Monday, July 30, 2012

Perception and Understanding: Seeing the Beauty

Perception and Understanding: Seeing the Beauty

Many eyes go through the meadow, but few see the flowers in it. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

For me, sometimes seeing the obvious isn’t always so clear. A friend recently shared a story about seeing the berries on a Sassafras tree for the first time after several years of mowing around the tree and never knowing that it produced fruit. Of course the gardener in me immediately satisfied my yearning for more information on the Sassafras tree. I very quickly googled the tree and learned that because this Sassafras tree had berries it was a female tree. There are separate male Sassafras trees. The berries are edible by birds, and the bark is considered toxic by the FDA. Sassafras tea is still made today and utilized for medicinal purposes although the oil is banned by the FDA because when consumed in large quantities it is a carcinogenic. (Interesting information, yet somewhat confusing, to say the least.)

The more we look at something sometimes, the more we usually see. I once told a Contractor that, “the more I looked at my house, the more I realized what needed to be fixed.” He jokingly told me to stop looking at it. Sometimes when we step back and open our eyes we can see things more clearly and we can see things the way they really are. Sometimes, we need to zoom in on the details. Kind of the same way we should look at ourselves, our friends and our families.

I like to use my photos in my blog and on facebook. It is always my worry that I’m going to run out of flowers to take pictures of. Maybe eventually, but for now I realize that every bud, flower and every plant are somewhat different. Although I’ve been married to a photographer for a number of years, I have never taken a lot of pictures until recently, mostly because I feel as if I’m still learning how to use my digital camera. I once took a photography class when I had a 35mm Minolta. My pictures allow me to take a look at my plants from an even closer perspective. Digital means that I can take a lot of pictures without wasting a lot of film.

I discovered ‘macro’ on my camera by accident. Once while out photographing the bees on my purple Echinacea, I discovered my camera could really pick up the great detail of the bee’s wings. My husband has taught me the value of photographing during the right natural lighting and I’m still playing with composition. By capturing the detail of every flower or bud up close, I can understand how a particular plant grows. The flowers of an okra plant or of a passion vine are truly remarkable. To actually witness the growth of a fruit from the flower astonishes me.

The beauty is amazing to me. By taking my pictures up close my friends who are visually impaired can enjoy them too. That is very important to me. I can also see the flowers and plants with greater detail myself. The intricacies of each are amazing. My followers on facebook are equally inspiring. Many have their own story, heartache, death of a loved one, physical or psychological disability or some other hardship that has made them value gardening more and more. Many simply enjoy gardening as much as, if not more than, I do.

Whenever I travel, I find that I’m drawn to the flora of wherever I go. When I’m on the computer, I really enjoy looking at what others can grow. I sometimes expect others to be as intrigued as I am, and to understand why I’m enjoying this journey with Access to the Garden as much as I am. Last week’s blog about tomatoes was a lot of fun for me. I sincerely enjoyed everyone’s input. Not every blog will be fun, because everyday isn’t necessarily fun especially when you are dealing with accessibility and advocacy. I try to make the most of it sometimes, but that’s life. I’m sometimes frustrated, because I expect everyone to really see the flowers when they come to my door, but that doesn’t always happen. My own family would rather that I just enjoy the flowers, but to me the gardening is kind of a reward for the advocacy and other things that I have had to deal with in my life.

Whenever I deal with people, I try to understand issues from their perspective too. I can somewhat understand apprehension, especially if I’m the one to tell a professional that a situation was needlessly dangerous for me or offensive. When I refer to a situation as potentially dangerous “for me” I’m really referring to the majority of people with disabilities. Understandably, not all people with disabilities can agree with each other. Not to get into the political correctness of anything, but some people with disabilities are indeed handicapped by their own attitudes and complacency. Agreeably, we’re not all always playing on an even ball field, there will always be a 2% slope. It’s our own perceptions of ourselves that will be how we’re perceived by others.

Trying to live life and not be too sensitive sometimes can be really tough. There is nothing more that I want than for others to understand my perspective, generally derived by facts, and to do the right thing because it is simply the right thing to do. Whether it is access, attitudes or anything else you are willing to commit to.

Learning recently that the passion flower produced the passion fruit, that the pawpaw fruit didn’t grow in the coastal areas of South Carolina, that water alone would not wash off pesticides from fruits and vegetables because farmers wouldn’t use them if it did, and learning that I can’t always expect people to treat me with the same level of respect as I would extend to them have been really good lessons these last couple weeks. Also facing the realization that several friends and family who have never LIKED a single flower picture on facebook isn’t really significant grounds for unfriending them either, although sometimes it has been very tempting.

Sometimes we cannot expect everyone to see the flowers or the importance of what we are trying to convey. As long as we feel within ourselves that we are doing something very worthwhile, that is what is important. However others choose to learn is truly up to them. Rewards do come daily and even sometimes rather surprisingly from an Editor who says thank you in return for your compliment of a nicely written article using people first language.

Links to how to wash your fruits and vegetables:

Rebecca's picture

100's of photos from Access to the Garden are on Facebook! Please like my page, and join in the conversations! Brenda B. Parent, Access to the Garden

Monday, July 23, 2012

Hot Temperatures, Canning and Selflessness!

Hot Temperatures, Canning and Selflessness!

It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato. ~ Lewis Grizzard

Paul's Amazing Tomatoes!

As we approach another record setting day with temperatures that are well above 90 degrees, it becomes rather difficult to go outside to work in the garden. At best, I will hand water the back in the morning, and go back outside and tackle the front during the early evening. This is definitely summertime, without a doubt. The realization of why I do not have much of a fall vegetable garden is very clear. One cannot breathe when it is this hot. As an incomplete quadriplegic, I am thankful that I can sweat below the level of my spinal cord injury (SCI), otherwise I’d probably have more dead plants. My advice to anyone is to get out early, or wait and go out much later in the day. It is not worth having a heat stroke.

Ideally, I would have every garden equipped with soaker hoses and every container with drip irrigation. It would be a lot easier if I only had to turn the water on, and turn the water off on a daily basis. Unfortunately, this is not the case and I have to be smart about what my body can safely handle with the intense heat. As I have emphasized before, we all have to stay hydrated and keep cool. Surprisingly, everything is still alive, including myself and my husband. We both did some much needed garden clean-up over the weekend. I only did what I knew I could safely handle. We get a second bloom from our perennials, although not nearly as nice as the first bloom and it was time to cut them back. Some we let set seed and we leave for the birds to enjoy.

In spite of the heat, I am thinking about a fall garden. I have my elevated beds and several containers on the back porch. This location is ideal for me. In the fall we will be adding some raised vegetable beds to the very back portion of our property. We will also be installing soaker hoses in them that will be connected to our irrigation system. Because of the more distant location, irrigation is a must.

High-tech tomatoes. Mysterious milk. Supersquash. Are we supposed to eat this stuff? Or is it going to eat us? ~Annita Manning

In spite of the sweat, I have been totally inspired to eat healthier and to grow more of our own food. My awareness of more and more vegetables becoming genetically modified with GMO’s or heavily ladened with pesticides has increased my own desire to become more sustainable through organic backyard and front yard farming. (A fairly new phrase to me, ‘yarden’ refers to this practice of growing more vegetables within the yard instead of lawn.)

I will continue with my organic practices, and I will continue to learn more about good companion plants. I have a totally new appreciation for anything grown for one to consume. I also have more plants growing in my yarden that are edible than I ever realized. Hopefully, as long as I maintain a small useless patch of lawn, my neighborhood association will be okay with this.

I’m inspired by the numerous photos I see daily showing off the amazing amounts of fresh produce that my friends on Facebook are growing and sharing with others. The delicious recipes and cupboards full of canned goods are a definite indication of the amazing results of their efforts. The photos all bring back happy memories for me growing up too. We always had canned tomatoes and green beans available to eat throughout the year. There is truly something wonderful to be said about going out unto your back porch and coming back in with a shirt full of tomatoes! My eggplants, tomatoes, okra, and peppers are all still going strong. My purple beans may be ready to go soon, but have been wonderful too. I just need a better strategy next year for my squash and cucumbers. I will happily support our local farmer’s market too!

Rita's Amazing Canning!

By now, many of you realize that I’m into this gardening thing for the flowers too. If you look at my pictures as simply being pretty, I appreciate that. To me, my photos are a little more than that. My photos are usually taken up-close for everyone to enjoy the uniqueness and the amazing detail of every flower. I am intrigued by this to say the least. I prefer to take my photos out in the garden. I believe that life is more visible and evident this way. It’s also more of a challenge for me when it comes to having the right light, and, hopefully, not too much wind jiggling the flowers around. (Yes, I like challenges too.)

My dexterity isn’t completely intact, but I’ve learned to use what I have. Occasionally, I come close to dropping my camera. (I have a strap on it though, but not always around my neck.) I use my thumb to push down the shutter button to take my pictures. It works better. Sometimes I trigger a spasm if I hit my elbow just right on my wheel, and God only knows what I’ll take a picture of. Oh well, that’s life! I have my own file of not so perfect pictures too. To me some of them look more like nice water colors.

Gardening in itself may pose a few challenges here and there, but overall it makes me incredibly happy. Whether it’s the challenge of cultivating something new, or learning a new technique, there is always something to do or learn. I really don’t need any measurable statistics to tell me that mentally I’m more at ease surrounded by beautiful flowers. Although, it may be hard for me to realize, not everyone is into gardening quite as much as I am. (They should be!) Biting into something that I have grown myself is truly what it is all about for me. Waking up to that beautiful bouquet of flowers sitting on the counter is the nicest expression of “I love you” that I can think of. Even if it does contain the one flower you were planning to photograph later that morning in the garden.

I simply refuse to dwell on negativity no matter how much I must contend with on a daily basis, and within life in general. I can’t understand the psychology behind any acts of violence or vandalism, nor do I try to justify or rationalize these needless acts of aggression. Selfish, cruel acts are not excusable by me. Higher powers offer that kind of forgiveness. Random acts of kindness and selflessness (‘melessness’) are what I favor in life. These ever growing senseless acts of violence shock and sadden me, but make me look for and appreciate the real beauty in life even more.

Sometimes I think that if we all could simply appreciate the abilities that we do have, and focus less on what we don’t have, we would all be better off. I can push the button on my camera with my thumb, and for that I am grateful. I’ve had to use my nose before on my phone to take a picture. That worked too! I use what I have, and try not to dwell on what I don’t have. That too is life!

Sharon's Delicious Tomato Pie!

More of Rita's Wonderful canning!

Her is a delicious recipe on how to make a tomato pie by Cottage at the Crossroads. Looks Delicious! Thanks Jane!

Fresh Tomato Pie

I frozen deep-dish pie crust
1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
2 pounds tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 sweet onion, sliced thinly and sauteed slightly
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
salt and pepper


1. Wash, peel, and slice the tomatoes. Lay the slices on 2 sheets of paper towel. Sprinkle the slices with salt and allow them to drain for at least 15 minutes. Take another sheet of paper towel and dab any moisture from the top of the slices. This step is very important because you will end up with a soggy pie if you don't!
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Poke a few holes in the bottom and sides of the pie crust. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove pie crust from the oven.
3. Spread 1 tablespoon of mustard in the bottom of the pie crust.
4. Layer the tomato slices in the pie crust and season with salt, pepper, fresh basil, and dried oregano.
5. Place the onion slices on top of the tomato slices.
6. Mix together the cheese, the mayonnaise, and the dried dill weed.
7. Spread the cheese mixture on top of the tomatoes and onions.
8. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until the top is lightly golden.
9. Let the pie rest for about 15 minutes before slicing. Serve warm.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Buds, Blooms and Birthdays: Celebrate Life!

Buds, Blooms and Birthdays!

"One who plants a garden, plants happiness."

Happy day to all! Celebrate life every day! Twenty-five years ago today I was heading home from the hospital with the greatest birthday gift a person could ever have. My son was born two days earlier on the 14th of July when I was twenty-five, and just two days from my twenty-sixth birthday on the 16th of July in 1987. Two days ago, he turned twenty-five. Amazing how time really does go by fast.

I’ll never forget the uncertainty that I felt when I confirmed that I was pregnant. I stopped off at one of those “Doc in a Box” places to verify the accuracy of the home pregnancy test that I had used the previous day. I never told my son's father beforehand, because I knew we were moving back up North again very soon. He was going back to work for a company he had previously worked for, and I didn’t want to cause any unnecessary stress if the test wasn’t correct.

The doctor and nurse at the clinic seemed heartless. They looked at me as if an abortion was my only alternative. The doctor said he couldn’t take care of me because I was a high risk pregnancy, and he didn’t want to deal with the risk. They pretty much asked me “What are you going to do about it?” I guess they couldn’t understand, even though they were medical professionals, how a quadriplegic could have a child. It was quite sad on their part actually. Thankfully, I very quickly found a new doctor.

We moved up North and lived in a house that was off a dirt road during the winter and spring while we were trying to sell a house in the South. We were blessed to live in the in-laws house rent free while we tried to find a new house that we could afford. To get into the house, I remember quite vividly having to transfer up one step from the garage into a mudroom, from there I had to scoot across the floor with my wheelchair in tow, only to climb up two more steps to reach the main house. (There wasn’t a ramp.) I did this until I was over 8 months pregnant. I couldn’t take any medication for my neurogenic bladder, and I’ll never forget having to do this feat several times a day. Fortunately, I was young. I guess every pregnant woman remembers urgency. I just had to climb two mountains before reaching my destination.

My new doctors were an hour away and quite awesome. No one really knew what to expect, whether they would need forceps or if I would need a C section. Labor was indeed intense, and fast. (The doctor was in his jogging shorts when he delivered my baby.) I felt the labor pains as well as the pounding headache from autonomic dyserflexia (AD), a condition that acts as an internal alarm clock that alerts people living with SCI that there is something wrong going on within their bodies. AD is a life threatening condition that can elevate blood pressure and lead to a stroke. In other words, it truly felt as if both ends wanted to explode. Seriously!

During labor, I clearly remember screaming very loudly, “Get this baby out of me now!” Five hours after my contractions had begun, and one push later, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, 7lbs. 15 ounces. I was immensely grateful for every pain that I felt. I was blessed. The next day, I was dressed and having lunch in the cafeteria with a friend. I’ll never forget the doctor walking by and taking a second look. I hate hospitals and I wasn’t going to lie around all day in a hospital bed, regardless.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love life. I am truly grateful for every breath. To this day, I still love the reaction that I get when people realize that I had my son after my accident. My general and somewhat sarcastic response is typically, “Yes, I had sex, once!” I know that I've used this line before in my writing, but it makes a statement.

For me to take care of myself was still somewhat of a challenge, but I had mastered it. To care for a child and to keep him safe was a daily challenge. I figured everything out along the way. I had one rule that applied to everyone. They could not run over and pick him up unless it was a ‘real’ life threatening emergency. I couldn’t easily do this, and I had to make certain that he came to me. My strategy worked. I could tell the severity of an issue with him, by how quickly he came crawling, and later running, to me. As he grew he learned to crawl unto my lap as well. As he grew, so did my strength.

I missed not being able to push a stroller, but I became the stroller. He didn’t mind. In fact, as soon as he climbed on board my lap, he would slouch back against me. I still remember going through doors with him on my lap, and saying “squeeze tight”, and he would squeeze his legs together to prevent his foot from getting hung up in the door. As he got older he opened doors, and he still does today for everybody. When we were out in public people would always comment about him helping Mommy. My response was that we helped each other, and that life was about helping each other. It is a two-way, give and take kind of world, no matter how old you are. He would do for me so I could do for him.

He was indeed probably the most patient child on earth. He had to sit in his car seat while I assembled my wheelchair and got out of my car to retrieve him on the other side. Like any child, he tested me along the way. He never ran away, and he would put himself in his time out chair. This was pretty astonishing actually.

My love of life reflects within my home and garden as well. My belongings make me feel good, and have special meaning. I can trace my life through my things. No great dollar value on anything, but full of sentiment. Yet, if they all disappeared, I would still be full of love from the many very happy memories I carry within.

Sometimes I miss having my little buddy around, but I’ve loved watching him grow into an incredibly responsible adult with a huge heart. I think he truly realizes that life is a gift. No doubt.

From my garden pictures, I have been able to watch my plants grow on an almost daily basis. Plants make me feel great and often bring back special memories from deep within myself. I have happy memories of the tomatoes and green beans my parents canned every year. I can still remember standing over the sink in an extremely hot kitchen peeling the tomatoes. I use my parent’s last mason jar as a vase. My grandmother would always float a gardenia in a bowl of water for its aroma.

For me, plants evoke a great feeling of peace and happiness. Each flower is a little different than the one next to it. The seed, the plant, the new flower, the bee with the pollen, and the ultimate fruit or vegetable, is all kind of magical really. The closer that I look at each plant and flower, the more that I can see and appreciate about them.

In life we have to do whatever it is that makes us happy. During the winter, I often find myself looking at flower pictures, and reading multiple publications about gardening. It is not a phase, but rather a necessary passion. When negativity and conflict invade my personal space, there is no better escape for me. Socially, I can converse with any gardener. Every day, I find myself learning something new.

I love sharing my photos because they give people a different angle on the world from my perspective. I am generally looking up at sunflowers, and I am eye to eye with my zinnias and perennials. (I’m slightly over 4 feet tall in my wheelchair.) My husband tells everyone that his wife is 4 feet tall. I could be if I was a little person, but actually I’m 5’ 10 ½ inches.

I’m grateful for my husband who has helped me with his knowledge of photography as fine art. He has unknowingly taught me a ton about art and the importance of having it evoke a feeling. Light is also incredibly important for bringing out the detail in any picture. My niece through her pictures of my garden showed me how much beauty was really just outside my front door. For this I’m appreciative too.

There is a lot to learn and share about gardening. My experiences, in and out of the garden may be inspirational or helpful to others. To me, that is a very worthwhile thing. If I can simply share the joy and beauty of life, that too is worthwhile. As an advocate, life isn’t always roses. My goal, my survival, is to stay focused on the positive outcomes. Occasionally the squash vine borer may win, but at other times certain reporters and editors are required to attend sensitivity training. If I can only grow one squash, that one squash will be delicious!