Gardening…again

Last year, I tried my hand at a very small garden and had lots of success, so this year, I’ve decided to do it again. Before, I had tomatoes, sweet corn, and sunflowers, so I’m going to see if lightning will strike twice. As I said last year, I’m no gardener. I have no idea what I’m doing. But dang it…it’s fun!

We are planting corn this year on the side of the house, and it will be visible (a little) from the street once it gets tall. I’m not sure how much grain growing is allowed in the neighborhood, but I guess we will find out! I will let everyone know if we receive some sort of written notice. My husband is lucky, because I really wanted to plant it out front. I think corn stalks are beautiful, but he put his foot down on that. I learned last year that I had planted my corn plants too far apart, so I had to pollinate them by hand. We still had corn to eat, but it was a chore making sure they were all pollinated. Therefore, this year, I’m planting them in clusters, so they can pollinate each other. Nature’s way is best, so planting them closer together is the way to go. I learned from the past. I was actually surprised the corn grew last year, and I was doubly surprised when it actually produced ears of corn!

The tomato plants are going into the ground near where they were last year, because our knockout roses are in the same area. I believe our tomatoes survived last year, simply because of the knockout roses. The roses attracted braconid wasps, which in turn, killed the tomato grubs that tried to invade the garden. I had no idea about that when we planted the tomatoes, but I noticed a tomato grub with little eggs all over his back and looked it up. They were the eggs of the wasp, and they killed the tomato grubs. Thank you, braconids! Therefore, we are going to put our tomatoes near some roses again.

If you’ve never had a garden of any type, you might find it therapeutic. Last summer, when I woke up every day, I would walk outside and water our garden. And sometimes, I would water them in the evening too. We had tomatoes galore! But it was also a way for me to relax. Sure, I can sit by the pool during the summer and relax. And I can spend time with friends and family, but there was something about the quiet solitude of tending the plants that was good for my psyche. My mother had died the December before, and I truly believe gardening helped me with that. My parents both loved tomatoes and sunflowers. I knew they would have been pleased with what I was doing. Nobody loved a tomato sandwich more than my daddy, and I was able to enjoy them all summer long last year. Store-bought tomatoes just don’t cut it, so I grew my own! We hope to have the same this year…good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise!

So today, instead of doing all the things I should be doing, I will be doing what I want to do. I will have my hands in the dirt. OK, mostly it will be a trowel in the dirt. But I will have it in the dirt, transferring my seedling plants from the little clear cups into the ground. I discovered last year that birds and moles ate most of the seeds I planted, so I had more luck when I transplanted seedlings for corn and sunflowers. Tomato plants will go into the ground near the roses, and we will see if lightning strikes twice.

I’ve had terrible laryngitis for the better part of the week, so having something quiet to do will be perfect for me today. I haven’t felt much like doing anything, but today, it is on!

 

 

 

 

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Squash It

I’m no chef. I can barely even call myself a cook.

But I love reading Hungry Girl cookbooks and magazines, and I love the website, http://www.hungrygirl.com. I’ve written about the site before. I’ve learned a lot about ways to swap high-calorie/high-carb foods for lower calorie foods over the years, and one of my favorite swaps is veggie noodles.

I was slow to buy into veggie noodles. I love my pasta.

But recently, I started to question whether it’s the pasta I like or the stuff that goes with it. Red sauce? I love it. Tomatoes? I love them. Bolognese? Yes, please! I even like Alfredo sauce, but it’s not my favorite.

So I started experimenting with some of Hungry Girl’s veggie noodle ideas. For months, I ate zucchini noodles. I didn’t buy them in the grocery store. I actually purchased the zucchini and brought it home to make my own noodles. I bought a handheld veggie spiral slicer, and I stayed busy making my own zucchini noodles. The first few times I ate them, I was so proud, and I liked them…but that changed. For some reason, the zucchini noodles just didn’t do it for me. I gave up.

Then a few weeks ago, after reading some info on Hungry Girl about spaghetti squash, I went back to the grocery store and picked up a couple of spaghetti squash. I will openly admit that I had no idea what a spaghetti squash looked like. I actually had to read the labels on the produce shelves, but I found them. They look like the gourds they are. I grabbed two and brought them home. Following instructions I found online, I cut them, cleaned them, brushed on a little olive oil and sea salt, and baked them, face down, in the oven. After I took them out of the oven and scraped the “spaghetti” out of them, I knew I had found my true veggie spaghetti love.

The difference in the zucchini and the spaghetti squash? The spaghetti squash absorbs the flavor of its pairing. The zucchini…not so much. There’s something about the texture of the zucchini that prevents it from absorbing the other flavors, but the spaghetti squash texture is perfect. It absorbs the flavor of tomatoes, onions, Alfredo sauce, red sauce, garlic…whatever I put with it! In fact, the texture of it is so perfect that I have actually fooled my teenager with it. I served it to her once with chicken, butter and sea salt, and she didn’t even realize she was eating squash instead of traditional pasta.

That is a win!

After cooking it in the oven several times, I tried cooking it in my Instant Pot. I got the directions from the Hungry Girl website here. Even before trying it, I knew it would be a little lower in calories, simply because it eliminates the need for the olive oil. I wondered how that would affect the flavor. But I wasn’t disappointed! I was thrilled! The Instant Pot method was super easy and super tasty! Hungry Girl wins again!

So now I need to get creative with the spaghetti squash. I’ve prepared it with marinara sauce, Alfredo sauce, Rotel tomatoes, and even chicken/butter. Taking a look at the Hungry Girl site, I see lots of different recipes I need to add to my repertoire. Spaghetti Squash Shrimp Scampi? Yes, please! Spaghetti Squash a la Vodka? Bring it on! To see them all, click here.

Try cooking some of them without telling your family, and see what kind of reaction you get! My super-picky teenager didn’t even turn her nose up at it!

 

 

Today Is Mother’s Birthday

My mother was a little firecracker of a woman. She really was little. She claimed to be five feet tall, and maybe she was…with the right shoes. In her final years, she was probably more along the lines of 4’10”. But she had a big heart and a big sense of humor.

Lots of my friends have lost parents. They know what it’s like. It’s life-changing. I have a friend who recently lost her mother, and then her daddy passed away a month later. Heartbreaking.

My daddy died in 2006…pancreatic cancer. My mother passed away in December. Her 79th birthday is today, September 3, but she didn’t make it this far.

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Mother on her 75th birthday, in 2014, with my daughter and my nephew.

Here’s the deal: Mother would not want us to sit around crying about her. She would be thrilled to think we have laughed and told funny stories about her since she passed. She had a great sense of humor that got better with age, and nobody could make her laugh like my brother could. She died on the morning of December 30, and that evening, I met my brother and some of his friends for dinner/drinks. She would love to know the restaurant’s owner, a family friend, had a cup of Bailey’s and coffee at a seat for her.

Interesting that my mother’s birthday coincides with Labor Day, the first weekend of college football season. She loved college football. Actually, she loved watching most sports…baseball, basketball, track, etc. College football was her favorite, though.

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Mother and I used to watch football games “together.” She lived about 400 miles from me, but we would call each other and talk during football games. Everybody knows I don’t actually watch Alabama games till after the fact (I record them), because I think I’m bad luck, but sometimes, Mother would call me after an exciting play and tell me to turn on the TV and watch the replay. Often, she “watched” Bama games with her friend, Nell, via telephone, as well.

This will be my first football season without her. Unfortunately, she missed Alabama winning the National Championship in overtime last year. She would have loved the game-winning touchdown pass. (See that here.) She likely would have watched it a hundred times since, if she’d been here to see it. In fact, she probably wouldn’t read the rest of this blog post, because she would still be watching the video…repeatedly. She would have loved that Alabama won on Elvis’s birthday too, since she was a big Elvis fan.

She’d have had a big smile on her face throughout that Alabama/Louisville game Saturday night.

When mother was in the hospital in her final days, she requested I put bowl games on the television in her room. I remember her waking up at some point and saying, “Isn’t there a football game on?” No matter how bad the bowl game was, she wanted that on instead of anything else. She wasn’t actively watching the games, but she liked them as her background noise. That’s how much she loved football.

She also enjoyed reading the Bible. She wasn’t much of a churchgoer, but she read the Bible daily. After she passed, I found little notes with Bible verses in her room, in the kitchen, in the living room, and on the back porch. A sweet lady named Lois stayed with Mother during the day. Lois knows the Bible, so she and Mother would read the Bible and discuss it. Many times, we thanked God for Lois, and I know Mother did. They enjoyed each other’s company. We all love Lois.

Never one to make a big deal about her own birthday, she would say, “Every day should be celebrated.” And she was right. She was usually right about most things. Lots of people went to Mother for advice or simply to talk. I’ve had countless people tell me what a good listener she was. I’m proud of that. She was always a good listener for me and gave great advice. She was a wise woman. I wrote a blog at Mother’s Day about things she had taught me. You can see it here. I sure miss her…every single day.

Mother loved her family, football, sunflowers, homegrown tomatoes, pound cake (made by our friend, Jane), friends, and she just loved to sit and chat. That’s what I miss most…just sitting and chatting with her. In fact, just yesterday, I wanted to call her to tell her about some folks getting married.

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A big sunflower I cut in my backyard this weekend. It’s our centerpiece for Mother’s birthday.

We ordered a new flower arrangement for her grave over the weekend. Today, in honor of her birthday, I’ll make a tomato sandwich with a tomato from my garden for lunch. She and Daddy used to grow tomatoes every summer…sometimes successfully. She would never believe I grew tomato plants this summer that produced lots of healthy, delicious tomatoes. I’ll cut some of the sunflowers (her favorite and Daddy’s favorite too) from the garden for the table’s centerpiece, and we’ll have some birthday cake with Bailey’s and coffee. And we’ll watch the Florida State/Virginia Tech football game. Florida State was her second favorite team. If she were here, we would talk and laugh.

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Wishing Summer Would Last?

Tonight I walked into my local Bath and Body Works for the first time in a while. My daughter was obsessed with this store for a few years. She loved their hand sanitizers, shower gels, and fragrance mists. Eventually, I started to like the fragrance mists as well, because I am not a big fan of perfume or cologne. When you have migraines, strong smells are not your friend. I ran out of my favorite fragrance mist today, so I ran to Bath and Body Works after I dropped off my daughter at a party.

When I walked into the store, a very pleasant saleslady greeted me, and as I stopped to take a whiff of a Pumpkin/Waffle scented candle, she asked, “Are you ready for fall?” What? Just sniffing a pumpkin/waffle candle makes me ready for fall? Of course I’m not ready for fall! I don’t even want school to start!

Instead, I just said, “Not just yet. I wish summer could last a little longer.”

The fragrance I usually use is Vanilla Bean scented, but after that exchange about fall, I was looking for something more summery, and boy, did I ever find it! I actually found a fragrance mist called At The Beach! Could it be more perfect? I picked up the sample bottle and sprayed some on my arm. Ahhhh….the scent of suntan lotion and sea mist! I picked up a bottle, and then I picked up another. Then I picked up some At The Beach Body Cream. Even though summer has to end, it doesn’t mean I have to stop smelling like summer! I’m walking around smelling like the beach! If you’d like to smell like the beach or purchase candles that smell like the beach, you can go to Bath and Body Works by clicking here.

Of course, I picked up some of my favorite Vanilla Bean fragrance as well, but I will put off using that for as long as I can.

In the past, I’ve extended summer for myself by using tanning oil or suntan lotion as moisturizers. If you’ve ever walked into a meeting I was attending and thought you smelled Hawaiian Tropic tanning oil, you probably did. I’ve been known to moisturize my skin with it. Nothing takes me back to high school like the aroma of Hawaiian Tropic. Or sometimes, I will use Coppertone Tanning Lotion, which immediately takes me back to my childhood and makes me think of the old ad…you know, the one in which the puppy is tugging on the little girl’s swimsuit. I actually had a beach towel with that ad on it when I was younger. You can purchase the oil and lotion in Target, Walmart, or most any drugstore.

This next summer-extending product is not something that smells like the beach, but it does taste a little like sunshine: Chick-Fil-A’s White Peach Tea Lemonade. What says summer more than lemonade? White Peach Tea Lemonade…that’s what. I happened upon this recently when I zipped through the drive thru of a Chick-Fil-A. I was waiting in the line and saw an ad on the menu board for this special tea, so I decided to try it. Normally, I don’t drink my calories, but I drank them that afternoon, and it was worth it. It has been added to the menu permanently after being tested in various markets. I know in November when I need to think of summer, I’ll turn into my neighborhood Chick-Fil-A.

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Even after school starts, I’ll be dragging summer out a little longer in other ways too. I’m growing corn and tomatoes in my backyard, and right now, it’s looking like the corn will be ready to harvest around Labor Day. Maybe I’ll be able to talk my husband into grilling some hamburgers to go with our fresh, homegrown, sweet corn. And we’ll put some of the tomato slices on our burgers. My first tomato harvest wasn’t so good earlier this summer, so I’m hoping these late ones will be better. My sunflowers are just about to bloom, so they’ll be pretty for a few more weeks too. It could all make for a lovely Labor Day, which happens to be my mother’s birthday…our first without her. She would be proud.

Labor Day weekend also marks the beginning of college football season, so that’s something to look forward to.

I plan to smell like summer while drinking my iced tea till at least November. Maybe then I’ll light a pumpkin/waffle candle, but I will still be dreaming of summer while I sip my White Peach Tea Lemonade.

My Favorite Simple Summer Sandwiches

Sometimes I just want a sandwich…makes an easy snack or even a meal…no standing over a hot stove in summertime.

A personal favorite is the tomato sandwich…only good in summer…and only good with homegrown tomatoes ripened on the vine. Grocery store tomatoes may be beautiful on the outside, but rarely on the inside…hard and yellow…no thanks. The perfect tomato sandwich is made with white bread and has slices of vine-ripened, red tomatoes with Duke’s Mayonnaise and a little salt and pepper.

My daddy loved tomato sandwiches, but he also loved banana sandwiches and pineapple sandwiches. I’m not a fan of either. Actually I’ve never eaten either, but white bread + mayo + pineapples/bananas…just doesn’t sound good to me. I have cousins who love them, though.

Daddy loved peanut butter, but he liked Peter Pan brand. I prefer Jif. Remember “Choosy Mothers Choose Jif”? I could likely live on PB and bread. There are some other spreads that work well with PB, though…jelly is one. But I love Marshmallow Fluff brand marshmallow creme on peanut butter sandwiches. It’s called a Fluffernutter. If you’re not familiar with it, you should be. You can see a Fluffernutter commercial here. My friend, Lisa, who lives in Luxembourg, claims I caused her to gain ten pounds after introducing her to Fluffernutters. Using white bread…put peanut butter on a slice of bread, and put Fluff on the other, mash together, and voila! The Fluffernutter! While peanut butter has nutritional value, Fluff has absolutely none.

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For years, airlines have handed out packets of Biscoff Cookies, and I’ve always loved their crunchy, caramelized flavor, so when I heard they made Cookie Butter, I was all over that! My college friend, Beth, introduced me to it. As soon as I saw it, I had to have it. Add that smooth caramelized cookie butter to a peanut butter sandwich, and it takes on a whole new flavor. It’s a flavor that will keep you coming back for more. They make a creamy version and a crunch version. You can purchase it in Target or order online here.lb150816_1.png

There is one more flavor I love with peanut butter: maple. It’s not just for winter anymore. You can purchase maple butter/cream and add that to a peanut butter sandwich. I love pure maple flavor. I used to order maple candies/cookies them all the time but had to stop, because well, sugar. I couldn’t eat them in moderation. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of ordering separate maple butter or cream, Jif makes a Maple Flavored Peanut Butter that is really good too. I used to purchase it in the grocery store, but I haven’t been able to find it for a while, so I ordered it through Amazon. I had to order it in an 8-pack, but I know we (I) will eat it. You can purchase it here.

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It’s not just sweet flavors I like. I also love pimiento cheese spread. There are different spellings…some spell it “pimento”…but oh, how I love it. My mother used to make it  when I was a little girl, and I would help her, but back then, I didn’t want to eat it. As an adult, I love pimiento cheese spread. In the south, we pronounce it “pimenna cheese,” and I’ve even seen it on a menu spelled that way at Smashburger in Atlanta. I have a good recipe, but it’s labor intensive. There are so many good brands of pimiento cheese sold in stores now, so I just buy it. My personal favorite is Palmetto Cheese from Pawley’s Island, South Carolina, and I really love their jalapeño flavor. My friend, Linda, loves the Harris Teeter brand, and I have another friend who loves Queen Charlotte’s Pimento Cheese. Yet another friend tells me Augusta’s is her brand of choice…apparently, they make the famous pimento cheese sandwich for the Master’s in Augusta, Georgia. You can make a sandwich with just bread and pimiento cheese spread or add it to white bread with homegrown tomato slices and cook it like a grilled cheese sandwich…it’s what dreams are made of. All those brands, except the Harris Teeter brand, can be purchased at Reid’s Fine Foods in Myers Park in Charlotte or at their South Park location.

 

***A friend reminded me of the delicious pimento cheese spread at Zoe’s Kitchen restaurants. I love it, especially on their grilled sandwich.*** See their website here.

And then there’s my favorite chicken salad that can be “spread” onto a sandwich. I make my own, and it’s super easy and healthy. I simply stir together some canned chicken (yes, canned…drain off the water) with a little Duke’s Mayo, some mustard, and some dill relish, adding some salt, pepper, and a little Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. It turns out delicious every time. It makes great sandwiches or cracker toppers, or you can eat a scoop of it over a bed of lettuce. MmmmMmmm good.

***If you don’t want to make your own, the chicken salad at Chicken Salad Chick is fabulous!***

In fact, I could put all these different spreads on a scheduled rotation and enjoy a different sandwich every day.

Maybe I will! Fluffernutter, anyone?

Remembering Daddy

With Father’s Day approaching, I’m thinking about Daddy. His grandchildren called him Big Ken. He has been gone now for 12 years. Pancreatic cancer. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

We will order new flowers for my parents’ gravesite. I’m not big on visiting cemeteries. Never have been. Daddy was a good cemetery visitor. I don’t know if it made him feel closer to his parents, or if he did it as a sense of duty, but he was good about visiting cemeteries. My brother is good about it too.

It’s not that our family ever made a big deal about Father’s Day. My parents always said they should give us (children) gifts at Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. They didn’t give us gifts, but it was their way of saying they were happy to be our parents.

If Daddy were here now, he’d say the same thing again.

But he’s not here. I’ve said before Daddy was funny and charming. He could also read people very well. When we were in a group somewhere, he knew if someone looked uncomfortable, and he would try to bring them into the fold. He was good like that.

I got my love of sports from my parents. My daddy liked all kinds of competition, and he always believed second place was just the first loser. We spent a lot of time watching sports on television, and it wasn’t unusual for us to attend sporting events whether we knew participants or not. When I was a little girl, we would go to minor league baseball games, high school indoor track meets, football games…any sporting events. There were even times we would be driving down the road, and he would see information about a sporting event…and of course, we went. I sat outside at a lot of hot baseball games in Alabama.

I really think basketball was his favorite, though. He was tall, and he had played basketball in high school. He understood the game, and he loved watching college basketball. I don’t remember watching a lot of professional basketball, but we watched a lot of college games on television. In a state devoted to football, my daddy loved NCAA Tournament time.

We also watched a lot of Atlanta Braves games and Chicago Cubs games. WTBS, also known as Superstation TBS, at the time was owned by Ted Turner, who also owned the Braves, so they broadcast their games. In fact, we knew a lot about the players, coaches, the announcer, and the team, because they were on television all the time.  While I enjoy baseball, as a teen, I mostly enjoyed looking at some of the cute players. When the Braves played the Dodgers, I tuned in to watch Steve Sax, who was quite the looker, but Daddy thought he was a terrible second baseman. He might even be the player about whom Daddy once said, “He has messed up second base so badly that no one will ever be able to play it.” Cubs games were broadcast on WGN, so we knew all the Cubs too. This was before Wrigley Field had lights, so all their games were day games. Often, there would be a Cubs game on our TV in the afternoon, followed by a Braves game in the evening.Good times. Daddy loved it. Our summer is all planned out, but next year, I’m taking my daughter to a Braves or Cubs game.

Daddy also loved wordplay and trivia. He was a walking wealth of useless knowledge like me and my brother. We know all kinds of stuff that doesn’t matter one bit, till someone asks a question like, “On The Andy Griffith Show, who took care of Opie before Aunt Bee moved in?” The answer there is Rose. All that trivial knowledge comes in handy sometimes, though…I’ve bonded with lots of good folks over trivial information.

In the early days of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, when Regis Philbin hosted it, Daddy and I loved watching it when I visited. We were watching together when the first big winner answered the winning question: Which of these US Presidents appeared on the television series “Laugh-In”? The answer, of course, was Nixon, and Daddy and I both knew it…because, well…useless trivial knowledge.

There was always a dictionary around, because we loved talking about words. I remember quizzing each other on the meanings of prefixes, suffixes, and root words when I was growing up. We were weird, but honestly, that silly game we played probably helped me on standardized tests.

Daddy was a good storyteller too. We loved hearing stories of his childhood, because he was born in the 1930s, and the world made some huge leaps in technology and everyday life between the 1930s and the 2000s. He grew up in the Florida panhandle, a rural area, so his childhood had been very different from ours. He told stories of telephone numbers that started with community names…like “Greenwood 368,” and having to ask the operator to connect them instad of dialing the number.

And there were always stories of “ice cream on a stick,” Eskimo Pie to you and me. When he was a little boy, you could buy “ice cream on a stick” for a nickel at the local store. Often, Daddy didn’t have a nickel, so he was out of luck. As an adult, any time he found a nickel on the ground, he would comment on how that would have bought an ice cream on a stick when he was a child. He remembered where he came from. Therefore, when his grandchildren visited, he always shared ice cream on a stick or popsicles with them. It would have brought him great joy as a child to have it, and as an adult, it brought him great joy to watch his grandchildren enjoy it.

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At some point in his youth…I’m not sure of the age…maybe in high school…he worked at a full-service gas station, so he made sure I knew to tip the attendants when I stopped at one. He also made sure I knew about cars…how to check the oil, tire pressure, water levels, and how to correct all that if needed.

When I lived near my parents, I tried to visit them every Sunday evening. We would have dinner, and before I would go back to Mobile, Daddy would have to check my car. Interestingly, he seemed to always wait till I was walking out the door to leave. He would grab his tire gauge and a paper towel and walk out to my car. He had to check the tire pressure, and he always had to check the oil and water levels. Back then, I would get aggravated that he was slowing down my departure. I would wonder aloud to Mother, “Why does he always wait till I’m ready to go?” Now, though, I look at it differently. He was in no hurry to see me drive away. I smile thinking about it now.

And before I drove away, he always made sure to take me hand and press some money into it. Sometimes it was a $20 bill…sometimes more, but he always wanted to make sure I had “WAM”…walking around money. He continued that tradition with my nephews as well, and when they were really little, they knew he always had toys in the trunk of his car. Of course, Mother had helped him pick them out, but Big Ken got all the credit. He found so much joy in seeing them run to the trunk of the car, and then watching their little faces light up.

I also smile thinking about how he would love that I am growing tomatoes this year. He loved a tomato sandwich as much as anybody does. There are quite a few on my tomato plants now…they should ripen next month, “good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” And if I get the opportunity to cut a giant red tomato off the vine, when I cut into it, I will think of my daddy and smile.

My daughter would have enjoyed being around my daddy. He died just before her third birthday, so she doesn’t really remember him. She was crazy about him, and he was crazy about her. He always had a way with kids. My nephews were eight years old when we lost Daddy, and they were heartbroken when he passed. In his retirement, he had loved spending time with them…scavenger hunts, dinners, playing baseball in the yard…good times.img_7188

If he were here now, he’d be proud of all of them…and he’d be proud my brother and I look out for each other.

We miss him, and we will honor his memory this Father’s Day. I’m going out to buy a box of Eskimo Pies, and we will all sit out on the patio Sunday afternoon and enjoy our “ice cream on a stick” in memory of Big Ken.

Rookie Gardener

I’ve said before that I am no gardener. A few years ago, I had some pretty good luck with gardening in my backyard, but then I developed a fear of snakes and became afraid. Every time I thought about sticking my hands into or near the dirt, I was terrified I would pick up a copperhead.

In Mecklenburg County, the only venomous snake species we have is the copperhead, but it seems there are lots of them. Growing up in Alabama, we had six species of venomous snakes, including three different types of rattlesnakes, which are highly dangerous to humans. I’ve seen more than my fair share of rattlesnakes and copperheads. In fact, I came dangerously close to stepping on a big diamondback rattlesnake when I was 18. To learn more about the venomous snakes of Alabama, including the copperhead, click here. Be forewarned: just like Jaws made us all afraid to go back into the water, seeing the pictures of these snakes may make you afraid to go back outside altogether.

Back to gardening. For years, I did nothing, till this year, and I’m not doing a lot, but I am doing a little. I have more than one inspiration. I want to have some sunflowers in memory of my parents this summer, and posts by my friend, Michelle, owner of Corner Copia Gardens and Gifts in Fairhope, Alabama, would make anyone want to try their hand at gardening. To see her Facebook page for inspiration, click here.

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Photo from Corner Copia Gardens in Fairhope, Alabama

While I want sunflowers in my backyard, I’m not planting any other types of flowers. We have some beautiful knockout roses that continue to bloom, so I don’t feel like I need to add much to those. I’m adding a few vegetables.

One thing I’ve always loved is a good homegrown vine-ripened tomato. When my friend, Wendy, lived here in Charlotte, she had a neighbor who grew some of the best tomatoes I’ve ever had in my life. And I’ve had a lot of tomatoes. Growing up, I didn’t care for tomatoes. I think a lot of kids are turned off by the slightly acidic taste of tomatoes. When I was in college, I went to the lake with a friend, and her mother had some homegrown tomatoes for us. Not wanting to be rude, I ate the slices she gave me, and I never looked back.

If you are a tomato person, you know store-bought tomatoes are deceiving. Every year, I make the mistake of picking up some beautiful tomatoes in the grocery store with hopes they are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside. Then, I get home and slice into them, only to find they are hard and ugly on the inside. A good, homegrown tomato is just as red on the inside as it is on the outside.

Throughout my life, I had seen my daddy eat tomato sandwiches. He loved a good tomato sandwich, and apparently, my mother knew the perfect way to make them. It’s not difficult, but if you don’t make them just right, you can mess them up. My daddy liked his tomatoes peeled. Weird, I know, but that’s what he liked. Sometimes, I peel mine too. But the main thing is to use white bread…not whole wheat, not whole grain, not pumpernickel or rye…white bread. On the white bread slices, slather your favorite mayonnaise. Daddy preferred Hellman’s, but I prefer Duke’s. Yes, you can use the reduced fat versions, but because good tomatoes are hard to find, I don’t want to mess them up with the reduced fat stuff. Add tomato slices to the mayo-slathered bread and top it with a little salt and pepper to taste. I can almost taste it now. ***It’s difficult to find Duke’s Mayonnaise in some parts of the country. If you’ve never had it, you should try it. You can order it from Amazon here.***

Obviously, I’m trying to grow my own tomatoes this summer. My husband and I picked up a few small plants, and he put them in the ground. We purchased Bonnie Plants brand Big Boy tomato plants and Better Boy tomato plants at a local store. To see the Bonnie Plants website for tomato information, click here. It’s not too late to do your own. I’ve been tending ours. That means I’ve been calling my brother to get tips on growing good tomatoes. I’ve also been checking online for information. So far, I haven’t killed them yet, and we even have a few small tomatoes showing up on our plants. I looked online to see how long it takes tomatoes to ripen on the vine, and on average, for the types we are growing, it takes about 75 days after germination. That seems like a long time. I’m counting down the days and hoping I don’t kill them before then.

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I’ve also planted a few other vegetables. We’ll see how that works out before I go into any detail.

My friend, Leah, in memory of my parents, gave me a Sunflower Grow Kit earlier this year, and I was so excited to get that started, and so far, they’re growing! The kit included potting soil, seeds, plant food, and a bag in which to grow them. You can see various grow kits here. I also planted some Burpee brand sunflower seeds, which you can find at your local home stores. I purchased mine at Home Depot, but they have them in Lowe’s too. If you live in or near Wetumpka, Alabama, you can visit the Lowe’s there and see my handsome nephew, Brennen.

My sunflowers have been a little slow-growing, but in the past few days they seem to be getting some traction. I have hope. Sunflowers aren’t difficult to grow, and I had huge success with them 16 years ago, growing some of the biggest, most beautiful sunflowers I’ve ever seen. I planted mine a little later than before, but with sunflowers, I think that’s OK.

For planting this year, since I still haven’t overcome my fear of snakes, I wore gardening gloves and used a gardening trowel. I don’t know how much protection that offers from snakes, but it made me feel better. I found myself scanning all around me while I dug, though. I won’t even walk out onto the patio without checking out the steps before opening the back door.

As the summer progresses, I’ll keep you posted on my gardening. Hoping for tall sunflowers with big heads and some juicy tomatoes soon.

Go play in the dirt!

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