Friday, May 27, 2011

First Pickin’s

IMG_4481After weeks of nursing, I have finally harvested the first bit of produce from my patio garden. Now, it may not look like much to many of you, but this single piece of yellow squash is a pleasure to behold for me! I planted the seed, I nurtured the vine, I even hand pollinated the darned thing…how’s that for dedication? And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the tomatoes and the cucumbers are soon to follow.

I cooked it the same day I harvested it. I sautéed it with a nice Vidalia onion and a grilled BBQ pork tenderloin. I do believe I was in culinary heaven! Here’s a shot of the mother plant; it’s taking over the patio!


Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Relationship that wasn’t…isn’t.

My sisters (“Da” and “De”) and I began tossing about the idea of having a picnic for Memorial Day weekend. In the midst of our planning and discussions, it was mentioned if we should invite our older brother “R”. We decided to extend the invitation, with the three of us knowing it would be declined or at the most it would be received with a “we’ll see”. We have always invited “R” to family functions, or even to simple get-together dinners. In our adult lives, my sisters and I are only able to count on one hand the number of times “R” has actually joined us for anything. The three of us, on the other hand, have attended nearly every party, dinner, etc. that he has thrown and to which we were invited. So, through the luck of the draw (and we really did draw straws), it fell to me to extend the Memorial Day invitation.

I sent “R” an email, inviting him to the picnic and shared all the particulars and even asked for his input/ideas. (Why didn’t I just call? He will not answer his phone if he knows I am calling. Even after he dropped his cancer news upon us, he still won’t answer my phone calls.) A day later “R” replied with the stand-by “we’ll see”. If I could have laid a wager beforehand, I would have made some easy money with that response. Regardless, the invitation was extended.  All seemed well.

A few days later, I received a text from my younger brother, “N”, asking if I had seen “R”’s Facebook status/comment. Now, generally, I don’t pay much attention to someone’s FB status; I check it 2-3 times a week to keep track of my more distant relatives and friends. (Remember that “R”, myself and “N” share the same father; and notice the trend that we three boys use technology to communicate, instead of actual verbal skills?) I logged in, checked “R”’s FB status, and to say I was floored is a bit of an understatement. For ten paragraphs, he lambasted his family with claims of us being unsympathetic, uncaring, completely disinterested, etc. and he painted those of us who did not believe his illness at first as “worthless bastards”. His most harsh comments were reserved for our father, stating that Dad had not called “R” even once since his cancer diagnosis and that Dad did not love him.

Normally, I would not have responded to or commented on his status, because these are the types of games my brother has played our entire lives. But as my father does not use FB, however, and could not defend himself against my brother’s claims, I felt obligated to say my peace and spare my younger brother “N” from the trouble (he was about to be a new father himself, and did not need this hassle) and “N” was livid; out of the three of us, “N” is probably most like our dad and most protective of him. In my comment/response to “R”’s post, I explained to “R” how Dad calls me weekly to obtain information on “R”’s condition, because like my situation, “R” will not answer the phone when Dad calls. The phone will continuously ring, or be sent straight to voicemail. And there was a span of two/three weeks when “R”’s phone was not in service. But the point was that Dad had indeed made an attempt to contact “R”, either directly or through me. I further tried to explain to “R” how Dad does love ALL three of his sons, though Dad shows that love in different ways. I also explained that our initial doubts about “R”’s cancer were not unjustified – “R” has cried wolf many times in his life, and yes, he even claimed to have another terminal illness years before we lost Mom to renal cancer. “R”’s previous illness claim turned out to be a lie.

Perhaps I should not have thrown that out on FB as I did, but as “R” took it public first, it became fair game. “R” responded how he could not believe that we would think he would pretend to have cancer, after all he went through with Mom. All he with through with Mom? When I read that statement, I lost control and held nothing back. If I remembered correctly, and my sisters and other family members will back me on this fact, “R” turned his back on Mom when she became sick; he walked away and would have nothing to do with her. It broke her heart because Mom couldn’t understand why “R” would completely disassociate himself with her. Nearly every time I took her to the oncologist or to chemo treatments, Mom would ask if I had heard from “R”. Each time my answer was the same, and each time it ended in her tears. And I continued on, as the gates had now been opened.  I told him that if my reaction, or lack thereof, to “R”’s illness hurt his feelings, then I apologized; it was not my intention. But I reminded him of what I went through with Mom. (Or could it have been the first time he had heard it from me?) But I didn't turn my back on Mom; I was there when she needed me. Michel, my job, our home, our parrots…all of those things took a back-burner; my only concern became doing whatever possible to help Mom get well. I watched her transform from a strong-bodied, strong-willed woman to nothing more than a shell of her former self. I knew and saw things with Mom's cancer and her fight that neither “R”, “Da” nor “De” could have handled. I idolized that woman and watching her deteriorate the way she did took every last bit of emotional strength I had; every bit of strength to keep Mom from seeing the fear, horror, and pain I felt for her and to keep me going to be the person she needed to lean on.

And there it was – out in the open, at last. Obviously it wasn’t the best time or place to clear the air, but the “R” and I have always seemed to know one another’s trigger. But as you can see from my response, our age-old competitiveness and bitterness towards one another had reared its ugly head. “R” responded to my comment with yet another long diatribe – confirming what I have already known and felt inside – as to how he thought I was the ‘golden child’, most loved, etc., etc. The day I came home from the hospital as a newborn, he stated, was the single worst day of his life. I have always known of his contempt for me; “R” has never really kept that aspect hidden. There were times in our youth when he caused me physical harm, with intentions of much more, had he not been stopped by Mom or  some other responsible adult.  And then there are the emotional scars that “R” dealt me that I have kept buried where they belong. His hatred for me has only grown and festered as we have grown older, and in turn, my own bitterness towards him has festered.  After college graduation, when I came out as gay to our family at 22, unlike “R”, I was not initially disowned, my family was not disgusted by me, and for the most part, no one’s opinion of me changed. I didn’t lose any of my friends; I didn’t lose anything.  I believe that difference was the last straw for “R”; in his mind, further proving that I was ‘the golden child’. After that, no matter what effort I put forth in trying to have a functional relationship with my brother, it always proved to be fruitless.  He would accuse me of stealing his friends, stealing his boyfriends (as if…that’s another post entirely), conspiring against him, etc. Not until I met my partner Michel did I stop trying to make the relationship with my brother into what it wasn’t. One of the greatest things I have learned from Michel, is that a relationship takes two people working towards the same goal – a greater bond; and not working against it.

But according to “R”, as the ‘golden child’ I could do no wrong and in my 41 years, that attitude towards me has never changed.  As children, he would always tell me I was adopted or someone else’s kid, even that an uncle was my father instead of my Dad; he’d call me stupid, fat, ugly, unloved and unlovable. After a person continue to hear these sorts of negative things,  he/she begins to believe them. And I was no exception. “R” told me this horrible things daily, and as a young child, why should I have not believed my older brother? The older brother who was supposed to watch out for and protect me. But I wasn’t fortunate enough to have had that type of older brother.  So always fearing that “R” was right about me and that I could never be good enough for my parents to love me, if they truly were my parents, I chose the ‘goody two-shoes’ path – I obeyed the rules, made honor rolls & societies, participated in extra-curricular activities where an individual could excel, earned scholarships to college, graduated, found a long-term loving relationship; and perhaps I over-compensating along the way, just in case it was never enough. With each of these accomplishments, “R”’s reaction has always been the same ‘still playing the golden child’, ‘suck-up’ and ‘Dad always loved your best’. What “R” doesn’t know, up until Mom passed away, is that I always believed that Mom and Dad loved “R” best – the first born, who did everything wrong and went unpunished; the ‘prodigal son’, if you will; the one who walked away from his family, but his family was always there for him. I was after all, according to “R”, not even their real child.

Little did he or does he understand, that as a younger brother I looked up to him, I wanted to be like him (at least until my teenage years), even though I knew of his contempt for me. And “R” will never know of my fears or youthful jealousies of him. Three days ago he “de-friended” me on FB, and told our sisters that he wanted no further association with me. As far as “R” is concerned, “I don’t have any brothers.” And in that same statement, “R” has written off our younger brother (“N”), which actually doesn’t surprise me as “R” has never had anything to do with “N”. I suppose I am the lucky one, at least “R” acknowledged my existence with his own jealousy and contempt. I think “R” has only seen “N” twice in “N”’s 22 years.

Am I hurt by “R”’s statements of his true feelings? Yes, I am; I’d be lying if I said otherwise (though internally I had always hoped that it wasn’t hatred he felt for me). It certainly explains the empty, hollow feeling I’ve had in my gut these last few days. But right now, I think I can deal with “R”’s decision to cut me out completely; as I’ve said in a previous post, our relationship has been tenuous at best. And even though I said earlier that I had given up on having a good, healthy brotherly relationship with “R”, deep down inside I think there was always hope.

This post has become longer than I had intended, but the relationship it describes is itself, long and complicated. If any good can come from this entire situation, I suppose it is this – Saturday, my Rosary saw the light of day for the first time in six years, since Mom died. I spoke and God listened; now I can only ask and pray that I am strong enough to listen, when He speaks and calls out to me.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

God’s Sweet Gift

Late yesterday evening, God granted my family with another of His greatest blessings – the gift of life. Little Maci was born by emergency C-section shortly after 8 p.m., weighing in at 8 lbs. and 10 oz. Mother, father and daughter are all doing brilliantly and I am anxiously waiting for the three of them to come home.  Seeing this sweet little girl only confirms what I have always believed – there truly is a God.

Maci is my sixth niece/nephew, giving me an even split of three and three. She is also the first female born in an all male line in nearly 100 years, bringing extra special excitement with her arrival. While I know I will give her the same amount of love and affection as I have showered upon my other nieces and nephews, I have a feeling she will have Uncle Scott wrapped around her precious little fingers in no time at all!

Maci Anne_002

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Patio Garden Update

I wanted to share a quick update on the patio garden. All of the seedlings have now been transplanted to their summer home. A week ago, I even added a few more items to my cultivation list: mixed lettuce, dwarf carrots, oregano, dill, bush kidney beans, etc. I sowed these directly in the soil, as winter was obviously over with a week's worth of 90+ degree temps and the heat of another Georgia summer was just around the corner. The lettuce was the first to sprout, and shortly thereafter the remaining herbs and veggies had sprouted, reaching their way towards the sun. And then late last week, old man winter stuck his foot in the door with a resounding "I'm not dead yet!", with overnight lows in the lower 40's, and in some spots upper 30's! Seriously?? It's MAY for Heaven's Sake! Being the diligent "plant parent" that I am, I covered the veggies that could take the lower temperatures, and brought it the freshly sown seeds. (Mental note to self - cut back on next year's planting; overly ambitious is an understatement for 2011.) It's warming up again, and the planters are all now back in their appropriate sunny locations. I may even be able to harvest my first squash my the end of the week.

Two good things to note about the cooler temps: 1) I was able to turn off the A/C and open up the windows to the house. I sleep so much more soundly with cool fresh air blowing in the windows, much like my childhood summers on the farm. And 2) the rose bushes have shot forth new growth! After an explosion of fiery, fragrant blooms this Spring, I was certain the roses were done until later summer when they usually put forth their second show. But maybe this year the Joseph's Coat will give me an extra blessing of its beauty. The bloom gets its name from its color transformation, in reference to Joseph's Coat of Many Colors. The bud begins as a fiery red/yellow combination; opens to a dazzling orange, and slowly fades to a yellow, tinged with shades of pink.  I'll try and find a photo to post - it really is an beautiful rose.

A Little Family Background...

In response to my newest follower, Naturgesetz (his blog), I thought it would be appropriate to give a quick run down on my family, so as this blog progresses you will know how the players fit into the puzzle. And today is a good day to share my family links, as my "baby brother" and his wife are expecting their first child today, so my family continues to grow. You might want to grab a pen and paper to start your own flow chart - my family connections confuse most people, and a good cup of coffee might not be a bad idea.

To start, I am the 2nd oldest of fourteen. You read that correctly, 14 children. But before your jaw completely hits the floor, I must explain that not all of us are biologically related. I only share DNA with four of my siblings; the other nine are adopted. And in the interest of brevity, I will list them here from oldest to youngest, how we are related, and the status of our relationship. (To keep their anonymity, I will use the first letter of their names to identify them; in cases of duplicate letters, I will add a second to help you keep track.)

"R" - older (also gay) brother, and the only sibling with whom I share both mother and father. He has recently been diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer. From the day of my birth, our relationship has been tenuous at best.

Scott - that would be me.

"Da" -  sister and twin to "De"; their father was my first step-father. We share the same mother. We were not close growing up, but have grown very close in our adult years. She has given me four wonderful nieces/nephews whom I spoil every chance I get.

"De" - sister and twin to "Da" and also shares the same mother. Growing up, I always felt a special bond with "De". As adults, I think we are as close as any two siblings can be, growing much closer after the loss of our mother. In 2009, she blessed me with my youngest nephew and we have begun spending annual vacations together in the spring.

"C" - adopted brother. Mom was a foster parent, and throughout my life, I have always had at least one foster sibling. "C" was the first, brought to us when he was just 7 months old. While with us, two different families had chosen to adopt him, but for whatever reason, they backed away. When "C" was 6 or 7, Mom called up his case-worker and began the process to make him a permanent member of our family.

"N" - brother. We share the same father and "N" was born the weekend of my Confirmation. It was a tough decision not to come home from college for his birth, but one I do not regret. There is a 20 year age difference between us, and though he is straight, married and about to have his first child, the two of us are very much alike. We are often referred to as "Dick Jr. 1" and "Dick Jr. 2", in reference to being so similar to our father. We occasionally get together for dinner and our relationship has grown stronger as we have aged.

"T" - adopted sister. Mom and my second step-father adopted "T", as well as her biological siblings 11 years ago (Ma, Ph, & Pa). Mom couldn't stand the thought of the four of them being separated and she lovingly brought them all into the family. "T" is also 21, and currently engaged.

"Ma" - adopted brother. Biological to "T". Currently out on his own and has re-connected with his biological mother. After his reconnection to her, he has written off his adopted family.

"Mi" - adopted brother. "Mi" was part of a set of siblings Mom had fostered when "Mi" was just a baby. After 2 years, "Mi" and his biological siblings were returned to their bio-parents. That reunion did not last, and "Mi" returned to our family and he too was made a permanent addition.

"A" - adopted sister. A was/is an extremely troubled child. She had been abused in so many unspeakable ways, that it kills me to know a person could do that to a child. No one else would even consider taking her; but Mom did. And Mom made great progress with "A". Unfortunately, after Mom died, "A" regressed severely and turned violent. My step-father and DFACS chose to institutionalize her. I have tried to reach out to her, but as she is still a minor, now in the State's care, I have been denied any access to her through my step-father's machinations.

"Ph" - adopted brother. Biological to T and Ma. He, too, has issues stemming from his abuse/neglect from his biological family. He has, however, made great strides in overcoming those obstacles and is on track to graduate from high school next year.

"Pa" - adopted brother. Biological to T, Ma & Ph. "Pa" was only 1-month old when he and his siblings were brought to Mom; she always had an extra soft spot for baby boys. (I speak from personal experience.) Out of all of biological siblings, he has the least amount of symptoms from his bio-mother's extensive drug use, and fortunately, he never suffered from neglect; Mom made sure of that. He is an honor-roll student and is becoming a fine young man.

"Ant & And" - adopted brothers; identical twins. Their bio-mother actually chose Mom to adopt them, before they were even born. Mom took special pride in them - her second set of twins. I have a special connection to them - we were all "Momma's boys". When Mom realized that there was no Earthly-cure for her cancer, she asked Michel and I if we would take "Ant & And" and raise them. After much consideration, we agreed; and after Mom's passing, my step-father refused to honor my mother's wish and his promise to her. A few months after her funeral, when I expressed concern to my step-father about moving the boys after school had begun, he sought legal action and had a restraining order placed upon me. I am not allowed to see, or even communicate with "Ant & And". I'm not even allowed within yards of my Mother's home (a plot of land she inherited from my grandparents). Fortunately, my aunt lives a few acres down from there, and I do get to see the twins from a distance when I visit her. My aunt keeps me up to date on how the boys are doing, as much as she can. She tells me that they now have a relationship with their biological grandmother, and from my understanding, it is a very healthy, nurturing relationship.  Last year, I had a chance run-in with "And" at my cousin's high school graduation. He came right up to me, hugged me, and we had a long conversation, with him filling me in on everything in his life. As he walked me back to my car, I kept looking over my shoulder for my step-father, fortunately no where to be seen; I cried all the way home on that 2-hour drive.  Every year I send "Ant" & "And" birthday cards, Christmas gifts, etc. I have no idea if they have ever receive them, but I will keep sending them.

Not so brief as I had planned, but that gives you an idea of some of the people who are important to me. It's a large group with some very strong and loving connections. I'm sure I'll be mentioning them all again at some point, because if there is one thing that I have learned about family, it is this - they will always be a part of you.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Learning to ‘write’ again

When I began actively blogging a short time ago, my full intentions were to focus on the hobbies I enjoy and the projects that come with those hobbies. And as I began to read other blogs, in an attempt to learn how to blog ‘properly’, I learned that blogs are more than just a place to share the things which bring you joy – hobbies, children, pets, etc. But blogs are also places for people to spew forth their thoughts and innermost feelings, however anonymously they so choose. And as I begin to write about my little inconsequence in the world, something else deeper seems to be taking over. I liken it to the Journal Assignment in my high school English class with Mr. Friedman, which also happens to be one of the few enjoyable things I remember about high school.

Once a week, the students handed in their journals, with a minimum amount to be written, for Mr. Friedman to read. He would peruse through them and hand them back; sometimes with comments or just a grade at the top of the entry. If you turned in the journal with the required amount written, you earned an ‘A’ – even if you just copied pages from another book into your journal. The purpose of the journaling was to encourage you to think, write about it, and then someday look back on those journals and learn something new about your life.  I have no idea where my personal journals are now, but I do know they made an impact upon my life. I poured my heart out into those writings – sharing things I had not dared tell another living soul. Those journals helped through some tough personal struggles, not by the comments and feedback Mr. Friedman gave, but because I opened up to those journals and did not keep my emotions or turmoil bottled up inside.

Since high school, I have kept journals only in times of personal struggle or when perhaps I wanted to close out the world. Blogging is quickly becoming my 21st century journal. I have been struggling with some recently received family news and I have been unable (or unwilling?) to process it. I have mulled it over and over in my head, but have moved no where with it. I’m sure writing it down will help, but I am unsure how or where to start. It involves my brother and his news of stage 4 colon cancer. I know that once I actually start writing about it, the entry will, like the others, flow forth uncontrollably. I have already lost sleep over the situation, with last night being the worst so far, because it involves two of the subjects which have caused me the most amount of grief.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Saturday Funny

This post really should be a “Friday Funny”, but as Blogger was down all day yesterday, I was never able to post. And it may not be funny to anyone other than myself, but I wanted to share the story and the memory it inspired, as it put me in a great mood for the entire day.

Friday morning, I went out on the patio to water my burgeoning garden. No big deal, as I perform that task daily since moving my indoor seedlings to their exterior growing spots. I began watering away at 7 in the morning, having forgone the coffee since the weather had turned markedly warmer here in the South. Moving from plant to plant, careful not to waste any water, I moved on to the cantaloupes and spotted something buried in the top of the soil. Brain still in a fog, I jumped about three feet in the air, and about the same distance backwards. What on Earth could it have been, you ask? A snake, perhaps? No, nothing quite that vicious. The object of my fright was none other than a 1-1/2” frog who had made his bed for the night in my planter. Yes, that small, unassuming creature nearly gave this 41 year old, hefty-sized man a near coronary.

Once the fog cleared from my brain, I stood there, garden hose in hand, water gushing everywhere (so much for conservation), and I began to laugh. I laughed at the silliness of the situation, but more so, I laughed because that moment brought back a sweet memory of my grandmother. Nana was afraid of almost nothing; the lone exception being…you guessed it….frogs. I remember one summer, I must have been about 7 or 8, the two of us were working in her yard, planting flowers in the rock beds and such. While cleaning out one of the beds, I came across a rather large frog, basking in the warm summer sun. Being a typical mischievous young boy, I picked up the frog, turned around and said “Nana, look what I found! Can I keep it?” Not in my entire life before had I ever seen my grandmother move so quickly; I think she may have set an unofficial world record in the 100-yard dash that day. After a bit of screaming on her part, huffing and puffing on mine, I put the frog away and we went on with our chores for the day. I truly believe that was the only day she was ever mad at me, or least the only time she ever let me know it anyway and I know it was the only day I had ever seen fear in her eyes.  Never again did I bring a frog close to Nana; I learned that lesson mighty quick. Writing this now, I still have a smile on my face, believing that yet another part of her lives on in me.

I love and miss you Nana; thank you for giving me so much unconditional love.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Changing my lifestyle, and not dieting.

I mentioned in an earlier post about my weight issues. Back during the Christmas holidays, I came to the realization that I wasn’t fooling anyone by referring to myself as ‘overweight’ or ‘fat’. The truth of the matter: I was obese. With my 5’ 6” frame, I topped out at a whopping 251 pounds – an 1/8th of a ton. I had lied to myself for so long that I had convinced myself that I was just ‘big-boned’ and even worse, that I was ‘happier being fat’. Nothing was further from the truth.

With a BMI of 41, I classified as Category III Extremely Obese; just pounds away from being morbidly obese. My physician had already placed me on cholesterol controlling medications with blood pressure meds soon to follow. It was only a matter of time before I also ate my way into Type 2 Diabetes. You would think that these things alone would have been enough to motivate me to lose the weight and be in better physical shape; the facts only made me more depressed and continued to crush my self-esteem. But I did realize that I needed to do something, anything; I just wasn’t certain which path I should take. My doctor asked if I had considered Lap Band surgery. I had considered it, but I flat out refused to take it any further. Not to disparage anyone who has had the surgery, but for me, that would have been the equivalent of cheating. And I may be a lot things, good or bad, but a cheater has never been one of them.

Since it was Christmas time, I decided to put the issue on the back burner at least until the first of the year, you know, make it a New Year’s Resolution. Surely that would work, just like it had all those other years before – um, NOT. With what little self-esteem I had left, I planned our annual Christmas card, deciding to wear something black to make me look slimmer, at least for the holidays. I pulled out my Nikon, positioned Michel in front of the tree, focused, set the timer, and quickly stood behind him, trying to hide as much of myself as possible. (Picture an elephant trying to hide behind Pee Wee Herman, and you’ll have a good laugh.) After much reviewing of the some 50 shots (yes, 50), I decided on the one we would use – we’re both smiling, both of our eyes are open, and of course, the Christmas tree looked very festive. I pulled the image into Photoshop, and no matter how much morphing I tried, my double/triple chins just wouldn’t go away; nor could I do anything about the hot-air balloon that seemed to be emanating from my mid-section. To say the least, I was horrified. But we appeared happy in the photo, and Michel looked nice. I printed the cards, sent them out and proceeded to eat anything and everything within my reach.

And then by chance, or Divine Intervention – you’re call – a door opened in front of me that I could not pass by. We had travelled to visit Michel’s family for Christmas and over dinner the subject of weight-loss became the topic of conversation. Just what I needed – I was trying to enjoy my chocolate filled stocking and the big “D” word came up. Yep, D-I-E-T. What a buzz kill that was. The in-laws had decided to start a “Biggest Loser” contest at the first of the year and it would go until Easter. Each person was putting in $100 and the one who had lost the highest percentage of weight would win the pot. Okay, so my interest was peaked a bit, but I had paid for diets before, and lost the money and gained weight. That was a rodeo I didn’t want to revisit. But as fate would have it, Michel’s dad doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. I felt I was being badgered and bullied, but I finally said yes, if for no other reason than to shut him up.

Now there was $600 on the table, even though I was only in for $100…that $600 looked mighty tempting. That would be a $500 gain – I can’t earn that in my savings account in a year. It would put a dent in a nice vacation – with the economy being so soft, we’ve been reluctant to part with spare cash.  So in that moment, I decided I wanted the jackpot. And as an added bonus, I could gloat a bit with Michel’s dad that I whooped ass. The game was on.

That is how my current lifestyle change began – a simple wager among family for everyone to be a little healthier at the end of four months.  On Easter Sunday, I had lost a total of 46 pounds, or 18% of my starting body weight.   My pant size has dropped from a 44 down to a 34/36. I haven’t seen those sizes since I was 34! My BMI has dropped and now I’m less than twenty pounds away from just being ‘overweight’ instead of obese. If you could only see the grin on my face now as I type this post, you would understand how much better I feel about myself right now. I can see a difference when I look in the mirror, not just my physical appearance, but how I carry myself. My head is a little higher; clothes fit much nicer; and I’m smiling more. And best of all, the numbers from my recent physical exam came back – excellent on all counts; and at this pace, I could come off all the cholesterol medications by the end of the year.

Needless to say, I won the family contest and the cash. But three weeks later it seems I have won something more important: a desire to keep going, to lose more weight. I am now within 10 pounds of my graduating college weight (20 years ago today, in fact). The contest is over, and I easily could have gone back to my old, unhealthy regimen. But I haven’t. For the first time in my life, I look at food differently now and before I choose something to eat, I mentally ask myself just how hard am I going to have to work to burn off those calories. Are those few moments of tasteful pleasure worth the sweat, pain, agony that must come afterwards?

And that brings me to what prompted this post. Today was supposed to be my ‘rest day’ from exercise – 2 days on, 1 day off, 2 days on, with weekend activity outside the house (yard work, hiking, etc.). But instead of taking the day off, I worked out for an hour, sweated, and felt great afterwards. I can be proud of myself for sticking with it, going that extra mile. Money may have been the initial motivation, but now it’s the euphoria I feel from staying active. The endorphin rush has become addictive to me and I miss it if I go a day without it. That’s a feeling I’ve never experience before. My lifestyle has changed and continues to change for the better. I can see light at the end of the tunnel, granted I’m still in the middle of the tunnel, but I can see the end. And I’m still too ashamed of how I looked at 251 to post a full-body shot ‘before’ picture; maybe when I’m just ‘overweight’ and no longer obese. I’ll share with you in future posts how my progress is going and the things I have changed in order to be healthier.

Eat well, but eat smart.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

So what’s with the title?

After contemplating the title of my blog for a few days, I decided it might be a good idea to explain the origins.  The title is, in a way, a small tribute to my grandmother, whose name you may have guessed was Ruby, and by association, to my grandfather. Much of who I am today I attribute to my grandparents, known to all of us who loved them as Nana and Grandpa. I learned most of my domestic talents from Nana; I’d spend hours watching her perform her various tasks, or actively taking part in them. And I like to think I learned my work ethic and sense of family from Grandpa.

When I was about five years old, my grandparents moved to a small Georgia town where my grandfather’s family had lived since before the Civil War. Growing up, we always affectionately called this “the farm”. They retired in their early 50’s and turned their homestead into a true working farm, to supplement their income and retirement. Grandpa would spend countless hours working in the pastures, raising cattle for sale at the local auction and raising hay to sell to other farmers during the winter months.  Nana spent most of her time closer to the house, tending the garden and orchard, raising chickens and turning their yard into a  flowering showplace of spectacular color and fragrances. And during hay season, she would be in the fields with Grandpa, right by his side.

My grandparents had many skills and talents; some of which I think are lost on today’s generations. One of those many talents was knowing how to grow much of their own fresh produce. For as long as I can remember, there was always a garden of some sort at the farm. Some years, it was designated area just up from the house, where we’d haul huge metal cans full of water to quench the garden’s thirst in times of little rain. Fortunately, there was a lake on the property, otherwise I’m sure that would have a been one helluva water bill. As they grew older and a full-size garden became too much for them to handle, they turned Nana’s flowerbeds and yard into the garden. Fresh squash, peppers and tomatoes would line the pathways to the house. Discarded washtubs, filled with fresh soil and composted manure, would be scattered about the yard. And looking back, it was always done in good taste. Nana had a knack for making the functional also be practical and attractive. My own personal love of gardening comes from many summers spent with Nana and Grandpa, helping out on the farm as much as a young child could. So much so, that today, over thirty years later, I have taken my small 10’ x 15’ patio and turned it into my own vegetable oasis.

But, back to the title (I could spend hours, and probably will in future posts, reminiscing about those two wonderful souls). One of the many things I learned as a child from Grandpa was the joy of making things with my hands. One year for Christmas, my grandparents gave me a Wood-burning Kit, just like the one Grandpa had. I’d spend hours in the evening tracing the pre-made designs, painting them, and giving them back as gifts to my grandparents. Every summer, I’d pull the kit out and work on something new.  When I was in my early teenage years, Grandpa built Nana her very own greenhouse. Nana was always a green-thumb during the warmer months, but with that greenhouse, she could enjoy her flowers and plants year ‘round.  When the greenhouse was completed, Grandpa asked me to help design a name plate to put over the doorway. He suggested “Ruby’s Hot House”, and I in turn spouted out “how about ‘Ruby’s Hot Box’”. I’ll never forget the grin on his face. At first, I hadn’t realized the double entendre, but Grandpa did immediately. Once I figured it out, I’m certain my face was beet red; we both laughed and the name was chosen. The two of us got to work on the name plate with our wood-burning kits, and Ruby’s Hot Box was born. The greenhouse was Nana’s mini-fortress of solitude, someplace she could go to just be by herself, with her thoughts and her plants. In later years, the greenhouse would be converted to a “ceramic house”, but the name stayed on.

So, my blog’s name, “Ruby’s Hot Box” is a small homage to Nana and Grandpa. Her place of solitude was on a farm in rural Georgia; mine is here in the magnitude of cyberspace. My hope is this blog will be in some way therapeutic for me and enjoyable for any who may read it.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Where’d the day go?

I spent most of the day on the patio, working on my “garden”. I started about 10 a.m., took a two hour break for lunch and an errand or two, and finally came in about 9:30 p.m. You would think with nearly nine hours of work, I would have accomplished more than I did. Looking outside now, I see the two Better Bush tomatoes and the two Citronella Mosquito plants happily in their pots; but that’s it. Certainly I finished more than just four plants in day?
mixing_containerActually, more was completed, it just doesn’t look like much yet. All of the planters, save three – a window box, and the two “patio pickers”, are now 90% full with fresh potting mix. I thought this part of today’s chores would pass by much faster than it actually did, but I didn’t expect amending the soil to be so intensive. Now, I could have just used the potting mix straight from the bag. My plants would have grown, but by mid-summer they would have been suffering.  When the temperatures outside reach in the upper 90’s, it isn’t uncommon for my patio to reach 110-115 degrees easily.  The backside of my house and my patio both face West, which means from noon until dusk, the stucco house and concrete patio absorb and bake in the afternoon heat. So in the past, I have always added sphagnum peat moss and polymer water crystals to my patio plants in order to keep the plants from drying out and prematurely dying. This task has usually taken a few hours at most and my flowers and the few peppers plants have always fared pretty well.
But this year? This year, in an effort to better control my purse strings, my diet, and be a little more Earth-friendly, I’m growing mostly vegetables and dwarf fruits. (My orchids and two rose bushes are the lone exceptions…more on those later.) Like the rest of America, I’ve noticed the price of fresh produce slowly climbing up and up, right along with gas prices, and the produce lately hasn’t really been all that fresh.
And like many others, I have had a bad case of obesity, the new Great American epidemic. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables has been a large part of my healthier eating regimen I started at the first of the year. Through better eating and more exercise, I’ve lost 45 pounds in four months and I’m working on another thirty.
These two reasons logically brought me to the third – to be more Earth-friendly. Now, I’ve always considered myself to be eco-friendly, albeit, not eco-perfect. I have actively recycled for the better part of ten years, and whenever possible, I fully believe in re-using/re-purposing items to keep them out of our landfills. So, I have joined the great community of those whose philosophy is “grow and buy locally” when it comes to my produce.
MoonureAll of this is well and good, but where did my day go? It was spent amending potting mix with sphagnum peat moss, perlite and organic compost with cow manure. (I decided to leave out the polymer water crystals for now – polymer and organic just don’t seem to mesh for me; but I will keep them on stand-by should we move into another drought season here in Georgia.)
Nine hours, 2 six gallon planters, 10 five-gallon planters, 8 four-gallon planters, 6 three-gallon planters, and four 24-inch window boxes later, I now have all of the planters ready to receive the seedlings that I have been nursing for weeks. It doesn’t look like much, but once planted, my patio garden will be on its way to producing a healthy ‘garden of eatin’ for me and my family. So tomorrow will be my fun day – placing my plants in their permanent summer home so I can watch them grow.
Lesson learned - don't waste the day away by sleeping past sunrise.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

But it’s Spring…can’t I plant now?

It’s the first week of May and the past few days it has been quite cool here in the South. Overnight lows have been in the upper 30’s. Mother Nature – HELLO – it’s May! Last night it was 37 degrees. Want to know what I did before bed? You guessed it, I brought my seedlings from my “patio garden” into the house. After having spent nearly two months sprouting tomatoes, peppers, onions, cucumbers, watermelons, cantaloupes and various herbs from seeds, I was determined not to lose any of them to this cold snap. The sad thing is, all of these seedlings look rather puny for being two months old, with the sole exception of the cucumbers.
Today, I decided that perhaps I should visit the local nursery and pick up a few plants that are a little further along in development. I haven’t quite given up on the seedlings, though. If I can coax them into maturing, I’ll have continuous planting for the next month or so. But what caused the seedlings to be so stunted? I discovered that inadequate lighting during the sprouting stage is the culprit. The seeds were set in peat pots, underneath homemade grow lights. And while the lighting was enough to have the seeds sprout and grow, it wasn’t enough to have them thrive. I moved the seedlings outside almost three weeks ago to harden them off, placing them in shade and gradually moving them to full sun. Now that they are in full sun, the leaves are becoming darker and growth does seem to have perked up. But alas, now it’s cold again, and tomatoes certainly do not like cold weather, so in they came, as did the orchids which had been outside now since the first of April.
Nana always said “never plant anything outside until after Easter”. I guess she was right and there was a reason friends and family always proclaimed her to have green thumbs.  I just don’t remember if she told me how long after Easter I was supposed to wait! I supposed I’ll have to learn that one on my own.
Lesson learned – outside planting season starts after Easter for tender vegetation.