Garden season closing with rabbits in the lead

It’s been a rough year for the garden. By mid-July the tally was 49-0 with rabbits, squirrels and raccoons for the win.

They grazed through petunias, lilies, sunflower starts, destroyed phlox and mowed an expanse of zinnias like a lawn tractor with zero-turn radius.

The main component of my flower garden was tufts of fur from rabbit tails. They’re soft enough, but they just don’t look all that great in a vase.

They also harvested beans, broccoli and an entire sweet potato planting.

Many mornings I would s stick my head out the back door and yell, “Would you like that steamed or oven roasted?”

This triggered laughter, followed by baby cucumbers thrown at my head.

They were hard core. Ate everything straight up. Make that straight down—to the ground.

They grew increasingly brazen and danced Conga lines across the patio with fresh parsley hanging from their mouths.

“You’ll get yours one day,” I shouted. I didn’t know what “yours” was or when “one day” might come, but it felt good to heckle them as the gardening season inched away. Then the red-tailed hawk came.

It was lean and hungry and had a wicked glint in its eye.

We hustled small children inside with instructions to stay away from the windows.

A couple of weeks later, the hawk left.

Twenty pounds heavier.

Took that hawk six runs before it could get airborne.

The hawk left satisfied and so were we.

There was still a chunk of growing season remaining and leftover seeds in the garage. I planted zinnias and daisies, all of which sprouted and started to bloom. These encouraged battle-weary phlox and renegade larkspur to return on their own.

Then the ultimate challenge: I tucked a fresh round of cantaloupe and watermelon seeds into the ground thinking they might just mature before the first frost. There must have been 50 blooms on the cantaloupe vines and 20 on the watermelon. But no fruit.

Then one day I was giving a friend the Poor-Me Pity Tour of the garden and she spotted a cantaloupe hidden beneath a vine. It was a whopping 2 inches in diameter.

A few days later, I was checking on the cantaloupe and spotted a teeny, tiny icebox watermelon, deep green, perfectly formed that was the size of a penny.

Every day I checked one cantaloupe and the one watermelon. They were growing—slowly and ever so slightly, but maybe, just maybe.

Last week I checked the “crops” (I feel entitled to use the plural since there are two melons, not just one) and gasped at the watermelon.

A critter had eaten through the side.

Our last great hope is the cantaloupe. We will be up against first frost date, but if the temperature dips, I will tent it and sit beside it all night with a thermal blanket if necessary.

I envision a pageant of sorts when it is finally ripe, gardeners cheering, throwing peat moss in the air and waving trowels as it is transported to the house.

Then, for the grand finale, we will put it on a silver platter, and all scoop out a bite. With demitasse spoons.

It won’t be much, but it will be one in the win column.

 

The gifts and treasures keep piling up

I have received some splendid thinking-of-you gifts lately and it’s not my birthday or anything.

A paper bookmark sits on my desk with each letter of the word “Grandma” drawn in a different color. It is a large bookmark with zigzag ends and a small heart cut out of the middle. You slip the corner of the page you want to bookmark into the heart.

Genius, right?

Last week I received a new pillow. The pillow is pale pink with a tiny green and white floral print and measures about 10 inches by 10 inches. Each seam is sewn straight as a ruler. We also have homemade pillows made by grands in a bright sunflower fabric and a bold camera print. We didn’t know we needed more pillows, but this was made with love, so you can bet we’ll find a place for it. It will be a prominent place because there are pillows and then there are pillows.

Next to family pictures sitting on our bedroom dresser are several small rocks and a dried black walnut that were gifted to me. These treasures were not parted with casually. They were mined from the earth with grubby hands and loving hearts.

A letter sent for no special reason arrived the other day with a sweet note inside. A paper star also fell from the envelope. It is blue with a red heart in the middle with the letter G written in the center of the heart. I can pin the star with a “G” on my shirt.

I imagine this will be akin to wearing one of those medic alert buttons, only my paper star doesn’t connect to first responder services.

Thoughtful. Very thoughtful.

Sometimes I receive short stories or newsy letters and remind the authors that this is exactly how many famous authors got their start. Maybe.

A few weeks ago, the doorbell rang and there stood a boy, beaming from ear to ear, holding a shoe bouquet of wildflowers. Cheerful black-eyed Susans, wild geranium and Virginia mountain mint, all tucked into a shoe. A worn, dirty, mud-caked, tennis shoe. It was a beautiful award-winning bouquet. Best in Shoe.

 

The boy also had an old blue Ball jar that he had discovered digging near an old cabin on their property and gave that to me as well. Plus, he wanted his mud-caked shoe back. It was a good trade.

If you see a woman with colorful pillows under one arm, a book with a bookmark hanging from it tucked under the other, assorted artwork, small rocks, a dried black walnut, a wilted wildflower bouquet in a blue Ball jar in her hands, and a paper star with a “G” pinned to her shirt, please point me out to others and say, “There goes the richest woman in the world.”

Back to school — in the kitchen

It took me two days to watch a documentary that was an hour and 15 minutes long. I tend to lose consciousness when the action is slow and the dialogue ends. “School of Housewives” was slow, but good.

Please, do not confuse “School of Housewives” with “Housewives of Atlanta, Beverly Hills, New York City” and wherever else women bounce about, day drink and swipe long acrylic nails at one another.

The School of Housewives stands in Reykjavík, Iceland. Most who attend wear sweaters and Birkenstocks.

The school has been running since 1942. It was popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s with waiting lists but has struggled of late. According to the director, attendance correlates with the economy: when the economy is good, there is a downturn, and when the economy is bad, there is an influx as people are more interested in economizing.

Students learn how to cook, host, garden and put out kitchen fires.

Much of what they learn was a flashback to my junior high home economics class, a class in which my projects were often notated “needs improvement.”

A teacher at the School of Housewives said students were not there to collect grades, but to collect wisdom, and know how to work with their hands.

If only my home ec teacher had embraced that attitude. I eventually self-educated through trial-and-error, watching early Martha Stewart and phoning my mother.

Some of the things these students learn are basics I have been doing for years. I was thinking I might go to the school. You should, too. We all should. It would be nice to be validated as actually knowing a thing or two. We might even get advance placement status.

A couple of the male students have great praise for the school. One said it reinforced who he is as a conservationist, learning how to make better use of one’s things and using things as long as you can. Students learn how to knit, crochet, sew clothes, reattach buttons and mend holes.

When they’re not fixing something, they are cooking something. Detailed cuts with razor sharp knives into pastry were works of art. I wanted to reach through the screen and sample one of everything. Well, at least until they started making blood sausage.

Then there was the sequence with the head of an animal. I purposefully drew a mental curtain, but I do recall as they tore it apart for cooking, they were instructed to discard the eyeball and rip out the cartilage in the ear.

Waste not, want not.

I was already at the point of wanting not.

Students also learn to weave. The click of the loom is soothing and watching a pattern come together is amazing.

Reflecting on their stay and all they had learned about keeping a home, one student tenderly said, “So much happens here. It’s just a wonderful life.” What a lovely thing to say of any home.

Of course, a few probably left “needing improvement.” But as a one student mused upon entering the school, if she failed here, she could always go to YouTube.

The documentary is streaming for free until the end of September. You can find it by clicking here 

Not the first to navigate rough seas

Many mornings I check CDC stats for my state and county to weigh the facts against the hysteria. Then I check the headlines to see what blew up overnight and to see what is still standing.

We live in turbulent times: Covid, Afghanistan, schools opening, schools closing, rising crime. Pick one.

Or how about the housing market? A house on one end of our street just sold for $50K more than a house with the same floor plan, on the other end of the street, six months ago.

It’s a great time to sell. But what can you buy?

Then there’s the rising cost of groceries. I was loading my online shopping cart and a gallon of milk showed up as $10. I did a double take. It was a computer glitch, but for a few seconds it gave “Got Milk?” new intensity.

I did a mental tally of how many in our extended family have been tested for Covid. Nobody has had it—something we do not take for granted—but nearly half of us have had a Q-tip jammed up our noses. Several were tested after close exposure to someone who was positive, someone else needed a test before a surgery and then there was a summer round of head colds and sniffles prompting a flurry of “just to be sure” tests.

Oh, the times we live in.

We’re not the first to say that.

Others said it during World War I, the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, World War II, polio, Korea, the fight for Civil Rights, the quagmire of Vietnam and the horror of 9/11.

We personalize upheaval and uncertainty as unique to us and our times, but upheaval and uncertainty have always been part of life and history.

There’s a saying that “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” Some say it is an old English proverb, others attribute it to Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose four-term presidency spanned the Great Depression and World War II. The man knew a thing or two about rough waters.

Smooth sailing doesn’t reveal what we are made of—it’s when the waves crash, the wind screams, and the night is long that we learn what we’re made of.

Checking my sea legs now. So far, so good, but the nausea is awful.

Rough seas may be with us a while longer. No one knows for certain and it is uncertainty that sends us reeling.

Previous generations were better prepared for upheaval. Necessity made them more self-reliant.

Funny how the words and voices of others come to mind during challenging times. They serve as anchors.

Churchill said, “Fear is a reaction; courage is a decision.”

It looks so easy, words in print.

If ever a sage calls from the past, it is Abraham Lincoln. “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”

Perhaps it is awareness of our insufficiency that keeps us on edge. Or on our knees.

May we steady ourselves and sail on.

Corner cleanup grabs their attention

One good way to keep grandkids coming around is to keep cool toys around. Not expensive toys, necessarily, but interesting ones like parachutes, butterfly nets, ride toys with obnoxious sirens and horns, plastic bats and a thousand plastic balls, old buckets, assorted sizes of rakes and snow shovels, galvanized tubs and a 9-setting nozzle for the garden hose.

That said, there are times you should drop some hard, cold cash. On grabbers.

For the uninitiated, a grabber is a hollow aluminum rod about 3-feet long with a jaw-shaped contraption on the end that you open and close by squeezing a lever on the handle. Grabbers enable grabees to grab things out of reach—cookies on a high shelf, interesting things on stacks of boxes in the garage, your cousin’s leg, your cousin’s arm and your grandpa’s hat right off his head.

Our two grandsons were with us for a short weekend and noticed shiny new grabbers hanging in the garage. They immediately inspected them and demonstrated how to adjust the angle of the jaws. We’d never noticed that before and probably never would have.

There wasn’t much (or many) to grab in the backyard, so we suggested branching out. We asked if they’d like to pick up trash. They were ecstatic. Their thought process probably went like this: “If they take us to pick trash this time, maybe they’ll take us dumpster diving next time.”

Keep dreaming, boys. Keep dreaming.

We grabbed plastic gloves, buckets, a 30-gallon trash bag and headed to a neighborhood strip mall known for lackluster maintenance.

I told the boys we were putting the Broken Window Theory into practice. Their eyes grew huge. Grandma was talking trash only moments ago and now she’s talking broken windows.

“It goes like this, fellas: Trash, litter and broken windows may seem like small things, but they can lead to an increase in crime. Before you were born, the mayor of New York City put the Broken Window Theory to work and had graffiti erased and broken windows repaired nightly. The result was a decrease in crime and the Big Apple became known as one of the safest big cities in the world.”

“Cool! Can we go there?”

“Um. Maybe someday.”

Our destination did not disappoint. Stores, a gas station and bus stop all provided a hodgepodge of finds. Big plastic cups, empty soda cans, beer cans, tiny liquor bottles and disposable coffee cups with lids and stir sticks accounted for the greatest amount of trash.

The problem with “disposable cups” is that a lot of people take it to mean right where they are at the moment.

Tobacco products and masks were the second most frequently found items. Empty bags from the big three of fast food nutrients— crackers, cookies and chips— made an excellent showing as well.

The best find of the afternoon? A smashed car bumper.

“No, we’re not taking it home!”

Although it was productive couple of hours, albeit gross and smelly, nobody wants to go back soon.

That said, the parking lot looked good.

For a whole two days.

Eating weigh too much at the Fair

After returning from the State Fair, I’m not sure if I should pop into a Catholic church and make a confession or create an online account for Weight Watchers.

We came. We saw. We ate.

Oh, did we eat. Fried things, deep fried things and deep, deep fried things.

They were delicious, every grease-soaked bite.

Summer isn’t summer without an elephant ear—deep fried dough coated with sugar. Not even the name stops me, and it should. If you are what you eat, do I really want to eat something with elephant as part of its name?

Funnel cake or elephant ear? Vote for your favorite in the comment section.

Apparently, I do. (She says, licking her greasy sugar-coated fingers.)

We passed sandwiches made of shredded turkey stuffed between two donuts, and it struck me that cardiologists should set up booths interspersed among the food stands. How would they get people to stop at their booths, you ask? Offer free fair food.

We tried practicing some modicum of moderation, splitting food items instead of going whole hog (no offense to the Pork Tent).

When I hesitated at a soft pretzel with cheese dip you could grease axles with, someone in our group goaded me saying, “It’s only one day out of the year.” True, but that’s also what they tell you before wheeling you away for heart surgery. “It’s only one day out of the year.” Then they start the IV and everything fades to black.

In defense of fair food and balanced diets, there were vendors offering vegetables – peppers and onions on the Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches and roasted ears of corn—corn that drips with butter. As a matter of fact, it was more like butter with corn as an afterthought.

You could also find fruit. Apples coated with thick caramel and nuts.

Of course, we did more than eat. We toured the agricultural building with award winning, zucchinis, tomatoes, cabbage and pumpkins (all of which would be tasty deep fried.)

We also toured the animal barns, viewing the world’s largest sow and boar (even though every neighboring state also claim to have the world’s largest sow and boar), and got a whiff of cows and chickens.

Then we went back outside and everything we’d seen inside was available outside—slathered in barbeque and with a side of fries.

One of the grands lamented that she had never had cotton candy, as her mother told her it comes with cockroaches. Her mother had cotton candy when she was 4 and it did have a cockroach in it, which I grabbed and threw to the ground. I bought a cotton candy and thoroughly inspected it. The girl pulled some off, stuffed it in her mouth, closed her eyes and floated toward the heavens.

She made it last three delicious hours and even had some left to take home.

The State Fair is a summer ritual of sights, sounds and tastes we will carry with us for months to come—in our minds, on our hips, midsections and who knows where else.

And now, we are back to reality – and spinach salads.

Babysitter certified, just add kids

Our oldest granddaughter left three resumes and business cards scattered about the house touting her abilities as a babysitter.

This was puzzling as we are not anticipating any more babies, but maybe she thinks we may need a sitter for ourselves one day soon.

She left one on the microwave knowing we would find it as we have a deeply ingrained habit of frequently visiting the kitchen for food.

Another was left on the dining room table. We don’t eat in there often, but she knows the big window in the dining room is where we press our faces to the glass, watching and waiting for someone interesting to arrive.

She left a third copy in an upstairs bedroom where she sleeps when she spends the night. That copy was not intended for us as much as it was letting her cousins know she claims rights to the yellow bedroom.

She is 12 and recently finished the American Red Cross Babysitter Training. The resume says she learned “leadership, professionalism, safety, child development, basic childcare and care for emergencies.”

We rather like knowing all these details and are contemplating asking other family members to submit lists of their skill sets as well.

She also completed training in First Aid and CPR – adult, child and infant. It is reassuring to know she is familiar with adult CPR and could go to town on her grandpa and myself should such a feat be needed. It gives new meaning to the term “Immediate Care.”

Under experience she listed babysitting two children of friends of the family. I am familiar with these children and because they are docile and compliant, do not consider them a test-worthy experience. Below that she listed cleaning up after dinner and putting three of her four younger siblings to bed.  I am very familiar with these children. They can outrun their black lab, routinely unload living creatures from their pockets onto the kitchen table and leave footprints on the ceilings. A 12-year-old who can handle this group is someone who can anticipate disaster, move at the speed of light, has six arms, a commanding voice and eyes in the back of her head.

She lists additional skills and abilities as: music, storytelling, liking kids, a good sense of humor, can cloth diaper babies, hold children correctly and much more. She also offers pet sitting — not Red Cross certified — citing experience with cats, dogs, rabbits, fish and chickens.

I asked if there are any potential babysitting jobs on the horizon and she said there is a family she thought of contacting, but she has seen their kids in action and decided the job would not be worth the money. (I’d like to see what their ceiling looks like.)

So be it. Realism is a fine quality to have as well. In any case, she may have another chicken sitting job soon and that is fine with her.

Chickens rarely need a diaper change or CPR.

At this reunion, red shirts take all

I have often seen people in large groups wearing shirts emblazoned with the name of their family reunion and wondered what possessed them to draw such attention to themselves.  A few weekends ago, I became one of those people. I know now such shirts are not a bid for attention but a means of keeping a running headcount on a large group.

My sister-in-law, one of the most considerate people ever, had 25 shirts made—each neatly folded and wrapped in a bow, bearing the wearer’s name on it. If it had been left to me, I would have tagged everyone with a label gun.

The shirts were color coded, which my brother explained. “The green shirts are for little people,” he said, eyeing the little people up and down the line.

He then explained that those in blue shirts—the parents, aunts and uncles of the green shirts—were to intervene if they saw a problem among the green shirts.

If the blue shirts were unable to handle the green shirts, the blue shirts would notify the red shirts – myself, the husband, my brother and his wife—and the red shirts would then handle the blue shirts and the green shirts.

There were big eyes among the green shirts. The lower lip trembled on a 3-year old. The blue shirts were on high alert as well.

My brother began enumerating what situations the red shirts could handle: “medical emergencies, hunger, pretty much anything you can think of and fisticuffs.”

The kids were excited, even though half of them were unsure as to the meaning of fisticuffs. I don’t think anyone planned on fisticuffs at our reunion, but I’ve heard of large family get-togethers going south. It never hurts to be prepared.

Our oldest daughter, a natural organizer who enjoys crowd management, immediately asked to trade in her blue shirt for a red shirt even though she was not of the red shirt generation. She was told you don’t just “get a red shirt,” you “earn a red shirt.”

We hung out in a picnic shelter, abandoning all hopes of tablecloths or badminton due to strong winds. During lunch, a gust of wind whipped my sister-in-law’s paper plate out of her hands and into my face. The crowd was disappointed she hadn’t put mustard on her sandwich, as it would have been far more entertaining than the few breadcrumbs clinging to my cheeks.

For a moment, we thought red shirt intervention might be needed at the dessert table when someone put out a box of cookies labeled “Best Cookies Ever.” You don’t do that in a group of good cooks and think it will go unnoticed. It was settled without fisticuffs—there will be a cookie bakeoff next time we are together.

We talked and ate and watched the river sweep huge tree trunks downstream. Some swam in the hotel pool, others hiked a trail and rolled in the poison ivy. A storm blew in and we all trekked inside for dinner out of coolers.

We walked along the river before sunset, admiring a rainbow pinned to lingering clouds in a steel gray sky. My brother led the pack of kids singing, “We’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”

I’ve never known my brother to sing, let alone lead a crowd of kids.

It was the watershed of gladness, the goodness of being together after several years apart and the tenderness of not knowing when we might all be together again.

 

Scrambling for the chicken

We were having breakfast with some of the grands when one asked if she could have my chicken when I die.

The chicken is not a live chicken, but a ceramic chicken I’ve had since we were first married and use for serving scrambled eggs.

I said she can have the chicken, but she’ll have to make her own scrambled eggs.

Then I left the table and looked in a mirror to see if I should have spent more time on hair and makeup.

Eh.

The thought of dying was not on my mind today; nor was the thought of who should have the chicken – or that anyone would want it, for that matter.

Who knows how their minds work. I’m not entirely certain how my own mind works.

I guess this is a new stage of life I didn’t see coming—the “Hey, Can I Have That When You’re Dead?” stage of life.

Years ago, my mom and dad had one of my brother’s boys with them when they were going to a cemetery to pay off their burial plots. They explained the situation to the little guy who was quiet for a moment, then said, “Grandma, when you die, can I have your credit cards?”

Smart, that one. Very smart.

I was glad someone wants the chicken because in addition to the new “Hey, Can I Have That . . .” stage of life, I’m also in a minimalist stage of life.

Like so many others, I purged closets and drawers during the pandemic and am now unable to stop.

Waffle iron that chews up waffles? Gone.

Yoga mat? Forget about it.

Panini Press? Returned to the gifter.

High heels that cause foot pain? Nice knowing you.

Baby quilts made by my mother? Linen closet, top shelf, going nowhere.

I am constantly looking for big things and small things, anything really, to recycle, donate or trash. It’s a near obsession, one so bad that the husband claims he is afraid to fall asleep on the couch for more than 10 minutes.

He’s safe. There’s no way I could lift him.

There is some comfort knowing that others may want some of the things we still hold onto. Sometimes, if I receive an especially nice gift, one of the girls will yell, “Post-it!” This means she wants a Post-it to write her name on and stick to the item.

A friend who handles estate auctions is adamant that a Post-it will not hold up in court. I’ve told the girls this and they say they’re not going to court; they plan on using the “possession is nine-tenths of the law” rule.

They’re all talk and no Post-its.

Today I am happy knowing that my chicken will one day have a good home and that no one has asked for my credit cards.

Yet.

Last bird out, turn off the light

Three of the grands painted a birdhouse that looks like a beach house on the Florida coast—hot pink with a teal roof. It was only up a couple of weeks before bluebirds moved in, laid three eggs and sometimes played Jimmy Buffet tunes late at night.

The family schooled themselves on elusive bluebirds, knew when the eggs hatched and counted the days until the hatchlings would leave the nest. Despite a faithful watch, they somehow missed the birds’ departure.

They cleaned out the birdhouse, installed a teeny tiny camera and a few weeks later the birds returned and deposited four eggs.

Again, they counted the time until the birds might begin exiting. When one leaves, they all leave.

Our daughter texted before 8 a.m. the other day, saying it was time. One had already flown the coop. Did I want to come watch?

Of course, I did. It would be like watching newborn quads leave a hospital.

Nobody saw No. 1 leave, but there it was sitting on the fence top. Then it took off, smacked into a neighbor’s house and tumbled to the ground. It was back on the fence a short time later. No. 2 also exited unnoticed and camped on a crossbeam of the fence, low to the ground.

My daughter and I, armed with four cameras, planted ourselves in patio chairs to catch the final two making their exit.

It was a large family affair as nine bluebirds, adults and young (probably from the first brood) hovered about, perching on rooftops, a nearby trampoline and fence posts.

They protested loudly when I crept into the yard for a better camera angle. I feared there would be a re-enactment of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” if I didn’t keep my distance.

We waited and waited. Clouds came and left.

Momma bluebird delivered food to the two cloistered in the birdhouse and popped a worm into the mouth of the one still cowering on the cross beam.

We waited and waited some more.

Bluebirds are tidy housekeepers. Adult birds carry out baby bird poo in a white sac held in the mouth. Perhaps they get the little white sacs at Target or Walmart, next to the 30-gallon Hefty bags.

Lunchtime came and went. We joked about phoning for Door Dash, wondering if they would do Backyard Birdhouse Dash.

Her older sister, in possession of their combined six children and not a big nature lover, texted that the birds were never coming out—they’d been in there too long and would require forceps.

Four uneventful hours later, I called it a day and abandoned the watch. Three hours later I got a call expecting it was the call of defeat.

It was hard to tell through the screaming, but it turned out she saw the last two exit, heads bobbing in the opening to the birdhouse, a final shove, then taking flight, one after another.

It took eight hours, but she saw the baby birds leave home and was over the moon with delight.

The wait on her own baby birds leaving the nest will be far longer, say in the 15-to-18-year range. No doubt, she’ll be emotional then, too.