Take cover, zucchini are exploding

We have long kept a small backyard garden to teach our children, and now our grandchildren, a few basics about gardening.

The biggest lesson they have learned is this: If we had to live on the food we grow, we would all be very thin and very hungry.

Unless, of course, you could be well fed on cherry tomatoes. We do well with cherry tomatoes and any other plant that thrives on neglect.

We are currently yielding 11 bright red cherry tomatoes for every one minuscule raspberry.

We like the itty-bitty tomatoes and are grateful for them, but man does not live on itty bitty tomatoes alone. Man also needs olive oil, mozzarella and pasta to accompany tomatoes, all of which we have had no success growing.

Tomatoes are like cucumbers and zucchini—plants that start out as unassuming frail seedlings, emerging a leaf or two here and there. They keep you guessing whether they will endure the dip in night temperatures, the torrents of rain or the scorch of the sun. You check on them every day. Then one day, in a matter of seconds, they are mature and fully grown, virtually exploding, intent on taking over the entire garden. They become, shall we say, overbearing? They multiply like crazy.

Last week I dropped off a friend at her home after having lunch. Her husband ran out of the house when he saw the car pull into the driveway and said he wouldn’t take his wife back until I agreed to take some cucumbers home with me.

She is a good friend, and because our cucumbers had not yet started exploding, I agreed to take a few.

He reappeared on a dead run, cradling a basket with 16 cucumbers.

By the time I got home (90 seconds later), our cucumbers were also exploding. I’ve made cucumber soup, tossed cucumbers in salads, on sandwiches, in vinegar and sour cream, and even tried wearing slices of them under my eyes to reduce puffiness.

Every backyard gardener is giving cucumbers and tomatoes to neighbors who already have more than enough, so they give them to other friends and neighbors who give them to other friends and neighbors. Some tomatoes and cucumbers have been known to travel three time zones in a single day.

We also do well growing herbs that thrive on neglect thereby complementing the produce we grow that thrives on neglect. There’s a pattern here, isn’t there?

Last week I tucked a bag filled with rosemary in my purse for a friend and forgot to give it to her, or force it on her, whichever you like.

My purse is now permanently fragranced like rosemary. On the upside, every time I open my purse, my sinuses clear.

We have foisted all the cherry tomatoes and cucumbers we can on friends and neighbors. The time has come for us to draw the curtains and bolt the doors in case they have plans to reciprocate. We’re taking no chances. Zucchini season is coming.


Sprinkle that doughnut dash with fun

We conducted a Doughnut Dash not long ago. Our goal was to hit as many doughnut shops as possible and find the best doughnuts in town.

It was a worthy Saturday morning endeavor, although the dash part of the Doughnut Dash was a misnomer. We had five little ones in tow.

You don’t dash anywhere when passengers require car seats with five-point harnesses, booster seats and stubborn seat belts.

Our mission was noble, but overly ambitious.  We made a total of two stops, which was probably one too many.

The kids are at an age where they talk a lot—all of them—all at the same time.

We are driving along when a 4-year-old yells, “Hey! I know where we are. This is where the policeman stopped my mom!”

“Is that so?” I ask.

“Yes. But we’re not going to tell Dad about it!”

We reach our destination and unload like clowns bursting out of a phone booth.

They scramble to the counter and begin placing their orders. Sprinkles—any and everything with sprinkles. If there are doughnuts that are nothing but sprinkles, we’ll take those, too.

Wolfing them down, one announces, “I made a card for Mommy with a heart that says, ‘I love you.’ Mommy says it is so special she is going to save it forever.”

“Wow!” exclaims her older sister with sprinkles plastered to her face. “She usually trashes everything I make.”

“I need to use the restroom,” announces another. “My hands are sticky.”

Five kids parade to the restroom to wash their sticky hands, each returning with clean hands only to re-engage sticky doughnuts.

“THESE ARE THE BEST!” one of them yells. She is loud because she is the youngest of three and must be loud to be heard.

The staff behind the counter hears her, smiles and nods approvingly.



“Keep your voice down,” I whisper.


“Look at my arms,” shouts one of the girls.

“What about them?”

“They’re HAIRY! I think I’m turning into Daddy.”

Laughter explodes, the table rocks and napkins fly as everyone compares arm hair.

“I have long legs like Daddy,” another says.

“Dancers have long legs,” says another.

“You know what I’m going to be when I grow up?”


“A Rockette.”

A couple stops by to comment on how well behaved the girls are. The table begins bouncing as the soon-to-be Rockette warms up her high-kicks from below.

“Thanks,” I say. “It’s still early.”

The husband begins reading coffee selections aloud from the menu.

“Dark Roast Caribou–”

They are wiggling and giggling, an uncontainable mass of life, motion and energy. Sprinkles ricochet off the table in every direction.

“Dream Bean Coffee–” he continues. There’s now a kid on his lap, another one draped around his neck and he has sprinkles in his hair.

“Look at that last coffee.” he says. “It’s called Jamaican Me Crazy”


Business as usual under the stars

The chief topic of conversation has been the would-be intruder. I noticed the footprints while cleaning the glass on the French doors. The culprit had tracked through mud before stealing onto the patio, leaning against the door and peering into the house. There was no mistaking the prints. They were large, distinct and clearly those of a raccoon.

Naturally, this sort of news spreads fast. Many of the grands have had a look to analyze the situation for themselves. Theories abound. Maybe he was hungry, maybe he heard the music, or the laughing, or nothing at all. Maybe it wasn’t a he but a she—a momma looking for food for her babies.

And to think that something as thin as window glass separated us from a night visitor. It is a reminder of an entire world that operates largely unseen beneath the cover of darkness.

Raccoons explore, deer forage and bats dip low over streams for a quick drink. Frogs telegraph news bulletins to one another across the pond.

Clouds glide through the sky, pulling entire weather systems behind them. Some carry nothing more than a whispering breeze, others release gentle rains that soothe the grass and awaken blooms. Still others jar those sleeping with bolts of lightning and a barrage of thunder.

Not only animals and the elements stir at night, humans do, too. Night shifts keeps power plants running, planes landing, and hospitals operating.

Even if we don’t work the night shift, our bodies are working as we sleep. According to a book on learning how to learn, the brain rehearses new information acquired in the daytime while we sleep at night. Electrical signals travel again and again through the same set of neurons strengthening brain-link pathways, like practice runs before the big race.

The human body regenerates in a myriad of ways under the blanket of night. Worry dissipates for a time, the limbs relax, scrapes on children’s knees grow new skin cells, surgical incisions knit together, and even broken hearts may slowly begin to heal.

Of course, not everything that happens under the stars is of a quiet or healing nature.  Clothes hangers multiply, dresser drawers gleefully rearrange their contents, and storage containers and lids in the kitchen cabinet party like it’s New Year’s Eve.

An entire unseen world surrounds us, and even supports us, yet we tend to gravitate to that which we see. Makes you wonder how life might be different if we paid more attention to the things that so often go unnoticed and undetected. We might find ourselves a little more resilient, a little more hopeful and lot more appreciative. We might even be a little more enthralled with the wonders and mysteries of life.

To the furry nighttime visitor at the back door —“Sorry we missed seeing you. Maybe next time.”

Shocking study says zap improves memory

The husband just informed me of a study that found a mild electrical zap to the brain will give older people the “working memory” of a 20-year-old.

Concerned about his high level of enthusiasm, I calmly said, “The toaster is still plugged in. Why don’t you go first?”

He said he didn’t mean to imply that I needed a jolt to the brain, he just thought it was interesting.

Sure. And I don’t mean to imply we should take a cruise when I leave travel brochures lying around either; I just think they’re interesting.

I conceded that the concept of faster-working memory was intriguing. I also asked him to stop staring at my skull.

I readily admit that he is the one with the better memory for details. A lot of couples are like that. One meticulously dots the i’s and crosses the t’s while the other paints with big, bold brushstrokes and splatters paint on the floor.

The detail man with excellent memory then showed me a picture of a study participant wearing something that looks like a swim cap covered with round plugs and lots of wires. “They say it feels like a tingling sensation or itch for 30 seconds and then the wearer gets used to it,” he explained.

“I get that same feeling when I have my hair done. The shampoo gal gives a great scalp massage. I’d rather have the scalp massage followed by a good haircut than a jolt of current.”

“They say it can help clear brain fog,” he says.

“Sleep can clear brain fog,” I retort. “Or taking a walk outside. No wires necessary.”

“Wouldn’t it be great to have the quick response time of a 20-year-old?” he asked.

There’s no denying the brains of our youth would be enjoyable. Who knows, with better brain speed we could probably do our taxes with lightning speed. We might even be able to play complex video games. I might stop trying to unlock other people’s cars in parking lots. I might even remember what I read. I might even remember what I read.

“It would be something if the brain speed of a 20-year-old would allow me to do back flips again,” I muse out loud.

“They didn’t say it could work miracles,” he chuckles.

One minute he sees possibilities; the next minute he’s Mr. No-Can-Do.

I read up on the research myself and found a side story equally interesting. Or terrifying. People are buying do-it-yourself kits and trying this brain-stimulation business at home. I didn’t say they were sane people, just people.

Meanwhile, a researcher following the do-it-yourself crowd found that given a hypothetical situation, individuals would be more willing to use a brain stimulation device on others before using it on themselves.

Isn’t that the way it always works?

I’m hiding the toaster. Then I’m making a hair appointment.

To buy or not to buy souvenirs

Because the husband is more a kid at heart than I am, he says we need to find souvenirs for the grands while on a trip to Savannah.

I can be a kid at heart, too, but I also can be a mathematician—and even cheap, tacky souvenirs x 11 grands adds up quickly.

The better half states that adults may be divided on the value of tacky souvenirs, but children are not. He says that children are of one mind on the subject—they like souvenirs and they want them.

So we are pawing through mounds of cheap key fobs, plastic sun visors, kaleidoscopes, chocolate treats that would melt in the heat, bubble wands, over-priced T-shirts and finding nothing.

But then we spy the pirate section. On this we are in full agreement – you can never go wrong with pirates.

We consider a foam cutlass, but after a brief duel conclude that a foam cutlass creates more wind shear and sting than you might imagine. This would be enjoyed by the boys no doubt, but not appreciated by their parents. We opt for two pirate hats, which are soft and create no wind shear.

Still empty-handed for the nine girls, I spot small bracelets in an array of pretty colors all threaded on elastic.

“What about these?” I ask the husband.

He turns one over a couple of times and says, “Nice. But can you eat them?”

The bracelets are made of small beads shaped like starfish and turtles, all resembling rock candy, which is edible and was a popular souvenir when we were kids. We purchase nine and make a mental note to tell the girls not to try eating them.

As the clerk rings up the bracelets, I remember a souvenir I had as a girl. We had gone to the Gulf Coast and could choose one thing at a souvenir shop to remember our trip by. I chose a blue plastic soap box with the lid smothered in silver glitter and topped with a pink flamingo. It was cheap and tacky and I believed it was the most exquisite thing a girl could own. It was too beautiful put soap in, so it sat in a dresser drawer year after year, slowly aging, yellowing, the glitter falling off, a reminder of a family trip long ago.

My dad once gave our girls unexpected souvenirs. They were in college at the time, far too old for such things. He hadn’t taken a trip anywhere, but he had found small glass ornaments to hang in the window.

The girls are married and have families of their own, and those ornaments are still in their dresser drawers in their old bedrooms.

I have been won over to the notion that even cheap and tacky souvenirs may have worth and value. Tiny trinkets say I was thinking of you even though we were apart. That’s always a good investment.


Just add kids and dirt

The sky is blue, the sun is blazing and the aroma of SPF 60 sunscreen permeates the air.

The husband was up early wearing his bright orange hearing protectors inflating the large pool that came in a box picturing clean-scrubbed, happy children at play. Inflated and filled, clear water in the pool shimmers in the dazzling rays of morning sun.

The whole crew is here today—11 clean-scrubbed, happy grands just like the children on the box. Make that 11 plus one. A sweet 6-year-old neighbor boy from around the corner has joined the pack, making it a full dozen.

The kids are unleashed, running and jumping, splashing and screaming, younger ones taking time to wipe water from their eyes on fluffy clean towels.

Soon, two adorable little ones are using butterfly nets to strain bits of grass from the glistening pool water.

An hour later, it appears my colander is being used to strain even more grass and bits of thatch from the pool.

By 11 o’clock, the sun is nearly overhead, and the water is turning cloudy.

A 4-year-old whispers to her mother that she likes the neighbor boy. I considered sending the neighbor boy home.

By noon, the water is markedly murky and the 4-year-old is giving the neighbor boy rides on the back of a tricycle as she circles the patio.

Grass and thatch cling to all their legs and arms but not a one of them cares. The children on the box would care.

The once clean towels are now soaked, matted and trampled. A 3-year-old runs by with a dried reed stuck to her back.

A 1-year-old, who only recently learned to walk, totters over with a water shooter in each hand. You have to wonder who she’ll take aim at—her older cousins or the grandma who just cut off her supply of Cheerios.

After a lunch of PBJ and apples the wild things dutifully line up for another application of sunscreen because it aint over ‘til it’s over. The once beautiful lawn encircling the pool is an ever-widening mud slick. A tear glistens in the husband’s eye.

By 2 o’clock, the pool water is a muddy brown. If kids who had not been here since morning  came over and someone said, “Get in the pool,” the kids would recoil in horror and run screaming.

By 3 o’clock the pool water appears to be morphing from a liquid to a solid. The grandchildren are officially swamp people.

Cushions on the patio chairs bear mud prints and the beach towels are likely history. T-shirts and cover-ups that were once white are now the color of dirt.

At 5 o’clock, the neighbor boy’s teenage sister arrives to pick him up. He culls through piles of flip flops and pool toys scattered throughout the yard searching for his tennis shoes and mud-colored T-shirt. On his way out the door, he politely asks my daughter, “Was this play or a party?”

“It was play,” she says.

“Oh,” he said, “I thought there might be a party bag.”

“No, this was just play. You should see them when they party.”

This baby owl is a hoot

Looking back, burping the owl was the first mistake.

Cueing the barking dogs was the second, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

We planted strawberries in the raised beds this spring. Those would be the raised beds that we keep raising a little higher each year to deter critters. In a few more years, the raised beds will be raised so high, we’ll need ladders to pull weeds.

Or we can just ask the rabbits to pull the weeds for us.

Last year, one of the little ones asked if we could buy a strawberry plant. We did, fully expecting it would die and we would have thrown good money out the window, but the kid was asking for a strawberry plant, not a pony or a video-game console, so we bought It.

We threw the plant in the garden, turned our backs and lo and behold, it shot out a runner and grew another plant. And that plant shot out a runner and it grew another plant, and that plant shot out a runner, and on and on until the strawberries were multiplying like germs in flu season.

The plants produced berry after berry, all of which were bright red and beautiful, and none of which we tasted. But the rabbits did. Every single one of them. Those would be the same rabbits that steal our lettuce and cherry tomatoes after dark and make lovely salads of mixed greens with a light vinegar and oil dressing while we sleep.

We were going to beat the rabbits at their game this year. The berries would be ours. We bought a large plastic owl and positioned it by the strawberries. The owl is ferocious looking with beady eyes and steely glare. The theory is that owls are predators that frighten rabbits. But you know how theories work.

We never had a chance to test the theory as one of the grands picked up the plastic owl, began carrying it about, patting its back and trying to burp it.

“Put that down! That’s not a baby doll, that’s a ferocious predator!”

She started calling it, “Baby Owl.”

Any predator loses a modicum of ferocity when its first name is Baby. A predator is even less fearsome when it wears a sun hat with a ruffle. And, once an owl has been seated in a little chair for milk and cookies in the playhouse, it becomes a laughingstock. Rabbits jumped out of hiding smirking from ear to ear and guffawed so hard their tails shook.

My second line of defense was to play an audio clip of barking dogs. Talk about ferocious. I hit play and cranked the volume. The rabbits were startled.

We had them now. Or did we?

They moved closer and closer. Two of them parked beneath a bush and appeared to enjoy the canine chorus.

I halfway wondered if they were waiting for shortcake and whipped cream to go with the strawberries.

Wait all you want, rabbits, it’s not berry likely.

Learning about money in one clean sweep

Ordinarily, if someone said they’d like to clean our house, I’d probably be miffed. But the ones offering to clean the house were little girls, related to us by blood, looking for a way to earn spending money.

Who doesn’t want children to learn the link between work and reward? It’s a double bonus if the work is being done at your house.

They had written chores and the amounts they would charge on little slips of paper that they shook out of a small plastic bag. Windows for 10 cents, baseboards for 50 cents, dusting for a penny and vacuuming for 25 cents. The price structure was odd, but every budding tycoon starts somewhere.

They were affordable and eager, and the baseboards hadn’t been cleaned in ages.

They arrived in the morning in work clothes and attacked the baseboards with wet soapy cleaning rags, smiles on their faces and songs in their hearts. It was pure inspiration. I don’t think I’ve ever been that cheerful cleaning the kitchen.

Maybe I need to start paying myself with small coins. Or large bills.

“Boy, your house sure is dirty,” one said gleefully.

“It sure is,” chimed in a second.

“There’s coffee everywhere!” exclaimed another.

One started cleaning cabinet doors, even opening them and cleaning them on the inside. I was living the good life all right.

“Grandma, you want us to clean the crumbs inside the cabinets or just clean the boards below the cabinets?”

I was about to justify coffee and crumbs, when the youngest stood up and softly said, “I quit.”

What do you mean you quit?”

“Well, we cleaned for a neighbor and it was a lot better than this. She gave us each a spray bottle, a new sponge and a little pan to put our tools in.”

I’ve heard younger workers are more demanding today, and now I was looking one in her 6-year-old face.

“But if you quit now, I’ll have to dock your pay.”

She handed me her wet scrub rag, tossed back her hair and announced she was going to find Mommy.

“You’re doing a good job, girls,” I called to the ones still on task. The last thing I needed was a worker walkout.

“How much do you think we’ll make, Grandma?”

“At least five dollars,” I said.

“It’s a lot of work for the money.”

Tell me about it.

They did a stellar job and we settled up, doling out coins and bills for the enumerated jobs.

Their mother appeared and took a dollar from one to illustrate the principle of paying taxes. The others, quick on their feet, dashed to backpacks and tucked their money inside, hence, averting taxes.

We treated the workers by ordering pizza for lunch and one of the girls asked how much breadsticks cost.

I told her, she paused briefly before slipping away then reappeared with money for breadsticks.

“That’s my working money,” she said, with a smile and a sigh.

Welcome to the club.


Disclaimer is a bitter pill to swallow

Some of the best horror on television today is in the disclaimers in pharmaceutical commercials. The images are of healthy, happy people doing healthy, happy things as the voice-over reads a long list of possible terrifying side effects of the medication. I’m usually shaking uncontrollably somewhere between “vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath” and “peeling skin, tuberculosis and sometimes fatal events.”

Once I calm down, I realize it’s all quite simple. All you really need to know is that the drug might help you, but it might also kill you.

So there. Take your meds and sleep well.

Likewise, some of the best comedy on television today is also in pharmaceutical commercials. It is the giant laugh line where the narrator says, “If you develop these side effects, see your doctor right away.”

Ha, ha, ha, ha!

Where do these people live?

Who gets to see their doctor right away?

The last time I called our doctor’s office with an illness I thought I should be seen for, I was put on hold. A few minutes later a voice said, “Go to an urgent care clinic.”

I don’t blame the doctor’s office. It was my fault for not anticipating a day six weeks down the road to have sudden onset of a deep barking cough, nasal congestion, piercing ear pain, and book an appointment. But no, I dilly dallied around until I actually had a horrible chest cold and sinus infection and as a result was not able to be seen.

I’m not saying it is always difficult to get in to see our doctor, but we now list Urgent Care as our primary care physician.

People having adverse side effects from prescription drugs aren’t going to have any better luck getting in to see the doctor than we are. Perhaps the commercials could be amended to say, “If you experience a side effect, jump in your car and start praying that the nearest immediate care clinic has not closed for the day.

Of course, that will be your fault, too, for not timing your illness before the close of business hours.

By the way, in the name of honesty, a lot of Minute Clinics should be renamed An Hour or More.

To be completely honest, it’s not like we never see our doctor. We ran into him at the movie theater about a month ago.

We exchanged hellos and he asked how we were. We both said, “Fine.”

He nodded as though he agreed, so we both assume that sufficed as our annual physicals.

A friend who had been in the hospital was trying to tell me which urgent care clinic had seen her before telling her to go directly to the emergency room.

“The one by the library?” I asked.

“No, that one was closed.”

“The big one up north affiliated with the hospital?”

“They were closed, too.”

“The little urgent care clinic next to the big beautiful veterinary clinic with the huge sign that says, ‘Open 24 Hours’?”

“Yep. We got there 10 minutes before closing.”

I’ll let you figure out the irony of that on your own.

An aging Ford and miles of memories

Some years ago my brother called and, without so much as a hello, said, “Pick a number between 3 and 14.” He meant business, so I picked a number.

He said, “Congratulations, you just bought Dad’s SUV.”

My brother was closing out our dad’s estate. He added a thousand to the number I picked and declared me the owner of Dad’s Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer edition with suede seats, leather trim, 4-wheel drive, power-folding third-row seats, easy liftgate, and moonroof.

To say it was an upgrade would be the understatement of automotive history. Our minivan had a driver’s seat with broken springs, a sliding passenger door that no longer slid and chronic ailments.

“Eddie” was far more than an upgrade. I logged a lot of miles in that vehicle with my dad. Long drives were how he outdistanced grief after Mom died.

One spring we drove to see the migration of sandhill cranes in his home state of Nebraska. It is a wonder of nature, some half million cranes gathering along a thin ribbon of river en route to Canada, Alaska and Siberia.

Thousands of tall, gangly birds with long legs and long necks strutted about like they were high-fashion models of the bird world. They milled around in shallow gray water, stretching their enormous wings and shaking their big bustles of feathers.

Sometimes when I’m driving Eddie, I can still see those sandhill cranes silhouetted against a sinking sun.

Another time we drove to visit one of his brothers who had been sheriff in a small poke-n-plumb Midwest town. Poke your head out the window and you’re plumb out of town. Headed home, we took a short cut on a small highway. For miles and miles, it was a desolate stretch of two-lane bordered by nothing but fields of grain and endless blue skies.

“How fast you think we’re going?” he asked.


“Eighty,” he grinned. “Hard to gauge speed when you’re in the wide open.”

I still hear that exchange in my head sometimes. It was the voice of contentment.

After surgery for the pancreatic cancer that would eventually take his life, Dad announced he was ready to drive again.

“You’re positively certain you have the strength to slam on those brakes if you need to?” I demanded to know.

“I’ve already been driving,” he said. “You should see the long skid marks I left a couple days ago.”

Anything to spark a little outrage from overprotective kids.

Eddie has more than 200,000 miles under the hood now and has made more than a few trips to our mechanic’s garage. But that’s the only thing that’s changed. The Fix-a-Flat and jumper cables are still in the back like Dad had them. First aid supplies are still in the glove box and an enormous flashlight still sits in the storage cubby between the middle seats.

Most importantly, Eddie still slows down for every sunrise and sunset and pauses to watch deer at dusk.

It’s probably time to let go and I will. Just a few more miles down the road.