I’ll Make My Garden Grow

So there I am, three pairs of gardening gloves already too muddy to use, surrounded by flats of tomato, lettuce, eggplant, cabbage and leek “starts,” a paper bag full of seed packets and my gardening bag, and I think, “this may be the last year I can do this.”

Gardening is hard, and at some point I’ll have to stop. At some point bending over will make my back ache too much, or my knees won’t be able to take it. Over twenty years ago, when we rented a rototiller for our first vegetable garden, it never occurred to me that my body would ever feel “old.” And, really, mine doesn’t feel so old. But I turned 60 this summer, and that how-can-I-do-this-again feeling really hit hard.

Then there’s the emotional turmoil that goes along with gardening. You put in all that work, and then it rains too much, or too little, or a blight wipes out your tomatoes, or the rabbits manage to get through your garden fence. I do not find little bunnies cute. I look on them as destroyers of produce.

So let’s see. This year, first there was a lot of rain, and the garden was infested with slugs. We killed hundreds during May and June. Then in July it stopped raining. I do have a sprinkler system for the vegetable garden, but it was broken, and the guy who was supposed to fix it – well he just got around to putting in the new heads week. (My garden has evolved and grown over the years, and we now have raised beds surrounded by a beautiful fence to keep out those obnoxious deer.) By the second week of July, the leaves of several of my tomato plants started turning yellow and brown. I’d be gone all week and the temperature was in the 80s and 90s. Then something started nibbling at my eggplants and strawberries. The first several ripening tomatoes were savaged during the night by something that was able to get through the chicken wire that double guards on the bottom of the fence. I thought I’d have maybe 15 tomatoes. My brussel sprouts didn’t sprout.

Then, oh then, suddenly there was produce — more than I can possibly use. We had peas, string beans, carrots, onions, cabbage, and kirbys. There will be lots of peppers. I will string and dry the cayenne! So far I’ve made six jars of brine pickles (using some equipment my wonderful kids gave me for my birthday). This morning, before the deluge, I picked a colander full of cherry tomatoes and made a sauce with fresh peppers, onion, parsley, garlic and basil from the garden. I’ll use it later this week. For dinner I made stuffed cabbage, kapushnik as my grandmother said in Yiddish, with cabbage I had just picked.

So if you ask me right now if I’m planning on a vegetable garden next year, the answer is yes. Right now I am basking in the glow of a blue plastic gardening basket filled to the brim with tomatoes ready to be canned. I wish I had the optimism of Barbara Grufferman, the author of The Best of Everything After Fifty. She’s about five years younger than I am, but she looks at the birthday numbers creeping up and truly has the reaction, “You can’t bring me down. Now, Yay!” In fact, take a look at her inaugural post for the AARP. She’s irrepressible and has a much better attitude than I do. It’s not that I obsess about age or feel depressed about getting older. The other day someone pointed out that on my FB profile I have the year I graduated from high school, so it only takes a bit of math to deduce that I’m 60. There, I said it again. I have no problem being sixty. I’m not about to doctor my LinkedIn and not list jobs and positions so someone might think I’m 50 or 45. I just that I fear that one day I’ll wake up and I’ll feel old, too old to manage a vegetable garden.

So here’s a few questions to consider. Let me know how you feel in your comments — and notice that I’m using a new commenting system that doesn’t make me “moderate” them. You’ll have to sign in if you’ve never used Livefyre, but many bloggers use this commenting system. Let me know what you think about this comment tool. Then I’m going to give a few recipes, so stick around.

1. Do you “feel” old? If so, what makes you feel old?

2. Do you “feel” the same way you always did, and get surprised when you see yourself in the mirror or a photo? (That’s what happens to me.)

3. Any suggestions for aging with grace?

OK. So now for the recipes:

Tomato Sauce from Cherry Tomatoes

4 quarts cherry tomatoes (red and yellow)

2 sweet banana peppers

1 green bell pepper

1 orange bell pepper

1 cayenne pepper

1 small red onion

1 small white onion

1 small yellow onion

handful of parsley (about ½ cup chopped)

handful of basil (about ½ cup chopped)

three cloves garlic

Wash and de-stem the tomatoes. Put them in an uncovered pot with about 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, chop up everything else. When the tomatoes are soft, add everything else. If you add salt to things, add salt. Keep on a low flame until the sauce has boiled down and is thick. This might take an hour.

Yield: about a quart of sauce, maybe a bit more. Right now mine is in a container in the refrigerator. I might do a hot-bath canning and can it, but most likely I’ll serve it over spinach pasta in a day or two. The yellow tomatoes make the sauce low acid. The cayenne gives it a bit of a bight.


Kapushnik (Stuffed Cabbage)

How my grandmother made it, or, at least, how my mother made it.

1 lb chopped meat

¼ cup breadcrumbs

1 egg

1 tsp nutmeg

1 small green cabbage

1 cup ketchup

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup raisins

½ cup lemon juice

Mix the chopped meat with the egg, breadcrumbs and nutmeg. Divide into eight portions. Steam enough cabbage leaves so that you can wrap each portion of meat. Put into a covered casserole. Put ½ cup of liquid from steamed cabbage at the bottom. Add lemon juice. Cover with ketchup. Sprinkle brown sugar on the top. Sprinkle raisins. Bake at 350° for 50 minutes. Serve on top of rice or pasta.





Wrinkles Happen

Marc Freedman thinks this Baby Boomer stuff is all about “encore careers” or “the big shift”—a new stage when we can embrace a fresh outlook on life and think positively about what we are able to contribute to society.

He’s wrong. It’s really about wrinkles.

This past weekend I attended an amazing conference on social media at the Columbia University School of Journalism. Spearheaded by former students of the J School’s Dean of Students, Sree Sreenivasan (who was all over it for the entire 2 ½ days, and, actually, really remembers the names of hundreds upon hundreds of people, if not their Twitter handles), attendees had a chance to consult with “social media doctors” and get free headshots for their Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, About.me or whatever accounts.

The photographers were lively and earnest—and had volunteered their time. So I had my headshots done twice. And they are totally awful.

This has nothing to do with the photographers’ skills. It has to do with the fact that I’ve gone all crinkly around the eyes, even when I’m wearing foundation and powder. And my neck, oh, my neck. I now know completely why Nora Ephron wrote her book I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts About Being a Woman.

I don’t know when my neck began to look so . . . old. For almost all my life I’ve looked a lot younger than my age. I’m short (very), and so from far away people think I’m a chubby kid. Also, due the miracles of modern hairdressers, my hair is still brownish/blondish. However, it too has changed. I used to have nice wavy hair. Now it’s curly and coarse. On good days it looks OK. When I’ve been to the hairdresser and gotten a profession blow-dry, it looks great. On muggy day, it’s worse than frizzy. Pulling my hair back into a ponytail this morning before I went to the gym, I noticed that my face was surrounded by an aura of “wispies” (what ballet teachers used to call the hairs that slipped out of tightly wound buns).

So I posted on FB that I needed someone who was good with Photoshop to take out the wrinkles and frizz. A high school friend (actually we were in nursery school together; that’s what they called it back then) commented that she couldn’t help, but she felt my pain. Another friend said her sister Photoshopped hers. Cecilia is young enough to have no wrinkles and kind of looks like Sophia Loren. I have no idea what her sibling could have done to make her look better.

So now that I have visible proof of my age in the form of un-photoshopped professionally taken headshots, I decided to come up with “The Baby Boomer’s Seven Wrinkle Principles.”

  • Own your wrinkles. I won’t follow this at all. But if I could, it would be really healthy, I think, you know, psychologically. I know a lot of people my age who have let their gray hair shine in, (I’m thinking of the musical Hair). I admire them. But, not me.
  • Always use sunscreen. This one is really smart. Sunscreen can help prevent skin cancer along with those sun-begat age spots. However, how is someone supposed to get a suntan if she’s wearing SPF 80?
  • Get great with makeup. So what one does is go to someplace like Bloomingdales, Saks or Nordstrom when a cosmetics line is hosting a visiting make-up artist. Get a free makeover; ask lots of questions; and if they have a diagram, make them fill it out. You don’t have to buy anything: you can say you want to see how it all feels after a few hours. If you do like the products, you can always go back with your diagram. I’ve been using by Lancôme for years, which is expensive and probably not much different from Maybelline. I’ve always thought about taking my diagram to CVS or RiteAid and seeing if I can match the colors at a much lower price. (But this little part of me actually believes the expensive stuff works. So much for science.) The trick is to rotate stores and vendors and get as much beauty advice as you can. I’ve been doing this for a while, but since I hate the way a heavy foundation or powder feels, my wrinkles still show. Hence my need for Photoshop. (You can also MAKE your own lipgloss—a tip for the frugal among us. Here’s a link to the video: WATCH: Homemade Lip Gloss http://huff.to/lf8bX8).
  • Botox. Next.
  • Plastic surgery. As if I could afford it. But I think I might do it. Think=know. Not scared, just broke.
  • Moisturizers. So I use this expensive fancy schmancy stuff from Lancôme, and I’ve been using it for years. Guess what? I still have wrinkles. Consumer Reports gives its highest rating to Olay Regenerist UV Defense Regenerating Lotion, and you can buy a 2.5 ounce tube on Amazon for $8.99 (Facial Moisturizers: Best Face Moisturizer Reviews http://bit.ly/lilWuP). But now read this: “One popular misconception involves the relationship between dry skin and wrinkles. Scientists say a moisturizer will smooth skin to temporarily make wrinkles less apparent, but moisturizing your skin will not have any long-term effect on wrinkles.” (Facial Moisturizers Reviews http://bit.ly/kQY58p)
  • Get advice from “wrinkle” blogs. Yes, they’re usually trying to sell you something. You can look at Dr. Alex’s Shrink Your Wrinkles blog (http://www.shrinkyourwrinkles.com/blog/). Or this: Cosmetics Cop on arresting wrinkles | Style Notes blog | The Indianapolis Star | indystar.com http://bit.ly/mn06lE. Or read the always brilliant Tara Parker-Pope in The New York Times (WRINKLES – Well Blog – NYTimes.com http://nyti.ms/kNzAUM).

A friend just posted a picture of me taken over last weekend. I’m asking a question into a microphone. For some reason I’m looking up. To the ceiling. My neck is stretched out in all its wrinkly glory. Thanks for the photo, Rafiq. You are a great guy, but I am not going to post a link to that picture.


Hey readers: along with posting comments to my FB, you can also post them to this blog. The “comments” box is at the bottom of the post, and the more you comment, the better I do in search engines. Sharing this link on FB also makes me visible to your friends who aren’t my friends (it’s beginning to sound like a little kid song). So, thanks. And for those of you who have wondered what happened to my blog on Blogher—well, it’s gone, along with three years of work, and it wasn’t completely my fault. I made a query about how to cancel the blog, and they just did it. My “How to Get on Facebook” column is coming, soon, I promise. That one you can print out for your friends who are still saying, “I don’t know. What’s in it for me?” because I’ll show what’s in it for them.

Here’s Marc Freedman’s book. It’s really good, though I have other ideas too. I’m going to talk about it in a column one of these days. Marci Alboher likes it a lot, and she’s the best. (You can follow her on Twitter @HeyMarci.) Finally, if you are inclined to read either book mentioned, I suggest your public library, a wonderful institution I have recently re-discovered. If you are the purchase-book kind of person or want to download it to your nook click on either book cover, you’ll go right to BarnesandNoble.com. For your Kindle, well, now you know the name of the book. Amazon will take care of the rest.