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Monday, September 1, 2014

You Say Tomato

      Perhaps it’s beginner’s luck.  Perhaps it’s the perfect summer weather.  Perhaps it’s that my vegetable patch lay fallow for almost five years.
                Whatever the reason, my most recent attempt at backyard farming has yielded a banner crop.
                Oh, I didn’t grown much.  I just wanted to try my luck with a few favorites.  So I bought some plants:  watermelon, eggplant, jalapeno peppers.  And, as every Jersey girl knows:  tomatoes!  I dutifully planted on Mother’s Day weekend and held my breath.
                The jalapeno peppers burst on the scene first.  Who knew four little plants could be so generous?  I would have appreciated if they had waited until some of the other veggies were ready.  Instead, from the end of June until this writing, I have been gifted with at least six hot little numbers a day!  I have had peppers on sandwiches, peppers in sauces, peppers in salsa…you get the idea.
                The tomatoes arrived next.  First, the little grape tomatoes.  These tasty berries proliferated wildly.  Since Fourth of July, I have harvested at least a quart of tomatoes a day.  Tomatoes on sandwiches, tomatoes in sauces, tomatoes in salsa…you get the idea.
    Next came the Rutgers variety:  huge, round slicing tomatoes.  Two or three a day.  Tomatoes on sandwiches, tomatoes in sauces, tomatoes in salsa…
                Then, eggplant.  Purple.  Plump.  Huge leaves swaying in the breeze.  By mid-July, I was picking at least six eggplant a week.  Eggplant on sandwiches, eggplant in sauces…no eggplant in salsa, at least not yet.
                Finally, the watermelon.  A little iffy, these.  Even now, I have difficulty telling for sure which are ripe.  Still, I have picked six watermelon so far.  Three were hits:  ripe, red, juicy.  Three were misses:  pale, tart, tough.  A few more still dangle tantalizingly on the vine. 

                Because I underestimated the hardiness of my crop or my gardening skills, or both, I have been reaping more veggies than one woman can consume.  Or freeze.  Or can.  As a happy consequence, my friends and neighbors have been reaping the benefits. 
                There is something delightful in being the “veggie fairy.”  My neighbor, Mark – and almost every tenant he has had this summer - has been surprised every Saturday morning with a bag of tomatoes, a couple of eggplant, and a mandatory handful of jalapenos.  June and Joe, my neighbors and good friends, have been greeted after Mass with bags of veggies - if I haven’t already left a sack on their porch! My friend Laura and her daughter Kimberly:  bags of tomatoes.  They have been spared the eggplant and jalapenos, but were willing to experiment on a couple of watermelons with me.  Deb, from gym class, however, actually requested eggplant.  I was only too happy to oblige.  When my sisters and my friend Kathryn came to visit, I let them loose in the veggie patch.  They each took home bags of tomatoes. And I still have plenty to spare.  My friend Loretta, who doesn’t even eat tomatoes, obligingly took a bag off my hands. Even Terry Irving:  when he stopped by to drop off autographed copies of his novel, “Courier,” he could not get out the door without taking tomatoes with him!
                And the “veggie fairy” has also been surprised.  My bags of veggies have returned to me in the form of three different dinners with Laura.  June made sure she shared with me her homemade eggplant parmigiana.  Gifts from my garden, regifted!
                I hope this spectacular season hasn’t spoiled me for future farming efforts.  Next year, I am hoping to have corn, lima beans, sunflowers.
And, of course, tomatoes.

Friday, August 22, 2014

You Won the Lottery; Do You Quit Your Job?

Chris Brady

I read an article recently that claimed that most lottery winners don’t quit their jobs even
though they have the wealth to live comfortably.  I’m not sure I believe that “most” keep working, but I have heard interviews following big Powerball wins where newly minted millionaires surrounded by their co-workers say they will keep on truckin’.  

Option 1:  Cubicle land.

The reasons people stay on the job when they don’t need the money are:

1. Work brings people together and you make friends there.
2. Work showcases your talent.
3. Work connects people to big ideas – a purpose beyond your own existence.

I count myself fortunate to get those benefits at my job, and I would miss the people, the creativity and the purpose that comes with my paycheck.

But every time I invest in a lottery ticket I fantasize about how much notice I will give my employer of my resignation. 
And then I ponder what activities will fill those 10 hours a day (work plus commute) that comprise almost half my life. My inner voice tells me:

Option 2:  Beach, palm trees, ocean.

You can spend quality time with Bernie...
You can write the great American novel…
You can play more golf...
You can drive across the country … 
You can volunteer… 
You can be your own boss…

My pension documents predict  a retirement date of January 1, 2018. As I write this post, that's 1227 calendar days away and only 727 work days.  

But who's counting?

What about you? With financial independence, would you quit in a minute or keep working?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Summer's End: Opening Up to Change

Judi Stepek

This morning it hit me: summer is ending and a familiar melancholy sets in. At 5:30 am, the sun failed to greet me the way she did a few days ago, announcing the start of another endless summer day to savor. Since childhood I have associated the change in the climate and the landscape with loss.

The first time I had a visceral reaction to the end of summer occurred while riding from the beach in the back seat of our family car, a Pontiac Bonneville packed with beach chairs and a cooler, my twin brother sitting next to me in the back seat. I remember the tightness of my skin that had likely seen too little sunscreen that day.

My seat offered the best view for looking over the causeway bridge. The grey bay waves looked choppy, and the ocean smell wafted through the car’s open window. I could taste the salt heavy in the air and imagined that the screeching seagulls were laughing at my departure.

I experienced a sixth sense that day.  A drop in my stomach accompanied by the bittersweet feeling of having found love yet knowing it is over. It’s so much more than a change in location; it alters your being if passion runs deep.

Summer does that to me.

Summer complements my interests and my energy in a way that almost personifies her. 

She is the warmth of a sunrise run past the Flying W airport.

She is the glow in a sunset bike ride past old Prickett’s Farm.

She is the open invitation for family and friends to drop by for a quick swim in the pool.

For a few blissful months each year I bask in her glory, knowing a deeper connection to the physical world.

Others may feel it on a winter night lit by a full moon and hushed by the fall of snow. Is there a way to smoothly transition from the guy you married back to the high-school boyfriend you were never so keen on dating anyway?

I won’t hold my breath but I will try to evolve as a person.

I will be optimistic and seek an autumnal miracle.  My plan includes a Hudson Valley escape to see the fall foliage.  I can get behind runs that aren’t so hot I might melt. But I would really like to find a new activity that seals the transition deal for me.

I hope that random people, readers, and those who love the fall share their ideas on how to live for the season.

Our guest blogger, Judi Stepek, is a creative writer, mom and wife who enjoys biking and running, theater and music, and listening to people tell their stories.