The New Victory Garden

Gardening: the original patriot act. (source: Michigan State University)

I have been salivating over gardening books, seed catalogues, blogs and ag extension websites for weeks. It’s only January and I’m anxious to start a spring garden. My seed box has many great leftover seeds from previous growing seasons. There are numerous sources for all kinds of seeds—organic, heirloom, F1 hybrids, new plant breeds, etc. I want to plant them all.

Over the last three years, I’ve noticed a surge in the availability of heirloom and open-pollinated seeds. Considering the growing popularity of locally-grown, non-GMO or organic food, it’s not surprising that the market is meeting the demand. This trend toward organic and local foods has sprouted the long-dormant victory garden concept. Urban and community gardens have become all the rage in big cities and small-town classrooms.

The victory garden’s inception came during WWI, but really took off in America during WWII. It was a way for the war department to send all available food supplies to the troops. The idea was for private citizens to grow their own produce in their backyards, so the large-scale farm production could be sent to the war overseas. Eleanor Roosevelt championed the first victory garden planted on the White House grounds in 1943 to publicize gardening as a patriotic act. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that more than 20 million Americans planted gardens during the WWII years.

Fall tomatoes collected before the killer frost 2012.

Today’s victory garden trend is a more grass-roots movement. People are driven by health consciousness, environmentalism, self-sufficiency, and the emerging “food culture” in America. Fueled by available resources focused on cuisine, there is a schmorgesborg of food blogs, print publications, websites, TV programs, all focused solely on cooking methods, recipes and food preparation. When celebrity chiefs cook, they use the best ingredients, which are fresh, locally-grown produce and meat.

Market demand for homegrown food—favoring organic, heirloom and specialty items—is the byproduct of our food culture. Thus, boosting demand for seeds, especially the unique and old varieties. The benefits of healthy eating is a major contributor to the new victory garden effort. The first spring in the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama created a kitchen garden as part of her healthy living initiative. Ironically, Mrs. Obama’s kitchen garden is the first White House vegetable garden since Eleanor Roosevelt’s.

Other groups advocating gardening are Americans who want to be self-sufficient, or are ecologically minded. There is also a group of people who are opposed to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). There is big debate about the long-term safety of consuming food from GMOs. Stewardship and nostalgia factor in too, since many gardeners and horticulturists want to preserve the world’s rare and unusual plants.

For me, I’m just happy these forces are culminating into a perfect storm for gardens and seeds, both rare in nature and scientifically cultured.

I love to see city folks growing nutritious food in whatever space they have available. It’s a reconnection to our roots (no pun intended) as Americans that carved out a way of life in a harsh and rugged environment. It’s also gratifying as an “ag woman” to see a renaissance of agriculture—growing our own food so we don’t have to travel, scavenge or starve. And the important lessons of knowing where food comes from; the work involved to grow it; and the patience required for a bountiful harvest.

I will be planning an entirely new garden space this year … more to come.

Ladybugs are a garden’s friend.

Fun Photos from Arcadia

It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted fun photos from our life here in Arcadia.

Black eyed susans from my front flower bed. This is a perennial favorite of North Texas gardeners.

Jdubs on the “Fastcat.” His grandfather rigged up a stampede string from a left-over strip of leather.

The real deal.

Textbook wall cloud. A few minutes after I snapped this, the sky opened up and hail stones rained down.

This photo represents the “why” of living where I do.

St. Mary’s Sausagefest

Out here in north Texas, when the Fall hits we get to take our choice of festivals every weekend.  From cooking competitions to fundraisers and heritage celebrations, we get a decent selection of weekend activities within  a quick drive for just about anyone in all of the north part of the state.  One of the best you can find is right in Young County held every second full weekend in November.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church started making homemade sausage in the 1970’s after one of their parishioners who had a German family recipe for sausage came up with the idea for a fundraiser.  Originally, they harvested the pork in the local fields as hog hunters would provide the meat.  As it grew, though, the church had to go to a more reliable source of pork.  Decades later, the annual fundraiser lives strong, and the entire church turns out to lend a hand to pull off the impressive event.  The church will feed 1,200-1,500 people hundreds of pounds of homemade sausage made over a weekend.  Named “Sausagefest” (funny name acknowledged), folks from all over flock to the church to eat lunch on Sunday and buy the uncooked sausage for their freezer so they can have it all year long (or at least until summer when they run out). Here’s a little tour behind the scenes.

The week before the festival, the pork roasts arrive in boxes.

The roasts are then taken out of the boxes and cut up into small chunks by volunteers.

The church has a large commercial kitchen in its annex where all the magic occurs.

The chunks of pork are loaded into large tubs, which are stored in a refrigerated storage container, retrofit with a large air conditioner.

The chunks are then fed thru a commercial grinder not once but twice.  The pork is dusted with the special secret seasonings that includes cayenne pepper and garlic before the first grind.  The smell is overpowering when you walk into the kitchen.

There’s a guard over the grinder to avoid injury.

The pork after the first grind:

And after the second grind:

And here’s the grind:

Then the casings have to be filled.  What are casings?  Well…if you don’t know, it’s probably best I don’t explain it.  Let’s just say that the sausage is all natural.  The casings are soaked in warm water:

Then loaded onto PVC pipes so they are easier to push onto the sausage filler…

And then the casings are filled.

The sausage filler is pretty ingenious.  You load the barrel with the the ground pork

Which is powered by a water hose attached to a water faucet outside.  It’s a pretty cool system…the pressure on the water builds up, you slowly release the water into the barrel and the sausage shoots out of the cap:

The casing is loaded on the spout and the pressure inflates the casings with delicious spiced pork.

Want to see it in action?  Check it:

The sausage is then moved to tubs…

…and then hung in the refrigerated storage container to cure for a couple days before it’s cooked.  The sausage is hung on 1″x1″ boards that run the width of the container.

Outside the kitchen is a commercial smoker with 12 rotating racks.  On Sunday morning, the sausage will go on and given the perfect combo of heat and Texas smoke from wood cut down and seasoned locally, usually a combo of oak and mesquite.

And lo, we have sausage.

It’s a delicious bite all the way thru with the perfect blend of spice and flavor.  The ladies in the church also make a special secret recipe of sweet mustard, as well as fresh cobblers for the crowd.

And there you have it…St. Mary’s Sausagefest. You don’t want to miss it.

Grilling A Proper Ribeye

As luck would have it, we just got a shipment of fresh beef from slaughter off the ranch. As a “quality control” measure, we try to reserve a steer a year to make sure the bloodline we are breeding is producing the highest quality beef. The standing beef is put into our own version of a feed lot, which is just one of our stalls in the barn where we can finish out the beef with 120 days of high corn feed without a lot of exercise by the steer. This builds nice marbled fat within the meat fibers, which will go a long way when we go to cook these bad boys.

If we look at the diagram of a beef:

You see the group of muscles along the back of the beef just below the shoulders labeled as “rib”. That’s where our ribeyes come from. It’s a long muscle that, when the beef is finished out, doesn’t get as much work as a cow or a steer that’s out roaming for grass to chew on. It’s the most flavorful cut of steak you can get while maintaining a tender chew.

Our steaks:

See all the white specks within the meat? That’s good…those bits of fat are going to melt and lubricate the meat fibers, which will make the steaks juicy and easy to masticate. There are a couple different muscles here, and the outside of the steak is just as good if not better than the inside.

Most people take these chunks of bovine heaven and throw them on a hot grill or a hot skillet, which usually sears the shit out of the outside but can make for an uneven cook as the inside of a thick steak can still be cold even if the surface is burned. Traditionally, the solution to this is to sear the outside and then finish off in an oven set at 400deg until the steaks are cooked to the desired temp. This is how I did it for years, but Cooks Illustrated proved that if you go the opposite way…bring the steaks to temp first then finish them off on a grill or skillet…then you get the perfect steak every time. EVERY. TIME. It’s foolproof, and it’s how I do my steaks now. However, a true Texas beef eater will tell you that the thing that beef needs to really be perfect is a little bit of wood underneath to give the beef just a little bit more rounded flavor. That means you finish out on a pit, with a bit of pecan/hickory or, preferably, mesquite. No oak is allowed around here unless it’s in the fireplace.

I recently acquired a kamado-style cooker, so I’m going to do the finish out on it. My first order of business: get a nice, rolling smoke going on the cooker.

Then, we want to lay the steaks out onto a cookie sheet and into a 150-170deg oven with the rack as far away from the heating elements as possible. We want to bring the steaks up to 90-100deg, but it doesn’t have to be exact. The least amount of pokes, the better, so leave the thermometers in the drawer and trust your eyes and your hands. If the red meat turns gray, it’s too hot. It’s not ruined, but that’s too hot. If you take your hands and cup them around the rim of the steak, you can squeeze the steaks together and see the muscles begin to separate.

The steaks are still raw, but what we’ve done is begin to melt the connective tissue between the muscles. THAT’S GOOD. Taking a closer look:

You can see little pockets or canyons where the meat pulls apart. THAT’S GOOD. Onto seasoning…

The great Joe Allen’s Steakhouse in Abilene uses three ingredients on their steaks: salt, pepper, and garlic powder. That’s all you need on your steaks. Dust the steaks with kosher salt evenly, and then scatter garlic powder right on top of the salt. You’ll want to press down just a bit to push the seasonings into the meat. Notice that I didn’t add pepper? That’s by design…if you cook pepper over open flame, it becomes bitter and loses its peppery punch, so let’s save the pepper until the very end.

Notice also that the steak is kinda round…that’s a tip I learned from a buddy of mine that runs a steakhouse. When you cup your hands around the steaks, you can simply form them into a round steak. Don’t get too rough…just press it together so it’s round.

Get your grill as hot as it will get, and throw the steaks on. After 3-4 minutes, turn them with tongs from 11o’clock to 2o’clock to get those neat diamond sear marks. After another 3-4 minutes, flip them and repeat. You can test how well done the steaks are by pressing the meat with your finger. If it feels like your cheek does right around your canine teeth, then it’s med-rare. Inflate your cheek with as much air as you can…that’s well-done. If you cook your ribeyes to well-done, leave your address so I can send you a bag of crap in the mail.

When finished, this is what you should have:

There’s a red tint to the steaks from the wood/smoke. Notice, also, that there’s just the smallest amount of char…that adds so much flavor to the steaks.

Pull them off the fire, add freshly cracked black pepper, and cover loosely with foil for 10 minutes. The rest is important to even the cook.

A closeup of the steak….see how the fat that was yellow before creates pools of liquid right on top of the steak? Sweet beautiful liquid.

I like my ribeyes medium-rare. Rare will give you stringy meat, and we don’t want that. At med-rare, you still get the juiciness of the fat with all the tender toothiness of the melted connective tissue.

 

Served with a baked potato, some fresh salad, and a dark beer or a super red wine, you’ve got the meal I’d request for my last if I get the chance.

Trav’s Corner: Cream of Hatch Chile Soup

First, assemble the ingredients:

1 cup Hatch chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded & diced

¾ cup chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 roma tomatoes, diced

1 large avocado, diced

½ cup chopped cilantro

Juice of 1 lime

2 cups half & half

1 cup chicken broth

In a large saucepan, sauté the onion in some olive oil & butter until soft and translucent. Add the chiles and garlic and sauté briefly. Do not allow the garlic to brown. Add the chicken broth and bring to a rolling boil for two minutes. Add the half & half, lime juice, tomato, avocado, and ½ the cilantro. Bring to a simmer for 30 minutes. Put into bowls and serve with a sprinkle of cilantro and a twist of lime.

Badass Buffalo Wings

If you’ve spent anytime in a sports bar and/or Hooters, then you’ve been exposed to the chicken wing. Some approach chicken wings like a necessary evil in order to go to crappy restaurants with big boobed waitresses, but I love chicken wings. The texture of the meat and the amount of sauce-to-meat ratio is until any other piece of chicken, especially if you know how to eat one correctly. However, the average home chef tends to avoid cooking chicken wings at home because it’s so much quicker to go pick some up on the way home from work. If you give yourself some time to learn the correct way to cook them, you’ll realize how easy they really are. I think the biggest issue people have is a) how to prepare the sauce and b) how to cook the wings themselves.

I like my wings baked. Wings have a ton of connective tissue in them, and if you cook them too quickly then you’ll have wings that are kinda hard to eat because the meat has a lot of sinewy parts holding it all together. This is by design…the bones of a chicken are very thin and easy to snap, however they don’t fly. This means that the wings are nice and meaty so you can eat them. Without any hesitation, I’d tell you that the wing is my favorite part of the chicken to eat, and the best way to cook it is buffalo style.

Tools

Butcher’s knife/cleaver, sharpen and put to steel
Cutting board
Shallow cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil, shiny side up
Oven preheated to 425deg

Prep

When you buy wings, you should plan on 14 pieces per hungry adult heterosexual male. That’s going to be 7 full wings, and you can count them inside the package when you buy them. We are looking for WINGS…not drummettes or wings that are already cut. We’ll do the heavy lifting here, so buck up.

When you get your wings home, make sure they are defrosted. For some reason, butchers are starting to keep these things in the freezer frozen. Take them out of the package and wash them down with water just to rinse off the slimey shit.

REMEMBER – Mishandling chicken can kill your ass, so you need to wash your hands before and after dealing with chicken, including any other kitchen tools you touch as well.

This is what we are looking at:

There are three parts to the wing: The “tip”, which is akin to a hand, the “flap” or the “flat” (I’ve heard it both ways) which is the middle section, then the drum. If you lay the wing skin side down, you can spread the wing out and get a good working surface.

If you feel the joint where the tip meets the flap, you’ll feel a little ball. Put your knife right on top of that ball, put the tip of the blade down on the cutting board and your free hand on the top of the blade to steady it and cut down in a sharp snap. This will cut thru skin and bone at the same time, leaving a nice clean cut. Then, take the wing and set it upright on the tip of the joint so both remaining parts stick up into the air in a V shape. If you spread the wing out, you can see that there is a piece of skin connecting the two parts. The joint is a ball joint, so we can easily sever the two parts by cutting directly down into the V of the joint and working the knife around the ball joint to cut all the way thru.

Admittedly, this is a hard thing to explain and probably harder to understand just by reading. So, click this link and you can watch a video of it.

As you chop the wings, align them on your pan skin side UP. I like to align mine by either flap or drum. It will make sense why later.

Season with garlic salt and pepper, but not too much. Flip them over (skin side down now) and do the other side.

Pop them in the oven for 20 minutes.

Sauce

Buffalo-style sauce is relatively easy, but it’s all up to you on how you want it to taste. Start with five tbls unsalted butter, melted. Do not let it get to hot or it will separate and make a mess. Then add 1/2c of Frank’s Red Hot sauce.

Whisk it in. Now, I like to put a lot of shit in mine to flavor the sauce. All this does is make it spicier and/or hotter, so at any time feel free to stop.

Let’s add 1/2tbls of garlic chili sauce:

And a few squirts of sriracha sauce (chili sauce):

And since this is so acidic, lets throw in a sprinkle of sugar to cut it and some soy sauce for salt. For extra heat, I add just a bit of this bad mother fugger:

Taste it along the way. You’ll want to put it in the middle of your tongue when you are testing it to get the full flavor.

After 20 minutes, flip the wings and cook them another 30 minutes. Watch them…you are looking for crispy but not burned or dried out. After 30 minutes you can put them under the broiler for a couple of minutes to really crisp them up, but be careful because they will burn very quickly.

If you let them sit out for a couple of minutes, they are easier to pull off the pan w/o tearing the skin. Give them a jiggle if they stick to let the fat work its way under the wing.

Put some sauce into a large bowl and add a few wings at a time. Toss, add more wings and sauce and repeat until you are done. I like to do equal parts drum to flap when I toss them. The sauce should be room temperature and the butter solids may begin to solidify. That’s ok…when the wings are added, it will heat up the sauce and melt it down perfectly. You just want the sauce to be kinda runny so it coats the wings good.

Plate them up and serve with blue cheese and/or ranch for dipping. I’m a big fan of fries with wings as well as all the beer I need to wash down the heat.

Homebrewing Beer 101: Editor’s Note – Big Jim’s Double Dark

As a quick aside from our beer chronicles, we went ahead and purchased the ingredients for a Double Bock (or a “Doppel Bock” as the purist say) the last time we were in the brewstore. This is made with DARK malts and dark roasted grains. The recipe is meant to be a clone of the delicious Paulaner Salvator Doppel. I’ll add more pictures down the road at some point, but this actually is worth a quick post just to tell the story of our first ‘big’ beer. We wanted one that would be ready in a couple months and a fun one. This one takes 6 months to finish off. That sounds long to the novice, but the masters will brew then cask in bourbon oak casks for a year at a time to mellow their wort.

We’re not waiting that long, at least not at first when we are still learning how to do this. Here’s the fun part, though….when we were bottling the bitter ale, we realized that we LEFT THE SUGAR OUT OF THE DOUBLE BOCK. That’s an issue. Without enough sugar, the yeasts can create enough alcohol and the flavor will be really weak. After some deliberation and a commercial beer or two, we decided to go ahead and mix in the sugar AFTER the initial fermentation to restart the yeasts for another fermentation before we bottled. The process would last 3days to a week until the sugar was devoured.

Now…was this a smart idea? Probably not. The risk of picking up mold spores or dust or anything bad in the transfer is really not something we want to do. However, spending 6 months on a beer that ends up tasting like something they sell in Oklahoma where they limit the beer abv to 3.9% is not something we’d rather do. So we mixed up the sugar with some of the wort we siphoned out of the carboy then funneled it back in. After a full week, the bubbles stopped and the beer was ready to bottle. We left it in an extra week. Why? Well, we were busy. That’s probably not that smart either, but hey…we are new to this.

Bottles, disinfected and dried

The glass carboy with the delicious double bock waiting inside. Notice the ring of yeast around the top. That’s where the wort was when we first put it in. The yeast ate it down that far.

The color is like cappuccino. Dark brown with a foamy crema on top.

I’m fast forwarding a bit, but this is what the carboy looks like after it’s drained. The bottom looks like saturated river bottom sand. Doesn’t smell like it, though…this smells like warm yeasty bread with a PUNGENT alcohol punch to it. Smells incredible.

This is the brew in the secondary fermenter that we are using for bottling b/c it’s the only bucket we have with a spigot. Forgive me for the heaven photo effect, but it’s the only one I could find that highlighted the brew and the crema without picking up any other colors. The texture is similar to a dark soy sauce. It’s a sweet flavor that’s definitely young and needs some time in the bottle. In a pinch, though, you could drink this right now. It would need to be in a pinch, though, because this needs some bottle lovin’ for a few months.

We used a couple oversized bottles that Runnin’ Buddy has been saving for a few years in case he ever picked up homebrewing. It’s almost destiny.

Some random shots of the bottles, filled with the sweet nectar of the double bock.

And there we have it…forty bottles of our double bock that we lovingly named Big Jim’s Double Dark. Check back in August when we get to open these.

Homebrewing Beer 101: Tire Biter Bitter Ale Part 2

If you remember the last time we met here, we were in stage one of our new project: homebrewing. It’s the essence of true Arcadia. Anyone crazy enough to move out to the country needs to pacify themselves somehow.

The last time we were here, we just finished up the wort for a bitter ale called “Tire Biter”, made with blonde malt syrup and blonde malt grains, seeped in a tea for a while, then all mixed together for an hour with noble hops, and then we cooled it off in our primary fermenter, primed the airlock with vodka and slid it into the hallway closet for the magical yeast to take it’s time to do what it do, baby. Next step: Bottling.

We always start with a little bit of hot water and some bleach. Not too much…just enough to kill stuff. Now, since this is our first time thru the beer making process, we were told to used diluted bleach. Since that time, we’ve met up with a couple different homebrew supply stores who think we are batshit crazy for using bleach. There’s some other stuff we are supposed to be using, so we’ll get some the next time we’re in. For now, it’s bleach.

All parts go in to the bleach soak:

We’ve got two cases of bottles washed and disinfected in the dishwasher. We’ve got a disinfecting cycle on our Bosch diswasher. Pretty damn handy for kids or beer.

The only ingredient we are using today is corn sugar. 3/4c is all we need to prime, which means we are going to add it to the wort to make the fizzy bubbles in the beer.

First thing, we have to take off the top of the primary bucket and prime the wort. I mixed up ¾c of corn sugar with enough water to make a pint. Then, I left it out for a bit to come up to room temp and swirled it into the wort, being careful not to upset the yeast on the side and bottom of the bucket.

Now, before we go any farther, let’s take a look at the wort so far:

I ran a little thru the bottle filler hose to flush out anything left from the rinsing stage. Gorgeous color, and the smell is divine. The yeast looks absolutely dreadful, but it smells like warm bread dough. We debated on uses for the left over gunk, but could only come up with “potential sourdough starter”.  In the end, we just washed it down the drain.

Gravity says we have to siphon from up above to down below, so we put the bucket up on the counter, attach the bottle filler, and open the valve. Since the top is open, we don’t have a problem with creating a vacuum.

The bottle filler is designed to go all the way to the bottom of the bottle and trigger to release the flow of beer into the bottles. When it gets to the top (maybe even overflowed a bit), then you pull it out and it’s ready to be capped. The extra space in the bottle helps age the beer, which it needs an additional 3 weeks still after this bottling to mellow the flavor and create the bubbles. The bubbles are made from the leftover yeast and the sugar we added to prime.  The yeast eats the sugar (which calms the flavor), and yeast expunges CO2 as its “waste” product.  That’s right, kids…beer is bubbled with yeast poop.

Our bottles are mottled this time around. We went heavy on the EZ-Cap style. I think we’ve decided to go with the EZ-Caps as much as possible in the future, but we also have about 50-60 regular bottles that require a metal cap. Since we are just starting out, we are just going to do both and see which one we like best.

With the bucket up on the counter and bottles in place, we are ready to go.

Top view before we start. The color is like a light orange honey.

This is about halfway thru with the bottling, but I wanted to show these two up next to each other for effect.

And of course, the bottom of the barrel

The bottom still sorta churns itself as the yeast are still somewhat active.

If you’ve ever had a bottle of Fischer’s Alsatian style beer or a Grolsch, then you know how easy the EZ-Caps are to open. They are just as easy to put on as they are to take off. When we ran out of EZ-caps we went to the old standard beer bottles and our analog bottlecapper.

We had some old unused bottlecaps that came from an old Sunkist bottling plant. We don’t give a shit what the caps say. All we care about is the beer. As long as they work, that’s all we care about. Plus, it will be a good conversation starter.

Another shot at the wort…maybe it is Sunkist afterall.

And when they are all finished, they go back into the hallway closet at 60deg F for another 3-4 weeks for bottle aging. We are a month away. Can’t wait.

Finale coming up shortly…

The Golden Birthday: Five on the Fifth

I never really wanted to be a dad. Not that I wanted to NOT be a dad…it just didn’t really seem like the thing that fit me. Somehow, though, five years ago today Fate decided that it would send me down a new road that I’d never been down before and didn’t really set out to go down in the first place.

I’m not that good with kids. Not naturally, at least. I talk loudly and often, I tend to laugh loudly and often, and I slip in pretty salty language in between both. I’ve mellowed in my old age, but I can still pop off without realizing that I’ve got a two-legged tape recorder at my knees taking in everything that I say that just so happens to resonate above most of the other voices in the room.  I have learned to pretend to be fairly decent with kids, which is nothing short of a miracle if you ask any of my friends who knew me in a different life.

There are lots of things I wanted to “be” in life. At one time, I wanted to be either a doctor, a lawyer, or a singer in a heavy metal puke band. After life actually happened, turns out that I didn’t have the stomach to be a doctor, I’m nowhere near studious or smart enough to be a lawyer, and my heavy metal wail sounds more like an ambulance siren with a loose wire. Being an Aggie was what was most important to me, and it’s probably the thing I identify with most. However, I enjoy being a loyal friend, a doting husband, an archenemy ready to fight at all times, an underachieving son, an annoying brother, and sometimes just a guy that people are just a little bit wary or afraid of to really get too close to. It’s easier that way in most instances, but at times I need to be pretty good at all of those things. More often than not, I am not…I’m either marginally acceptable or even downright unacceptable.

The one thing I never really put much thought into “being” was a dad. But here I am, five years to the day when I got to “be” that very thing. It makes me laugh when people have kids and say something like “they don’t send these things home with instructions” or something pseudo-witty like that, but the truth is that Amazon.com is filled with all sorts of instruction books on babies, so the excuse is moot. Amazon.com might even know me by first name after all the purchases I made pre-birth, sometimes with determined agenda, sometimes in late night insomnia-induced panic in front of the computer wondering what my offspring would look like or if he/she would have an extra arm or an extra asshole or something that would take an extra-ordinary parenting effort that I wasn’t nearly prepared to tackle. After all the books and websites and magazines and blogs and articles, the only true way to comprehend something so unique as being wholly responsible for another sentient human is to just be given one and then have the helpful professional walk away and let you both ‘cut your teeth’ (so to speak) on your own. It’s amazing what you’ll learn when given the chance to fly and fall and break something. Admittedly, it helps to have a muted sense of smell when raising a baby, especially with the aforementioned career-determining weak stomach. Plus, it’s a damn good excuse for not changing a poop diaper. It really helps to have an equally-yoked partner with a coyote-keen sense of smell, almost comically.

Five years later, and I’ve learned a lot from this entire experience. I’ve learned what it’s like to go face to face with one of those poop diapers in the middle of the night, and I’ve even learned what it’s like to go face to face with the source from whence it came while trying to get a new diaper in place. I know what it sounds like to hear the F word, innocently repeated by the lips of an angel, and I know the feeling of absolute helplessness when you see blood pouring from a wound or hear the unmistakable sound of silence right before the soul-bending screech of sheer unadulterated pain from stubbing a toe or falling on the floor. I’ve never run so fast nor have stopped so suddenly as I have chasing a crawling 12-month old. I used to stare down parents in a restaurant with an infant for making noise, and now find myself so zoned out in a restaurant when my kiddo is acting like a damn monkey because of the spoonful of perspective I’ve taken for the past five years at least once a day. Being a dad makes me a better son. It makes me a better son-in-law. I think it makes me a better husband, but my wife might tell you that my superhero sense of ignoring is so powerful that it can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Some things are too far gone or even too far-fetched for my personality and/or hypocrisy, but those days of going and doing and seeing and experiencing all on my own are forever gone. Regardless of where I go or what I do or what I see, it will never be the same now that I see my own flesh and blood go thru the pain and struggle of everyday life that I went thru. It seemed hard at the time I was going thru it myself, but it’s so much harder now knowing what lies behind each corner for my little son. All these years of fighting my own dad mean so much more when I see that he was just doing the same thing I’m doing now. He’ll laugh about it now, and I’ll laugh about it someday too, but in the moment it scares me to even let myself ponder the possibilities of my might-have-been’s if not for such a great protector.

I’m much more keen to foul language or inappropriate content on tv. I can self-censor pretty well, but still have trouble not singing the bad words in songs mostly out of habit. Beer tastes good, but not nearly as good as when the house is totally silent during those moments when I know my little guy is safe in bed asleep. I check locked doors and windows and keep an eye out for sharp edges, but it’s second nature for me now. At one time, it was a struggle to perform these checks because I was having to think about them. I don’t have to think about them anymore…it’s like being Neo in the Matrix. The Patrix. You see the Patrix in lines of streaming code and milk after a certain point.

Five years in, and what I take from it all is that I’m still pretty loud and obnoxious, I still use salty language and still tend to be bigger than the room more than I should be. That’s just who I am, and it probably won’t change. What has changed is my perspective on how it affects everyone else in the room. For that reason, I both apologize to everyone I know as well as stand arms wide open in defiant confidence, knowing that I am what I am. For any other kid, I would be a terrible dad, and most kids annoy the hell out of me. Fortunately, I’m not a dad to all those other kids.

It wasn’t fate that I become a daddy…it was fate that I became my son’s daddy. And it’s the best thing I’ve ever “been” or probably will ever “be”, and at the end of my days I’ll die happy, knowing that I’ll be remembered merely as my son’s daddy, if not solely.

Spring is Here

Spring is here in North Central Texas. It is obvious in all the sprouting and flowering plants.

Icelandic Poppy
Daffodil
Ornamental Pear

The winter wheat practically glows in the sun. The daffodils are a bloom and the perennials are starting to come back to life. But I happen to have a greenhouse so I’ve got a bit of a jump on things.

Today it was 78 degrees. It’s February 28. I don’t know what that is going to mean but I don’t think it bodes well for the garden season this year. We’ll see.

But for now I’m happy with what I got going on in my little garden.

View into the greenhouse to the left.
View into the greenhouse to the right.
The herb project.
Someone spilled some of my seeds ... I'm not saying who (Jdubs) but I didn't want to throw them out so I just stuck them in a pot to see what sprouted. I have no idea what this is, maybe tomatoes or peppers
A little tomato is forming. And considering how warm it's been, early season is best.
More tomatoes ... these are Celebrity.