What Am I?

Posted by Backyard Urban Gardening on Saturday, April 06, 2013

It creeps into workplace meetings, onto trains, and in airplanes. It sneaks down aisles in grocery stores and slithers from nearby booths in favorite restaurants. Sometimes it starts slowly, skulks a while and then rushes forward abruptly when it’s too late for a quick retreat.

Like a hunter, it stalks it’s victims across rooms, in hallways, on elevators, and even during Sunday services. Inescapable, yet avoidable; manifest, but unnecessary; it preys on you when you least expect it to find you.
There is no formal invitation or announcement, no introduction from a friend, family member, teacher or preacher. Clasping, grasping, holding, and clutching it hits you with full-on-force; so gripping and resolute.  Like an unwelcome stranger, you know it’s arrived when it invades your personal space.

It starts through the nostrils at first and a strong one has been known to cause a burning sensation in the eyes , mouth, and throat; although only imaginary. It causes snickers from children, groans from teenagers, and women to complain.
Most everyone will unanimously agree that the dreaded unpleasantness is a nuisance best avoided.


Posted by Backyard Urban Gardening on Sunday, July 17, 2011

Brothers Siegfried and Glen Salinger left home on foot two hours before daybreak on Saturday, March 28, 1936. Taking a few items they could carry in nap sacks and the clothes they were wearing, the brothers starting walking east. They didn’t know where or what they were walking toward, but both understood they could no longer stay at home.

The land in Liberal, Kansas was capable of growing wheat and corn, but with little rain since planting the fields, three feet of dust covering hundreds of acres, the wheat and corn stalks withered to nothing -  and a note at the bank coming due in the fall - it held little promise of providing more than a few bushels.

Looking for miles in all four directions, there was nothing to see. No cities. No houses. No people. Availability of affordable land lured the boys' German grandfather to Southwest Kansas forty years earlier. It was cheap land, but in the middle of nowhere - the Heartland. Through sheer will and determination, the Salinger's had scratched out a nice living on their 907 acre parcel. Malcolm Salinger, their father, worked briefly in the Panhandle-Hugoton Gas Field west of town, but eventually returned home to raise his young family.

At noon the boys had covered nearly 10 miles. The sun was high and its' rays burned down upon the Kansas wasteland. The heat was tough to the point of being unbearable, but the dust made it worse.

“My feet are on fire,” Sig said.
“Try not to think about it,” Glen said.
“Think about it? I can feel it, I don’t have to think about it,” Sig said.
“Well, try to ignore it then,” Glen said.
“Let’s see you try it. You think it's so easy.”
“My shoes are fine.”
“Then give yours to me.”
“Well, you’re obviously better at ignoring the pain than I am. And, if I don’t do something soon, we’re going to have to stop for today,” Sig said.

Providing little protection from the searing heat rising up from the gravel road, packed tight like asphalt, the soles of Sig’s shoes had worn holes through their bottoms exposing his feet to the dirt road they walked on.

Glen took a seat on a log that lay near the road’s edge. The boys traded shoes and continued walking. They’d been walking again for a few minutes when Sig started up again.

“You mad at daddy?”
“No,” Glen said. “It ain’t his fault.”
“I guess not, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I’m going to miss momma – and daddy.”
“Me too.”

Two days later, the following article appeared in the Liberal News:

Malcolm and Elizabeth Sallinger were discovered dead in their rural home outside Liberal Sunday evening. Seward County Sheriff's Deputies were called to the home by neighbors who arrived at the home to check on the elderly couple when they failed to attend church services Sunday morning. At press-time, the Sherriff's office released few details about the deaths, but did say that the couples’ children Sigfreid (Sig), age 16, and Glen Sallinger, age 18, were not at the home when deputies arrived. Neighbors said the family had been struggling to earn a living from farming for the past several years. No charges in the case have been filed.

Lonesome Dove

Posted by Backyard Urban Gardening on Saturday, July 16, 2011

I've been reading Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer winning Lonesome Dove these past several weeks. 

After reading novels like The Road, The Help, and Mudbound, McMurtry's style, pace, and rhythm are quite a change.  I quite enjoy it though. It's an ambituous style to aspire to, so I'll gladly leave that to those who are more talented than I, but I can't help but wonder if Lonesome Dove would have received the critical acclaim and popularity in 2011 that the novel received in 1985 when it was originally published.

I read the other three novels in a matter days.  I found them difficult to put down and kept turning pages to quench my desire to see what was going to happen next. In Lonesome Dove, the detail and depth of the story telling makes it a much slower read for me.

Jump School

Posted by Backyard Urban Gardening on Sunday, November 15, 2009

I rubbed the sweat from my eyes for 3 hours. Burning, itching, pain that wouldn't stop. Two days of 100 degree heat, too much dust, and too much dirt infected my eyes and blurred my vision.

At 3 p.m., uncomfortable from the weight of the T-10 parachute harnessed to our backs and miserable from a lack of air conditioning, the Jumpmaster called us to our feet for one last walk through inspection. Squad leaders from the 1/507 Parachute Infantry checked us one-by-one pausing periodically to check off items on the pre-jump checklists they carried on clipboards.

Awaiting my turn for inspection, I remembered the video we’d watched earlier that morning to demonstrate various examples of parachute malfunctions and corrective actions that meant the difference between life and death. We reviewed the single riser and two-riser slips and discussed emergency landings, entanglements and collisions. With names like “cigarette roll” and “inversion”, a malfunction during a parachute jump can cause panic, which has led to death or serious injury for many airborne troops. I’m not sure that watching the video taught us anything worthwhile that would actually save our lives, but it instilled a sense of fear in me. I feared I’d have a malfunction and die.

When we left the hangar and approached the aircraft, the shirt sleeves and pants legs of my camouflage Battle Dress Uniform were sticky and soaking wet. Even as I write this, 17 years later, I can still recall the heavy odor and bitter taste of burning jet fuel that choked us as we ascended the loading ramp of the C-130 Hercules, engines running. After two weeks of jumping into saw dust pits, the time to risk our lives had arrived.

I was prepared. I hoped. I perfected my parachute landing fall technique during ground week on the lateral drift apparatus. I could perform a PLF instinctively falling from any direction—backwards, sideways and forwards. I conquered the mock door drills and the 34 foot tower with static line techniques. During tower week I practiced the mass exits with my squad and refined my PLF technique on the swing landing trainer and using the suspended harness apparatus.

I attended church on Sunday, spent the day in reflection, and called my mom. I was at peace with what might come.

As the group ahead of me jumped, I stared out the door into the forest of trees below. The aircraft banked to the left and a hush fell on my 10-member squad. From his position near the door the Jumpmaster’s command to “Stand Up” interrupted my gaze and my eyes focused toward the front of the aircraft.

The command to “Hook Up” was sounded.
“One minute”, signaled the Jumpmaster.

“Thirty seconds”.

Above the roar of the engines, above the wind noise, it became quiet on the plane. I blocked out all the distractions to focus, eyes forward staring at the Jumpmaster. A knot formed in my stomach, my throat began to itch, and a wave of adrenalin overtook my body as I struggled with my own mortality.

“Stand in the door!”

And then a few seconds later, “Go!”
I jumped into silence.

Small Town

Posted by Backyard Urban Gardening on

From the age of thirteen I’ve always aspired to achieve something great in my lifetime, to make a difference, to get noticed. I suppose my desire to make an impact is rooted in the humbleness of youth. I grew up in a small town in rural Missouri with a population of three hundred people.

I played baseball and backetball with the Lions Club. I wore hand me down clothes and worn out shoes. I had red hair, freckles and wore glasses.

At one time it was a typical farm community, kids grew up and worked along side dad, mom, grandpa and grandma on the family farm. But as farming declined, the biggest employer in town became the school system and after that there wasn’t much you could do, but search for work in larger communities and commute to work.

We lost the family farm to high interest rates, mismanagement and just plain old “circumstances”. At thirteen I didn't understand why, but at forty-three I’m surprised we hung onto it as long as we did. Farming is a rough life, it is dirty work, and it is thankless. It’s a constant struggle to stay one step ahead of the bank, not to mention obstacles including too much drought, too much rain at the wrong times, and “too much month at the end of the money”.

My earliest memories of the town start in kindergarten. I ate oatmeal at the kitchen table before catching the school bus for the 40 minute trip to school. In kindergarten we actually had a sandbox and spent most of the time doing some kind of artwork, napping, or listening to the teacher read us stories. We actually had a sandbox in the classroom and left at noon each day. We played kickball, dodge ball, or tag during recess.

The grade school, junior high and high school shared the same building and the combined grades kindergarten through twelve averaged less than twenty students per grade. It was the kind of town where everyone knew everyone else’s business and if they didn’t know the truth, they just made it up.

In first grade we learned to read and started learning basic historical facts about presidents like Washington and Lincoln. For Thanksgiving we traced our handprints to draw turkeys and made Christmas trees out of felt and construction paper and wrote letters to Santa. I got a Ricochet Racer for Christmas and a Johnny West figurine. We watched cartoons at 4 p.m. every day after school. We started Catechism classes at church. I memorized the 10 commandments and learned the Apostles Creed. On Saturdays I watched Wide World of Sports and started playing Little League.

My second grade teacher was studying to be a paramedic. We learned cursive writing and I won the handwriting award given on the last day of school. We started playing baseball at recess and climbed the jungle gym.

I wanted to learn how to play guitar and become a country music star.

In third grade we learned multiplication tables from Mr. Kellogg who drove a yellow Ford Maverick and spent his spare time inventing children’s games. I had to wear a Dunce Hat for not knowing 6 x 8 was 48. I took swimming lessons and cut my head at the city swimming pool, which required 4 stitches. I burned my feet walking on hot pavement at the hospital. I started having dizzy spells.

In fourth grade, Mrs. Wells had a reward system that allowed us to earn “play money” throughout the year for getting good grades on tests and homework. On the last day of school she held an auction and we purchased items from the “store” with the money we accumulated.

In fifth grade I learned to add and subtract fractions. My favorite television show was Dukes of Hazzard. We rarely wore shoes in the summer and worked in the garden a lot pulling weeds, snapping beans and “hilling” potatoes. I started fishing a lot.

We had three different teachers in sixth grade, one got fired and another had a heart attack.

In seventh grade I started running long distances and learned to play the Tuba. I started mowing lawns for spending money and started lifting weights a lot. We kept a journal in English and I started wearing glasses.

In eighth grade I was voted class president, class candidate for homecoming prince, and we took a class trip to Fort of the Osage one Saturday afternoon and stopped for a picnic at the Eldon City Park on the way back home.

The best thing that ever happened in my life was the day my family moved 120 miles away to a new town, to a new school, and for me...a new life. We packed up a Ryder truck and moved.

I started over.

Hard Work at Home

Posted by Backyard Urban Gardening on

I grew up in a Midwestern farming community where I was introduced to work at a young age, and I’m not talking about doing a few chores around the house to earn a weekly allowance.

In the summertime we picked weeds in the garden, helped load the hay wagon, snapped green beans, picked strawberries, mowed the lawn with a push mower, and “hilled “potatoes. In the winter time we hauled buckets of hot water to the pig troughs in zero degree temperatures before going to school and hauled wood for the wood stove that heated our home.

We didn’t play video games, watch cable television, or own a computer; and family vacations included a day at the Missouri State Fair.

We had two pairs of shoes-- school shoes and work shoes, which also doubled as last year’s school shoes. A shoeshine on Saturday before bedtime turned our school shoes into the shoes we wore to church. If we wanted new gym shoes, we saved our money and bought them ourselves.

We took baths instead of showers and wore hand-me-down clothes passed down from an older sibling, an uncle, a cousin, or maybe even our own parents. We wore Roebucks and Rustlers instead of Levi’s and Wranglers and walked barefoot in the summer time.

We listened to a.m. radio and saved aluminum cans and returnable bottles for spending money. We drank Cokes and ate Snickers for 25 cents a piece.

I learned Catholic catechism on Saturday mornings, watched the Wide World of Sports on Saturday afternoons, ate popcorn on Saturday nights, and attended church on Sunday mornings. We ate Sunday dinner one grandma’s house and ate Sunday supper at the other grandma’s each and every week.

In our house, the kids lived by a set of principles that have served me well through the years.

1. Respect your elders.

2. Do what you’re told, when you’re told to do it.

3. If you say you’re going to do something, you darn well better get it done.

4. Eat the food that’s put in front of you.

5. Take care of animals, and they’ll take care of you.

6. Don’t expect handouts.

7. Make your money the old fashioned way, work for it.

8. There’s a time for work and a time for play.

9. If you want to go to college, figure out how to pay for it.

10. All you’ve got is your reputation, don’t tarnish it.

The Holstein

Posted by Backyard Urban Gardening on Friday, November 13, 2009

My dad bought a holstein cow and calf when I was five years old. I remember seeing the calf for the first time in the barn. He was a little bundle of fur laying in a pile of wheat straw near his mother to keep warm. I named him Lazy.

Lazy The Calf was bottle fed beginning a few days after birth. Twice a day my mom mixed white powder and warm water in quart sized plastic bottles.

I remember my dad scraping ice off the windshield and riding with him to the barn twice a day for feedings. The windshield defroster must not have worked well because my dad sometimes drove with his head half out of the window to see the road. I sat in the passenger seat shivering in the cold air, but didn't complain.

At first the calf barely drank one bottle, but it wasn't many days until we were carrying two or three bottles with us for feedings. Later on, as the calf grew bigger, we took one bottle and refilled it from a bucket of powdered milk mix that we carried with us.

As the calf grew bigger he was weaned from the bottle feedings and turned into the pasture to eat grass with all the other cows. With all of the personalized attention, the calf became very tame and unafraid of me. I would stand at the gate calling, "Lazy. Here La-a-a-a-zy." And she would come running toward the gate with hopes that I'd pet her. Lazy liked to be scratched on the hard patch of black and white fur right between the eyes. This became our after supper ritual for several weeks.

I'd always wanted a horse. Mom said, "Talk to your father," and dad said, "They cost too much." Realizing I was never getting a horse, I came up with an idea that seemed great at the time.

I couldn't have a horse, so I would just have to improvise. I made a halter from binder twine. I called for Lazy and put the halter on - conscious of the ears and eyes. I climbed aboard and sat up straight. Without formal reins or a saddle my legs dangled freely. Finally, I was riding. It had been easy. My five year old mind was loving it.

Lazy started a slow walk forward. Before long the slow walking steps turned into longer running steps - alternating slow and fast with sporadic stops. It felt like several minutes, but was probably only a few seconds. During one of the stops I decided that I'd had enough and jumped off to the ground. As I reached up to remove the homemade halter, Lazy turned her head unexpectedly and one of the short nubby horns hit me straight in the mouth knocking out one of my front teeth.

My rodeo career had started and then ended all in one night. After that night, I stayed around the yard and the calf stayed with the other cows in the pasture. Our friendship ended and I'd learned a valuable lesson. Four hundred pound holstein heifers do not make good pets for sixty pound pound five year olds.

The Well House

Posted by Backyard Urban Gardening on

On our farm, my dad and grandpa built a shed out of cinder blocks that enclosed the water well. Besides the seven feet high walls, the small building had a pitched plywood roof covered with shingles. We called it a "well house".

The well wasn't a dug-by-hand fairy tale bucket and rope type well, but a modern water source dug by a professional using well digging equipment mounted on a big truck. Water was drawn with an electric pump and stored in a metal tank. When a faucet was turned on the water flowed from the tank to the house, barn, or hydrants located at various strategic locations for drinking, bathing, flushing, or watering the livestock and vegetable garden.

Having just recently learned to ride my bicycle without training wheels, one summertime afternoon I decided to play with some straw bales that were stacked next to the well house. It took me awhile, but I was able to stack the bales carefully and purposely enough to create stairsteps that led to the roof of the well house. As luck (or un-luck) would have it, there were also a few sheets of plywood leaned up against the well house wall. They were exactly wide enough and long enough to allow me to place them on top of the straw bales to create a wonderful ramp. I could easily run up and down the plywood ramp on the well house roof and back onto the lawn.

As any five year old aspiring motorcycle daredevil would do, it wasn't long before I started riding my bicycle up on the edge of the plywood and then backing down backwards in emulation of my hero - Evel Knievel.

It took me awhile to get it right, but using a longer and longer runway allowed me to gain enough speed on my bicycle to ride farther and farther up the ramp toward the roof. My six year old mind reached a decision - JUMP IT. Just like Evel would! Right?

Wrong! My dad came out of the house just in time to stop me during my final approach to launch my little green bicycle past the point of no return. Fame and fortune (and serious injury) were avoided.

My Story

Posted by Backyard Urban Gardening on

My parents, grandparents, and all who came before them were farmers. They grew gardens to put food on the table and raised cows, pigs, acres of corn, soybeans, milo, and wheat to put money in their pockets.

At five years old, my dad moved our family into a mobile home situated in the middle of a cow pasture. There were livestock, dogs, cats, trucks, trailers, and tractors. And to accompany it all…a lot of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears.

Like a lot of people, I earned good grades in high school. I received a scholarship and earned a college degree.

I attended the U.S. Army paratrooper training school in Fort Benning, GA. I watched two people fall from the sky and “bounce” when their parachutes failed to deploy. I spent 8 years in the U.S. Army Reserves as a Second and First Lieutenant. I attended the Officer Basic and the Officer Advanced courses at the U.S. Military Police School in Anniston, AL.

I was hired for my first corporate job. It was my dream job with a large stock brokerage firm. Things didn’t go as planned and I was delivering pizza and washing windows within a couple of years.

I’ve had grunt jobs, sales jobs, and management responsibilities. I’ve worked as a newspaper reporter, short-order cook, house cleaner, and janitor. I spent some time in inside and outside sales positions with varying levels of success. I was a life insurance agent, multi-level marketer, and a semi-successful car salesman.

For the past 12 years, I’ve worked for a large Fortune 500 corporation. I’ve got health, life, and long-term care insurance benefits. I’ve got a 401K and pension fund benefits (as long as they last).

I’ve put my heart and soul into my career and relocated to five different cities for various assignments. I lived in Nashville, Baltimore, Orlando, Detroit, and Tampa. I’ve worked my way into a mid-level position and I earn a mid-level salary. I’ve been promised promotional opportunities that have not materialized and I’m constantly worried about the possibility of downsizing, layoffs, and cutbacks in benefits. At this point, I have very little control over my time, my salary, or my career in general.

I’m constantly on the look-out for new opportunities. I’ve started several part-time businesses, but none have earned significant revenues. I feel there is a perfect business for me out there somewhere, but at this point I haven’t found it.

I’m a self taught photographer, website developer, wannabe bonsai artist, and a possible future restaurant owner.

A few years ago I started a website about southern-style barbecue that features a how-to section, recipes, and products for sale. I started selling my own barbecue rubs online and cooked in professional barbecue contests.

I’m a homeowner, husband, and owner of a green cheek conure. I’m a son, son-in-law, nephew, and uncle to seven.

I watch football and NASCAR. I enjoy reading mysteries and biographies of famous Americans. I watch 60 Minutes and I like to research things.

Bottle Caps and Returnable Bottles

Posted by Backyard Urban Gardening on

I used to collect bottle caps. At eight or nine years old, it was a quest to collect as many as possible and as fast as possible. In our house, it was Pepsi's. At grandma's you got RC Cola and Dr. Pepper. I don't remember too many Coca-Cola bottle caps. Come to think of it, where I grew up, no one really drank Coca-Cola's (and they still don't).

I'm not sure I remember the exact number, but it was almost enough bottle caps to fill up an empty 5 gallon plastic lard can. It must have been tens of thousands. O.k. maybe it was only tens of hundreds, but it was alot. (I wish I still had them.)

I later graduated to 16 ounce returnable bottles. I remember asking the neighbors for them, relatives for them, and like finding a lost treasure - finding several of them in trash cans at the city park and wondering how anyone could possibly just throw them away. I even pedaled my bike several miles down the black top in either direction from our home, picking them up, and riding home with half a gunny sack full. On Saturday's we'd take them to Foster's General Store and exchange them for 10 cents each. If you could scrounge up three or four of them, you had enough money to buy a bottle of ice cold Pepsi from the vending machine.

Ahh...those were the good ole days.

Barefoot in the Summertime

Posted by Backyard Urban Gardening on Thursday, November 12, 2009

The last day of grade school was generally around May 15th and we returned to school the day after Labor Day each year. From May 16th until Labor Day, we rarely wore shoes during the daytime unless we were working with hoes or rakes in the garden, feeding the livestock, or going into town for some reason.

Bare feet in the summertime meant freedom. Freedom from the hour long bus ride to school, from spelling bees, school lunches, and homework. It was glorious. Aside from the occasional stubbed toe or sticker patch, walking on rough dirt, grass, or gravel rarely caused any issues.

One day while walking from our house toward my grandmother's house a few hundred feet across the road, I felt a tingling sensation on my right foot. I thought little of it, but glanced down quickly to look. I must have jumped two feet in the air and hopped, skipped, and clamored around something fierce, because my mom stepped out on the porch and asked me what was going on. It must have been a sight to see.

The cause?

I stepped on a garter snake laying in the shallow grass near the edge of our graveled driveway. Harmless yes, but I'd been raised to hate snakes. Seeing one twisted around my foot temporarily frightened me. To this day, they still make me squirm. In the zoo, behind glass walls, or in the wild, it doesn't matter.

I guess it's a good thing I didn't grow up in South Florida. They've got snakes that are 19 feet long that have been discovered digesting small deer and even aligators. The problem is so concerning, that they are considering implementation of a bounty program to encourage hunters to kill them.

Sacred Cipher

Posted by Backyard Urban Gardening on Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I finished reading Terry Brennan's first novel Sacred Cipher last week.

This novel has a Christian message and focuses on a traditional good versus evil scenario. This novel offers a little bit of history lesson, a little bit of religion lesson, and a whole lot of mystery and intrigue. I read a lot of thriller-mystery-adventure novels and this book fits that category too. The author obviously put a lot of research into the book (at times maybe a little too much). There are sections of the book that do not flow well and are not easy to read, but I'll chalk that up to the author's attempt to "educate" the reader and provide a "framework" for the unfolding storyline.

If you like Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, then Sacred Cipher is also a book you'll be interested in.

Serena: A Novel

Posted by Backyard Urban Gardening on Tuesday, October 27, 2009

By this time I've made no less than 10 trips into every Books a Million, Borders, and Barnes & Noble I've passed within 5 miles of since late August in search of Serena: A Novel by Ron Rash. It was recently released in paperback, but I never found it in hard back in any of the bookstores. I guess I'll just have to break down and order it from Amazon.com.

Randy Wayne White

Posted by Backyard Urban Gardening on Friday, October 16, 2009

We ate at Doc Ford's on Sanibel during a recent visit. The seafood was very good. I also purchased Sanibel Flats during the visit. Doc Ford is a re-occuring character in many of White's novels.

We visited a local book store and several other local eateries. Everyone was eager to talk about the series of Doc Ford novels anytime we asked about it. It appears Mr. White aka Randy Stryker is a well known local celebrity.

Show - Don't Tell

Posted by Backyard Urban Gardening on Monday, August 10, 2009

I think I naturally gravitate toward telling instead of showing, but I don't think that's how it's supposed to work. Here's a passage I've been working on that ended up "telling" too much.

Since returning from Iraq, U.S. Army Captain Riley Burke struggled to sleep through the night. He’d been diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome and could no longer pursue an Army career. At first, Riley excelled in his position as a company commander with the 101st Airborne Division. He even enjoyed it. But, after they deployed to Iraq, the day-to-day drain wore him down. He’d lost soldiers to car bombs, lost friends to roadside bombs, and almost lost his own life to an improvised explosive device while supervising a clean-up operation in Baghdad.

I re-wrote it in an attempt to "show":

U.S. Army Captain Riley Burke spent most nights in Iraq tossing and turning - struggling to sleep through an hour never mind an entire night. Days of desert heat and nights filled with sounds of distant gunfire wore him down. There was plenty of blood and guts, but little glory. The Army recruiters failed to tell you that part. He’d lost soldiers to car bombs, lost friends to roadside bombs, and almost lost his own life to an improvised explosive device while supervising a clean-up operation in Baghdad.

So many nights in the desert he'd dreamed of returning to Tennessee to be with his family. Back home for six months, Riley wasn't resting well in his sister's home. The reality of it all - the nightmares - still plagued him. In the years he'd been away from Beech Grove, the town had changed and he'd changed too.

Do you think I succeeded?

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