Posted in garden, Moments of grace

Amaryllis Blooming: A Reminder to Slow Down and Enjoy Life’s Simple Pleasures

They are sneaky. You forget all about them for most of the year. Then suddenly, one day, BAM! There they are. The amaryllis.

I didn’t even notice as the plants began poking their heads through the pine needles and bark much. Even when they were a foot tall, they blended in with stalks of hibiscus and other plants that had died when the temperature dipped below freezing for a few days. The perfect disguise.

One afternoon, walking through the backyard, a tiny glimpse of red caught my eye. I couldn’t ignore them any longer. They had blown their cover. They weren’t coming; they were here.

The next day it looked like someone had run through the garden with leaking buckets of bright red paint. Flames shot out in every direction from the stems. The colors shouted from the brownish-gray backdrop, “It’s spring!”

The brilliant hues make me laugh out loud. I can’t contain the joy inspired by sudden spring color. I have to stop and look and look and look again. They are beautiful.

The red ones are the first wave. The big pink ones won’t be far behind. And then – the lilies!

Posted in Life, shopping

What’s in your shopping cart?

So I very carefully snapped this picture of a shopping cart just a few spots behind me at a self-checkout lane in Walmart. The contents caught my eye then and still intrigue me now.

  • At least 8 cans of spray disinfectant
  • A large double stack of red solo cups
  • A tall pile of plain white hand-towels
  • A couple of trash cans
  • A huge container of cheese balls

I thought it was an interesting collection of things to purchase. I’m not here to judge; I’ve filled carts with just as many attention-getting items. More on that in a minute.

My first thought: this person teaches preschoolers. Perhaps a Sunday School class. Maybe just a bunch of kids at home.

This shopper could be turning over a short-term rental. Or cleaning up a house before the movers arrive with the furniture.

When a youth group was selling food at an outdoor church festival, I went out the day before to purchase supplies. I overloaded a cart with giant packages of hotdogs and hamburgers, bags of buns, cases of soda, and assortments of chips. As I pulled up to check out, I felt a little self-conscious. “No,” I wanted to explain, “I don’t eat like this all this time!”

Every time I come across this picture I chuckle at the cheese balls. I’ve seen them on display. I’ve always wondered who buys them. One youth brought a similar container on a summer mission trip. Barely lasted two days. I guess it’s not as big as it looks.

What’s in your shopping cart?

Posted in Life

The cleanest lettuce in the world

While looking for BOGOs in the produce section, this label caught my eye: “The cleanest lettuce in the world.”

That’s quite a claim. How do they know? Who studies this? Does it really matter when you wash your vegetables at home? What about the lettuce package that boasts, “Triple washed”?

Skeptical, I did a little bit of research. Kalera brand lettuce is hydroponic. Rather than being grown in the dirt, it’s grown in water. As long as the water is clean, the product is clean from germination to harvest. In my research I did find a story about Kalera’s recall of lettuce in Florida in the fall of 2022 because of some salmonella contamination. The cleanest lettuce in the world isn’t necessarily germ-free.

My dad grew a lot of lettuce, spinach, and other vegetables in the big garden on the side of our house. He washed it, but it could still be a little gritty to the teeth. Definitely not in the running for cleanest. Sometimes we would just eat it right from the garden, along with green beans, peas, or a tomato. Wipe it off on your shirt and you’re ready to go. Dad didn’t use any pesticides, so that wasn’t a problem.

The label also claims the lettuce has “50% superior nutrition.” Hmm. Superior to what? To other brands of butter lettuce? To lettuce grown in soil? To Doritos? I did learn that butter lettuce is a good source of vitamins A, C, and K, along with minerals like iron, copper, potassium, and manganese. You’ll also get flavonoids and antioxidants in a salad made with butter lettuce.

It ain’t cheap, that’s for sure. With a unit price of $.70 per ounce, it goes for about $11.00 a pound. That’s more than a lot of the beef for sale. And even though the label doesn’t specify, I’m sure it is gluten-free, just like the arugula on the shelf above it. Just so you know.

I may not be doing myself any favors, but I generally choose the cheapest dark-leaf lettuce I can find. Never iceberg. Spring mix is a favorite. I used to find amazing locally grown lettuce at the farmer’s market near us. Sadly, that market closed.

I half-heartedly rinse it off, so I doubt if my efforts bring my lettuce anywhere close to being the cleanest.

Posted in Life

A croc in the water!

A croc floating in duckweed covered water at the zoo in Jacksonville, Florida.

I did a double-take walking through the Jacksonville Zoo. We had just passed the bongo and zebra enclosures and were just about to look at the lions. Underneath the wooden walkway, I saw this croc floating on the duckweed-filled water. Yes, a croc in the water! Not an unusual sight in Florida, but not exactly the kind you would expect.

Okay, so if you’ve read any of my posts, you know I always wonder about such things. What’s the story behind this? How in the world did someone’s croc end up in the water?

Perhaps it was a game of keep away. Someone stepped out of a croc, friends grabbed it and tossed it back and forth until it sailed over the railing and into the water. Yeah, you’re going home half-barefoot. Sorry about that.

Maybe it was a dare. “Hey, do you think there are any alligators in the water?” “There are alligators in every pond in Florida, doofus.” “I dare you to throw your croc in the water. Everyone will see and take a picture of a “croc in the water.”

It could have been an accident. Exuberant spring-breakers were kicking at each other. One kick missed, a shoe went flying, and suddenly there was a “croc in the water.” Maybe friends were slapping each other with flip-flops and other shoes, when one went astray and sailed into the water.

Maybe the rhino-ostrich-lion staff saw a chance to mess with the tourists. “I know. Let’s throw a croc out there in the water. They’ll freak out.”

We look for and often see alligators along the banks of every retention pond we pass by. We were not surprised to find a croc in the water.

Posted in cooking, Life

The joy of rhubarb

I had heard of rhubarb. My dad used to speak of it. I had seen a “rhubarb” break out at a ballgame when players poured out of the dugout to trade blows on the field.

But the first time I encountered rhubarb was in Iowa. I’m a city mouse, born and raised in suburban Philadelphia. Iowa was all about farming, where my wife, the county mouse, would feel at home. We moved into our Iowa home in the late spring of 1991. As soon as the snow melted and the days got longer in 1992, the rhubarb sprouted in our backyard. The red celery-like stalks and large green leaves baffled me. What was this?

We lived in Iowa for five years and learned that you don’t have to do anything to grow rhubarb. It sprouts and grows every spring and produces magnificent plants. The big question: what do you do with rhubarb?

The easy answer: make a pie. Rhubarb pie. Strawberry rhubarb pie. My wife makes an incredible pie crust using her grandmother’s recipe. And she made some incredible rhubarb pies. The second secret to a great rhubarb pie? Lots and lots of sugar. (The first secret is to use ice water when you make the crust.)

A straight rhubarb pie is delicious. But beware, it will clean you out. (You know what I mean.) Strawberry-rhubarb is delicious, too, with a little more natural sweetening and a little less natural fiber.

Fast forward to 2023. We’ve been living in Florida for 26 years. Rhubarb doesn’t grow in Florida. But strawberries do. And they are ripe and plentiful in March. We went to a strawberry festival last weekend and bought a flat. that is twelve pints of strawberries. I bought that flat with my wife’s promise, “I’ll make you a strawberry rhubarb pie.” Deal.

So I head off to the store to buy rhubarb. Every once in a while I can find frozen rhubarb in the freezer section of the store. No such luck on this trip. Well, maybe it’s in the frozen vegetable section. Nope. I finally asked a manager, “Sometimes you have rhubarb – where would I find it?”

He whipped out his smartphone and checked the inventory. “We’ve got fifteen pounds in produce.”

“Ok,” I said, “I’m headed over there.” At the other end of the store, I asked another manager, “Do you have any rhubarb?”

He disappeared into a cooler and came out with a huge box. “How much do you need?”

“Not that much,” I replied. “How about a pound?” He cut and wrapped up about 8 nice stalks and I was on my way home with fresh rhubarb.

The secret to baking rhubarb, besides lots of sugar, is peeling the strings off the back of the stalks. As my wife laboriously peeled, she said, “That’s the virtue of frozen rhubarb – no peeling.”

This year’s strawberry-rhubarb pies (a big one and some little ones) are in the oven. I’ll let you know exactly how delicious they are!

Posted in Life

It turned on all by itself?

Photo by JOSBRA design on Unsplash

Just before we turn out the lights, my wife says, “Alexa, play brown noise.” We then drift off to sleep, soothed by a mix of frequencies not unlike ocean sounds or a windy night.

I woke up one night, and noticed that the brown noise was louder than usual. I softly spoke the word, “Softer,” but the volume didn’t change. Then I noticed that much of the sound was coming from outside the bedroom rather than the Echo on my dresser. Stumbling out into the kitchen, the whole house was filled with un-soothing brown noise.

Where is that noise coming from? I finally figured out it was the microwave fan on high. We never use the microwave fan. It’s not vented, so it’s not helpful. Somehow the fan came on full power all by itself!

After I turned it off and crawled back under the covers, I had a few moments to wonder, “How did that happen? Has that ever happened to anyone else? What else occurs spontaneously?”

The first thing that came to mind was a rogue note coming from a pipe organ with no one at the keyboard. I think the organist called it a zephyr. A key or a baffle or something got stuck, causing a note to sound without anyone playing it.

If you fish around, you can find stories about spontaneous combustion, when something (or someone!) suddenly bursts into flame.

Things suddenly quit all the time. Light bulbs burn out. The internet goes out without warning. I just wrote about my phone dying a quick death. When the washing machine quits, it’s always full of water and wet clothes. I’ve heard stories of a picture falling off a wall or a book tumbling from a shelf.

Not as many things turn on all by themselves. Unless the power’s been out and suddenly comes back on. Or a smart device is programmed to come on at a certain time.

What if someone is using your appliances at night when you’re supposed to be sleeping? That’s a story for another time.

Posted in Life

My phone died. Long live my phone.

Last week, my phone died. I was reading some headline news when the screen suddenly went black. I charged it up. I tried all the rebooting tricks. I tried to access it via my computer. Nothing. Dead in the water.

I saw it coming. This iPhone X was over five years old. The software reported that my battery was only operating at 70% of its original capacity. I had toyed with the idea of getting the battery replaced, but hadn’t gotten around to it. A few mornings before, a green line appeared on the right edge of the screen. I took that as an omen. But it continued to work until it didn’t.

I didn’t lose anything. My pictures were all backed up. My contacts, email, messages, and passwords are all synced with my laptop. It’s not the end of the world.

I got online and went to Back Market, where I could choose from all kinds of refurbished used phones. I don’t need the latest and greatest. A couple of years old, with decent memory, and small enough to easily slip in my pocket works for me. It will arrive tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’ve reflected on life without a smartphone. It’s been a long time – fourteen years – since I got my first one. I reflexively reached for it to set an alarm, see the weather forecast, check my email, take a picture, find an actor on IMDB, get GPS directions, discover a song title on Shazam, read the news headlines, buy something on Amazon, search for a recipe, and look at my calendar. Oh, and make a phone call.

I can do all this on my computer, so it’s not like I was cut off from the digital world. But my phone’s demise did remind me of how much I depend on this convenient and useful pocket-sized device.

Posted in Moments of grace

The joy of a sandbox

In the sandbox with my grandson

I never had a sandbox as a kid. Don’t feel too sorry for me. I had dirt. I got to dig tunnels, create mountains, and build roads for Matchbox cars in my backyard. I tracked plenty of dirt back into the house when I was done.

I never had a sandbox, and maybe that’s why I’ve always enjoyed playing in a sandbox with my children and now with my grandchildren.

The sandbox is magic. In it, you are a god. This is your realm. You create and destroy. You become one with the medium, shoveling, dumping, molding, and smoothing with your hands. It yields as you sweep it aside. It sifts through your fingers. It blows away with your breath.

Mountains are first. The pile rises higher and higher with each shovel full of sand. Some of it runs down the sides, defying your efforts to make something taller. But you have an ally. Water. Just the right amount of water stirred with sand becomes the substance of a “dribble” mountain. As you let the mixture slowly run out the bottom of your fist, spires ascend where there were none before.

Suddenly, this is no longer just a mountain. It is a castle. The dribble forms walls and windows, towers, turrets, and battlements. Inspired by this sight, I fill buckets with moist sand. Turning them upside down, I carefully lift them to create cylinders upon which to dribble more sand.

Roads are next. Roads that pass over the hills. Roads that slice through the mountains. Roads that circle the castle. Roads that are smooth, packed down, and ready for small cars and trucks.

Sometimes the mountain will not have a castle. Instead, a crater will be hollowed out of the top. It will be a volcano. Dormant for now, it may just erupt at any time. Cars or figures that wander too close to the edge may find themselves at the bottom, or worse, buried! Anything buried becomes treasure to dig for or a rescue to engineer, so it’s all good.

Whether topped by a crater or a castle, the side of my mountain is perfect for a cave. A shovel handle is the perfect tool to excavate a passage into the side of the hill. How deeply can I burrow into the sand before it begins to collapse? Can my tunnel reach one started from the other side? There’s only one way to find out.

Most of my efforts are leveled by small feet and loud giggles. Children find it nearly impossible to resist stomping on a mountain, a castle, a road, or a volcano. Our young are by nature bent on destruction. They delight in the power they have in the world of a sandbox.

Just like me.

Posted in Life

We’re getting wet

Like a dense, early morning fog the spray of the pressure washer rolled into the garden center area of Home Depot. Once voice accosted the cleaning crew, “What are you doing? We’re getting wet. Stop it!”

I saw the giant lift outside the store but didn’t think much of it as I wound my way through the spring display of plants, soil, and mulch. Smaller lifts are always blocking aisles and lifting products off top shelves as workers wave orange flags to keep customers at a safe distance.

After I grabbed a few bags of potting soil and some pink impatiens, I fell in line behind other folks pushing carts full of shrubs, hoses, fertilizer, and tools. An engine roared to life as a man fifteen feet off the ground started washing dirt, pollen, and mildew off the front of the store. The mist rolled through the checkout area as one cashier chuckled and the other yelled out the door, “Are you out of your mind?”

A Spanish-speaking voice from above responded, but she persisted, “Can’t you see we’ve got customers here? Use some common sense!” I chuckled as the idling engine roared to life and a new spray of water floated over a new wave of shoppers entering the store.

Part of me wanted to see this scene escalate. Another part of me just wanted to get home and get to work on a few back patio planters. Everyone was doing their job. No one was really getting wet. The store was doing a booming business.

Just another crazy March day in Florida.