Community Supported Agriculture

May 8, 2010 at 10:28 am (Community Supported Agriculture, Cromwell Valley Park, DC National Aquarium, Donna Dell'Aglio, Food, Friends, Maryland Zoo, Michael Townsend, Places) (, , , , , )


Note from the _BlogMaster. Today’s guest post comes from my good friends Donna Dell’Aglio and Michael Townsend. They’re big fans of “The Adventures of Eydie and Sammy Wight” and wanted to contribute a post on “Community Supported Agriculture”. Welcome Donna and Michael!

By Donna Dell’Aglio and Michael Townsend

Michael and I are committed city dwellers. We appreciate the many advantages that a large metropolitan area provides. It is wonderful to visit world class museums, hang out with exotic creatures at the Maryland Zoo or National Aquarium, catch a professional baseball game, or explore culinary treats of the many cultures that comprise our city. Mike is profoundly disabled and we are also grateful for the close proximity of outstanding medical care, accessible public transportation, and a range of other supports that would be impossible to find in a more rural setting.

Still, something almost intangible is missing… We yearn for a taste of a quieter, gentler life. Despite all of our great urban advantages, we are a bit envious of our friends who enjoy life in the country. Oh, to have a garden (or even a yard) of our own!  We dream of all things country: tending to the land and raising fresh vegetables, collecting farm fresh eggs, making jams or jellies with my own fruit, beekeeping, observing local wildlife. We often read Eydie’s blog with a certain amount of envy.

Over the past several years, Michael and I have attempted to infuse some aspects of country living into our city lifestyle. Often, we fail… Determined to have our own fresh veggies, we planted a container garden on our patio. Wonderful concept, but just about everything went wrong. We planted tomatoes — easy enough, I thought. We bought roomy containers with a nice drainage system. Procured top-of-the-line soil. Researched and obtained the finest quality seeds especially suitable for container gardening…

Michael with service monkey KathyMike and I were happy as we envisioned a robust garden and bountiful harvest. Even happier was Kathy, Mike’s service monkey from Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled. Little did we know that monkeys like to garden.They love to explore the soil, dig, catch bugs etc. Hey, Kathy thought we were setting up this garden just for her enjoyment.

Dead TomatoesWell, despite all of our efforts, the results were disastrous. Everything started well. Our plants appeared to be sturdy.They grew and grew — then stopped growing only to sprout mutant little tomatoes that seemed to become infected with some kind of fungus. Our pepper plants failed to become pollinated (I think — we had lots of flowers but no baby peppers). It was a sad experience — far from the beautiful, lush plants that I had envisioned. Over the course of several months, we managed to kill off a small herb garden and our flowers just wilted.

We grieved the loss of our plants and wondered what to do. We are committed to healthy eating and we really wanted to grow our own foods — even just a few. It seems like such a healthy and wholesome activity. And I am convinced that gardening is good for the soul on a deeper level. I love this quote from Thomas Moore:

“The many great gardens of the world, of literature and poetry, of painting and music, of religion and architecture, all make the point as clear as possible: The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden. If you don’t want paradise, you are not human; and if you are not human, you don’t have a soul.”

So, we wondered what to do. Everyone seemed to have a theory to explain the demise of our tiny garden. Fear undermined our attempts to try container gardening a second time. We didn’t want to become serial killers…

The Whitehouse GardenStill desiring a taste of fresh fruits and veggies, we researched our options. Traveling to our nations capital, Mike and I toured the White House gardens. We had the opportunity to stroll past the Kennedy Garden of the East Wing and the famous Rose Garden just outside of the Oval Office. We wandered though the Children’s Garden where the hand and foot impressions of all the White House children and grandchildren line the floral walkways. Finally, we found our inspiration: the First Lady’s Victory Garden!  Right in the heart of downtown Washington DC is an example of what can be achieved — a productive and healthful garden in the context of a urban environment. (Yes, we can!)

Now we knew what we could explore. Mike and I returned to Baltimore to find a bountiful garden within the city supported by like-minded folks. Community Supported Agriculture!  Did you know that there are gardens sprinkled throughout our city?  Plots of land worked by neighbors!  Growing veggies and growing friendships. Making a positive difference in our community as well as our larger world. What a sensible and eco-friendly concept.

Cromwell Valley Community Supported AgricultureJust down the road from us, we discovered our farm, our garden, our slice of the earth to tend. The Cromwell Valley Park is a municipal park created from three former farms. Today, Cromwell Valley offers “an educational, hands-on CSA experience”. In addition to the weekly share of freshly picked, delicious, certified organic vegetables and fruits made available to members throughout the season, an incredible “U-Pick” garden packed with a wide variety of culinary and medicinal herbs, flowers, peas, beans, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries is also open to members. An on-site flock of rare breed chickens provide the highest quality pastured eggs, which are available for purchase at CSA pickup in limited quantity. The CSA also serves as a demonstration farm for students, farmers and the general public, with many educational programs offered over the course of the season. The Cromwell Valley CSA is a not for profit organization managed by a volunteer Board of Directors. The farmer and farm staff live and work in the beautiful Cromwell Valley Park near Towson, surrounded by abundant wildlife and many hiking trails. The land is protected from development by the Maryland Environmental Trust. Picnic tables with sweeping vistas of fields and woodlands make it an ideal site for picnics and nature walks.”

WOW!  What more could Mike and I want?  We pay a fee as well and provide sweat equity. Community Supported Agriculture is an intelligent and healthy alternative. Presto!  We have a garden — a garden for our bodies and our souls.

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News from Lansdowne

November 26, 2008 at 9:00 am (Brother John, Family, Places) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Brother John

Winter At Brother John's

Ah yes, now… now I’m starting to feel a tiny bit of holiday spirit! Lansdowne recently received her first snow of the season! It’s at times like this that I really enjoy having a huge picture window overlooking my front yard. I can stand there for long periods of time, watching the birds feeding, the squirrels playing, rabbits hopping around… it’s a magical winter wonderland! Kathy and I often call this view, “The Nature Channel”. (Perhaps we watch too much TV). Sleepy Cat'sBut our kitties enjoy it even more! (When they can keep their sleepy eyes open that is). To them, our picture window is way better than plain old TV! Pictured to the right is the “Cat Chair”.

Every cat we’ve ever served has loved that chair! I must admit that I too enjoy sitting on it at night to do a little reading. Sarah Jane wraps her body around my neck and purrs and purrs. The warmth of her body and the vibration from her purring is one of the best natural massages to be found!

Dad's Invention

Sister Eydie mentioned that Kathy and I had been in the hospital. Kathy has Muscular Dystrophy and had quite suddenly developed difficulty breathing. It was so sudden, in fact, that we actually became trapped in our own house! We have a machine that assists Kathy’s breathing at night, allowing her to breathe on her own during the day. But suddenly she was actually using that machine for total life support. Fortunately, I provided our home with a powerful generator capable of running the entire house should we lose power from the local grid. So we were fairly safe in our house, and we had some backup to her breathing equipment which made us safer still. As a programmer, I have the ability to work from home, and we found ourselves unable to leave the safety of our home.

It took quite a bit of ingenuity on our part to try to do something about our dilemma, but I eventually worked out a plan with the private Ambulance company (STAT Medical Transport). We managed to get Kathy into the Emergency Department at our “favorite” hospital, The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP). Nice hospital!!! We then moved from the Emergency Department into HUP’s Medical Intensive Care Unit (M.I.C.U.), (primarily because Kathy was considered to be on life support at that time).

It was in the M.I.C.U. that we discovered Kathy had about nine pounds of fluid pressing on her lungs which make it impossible for her to breathe on her own without mechanical assistance. The fluid was being caused by a defect in her heart known as Diastolic Dysfunction. We managed to get the extra fluid out of Kathy during our stay in the M.I.C.U., but we also learned another thing.

During the night, each and every night, Kathy’s blood pressure would suddenly drop out from under her. It would become so dangerously low, that it set off alarms on the monitoring equipment attached to her. This also could have been a contributing factor to her extra fluid in that during the night, her kidney’s were not receiving proper blood flow. Limited blood meant limited oxygen. Limited oxygen meant improper functioning kidney’s and even damage to Kathy’s organs.

So we began a complicated “game” of finding the best way to prevent Kathy from building up fluid, combined with the best way to have her blood pressure under proper control during the night. Our insurance company could see that this could possibly take some time, time they didn’t want Kathy to be spending in an expensive M.I.C.U. So they shipped us both out of our favored hospital and into an unknown Long Term Care facility (L.T.A.C.).

At the L.T.A.C., our goals were three:

  • Figure out the exact amount of diuretics Kathy required to assist her in keeping off the extra fluids without also causing damage to her kidneys.
  • Figure out the exact amount of blood pressure medication it would take, to maintain her higher blood pressure during the day, yet wear off in time for sleep so that it wouldn’t drop critically low.
  • With the fluid off, retrain Kathy’s lungs and muscles to permit her to wean herself from daytime assisted mechanical breathing devices.

We nicely accomplished the first two simply because we were almost at that point anyway by the end of our stay at the M.I.C.U. Our hope was that the L.T.A.C. would have intelligent techniques to teach Kathy how to wean herself from what had become total life support. We were sorely disappointed. I won’t go into the details of what Kathy endured at the L.T.A.C. other then to say she wouldn’t be with us today had I not been constantly by her side.

Bottom line was I got her out of there with great haste.

We got Kathy a portable non-invasive ventilator. My dad rigged up an attachment that holds a mouth piece near Kathy’s mouth. When she wants air, she causes her chair to recline (in a forward direction) until the mouth piece enters her mouth. She takes in as much air as she needs. Then she reclines the chair away from the mouth piece and breathes on her own. Using this technique, she is spending less and less time seeking the assisted breaths, and is doing more of the work on her own.

I’m happy to report that she continues to breathe on her own more and more each day. All because of the non-invasive portable vent. And we can finally get out of the house! Yay!

I’m not so happy to report another thing. Our insurance company has so far denied covering the cost of the expensive non-invasive portable vent. They have gone against the prescription and order of her physician. We have initiated what is known as a physician to physician appeal.

And I’m even unhappier to report something that just came to me via a received phone call. Evidently the physician to physician appeal was rejected by the insurance company. We will have to give back the non-invasive ventilator on Friday or Monday. Kathy’s bummed.


Walt's Philly Cheese Steaks

Since I hate ending things on a sour note, let’s just say I ended this one on a fatty one. Yes, I went to Walt’s Philly Style Cheese Steaks (the best in Delaware County!!!) and I treated myself to a heart attack on a plate! Yum! I ate the best mushroom cheese steak I’ve ever had (well… since the last time I ate at Walt’s that is 🙂 ). And they have these delicious crunchy onion Rings that are just to die for! I washed it all down with a giant fountain Coke and man… I was in heaven (or would soon be).

Inside Walt's Steaks

Walking into Walt’s is like stepping back in time. Everything is colorful and quaint and has the feel of days gone by. Much of the art is antique and classic. The service is fast and friendly and the prices are quite reasonable. You won’t go home hungry! As I sat at one of the small square tables, I found myself near several groups of friendly customers who were all having a great time. Even though I was by myself, I found myself smiling often, somehow becoming a part of the shared community. All in all, it was a great way to end out the day (and my low sodium diet).

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I’ll never forget Melanie.

October 27, 2008 at 12:02 am (Family, Friends, GOD, New friends, Places, Religious, Stories, Sylvia) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Sylvia

I’ll never forget Melanie. She was a beautiful young woman, taken from this life way too early. Mel was so nonjudgmental… she found the beauty and possibility in everyone, reflected by her genuine smile, and sparkling eyes.

It was October of 2001… a time when we all were still freshly bruised from 9/11. I wanted more than ever to be surrounded by friends for a week at the shore. I rent a place that looks out onto the ocean at 4th street in Ocean City, New Jersey. This would be the first of an annual tradition. Mel was definitely on board, and couldn’t wait to join me there for at least a couple of days.

Days before the beach venture, I got a call from her saying she couldn’t make it. She had developed excruciating back pain and went to see her doctor. She had an appointment to get an MRI, and one night at work, the pain was so intense, she called the same doctor and told him. He instructed her to meet him in the MRI. Hours later, he determined that her liver was four times its normal size. It was then that she was diagnosed with liver cancer. The treatment began immediately.

When I arrived at the beach, I went to the shore line. I thought of Mel, and her demise. I knew she was going through some difficult times, and I bowed my head in thoughts and prayers for her recovery. When I looked up there was a double rainbow. I didn’t move, for fear I would miss it. I just stood there and let it wash over me. I was hoping this was a good sign.

Fast-forward to June of 2002. I finally left my husband of 23 years and was a “traveler” at Johns Hopkins. The agency provided me with a luxury apartment on the water in Fell’s Point. Four women came down to visit me one weekend in June. Mel was one of them. She adorned a black wig, nothing like her own raven hair, but her olive skinned beauty glowed more than ever. Her gleaming white teeth almost mocked me, against her always tanned look. Mel had strong Croatian roots, and she turned heads everywhere. It was 100 degrees in Baltimore that summer day, and we all hoped Mel would just want to hang out in an air conditioned bar, instead, she drug us around the city honing our tourist roles. We laughed and cried all weekend. That was the last time I saw her alive.

I moved to Hershey six weeks later to accept a position at the Med Center. Mel and I had been in touch via emails and phone calls. She was told that no more could be done. In September, I attended her funeral. Mel was only forty-one.

The following January, I had the most vivid dream of my life.

I was at a party. For some reason it was being held at Longwood Gardens. All of my favorite people were there. Over in a corner was Mel in a little girl’s party dress complete with a big blue satin bow. (Was this image because I think of her as being so young?)

“Mel!!” I gasped. “What are you doing here? You died!!”, I said.

With that, she began to float away, and was smiling, but with tears in her eyes, she said,

“I miss you guys!!”

“We miss you too, Mel…we talk about you all of the time!” I cried.

“I know“, she continued, “I hear you guys talking about me, even when it’s not out loud… I hear you ALL of the time….do you know what that is??”

“No” I retorted “what is it?”

“That’s what HEAVEN is”, she explained. “And do you know what HELL is?”, she asked.

“Noooo”, I wasn’t sure whether I was replying or asking… and she simply put it,

“HELL IS HEARING NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, THAT’S WHAT HELL IS”,

“THANK YOU GUYS FOR KEEPING ME IN HEAVEN!!

And with that, she floated away.

A few weeks later I drove home to see my folks. Although it was February, it was unseasonably warm. I loved the feeling of my then, longer hair blowing around with the sunroof open. My mom was employed at Penney’s. She was only to work until about 1pm, and we were going out to lunch, just the two of us. After a four hour drive I managed to pull into the mall parking lot with time enough to put on a little make up and pull back my unruly hair. I didn’t want to look as tired as I felt. I dug through a zipper bag to find anything to tie my locks out and away from my face. After the waitress took our order, mom reached up and fingered the ribbon in my hair.

“What’s this?”, she smiled, “Why, isn’t that the same blue satin ribbon from a party dress you had when you were a little girl?”

I didn’t realize it until that moment, but it was. I smiled up at Mel, keeping her in “HEAVEN”.

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Cutting Firewood To Make Nut Brittle

October 7, 2008 at 12:32 am (Andrew Davidson, Arrowheads, Artifacts, Asplundh, Authors, bee hive, Bees, Books, Brother John, Butterflies, Companies, Dogs, Fair Paladin, Family, Fossils, Friends, German Shepherd, GOD, Hiking, Hobbies, honey, Insects, Jasper, mandolin, Monarch, music, Nut Brittle, Pets, Places, poetry, Recipes, Religious, Ricketts Glen State Park, Sylvia, The Gargoyle, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

When you chop a walnut tree, sometimes you harvest walnuts!

Sammy and I had had great aspirations of filling our wood shed to overflowing when we were off on our “working vacation” a few weeks ago. And we did bring in several loads. Then, the rains came. Not for 40 days and 40 nights, although the people of Texas probably felt that way, but enough to make our access into the fields a mucky nightmare. So, this past Thursday we sallied forth (well, Sally didn’t go, only room for two in the truck plus Jasper) to our unidentified neighbor’s farm to cut a load of firewood. It was actually chilly, intermittently overcast and with a stiff breeze blowing. Enough so that I had an old gray sweat jacket on and came home with pink ears and a somewhat windburned face. Our neighbor had cut several trees down that grew along the access drive to his 100 acre property. He had done this so that in the winter the sun would be able to reach the road surface and melt some of the ice. I’d been on that road a few years ago when it was possible to skate (or in my case slide on my backside) down the length of it to where the truck was parked at the bottom, unable to make it any further up the drive.

The first tree Sammy began cutting was a nice sized walnut. It was big enough to provide that day’s truckload of wood. And, it was covered with walnuts. I’ve already mentioned that I have this quirky survivalist mentality. To me, a tree full of easily accessible walnuts means a source of protein for the winter should society fail completely and Sammy and I be unable to keep us in squirrel and deer meat in the style to which we are accustomed. The walnuts also mean my favorite nuts for Dad’s Microwave Nut Brittle. The first year he made this stuff (two or three years ago) I thought it couldn’t possibly be any good. Wrong. I put that first piece in my mouth and it had just the right crunch of nutty goodness. Let it stay in your mouth a bit and the whole mess melts into a sweet sticky glue that renders you incapable of separating your jaws for several minutes. (Great for kids if you know what I mean!) Dad has since doctored the recipe to include coconut, confectioners sugar, brown sugar, and peanut butter. I’m going to experiment with (of course) honey this year. I have to laugh at this mental image I have of Dad bringing out the container of nut brittle at Christmas time. It’s like the pied piper if you can picture a gaggle of (mostly) overweight middle aged adults all trying to get their sticky hands into the smallish plastic container at the same time and fighting over the “big” pieces.

My job, when we are cutting wood, is all the ancillary duties. Sammy cuts, I load the truck. I also pull aside and stack the ends of branches too small to cut, hold pieces still as Sammy cuts them, pull out fallen (and usually brier covered) limbs and dead fall, and play with Jasper in between. (Brother John here… I once worked for the tree trimming company Asplundh and, except for Jasper…, these were also my daily duties. The person doing this type of duty was called a “Brushy” back in the day). Well, to add to my list, there were walnuts to collect because, (chant with me Brother John, and Sylvia, you’ve been around enough to join in too) “NOTHING MUST BE WASTED!” I had no idea how many walnuts a tree has when the entire tree has been cut and all the nuts can be harvested. And, not knowing the nuts would be there, I hadn’t brought a bag along. Imagine. I was unprepared! After a minute or so of abject humiliation, and after shortly abandoning the thought of filling my jacket pockets 20 or so nuts at a time, I graciously volunteered Sammy’s jacket (which he wasn’t wearing) and started loading it up with nuts. Each jacket load I would then dump in the front foot well of the passenger’s seat of the truck. Why I didn’t just throw them in the back I don’t know. Maybe nuts and wood, like oil and water, don’t mix in my head. Anyway, by the time the truck was loaded with wood I had enough walnuts to reach up to the seat. I sat in the seat, my feet resting on a mountain of walnuts, and realized that with the back full, Jasper had to ride up front. On my lap. Seventy-five pounds and I hadn’t peed before we took off for home (on some of the finest washboard dirt roads ever traveled).

When we pulled up the driveway I had Sammy stop at the top and let me offload first Jasper (who had enjoyed the trip home immensely, with “Mom” serving as a captive petting machine) and then the walnuts. Drive around the county this time of year and you’ll see many a driveway full of walnuts. The walnut comes off the tree with a thick green hull. This turns brown as it dries. This hull has long been a natural source of brown dye. The first time I hulled walnuts I used my bare hands. I had dyed brown hands for nearly a week. Now I do what everyone else does and throw them in the drive way to be driven over until all the soft hull has been worn off. These hard walnut shells are so tough that even driving over them doesn’t crack them. They scoff at traditional nutcrackers. (Brother John here… I always wondered why people did that! I always figured the nuts would get smashed into little bits, making that a very stupid thing to do. Now I get it Sis!). I place a few nuts in a rag and then take the hammer to them. Dad uses a vise, I think. I’m open to a better suggestion. But, it is one of the late autumn/winter pastimes when the weather is nasty. Sit around the wood stove, crack some walnuts while Sammy cleans a rifle or plays a little sweet guitar. A truly rustic picture. Completed by the image that I am, of course, in my pajamas.

Tomorrow we are going to get a few more loads of wood and meet up with our unidentified neighbor who will be cutting down a couple of the larger trees that still shade the drive. I’m hoping that after the work is done he’ll suggest a walk. He has lived in the area all his life and has shared some amazing discoveries with us. I have been along when a wild honeybee tree was harvested (the bees had swarmed and were given a new hive to populate). I’ve seen heavily fossilized shale covered with the imprints of shells and algae. I went along arrowhead hunting and collected blanks and pieces of arrowheads along with one that was complete. One day we walked into a field of wildflowers. He clapped his hands and suddenly the air was full of fluttering Monarch butterflies that landed on our arms, head, and clothes.

I always keep my “other” eyes open when I am out in the woods and fields. My imagination fills them with fairy worlds that live just beside the one we know. I often feel something else, an energy, or presence, or spirit. These days I call it God. I call it all God. It could be called many things. But I know, on those fall days when I lie in a cut field and feel the earth cool beneath my shoulder blades and the sun is warm on my face and a red tailed hawk soars searching in the blue sky above me, I know that there IS more. It gathers beneath me, goes through me, and connects with things unseen. One of my poems, “Fair Paladin” came from the magic the special places hold, or at least that I imagine they hold.

I have a bucket list. For those that didn’t see the movie, it’s stuff you want to do or accomplish before you kick the bucket. I have three things on my list so far. I plan to live to be a hundred and three so I’m hoping to add a few more.

  1. I want to get my book of poetry published. It’s so close. I want to see it on the Arts Council shelf and on the local artist shelf at Borders. I want my mom to be there when I do my first book signing, hopefully at the Arts Council where I’ll provide homemade blackberry, elderberry, and mead wines for my friends (and maybe a stranger or two) to drink. I want someone to pay real money for a copy of my book.
  2. I want to walk through an airport carrying my fiddle or mandolin to take it on a plane to somewhere and know that I actually play the darn thing well enough to deserve to carry it through an airport.
  3. Goblins Under Tree Stumps #1 Goblins Under Tree Stumps #2
    Fairy Houses Alligator Jawed Dragons
    Hunting for Ice Eggs Ice Egg in the Sky
    Walking Tree Ents #1 Walking Tree Ents #2

    I want to take a hike on the falls trails at Ricketts Glen State Park on a perfect day in the company of someone who sees and feels and loves the magic I talked about earlier as much as I do (Sammy and Brother John would do nicely.) We’ll find goblins under tree stumps, fairy houses, alligator jawed dragons, ice eggs, and walking tree Ents.

  4. Eydie, Brother John here. I have no imagination it would seem. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out which “other eye” vision each of these represent. Hover the mouse and you’ll see one idea, and click on the item to see that and other ideas. It would help greatly if you would define which is which. And maybe throw in a bit of real description as well. Ricketts Glen State Park looks very nice!
The Gargoyle - By Andrew Davidson - An extraordinary debut novel of love that survives the fires of hell and transcends the boundaries of time.

But for now, Sammy is out sharpening the chainsaw on the living room coffee table and me (in my pajamas), a novel (The Gargoyle), and the big brown chair have developed this undeniable attraction for each other. Throw the blue gingham angel quilt into the mix and I won’t be long for this world… Zzzzz.

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