The Good Ol’ Days

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An autumn view of my street, East Bartlett Avenue, where nothing, well, hardly anything, ever happens.

The good ol’ days, my father liked to say, “were formerly known as ‘these trying times.’” We humans have a tendency to not enjoy the present until it’s past. I recalled Dad’s observation when a neighbor, John Wilson, and I were indulging in a nostalgic conversation about the “good ol’ days” of newspaper journalism.

John was an investigative reporter for the Seattle Times when I was an editor for the Associated Press in its Seattle bureau. We’d never met, but I admired and respected John’s reporting. I was dumfounded when I moved to Omak and discovered he was living here, a fellow refugee from the big, vexing city.

Our conversation about the decline of newspapers (twenty percent of the nation’s newspapers went out of business between 2004 and 2018) was prompted because John and his wife had been the victims of a violent crime. The story was not in that week’s local newspaper, much less the regional daily. The daily once vigorously covered news of our county but now, with a greatly reduced reporting staff, rarely looks in our direction.

Weekly papers are faring better than metropolitan dailies. More than twice as many papers in urban areas have stopped publishing as in rural communities. One reason might be that rural areas don’t always have good internet service. Social media, as everyone knows, has pulled advertising revenue from newspapers. Even if they manage to keep publishing, many have become ghosts of the vital information sources they once were.

John has long been retired, but he still can’t ignore an important story. Important not because it’s about him, but because we in the community need to know when bad stuff happens. We need to know when the police respond quickly and effectively. We need to know when emergency room services fall short.

Our local newspaper did ultimately report the incident, but John and his wife were not contacted.  Sometimes victims don’t want to talk to the news media. John wrote an account of the event from his perspective and brought it to me to read. The most compelling part of his story is that the attack was utterly random. The attacker had no previous connection with the Wilsons. The victims could have been in any town, on any street, or even myself, a mere five doors away. I don’t care to live in fear, but it’s good to be reminded of my vulnerability so that I can take precautions, be more alert.

Besides the Wilsons’ injuries and damage to their home, another neighbor’s fence was extensively damaged. About a week later a men’s prayer group—with no direct connection to either family—showed up to repair the fence. Again, a random act, and a kind one. The group also brought gifts to the Wilsons and offered to do yard work, which was declined.

“That’s the way things used to be,” John commented. Yeah, the good ol’ days. They’re not entirely in the past.

You can read John’s story here.

Good News/Bad News by John Wilson

The following is my neighbor John Wilson’s account of an event that occurred recently. I’m posting it because his story was not included in news accounts.-MK

The bad news is we were the victims of a violent home invasion. The good news is we survived.

It happened in broad daylight with the lone intruder entering through the kitchen window at about 5:35 p.m. Friday, March 22, at our home on Bartlett Avenue East, Omak.

Our ten-pound dog, Cricket, tried to warn us but we’ve only had him a few months. He barks at any normal neighborhood noises, and we thought that was what was going on.

Tonya, 73, was punched twice in the face and hit repeatedly over the head with an end table. I’m 82 and was punched twice in the face as I tried to fight him off. I knew I had to last long enough to call 911. We couldn’t survive on our own.

The assailant is a 27-year-old University of Washington student with no connection to us or Omak. He wanted our truck to leave Omak.

When I finally understood he wanted our truck, I told him where the keys were. He got the keys and left, and I called 911.

He crashed the truck 100 feet away into a neighbor’s fence and high-centered it on the manhole cover that protrudes above the ground. He was walking three houses north of us when two sheriff’s deputies arrived. He tried to disarm one of them, punched the other officer twice in the face and was finally subdued.

Tonya suffered a concussion and a lot of facial bruising, plus other injuries. She is very sore, has a constant headache and, of course, PTSD.

I got a broken tooth, split lip, and a black eye. I have a few symptoms of concussion but I am doing much better than Tonya. (I wasn’t hit over the head repeatedly with a table.)

There is much more to the story, some of it good and some of it appalling. We went to the ER but left without being seen. Tonya returned a second time, got a CT scan, was told she had a concussion and was discharged without ever being examined by the doctor.

The turnout and concern shown by the Omak police officers and sheriff’s deputies who responded were wonderful. We were in good hands with them.

We are home, glad to be alive and working on returning to a peaceful life. The truck escaped serious damage.

And Cricket? Tonya couldn’t locate him and thought he had been killed. She searched and found him curled into a tiny ball, trembling against the wall in the TV-computer room where I had my battle.

Things That Go Bump in the Night

My Christmas amaryllis has experienced a trauma while in its prime. In fact, my entire household experienced a middle-of-the-night trauma, but only the amaryllis suffered irreversibly. 

A loud thud awakened me from a deep sleep. When I got up to investigate and opened my bedroom door, I was met by my two frightened dogs who appeared ready to leap into my arms at sixty pounds apiece. Ordinarily, the dogs sleep outside. Their kennels have heated pads and are out of the weather. But this cold spell has melted my heart. Every night I bring them and their cushioned beds inside.

Still half-asleep, I found a light switch and discovered my antique organ—the kind traveling missionaries folded up and carried in their wagons for church services—had collapsed. My peace plant, which was sitting on the organ, landed in one of the dog beds. Various other items that’d been on the organ were scattered about. I managed to wake up just enough to right the plant, sweep most of the dirt out of the dog bed, and convince the dogs we could all go back to sleep now. Which I at least did. Tawny, the younger dog, is still exhibiting signs of PTSD.

By morning, I’d forgotten all about the incident until I again opened my bedroom door. There was the little organ in a most undignified position, its nether parts fully exposed. Most astonishing, the amaryllis—which was on a table a couple feet away from the accident scene—had been decapitated, apparently by flying debris. A long stalk rose from its pot like a flagpole robbed of its banner. Its five blossoms lay on the table—still resplendent, but how long could they survive without bulb and stem?

I put them in a glass with water. Slowly, one withered away, and then another. By Valentine’s Day, three viable blooms remained. I decided they’d be an appropriate love memento to place on my husband’s grave. Thus the dogs, the blooms, and I set out on that miserably cold and windy day. I allow the dogs to run off-leash in the cemetery if no one else is around. No one else was crazy enough to venture out that day. A vicious north wind blew snow in my face, my fingers were numb even inside my mittens, and my dogs scampered freely through the snow.

I generally like to read a poem when visiting the gravesite. Given the weather, I needed something short. These lines from a traditional Scottish poem seemed right:

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

fullsizeoutput_1f26I laid the amaryllis blossoms on John’s (and someday my) headstone and fled back to the shelter of my car. Back home, the amaryllis’s second stalk has produced another three blooms with possibly two more to come. Good Lord, deliver them!

 

 

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Stepson John, adept at wood working, got the organ back on its feet. It will no longer be asked to hold heavy potted plants.

 

Facing Up To My Age

The amaryllis I received at Christmas is changing daily—kinda like my face. Every morning I check the amaryllis and it’s grown like Jack’s beanstalk overnight. Then I sneak a glance over my toothbrush at the bathroom mirror, and my! How I’ve changed. Deeper lines, chin disappearing into my neck, blotches and spots, and ever more, well, face.

Photographs portraying the depth of experience and wisdom in old faces enchant me. Facial lines etched like a map of life’s journey, happy crinkles at the eyes, questioning horizons across the brow intersecting with vertical furrows of thought. Trouble is, I’m at that not-quite-there-yet stage, like that pubescent era when my pre-teen nose and teeth got ahead of the rest of my face—beyond child but not yet adolescent.

How long does it take to get from an aging face to an interestingly aged face? I’m on my way. Most disappointing has been the gradual disappearance of what I always considered my best feature: eyebrows. Initially they turned white and wiry, then they stopped showing up altogether. Some of my friends do an artful job of penciling in eyebrows. I’m not up to it. In fact, my use of makeup has diminished as my face ages. My lips, which I thought were a little too full when I was young, have thinned—the only part of me that has.

I spend less on lipstick, but steroids soak up the cost savings. I’ve been diagnosed with an inflammatory skin condition that causes balding. Called “lichen planopilaris,” it’s rare, noncontagious, non-genetic, and idiopathic (meaning, said the dermatologist, “we idiot doctors don’t know what causes it.”) It’s more common in younger adult women, which makes me grateful to be a late bloomer. Topical steroids were prescribed with no assurance they’ll be effective. The alternatives suggested in medical brochures are scarves, wigs, and yup, comb-overs.

As I deal with this latest insult of aging, I found inspiration at the cinema. Who wouldn’t be charmed by Angela Lansbury, age ninety-three, presumably wearing her own wiry hair, handing out balloons to Mary Poppins? And unlike Hollywood actors who seek younger roles, Clint Eastwood at eighty-eight plays someone even older, a ninety-year-old drug runner in “The Mule.”

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A blossom too old or in its prime?

Not the amaryllis, but another house plant suggests to me the glory of aging. My peace plant offers one elegant white bloom at a time. I noticed the mature bloom was getting dark around the edges as the younger replacement blossom began to appear. When I inadvertently delayed snipping off the older bloom, it developed a glorious bronze border enveloping a bulging stamen. Sexy and gorgeous even on the way out.

A friend, now well into her nineties and living in a care facility, made an astute comment years ago when mutual friends underwent plastic surgery to smooth out their faces.

“I’m proud of the lines on my face,” she said. “I earned every one of them.”

When They’re 74

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Lucas at four months, which his mom observes, “is half a lifetime for Lucas”–who is now eight months.

The births in 2018 of Lilja, Lucas, and William catapulted me to the year 2092. Lucas and  William are great-grandchildren. I am one of Lilja’s several designated “aunties.” In 2092, Lilja, Lucas, and William will be as old as I am now. You might think seventy-four years is a very long time. Ask any seventy-something-year-old, and she’ll tell you those decades fly by with frightening speed, picking up momentum like a bowling ball hurtling down the gutter.

No one is sure what the world will be like in 2092. Scientists have offered grim projections of elevated temperatures, higher sea levels, acidic oceans, droughts, wildfires, extreme weather patterns, and social chaos. All of this while Lilja, Lucas, and William are growing up, going to school, starting careers, raising families.

Much depends on what we do now. Not next year, or next decade, or after the next election, but now.

There are climate change deniers, and there are disavowers. Deniers reject reality and the well established fact that it’s human-caused. More worrisome (and more numerous) are the disavowers: yeah, we know the world is warming, but it isn’t our fault and it hasn’t changed our lives, so we don’t have to worry about it. Yet.

On Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, the U.S. government issued its Climate Science Special Report. Americans were too busy buying the most stuff for the cheapest price to notice. Climate change, said the report, won’t be cheap. Lilja, Lucas, and William will have to figure out how to live in an economy that will lose trillions of dollars.

The economic bleeding has been underway for quite some time. Since 1980, the cost of extreme weather events for the United States has exceeded $1.1 trillion. Do we even want to talk about the federal deficit we’re passing on to Lilja, Lucas, and William?

All three of these babies were born to smart, loving parents who will raise them carefully. But how will their parents protect them from the inevitable social chaos created by millions of climate refugees? Gated communities? A fenced nation?

“You can set up a wall to try to contain 10,000 and 20,000 and one million people, but not ten million,” said an author of a United Nations climate report.

As individuals, we could buy Priuses or better yet, take public transportation. But it’s too late for individual efforts to make an adequate difference. We have to become part of a concerted action. We have to join up and cough up. Join the organization that best reflects your values and views,  and cough up money to support it. In addition to local environmental groups, I support the nonpartisan Citizens Climate Lobby, which advocates for carbon reduction policies. There are others:  National Resources Defense Council, 350.org, Union of Concerned Scientists, Sierra Club, to name a few.

I’ve made it easy for you. Just click one of the above, join, and give. I’ll bet there’s a Lilja, Lucas, or William in your life whose future you care about.

The Stuff That Makes Stories

An email from my daughter-in-law contained the ultimate mother-in-law compliment. Her daughter-in-law wanted the recipe for the oyster dressing I made at Thanksgiving. One problem. There is no recipe. It’s more like a story.

My stepson requested the oyster dressing because he fondly remembers the turkey dinners his father (my late husband) had prepared. Those were the days when we stuffed turkeys, but now for food safety reasons we’re advised to bake the dressing separately. I’d never made oyster stuffing/dressing but figured I could follow John’s recipe. I was dismayed when I consulted his box of three-by-five recipe cards. He’d meticulously written recipes from A (Air Freshener: a mix of orange rind, savory, tarragon, rosemary, and bay leaves) to Z (Zinfandel Sauce for Lamb—email if you want that one). No Oyster Dressing.

The venerable “Joy of Cooking” was his go-to culinary resource, but not the 2006 Seventy-Fifth Anniversary edition I use now. I had to climb on a step stool to retrieve the 1975 version that John used and I’ve sentimentally hung onto. Opening to page 370, I was reassured. The page was well stained. I’m certain he didn’t follow the recipe precisely, but it would’ve been his starting point.

Next problem: oysters. We usually managed to schedule a business trip to Seattle a day or two before Thanksgiving so we could pick up fresh oysters from our favorite seafood shop. After years of driving over the passes in winter storms, I’ve given up that folly. I’d have to settle for aging, outsized oysters from local stores, which meant my supporting cast of ingredients would have to excel. Especially the bread. I didn’t want that factory manufactured stuff. I opted for Lisa’s day-old sour dough, available only at the Farm Stand in Okanogan, where I also picked up organic onions and celery. I cubed the bread (about ten cups worth), spread the cubes on a cookie sheet and roasted them at 400 degrees about ten minutes, occasionally giving them a stir.

I melted a full cube of unsalted butter and cooked two generous cups of diced onions and a generous cup of diced celery until soft (not brown), took the pan off the heat and went outside, hoping to find something still alive in my herb beds. Miraculously, I discovered parsley and thyme. I added a generous half-cup of chopped parsley to the onions along with a small amount of fresh thyme (it can overwhelm), salt, pepper, fresh-ground nutmeg, and ground cloves. Draining the oysters, I saved the liquid and sighed as I chopped them into bite-sized chunks. I used two pints; John would’ve used more. I had just enough turkey stock from the previous week when I’d boiled down bones from a turkey breast to combine with the oyster liquid, making one cup. After mixing everything together, I spread it into an oiled, nine-by-twelve casserole dish. I thought it looked too dry and wished I’d had more turkey stock. Or oysters. I melted another half-cube of unsalted butter and drizzled it across the top.

I was too busy playing cribbage and swilling wine to pay attention to the final step, handled by the primary chef, my daughter-in-law. “Joy” (vintage 2006) says to bake at 350 degrees thirty to forty-five minutes until inside temperature is 165 degrees.

That’s the story. I don’t know if anyone could make a recipe out of it. It wouldn’t fit on a three-by-five card.

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Food stains tell part of the story

Getting Ahead of Tech

Just when you think you’re all caught up with the latest tech innovations, someone develops something newer, better, faster, cheaper. Well, probably not cheaper.

Somehow technology has a way of always leaving me behind. I’d upgraded to the latest operating system on my computer, downloaded all the latest apps onto my notebook, and bought a newer (if not THE newest) smart phone. Then a friend showed me a word processing system that boasts an incredible array of features. 

As a writer, this whole idea of “word processing” already has me on edge. At what point did we stop writing and start merely processing words? And when did words alone begin to fail us? It’s not as if we don’t have enough of them. The Oxford English Dictionary requires some twenty volumes to list the 171,476 words in current use plus 9,500 subentries of “derivative” words. Derivative? As in LOL?  Apparently that’s not enough. Now, as we process words, we insert little cartoon pictures—smiley faces, frowning faces, sad faces, hearts, light bulbs, what ever.

That’s what’s so cool about this word processing system I just bought. It’s quintessentially modern, what purists strive for—lean, mean, and green. No goo-gaws. No clutter. No features to distract me—no text messages and emails showing up in the corner of my computer screen while I’m trying to write, like the one a friend just sent me with a photo of her new nose job. That led to several hilarious texts back and forth. Now, where was I?  Oh, yeah. Impulse buy. When it comes to new technology, usually I wait, let the price come down, let the bugs get worked out. This baby? I had to have it the minute I saw it.

The first question everyone asks about new gadgets is battery life. How long will it operate before requiring a recharge? Hah! This little beauty will continue working well into eternity because: There. Is. No. Battery. It is solely powered by ambient energy. All I have to do is press my fingers onto its keys and it’s powered up, ready to go.

There’s more: no separate printer required. Everything you  need comes in the box. No set of confusing directions printed in tiny type in twenty-seven different languages explaining how to synchronize your word processor with your printer. It’s factory synchronized. The instant you write—excuse me—process a word, it appears on paper, ready to read. What’s more, your words never mysteriously disappear. It doesn’t matter if a lightning strike short circuits your surge protector, or if you forget to save. This puppy never locks up, never mysteriously restarts, and always provides you with a hard-copy backup.

Don’t worry about the learning curve. Everything is intuitive. No cursed cursor. You can move up, down, back, forward—wherever you want to be on the page, it lets you go there directly.

My dream machine? The portable Olympia De Luxe, circa 1960. Old just keeps getting better.

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This Just In

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Tawny & Daphne await the Great Pumpkin

News Item No. 1: Americans will collectively spend $480 million on Halloween costumes for their pets this year. That’s more than twice what was spent on pet costumes in 2010. The increase is attributed to people sending photos of costumed dogs and cats on social media.

No, Daphne. No, Tawny. I will not be spending one thin dime on canine costumes for either of you. Yes, I know Daphne was, in her youth, selected to be the Christmas portrait poster pooch for a Tacoma pet store. It was the beseeching look in her eyes underneath her fake reindeer antlers that won it for her. And I promised myself never again to pretend that my dogs are anything other than dogs—which is more than enough for them to be.

But what the heck. Yeah, I’ll post their photos on social media. Without costumes. They’re just going to have to look furry, not funny.

News Item No. 2: Americans now consider the official age for being “old” is 74, which just happens to be my age. Nine years ago, Americans thought “old” began at age 68. You might call that creeping ageism. We’ve gained six years in a little less than a decade. No wonder I haven’t been feeling old, until, maybe now.

A few years ago I bought Roger Rosenblatt’s small book, “Rules for Aging.” In his introduction he explains the book is a guide “intended for people who wish to age successfully, or at all.” Then he cautions: “Growing older is as much an art as it is a science, and it requires fewer things to do than not to do.” Which may be why I haven’t got around to reading the rest of the book yet. I will when I’m six years older—a decade or so from now.

News Item No. 3: The New York Times reported that Jared Kushner paid almost no federal income taxes during at least five of the past eight years despite his net worth of nearly $324 million. All of this nonpayment by the President’s son-in-law was perfectly legal, the newspaper acknowledged. For example: in 2015 Kushner reported $1.7 million in income and investment gains but $8.3 million in losses, based on depreciating value of his buildings.

Kushner reportedly has interests in lots of real estate. So do I. With property tax payments due on Halloween, I was thinking about the various kinds of real estate I have a share in: schools, lovely parks, a dandy library within walking distance, paved streets. I don’t blame people for paying no more taxes than the law requires. I qualify for the senior citizen discount on my property taxes, and you’d better believe I take it. Mr. Kushner can have his depreciating buildings. Schools, parks and libraries that my fellow citizens and I invest in have a value that only increases.

(Note: All of the above items were reported in the news magazine “The Week” Oct. 26, 2018. No fake news here.)

 

Poets of the Okanogan

“I’m not rooted to this place.”

It’s the first line of a poem I wrote a while back. I rarely face up to the challenge of writing poetry, but every year the Okanogan Land Trust nudges me to give it a try. The Trust, through the efforts of Walter Henze and Grant Jones, invites residents to share poetry and songs about the Okanogan at an annual potluck.

In a kind of mission statement, the men explain: the poems “celebrate the

nature of the American Okanogan, giving a voice to its scenic landscapes seen through the eyes of poets that inhabit or regularly explore the hidden valleys of this sequestered region.” A few poets from the Canadian Okanagan (note spelling) have filtered into the collection from time to time.

This year, Okanogan poets are getting special attention. A half-dozen who read at the potluck last January will be featured next week during the “poetry moment” on Spokane Public Radio’s KPBX FM station at nine a.m. (right after the weather). Doesn’t matter where you are in the world, you can listen. Over the air, KPBX is at 91.9 in the south Okanogan Valley, 88.5 in the mid-valley, 90.9 in the north valley, and 91.1 in the Methow Valley. You can also stream it at spokanepublicradio.org. If the time’s not convenient or you miss any of the days, wait about a week and you’ll be able to hear the poems on the station’s podcast page.

Thanks to our local broadcasters—Becki, Chris, and Joe at Okanogan Country Radio—for recording the poets at their studio. And, of course, thanks to the poets: Carey Hunter on Monday; Grant Jones, Tuesday; myself, Wednesday; Victoria Jones, Thursday, and Walter Henze, Friday. The readings began this morning (Oct. 12) with Bob Goodwin, Omak, reading “The Land Does Not Care.” If you missed it, do wait for the podcast. It’s worth the wait.

This spirit of community throughout the Okanogan is what helps me grow my roots a little deeper every year.

ROOTS

I’m not rooted to this place.

Born amidst Minnesota’s ten thousand lakes,

My soul demands water.

Uprooted, I found my bliss at last on a coastal island.

Then I met a man who smelled of inland sagebrush and pine.

I could never live there, I told him.

The Okanogan is like an island, he told me.

Distant, detached, land of the disaffected.

He planted my thirsty soul by the river,

Where I found not bliss but blessings.

Years later, I planted his ashes in the earth

That nurtures sagebrush and pine.

I wandered, seeking a place to plant myself.

Still rootless, I returned to live among people

Whose roots are millennia deep.

Roots deep enough to withstand theft of their land.

Deep enough to reconcile my rootlessness.

Some day my ashes will mingle with his

In earth that nurtures sagebrush and pine,

Where my roots will grow eternally deep.

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The Season of Largesse

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My kitchen cornucopia–all locally produced

The Okanogan Valley, where I live, is an over-achiever at this time of year, producing an embarrassment of riches. My kitchen teems with pears and apples, squash and onions, peppers and potatoes, corn and chard, even a purple kohlrabi. More food than I can eat, freeze, or dry. As for canning? I can’t. Still, I revel in the guilty pleasure of abundant harvest.

When I first moved here nearly forty years ago, I was a frustrated locavore before the word was even invented. The Okanogan was about as close as you could come to a monoculture. Orchardists raised just two varieties of one crop: Golden and Red Delicious apples. Yeah, there was the occasional stand of cherries, peaches or pears. But the Red Delicious, perched on its distinctive, four-pronged pedestal, was Queen. (Until it wasn’t.)

I was living in a rural, agricultural community but had to buy food that came from everywhere else. Farmer and venerated writer Wendell Berry speaks for me: “I like to eat vegetables and fruits that I know have lived happily and healthily in good soil, not the products of the huge, bechemicaled factory-fields.” If you’re Wendell Berry, you get to make up words like bechemicaled.

Eventually, like a welcome rain on a dusty landscape, the farmers’ market phenomenon reached the Okanogan. Most of the farmers were backyard gardeners, selling their overabundance. Gradually full-time farmers emerged, offering a variety of crops and even CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) packages.

Then came farm stands. My car is hard-wired to pull in.

“This is probably the last time I’ll stop before you close up for winter,” I told Gene as I emerged from her stand last week carrying two bulging sacks of produce, including her sweet corn, famous countywide.

“I don’t want to hear that,” she answered. “You gotta come back for your pumpkin.”

I’ll have to add it to the two already decorating my front step. The day after stopping at Gene’s, I’d joined a gathering of women at a friend’s house. Before we even made it to the front door, one opened her tailgate, enticing the rest of us like a shady character luring children with candy. She offered pumpkins, plums, melons, squash and tomatoes. I demurred at the tomatoes, then watched longingly as another woman carried them away. I had more than enough tomatoes already but oh, gosh, it’s the last of the season and we won’t get fresh, local tomatoes again until next year—only those bechemicaled, plastic-like imitations in the grocery stores.

I accepted a pumpkin. She handed me a second. Aggressively. She’d had so much fun planting pumpkin seeds with her toddler granddaughter last spring, she got carried away. One hundred fifty pumpkins and counting. Most, she says, will go to the food bank.

I grow only one cherry tomato plant (because I love the scent) and a variety of herbs. The rest of my garden is flowers. For eating, I know I can count on the largesse of Mother Nature and her local gardening kin.