Contemplation

This morning, as is my custom when at the beach for an extended stay, I arose before the crack of dawn, put on a pot of coffee, checked my email and went out to pick up the morning paper.  By the time I got back to my room, the coffee was ready, I poured a cup and went out to the water’s edge and just stood there for a while.  This would be the last full day we would be at the beach.  Soon, our summer vacation would be over.  Our daughter and her children would be traveling back to Kentucky, our son and his children would be traveling back to Virginia, My wife, Dad and I would be traveling across the bay to our home in Brandon.

I love to go out to the water’s edge by myself first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee in hand just to contemplate things, things we had done together as a family during the week, the dread of seeing my children and grandchildren go home, thoughts of work and what I might be doing for the rest of the week and so forth.  It is always a peaceful time with my thoughts, just me, the vastness of the ocean, a few squawking sea birds, the gentle waves rolling in and lapping at my ankles.  Occasionally a small pod of dolphin will roll and blow a hundred yards or so out from shore, looking for breakfast, a pelican will dive-bomb into a school of fish.  All of us at that moment seem to be in harmony with one another.

As the sun begins to peek over the horizon behind me I recognize the fragrance of frying bacon wafting on the morning’s warm salty sea breeze.  Others are beginning to wake up and get about doing whatever they will be involved in during their day.  Soon a lone runner can be seen running up the beach toward me.  I begin to think it’s time to get back to the room and make preparations for the day’s activities.  For a while though, it was glorious, just me, the beauty of this natural setting, my thoughts and a good cup of coffee.

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The Garden – Part 3

You may be wondering how the dog fits into all of this, having mentioned earlier about how the entire family got pleasure from this garden, even the dog.  Well, Fred, was a beagle mix.  His mother was a full blooded beagle with papers and everything, his father, obviously, was a traveling salesman, never seen or heard from again.  Fred looked a lot like a beagle, shape, size, ears, and tail but he had sky blue eyes.  Oh, he had the wonderful howl of a hound as well.  We saw the ad in the newspaper for puppies that were being given away and we went by to take a look.  Fred was the clumsy one of the litter.  He seemed to trip over his own paws.  He was all brown except for a large white diamond shaped patch on his chest.  Any way, we (I) fell in love with him and immediately named him Fred.  The name seemed appropriate for the bumbling ball of brown fur.  Later the children and I began to refer to him as Frederich von Dog.  We thought the name gave him a bit more class.

Fred loved the garden for a cool place to hide and nap during the heat of the summer.  I always planted my squash and zucchini in hills.  This had the effect of creating a small valley between the hills.  The zucchini plants always grew to a huge size.  Some of the leaves seemed to be a foot across.  On any particularly warm day we could always find Fred snoozing in a cool moist valley under the shade of the zucchini leaves.  You could open up a hole in the leaves and try to coax the lazy hound out but he wouldn’t budge.  Fred would just lay there, slowly open one eye as if to say “you see me trying to take a nap here, leave me alone” then he would let out a sigh, close his eye and go back to sleep.  Fred never messed the garden up, no digging or rooting around.  It seemed like he knew that we respected that plot of ground and he respected it as well.

Fred and I were good friends.  We have had many conversations out on the patio overlooking the garden, me with my cup of coffee, him sitting by my side listening intently, giving a happy wag of the tail when we made eye contact.  I shared my happy times with him and my sad times as well.  He would listen without making judgment and with that caring look in his eye that said no matter what goes on in your life I love you.  We had the old boy for about fourteen years then he was gone.  There were some really tough times in my life after that when I wished I had old Fred there to listen to me.  He was a good dog.

As with chapters in a book, things eventually come to an end.  My marriage eventually came to an end, Fred went off to dog heaven, the children went off to school, got married, had homes of their own and moved on with their lives.  The need for a huge garden no longer existed, but, oh my, the memories that are still there, some as vivid as if it were yesterday.  I am in a new phase of my life now, a new chapter you might say.  Yes, I still garden, although, it’s smaller now.  I found my soul mate and we married ten years ago. One of the best things ever to happen in my life is to fall in love after fifty. We have five wonderful children between us, and nine grand children.  With seed that has been passed down from generation to generation, the garden is still growing, producing happiness and new fruit.

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The Garden – Part 2

The garden that year, my first year as a full-fledged gardener, organic gardener nonetheless, was such a success that it became the necessary thing to do each year. The whole family got involved in the process.  The children, me, the dog all of us found pleasure in the things the garden provided, not just the vegetables from which we derived physical nutrition but also the hours of hard work and exercise together as a family, from which we derived sustenance for the soul.  Now that the children have all married and moved away they are planting gardens in their back yards with their children. The seed has been planted, seed that has been passed down from generation to generation.

I don’t remember if it was the second or third, who knows, maybe the fifth year of the garden that I made a discovery.  Before I continue though, I need to explain that this was during a previous marriage, I did most of the cooking then.  In my second marriage now, I am married to a wonderful woman who loves to cook so sometimes it’s a battle to see who’s going to get to cook each meal.  As the main cook for the family at that time, though, I really preferred (and still do) to use fresh ingredients, in fact I insist upon it as much as is possible.  My children grew up eating fresh vegetables from the garden, if not our garden then fresh food from the farmer’s market.  In my opinion there is nothing worse than store-bought canned vegetables and one step up from that is store-bought frozen foods.  Whenever possible, in my opinion, one should use only fresh ingredients.  So, my children grew up having fresh foods to eat.  Even canned vegetables you have canned yourself are far better than those purchased at the local grocery.  Anyway, back to the discovery.

This particular year, I had planted a variety of tomatoes that grew into huge plants.  My tomato cages were made from six by six reinforcing wire mesh, the kind used in concrete floors.  These cages were around eighteen inches in diameter and six feet tall.  The variety of tomato plants I had planted that year were growing out the top of the cages.  I bet we got a bushel of tomatoes off of each plant.  As the plants were growing I began to spy out a prime tomato, one that was sure to be the first to ripen.  I watched that tomato every day, sometimes two or three times a day I would check on it with great anticipation for the day when I would harvest that beauty and be the first to sink my teeth into its luscious red flesh.  On the day that I was sure that my prized tomato was ready for plucking, I went to the garden, walked down between the rows of squash and zucchini, past the purple hull peas to the end of the garden where the tomato cages stood billowing with greenery, branches laden with green to pinkish orbs. My mouth began to water as I rounded the corner and made the horrible discovery.  There basking in the warm sunshine, sitting cross-legged on the grass, lips glistening with the luscious juice of my prized tomato was Heather, my thirteen year old daughter.  She and I had been watching the same tomato all these weeks.  How could you get angry about that?  I was so proud of her for wanting to get in on that goodness and having the ability to beat me to it.  Heather and I have always been a bit competitive.

If you are a gardener you may or may not be aware of this.  If you want to speed up the ripening process with your tomatoes, here’s what to do.  After the fruit has set and is of substantial size, wait for the next full moon, strip off all your clothes and run through the garden naked.  The tomatoes will blush immediately and you will have ripe tomatoes very soon.  At least that’s what I’ve been told.  I think maybe it was Dabney who told me… I don’t remember.

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The Garden

It’s been years now since I’ve planted a large garden.  Oh, I still have a garden but it’s smaller now, a couple of raised beds… some tomatoes, a few peppers, lettuce, radishes, some herbs, not much really but enough to keep me busy and still provide some good home grown vegetables.  There was a day, though, when it was quite a garden, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, broccoli, peas, cantaloupe, the works.  Not just a few tomatoes either, eight plants or more.  It was a substantial garden. We would can twenty or thirty quarts of tomatoes. And put up beets and peas in the freezer.  We would also hang herbs up to dry and we saved seed to use next year.  I have a lot of great memories from those gardens.

My earliest memory of a vegetable garden is with my grandfather.  Grandpa Claybourne, my maternal grandfather was just a wisp of a man, five feet six or seven inches and probably a hundred thirty five pounds.  Grandpa and grandma had seen some rough times as young people having gone through the depression.  Grandpa had at one time been a share cropper in middle Tennessee during some really hard times.  They had done anything they could to make enough to keep their four girls fed and provide a home for their family.  By the time I was born, grandpa was working as a boilermaker in a ship building company.  He was also quite the gardener.  I remember the day as clearly as if it were yesterday, when, at six years old, grandpa took me out in his huge back yard garden and introduced me to all kinds of wonderful things he had grown.  There were watermelons, collard greens, onions and broccoli plants that were chest high to me.  Grandpa took the old Case knife out of his pocket, you know, the one that had been sharpened so many times that the blade was about half as wide as it had been when it was new.  Yes, this is the same knife that he cleaned his fingernails and whittled toothpicks with.  Of course he always sanitized the old knife by wiping the opened blade on his overalls before he cut anything that was going to be eaten.  Any way, took the old knife and pared off a broccoli floweret and gave it to me to eat.  “it’s raw grandpa”  “go ahead and try it Billy” he said “I think you’ll like it.”  With a bit of hesitation tempered with a bit of trust, I put the odd piece of greenery in my mouth and much to my surprise, I liked it, I loved it.  I think about that experience almost every time I eat raw broccoli.

It was old Dabney Robertson, though, who got me started gardening for myself.  Dabney was probably in his late seventies when I met him .  He was a member of the church we attended, kind of a back row sort of fellow.  Didn’t really say much, sort of kept to himself.  Dabney and Miss Lilly May had been married for fifty years or more.  Lilly May always reminded me of Olive Oil from the cartoon Popeye, she was thin and frail maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet but she had spunk.  The story goes that Dabney and Lilly May had been seeing each other for eight or ten years.  One day Dabney knocked on Lilly May’s front door.  When she opened the door he said. “Miss Lilly, I reckon we ought to get married” and without missing a beat,  Lilly replied, “let me get my hat”  and the two of them got in Dabney’s  pick up truck, drove down to the office of the justice of peace and that’s how the two of them began their long life together. 

Dabney had been gardening organically for many years before he and I actually met.  He had been involved in an industrial accident as a young man and had been doused with some kind of toxic chemical which caused all kinds of health problems.  He did everything he could to protect the fragile health he had been saddled with.  He was convinced that, having already absorbed more than a lifetimes worth of toxins, organically grown vegetables were the best for him considering all of his health issues.

It was sort of a chance meeting that brought Dabney and me together.  He had called and asked if my two teenage sons could come over and give him a hand with something in his yard.  I drove over with the boys and was immediately awe stricken by the sumptuous garden the old man had cultivated.  While the boys were working, Dabney began to show me around.  There were two sheds out back that housed all of his tools and his seed starting frames.  Each tool was sharpened, well taken care of and in its place.  Each place had a label for the tool that was supposed to be there; he was very meticulous about that sort of thing.  There were old fashioned gasoline cans there, each one with a label denoting what that fuel was for… Gas for Tiller… Gas/oil mix for blower… and so forth.  As we walked around the garden and through the sheds Dabney told me how he would start the seedlings and then temper them in preparation for planting out doors  I told Dabney that I had been thinking about putting in a garden myself.  Before I knew it a plan was set in motion for my first big garden. 

Dabney arrived just after lunch one day with his Troy-Built Horse in the back of his pick up.  We unloaded the monster of a machine and he began to run the tiller and give me instructions on its use.  By sundown, we had a huge plot of finely tilled soil almost ready for planting.  We decided where the compost pile was going to be located. We laid out string lines to denote the rows for the various vegetables that would be planted and over the next few days seeds were put in the ground and the anticipation of crops was set in motion.

The old man taught me just about everything I know about organic gardening, from creating my own compost, to using natural pest controls and making my own organic fertilizers.  He was a wealth of knowledge.  A few years after Miss Lilly May passed away, Dabney moved to another town to live with his son, an only child.  The old man, I’m sure has passed on by now but the things he taught me have stayed with me and brought me a tremendous amount of pleasure over the years.

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The Dreaded Automatic Towel Dispenser

I’m not one always to be complaining about things but I’m just getting tired of a fairly recent development in community hygiene.  It’s all these motion sensitive devices now used in public restrooms.  The most egregious offender of these is the towel dispenser, followed closely in offensiveness by the automatic soap dispenser and water faucet.  I will have to give credit here to automatic flush devices; they have now been perfected to a certain extent.  The other devices, however, have a long way to go before they work satisfactorily.  I’m sure that it must be some kind of ploy to discourage you from using the public facilities, maybe in order to save on cleanup crews or supplies, who knows. 

Let’s say you go to use a public restroom.  Of course, your desire is to be in and out as quickly as possible.  The less time you spend in there the better.  You go in and take care of business, then walk away from the toilet or urinal; it flushes itself, so far, so good.  You walk over to the lavatory and attempt to wash your hands. If you are lucky enough to get some soap dispensed after having passed your hand under the dispenser five or six times you will be most lucky. If you are then able to get rinsed in the four-second drizzle of water from the faucet you are even more fortunate, this is most likely not the case though and you will have to try for more water. After passing your hands under the faucet four or five more times and having the water refuse to come out or providing a quarter cup at best, you finally give up and go for the towel.  You pass your hand under the dispenser then wave in front then back and forth several times.  You then make a visual inspection of the machine to see if you are missing the electronic eye, looking under and around the wall mounted miser. You try again, finally the stingy machine dispenses a piece of paper eight inches long, just enough to tick you off because it is impossible to dry your hands with such a small piece of paper towel, and, you’ve already spent an inordinate amount of time in there trying in vain to get satisfactory results.  You might as well be using one of those useless blow dryers that require you to stand there for ten minutes in order to get dry.  Needless to say, you wave your hands around several times again and finally get out another small piece of paper and say “well crap, I’ll just have to make do”  you then wipe your hands on your pants and go out.  Of course, after all this frustrating activity designed to keep you from touching anything in the restroom you then have to grab the door handle to pull the door open.  Yes, this is the same handle that everyone before you has touched and knowing how frustrating it is to try to wash up has decided to forgo the activity.  You could have used a paper towel to pull the door open if you had one and then you could have discarded it in a trash receptacle by the door.  Of course no one has thought of placing a receptacle there so the few people who were lucky enough to get some paper towels out of the machine have dropped them on the floor at the door…  Ok, I feel better now that that’s out.

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What’s Up With All The Broccoli?

At the risk of sounding like a nutritional heretic let me pose this question. Are we all just a little tired of broccoli? Yes, I know the tasty vegetable is chock full of vitamins, minerals and anti-occident’s and it is really good for us to eat, but really, every time you go out?

Check out this scenario: you’re out to eat with your friends, you want to behave yourself in regards to your nutrition so you say, “I’ll have the six ounce grille seared sirloin.” “Will you have the loaded baked potato with that or would you rather have the steak fries?” beams the size two waitress. “Do you have a substitute?” you say. “You can have broccoli or the vegetable medley (which means a watery mix of yellow squash and zucchini)” she says. She had presumed by your robust size that you would have had the fully loaded potato at first but now she understands you are trying to loose some of the heft you are carrying around with you and therefore are into a flavorless, steamed broccoli or boiled squash substitute. “Oh, I guess I’ll take the broccoli” you say “again.”

Don’t get me wrong, I like broccoli, I love it, but every time I go out. You’d think someone would think of ways to make it different wouldn’t you. Well, they have. Unfortunately you won’t find this in your local restaurant unless it is a really high end joint. I haven’t tried it yet but I will try this soon. One of my favorite cooks, Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) has a recipe for Parmesan Roasted Broccoli. Basically, you roast the broccoli then toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, lemon juice and parmesan cheese. Another way to prepare broccoli is with a hollandaise sauce, Broccoli Hollandaise. I have the links for the recipes below.

If any of you who read this blog have good broccoli Ideas please share. I’m tired of having my broccoli the same way every time.

Check out Ina’s recipe here:
www.foodnetwork.com/reci
pes/ina-garten/parmesan-ro
asted-broccoli-recipe/index.html

You can find Tyler Florence’s recipe for hollandaise sauce here: www.foodnetwork.com/reci
pes/tyler-florence/holland
aise-sauce-recipe/index.html

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I recently came upon WordPress sort of through a back door.  I read a post on another site that directed me here to participate in a writing contest.  It just so happens that this is a very small contest with just two entries at this point and the prize is a pair of movie tickets to an AMC theater.  With a deadline of June 30, barring the addition of any other contestants, I have a 50 percent chance of winning.  Of course, I just wanted the experience of the writing exercise but the prize would be nice.

I am doing everything I can to improve my writing skills, so anyone reading this blog please feel free to give advice.  I have several things I am working on which I am considering publishing on this site in installments.  We’ll see where it goes from here.

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