I Am More Than an Ally

I just realized that it is the last day of June, “Pride Month” and I have almost let the whole month go by uncelebrated. So in the last possible blog of June I want to write as an ally to all my LGBTQ+ friends and family of which there are many.

Early on in grade school I had a friend K. who did not like to play rough sports on the play ground with the other boys. K. was a cool kid, not very tall, with this gorgeous hair and very funny. I can remember recruiting him to help hold the Chinese jump rope around his ankles when we needed an extra person. That started him hanging out with the “creative play” group as we were always bringing new things to play at recess, like jacks or yo-yos since we were tired of getting killed in dodge ball. Although none of us knew anything about sexuality in second grade, we did understand different and our group of creative girls welcomed K into our fold with open arms. I think we all were a little jealous of his beautiful strawberry blond hair.

Sometimes some of the Neanderthal boys would try and pick on K, but K was smarter than them and he had our group of very vocal girls supporting him. When I was in junior high school K told me that he never would have made it through school without our friend group. I did not understand then that K was gay, just different, but different was OK with us.

As I grew up I always liked the different people. Not that I didn’t like the regulars, but I felt some kind of calling to bring outsiders into the fold. This was somewhat due to the fact that I was drawn to the funniest people or the quickest wits. I quickly learned that if I wanted a good laugh that a gay audience would never disappoint me. If you have one gay friend you are going to get a dozen.

Girl, let me tell you, everybody needs some gay friends. At our wedding when all the different group photos were being taken, Russ’ Aunt and uncle were sitting in the room where the groups would gather. First the families, then all the friends from Wilton, where I grew up, then my college friends. Russ and I would stand in the middle with all our people around us.

The last group photo, Russ stepped out of the photo and a dozen gorgeous men surrounded me. Russ’s Aunt said, “What group is this?” One of my friends said, “We are all the men Dana would not marry.” Russ’ Aunt looked confused. What is wrong with Dana?

I never said out loud to Russ’ Aunt, “These are my best gay friends. And those women over there, my friends Gloria and Laura, they are lesbians, and by the way, my sister and her girlfriend are lesbians as are my father’s secretary Kathy and her girl friend. All here at our wedding.” I should have said that. But that was ages ago and I did not feel it was my place to tell other peoples stories.

I don’t know what happened to K as I lost touch with him when I went to boarding school, but I’m sure if he were around and I needed someone to spin the jump rope he would volunteer. Today I am more than an Ally, I am a friend and I count myself so lucky to have such a diverse group of dear friends who are always good for a laugh or a hug, whichever is needed.

Male Resting Bitch Face

This morning I got an early call that I was needed at an emergency meeting. The emergency was not mine, but a vendor’s and they needed a big favor. I went to the meeting, early, as I am always early. Being trained at a young age as a sales person I learned that making people wait for you is the worst way to start off a relationship. It says, “My time is more important than your time.”

My colleague and I waited for these two men to arrive so we could help them with their big problem. They texted two minutes before the meeting that they were going to be late. Nice to let me know two minutes in advance since they were literally walking from their office three minutes away. They ended up being ten minutes late. That had made me mad enough to tell them so.

The very young of the two young men immediately copped a serious “Male resting Bitch face” with me. Certainly the wrong thing to do when you called me to drop everything I was doing, to help you fix your problem.

“Having an attitude with me is not going to make me want to help you.”

I know to this young man I am an old, unimportant woman, but he took this attitude at his own peril in front of his boss. His boss did apologize and tried to back peddle, but it was too late.

My advice to all young people in business is look in the mirror and see what your face does when you are not actively smiling. Customers are going to make you mad, but you should not challenge them by looking like an asshole. Learn to be on time, and don’t expect other people to make your life easier. And for god’s sake, your emergency is not someone else’s emergency.

How to Explain Dental Care to Your Dog

Our baby Shay Shay is a doodle. Being one means she is predisposed to bad teeth. No matter what we do she builds up tarter and gets gingivitis easily. So we have to have her teeth cleaned at the vet’s every year.

Dogs getting their teeth cleaned is only slightly like humans. First they have to have their blood work done days in advance. Assuming that your sweet puppy is healthy in every possible way they give you the go ahead to get their teeth cleaned.

No food the night before so Shay knows something is up when I ask her if she wanted to go in the car first thing this morning without breakfast. I wish that she could speak to me and say she understands when I am explaining that this is for her own good. Shay is so trusting she happily goes with the vet tech when they come and take her from our car.

To clean a dog’s teeth she must have anesthesia and be put out so the doctor can safely clean her teeth. Thankfully, despite the gingivitis, Shay’s teeth were in good shape and did not need any extractions. I wait all morning for the call from the doctor to tell me that Shay is fine. It comes at noon and I breathed a sigh of relief. I still had to wait until three so that she could come fully out of her nap.

Right at three she was walked out to the car, with her little shaved band on her right leg where the IV was attached. She was still a little groggy and came home and drank a bunch of water, ate no food and went right to bed. I know she is still out of it because she did not do her “exactly at 6PM” demand of her dinner.

Her mouth is hurting a little because she has hardly opened it and certainly has not given me a kiss. I know she is not happy about having to get her teeth cleaned. I just wish I could explain to her that we do it so that she lives a nice long healthy life.

No Hate Fences

The phrase, “good fences make good neighbors,” is not just for humans. Today I was reminded why I spent two hot months building my fenced in garden.

I have a second garden plot behind my first one, but it is not fenced in. It is probably a sunnier spot than my fenced garden, but last year’s job of building my garden was big enough for one human so I did not fence my back garden. This spring, as I finished planting the fenced garden I found I had a couple of plants or started seeds left over so I went ahead and planted them in the unfenced garden. I knew this was risky, since I fenced the first garden after years of heartbreak growing vegetable just to feed wild life.

Two days ago in the unfenced garden

For most of the spring and early summer the things in the unfenced garden went unnoticed by the abundant deer and bunnies that call our neighborhood home. So I actually bought four cantaloupe plants to add to that garden, thinking that deer did not like them.

Same place Today

Russ had gone to Boston first thing this morning to see Carter since he has work in Rhode Island this week. Shay and I lazed around since no one was watching. As I was getting ready to be a productive human I looked out my window and saw a patch of brown in my unfenced garden. Sure enough a deer was there making a buffet of it. I pounded on the window screaming at the deer who could not quite figure out where that sound was coming from as the storm window was down.

I threw on some clothes and trusty guardian Shay and I went out to discover the murder of the cantaloupe, okra, green beans, and peppers in the unfenced garden. On top of that the butternut squash, which had grown out of the fence and back in as well as some pole beans that had grown up the fence had been sheered off on the outside of the fence in the fenced garden.

The butternut squash leaves that grew out of the fence were devoured along with some flowers in the pot

One of the reasons I put up the fence was I was trying to eradicate hate from life after so many years of a certain politician as well as the innocent deer just trying to get a good meal. The fence had worked as well as a good and fair election. I had not felt hate in my heart for months.

Today, for just a few moments it came back. Then I went into my fenced garden and harvested today’s bounty. The hate disappeared just a little bit. I know I never should have advertised that baby cantaloupe on the blog two days ago. It was just begging for it to disappear. That dear had no trouble eating the whole little melon along with every single flower that represented future melons and 80% of the leaves.

Bean leaves outside the fence sheered off

I already knew that fences were good. I just needed to be reminded. I am not sure I need to build a second fenced garden. It was so much work. I just need to be satisfied with the one I have and not plant things the deer would like to eat in an unfenced area.

I Can Do It Myself

My mother gave me her beautiful silver chest, minus the silver. It has four drawers but was missing the inserts in two drawers that make it a silver chest that keeps the tarnish away and holds everything in place. I did a little research to find some, but the odd size of the drawers meant that I would need to have some custom made.

There was a company out of Texas (of course) that makes custom silver drawer, cabinet or room inserts to keep your silver in. Imagine having a whole room just to store silver!

I followed the instructions about inquiring about getting custom inserts made. I had to email Patrick and he emailed me back the instructions. It looked like it was going to cost about $250 per drawer plus tax and shipping and take 22 weeks. It seemed slow and expensive to me, but the real kicker was I had to send a place setting of silver for them to keep those whole 22 weeks. What if I was having a party?

I decided this was a project I could do myself, with a little wood working help from Russ. I order $17 worth of Pacific Silver Cloth from the same people who made the custom inserts. There is really only one real kind of silver cloth, the brown kind, which had silver imbedded in it to attract the tarnish causing particles away from your flatware. It is like brown felt that cuts, glues and sews like felt.

I cut a piece of mat board the size of my drawer and covered it with the silver cloth, leaving a tail as big as the board itself. I sewed the edges of the tail so they would not unravel. I drew a template of the piece of wood I needed Russ to cut for the thing that holds the silver in place, which he did twice.

I then covered the wood in silver cloth. I fit the flat, felt covered board in the drawer and added the wood spine. It looks and acts exactly like the $250 model and it cost $8.50. Since I made two I saved $483 plus the cost of not shipping my silver to Texas, and the tax and shipping for them sending it back. So I easily saved over $550. It took about two hours to make.

Too bad I don’t have a room to cover in silver cloth because I could totally do that myself. Imagine how much I could save? Maybe enough to fill it full of silver.

Uneven Harvest

One problem with having a small garden is the unevenness of ripening fruit. One day I will get five Zucchini, the next three yellow squash. Two days ago I had to harvest the last patch of arugula as it does not like hot weather. This makes me so sad since it is my favorite thing to grow and the easiest.

I overfilled my harvest basket, which was an inspired gift from my friend Mary Lloyd. The recent hot, hot days had made the arugula bolt, growing tall and flowering. When that happens there are very few tender leaves for consumption. So processing it is much harder work than my normal way of just cutting one salads worth directly from the patch.

After triple washing the basket full in the sink I pulled off any edible leaves. The resulting yield was about a fifth of the harvest basket. Still good, just a lot more work than cool season harvesting.

Today I had three nice cucumbers. Those vines have been prolific. I have already gifted cucumbers and pickled a bunch. I had one tiny cherry tomato. It is actually my third tomato. I picked my first two day before yesterday when my friend Lane was visiting and we ate them standing right in the garden. There are hundreds and hundreds of green tomatoes on my plants. I know that most will ripen all at once and I will have my hands full.

I also picked the first of my pole beans. I had a big handful’s worth with a few more still on the vine I am letting get slightly bigger to pick tomorrow. It would be enough to add to a nice Niçoise salad so I am thinking of that for tomorrow. I have plenty of tender lettuce and perhaps another couple of cherry tomatoes.

The saddest thing was my single Okra pod. I added it to the three others I have in the fridge. Four okra are not quite enough to cook into something. I hope to get a few more before these whither.

Lastly, I noticed the first of my cantaloupe. I have an unfenced garden next to my fenced one and I thought the animals would not like melons. So far so good. The animals have eaten all my overflow plants I put in the unfenced garden. I am going to have to experiment with what I might grow there next year along with the melon.

I am getting to that point in the growing year where the cool season vegetables are over, like the kale, spinach, arugula, cilantro and chives. My yellow squash aren’t faring well and I fear I will need to pull them up. That means I have some space to plant something new. With the likelihood of really hot weather to come my choices are limited until the end of August when I can add more cool weather greens and cabbage.

This first year of the new garden is certainly trial and error. For the most part I am thrilled with my raised beds and the garden soil I filled them with. Keeping that soil well amended and doing smart crop rotation is going to be a life’s work.

For now I am most looking forward to a big tomato sandwich with a warm red fruit straight from the vine. One good tomato is worth all the work of building this garden.

You Can’t Change Your Mind If You Are Dead

I am tiring of people not getting their Covid Vaccines. Probably most people who read this blog have gotten your shots and good for you! But as I look at the data I am shocked how many eligible people still haven’t done it.

For people who are afraid of shots you need to close your eyes and get over this because if you get Covid and go to the hospital you are going to have to get a lot more shots than two once you are admitted. If you have any children under 12, get your shots to help protect your kids who still can’t have the vaccines. The more people around kids who are unvaccinated the higher the likelihood you will give Covid to a kid. Yes, children rarely die from it, but do you want to take your chances?

I am tired of watching people on TV who are dying in the hospital saying, “I wish I had gotten the vaccine, this thing is no flu.” You dumb ass should have gotten the vaccine. It is free, available everywhere, everyday. I know people say they can’t get the time off work, but there is a pharmacy almost everywhere where they can get the vaccine any day of the week.

Right now Pfizer and Moderna have submitted to the FDA for full approval of their vaccines. I can hardly wait for those to be done. The Data on 140 million people over the last six months should be convincing. Once the FDA does approve for full use and not just emergency use then insurance companies need to require customers to get the vaccine. If they don’t, the insurance companies should not cover Covid related medical expenses. If you are an anti-Vaxer you should have to pay an extra premium for not protecting yourself. Why should I foot the bill for people who won’t protect the public in general?

Now that we have this vaccine, Covid is just thinning the herd, and I wouldn’t have a problem with that except it also can hurt those people who are immune compromised, or very young.

There are people who say they don’t know the long term affects of the vaccine, but we already know there are a lot of people who have long term affects of Covid, if they survived it in the first place. Pick your poison? It looks like the vaccine’s downsides are less than Covid’s, and now with the Delta variant, unvaccinated people are having a harder time not catching it.

Look to the Manatee County, Florida government building as a perfect example of how Covid and the vaccine work. The IT department had an outbreak of Covid, two people died, four were hospitalized and the one person who was vaccinated did not get Covid. Those four hospitalized people could still die.

I know people who are contrarian just because they want to be. This is not the time to fight the system. You don’t have to tell people you got the vaccine if it is so important to appear not to follow the crowd, just get it anyway. It’s too late to get a vaccine if you are dead.

Bee Allergy

The year was 1973. I was a camper at camp Idlepines for girls in New Hampshire. My cabin ate some and I were up at the tennis courts having our lesson. It was my least favorite camp activity. As I was changing sides of the net a bee landed on my finger and stung me. It was the first time I had been stung by a bee, but I was the third camper that day to be stung. No one seemed too concerned.

The counselor told me to walk down the long camp road to the office and get an ice pack. I did and on the walk my hand swelled up as if I were Violet Beauregard in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. When I reach the office the swelling was starting to go up my arm. Aunt Jane, the sister of the camp director and another counselor determined I must be allergic and fearing the swelling getting to my throat decided I must go to the hospital. I can’t remember exactly where it was, but it was a long enough drive that the swelling did reach my shoulder and I was seen the second we got to the ER.

My bad allergic reaction to the bee sting prompted my parents to get me allergy shots. Apparently I was so sensitive to the allergy shots the doctors had to add a bit of adrenaline to the serum every time I got a shot. The once a week shots lasted close to three years.

I told Lane I needed to go buy some Benadryl right away and even though she was only halfway through her lunch she jumped up and drove us over to Target. I took one and a half pills in the parking lot. The swelling on my arm had started just a little, but quickly subsided. My years of childhood allergy shots obviously worked.

Since I never was stung by a bee again I was never fully sure the allergy shots worked…Until today. I was eating lunch outdoors at the new Happy and Hale at University Hill with my dear friend Lane. I had just finished my salad and I brushed my hand on my arm without realizing I was brushing a bee and it stung me.

Lane went home after a little more visiting at my house. I made a phone call and as I was talking my words were noticeably slowing down. I went to lie down on my bed and fell asleep at 2:30 with my iPad in my hand. I awoke at 6:30, in exactly the same position holding my iPad.

I have no swelling and have had the hardest nap I have had in years. No wonder people give babies on planes some Benadryl. The good news is I finally have confirmation that getting all those shots were worth it.

Processing the Harvest

Last summer I spent two solid months building my garden. Most days I worked a minimum of four hours, but some days as much as eight. I thought it was the hardest job I would ever do when it came to gardening.

This spring I started planting, and compared to building the garden it was a breeze. Weeding, watering, harvesting all a pleasure especially when compared to building, shoveling and carrying.

Now I am in the high output season of the garden and processing the fruits of my labors is taking almost as much time as building the infrastructure. Yesterday I made a quart of pesto from some basil, a quart of pickled cucumbers and four quarts of yellow squash and onions. Today I made three zucchini and onion quiche. Tomorrow I am going to make English mint sauce, zucchini bread, stuffed zucchini blossoms, pickled peppers and I am going to process the last of my arugula.

Processing is my least favorite job. When the arugula has gone to flower it is time to rip it all up and wash it in the sink and pull the tender leaves from the woody stems, dry and store it. I put the arugula in a big plastic container with a sheet of paper towel inside on top and a tight fitting lid. I then store the container upside down so the paper towel is now on the bottom. This process keeps greens the freshest.

I need to process the lettuce, but it is keeping a little better than the arugula so I may wait a bit. I also need to harvest at the cilantro that has gone to seed. The seeds are coriander. To dry them I cut all the stalks down and hang them upside down in a paper bag. When the seeds get dry enough they fall into the bottom of the bag. The chives also need processing as they have gone to flower. They are a little easier since they just get cut into tiny snips and frozen.

I am not sure what I am going to plant in the beds that will be vacated by all this harvesting. That is a plan I will have to make another day because I will be too busy cooking and processing everything else.

Thank goodness everything doesn’t come all at once. My tomato plants are huge and full of green fruit. I look everyday to see if anything is getting ripe, but alas, nothing so far. If all these tomatoes come in at the same time I might have to give up some hours of sleep.

Thinking in Public

The other day I wrote a blog titled “Similarities between my garden and the Bible.” It immediately elicited a response from my friend and minister Chris. He worries if I wade into the biblical. His response was, “After the first few lines I went, ‘oh no…’ and by the end I went, ‘I think she’s on to something good here.’”

When I asked him what caused the “oh no”? He responded, “Sometimes things come out of your mouth/keyboard that are unpredictable.”

I replied, “Absolutely unpredictable. Otherwise why would you keep reading?”

I write every night for twenty minutes, then I post it. I have done this everyday for over ten years. Rarely do I know what I am going to write about. I sit down after dinner and think, “Oh Lord, what happened today that I can write about?” There are plenty of things that happen, which are, “off the blog record.”

This Sunday I was watching an interview with the brilliant Malcom Gladwell on CBS Sunday Morning. I, in no way, am in the same hemisphere as Malcom Gladwell, but he said so many things about writing that I try to subscribe too, without my knowing they were his ideas.

First, “A Writer’s job is to be interesting, not always right. They raise questions that need to be raised.”

Second Gladwell said, “I would rather be interesting that right. I am thinking in public.”

Third, “The best way to stay interesting is to stay a moving target.”

I am not always interesting, but I do raise a lot of questions. I have plenty of people for whom those questions resonate and some who despise me for asking them. My blog is the ultimate act of thinking in public. It is off the cuff, often unresearched and always original.

Sometimes I write about controversial issues which makes me a target, but then I post an original recipe just to calm the waters. Nothing about the way I blog is going to change, but I did feel a sense of calm when I heard Gladwell talk about his writing. I am probably never going to produce a NYT bestseller. Most of the time I am just happy if I can make people laugh. Some days, especially the last 439, things have not been as funny as I would like them to be. Thinking in public is really the best description for a blog. Thanks Malcom for giving me those words, it sounds so much better than being unpredictable.

Father’s Day Needs a New Date

Happy Father’s Day to all you father’s out there. I am lucky to still have my father in my life. Father’s Day was never fully celebrated in my childhood home. Being at the end of June we likely had just finished school and us kids were more excited about getting to go swimming than in being good daughters.

My father’s idea of a good Father’s Day is sharing a martini. I’m the bad daughter who gave up drinking

If we did something for my father it was probably cutting the grass without complaining. Well, my sister Janet never complained about cutting the grass and Margaret, being the middle, probably never cut the grass. So to my Dad, sorry that your girls were not great Father’s Day celebrators. Despite our lack of real gifts I do hope my Dad knows we appreciated all he did for us.

Carter is lucky that she has a great Dad in Russ, but she too was away more father’s Days than she was home due to camp starting right after school ended. So celebrating Father’s Day for Russ falls down to me. Given my poor upbringing as far as celebrating Father’s Day was concerned Russ gets cheated. Tonight he wanted Toro Pizza for his special day and he got it. Then there was Shay begging for his crusts. He couldn’t even enjoy is own meal.

I think we could improve our Father’s Day celebration if it happened in October and not June, but I doubt anyone else is interested in that change. For now I want to wish every father a happy day. You are appreciated, even if your kids are not there to do it in person.

The one think I know is that Shay gives Russ the most attention and to her, everyday is Father’s Day. Hey Russ, just take the love you have from Shay and know she speaks for all of us.

Similarities Between My Garden and the Bible

There is a parable in the Bible about a Shepard who leaves his ninety-nine sheep to go and find the one lost sheep. I have heard this story at least a dozen times as it appeals in both Luke and Mathew and every time I have heard it I have a hard time wrapping my brain around why you would leave 99 unattended just to find one. What if you came back and now three were missing?

This week I went away for four days and left Russ in charge of watering my garden. He did exactly as instructed, but the days were hotter and the sun was stronger and when I came home my yellow squash plants were in distress. Now most everything else was flourishing. The tomatoes have grown well over my head. The cucumbers are producing many fruits. The okra are about to start providing and the zucchini are doing well.

This morning I went to work in the garden and for the first time I understood the parable of the lost sheep. I was unconcerned with working on anything but my yellow squash, even though everything needed some tending. My yellow squash might have been lost, but I wanted to try and save it, and let everything else tend to itself.

Perhaps I never fully I understood that story because we have only one child. I have not had to split my attention and pay all of it to someone in need and be hopeful that the rest can survive on their own.

It does sound crazy to liken a squash plant to a sheep or worse a child, but when you raise something from infancy you feel committed to it. I did prune the plant of any failing foliage and I hope that will save it. If not I will have to be satisfied with the harvest I have already had from that plant and tear it out and replant something else in its space. Gardening is an education all the time, kind of like the Bible. You can read and not embrace every story until something similar happens to you.

The First Meal

Ten days into dating Russ Lange I had still not cooked for him. He asked me to marry him and I said yes and then that night I made him a spur of the moment pasta and veggie dinner. He said my cooking was a bonus he did not expect.

Today I harvested some Japanese eggplant and zucchini from the garden along with some basil. I decided I would recreate the veggie pasta I made Russ that first meal. I sautéd some onions along with the squash and eggplant and then added some roasted garlic marinara sauce I had.

I added spaghetti and mixed it all together and put it in a baking dish, added a little cheese and baked it until the cheese melted. Fresh basil was sprinkled on top as it was served. Russ, recalling that first meal perfectly said, “This is delicious, but the original dish did not have red sauce in it.”

He was right. I can’t believe he remembers that exact ingredients in the first meal I cooked him. That is true love.

A Clean Floor Means Happiness

I have been away from home for four days. Russ and Shay were all who were left keeping the home fires burning. I had supplied Russ with plenty of good leftovers so very little cooking was needed. He did a good job of eating some of it, when we wasn’t out with a work colleague having dinner; something he has been unable to do for 16 months.

So after three long days of teaching Mah Jongg and going out every night with friends I was fairly exhausted when I walked in the door tonight after my three hour drive home. I needed to water my garden despite Russ watering it yesterday; which I did before I even stepped foot inside the house. So it came as such a nice surprise to see a clean kitchen floor when I did come in.

We have this black and white tile floor that is a pain to clean. I have to mop and then dry it. I cleaned it before I left for the beach and usually it gets dirty again in two days. Well, Russ must have only microwaved leftovers and made coffee while I was gone, because the floor is in decent shape.

There is something so nice about coming home to a clean house. I never go away and leave it dirty because I know that there are no little fairies who will come and clean while I am away. But if I leave anyone home while I am away there is no guarantee that it will remain clean.

I would like to comend my wonderful husband for basically not messing up the kitchen. He is always good at doing dishes, but floors are way too far from his site line to even register if they are dirty or not.

It was just a nice welcome home. Now if it could just rain for my garden I would be really happy.

Sharing the Joy

Teaching someone to play Mah Jongg is a multi-day event. If anyone tells you they can teach you in one afternoon, don’t believe them. But unlike Bridge, which is a life’s study, you can really learn Mah Jongg in three days.

I told my students this week not to judge if they liked playing Mah Jongg by their first class. It takes at least two days to fully comprehend all that is involved. The first day of teaching is exhausting for me since I have to talk the whole time. (If you know me you think I talk the whole time anyway.)

Today was the second day, and it was much more hands on for the students and less theoretical. They paid attention, they asked good questions, they thought hard and then one by one you could see the light bulb go off in their brains as they caught on to the intricacies of the game.

People played whole games for the first time and won. There is nothing more fun than hearing the call of “Mah Jongg” from a first time player. Of course some don’t say it as a declaration, but more like an unsure question. Once I confirm for them that indeed, they have won, then it is a real celebration. It is so joyous when the other other players at their table also cheer for them in a heartfelt way.

Great new friendships are started at Mah Jongg. People who learn together exchange contact info so they can plan on playing together after classes.

Tonight Reba and I went to dinner with her neighbor Susan, who was one of my students five years ago when I first came down here to teach. She told me a story about the time I was teaching her class and heard her discard a tile from across the room and told her to stop and rethink that discard. She was still amazed that I knew what she was playing when I had not looked at her hand for five minutes and looked at a number of other ones in between.

I can’t believe she still remembers that, but it made an impression. I am just thrilled that she loved the game and is still playing five years later.

Tomorrow will be my last day of teaching this month, but I will be back in July to teach two weeks. The pandemic has kept me from Mah Jongg with real people. Teaching it this week has reminded me why I love it so much and love teaching it almost as much as playing it.

Mah Jongg Vs. Fishing

Today was the first day of Mah Jongg class for two groups of lovely ladies. They came dressed up to learn to play and at first I thought they must have thought it was a party too, but then I realized everyone dressed up. I have been so long in pandemic I was unaccustomed to seeing women out of yoga pants.

Thankfully teaching Mah Jongg is a something that has a lot of muscle memory even if it has been unexercised for such a long time. I warned the students not to judge if they like Mah Jongg by the first lesson since it really does take three lessons to start to understand it. Thankfully I don’t think I had any students who did not catch on today so the next two days should go well.

After class Reba took me downtown in Morehead city to see the Big Rock Fishing tournament that happens to be going on this week. I have absolutely no knowledge about big time competitive fishing. The money in competitive fishing is absolutely crazy, but you couldn’t tell by the way people were dressed.

We got to see a big marlin that had been caught today, which was hanging and weighed in at over 500lbs. I am sure getting that fish I was a big fight. I actually felt sorry for the fish who looked so beat up.

As far as I am concerned I think competitive Mah Jongg is a much safer than fishing and is a lot less expensive, even if you average in the wardrobe.

Head-First, Full-on

I should have eased out of the pandemic, instead I have run full-on, head first back into social life. This past weekend we had guests spend Friday and Saturday night with us. Then we had guests come for Sunday lunch. Today My friend Hannah and her mother Boogie came for lunch and a tour of my garden before I left to drive down to Morehead City.

Tonight I am back at my friend Reba’s readying myself to go teach both a morning and afternoon Mah Jongg classes for the next three days at the Coral Bay club. Add all that to going to film church where I lectured and a lot of gardening in preparation for being away for three days when it probably won’t rain and I am already exhausted.

Coming to stay with Reba is a bit of a vacation as she always greets me the first night with a yummy dinner of shrimp salad and heirloom tomatoes. I just wish I wasn’t already tired before I even begin teaching. My extrovert stamina is out of practice. I have gotten really used to a solitary life of reading, gardening and needlepointing.

Don’t get me wrong, I have loved seeing my friends, especially the ones who have not been around much. I am just not used to go, go going all the time. Well, there was that moving my parents and estate sale work that I have done for the last three months. I was looking at teaching Mah Jongg as kind of a break.

At least I will get a good night’s sleep so I am ready to introduce the fabulous game to two giant classes of new friends I will meet tomorrow. It has been so long since I have taught I hope I won’t be rusty. I also hope my extrovert gene comes back, because that is the only way I can teach for seven hours straight. Maybe next week I can go back to half pandemic mode.

Zucchini Red Lentil Salad

During vegetable garden season I try and use things I grow to make up most of our meals. Today we had some friends for lunch. Since I don’t grow protein I added Salmon to the menu. I also don’t have any melons growing yet so I had to supplement with a store bought watermelon, but every other dish was full of the bounty from the garden.

We had sumac rolls which were filled of herbs from the garden. Watermelon salad with mint, lime and salt was yummy. The best dish was a zucchini red lentil salad. It was easy and could be an entire meal as the lentils are full of protein.

2 medium zucchini cut into 1/4 inch rounds

1 cup of red lentils

1/4 cup of goat cheese

Three handfuls of arugula

Twenty basil leaves, chopped

Olive oil

Lemon juice

Shallot vinaigrette

1 shallot minced

Juice of a lemon

3 T. champagne vinegar

1/3 cup of olive oil

1 t. Sugar

1/2 t. Salt

Black pepper

Heat fry pan to medium hot, coat bottom with olive oil. Salt and pepper zucchini rounds and place in single layer of fry pan. Cook until light brown on one side and and flip and cook the other side.

Place Red lentils in Sauce pan and cover with water. Bring pot to boil and cook for two minutes once boiling. Drain the lentils. Add zucchini and lentils to bowl and squirt a little lemon and dash of olive oil on them and chill.

Make vinaigrette by mixing everything together in a jar and shake vigorously.

When ready to serve, crumble goat cheese in the bowl with the veggies and add the arugula and basil. Add vinaigrette a little at a time so as not to over power the salad. You won’t use all the vinaigrette. Toss and enjoy.

Out of Practice

It has been a long time since I had to cook for two meals for guests. Let’s be honest, it has been a long time since we have had guests. This morning I had to go do some filming and it took longer than I had anticipated. I got home and had some lunch then got to work cooking.

Our friends Jan and Rex started moving in their new house, but it is hardly ready to be slept in so they are with us. I told them to come back for dinner tonight after what I knew was going to be a long day. Since they are still sleeping here, dinner at home seemed like the way to go.

Now that my garden is producing I try my best to use things I grow in as many dishes as I can. I made a saffron chicken and rice dish that had nothing from the garden so I cut a bunch of lettuce for a salad to be my garden component.

Tomorrow we are having an old friend and her new Beau for lunch. Russ bought a new cookbook, Falistin, because he saw an herb filled bun recipe he wanted me to make. Talk about complicated. Today I made the dough, which is currently rising in the fridge, as suggested. I made the onion, sumac, oregano and thyme filling using herbs from my garden and the parsley, chili oil, also from the garden. Tomorrow I will roll out the Dough, fill it, proof it, bake it and dress it with the herb oil. After all that it better be spectacular.

I prepped zucchini and red lentil for a salad that will include goat cheese and arugula. I also made the shallot dressing for that. And I prepped the salmon I will cook tomorrow. The only thing I did not do was cut the watermelon and mint. Mint gets fussy if cut too early.

After I finished cooking I cleaned the kitchen and mopped the floor and I was exhausted. I really had not cooked that much. I was only standing in the kitchen about five hours, but I was way out of practice. I had to go lie down on my bed and rest.

Certainly my cooking muscle will come back as well as my planning ahead gene. I must have gone to the garden no less than six times with sheers in hand looking to gather ingredients I needed. Pre-pandemic I would have gathered everything I needed all at once and been ready to hustle out multiple dishes one after the other. I felt like a total amateur in the kitchen today.

At least dinner tasted good. It just should not have taken so long to make. I guess I was just out of practice.

All is Right In the World

After what I call the eleven year Bobby Ewing shower, Our friends Jan and Rex are back to being Durham Residents after a jaunt in Texas. Jan was one of my first and best Durham friends and when she told me that she was moving to Texas over a Mah Jongg game eleven years ago I said, “That is only temporary, right?”

I thought they would be gone five years. Jan did come and stay with us regularly and once and a while Rex would come too, but almost eleven was getting to be just too long. Thankfully they closed on a house in Durham today and all is right in the world.

They are spending their first night back in Durham with us since they don’t have their furniture yet. We went to Nana Steak to celebrate and Jan did mention she was happy to live in the same town as her favorite designated driver.

So the way I see it, we are fully vaccinated, we can start Mah Jongg back up regularly and it will be like Jan never left. Throw back that shower curtain, Pam Ewing, Bobby never really died, he was just in the shower. It was all a dream.

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Wonder what’s moving in between Only Burger and Tutti Frutti? The building gives away nothing, but soon enough the sign will be put up and then all of Durham will know that Sage & Swift Catering is now a neighbor to Hope Valley.

I had lunch today with the dear Amy Tournquist and learned the exciting plans she has for her new space. Getting dinners to go will be so much more convenient now that she is around the corner. We talked about in addition to her regular yummy offerings that she might do healthy options in the dinner-to-go category. She already makes good for you taste great, so it will be nice to have guilt-free along with the work-free dinner. Of course you can still get her award winning mac and cheese for the kids.

The big news is going to be her once a month wine nights with small plate offerings once the front of the house gets finished. She is not going back to having a full time restaurant like Watts Grocery. I miss being able to have an Amy Crab Cake, so this will be a way to get my fix.

For now, I would just like to welcome Amy and Jeremy to this side of town. I look forward to seeing the big ampersand in the Sage & Swift every time I go to the post office. It’s nice to have a caterer back in that space, especially since it’s Amy.

The Zucchini is Coming

There is a point when growing zucchini when you can hardly keep up eating it as the plants produce so much at once. So far we have had about four squash, spread out over two weeks. I made Zucchini bread to stock Russ up with his favorite snack. Today I picked four nice fruits and saw more coming tomorrow and the next day.

Wanting to do something different with these zucchini I made a Palestinian dish of zucchini and yoghurt. The squash were so perfect with no seeds at all, they were perfect for this recipe.

1 large onion chopped

4 zucchini chopped into 1/2 dice

2 T. Olive oil

1 cup of Greek yogurt

4 cloves of garlic, minced

Sprinkle of red pepper flakes

1/2 t. Sumac (or lemon zest)

Salt and course ground black pepper

4 T. Fresh mint, Chiffonade

Heat oil in fry pan on medium heat and add onions. Cook, Stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes until wilted, but not browned.

Add zucchini and Cook for 15 minutes until soft.

Add salt and peppers. Remove from heat and let cool.

Add everything else to cooled mixture and stir. Serve at room temp or cold with pita bread or as a side dish. We added lamb meat balls and tomatoes to a mezze plate.

Strange Day Alone

I have grown very accustomed to having Russ working at home. It has been a pleasant fifteen months of getting to see him in the middle of the day. That changed today as he flew to Washington before I woke up, for a meeting, like the old days.

I was already planning on driving up to the farm to pick up the ten tables I borrowed from friends to use for the sale and to have lunch with my Dad. As I drove up rt. 86 I listened to a book for my book club.

I got to the farm and just as I pulled into the drive behind the little house my Dad called me and said his doctor’s appointments were taking too long and he couldn’t have lunch. So I spent the next hour and a half retrieving the tables from all over and packed them into the car. Back on the road home I was thankful for my book reader because I had not seen a real person all day.

I came home to the exciting job of cleaning the house since it had been neglected last week and we are having guests this weekend. As I scrubbed toilets, I continued listening to my book. Shay and I played outside together all while I listened.

I ate dinner of leftovers alone and listened to my book. It was a rare day where I did not see another person, despite being out. Thank goodness for audible. Russ should be home before I go to bed. I am not sure I am going to like him going back to the office. It’s very quiet around here without him.

The Sole Carter Farmer

Now that the farm has been sold I am the sole farmer left. Truth be told no one in my blood line has actually been a farmer since my great grandfather. The joke has been the farm is where executives go to play.

I am only a gardener, not a Farmer, but still my garden grows more food than the farm. The farm mostly grew hay because my father liked the hundreds and hundreds of acres of fields to be beautiful.

May 19

Two and a half weeks ago my tomatoes barely reached the first ring in their cages, except the one in the corner, which was planted a couple of week earlier. It had not reached it’s top ring.


Today that corner tomato plant is about to reach the top of the gardens support and all the others are well outside their cages. Still not harvestable tomatoes, but many small green globes are growing on the plants.

May 19

I have harvested zucchini and made Russ bread. I did a major basil harvest and made two quarts of pesto this morning. The lettuce and the arugula continue to feed us and the hot peppers are off the plants and in the fridge.

I see many small cucumbers as the vines grow up the strings I added so they had a place to go. The pole beans have surpassed the strings I gave them, but no beans yet.

As the sole farmer I am going to keep experimenting and learning how to grow better and more food. I am thankful I don’t have a bigger garden as this one is enough work.

Recovery Day Interrupted

I got home last night around 7:30. Carter made me dinner. I read my email and took a sleep aid so I would sleep hard. Not because I needed help falling asleep, but because I did not want to wake up at 5:45, which I have been doing for the last three weeks. The pill worked. I stayed asleep until 8:45 and felt sleepy all day.

Carter also slept a hard 13 hours, something she says she hasn’t done in years. For her it was the exhaustion of having been with so many people for two days. She is ready to go back to her working from home solo life in Boston.

As this was my appointed recovery day I watched CBS Sunday Morning and church and was generally lazy this morning. Russ went to his office to do his weekly chore of watering the plants when I got a call from him interrupting my recovery.

“I’m in the parking garage and the Smart car won’t start, can you bring the battery jumper?” I did. Didn’t work. The little 12 year old Smart had just driven up and back to the farm yesterday, but couldn’t make it two miles back from the office. Russ looked at the code that was appearing on the dash board and found the Internet called it the three bars of death. That code could be one of fifteen things wrong with the car. We called AAA and they took it away to the dealership. Russ loves his Smart because it is a convertible. We pray it is a fuse or something else minor on the list of the three bars of death.

So much for a total recovery day. Outside of helping Russ get home I have been fairly lazy. Some time with Carter as she is flying back to Boston before dawn tomorrow and that is the end of my weekend.

Tomorrow brings a new week and some needed productivity at home. No sleep aid for me tonight. It’s back to getting up early.

Keep Going

At 6 PM, with my car full of boxes of goodies I had to bring home for remote shoppers I drove down our farm lane collecting the signs I had put out for the Estate Sale. The one most people mentioned to me was the “Keep Going” because they had no idea our driveway was a literally a mile long and they were certain they must have missed the sale. But I had placed signs all along the driveway like traveling down I-95 and Pedro speaking to you as you go in search of South of the Border.

I threw each old sign in the back of my car and after getting the last big one at the intersection of the two main roads I turned around and drove back to the the dumpster by my Dad’s office barn. This estate sale was done.

We had a slow, but steady day today. It is funny what people buy and what they don’t buy. None of the Crystal of glasses sold. I guess that fifteen months of pandemic got people out of the habit of having parties and no one thought they needed eight, twelve or sixteen wine glasses.

But people went wild for tiny leather gloves of many bright colors I thought only my mother’s small hands could wear. We hardly sold a lamp, yet young people bought cassette tapes of artists I was surprised they had heard of. My mother’s art was the most popular item and that was no surprise. It seems like every volunteer also bought art.

It was a fun day because I had my dear friend Jan and Carter had her oldest friend Ellis and we made a good team selling and packing up items our customers purchased. My mother had it easy with the team we had.

We beat our goal number, and yet we still had lots left over. Carter had mentioned that if no one bought the big set of Wein a China with tiny rose buds that she would love to have it. In the end my mother gave it to her. I know that Carter will forever cherish her grandmother’s China and the happy memories of her childhood at the farm which it will hold.

One by one we packed our cars with our treasures. I was desperate to go home and sleep in my own bed as everyday my sleeping situation got a little worse due to people buying all the blankets and pillows. I was not last to leave as Carter wanted some alone time to say goodbye to the farm. It was not my last time there since I have to go back on Tuesday and pick up all the tables to return them to my garden club friends who kindly lent them to me.

As I drove off I thought of my sign “Keep Going”. It’s all we can do in life.

A Very Successful Day

We sold a lot of stuff today. Thanks to my mother’s cute friends who came and volunteered and my dear friends who came and worked and my wonderful Carter who took the day off work to help her Grandparents, we moved things out.

By ten in the morning we had hardly any rugs or antiques. The good stuff goes fast at Estate sales. The Utensils for a dollar were also popular, especially if it was a big good knife or new garlic press. Not surprisingly my mother’s art was a top draw. It made for a good day.

Still, even with a good day of selling we still have a lot of stuff left. Tomorrow we start discounting. In the morning most things are 30% except for full sets of China and some antiques. By the afternoon we will go to 50%.

So after a day of hard work Jan, Carter and I went out to dinner at a new to us place in Danville called Cotton as it is housed in a old Dan River Mill building. We ate outside and felt almost human after all the day’s hard work.

After dinner we took one last nostalgic drive through the farm. Carter got a little teary eyed. Hard to think of the place she has spent her whole life not being a place she can get away too. It will be time to explore new places and make new memories.

One more day of Estate Sale and then this hell will be over. But honestly, today was fun thanks to the people who came and helped. My Mom owes you all!

The Bittersweet

Today was the last day of prep for the sale. My friend Jan arrived from the mountains ready to work and boy did we need her. Although my mother and I, along with the army of helpers, have been diligently working away every time we turned around we found something else, a drawer of kitchen utensils, a closet full of linens, a cabinet filled will serving pieces. It seemed like we would never be done with all the prep work.

My mother, a life long collector, has been a trooper about parting with many treasures. It helps that she got to chose only the things she really loved to take to her new house, but the fact that they are still packed into boxes means she doesn’t feel comfortable in the new space yet.

By late afternoon we called it a day. I took Jan up to my Aunt Janie Leigh’s who lives next door in my Grand Parents old house. Jan is staying in their little guest house, the house where my great grandfather was born. She was getting settled after we had dumped a bunch of trash in the dumpster my father had hired.

I went back to my parent’s old house and cleaned up to go to dinner and as I was walking out the side porch I noticed a rouge bag of trash that need to go to the dumpster. I threw it in the back of my car and drove over to my office barn, when the dumpster is parked. After I tossed the bag in I looked out over one of the many ponds my father has built on the farm. It was the golden hour where the sun was just dipping to the tree line and the light glistened on the ripples of the water.

I have been so busy working, cleaning out and setting up I had not taken in the fact that these are the last few days on the farm for me and my family. My Aunt will still have her house at the front of the farm, but the back, with the rolling hills, gurgling creeks, and beautiful trees belongs to someone else.

I have sixty years of memories of this place. My grandmother driving my sister Margaret and I down to pumpkin creek in her turquoise Covair so we could play in the cool water on a hot summer day. Or the many farm parties I had with my Washington or Dickinson friends. I remember one farm party when Grace Farley was out eight. We had gone fishing and swimming and the kids put on plays for us. Grace turned to her Mother and asked, “Do you think Dana will invite us back for another farm party?” The answer was always, “of course.”

I so wish we had one more farm party.

One of my very favorite memories here is of Carter learning to ride her bike. With the long private paved road it was safe to take off her training wheels and run along side of her holding the seat. When I let go of the five year old Carter and she peddled up the lane all by herself I knew it was the beginning of her independence.

But things must change. The farm is too big for my aging parents to take care of. It is too much for us to take care of, even if won the lottery. So I lookout over the setting sun and am taking it in one last time. The farm will always be in my heart. So many happy memories, but like watching Carter ride away from me, they are bitter sweet. You want to hold on to the old, but you have to let go and move on to the next chapter.

Nature Takes Over Quickly

My mom has been a trooper cleaning out more closets and pricing things. Just when I think we have everything priced and merchandised we open another hidden closet and find more stuff to sell, like the Burberry suitcase!

My parents moved out of their farm about two weeks ago. So no one has slept at the big house since they left. Today I came up to stay for the next five days to get this sale over and done with.

My new second Mother Sandra came over to help again today. She brought us a homemade lunch & Dinner and she shopped a little for herself, but not until she had done some excellent work.

Sandra and her British oils

After a good hard days work everyone left and I am staying in the big house. After all this work setting it up I am guarding it all. Since we don’t have TV, or wifi I have been walking around the outside noticing how huge the trees and shrubs have gotten since no one is trimming anything. I encountered at least a dozen bunnies on my trip around the house. They were very surprised to see me.

Can you see the little house? It’s not the pump house with the white door.

Not as surprised as the two wood chucks who scurried past my mother when she opened the art barn door. Apparently the back door was open. Who knows how long those woodchucks had been squatting there.

The view from the side porch to the front yard, you used to be able to see the front yard

I have a feeling if the new owners don’t come to the farm soon after they take over, the house might be fully engulfed by hollies and bunnies. I know the wild turkeys have been camping out in the front and the deer are drinking out of the pond every morning. When humans leave, nature just takes over.

This poor little Japanese maple has been engulfed by boxwoods just this month

June 1 Means Summer Suppers

The Basil in my garden is huge already. Although my tomatoes won’t bear red fruit for another few weeks I still need to find ways to use the basil now. I could make pesto, but I was too busy today to take that on. So for supper tonight I used some Campari tomatoes from the store and added a huge amount of basil, really good balsamic vinegar, burrata and some homemade corn bread I cut into cubes and toasted in a cast iron pan. It had to be a cast iron pan, this is North Carolina after all. One bite was the taste of summer.

Basil is the easiest thing to grow. It can be done in a pot or in any old soil. Animals tend not to like it so you don’t have to fence it in. It will get bushier if you cut the main stem as it grows tall. There is nothing better to add to corn salad, tomato sandwiches, simple pasta or even in your morning eggs than fresh basil.

It’s not too late. You can plant basil until September as it will grow until the first frost, but why wait? All you suppers will taste like summer if you add home grown basil.