Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tomatoes, Peaches, Grasshoppers, and Ducks

We brought home a half bushel of peaches from our trip to peach country on the Western Slope of Colorado.  Even after sharing half of the box of peaches with friends and family, Jim and I have had fresh peaches for breakfast nearly every morning for several weeks now.  Our tomatoes are also starting to ripen, so I have been thinking of ways to include an abundance of cherry tomatoes into our meals.   Eating all of this wonderful fresh produce has reawakened memories of days gone by.

Memories of Gardens of Long Ago

Ryan and Jonathan
North Ogden, Utah
Summer 1979


When my children were young, we lived in North Ogden, Utah.  At one time, before farms were broken up into subdivisions, North Ogden had been an area where the folks in Ogden would go to get peaches, apricots, and cherries from the many orchards that grew in the area.  North Ogden was also known a place that grew wonderful raspberries.

 Our home had been built on a fairly large lot where one of those a peach orchards once stood.  The builder had left some of these old peach trees on the property, and by the time we bought the house three trees remained.  The former owners of the house had built a new home where an apricot orchard once stood.  They asked if we could trade trees each year.  In other words, they wanted to come and pick peaches from one of our trees in exchange for us picking apricots from one of their trees.  It was an arrangement that worked well.

 As the above photo of my two sons shows, these peach trees produced an abundant crop each and every year.  Can you see how the branches are so loaded with peaches that they are nearly touching the ground?

While my children most likely have only great memories of climbing these trees and playing beneath the shade of them, I mostly remember that I had a love/hate relationship with them.  I'm allergic to peach blossoms and to peach fuzz, so I would have a terrible time with my allergies when they were in bloom and when I had to pick them.  Sometimes, when the trees were loaded with peaches, my arms would be covered with rashes when I would go out to pick peaches.  I am also very afraid of heights, so I would not get up on the ladders to pick the peaches at the top.  I hated to have the kids pick them too, because they would want to go out on the branches to reach those peaches inaccessible by ladders. I would stand on the ground afraid the branch would snap and they would fall and break a leg, an arm, a neck.  If we didn't get them picked, the peaches would fall to the ground and make a terrible, mushy, smelly mess.  The peaches would quickly rot on the ground and before long the air would have a terrible vinegar smell and the peaches would attract earwigs.  Needless to say, I tried to harvest as many peaches as I could.

What did I do with all those peaches?  I canned them.  My memories of those days when the above photo was taken are memories of being very, very busy this time of year.  In 1979, I had five children under the age of 12 and a very large yard and garden to help maintain.  My former husband, the father of my children, did most of the maintenance and care of the yard and garden, but he would go off to summer camp for the Army Reserves every summer for two weeks.  During that time, it was really a chore to keep up with the kids, the house, the yard, the garden, and canning.  I wonder now how I did it.  In my neighborhood, one could barely hold one's head up without feeling shame if one didn't relate the number of bottles of peaches, pears, applesauce, jam, tomatoes, or whatever else was in season one had preserved that week.  It wasn't all peer pressure that drove me.  The produce I canned was what fed us during the next year.  We counted on it to supplement our food budget.  Plus, there was great satisfaction that came from seeing my shelves in basement filled with all that beautiful produce bottled and waiting to be consumed.  In many ways I miss those day, but I remember how bone tired I would be as I stood at the sink and peeled peaches and tomatoes, made jams and jellies, sauces and juices.


We didn't just grow peaches.  We grew a lot of raspberries.  I never had many to freeze or to make into jelly because we ate them fresh as they ripened everyday.  Raspberries are a lot of work to grow, but the rewards outweigh the work.  What I wouldn't give to walk out into the yard to pick fresh raspberries again.


We also grew grapes. Every fall, not long after the kids would have returned to school, I would step out onto the back deck and know that it was time to harvest the grapes.  I could smell them when they were ready.  This was usually just as the weather was turning cooler, just before the first hard freeze, in fact it seemed that there would be a slight frost the night before they were ready.  Below, is a photo my me and my precious Julie as we show off the grapes we just harvested.

I had a steam juicer that I used to make grape juice.  If you are interested in the process, you can read about it here:  how to make grape juice.  I would use some of the juice to make grape jelly.  Yum!  I miss that homemade grape juice and grape jelly.  I still have the steam juicer and all the jars in the basement.  What do think the odds are that I will ever use them again?

Tomatoes, grasshoppers, and ducks

I've also been thinking about all the tomatoes I used to grow to can.  My father-in-law was a master gardener when it came to growing a vegetable garden.  My daughter told me he grew tomatoes this year in his garden during his 88th year.  His tomatoes were always abundant and beautiful.  I never could grow tomatoes like he could, but then, I didn't care for them as well as he did.  I grew them because I loved eating a fresh one from the garden everyday, and I loved to can them to use throughout the year in cooking.  Home canned tomatoes went a long ways in stretching the food budget when feeding five children.  I've been thinking I should can some again when I read all the salt that are added to the canned tomatoes and tomato sauces that we buy off the grocery shelves.  Surely, my home canned tomatoes would be better for us.

One year, when I was growing tomatoes to can, our garden was being overtaken by grasshoppers.  I was very frustrated by the way they were destroying our tomato crop.  My former husband, who was a teacher, was talking about how the grasshoppers were ruining our crop at work one day.  One of his fellow teachers who owned a farm not far from our house said that he had ducks.  He said the ducks ate the grasshoppers before they could destroy his tomatoes.  Based on his experience and observation, we decided that we would have to see if the ducks would help our situation.  My husband drove over to his friend's house, loaded up a couple of ducks in our Ford Pinto, and brought them home.  The kids named them Donald and Daffy.  

I could see the downside to having ducks right away.  Do you have any idea how much of a mess they make in the yard?  I couldn't even let the kids go out in the yard to play.  We had to be very careful and watch where we stepped when we went out to the garden to pick vegetables or fruit from the trees.  I thought it was worth the mess if we got rid of the grasshoppers.  Soon, we had few grasshoppers.  It seemed to be working.  There was just one problem.  I still was not finding any ripe tomatoes.  I would see that tomatoes were nearly ripe, but then I could find any ripe ones to pick a day or two later.  Then, as I was gazing out of my kitchen window as I washed the dishes one evening, I discovered why.  One of the ducks was in the vegetable garden.  He was standing next to the tomato plant where I could clearly see a ripe red tomato.  In just an instant, the duck took the tomato into his mouth and walked away.  The ducks were eating my tomatoes!  

Since the ducks were making a mess, and since the neighbors kept calling and saying, "Your ducks are in our yard again," and since the ducks ate more tomatoes than the now gone grasshoppers had done, we decided our plan was not working.  After the children were all in bed that night, my husband and I loaded the ducks in the back of the car again, took a little ride out to the marshlands, and let the ducks go.  They had been trying to fly away anyway, so we figured they would be much happier where they belonged, and I was happy because now my tomatoes could grow without any disturbances from outside predators.  

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Retirement ~ Time to Smell The Roses

My usual morning routine is one that sometimes takes two hours to complete after I first get up in the morning.  By the time I get up, my husband has made my coffee and read one newspaper.  As I descend the stairs, I hear Boston run to get a toy so he can greet me with his happy morning dance as he begs me to admire his toy and pet him.  I then kiss my dear sweet husband, pour my coffee, and settle down in my favorite red chair to watch the Today Show and read three newspapers, The Pueblo Chieftain, The Gazette Telegraph, and The Denver Post.  I always read for an hour while I sip my coffee before I finally make my breakfast.  My hubby is probably already to take the dog for his morning walk by the time I eat.  On summer mornings, we do our morning newspaper reading and chatting on the back deck.  I love retirement.  There is no rush to get out the door.

Yesterday, on Thursday, feeling especially good mentally and physically, soon after pouring my cup of coffee, I heard Lionel Richie singing on the Today Show.  I couldn't stop myself.  I was dancing around the kitchen and family room, coffee cup in hand to "Oh what a feeling, we're dancing on the ceiling."  "This is a great way to start the day," I thought.  I even posted on Facebook that I was starting my Friday off right by dancing to Lionel Richie while I drank my first cup of coffee.  Then, I took my medicines and saw the pill container said it was Thursday.  Then, my daughter-in-law posted on Facebook, "Wait, isn't it Thursday."  Yes, it was Thursday, but I am retired.  It is hard to know what day it is.  It felt like a Friday to me.

Today, Friday, the 17th,  the man and I both slept in.  The dog didn't wake up my hubby, so we were able to sleep until we were both awake.  In fact, I think I woke up first.  That is a rarity.  "Oh well, it is a Saturday, so we can justify sleeping in," I thought upon awakening.  But, when I read the paper, I realized it was not Saturday, it was Friday.  I've been confused on what day it is for two days.  Every day in retirement feels like Friday or Saturday.

I usually fix big breakfasts on the weekend.  Of course, today was not the weekend, but I thought it was.  We had gotten up late, so it really felt like Saturday.  Before breakfast I slipped out to the garden to see what was ripe.  I picked some cherry tomatoes, snipped some chives, got some Pueblo peppers out of the freezer and made us a frittata.  I've never made a frittata before.  It was quite yummy.  We also had fresh raspberries and blueberries in Greek yogurt.  This was really a Saturday or Sunday breakfast.

After breakfast, I again slipped outside.  It was so nice and cool outside.  I sat on the deck and thought of how much I love this house.  While we were both working at demanding jobs, I dreamed of just enjoying my house and yard after I retired.  Today, as I sat out on the back deck, I looked over to one of my favorite sights, my back rose garden, the one I planted the year I retired.  I call it my Peace Garden.

This summer has been a hot one.  I thought these roses would never come out of it in late June and throughout July when they looked done for, but I kept up with the feeding routine, I made sure they were watered, and I deadheaded every few days, although all through July I had few blooms, and the few blooms I had dried up on the stems.  Now, the weather is cooling and we've had some rain.  The roses are having what I call a second blooming.  Isn't that what retirement is all about?  A second blooming.  The second blooming is almost the best.  The colors are richer, deeper, and the blossoms are fuller when roses bloom in late summer and early fall.  It is true, "Gardening is a form of autobiography," I think as I look at the roses.

My eye catches one rose bud on the Peace Rose.  It is so stately.  I venture down the steps into the garden to take a closer look at this particular rose.  I capture it with my iPhone camera.

I haven't seen quite as much pink on the edges of these roses until now.  The cool weather is allowing the pinks to show their hues.  This rose, the Peace Rose, was planted in 2006 when I retired.  It was the first rose in the garden.  It was selected because it is one of my favorite roses.  Introduced by in the United States in 1945, the year of my birth, it was given to delegates of the first meeting of the United Nations with a note that read,  We hope the 'Peace' rose will influence men's thoughts for everlasting world peace.  

I really do love this rose.  It is the one I usually choose to place in a vase in front of my father's portrait when I have them in bloom.  I do this to honor my father and his time of service in the war, and to remember the time when I was going a bit too caustic and angry about a problem during my divorce many years ago.  As he listened to me rant, my father said nothing as he held up his two fingers in a peace sign.  That simple gesture spoke volumes to me, and I calmed down. My father was not one to go around putting up the peace signal, but he did so that day to send me a message.  I got it, and I haven't forgotten it.  Peace!  It is a beautiful thing.

It is such a great thing to have time to smell the roses and think about the reason I have a garden.  I have a garden because I love to create beauty.  I also love to have a creative outlet, and gardening allows me to do that in a way that is physically, spiritually, and mentally satisfying.  I thought I would spend my retirement years working as a master gardener.  I even took the course and have the certificate, but I don't consider myself a master gardener.  I still think of myself as a "dig in the dirt" kind of gardener.  I design in my head as I work the ground.  This means I have had some major design flaws in my yard.  It means I am always digging something up and moving it somewhere else.  It means I have not always considered nature, space, and placement as well as I should when I garden, but I am learning.  I keep some notes along the way.  I have a file in my garden shed where I keep the original receipts or tags for the roses and perennials I have planted over the years.  I try to have a rule that if I can't say the name or remember the name of plant, I don't plant it.

My gardening has been very hit or miss this year.  The heat has been a factor.  My health has been another factor.  And, we have our house on the market, so I have not made any huge additions to the garden.  I just try to maintain it and enjoy it.

I don't know how I will part with this beauty if we ever actually sell this house and move.  This is Easy Does It.    This beauty was planted in June of 2010 after being purchased to be planted in my Peace Garden in memory of my daughter Julie after her death.

Julie at her class reunion dressed in a shirt covered with orange flowers
This is the perfect rose to honor Julie.  The color reminds me of her.  Julie wore a lot of orange.  She had a vibrant personality and could carry off wearing such a bold color so well.  I love the touch of yellow, and a bit of pink and apricot in this rose.  It is complex in its color scheme just as Julie was complex in her personality.  Perhaps, the rose reminded me of her dressed in a top she used to wear that suited her so well.

Another flower I love to admire in my Peace Garden, is the Queen Elizabeth.  Introduced in 1954, it is sometimes known as the Queen of England rose. Interestingly, this rose did not bloom this year until the week of the Queen's Jubilee.  When it first bloomed this year, it bloomed all week of the Jubilee, and then it stopped blooming because of the heat.  It started blooming again when the Olympics began. I guess it identifies greatly with its British roots.

This rose is easy to grow and rewards me with beautiful sweet smelling bouquets.  I prefer to cut the buds for arrangements because they are so beautiful.  I like them better than the fully blossomed flowers.

I love deadheading my roses.  It is a very relaxing pasttime for me.  Working in my roses gives me time to think, to reflect, to smell the fragrance of the beauty of the plants I treasure.  As I clip the spent blossoms, I always toss them into one my great treasures:  my father bucket.  I love this bucket because it reminds me of my father.  It is a simple galvanized work bucket that still has paint splatters and cement attached to the surface inside and out of the pail he used as he went about working on the home he loved to maintain.  I think of how important it is to stay connected to the simple pleasures and pride that work can bring.  I am grateful to find beauty in a bucket full of spent blossoms.  I am grateful for this time in life when I can just putter in my garden while literally taking time to smell the roses.  It is good to not have to know what day it is, or even what time it is.  Time is suspended as I ponder all the sights and smells of my garden.  I treasure the memories that such times evoke within me.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

One Who Helped Me Heal

Imagine feeling the following sensations periodically on a daily basis: 
light headedness,

Add to that:
 a sense of being out of sync with life, your environment, and those around you.

This all makes you feel
not understood.

Add to all of these symptoms, pain and headaches.
Along with the headaches, 
visual disturbances,
fullness in the ears.  

Along with the above symptoms and sensations,
that does not go away even as you sleep much of the day away,
loss of the ability to
the loss of 
short term memory,
and the inability to problem solve.

not being able to drive,
frequent public places,
 go grocery shopping
because you are overwhelmed by the sights and sounds surrounding you.

Add crippling anxiety to all of the above.

Intensify the debilitating effect of all of the above with the process of dealing with
 grief over the recent death of a child.  

Imagine that it is the dead of winter and the landscape seems bleak and bare.
Nothing seems to be blooming in your life, not even hope.  

This is how I felt though much of January of 2012 after a head injury from falling down the stairs of my home.  This fall sent me on a new journey of learning much about healing, hope, pacing, and patience.
I remember that one of the first pieces of advice given me after my injury by my chiropractor was, 
"Be patient with yourself."
I am not a patient person.

I needed a very special person in my life to teach me patience and pacing.  I also needed one who had the education and skills to properly diagnose my problems and give me the therapy I needed to heal.
That person was

Julie, a physical therapist with South Valley Physical Therapy, is a board certified neurological clinical specialist who specializes in all those symptoms that were robbing me of the life I once had.  To say that she was a God send to my life is an understatement.  I honestly do not know how I would have survived without the skill set that she used to diagnose my problems and to design a treatment plan that would give me both hope and healing.

In many ways, I consider that fact that I even found Julie Knoll nothing short of a miracle.  As I reflect back on my life over the past year, I am aware that I have suffered from vertigo and dizziness since early last summer.  Just as the symptoms of vertigo were finally abating some, I fell down the stairs and my problems with this puzzling symptom in my life were exacerbated.  If I count the number of doctors and tests that I had before I fell, I come up with at least four different specialists or tests that were done to try to find out what was going on in my life.  I was tested for seizures.  I was given MRIs and CAT scans.  I saw a balance disorder specialist.  I was sent to a cardiologist.  I had all kinds of tests, but I had no answers.  Interestingly, the Vestibular Disorders Association found in a survey of those diagnosed to have this disorder that 52% of those diagnosed had seen five or more doctors before they were properly diagnosed and treated.  

After already suffering from attacks of vertigo from an unknown source,  I fell and suffered a head injury.  After the head injury, when things just weren't getting better, my chiropractor,  of all people, sent me to an optometrist, Dr. Saxerud,  who specializes in visual mid-line shift problems.  This doctor confirmed I did not have a visual mid-line shift but told me I totally failed the test for vestibular disorder.  He recommended that I see Julie Knoll. He said she was the best person he knew of to help me with this problem, but he also noted that I would have to travel to Castle Rock, Colorado to see her.  That was not a problem.  Driving 85 miles to see someone who could help me seemed like a blessing.  At least I didn't have to go into Denver.

When I first met Julie, I was immediately impressed by her demeanor.  In fact, since I had been working on acquiring patience in dealing with my vertigo and headaches, I felt especially reassured by the quote on a plaque behind her desk.  I have superimposed it on this photo of the Pope John Paul II rose from my garden.  The quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson reads:  "Adopt the pace of nature, her name is patience."  I knew my healing would not be instantaneous, but I knew I had found someone who would help on the journey.

Julie exudes competence, self-confidence, wisdom, peace, patience, and hope.  She is able to build all of these same virtues in her patients.  As Julie began to review the intake form I had filled out prior to seeing her the first time, I was immediately aware of her great knowledge about the disorder for which I was seeking treatment.  Her academic knowledge was enhanced by her obvious possession of much successful experience in her chosen field.  While all of these attributes are greatly sought for in looking for any healer, I was especially struck by Julie's healing nature which was expressed by her care, concern, and willingness to truly listen and respond with ideas to aid in healing.  She didn't just come up with a treatment plan, she gave me other resources to help me on my path to health.  She suggested books to read, tips on handling times when I was experiencing symptoms, tips on traveling with this disorder, food choice that might make a difference, and advice on how to handle reactions to activities and medications.  She is both a gifted healer and teacher.  She taught me about the importance of exercise and diet to aid in recovery.  She suggested that I might explore dietary changes.

Every time I saw Julie, she gave me exercises to do to help me overcome my disorder and injury.  The philosophy behind the exercise program she developed in one of habituation.  In other words, I was to do those very things that made me dizzy in order to retrain my brain to accept those things that caused me to be out of balance with my body and my world.

As I think back over the past year, and especially over the last six months, I truly do not know what I would have done without the support, encouragement, knowledge, and help I received from this outstanding professional.  It is no small thing to give one a name for something that is disrupting one's ability to cope with what is going on within one's body and brain.  I learned that what I was experiencing had a name:  vestibular disorder.  I learned there was much to learn about the disorder itself, and I learned that the more you inform yourself about your disorder, the better equipped you will be to manage your symptoms and communicate effectively about your needs with family, friends, and health professionals.*

This past week, my husband and I traveled to the other side of the state to visit my mother.  The trip itself was horrendous.  The canyon roads that wind through deep canyons brought back intense vertigo.  The changes in altitude as we drove over mountain passes caused pressure and fullness in my ears that added to the vertigo and nausea.  I was fatigued, nearly unable to cope, my memory and concentration were disrupted as I struggled to regain some sense of equanimity in my mind and my body.  Thankfully, I knew this was temporary.  I knew what to do to regain some balance.  I knew it would take time.  I knew I needed to be patient, to pace myself, to rest.  I was reminded that I should build in a recovery day when I travel.  I was fine after resting a day.  I am not able to drive mountain passes yet.  I hope to be able to do so soon.

I know many will never understand the full scope of how this disorder has impacted my life, but I know that because just one person did know, did have the ability to diagnose and treat my symptoms, and listened to me while giving me help and hope, I am able to do those things I love to do again.  That person is Julie Knoll. I will be forever grateful for her.  She gave me the tools I needed to begin to recover my life.  Thank you, Julie.

*Quote from brochure published by Vestibular Disorder Association