Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Lock the car Dear, it's squash season out there.....

     Living in the country has it share of trials and tribulations, dust storms, driving 10 miles to the grocery store, power outages, but at this time of the year all of those take a back seat to the sudden appearance of your neighbor's excess garden produce, on your property, of which, the worst has to be squash.

     It was an uneventful day a week ago, a day seemingly like any other, right up until that changed.  I approached the back door of my house and there, set innocently in front of it, was a bulging plastic shopping bag.  My face went white, my spine tensed, and I peered over to peek at the contents whilst
all the while not actually touching it (if you do, it automatically becomes yours, kind of like tag (You're it !)).  It was full of cucumbers and tomatoes.  I quickly glanced around but in a scene reminiscent of every B Dracula movie, the streets were quickly emptying, the shutters on houses were banging shut, and heavy curtains were drawn together with just enough space for an eye to peer through.  Damn, they got me.   I leaned over, picked up the bag, but before I did, I fished my remote from my pocket, turned back to the driveway and locked my car, because I knew that where there were cucumbers, there were bound to be squashes. 

     How does it start?  You move to the country and someone suggests that having a garden with would be a good idea (which it is).  You plow and make rows and then plant and inevitably you over-plant, for instance, 6 zucchini plants doesn't sound like a lot, does it?  (It is).  The thing about
More Squash
 planting things at the same time is, that they tend to come up at the same time, so after weeks of watching things grow in your garden there are suddenly a couple of weeks full of bountiful harvests.  You try and consume the excess produce, then you slice and freeze and then pickle and can, but inevitably you run out of time, shelf and freezer space and energy, while you still have buckets of produce to deal with, and more coming at you each day.  You've put a lot of time and energy into this, so you don't want to see it go to waste, so as you scan the horizon over your tomato plants, what is the first thing that you see in the distance?  That's right, your neighbors houses and that's when the idea forms. Didn't the Pilgrims do it after all, or was it the Indians?  So with the best of intentions, history on your side and a 5 gallon bucket of produce banging against your shin, you start making the rounds, to share your bounty.  Your neighbors, however,  know this drill as they've seen it before.  They've watched your garden as closely as you have and know when your peak production 
Hidden Squash
time will be.  They've scheduled their family vacations around it, or locked themselves in, like housebound agoraphobics just to avoid you.  They are in there, sitting amongst their stockpiled water jugs, car parked 2 streets away to give the appearance of not being home, and they sure as hell, are not going to answer the door during squash season.  After 2 hours of lugging the bucket around, you return home, discouraged, but not giving up.

     Over the next couple of weeks you look for every opportunity to give some vegetables away.  You buy decorative baskets, assort them with varied vegetables and try and deliver them.  It's like a macabre reverse ding, dong, ditch, where you run up to a house, ring the bell, drop your basket and try to make it back to the car before the neighbors can make it to the door.  FYI. a basket full of squash with a bow tied to it, is still a basket full of squash.  Woe is the child with the late summer
They started with 3 that day
birthday, as you will not be above sending zucchini home as a party favor.   FYI, a zucchini, painted with a face or made into a Mr. Potato Head,  is still a zucchini.   This only works once and you have to think carefully about how popular your child is before you use this nuclear option.  Trust me, the conversation goes like this....."Mom, why can't I go to Tommy's birthday party?  "Because, they are (gasp) gardeners, now go play in your room with the curtains pulled".   Rookie harvesters will make a classic squash collector's error and try and put a table out in front of their house with a free squash sign on it and a half a dozen or do squashes.   At the end of the day, when they check the table, the number of squash will have doubled or tripled while they weren't watching.  Another method is to go out in teams with one person distracting "the mark" while you slip a basket close to
them, only to be discovered after you've departed.   Even with all these tactics, it's inevitable that eventually you find yourself looking at unlocked cars (you considered the collection basket at church but the guy wielding it seems pretty frail).  Once you've done your first break and enter, squash leave, you never go back, which is exactly why I lock my car during squash season.

     I want to end on a positive note and my sister (Wilson, who I just named in this blog) gave me just the story.  I swear, what you are about to read is true.  Wilson's Mother in Law, now passed, used to stay with them in their country home, which was at a stop sign on the Stanley Cabbage trail.  Trucks overflowing with cabbage would drive by their home all day and because cabbages are round, the trucks are overfull and they have to stop, the momentum regularly causes cabbage to roll from the trucks and fall to the ground.  Farmers call this acceptable loss, my sister's family calls it dinner.  The story goes that Wilson's MIL would run for the door each time a cabbage truck would pass and search the ground for dropped
Wait for it.......
produce.  One week, while she stayed, the pickings were slim and to bolster her spirits, her son bought a cabbage at a stand, scuffed in on the asphalt before he returned home and rolled in onto his front lawn, awaiting the next truck.  A short time later, his mother heard the brakes of a cabbage truck, ran out again and returned with her scuffed cabbage proudly in hand and a smile stretched across her face.  I'm positive that, that smile of hers, was repeated last week as a particularly overloaded truck turned the corner near Wilson's house and lost 30 or so cabbages.  My sister Wilson's kids all ran out, collected them, and then channeling their deceased grandmother, handed them out to passing cars with a sign proclaiming "Free Road Cabbage".   I didn't pass by there that day, but if I had, you can be sure, my car doors would have been locked.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

It's time to put my ass in a pew again.

     This morning I try to motivate myself to get to church more often than I have been going.  I need church, but my record has been spotty of late.

     I've already shared with you that this was the busiest summer my family has ever seen (The Summer that never was ), but what I haven't shared with you is what has suffered, due in part, to this busy schedule, and it was our weekly attendance at mass (Hey Sister Wilson, should Mass be
capitalized in that sentence?).  It's a weak excuse, I'll say that right up front, so we've had some discussions of late on what we were going to do to correct it.  I'll start with why we think we need to, and work to our solution at the end.

     The beauty of marrying someone who wasn't raised with religion, is that you get an opportunity to see a faith through their eyes too.  Admittedly, although my parents raised me with a strict adherence to weekly mass attendance, in my college years, my record for attending was abysmal.  I suspect that our adult children are thus far following that model. My wife, however, was not raised in a church going household or with any organized religion.   As my wife and I considered getting married though, she agreed to go through the Catachumenate program and to become Catholic, like I professed to be.  It was odd, how
This resembles me in church as a kid
with virtually no interaction with religion, she as an aspiring wife and eventual mother, had an instinct telling her that this was of value both for her marriage and for child-rearing.  I took years more to come to this conclusion, and it started with her taking the classes.  She'd attend each week but inevitably come home with more questions that could be answered in an hour class, so she'd ask me.   This was the start in our relationship of my wife vastly overestimating my listening skills and my acumen on a variety of topics.  The result was that I had to study right along with her.   Then one day on my way to work, I ran across a particularly disrespectful neighborhood kid and I 
Dear God, please don't let me raise a kid like this
pondered on how people would raise a kid like that, but I had no experience with that, I did, however know how my parents raised us and being a fan of myself and my siblings, I decided to copy this model.  It started with weekly mass attendance. I think it's fair to say that with our two older children and prior to this year, our mass attendance was a solid B.  We'd miss one here or there, but those kids gained the benefit of weekly mass attendance, just like my siblings and I did.  Then came this summer. 

     Our favorite mass at our favorite church is the 9 am mass at St. Mary's in Canandaigua.  We live about a half an hour away, so A.I.S time for church is 8:30 am.    That comes pretty early when you come in or stay up past midnight on Saturday 
on a regular basis.  This weekend, for example, we went to bed at 3 am on Sunday morning, and slept well beyond our A.I.S. time.  When we do get up we talk about going to other masses, but don't know when they are, where they are etc.  A very lame excuse.  We missed so many this summer that we ended up creating a habit of not going.  Incidentally they say that it takes 21 days to either create or break a habit.  I'd roughly estimate that we've got about a 33% attendance rate for the summer to date, not an impressive score.  So knowing that we find value in it, and knowing our excuses for not attending, how are we making this course correction?

     We'll start with a firm commitment to attend mass on at least a weekly basis.  I say at least because I ran into a peer a few weeks ago who had downloaded an app for his Iphone that showed him where the nearest Catholic church was and the times of their masses.  He had been making some daily masses early in the am, and I was impressed with his commitment to improve himself in that manner.  I'd like to do the same, so I'll download the app too.  For home, we are going to make a chart of mass
My Mother's original archdiocese, what a shock to see.
times.  I'd guess that in my area the masses for Sunday obligation start somewhere around 4:00 pm on Saturday and finish around 7 pm on Sunday.  That's over a 24 hour period that it gives us to make sure that we attend.  We'll chart out each one, and with a quick glance at it, we can insure that we can plan to make mass.  Our youngest child, Nolan starts high school this year, and my wife and I have discussed making our goal not to miss mass during his high school years.  We think that making that firm commitment will not only help us, but help Nolan too with what promises to be some challenging years.  My mother used to say that God only asked for a single hour each week from us, as it related to mass, and looking around at all our blessings, that seems like so little to give back.  The rest of the plan is simply executing it until we habitually are going to mass each week again and then to repeat the process.  It truly is that simple, and to finish this missive on mass, I'll just say...... see you in church.



Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Run, Run, Run, Run, Runaway

It's in our nature to seek out that which is better, even as adolescents, but at that time we lack relativity, so the grass looks greener over the fence a lot more often, so we sometimes vault over to check it out.  

     I know a good deal when I've got one, so to my knowledge, I never ran away from home.  Sure, I had days where the chore I was asked to do seemed so patently unfair that I was very unhappy, and I recall one time spending 20 minutes writing a letter to my father outlining how unfair giving me a particular chore was (The chore only took 5 minutes), but I never bolted from home.  You see three
A typical note left when running away
squares a day, a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in always looked better than the alternative life that I could imagine on the road, at any age that I might have considered leaving.  I blame Star Trek.  I never aspired to be captain Kirk, the impetuous leader of the crew, I identified more with Mr. Spock, the reasoned, logical, sidekick, who thought through his actions prior to taking them, chess, not checkers.  So I stayed with my parents, right up until the day that they kicked me out, but that wasn't the case with a particular sibling and my own children though.

     My brother Redface had the family record for running away.  His attempts rivaled those of Steve McQueen in the Great Escape, and if I had to put a number to them, I'd say he tried about 7 times.  Two of these attempts stick in my memory a little more than the others.  The first was one evening when a police car pulled up to the curb in front of my house, and an officer got out to talk to
my mother.  He questioned whether she was missing a child, and she replied while looking around, "I don't think so".  He then opened the back door of the squad car, and there sat my brother Redface.  In the trunk was his bike, and he had made it a few miles before the chain on his bike came off and when an officer checked on him, his fabricated story of going to visit his cousins didn't hold water.  The funny thing was that he was missing all day and we had never noticed.  It was pretty common for us all to head to the playground in the summer and stay there the better part of the day, so we would all catch up at dinnertime and this allowed him a long time to hit the open road before his absence was noticed.  It was pretty quiet at the dinner table that particular evening where Redface sat with his head down and tried to avoid eye contact with my father.  It was repeated a few years later when he tried to run away in the middle of practicing for the high school track team.  This was probably the latest (oldest) anyone in
the family had tried to run away, and I'm not sure how serious the attempt was, but in the midst of running around the town with the track team, he came upon a Volkswagen Beetle (Punchbug!) idling at a curb and he jumped in and tried to drive it.  He barely could see over the steering wheel and he put it into a ditch not too far from where he took it.  He was a slave to his impulses often and this was a perfect example of how he would act first and then regret his actions later.  He never really lost this wanderlust or idea of somewhere else being better that where he currently was.   As adults we worked together at a pizza place and when I asked him what he did on the weekend before, he'd often reply, " I drove to Connecticut" or a place like that.  He'd jump in his car, with no plan, no itinerary and just drive in a certain direction.  He'd sleep in his car most times, but would return for his Monday shift.  I'm not sure what my brother Redface was looking for out there, but I'm pretty sure he never found it.  It's highly probable that I never ran way because of his examples, he never made it out, and it was never better when he came back from one of his escape attempts either.

     My children's examples are far more tame than my brothers.  Our daughter Molly attempted to run away one day.  I'm sure it was in response to something egregiously done to her by her horrific
parents, but there she was one afternoon packing a backpack and heading out.  She was our first and if I knew anything about running away, it was that you had to call the bluff.  We wished her well and off she went around the block.  We were certain that she'd turn around and head back at any moment, right up until the moment that she didn't.  My wife had to chase her down with our van and negotiate with her as she ran parallel to her.  Her feet, however, were pointed away from home and she showed no sign of losing her nerve.  That's when we learned that Molly doesn't bluff, she does exactly what she says she will do.  Eventually my wife found the right combination of words that got her to come home.  We helped her to unpack her backpack and this was classic Molly too, there wasn't a damned thing in there to help her on the open road, it was just full of her favorite stuffed animals.  She's had her moments of leaping before she looks after then too that Mr. Spock would not approve of, and I suspect she's tied closer to her impulses than some others.

     Dan's attempt, that I remember, went a little differently.  We called his bluff too, but had the car keys ready, just in case.  He had packed and was headed out.  I remember a small rolling case of some sort that he took (did it have a bear on it?), but he never made it as far as Molly did.  We
watched from a concealed window as he made it to the end of the driveway and then slowly started walking in circles as he reconsidered his actions.  It took a few minutes and a few rotations before he headed back and informed us he had decided to stay.  Overjoyed. we killed the fatted calf and welcomed him back with open arms.  He at least had packed some food for the journey so he wouldn't have starved immediately on the road.  If those two kids had ever put their heads together, between the two of them, they probably had the nerve and the packing sense to successfully run away, but I'm kind of glad that they never did.  Our last child, Nolan insists that he attempted to run away too, but neither of us remember it happening.  I suspect that it never got beyond the planning stages because he's a lot like his father.  Thus ends this blog on bolting, but I'd love to hear some stories from my older siblings and from my readers.   I promise I'll stay around to read them. 


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A whole blog on roast corn? Sure, why not?

The terms roast and corn may seem incongruous to some readers, as we've become a steamed corn society, or so it seems, but if you've ever had it the way my Dad used to make it, you'd look forward to it every summer, just like I do.

     Round about knee high at the 4th of July time, I start to get my cravings for freshly roasted corn.  My Dad spoiled me by teaching me how to roast corn and since I've tasted it that way I've become a 
sort of roasted corn snob.  I'll admit to picking some up at the local store, because they get the southern corn first and I can start practicing cooking it, but truly there is nothing better than Western NY corn from a local corn stand if you are going to take the time to roast it.

     I'm sure that my first taste of roast corn was the day before one of our family reunions.  You can read about that awesome tradition here (The Yarger Family reunion), but my Dad had another tradition attached to it and that was to hold a small party for his family the day before and to roast some corn at it.  You have to be a special kind of crazy to hold a family party the day before a 100-150 person family reunion, but that was just my
Brother Ace on the grill
Dad.  He couldn't get enough time with his siblings and his progeny, so he'd tailgate a day early for the reunion by hosting a smaller 25-40 person gathering at his house and I never knew it to not include a corn roast.  My Dad's long passed now, but thankfully my brother Ace and his wife have kept up this crazy tradition.

     So how do you roast corn?   It starts with selecting the right corn.  It must be fresh picked that day and larger ears have enough husks to keep them from burning.  You'll want to soak them in water for an hour or so before throwing them on the grill.  A charcoal fire will give you the best corn but if you have a gas grill, you can use that too.  You lay the corn directly on the grill, it's best if you alternate head to tail to fit more on there.  Open a beer.   What? It's going to take a while to do this, it's a hour long job if you do it right.  
Is a job done right until your wife inspects it?
As the corn starts to steam and then cook in the husks, you'll give it a quarter turn about every 10 minutes to make sure they are cooking evenly.  Eventually the heat will start to caramelize some of the kernels right through the husks and that is what you are waiting for.  My wife likes hers to be taken off the grill right before this happens, but to me, it's like eating steamed corn, so what's the point of roasting it?  I need some char on it in order to be happy.  You'll take them off and rest them for a minute, just because they are too hot to handle, and then you'll peel them back and finishing preparing the corn.

     My dad used paper plates and 2 quarter sticks of butter to finish the job and I'm a traditionalist so I do the same.  By the end of the job you've have corn shaped ridges in the butter, and butter smeared evenly over the corn ears.  Sure, they'll be some random bits of black burnt husks stuck in the butter, but that's to be expected.  A few years ago someone figured out that you could melt butter and float it on
At Ace's house roasting corn while he was away
top of a gallon of water and you could dip your corn in it and supposedly evenly coat your corn that way.  I've tried but, but I'll still go with the paper plate method.  That same person probably invented the "Cooler Corn" thing you've seen going around where you shuck the ears, put a dozen in a plastic cooler and then put a gallon of boiling water in it to steam them.  That may be a lot quicker, but you'll never convince me that corn out of a plastic cooler is going to taste as good as hot from a charcoal fire.  Quicker is rarely better kids.  After the corn is buttered, for me a few shakes of salt and pepper finish it and then you can decide how to eat it.  I like it eaten right off the cob, I prefer to do a typewriter motion for my first line, going left to right all along the ear, and then I start at the small end and spin the ear to remove the corn. 

     There is a popular notion that you don't actually eat corn, that you just "borrow" it, but that's about 1/3 correct.  Your body, if you are human, cannot digest the outer hull of the corn, it's cellulose and
we lack the correct enzymes or specific proteins to break it down.  If you chew it well though, you'll digest all the inner parts of the corn which are the complex carbohydrates, sugars, proteins and some vitamins and minerals.  The hull is insoluble fiber, so you'll have the benefit of that passing through your system to help flush things out.  Thus ends today's science lesson.  You can decide on how many ears to eat, but remember that the "flushing out" effective is cumulative.  Pair anything you want with the corn, as long as the grill is on, I like to cook a steak along with it normally, but beware, with a belly full of corn and steak on a warm summer afternoon, spontaneous naps are known to happen.  This blog should have given you enough information to try this on your own, so what are you waiting for?  Start grilling. 

That was good, now time for a nap.