Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Watching the Grass Grow

It's raining again today.  This is a good thing, as North Carolina has been flirting with drought status for several seasons now and we need the infusion of water.  Plus, my little three-quarter acre has some grass growing on it in nearly every spot, which is nothing short of a miracle!

Growing things here in the south is not the same easy endeavor as up north.  Our neighbors, also Maryland transplants, would attest to that fact.   Our soil is not the rich, healthy, black soil of Maryland in which anything will grow.  Plants and grass do not thrive here, they merely survive, struggling to stretch their roots into nutrient-deprived hard-packed, clumpy, red clay.  I cannot simply pick up a beautiful flower from Lowes, bring it home, and pop it into the ground.  I must dig, and till, and amend, and supplement. And if I'm lucky, in three or four years, the flower will flourish.  Ah, so frustrating for wannabe gardeners like us.  When I visit my sister north of Baltimore and listen to her complain about how invasive my grandmother's roses are, and I stare longingly at the massive lilac just planted last season and which is now covered in impossibly fragrant late spring blooms ... well, I just want to smack her.

We have been in our house for nearly nine years now.  When I think about it, our yard and garden is largely reflective of our time here in North Carolina, which is going on 13 years altogether.  When we bought the house, the yard was nothing more than a tangle of trees and overgrown vines and weeds.  It begged for someone to transform it, clean it up, make it work.  Similarly, when we moved here from the beach, our lives were just starting out, our future uncertain.  We faced difficult times that made us want to turn back, return to what we knew.  We had no money, we had no friends.  We had difficult issues from back home that pulled at us, complicating our choices.

But we had a vision.  We wanted to look out from our windows and see a lawn stretch out before us, with paths and little spots to sit and reflect on the day - something successful from what was once a tangled mess.

Like our relocation south, it was so soon apparent that we'd bitten off way more than we could chew.  We cut and dug and tilled and raked and threw way too much money into the dirt.  We fussed about the hickory nuts, the oak saplings that sprung up everywhere, the spiky balls from those useless gum trees, the gross, slimy masses of mushrooms that cropped up everywhere, the mosquitos!  We seeded, fertilized, limed, and then called in professionals.

This spring, nine years into it, we feel pretty good about what we see.  As I said, the grass and weeds are green and growing.  Some of the things we've planted over the years are actually thriving.  The mature hardwoods have been thinned to a manageable level.  There is even a bench.  Our lives, too, have paralleled.  We have managed to weather the hard times here, set down a few roots, grow a few kids successfully.  In our path back to the beach, we are, dare I say, happily wandering along.

I am realistic.  I know that in a month or so, when the hot southern heat sets in, and the rain showers become fewer and further in between, the grass will fade, and I will once again fuss about the five gallon buckets I must lug around the yard to keep things alive.  I know we will eventually need to don our regular protective coating of Deep Woods Off just to be able to sit on the bench at all.  I know I will sigh in frustration at the failure of a plant or two.  I know, too, we will face bumps in our own path.  That is life.  But I feel a sure sense of accomplishment at what I see when I look around, and I have learned to enjoy the heck out of the times when it flourishes, and weather the times when it does not.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Malfunctioning Keyboards

I just got the keyboard fixed on my Mac.  It was not more than a month ago that I schlepped over to Crabtree, waited my turn at the Genius Bar, and left my laptop with the nice folks there who replaced fixed it for me, for free.

Now here I am with a faulty delete and enter key, neither of which work at all, because I got the laptop a little too close to the sink while making a dinner recipe from

It is a pain in the neck to attempt to type without a delete or enter key.  Thanks much to my husband who three days into it, showed me that there was another enter key one over from the space key, and who, five days into it, told me about control H.

But these are in no way substitutes for the normal placement of the properly functioning keys and I have learned that a very fast typer does not an accurate typer make.  What would I have done in the days of mechanical typewriters and correction tape?  Gotten my ass fired, that's what.

Here's hoping the Genius people will take mercy on me one more time.


I treated myself to a jar of pickles whilst in the middle of my regular grocery shopping last Thursday.

I love pickles, but no one else in my immediate family does.  Hold the pickle is a regular and routine directive by my husband when we're out to lunch at the local deli, as is the mysterious appearance of an extra pickle on my plate on those times when they forget and give him one anyway.  It's good for me, but an annoyance for him - he who has no tolerance for the crispy, salty, sour flavor of the lowly pickled gherkin.

When you're on a budget, as I am, items that we will all eat often take priority.  So most often when I'm at the Super Target making my way down the first aisle, the condiment aisle where all of the peanut butters, jellies, mayonnaises and dressings live, I tend to linger in front of the pickle shelves and wonder if today will be the day that I buy some just for me, after which I always talk myself out of them.  

But this past Thursday, with a little extra money in my pocket, I must have been feeling rebellious as I made my way toward the mustards at the other end because when I stopped in front of those pickles, I thought, 'what the heck,' and I decided it was finally time to bring a jar home with me.

As with most things these days, there are a gazillion varieties of pickles - sweet pickles, sour pickles, pickle chips, and sliced pickles.  I don't like sweet pickles at all (what's the point???) so that was a no-brainer.  Sliced pickles are okay, but not quite what I was looking for either.  Finally, my eye settled on the baby dills, by some brands called "snackers."  Perfect!  Because that's what I wanted - just enough for a little snack here and there.  It's like the marketing geniuses at the pickle companies had read my mind.

After some careful consideration, I selected a nice jar of Mt. Olive Kosher Baby Dills because they were  cheaper than Vlasic and I couldn't imagine there'd be much of a difference in taste.  Into my cart they went!

And once home, after almost all but forgetting about them, I remembered again as I made my way to the bottom of the last grocery bag.  And even though pickles should ideally be eaten when nice and cold, I popped open the jar and ate a few right there on the kitchen floor.

Oh, what I had been missing - they were crunchy and sour and perfect!  They reminded me of summer days in Baltimore in the hot kitchen at my grandmother's house where the table was set with a bowl of Utz potato chips, hamburgers and buns, orange carrot jello salad, baked beans, and pickles!  They were so yummy!

And the best thing is, since I know nobody else likes them, I won't suffer the disappointment of throwing open the refrigerator door the next time the mood strikes me only to find an empty jar.  I know that I can safely offer them up as a snack to my marauding daughters and they will not bite, and that my husband's fingerprints will never grace the side of that jar.   They are my pickles, and mine alone and I think I will go and have one right now!