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Aug 4 / Lisa St Aubin

Hydroponic Tomatoes…(Wink. Wink.)

I am NOT an out of the loop parent!

I know that a tea bag to a high school boy has nothing to do with what I put in my hot water. I don’t hesitate to Google phrases like “blue waffle” or “blumpkin” when the kids suddenly get quite as I enter the room and refuse to expound. And though I may not like it…I get the whole wearing your Abercrombie around your $30 dollar Aeropostle underwear. Heck, I’m even the cool mom that insisted we lighten up and alter the dress code to allow creative hair styles at the PTA meeting. I AM in the know!!!

So, take all of that into consideration as I relay my adventure today.

I have been hearing about a way to grow superior organic produce at home in light-speed time using a method called “Hydroponics.” If you haven’t heard about this yet, you’d be surprised to know that these niche stores are popping up all over the place. Especially in the more elite cities such as Royal Oak, Ann Arbor, and Plymouth. I was so intrigued that I went to a Hydroponic store today to learn a little and inquire.

Upon entering, I recognized the faint smell of something, likely less than organic, that brought me back to the wild days of the fraternity houses at Michigan Tech. I figured the kid working the store must have been exposed and carried the scent in his clothing.

“Can I help you?” he asked politely.

To which I replied, “Yes. I have been hearing a little about growing plants using hydroponics. How does it work?”

He got a bit sketchy-as if there was a big secret to it. He then proceeded to ask, “Well, are you licensed?”

“For what?”

“Well, you have to be licenced in the State of Michigan to be a grower?”

It took a moment to digest the revelation. I became incenced and downright indignant! The outrageous cost of organic produce and the government has the audacity to require licensing to grow private organics!

“You can’t be serious!”

“Oh I am.”

“Okay. So, how do I get licensed and how much does it cost?”

“Well, you have to go to the State of Michigan website. It takes about four to six months to get the paper work and the fee is $100 unless you are on Social Security.”

“$100.00? That’s insane!”

“Psya! I know, right?”

So at this point I am thinking there is NO WAY in heck I’m paying the government to grown frigging tomatoes at home, or ANYTHING for that matter, and I’d have to considering bending, if not outright breaking, the law. Seriously, like they’d put me in jail for growing vegetables!

“Okay, well, I am not licensed but let’s say I am. How does a hydroponic system work?”

“Well, Ma’am, you see…I could get into big trouble and even lose my own license if I were to advise you on growers products.”

I pulled my glasses down my nose bridge and glared at the poor kid from above their rim. I dropped my tone and began to scold him in an old marm sort of way.

“There IS a thing in this country called the FIRST AMMENDMENT. Ever Hear of it? I am sure if I wanted to get some advice about about a faster way to organic tomatoes or cumcumbers, your freedom to discuss such things would CERTAINLY fall under that category. Is there a manager I may speak with.”

Suddenly his disposition altered. His shoulders relaxed and he didn’t appear quite as weasley. He smirked and stated sardonically, “OOOHHHH! Organic tomatoes, gocha!” and then he winked at me twice as if we were both in on some great secret.

So then he proceeds to show me around the store. He gives me details on mylar sheeting and how to create grow rooms, how to keep your plants cool and the importance of air circulation. Explaining the plant hormones they used to clone a particular species of plant. He was showing me ozonators and carbon filters to keep the smell in your house down. And demonstrating the wonders of a giant drying rack. I figured the boy was completely daft or we weren’t on the same page.

“Okay, I am not really interested in all of this peripheral stuff. I don’t mind the smell of a vegetable garden so I wont need a $500 ozonator system, and I don’t think It would be a good idea to dry out tomatoes.”

He seemed to have an epiphany, “Dude, are you for real? Are you, like, really here to grow organic vegetables?”

Can I just interject to say how much the word “Dude” irritates the snot out of me when I am referred to as “dude” from a kid?

“What in the world do you think I am referring to?”

All at once reality slapped me in the face and the word “Naive” seemed to have imbedded itself across my forehead. Suddenly the Michigan Tech fraternity smell came to mind and I asked him, “Are you talking about pot?”

“Well, Ma’am, this IS a hydroponic shop.”

I rapidly exited praying someone from the PTA didn’t observe my entrance into the store. As I entered my car, I gripped the steering while mentally muttering, “I am NOT an out of the loop parent. I am NOT an out of the loop parent…”

Aug 2 / Lisa St Aubin

Battle of the Mind

The Fortress







By Lisa L. St. Aubin

This place is like a fortress in a barren wasteland.

 Outside its boundary lines lay the decimated structures of a one-time posh metropolis. Only the burned out shells of, what once was, Motown’s glory remain. The inhabitants, many of them, have been reduced to scavengers and thieves. Some are warlords of the underground. Profane artwork of gangs dot the remaining boarded architecture. Wild mix-breed dogs viciously prowl the territories in search of trespassers in their domain. Most of the remaining structures have been boarded to blockade the local pyromaniacs.

 The impoverished are many. Their faces seem robbed of spirit and belonging. They wander like mindless drones; waiting at filthy public bus stops unsmiling, wandering in tattered clothes which hang haphazardly from their limbs, swankering their gangsta limp to the next free meal at the Catholic feeding grounds. I haven’t decided which is more to blame for this condition-this plague. I silently muse over the cause, “Is it life or familial iniquity?” In these slums I see the by-product of government entitlement-it’s like heroine masking the harshness and pain of reality while stripping away muscle the nourishment of hard work builds. It makes it easier to hold up a sign on an arbitrary corner that reads:”Will work for food to feed my family” while expecting monetary alms, rather than gritting out actual work for food.

The greatest travesty is in the foreground overshadowing the wreckage; the fortress stands like a beacon for those whose starvation is mental. The stone and steel of the fortresses structures are like metaphors of eternal principals saying “stand strong and never bend.” A visual message that communicates nothing less than excellence and diligence in the makeup. Within walking distance the salvation of Detroit is welcoming. I am grieved the outsiders refuse to fight their way in.  The people of this fortress flourish with intellect the warlords, scavengers, and entitled fail to respect or acknowledge. The work here is hard but well worth the while. Here, lies the nourishment of education. Receiving that nourishment comes down to a choice to venture into the discomfort of an unknown realm and tackle the terror that screams “FAILURE!”

 I am here late-but not never. Somewhere along my life’s course I set sail in the wrong direction. Had the Earth been flat I may have dropped off the edge a long time ago. I found out the world isn’t flat at all, nor is life. I found out there are storms and doldrums, K2-esque mountains and deep rift valleys, destruction and calm. Neither scenario is avoidable; they are both immutably cyclical. The only constant is the need for decision.  Nearly twenty years later I am back where I began with much more to show for. This time I’m not looking for life experiences-I am filled with them already. Filled in the most profound ways: Surrounded by love, family, friends, glorious successes, and failures not to be repeated. My teenage sons exceeding in their youth what I longed to do in the days my own, my husband the image of diligence, integrity, and respected in our sphere in lieu of his character. They are a tribute to the excellence life demands for success. I own my part in these things. I already have life experiences.

 As I wandered through the fortress corridors, I felt for the first time in many years awkward and unsure. But wisdom is not dictated by feeling is it?  I passed myriads of young who nodded toward me respectfully in greeting as if to say “It doesn’t matter that you are old-it matters that you are here.” Perhaps they found comfort in the face of a mother while they are educated far from home, or perhaps they assumed I was an educator-which isn’t entirely untrue if taking into consideration my parental calling.  Perhaps, yes perhaps, the uncertainty crossing my features could be read and they were offering a nod to say, “We’ve all been through the fortress gauntlet; be encouraged and endure.” At any rate, I was comforted in the simple gesture of human acknowledgement.

 At one point I found myself reading a map in the fortress, mulling over the dozens of buildings within the compound for one specific place. I was nearing tears of frustration not knowing my current location, or the direction I was facing, and hating my pride for the bi-focals I refuse to invest in for vanity’s sake. I was having some difficulty reading the tiny words on the map which exacerbated my frustration levels. It was in that moment a handsome young black man approached and asked where I was going. He promptly pointed me in the correct direction with a smile as if to say “I’ve been in your shoes, Mother. The good sons will look out for you here.” God bless his parents for instilling chivalry and kindness. I subsequently found my way.

 Suffice it to say, I got through the hard part. Somewhere within the battlefield of my mind a victor emerged despite fear and insecurity.  Today, I emerged a Wayne State Warrior.