December 03, 2022

I read Matthew Perry's memoir, and here's why I think you should too.

So, I'm terrible at book reviews, but I knew I'd want to write something about this one. And this may be the first "celebrity memoir" I've ever read. Unless your best work in TV and film was completed before 1990, I just don't really care enough to read your life story. Give me Clark Gable. Give me Robert Duvall. Give me Bill Murray. Matthew Perry is one of few exceptions to that rule, but I'll get to that in a minute.

Also, I don't like the idea of labeling this a "celebrity memoir."

It's much more than that.

It's a human story written by someone who just happens to have experienced celebrity.

You don't have to be a Friends fan to appreciate this book. You don't even have to be a Matthew Perry fan. (But if you are both or either of those things, you'll probably enjoy it.) You don't have to be someone with an addiction to relate to it. There's a lot of other life stuff too. (I mean, I felt the passages about loneliness could have been written by me recently — see: Experiences Over Everything). But if you do struggle with addiction, there's a great deal in this book that you might relate to too. It may even encourage or help you. He is quite knowledgeable on the topic.

There was a lot of press that came out before the book did, and if you just glanced at those headlines, you might think that this would be the print version of Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good."

It's not.

Yes, there are stories about people whose names you see in magazines that might delight you if you're into that kind of thing, but there are also great stories about people who aren't. My personal favorites were about actor David Pressman. As a matter of fact, the first line I read when I initially received the book and was skimming through is "I once made out with David Pressman…" I've been following Pressman on Twitter for years and just think he's the funniest person on the planet, and every time I see him on TV, I scream, sometimes to no one, "Oh my God, there's David Pressman" because I'm a bit of a dork like that.

The book is pretty raw and intense at times. At times, it's Perry's opportunity to tell his side of a story that the media created about him over the last couple of decades. You learn which bits are true and which aren't and which were actually way worse than what you thought you knew. But I don't get the feeling that this was written as some kind of defensive play against the media.

Brave. I read most of this book while sitting through a few bubble baths, and even so, I found myself reaching for my phone and taking notes as I read, and I typed the word "brave" about six or seven times. It had to be tough to write about some of these topics. There were times when I wanted to crawl into the book and give the author a hug. But I don't get the feeling that he wrote this hoping to get everyone to feel bad for him. It's not a pity party at all.

It's just so many things rolled into one, but I guess in a way, it's an introduction to Matthew Perry the person. I suppose that's what a memoir is, but you get to know him on a human level here. You learn that he's not just an actor, not just someone who deals with addiction, and not just that famous funny guy on TV. He's a real person who seems like a loyal and loving friend (lowercase F) and son and brother. He comes across as someone who is clever, thoughtful, and intelligent, but as someone who has fears and anxiety like the rest of us. To me, that was the best part of the book — getting to know this guy who was such a huge part of pop culture while I was growing up.

The content aside, there are some beautifully-written passages peppered throughout the book that made me envious as a professional writer. And there are some that just literally had me giggling out loud right there in my bubble bath. This guy can tell an engaging story and make you laugh and cry, sometimes on the same page, and I hope this is just the beginning. More memoirs, fiction…acrostic poetry? Whatever it is, with any luck, a decade from now, I'll have several books written by Matthew Perry in my library and you will too.

And that's exactly why I read this book. It's why I pre-ordered it over the summer. I've just always gotten that vibe that this guy could write a story that you'd want to read. And I was correct. And that's why Matthew Perry is probably one of the few actors who has found success in my lifetime whose memoir I'm willing to bring into my sacred bubble bath world. (There is no sacred bubble bath world. I just made that up.)

So, about that… Let me start by saying I may be the only person on the planet who didn't become a Perry fan because of Friends necessarily. I really didn't even watch the show when it initially aired. I was in...middle school? at the time, and some girls who weren't so nice to me were obsessed with it, and they thought Chandler was the cute one. So, I decided that A) I was not ever going to watch it and B) Ross was the cute one. And that was that.

But a few years later, sometime in the early 2000s, I was in Los Angeles for professional reasons, and though I was still a teenager at the time, the person I was working for asked me to chaperone this 28-year-old Australian lady to the La Brea Tar Pits. All I remember about that outing was that the Aussie had never seen a squirrel before, she had just broken up with her boyfriend and talked at length about it, and for some weird reason, she wanted to see the spot where Matthew Perry had been in a headline-making car accident.

I was going to have to look the no-squirrels-in-Australia thing up, and I was way too young to offer relationship advice to a woman who was nearly 30, so when we rode along some random road in the Hollywood Hills, I was all, "I don't know where it was exactly, but I think the accident was on this street."

I had no idea what I was talking about. I was only even vaguely aware that it had happened. I just didn't want this cool international lady to think I was dork. (Yes, I know. We've already established that I am.) And now, I feel really bad about that.

Sometime after that, I saw Perry on a talk show. And then in a movie. And then I guess I started watching the last couple of seasons of Friends with my mom when I was around to do so because I remember us watching the finale in her bedroom. And I can't pinpoint the exact moment or even the reason why I started paying attention to him — of course, he's handsome and charming and all the things that come with being a famous TV guy — but it just seemed like there was something interesting about him. Something more than what you saw on TV.

I followed his career for a while as best I could, but there are still several movies and shows I haven't seen. I am still in love with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and watch it like once a year, and there are a few independent movies he's in that I think are some of his best performances. I actually tend to really like his darker or more dramatic work. And, of course, I've now seen all episodes of Friends.

I'm rambling at this point, and if you made it this far, thank you. I didn't even get to all the notes I made on my phone or the passages I marked, but I don't think I need to. It's a good read that covers a multitude of topics — something for everyone. Go out and get it. It would definitely make a great Christmas gift.

And if you didn't read my rambling, to sum it all up: I do think you should read this book. And I think Matthew Perry should write more of them.

Now, I have an SEC Championship to get to. Go Dawgs!

November 24, 2022

How Miss Kardea Brown Saved Thanksgiving

During her last few years, my mom used to come home from dialysis and watch the Food Network most days. On one particular occasion, I remember her telling me that she had recorded a show for me to watch. I don't like to cook like she does, so my interest in cooking shows wasn't very strong, but she insisted I'd just love this show. "The lady is from Charleston! You would love her! You'd love the scenery! And the food she cooks — it's the kind of food we actually eat," my mom insisted.

If you know me, you know that Charleston is like a second home to me. I love the lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia, and I have always been fascinated with the Gullah Geechee culture, particularly when it comes to food and the origins of their dishes. I've even got a writing project in the works related to it if I can ever get around to finishing it.

So, on that day, I sat and watched Delicious Miss Brown with my mom, and I've been hooked ever since. As a matter of fact, we'd watch the show together almost every weekend after that, and sometimes, we'd even watch reruns when there were no new episodes. That became our thing. We both fell in love with the host Kardea Brown and her food.

Her food.

There are many Food Network shows that cook foods I wouldn't eat. This is not those shows. Kardea Brown cooks like I cook, or, at least, how I wish I could cook. She cooks like my mom cooked. She cooks real Southern food, the stuff I grew up eating, which is not surprising considering she learned to cook from ther own Southern mother and grandmother. I love that she's keeping these traditions alive.

Of course, my mom died last year, but keeping up with Delicious Miss Brown and Kardea Brown's career was a huge source of comfort for me after that. And I was absoltely thrilled when her new cookbook The Way Home: A Celebration of Sea Islands Food and Family came out last month. When it arrived, I devoured every recipe, every picture, every story. Unfortunately, I was also on a specific diet, so I couldn't really test any of the recipes out just yet. Go figure.

So, fast forward a month to Thanksgiving. Actually, fast forward to a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself because I didn't really have any plans for the holiday, but suddenly, I decided I'd just create my own plans. I decided I'd make a big elaborate meal with turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn, mac and cheese — the whole nine. My own version of my childhood family Thanksgiving meals.

While last year was technically my first Thanksgiving without my mom, this year has been a little tougher. I think I was still in shock last year. And as I got closer to today, my menu and my determination dwindled. This seemed like a lot of trouble, and that seemed like it was too time-consuming, and my dad won't eat that and I don't need a whole casserole dish of it, and I'll just save the dessert for Christmas, and my oven is messed up again, and the kitchen is a mess becuase I've been cleaning stuff out, and Sadie had to go to the vet, and I had the flu last week, and then a lucrative yet time-consuming project crossed my desk at work, and well, long story slightly shorter, I decided I would just make a turkey breast, mac and cheese, and dressing, and I was really only doing that because I know my dad wanted a little something Thanksgiving-y.

I need to start by saying my mom made the best dressing most people who tasted it had ever had. It was pretty legendary. Nothing else compares. I even joked while she was on her deathbed about how we'd miss it. Her last Thanksgiving on this earth she was too weak to cook it herself, so we made it together. Boy, I wish I'd written that down. Not that you can write it down exactly. A little of this here and a little of that there and let's add some more of that and who needs a measuring cup? You kind of just have to feel it out. I had most of it floating around in my head. Last year, I tried to replicate it and did an okay job. This year, I was determined to do the same. There was only one problem.

I couldn't remember how to make the kind of cornbread she made to put into the dressing. And once I got to thinking about it, I'd only helped her make mac and cheese once, and I couldn't for the life of me tell you how she did it. None of the recipes I found online seemed comparable.

And that's where Kardea Brown came in and saved my Thanksgiving.

I wanted to start writing book reviews here, and I figured her cookbook was a great one to start with. A few nights ago, I was skimming through it again, taking notes for my review, when I realized she had a cornbread recipe that sounded just like the one my mom made. And not only that, but her mac and cheese sounded a lot like what my mom made too.

As I said before, we fell in love with Miss Brown and her show for a multitude of reasons, but the fact that she cooked like we cooked/ate was the biggest one.

So, I got up this morning, and I put my turkey breast in the slow cooker. And then I went to work making Kardea Brown's cornbread, which I then turned into a version of my mom's dressing. And then I whipped up a batch of her macaroni and cheese. There were a few mishaps because when I cook, there are always mishaps, but dare I say, the meal was pretty darn good, especially considering I had to cook it all in the toaster oven in the same dish because it's the only one that fit. And I didn't have enough pasta for the mac and cheese. And I didn't have the right corn meal for the cornbread. Even my dad said "that macaroni and cheese isn't half bad." That's a high compliment coming from the man who told me some chicken I made a few months ago "smelled like heartburn."

Anyway, I can't wait to dive in and try more of Miss Brown's recipes. I'm especially hoping to give that butter pecan pie cheesekcake with brown butter sauce a try around Christmastime. Or better yet, if someone wants to make it for me, I'll pay you. Really, I will. I've cooked enough today to satisfy that urge for a while. But I managed to pull off a semi-decent Thanksgiving with the help of Kardea Brown.

I felt like she and my mom were both in that kitchen with me today. And while I'll never make a recipe exactly like my mom did, I think these cornbread and mac and cheese recipes will be my new go-tos. And who knows? Maybe one day, I'll be cooking them for my own family.

If you're reading this, Happy Thanksgiving, and go buy Kardea Brown's cookbook! And now, I'm gonna have seconds of this mac and cheese while I'm allowed carbs...it's that good, y'all!

November 16, 2022

It's Tough Being an Adult

Last Friday was a busy day. I got up early to register for classes at UGA and then I loaded the car up with Christmas decor to take to the shop for our annual holiday extravganza. I spent most of the rest of the day cleaning, organizing, and decorating for that. I also spent most of the day ignoring emails that were remnants from a super stressful work week. Apparently, I also caught the flu, but I wouldn't figure that out just yet.

I was so tired and sore when I got home, and the next day, I was still tired, so I decided to make it a rest day. No work. No projects. Nothing. I fed the animals and spent most of the day finishing a book I'd been reading and watching the Georgia game. On Sunday, I was planning to start working on some cleaning projects, but I was still just too tired. Maybe I just needed to make it a whole rest weekend and start again on Monday? Plus, I was cold. We went from temps in the 80s last week to temps in the 40s this weekend, so that made sense. Maybe I just needed to spend another day on the sofa with a book and a blanket. Make that three blankets. Oh, and let's turn on the central heat that I rarely ever use because it dries out my skin. And let's turn it up about four degrees.

"I think you're sick," my dad finally said to me on Sunday evening, around 6:30.

"Me? Sick? Nah. I'm just exhausted from last week. And cold. Very cold."

I said this through chattering teeth. He finally convinced me to check my temperature. It was like 93 or something. The battery in the thermometer was low. But it didn't matter because I was fine.

Okay, maybe not fine. But I was just dehydrated and needed some protein. The only thing I'd had all day was a doughnut and half a Diet Dr. Pepper, and so, I ordered a burger and drank some water. Then I decided I needed a bath because to be honest, I hadn't showered in a few days, but mostly because sitting in scalding hot water sounded like a perfectly fine idea. And it was. For about an hour. I was feeling much better. Definitely warmer.

I dried off, got dressed, and made my way back to the sofa. And then a wave of something came over me. I decided that I probably shouldn't move anymore. I remember saying to my dad, "There are two really important things I need from you. Bring me two bottles of water and take Sadie out one last time." I remember there being a football game on TV. And after that, all I remember is that a scientist was explaining to me that my skin cells were turning into plastic blocks because there was some kind of slight variation in some kind of genetic matter, and that I needed to explain this to my dead mother and grandmother so they wouldn't worry.

Yes, I was a tad delirious. I guess I passed out because around 3 am, I woke up drenched in sweat. I was turning on fans and pulling off blankets. And then I woke up Monday morning with a sore throat, a headache, a cough, and body aches. Probably just allergies or a little virus or something, right? I got up and did my normal things. Fed the animals. Checked my email. Got started on some work. But after doing all of that, I was exhausted. So exhausted that I just kind of had to lay down ASAP or I might die.

And this is when it finally hit me — maybe I am sick. I found a better thermometer in my mom's medical supply stash and took my temp. It was well over 100 and over the next hour, it just kept going up and up and up. I haven't had a fever that high in a long time, and I really haven't been sick since February 2020 when I most likely had Covid and didn't know it.

Covid. That was my first assumption because that's what we've been trained to think over the last few years. But I really didn't see any point in taking a test because aside from my fever and body aches, the other symptoms were fairly mild, and it wasn't in my chest at all. Plus, my dad is super paranoid about getting sick himself after his ordeal with sepsis and open-heart surgery a few years ago, so why confirm that's what I have and make him even more paranoid? He agreed with my theory at first. About 10 minutes later, he said, "Well, it's up to you." About 10 minutes after that, he called me from out in the yard and said, "I think you need to take a Covid test. Right now."

So, I did, and it was negative, but my cousin who brought me the test told me that the flu was going around, and that my symptoms sounded just like her son who had it a couple of weeks ago. And then I found out that some people I was around last week currently have the flu, and then I found out several local businesses have had to shut down due to flu-related staff shortages, so I decided to go out on a limb and diagnose myself with the flu. I mean, I've had it before. I know how it goes.

Looking back to Sunday night, I was definitely very sick, but I can't figure out why I was in such extreme denial. I do have a few theories:

First, as I said, I haven't been sick in nearly three years. When the pandemic began, I was just getting over an illness that was probably Covid. After that, I was careful. I was taking care of two parents with major medical issues at the time, and I had no idea how it would impact them, so I adjusted my life accordingly...which wasn't a huge deal because I generally already avoid crowds, have my groceries delivered, and prefer to be at home most of the time anyway. Now that my caregiving days are over, I really don't think much about it.

Second, I really haven't been allowed to be sick since my mom's started dialysis back in 2016. I've written about how grueling the schedule was. Throw in all the other health issues both my parents had on top of it, and anytime I got sick, I usually had less than 24 hours to get over it if that. As a matter of fact, the last time I actually had the flu (March 2019 - your doctor's medical record software has nothing on my brain), I had about one night to sleep it off because my mother who was high on pain medication she wasn't supposed to have was trying to bust out of the hospital, so I had to go up there in a mask and pretend I was fine so she wouldn't kill herself. I also broke out in hives that weekend, but this is a fun little story for another day.

Finally, aside from that incident, I've never been sick without my mom around before. Sure, I'm on the wrong side of, um, 20, but even as an adult, who is the first person I call when I'm sick? Who brings me orange juice and homemade soup and tells me work will still be there when I'm better and if it's not we'll figure it out? Who comes up with these wild home remedies that actually work, like forcing me eat an onion sandwich once when I couldn't breathe? Who comes over and makes sure I have clean pajamas and blankets and adjusts the fans and heat to my liking without complaint? Who runs out to the store when I have even the slighest craving? Who tells me to stop looking up symptoms because I am not dying and do not have cancer or multiple major organ failure. I could go on.

And maybe it's a bit of all three.

But good grief, I am sick. And I have to do this on my own now.

(Okay, full disclosure, I'm not doing it on my own. My dad lives with me. He's been taking care of my animals. As I type this, he's cleaning Sadie's bed. DoorDash and Instacart have been bringing me soup and orange juice and such. My cousin was nice enough to bring me a Covid test, and I've had a few other friends and relatives ask if they can do anything.)

But it's just not the same. I guess deep down, we all want someone to take care of us on occasion — even those of us who are usually stubbornly independent and think we can do it all ourselves. I certainly never turned down an opportunity for my mother to baby me or take care of me. And according to a Google search I just did, I'm not alone. No matter how old you are, most people still want their moms when theyre sick. And my dad really is great, but he has that stereotypical "walk it off" dad attitude about everything that ails you. (Unless he gets like a minor cold or something, but we won't talk about that.)

When my mom died, I knew there would be firsts without her — first birthdays, first Christmases, etc. But I never really prepared myself for the firsts like this, the minor every-day stuff like getting the flu. They pop up often, and I am learning to live with that. In some ways, it's even liberating. In the past, I've read interviews with Clint Eastwood and Stevie Nicks, and both said something simiar after their own mothers died, and that's always stuck with me. That's the silver lining of going through such a terrible thing, I guess. For every moment that you feel the most soul-crushing grief, you eventually find a little more freedom within yourself. But even so, there are moments when I'd give anything to have her come through with a tray of soup and crackers and ginger ale. Somehow, walking to door to pick up a bag of chicken noodle soup that some stranger dropped in the garage doesn't have quite the same effect.

I was sort of explaining this to my friend, Chris, last night. Or probably whining about it is more like it... His response? "It's tough being an adult, ain't it?"

Yeah, I guess it is. But thankfully, God made us resilient enough to make it through.

------

I hadn't intended to write a whole blog post about being sick, though doing that years ago is actually what helped launch my writing career, so who knows... Hmm. Anyway, I'm bored from my sick bed and too dizzy and tired to do anything important, so this is what I've got. Soon, I want to start reviewing a pile of great books I have sitting here next to me and modernizing this website and editing old posts and adding them back, but for now, you'll have to settle for this.

November 04, 2022

Garden Hits and Misses

I've planted many small gardens over the last decade or so, but this is the first year that I've had the majority of 8.5 acres to do exactly what I wanted (and implement some of my newly-learned UGA ag student knowledge), which means I got the opportunity to plant a much bigger variety of vegetables and flowers than I ever have before. Unfortunately, I didnt' get to do quite what I set out to, but I did get to conduct some experiments I've always wanted to try, and I learned some things along the way. Some of them were hits. Some of them were misses. And since my last few posts have been pretty deep or death-related, I figured I'd lighten the mood and write about those hits and misses.

The Hits:

Let's start with the good stuff. These are the items that were quite successful.

1. Fireball Marigolds

I love a deep red flower, and I've never seen a deep red marigold, so when I spotted these Fireball marigold seeds on the Park Seed website, I knew I had to have them. They sprouted quickly with a 100% germination rate after I planted them in May, and it's the first week of November, and they're still blooming just as much as they were two or three months ago, despite the fact that my ducks like to trample them.

I've really never had success with marigolds even though they're supposedly easy to grow, and now, I know why. I've always planted starts from a nursery rather than starting my own seeds. Starting seeds is the way to go. What's cool about these is that they start out red before turning various shades of orange, so as they bloom, you have a variety of shades going at once. Pictures don't even do them justice. Because of the 100% germination rate and my inability to get rid of unwanted seedlings, I actually ended up transplanting some of them, and even those thrived.

2. Macarenia Zinnias

Zinnias are also supposed to be super easy to grow, but I've never really had much luck with them. They were one of my mom's favorite flowers, and I have fond memories of her growing them when I was little, but I hadn't really experienced them as an adult. And I actually have maybe 20 to 30 packets of zinnia seeds that sit untouched. Orange flowers aren't my favorite, but for some reason, I grabbed this pack of Macareina zinnias that I had ordered from Baker Creek last year and scattered them next to my tomatoes. I didn't expect much from them, but they were definitely the superstars of my garden this year. Even my dad who says he "doesn't really pay attention to flowers" has commented on them. The pollinators loved them too.

I'll definitely plant more of these next year. Like the marigolds, I planted them in May, and they're still blooming as much as they were all summer. As a matter of fact, once they got going, they bloomed quickly. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds love them. They grew to be much taller than I expected (three to five-foot plants), and they put out quite a variety of colors and shapes.

3. Anaheim Chili Peppers

Anaheim chili peppers are, without a doubt, my favorite peppers. I add them to many things when I cook, but I usually use canned ones. A few years ago, I found a plant at a local nursery and brought it home and learned that fresh ones are much better than canned ones. Since then, I've tried every year to start some seeds myself. And every year, I've failed. Either they didn't come up, or I didn't have the time and attention to give them. This year, I started dozens of seeds, and almost every single one of them sprouted in time. I actually ended up with more plants than I had time to put into the ground, and more peppers than I knew what to do with. It's November, and the plants I did plant are still loaded. Next year, I'd like to experiment with more types of peppers, but I'll definitely plant more of these.

4. Wood's Famous Brimmer Tomatoes

My biggest garden accomplishment this year was that it was the first time I successfully grew tomatoes from seed and saw them all the way through to production. I grew up in a gardening family, but my parents and grandfather always bought nursery starts when it came to tomatoes. We have a long growing season, and I wanted to experiment with some different types that you can't necessarily find here. One I've been toying with for a few years was the Wood's Famous Brimmer Tomatoes from Baker Creek. They're supposed to be the quintessential BLT tomato, and while I don't eat raw tomatoes myself, I still wanted to see just how impressive they were.

So, first, they're a Mid-Atlantic variety, and I didn't really think that through when I planted them. We had some ridiculously hot and humid days in late spring and early summer, and several of my newly-transferred tomato plants kicked the bucket due to the heat. But the ones I transferred before the sweltering heat kicked in thrived, and like everything else on this list, they're still producing in November. My dad has eaten plenty of them, and the rest go to the chickens. He says they're pretty tasty. I will say they are late producers. I didn't start getting red tomatoes until August or so, but if you want a tomato that will carrying you through the fall, this is it. Next year, I'll plant more of avariety, but I'll definitely have a few of these in the mix.

5. Dwarf Velour French Bush Beans

Last but not least are these Dwarf Velour French bush beans that I ordered from Park Seed on a whim. I had plans to plant a lot of green beans this summer. They're one of the few veggies both my dad and I like, and I had several varieties to try. Unfortunately, the chickens proved to be little garden destroyers, and planting something that would need as much space as pole beans was out of the question until I prepared a better spot. But in August, I went ahead and planted some of these bush beans in the garden space I could use, and they sprouted immediately and grew and flourished and were absolutely beautiful with their deep purple pods. I absolutely plan to plant more next year.

The Misses:

So, onto the stuff that didn't do too well. I've already talked about how my zucchini failed, so I won't rehash that, but here are a few others that I'm gonna have to do over next year.

1. Damaun KS Super Sweet Corn

Let me start by saying I've never planted corn before, but I was excited to give it a try. I ended up trying this German corn from Baker Creek called Damaun KS Super Sweet Corn. The corn sprouted quickly. In a few weeks, it was a foot tall and as healthy can be. My dad fancies himself something of an expert at growing corn, and he kept it hilled up and aerated for me. The problem is that when this corn got to be about three feet tall, it went ahead and began tassling. And what ears I did get from it were super small and mostly underdeveloped.

I don't necessarily blame the corn itself for this. First, I didn't prep the area where I planted it really well because, well, chickens. Also, I'm in a Atlanta gardening group on Facebook, and it sounds like many people didn't have much luck with corn this year. We had a summer of extremely hot weather and long stretches of drought followed by long stretches of rain. There was no in between. So, I'm thinking the corn was a bit stressed from the weather extremes, and I just didn't have the time to pay it the attention it needed. I'll try again next year, but there was no big corn harvest in 2022.

2. Cucamelons

Cucamelons. Mouse melons. Mexican gherkins. Whatever you want to call them, these little fruits look like watermelons, supposedly taste like citrusy cucumbers, and they've become quite trendy. My mom and I both wanted to try them last year, and we never got around to that, but I was determined to try them this year if I got nothing else planted.

I really don't know what went wrong with these. They took forever to sprout. They started to grow, and then they just quit. And then a few months later, they started to grow again at random, and then they just quit. I have a theory. These things originate in Central and South America, so I assumed they just liked super hot conditions with full sun, and I planted them in such a space. My research shows that they may actually thrive with a little shade. I fully intend to replant them next year, but I'll probably put them somewhere else and give them a little more TLC than I did this year.

3. Sunflowers

This is pretty generic, but I can't grow sunflowers to save my life. I tried planting several types. I'm pretty sure I replanted my sunflowers eight times throughout the course of the summer. Some of that was due to crafty little chickens digging up the seeds and eating them, but most of it was just due to the fact that they just would not grow. I planted old seeds and new. Different varieties. Nothing worked. Sometime around late July or August, I finally had exactly three of these Arikara sunflowers sprout and bloom. The problem is they're supposed to be 10 feet fall. Mine came up to about my waist. And I'm not 20 feet tall. The blooms were about the size of my palm.

Thankfully, I had more hits than misses, and there was plenty of in between, like my cucumbers, roma tomatoes, dahlias, and banana peppers. And even the misses have been a great education in what not to do. Three things I know I need to do next year are:

1. Focus on my soil. My dad and grandfather abused the soil on this land, and I'm working on bringing it back to life through permaculture.

2. Fence off my garden spaces so the chickens can't get into them until they're established.

3. Prepare more during the winter. I spent last winter shut up in the house with my laptop working. I don't intend to do that this year.

October 13, 2022

Experiences Over Everything

I was searching for something online the other day, and I accidentally ran across an article I'd written for an auction company about why it was good to get rid of stuff. I barely remember writing it a few years ago, but I also remember thinking it was kinda silly. If you want to keep your stuff, keep it; don't let society tell you what to do. But looking back at it now, I kinda relate.

When I first wrote the article, I'd just moved in with my parents, my grandfather had died shortly after, and I'd helped them move into his house with plans to stick around for a few months until I could find a place of my own. But that wasn't in the cards. Plans fell through. We had a lot of issues with pets getting sick/injured. My mom was getting sicker. Eventually, she ended up on dialysis three days a week, and minus a few days when I was out of town or in a car accident, I took her every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 5 a.m. for five years. I didn't complain, but it does put a strain on things. The schedule makes you tired because it's not your schedule the other days of the week. It cost me sleep. It cost me work. It cost me relationships. I canceled any number of travel plans. I canceled plans I had to start my own family. Saturday activities were hit or miss, usually miss. We missed out on parties and social outings and showers and farmers markets and day trips. I remember sitting in the Target parking lot one Saturday afternoon while my mom cried her eyes out because she just didn't have the energy to go to a relative's baby shower.

And I'm not complaining now. I would have done anything for my mom and pretty much did. And, on the flipside, I got to spend time with her that I probably wouldn't have otherwise. She hated going, but sometimes, we'd go for drives afterwards or go out for lunch or shopping when she felt up for it. We had our own inside jokes about other patients or the staff. We made friends with some of them. We tried to make the most of those days off. I spent every single day trying to find ways to boost her mood and improve her confidence, to remind her that the world needed her, that she couldn't give up. We bonded over it, even though she hated it with a passion, and I hated it for her.

Over the next few years, a series of unfortunate events would see her mental and physical health decline, which meant I had to let go of more of my life in order to take on more of hers. She tried to start a home dialysis program, which felt like an answer to her prayers, but a broken pelvis prevented that from happening, and after a month of two of long nights and multiple hospital trips and all sorts of issues related to that, we were grateful to be back on the three days a week schedule at the clinic. Just as she'd recovered from that, we were out shopping one day when a door malfunctioned and slammed into her, breaking her shoulder and nearly costing her her leg. That led to months of added medical issues and surgeries and bandage changes and special diets. I was counting grams of protein in my sleep during that period. By the time she recoverd from that, my dad had a heart valve malfunction, and while he was waiting on surgery for that, he developed sepsis, and we were basically told he wouldn't survive. Fortunately, he did, but he had to have open-heart surgery and spent nearly a month in a hospital in another county, and I spent a great deal of time shuffling back and forth between that hospital, dialysis, and home. And then it took him a few months to recover, which included physical therapy, countless follow-up appointments, 40 days of me giving him daily infusions, and then, as soon as we were done with that, COVID hit. A few months into that, my mom began having some health issues that led to a complete loss of mobilty, which led to a whole host of other issues over the next 10 months before she finally went into the hospital and, after nearly a month in the ICU, she died.

If I could describe my experience during that last year of her life in one word, it would be "lonely." The truth is that I'd felt pretty lonely and isolated for a few years but in the beginning, it was okay because we had each other. Plus, I focused so much on ensuring that she was as healthy and happy as she could be that I didn't have time to think much about anything else. But that last year was tough. My mom wasn't herself. Every single day was hard on all three of us. Deep down, I knew I was losing my best friend. Even though she was physically there in front of me, all of the problems of the last few years had taken their toll. We were all miserable. And on top of it, I felt like I barely existed. Caregiving is a lonely art.

In the first few months after her death, some of that went away. Maybe it was shock. Maybe it was relief for not having to worry anymore. Maybe it's because I drowned myself in work and trying to cater to stupid roosters. By this spring, the loneliness had returned, and in the last couple of months, it's been almost overwhelming. I don't say this to complain — I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat, and I'm not looking for pity or advice or a pat on the back, please. And when I use the word "lonely," I don't even mean that I'm alone. You can be in a room full of people and be lonely, and I have been there many times. And I don't want to discount my dad or the handful of close friends whom I talk to almost daily. Thank God for them. It's just hit me that I've spent so many years chipping away at my own life so I could give it to her, and it's gonna take some time to rebuild it.

I wasn't really sure how to do that at first, but a few things have kind of pushed me in the right direction recently. It might sound silly, but the first was my cat, Lily's, death. It came on so suddenly and unexpectedly and for seemingly no reason. It sent me and even my dad into a really scary dark place, but I came out of it realizing that life can go away in an instant, and as cliche as that it is, it's true. You don't get another chance at it.

Second, I managed to sneak out of town for a few days in August. I have a friend whom I've known since college, and her family has a place in Hilton Head. They come down from Pennsylvania every summer, and I try to meet up with them. I haven't been able to since 2019, and I almost didn't get to this year because of some work issues that plagued me all summer, but I made it. And I had fun. And I think it's the first time I've just gone and had fun and didn't feel guilty about it in a long, long time. It was a reminder that I'm allowed to do that. And on top of that, it was a reminder that there are people out there who are selfless and supportive and thoughtful and not judgmental and actually enjoy my company. I just don't have much of that in my life anymore.

And third, I had to postpone school until January (see: the work problems that plagued me all summer). That hurt more than I thought it would. I started back at UGA last June, and initially, it was a fluke. I needed something in my life that was mine and had nothing to do with taking care of anyone else, and I just woke up one morning and that seemed like a good idea. It was hard to finish the end of that initial summer semester and start the fall semester with my mom dying in the hospital, but my professors were accomodating, and I kept it up, plus I was only going part-time. By this past spring semester, and after I'd dropped nearly $10,000 on tuition, I began questioning why I was doing it at all and if it was even worth the time and money. An awkward meeting with a staff member also had me questioning what I was doing, but somehow, by the end of that spring semester, I realized it wasn't a fluke at all. I needed to be there. Not only was I learning about topics that interest me, but I was enjoying myself. I was making connections with people with common interests. It opened me up to something. Suddenly, I wanted to finish what I'd started. I even added a minor and started thinking about going for two degrees. And I was really excited about my fall classes. It would be the last semester I could do most everything online, but I was going to attempt to go full-time. The day I had to cancel that schedule was a dark one, and I swore then and there, I'd never get myself back into this situation, even though it wasn't 100% my fault.

I know it seems like I'm off on a tangent, but I do have a point, and it all goes back to my first statement about getting rid of your stuff. I've been dabbling in cleaning out my mom's stuff over the last year. She had a lot of it. She liked it. She enjoyed it. I'm glad she was able to find some pleasure in it. But those three experiences I just listed have sort of made me realize that I don't value items that much or as much as I once did. I'd much rather go on an exciting trip or take a great class or spend time with good friends or fuss over my animals or grow the most beautiful flowers. Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating selling everything you have and moving into a tiny house. I've got many items I'll never part with. But I do feel like having too much stuff can overwhelm you and hold you back in some weird way. It's definitely not a great substitute for living your life. At least, it's not for me.

Oddly, that's one of the points I made in that article I wrote about decluttering, and at the time, I thought it was a bunch of psychobabble. But I've realized that as I work on rebuilding my life, getting organized and cleaning out a lot of this stuff that was mine from another life or the many things that were once my mom's and have now become mine is going to be a huge part of that. And as time passes, the "get rid of" piles become bigger. And that's okay. At the end of my life, I won't be thinking about whether I kept that picture my mom used to have hanging on her bedroom wall. I'll be thinking about that freaky trip we took to Edisto Island or the silly card game we used to play or the time we drove to up to Lake Allatoona on a whim and bought flowers and chicken or the night we sat up singing "25 Miles" and watching Impractical Jokers while the dialysis machine malfunctioned or the good yard sales we went to or the time we drove across multiple counties to get Sadie or the time we went out and splurged on food for needy school kids... You get the idea. My only regret about all of those experiences is that we didn't get to have more of them.

And as for the loneliness, well, I think I'll always be a tad lonely in life. After all, I'm an introvert with a touch of social anxiety who just lost the one person I could always turn to no matter what. The very best person. As an only child, I probably have better coping skills for loneliness than most people, but it doesn't mean I have to succumb to it. There's a world out there waiting for me, and I'm gonna work really hard to see what it has to offer.

September 20, 2022

On a Queen and a Dog

On September 8, I woke up to a text from my friend, Chris, that asked me if I'd heard the news about Queen Elizabeth's health. I had not, but I didn't think much of it. She was in her 90s, and there has been talk of her health for a few years now. But once I got rolling and saw headlines with phrases like "keeping her comfortable" and "family has been called," I knew the end was near. I was glued to the BBC for a while, but eventually, I had to go outside and get the animals fed, plus I had errands to run, so I asked Chris to text me if there were any further developments. Not 20 minutes later, he let me know that she had died.

Honestly, I wanted to spend the rest of the day glued to my TV, but my poor sweet dog, Sadie, had been dealing with some health issues, and I needed to go pick up some things for her. I tried to do it as quickly as possible, and when I got home, I was ready to throw Sadie into the bathtub and then settle myself back in front of the BBC for more coverage of the queen's death, but that didn't go as planned.

First, Sadie didn't get up to greet me when I got home. She was on her bed in the living room, and she cried like she wanted to but couldn't. I didn't think much of it. At almost 13 years old, she's no spring chicken herself and can be a bit lazy these days. But it was getting kind of late, and I wanted to get the bath done, so I ended up making her get up and watching her hobble pitifully to the bathroom. Something was definitely wrong. We went ahead with the bath, and afterwards, I inspected her back leg that was causing her problems. I trimmed her nails. Checked for something stuck in her foot. Did all the things you do when your dog is suddenly limping. My dad had taken her out just before I got home and said she was fine when she came inside, so something didn't add up.

That night, I was a wreck. In the last month or so, she'd already had about 1,000 other issues pop up. Most were not serious and easily treated at home, but Anxiety Sarah kicked in, and I decided that because all of these issues had happened at once, she was on her death bed. I was determined she couldn't walk because she was eaten up with cancer or something. What you have to understand, though, is that I'm 0 for 2 on this stuff lately. The last two members of my little family who I carted off to the hospital — my mom and my cat, Lily — never made it back home even though they went in for what I thought was something routine. I wasn't ready for a third, especially not this one. I'd already planned a vet appointment for Sadie for October, but I was going to have to move that up a few weeks, and I was terrified of what he would tell me when we got there.

So, what does this have to do with Queen Elizabeth's death? And why does an American girl who grew up on the idea that we have no need for kings and queens even care? First, I guess I should confess that I'm a little obsessed with the Royal Family, and I have been since I was a kid. From the pagentry to the lineage, I am here for every single second of it. I don't know how or why I started. My dad said my grandmother was really into Queen Elizabeth, which I don't really remember, but they're about the same age, so that would make sense, and she did remind me of my grandmother a bit. There's also the fact that Elizabeth is my middle name, and I remember finding that I shared a name with a queen and the Duchess of York pretty cool when I was a kid. Eventually, I developed a major crush on Prince William and at one point, I'm pretty sure my single goal in life was to grow up and marry him. Even in seventh or eighth grade, I remember doing this huge research project on the line between Henry VIII and Queen Elizbaeth II, and I spent so much time on it and stayed up so late working that I was forced to put an end to it. In more recent years, I sat up and watched with envy and geunine excitement as Meghan married Harry and disdain as she appeared to take many of our little girl dreams and throw them out the window. I watched The Crown on Netflix with the intensity of Peyton Manning watching football film, and I think I've seen almost every show, movie, and documentary on the queen and her family that exists. When my grandmother died, my grandfather gifted me with her copy of My Story by Sarah Ferguson, and it's now one in a collection of royal-related books and magazines I own.

But above all of that, I found Queen Elizabeth to be a remarkable woman, and I realize this isn't a unqiue thought. I mean, name one other person in this world whose death could bring so many people together to find common ground as it has over the last week. My aforementioned friend, Chris, referred to her as the "world's grandmother," and it does sort of feel like that, like the world lost its grandmother. When I think back over the trying times we've had over the last few years, her words were always the ones that brought me comfort, not my own president or some other world leader. To lose that calming, stable voice in what feels like a chaotic time to be alive is a major blow.

So many people have said so much about Queen Elizabeth this week that I'm at a loss as to what I can add. On a personal level, she's someone I'll always want to emulate. Like my late grandmother and her sisters and many other women of that generation, I often find myself wondering what she would do in a situation. And how can you not look up to someone who was so dedicated. She was dedicated to service, her faith, her country, her job, her family, her heritage, to doing the right thing, to her horses, and to her dogs. Her dogs. Truth be told, her love for her dogs is another reason I've always felt a little bond with the queen.

And that brings me back to Sadie. I was able to get an appointment with my vet for the next Friday, and I hated to wait that long, but I also wanted to see a vet I know and trust as I've had some not so great experiences. And in the meantime, I was a wreck. My dad and I had to work together to get her outside to the bathroom, and I spent every night sleeping on the sofa with her in the floor next to me because I knew she couldn't go upstairs where we normally sleep. And I was just practically paralyzed with fear for eight days. Thankfully, I have a big work project going on that I really enjoy and can work on it 24/7 if I want, so I tried to focus on that, plus football season started, which is always a great distraction. But when I wasn't watching football, I was tuned into the BBC or this documentary about Queen Elizabeth or that one. Or reading about her online. It was the comfort and distraction I needed to make it through that week.

On Friday afternoon, I managed to get Sadie in and out of the car and to her appointment. I was literally shaking. My dad was a mess too. I think I'd convinced him she wouldn't be coming back home with me. Even the vet's assistant had to talk me down from that idea. I told her about my mom and Lily, and she said, "I hope you don't think she's in that kind of shape right now?" I felt a little better. Anyway, long story short, Sadie came back home. She came back home with a torn ACL, which wasn't exactly what I was hoping for, but it was a far cry from what I had conjured up in my head. We do face that problem that it may need surgery to heal, and she's really a little old for the surgery, but we're going to see if we can get her healed without it before we make any crazy decisions. It may be a long road. And it may be that our days of taking walks and sleeping upstairs are over, but I'll adjust to that as needed. In her lifetime, she's looked after my other dogs as they've gotten older. Saved my other animals from predators. Looked after my mom. Kept me company on my worst days. She's given me so much over the last 13 years. She's the most selfless dog I've ever had, and I wouldn't dream of not doing my best for her in return.

I'd like to think Queen Elizabeth did the same for her dogs in her own way. But either way, I'll alawys look back on this week, and it will serve as a reminder to dedicate my life to the things that are important, to try to live a life like the Queen did. That might mean serving the world. That might mean serving my dog when she's down, but we all have a role to play, no matter how big or small.

August 16, 2022

My mom's been dead for a year, and I have no zucchini

Back in May or June, I planted 16 zucchini seeds. It's one of my favorite vegetables, and I had great dreams of making zucchini bread and all sorts of delicious zucchini dishes through July, August, and Septemeber. Eight of those seeds sprouted, and seven of them thrived. For a bit. They each had dozens of blossoms, and I saw pollinators on them, and I even tried some hand pollinating. But eventually, the color began to fade, and I found squash bugs on them. My dad kept saying, "These plants just dont' look right," but I chose to ignore him. Although, it was hard to ignore him when they weren't actually producting anything.

I went from hoping for a sizable harvest to hoping for any harvest at all. And last Friday, I stepped outside to check on things when I got back into town after a few days away, and I couldn't believe my eyes: one beautiful green zucchini. The perfect shape and size and color. I waited a couple of days to pick it, and yes, that was a lot of work for one single squash, but I was pretty proud of it. And today, I was in the kitchen cooking some eggs and sausage for lunch when I spotted that zucchini in the fridge and decided I'd slice it up with my last Vidalia onion and cook that to go with my lunch. Fresh eggs and zucchini straight from the backyard. You can't beat that.

So, I got a knife, and I was slicing away, feeling like I had finally accomplished something, and big things were on the horizon. And I got about five slices in when I realized the dang thing was full of worms.

Anyway, yesterday was the first anniversary of my mom's death. I thought the day would be more of a downer, but it really seemed more like the opportunity to close the door on what has been a trying period of my life and start fresh. That moment with the zucchini felt pretty symbolic of the last few years. We went through a lot with my mom's health, and it seemed like every time we'd get to a positive place, something bad and totally out of the ordinary would happen. Even so, I continued making big plans to do this and that with my life, and the world made even bigger plans to stomp them out. My dad has always told me I should write a book on it, and I told him it's not a period I'd like to relive, but now that I have some distance, I do think it's pretty incredible that we made it through what we did.

While this hasn't been an easy year, even without my mom's health problems standing front and center, it has been an educational one. I've written a great deal about lessons I've learned. Finding out who in my life is and isn't reliable. Learning the hard way that putting work above everything else is a bad idea. Rediscovering my own interests when I'm not having to put someone else first 100% of the time. Learning that even the smallest things can seem difficult when so much of your support system is suddenly gone from your life.

But the most important thing I've learned is that I can handle it. Heck, just the last month alone was enough to nearly send anyone on a downward spiral. Last week, I spent some time in Savannah and Hilton Head, and by the time I got there, I was an absolute anxiety-filled mess. Thankfully, I have good friends who understood. But being away for a few days, spending time with people I'm not related to, and breathing in the salty air was healing. And coming home and saying goodbye to the last year was healing in a way too. As I said, yesterday felt like a fresh start. I have no idea what the future holds, but I think I'm a little better prepared to handle it than I was last year, and that feels really great.

I'll always miss my mom. I'll always wish she was here to do life with me, through the highs and lows. I hate that if I ever get married or have a kid she won't meet them. I hate that she's not here to see these beautiful flowers I've grown in my garden or that I did (what seems to be a successful) surgery on a chicken foot. I hate that she's not here to commiserate when I have to euthanize my cat or deal with someone who's being a jerk or postpone school a semester. There are days when I feel like I'm going to explode if I don't share some bit of information with someone, and I have to run through my list of people, and none of them seems like the right one to tell because my mom was the person I would have told. That's such a lonely, lonely feeling. And there are nights when things slow down and I get upstairs to my bedroom and just feel like someone punched me in the stomach when the reality hits that she's not here anymore. And I'm told that will always be the case. She'll always be a part of me. Just last week, something happened that made me realize she and I were a lot more alike than I ever thought. But there is so much more life for me to live, I hope, so I just have to pick up and keep going and start living more for myself now, and that's what I'm going to do. With any luck, she's watching and cheering me on.

August 05, 2022

Bumblefoot, Baby

I've had chickens on and off since 2015, and in that timeframe, I've done tons of research, learned so much through trial and error, and have even taken some poultry classes at UGA, but up until this last year when I got my current flock, I'd never heard of bumblefoot.

It's pretty common in chickens, so I'm not sure how it's slipped past me. And the from the moment I learned about it, I thought it sounded pretty gruesome and hoped it was something I would never encounter. So, naturally, that meant that I would have a chicken develop it ASAP.

What is bumblefoot you ask? It's basically a staph infection. A chicken gets a cut or scrape on its foot, and bacteria gets inside and creates an infection. The only real cure for it is to remove the infection, which can present like a stringy cheesy material or a hard kernal of corn. I know, I know. That sounds as disgusting to me as it does to you. But you can read more details about bumblefoot at PoultryDVM.com if you like.

So, about a month or so ago, I noticed one of my Jersey Giants, Venus, limping a bit. She'd gotten into a litle squirmish with one of my Cochins, who can be a bit of a jerk, and I just assumed she'd sprained something. It happens. I don't intervene with a chicken who is limping unless they're unable to move around much or it's obviously causing severe pain or there is something visibly wrong, like a wound or something stuck in the foot. This seemed minor, so I figured it'd heal up within a few days. And within a week or so, she was walking normally, so I thoght nothing else about it.

But a couple of weekends ago, I noticed Venus limping again. I kept an eye on her for a day or two, but it seemed to get worse, and after a couple of days, she was hovering near the coop during free time, standing on foot when she could, and wincing anytime she had to jump or climb up on something. She's normally quite active and loves to explore, so I knew something was up. I caught her, looked at her foot, and I knew right away from everything I'd read and the pictures I'd seen that she had a textbook case of bumblefoot.

Treatment for bumblefoot can vary from case to case, but most people start with Epsom salt soaks. Some use drawing salve. Some try to remove the scab and dig out the infection, and others just slice right into the foot with a scalpel and take it out. We fell somewhere in the middle. The goal is to remove the scab and get the gunk out. Sometimes it's attached to the scab, and sometimes it's not.

On day one, I soaked the foot in Epsom salt for about 20 minutes, and then, while my dad held her for me, I used tweezers to try to remove the scab. No luck. So, I slathered on some drawing salve, bandaged it up, and she slept inside in a dog crate for the night.

If you're not familiar with Jersey Giant chickens, they're large, one of the largest chicken breeds avaialble actually. A standard female averages about 10 pounds, and they're strong. I've held many a chicken and duck in an Epsom salt bath throughout the last year, but this was an entirely different experience. I had to wrap a beach towel around her to get her to stay still, and she practically took up the entire large dog crate, so I didn't want to leave her in there any longer than I had to.

The next day, my dad suggested I use a tool he had instead of the tweezers. I'm not even sure what it was, but it was sharper and pointy, and he claimed he's used it to "cut things that look like that" off of his own body. I didn't want to know anymore of those details, but I decided to give the tool a try. Luckily, I have a ton of medical supplies from all my mom's various health adventures from the last few years, including hospital grade disinfectant for random tools.

I removed her bandage, soaked her foot again, and I noticed it seemed a lot less swollen. I think the drawing salve definitely helped. My dad held her, and I used the new tool to attempt to cut out the scab. It took me about 10 to 15 minutes, but I managed to get the scab off and remove what looked like a small kernal of corn. Thankfully, it was still attached to the scab, which made life a lot easier. I explored the hole a bit to make sure there was nothing else left inside, and when it began bleeding, I figured she was good to go. Signs of life and healthy skin and all that. I cleaned and disinfected the wound, smothered it in in antibotic cream, packed it with gauze, wrapped it with vet wrap, added extra sports tape for security, and put her back out with the flock. She picked at the bandage a bit, but you could tell she already felt better.

Over the next week, we'd catch her, and my dad would hold her while we checked her foot, cleaned it, and changed the bandage. I must say, I became a pro at bandaging because chickens are nasty little creatures, and that wound stayed so so clean. She regained her confidence almost instantly. Once she got used to the bandage, she was running, jumping, scratching, and doing normal chicken things. It made my heart happy to see her exploring again instead of hovering around the coop on one foot.

A textbook case of bumblefoot takes about a week to 10 days to heal, and yesterday was day eight. I went into the bandage change thinking I would leave it off unless there was still a gaping wound, and sure enough, it felt like it was closed up. Most of the swelling was gone, and her foot no longer felt warm to the touch, so I disinfected it really well and left the bandage off. So far, she's doing okay. She still has a slight limp, but I'm not sure anyone would notice it besides me, and she pecks at the bottom of her foot occasionally, though I'm sure it's sore. But she's putting her full weight on it and still has her confidence about her, and that's what we want.

I'm hesitant to say my home bumblefoot treatment was a success just yet. There are times when it's not one and done. As a matter of fact, someone in my Atlanta chicken group just reported that they've been dealing with it for over a year now. It can return. She could just have a permanent limp. It's possible I didn't get it all out — exploratory surgery is not my specialty after all. And, as it turns out, Jersey Giants are actually prone to it because they're so stinkin' big and heavy. There are many variables, but for the moment, I'm feeling good about it and will just monitor her for the next few weeks and intervene if I notice major changes. If she does get worse , we'll start all over. I also have antibiotics should we end up needing them, and if I feel like I've exhausted all I can do, I'll take her to a vet, though that's not necessarily the cure-all some may think it is either.

I guess the lesson here is that I was absolutely terrified of bumblefoot from the moment I first read about it, and up until the moment I was actually treating her, I was literally shaking just thinking about it. But I tackled it, and it wasn't as scary as I thought it'd be. That said, if the rest of my chickens (and ducks) could not get it, at least for a long time, I'd appreciate it.

July 26, 2022

10 Lesson From the Summer Garden

I'm not usually a "let's rush through summer and get to fall" kind of person like so many are. I want to revel in long days filled with swimming and gardening and trips to the beach and and all that good stuff. But this year, I'm pretty much over it.

My garden is not anything close to what I had planned, I've spent thousands of dollars and hours on the pool and have barely swam, and I'm supposed to go to the beach soon, but now that is up in the air due to what was an ongoing work problem. I thought I'd spend July planting a late late summer garden, but at some point in the last week, I just decided to move on. I'll aim for next year. Maybe I'll plant something of a fall garden. Any greens I could grow would save me a fortune on duck and chicken food, and I want to try some carrots, but other than that, I'm reluctantly wrapping up this gardening season.

All of that said, I don't consider this year a total loss, especially when it comes to the garden. Believe it or not, this is actually the first year in my life that I had all the space I wanted to do whatever I wanted with it, and got to plant as many different veggies and flowers as I did. And with that came many lessons that I will keep with me for the rest of my life and that will help do better next year and the next. Here are some of them:

Chickens and gardens don't mix

In the past, when I've had chickens, they've stayed out of the garden. I'm not sure how I got so lucky because this current flock I have is the most destructive crew around. I can't tell you how many times I've replanted sunflowers or had to pull up a broken stalk of corn or tomato plants because they destroyed the roots. That's actually probably the second-biggest reason why my garden is much smaller than anticipated. I did manage to get a fence made with some netting around my main garden area, but they still get into it, and it's next to impossible to mow around it. So, I plan to spend the winter putting up some fencing and creating chicken-proof beds so they'll just be ready for planting next spring.

Advanced planning is important

Aside from putting up fencing, I'm going to plan what I want to plant a little better instead of just ordering hundreds of dollars worth of seeds every time I see an advertisement for something that looks interesting. For example, I eat way more zucchini than I do tomatoes, and yet, I have a three gardens full of tomatoes this year and only two mounds of zucchini. I also want to plan where everything will go a little better, have trellies prepared, etc. I like to make trellises out of found items here, like bamboo and small tree trunks, and that takes some time. And I'd like to invest in a greenhouse or more grow lights, so I can start more seeds early.

Telling my dad where I planted things is also extremely important

Don't get me wrong — my dad is a HUGE help with my gardening and farming endeavors. He takes care of the chickens. He cuts the grass. He hills up my corn. He plants the extra tomatoes when I'm too busy, and they're overgrowing their pots. But if I don't specifically tell him I planted some seeds in a location multiple times and then put some sort of sign up, he'll stomp right through it, pile tools on top of it, or let the chickens dive right into it. In some cases, he'll chop fully grown plants right down for no reason. Just ask him what happened to my grandfather's rosemary and my mother's oregano. Then if you say something to him about it, he mumbles about how it's my fault for just planting random things in random places and how my mother and grandfather used to do that too, and I'm like but that's how this works. Sigh.

Growing from seed > buying starts at the nurseries

This is one area that I really consider a win for this year. We've always bought nursery tomato and peppers starts in my family. Over the last few years, I've experimented with starting them from seed, but with all my parents' health issues, I never got to see them through. This year was different. Almost all of my tomatoes and peppers were started from seed here by me and babied and coddled, and they're some of the healthiest plants I've ever seen. Well, the tomatoes are. The peppers have contracted some kind of bacterial issue, but that's beyond my control. Anyway, every single day I marvel at the idea that I was able to take a tiny seed and turn it into a huge plant that's as tall as I am and producing actual food. I do have a few pepper and tomato plants that I picked up at Lowe's, but they just aren't as good-looking as my little darlings. Oh, and marigolds! I have never in my entire life been able to keep marigolds alive, but this year I started them from seed rather than buying nursery starts, and they are the most vibrant and hardy flowers I've ever grown. I've got one that's over three feet tall.

Flowers are just as important as vegetables in the vegetable garden

And speaking of marigolds, I'm a huge believer in companion planting and peppering flowers in with your vegetables. I've felt strongly about that for a long time, but this year made me even more of a believer. I planted some marigolds and zinnias next to some of my tomatoes, and those plants are thriving. I truly believe the flowers have helped deter pest and attract pollinators. As a matter of fact, I was just sitting out giving the ducks a few minutes of free time when a hummingbird landed on my zinnias. They also really brighten up the place. Next year, I really want to create a cutting garden for flowers, but I'll also be sure to plant them among my veggies.

Regenerating soil is important

I won't get too deep into this one, but permacutlure and regenerative agriculture have become very important to me, and I think if others took these two topics more seriously, we wouldn't be worried as much about some of the environmental topics that we seem to be worried abuot, but I digress. I can only speak for my little slice of the world, and I can tell you that my parents and grandfather didn't take great care of their soil. We've all taken a bit of a break from gardening over the last few years, so some of it is coming back to life on its own, but I've been also been using compost and chicken and duck manure and trace minerals to help make that happen. Next year, I want to focus on some no-till areas to improve it even further. My major at UGA is agriscience, and I'm learning a lot about crop and soil health and sustainability, but I'd been studying the topic on my own for years. If you want to learn more or see a good example of how you can do agriculture right, check out White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia. I've been getting the majority of my beef from them for years and have become a big fan of their regenerative and humane farming practices. Plus, their food is soooo much better for you than regular old grocery store meat.

Don't be afraid to try something new

You can plant the same old stuff every year — and I grew up with a gardening family who did, at least in my lifetime — but I personally like to try new things. This year, it was cucamelons. They're trendly little fruits that look like tiny watermelons and supposedly taste like limes (I haven't had any to harvest just yet), and I really wanted to grow some last year for my mom and I to try. I never got to, but I did get some planted this year. I thought they'd grow a bit more like cucumbers, so next year, if I grow them, I won't dedicate such a large space to the plants. They also seem a bit slow to grow, so I will try to plant them earlier next year, but I just love the wow fact of trying new seeds and plants and being able to introduce those items to friends and family.

Take in everything you learn but do what works for you

I'm definitely a student when it comes to gardening. I read as much as I can. I have so many gardening books. I have learned so much at UGA over the last year. And I've learned so much from my parents and grandfather throughout my lifetime. I'm still learning from my dad. But I also bring some of my own ideas to the table, and my own gardening practices have becomea mix of all of those things combined. I guess what I'm saying is feel free to stick with tried and true methods, but don't be afraid to experiment as well. Even when you screw up, you learn something.

I can coexist with frogs

If you know me, you know I'm not a fan of frogs, but I've cultivated quite a little ecosystem within my little garden that I'm quite proud of. And yes, that means I've got a big lumpy toad and several tiny little frogs hanging out in there. I may scream when I encounter one (sorry, neighbors), but I let them be. I imagine they're partially responsible for the lack of pest problems I've had this year. I just have to be very careful when I pick up a rock.

When in doubt, go to the garden

Back in March or April, a difficult work situation came up, and unfortunately, it's been the number one reason why I didn't have my dream garden this year. It seems to have finally come to an end (with a bang, might I add), but by last week, I felt like someone had just repeatedly beaten me. I was in actual physical pain. I think Friday night, I crawled into bed and slept for 11 hours straight, and I woke up wondering if I could ever trust anyone again. In general, it's been a crappy month. I'm still dealing with the fact that I had to euthanize my little cat kind of unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago and missing her daily. Plus, this time last year, I was sending my mom off to the hospital, and I had no idea at the time she'd be there for weeks and never return, so that memory is kind of lingering in the air with these hot late July days. My point is that it's been a lot. And I've had to navigate it all without my number one supporter. I'm still learning to do that. I'm still learning how to plan my life around what I want and not what's best for my mom's health. All of that can be overwhelming.

But I have found that the best cure is going out to my little garden. It may be smaller than I expected, but there is life there. You can feel something there, whether it's the heat of the sun beating down on your back while you pull weeds or the pride in finding a new tomato that's popped up on your plants or the joy in watching the playground you've created for all of the butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and even frogs. It's a reminder that there's a world out there beyond your problems, and it's best to enjoy it rather than get caught up in nonsense. Nature is healing. It can be difficult too, but learning to take it all in as it comes can help you handle the other stuff life throws at you. It's been the cure for almost every bad day I've had lately.