The Burning Garden

The Burning Garden.  Sounds like a cool title to a mystery novel, right?  Not at our house.

Bill got a new “smoker.”  It’s a hollow stainless steel tube, about 12 inches long with holes perforating the entire length.  Bill places small wood pellets inside, lights it with a blowtorch (which he’s a little bit afraid of) and it generates smoke.  You then place the tube inside your grill and cook something you would like smoked, like ribs or chicken or fish.  Or leave the grill cold and smoke your own cheese.

This is Bill’s latest ‘hobby,’ home-smoked cheese, which is done in a cold grill.  He tried it on a block of extra sharp cheddar last month and it turned out great.  Bill isn’t much of a cheddar fan, but he eagerly snarfed down his home-smoked cheddar.  He liked it so much he wanted to try it on other varieties of cheese, so we went to the store over the weekend and bought four different blocks: sharp cheddar, Gouda, swiss, and Havarti.

He waited for a day when we weren’t having 25 – 30 mph winds, which was Wednesday, and prepared the smoker.  He loaded the tube with enough pellets to last a couple of hours and did the cheese in groups of two, an hour for each batch. Once the second batch was finished and there was no more smoke, Bill dumped the remaining ash from the tube into our raised garden, which is a 2 x 4 foot Teak box, resting on four 2 x 2 x 4 legs.  It’s currently bare of any plants. 

After lunch we went outside to put the cover back on the grill and Bill commented, “I still smell smoke.  I wonder if there’s fire somewhere?”  This prompted him to check the local news online to see if something big was burning around town. 


At 5:00 I went outside to feed the bunnies and when I came back in I said to Bill, “It still smells pretty smokey out there.  Are you sure nothing’s burning nearby?”

“Well there wasn’t anything on the noon news.  Maybe it’ll be on the five o’clock news.  Did you notice smoke anywhere?”

“No, but then again, I didn’t really look.  I just sniffed.”

“I’ll go look again,” he said, lifting himself off the couch and wandering out the slider to the patio.  He was gone for a minute and then I heard the hose turn on, so I went out to the patio to see what was happening. 

Our garden was smoking and Bill was hosing it down. 

“What the heck?” I exclaimed.  “Why is our garden on fire?”

“Well it isn’t really.  It’s just sort of smoking a lot.  I guess the fire wasn’t really out when I threw the ashes in here.”

“Oh, well, that isn’t good.  Is it done now?” I asked, watching Bill apply one final spray of water before turning off the spigot. 

“Yup, I think so,” he said, curling the hose back into the hose pot. 

An hour later, Bill called in our pizza order for dinner and, as we leaving to pick it up, he looked out the dining room window on our way to the garage.  “Shit,” he shouted and dashed outside.  I glanced out and could see wisps of smoke drifting up from the garden dirt.

He grabbed the hose and, I went into the garage and got a handheld garden rake, which I quickly delivered to Bill.  He raked the dirt away from the side of the box and discovered a huge six-inch round scorch mark where the wooden side was slowly burning and smoking beneath the dirt.  He hosed down the wood until all traces of heat and smoke were gone and the outside of the box finally felt cool. 

“Do you think it’s okay to leave to get the pizza?” I asked as he put the hose away one more time.

“Yup, I think so.  Everything’s wet, the dirt and the box, and there’s no more heat coming off the wood.”

“Honey, maybe next time you smoke something, you should put the ash in a bucket of water instead of our garden.”

“That’s if I ever smoke again,” he grumbled.  “I’m thinking maybe I should just do plain old grilling from now on.”

“Don’t say that.  The cheddar you smoked is great and this other cheese will be just as good.  Plus, I was looking forward to some kind of smoked meat.  Or maybe salmon.”

“We’ll see,” he replied with a begrudging mutter.  “You know I’m not crazy about using that flame thrower and now the smoker’s turned against me.  Cooking shouldn’t be scary.  I shouldn’t have to go to fireman school before I try to cold smoke a hunk of damn cheese!”

Llama Love

Ryan and Jamie took the kids for a day at the zoo for Morgan’s seventh birthday.  There’s a really great restaurant onsite called Dillion’s and we met the kids there for a birthday lunch.  They were taking a break after being at the zoo since 9 AM and we were just going to enjoy lunch and celebrate all the February birthdays in our family: Morgan, Jamie, Ryan and me.

After driving around the parking lot for 20 minutes, we finally just pulled in next to the curb by one of the entrance/exit driveways.  There were cars parked everywhere.  In the dirt, along every available curb, in the grassy medians between parking areas, and across the street in a farmer’s field.  It was a zoo – literally and figuratively. 

We wound our way about a quarter of a mile through the parking lot to the restaurant where the kids were waiting for us outside.  Ryan had put his name in for a table and was periodically looking at the remote device he was given.  I didn’t know whether it was going to vibrate or light up.  I thought it bore a striking resemblance to a taser, so maybe Ryan would get a shock when the table was ready.  Just in case, I suggested that he might not want to put it in his front pants pocket.

We found a small picnic table near the entrance to the restaurants upon which I placed the large shopping bag containing all the presents and Ryan placed the taser.  I suggested we open the gifts while we waited since there was a big trash can right there.  Because February is a busy birthday month for us, the bag was full of brightly wrapped gifts and colorful envelopes containing birthday cards. 

Just as the last card and final gift was opened, Ryan’s taser went off with bright, flashing red lights.  “Great timing,” he exclaimed as he picked up the large bag, now full of unwrapped birthday presents and cards, and led the way inside.

We were seated quickly, menus were slapped down, drink orders were filled, and food orders were placed.  Then the girls started recounting their morning adventures at the zoo.  “We got to ride on the roller coaster for free, Nana,” Morgan said with a big grin.  “Two times.  They let me and mommy go two times for free.  Cuz it was our birthdays!”

“Wow, what a fun surprise,” Bill said.  “Did you get to go on any other rides?”

“We went on the big swingy thing,” Olivia said while she expertly colored her kids placemat.  “It was awesome.  We could see all over.  And we’re going on the water slide later.”

“Swingy thing?” I asked, looking at Jamie and Ryan.

“Yeah, it’s called the Vertigo Swing and the cabs go up to the top of a center pole and then they swing around.  You can see all the exhibits in that part of the zoo from the top.”

“And we could see deers and monkeys and llamas, too,” Morgan said.  “They were playing llama games.”

“Llama games?” I asked.

“Yes, Nana,” Morgan replied with a nod.  ”They were playing and riding around on each other.  It was cool.”

I looked across the table at Jamie, then over at Ryan.  They were both trying not to laugh and failing miserably.

“Seriously?” I whispered.  “Llama love?”

“Oh yeah,” Ryan said softly, wiping tears from his cheeks.  “Lots of llama love.”

“It was awesome!” Olivia shouted, causing the adults to quench a sudden thirst by grabbing our lemonade and iced tea while trying not to snort any up our nose.

Herb Throw Down

Several years ago, Bill got a beautiful hand-forged metal herb chopper from Ryan and Jamie for Christmas.  It sits on our kitchen counter and is used frequently, especially in the summer when our herb garden is in full bloom.  Bill takes advantage of the fresh herbs to create yummy dinners and dehydrates the overflow for future use.

Anyway, for some reason, Mom has a habit of knocking the blade from the holder so it crashes onto the quartz countertop and sounds like a small bomb going off in the kitchen.  It happens three or four times a year.  At least we think it’s Mom because there’s absolutely no reason the heavy metal cutter would spontaneously tip over.

We were watching TV last night after dinner, Big Bang reruns because the only programs that were on were totally unreal, unbelievable ‘reality’ shows.  We had just finish off dessert, the last morsels from Bill’s latest batch of Heath Bar Toffee cookies, when all of a sudden, BAM! 

“What the…,” Bill exclaimed.

“That better not be my glass cheese board falling off the wall,” I said as I got up and headed toward the kitchen.  I turned on the light and checked the wall.  My cheese board, which I purchased at an art fair in 2015, is made from a flattened wine bottle and has a little spreading knife tucked into the straw ribbon that circles the bottle.  Mom also has a habit of periodically throwing the little knife around the kitchen, but not tonight.  Tonight it was the herb cutter.

There it lay on the counter looking like a small, square kid somebody had knocked down on the playground.  Bill picked it up, checked the countertop for chips and cracks and the metal cutter for scratches and returned it to the base.  “I wish she’d stop doing this,” he sighed.

“Me too,” I replied.  “I just can’t think of anything else to give her to play with so she’ll leave it alone.”

“How about a pizza cutter?  Or a cheese grater?  Or maybe a meat cleaver?”

“No, I don’t think a meat cleaver would be a good idea.  She’s already learned how to knock down the herb cutter and toss my shoes around in the closet.  I don’t think we need her experimenting with sharp implements.  I’m leaning towards throw pillows and stuffed animals.  Maybe we can find a set of plastic kitchen utensils in the toy section on Amazon.”

“Maybe.  But I still think she’d respond better to a good steak knife or a pair of scissors.  Maybe she’d cut herself and learn not to play with sharp stuff.”

“Bill, she’s dead.  I don’t think cutting herself is an option.”

“Oh, right.  I forget.  She’s still here so much sometimes I forget she’s gone.”

“Here today, gone tomorrow and back again a couple of days later,” I sighed.  “Will the excitement never end?!”

Chair Dancing

Do you ever chair dance?  At work?  In the car?  Sitting alone in the living room?  Sure you have, we all have.  And, when you’re a kid or a young or even a middle-aged adult, it looks cute or cool or hip.  Is that still a word?  But, when you’re a fluffy seventy-plus-year-old lady and you think you’re alone because your husband took the car to the carwash and should have been gone for 45-minutes, but he came back early because it was too crowded and you’re caught chair dancing in the office while the radio blasts ‘You’re a Love Machine’ throughout the house, you look pretty much ridiculous. 

It’s like that TV commercial for the scented granules that you add to the laundry and they makes your clothes fragrance and fresh and wonderful for decades.  The ad features an older lady who is not particularly attractive and she’s trying to do a sexy dance after sniffing a piece of supposedly nice smelling clothing.  Sorry, but the sexy dance just doesn’t work.  It isn’t sexy, it’s creepy!  But I guess the ad works because here I am talking about it!

My point is, even if you’re caught and feel embarrassed, don’t stop chair dancing.  If the music’s got you bopping, just cut loose with uncontrolled seat bouncing.  Wave those arms like a car dealer’s air dancer,  Nod like a bobblehead on a cobblestone road.  Shrug your shoulder with uninhibited enthusiasm.  Tap your feet and snap your fingers.  It’s good for the soul. 

Nowadays, according to our new president, there are dark, dark days ahead.  So go on, go for it, chair dance your heart out because it’s about all we have left to do for fun that doesn’t involve wearing a face diaper.

Gateway Snores

Bill and I are creatures of habit.  When we get up we watch the news for an hour or so while we enjoy a couple of cups of coffee.  Then we wander back to our home office there we each dink around doing morning stuff, which includes checking emails, paying bills, posting on my blog or writing a new story.  Bill also checks out our retirement accounts to see how they are doing and our credit card accounts to make sure there are no surprise charges there that don’t belong. 

Then we eat lunch.  It could be as healthy as a cup of soup and a half a sandwich, or almost as healthy as a half a sandwich and a handful of Funyuns.  We eat these lunch selections at our desks. 

Or, more likely than not, lunch goes completely off the healthy reservation and consists of a bowlful of Goldfish or Bill’s homemade Chex mix, a handful of Jelly Belly’s, and a diet soda.  Yup, that’s right, a diet soda.  This meal is eaten in the Arizona Room on the couch where we nibble as we break out our tablets and start to read.  I probably chew through three or four novels a week.

After a couple of hours, the library-like silence is broken by a soft, rhythmic noise.  Pooft.  Pooft.  That’s the sound of puffs of air escaping between your lips when you’re just about to fall asleep.  This happens to us every afternoon.  I’m not sure if it’s a result of reading non-stop for two or three hours or the fact that our carb-induced high has worn off.  Regardless, our heads bob, our tablets droop to our laps, and the poofting begins. 

As benign and endearing as these gentle little sounds are, they are only precursors to full blown snuffles and snorts.  They are gateway snores. 

Bill is pretty good at shaking himself awake at the first sound of at snore.  He stretches a bit, picks up his tablet and continues to read.  I, for some reason, only seem to sink deeper into slumber until I wake myself up with a loud snort. 

Embarrassment drives me to my feet so I can walk off the sleepiness and get back to whatever story I was enjoying.  And then, about 20-minutes later, it all starts over again. 

It’s a daily dance – the Senior Snuffle and Bill and I are pros.  Forget Dancing with the Stars, we’re Dancing with the Snores!

Chihuahua Under the Stove

When the tile guys showed up to install our new kitchen floor, before they could start taking up the old tile, they had to pull out the stove and the refrigerator and slide them out of the room.  The stove went into the living room and the refrigerator went into the dining room.

While the guys were grappling with a tangled 50-foot long extension cord to plug the frig into an electric outlet that was only six feet from the dining table where it would remain for the next two days, Bill and I checked out the newly exposed floor where the stove used to be.  There were about 20 small brown ‘pellets’ scattered across the tile.  “What the…,” Bill sputtered.

“Is that, umm, you know, some kind of droppings?” I whispered.

“It better not be,” he murmured back.  He leaned down to get a closer look and tentatively pushed one of the brown bits with the tip of his shoe.  “Okay, that’s better,” he sighed with relief.

“It isn’t droppings?” I asked.

“Nope.  Just coffee beans.  I’m not sure how they all got here.  I must have spilled them one time when I was filling the coffee maker’s hopper.  But at least it isn’t poop.”

“Thank goodness.  I was afraid we had mice or something.”

“Honey,” he chuckled.  “If that had been mouse droppings, the mouse would be the size of a Chihuahua.”

Cheeto Diet

Our family doctor called and wanted to see Bill to go over the recent lab results from his annual physical.  As we expected, his cholesterol and sugar were high and so it was time to start exercising again and watching his diet.

The doctor printed out a copy of the bloodwork results for Bill and wrote at the bottom of the page what he should avoid eating, or at least eat only occasionally.  It included the usual villains: rice, pasta, white bread, potatoes  Also sugar, candy, and cookies.  “In fact,” our doctor recapped, “if it’s white, don’t eat it.  Plus, cut back on your salt intake and drink more water.  And avoid all baked goods and no candy!”

When we got home, Bill was staring at the page, muttering and shaking his head.  “This is all my favorite stuff,” he sighed.

“I know.  And when he gets my lab work I’m going to get the same lecture.  So I guess we’re going to have to ride the fruit and veggie train for a while.”

“I don’t like vegetables,” he whined.  “I like Tater Tots.”

“I know you do, but apparently Tater Tots don’t like you.  It’s celery and carrots for both of us.”

“That’s just not right.  If carrots are okay, why can’t I eat Cheetos?  They’re both orange.”

I can’t argue with that logic.

Aggressive Dust Bunnies

Besides a house and a mortgage, the only other thing I inherited from my mom when she passed away was her $5,000 king-sized Sleep Number bed.  It has all the bells and whistles you can get on a bed.  The head goes up and down, the foot goes up and down, it vibrates, it undulates, it does everything except give me a good night’s sleep.  I don’t know what’s wrong, whether it’s me or the bed. 

I’ve deflated my side as low as 35 and inflated it as high as 75 and tried every setting in-between.  And when I wake up in the morning, my back feels like a pretzel and it takes a hot shower to ease away the kinks and accompanying pain.  Bill and I brought our old queen-size Number Bed with us when we moved in with Mom.  We’ve owned it for 18 years and I never had this kind of problem finding my “number” and getting a comfortable night’s rest.

Just before the new year, Bill suggested I try sleeping in our old bed to see if that helped, so at 10:00 I kissed him good-night, went into the guest room, and snuggled under the covers.

I tossed and turned and rolled around, trying to get comfortable.  I lowered the number setting to 35, then raised it to 55 and ended up settling it on 45.  I curled up on my left side, fluffed my pillow and, just when I thought I might be able to doze off, there was a sharp yank on the edge of the quilt that draped down the side of the bed where I was laying. 

My eyes popped open and I lay perfectly still for a few moments.  I finally flopped onto my back, hoping I’d had a pre-sleep twitch or was being visited by a bunch of aggressive dust bunnies. 

Then I waited.

In less than a minute there was another tug. 

“Stop it, Mom,” I hissed, wrapping the covers tightly under my arm and rolling onto my right side.  “I’m trying to sleep.  Go bother Bill.”

The only sound in the room was the rhythmic ticking of the ceiling fan.  I sighed softly, closed my eyes, and whispered, “Good night, Mom,” as I drifted off.

Dishwasher from Hell

After mom died in September 2016, we started on the interior house remodeling projects that we’d been saving for since we moved in seven years earlier. It was a remarkable transformation from the 70’s kitchen that was here when we came to live with mom in 2009. 

The kitchen was the last part of the renovations.  In the spring of 2017 we gutted the kitchen, put in new cabinets, a new tile floor and all new LG stainless steel, built-in appliances.  And during the past three-and-a-half years, the dishwasher has beeped, booped and leaked sporadically for no apparent reason. 

The store from which we purchased these appliances finally sent a technician out a couple of years ago but he couldn’t find anything that might have caused this issue.  He called LG customer support, but they said there were no ‘error messages’ so there was nothing wrong. 

But the dishwasher alarm continued to beep and boop and the seal around the door continued to leak.  And LG customer service kept telling us the same thing – “no problem.”

In the fall of 2020, the times the alarm went off started to exceed the times it ran peacefully through all its cycles.  We would load the dishwasher, select Normal, Energy Saver and Start and then we’d wait.  Sometimes it would make it all the way through to the drying cycle before the beep-boop alarm went off.  Sometimes it didn’t even make through the wash cycle and the beeping and booping commenced.  And sometimes it started as soon as we closed the door.  We tried different wash settings, dry settings, delay start settings, but the beeping and booping only got worse.

Bill would yell at the dishwasher, talked sweetly to it, and threatened it.  Around Halloween he stopped selecting the delayed setting so it would run after we went to bed because the beeping and booping either wouldn’t let us go to sleep or would wake us up.  By Christmas, the beeping and booping was pretty much non-stop and seemed to have no relation to any particular setting or cycle.  It was driving us crazy so we started washing dishes by hand.

We’ve used LG appliances and electronics for years.  But this dishwasher was obviously a lemon.  I blame 2020.  If things could go wrong, they did.  Our new dishwasher was installed last week.  It’s a KitchenAid.

You might conclude that our new dishwasher was our first purchase in 2021, right?  Wrong.  It was a new kitchen floor because the three-and-a-half year-old tile we had put in during the remodel had to be torn up and replaced. 

It seems that during November and December of 2020 the grout started dissolving and the porcelain tiles were getting wobbly and coming unglued and then cracking when you walked on them.  Poor little Morgan, our six year-old granddaughter, thought she broke the whole kitchen floor when they came to visit last weekend!  I had to reassure her that it was like that before she showed up. 

We picked out new tile and put down a deposit right before Christmas.  It was installed last week and the tile guy promised it would never come loose. 

We’ll see.

Who Was That Double-Masked Man?

I guess one mask isn’t enough anymore.  Is that because somewhere, someone who’s supposed to know about this stuff has discovered that one mask doesn’t really work so now, we better wear two?

I’m not happy or comfortable wearing one mask, so I can’t imagine what it will be like wearing two.  Right now, when I have my single little mask on, my glasses fog so I tend to plow into people or knock over displays of pineapples in the produce department.  When I’m not wearing my glasses, I get mask creep where the top edge of the mask creeps up onto my lower lid and scrapes against my eye.  And I especially don’t like the feeling that I’m re-breathing my own air. 

Then there’s May through September in Phoenix.  Against the triple-digit heat of summer, wearing a mask is like walking around with your face inside an oven.  During the other seven months when the temperatures are more moderate, wearing a mask feels like you’re being slowly smothered with a wad of toilet paper.

And I’m getting tired of saying “What?” to people, like cashiers and wait-staff and Bill, because everything sounds like it’s being spoken through a snorkel air tube.  I know my hearing is okay because I got tested, so that’s not the problem.  The problem is the stupid masks!

Now we’re told we need to wear two masks.  Seriously? Two?

I’m waiting for a deluge of new public service ads to start flooding the airwaves and covering billboards and lighting up freeway overhead LED displays.  Catchy phrases could include:

Double up to help each other.  It isn’t like you’re going to smother.

Wear two masks to show you care.  Never mind you can’t get air.

And maybe there will also be a snappy jingle, sort of like:

A mask for your mouth, a mask for your nose.
A mask for your fingers, a mask for your toes.
Two masks for you and two masks for me.
If you love wearing masks, then let’s make it three.

So now I’ll be wearing at least two masks when I go out in public, which will be as little as possible.  I’ve been meaning to try out the whole home delivery thing.  I can get just about anything I want plopped down right there by my front door.  Stuff like groceries and toilet paper, medications and meals, and other stay-at-home necessities.  Like liquor.