Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The first tomato

I had the first tomato from our front yard garden in my lunch salad Monday.
Yes, I said front yard.
In the last several years, we've had no luck at all growing patio tomatoes. The plants got big and healthy, but the tomatoes were few and far between. And the ones that did finally grow and ripen were small and hard. No enticement there to layer that veggie between some bacon and lettuce.
So we opted to plant some tomatoes, peppers and a single cantaloupe plant in the flower bed beside our front door. The project has been an overwhelming success, and the small garden is full of ripening tomatoes and peppers. The cantaloupe plant has yielded many yellow flowers, but so far I haven't been able to spot a tiny cantaloupe.
I bought the heirloom tomato plants from the Master Gardeners at their annual plant sale back in the spring. They were beautiful plants, and I knew they would prosper. My cousin Betty shared several of her cherry tomato plants, so I added them to the crowded plot of apparently fertile earth. Now we have an out-of-control jungle of veggie life that greets family and visitors to our home.
We did attempt, at first, to keep the grass out of the plants. Several early mornings I went out with my garden stool and pulled as much grass and weeds as I could from the growing plants. But we planted too much in a small space, and it soon got to the point that I couldn't reach between the plants to pull the grass. There was no "in between" the plants.
One day, my husband mentioned that we needed to stake the tomatoes. I had forgotten that. We discussed using bamboo or wooden rods or even wire tomato cages. We discussed, but we didn't act, and soon it became too late to stake the tomatoes that now are stretching beyond the flower bed and into the front yard.
Because there are no "rows," we can't easily get to the ripe tomatoes. When I picked the first ones a few days ago, Reggie had to hold my hand to keep me balanced as I gingerly walked among the plants, being careful not to step on the plants or the ripening tomatoes. I came out of the jungle with four tomatoes, almost ready to eat. I left them on the kitchen counter for a few days until a smaller one ripened to a perfect red for Monday's salad. The tomato was juicy and delicious, and I was grateful for the fruits of my small garden plot.
I must pick the cherry tomatoes tonight and decide what I'm going to do with them. I see Rachael Ray roasting cherry tomatoes on her Food Network show, and I'm thinking I'm going to try that.
As my larger tomato crop grows, I intend to make salsa for my family. They love the popular condiment, although it's not a favorite of mine. Anyone have a recipe?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer memory

Sitting at my dining room table Saturday afternoon, I had my usual perfect view of my neighbor's front yard. But my eye went straight to something new, something I hadn't seen in a number of months: Her crape myrtle tree had its first burst of candy pink blooms.
I consider crape myrtles somewhat of a Southern treasure, especially the pink ones.
But that's not what I was thinking of Saturday afternoon. As soon as I saw those blooms, I was immediately transported back to a summer day in my childhood. I was reading in my pink bedroom; I'm sure it was a book from the Wilson County Public Library. Mama took us often in the summer months. Outside, a thunderstorm was making lots of racket, and the rain was pounding against my window. Also pounding against my window was a branch from the crape myrtle that grew beside the house. The branch was already weighed down by an enormous crop of pink flowers. Once the flowers got drenched by the rain, they weighed even more, and the branch was bowed. Pink flowers clung to the window screen.
That's it; that's the image from my childhood of the crape myrtle outside my window. But that single image took me back to my childhood. Back to summers filled with kickball games, homemade ice pops, following the mosquito truck as it sprayed insecticide up and down the street, trips to Daddy's garden, sleeping late and waking to a breakfast of Mama's buttered toast.
That single memory gave me the most wonderful feeling of home. Home passing the summer days with Mama, Daddy, Susan and our cats. Home sweet home.
Thank God for my happy, happy childhood. And for memories.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Big Apple

This time last week, Anna and I were navigating the streets of New York City. We were exploring art galleries, fancy shops, restaurants and, unfortunately, way too many yellow cabs.
I had been quite nervous about this trip. Before last week, I had only flown once. That was also to New York, but it was a very long time ago: 1983. I was traveling with the newspaper staff at Atlantic Christian College, and there was always someone (Mike Fukuchi to be exact) to tell me where to go and what to do. This time, I was on my own with a 15-year-old girl.
Well, we did just fine, thank you very much. We had no trouble with the airports, no trouble figuring out where to go and how to get there, and no trouble hailing a cab whenever we needed it. Anna got to be quite the pro at throwing up her hand and summoning a ride for us.
The highlight of our trip, of course, was a ceremony at Carnegie Hall, where Anna received a very large gold medal on a big blue ribbon from the National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. The award was for a photograph she took of my parents last year before each of them started a downward spiral in their health. Seeing that photo on exhibit in a Manhattan art gallery was quite emotional for me, but it was also one of the proudest moments of my life.
There were so many other fun things that I don't even know where to start!
On the first day, we had dinner at American Girl Place. Yes, we are both too old to play with dolls, but we are still little girls at heart and simply loved our leisurely stroll through that store, which is packed with dolls, accessories and books. Taking Anna to dinner at American Girl Place has been a goal of mine for years, and the experience lived up to the hype. The meal was good, and the pleasure of having dinner with my daughter in such a lovely place was priceless.
On our walk home that night, we stopped in at Abercrombie. I knew we were no longer in North Carolina when a shirtless man, posing for pictures with young ladies and their moms, met us at the entrance.
Another treat was a visit to Times Square. We were able to walk to the "Crossroads of the World" from our hotel on 57th Street. It was overwhelming to see the large signs and news tickers and to stand on the bleachers and take photos at this landmark. We were in New York soon after a large portion of Times Square was blocked off to street traffic. Lawn chairs now dot the street, and tourists sit and rest their weary feet or look side to side at the activity around them. We didn't do much shopping in Times Square except for an extended stay in the M&M's World Store, which we loved!! I've been eating my cereal out of a colorful M&Ms bowl since my return!
Although we didn't shop much in Times Square, we made up for that in our next stop: Macy's. Anna had been saving money for weeks and was determined to buy some special clothes in the world's largest store. She did, indeed, find some very pretty things to buy before we left, both overwhelmed with the enormity of the store. We also ate a delicious lunch in one of the many restaurants at the store.
While Anna was in rehearsal for the awards ceremony, I ventured out on my own, determined to find the Nintendo World Store without asking for directions. I succeeded, by the way, but not before venturing through the Diamond District and getting a little nervous at all the activity. During this adventure, I also stumbled upon Magnolia Bakery, famous for its $3 cupcakes. This bakery is recommended in a number of guidebooks I had read, so I was eager to taste a cupcake. I bought two: lemon for me and chocolate to take back to the room for Anna. I bought a cup of milk and enjoyed my cupcake on a bench across the street. It was delicious!
While in the Rockefeller Plaza area, I saw all the advertisements for Top of The Rock, the observation deck. Later that night, after a wonderful meal at a small Italian restaurant near our hotel, Anna and I went to the deck. I'm not always good with heights, but I'm so glad I didn't let this be a concern. The view was amazing! We were there just as the last bit of pink was disappearing from the sunset. We were overwhelmed and stayed a long time, walking all the way around to see everything before us. It was mesmerizing. I highly recommend this attraction.
The rain and exhaustion dampened our mood on the last day of our trip, but after a morning workshop with Scholastic, we ventured to the Museum of Modern Art, where we saw a wonderful photography show, and later that afternoon we did some more shopping. Being small-town girls, we were both shocked at the prices at Bloomingdale's, but we enjoyed exploring the many floors nonetheless. We had even more fun at Dylan's Candy Bar, where Anna stocked up on gummy candies for her and her boyfriend and I found some fun candies to take home to my husband and son. From there we walked in the high winds and heavy rains to FAO Schwarz where we spent a very happy hour or so looking at dolls, toys and baby clothes.
We had grown tired of getting carsick in cabs by this point, so we took a long walk home, knowing it would be our last walk through the streets of New York for a long time. We stopped in at an art supply store we had walked by many times, and I bought Anna some sketch books and drawing pencils. We also ate dinner at a wonderful pizza restaurant. From my seat, I could see the cooks sliding pizzas in and out of a coal-fired oven. The pizza, made with fresh mozzarella, was one of the best either of us has ever eaten.
New York was quite an experience. I loved watching people. I admired the courage of residents who rode bikes in the crazy traffic. I tried to envision buying my fruits from the many stands that dotted the streets. I looked out our hotel room window and tried to imagine the lives being lived behind the hundreds of windows in front of me. I wondered how long it would take to hit all the tourist spots in New York, to see all the shows, to try all the restaurants. I'm sure it would take a lifetime, at least!