Published in the Rains County Leader on November 3, 2022:
You know your weekend wasn’t very exciting when you have to look on Facebook to see what you did that was worth writing about. Even then, it’s often not what you did that is interesting but rather the reactions of your Internet friends.
I’ve mentioned before that our neighbor David Perkins has raised quite a garden this year. One of his most successful crops was cucumbers. We had lots of salads, especially tomato and cucumber, and I made several batches of cucumbers and onions in vinegar. Perkins and I even worked together and made eight pints of bread and butter pickles. But after a while, the cucumbers get too big for pickles, and neighbors begin to run when they see you approaching with another offering of excess produce. Then Gennell brought her annual treat of candied cucumbers to the Senior Center, and I was inspired to try some myself.
I searched Google, my favorite cookbook, for a recipe and was a little intimidated when I discovered the long process involved in making these tasty treats. But keeping in mind that I learned to ride a motorcycle when I was fifty-two and published my first book after I began collecting Social Security, I tackled the project.
Published in the Rains County Leader on May 19, 2022:
The City Girl column first began with a Letter to the Editor in September of 2011. When I continued to submit my thoughts from time to time, Earl Hill gave me print space. After several stories about the adventures and misadventures of being out of my city element, he began heading my column “City Girl,” and the name stuck. I still have my moments of showing my city roots, but almost eleven years later, there are periods of time when I’m definitely more country than city.
Around Easter David and I did a tour of the yard and noticed several wild blackberry vines in bloom. They’re more scarce than they were when we first moved here since the Virginia Creeper has taken over most of their favorite spots, but there are still enough to be of interest to cobbler fans. So, early last week I donned my berry-picking clothes, grabbed an overly-optimistic-sized container, and headed out.
I only found about half a cup of ripe berries, but it was fun searching for the small treasures hidden under other plants and often sheltered by a canopy of spider webs. It was also fun being able to distinguish the blackberry vines among the miscellaneous tangle of leaves without having to see the actual berries or having David along to point them out. I did, however, bring home an uninvited guest. When I was changing back into my “house clothes,” I felt a tickle on my shoulder. I discovered a small tick looking for a place to dig in, and like any good country girl, I sent him on a free tour of the Brendle septic system.
Published in the Rains County Leader on May 12, 2022:
Back in March I wrote a column called “Back in the Garden” in which I mentioned David Perkins, our friend/neighbor who lives in our motor home. He had started a small garden, first in containers on the dashboard of the RV and then moving on to a couple of small plots near our storage shed.
The three of us along with Connie and Charles across the street have a small family-like community thing going. When they go to the 3rd Friday Food Giveaway at Freedom Church of God, they share when they receive more than they can use, and we sometimes think of each other when we shop. After reading my column about the difficulty of finding affordable vanilla wafers, Perkins – so called to avoid confusion with my David – brought me three boxes he found at Aldi. In return, I made a large banana pudding which was big enough to share. The sharing often extends to group meals, especially on holidays, but sometimes just because. Sunday was one of those more casual times.
The motor home is parked to the side of the driveway. It used to sit behind the house until it began to sink into the gopher runs. After that, David moved it to firmer ground, and we back the Kia in beside it. Perkins’ favorite perch is behind the computer desk which puts him next to one of several windows in the living area of his moveable home. Preferring natural air to artificially cooled, he uses fans and open windows until the temperatures approach triple digits. He says it gives him a feel of camping out, and it leads to a lot of our version of across-the-fence chats.
Published in the Rains County Leader on March 24, 2022:
Those who have been reading this column from the beginning may remember that some of my early offerings were about my attempts at gardening. My protests of not knowing what I was doing because I was a city girl led to the name of the column. I haven’t done any gardening in the last several years, but gardening has come back to the Brendle homestead this spring. Before I tell you about that, though, let me share the fifth article I wrote for the Leader.
May 27, 2012 – My Garden
I planted a garden a couple of weeks ago. It’s not the garden I envisioned earlier in the year. Now that we’ve removed several trees, we have some perfect garden spots that get full sun, and David’s mom has a tiller she has offered to give us. In February I imagined a large area, tilled and mulched and fertilized, ready for several rows of squash and okra and beans, all those things that are so good for you but are so expensive in the grocery store. Then we began to make tentative plans to visit Florida for a month or so this summer, so I watched with envy as neighbors laid out their garden plots and tended the tiny green plants that stretched toward the warm Texas sun. But plans don’t always work out, and we realized that the trip to Florida isn’t going to happen, so when we went to Hooten’s to get some oil for the chain saw, I asked David a question.
“Is it too late to plant tomatoes?”
Remember, I’m a city girl. True, I’m only one generation removed from the fields of West Texas, but it was a pretty complete removal. Mom and Dad were both raised on farms, but Mom never liked it. Her sisters called her their house cat, because she would swap chores with anyone to avoid working outside. She wanted to get away from the farm as quickly as possible and never had a desire to return. She enjoyed fresh corn, peas, and cantaloupe when they were in season, but she wanted to buy them at the produce stand and prepare and eat them in the air-conditioned comfort of home. The only exposure I had to gardening was at Aunt Fay’s. She and Uncle Dean always had a sizeable plot full of all sorts of good things to eat, but Mom made sure we weren’t around during planting and harvesting time.
Despite Mom’s best efforts, my country girl genes creep through from time to time. When I was single again, I tried to raise a couple of tomato plants on the patio of my tiny, zero-lot-line home. One Saturday morning I checked on my babies and was dismayed at their condition. Half the leaves were gone, and many of the remaining ones were full of holes. Dad was still in good health and came over on the weekends to help me with my yard work.
“Dad, come look at my tomatoes. What’s wrong with them!”
“You’ve got tomato worms,” he said as he pulled one of the fat, green critters from one of the stems and squashed it with his shoe.
“Ewww, gross!” I’m not that much of a country girl.
With the help of a little chemical spray and a vigilant eye, my scraggly plants survived. I have to admit that I didn’t adopt Dad’s method of dealing with the worms. If I found one, I snipped off the whole stem and threw it away. In spite of the worms and my squeamishness, I produced a few scrawny, misshapen tomatoes with tough skins.
“Cool,” said Christian when he saw my crop. “Can I have them to make salsa!”
It’s nice to have your efforts appreciated.
A few years later after David and I married, we planted some tomatoes and peppers in a flower bed in the back yard. The peppers grew nicely, producing pods so hot that even David couldn’t eat a whole one. The tomatoes didn’t do so well. They were doing okay, but I left them on the vine a little too long. The morning I went out to harvest them, some critter had taken a bite out of the bottom of each one.
So it was with this limited experience and questionable success that I asked David about the tomatoes in Hooten’s.
“I don’t think it’s too late,” he said.
I dragged him out to the garden section to see what they had. The selection was very limited, but I found a couple of promising looking tomato plants, a four-pack of cayenne peppers, and another four-pack of Anaheim peppers. Not the wide variety I originally planned, but enough to play with and not enough to feel like I threw away a lot of money if my results are less than stellar.
The next morning I put on my working-in-the-yard hat and gloves and went out to bed down my plants. I chose a sunny, weed-free area and started digging. We haven’t made it to Louisiana to get the tiller yet; it would have been overkill for such a small plot anyway. The sandy soil is nice and loose, so I dug ten small holes and worked in a little bit of soil from a compost pile left by a previous resident. I mixed up a bucket of plant food and gave them all a good soaking. Finally, I marked the corners of the plot with four large rocks so my Cub Cadet pilot won’t run over my babies by mistake, or maybe on purpose. David laughed and said my little plot looks a little scraggly.
He’s right. It’s a little scraggly, and I don’t know what will happen. Some people are predicting another hot, dry summer, so it may all burn up before it has a chance to produce. Or the critters may get into it. If they do, maybe they’ll leave me enough for a batch of salsa and a pot of green chili stew. Regardless, I’m looking forward to watching the process. I think watching a tiny plant take dirt, water, and sunshine and turn it into something good to eat is nothing short of a miracle. It’s like being present at the Creation: “Let there be…and there was…and it was good.”
Now in 2022 David Perkins, our friend rents our motor home, asked earlier in the year if it was okay for him to plant a small garden. Of course we said yes. He immediately starting seeds in empty cans he collected from the Senior Center and now has an impressive collection of tomato plants and several types of greens growing on the dashboard of the motor home. He has already shared some horseradish leaves with friends, and he has a number of small green tomatoes developing.
He hand tilled a small area beside our shed where he has planted a few onions, a couple of Swiss chards, and a cabbage. And this week he borrowed a tiller from Dirk, another gardening neighbor, and tilled up a larger plot behind the shed. He transplanted a few tomato plants on Sunday and is looking forward to the predicted rain on Monday.
His enthusiasm has awakened my gardening bug, and I’m beginning to envision trips to Hooten’s and Potts for bedding plants, and I’m trying to remember how to pickle okra. My interest may be short-lived if the gophers and deer come for dinner, but in the meantime, we may get a few fresh veggies out of the deal as well as a column or two. Happy spring planting!
Published in the Rains County Leader on July 13, 2021:
This city girl had another new experience Saturday – I picked peaches for the first time. I have bought a half bushel at a farmers market and spent hours putting them into bags destined for the freezer, but I had never taken them off the tree.
Connie (across the street) had a bumper crop from her two trees this year. After putting ten bags in the freezer and having a tray full ripening on her counter, she invited me over to pick some. The first thing I learned about picking peaches is that the trees are designed for those of us who are height challenged. No step ladder required like the time I picked figs from Dirk and Pat’s trees.
Strange things sometimes happen while you’re harvesting. Some of the peaches were very close together, and while I was trying to pick a particularly reluctant one, the one next to it flung itself toward the ground. I don’t know if it was intentional, but the poor thing landed on the blade of a mole-chasing windmill and cut itself almost in half. Since the work was already half done, I sliced that one up when I got home, and we had it for dinner.
Published in the Rains County Leader on April 27, 2021:
Several years ago David and I watched a documentary that projected, in the event humans went extinct, how long it would take nature to reclaim the earth. It seemed fanciful to watch computer animations of trees breaking through major highways and vines creeping up and over crumbling infrastructure and collapsed skyscrapers in a century or two. However, after a walk around our property last weekend, it no longer seems so impossible.
When we first saw the 2.3 acre plot that has been our home for the past ten years, the front acre was clear enough that, after the removal of a couple of large trees, we were able to place our mobile home with enough space left over to park several vehicles. The rest of the lot, however, didn’t look as if it had been cleared in recent memory.
We rented the house twice over the next couple of years, but neither tenant stayed long or did much in the way of outdoor maintenance. By the time we became permanent residents of Rains County, the wilderness had advanced significantly, and we knew we had a lot of work ahead of us. We were not yet entrenched in the community life of our new home, so we spent a lot of time working outdoors. Within a few months, David had burned up his city push mower and had invested in a riding mower, a chain saw, a machete, and various other trimming tools. After several close encounters with poison ivy and sunburn, we also learned to wear hats, gloves and long sleeves regardless of the temperature.
Published in the Rains County Leader on June 26, 2018:
One of the first things I learned about living in the country is that there is no shortage of critters – four-legged, winged, large, small, and in-between. Many of my columns have been devoted to my issues with gophers and moles, wild pigs, and bugs of all sorts.
During the years when I planted a garden, my most successful crop was garlic. My neighbor Dirk, who I long ago christened the Garlic King of Rains County, grows garlic that is both huge and delicious, and he generously shares bulbs for planting. With his expert advice, all my bulbs sprouted, grew tall, and put out buds that promised beautiful, orchid-like blooms. Unfortunately, in order to produce the healthiest crop, I had to clip off the buds, but the mild, tasty results were worth it. (more…)
Published in the Rains County Leader on September 26, 2017:
Okra had no place in our home when I was a kid. I don’t know if it was because nobody liked it or because it didn’t come in a can. Mom and Dad both worked long hours, and I began cooking dinner for the family when I was eleven, so there wasn’t much time or skill for preparing fresh veggies.
Okra wasn’t one of those dishes that made a regular appearance at church or family potlucks either. Fried okra doesn’t travel well or keep well like fried chicken, and boiled okra is – well, it’s boiled okra. (more…)
Published in the Rains County Leader on June 20, 2017:
To say that I decided not to plant a garden this year wouldn’t really be accurate. What really happened was that I procrastinated. Taking it one day at a time, I told myself that I would begin the tilling, the preparation, and the planting tomorrow or next weekend. I told myself there was still plenty of time until now it’s almost time to begin thinking about a Fall garden. The amazing thing is, after all that dawdling, I’ve discovered that I don’t need a garden after all. (more…)
Published in the Rains County Leader on May 9, 2017:
When I sat down to write this week’s column, it was one of those times when I stared at the blank screen while the cursor blinked at me saying, “Well, write something.” Several hours later, I was still staring and it was still blinking, so I stopped and fixed dinner.
While I was staring, and while I was cooking, I was also thinking. I was thinking about all the stories I heard this past week about how our community has come together to help their neighbors in need. The stories were really good ones, but there are problems. First, many of the stories have already been reported and second, the people involved in the other stories are friends of mine. Most of my friends have, at one time or another, been the subject of one of my columns. Now when they tell me a story, they look at me with a grin and say, “Don’t you write about this.” (more…)
The story of a lonely, innocent girl who gets tangled up in the sex trafficking trade in a small Texas town. It’s about her relationship with Eric, a slick suburban pimp; Jesse, a Christian tattoo artist and motorcycle rider; and Mrs. G, a compassionate but tough attorney and foster parent.