The Year of the Rain Barrel Debacle

Spring planting season is upon us here in central North Carolina. Conceptually, I want to go whole hog—no doubt a throwback to my rural roots. In reality, I am hesitant—no doubt a throwback to “The Year of the Rain Barrel Debacle.”

It was about five years ago, and I had decided to grow edible stuff on the balcony of my townhouse. I planted ever-bearing strawberries, tomatoes, two varieties of peppers, and even some parsley and mint for good measure.

I sat back and waited for the rain to come. And waited. The soil became “dry as punk” (to use one of my mother’s quirky colloquialisms). I grew so desperate for rain that when it did fall, I ran from porch to patio positioning pots and pans at the downspouts and hoarding water for a dry day.

It soon occurred to me that a rain barrel was the answer to my gardening woes. After some research, I settled for a fifty-two gallon contraption—complete with a diverter system to prevent barrel overflow—wrestled it into (then back out of) my little SUV, and poured studiously over the installation instructions.

Uh-oh. I would need to cut the downspout and replace a five-inch piece with an adaptor that would ferry the water from the spout to the barrel. Technically, the downspout was not mine—it went right down the middle of where my house ended and the house to my left began. I would need to get permission from the neighboring property owner.

That neighbor also happened to be my older sister. After hearing my passionate pleas to help save the fruits and veggies from wilting on the vine, she conceded to what she referred to as my “dern hippie ways.” (That’s an exact quote right there).

The following Saturday, I rounded up my tape measure and hacksaw.

Was nine o’clock in the morning too early to hack through a downspout? I wondered.

rain-barrel-frontBy nine-o-five, I was ripe with impatience. Rationalizing that I would be quick about it, I began to saw with purpose. The sound of metal against metal cut through the peaceful morning air. Past the point of no return, I saw my task through to the ear-splitting end. (I was later informed that my sister’s princely pooch howled at the raucous ruckus, circled the living room, and did his business where he had no business doing it. …Um, oopsy?)

With the contraption in place and the spigot at the bottom of the barrel tested for functionality, I again waited for the rain to come. It did and my barrel filled quickly. But along with the water came the critters. Soon I had a thriving ecosystem outside my basement door. Mosquitoes swarmed around the closed lid of the rain barrel, and frogs from every stage of the life cycle—from eggs to tadpoles to full-grown hippity hoppers—took up residence within. No less revolting was the water itself, which became green and stagnant.

Did I really want to pour this on plants that I would later eat? I wasn’t so sure, so I chewed on the question at some length.

I was torn from my obsessive musings when the spigot began to leak. As I eyed the drip, I knew what I had to do: face the fungus head-on. Literally. (The barrel was too heavy to move, and the idea of emptying fifty-two gallons of water at my basement door seemed all wet.) So I got a ladder, removed the lid, and bent headfirst into the mire.

As I leaned further in, searching for the spigot that needed tightening, I heard a drawling voice say, “Looks like you’ve got yourself quite a predicament there.”

I bolted upright as though poked with a cattle prod. Peg, the unofficial neighborhood watchman, was watching me with a hint of amusement in his eyes.

I tried to appear casual and breezy despite what I could only assume was a disheveled appearance. We spoke inanely for a bit, then Peg returned to his house and settled into a patio chair to watch the gold finches flit around his feeders.

With renewed determination, I threw myself into my murky task and managed to tighten the spigot. I put the lid back on the rain barrel, went into the house, and proceeded to expend ten times the water my rain barrel could hold by washing my slimy clothes and taking a cleansing shower.

For Sale: One Rain Barrel. Lightly used. $1, or best offer. Serious inquiries only.

Representative bounty from “The Year of the Rain Barrel Debacle”

Fresh, Green, Tomatoes

Blogging six days a week is challenging, let me tell you.  As one acquaintance remarked recently, “Goodness, I don’t think I have enough things happen to me to write six days a week!”

Hear, hear!  That’s why today I’m “going green.”  For those of you who followed me at Old-Fashioned Girl Blogger, you’ll recognize the picture and poem that I’m sharing today.

Here’s something fresh to go with the recycled: You might say this (silly little) poem is an ekphrasis, (pronounced ek-fra-seez): a literary description of something visual.

Ode to Ketchup

Ketchup. O Ketchup!
So tangy. So sweet.
It makes a great treat.
Don’t get caught with your
Tongue in the jar!

Ketchup? Why ketchup?
My only reply
To the question of why
Is that Mom put the Oreos
Up way too high!

Short-Short Saturday: As the Hotdogger Turns

“I’m hungry.  Can I borrow twinny-five cents for a Little Debbie?” I asked Sandy as I watched her fill a bucket with soap and water.

Sandy picked the bucket up, the muscles in her lean arms pulsing from the effort.  “It’s twenty-five.  Twen-ty-five,” she emphasized patiently.  “Now you say it,” she prompted.

“TWENty-five.  Can I borrow twenty-five cents, please?” I asked again.

She set the bucket down, dug into her faded jeans pocket and produced a quarter.  “You really need to eat better,” she lectured lightly as she handed me the coin.

“Thanks, Sandy!” I grinned, plucked a Peanut Butter Bar from the shelf and deposited the quarter inside the cash register.

My shift over, I munched on the crispy treat as I watched Sandy begin to wash down cabinets in the back of the store.  Her strawberry blond plaits danced as she worked the rag in circular motions over the white cupboard doors.

It was the late 1980s, but Sandy was holding onto the 70s with all she had.  By the looks of it, she was in her forties – which seemed old in comparison to my seventeen years.  Divorced with a degree in Forestry and a second job there at the convenience store off Interstate 70 to make ends meet, she was quirky and carefree yet she demanded excellence of herself and encouraged it in others.

“Did the boss tell you to do that?” I asked, noticing that she’d worked up a healthy sweat from her labor.

“No, I just saw that it needed to be done so I’m doing it,” she replied matter-of-factly.

I thought about that for awhile.  I realized there was a sort of freedom and independence in discovering what needed to be done before being ordered by someone else to do it.

I only worked at the store on weekends, but I resolved to be a good worker like Sandy for those sixteen hours.  The following Saturday afternoon, I noticed that the hot dog machine had developed a build-up of crusted on juices from days of turning weenies to plump perfection.  I grabbed a bucket, filled it with sudsy water and donned a pair of yellow rubber gloves.  I scrubbed the hotdogger until it gleamed, then I placed hot dogs and sausages on the turner and stepped back to survey my handiwork.

“Beautiful!” my supervisor praised.  She hesitated as she noticed my hands, still clad in yellow rubber gloves.  “Where did you get those?” she inquired.

“In the back room on the shelf,” I pointed.

She looked dismayed.  “Harold uses those gloves when he cleans the toilets!”

Adventures in Reading

The intercom crackled to life and the Principal’s deep voice boomed, “SSR will begin now!”

Up and down the long elementary school hallway, all noise stopped except for the rustling of pages.

SSR.  Sustained Silent Reading.

I opened the yellow-bound, hardcover book that I had selected from my second-grade teacher’s turn-style bookshelf: the first Nancy Drew book that I would ever read!

yesterday & today. simply timeless.

I was a bit daunted by the sheer number of pages, and I found myself skimming over big words that I did not yet understand.  Despite this, the spirit of mystery and adventure swept me along.

Fifteen minutes flew by, the bell rang, and SSR ended.  Our class made its way to Phys Ed, where we were learning fundamental gymnastic skills.

As I hung from the low horizontal bar in a move where my hands and feet were wrapped around the bar, I called out to my gym teacher, “Look!  I’m Nancy Drew!”

She appeared puzzled for a moment, and then she stifled a laugh. “Nancy Drew is a sleuth!  You’re a sloth!”

I pondered that for a moment, storing it in my ever-growing repository of knowledge. It would be several more years before I realized that a “late model sedan” was actually a new car, not an old one!  … Several more years of growing, learning and exploring through reading.  May the adventure never end!