The Most Interesting Tomato Plant of the Month (July Edition)

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

 Grow Tomatoes My Friends...

Streaky Mystery Tomato
The most interesting tomato plant growing in the garden during the month of July has absolutely nothing to do with the famous Dos Equis beer advertising campaign. Except that is interesting for one very specific reason: I have exactly no idea what this tomato variety is, nor the type of tomato it will deliver. This plant and the tomatoes on it is pictured to your immediate right. Notice those streaks? That is what makes it interesting.

I can guess, from looking at pictures of tomatoes, and I think I've got it figured out. But, until the tomatoes on this plant reach a stage to where they actually ripen, the true identity will be unknown. This is the result from an accident involving numerous tomato starter plants that were knocked askew during a home remodeling project. As a result, the starter plants that my tomato growing friend delivered earlier this year came with a giant question mark.

Nels Christensen-USS Kitty Hawk
I know it would be convenient to blame this little problem on the friend who provided the vast majority of my garden starter plants this year. But, seriously, you can't blame Nels Christensen for this problem. That's Nels pictured to the left. Forgive the blurry image if you will. It was taken some time ago, while Nels was serving his country onboard the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) supercarrier during the Vietnam War. Nels survived the conflict, came home and now provides starter plants for my Citrus Heights vegetable garden.

But this little garden starter plant mixup was not his fault. Even if it was, you can forgive a guy who served his country in the Gulf of Tonkin.

As a result of the tomato starter plant mishap that took place earlier this year, I really do not have any idea of what is growing in the garden this July. I can tell you the garden is home to 22 tomato plants. But that's about it. The tomatoes that these 22-plants hold, and they are holding quite a bit this year, are an absolute mystery.

Interesting Plant of the Month
In some strange way, this makes gardening a bit more fun. I may ask Nels to perform another remodeling project, and suffer through another accident, at his house next spring.

This particular plant is developing new tomatoes at a rather rapid clip. The way they are clustered together would lead me to believe that this could possibly be a cherry tomato variety. Not just any cherry tomato variety, but something rather special. How many cherry tomato varieties develop streaks? As someone who has grown a vast number of cherry varieties, I can tell you from experience that the answer is: Not Many.

It is true that cherry tomato varieties come in a vast number of shapes, sizes and colors. Although I'm partial to a variety called Black Cherry, that doesn't mean I won't grow anything else. My summer vegetable gardens have been home to a great many cherry varieties. There is no greater joy in life than harvesting a late summer bowl of vine-ripened cherry tomatoes. A bowl of that late season color is striking to say the least. These cherry tomato types are great for snacking. It's probably one of the healthiest summer snacks you could choose.

Mysterious Stripes
While the identities of the plants that I was provided with this year are unknown, the news isn't exactly all bad. The seed list that my garden friend created survived this horrible early season accident. That list gives me something to check. Thanks to Google images, numerous pictures of each variety on this seed list do pop up. Nels and I have deduced that the Most Interesting Tomato Plant for the month of July could be one be one of two choices: Patty's Striped Beefsteak OR the Black Strawberry Tomato from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

While I would be absolutely thrilled to report that one single tomato plant in my garden has developed 50-75 beefsteak tomatoes so far, and appears ready to develop far more, my guess is this isn't a beefsteak variety. A check with the Baker Creek Seed website however, provides photos that indicate my "most interesting tomato plant of the month" is, in fact, the Black Strawberry.

This isn't a horrible development, by the way. Not by a longshot. If you were to believe, or buy into, the marketing language from our friends at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, the Black Strawberry produces a lip-smacking result: "A bowl full resembles a luminous and luxurious bunch of gems, and indeed the flavor is decadent and indulgent, with perfectly sweet and tart balanced flavor!"

From this colorful language I guess one could infer that this is a good cherry tomato.

Customer reviews, however, are a bit more honest. I must admit, those reviews aren't half bad. Of the 18 people who have taken the time out of their day to review the product, most indicate that it's a keeper. Jill from San Diego wrote the following: "Not only are they beautiful but they are good! They have a deep, complex flavor and are better when they are soft and the bottoms turn red."

The Most Interesting Tomato Plant of the Month (July Edition) has grown to a height of five feet so far, which means it's growing faster than other plants in this year's garden. It's developed an extraordinary amount of fruit so far, and seems destined to develop a lot more as the summer moves forward. Which means, hopefully, a large bowl or two of cherry tomato varieties in my kitchen as the summer growing season moves forward.

Grow Tomatoes, My Friends.

The Most Interesting Tomato Plant of the Month!

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Most Interesting Tomato Plant
It's got nothing on the Most Interesting Man in the World advertising campaign run by Dos Equis Beer. It's not smooth. It's anything but suave. However, it may leave you with the lasting image of "grow tomatoes, my friends."

The Most Interesting Tomato Plant of the Month is featured to your immediate right. What makes it the most Interesting Tomato Plant of the Month? Take a close look at that photo. Does that tomato plant look normal? If it looks like it needs a good drink of water, or it's about to up and DIE on me, congratulations! You too have noticed something odd. There's something not quite right here.

Believe it or not, this plant gets the same amount of water and care that other healthy looking plants in the 2022 garden get. So, you may be asking, why in HADES does it WILT like that? Tomato plants that show signs of severe wilt are not something a tomato grower wants to see. It means something isn't quite right in Dodge City, or "Houston, we have a problem."

Help Me! I'm Dying!
The Most Interesting Tomato Plant of the Month is a gift from my tomato growing friend, Nels Christensen. We have deduced that the name of this particular variety is called the Korean Long. Now, don't get me wrong, but I know what you're thinking. A name like that automatically induces the thought of "OH, THAT MUST BE A REALLY GOOD TOMATO!!!!" Not so fast, my friends.

As it turns out, the Korean Long plant in the Christensen garden is exhibiting the same characteristics. It's wilting. Badly wilting. Like my Korean Long plant, the Christensen plant looks like it could keel off and die at any moment. Which leads the both of us to believe that the plant is SUPPPOSED to look like this. The wilt is normal. Nothing to see here, folks.

That leads us back to the name: Korean Long. Does this, perchance, mean this variety hails from Korea? It might. Nobody really knows the history behind this plant. Plenty of growers are searching for it. Nobody has come up with anything yet, other than the conclusion that this variety must hail from somewhere in Korea. Which could be right. It could also be wrong. This could be a case of wonderful marketing.

Paste Tomato. Meh.
Short and sweet? The Korean Long is a PASTE TOMATO. Don't get me wrong here, but I normally do not swoon over paste tomatoes. It's the same thing that commercial farmers grow by the tens of thousands in the six-county, Sacramento region. All of these paste tomatoes have a date with cannery operations located north and south. They will eventually wind up in grocery stores across the nation as cans of tomato paste, tomato sauce or tomato chunks.

Call me a tomato snob, but paste varieties really don't excite me much as an heirloom tomato grower. Given a choice, I'd much rather have slices or chunks of vine-ripened Brandywine, Black Krim or Mariana's Peace tomatoes. I have a feeling that most tomato snobs (or snots, if you prefer), would make the exact same choice. It's not like paste tomatoes are the tomato of choice in your high end restaurants either. "Give me a salad featuring your finest paste tomatoes," said no tomato snob (snot), ever.

I do have a strong suspicion that the name of Korean Long may have resulted from a marketing brainstorm session at one of many seed suppliers in the good ol' USA. I've attended many meetings like this. It could have gone a little like this:

Marketing Guru #1: "Boss, we've got this new tomato seed that just came in from Korea!"

Sales Manager: "It's a paste tomato. We've got a million seeds in stock that are also paste tomatoes. Everyone grows paste tomatoes. What makes this one so special?"

Marketing Guru #2: "Well, it is from Korea. I think. Instead of calling it a common paste tomato, how about the name of Korean Long?"

Sales Manager: "Brilliant idea! You've earned a promotion! Stick it with the name of Korean Long and add another $1 surcharge to the seed price!"

The Korean Long
Before you dismiss this idea as far-fetched, be advised that it's the same brilliant kind of thinking that resulted in the marketing campaign of: Garden Plants That Deter Mosquitoes. If you forked over $5 for any plant that supposedly deters mosquitoes, you've been duped my friends. No plant deters mosquitoes. Plants attract mosquitoes, and other fine friends.

But this does give me a really good idea. How about a tomato plant that deters mosquitoes? Would you shell out a few extra $$ for that? Or, better yet, a tomato plant that deters midnight raids by rats and other garden pests?

I think I'm onto something here!

The Ballad of Frick and Frack

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Frick and Frack
Warning! Cuteness Overload! And, perhaps a bit of sadness.

I write the following today to remember a great love and friendship before it has time to pass from my mind, as most things do as we move on in life. Pictured to the right are Frick and Frack. It really doesn't matter who "Frick" or "Frack" is. What is important is that tender, and rare, relationship between cat and dog who find each other at the right time.

Frick and Frack at rest. A rare moment.
We didn't do this by design. That would have been far too easy and somewhat impossible. This relationship was completely by chance. It just worked. Somehow, it just worked. The decade that followed was pure magic.

The dog, Bandana, a "Heinz 57" mix of herding breeds, was discovered on a working horse ranch in Southern Oregon. His owner, Tenaya Yager, made the painful decision to part with him during our 2010 visit. Lenny, the Maine Coon cat, was a gift from Mary Beth Barber. She discovered a litter of feral kittens in the sub-basment beneath her Sacramento home in 2011. She rescued them and bottle-fed and cared for each one before presenting Lenny as a gift.

The Kiss
The cats that my ex-wife, Venus, and I had at home never did care for Bandana after we brought her home. That is a kind way of describing it. Outright revolt, revulsion and disowning us as cat owners would be a more correct description. But all of that changed a year after adopting Bandana when we opened our home to Lenny. One lick from Bandana was all it took, and the legend of Frick and Frack was born. The two immediately fell in love with one another and were constant companions and partners in crime. They never left each other's side.

I thank the Good Lord that digital photography came into vogue by 2011. Otherwise, we would have enriched the makers of Kodak or Polaroid film by another million bucks or two. Frick and Frack would come to dominate photos and social media postings over the next decade. Who could possibly ignore that cuteness overload? The two would get into one adorable pose after another, usually around dinner or snack time. Or, if they wanted something we were eating at the dinner table. Which is usually what Frick and Frack did at dinner time 365 days a year. These two had discovered a couple of human SUCKERS, and took full advantage of it.

Frack on Frick
Here is a photo of Frick and Frack on the couch. Or a photo of Frick and Frack on the floor. Oh look! Frick and Frack are curled up on the bed together! Here are Frick and Frack outside, checking out the garden. "Is that dog lying on top of that cat???" This is a common question we received on Facebook, Twitter, Google or any other place we deposited multitudes of pet photos. "Why yes she is," came our response. "Pay no mind," we would respond. "They just want snacks." What we didn't say is that most of the time Frick and Frack were rewarded with any snack they wanted.

Did You Say Snacks?
If these two partners in pet crime weren't in one adorable pose or another, they were usually putting on one of their typical Battle Royale rumbles in the living or dining room. It would start when Frack would chomp on Frick's fuzzy tail and pull on it like a tug toy, which ultimately resulted in a massive, full-claw return swat from Frick. The battle was on. Or, sometimes it was Frick who put on his best Tiger Tank Surprise Attack from the rear, hitting Frack full-force when she wasn't looking or was peacefully sleeping. The battle, which never really ended between the two, was on again. The two proceeded to roll around on the floor for the next 5-10 minutes, usually knocking over whatever was in their path. Many chairs and even one Christmas tree met its demise when these two decided it was time for non-stop action.

Wandering the Garden
The battle took on a new form whenever we took Frack (the dog) for a walk. Frick would follow for awhile, but never lose sight of his home. It wasn't that he was scared, he just preferred to stay behind and plan his attack after Frack returned 30 minutes later. Frack always suspected that Frick would be up to something, waiting to unleash a surprise attack. Frick would never disappoint Frack, launching himself from underneath a bush, a parked car, from behind a pillar of bricks and, at least one time, with a flying leap from the roof. I have to admit, I was surprised with that mode of attack myself.

No matter how brutal the previous play session had been, Frick and Frack always made sure to position themselves into the most ridiculous and adorable pose possible after play time subsided and dinner time arrived. That's just who they were. They spent a lifetime irritating and loving one another. They were never apart. They were always by each other's side.

Chairs are for Frick and Frack
Did I mention how carefully they planned an assault on the vegetable garden AFTER Venus and I had carefully planted tomato plant starters on top of smelly fish heads? On the best garden advice available at the time? We came home the next day to find 16-tomato plants dug out of raised beds and a few paltry bits of those fish heads that we thought we had buried deeply enough to guard against theft. The culprits had dirty paws and full bellies. Frick and Frack had struck again. It was a team effort.

Stop here. Don't read any further. Because all good things do eventually come to a tragic end. I will keep this as short as I can.

Your bed? Not anymore!
As the years flew by, the play and antics subsided somewhat. Play time morphed into a lot of nap time for the both of them. But, they were still together. There came a point, however, where Bandana, the Frack, grew tired. A limp that developed after she had stumbled into a gopher hole worsened. Herding dogs like Border Collies, McNab Shepherds and Aussie Shepherds are very hyperactive as young adults. But when they begin to slide downhill, the end seems to take place very quickly. Bandana was no different. Frack passed in February of this year. I held her close as she took her last breath. I promised I would never forget the "Blonde Bombshell." The neighborhood children simply adored her.

Although I gave Frick all the love and attention I possibly could after losing his Frack, he followed a short time later. His last act was to crawl underneath my bed, where Frack had spent part of her final year. It's where he drew his last breath. That was yesterday. I'm a still a bit emotional at the moment, so please forgive me. I'm not going to bore you with all the visits to the veterinarian that took place and all the solutions that were prescribed over the last six months. Needless to say, none of them worked. It's tough to heal a broken heart.

Frick with his new Frack
I can only say that I tried my best to engage Frick. At one point I even adopted another Frack from the Bradshaw Animal Shelter in Sacramento County. It stopped Frick's slide. For a little while. But it wasn't enough. It wasn't the answer. I don't know if there was a solution. If there was one, I didn't find it.

We never forgot the kindness of both Tenaya and Mary Beth. They were reminded of the gifts they had bestowed every time a picture was posted on any social media account, which must have numbered in the hundreds through the years. We made sure that both saw each ridiculous Frick and Frack pose and moment.

"I talk about Bandana a lot," Tenaya admitted after calling to console me following Frack's passing last February. "The decision I made to give her to you was a validation of what I would become. I unite pets with people."

Marybeth also checked in to thank me for being a good cat "papa."

This relationship between dog and cat is not unique. Perhaps  you have been graced by a Frick and Frack in your lifetime. It is my sincere hope that you have. I have had no greather joy in life than to witness the love and joy that Frick and Frack demonstrated time and again. They are just memories now. Memories that I will never forget. I have to move on now. I will move on. But I will never forget.

(Let the) Good Times Roll

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Ric Ocasek: The Cars
I suppose the deaths of long-time rock n' roll icons Eddie Money and Ric Ocasek of The Cars have me feeling a bit melancholy. Maybe even a bit scared. I suppose it makes me think of my own mortality. I was a young man and very much a fan during the heyday music stardom of both music-making stars and now that they're gone, I have this story to share.

I must warn you before you invest too much time into this that I have nothing earth-shaking or dramatic to reveal. You won't learn anything new other than a few musings about a time long-ago and perhaps a bit of bad behavior on my part. I never met Mr. Ocasek or Mr. Money, and this blog post is really nothing more than a long post you might find on a social media page like Facebook.

Beyer High School: Modesto, CA
It's just the memory of one man from a time and place long ago that no longer exists except in my memory.

I am a 1981 graduate of Fred C. Beyer High School in Modesto and a later (much later) graduate of CSU-Fresno in Fresno. This story covers both cities and a time that becomes more special as it ages into obscurity.

My sister Mary Bird had blazed a trail the size of an Interstate by the time I first entered the hallowed halls at Beyer in 1977. Mary had since taken her act and fame to the University of Southern California, but not before instructing her younger brother on the ways of high school life and the path that she insisted I must follow.

That path would lead me to the classroom of legendary Forensics instructor Ron Underwood, a high school radio station called KBHI (Beyer High School), an up and coming Program Director by the name of Lane Clark and the super cool and devastatingly pretty DJ chick: Cindy Webb.

Ron, who has since retired to Fresno, was a fan of radio. He left that radio imprint wherever he went. He was one the founders of CSU-Fresno's KFSR (Fresno State Radio), put KDHS (Downey High School) on the air during his first stop as a high school forensics instructor in Modesto and later took that act to the newly minted halls of Beyer High School in 1972. One of his earliest moves was to put KBHI on the air, a massive ten-watt flamethrower at 88.9 on the FM dial that had a listening raidus of about one block around the high school campus. We didn't have many fans, but we had our fair share.

This is where Bill Bird got his training to be a not-a-very-good Disc Jockey. But, most importantly, this is where he would discover and up-and-coming band out of Boston called The Cars and a very special first album effort. In 1978 Program Director (PD) Lane Clark received an advance copy of the debut album The Cars from Elektra Records. It featured the charting singles of "Just What I Needed," "My Best Friend's Girl" and "Good Times Roll." The album was electric to say the least. Nobody had ever heard anything like it before. The Cars would help lay the foundation for the 1980's New Wave style still to come.

The Cars Debut Album
The debut album, featuring the obscure Russian model Natalya Georgievna Medvedeva on the album cover, would spend the next 139 weeks on the charts which is probably due to the fact that I wouldn't stop playing it. KBHI followed a "free form" type of format. This meant you might hear me saying (screaming) something not too terribly witty or good into the station microphone along the lines of: "if you liked that Cars song, you'll love this one" before allowing the album to move right into the next song on the disc. Which probably drove PD Lane Clark crazy, provided he was listening. He lived more than a block away from the Beyer High campus. On Sunday nights, as I recall, KBHI would play an entire album from start to finish with no commericial or DJ interruptions. My memory isn't that great, but I would swear that the album choice during 1978 was almost always The Cars during those Sunday night shows.

That poor promotional album Lane received was positively abused. But, just when you might think we played that album until the grooves wore off (we did), Ric Ocasek and his band-mates rewarded us in 1979 with their followup album: Candy-O. It featured the followup hits "Let's Go," "It's All I Can Do" and the now famous cover art by the legendary pin-up artist Alberto Vargas.

Cynthia Ann Webb
It was about this time when the super cool and devastatingly pretty DJ chick Cindy (Cynthia Ann) Webb used to hang out with me at the KBHI studios (which was essentially a closet located next door to Ron Underwood's office). To this day I cannot tell you why any super cool or devastatingly pretty chick was hanging out with me, especially the likes of Cindy Webb. But I don't recall being bothered by her presence one bit. It was during this time where I flipped the now famous Candy-O cover art around for her and inquired when she had the time to pose for the album pictured below. Super cool and devastatingly pretty DJ chick Cindy Webb proceeded to turn three shades of devastatingly pretty pink.

It has since been revealed that Candy Moore, an actress from Maplewood, New Jersey, was the inspiration for Vargas' most famous work. But, to this day, I'm still convinced that  the super cool DJ chick Cindy Webb may have also been on Alberto's mind.

The Cars: Candy-O
Cindy, as it turned out, was just as enthralled as I was when it came to The Cars. Our association would eventually morph into a tandem DJ act where I would say (scream) not something too terribly witty or smart into the station microphone such as: "And Now, Cindy Webb!" And she would proceed to inform me that I was not too terribly witty or smart, to shut the Hell up and play the damn record.

I wonder if Lane was listening?

All good things, unfortunately, do come to an end. Changes in rules by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would put an end to many high school radio station efforts, including KBHI. The station signed off the air in 1980, the year before I graduated and moved onto CSU Fresno, where I brought my talents to KFSR and other commercial stations such as KYNO AM-FM, KJFX FM, KMPH FOX 26, KMPH NewsRadio and NewsTalk 1530 KFBK to name a few.

Lane Clark
Lane and Cindy moved onto commercial radio station efforts themselves after graduation. Lane spent time at KDJK in Modesto before becoming a successful small business owner in the Sacramento, CA area. Cindy also moved into commercial radio. I never saw her after our high school days together. Sadly, she passed in 2010 at the age of 48. I will never forget her.

Rick Ocasek and The Cars, of course, would go on to churn out many more top-selling albums and become one of the biggest bands in the world. But they will always be so much more than that to me.

They are, as A.V. Club writer Erik Adams once described them, "the type of band that put out a perfect debut record, and then had the audacity to not pack it in after that." The debut album, as he put it, left "little wonder that the members of The Cars have jokingly referred to it as The Cars Greatest Hits.”

1978 Stars and Stripes Yearbook
Ric Ocasek and The Cars are a reminder of a time in my life that is bits and pieces of a misty memory now. It's a time of my life where I was growing up and discovering the person I would become. It was the gentle and wonderful tutleage of legendary forensics instructor Ron Underwood, the never-ending patience of Lane Clark and the sharp wit of the super cool and devastingly pretty DJ chick Cindy Webb.

Super Bore Or Super Bell?

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Best Super Bowl Ad EVER!
With all due apologies to the fresh corn industry, I must admit, I thought the Bud Lite Corn Syrup commercial was the funniest thing I've seen on TV in quite some time. Don't get me wrong! I love me some corn. I personally believe corn grown in the Sloughhouse area of Sacramento County is, in fact, the best corn in the world. I wish no harm upon our fine corn farmers!

But that Bud Lite Corn Syrup ad that ran during last Sunday's Super Bore was absolutely hilarious. I am still busting up over the line of: "would you please smoke outside?" However, Bud Lite's pun and knock against all thing corn syrup will not stop me from purchasing Sloughhouse corn. Additionally, you will not find any Bud Lite in the Bird refrigerator. However, if you look hard enough, you just might find a bottle of the High Life. But, enough of that already. I've strayed much too far.

Cat Bowling Pins?
My friends, rather than watch the NFL bestow yet another title on Tom Brady last Sunday (BORING), my mind was positively fixated on the image that appears to your very left. Can you guess what those cups might represent? Bowling pins for the naughty Cat that is Lenny? That is a good guess, but NO. And although Lenny has already cast a rather envious glance at the cups placed on that bedroom window, I hope that cat knows better.

I hope.

Those cups placed against yonder windowsill represent the start of my summer 2019 vegetable garden. Would they represent the 13 varieties of heirloom tomatoes I will be growing this summer? Good guess, but also wrong. It's still a bit too early for that activity, though some have already started. No, the seeds placed in those cups all contain the same variety: The California Wonder Bell Pepper.

First introduced in 1928, the California Wonder is now a sweet staple in nearly every backyard garden. These are these big and blocky peppers that can be found in nearly every dish, ranging from salads, stir fry meals, fajitas or just brushed with olive oil and placed on a grill. You can also find them in home-canned items such as tomato sauces and SALSA. Roasted or fresh, the California Wonder represents one word: SUMMER.

Garden grown Bell Peppers are nearly as popular as home-grown tomatoes. According to the Masters of Horticulture Blog, "Bell peppers are the most commonly grown pepper in the United States.  According to the National Nursery survey, 46-percent of gardeners grow them every year.  Second, according to the same survey, bell peppers are the third most popular vegetable grown in American gardens.  Third, the bell pepper is the most consumed pepper in America.  According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Americans eat 9.8 pounds of them per year.  And finally, bell peppers are the only peppers in the genus that do not produce capsaicin.  Capsaicin is the compound that makes most members of the genus Capsicum hot."

Perfect for Seed Starting Efforts
The reaction from most of my pepper growing friends is going to be pretty typical, I think. People like Jake Seed and Dave Jesse are thinking along the lines of: "PFFFT! ROOKIE!" And you know what? They're right. To them? My pepper planting efforts are rather late.

You see, while the vast majority of us are thinking about  the Peppermint Wishes and Candy Cane Dreams of the Christmas Season, the pepper guys are thinking about peppers so hot they would melt Santa's tongue. There's a reason why Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer gives these homes a wide berth. These guys are serious. January 1st doesn't just signal the start of the new year. It means it's time to plant pepper seeds of all shapes and sizes for the upcoming summer gardening season.

Planting Seeds
Why start pepper seeds so early and why am I late? There's a good answer for that. Pepper seeds tend to grow much slowly than tomato seeds, which essentially sprout and grow like weeds until they are transplanted. As KFBK NewsTalk 1530 Gardening Show Host Farmer Fred Hoffman put it so eloquently to me once: "PEPPERS NEED HEAT!" Unfortunately, there's little heat to be found during the Northern California months of December, January and February. So, pepper growers get very inventive to creating the kind of heat they need to give seedlings the boost that they need.

I recall that one of these growers, and I won't mention names (Dave Jesse), placed his seeds in sealed starter cups and placed them under a woodstove. Where his cat promptly found them. Great fun ensued.

What's the payoff for my seed starting efforts? 13 large and healthy California Wonder Bell Pepper starter plants. Do I intend to plant all 13 in my summer garden? Are you nuts? Gardeners do not live on bell peppers alone. This means I will have plenty to share, or trade, once the transplant season begins (provided it stops raining at some point).

Danger Will Robinson! Danger!
Hopefully, the seedlings I have planted against my bedroom windowsill will sprout and start to grow (albeit slowly) in another day or two. Also, hopefully, the giant shade trees that dot this Citrus Heights neighborhood don't blot out the needed sunshine.

Finally, hopefully, here's hoping a certain Maine Coon cat can ignore the urge to start swatting what's been carefully placed on a windowsill that he can easily reach.

Hope springs eternal.

Another Day of Sun

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Sam Aanestad and I at Frank's Pizza in Grass Valley
To be brutally honest, I should be working right now. I should be hard at work at the moment looking at the Help Wanted sections of Capitol Morning Report, Senate Daybook, the State of California employment website and so many others. That unemployment clock continues to tick despite my best efforts to slow it down. I should be doing so many things at the moment.

But I can't. I just can't. Not at the moment anyway. Today my thoughts are consumed by the memory of a boss, a leader, a father figure and, most of all, a friend. I can't help it. There are only so many special people that you run into during this game called life that you can count them with the fingers of one hand. He was one of them.

I last saw Sam Aanestad about this time last year at the legendary Frank's Pizza restaurant in Grass Valley. I had just finished up with an interview with the Nevada County Fairgrounds (I didn't get that job), and Sam texted to inform me that he was "waiting for me to arrive."

Sam and Susan Aanestad
"Uh oh," I thought at the time. Making a State Senator wait -- even a former State Senator like Sam -- is never a good idea. Although I'd spoken with my former boss on occasion, I hadn't actually had the opportunity to see Sam in person for quite a long time. I had the fortune for working for him in his Senate office for six years, but when his term ended in 2010 we parted ways. That's life with term limits in the California State Legislature. By the time you really get to know someone, it's time to say goodbye.

Sam passed away just yesterday. I find that line a little hard to write. To be honest, I wasn't expecting to write it. Sam was just 71-years old. The last time I would see him -- at Frank's -- he seemed to be in the picture of health. He was also in great spirits and as he and his wife, Susan, would soon depart for their summer home in Sam's home state of Wisconsin.

I remember that vacation home with a great deal of fondness as I would be reminded of it daily during Sam Aanestad's term in the State Senate. I remember when I interviewed for the position of Communications Director in his office early in 2005, following an all-to-brief term in the Office of Senator Rico Oller. "You're not going to have as much fun in this office as you had with Rico," Sam would warn me sternly during that first interview.

Sam with Talk Show Host Tom Sullivan
He was right. I had more fun.

It was in this office where I would learn more about medical issues that I would ever want to know thanks to his background as an Oral Surgeon. As for his political leanings? Strictly conservative and without apologies, sir. Sam put the "C" in conservative thought, which fit his largely rural and very conservative Northern California Senate District to the perfect "T."

New taxes and fees were the enemy that must be fought at all costs in the Aanestad office. "Unless," he explained to me once, "an organization had voted to raise its own membership fees." It was then, and only then I might add, would he allow himself to punch that "yes" button covered with dust on his State Senate desk.

But to describe the man as a conservative politician would be grossly unfair. Sam was far more than that. He was a family man first, speaking with pride often about his children and grandchildren. He was a physician second, relating story after story about his Grass Valley and Nevada City practice, as well as his time as Vice Chief of Surgery at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. But, most of all, Sam Aanestad cared deeply about people. This was especially true about the people he had the honor of serving in the 4th Senate District.

CA State Senate Floor
Sam never let his care for children and families get in the way of his conservative political beliefs. I would come to learn this the hard way after Sam had been appointed to the highly coveted position of Vice Chair of the Senate Rules Committee. Serving in a committee such as this has its perks. It also makes you a bigger target.

In the business of politics, communications people are often the "last people to know." This may be an unwritten rule. I would find out in the stairwell of the California State Capitol where I was approached by a long-time friend, who proceeded to inform me that Sam "had just voted" for a bill that would allow more women to receive testing for signs of cervical cancer in his Senate District.

"That sounds like something Sam would do," I reasoned at the time, knowing Sam's medical background. "No, you don't understand," came the response. The careful explanation revealed that the conservative, pro-life Senator I worked for voted to approve a measure that provided additional funding for medical clinics to provide these screenings.

I still didn't "get it." Until I learned that many of the facilities that provided this kind of testing in the Northern California district Senator Aanestad represented were clinics run by Planned Parenthood. It was, about this time, that big, dark light bulb above my head suddenly flickered to life. Planned Parenthood clinics offer numerous services, some of which conservative, pro-life activists detest.

People in the business of communications, such as myself, do not involve themselves in policy decisions. However, they do ask for guidance on responding to media and constituent requests following a vote that could prove to be possibly contentious. Perhaps "contentious" isn't the right term to use. Earth shaking might be better.

Sam knew that his vote on this particular item would inflame many people in his district, many of whom had voted to put him into office. But it didn't matter -- not in this case as he would carefully explain to me from a physician's point of view. "The best way to defeat cervical cancer in women is to catch it early," he patiently explained. "Early detection is key. The earlier it's detected, the better chance at survival."

Sam never wavered from this belief, despite the thousands of phone calls that poured into his Senate office from constituents outraged by his vote. He knew that his vote to provide funding for additional cervical cancer screenings would save lives. His care for children and families outweighed even his most strongest of political convictions: the rights of the unborn.

It still didn't stop the protest phone calls, which rolled in like waves on an ocean. There were some days where it seemed like that phone never stopped ringing. I would imagine there are some activists who still haven't forgiven him for that vote.

Yet -- his support only went so far. When a commemorative plaque from Planned Parenthood arrived in the mail one day, thanking him for his vote, he handed it to me with careful instructions to place it behind my desk and to keep it well hidden from the light of day. It may still be buried behind that desk in that Senate Rules Committee office, covered with the dust of State Capitol history.

Sam Aanestad
Although I have many countless memories of Sam Aanestad, it's this particular one that came to mind when I learned over the weekend that he was not doing well. The health problems that claimed his life started soon after the last time I saw him at Frank's in Grass Valley. I had been kept blissfully unaware, but that was the way Sam Aanestad operated.

Sam Aanestad was probably the only politician I ever had the honor of working for who steered clear of any attention placed on himself. His focus was always on the people around him, whether it be family, friends, former employees or his constituents. His first and foremost wish was another day of sun for all of those who surrounded him.

And, although the sun shines today, for me at least, it's not as bright as it should be.