Digging in the Dirt

This is where it starts. It ends with the first frost of November. My live plants this year included bell peppers, tomatoes, and cherry tomatoes.
This is where it starts. It ends with the first frost of November. My live plants this year included bell peppers, tomatoes, and cherry tomatoes.

Readers might recall that last year I got my garden in the ground a little early, on April 8, and that decision was not without consequence, as just a week later I had to cover all my plants to protect them from freezing.

A wet year has yielded a full pond. I hope it stays full, but it is shallow, so any hot or dry period will reduce it significantly.
A wet year has yielded a full pond. I hope it stays full, but it is shallow, so any hot or dry period will reduce it significantly.
I've had this small tiller for a few years, and it's never been a great machine. A neighbor and I tried all our tricks to fix it, but it either wouldn't start or wouldn't throttle up to till. I might sell it, or I might have a mechanic look at it.
I’ve had this small tiller for a few years, and it’s never been a great machine. A neighbor and I tried all our tricks to fix it, but it either wouldn’t start or wouldn’t throttle up to till. I might sell it, or I might have a mechanic look at it.

Tilly the Tiller won’t run, at least not usefully, so all my planting this year is at the end of my shovel. Yesterday I got all my tomato, cherry tomato, and bell peppers in the ground, and today I hope to get seeds in the ground; squash, cantelope, cucumber, and marigolds.

Last year I also put in radishes, turnips, and lettuce, but we didn’t eat any of them.

The garden overall will be smaller than last year. In 2018, I bought a huge number, 24 as I recall, of tomato and bell pepper plants, from a local high school horticulture program. That number determined the size of my garden in concert with the smooth operation of Tilly the Tiller. This year, I decided that so many plants demanded a lot of time and attention, so I got eight tomato plants (2 cherry), and eight peppers. I am also certain based on last year’s excessive (but fun) yield that this number of plants will provide all the produce I can pick.

Hot is the new Sweet?
When shopping for plants yesterday, I only found a few bell pepper plants, but hundreds of hot pepper plants. It’s possible that most people have gotten their regular peppers in the ground already and the only peppers left are hot, but based on the layout of the garden center, I think it more likely that more people are buying and growing hot pepper plants. Neither Abby nore I care for hot peppers, but I know a lot of people who do.
It looks like I may get peaches and cherries this year. These are cherry blossoms last week. There are no freezing temperatures in the forecast.
It looks like I may get peaches and cherries this year. These are cherry blossoms last week. There are no freezing temperatures in the forecast.

Also I took our toddler bed to Abby’s hair stylist for her child, then went to Walmart for supplies. On the way home I bought lunch, mixed vegetables for both of us from Famous Wok, and felt like a real husband bringing it home to her, and a real husband sharing it with her.

My tomato and bell pepper plants are in the ground.
My tomato and bell pepper plants are in the ground.

“You Got a Haircut!”

The sky decided to put on a show tonight as I was washing our Nissan Frontier.
The sky decided to put on a show tonight as I was washing our Nissan Frontier.
I feel much more like myself now that my hair no longer has its own zip code.
I feel much more like myself now that my hair no longer has its own zip code.

I’d been letting my hair grow since last summer at the behest of my lovely wife, who says she loves my hair, and if there is more hair, there is more hair to love. I liked that idea and and attempted to let my hair grow through the various stages: shaggy, pre-mullet, mullet, pre-pony tail, pony tail…

By the time I was just about to be pony tail guy, spring arrived, meaning I would be working outdoors in warm climates, and at a baseball game last week I was constantly fighting hair blowing into my face.

Anyway, it is springtime on the patch, and that means firing up our many internal combustion engines as we prepare to use them to manage our patch of green.

  • The riding mower, “Wildfire,” gave only a slight argument when the nozzle on my air compressor was the wrong type, letting me only air up the right front tire slightly. The mower started and mowed as requested, but the tire was too low, so I parked it to wait for the right nozzle to air up that tire.
  • The push mower started on one pull Wednesday, but wouldn’t start at all tonight until I gave it a shot of starter fluid.
  • Tilly the tiller tilled a very tiny patch in the garden before cronking out. My neighbor Stevie and I both had a crack at it, to no avail. Small engine repair?
  • Abby and I went to renew her driver license today to find that it’s free for a senior citizen. Huh. Afterwards, we shared a nice breakfast. It was nice to be out with her.

Finally, not feeling worked enough, I decided to wash the truck, which hasn’t been clean since before the first of the year. I lovingly hand washed it with a brush on a stick, plus a wash cloth soaked in soap for the bugs stuck on the chrome. Bling!

Abby's Nissan Frontier: just washed by Richard, or prepped to be in a car commercial?
Abby’s Nissan Frontier: just washed by Richard, or prepped to be in a car commercial?

Ghostly in the Smoke

The largest of my four peach trees produced blossoms this week, but we expect a hard freeze tomorrow night, so it won't be making peaches.
The largest of my four peach trees produced blossoms this week, but we expect a hard freeze tomorrow night, so it won’t be making peaches.

One of my peach trees has responded to a recent warm-up, producing blossoms. Blooming this early means I won’t get any peaches from this tree, since a hard freeze is forecast for tomorrow night. But the blossoms are beautiful, and are my favorite thing about having these trees.

Walking Hawken yesterday afternoon was a different experience. The second I opened the back door, I smelled the strong odor of grass fire smoke. The wind had shifted and was coming from the north, and someone, or probably many people, were burning the pastures in preparation for the spring growing season.

Hawken, our Irish Wolfhound, got to visit his girlfriend Elly on yesterday's walk.
Hawken, our Irish Wolfhound, got to visit his girlfriend Elly on yesterday’s walk.

After Christmas

We started this tradition when our grandson, Paul, was just five months old; posing on Chele's back with a boost from Tom. We expect this will get funnier as Paul grows.
We started this tradition when our grandson, Paul, was just five months old; posing on Chele’s back with a boost from Tom. We expect this will get funnier as Paul grows.
Chele and Abby look over Christmas gifts.
Chele and Abby look over Christmas gifts.

I have been off of social media radar for a few days to entertain the family visiting from Baltimore, Abby’s daughter, Chele, her husband Tom, and their son, our grandson, Paul.

I also did my usual work at the annual Bertha Frank Teague Mid-America Classic basketball tournament, for which, for the first time ever, we hosted their web site. One night the crowd was so large we ran out of tickets.

Christmas is always stressful, but by the time it rolled around, I was very glad we were able to have it with the family. This year they arrived on December 26 and departed on New Year’s Day.

Paul and Tom follow me as I walk Hawken through to woods north of our house.
Paul and Tom follow me as I walk Hawken through to woods north of our house.
Paul shares a moment with our older Chihuahua, Max.
Paul shares a moment with our older Chihuahua, Max.
Paul drives his tractor on New Year's Eve.
Paul drives his tractor on New Year’s Eve.

We had a gift exchange as soon as they arrived. We watched movies and played outside. We walked Hawken the Irish Wolfhound, which Paul, who is seven, regarded as an accomplishment, trekking deep into the woods. Paul rode his tractor, which he is likely to have outgrown by the next time they visit.

Chele, Paul, Tom and I built a fire in the orchard. The only casualty was one of Tom's pants legs.
Chele, Paul, Tom and I built a fire in the orchard. The only casualty was one of Tom’s pants legs.
Chele smiles for my camera in beautiful evening sun on New Year's Eve.
Chele smiles for my camera in beautiful evening sun on New Year’s Eve.

We toasted in the new year with the cheapest possible sparkling wine (technically not champagne,) hours before it actually turned midnight, and we all got a good night’s sleep before the kids flew back to Baltimore.

I thought a county new year deserved a country toast, so we had cheap sparkling wine (not technically champagne) and miniature red plastic cups.
I thought a county new year deserved a country toast, so we had cheap sparkling wine (not technically champagne) and miniature red plastic cups.

Finally, mindful of the weather forecast for snow and ice, and that my days off are limited, I de-decorated the entire house yesterday. Tonight I’ll let the wolfhound in the garage and the two of us will put all that stuff in the rafters. Another year ends, and begins.

Christmas lights cling to the fence in our front yard at sunset a few days before Christmas. The lights are now packed away in their plastic bins.
Christmas lights cling to the fence in our front yard at sunset a few days before Christmas. The lights are now packed away in their plastic bins.

This Is Christmas Eve

The fat Santa ornament hangs on our Christmas tree this week. The star effect is from a filter I've owned since about 1977, a cross-screen.
The fat Santa ornament hangs on our Christmas tree this week. The star effect is from a filter I’ve owned since about 1977, a cross-screen.
Christmas lights shine in a box as I test them before I decorated with them.
Christmas lights shine in a box as I test them before I decorated with them.

Abby and I are preparing to host Christmas this week. The kids (Abby’s daughter Chele, husband Tom, and our grandson Paul) are coming on the 26th and staying through New Year’s Day.

I have decorated and shopped and cleaned and prepped. Now, more. No, really. This kind of thing seems perpetual, and is never finished. And you can’t do it a month before: the dogs will chew up a poo where you shampooed the carpet. The bathroom mirrors get splashed. The sink gets full of dishes. You know what it’s like.

Readers familiar with my cadre of work will recall that I don’t love Christmas. Not only is it a bone of religious contention (the pretend “War on Christmas”), it’s also a bitter reminder of how much we trivialize ourselves with commercialism. I talked about this in my column this week.

Summer Time Lane chews her tiny rawhide candy cane.
Summer Time Lane chews her tiny rawhide candy cane.
Hawken Rifle Trail eyes his giant rawhide candy stick.
Hawken Rifle Trail eyes his giant rawhide candy stick.

What do I like about Christmas? I love the photography most of all. I love that my wife loves it so tenderly. I love that we usually get to see the kids.

I will let you know how this Christmas stacks up. In the mean time, have a peaceful one.

My Amazon.com lensball knockoff was a huge hit in class last week, so I photographed our tree with it.
My Amazon.com lensball knockoff was a huge hit in class last week, so I photographed our tree with it.

Litter from Social Media

I don't remember what was so funny, but I love that Abby and I are laughing together in autumn sunshine.
I don’t remember what was so funny, but I love that Abby and I are laughing together in autumn sunshine.

Today is the shortest day of the year, and the longest night. Cull what you will from the meaning of that.

I fired up my All Trails app for a recent walk with Hawken the Irish Wolfhound, with only one surprise: 95 feet of elevation change. It's a great route, one I hope to take him on it many times this winter.
I fired up my All Trails app for a recent walk with Hawken the Irish Wolfhound, with only one surprise: 95 feet of elevation change. It’s a great route, one I hope to take him on it many times this winter.

“All I want is what I… I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.” ~Sally Brown

“Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.” ~Lucy Van Pelt

One thing I happily glossed over about A Charlie Brown Christmas when I was a kid: it consists almost entirely of recycled Peanuts comic strip dailies.

Your humble host poses with Christmas toys made out of metal, unheard of in the 21st century, both because it's much cheaper to make them from plastic, but also because metal toys are potentially razor sharp in spots. This image was made by my grandfather, Richard Batten, in 1965, the very year that "A Charlie Brown Christmas" debuted.
Your humble host poses with Christmas toys made out of metal, unheard of in the 21st century, both because it’s much cheaper to make them from plastic, but also because metal toys are potentially razor sharp in spots. This image was made by my grandfather, Richard Batten, in 1965, the very year that “A Charlie Brown Christmas” debuted.
When my wife looks at me this way, all my troubles seem to melt away.
When my wife looks at me this way, all my troubles seem to melt away.

Recently I’ve been thinking about consumption. I thought of this as I reminisced about lenses I once owned and now miss; all that beautiful 1970s and 80s era Nikkor glass.  What if I magically had a storage unit with all my old gear in it? But then I thought about the police scanners and Sony Trinitrons and flannel shirts and cars. Then, I thought, what if I magically had a warehouse full of everything I ever owned? Every bunch of broccoli. Every quart of motor oil. Every beer. Every loaf of bread. Every magazine and newspaper and paperback and hardback book. Every computer and floppy disk. All the DVDs and CDs and Blu-Ray discs and VHS video cassettes and vinyl records and compact cassettes and all the appliances to play and record them. All the wine and water. Everything. How big would that warehouse be?

Props to Walmart for carrying Gardein Chick'n Strips again. I have missed them, and was dismayed when they stopped stocking this product last year.
Props to Walmart for carrying Gardein Chick’n Strips again. I have missed them, and was dismayed when they stopped stocking this product last year.
Another cooking success happened when Abby wanted baked potatoes recently. I paired them with veggie burgers and sauteed chives, and it was amazing.
Another cooking success happened when Abby wanted baked potatoes recently. I paired them with veggie burgers and sauteed chives, and it was amazing.
"Fiend," a coworker's bulldog, has become the defacto mascot of The Ada News.
“Fiend,” a coworker’s bulldog, has become the defacto mascot of The Ada News.

Abby and I saw some of a M*A*S*H marathon. We’ve both been watching this show all our lives, so I looked it up: of the 11 main actors throughout the series, only five are still alive: Alan Alda, Loretta Swit, Gary Burghoff, Mike Farrell, and Jamie Farr.

Abby and I watched The Innocent Man, a Netflix original series, this week. Though I was not interviewed on camera, the show, about two mishandled murders in Ada, is full of my images. I wrote my column this week, which ended up being our lead story Wednesday, about the day two of them were exonerated.

This is an overview of the courtroom April 15, 1999, when Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson were released from prison after DNA evidence exonerate of the 1982 murder of Debra Sue Carter. As Abby and I watched "The Innocent Man," I recognized many people I know very well to this day.
This is an overview of the courtroom April 15, 1999, when Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson were released from prison after DNA evidence exonerate of the 1982 murder of Debra Sue Carter. As Abby and I watched “The Innocent Man,” I recognized many people I know very well to this day.
Despite producers' efforts to make Ada look bleak, secretive and undereducated, I remain enamoured of this place, my home for all these years. Pictured is the December 6, 2018 Parade of Lights, which is beautiful, well-attended, and fun.
Despite producers’ efforts to make Ada look bleak, secretive and undereducated, I remain enamoured of this place, my home for all these years. Pictured is the December 6, 2018 Parade of Lights, which is beautiful, well-attended, and fun.
My close friend, photographer Courtney Morehead, brought this camera-shaped cookie for me yesterday. She got it at Amber's Sweet Shoppe, where Amber has somehow perfected a physics-defying 104% sugar recipe.
My close friend, photographer Courtney Morehead, brought this camera-shaped cookie for me yesterday. She got it at Amber’s Sweet Shoppe, where Amber has somehow perfected a physics-defying 104% sugar recipe.

An unassailable truth: when Abby is up and about, I can sneak through the house like a ninja. But when she’s asleep, I might as well be on roller skates carrying a box of chandeliers.

My intermediate/advanced photography class ended on a high note, with good epiphanies from all my students. We all had fun, and they all seemed to learn a lot.

My column for Saturday will be about the true meaning of Christmas, about which I will likely catch flak because I didn’t mention Christ. But it was a good-natured column, so only the true nut jobs will call. Yay.

I brought this cheap Amazon.com knockoff of a Lensball to class Monday, and it really seemed to open a lot of eyes and stoke a lot of imaginations.
I brought this cheap Amazon.com knockoff of a Lensball to class Monday, and it really seemed to open a lot of eyes and stoke a lot of imaginations.
Of the dozens of cutouts available in my "bokeh kit," my students like the frowny-faced ones the best. Symbolic?
Of the dozens of cutouts available in my “bokeh kit,” my students like the frowny-faced ones the best. Symbolic?