Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Let me see…it started, hmm, about six years ago. Yeah, that would be right…six years…because I was already an old fart, grumpy, getting fat, addicted to the boob tube, and looking for something to put a little life back in me. Juli suggested a garden, but my back and knees were a little more than messed up, and I really didn’t care about “playing in the mud,” as it were. It was the same year that television ads were touting this new tomato bag. You filled it with dirt and some other ‘stuff,’ and stuck a few plants in the bottom of the thing. Supposedly, and I sure was a skeptic, the tomatoes would grow below the bag. The TV, as you might imagine, showed a crop that looked like it was ready to be served at several, no, at a lot of kitchen tables. So, what the hell, I bought the bag, bought a few plants – I think they recommended three – and I hung the thing from an overhang out back where it would get the most sun. Not to be outdone, my California-born-and-bred companion decided that she was going to dig up some dirt, put in some peat moss and manure, and create a place for strawberries and onions…yep, I know, a weird combination…but then, that’s my partner.

That might have been the end of the story, except that we got a bumper crop of tomatoes, so many that I was bringing them to the gym to give away, and we had pretty good luck with the strawberries. The next year, it was tomato plants in the ground, including heirloom tomatoes, which had to be explained to this non-gardening gardener, some summer squash, and a couple of jalapeno plants. By this time, my ‘friends’ at the gym were asking, “When will you bring in more tomatoes?” What, I look like friggin’ Farmer Bish to you? Once more, Juli must have whispered some magic to all of the plants because in addition to the tomatoes, I was lugging cartons of other vegetables over to the gym for distribution. I have to tell ya, you bring home grown produce to people, and they really love it, particularly heirloom tomatoes which, at that time, were going for about ten bucks a pound in the local market…yeesh!

And so it went. My back and knees got worse so Juli built a raised bed that I could tend from a chair. By now, one side of the backyard was awash with lilies, roses, mint of various varieties, giant hibiscus, and a flock of other flowers. The original strawberry bed was extended and raspberry plants began to climb some trellises that my friend had, herself, constructed. Old, fat, and grumpy began looking forward to planting both seeds and seedlings. My bed, L-shaped, was about eight feet long on one end and six feet long on the other. I had my summer squash – yellow crook necked to you real gardeners out there – cucumbers, bell peppers (green only) and jalapenos. By now, I had switched gyms, but the folks at Planet Fitness were fine with me setting up a table – as long as they got first pick. Heck, what did I care, as long as people enjoyed what they took? A couple of years ago, I brought some heirloom tomatoes in and when one man came over to take a tomato, I suggested he try a Black Crim. “It doesn’t look ripe,” he said, but I explained that the purple and green color was just the way that particular heirloom was supposed to look. Saw him a few days later. Seemed he could hardly wait to tell me it was “the best damned tomato I ever had!”

This year, we are looking at something new and different. In addition to the raised bed, the flat beds, more flowers, and a greater variety of some vegetables, we are venturing into the world of bucket gardening. Juli watched a YouTube video of this couple in Virginia – Hollis and Nancy, by name – and Hollis demonstrated just how easy it is to grow potatoes and other veggies in 20-gallon or smaller pots. So, that’s what we’ll be doing…in addition to everything else. The seed potatoes have been resting in egg cartons in the dining room for a few weeks and, today, I cut them up so that their “chits” would grow longer. You heard me. Those old potatoes that spouted shoots that mom would throw out because she said they were no good? Well, come to find out, those sprouts are called “chits,” and they form the basis for new potatoes to grow. Thing is, my dad was an avid gardener, and I don’t ever recall him planting those old potatoes…ah, well. Be all that as it may, we’ll be growing Yukon Gold, Maryland Red, russets and a potato that is purple…inside and out. In addition, no more cucumbers in the raised bed. They, too, will be planted in buckets. It’s amazing what one can find at Costco; these plastic buckets look like wood, and we have to do is to drill drain holes in the bottom, set them on some bricks for drainage, mix up some garden soil, manure, and peat moss, and we’re off and running.

Truth to tell, if someone had told me seven years ago that I would find this new interest in life at my age, I probably would have told them they were full of that manure I mentioned. The word would have been a bit shorter, but you get what I mean. Frankly, I always thought my dad was a bit nuts for sweating and swearing over his garden. It seemed like a lot of work for very little reward. Times have changed and so has gardening. The pests that used to get dad so mad no long pose as much of a threat, and pests can now be kept away with a variety of organic pesticides like ground red pepper flakes, diamatatous earth, and Juli’s special, super-secret recipe – which includes beer among other things. As for me, the guy who would never go near a cow pie, I have no more qualms about getting in shit up to my elbows…as long as we get our veggies. The old saying, “It is better to give than to receive” really works for me. When I see folks at the gym smile as they pick up some of our crop, it really makes me happy. Fact is, one lady stopped by the bike I was riding just last week; “Will you have a garden this year?” she asked. I just nodded and smiled. Didn’t want to tell her about the potatoes…surprises are fun, too.

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Less than a month after graduating from college, I was walking down the aisle of a Catholic church in Waban – that’s one of the many villages of the city of Newton – marrying a beautiful girl that I had met seven months before in one of those quirks of fate ‘thingies.’ I had been exercising my option on a second major and doing some substitute teaching and on the first day on the job, was smitten with an arrow from Cupid’s quiver. She was smart, beautiful, and the weird part was…she liked me! I’d already had one bad breakup over this Catholic vs. Protestant religion idiocy, and while I wasn’t certain about spending a lifetime together, I was damn well certain that that would not get in the way with this girl.

Fifty years, three children, and nine grandchildren later, we buried the girl who’d become a woman, a mother, a grandmother, and my best friend. But as you would know had you read “The Dash” by Linda Ellis, it was neither the date of her birth nor the date of her death but that little line between them that made our lives together so wonderful. If there was ever any truth in the statement that “opposites attract,” it certainly applied in our case. She was an only child from a reasonably prosperous family and lived in a large city. I was one of three from a family that struggled mightily after the Great Depression and who, by comparison, lived in a rather small town. Finding one another as we did, well…you could only describe it as quirky.

The first seven years of our marriage was a series of highs and lows. The highs came in attending numerous shows in Boston, having a place of our own on the Cape and attending every performance that the Falmouth Playhouse had to offer; dining in some of the finer restaurants around and generally enjoying our jobs. She became Director of Admissions at Tufts Dental School, and I was slowly moving up in my job at Northeastern. We commuted together, tried new recipes together, did a few crazy things together that you don’t need to read about and in total, had a wonderful life. The lows came as we lost three children before they were born…and if you haven’t been there, it’s pretty low.

The first two children might have been called Irish twins, they were born so close together. The third came along a few years later. As those of you who are married well know, life with young kids is a life unto its own. They become the center of your universe. We were no different. Elementary school, Cub Scouts, Brownies, PTA, Little League, and a host of other activities combined to eat up that time formerly dedicated to plays, movies, and restaurants. In our case, swimming became the dominant focus. I swear that our car could have gone from Newton to the Brown University swimming facility on its own. As parents, we maintained our “slim” figures by sweating it out at day-long swim meets where the indoor temperature seemed well into the triple digits.

Then…she was gone. The kids, by now, were married with children of their own. The house…well, the house was empty…except for a man growing older with little to do. A few years later, a new lady came into my life…all the way from California. Life became worthwhile living once more. This love was different…and so was the lifestyle. From restaurants and shows, it became craft fairs and drives around New England. It was learning the history of this part of the country and teaching me the history of her part of the world. It was a renewed form of education. From Boston Duck tours to a helicopter ride.

The rite of spring became building of raised garden beds – she did the building – to watching seeds turn into summer squash, jalapeno peppers – wow, could they be hot – and tomatoes. I was taught about heirloom, pear, cherry, yellow, and beau coup other types of tomatoes. We had radishes – who the hell eats radishes – cucumbers, and even a season or two of green beans and peas. All of this was totally foreign to me and to what my life had been like. Other parts of the yard were taken over by a variety and abundance of lilies, sun flowers, forget-me-nots, and hyacinth. Roses included Mr. Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth, cocoa, roses-within-roses, yellows, reds, whites, pinks, and on and on. Flowers were planted that bloomed in early spring, followed by late spring, followed by summer. It appeared that color appeared from April through October. My new love sprayed with her own concoctions of both fertilizer and bug killer. Diatomaceous earth, normally used in the pool filter, became a barrier against slugs; lily beetles were plucked with tweezers, and tomato worms quickly learned the errors of their ways if they were gutsy enough to get anywhere near our plants.

Why do I tell you these things? Why would I lay a part of my life bare for all to know? There are many answers, but perhaps the most important one is directed at those who are widows or widowers. Life does not end when your partner dies. It does not end when the nest empties and only the two of you remain, often as strangers because so much of your time has been devoted to children rather than each other. You may have to learn to love again, but it will be a deeper love and yes, it will be a different type of love. And then, as I have said, you will be alone. Friends will come and they will go; few, if any, leaving the footprints on your heart that were already deeply imprinted. If you are as fortunate as I, and you may well be, someone will come along, and you, you will find a totally different world…again, just as I did. Remember, life is worth living to your very last breath.

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There is a great deal to be said about an early September day when it arrives in the latter part of July. Yesterday we were bombarded by rain and an F2 tornado that struck not too far from here, but today…today has brought with it sunshine, white puffy clouds, and air so dry you can create static electricity by walking across the grass in your bare feet. Not such a morning as this has struck and been cause for celebration in many a moon.

I arose early this morning. Although all of the windows were closed and the air conditioning was in a lull, there was something that had permeated the house, giving it a fresh feel that fairly screamed, “Wake up and celebrate this morning…get up dammit, get up!” Never one to disobey a ‘fresh feel,’ I dragged my weary bones – getting less weary by the second, I might add – and let Widget, our Cairn terrier out to perform her morning ablutions. Even opening the back door, I could feel the beckoning call of cool – not cold or warm – breezes telling me to get out of the house and enjoy…which I did.

Now, I must describe our backyard to you. As you step out onto the concrete patio, you are assaulted by the smell of flowers…roses of many kinds, poppies, petunias, hibiscus, and heaven only knows what else assault your senses with wonderful aromas. Flowers in window boxes; flowers in pots; flowers in beds; flowers just about everywhere; well everywhere that there aren’t tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. Yes, our backyard is a multiplicity of gardens. Fear not, however, for there is a pathway to the lava rock patio surrounding an eighteen by thirty-six foot irregularly shaped swimming pool. I say that the patio is lava rock not because of its color, but because no matter how hot it gets, this patio never gets above 72o..

As Widget took off a) sniffing to see what wild animals had been in the yard last night; and b) at some point getting to the pee and poop part of her day, I headed for my favorite chair. This is no ordinary chair I want you to know; this is my ‘special’ chair! When I sit in this chair, I am magically transported; my entire focus on life changes. I sit and the chair begins to surround me; I lay back and the chair lays back with me until I see my toes – ugly little suckers – and I can stare at the sky. This morning, with the cool air and puffy clouds, it was my idea of perfection. The blue of the sky; the blue of the water, the cool breeze…everything combined to release every bit of tension from me. I was more relaxed and more at ease than any time since my “gym incident” of a couple of weeks ago.

This may all sound like a bunch of hooey to you – bullshit, if you want to get downright crass about it – but this morning was beyond beautiful. We happen, at times, on a flight approach to Logan International Airport in Boston. We can easily identify what airline is flying in and sometimes even those flying out. At the height at which we see them, they aren’t all that noisy and this morning, they merely looked like huge silver birds. In addition, a flock – or whatever one calls them – of Canada geese flew over silently. Have to tell you that I’m not all that crazy about those birds. They’re as bad as turkeys in terms of leaving deposits that let you know they’ve been around your area. Usually in flight, I hear the damn things honking to beat the band, but these were so silent and so low, you could hear the flapping of their wings…hot dam!

I lay there from shortly after six until darn near 7:30. Widget did her thing as I stared at the sky. At some point, I must have drifted off, only to be awakened by a harsh dog bark. Widget seems to take exception to joggers as they go by…either that or it’s her form of greeting…yeah, right.

It’s now 11:30 in the morning. The sun has risen above the pine trees and is now shedding light on the pool. The temperature has risen, although it’s only supposed to be in the seventies today. I do believe that this is too beautiful a day to waste. It seems to me that the wisest course of action to pursue is to take a hot shower, jump into a bathing suit, grab a quick lunch, take my Kindle in hand, and head back to my chair. Will I take a dip in the pool? Who knows, but on a day like this, anything is possible. Gotta love this day and cherish every one like it!

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Ceratopogonidae; go ahead, you pronounce it you entomological genius – even I can pronounce the second one. What are cera…ah, forget it. You and I probably know them as ‘noseeums,’ those pesky little gnats, midges, or whatever that we rarely see, but that leave itchy little bites on our arms, legs, and places where we just don’t seem to be able to quite reach…door frames are often a cure for that. It’s like trying to kiss your elbow; you can’t do it so stop trying.

What in the name of the Good Lord has prompted this entomological – love that word – discussion? Well, it’s 2:00 in the morning; my girlfriend is sleeping peacefully; I can’t get back to sleep; and the gym doesn’t open until 5:00 a.m. I don’t want to turn on the television because that will wake the dog in her crate; she’ll start yowling to go out, and for all I know there’s a friggin’ coyote in the back yard who will attack the two of us…oh, no, wait a minute…it’s the black bears that have been straggling into our neighborhood recently. If New York is the City that never sleeps, my community is the one where they roll up the sidewalks by 10. The bathroom window is open and when I arose at 1:30 to empty my bladder, the only sound was the first splash before aiming at the porcelain so not to disturb the night silence – wouldn’t want to wake the birds before their usual chirping hour of 4:15.

As a consequence of all of the above, I began to consider the number of welts, bites, and other itchies of which my lady friend has been complaining about lately.  She has no idea from whence they come, but they are numerous and bothersome. I thought that when she called them “noseeums” she was being facetious; then I looked it up and that ‘c’ thing in the first line is an actual name for them. Therefore, with nothing better to do [other than reading the Kindle and I’m not impressed with the book I’m currently reading], I thought it might be nice to learn more about the noseeums. In Googling, I fully expected a blank page. Instead, I wind up with 250,000 references in 2.5 seconds.

So you see, despite my rambling, you have learned something this morning, and by the way, those nasty little bites can be treated by a topical antihistamine. Forget all that expensive stuff and check with your Walmart pharmacist. Their house brand, Equate, is pretty good stuff.

Well, we’ve exhausted that topic all the way to hell and gone; what other bit of fascinating and educational baloney can I toss into your Westinghouse?

Ah, yes…last June, we gave up on having a garden. June in New England last year might well have been considered the monsoon season in the jungles of wherever. Seeds rotted; plants were destroyed by mildew of all kinds, and we finally tossed our hands in the air and began depending on California and Florida fruits and vegetables…and they had problems of their own…all in all, not a great season. This year, however – I may be cursed since it’s only five days into the month – things are starting off well. The tomato plants have already set fruit; there are hundreds of raspberries on the bushes; we have green strawberries for which we have high hopes, and even the summer squash has poked its little leaves up through the soil. If we do reap a harvest, the “non-Little-Red-Hens-at-the-gym” will be very happy to share in our spoils. If anyone ever wanted to do the research, I’m quite certain that somewhere in these 800 plus essays, there is one that speaks of my brown thumb. However, the more I watch my partner do miraculous things with the ground, the more convinced I am that there is still some hope for this old man to grow something other than weeds. I was told that if I wanted summer squash, I would have to plant it. Therefore, those little leaves beheld a wonder for me to which the average gardener might have said, “Eh!”

Back now from the gym, sweaty and dirty since the dog jumped up and put her muddy paws on my white Under Armor workout shirt…honest, I hadn’t planned to wear it tomorrow; it just ticks me off. There is one sure sign that many colleges and universities have completed their academic year. There are more and more college kids coming to the gym…at 5:00 o’clock in the morning! Are you kidding me? Maybe, they have summer jobs and have to get their workouts done early in the day. It’ll be fine as long as they don’t use the equipment I want; then we may have all-out war!

I find that working out first thing in the morning really sets me up for the day, particularly the cardio workout. While doing weights is not my big thing in life, I also recognize its importance in maintaining upper body strength. I was reading recently that men begin to lose physical strength after the age of 40; since I’m damn near double that which explains a great deal. I see some of the younger guys piling on 45 pound plates and think, “Good luck; do one to many and your balls will pop out of your shorts and fall on the floor!” I suppose if one has to relocate buildings by oneself, pressing that kind of weight is okay, but jeez, gimme a break!

Final thought and if you have any suggestions, they will be welcomed and anonymity will be guaranteed: I’m working on a large piece of latch hook canvas using leftover yarn from the many rugs and other things that I’ve made over the years. It’s a “random rug” and has no particular pattern or complex design. If you’ve ever done anything like that, it would be nice to get some helpful hints. I rather doubt I’ll finish it before I join my wife [I hope] but any thoughts from you ‘hookers’ out there would be appreciated.

‘Til  Random Thoughts III or something else strikes my fancy, enjoy life and make it better for someone else.

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The late Academy Award winning actress, Bette Davis is quoted as having said, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” Now that I’m only a couple of years away from when she died – she passed away at the age of 81 – I’m beginning to understand precisely what she was saying.

Getting or growing – your choice – old is a process, along with everything else. If you are diagnosed early on with a terminal disease, you never have the chance to experience what some might call the torment of growing old. My friend Jerry – and at my age, I’ve forgotten his last name – died of some damned thing called poliomyelitis. I saw him on Saturday night, when the store in which we both worked closed. He was fine; no problems. Evidently, he woke up Sunday morning with some aches and pains; by Tuesday, he was dead. He never had his chance to grow old. Neither did my friend, Joe Thompson. Joe quit school in our senior year to join the Marines. On the way back to camp one night, on some Georgia road, Joe and three of his buddies wrapped their car around a tree. Joe hadn’t hit 20 yet.

It’s been said that only the good die young. Personally, I think that’s bullshit; you die when you die. Life, at least to me, is a big gamble. Every day the dice get rolled somewhere and you live or you die. That is, perhaps, a bit morbid, but it’s one way of looking at it. I’ve also been known to say that every morning I pull back the covers and put my feet on the floor, the Devil says, “Oh, shit, he made it through another night.”

Depending on the “expert” with whom you speak we begin the process of sarcopenia anytime between the ages of 20 and 50. Gotcha with the big word, didn’t I? Don’t worry I also had to look it up. It’s the age at which we begin to lose muscle mass. Sure, it’s possible to slow the process through strength training, and I suppose if you’re Mark Maguire, Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, or a few others, you can even reverse the process, but (a) I would prefer to grow old at the regular rate, (b) I’m not certain I have the money to pay for that ‘stuff,’ and (c) I’m not all that big on injecting myself if I don’t have to do so. If you’ve ever had to inject yourself with insulin or Lovenox or anything like that, you know what I mean. The point is that as we age, we can’t lift the things we once lifted. We can’t do what we once found fairly routine. I well remember being in the gymnasium at Babson, watching a group of students playing basketball. One of them yelled over, “Hey, Mr. Bishop, wanna play?” Certainly, I was too wise to get into that gig, but they did convince me to take a shot. I stood where I had remembered standing in high school – my ‘spot’ on the floor from which I once had been a deadly shot. It was about 25 feet away from the basket and just off to one side. I took my shot and it fell about five feet short of the rim. I laughed; they laughed, but it was a clear indication that when you’re in your late fifties, you don’t shoot hoops the way you did at 17.

As I say, aging is a gradual process. If you’re lucky (and smart), you exercise to stay healthy; you eat right to stay healthy; you don’t smoke; you don’t drink to excess…everything in moderation – even moderation itself. With luck, cancer steers a wide path around you, although many of us find the basal cells of our sunbathing youth and they must be removed. When I grew up, smoking was an acceptable habit, and so in middle age, were its consequences…COPD and emphysema. Quitting helps but the damage is done. You can’t run as far or as quickly…if you can run at all. You learn that the meals that tasted so good also took a toll on your heart. If you’re lucky, you survive the first attack, and if you listen, there may or may not be a second and more severe one.

Time moves along and the print on the newspaper gets smaller and a bit more indistinct. You see an eye doctor and he may tell you that he can improve your vision or that you’re condemned to bi- and then trifocals. In my case, procedures had advanced whereby, laser surgery removed cataracts and my vision was restored to the point of buying eyeglasses off the rack. Some folks aren’t so lucky. Their vision keeps fading until it’s all but gone. The same is true of other senses. Hearing seems to fade…very, very, very slowly but it fades. Hearing aids become a part of one’s wardrobe along with greater caution when crossing the street.

One morning, we wake up and something seems to ache as we’re getting out of bed. Hell, which can happen any time from 10 on, I suppose, and if you’ve been an athlete, it happens the morning after every game. At some point, the ache or the pain doesn’t go away and you realize that the cartilage which once was there is either torn or worn away. The doctor says it’s the onset of arthritis, that you need surgery, or that, “we have a pill for that.” If it’s your back that’s hurting, they have injections for that or you can go ‘under the knife’ and pray for the best. You see, aging today, is not the same as it was in the day of your mother and dad. And it most certainly isn’t the same today as it will be 50-100 years from now. If you followed Star Trek, you may remember when Bones, Kirk, and Spock, returned to earth in the late 20th Century to rescue one of their crew. They found him in a fairly modern hospital, yet Dr. McCoy called the doctors of that period, “barbarians” and “butchers.” I can honestly say that I’ve seen some of that in my lifetime. My left leg has a six inch scar from the first knee surgery; the second – a year later – has two one inch scars on either side of the knee. My youngest child, whose knee surgery was done about 20 years later, had three tiny pinholes which we can no longer see. What next, you ask? What’s next is already here. Doctors are growing cartilage to repair or replace that which has worn down or gone altogether. Gall bladder surgery, which once left a nine-inch scar on one’s chest, is now accomplished with a miniature vacuum cleaner that leaves a barely noticeable mark. But still, we age.

Despite medical marvels and advances, the human body is not built for longevity. Our organs begin to function less than optimally no matter what we do, take, exercise, or eat. Sure, it can be slowed down; sure medical science is making fantastic strides; sure this and sure that, but…we still wake up with a new pain here or a new ache there every day or week or month. The beauty of it is and if this is the case just think of how fortunate we are. We’re still alive to see the beauty that is the world around us. Yes, for some, we awake to see the ugliness that is around us, but I guess I’m luckier that I’m in the first group. I watched Juli’s morning glories open again this morning; the purples, the blues, the reds, and yes, even the whites open to signal the beginning of a new day. And yes, I don’t feel particularly well because of my aches and pains and other problems…but I’m alive to see those flowers come alive; to see the blue jays come and grab the peanuts Juli has tossed out for them; to see the squirrels, chipmunks, and wild turkeys come to eat the grain and see that she’s thrown out. It all reminds me of just how lucky I am to have made it to this age and to think of how sad it is that so many of my peers have not.

Life is a treasure; a blessing. Getting old may not be for sissies, but it sure as hell is for the experience of seeing just how much beauty there is in it and how fast it’s changing. If life in the 1800s and early 1900s plodded along like a horse, and if life in the 1950s move along slowly the automobiles of the time, the 21st Century, by its end, can certainly be a time when, instead of our progress being measured arithmetically, it will be measured in exponential growth. I would love to have a crystal ball to stare into to see just what I won’t live to experience.

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I’m going broke! No, this isn’t an appeal for funds, just a statement of fact. The reason for this is squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, hummingbirds, gold finches, doves, and turkeys…yes, turkeys! Allow me to explain…

…Juli, my partner and lady love, is an avid gardener. She does not want garden pests such as the above have been known to be, to chomp on her vegetables or her flowers…her many, many flowers. Therefore, her solution to this potential problem is to feed the critters outside of the fenced yard to ensure that they will not become the ‘munch bunch’ on the inside of the fenced yard. Since a good part of the fenced yard is four foot high chain link, and since squirrels, rabbits, etc., can easily stretch their bods through this chain link, it makes some kind of sense to feed them outside…it says here.

You, dear reader, should be aware that we have two patios…sorta makes it sound ritzy, doesn’t it…it’s not. The patio leading to the back door is about twelve feet long and eight feet wide. This leads to a Florida room – I have no idea why the hell they call it that – and a door on the other side leads out to a larger patio that is the main entrance to the garden. Okay, got that?

For three years, everything worked wonderfully. Juli would toss out some feed for the critters and they stayed out of the garden…except for the occasional blue jay who would steal a raspberry or two and the occasional woodchuck who enjoyed plucking a few strawberries and leaving evidence of his deeds by dropping a load near the berries…nice.

Last fall, a couple of wild turkeys showed up on the patio. Wasn’t this just wonderful; we could sit in the family room and gaze out the window not only at the birds and the rabbits and…well, you get the picture, but now we even had a couple of wild turkeys; how marvelous.

This spring, as the birds returned, something else happened. The turkeys reappeared. This time, it was not one or two, but the whole damned family. At first, it was two mothers with their brood of nine. Up went the grain bill. Next, it was another couple of moms [hens if you prefer], this time with a gang of twelve. These were a bit older…and hungrier than the first family. My grain bill increased. Next came the five members of the turkey mafia; these are five of the meanest sum bitches you would ever want to meet. If there isn’t enough food on the patio, one or more of them will peck on the window until Juli tosses their preferred food onto the patio. Smaller birds, squir…you get the picture…they disappear faster than they do when a hawk swoops down for his periodic buffet – have you ever heard a blue jay scream when its being slaughtered by a hawk; not a pretty sound.

Anyway, this is why I’m going broke. You know the expression, “You’re eating me out of house and home?” It’s generally reserved for teenagers shortly after they’ve gone through that growth spurt that all teenagers seem to go through. This is nothing like that. Okay, two or three, even four teenagers can do a number on your budget, but try feed more than 30 turkeys day in and day out. Those suckers can really put it away, and they don’t even leave an egg in repayment. Well, they do leave something but now we’re back to the woodchuck deposit.

“Why not just stop feeding them?” you ask. Sure, that would work, but then we’d be denied the joy of watching the youngsters grow up; of watching the baby fuzz disappear from all of the chicks, to be replaced by the beautiful feathers that shimmer in the sunlight. We’d miss the anxiousness that comes with counting the babies [and the teenagers] in fear that one or two of them may somehow have not made it through the night.

Do I really begrudge feeding the turkeys and the…ah, forget it. Of course not; I’m just kvetching. Are they truly breaking the bank? Don’t be ridiculous. Yes, it does cost close to a hundred bucks a month, but I know of nowhere else where I can sit on the couch, watch TV, and as a pleasant distraction, look out the floor-to-ceiling windows at nature at its finest. We’ve had deer in the back yard, and we’re only 15 miles from Boston. We even had a fox once, but we couldn’t allow him to stay. I just hope that the turkeys continue to return day-in-day-out. They may be wild but we feed them good grain. After all, Thanksgiving is just around the corner…heh, heh, heh!

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Counting one’s blessings is a wonderful way to get through life.

It is particularly important if one lives in a relatively suburban environment, but works in an urban setting. One of your blessings might be that you have nearby access to public transportation, whether that be bus or train service…or even a helicopter. If you do not have any of these marvelous modes of moving yourself from point A, commonly known as “the house” to point “B,” often referred to as that @#$%&* job, you have no blessing for which to account. You are the dreaded “car commuter,” a species fraught with the dangers attendant to that particular group. You are the spawn of urban sprawl and the victim of the “I need more space” syndrome. Therefore, you rush through breakfast with, perhaps, a piece of toast – cold because the kids ate first and it’s actually leftover toast – and a sip of espresso or your favorite single serving whatever from the little cup brewmaster. You jump in the car; jump back out of the car and run to get what you forgot that you need today; run back to the car which now puts you five minutes behind your normal leave time. Those five minutes mean that you will now require an additional 30-45 minutes to arrive at work.  It is that bad…and God forbid there’s a fender bender along the way…you are now ‘screwed in abundance.’  As a consequence of all of this, you are now allowed to become a political activist in your suburban community, climb on the soap box and demand better bus and rail service. It’s either that, take a sedative with that sip of espresso, or become a raving lunatic. Ah, but there is a blessing. Despite the fools who are talking on the phone, texting against the law, reading the newspaper or slurping their morning coffee [must have a spare top at work, eh?), you have the answer. You are a bibliophile; a connoisseur of fine literature, a.k.a., you go to the library and get books on tape or disc. You can peacefully drive along as you listen to the latest adventures of Alex Cross, Lucas Davenport, Dirk Pitt, or Jack Reacher. Should your literati tastes differ, you might prefer the first two of Ken Follett’s latest trilogy or whatever suits your fancy. The blessing is that you can enhance your knowledge while stuttering along in traffic. Viewed from that perspective, I suppose you could call traffic a blessing…no kidding, you could!

Perhaps the most important blessing of all is that you wake up, sit up, and put your feet on the floor. There are a whole pile of people who would give almost anything to be able to do that. There’s another group who don’t wake up at all. Some would say that’s the ultimate blessing. Perhaps my faith isn’t strong enough yet, but I do like throwing the blankets off, heading to the bathroom, and then getting ready for the gym. Coming home from the gym is how I know about that traffic thingie I mentioned before. I cross over a main commuter road on the way home and that five-minute difference in time seems to make all the difference in the world as to how crowded that road is. That’s another one of my blessings by the way. I don’t have to get in that mess anymore. It’s just another gift of retirement, along with the sciatica, arthritis, heart problems, and the rest of the medical crap that comes with old age.

All kidding aside, you and I are blessed. We live in a country that has its share of problems, but we can still get in the car; we can get gas at prices that are far lower than most countries abroad; we can go from state to state without showing papers; for the most part, we don’t have to worry about being shot at or running over an IED in our travels. We have magnificent national parks and beautiful places to visit that have not been reduced to rubble by rocket grenades or bombs. Those are blessings, and all too few of us understand that.

I’ve only traveled across this country three times. Twice I’ve flown and once the trip was by car. You can certainly see a great deal more from the ground. You can take side trips that open your eyes to unending marvels. You can explore caves and stick your finger – very quickly – into a hot spring. You can drive along endless stretches without seeing a house. You can climb mountains or drive to their top. Ground travel is a wonderful experience. You can marvel even more at the pioneers who traveled this distance on horseback or in covered wagon. Traveling across America by plane can also excite your mind and allow you to realize how diverse the US landscape is. The Grand Canyon from the air is absolutely breathtaking.

Maybe you can do those things. Maybe you’ve done more; maybe less. Whatever your life, you have blessings to count. Just watching the rebirth of spring after a long cold winter is a blessing we should all cherish. Trees that were so bare and barren sprout their buds and then leaves. Ground that was frozen solid becomes green with new grass. Gardens that have lain dormant begin to flower and once more send their fragrance into the air. Okay, you have allergies; so have I…and they’re tough, but if you can see through them to the beauty that surrounds us, we “shure got us a whole bunch” of blessings that we can call our own. Why doncha take a minute to count ‘em sometime. It might make you a bit more thankful for what you do have, rather than whatcha don’t.

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I have discovered the ultimate in love/hate relationship.. The answer is “Age.”

Think about it; when you’re very young, you want to be older. When you’re very, very young – and I’m only assuming this part to be true, you look around and see all of these bigger beings walking around; you can’t do that yet…you haven’t learned how to do it, but those who can seem to move so much faster than you can by crawling along, pulling with your arms and pushing with your feet while your belly flows – quickly if you’re on linoleum or tile or wood; slowly if you’re on a rug – across some surface.  Let me give you a clue young babe: When you’re older, you can have the same problem; if you’re on that smooth stuff, you can finding yourself slipping and falling; if you’re on a rug, you can find yourself tripping and falling…see, we’re not so different. While I wouldn’t want to be you – crawling on your belly like a reptile, you really wouldn’t want to be me with my creaky joints, poor eyesight unable to see all of the obstacles that can trip me up. When I trip and fall to the floor, however, it’s like a bag of old twigs that snap and break.

Once you’ve reached that walking point, it’s exploration time and the world – which usually consists of the house or apartment unless you go for a ride in the stroller – is yours to conquer. When you’re old, you remember the conquests that you made – not that kind, fool – and you reminisce about the places you’ve been and the sights you’ve seen. Now you get madder than hell if you have to fly anywhere because you’re unable to walk distances through airports and you have to be wheeled around just the way you are in the stroller. It seems we both hate that time in our lives because of our helplessness.

When you’re young, you want to be older; when you’re older, there are times when you’d like to be younger and there are times when you look back on your younger years and think, “Oh, Lord, am I glad I don’t have to go through that again. In your teens, you get interested in the opposite or maybe the same sex. By the time you’re older, that person with whom you eventually made your way through life with is dead or dying. There was love, but now there’s hate; you hate the world because it’s the world’s fault that he or she is going or gone.

As you go through your formative years – what the hell are formative years anyway – you want to be old enough (a) to get your license; (b) to be able to drink; (c) to get a job and make some money; (d) own a car so you can go places; (e); (f), and; (xyz), you can fill in for yourself…if you can remember back that far. As you get older, you remember the number of times you lost your license; the day you learned that drinking wasn’t all that big a deal; the time you realized that you’d probably never have enough money and that, while important, money isn’t the be all and end all of life – remember, the Joneses are in debt –  the jobs you loved and hated, and; cars come and cars go, but you will never forget that first POSBIR that was all yours (POSBIR…piece of shit, but it runs!).

As we age, there seems to come a point where the love/hate relationship almost comes together to create a neutral center. You neither love nor hate your age. Your feelings about it are very vague. On the one hand, you love many things about where you are; on the other hand, you have four fingers and a thumb…no, no, no, get serious…on the other hand, there are things about this stage of your personal evolution you wish were different, and while you don’t hate them, they could be better. Maybe you’ve just bought the house you love, but to do so, you’ve assumed a debt that you know is going to put some pressure on you that you didn’t have before and you really don’t care for that. Maybe you’ve just received that promotion you’ve been coveting for so long and you really, really love that because it comes with a giant raise…but deep down, you may not trust yourself and you don’t really hate that feeling but it does get the stomach acid roiling about a bit.

You reach a point in your life that you start looking forward to that thing called “retirement” or maybe not; maybe it’s thrust upon you. So you either love retirement or you hate it; there really isn’t a hell of a lot you can do about it. You may retire from one job and go right into another, but then you have to ask yourself, “Am I going to work myself to death?” Retirement can be loved and hated at the same time. Many younger friends have asked, “Did you want to retire?” I always have to carefully consider my response. It changes according to the day. The last ten years of my working life were the best ten years of my working life; it wasn’t work at all; it was fun! It was fun because I had joined that group of people where it was no longer ‘manager as decision-maker.’ I had ten years of working as part of a team…where team accomplishment meant more than individual accomplishment; where team members weren’t that in name only; where people really worked together toward common goals and objectives; where going to work wasn’t a task, but a genuine pleasure. We succeeded or failed as a team, and the odds of failure grew less and less as the team became more and more comfortable with one another. I ha ted to leave than environment. I left because a new leader – overall leader of the institution at which I was working – didn’t appear to believe in the team concept. Remembering that, I have to say that I loved going into retirement. However, getting back to the question that was asked…”Did you want to retire?” the answer is a definite, “Yes.”  I didn’t want to go back to the days of cutthroat competition; I was too old for that crap!

There is a warning that goes with retirement…don’t do it unless you are prepared to be busier than you’ve ever been before.  Did you ever hear of a round tuit…when you retire, the first things you should do is all of those things you said – while you were working – “when I retire I’ll get around to it.” It may be that you’ve wanted make yourself an authority on some subject by reading as much as you can about it…not for any particular reason; just because you want to learn. It may be that you’ve never had time for a garden and you’ve always wanted one; here’s your chance. Maybe you’ve wanted to travel and never had the time; you will now. Let me give you a bit of advice: Before you set off to see the world, see your own country first. I was blessed. When I was 18 I was asked to help drive a lady and her son across country. He was a friend and we had a ball. If you are an American and you’ve ever driven across the nation, you know what I mean. America is a collection of 49 contiguous nations within a single boundary. We speak the same language…almost, but sometimes you just have to listen harder to hear the words. We even have different cultures even though we’re basically the same. It’s quite eye-opening.

Whatever it is you want to do on retirement, have something to do or you’ll be dead in a year or two, and you’ll pretty much really hate that…as far as we know! In retirement, you’ll begin to wish you were younger so that you could do what some of the younger folks do. You’ll hate that, but as I mentioned before, then you’ll start to think about it and say to yourself, “I wouldn’t want to go through that again, thank you very much.”

It doesn’t matter what age you are. Some of it you will love; some of it you will hate. Suck it up and accept what and who you are. Life at any age is a beautiful thing. I may be old and creaky, but I also have memories of times when I wasn’t like this; they are wonderful memories. I’m certain there must have been some times I hated, but those fade much faster than the good memories. Take life for what it is; take your age for what it is. Love it or hate it; heck, you really don’t have much choice when you think about it.

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I am a killer!

“Wow; he’s admitting that in writing,” you ponder to yourself. “A killer? Really?”

Yep, that’s me, Killer Dick, The Big Bad….Person!”

“Who do you kill?” you ask.

“Aha,” I reply, “You’ve been watching too much CSI, NCIS, Dateline Discovery ID, and all those other gory programs. Therefore, you believe me to be a murderer of who, not what…and it is what that I kill on a regular basis.”

My late wife was not a killer. She was more what I would call an involuntary ‘manslaugherist.’ You see, we together could kill things that if others tried to kill, they would be unable to do so. Take philodendron, for example. Philodendron is extremely difficult to kill. For us…no problem. Going away for vacation and need someone to kill your plants while you’re gone? Call me; I can do it in a week. Hell, I walk into a room and plants quake. Most of them begin to write out their leafy wills the moment they spot me. It’s a gift.

I had two cacti sitting on the ledge of the bow window in the front room. One of them had belonged to Joan’s mother. After her death, my late wife took care of it. This means that cactus had nearly 30 years of careful tending by the involuntary manslaughterist and she didn’t kill it. Frankly, I think it was a record; either that or she hired someone behind my back to tend to it. I finally gave in and bought her another cactus plant to care for. Even that one survived while she was still alive.

The other day, my girlfriend brought the two cactus plants into the office where I was working – I call it an office, but it’s actually a spare bedroom where we put the computer…no big deal. She confronted me with two wizened cactus plants. “You know,” she began – she’s a plant person, but we keep the front drapes closed so I don’t think she’d ever seen the ‘cactii.’ “You know, even in the desert they have flash floods.” Long pause as she stared at the two plants. I said nothing. She broke first. “You killed these,” she uttered. What could I say? It was true enough. I had left them in the front window; in the face of the broiling afternoon sun…with no access to water other than what I probably should have given them once every month or so. I had claimed two more plants; nothing but a couple more notches in the plant stand. I know that I should have been ashamed [or something], but I felt no pain. I have to admit that I am heartless when it comes to house plants…live, die, do your own thing, whatevah!

My attitude was fine as Joan had my back, but she’s not here. She would have kept the cactus alive, but she’s not here. Instead, they were left in the hands of a killer. However, now comes a new problem. The lady who now lives with me, whom I love and loves me, not only has a green thumb; she’s green all over.
She can make a rock grow flowers…beautiful flowers. She has transformed our back and front yards into floral paradises. In addition to the floral beauty of the yard which began with the crocuses blooming through the snow in January of last year, we had fresh fruit and vegetables all summer. She tends to her plants and to me the way a new mother tends to her newborn. Now that she’s found out I’m a killer, I have to watch myself very carefully. There are three plants in the office. When she comes in, she doesn’t look at me first; oh, no, the first place her gaze falls is on the plants. I can hear her mind churning: “Has he tried to kill you guys yet? Don’t worry; as long as I’m around, he won’t get the chance.” It’s terrifying; I go to bed at night, wondering if I’ll awaken with an amaryllis protruding from my chest. Shades of the Alien movies when the little monster pops out of the guy’s shirt!

I think we’ve worked something out, however. I stay away from the plants – even the ones in the office – and she leaves one of the dead cactus plants where I can see it every time I walk into the office. It’s sort of a “Don’t you touch anything killer, or it’ll be the last thing you touch.” It’s just a bit intimidating, but what the hell, as long as she keeps creating the beauty both in the house and around it, I’m just going to sit back an enjoy.

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The great Irish dramatist and Nobel laureate, George Bernard Shaw, once stated, “An asylum for the sane would be empty in America.”

Although he died in 1950, one must admit that Shaw was rather prophetic in his statement for who can possibly deny that America in the 21st Century is approximately ninety-nine percent insane and one percent non compos mentis, ie, mentally incompetent. The urbanites are like fire ants, nipping at anyone or anything else that isn’t exactly as they are. They run around at great speed, in every direction and without any guidance…oops, sorry, fire ants generally move as a colony toward a directive, and they actually have the queen as their leader. Urbanites, on the other hand, appear to be more like rats, sneaking around, without leadership, and willing to fight over nothing.

The suburbanites, also known as “conspicuii consumptus,” are concerned only with the other suburbanites in his or her immediate class. This latter group is referred to collectively as “the Joneses” and it is imperative that one keep up with them at all costs, including foreclosure and disgrace. Because there are today so many who are in the foreclosure and disgrace group that they have become a class all to themselves, admired by many for their fearlessness and shunned by those less fortunate who are still capable of making monthly payments on the mortgage and send their children to expensive private institutions of learning. This, by the way, is the same group that opposes any salary increases for public school teachers, citing with great pseudo-intellect that teachers only work nine months per year…yeah, right!

This brings us to our third class of delirium zealots known as the militia. The America militias are newcomers to the insanity team. They respect no form of government other than their own. It would appear the if a particular part of the United States Constitution or any of its 27 Amendments do not appeal to them, they simply ignore it or fight against it. The two most notable Amendments objected to by the militias are numbers II and XIII. In the case of the Second Amendment, the only part that these “people” – I’m being kind – appear capable of reading is the part about the right to bear arms. In case one or more of them might ever ask someone to read the entire Amendment to them, it goes like this: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” You may interpret that any way you wish, but it seems to me that those words, “well regulated,” apply to the State regulation and not just the way any individual chooses to interpret it.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction,” is the one that these militias seem to oppose violently. Perhaps that’s another reason why I include this group in those who could never occupy Shaw’s asylum for the sane.

To anyone who follows politics in America to any degree, one would quickly recognize that politicians, as a group, are completely out of touch with reality. For all intents and purposes, they fall within the one percent group who are non compos mentis or mentally incompetent. At least, the manner in which they operate would cause one to assume that to be so. Saul Bellow, also a Nobel Laureate who, unfortunately died six years ago, noted, in speaking of politicians, “…they’re a bunch of yo-yos. The presidency is now a cross between a popularity contest and a high school debate, with an encyclopedia of clichés the first prize.” If lies were manure, Washington, D.C. would be a gardener’s delight. It would appear that more bullshit comes out of Washington than from any ten thousand farms in America. As H.L. Mencken once uttered, “A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.”

Personally, I consider the “ruralists” or farmers as the closest thing America has to the sane. I take issue with American humorist, S.J. Perelman when he spoke of, “A farm is an irregular patch of nettles bounded by short-term notes, containing a fool and his wife who didn’t know enough to stay in the city.” Au contraire, mon frère, leaving the city is probably the only way in which one might maintain one’s sanity. Granted, many of these “ruralists” live from hand to mouth and day to day, but their enjoyment comes in the form of creation of food for themselves and for others. These are the naïve who know only that they have a roof over their head, food on the table, and cable television that they might laugh at all of the other groups.

There you have it; the justification for Shaw’s statement. Whether you call us insane, demented, deranged, or unbalanced, America is not only the land of the free and the home of the brave, it is also a safe haven for the weird, the wacky, and yes, even the wonderful!

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