My daughter has arrived at an impossible age — impossible for her, impossible for me, impossible for her mother, impossible for her brother. If this age were a dinner, we’d send it back to the kitchen. If it were a car, we’d invoke the lemon law and demand another.
For many years I was a dedicated runner. These days I’m much more likely to choose to walk, both for exercise and pleasure.
I enjoyed running, particularly trail running. There was a sense of freedom and power about running through the woods that I sometimes remember with longing. But you miss a lot when you run. There are all these goals involved: Improve your time, or run a certain distance, or something along those lines. By comparison walking seems pressure free. There are no particular goals, or at least I don’t set goals for walking. I tend to amble along enjoying what there is to see. Henry David Thoreau put it best when he noted “it is a great art to saunter.” It is indeed.
State senators from the mountain region — and we’re especially talking about those representing the southwest, Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, and Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Spruce Pine — need to pull out all stops to save the colorful license plates that put money directly into their districts and benefit their constituents.
I found Booger at the Coffee Shop some 15 years ago – a tiny kitten with only one eye open, and although I could easily cover her with one hand, I couldn’t muffle the anguished MEEOOW! that she produced. It was like the cry of some tortured soul in hell, filled with equal parts of despair and terror. She had matted, multi-colored fur and when I cupped her to the shoulder of my jacket, she sank her tiny claws deep into the fabric and clung there like a small wad of velcro. Something had plucked her from a bleak and uncertain fate and she had no intention of letting go.
You never know what subject in a column will incite readers and friends to open up and express their feelings. Last week’s piece about the madness that the end-of-year testing brings to public schools certainly led to an onslaught of opinions.
I was at the gym when a regular whose name I don’t know approached me and said he liked my column.
Each spring as the school year winds down, I can’t decide whether to laugh or cry. As preparations for end-of-year, high-stakes testing get cranked up in our public schools, everything changes.
One day it’s a potentially life-changing test that has even good students stressed out. They are told to get plenty of sleep, eat good and don’t be nervous. Right. Next day it’s a marathon of absolute nothingness, a very “un-educational” experience which for one of my kids involved a three-movie school day. Three movies in one day! Next perhaps is field day or some kind of outdoors day.
My daughter at high school, on the other hand, only goes on test days these last few weeks. I tried to check her out for a dentist appointment the other day and they couldn’t use the intercom to call her. Too disruptive during testing, the logic goes. “Text her, if she’s not testing,” I’m told by front-office personnel.
So it goes without saying that the 180-day school year, to put it kindly, is a joke. And the last 15 days are the funniest of all.
And what kind of encore performance could get cooked up to top the multitude of wasted days and hours at the end of each and every school year? Lucky for us, the powers that be have given us a two-fer: we get to start school in early August to make sure we get enough instructional days in; and two, the Republican-led legislature has decided that public school students should attend school for 185 days, so local school leaders next year get to figure out how to add another five days into a calendar that is already impossible.
My kids go to Haywood County Schools, but it’s the same throughout North Carolina and probably the entire country. Since standardized testing became the wonder drug of accountability for politicians — the measuring stick by which we differentiate good schools from bad schools, and in some cases the tool we use to determine bonuses for educators — we’ve been headed toward the kind of madness that now is the normal for every school year’s end.
How mad, you ask? Well, I’ve had teachers tell me that border-line second-graders are being failed because principals and teachers fear their third-grade end-of-grade test scores more than they value their second-grade results and effort. I remember one of my daughters getting taught the “tricks” to help bolster standardized test scores. You know, if you can narrow to two answers, then make a guess. Or, if you have “b” or “d” as choices, pick “d” because studies show that it is more likely to be the right answer based on an average of answers over the last several years (or some such nonsense). Really, this is how to teach elementary students?
The opposite is true for teachers. While students go from total waste to ever-important testing, teachers are trying to test, re-test, find proctors, finish grades, conference with parents, finish paperwork, and wind up a school year in which work days have been cut and planning time shortened.
The great irony in this end-of-year waste of time for students is how it has become the opposite at the beginning of each school year. We keep moving school start dates back toward July in order to get enough days into the school year. I’m all for tough standards to make sure graduating students are prepared for the road ahead, including making sure there is enough instructional time.
Somehow, though, putting students through a couple of wasted weeks at the end of each school year doesn’t jive with the move to start school earlier and earlier. I can’t reconcile the two extremes. I’m looking for answers, and would love to hear from parents, teachers or administrators on this subject.
Suppose this was your household budget:
• Annual family income………………....$23,400
• Money family spends annually….....$35,900
• New debt added to credit cards……$12,500
• Outstanding credit card balance ..$154,000
• Total cuts to family budget………….......$385
Looks like the budget from hell, right? This household with its skyrocketing debt stands precariously on the brink of bad credit, bankruptcy, and ruin.
Now add 8 zeros to all of the above numbers, and you have the current U.S. federal budget (World Magazine, May 19, 2012).
Or shall we say the current financial situation of the United States. You see, we Americans haven’t seen a real budget, balanced or otherwise, in years. The Republican House under Paul Ryan recently proposed a plan that would balance the budget by 2040. The Senate shot down that plan, but offered nothing in its stead. In fact, the Democratic Senate hasn’t offered a real budget in four years. This spring President Obama sent his own recommended budget to the Congress, where in March the House defeated it 414-0. Last week the Senate followed suit by a vote of 99-0. Congress apparently found a few flaws in the president’s proposals.
Both Congress and the president have drawn up other plans for fixing the deficit. Some of our elected officials have called for raising taxes on the wealthy. This sounds like a good idea because the truly wealthy possess so much more money than the rest of us, and they probably don’t deserve it, and anyway, we need it more than they do. So goes the reasoning of some of our citizenry. But eventually we realize that the amount so raised amounts to only a pittance of the debt we owe and such an increase will result in a shift of capital overseas, leading to even less wealth and fewer jobs here at home. (If we are honest, we might also tell ourselves that some talented people have worked hard for their money and that we are thieves to steal it away).
Others call for making cuts to the budget. Some want to reduce miliatary spending and foreign aid. Why, after all, should the United States give $2 billion to Egypt again this year? Why can’t something be done about our wasteful military? Some want to cut or change social programs. Why do we require a Department of Education for the nation when every state in the union already has such a department?
Here the legislators who wish to cut programs face different obstacles than the tax advocates. They are met on one side by political opponents who decry their lack of compassion for the poor and the elderly, and on the other side by lobbyists who are all for cuts as long as they aren’t aimed at those who employ them. Try extending the age of eligibility for Social Security, and you’ll have the American Association of Retired Persons slicing you into small pieces. Propose reducing military benefits or closing overseas military bases — we have hundreds of them — and the lobbyists will take you apart.
Meanwhile, the rest of us watch, enraged at the failure of politicians to find a cure, cursing their knavery and greed. We blame them for our economic woes, for the loss of our AAA credit rating, for a federal government drunken on dollars and corrupted by power. We regard these leaders as fools, rogues, and thieves, and many of them indeed fit those descriptions.
Yet surely some of the fault lies with us. We vote these people into office; we demand they protect us from the natural ills and woes of life; we want what we want without regard to the cost. We don’t want to pay taxes and certainly don’t want to pay more taxes, yet we want food stamps, extended unemployment benefits, “free” medical care, clean air along with plenty of oil. In 2008, a radio commentator reading children’s letters to candidate-elect Obama best summed up our expectations with this line from a seven-year-old: “President Obama, please make it rain candy.” For decades we have enjoyed that rain of candy. Now the rot of that sugar is destroying us.
Some historians point to Ancient Rome as a warning for us, that crumbling empire with its bread and circuses for the poor, its failed price and wage controls, its unwieldy taxes. But we needn’t stare 1,500 years into the past to see what’s coming. We have only to look across the Atlantic at present-day Greece, Spain, and Italy, all of which are falling apart from the same construct we have erected here: burgeoning social programs, uncontrolled spending, and massive debt. We can look closer to home at California, which while being crushed by enormous debt staggers toward bankruptcy by enacting more government programs.
“Money talks, b***s**t walks,” so the saying goes. We can buy into the lies of some politicians, and we can lie to ourselves, but in the end the figures and the money don’t lie. There’s a bill coming due, and when it arrives, our arguments about taxes and government services won‘t matter. There won’t be enough of us left to tax, wealthy or otherwise, and there will be no more social programs.
It’s time for us to ask every politician, from our mayor to our president, from our senators in Raleigh to those in Washington, what they intend to cut from the budget and how they intend to make government more efficient. If they aren‘t up to the task, then it’s time to elect women and men with long knives, axes, and swing blades, courageous men and women who can chop away at the kudzu of ridiculous regulations, excessive spending, and out-of-control programs. As for the rest of us, we can either pitch tantrums like a three year old when these cuts are made, or we can suck it up and act like grown-ups.
Some time back I wrote that at a future date I’d print seed-starting dates for the remainder of the growing year. I’ve had a couple people ask about that, so I thought now would be as good a time as any to fulfill that promise.
I put together this calendar while farming for a living. Gardening is an inexact science, but I found that as a general rule these dates worked out more often than not. Having a list or calendar at least provides a reminder and guide to get things in that otherwise might be forgotten.
One important note: if you live at elevations higher than 3,000 to 4,000 feet then you might want to add two or so weeks to these suggested planting dates.
• Plant leek transplants.
• Direct seed okra.
• Direct seed basil, can plant later as well to have with tomatoes.
• Succession soybeans, beets, onion sets, radish, podding radish.
• Direct seed summer squash, cucumbers, cantaloupe, watermelon, pumpkin.
• Transplant tomatoes, eggplants and peppers as weather permits.
• Direct seed beans.
• Direct seed winter squash, spaghetti and butternut (don’t hurry, remember these are for storage).
• Under row cover, grow succession plantings of summer ‘lettuce’ mix: suggest, mizuna, kale, collards, tatsoi, red giant mustard, arugula. Use as cut-and-come again, harvest immature for raw salads. Replant short row every two weeks or so for summer use.
• Plant sweet potato slips.
• Plant chard, if haven’t already, also Malabar spinach, dill.
• Start Brussels sprouts for fall transplants in shade or in shaded greenhouse.
• Succession soybeans, beets, onion sets, podding radish, summer lettuce mix.
• Plant more sweet corn, can keep planting up to July 4 and will make. Also, true for cucumbers, soybeans, summer squash.
• Sow in greenhouse or other shaded spot, broccoli and cabbage for fall planting.
• Direct seed rutabaga and beets in garden.
• Start fall lettuces for transplants.
• Transplant Brussels sprouts when ready to garden.
• Transplant broccoli and cabbage when ready to garden.
• Direct seed kale, collards.
• Direct seed turnips for roots, turnips for tops, rape, mustards.
• Direct seed black Spanish radish, daikon, Chinese cabbage, scallions, mizuna, tatsoi, beet (for tops), chard, spinach, arugula.
• Seed more lettuce for transplants, start in cool place.
• Direct seed regular radishes, carrots, transplant first round lettuces to garden.
• Plant mache, claytonia, minutina. Replant tatsoi, mizuna, etc. for cut-and-come again. Transplant lettuces to garden under row cover.
• Plant garlic bulbs. Keep planting Asian greens as spaces open.
• Plant Asian greens. Carrots. Spinach. Let-tuce transplants.
• First round cabbage, broccoli
• Second round cabbage, broccoli (can continue planting in greenhouse through Febru-ary as needed).
• Peppers (can continue into February as needed, helps germination to start on a heating mat. Must be transplanted into continually bigger containers in greenhouse).
• Head lettuces such as Buttercrunch, Tom Thumb.
• Chives, thyme, other herbs (continue planting through February, March as needed).
In garden toward end of February, first week March weather permitting. Be prepared to cover transplants when temps threaten to drop below 20 degrees.
• Transplant lettuce, broccoli and cabbage into garden.
• Direct seed leaf lettuce, snow peas, English peas, carrots, boc choi, onion sets, spinach, radishes, beets.
• Start tomatoes in greenhouse or house (must be transplanted into continually bigger containers).
• Start eggplant (in moist paper towels tucked into ventilated plastic sandwich bag in warm place in house, when germinated plant as usual in greenhouse or house).
• Plant potatoes in garden (these are for new potatoes).
• Direct seed kohlrabi.
• Succession plant beets, onion sets (for green onions), radishes, podding radish.
• Direct seed cilantro, pole or bush beans, first planting of soybeans for edamame, sweet corn when soil warms (old-timers planted early corn when the dogwood blooms).
I’ll admit that I have never been much of a cat person. It’s because I am a little selfish, I guess. When I come home at the end of the day, I like to have a pet who is happy to see me. When I come home at the end of the day, my miniature dachshund goes completely mad. He’s happier to see me than a teenage girl seeing Paul McCartney in 1964. In other words, he adores me, and I like that.
That’s just not how cats roll. In fact, cats don’t roll at all. They don’t roll, and they don’t do tricks, at least not the tricks you want them to do. They do what they like, especially if they are older, as accustomed to wielding power as an old mafia don. You keep company with a cat for very long, you eventually come to realize that you are actually more his valet than he is your pet. You live to serve your cat.
Maybe it is just my history with cats. I had one aunt who had a cat that mauled me when I stepped on her tail as a toddler, and another aunt who had a Siamese cat named “Princess” (of course) who was said to eat children. My aunt brought the cat home from Winston-Salem once and told us, “I’m sorry, kids, you can’t really touch or even go near Princess. She’s temperamental.” If we even ventured into the same room with Princess, she would arch her back and hiss menacingly, then crouch like a cheetah getting ready to pounce, causing us to dive over furniture like little soldiers avoiding gunfire.
With all of this as context, you can imagine how pleased I was when I met my wife years ago and discovered that she owned a cat that she had curiously burdened with the name “Bubbie Thomas” (pronounced “Toe Moss”). I had two dogs, an enormous lab/shepherd mix and a pit bull, and now a cat was going to be introduced into this environment? How was THAT supposed to work?
“Is he temperamental?” I asked her. I figured I had learned my way around cat euphemisms the hard way.
She told me that Bubbie was a pretty laid back cat. I had never heard of that and didn’t really believe her. I will never forget the first time I saw my two-year-old daughter reach over and lift Bubbie off the ground as nonchalantly as picking up a sack of flour and then stand there proudly with her pudgy little arms locked together just under his front arms. It looked as if she were about to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on him. Poor Bubbie had the look you sometimes see in the eyes of people who have been held hostage for a long time, a look of pure resignation with just a drop of hope, a look that said, “I’d sure like to escape, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon, is it?”
I had never seen anything like this in a cat before. I would come to understand eventually that Bubbie was kind of the “anti-Princess,” a cat that would never harm a child, even if the child pulled on his tail, tweaked his ears, or dragged him around in a wagon with a heavy towel covering his entire body, save a whisker or two. “Time to take baby shopping,” my daughter would say, and Bubbie would be off on an imaginary shopping trip. He would probably be trying on jackets, necklaces, and hats soon, and these indignities he would endure as patiently as any monk.
A few years later, when my son was born, the entire cycle began again, and then a few years after that, we brought home a miniature dachshund puppy who, the minute he was first able to pry his own eyes often after having been born, perceived that everything he saw was part of his new kingdom. Though he was no bigger than a cigarette, he was an alpha dog from the start, and within just a few months he and Bubbie began waging a three-year war for control of the home.
Though my general preference for dogs is well-documented, I was heartened to see Bubbie stand his ground against “the black menace,” as we came to call our dachshund. The dog would come racing around a corner or lunge from the sofa, dive-bombing poor Bubbie, who would react surprisingly quickly, considering his advancing age and slowing reflexes. He would hiss and raise a paw like Muhammad Ali fending off a Joe Frazier jab, then throw a rapid fire series of his own jabs.
Eventually, these two worked out an inexplicable truce, and each night they would wind up sprawled out next to each other like a couple of tiny dead cowboys on the sofa while my wife and I watched television or worked on our laptops.
As Bubbie continued to age, he began having some difficulty jumping on and off furniture, and lately he had been losing some weight. We took him to the vet last Friday as a precaution, thinking they could give him a steroid or something to increase his appetite. He was 14 years old, but we figured that with some love and care, he had a few more golden years left in him.
I was on my way to a meeting when my daughter called from the vet’s office and said with a voice choked with trembling bravery, “Daddy, I have some bad news. They’re putting Bubbie to sleep.”
I wheeled around immediately and sped as fast as I could to the vet and got there literally just in time. Bubbie was laid out on the table, barely conscious. My wife, barely able to hold back deep, heaving sobs, was holding and stroking his head. I held her with one arm and petted Bubbie with the other. His eyes were open, but he was completely limp, completely at peace, ready to go.
“He has a terminal disease,” said my wife. “They said it’s just going to get worse and worse.”
When it was over, my daughter could not be consoled, and I could do absolutely nothing to help her except sit on the bed and watch her whole body shake with wave after wave of the first pure grief she had ever had to endure. Memories of Bubbie swarmed the room; we couldn’t wipe them away, couldn’t find comfort in them, not yet. I knew that day would come, but she didn’t, and I couldn’t find the words to convince her.
“Why does it have to hurt so much, Daddy?” she said.
“Because we loved him so much,” I said. What else could I say?
“I never want another pet,” she said, and then screamed, “NEVER! NEVER! NEVER!”
One day, she will. Her broken heart will heal, as broken hearts must. One day, we will be able to talk about all the times she carried Bubbie around in her little arms, her head smushed against his, smiling and holding on for dear life. But not today. Today, we just manage to navigate around that big hole in our home where Bubbie used to be, trying not to fall in.
Godspeed, Bubbie Thomas. We’ll thank you for the memories as soon as we are able. Holding you tight, never letting go.
You’d be hard pressed to name a state-run entity more closely aligned with the region it serves than the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. The work going on there is important for the agriculture economy and critical for the emerging crop of growers trying to specialize in exotic and specialty varieties. And researchers at the farm continue to provide direct help to farmers growing crops and livestock that have for years been the traditional mainstays of mountain agriculture.
Perhaps just as important, the Mountain Research Station promotes the lifestyle that will continue to make this region unique. More and more residents place a high value on rural areas and green space, and farms are just as much a part of this movement as wilderness areas. This means doing what we can to help small and large growers remain profitable.
The products from those growers are often going straight into homes. Many who live here are more than willing to pay a little extra for high-quality and tasty foods that come local farms, and many groups and organizations are promoting this lifestyle. As the grow-local, buy-local philosophy gains steam, it builds and strengthens the micro-economies in our rural communities.
It was just a few years ago (2008) that state lawmakers suggested closing the 410-acre research station. Regional supporters fought back hard. Joe Sam Queen, at that time a state senator and now running to return to Raleigh as a state representative, was among those who rallied for the research station.
“We have a diversified agricultural sector with small producers,” he said. The research station provides vital help to these growers, he argued. However, the much-larger farms in the eastern part of the state often carry more political clout.
The Mountain Research Station survived. Bill Skelton, director of the Haywood County Cooperative Extension Office, says the test farm does important work and does it well. He cited its work to improve the cattle herd in the region, while also touting its crop research.
“They put those questions in the ground and see if they can find answers,” said Skelton.
Current work “in the ground” —35 separate research projects — includes tests on what could be new crops in this region like broccoli, truffles and canola (for alternative fuels); continued work with Fraser firs (the first experimental Frasers in North Carolina were grown at the Waynesville farm in the 1970s) and heirloom tomatoes; a project to improve weed control for organic farmers; and continued research to help cattle producers.
“We are becoming more diverse. It’s important that we remain cutting edge. We need to be ahead of the game,” said Mountain Research Station Director Kaleb Rathbone.
The test farm is succeeding at doing just that — staying “ahead of the game.” Let’s hope this economic engine for WNC is here for another 100 years.