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Archive for the ‘Vegetables’ Category

Advice…People give you more goddamned useless advice. “Now, when you retire, you should…” “When I retired I had a lot of fun doing…” Bullshit, you don’t know me; you don’t know what would or would not please me, so please, please, please, keep your advice.

I never said that of course. People think they’re doing you a favor by telling you what worked for them; what made them happy. They’re well-intentioned, it’s true, but retirement or the mere thought thereof is sufficiently traumatic. It’s worse, I suppose, if there is some kind of policy that says one has to retire at a certain age. In my own case, I left voluntarily when I was just over 63, recognizing that if I had to wait for two years, I would either have been fired or jailed for assault. I didn’t care for the person that replaced my boss, and I’m the type who tends to speak his mind, ergo, things would not have gone well…for him or for me.

The only good bit of advice that I ever received concerning retirement was this: “Be sure you have something to do that you can do for the rest of your life.” It’s simple and it’s the best advice anyone could ever give. Whatever “it” may be, one should have experimented with it prior to retirement. Few things would have made me happier than to see some parts of the world that my son had spoken of but I knew long before retirement that Florence, Paris, and several other cities would be out of the question. When you have bad knees and a back that’s been through three surgeries, you will, if you’re smart, forget about extensive travel. Documentaries and computer research may not be the same thing, but they can serve a very useful purpose, and if you try hard enough, they’ll fill the bill. Taking up a sport in retirement can only cause frustration and has the potential for injury that is an unnecessary risk. If one is already committed to golf or tennis, great, but to take it up after one retires is a questionable decision.

One of the most interesting things about retirement lies in the question, “How long will I live in my retirement?” If one retires because of illness, great, you have some idea of how long you’ll smell the roses before you’ll smell the roots; if not, it’s a guessing game. Based on my own history, I wouldn’t have bet on anything beyond a few years. Things do have a way of changing as we all know, and I’ve been retired now for damn near 20 years…who’d evah have thunk it? If I was to give advice to anyone about this facet of life, I’d say, “Plan to live to 100; anything more than that’s a bonus; anything less is probably what you were thinking in the first place.” As Dr. Wayne Dyer writes in his book, Your Erroneous Zones, “Look over your shoulder; you have a constant companion. For want of something better, call it your own death. You can keep looking over your shoulder, in which case death will catch up to you more quickly, or you can forget that death is even back there and just plunge ahead.” It’s wonderful advice from a man who appears to know of what he speaks.

Now I’m doing the same thing that I cursed in the first sentence of this little essay. Therefore, let me add this: My advice is just as useless as the next person’s. What I tell you is what has worked for me; you may well say, “Yuck, what an asshole; I would never do that stuff,” and that’s fine, but, and it’s a major but, it is imperative that you not sit back on your ass and watch television all day. This will kill you probably faster than anything. Your body goes to pot; you get into the snack thingie, and the next thing you know, diabetes comes a calling. I became a member of a gym. In addition to the physical exercise, I’ve made a number of friends. They are people with diverse backgrounds and they have become my teachers. I’ve learned philosophy from a man who was the headmaster at a private school and who still teaches there. I’ve learned about plumbing from a man who has his own company. I’ve learned travel first hand from a woman who travels all over the world and returns to share her experiences. The learning tree at the gym has more branches than one can count…and it’s like a “workout classroom.”

I’ve also learned the joys of gardening from my companion, Juli. We have both flowers and vegetables, and although the growing season is short in New England, there is plenty of time for salad-makings, including lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, radishes, and croutons…of course you don’t grow croutons, ya damned fool…I was just testing you.

Writing has been a wonderful outlet. There are over 950 essays on this site. Some are pretty bad; others, at least in my alleged mind, aren’t half bad. The two in which I take great pride are She is Gone and The Final Epitaph. While they won’t win any Pulitzer or Peabody Awards, I’d like to think that they show some depth of thinking on my part. Therefore, if you find the idea of writing about your own experiences or any piece of fiction with which you can have some fun, go to it!

If you happen to be a reader, get a Kindle or some other tablet.  Sure, turning pages and the smell of the paper are great, but the Kindle or Nook are lighter and carry more books than you’ll probably read in a lifetime. Pick up a craft; real men can do cross stitch and latch hook and lapidary [look it up].

Retirement means, as a friend told me, that you’ll be able to spend more time looking at the useless catalogs and second class mail addressed directly to you or just to ‘resident.’ It also means that you can now take the time to smell those flowers everyone used to tell you to do when you were working. They do smell pretty darned good. Whatever you elect to do, keep busy, have more than you can accomplish, and listen to a few good jokes every day. Laughter is food for the soul so laugh often and laugh ‘til you cry!

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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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Oh, good, I have my own civil rights group. I never realized that. I think I’ll ask them to picket my doctor’s office. Ya see, at six-one, two-fifty, he calls me really obese. Now when I look at myself in a full-length mirror (ego does that to ya, ya know), I don’t think I compare with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He should be really happy he doesn’t have my doc all over his ass! Hell, just imagine if my doctor had been President William Howard Taft’s medico; it wouldn’t have been a pretty sight. At six feet, 350 pounds, I’m willing to bet no one ever called him “Bones.” How do you think the obesity civil rights group could have justified him in the Oval Office? That sure would have been one big oval.

It seems as though there’s a civil rights group for everything today, except for those whose civil rights don’t seem to matter a whole hell of a lot to anyone. The United States Congress doesn’t care about yours or my civil rights; hell, they trample them every day with their so-called party loyalty. They put us, our savings, our climate, and everything else that we think is ours in danger every time we turn around.

State government doesn’t seem to give a damn. They put a tax on this and a tax on that and, quite frankly, I don’t feel I have the right to protest. Whatever happened to “No taxation without representation?” Anyone who believes that he or she is being fairly represented by the people we elect to state or federal government has been a victim of the smoke machine…and you know damn right well where that smoke gets blown.

Minority groups have civil rights and organizations to protect those civil rights. I admit that White America screwed up in a big way in the early days, but for Christ’s sake, don’t take it out on me; I didn’t lynch your granddaddy and I didn’t prevent you from seeking an education. White people, Black people, Hispanic and Asian people, people of all colors and ethnicities, races and religions had damn well better learn to get along or some fool is going to get pissed and push a button. Of course, it won’t matter then because you can’t live on a dead planet.

“Well, if we don’t do it by getting organized, we won’t accomplish our goals.” What the hell are your goals? You want recognition and money for Crohn’s Disease…you already have a lobby; you want more money for autism research; you already have a lobby; even rare diseases have a day set aside for their recognition (last day of February each year).

It appears that everybody has their hand in somebody else’s pocket. Everyone wants a spokesgroup that will take their fight…where? Who the hell is going to listen? “I’ve got my own problems,” they say. So what it really comes down to is, “Fend for yourself, buddy, ‘cause in the final analysis, all you have is you.”

Fat people are tired of being abused because they’re fat? Tough shit; you’re fat; get over it. You feel abused because you’re a smoker and your building, office park, mall, campus, or whatever is smoke free? Hey, quit, go to another place, but get the hell out of my face about how you’re persecuted and your civil rights are being violated. You’re talking to someone who smoked for 51 years you asshole and if you want to go ahead and kill yourself, be my guest, but don’t you dare do it around me. I’ll think there’s a fire somewhere and throw water in your face. You just happen to be violating my civil rights to breathe clean air.

There was a time when America was called a “melting pot.” Do you know what that means? Think about it for a moment…a melting pot meaning that whoever you are, whatever you are, you are assimilated into this one big pot and you became one with everyone else who was in that pot. You might not like some of the tastes of the stew that was being concocted in that melting pot, but that didn’t mean you were going to smash the pot; you’d just add you to make it taste better.

Today, America is defined not as a “melting pot,” but as a salad. You’re either the green lettuce, the red tomato, the yellow pepper or maybe a jalapeno. You’re the black olives who don’t like the green ones because they have pimiento; you’re the celery who doesn’t like the radish. And there is no way in hell that we can come together to meld; to become one with each other. We are all too busy to care about anyone else. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” said our Sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln, borrowing a quote from Jesus. Today, as we move into the second decade of the 21st Century, America once more finds itself trying to stand as a house divided. We are not Yankees or Confederates. We are not Easterners or Westerners. We are not Black or White, Asian or Hispanic. We are not Arab or Jew, Yemini or Russian. We are Americans. Until we all come to that conclusion, we will remain a “salad” versus a “melting pot.”

Let’s cut out all of this nonsense that we belong to this group or that group, and you are excluded because you don’t possess the qualities. I believe it was Dr. Benjamin Franklin who said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “We must all hang together or surely, we will all hang separately.” Now, once more, we stand on a threshold where Franklin’s words hold true. It is time to stop being part of a fragment and begin to be a part of the whole…the whole United States of America.

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New England is a remarkable place. Of course, I say that based on extremely limited travel experience. Never having been to “old” England, I guess I don’t really have a basis for comparison. I do know one thing: In New England, there is a community called Islington. It is a part of a Town called Westwood (where the hell’s he going with this one?). In old England, there is a town called Islington.  (Aha!) It is a part of the city of London. Great, eh? Not really. In New England’s Islington, there’s not a bar or liquor store in sight. In old England’s Islington, there are 300 bars – guess who got screwed on that one…unless, of course, you’re some kind of temperance nut. My mother-in-law was one of those. That’s why her husband always had both pockets filled with breath mints. That’s the end of the community comparisons…so there!

We have four distinct seasons in New England. If you don’t know what they are, go look it up. Anyway, as I sat outside this morning in my mackinaw, hip boots, three sweaters, and a watch cap, looking at the fading summer sky, I was reminded once again that our ‘distinct’ seasons are not always that distinct. In fact, over the past few years, our falls and our springs seem to be slowly disappearing. It appears that one day, the weather people – can’t say men anymore – are talking about the fall foliage in the morning and predicting six inches of snow that same night. I want to watch a weather forecast in Canada where some of the women tell you the weather while they’re topless. I suppose that’s one way of distracting you from hearing, “Eh, we got anudder tree feet ‘o snow tonight, eh!” That wasn’t very nice, but some of my Canadian friends will know I’m just jerking their chains again, eh.

Anyway, back to New England weather. My partner is from California. She was born there, educated there, grew all the way up and worked there. Hell, she even retired from there before she decided that perhaps I wasn’t truly insane and so she moved here. Having been here through one complete weather cycle, she is now having second thoughts regarding the sanity of anyone who makes New England their home. It wasn’t bad enough that last winter she stepped outside to feed the critters and fell flat on her ass; ice was a new experience for her. It probably should even have been expected that when she went out to fill the bird feeders, she would brush by an icicle that would promptly broke and that a large piece would fall that was not only large enough to open her scalp but also large enough to once more knock her on her ass – it’s humorous only in hindsight; the wolves loved the red snow. At the time, there was no humor whatsoever.

Once the snow left the ground in late May – it was a really snowy winter – she learned that growing season didn’t really begin until after Memorial Day. “The thirty-first of May? Are you @#$%&* me?” she asked. As the end of June rolled around and the rains began to subside, it was declared by my bellowed that the growing season in New England is exactly one month less a week long. “I’d already be harvesting if I was in California,” she declared. “What ever happened to four seasons?”

As July came around, so did her behavior. There were three or four days of heat and all seemed well with the world. Next came the tornado watches and warnings. Parts of the State, including Springfield and Monson were terribly devastated. Fortunately, Islington was spared everything but gusts of wind and a hell of a lot of rain.

“I came here from California,” she raged, “where the only thing we have to fear is an earthquake or two. Out here, I’m exposed to blizzards, driving rains, no @#$%^&* growing season, and now the threat of a tornado? Have I lost my mind?”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that hurricane season was only about a month away.

Despite the inconsistencies in the weather – I chose to call them that rather than saying, “This weather sucks! – The crops finally began to come in. We had beans and peas, beets and summer squash. We had watermelon, cantaloupe, and even several pumpkins. We started with about 12 tomato plants but kept finding ‘volunteers’ popping up all over the yard. They were replanted into beds despite several “experts” telling us that they’d never bear fruit. Before Hurricane Irene made her presence known in these parts – you really don’t want to hear about that tirade; even as an adult reader, you don’t want to hear about that tirade – we had so many tomatoes of all types – cherry, Roma, plain ole round ones, and even some heirloom Black Crims – that I was taking bags full to the gym each day. In addition, I was taking squash, green, red, and yellow peppers as well as jalapenos. One gym member owned a fruit and vegetable store. He jokingly told me I was cutting into his trade!

Irene did a number on the garden. The climbing cucumbers probably landed somewhere on Cape Cod. The watermelon and cantaloupe were washed away along with the rest of the squash. Hands on hips, my partner asked just one question,”When should I expect the first goddam snowstorm?”I thought it would probably be better if I remained silent on that one.

So, to all my friends in Islington, England, why the hell do you have 300 bars and we’re so goddam dry?

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She came from out of the west…the gardener.

She came East to take care of an old man; no reason; just came East…the gardener

“Your backyard is a mess,” she told him, but he didn’t seem to mind, even when she told him that she was…the gardener.

She was right, of course. The backyard hadn’t seen much care since his wife had died just a little over two years ago. He’d sorta lost interest in a whole pile of things until she showed up…the gardener.

“It’s too late to do much this year,” she told him, but they went searching for bulbs and plants and fencing and funny cloth hoses and such. He didn’t think much about it; after all, it was her money that was being spent. All he had to do was stand around and watch…and shake his head…and think to himself that maybe she was just a little bit ‘off.’ But, he figured she knew what she was doing…the gardener.

Late one fall afternoon, after the sun was down and it was dark, he looked out the front window. The lamp in the front yard was on; she’d dug up a circle around the lamp and put some kind of a rubber or plastic liner around it. Seemed kind of funny that she’d be putting wire all over the spot but, he wasn’t going to question her; after all, she was…the gardener .When she came in the house that evening, she announced, “Well, that’s the last of them.”

“How many?” he asked.

“Seven hundred sixty-three,” she replied.

“That’s a hell of a lot of flower bulbs” he thought, but then, she was…the gardener. New England winters can be really bad. If the cold weather didn’t get the bulbs, he was certain that the squirrels and/or the skunks and/or a whole slew of other critters would dig through the chicken wire and eat the bulbs so’s not to go hungry over the winter. Critters are like that. “She is going to be so pissed,” he thought, “particularly since she worked so hard.”

The winter was a particularly bad one. Seemed to be one storm after another, each one depositing more snow than the one before. Flat roofs collapsed in several places; they even talked about trying to shovel the snow of a part of their roof, but both were too damned old to climb a ladder to do so. The kids across the street were so busy with their plowing business, the only thing they had time for when they got home was to grab a bite, a few hours of sleep and then get back on the road.

She kept staring out the big windows in the family room. The three of them stretched floor to ceiling, and you could watch the birds, those who were damned fool enough to stick around and not fly south; they’d attack both of the feeders with gusto. We’d throw out some critter food for the squirrels and chipmunks. They couldn’t get to the feeders. In fact, it was funny to watch the squirrels climb up the pole supporting one of the feeders. The feeder was a vertical tube that hung from a hook. It was called the “Yankee Flipper,” a name applied all too well. We’d watch the squirrels climb the pool with such ease and jump down to the top of the feeder. Unfortunately for these critters, the food was dispensed from four feeding holes near the bottom of the feeder. Birds would sit on a ring and gorge themselves. When the squirrels tried to stand on the ring, their weight would be enough to trigger the ring into a merry-go-round motion, but at a much greater speed than the old carnival attraction. Zoon, zoom, zoom, would go the squirrels, often attempting to hold on with one paw. They could not stay on and would get flipped off into the snow. Were they hurt? Evidently not, because most of them would clamber out of the snow and try it again, only learning after three or four flips that it probably wasn’t worth the effort.

When the snow began to melt, she purchased bags of “critter food,” and would toss it on the small patio outside the big windows. Day after day, the ‘critters’ would be fed. Finally, I couldn’t stand it. “Why are you feeding the squirrels and chipmunks?” I asked.

“So they will know where to come for food and stay the hell away from my garden,” she responded…the gardener…thinking ahead.

As April turned into May, I noticed that the ‘Florida room,’ – read as a porch converted to a nine-month room to sit in – more and more seedlings began to fill up the place. Chairs were bunched together and large pieces of wood placed across them to hold more and more small pots of this and that. Tomatoes or many varieties – Romas, Black Crims, Yellow Brandywines, etc. – summer squash, beans – both yellow and green – peas, beets, red, white, and yellow onions, and Lord only knows what else…the gardener was on the prowl, all the time cursing under her breath, “How the hell can you grow a garden if you can’t plant until after Memorial Day.”

Suddenly – it seemed to take place overnight, which I’m certain it did not – the bulbs that had been planted the preceding fall were shooting up flowers of purples and gold and red and more colors than the rainbow. The backyard had been transformed into myriad colors…the gardener.

Thanks to Loews, Ocean State Job Lot, and Home Depot, nearly the entire yard was filled with flowers and vegetables. Next thing we knew we were harvesting peas and beans; then came the tomatoes, the squash, the cucumbers, the strawberries, and flowers, always flowers; flowers dying and others taking their place. The yard was a festival of flowers and a buffet of vegetables. “Do you want salad with dinner,” became a catch phrase of the late afternoon, along with do you want Romaine, summer crisp, or iceberg lettuce…the gardener.

My life has changed. My easting is healthier. Watching seeds turn into seedling and becoming food for the table; watching tiny bulbs, planted a fall before burst into beautiful color…all of this has given me another life experience. If you’ve never seen your property transformed; if you have transformed it yourself into a thing of beauty, you can fully comprehend when I simply say…the gardener.

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