O my God, my grandson questioned my lack of a sense of direction: “Seriously, Grandma? You get lost in Walmart parking lots?” But when his mom, similarly flawed, and I barely made it alive out of a corn maze, he believed. OMG, thank You for guiding our paths, even when we are clueless.
In our September garden, we grow the best weeds in the Midwest.
The hubs and I nurtured this elite crop all summer. Yet — can you believe this? — no one awarded us a grand champion ribbon.
Last spring, my husband, risking vitality and vertebrae, rented a tank-like tiller to prepare the soil. We planted the highest quality vegetable seeds and plants. Why? They attract the highest quality weeds.
I fertilized the garden, nurturing early weed development. Hubby shoveled mulch between rows, providing moisture.
With this year’s bullying June rains, I feared our weed crop would float downriver. But despite such watery adversity, they grew strong.
At first, the dastardly efforts of vegetables and flowers were winning. Rain morphed scrawny tomato seedlings into scary green monsters. Lettuce, carrots and peppers crowded out crabgrass and ragweed. Berry bushes actually produced berries.
Insidious squash vines crushed the life out of purslane and poison ivy. Squash — a fitting name for such invaders, don’t you think?
But squash aggression could not match barbaric cucumbers that wound deadly vines around helpless clover and cockleburs. They even turned against their allies, the zinnias, hanging fat-bellied cucumbers around the zinnias’ skinny necks like fifty-pound pendants!
Cucumber reproduction surpassed that of rabbits. I fled through nightmares in which thousands of cucumbers chased me, finally pickling me in a giant Ball jar.
Fortunately, other allies supported the weeds. After record-breaking rains, July drought sucked out the vegetables’ fighting spirit. The brave weeds, however, persevered.
Area animals also came to the weeds’ rescue. Deer sacrificially forsook hundreds of acres of wild food to munch our garden’s green beans, tomatoes, and peppers. Bunnies wiped out berries, saving us from the sad necessity of eating them. Squirrels stole cherry tomatoes. As they could not carry Big Boys in their mouths, they contributed by taking one bite out of all they could reach.
I did question the knee-high weeds’ newest allies: chiggers. But what are a few thousand itchy bumps compared with the joys of paying high prices for store-bought vegetables that taste like Styrofoam?
Despite trials and tribulations, we weed-growers will never give up. When hostile vegetables and flowers multiply, we enjoy the deep-down satisfaction of giving our all to cultivate the finest crop this side of Green Acres.
Even if we receive no purple ribbon — not even a participation one — to hang on our wall.
Even if we never see our picture in the paper.
We will not lose hope.
There is always next year.
Which won your garden battle this year? The veggies or the weeds?
What’s wrong with this calendar I bought last March? Perhaps I should expect flaws in 90-percent-off merchandise. But my bargain declares we soon will see Christmas. This cannot be. As of November 30, I was supposed to have conquered the world.
Or, at least, defrosted our geezer freezer. This faithful appliance contains a prehistoric package of meat, the remains of a five-year-old Dairy Queen cake and 2,000 pounds of ice—mainly because I didn’t defrost it by December last year. Soon it won’t close. Then it will do its wheezing, freezing best to turn our junky garage into a Winter Wonderland.
I shoulda cleaned my oven before December. Yet, why scour if I’m going to grease it up again at Christmas? Turkey-flavored Christmas cookies aren’t so bad.
The kids who formerly helped with raking have scattered farther than the leaves. Now my husband and I hold annual competitions to see who can crack their vertebrae the loudest. This year, some leaves are hanging around for Advent. Maybe delusional oaks think they’re Christmas trees?
I shoulda renovated my flower beds, too. Bags of bulbs have lingered in my garage since 2003, when I last anticipated conquering the world. Maybe those underachiever bulbs already snoozing under blankets of soil will show up next spring. Raising perennial flowers resembles raising children: parents drown in guilt about nurturing miscues, yet their progeny spring forth in brilliant glory. Other times, when we lavish attention on them, they sulk and refuse to get out of bed for years on end.
At least, I never left my kids on the porch after frost. My house plants are another matter. I stuck them there last spring, hoping for improvement. (Holiday gift tip: Giving a writer plants is like sending them to a plant concentration camp.) As frost approached, I reminded myself repeatedly to bring them in. But the “improved” plants now resemble greenish hat racks.
I shoulda “winterized” my car by now. (Why do we never “summer-ize” cars?) I detect a few sniffles from my Ford. I’d better let the grease gods give it a flu shot.
I did obtain my shot and tune-ups with doctor and dentist. But repairs on this (ahem!) mature body resemble maintenance on my 1960s ranch home: for every check off the list, five more materialize.
Now, with Christmas coming, to-do items on my list are reproducing like – like – Easter bunnies!
Wrong season! Maybe they bought discount calendars, too?
Feel free to add your to-do list moans and groans. We can moan and groan together.
But please don’t let your to-dos get too friendly with mine!
Like millions of Americans, I give thanks to God during this season for His over-the-top gifts: my family, my country and whipped cream garnished with pumpkin pie. Sometimes I pinch myself (not too hard) to see if I’m dreaming.
God’s lavishness shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus, who stretched a boy’s lunchbox meal to fill a hungry crowd of 5,000-plus, wasn’t satisfied to provide enough. He served such a feast that his disciples filled 12 baskets with leftovers.
I, too, am stuffed with good things from His hands. I gather blessing fragments, odd little bits and pieces of gratitude, into my blessing basket to share with you. And, since gratitude has no expiration date, never loses its flavor and contains no carbs, I’ll munch on them throughout the holiday season. Here, in no particular order, are 10 weird things for which I’m thankful this year:
- Weather.com. If this indispensable website were not available, I might have to look outside.
- My tin measuring teaspoons. They bring back childhood memories of baking with my mother.
- Our neighbors’ Christmas decorations. When my grandchildren arrive, they will enjoy Christmas wonderland without our stringing one light. Nor will we have to haul the little ones to a light display, enduring multiple coat-hat-mittens-potty-before-we-leave-then-buckle-into-car-seat drills. Thank you, neighbors!
- All octogenarians. Along with nonagenarians and centenarians. They make me feel young.
- Newspapers and magazines. I love the feel, smell and shine of paper, the rustle of turning pages. Will future generations miss the sensation of snuggling up by a fire to read a good book without a power button?
- Our umbrella stand. We keep umbrellas handy for November Noah days. Unless we left them in the car. Or at work. At church. Or in Hawaii.
- Our household financial system. I, the math-impaired, write checks, and Hubby balances. Instant excitement in a marriage.
- Wearing jeans on Thanksgiving. I am not cursed with a hundred layers of petticoats. No smothery long, black dress. No white, starched Pilgrim collars at our house. Just tons of faith, food, fun, and naps in front of TV football.
- My children’s name choices for their progeny. No Draco or Gaga. At least, not yet.
- Servers. An Emmy to those who fake shock when I claim the senior discount.
- Breath mints. The rest of my world is thankful, too.
Ten weird little blessings, and I’m just getting started. Like Jesus’ disciples, I might fill 12 baskets before I’m done.
What weird little blessings fill you with gratitude?
As my husband and I rode our tandem, we saw ponds swarming with geese. During fall, migrating Canada geese often stop at local lakes to visit their less adventurous relatives. But the family reunions we saw resembled WWE smackdowns.
Why all the honkin’ hullaballoo?
I suppose if my relations and I were floating in a pond with a temperature of 30 degrees, we might get a little cantankerous. Especially if some had just flown in from Canada. Everybody knows flying isn’t what it used to be. Geese don’t receive miles rewards. Plus, security measures really ruffle their feathers.
Already grumpy, they arrive for annual stays with kinfolk who didn’t invite them. Locals resent sharing their homes and food with these moochers every year — especially since their lucky visitors anticipate months at the beach.
Itinerary controversies only add to hostilities. Some migrating geese—especially moms and grandmas—are still upset at leaving before the holidays. Their golfing husbands want to hit the Florida greens early and won’t wait till after Christmas. Also, some like Georgia better; some, California; and those really dedicated to the wild life want Cancun.
The geese also disagree about who travels with whom:
Gander Guy: If you think we’re flying south with your mother, you’re out of your mind.
Goose Lady: If you think we’re flying with your cousin Vinnie, you’re seriously mistaken. His children are a bad influence on our kids.
Gander Guy: But Vinnie knows all the good places to eat along the way.
Goose Lady: And the best places to drink. Let’s compromise. We’ll fly with my Uncle George and Aunt Myrna.
Gander Guy: Great idea. She’ll want to stop at every outlet mall between here and Tallahassee. The last time we followed George, we ended up in downtown Detroit.
Goose Lady: But Myrna gave him a GPS for his birthday. …
Multiply this conversation several thousand times, add it to the kinfolk-versus-moochers controversy, and an Indiana farm pond’s Threat Level jumps.
Right now, it’s at red. Steve and I have enjoyed eavesdropping — from a safe distance. But we’re ready to leave this uncivilized bunch.
Besides, I’m hungry. “Where do you want to eat?”
“Let’s wait till we get home. Riding at twilight isn’t safe.”
My bicycle seat feels like a bed of nails. “I can’t ride home until I eat and rest.”
“If we hadn’t rested so long earlier, we might have time to eat.”
Grrr! But I decide to do the Christian thing: forgive him — and never let him forget it.
“Honnnk! Squonnnnk-honk-honk-honk!” The Goose Wars erupt again.
Too bad they’re not smart, like us.
How about you? Any honkin’ hullaballoo, goose or human, where you live?
It is the rich, ripe hue of giant pumpkins at farm stores, the kind my father let us choose for our jack-o’-lantern. Relieved of its squishy innards, it grinned and glowed on our front porch with a happy magic akin to that of the orange harvest moon smiling on our horizon.
My siblings and I always begged for the biggest, the grandpa pumpkin. These days, I am partial to baby pumpkins, though if I dared, I would bring the entire extended family home. But my spouse might question why our car contained forty-seven pumpkins, not even one of which was destined for pie.
So I content myself with a few, but savor orange inside and outside every store and farm stand I visit. A field of pumpkins, scattered like brilliant coins, equals a treasure found.
My mother always said orange was one of my best colors. I often wished I had been blessed with orange hair (why it is called “red” remains as much a mystery as why Caucasians are described as “white.”) I treat myself to watching occasional curly orange heads or ponytails bobbing down my street on their way to school. Clouds of leaves above and below show off similar glorious tints.
Orange is a natural to represent autumn’s joyous season, the color of family fun and thanksgiving for blessings we harvest each year.
But before we have carved jack-o’-lanterns or devoured pumpkin pie, an invasion of red and green ensues. What some refer to as the “Christmas Creep” arrives earlier every year.
Please understand that I love red and green, too. But frankly, they clash with orange. Can’t we give orange its just due before decking the halls—and 99 percent of the stores—with red-clad Santas, poinsettias and sparkly green Christmas trees?
Should I hand out both candy corn and candy canes to trick-or-treat goblins? Have red and green encroached on October to the degree Santa, several hundred elves and a herd of reindeer also will show up on my doorstep for early snacks?
The orange season, with its Indian summer sunshine and colorful leaves, never lasts long enough. Christmas promotions gobble up Thanksgiving, leaving little time for families—especially those of retail employees—to spend time together and honor the Giver of all good things.
Besides, are we really in a hurry for winter’s arrival and all that ho-ho-ho snow?
As the Fahrenheit fades, I crave a hot breakfast. Forget cold cereal. I want oatmeal—steaming, gooky stuff without which autumn cannot make its appearance. I want real oatmeal, foaming and bubbling on the stove, not the nuked instant counterfeit with its alien lumps.
“Just because,” to quote my mother.
Oatmeal occupied a sacred place in my childhood. I liked the smiling Quaker on the box and his grandfatherly TV advice: “Nothing is better for thee than me.” Scientists have supported his claim: a generous daily serving of oatmeal not only lowers cholesterol and cures the common cold, but guarantees a killing in the stock market.
Who would have thunk it, back when Mom was making my doll chairs from the friendly Quaker’s round boxes?
During the 1960s, milk and sugar were added to oatmeal. Period.
We regarded oatmeal the same way we viewed our mothers: they were good for us, whether we liked them or not. They couldn’t be improved, so if we were smart, we didn’t mess with them.
However, a whole new oatmeal mentality has evolved. Shh! Don’t tell anyone, but even I no longer qualify as an oatmeal purist.
My descent into decadence began when I persuaded my reluctant children to eat oatmeal with raisin smiley faces. Of course, some people never appreciate true culinary art.
One morning, my husband said, “Rachael, you really don’t have to make a smiley face on my oatmeal.”
Undaunted, I have continued bold experimentation and regularly mix my oats with almonds, apples and dried cranberries. I sprinkle in bran because Internet health experts promise this combination causes a gravity reversal. My saggy stomach and I can’t wait to be weightless.
Strangely enough, posh restaurants still serve oatmeal with few accoutrements. No mysterious yellow sauce lattices a platter under my bowl. No green clumps sprout from my breakfast like crabgrass.
Privately, however, the oatmeal world is going crazy. According to one website, connoisseurs add honey, cocoa, even ice cream. Others concoct even more interesting combinations, including oatmeal with pesto and mushrooms. Vegetable lovers add pumpkin, squash, spinach and [eww!] pickles. One blog writer sighs for banana curry oatmeal with carmelized onions.
Whatever happened to the staunch, wholesome dish that set me straight every morning? How will our descendants learn to cherish the values that made this country great if they are consuming oatmeal with Quark cheese and fresh herbs?
No wonder present generations waste time and energy doing things like writing about oatmeal preferences (2,364 people—158 pages worth—on one website). Imagine sitting around all morning writing about oatmeal.
They really should get a life.
October brings a thousand decisions. The first: do I get up?
Only idiots leave warm, cushy havens to stumble through chilly northern darkness. Besides, shouldn’t we practice staying in bed an extra hour to prepare for the time change?
But … family and work trump common sense. We drag out and straighten covers. Should we add extra blankets, or wait until spouses grow icicles?
Closets bulge with beach and blizzard attire – more decisions. Of 273 possibilities, which will match today’s weather? After all those summer family reunions, which outfit will not split?
Children’s October clothing presents even more challenges. Students forced to wear coats on frosty mornings return at day’s end, sweaty and seething: “Teacher said since you made me bring this dumb coat, I had to wear it every recess!”
According to kids, any parental choices should be UPS’d to Goodwill – on Pluto.
Hubby’s October time and space continuum focuses on a different concern: When can he stop mowing?
He does not suffer the trauma I endure as a plant lover. If I bring inside all my potted buddies, we will have to move out. So which will I rescue from frost?
Fall cleaning decisions are easier, though. Visualizing the usual cherished holiday stampede, I ask, why clean rugs now?
Speaking of holidays, October sets off diplomatic tensions that evolve to war negotiations: to celebrate Halloween, or not? To pass out Death-by-Sucrose Suckers or little bottles of mouthwash accumulated from dental visits?
For empty nesters, the controversy proves simple: Will fifty pounds of candy survive until the 31st? Or even Columbus Day?
Meanwhile, guys suffer the agonizing October dilemma of how to watch both baseball and football without trivial interruptions involving carrying in plants, speaking to humans or calling 911.
Both genders, though, share the dilemma of healthy versus comfort food. Must we really ditch summer’s grilled eggplant for hot buttered bread, cheese-bubbly casseroles and apple pie?
Anticipating future freezing interstates, we seize last opportunities to travel, camp and view lovely leaf displays. However, when and where will the leaves turn?
Will we coordinate kids’ soccer, theater, band, youth group, mani and pedi schedules, only to spend a precious “together” weekend staring at green leaves? Or spend bushels of money viewing acres of leafless skeletons only the Addams family would enjoy?
Perhaps you have decided to stay in bed, avoiding decisions until May 2018. But good news awaits would-be hibernators.
October is its own antidote. Crisp mornings flavored with wood smoke, pumpkin fields, a harvest moon and swish-swish walks among colorful leaves, whatever timetable they choose. Any of these performs a miracle cure.
And evokes a no-brainer decision that October is the very best time of year.
At least, I think so. How about you? What’s your favorite season?