Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sure Signs You Are Getting Older...

You get up with the chickens because you are wide awake anyway--even on weekends and days off.

You can't remember the last time you slept through the night without having to get up to pee. 

Unless you have no choice, you won't leave the house in the morning until you have finished all your business.  

Moments before the start of the Stiletto Race you agreed to run in to raise money for charity, you suddenly realize you can't remember the last time you ran anywhere, much less in heels.

You are sore in places you didn't know you had for nearly a week after running for two minutes in a Stiletto Race for charity. 

You have enough doctors to see a different one every day for a week or more. 

You have a sweatshirt, pair of jeans and/or towels older than some of your coworkers.

You have accepted it's just not appropriate to wear clothes you find in the young men's department anywhere for any reason. 

You no longer have much choice about what to do with your hair.

You've discovered elastic waistbands in dress pants.

You can't remember the last time you wore pants that didn't have elastic in the waistband.

You know just the right viewing angle in the mirror to continue pretending your body hasn't changed much since you were 20.
You no longer read certain comic strips because the print is just too small to see.

You can't read text this size without your glasses no matter how far you hold it from your face.

You go to the grocery store wearing an outfit you wouldn't have been caught dead in 20 years ago. 

You're totally pissed because they quit making your favorite (fill in the blank).

You have to get someone younger to show you how to work practically everything. 

Monday, October 26, 2009


Grannie was my only grandparent. Mom's parents died before I was born. I vaguely recall Grandpa Buck, a widower and farm laborer who married Grannie in no small part to help raise his two children (now deceased). They raised eight more kids (all still living but one) for a total of ten. He was really old when I was born and died a few years later.

To say that Grannie was a hard worker is a gross understatement. She planted, tended, and harvested a big vegetable garden every summer. She mowed her own yard, kept her house spotless, and painted every fall up to the year she died (at 86). She walked two blocks to the Kroger store for any groceries she needed. One year she got a pet rabbit. Or at least, I thought it was a pet... until she fried him up for supper one night.

Grannie always looked the same. She got her hair permed up at the beauty school once a month and often wore a hairnet. Her homemade dresses had seams removed in strategic locations, for ventilation or comfort. Her navy blue boat shoes were similarly adapted. She was never without hose, usually knotted tightly just above the knee, with sometimes huge runs here and there.

My earliest memories are of big family dinners prepared by Grannie at the house she lived in until she died. The grown-ups ate in the dining room, and the kids at a table in the kitchen. The menu was almost always the same: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, sliced tomatoes, corn, yeast rolls, and dessert. It was all wonderful and most of it fresh from her garden.

Dessert could be chocolate meringue pie, jam or applesauce cake with caramel icing, or fried apple pies. Around the holidays she made peanut butter pinwheels, fudge, divinity and turtles. When you got to Grannie's house you ran straight to the kitchen and looked on the little table next to the stove to see what was for dessert. When we were older she would hide dessert on the dresser in the back bedroom and act like she didn't make any. Nobody ever believed her.

Grannie put up a lot of stuff herself. She was always canning something. She made jams, jellies, preserves, pickles, and my favorite of all, green tomato catsup. She used whatever kind of jar she could put her hands on, and often sealed them with wax.  Between the lard in everything she made and her home canning techniques, it's a wonder she didn't kill us all.

I stopped to see Grannie on my way home from work when I worked and lived near campus. She would be sitting on the glider on her big front porch reading the afternoon newspaper and keeping an eye on things in the neighborhood. She took plates of food to every little old man on her street and to anyone within walking distance who was sick or otherwise in need of a hot meal. She knew everything about everyone.

Any time I stopped by she'd ask if I was hungry. Most of the time the answer was yes. In moments she could produce a meal seemingly from thin air you'd have to see to believe--without a microwave. Other than a spoiled turkey one Christmas, I can't recall a single thing she ever cooked that wasn't absolutely delicious.

Grannie never missed a funeral no matter how remote her connection to the deceased. She wore her prettiest new suit, run-less hose, sensible shoes and a hat and perched herself somewhere in the front few rows at the funeral home or church. She sat the same way she sat in the glider on her front porch--so she could see everything going on in any direction around her. She didn't miss a thing.

It didn't take long to wear out your welcome at Grannies. She was happy to see you come, and just as happy to see you go. Once she found out you were ok and any news you had to share, other people needed her attention. After a half hour or so, she'd run you out the door.

What I wouldn't give for another piece of her fried chicken, a jar of her green tomato catsup, a slice of her chocolate meringue pie, or a tin of her homemade candy.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Rainy Season

After several years of drought, we had enough rain this spring for things to really start looking up. As lakes and reservoirs began to refill, watering restrictions were lifted and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. By May things looked so good the Governor proclaimed the drought was over.

Ending a drought is apparently not up to the Governor. The rain stopped. June, July, August and into September we barely had enough rain to keep the grass alive. This picture was taken in July.

Since the middle of September we've had several big and small rain events. We had more than five inches of rain in our gauge, twice. Instead of being several inches below normal precipitation for the year, we're now more than four inches above with as much as two more inches of rain forecast for this weekend.

Rain fell steadily over several days the first time. Everything was so dry I saw very little ponding anywhere. When another big rain came just a few days later, the water didn't have anywhere to go. My entire back yard filled up. These are pictures of the area shown above during the second big rain.


We needed the rain. All the lakes and reservoirs are now at full pool for the first time in several years. The water table is up enough for basements to flood again. The ground is thoroughly soaked, and with cooler temperatures and fairly frequent showers has stayed that way for weeks.

It's been a great time to move plants around in the garden. Elephant ears given up for dead long ago have sprung up. A castor bean plant returned from seed. That tells me the ground has not been this damp for at least five years when I last had castor beans in the garden.

I'm not going to call a press conference to announce it. But I think it's safe to say the drought is over. And I'm thinking maybe God is a Democrat with a sense of humor...

The Crotchety Old Man   

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Born to Write

I started writing almost before I could talk. Mom says I would fill page after page with uniform little circles in neat rows. I vaguely recall drawing the circles and suspect I was writing. Having kept a journal for most of my life I know the kinds of things I write about. Would love to know now what I had to say then.

Mrs. Scully, my ninth grade English teacher, was the first person I remember commenting about my writing. She gave me an A on a term paper that was more than a few pages short of the required minimum because it was well-written and complete. This high praise is one of the few things I remember about junior high.

In high school English classes we often picked our assignment from several options. Given the choice I always went with the creative option. I wrote a Canterbury Tale in faux Middle-English dialect about bomb scares at our school.  Mrs. Highland read it to our class and to students in her Literary Tempers class for years afterward.  It was the first time my writing entertained others that I can recall.

The professor of a college creative writing course selected one of my stories as the best of the semester. She didn't say who wrote it, just started reading it to the class.  It was a tall tale loosely based on a real disagreement between the lead dancers in the dream ballet sequence of a high school presentation of the musical Oklahoma!  I was horrified!  I remember turning deep red and sinking down into my seat.  But everyone laughed and in the end, applauded.  Re-enforcement.

I enjoy the physical act of writing. I'm fastidious about penmanship, word choice, spelling, punctuation, and grammar. My aunt, a retired high school English teacher, says my letters to her are beautifully written and technically perfect.  Growing up I begged her to read my letters with red pen in hand and send them back to me.  To her credit she never did!

Technical writing is part of my job.  Practice makes perfect.  Do the same thing for a couple of decades and you can become quite good at it.  Creativity creeps in now and then, but for the most part this stuff is dry and straightforward.  Even so, my colleagues tell me I write very well.

About thirteen months ago I started this blog.  Since then I've published 139 posts on numerous and sundry topics.  Some are good, some are bad, and some are just ugly. I learned a lot about blogging and a lot about my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. 

Initially I was very careful to protect my identity.  Without a clear identity for The Crotchety Old Man, the blog never attracted much of a following.  I did get a few hits from posting to other blogs and random hits from google searches.  Few if any check back.  You regular readers knew me before there was ever a blog.

The Adventures of Tico and Toodles incorporates everything I've learned. It's focused, has a point of view, and comes from my own observations and experiences.  The only marketing has been occasional postings on Facebook and word of mouth.  People love it and they come back for more.  I'm having a blast with it, too.

There will be some changes to this blog.  I'm going to try to stick to what I know which should really cut down on political rants.  One thing for sure, as long as things piss me off I will remain...

The Crotchety Old Man 

Friday, October 9, 2009

Home-Grown Tomatoes

Everyone knows there is nothing like a home-grown tomato. When I was a kid we used to walk through Uncle Don's tomato patch on hot sunny days with a salt shaker eating tomatoes off the vine. Yum! You don't get that kind of flavor from store-bought tomatoes. I'll do without before I'll eat one of those hard, tasteless things.

Practically everyone I knew grew tomatoes back in Kentucky. Bragging rights went to the person with the first vine-ripened tomato of the season and anyone with ripe tomatoes for the Fourth of July. By August the problem was finding somebody who didn't already have tomatoes on every counter-top in the kitchen to take your surplus.

You would think with the heat and longer growing season that tomatoes would be easier to grow in Georgia than they are in Kentucky. Not for me. I did have a decent crop the first year or two I was here. One thing or another has foiled any and all attempts to grow my own tomatoes ever since.

Disease wiped out the crop one year. Tomato plants are highly susceptible to everything but swine flu. For best results I read you need to start your own plants from seed. I did. We had gorgeous tomato plants...tall, lush, healthy plants covered with flowers...until the deer munched every single one down to the ground.

After that we had a drought. As the drought intensified the city ordered watering restrictions and finally a total ban on outdoor watering. Ever try growing tomatoes without water? The universe was telling me to quit. So I did, certain I could rely on the kindness of neighbors and coworkers to provide me with at least a few home-grown tomatoes every summer.

None of my neighbors grow tomatoes or any kind of vegetables for that matter. Very few of my coworkers grow tomatoes. If they do everyone they know wants any extras they have. I've begged, told sad stories about my tomato-free existence, and worked my big, sad, puppy-dog brown eyes for all they are worth to no avail.

This year I found the Farmer's Market. When I was a kid you went to the Farmer's Market to get super fresh produce for half of what you'd pay at the grocery store. Now you pay twice as much for vegetables grown organically on sustainable, boutique farms run by new-age yuppies and hippies.

After paying $5 per pound for admittedly delicious tomatoes for several weeks, the presence of mature tomato plants in pots at my local garden center in August got my attention. At $15 I only needed to get a few tomatoes to make it a better deal than the $5 per pound I was paying at the Farmer's Market. Besides, everything tastes better when you grow it yourself. So I bought one.

Re-potted it into a bigger pot ($5 more) with nice dirt ($3) and slow-release fertilizer (came free in the mail) and discovered white flies. Sprayed the plant with the crap that kills white flies ($15). Watered it in between the torrential rains we had in September. The water isn't free, but I'll throw it in.

Squirrels sampled the first two before we could. The next one split open from all the rain. There are still three little green tomatoes we might be able to fry up in a few weeks if they grow larger than grapes.

That makes this little guy my harvest for the year. I'll sell it to you...for $40, which would make my tomatoes about $160 per pound. Guess $5 per pound isn't so bad after all. Dammit.

The Crotchety Old Man

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

On Working from Home

The ability to work from home on occasion is a tremendous fringe benefit. Occasionally I need to be at a particular place at a specific time. Otherwise, I can carry out most of the functions of my job from just about anywhere on the planet. As long as I have a working telephone and Internet access, I'm good to go.

Over the years I have developed the habit of working from home a day or two a week. It's the only way I can move forward on anything requiring the least amount of concentration. Especially when writing is involved, I can get more done in a day at home than is possible with a week in the office. A few months ago things got so busy I started working from home as many as three days a week.

Here, too, I'm lucky. Many of my coworkers can't work at home. I'll admit things were less distracting before we got the dogs. Compared with small children, however, Tico and Toodles are no distraction at all.

Then the powers-that-be announced our building was to be renovated. We were asked if we preferred to relocate to another office temporarily or work from home. With visions of all the writing I could get done, unfinished projects I could wrap up, and back-burner things I would at last have time to address I leaped at the chance to work from home.

Now, two days into my third week of working from home, I hate it. Electing to stay in your pajamas to work on a project at home is one thing. Working at home because your office is a disaster area and you have no choice is an entirely different thing.

I miss my coworkers. I miss the ability to pop into an office to ask a quick question. Now I have to send an e-mail message and wait for a response. It's a little thing, I know. But the cumulative effect of all the little things over the last two weeks and two days is significant.

I've often wished I could work from home all the time. Just another case of being careful about your wishes, and another reason I remain...

The Crotchety Old Man
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