the tomato passion, I highly recommend TomatoFest. Aside from the hundreds of heirloom seed varieties on sale, they organize a very swanky annual tomato love-in in ritzy Carmel Valley, complete with women in garden party attire and all the food and drink you can cram in your gullet. Avoid the avocado-tomato sorbet with parmesan chip, however, if you value your tastebuds.) Posted by Hello