The Woman Who Took Everything Personally: Garden Edition

(Reprinted upon request. I am now two years older and have given up on tomatoes. Other than that, everything is the same.)

People sometimes ask me* how I manage to keep up with gardening. With all my many responsibilities, how do I manage to maintain my flower beds in their customary splendor?

Here’s how you do it. First, you decide to live in a place where the soil is 78% soccer ball-sized rocks with paltry little swaths of dirt in between. Then you crank the climate way down to supidsville, so it may be Memorial Day, but you’re still squinting wrathfully at the sky and thinking, “Yep, that’s definitely a snow cloud.” You consider burning the dog for fuel. Nothing personal; it just really, really hurts to pay for heating oil in May.

This in itself should make gardening miserable enough. But if you really want to reap sorrow and lamentations as you bring forth flowers into the world, then I cannot recommend highly enough the following technique.

Take it personally. All of it!

Above is a little diagram of one of my little flower beds, which also doubles neatly as a functional map of my psyche. Every single thing that grows tells you something about me, and all of it is stupid.

That lilac tree is a sehnsucht-laden bearer of my youthful memories of this other lilac tree we used to have, alas. I wait in agony for the blossoms to open so I can smell them, thinking all the time about how quickly they will fade, alas alas.

The day lilies come up on their own, and spread like crazy, and I have to rip them out to make way for other flowers, because life is like that. Not even flowers will be allowed to flourish where they will. Death will always have his portion, and I will be his agent. Sheesh, Death.

The purple bushy stuff and the white bushy stuff, I bought on clearance, where the heartless Home Depot generation stopped bothering to water it just because it had already bloomed for the season. Can you believe that? A nice, decent flower, with so much growth left in it, just shoved aside before it’s even fully passed. Just because a flower is forty-one years old and maybe has a double chin and big arms and can’t stay awake through movies, they stop watering it, and nobody even cards it at the liquor store anymore, but this is not right! It’s not right! It’s . . . it’s just not right.

The poppies, I bought out of rage. The only thing that would have made me happier is if they had cost five times as much, because that would be just like them. Freaking poppies. I have been trying to grow poppies all my life, because they are so lovely, and I’ve never gotten so much as a single glossy petal or even an inch or two of hairy, snakelike stem. So here I go, freaking buying freaking poppies, and I HOPE THEY ALL DIE. Freaking poppies. *sob*

The daisies, I dug up from another part of the yard and chunked into my garden because the cruel mower was headed for their sweet heads. If that isn’t just like a man, humph. You stick with me, daisies. We’ll start a book club together, you and me, and you can chip in for the rent once your candle business gets off the ground. I understand.

The roses, I picked up last year at Aldi because they were on sale. I don’t even like roses, but what could I do? They were on sale. And wouldn’t you know it, they survived the winter and they’re doing fine. Thanks a lot, Aldi. By the way, your three bean salad stinks. I rate it two beans at best.

The various plants marked “??” are things that I don’t dare to weed because I can never remember if they are anything or not, because I’m an idiot.

And then there’s this beauty:

Oh, yeah, this is going to be great, I can tell already. Huge masses of fragrant, glowing blossoms will definitely ignite the senses in the fall, kindling hope anew in hearts that were beginning to falter. Totally. Yeah, I have super high hopes that we’ll see a real turnaround with this particular item.

And one more thing: did you notice that none of this was grown from seed? That’s because I stink! I stink! I didn’t even smell the lilacs today, because I stink!

In conclusion: at least Google knows what I’m talking about.

*No one has ever asked me

Still fat, still running, still bugging you to do Couch to 5k

A little over a year ago, I told you how great the Couch to 5K program is. I describe why I started the program, exactly what it entails, and how it helped me physically, mentally, and emotionally. Here’s an update in our transformation from sad blobs to happier, somewhat more toned people with some blobby aspects.

It turned out that having a built-in babysitter was the lynchpin for regular physical fitness, and once those babysitters left for college, it got super hard to keep running regularly. We did try. We ran separately, and it was lonely. We tried running at night in the winter, and that was horrible.  I also tried these marching workout videos, and they were pretty good, but I slacked off after several weeks. In January, I consoled myself by writing a satirical news story about how I was fooling myself, but that only takes you so far. Then we got a Y membership so we could stow the baby hobbit in childcare and run around the track, but man, it is not the same. You have to make twelve circuits for a mile, and the air is dry and weird, and you can’t have loud, panting conversations about NFP when you’re running at the Y. And then some lady runs right in front of you wearing bright pink running pants with a thong-shaped pattern on it, as is her constitutional right, and you get mad your husband, which isn’t fair, but that’s how it is.

So, with less and less exercise, I slid further and further into blobby despond. Our whole household is terribly sad over the winter anyway, so it was not a good scene. People were making caramel popcorn with entire sticks of butter before 11 a.m. We were scrolling through Facebook with our noses, because it was too exhausting to move our thumbs.

Then the college kids came back home, and . . . now we can go running again. And that’s how it is! We’re running anywhere from three to seven times a week. To our delight, we didn’t have to start from zero, even after taking so much time off.  We’re not as fit as we were by the end of last summer, when we were topping four miles sometimes, but we’re well on our way, and can easily do two+ miles.

The kids, age 9 and up, will be starting Couch to 5K when school gets out in a few weeks. I highly recommend it!  And do get outside as much as possible. I’m glad we used the treadmill when we first started, because it was better than nothing, and I know the track at the Y kept us from losing too much ground; but being outdoors is fantastic. I’m trying to learn more about the ever-changing flora and fauna that surrounds us. So far, we’ve identified a pretty little friend called an arctic starflower

By Jason Hollinger (Arctic StarflowerUploaded by Amada44) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
we’ve brought home, looked up, and abruptly threw away some fascinating, luminous objects called spongy oak apple galls

which look like magical seed pods, but are made by gall wasps out of oak leaf tissue to cushion their developing larvae. Eek!

. . . and, with the help of friends, discovered that that weird sound that almost sounds like an alien toy, like one of those plastic tubes you whip around in a circle over your head, is actually the song of a hermit thrush:

We see wild turkeys, just birding around, and meandering deer, and flame-red salamanders. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to figure out what weed produces that intoxicatingly wild, dusky, spicy smell, but I can’t get enough of it. Best of all, Damien and I have regular time together that’s just for us. That’s my favorite part of my life right now.

I still eat too much to be losing significant weight, but getting regular exercise does so much to put food back in its rightful place, as fuel rather than hobby or master. I’m much happier with my shape, my posture, and my energy levels and confidence than I have been in many months. I bought a frickin’ two-piece bathing suit yesterday. Even if I never wear it, the fact that I thought I might is a big deal!

My blood pressure is great. I have zero back pain and haven’t had a single migraine since we started running regularly. Since my migraine meds were messing with my heart, this is a relief.

I’m not a great runner. I’m very slow, and my form is inefficient and silly. It’s hard to start, every single time, and I generally feel very strongly that the first 1/8 mile is bullshit, just bullshit. But sooner and sooner in each run, I’m hitting that moment where I feel strong, competent, and optimistic, and that feeling sometimes lasts for hours.

So if you’re feeling bad, this is me pestering you to try Couch to 5K. If I can do it, you definitely can. You guys know me. I’m not a go-getter or thing-achiever, but I’m telling you, this program changed my life.

 

5 easy crafts for preschoolers (and their color-starved moms)

Maybe it’s different where you live, but here, there still isn’t any green. Just brown, tan, black, white, and grey. I know it’s Lent and it makes sense to look out the window and feel terrible, but I just can’t take it. I resorted to  . . .

Craft day.

In about half an hour, we came up with five very simple crafts that my five-year-old could do with almost no help. These are all projects that make the house brighter and more colorful, and that cost almost nothing to make. To make all five, you’ll need wax paper, colored tissue paper, paper plates, thread, glue sticks, paints and/or food coloring, scissors, clothespins, and pipe cleaners.

#1: Stained glass mosaics

Cut or tear colored tissue paper into squares or shapes. Lay out a sheet of wax paper, and run a glue stick all over it. Stick the tissue paper on the wax paper, in a design or at random. Stained glass!

 

#2: Tissue paper garden

This one is more fun to make than it is fun to look at.

Take a paper plate (always have paper plates on hand!), and color it green or brown, or glue green or brown paper on it. Cut colored tissue paper into little squares, wrap a square around the eraser end of a pencil, dab some glue on the end, and dab the gluey end onto the paper plate. Lift away the pencil, and — boop! — you’ve “planted” a frilly little flower. Plant as much or as few as you like.

You can also cut long strips of green paper and fringe half of it, so it looks like a comb. Fold it the long way, glue the unfringed side onto the plate, so the fringed half sticks up, and you have a row of grass.

#3: Flower garland

We made a lot of paper snowflakes this winter, so now we put those skills to use to make flowers. You want to start with a rough circle of tissue paper or colored paper.  (You can also use coffee filters, but, being white, they may look too snowflake-y.) You can trace a coffee can if you like. Fold it into a semicircle, then fold it in half again into a triangle, and then again into a smaller triangle, if you can.

To make a basic flower, cut the curved end into scallops or a jagged edge. Then snip off the point. Open it up carefully, and you have a sweet flower.

You can string a bunch of these on thread and make a little garland to brighten up the window.

 

#4: Coffee filter butterflies

Paper coffee filters absorb paint very nicely. Paint whatever designs you like on a coffee filter. If you get the paper wet, the colors will spread and blend.

Pinch the coffee filter in the middle to make butterfly wings. Clip them in place with a clothespin. For antennae, bend a pipe cleaner in half, twiddle the ends, and clip the bent part into the clothespin along with the wings.

If you like, you can add eyes with markers or googly eyes.
#5: Coffee filter planets

Flatten out some coffee filters. Put them on a plate, and get them nice and wet. Then take them, one by one, and drip watercolors or food coloring onto them. Then set them away somewhere to dry completely. (The washing machine or dryer is a good place to dry wet crafts, because you can wipe it clean afterwards.) Food coloring is more fun to work with, but it does stain skin, clothes, and hard surfaces, so be aware!

They get a gorgeous marbled effect, and look like glowing planets if you hang them in the window.

***

These projects are not razzle dazzle, but they are pleasant, cheap, and doable, and they make the house cheery.

Here are my general rules for preschool crafts:

1. The kids should be able to do most of the stuff without help, or else it’s not really a preschool craft.

2. The kids should listen while you explain how to do it, and then they should be able to do it however they want to, without being corrected

because it is their craft.

If mom wants it to turn out perfect, then mom can make her own!

3. Remember that some kids just want to take their pants off and watch craft day burn.

Just roll with it. That’s what old towels are for.

In which I narrowly avoid Jesus Juking the heck out of you

Back in the spring, I said to myself, “This is the year! This is the year I’m going to plant one of those glorious sunflower bowers for the children.”

PIC sunflower bower

 

 

“This is so simple, even I can’t screw it up!” I thought.  “They can pretend they are fairies living in a flower fairy home, and it will be a Nice Childhood Memory Guaranteed!”

So, we chose some seeds that become hardy, mammoth flowers, we picked a sunny spot, measured out a generous circle, dug, fertilized, planted and watered faithfully. Several months later, behold the magic:

photo (9)

 

Yarr.

ON THE OTHER HAND, we have this wild mint patch outside the living room and dining room windows. Anyone who has wild mint knows that it smells nice, but how tenacious it is, how it spreads like crazy and chokes out anything else that wants to grow.  Above this mint patch, I hung a birdfeeder, which was immediately mangled by an animal which I refuse to believe was a bear. The seeds spilled all over the place, and now look what it looks like outside that window, all by itself, without me doing anything besides refusing to think about bears:

 

photo (13)

 

The outside view:

 

photo (14)

 

And the moral of this story is: YAY FLOWERS! The end.