• Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 291 other followers

  • Blog Stats

    • 322,752 hits

A Gardener’s Hope Springs Eternal

I bought onion sets today at Murphy's.

It’s Monday, after a big weekend of good highs and one horrible low that threatened to leave me depressed all day. But now things are looking up, because I’ve been gardening on the first day of spring. It was 75Âş in Indianapolis this afternoon, tomorrow will also be warm, and I’m just back from the village market with onion sets ready for planting. Onions like cool weather, which will return by the end of the week.

My outdoor activity today consisted mostly of cleaning out the remaining beds I didn’t get to last fall. The vegetable garden is ready, the strawberry plants are putting out green shoots and the perennial herb garden is already producing chives, oregano and the first tarragon. I know there’s a baked potato in my future, and tonight when I make enchiladas the sauce will be enhanced by some baby oregano leaves. Plus my crocus are starting to pop.

Up front, with its northern exposure, the hostas are stirring; no sign of them yet under the big old maple tree in the back yard, but that may be because there are no leaves to shade them from the sun. I’m also hoping my lily of the valley bulbs start to wake up; May will be here in 40 days, my birthday month, and that’s the time for lilies of the valley. The azaleas have new leaves, the tulips are rising, and I even hauled a trunkload to the recycling center. Things are starting to look good at my house.

Two good things happened last weekend; I made a presentation to the adult education class at St. John’s, Crawfordsville about dailyoffice.org, and Luke spent a successful night at the doggie hotel, the first time we were apart since I got him. I accepted the speaking invitation before I realized I’d have to make provisions for him, and that proved surprisingly difficult; my hosts Helen and Marc have cats, so they really didn’t want me to bring him, my vet was full, the county extension agent (any pet sitters in the 4-H club?) didn’t return my call, and kennels in Lafayette wanted me to come in and fill out paperwork two weeks in advance when I was already past their deadline. (I don’t fill out paperwork for the privilege of giving somebody money.) But Helen found a pet boarding place in the country outside Crawfordsville, it was a lot cheaper than anyone else, and the couple who runs it were as nice as could be. Pa took a shining to my dog. Sunday morning he put Luke inside his jacket, went indoors to eat his own breakfast, and fed the boy a few morsels of toast. “They don’t come any better than him,” he told me when I picked Luke up. I was thrilled – because he’s right. He also wished all his dogs were as quiet as Luke, who doesn’t bark indoors.

The people at church were warm and friendly, a responsive audience, and I’d put together a little outline of what I wanted to say about the Daily Office online (Morning and Evening Prayer on a couple of websites I run). Saying the Office regularly is the best way I know to get closer to God, who gets closer to us every time we turn to him/her. The more often we do it, the closer we get; and after 1.3 million site visitors, I’ve learned some things about online community. I’ve come to “know” a lot of people I never would have met without the internet; when I ask them to pray for someone they do it, and they write e-mails and leave comments that fill me with joy. Now here I was with a real congregation (maybe 30 people) who wanted to know about the Church of the future and how the online experience fits with that. It’s no substitute for the sacraments and belonging to an ongoing community, but God wants us to communicate with each other. We looked at parish and diocesan websites on a big screen and watched part of a video of Eric Whitacre’s virtual choir singing his composition “Lux Aurumque.” It’s quite moving and we all wondered, “How’d they do that?”

http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/v/D7o7BrlbaDs?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0

I’ve spoken in public a lot, and I was well-prepared for this gig, but I also felt myself rambling a little as I spoke; it’s the first time I’ve ever been asked to give this presentation, and I could probably have gone twice as long if anyone would listen. Praying the Daily Office has changed my life; I’ve learned an awful lot about the Episcopal Church these past six years, that we’re much stronger and more faithful than anyone thinks, but we do have to make some changes if we’re going to attract more people. Using the internet well is one way to do that.

At any rate Helen said the crowd at St. John’s liked it, so I guess I didn’t do too bad. It was lovely to go to church afterwards, since I don’t get to make my communion all that often, stuck here in the hinterlands.

Crawfordsville is also personally significant – it’s the setting for my next book – and I learn more about the place every time I visit. I have some rewriting to do now on my novel in progress; I’m writing this first, then I’ll break for enchiladas and spend the rest of the evening composing new sentences.

Meanwhile for the first time Luke is sitting quietly on my lap as I type; we’ve never done this before. Usually when he sits in my lap (a little rat terrier, ten pounds) he’s all hyper. Maybe he knows that farmer loved him like I do.

As for the thing that bummed me out, Purdue men’s basketball team lost in the NCAA tournament to a team they should have whipped like heavy cream, the worst performance I’ve seen in decades; it was bad coaching in my view, and it’s too bad because they’re great kids who’ve had a fantastic season. College basketball is my other religion, and it’s hard to watch your team Go to Hell, Go Directly to Hell, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200.

But it was just a game, and when you’re down, do something constructive instead. Take out the recycling, love your dog, clean out the flowerbeds and the herb garden, ’cause there’s baby oreganos already, yours for the taking. It’s spring, and good eating’s on the way.++

Even with directions on their butts, Purdue lost.

Birthday Week Begins!

The clock is just past midnight as I begin this; it’s Monday, May 17. Today would have been my late brother Steve’s 62nd birthday.

Mine is tomorrow. Either he was born early or (more likely) I was born late; we were anniversary babies. I will be 59, gasp cough cough.

He and I went 20 years without speaking after I came out; he didn’t want a Gay brother. I was never allowed to see his kids, in case I would touch them and give them AIDS. (I’m HIV-negative, but that doesn’t matter to the paranoid. If a person could get HIV from touching, the whole world would have long since been infected.) He was a jerk; then slowly, he began to change.

Our mother got sick with cancer in 1994. He loved his mother, and the three of us debated over who would take care of her. He invited her to come and live with him in southern Indiana; but she wanted to die at home in West Lafayette, and I was an experienced caregiver, available to move in with her, so that’s what happened.

She didn’t last very long; January 9, 1995. Steve and I didn’t see that much of each other during her illness, but he did come north to spell me for a weekend so I could go to Indianapolis to watch Purdue men’s and women’s basketball. Her illness was hard on me, she was demanding, so I was very grateful he gave me that weekend. I know he took the best possible care of her.

After she died I stayed in her house, and he often invited me down south to his house for a visit. We became very close friends, although he never stopped giving me a hard time for being Gay.

On every other topic we were brothers. I miss him very much.

Because of the timing of our birthdays, we quickly developed a shared ritual we called Birthday Week; I commend it to everyone. Mom used to say, “My birthday is My Day.” Steve and I decided, why not a whole week!

Episcopalians and Catholics observe octaves of major feast days, an 8-day celebration. Birthday Week fit right into the calendar. Sometimes we’d start a few days before, sometimes a few days after, this was a moveable feast, whatever our whims decided, eight freakin’ days.

I loved him; he loved me. He was a very fine man with a prejudice. And he was a bit sadistic with it, but I always fought back.

He so loved his mother that he honored me for taking care of her, and that mattered more than our turnons.

I relied on him for certain kinds of advice; I have no mechanical ability whatsoever, while he always knew what to do when the water heater stops putting out, or the car won’t start, or moles invade the yard.

I miss him terribly, but I’m very grateful that we were close those last few years. He died shortly after the millennium turned.

But I still have the legacy of Birthday Week, and I’m going to take advantage of it. I’ve been waiting for this; Birthday Week starts now. I imagine him smiling up in heaven, right next to Mom.

Sunday I drove to West Lafayette and bought more landscape lumber, 8-foot-long border planks for my Proper Garden; I have reclaimed a wasteland in my back yard and made it beautiful. I’ve planted tomatoes, peppers, geraniums, cabbage and broccoli, and put in a strawberry patch; tossed out gravel, replaced it with topsoil, weeded and weeded and weeded, dug and raked till my back hurt, killed off these terrible trees that grow 10 feet tall in six weeks, sawed off the tree stumps, thoroughly knocked myself out. It’s taken a couple of years, but now I have a real garden, planted and marked off. The area’s still a little rough, the ground is uneven, but within those 8-foot planks, there’s a garden. Will the muskmelon seeds I dried and saved from last year do anything? I don’t know, but it will be exciting to find out.

Steve was a big fan of Vincennes muskmelons. In the gravel walkway on the north edge of the garden, I’ll plant gladiolus bulbs, some of my mother’s favorite flowers.

In the front yard with a northern exposure, Steve’s favorite azaleas are giving way to our brother Dick’s prize peonies. The Indiana state flower, y’know?

My garden is done, and I’m ecstastic. It isn’t even my birthday yet and everything’s done!

I also bought a little garden figurine, a foot-tall angel made in China with green and white mosaic wings, ten or twelve dollars; she now stands under the giant maple in the back yard, Our Lady of the Big Tree once featured in the Chicago Sunday Tribune.

The marigolds are happy, the begonias, three varieties of lilies; pansies, oregano, yuccas, impatiens; the hostas are doing okay, and so far I’ve been able to control the freakin’ ivy and the would-be kudzu. I worry about some gifts, though, that date to my buying this house six years ago; Peter gave me some excellent tulips, but they didn’t produce well this year, and a woman I used to work with at Southlake Mental gave me irises, which aren’t doing well either. I can picture her but I do not remember her name! It’s awful, she was very competent and good with clients, we worked so well together, but now, when irises are blooming all over town, mine aren’t. She deserves better, y’know? She deserves to be remembered by name.

But I’m getting older, and this s— happens, and it’s Birthday Week.

I got a dog last October, name of Luke; he hasn’t figured out flowers yet, and has made it his business to topple every planter in sight. He doesn’t mean to, but he’s a fox terrier, and they jump and run and boom, sorry begonias. And geraniums. And everything else he can accidentally knock over. I keep moving his stake-out chain, but I haven’t yet found the perfect spot where he can do no damage, and “Yowzah, Daddy, Arf Arf Arf! (Oops, bad dog, you don’t gotta tell me, I know.)”

He gets bacon anyway. I tell him that come August, when the tomatoes are ripe, I am eating all the bacon myself, BLTs, no matter how much he jumps and yaps and knocks things over.

It’s Birthday Week; my gardening is done. I have an 8×24 space marked off for flowers and food. I have a gravel walkway; the invasive trees are gone. Our Lady of the Maple happily presides in the shade. Maybe I’ll get a couple of jars of strawberry jam according to my mother’s recipe.

As for my homophobic brother: it was good to find someone who knew me all my life, loved me 90% and hated me just 10. It was mutual, after all, I never let him off the hook; attack me and I fight back.

I planted those azaleas for him, and they did better this year than ever before. Ninety/ten’s pretty good when you think about it. So Birthday Week starts now, on His Day. Mine is Tuesday, Jayne’s graduation party is Saturday, and Sunday is Pentecost, the Church’s Birthday with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

I finally have a Proper Garden, and an Angel of the Maple Tree. Life is good.++

Say It Ain’t So, Gordon

Hayward and the Bulldogs

I’ve waited three weeks since the end of the NCAA basketball tournament to write this. It’s good sometimes to wait before you say something that’s on your mind; maybe you’ll change that little mind of yours, or obtain new information that alters your opinion. Maybe you’ll find a less hurtful way of telling your boyfriend he’s a stupid, selfish bitch; or maybe not. 🙂

Butler basketball star Gordon Hayward wants to jump to the NBA.

So do JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore of Purdue. So do countless throngs of wannabes. I think they’re making a terrible mistake.

These three are all fine college basketball players. With Johnson and Moore, Purdue made it to the Sweet Sixteen last month, without their star running mate Robbie Hummell.

Hayward’s Bulldogs lost the National Championship game by two points to Duke.

What could be more predictable than that these very good college players would want to sign for big dollars with professional teams? If somebody’s offering you money, you take it. There’s big money involved.

But I think it would be a terrible mistake for all three of them. Why? They’re not good enough. They’re not mature enough. They’re not ready.

Hayward averaged 15.5 points per game as a sophomore. That’s a very respectable number for a college boy, but it’s not going to sell a lot of tickets in Miami.

A junior, Johnson averaged the same 15.5 ppg. Moore, also a junior, was slightly better at 16.4.

All three of them have deficiencies in their game, which they could work on if they stayed in school. None of them are so outstanding that businessmen are lining up to make them millionaires.

When you compare them to the best players they’ll be competing with in the draft, guys like John Wall of Louisville and Evan Turner of Ohio State, Johnson, Hayward and Moore look like also-rans; good players, yes, but not that special. Nothing to get excited about.

The league they want to play in, the National Basketball Association, is wealthy and, to some people, glamorous, but it operates on very different assumptions than the college game.

College boys play 30 games a year; NBA’s season goes 82 games. That’s a lot more wear and tear on the body, and on the fans who are far more cynical and demanding. The right to boo comes with every $100 ticket. How many points would Hayward likely average over an 82-game season?

He’s a boy becoming a man; he’s not a man yet. He’s 20 years old. Johnson and Moore are 21—old enough to make their own decisions, yes, but young enough that they cannot know what they’re getting themselves into if they get drafted and turn pro.

I’m not sure any of them will get drafted; if I owned a team I wouldn’t pay them millions. (All of them have reserved the right to remain in college; wise decision.)

Instead of letting themselves get seduced by the possibility of big money, they ought to ask themselves, Where is the best place to use my talents? Where will I grow as a player and a person?

In the NBA’s thug-and-drug culture, or on campus?

Every one of them is a good student; Hayward and Moore are Academic All-Americans, an incredible achievement. Johnson is very articulate; he makes Purdue fans like me proud when he speaks. These are smart kids!

I admit as a Purdue fan I have an interest in keeping Johnson and Moore around for one more run at a National Championship. I don’t have a “vested” interest because my money’s not on the line; I have a rooting interest. My mother, grandfather and I are Purdue alumni; and yes, I would love to have our school (not our team, our school!) finally win it all.

Butler came so close this year; and wow, what an inspiring story their team was. The TV ratings for the championship game were the highest since 1999; a David-and-Goliath story for the ages. (Goliath won, though.)

Butler University has built its basketball team for the last decade and a half using homegrown talent, much as Purdue has, but without Purdue’s fame and money. Butler’s built a winning tradition with no-names like Hayward and Matt Howard, Avery Jukes, Zack Hahn, Shelvin Mack.

For years now Butler’s Bulldogs have slowly built a national reputation for winning, despite a succession of coaching changes. It’s a small school, and as soon as they do well another school comes along and steals Butler’s coach by offering more money.

—Money, the exact thing Hayward’s chasing now.

Sometimes the former Butler coach succeeds brilliantly, like Thad Matta at Ohio State. Sometimes the former Butler coach falls flat on his face, like Todd Lickliter at Iowa. He got fired because he could not reproduce The Butler Way at a school ten times bigger with its own way of doing things.

You have to match who you are and what you can do with the right environment. Are you listening, Gordon? E’twaun, JaJuan?

One of the lessons here is that money distorts a person’s thinking. Todd Lickliter had every intention of exporting The Butler Way to Iowa City. But he should have stayed at home. That million-dollar contract isn’t going to help him come September.

A young coach named Brad Stevens took over for him at Butler and took the Bulldogs all the way to the National Championship game. That could have been Lickliter, but it wasn’t. He’s now out of a job.

I don’t want that to happen to JaJuan, Gordon and E’twaun. I want them to play for 20 years, make millions of dollars and retire in glory—when they’re ready.

They’re not yet, and no one’s telling them so. They need to stay in school and use their brains as well as their bodies.

Myself I don’t care for the NBA game, which starts and ends with phony hype. “E’TWAUN… MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORE!” Puh-lease, he’s averaging 6.2 a game.

Meanwhile he gets exposed to hustlers and gamblers, groupies and ripoffs, when he’s a 21-year-old kid from East Chicago.

I especially don’t want Gordon exposed to all that.

He’s a religious kid from Brownsburg, a Christian kid, an innocent who loves his twin sister, a tennis player at Butler. I don’t want Gordon thrown into the lion’s den by being tempted with money.

He’s going to make lots of money in his life; it shouldn’t be this way. He needs two more years to learn how to face the hustlers and ripoffs.

He ought to stay home with his sister. That’s where he belongs.

With luck he’ll come to that same conclusion. With luck it’ll be Butler against Purdue for the National Championship, and all of them with a Bachelor of Science degree.

Oh, but what if they get hurt like Robbie Hummell did? What if they never get the chance at big bucks?

What if the sky falls down?

Money’s a drug, Gordon. It’s no surprise the pushers are coming after you.

Don’t succumb. That is, don’t die. Please!

NBA or not this year, you’re going to spend the rest of your life talking to your sister, not the hustlers and groupies and addicts and ripoffs.

Invest your emotional capital in her; then you’ll be ready when the time comes to face the lions.

Don’t do it, JaJuan; don’t throw away everything you’ve worked so hard for at the world-class university whose degree will open doors for you the rest of your life. The NBA will still be there a year from now, and you’ll be a better player.

Don’t do it, E’Twaun; please be aware that your intelligence is not the match you think it is against hustlers and criminals and thieves. They’re better at their game than you are at yours.

Make a statement, guys; be a kid. Stay in school.

And I hereby absolve all of you from any requirement that you win a national championship for my sake, or Mom’s or Granddad’s. My hopes are not relevant to your lives. You’ve got to live for yourselves and for God.

Ask God what you should do and be guided by the answer. I could be wrong; but I bet it’s a lot more important to God that you stick around for your total development than that you take off early to chase the bucks.

Whatever you decide I’ll support you; thanks for all the thrills you gave me this past year.++

Home Parish: Full House for Easter 2010

St. John's, Lafayette, Indiana, built in 1858. Nice view of the stoplights.

I did something fairly miraculous yesterday to finish up Lent and start celebrating Easter; I got up and went to church, 50 miles away on the other side of the international date line. (Actually, it’s just a time zone, Central to Eastern, but that invisible line makes it feel like the other one.)

I got up at 7 to make it to church at 10:15. It wasn’t too difficult, but since it takes three hours of prep time I don’t do it often.

I got there with a few minutes to spare and had to park farther away than usual, almost two blocks. I wasn’t surprised; we’re across the street from a big Methodist church and right next door to a big Disciples one. I stepped inside our door; the nave was pretty full and more people were coming. I stepped over a few folks and took a spot. Michael, the music director, had already started the organ prelude.

Soon we were singing “Jesus Christ Is Ris’n Today,” ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-lay-ay-lu-oo-yah. It’s one of my favorites, and also the one I picked for my Daily Office website (which is here). Besides the organ we had a brass quartet blasting away from a corner up front.

This was the third service of Easter, if you count the Vigil Saturday night at our student parish on the West Side (and you should). So having a full house was a pretty good deal, even if some of us came out like I did partly because of that brass band. The Final Four was on that night, Butler vs. Michigan State, and I wasn’t thinking holy thoughts, I was yelling and clapping for Butler. (They won!)

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat that far back in my parish church; I got a better look than I’ve had in years at the oldest stained glass window on the east side, which kind of stands out like a sore thumb, greens and golds, a plain Victorian angel, while all the others are blue, red and white, much more beautiful to my eye. The red and gold Resurrection window on the opposite side makes a good visual transition perhaps for the better windows toward the altar. It’s a fairly Protestant building (and parish); up front, behind the altar, is a Caucasian Jesus window flanked by Eucharistic side lights. At any rate, it’s home.

The priest for youth and young adult ministries celebrated; she sang well and I’m getting used to her. The first time I heard her sing was an unfortunately jarring experience for me, for no better reason than I grew up there and had never experienced a woman at the altar, though I’ve happily worshiped with female celebrants dozens of times elsewhere. That discombobulation taught me that I, too, have trouble with change at home, though I actively try to cause it for everyone else. Silly! I was glad I could just relax and enjoy it all.

The processional crosses were decorated with flowers, and I wanted to tell the acolytes, “Do you know that 40 years ago I did the same thing you’re doing?” Fortunately I did not give in to the impulse; whatever would they have said in reply? I was happy to see the old tools still in use.

One of the pews up front has been cut in half to accomodate wheelchairs and a piano; they did a nice job of sawing and refinishing. A few panels by the ceiling have been painted blue and edged with gilt; they look nice. An old familiar water spot above the chancel has been repaired, and the wooden beams now have tension cables to hold them in place to relieve pressure on the walls.

All these are the rector’s doing; so, for that matter, is the full house. (Doubtless the youth and young adult minister has a lot to do with it too, but he hired her.) I’m very grateful, after all The Church has been through these last few decades, to find St. John’s a viable, vibrant parish. I bet we had 30 kids on the Easter egg hunt after mass; I wonder how he did all this, considering that I don’t much care for the man.

I won’t trouble you with why, but he’s done me wrong a time or two, so when I return infrequently to the old home place I’ve always got a mixed feeling.

He preached today, a bit more rambling than usual, longer probably than most people wanted; but that’s Fr. Ed doing his thing. I usually enjoy his sermons, which are always extemporaneous but well prepared. So what if he doesn’t know when to quit? Such things happen in family life and you learn to not sweat the small stuff.

With the big stuff he’s done very well. The church is full, the physical plant (though always needing more) is sound and far more usable than when I was a kid, and the parish is healthy. What more can you ask of a priest?

I’ll be glad when he retires in a year or two (he’s been here almost 25), but I have to admit we are forward looking and that is great news.

The demographic changes in the congregation are subtle but noticeable. We have a few more people of color now; didn’t used to have any. The rich, reactionary snobs have either died or taken their old money somewhere else. We’re more professional class than anything else, and people with less money seem comfortable in their shoes.

People don’t dress up like they used to; children are indulged more and do not get told to sit up straight and pay attention. Certain minor rituals are less observed than before, but there’s also less conformity. I didn’t see any Gay couples this time but we’ve got some. St. John’s is chugging along, not speeding anywhere but not standing still.

The food pantry Ervin Faulkenberry started is still going strong. Thanks be to God and Fr. Ed.

Entrance for the St. John's/LUM food pantry.

We sang good hymns, and I was in decent voice. That’s important to me; I love singing the old stuff. We even closed with an Easter hymn you never hear anymore, “The Strife Is O’er” (Victory), which some people probably think is too militaristic now. But we used to sing it back in the good ol’ daze, and I loved hearing it again. We didn’t have to sing “Hail Thee, Festival Day!” or “Welcome, Happy Morning!” for me to feel at home.

We even got some modified Anglican chant (choir and congregational refrain) for the psalm. I mean, what’s not to like when you’re my age?

I made it through Lent, kept my discipline up, communed with Body and Blood, visited my mother’s spot in the burial garden (which had a plastic Easter egg on top) and ran my finger over her name on the plaque. Then out came a gaggle of kids with baskets and mister, get out the way!

It was a happy morning; everyone was there, even me.

***

On my way home I stopped at the Marsh supermarket in West Lafayette and bought two lamb chops and some sugar snap peas. I’d planned to bake a ham for Easter until I saw the lamb, which I’d much rather have with its Christian overtones. In lieu of hot-cross buns I bought a glazed doughnut and a chocolate Bismarck; enough with the fast already.

The sugar snaps package suggested eating them raw with guacamole, which I happened to have, so I tried it; delicious! The fresh ones don’t need to be cooked at all. But I did buy them as a side dish, so I looked online for recipes. One said to boil them for 10 minutes; why so long, if they’re great uncooked? Another suggested stir-frying for two minutes, and that made more sense to me. I marinated my chops, broiled them and used a little leftover marinade for the stir-fry. Welcome happy evening!

My marinade’s pretty simple; EVOO, lemon juice, oregano, parsley, rosemary, curry powder, S&P. I’ve got plenty of dried oregano from last year’s garden, but wait—I’ve got gorgeous fresh herb growing ten feet away! So out I went with my handy scissors, snip snip. (The rosemary is coming back too but it’s not as far along.) The chops were almost as good as when I grilled some outdoors when Peter and Scott were here last June.

Now, tonight in about five hours, the Butler Bulldogs of Indianapolis will take on the Duke Blue Devils for the National Championship in college basketball. My school Purdue didn’t make it all the way, but another great Indiana school did. I am trying not to pray for Butler to win it, because every Episcopalian knows that God does not care about sports. But now is as good a time as any for the Mighty One to take another whack at a bunch of devils in blue. I mean, punking devils is probably God’s idea of a really fun game.++

Two of these guys are Academic All-Americans.

It’s Pansy Time!

Today, March 31, is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 83.

This is also Wednesday in Holy Week. Some years her birthday fell on Easter Sunday. (Some years my birthday is the Day of Pentecost.)

But today is also the day I planted tomatoes—far earlier than ever before.

The rule of thumb with tomatoes is that the safest time to plant is after the last possibility of frost has passed. Around here, that’s approximately Mother’s Day, the 2nd Sunday in May.

Pansies can be planted as soon as they appear in stores; they like cold weather. So mine are now in. I bought yellow ones this year for my planters on the front porch. I usually mix colors but not this year.

I fantasize that tomorrow the mailman will come by and think, “Well, he’s got his pansies in.” I imagine this every year, because I get such a kick out of planting my annual flowers. I want someone to notice them!

The lady across the street has a nice window box. I used to admire and envy it, until I realized she sticks in plastic flowers and calls it a day. No watering that way, I guess.

While I’m excited about the pansies, I’m really psyched about the tomatoes. They’re my favorite food, and nothing tastes better than a homegrown tomato. The ideal way to eat them is out in the garden with a salt shaker, and juice running down your chin.

I may lose this crop; there’s a reason the experts say to wait. When I bought this house six years ago in May and planted my first tomatoes, my friend Mark came down from Chicago to help with a couple of tasks, and told me he’d lost his tomato plants a few days earlier. Frost got them, of course. “What’s up with that?” he asked.

I was so eager to learn how to grow a tomato that I let my mind get spooked by what happened to his. So for the past five years I’ve faithfully waited until all danger was past.

I have now repealed that law, for several reasons. First, the eight plants I stuck in the ground today cost me all of $2.78. If I have to replace them I won’t go bankrupt, so it’s time I got over my anxiety. Second, last year’s experience was not good. We had a cool, wet summer and the tomatoes took forever to ripen; I didn’t get any till August, and mine were earlier than some of my neighbors’.

Third, my pal Peter visited me in May last year, and helped stake up my plants. I felt terrible about it, because I started later than normal; he’s from Amsterdam, and I would so have liked to be able to feed him some of my own produce. God knows he’s heard me rave about my tomatoes this whole time. But there we were, trying to coax along a few forlorn-looking plants that he wouldn’t have a chance to enjoy unless he stayed all summer. He did get to eat some local sweet corn, and marveled that here in the exotic Midwest, we actually eat it off the cob! He probably included this bizarre factoid when he inflicted his Travels in America slide show on his parents once he got home. “What’s next,” they must have wondered, “do they wear grass skirts?”

The bottom line for me is this. As soon as Murphy’s has plants for sale, buy them and stick them in the ground. I may lose a few but so what; God made more. The gardening industry knows when to put plants on sale for a particular market; doubtless Wal-Mart has elaborate data on when to offer what at all ten gazillion stores.

Since I am going to spend every day this spring and summer checking to see if I’ve got a tomato yet, I want my juicies sooner, not later. (I’m not sophisticated enough to do grow-lights in the basement, the way the hardcore tomato people do. And I can’t afford to build a greenhouse off the kitchen.)

It was 78Âş today in Chicago; we may have hit 80 here, the ideal temperature for planting. Yes, it will get colder, but I’ll keep my eye peeled for frost warnings and buy a newspaper to cover up my crop. It’s worth the risk.

Tomatoes are one of the best foods a person can eat. Here are some nutrition facts from learninginfo.org.

The tomato not only thrills the taste buds and brightens the dinner table, it also helps fight disease.

A review of 72 different studies showed consistently that the more tomatoes and tomato products people eat, the lower their risks of many different kinds of cancer. The secret may lie in lycopene, the chemical that makes tomatoes red, said Dr. Edward Giovannucci, Harvard School of Public Health, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Among the studies he reviewed, 57 showed that the more tomatoes one ate, the lower the risk of cancer. “The evidence for benefit was strongest for cancers of the prostate, lung, and stomach,” he reported.

Processed tomatoes (e.g. canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, ketchup) contain even more lycopene because cooking breaks down cell walls, releasing and concentrating carotenoids. Eating tomatoes with a small amount of fat enables lycopene to be better absorbed.

Even though eight plants is a lot for one person, there’s no such thing as too many tomatoes. I freeze them, I can them, I give them away; I can even sell my surplus back to Murphy’s. I could start my own farmer’s market!

My chives are coming back; I’ve harvested some already. The oregano is growing, too. Last week I planted onion sets as soon as I saw them at the grocery store. (Then I had to contend with my dog Luke, who naturally assumed that where I get to dig, he gets to dig too.)

My tulips, including some from Peter, are about 8 inches high; the crocuses are in bloom. The lilac bush is leafing out and will bloom in May. A few of the irises have sprouted, but they did very badly last year and I may have to replace them. The daylilies have new shoots. So far I can’t see any activity among the hostas, nor anything from the lilies-of-the-valley I planted last fall under the maple tree. But everything is coming along as it should; God, do I love spring.

And I haven’t even mentioned that the Butler Bulldogs are in the Final Four!

Butler's regional championship last week.

You know what I’m going to be doing Saturday, and it’s not thinking religious thoughts. The Easter Vigil begins at 6pm my time, but Butler tips off against Michigan State at 5:07. I’ll be going to church, all right, but not at Good Shepherd. Mass can wait until Sunday when there isn’t any basketball. I mean, first things first.++

Coach Brad Stevens of Butler.

My New TV Jinxed the Team

Robbie Hummel sidelined after his season-ending injury. (AJ Mast/Associated Press)

I did something very, very bad on February 24. I bought a TV, a 37-inch Vizio, high-def and all that.

The very same night the reason I bought it came crashing down. I should have known not to tempt the fates.

I haven’t watched TV since 1986. This makes me very weird, but it’s also made me a happier guy. Just think of all the commercials I haven’t seen—1.3 million of them.

Not watching TV is one of the best things a person can do for himself. I am now completely averse to violent images, and I only buy things I really want.

So what made me change? Purdue basketball, which I’ve followed since I was 7 years old. Purdue’s got a great team this year, ranked in the Top Ten all season long. I told myself, This could be the year we win it all.

Just once in my lifetime I want to see the Boilermakers win the National Championship. And if this is the year, I thought, I don’t want to miss it. So I broke down and bought a TV. It’s very nice, as TVs go. I called the cable company, which carries the Big Ten Network as well as ESPN; the cable was installed Feb. 24. At 8pm I sat down to watch Purdue play Minnesota, so excited I could have jumped out of my skin. About 9 minutes into the game, Purdue’s star forward Robbie Hummel blew out his knee and is gone for the rest of the year.

I’m very, very sorry, Robbie. I should never have broken the string. Your team would probably be getting a #1 seed tomorrow in the NCAA tournament if it weren’t for me. I’m hanging my head in shame. I apologize to Purdue people everywhere.

After all, I didn’t watch Drew Brees win the Super Bowl; I listened to the Saints beat the Colts on the radio and cheered my lungs out.

I listened to all those Purdue hoops on the radio; why couldn’t I have just waited until you made the Final Four? Why didn’t I just save my money and drive 30 miles to the nearest sports bar? I saw Purdue beat West Virginia there on New Year’s Day.

As it turns out, Purdue beat Minnesota that night after Hummel left the game, although the Boilers went into a total swoon after he left, and only pulled the victory out in the last minute. Since then, Purdue’s gone 3-1 to finish out the season, until this afternoon in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal—against Minnesota.

I sat in my big chair and watched; the Boilers scored all of 11 points in the first half. With less than 10 minutes to go in the game, the Gophers led by 30 and I hit the button, Power Off. I needed something more pleasant to do, so I scrubbed the kitchen floor on my hands and knees.

Hey, it’s Lent, I’m supposed to do penance.

March Madness (the NCAA basketball tournament) is my favorite time of year. I fill out my bracket online and consistently beat 95% of The New York Times sports staff year after year.

So much for madness now; I’m mad at myself for screwing it up. There’s only one consolation in all this misery; Hummel’s a junior. He’ll have all the time he needs to rehab that knee (a torn ACL is a horrible, painful injury) and be able to come back for his senior season with his running mates JuJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, the trio who’s responsible for that Top Ten ranking. Hope will be reborn next year. Chris Kramer, the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year, won’t be around, and he’s the #1 reason I wanted Purdue to win it all this time, but the one consolation is we’ll get another chance.

In the meantime I guess I’ll enjoy my sparkly clean floor.++

Purdue on Top in Big Ten

Dr. James H. Smart, president of Purdue and founder of the nation's first athletic conference, the Big Ten, in 1895.

Okay, now I’m certain the basketball gods are conspiring to bless my little heart. Purdue beat Ohio State and Illinois this week; OSU then went to East Lansing and walloped Michigan State—putting my beloved Boilermakers in sole possession of first place in the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives, otherwise known as the Big Ten.

One favorable event is a random act; two are a coicidence. But when three similar things happen, you’ve got a pattern on your hands. I’m going to have to break down and buy a TV!

I haven’t watched the idiot box since Jack got sick in 1986; there just wasn’t time to take care of him, do his job and mine, cook and clean and pay the bills, plus turn into a couch potato every night. By the time I got done with my work, prime time was over. And I didn’t miss it. I blame television for everything that’s wrong with society; how else can you explain Sarah Palin?

Think of those thousands of commercials I missed!

But now the Boilers are sitting all alone on top of the standings in men’s basketball. That’s miracle #1, thanks to Keaton Grant’s 15 points off the bench Saturday against the Illini. (He equalled his season high of 13 three days earlier against the Buckeyes.)

Keaton Grant earlier this year. (Michael Conroy/AP)

As the 4th-ranked team in the country in both the AP and coaches’ polls (#3 as of tomorrow, I bet), the Boilers may receive a #1 seed in the Best Sports Event in the World (the NCAA Tournament) beginning in three weeks. The #1 seed receives the easiest path to regional victory and a chance at the Final Four. (That’s miracle #2.)

But now wait, because this third event is truly miraculous. I have just found out that the off-brand cable company that serves my hometown (pop. 1800) just 45 miles north of the Purdue campus has finally decided, after years of delay, there might be customers here for the Big Ten Network.

Crash, that’s the sound of me keeling over dead.

Obviously I’m old enough to remember when all Purdue basketball games were televised for free on one broadcast station, WTTV, Channel 4 in Indianapolis. But those days are gone, because businessmen figured out how to charge people money for what used to be free. (Gas stations now charge you to put air in your own tires, too.) Now, college basketball is scattered all over the pay-TV dial, from ESPN (1, 2, U and 360) to CBS to BTN. The only way to watch is with cable or satellite, and the only thing I have any interest in seeing is Purdue sports. Just think of all those reality TV shows I’ve missed. (I still wouldn’t recognize Paris Hilton or Brittany Spears if they walked up and kissed me on the mouth.)

Cable TV costs a minimum of $400 a year, and without the Big Ten Network I had no reason to subscribe.

Now, however, a miracle I’ve waited a lifetime for might actually take place: Purdue winning the National Championship next month in Indianapolis. I have to get cable; I owe it to myself not to miss this.

Of course, TV technology has changed, and my old analog TV, which I still have from the days when Jack would watch “Roseanne” back in the ’80s, and which weighs 90 pounds and isn’t worth moving, is out of date. I not only have to sign up for cable, I have to buy a new idiot box.

So I’ve been shopping online, and my my my, what pretty new boxes they have these days. They weigh less too.

I’ve found out about a new American manufacturer named Vizio, which makes TVs that use less energy, even below the standards of EnergyStar 3.0. They sell a 32-inch set with 1080 pixels and 120 Hz for a list price of $548; maybe less if I can find a good deal.

For $200 less you can get a Vizio 32-incher with 720 pixels and 60 Hz, but the pixels and refresh rate matter a lot in picture quality; since this is going to be the last TV I ever buy, let’s not be a cheapskate. OTOH, an extra 10 inches costs $200 more at $748, which is more than my house payment. What to do???

Let’s try dreaming.

Purdue Wins National Championship in High-Def!!!

That’s one way to look at it. Or:

purduelosesin2ndroundtono-name-u — in which case I don’t want to see it even in low-def.

Which do I think will happen?

The Boilers are #4 in the country, sitting atop the Big Ten with three games left to play. When Illinois took out JuJuan Johnson, Purdue’s high-scoring big man, yesterday, up came Grant off the bench; that’s the mark of a championship team, finding a way to win no matter what. Purdue’s riding a 9-game winning streak, after putting together a 14-game streak to start the season. (They had three straight losses in between.) They’re one of the hottest teams in the country, almost sure to get a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Even better, this year’s team is dominated by juniors: Johnson, Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore. All of them will be back next year.

I think I’d better buy the best damn TV I can afford. This will be my last chance to see the cutest guy in basketball, Purdue senior Chris Kramer.

Life is a crapshoot. GO BOILERS!

The Secretary of Defense, Purdue's Chris Kramer. (Don Ryan/AP)