Thursday, December 15, 2016

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I Chose to Fall Silent

Yesterday, a cold, blue-sky day, I made a trip to the local grocery store. As I entered the store, I smiled at passersby (and received warm smiles in return), collected my coffee and other items and headed to a checkstand. 

As the man in front of me (male, white, about 30, clean, casually dressed) turned to leave with his groceries, I noticed the back of his black T-shirt emblazoned with:

Image result for i am the infidel allah warned you about

I had never seen the slogan before. The words, along with the skull partially camouflaged by the American flag, chilled me.  Of course, I am well aware of the extreme animus and hatred brewing in our country (especially toward persons of color or different ideologies). 

For some reason, I felt the need to engage this young man. So, while the clerk rang up my purchases, I took the opportunity to ask, in a non-confrontational manner, "What's the meaning of the words on the back of your T-shirt?" 

He stopped, turned, looked at me with dark, stern eyes and said, low and forcefully, "It means I hate Muslims." 

"You hate them? Why is that?"

He continued arranging his groceries in the cart and matter-of-factly stated, "They're murderers, rapists ... I hate them."

I had ventured into what was, for me, uncharted territory and my instincts were to pull back. I fell silent. I titled my head to the side, looked at him quizzically, and, tight-lipped, turned back to the clerk. 

I wonder what his response would have been if I had offered, "I am a Muslim, do you hate me?" 

I have fantasized that his response would have been, "No, I don't know you," leaving the perfect opening for me to say, "Exactly."

Many of my friends, with love in their hearts and conviction in their voices, would have definitely asked that question. 

I am not Muslim, they are not Muslim. However, we stand solidly against the pervasive blanketing of a culture, religion or ethnicity based upon the heinous acts of some members or adherents. 

Today I took the opportunity to Google the phrase I'd seen on the man's shirt. I clicked on a page that took me to a site so filled with hate, categoric falsehoods and venomous words, I felt as though I had thrown my entire mind into a pile of excrement ... and the stench might even be palpable.

          I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
~ Martin Luther King

Saturday, December 10, 2016


A recent  obituary in our local paper told of the life and death of one Happy Hieronimus who was born in 1930 and died of "terminal old age." Right away, the name "Happy Hieronimus" intrigued me, and as I read her obituary it became clear her name fit her personality. Quite a lady!

It was the phrase "terminal old age" that set my mind turning and churning. Of course, we're all "terminal." But, we don't think of our life that way, do we? 

David Eagleman, a neuroscientist and writer at Baylor College of Medicine, where he directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action and the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law, was quoted as follows:

“One of the seats of emotion and memory in the brain is the amygdala. When something threatens your life, this area seems to kick into overdrive, recording every last detail of the experience. 

The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last. This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older, why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. 

The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.”

On a conscious level I don't think of "something [threatening my] life," but I certainly know I am not going to live forever. 

This assessment of Eagleman's answered several questions my friends and I (all around the same age) have often asked ourselves and each other. Well, maybe not "several questions" answered--maybe it simply explains the one we wonder about constantly: where has the time gone?? 

Spring passes and one remembers one's innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one's exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one's reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one's perseverance.
~ Yoko Ono

Friday, December 9, 2016

Learning CPR

I never did learn how to "do" CPR, cardio pulmonary resuscitation. Years ago, the dental office staff had more than adequate instruction. I just never mastered the correct rhythm; which made me feel more of a dummy than the CPR "dummy." 
        However, I feel I have come very close to mastering another type of CPR: learning how to be calm, patient and reasonable with myself. 
In this crazy, mixed-up world of ours it's not easy to remain that way: calm, patient and reasonable. It seems as though we're being pummeled on all sides by dire news and the admonition to be afraid. Afraid and fearful and wary.
        My semi-religious upbringing occurred in the Christian Science Church. As limned in several earlier blog posts, in an attempt to live what she felt were the tenets of that philosophy, Mother would not allow in our home any discussion of, mention of, word of, the world's strife, war or upheaval. Dad seemed to relish dwelling on the same. Talk about a Yin and Yang household! 
      (Yes, I am aware that Yin and Yang, together, create wholeness and completion and for over 63 years, until dad's death, Mom and Dad seemed to epitomize this philosophy.)

My thoughts of late regarding calmness, patience and reasonableness have less to do with the impact from the outside world and more to do with my sometimes frightened and unsure interior mindscape
            I'm learning to be patient with my physical self and its ever-enlarging litany of limitations. I'm practicing ways to stay calm when my mind wants to wander to new worries and concerns. I'm concentrating on being reasonable, not beat myself up, when I now and then forget a word or have a momentary lapse about where I placed my car keys.
            The more I practice my own type of CPR, the more often my breathing calms and my mind clears. So, this "dummy" is just going to keep on practicing. Yet, what an odd world: when I finally feel I've gotten my mind together, my body sometimes feels as though it's falling apart. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Driving Ms. Crazy

Son, they say there isn’t any royalty in this country,
but do you want me to tell you how to be king of the United States? 
Just fall through the hole in a privy and come out smelling like a rose.
~Kurt Vonnegut

Our American political climate has deteriorated so thoroughly that global warnings from prominent, well-respected sources are daily occurrences. Of course, I have some ideas about why the flames of hatred have risen so high, about the reasons so many Americans fear unknown, unnamed others and, rather than seek comity, choose to overcome their sense of futility and ineptness by brandishing firearms and spewing hatred.

I found it easy to be engaged in the news surrounding the first few months of the three-ring circus leading up to the “choice” people from the two major parties.

Lately I feel as though I have to protect myself, my mind, my being, from becoming exactly what I’ve worked so hard for so many years to NOT become: cynical, suspicious and angry.

In order to deflect, I’m drawing more into myself—becoming more introspective—while also surrounding myself with what I love and whom I love. I can never be the “Pollyanna” person I always felt my mother personified, but I also can never be the gloom and doom character my father often presented to his family. 

File:No handkerchief, when you need it.jpgYears ago, I convinced myself I could embody the better characteristics of both parents: it’s often helpful to look on the bright side of life and it’s definitely a bonus when one has the ability to temper that with a bit of skepticism.

I look outside and see semi-white clouds and rays of sunshine glinting off golden and russet autumn leaves. The beauty of fall—but there’s rain in the forecast.

So, as I “drive” along this particular highway filled with crazy political potholes, I know there's always the chance I'll be side-swiped or caught unaware. I'll likely stay a bit to the left, closer to the middle of the road.  

All of us who are concerned for peace 
and triumph of reason and justice
must be keenly aware how small an influence 
reason and honest good will exert 
upon events in the political field. 
~Albert Einstein

[graphic Wikimedia Commons]



Monday, August 29, 2016

Earthy Endeavors - Persistent Passion

Twenty-five years ago, my husband and I moved to a home situated on 1/4-acre of unkempt land. When I attempted to fashion some flowerbeds that first spring, I discovered the soil was mostly hard-packed clay. Clay soil has many nutrients but it's almost impossible to get plants to grow--at least the plants I wanted to grow. It becomes slippery when it's wet and packs hard as cement when it dries out. 

I decided to begin "composting in place," which meant digging our kitchen garbage (including coffee grounds and filters) directly into the ground. About twice a week I would take a full one-gallon can to the would-be-garden areas, shovel and pick-ax down a foot or so, dump in the veggie scraps and coffee grounds and firmly tamp dirt over the soon-to-be-compost. 

The next spring, having done this composting for almost a year, I discovered the two large areas that received the compost material now contained loamy, fertile planting soil! Oh the joy! Off to the plant nursery I went!

And so it continued for the next 10 years. Composting in place over and over and over again (and yes, visiting the plant nurseries over and over again!). Trees, flowers, vegetable garden (and I) all thrived. 

As the plants grew and I reconnected more and more with the earth, as I worked in the gardens I came to love so much, I began to dwell on life cycles and the ways in which we humans impact nature (most often to its detriment and, in turn, to ours). 

It was during this time that I began to think long, deep thoughts about my own life cycle. I felt certain my demise was a few decades away, however, during the previous two decades three beloved family members had died and, according to their wishes, were cremated. 

I hadn't done any research about the cremation process. At that time, it simply seemed a valid and sensible way to dispose of a lifeless body; and the idea that loved ones could scatter the ashes in meaningful places (as we did) seemed touching and comforting. 

However, as the years rolled by and the plot of land that had once been so sterile and weed-choked, bloomed, blossomed and burgeoned, I decided that when I died I wanted to be buried on that land. I knew, from research, that that is legal but one has to receive the approval of the contiguous homeowners (yes, I understand why, but won't go into that detail here!). 

The marriage didn't bloom and grow as profusely as the flowers and in 2001 I left that home and husband and all the beauty both once held for me. What did not leave me, as macabre as it may seem, was the thought of being "composted in place" when I die. 

During the following 12 years of apartment living I always had at least a dozen pots on the deck, all overflowing with flowers (and even, in some cases, small trees!). However, I could not compost in place and, difficult as it was for me to do, I put kitchen scraps down the disposal. 

Luckily, fortunately, blessedly, for the past three years I've lived in a home with a small front and back gardening area. This property, even though on a smaller scale, had exactly the same uncared-for grounds as the former home: patches of weeds and clay soil. 

It's taken some sweat and toil on the part of this eight-decades-old person, some willing labor from my sons and daughters-in-law, many trips to the nursery and, yes, three years of composting in place, but the front and back yards are finally becoming the mini-showplaces I envisioned.

Now, back to the idea of being interred in the soil and among the flowers of my home. 

In a poem by Patty Tana, titled "Post Humus," she speaks of scattering her ashes in her beloved garden and of red, ripe tomatoes (my favorite!). I've loved the glee and lilt of Tana's piece of prose ever since I discovered it several years ago. I've taken the liberty of replacing her name with mine in the copy, below: 


Scatter my ashes in my garden
so I can be near my loves.
Say a few honest words,
sing a gentle song,
join hands in a circle of flesh.
Please tell some stories
about me making you laugh.
I love to make you laugh.

When I've had time to settle
and green gathers into buds,
remember I love blossoms
bursting in spring.
As the season ripens
remember my persistent passion.

And if you come in my garden
on an August afternoon,
pluck a bright red globe,
let juice run down your chin
and the seeds stick to your cheek.

When I'm dead I want folks to smile
and say, "That Marlene, she sure is
some tomato!"

James Lendal Basford wrote in Seven Seventy Seven Sensations (1897), "We all feed from Mother Nature's breast until weaned by Death." I like the idea of giving back to Mother Nature. 

In a 2011 TED Talk, designers Jae Rhim and Mike Ma spoke of "The Infinity Burial Suit" that turns dead bodies into clean compost. These suits are now being sold and the more I read about it, the  more certain I am that I want to be on the A-list for one! I may not "land" in my own garden, but wherever it is, if I'm composting naturally, I'll be giving back to Mother Nature. 

While I thought that I was learning how to live,
I was learning how to die. 
~Leonardo DaVinci

Note in the last paragraph "The Infinity Burial Suit" and information about clean compost are both linked for in depth reading.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Suitcase of Pride

Maybe it's not "'pride" that makes me feel embarrassed and a bit sad when I see photos of myself ... my true self ... nowadays. There's the sagging jawline, the wrinkled face and no-longer-taut, trim arms. They are the photos I didn't know were being taken and so, I didn't "pose" for the shots. I'm not fooling anybody, I know that. I also know those who love and care for me likely don't notice all the flaws. 

I've always been hyper-critical of myself. Maybe what I often feel these days is a deep sadness for what was; for the young girl (and even the older woman) who received so many compliments on her looks and her carriage (and yet, never, ever believed them! When I see some of the old photos, I fall into the eyes looking back at me and wish, deeply wish, I could go back and honor that lovely, and most often lost, younger woman).

What brought on this latest bit of musing? A dear, sweet young woman took some snapshots of me and posted them on Facebook. It wasn't really me she intended to showcase, of course, but the year-and-a-half old child in my arms. My great-granddaughter. That one, she was the focus. In the thoughtful process of creating a memory, my granddaughter-in-law inadvertently slammed home to me just how much I have aged and there's no denying it. 

There's no haircut, makeup or clothing that will assuage or cover up the effects of aging. Go ahead, some who are reading this: tell me I'm being too harsh on myself; tell me you don't feel there's any reason to accept being "old." You know what? Why not? Why the hell not? 

Every woman who finally figured out her worth, has picked up her suitcases of pride and boarded a flight to freedom, which landed in the valley of change.

There's freedom in this acceptance, in living in this "valley of change," but I doubt I will ever completely empty my suitcase of pride. I know my mind won't stop exploring and delighting in discovery and I will continue to honor my still vibrant intellectual abilities. My family and friends will always and ever be considered my highest, most-loved treasures. 

As Sophia Loren said, "There is a fountain of youth. It is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. ... learn to tap into this source ... ."

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Incomparable Comparisons

It's five women at a dinner party, hosted by a woman we all knew, but we four did not know each other. Introductions all around, small talk, getting to know one another. Our ages ranged from approximately 50 to 79. 

All women but one were college-educated, three were retired, although one still worked part time, and one devoured adult education classes at the local university. 

We are enriched by our reciprocate differences.
~Paul Valery

Each of us brought something to add to the meal. One women was a vegetarian, one a vegan, one gluten-intolerant and the other two vowed they enjoyed and ate all foods ... omnivores to the core! Three drank wine, two did not.

We moved to the dining room and the obviously thoughtfully arranged dinner table. Then we noticed that, at each place setting, the hostess had put a rock or a polished stone. When someone commented about this, the hostess simply said it was a last-minute thought, adding that she loves and collects small pebbles and rocks, keeping them in a wooden bowl on the table.

Before we began our meal, we were asked to pick up our polished stone or our organically shaped rock, hold it in our hand and share with others what we felt when we held the object. 

Well, who knew? We all, every one of us, said we always liked rocks, stones, pebbles, and several of us said we, too, collected them. Around the table, one after another, we expressed everything from a childhood memory involving colorful stones picked up and put in our pocket, a beach trip when we were newly wed and our partner found an agate that exactly resembled the one now in our hand, a tearful recollection of the pebbles a child brought to her now-deceased mother and a memory of a geologist father who taught his daughter about natural rocks, stones, minerals and crystals. 

Image result for stones
During our meal we discussed when we might gather again, and where. Almost at once, two of us mentioned the Rice Northwest Rock and Mineral Museum, just 25 minutes west of Portland. The other three, upon hearing a bit about the variety and the displays, agreed they'd like to visit. The date was set.  

On that Saturday, we met for lunch at a nearby cafe and then drove on to the museum. Again, any differences in our lives, our ages, our connections, faded away as we spent the next four hours touring the museum; sometimes self-guided and at times one or two of us joined a tour, absorbing, learning and being fascinated by the vast and unusual collections at the Rice Museum. 

If it weren't for the rocks in its bed, the stream would have no song. 

~Carl Perkins

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Potency of Life

A few weeks ago, on a gorgeous, sunshine day, two friends and I made the 103-mile trek from Portland to Goldendale, Washington. Our destination: Maryhill Museum of Art

As always, a trip through our Columbia River Gorge, the largest national scenic area in the U.S., is life-enhancing and mind-boggling and, as always, elicits a blessing on those who worked so laboriously to make sure this scenic wonder was kept natural and undeveloped.

As we arrived at Maryhill Museum of Art after our drive through the Gorge--when we often over-talked each other exclaiming about and pointing to the awesome works of nature all around (Columbia River on our left and on our right, soaring waterfalls, basalt cliffs, natural forest)--I couldn't help but be struck by a dichotomy.

We just experienced two hours of unbridled amazement at natural wonders and now we were heading into a man-made structure displaying man-made items and would undoubtedly be further amazed by the human art and talent on display at the museum.

For three hours we wandered the floors of the museum, enjoying the diversity of art on display. We talked about the singularly visionary entrepreneur, Sam Hill and his goals for the museum (as well as his dedication to good roads in the Pacific Northwest in the early 20th century). 

One of the last displays we lingered over featured Native American art and artifacts. I was struck by this 1994 quote from Elizabeth Woody, a Navajo-Warm Springs-Wasco-Yakama artist, author, educator and Oregon's 2016 Poet Laureate: "All these [the Native American art and artifacts] were made from the earth and did not disrupt its systems. They embodied the belief that the earth provides for us and through the earth we prosper and absorb into ourselves the potency of life."

In our modern, tech-driven world, a world where greed, hate and anger seem now to be the norm, is it possible we humans can prosper without (further) harming the planet? Because, make no mistake, we harm the planet, we harm ourselves. Or, maybe we need to redefine what "prosper" really means to us.  

"She Who Watches"
The large-eyed pictograph has a cliffside perch in Washington's 
Columbia Hills State Park/Horsethief Lake unit
Photo of pictograph by John Nelson -The Dalles, Oregon, USA
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Roots of Anger

When words escape, flowers speak
~ Bruce W.  Currie

The headlights of my car shone on my husband, James, sitting in a lawn chair beneath one of the large oak trees on the perimeter of our front yard. While it was not unusual for James to sit out in the gardens, admiring the flowers and enjoying the air, it was unusual to see him out there on a cool and misty late September evening—too late, almost too dark, to see anything in the garden.
         I parked and stepped out of the car, turning as James walked toward me.  With only a slight greeting, he took my arm and gently led me to the edge of a nearby flowerbed. 
         My eyes soon adjusted to the waning light and I faced what he had seen when he came home a few hours earlier: almost every single one of the lush and lovely perennial plants in the entire front garden pulled out, lying there on the ground, their roots exposed and their leaves withering.  I could not speak, tears came in my eyes. All I could manage was a small whimper.  What in the hell had happened?
          James led me around to the back garden and I saw the same decimation. Dozens and dozens of flowers and even small shrubs, all ripped out. Thousands of dollars and thousands of hours of work, all that burgeoning beauty, yanked out of the ground.
       When it became too dark to examine any further, we walked into the house. James poured us each a glass of wine.  We began to speculate, trying to figure out who would have done such a hateful thing. 
        James said he had seen the five, six and seven year old girls from the house next door skitter across our driveway just as he came home at 4:00.  He did not think much of that as the girls had skipped around in our front yard at other times and once or twice we  had a few brief but enjoyable conversations with them.

The family moved in to the house two years previous. During that time, we made a few attempts to be neighborly with their mother, Jackie and stepfather, Jonas. They both seemed guarded and tense—unwilling to communicate much beyond a nod.
       At 2 a.m. just a month before, Jackie stumbled drunk, loud and disoriented into our yard. The next day her mother came over to apologize for Jackie’s behavior. She said her daughter was a clinically depressed alcoholic, stemming from childhood sexual abuse (this was just a bit more than I needed to know). I reacted with guarded sympathy, as I did not want to become embroiled in the family’s personal problems

Several times over the previous two years we observed the stepfather very drunk and we often heard him shouting angry, hateful things at the girls.  He and James had a verbal run in or two concerning their barking dog and the garbage cans and collection of old cars which often spilled onto our property. 
        A few days before this plant-pulling, the stepdad accused James of killing their dog (that was the first I knew of the animal’s death).  James responded, “I didn’t kill your dog. I could have if I had wanted to, but I didn’t.”
      We truly did not want to believe it, but after much talking, James and I both connected the destruction of our flower gardens to our next-door neighbors. As difficult as it was to fathom, the three girls must have wreaked the havoc in our gardens.

Even though my heart ached when I thought of waking to the specter of all those lovely plants lying on the ground, a deep sadness for three little children displaying such frenzied anger tempered my pain. I willed myself to dwell on the next morning and how I might handle the situation.
         The new day arrived crisp and sunny.  I called my office to say I would be in after lunch, then I took my cup of coffee and walked around the front and back yards to check on the state of the plants. As I did, I meditated on the right way to approach the situation with our neighbors.
      We knew the girls lived in a house with a dysfunctional mother and a stepfather who was sullen and angry, drank too much and had a volatile personality. This knowledge led us to imagine the girls lived with ongoing, disturbing upheavals in the home. 
          Although never subjected to the dysfunctional home life these girls lived, I recalled the roiling, inner anger I felt during my childhood years ... always feeling helpless and misunderstood and often acting out in untoward ways.  
        My childhood experiences were nothing approximating what I felt certain these little girls endured. Yet I understood that an inner rage at injustices and the sense of being powerless to change anything at all sometimes twists children to behave inappropriately.

I walked over to the girls’ house and spoke with their mother. Without any trace of disbelief, Jackie acknowledged the girls probably did pull the flowers. She said they thought James killed their small dog and were sad and angry about that possibility; she then offered an apology for their behavior.  Just as she backed away from me and began to close the front door, Jackie agreed to my request for the girls to come to the garden the following day, Saturday.
        I spent the rest of the morning checking on the plants, determining which ones might survive replanting and which ones might not make it. An inner healing took place as I walked among those dearly-loved plants; any residual anger, any sadness and pain left from the night before was replaced with a deep sense of empathy for the helplessness and turmoil those children must be experiencing.
         When I arrived home that evening, I found several notes of differing sizes and shapes on the back porch. With a purple pen and colored pencils, the girls wrote and drew pictures (all spelling is as written by the girls):

          Dear Nabers, Hi, how are you? I am so, so, so, so, so sory after I mde a mess of yur yard.  Wie I did it becuse you guy yeld at us about the dog barking and some times the dog was not even hear. Mom told me that you seid we can’t play in are own yard so sorry we picked the flowers.  Mom seid that you seid we can’t have are garbige up  at the top of the griveway and I am sorry I even went on your properdy. Sorry agin I will do some work in your yard that you want me to.  From Naber Marin
     Dear Nabers I am sorry [picture with arrow pointing to “durt”]  
     From Kailey
         I am sorry Naber but We just got mad.  Kailey
         I am so [repeated 13 times] sory but I just got mad. 
         Sisey will tell you wie…

         Dear Nabers I am sorry From Blayke [with drawing]

          The next morning Marin, Kailey and Blayke, knocked on our back door.  Shortly after greeting them, I told them how sad I felt when I heard their dog had been killed―assuring them James did nothing to cause the death. The three of them shifted back and forth, eyes down. In a heartbeat or two, Marin, the oldest, looked up at me with a sweet half-smile and said they were ready to help with the flowers.
         The girls and I walked around the front and back yard.  As we walked, I told them of my love for flowers and how much they meant to me; the joy and happiness I felt as they bloomed and grew. I listened when they commented and answered when they asked questions.  I showed them the hand tools and demonstrated how to use them. 
        The girls worked close beside me--often asking the name as they picked up a drooping plant and positioned it back in its spot.  As we worked, I talked about sunshine, rain, fertilizer and nature. Over the next three hours, working side by side with me, I sensed those three little girls were absorbing my words and I have no doubt they truly loved the type of attention they were receiving. Happily, most of the uprooted, replanted perennials and shrubs survived. 

I don't want to sound as though I was feeling oh-so altruistic. Sad, hurt and angry, my initial feelings were extremely self-centered.  Yet, the morning after, when I walked among the flowers, talking to them, touching them as they lay there with their poor roots drying out, something clicked in my brain and my heart. A bittersweet love for the little girls replaced the anger and hurt. I thought of the compassionate care and grooming they would have to go through in order to blossom into stable, healthy and loving young women.  

At the end of November 2003, we again received numerous drawings and notes from the girls.  One drawing from Kailey is very creative.  Not simply because of the three cute figures on the front, with birds and a worm, but because she has written “Kodak” all over the back of the paper.  The note from Kailey says:
          Hi thanck U for the flowers I lik them. Thank you for thinking of use.  
          PS  December 17 is My Birthday.  Kailey
In April of 2004 we received another note, signed by all three girls (written by Marin, I assume.  Printing is very neat and spelling much better than the first):
          Dear neighbor,
 Hi, How are you? I am fine. Thanks for the fake flowers.  We really like  them. There beautiful flowers, even though there fake. Here are some  flowers for you. We just wanted to give you a note to say Thanks
          From, Marin, Kailey and Blayke
          P. S.  A poem just for you:
          Roses are red,
          Vilets are blue
          And here are some
          flowers just for you.
        I certainly do not recall giving them any fake flowers.  I do remember giving the girls’ mother some cut flowers from the garden.  Oh well. 

During the last two years I lived at the  house, our relationship with the girls continued to be friendly, albeit wary. They would often come over to talk with James when he was outside and they seemed to enjoy checking on the flowers.  
          In a few months, the mother delivered a baby boy, the father deserted and Jackie began another downhill spiral. Twice during this period she fell through the hedge between our back yards and arrived scratched, drunk and disoriented on our rear doorstep 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Trimming Vanessa & other Cutting-edge Tales

Trees, front, back and side. Trees ... they enchanted me on my first visit to the spot I now call "home." I could identify dogwood (although not the variety), Douglas fir, Red-leaf maple, Coral Bark maple and American Sweetgum. Stewartia and Parrotia Persica (Persian Ironwood, Vanessa), were both new to me. I've learned Stewartia behaves herself, but Vanessa? She's not supposed to be such a tramp!

Vanessa loves to shoot branches, thick with six-inch-long leaves, under the porch, out over the small front garden and into my neighbor's walkway. "Slow grower"? I think not! 
I am the fortunate owner of an extendable (to 12') pruner (thanks to my brother and sister-in-law). I grab this handy tool about every other week during the spring and summer, lopping off errant branches as high as I can comfortably reach. This is a wonder tool, but if I stretch up as far as possible, I get dizzy. This means that Vanessa tends to drape over part of the roof. That's the reason professional tree trimmers were called earlier in the year.  
I also have a pair of very, very sharp hand pruners. I use these on the smaller shoots (or twigs) that pop out along the lower limbs.

Using the hand pruners one day, my zeal overpowered my common sense and I forgot to put on my gardening gloves. I began cutting small, 1-1.5" thick limbs. It took just two snips before I cut a big slice out of the index finger on my left hand...the hand that held the small branch. Lesson learned!

When I first saw this property, I noted the beautiful Coral Bark maple in the back sported a “flat top" haircut. Meaning, it appeared someone reached out from the deck railing and cut across the entire top of the tree! The lower area sprouted twiggy branches. The whole tree resembled a ragged, uncared-for shrub! No more, however. Three years of tender, loving care and the Coral Bark maple is a glorious specimen!

The other trees all get minimal pruning or trimming. They’re quite well behaved. However, when one does need a bit of taming, it’s usually on limbs that have proven too big for my hand-strength (I hate to acknowledge this!).

Exploring garden tools last weekend, I came across a set of ratchet pruning shears. Ta da! Yes, I bought a pair (even though I was a bit chagrined to see the advertisement for them said they were perfect for “weak hands”! That’s not easy to admit, but guess it’s just one more thing to accept as I age).

If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees.
~Hal Boland

Two five-gallon buckets are in the garage and two in the shed, at the ready for the times I take scissors in hand and go around the garden deadheading flowers. I bought some inexpensive scissors to use for this purpose. Now I need to buy some more!

Three days ago I dumped a bucket filled with trimmings into the garden recycle bin, set the bin at the curb for pickup. Yesterday I realized I left my scissors in the bucket! Not only am I mad at myself for doing this, but I’m mighty concerned about what the shears will do to the recycling machinery. Again, however, lesson learned!

After living in apartments for so many years, it seems some of what I thought were my inherent, in-grown gardening “chops" have flown.

As an example, last fall, in a frenzy to get the flower beds all ready for their winter’s rest, I went way beyond my usual fall-cleanup and cut down many perennials too soon or cut them way too low. I’ve lost a number of my favorite plants. Luckily there are signs of life, albeit struggling, in others.

There are always flowers for those who want to see them.
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~Henri Matisse

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Walking a Fine Line on a Slippery Slope

I've had a life. I see how slippery things can be.
~Annie Proulx

Even at my age, after all these decades of living, I still consider myself a work in progress. In many ways, I take pride in that—being a “work in progress”—as it tells me I’m still striving and learning and maybe most important, I’ve proven to myself I am able to change, alter or soften my opinions, my way of thinking, my outlook.

There have been dozens, possibly hundreds of times when I’ve shown intolerance for the opinions of others, when I’ve been less than respectful of another person’s point of view.

It is the province of knowledge to speak,
And it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

Several years ago I audited a college class that was an adjunct to a writing course I was taking. We were going to learn to be critical thinkers.

Up to that time, I’d never heard the term “critical thinking.” When I parsed the two-word phrase, I knew I’d often been “critical” (in the derogatory sense and not in a manner involving skillful judgment as to truth and merit) and I have always been a “thinker.” I just never realized one could be proud of being a “critical thinker.” [cont'd]

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Sun Shines Down Mud Alley

There's the north side of the house, there's the fence separating it from the property next door and in between ... see that? That's an alley. 

When I toured the house in August of 2013 I took little notice of this 40' long alley. I zeroed in on the very manageable piece of land making up the back yard, on the many trees, deciduous and evergreen, surrounding the property and on the garden shed, all of which I had long yearned for. 

Yes, I noted the lack flowers, the weedy "lawn" and the bare, hard ground around the few poorly placed and unhealthy looking shrubs. No matter. I had the vision and I knew I could turn this plot into something special. It's true my stamina had waned in the years since I last carved out and fashioned a lovely, vibrant garden. However, my semi-latent green-thumb-enthusiasm overcame any doubts or misgivings.

Sunshine and glorious fall colors greeted me as I moved into the home in October of 2013. Toting, unpacking, sorting and placing all the things that make a house a home kept me from thinking about the exterior--front and back--and what I might like to accomplish. It simply felt so amazingly wonderful to be in my own home!

In a little over a week, just as I began thinking "outside the house," the fall rains came. Undeterred, I slogged around in the back and front yards hours at a time, tucking in "gifted" shoots and replanting the many perennials which came from pots on the deck of the apartment. If you're a true gardener, you have a sense of the unbridled joy my mud-mucking brought to me. 

Probably the only downside to this gardening glee was trekking back and forth along what I now referred to as "mud alley," discovering just how deep into the ooze one's boots can go and just how slippery and slimy thoroughly soaked clay soil can be. 

Arriving home after a quick three-day trip in late December, I discovered the south fence at the back had fallen over. The HOA approved new fencing and within two weeks the work began. Contractors had to use "mud alley" to haul, tote and lug the materials from front to back, back to front. They never complained (at least that I could hear) but it wasn't difficult to imagine the depth of their irritation when I looked at the hundreds of muddy holes left by their work boots. 

In March one of my *sons smoothed out the sludge in the alley, laid down some ground cloth and covered all with 4" of hemlock chips. Aesthetically this looked wonderful and practically it absolutely solved the problems presented by "mud alley." 

That summer, 2014, perennials began to show their colors and glory all over the front and back yard. I still had some lessons to learn regarding where the sun shone brightest and longest, where the shade stayed for most of the day and which areas might be trouble spots. 

The late afternoon sun shines laser-like and searingly hot down the length of "mud alley"; sometimes dappling the plants in its path; more often, if the angle is just right, attempting to fry them. 

I'm pondering some sort of shade-inducing trellis to screen the most vulnerable plants. What I am not doing is cursing that blatant, strong beam of spring and summer sunshine when it does course along the alley. 

I am grateful for the clear, focused brilliance traveling down a previously muddied and muddled path. 

All my hurts my garden spade can heal
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

*my two sons are always at my beck and call for painting, hauling, fixing and fussing with all manner of things.