My salad days

I’ve come to the realization that I’ve wasted my life.

This epiphany occurred, appropriately enough, as I enjoyed a chicken Caesar salad. You see, recently I’ve developed something of an obsession with the tasty salad. This newfound fascination is all the more compelling when you consider that, for years, I wrinkled my nose in disgust when anyone so much as offered me a bite of chicken Caesar salad.

There’s no good reason for such behavior. As I relished each delicious morsel over lunch last week, I tried to remember what had kept me and the salad apart for what I’ve taken to calling the lost years. The only explanation I have is that I mistakenly believed that chicken Caesar salad was served with ranch dressing. Of course, I can take ranch dressing in small doses, so I’m not even sure that’s an acceptable rationalization.

Regardless, a couple months ago I had occasion to feast on what I later referred to as the best salad I had ever eaten. A week later at a Christmas luncheon, I ordered a house salad at a local restaurant that rivaled the best salad ever.

I did not connect the dots at that point. It wasn’t until a month later, after I actively ordered a chicken Caesar salad, with dressing on the side, that I made the connection. Even then, it didn’t immediately click. As I put only a minimal amount of dressing on the salad, I said to myself, “Self, this dressing doesn’t look or taste like ranch. Actually, this salad reminds me a little of the best salads ever, versions one and two.”

Since then, I have gone out of my way to get my hands on chicken Caesar salad. I waited in line for several minutes to obtain one specifically made for me. I’ve added chicken, romaine lettuce, Caesar dressing, and sprinkly Parmesan cheese to my shopping list. No croutons for me, though.

Whilst compiling my list, I searched for chicken Caesar salad recipes. Yeah, I know. It contains something like five ingredients. But I wanted to make sure I had included all the essential ingredients on my list. According to my research, common ingredients include anchovies, Worcestershire sauce and crushed garlic.

This distressed me. I thought making a chicken Caesar salad would involve tossing some sprinkly cheese on lettuce and chicken and then lightly seasoning the creation with dressing. I was not prepared to crush garlic.

Luckily, further research indicated that the so-called common ingredients comprise the dressing. Apparently, some over-achievers make their own dressing.

Not me. The less time I spend on making the salads, the more time I’ll have to enjoy them.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Love is all around

My 2016 ended with a wonderful, life-changing surprise – I learned that SundanceTV is airing, in their words, “TV’s most iconic series” on weekday mornings. They’re broadcasting “M*A*S*H,” “All in the Family,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Although I enjoy all five shows, I’ve had access to “M*A*S*H” and “Andy Griffith” pretty much my entire life. Indeed, it’s my belief that if I turn on the TV at any time of the day, I can find an episode of “Andy Griffith.” (The same can be said of “Roseanne” and the “Law and Order” franchise as well, but that’s another column for another day.) And while “All in the Family” hasn’t always been readily available, it’s my least favorite of the five.

But I’m super excited about “The Bob Newhart Show” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

In fact, one of my earliest memories involves watching “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”(Other early memories feature snippets of “Days of Our Lives.” Obviously, TV has always been important to me.)

Anyway, Mary, the producer of a TV newscast, is one of my fictional role models. When I moved into my first apartment, a friend compared me to Mary. I don’t think he realized how much I treasured that compliment.

Of course, Mary is much nicer than am I. It would take me about two minutes to tell that intrusive Sue Ann to get out of my face. I also question Mary’s decision to greet Murray at the door wearing only a towel. It would have been believable if the scene had contained romantic undertones. But the towel was barely acknowledged. The scene left me wondering if folks back in the 1970s frequently paraded around in towels in front of co-workers. Or if I just have a dirty mind.

I’m also a little confused by the episode where Ted turns down a substantial raise and a gig as the host of a game show to remain at WJM. But it featured a wonderful scene between Ted and Lou who, along with Rhoda, are my favorite of Mary’s supporting characters.

The only aspect of “Bob Newhart” that I’ve re-evaluated is Bob’s daft neighbor, Howard. According to my research, Howard works as a navigator for an airline. From the way he’s presented, however, he doesn’t have enough sense to navigate himself into and out of an elevator.

Otherwise, I have no complaints about the show. From low-key psychiatrist Bob to his sarcastic wife Emily (the criminally underappreciated Suzanne Pleshette) to Bob’s dern-near perfect receptionist, Carol, to his rude patient, Mr. Carlin, I love this show.

My feelings for both “The Bob Newhart Show” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” go deeper than mere nostalgia, though. I frequently find myself laughing out loud whilst watching the shows. Or in the case of my morning routine, laughing out loud whilst listening to them as I get ready for work.

Unfortunately, I can’t sit in front of the TV all morning catching up on the shenanigans at WJM or the anxieties of Bob’s therapy group. So, I record one episode of each show every week. Spending time with Mary and Bob and their sidekicks can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Count your blessings

Around this time each year, my Facebook friends share posts about money challenges. Although the details of individual money challenges vary, the gist is similar. You challenge yourself to save money all year so that by the time the ball drops, you’ll be rolling in cash.

A couple years ago, I decided to participate in the 52-week money challenge, which meant I would save one dollar the first week of the year, two dollars the second week, three dollars the third week, etc. According to a chart I found on the Internets, the money challenge would help me put back a whopping $1,378 throughout the year.

Yeah, I felt really good about stepping up to the challenge. That is, I did until I asked myself, “Self, how are you going to get your hands on fifty-two bucks in cash during week 52?”

I couldn’t argue with myself. Indeed, I wasn’t even sure I could come up with twenty bucks in cash. (Or 19, or 18, or 17…) So, I concluded that the money challenge wasn’t for me, and last year I ignored the oodles of money-challenge posts that popped up in my newsfeed.

I’ve been doing the same this year, which is how I almost missed a post about a blessings jar. But the picture of a Mason jar filled with colorful slips of paper caught my eye, so I stopped scrolling long enough to read the post. I learned that the objective is to write down something good that happens to you each week and to place the blessing in a jar. At the end of the year or the beginning of next year or whenever you want, you can empty the jar and read about the “amazing” year you had.

This is a splendid idea. Of course, I think already categorizing the coming year as “amazing” might fall under the category of counting unhatched chickens. And my positive feelings about a blessings jar do not negate my belief that it’s okay to complain. Well, as long as you don’t complain so much that you get on your own nerves or annoy folks so much that they avoid you. As with everything, complaining should be done in moderation.

Anyway, unlike that pesky money challenge, I think I can complete a blessings jar. My jar, however, probably won’t be as colorful as the one that caught my eye. Instead of writing my blessings on a vividly-hued notepad, I’ll jot them on scraps of discarded paper and on the backs of receipts and envelopes.

Recycling paper. There’s my week-one blessing.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Looking back on the year that was

Dear Reader,

Wow! What an action-packed year 2016 turned out to be! While there is not enough paper or ink or bandwidth to list every exciting thing I experienced during the year, I thought I’d share some of the most memorable.

January – The excitement began with the year’s first, but certainly not last, trek to the home improvement store. Indeed, I visited the store so much in 2016 that I’m surprised other customers didn’t mistake me for an associate. Ha-ha. On my initial foray, I bought a replacement filter for my range hood. Kudos to the associate who helped me for not recoiling in disgust at the sight of my old, grease-covered filter.

February – I accidentally tried lime-flavored potato chips. I was unimpressed.

March – I finally went to the county dump. I immediately questioned why I had never been there before.

April – I made the acquaintance of one or more groundhogs whilst taking my semi-daily walks. I can’t be sure if it’s the same groundhog who stops suddenly and turns an inquisitive eye my way or if I see a different groundhog every day. Perhaps I’ll figure it out if and/or when our relationship develops into a friendship.

May –I considered changing my hairstyle, but changed my mind.

June – I enjoyed a scoop (or two, I can’t remember) of Baskin Robbins’ World Class Chocolate ice cream whilst out of town. I wish I could find that flavor in local stores. Then again, maybe it’s good that I can’t. Ha-ha.

July – My niece and I got lost on our way to her surprise birthday/going away party. That’s right. Our family navigator and I couldn’t find our way to a locale we have frequented!

August – I watched several thrilling Olympic badminton matches.

September – I made not one, but two trips to the chain hardware store to find a heating element for my oven. Why two trips? Because my element had crumbled into millions of pieces, rendering it difficult to match to the store’s ware. Indeed, the helpful associates said they had never seen a heating element in so many parts. And, yes, it appears that my electric range could write its own year-in-review post. Ha-ha.

October –I finally figured out how to send a thumbs up on Facebook Messenger.

November – I finally found popcorn salt that is orange in color and tastes similar to the popcorn salt of my youth.

December – I had the pleasure of feasting on two really good salads sprinkled with Asiago cheese and flavored with just a touch of ranch dressing.

Shew! Here’s hoping the fun continues into 2017. Happy New Year!

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Second run

The legend of Big Tom’s Toes

My dad, the late, great Burton Goff, loved to work in his garden. And although not a worrywart by nature, Daddy fretted over the health of his plants. He worried that the blight would afflict his tomatoes, that bugs would ruin his potatoes, that birds would eat his berries, and that deer would trample and/or feast on crops in general.

In an effort to be proactive, Daddy sought advice on how to combat obstacles to a bountiful crop. In the last year or so of his life, one gardening issue in particular vexed him so that he contacted the extension office. I can still see him sitting in his recliner, poring over papers.

“What are you reading?” asked I.

“It’s from that professor,” he explained.

Thinking that Daddy had withheld from me his decision to continue his education, I asked, “What professor?”

He then explained that the extension office had sought counsel from a University of Kentucky professor on his behalf. He seemed pleased with the response, but I must admit that I can’t remember if we ever again discussed this topic.

Nonetheless, Daddy wasn’t afraid to experiment with different gardening techniques. He surrounded his beans in bright orange plastic fencing that could be seen from space because someone told him that would deter critters. That’s also why I passed along bags of used kitty litter to him and why he draped tape from cassettes amongst his plants.

Whatever he did worked. None of us ever went hungry. Indeed, we enjoyed our share of, in his words, “garden suppers.”

As much as I might want to believe it, though, Daddy wasn’t perfect. Indeed, he didn’t have much luck with his “cabbages.” But he always raised such a bounty of corn, potatoes and tomatoes that he had to give away produce.

And after all these years, I think we’ve discovered the secret to his success. It wasn’t his use of “Miracle Growth” or his dedication to hoeing. It was his seed collection.

Whilst going through a deep freezer in Daddy’s old work building, my sister, Pam, located enough tomato seeds to yield plants for decades. We had known for some time that Daddy stored seeds in the freezer. In fact, that’s where we found the peaches and cream corn seed that produced a harvest the year after his death. But we hadn’t paid that much attention to the oodles of seed saved in and on such miscellaneous containers as plastic freezer boxes, baby food jars and paper towels.

That’s right. He affixed tomato seeds to paper towels.

Who knows how many years those seeds have managed to remain stuck to paper towels. Who knows how long they’ve rested underneath the description, “Big Tom’s Toes.”

Although I am well-versed in Daddy’s unique vocabulary, this description stumped me. At first, I thought it might refer to Daddy’s great-grandfather, Tom Collins. But I had never heard the man referred to as “big Tom.” What’s more, Daddy wouldn’t have preserved his grandpa’s toes. Unlike at least one of his children, Daddy wasn’t morbid.

Before I could spend too much time trying to translate the sentence, Pam explained that it meant tommy toes. (For those of you not fortunate enough to have grown up in a holler, tommy toes are also known as cherry tomatoes.)

As a writer, I felt proud that Daddy had inserted the apostrophe in the right place. More than that, though, I felt happy to see his handwriting again. I imagined him placing the moist seeds on the paper towels and then rummaging through drawers until he found a marker. As he spelled out “Big Tom’s Toes,” he probably thought he would plant those seeds in the soil of the land that his family has owned for more than 200 years. If not the next spring, then another one. They wouldn’t go to waste.

Now that Big Tom’s Toes have been located, something tells me they’ll be put to excellent use.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

As mad as a hornet’s nest

One warm, sunny day last fall, my brother-in-law pointed out a gigantic hornet’s nest hanging from the eaves of my house. Although the nest was bigger than my head, I had somehow failed to notice its existence.

The magnitude of the nest bothered me, but we were still enjoying nice weather, so my advisors and I decided to allow the hornets to continue trespassing until the temperature dropped a few dozen degrees.

Well, you know how it is. Even though I had written “hornet’s nest” on my personal whiteboard, it seemed as if I gave the nest serious consideration only during snow storms or on our most frigid days. I’d say to myself, “Self, I need to get rid of that nest before the hornets return from their winter vacation.” Then, I’d shiver, make a cup of hot chocolate and forget about it.

Once winter morphed into spring, however, the nest began to dominate my thoughts. But since the nest occupied the highest point of my house, it presented a logistical problem. I couldn’t sweep it away with a broom, and the rocks I threw in its direction didn’t exactly hit the mark. What’s more, although I wished for it fervently, Legolas didn’t ride up and shoot the nest with an arrow.

With nowhere else to go, I expressed my despair to my family. And that’s when my sister suggested I spray the nest with hornet killer. I have to admit, she had me at spray. In fact, I never pass up an opportunity to use bug spray. Last summer, I actually uttered the sentence, “Keep them alive until I get the Raid.”

Nevertheless, I wasn’t sure about this so-called hornet killer. But, I’ll be darned. Lowe’s carries several brands of hornet and wasp(er) killer. I made my selection, and the spray remained in the bag for a couple weeks. Why wasn’t I itching to point the hornet and wasp(er) killer at a nest filled with stinging insects who are so angry they inspired the phrase “as mad as a hornet?” Oh, I don’t know.

As fate would have it, when I pulled into my driveway one evening last week, I spotted a much smaller hornet’s nest materializing above my garage. My instincts kicked in and after parking the car – and before I could change from my professional wardrobe and into my lounging attire – I grabbed the hornet and wasp(er) killer and headed outside.

Although a hornet fluttered around the nest, I aimed the bottle and sprayed until the hornet lay lifeless in my driveway. Then, I knocked down the nest and squashed it with my foot. Without thinking of the repercussions, I walked across the lawn and directed the can at my old nemesis – the massive nest at the apex of my house.

I can only describe the event as anti-climatic. Not even one enraged hornet emerged from the nest. Indeed, the wind created my only problem. But once I figured out which way the wind was blowing, the spray soared into the stratosphere and surrounded the nest.

Unfortunately, this story is not over. I climbed my step-ladder and held a broom aloft, but it didn’t come close to touching what remains of the nest. Part of it continues to hang from the eaves of my house, mocking me.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.