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Archives for Families and Family Life

Last of the Summer Whine


In my book, August is almost as dismal and depressing as February. I know summer isn’t over until Sept. 21, but my summer is over once I no longer have a vacation to anticipate and after I’ve had a tomato sandwich for lunch for 30 straight days.

This sounds ungrateful of course. There is all that fresh produce from the garden; all that sunshine and warmth – all that warmth.

Enough with the warmth.

At the beginning of summer, we were a beehive of planned activities. There were picnics and barbeques planned, a vacation in the works, a stack of books for shady afternoons and slow, informal dinners of fresh vegetables to look forward to. My sons were coming and going, swimming or playing tennis, going on camping trips and hikes. We never knew who or how many would show up for dinner.

In August, though, it’s an effort just to drag dinner out to the patio, let alone pack a hamper to take somewhere. My vacation tan has pretty much faded and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my book stack may have been a little ambitious for the time I had.

Those leisurely dinners have been cancelled due to the overwhelming amount of produce belching from our little garden. After canning 50 jars of tomatoes, a bowl of pasta in a light tomato basil sauce accompanied by a fruity, light zinfandel loses its charm. We go straight for a few belts of wine then fall into bed.

And little by little my sons’ pool of friends has begun to whittle down as each one leaves for college. The tearful goodbyes (at least on my part) are now a regular part of our week.

My own son will…No. That has nothing to do with any of this.

The laundry, a never-ending battle around here, hangs limp on the line, soaking up the humidity. I can usually have two or three loads washed, hung out on the line, dried and put away by 3 o’clock. But these days I spend the day checking to see if they’re dry until the daily evening thunderstorm comes along and I haul them all in to dry in the damp, humid basement. Still, every morning, hope springs eternal and I trot them out and hang them up. I’ve been drying the same load of laundry since July 24.

The six dogs, once exuberant to be outside exploring all day, now hesitate by the back door, deciding between relieving themselves in the heat and taking a nap in the air conditioning. They usually choose to hold it until the last possible moment, at which point they run outside to do their business, keeping an eye on the door lest I leave them out there.

If I do, the next time I look out they have formed themselves in front of the door into an anxious arc of slobbering, panting, shedding machines. You would think they’d search out a cool, shady spot. Instead they stare me down to remind me that, “It’s nice and shady in the air conditioned living room, Lady.”

I’ll rally in September. I always do. When the Shenandoah Valley ignites with color and every weekend holds the promise of festivals and antiquing, I will press my personal reset button and make a new plan for myself.

But in August, that seems like a long way off and first I have to get through the weekend my son…No. That has nothing to do with any of this.

I try my old mood lifting standbys, but even they fail to pull me out of the late summer funk. I just want Sinatra to shut up about The Summer Wind and even a day hunkered down in front of Turner Classic Movies for a day of Cary Grant depresses me, only because after watching Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief there is no way to look in a mirror and feel good about yourself.

Even the birds, whose song was so noisy my husband wanted to throw shoes into the trees every morning to shut them up, are now grudgingly silent. The honeymoon that began for them this past spring is over and they have nothing else to say to each other. The kids are all grown, flying and ready to leave the nest.

And so is mine in a week and a half. But, really, that has nothing to do with any of this.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 6:55 PM | Permalink

The Pickles of Wrath


I am writing this from a bunker deep within the recesses of my house. Whether this dispatch will reach anyone before tragedy overtakes us, I cannot say. Just know that I have fought the good fight. Know that, whatever happens, I did my best to mitigate the tide of what was to come.

I can hear them coming now, knocking on my door, feigning a friendly disposition and acting as if nothing was wrong. They were my friends once – neighbors and relatives. Back in the spring when all seemed possible, we exchanged information, helped each other out, borrowed tools and exchanged materials. We all shared a common goal: to bring down the price of our grocery bills.

It all seems so ironic now – how na├»ve we all were back then.

I remember those days, from the humble beginnings on each of our kitchen tables, laying out carefully each little patch of vegetable for which we hungered. We knew, even then, not to try anything difficult the first year. Our newly plowed soil hadn’t the years of enrichment as that of some of our more established neighbors. We would not make that newbie mistake; just a little lettuce, some tomatoes, peppers, onions, cucumbers and squash.

And only two zucchini plants, we laughed, well remembering our office days and entering a break room festooned with useless, giant baseball bat-sized vegetables.

Then came the days we realized we were not alone. As we each broke ground on our tiny plots of soil, we’d wave to each other over fences and hedges and share advice we’d read the night before over the internet. There were those among us who had established gardens already and they offered roto-tilling services and tips specific to our local soil.

I laugh now to think of how we’d talk at night of how wonderful it was to live in such a helpful, caring community.

It started innocently enough. There was one elderly gent, a longtime resident of the area, whose garden was the envy of us all. One day, we all said, we would have a garden like that. He spoke of his early peas and potatoes. He could plant earlier than any of us, since his soil had been worked and enriched for the past 20 years.

While we watched and waited, weather having delayed the tilling of our newly-established plots, he offered us little teaser gifts of cucumbers, early tomatoes and tiny zucchini. He’d come whistling over, his straw hat at a jaunty angle, and show us what just a little patience and effort would eventually afford us.

Then one day our own gardens suddenly began producing. For a week, each afternoon featured a show-and-tell among us as we pulled the first vegetables to be consumed that evening for dinner. We feasted on cucumber salads, zucchini and pasta, salad with grape tomatoes, fried zucchini rolls, cucumber sandwiches and tomato basil salad. We scoffed at those suckers who bought those hideous grocery store vegetables and strutted about our frugality and thrift.

When the garden began producing more than we could eat at the time, we began canning and freezing, frantically trying to keep ahead of the wave. Sure, it was the hottest time of year, but part of being frugal warriors like us was to not waste good food. So what if it meant we’d have to eat zucchini bread for every meal every day of the coming year to use up all that those two plants yielded? So what if I have enough jars of garlic dills to supply every deli between here and Vermont? We would not be wasteful!

‘But wait!’ we thought. ‘We will share our abundance!’

And that’s how it began: Each evening a representative of each household would stalk the neighborhood with an armload of vegetables, looking for someone, somewhere, upon whom to unload them.

Pretty soon we began avoiding each other, afraid that if we threw our hand up to wave, someone would stick a zucchini in it.

Our elderly neighbor for whom we had so kindly relieved his over-production? He had burrowed into the bowels of his house, the only testament of this existence the hum of his air conditioner. We suspect he is the one who prowls the neighborhood at night, leaving grocery bags of cucumbers on people’s doorknobs. We’ve had to release the dogs several times at night.

That’s the only time we open our doors these days. That — and to throw the useless, giant baseball-bat sized zucchini into the compost pile.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 6:54 PM | Permalink

The Griping Piping Plover


Though I grew up 10 minutes from the eastern coastline of the U.S., I probably spent less time there than most people who lived hours away. But for the first 24 years of my life, I was dependent on the economy generated by our proximity to the shore.

With all due respect to my native state, New Jersey beaches are either too crowded and noisy (God forbid the sound of the ocean drown out someone’s boom box) or extravagantly expensive. There are no free beaches in Jersey. As a child, I couldn’t imagine what a beach looked like without the requisite parking lot and boardwalk with a sort of “toll booth” where you paid your money to access the beach.

Finally my family moved minutes away from New Jersey’s Island Beach State Park, where for a flat per-carload fee you could spend the entire day. It was the closest thing to a vacation I ever saw until my honeymoon. Ever wonder how many Italians can fit in a Chevy Bel Air? Our record was nine; it could have been 10, but we had to put the spaghetti pot and Coleman stove on the floor in the back.

Oh – and you’re not allowed to drive a second car to the park entrance, park it and have your parents strap you and your brother to the roof of their station wagon to avoid the second car fee. Please don’t ask me how I know this.

These days we occasionally find the cash to spend a week at the beach – in our case, somewhere on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where there are a wide variety of beachside experiences. You can stay in a beachfront mansion in Corolla or a tiny, vintage cottage on remote Ocracoke Island. It is pricey, though, no matter where you decide to stay and those luxurious condos are a far cry from the housing on the mainland.

But, just as my family could count on our day trips to Island Beach State Park to provide a little respite, locals in North Carolina could at least indulge the same way at parts of Hatteras Island and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. At least, that’s the way it used to be.

The buzzword at Outer Banks these days is “limited beach access.” On one side are the environmentalists; on the other are fishermen, local residents and businesspeople whose livelihood depends on unlimited beach access for tourists.

Environmentalist claim the fishermen’s use of ATVs to access their prime fishing areas threaten the habitat of the piping plover, a tiny shore bird, since the vehicles kill vegetation. The fishermen, business owners and residents claim the restriction is actually the cause of the threatened habitat since the plovers will not nest in dense vegetation. Environmentalists claim the bird is shy and delicate and will fail to thrive with beachgoers around it; their own research, though, shows the opposite.

Right now, though, in a tanking economy, Hatteras and Ocracoke islands have limited beach access, and are facing total closure – all through a series of complicated decisions based on supposition and bureaucratic doubletalk; certainly not on the findings of the National Park Service whose evaluations – even those quoted by environmentalists – report no negative impact by ATVs – other than the 20 plovers killed nationwide by the federal ATVs in their study.

At least the by-the-week renters can use the beaches contiguous to their rental units, since the plovers don’t seem to desire those beaches. All I can think of are the day trippers – those locals who drive to the beach for a day. While ATVs were the specifically cited problem, many of the access points have been barred to pedestrians as well.

According to the consent decree limiting beach access, any signs of “vandalism” results in the limited area being extended by incrementally larger spaces with each incident. So far, five vandalisms have occurred involving no threat to plovers and no damage to the natural beach environment. It doesn’t take an ornithology scientist to figure out a good way for an environmentalist to get the access limitations expanded is to wreak a little minor havoc at the entry points. All for The Cause, don’t cha know.

Right now the National Park Service’s own evaluation seems to preclude the need for the restrictions the agency has succeeded in placing on beach access. Still, more limitations loom in the future.

Indulging such sloppy science and environmental hysteria doesn’t bode well for public access to other national parks. Nor does it bode well for those of us who rely on the park system we support with our patronage and tax money.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 6:53 PM | Permalink

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