Garden hose

It’s time to get the garden in, so naturally I made a beeline for my underwear drawer.

Gardener with Wooden Seedling TrayIt’s the same every year.

Well, okay, not every year.

There were those three or four years when the kids were younger and we lived on the river. A general disregard by my kids for anything that could be construed as a vegetable and the fact that floods don’t pay much attention to fencing, sort of made planting a garden a bad idea.

Not that we didn’t want to… we just didn’t have the time or money for that kind of failure.

This whole garden craze started when my dear husband and I were first married and moved into a house on a street in Cincinnati that easily could have been built in San Francisco. Clearly, the fact that our house was on land that could have been better described as vertical made it the perfect spot to build a raised bed garden.steep streets

Clearly.

With railroad ties and a truck full of dirt, we put in a little garden that held all the foods we would eat over the winter – tomatoes, corn, green peppers, eggplant and Brussels sprouts. And we put in a bed of herbs – basil, oregano, chives, peppermint and dill.

Let’s just say, I THOUGHT growing eggplant would be great, but I was wrong because once you grow them, you have to actually eat them. And I THOUGHT that two Brussels sprouts plants would produce enough buds to adequately feed two people, but I was wrong because it only produces enough Brussels sprouts to contemplate the correct spelling of “Brussels sprouts” on search engines when it becomes clear that bugs are eating more of them than you are.

And herbs? Here’s a tip – unless you really, really, really like the smell of dill, or the flavor of peppermint, don’t ever, EVER plant them directly into the ground because they will take over every available inch of ground they can find, from your garden well into the neighboring football field, if you let them. Even if you don’t let them, they will still do it and mock you for your feeble attempts to control them.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On the other hand, we had tomatoes and green peppers and corn!

I was so excited to go out and grab food that I had grown. I couldn’t wait to grab the tomatoes straight off the vine and plop a few ears of corn off the plants and into a big pot of boiling water.

But by the time I got around to it, they were gone.

I went outside and our harvest was no longer on the plants waiting for me to pick it. In fact, it was thumping along the back wall in a plastic bag, trailing two kids from our neighborhood who had come into our little backyard for a little vegetable buffet.

I suspect their mom sent them. Seriously, what kid steals vegetables?

Those little set backs didn’t stop us though. Most everywhere we went – from a row house in Newport, Ky., to a three-story mansion in the middle of Cincinnati, and here in our home in Anderson, SC – we planted a garden.

We were like the Johnny Appleseed of green vegetables and overgrown herb beds….

This past year, we had heirloom tomatoes, squash, green peppers, jalapeno peppers, carrots, radishes, basil, oregano, sage, parsley and even a few okra plants.

zukesOur tomatoes were great, as were the squash, but honestly, we just gave up on harvesting them after a while because we got tired of eating them. Do you have any idea how much an average zucchini plant produces? I would estimate it at about 728 bushels based on the number of plastic bags of zucchini I had in my freezer one year when I got the idea that if I harvested them and grated them, I could make something like zucchini bread with them later.

That was a teacher Christmas gift that went over well, I’m sure.

So, instead, we just left them there. The birds ate holes in the tomatoes. The squirrels ate the green peppers. Some other unknown entity ate the lettuce and carrots. After eating our fill, we left the rest for nature to consume. It was just too much work to worry with.

And then, there was the whole watering thing. Also, a lot like work.

We just not the type to water plants. I’m sure that our peace lilies, who have been with us for more than 16 years, tremble in fear every time we get the Christmas decorations out because they know that is the sign they’ll be coming inside, into the desert of our living room, until it gets warm outside. dead lilyOften, between December and February, I will walk by them and say to myself “Jeez, I really should water the plants,” but never actually do. It’s a wonder they haven’t gotten together and grown legs so they could strangle us in our sleep for forcing them through the torture of neglect.

When it came to the garden though, I wasn’t ever going to spend a fortune to end up with another failure. And what’s the point of spending a small fortune on a garden, if your desired result is to get something for almost nothing?

So, we came up with alternatives.

Need mulch? We use old clean cardboard boxes and newspapers.

Want an irrigation system? We poke holes in the bottoms of empty two-liter bottles and bury them in the ground near your most neediest plants to regulate a water supply that lasts for a few days.

Need plant supports? Well, … here’s where the underwear drawer comes in.

Our tomato plants are planted in front of an old trellis that I have had for more than 15 years. Tomato plants don’t generally take to being trained up a trellis and they’re pretty fragile, so tying them up can be problematic. Sometimes, even string can cut into the tender vines and leave you with nothing but a stem that’s beautiful on the bottom, but withered and bare on the top. The Solution? Old panty hose. They have just enough give in them to be supportive for the tomatoes while holding them in place.

tying-tomatoes-pantyhoseWhich means one of my first stops when setting out the garden is to rummage through my underwear drawer to find hose with runs and rips and tears in them. Since no pair seems to last for more than 378 seconds, happily, they aren’t hard to find.

I’ll be out buying plants and seeds this week. And I’ll be going through my underwear drawer.

But I’m pretty sure the kids next door won’t be stealing my tomatoes this year. They have a chicken coop.

Maybe we can trade veggies for eggs.

One more thing to store in old panty hose, I’m sure…

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2015

Why the Easter Bunny still visits our house

Even though my sons are 16 and 15, the Easter bunny still visits my house.

easter-basketGranted, the baskets aren’t as elaborate as they once were, but they are still full of chocolate bunnies, jellybeans and the occasional Peep.

This year, there was none of the plastic grass that clings to every living thing in the house, and it lacked its usual bevy of toys. But each one did include an envelope full of money, which is all my sons really wanted in the first place.

The solid chocolate break apart bunny was just a bonus.

After all, they’re teenagers and toys, candy, colored eggs and plastic doo dahs don’t do it for them as much as cold hard cash-ola.

Ever since they were born, they’ve been the recipients of gifts brought to them by anonymous mythical creatures who wish to buy their love through sweets and trinkets.

At the same time, we’ve spent their formative years telling them to beware of evil men in cars with lollipops and missing puppies who are waiting for the opportunity to kidnap them and of “stranger danger.”

No wonder this generation is completely screwed up.

Throughout their childhood, from the tooth fairy to the Big Guy himself (you know – Mr. Claus) to the Birthday Monsters, there seemed to be no end to the parade of mystical creatures bestowing gifts on my kids.

Sandra Boynton's Birthday Monsters
Sandra Boynton’s Birthday Monsters

Spoiler alert kids – Some of them are completely made up.

Take for instance, the Birthday Monsters.

When my guys were very little, every year on the night before their birthday, I read to them Sandra Boynton’s “The Birthday Monsters.”

In the story, a group of monsters comes to visit you and proceeds to celebrate your birthday by wrecking your house, opening your gifts and eating your cake, only to make it all perfect again before they leave.

Somewhere along the way, in our house, this turned into a tradition of waking up on one’s birthday morning to find presents on the kitchen table and eating birthday cake for breakfast.

All these early morning discoveries, of course, required a lot of late night basket decorating, stocking stuffing, quarter leaving and present wrapping on the part of one particular person in our household.

I remember one year talking online with a friend and asking them if they thought it would be okay if I left the boys alone in the house, since they were asleep upstairs, and ran to the store to grab more Easter candy for their baskets. They weren’t particularly enamored with the idea. I ended up filling some plastic eggs with spare change that year instead.

More spoiler alerts kids – now might be a good time to go watch a YouTube video or something.

My oldest son, Mason, figured it all out when he was 8 years old. He came to me and said “You’re the birthday monsters, aren’t you?”

Look! Mom has wings!
Look! Mom has wings!

I admitted that I was.

“That makes you the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny too, doesn’t it?” he asked.

I nodded my head.

“Oh… then that means,… hmmm,” he said. He knew it all.

“Just don’t tell your brother,” I said.

When my youngest son, Max, found out he was nearly 13. For years, he had been a believer, even to the point of ringing a Christmas bell around us (while we had to act like it was broken) to prove that the magic in it still worked.

Once the realization the Big Guy was just me, all the other night visitors fell into their appropriate places in history for Max. His belief suspended, he realized the myths for what they were.

“My whole life has been a lie,” he lamented.

I guess it never occurred to him before then that it was a little strange that every few months supernatural beings were breaking into our house, not to mention stalking us and keeping tabs on our behavior.

Of course, these mythical entities were great discipline tools. Mom had Santa’s cell phone number. She would let the tooth fairy know if one of those bicuspids didn’t exactly fall out on its own. And no one wanted to see what the Easter bunny would leave if he got an email telling him they weren’t picking up their room.

But now, those tricks don’t work. They know there will be an Easter basket on the kitchen table even if they fail to change their sheets and that their Christmas stockings will always be full of the little joys they never expect.

So why do these gifts keep appearing?

finger-pointingMaybe it’s because I want them to be my kids always. I want them to know that they are loved. I want there to be one moment every once in a while where I can still surprise them to make up for the all the times I’ve yelled at them about grades and jobs and dirty laundry.

Maybe it’s a chance to spoil them when I’m so hard on them the rest of the year.

Maybe it’s because I like carrying on a tradition we started and which will one day be carried down to their kids.

Maybe it’s because the gifts are so appreciated. Today, when they got up at the crack of noon, they both got their Easter baskets and began to immediately make plans for the cash. Soon thereafter, Max came in the living room and hugged me. Mason, in turn, got out of bed and kissed me on the forehead.

They liked the baskets, even if they’re not full of jellybeans and Reese’s pieces and Peeps.

Those are the parts of the basket the Easter bunny kept for herself…

 

Copyright (c) 2015 Liz Carey

Veggie Time

I’m sorry, I have to say it. I really dislike some vegetarians.

I don’t dislike the fact that they are vegetarians – heck, I think everyone has the right to decide what they want to eat. And honestly, if someone would rather eat spinach, cannellini beans and quinoa instead of bacon double cheeseburger, that’s none of my business.

No, the ones I have a problem with are the vegetarians who think that because THEY are vegetarians, you want to be one, or should be one too.

For instance, this afternoon, I picked up a soup cookbook at the library. I have to say I was really excited because a quick look at the back cover included a reference to “pho” one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes.

Beef Pho
Beef Pho

Pho is known for being one of the great Vietnamese street foods, and you won’t see an Anthony Bourdain Vietnam episode without some mention of it. It’s a soy sauce based broth on noodles called bahn pho, with herbs, spices and meat – usually either beef or chicken. It’s just amazing comfort food, give or take the “slurp slurp” noise that sometimes accompanies eating it.

So, I was really excited to get the recipe home and try it our, right? Of course right!

Imagine my surprise then when I open the book to the right page and there, in little words before the recipe, was a disclaimer saying while the original recipe was “redolent with beef” they had made theirs a vegetarian version.

WHAT?!?! I didn’t want a vegetarian version of a meat and noodles soup! I didn’t want faux pho, I want pro pho!

You want me to do what with it?
You want me to do what with it?

And then I realized all of the soups were vegetarian versions with little notes about how, if you gave it as a gift, the recipient could add their own meat later after you left.

Yeah, that’s TOTALLY going to make your friend happy to have to get a gift that makes you work…

It reminded me of a friend a few years ago who was getting married. A guest of one of the invited guests requested that not only did she want a vegetarian dish that the hostess hadn’t planned on providing, but that no meat be served at her table during the reception. I’m not making this up. I was stunned too.

Here’s the thing, if you don’t want to eat meat, that’s cool, just don’t expect me to forego meat with you or for your comfort.

There's plenty of vegetables on there for two...
There’s plenty of vegetables on there for two…

If someone wants to delude themselves into believing that tofu and mung beans taste better than ribs and brisket, that’s fine for them. But please don’t expect me to order a salad and cornbread at the Big Pig BBQ because I’m sitting at a table with vegetarian.

You know; if you can’t take the meat, stay out of the smokehouse.

Some vegetarians I know talk about the poor animals who are murdered for our carnivorous needs and it makes them sad or sick to even see them on a plate.

Or that the animals are poor sweet creatures slaughtered for our benefit.

Uhm, let’s take cows for instance. I’ve worked with cows. A) they stink. B) they poop in their food. And c) they are dumber than rocks.

Not that any of them does anything to deserve being hit in the head with a sledgehammer, cows-in-field2but still … they don’t all look like Bessie on the milk carton or the cute cows you see on Chick-Fil-A billboards. And none of them talk. Honest. They are big, dumb creatures that taste really good roasted over a charcoal pit.

A good steak, medium rare with a nice garlic butter? Awesome. Man, oh man, it doesn’t get any better. Add a baked potato and a good Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon. Heaven in dishware.

I don’t think anyone will ever say that about bean sprouts or edamame. I just can’t picture anyone getting worked up about a carrot raisin salad and a side of fried tofu covered in tomato sauce with a glass of sauvignon blanc.

There’s no point in arguing that one way of eating is better than another. It won’t make enough of a difference to a meat eater to give up sausage, and it won’t make a vegetarian choke down some bacon. People should be able to choose to eat what they want. But no one should assume that others should share in their eating habits, just because they happen to be around them and don’t like the smell of what they might order.

You think beef smells bad? Get a whiff of tamarind paste or falafel soaking once in a while.

Stinks worse than the damn cows, if you ask me.

But then again, if you’re a vegetarian sitting next to me, I’m not going to assume you will eat up a big bowl of beef stew just because I’m next to you either.

 

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2015

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