I was born without a sense of humor. I am, however, very high-strung. Not a good combination. A few years ago, I decided that the key to managing stress in my life was humor. I just had to learn how to find the funny in life. It was helpful that my partner has a hair-triggered wit. Funny, clever things just fly out of her mouth. But there are different kinds of funny and hers is sometimes a little dark. So I starting reading every book by every funny writer I could get my hands on – the idea being that complete immersion might help even a hard case like me. It did. I grew a sense of humor. Not only can I laugh more often, sometimes, I can even make people laugh. Happy day.

My next t-shirt (via zazzle.com)

But I have to practice pretty regularly or it goes away. The following is part of an exercise I try sometimes as a tool for managing stress. I made a list of all the things I was worried about and then tried to write a funny version. Some of the tougher items never made the funny list but a few did. And if you’re honest, a few pretty stupid things will appear too, which is always fun. Anyway, it helped to change my mood.

Some of the things I worry about:

…that my partner sometimes talks about herself in the third person (and I can’t always tell if she’s joking).

…that #2 son seems to be experiencing a kind of school-induced narcolepsy which may someday lead to a permanent position at Burger King.

…that #3 son can play Minecraft for 6 hours straight without stopping to eat or to go to the bathroom.

…that #1 son might decide to get another enormous skull tattoo.

….that menopausal is my new normal.

…that global warming will flood my favorite vacation spot.

…that I won’t be able to stand the winters in Canada when we move there to escape the climate of intolerance in the US.

…that nobody will notice that pun.

…that Nintendo is putting out a new damn expensive game system.

…that our sons will decide not to have a Halloween party and I won’t get to decorate the house. (No fun without an audience.)

…that my computer might crash leaving me to deal with the real world without Facebook, email, Photoshop, or my blog.

…that my dogs get bored.

…that unless he learns to do his homework, #2 son will be living in our basement when he’s thirty spending all his time off from Burger King playing Dungeons & Dragons or video games with Friday-night interludes to watch movie classics like Jackass 2 with his big brother.

…that #3 son will be living in the basement with him.

…that they’ve already seen Jackass 2.

…that it made them laugh.

…that whether I’ll get skin cancer was probably determined by a sunburn I got in Ft. Lauderdale in 1977.

…that I really am a hoarder.

…that my IQ is inversely proportional to my age.

…that God is real and she’s pissed.

…that hip hop won’t die.

…that I’ll never own my own bookstore or little beach motel.

…that when I clean out my email inbox, I will find messages that I really should have responded to weeks ago (Happened this morning. My apologies to Catherine, Jennifer, my brother, Scott, and Daddy.)

…that one day, instead of washing the dishes, I will take them out in the driveway and smash them one by one against the concrete.

…that I am forgetting something important (often true).

…that if my short term memory and attention span keep deteriorating at the present rate, I’ll need a full-time keeper by the time I’m 50.

…that I’m going to think of something super-clever to put on this list after I’ve published it on my blog.

So what do you worry about? What would be on your list? How do you deal with stress?

Will You Take a Quarter for This?

“That’s the meaning of life isn’t it? Trying to find a place for your stuff… That’s all your house is. It’s a pile of stuff with a cover on it.”

“Have you noticed that everybody else’s stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?”

 – George Carlin

If you haven’t already seen it, you should
watch Stuff on Youtube now.

Stuff is devious. It pretends to be something that will make your life easier or more pleasurable but often ends up being a burden – something you’re tied to and can’t get rid of. Suddenly, pleasure becomes a responsibility. Better not get rid of this stuff. It might be useful again one day. You might be unhappy if it were gone. You might never find stuff like it.

So you relegate it to the garage or the basement or the attic where it fills boxes and makes homes for spiders and becomes forgotten. Even there it creates work. It needs to be moved about so you can get to other stuff, shoved aside so you can get to the Christmas decorations or the summer water toys or the Halloween costumes. It’s in the way, taking up space – in your home and in your brain. Just what was in those boxes, you wonder. Or, why do I still have those lamps or an antique cookie press I’ll never use or boxes of toys the boys outgrew years ago? So I decided it was time to liberate my family from the tyranny of owning too much stuff – by having a yard sale.

Before we moved to our present home, we lived in a neighborhood that had collective yard sales every May. It worked out really well. It became habit once a year to rid ourselves of excess stuff. But four years ago, we moved. Fortunately, I did a pretty thorough job of thinning our stuff then, because ownership is not nearly so attractive when you have to pack all your stuff in boxes, carry it up the basement steps, and load it in a U-Haul. So we trimmed down. Way down. In terms of stuff, we were positively svelte by the time we took up residence in our new home. But that was four years ago.

Some of you may have noticed a series of posts I did about cool stuff I’ve found at thrift stores. (See thrift pick)  I frequent them regularly and drag home odd, old or unusual items that have only one thing in common – we have absolutely no use for any of it. I admit it. I am a collector. A junk store junkie. (See Confession of a Thrift Store Junkie) I regularly troll second hand stores and drag home whatever cast-off catches my fancy – a globe, a green glass jar, 800 Scrabble tiles. Four years is a long time for someone like me to go without thinning out the stuff.

It was time. So it’s a good thing for me that you can haul all your stuff out on the front lawn and put a sticker on it and chances are, someone will come along and buy it. (Unless it’s badly broken or extraordinarily ugly, it which case you put a sign that says “FREE” and it will disappear. American magic.)

So last Saturday, I did just that. After 4 hours of standing in my drive way with nothing better to do than to study the people who stopped to look at our stuff, I was able to identify several types of yard salers:

  1. Saturday morning pleasure shoppers – I like these kind. They’re the type who figure yard saling just means a drive on a pleasant morning, a cheap way to spend time with friends, and the off chance you might stumble on something you think is really cool.
  2. Antique Roadshow wannabees – These are fairly annoying. They’re just hoping to rip off some poor schmuck who’s selling his great granddaddy’s ugly old painting for $5 that’s actually an authentic Picasso. They’re not looking to find treasure. They’re looking to take it from some one else.
  3. Junk dealers – Only slightly less annoying than the Roadshow trollers. They tend to come early and drive big pick-ups with stuff piled in the back. They don’t expect to find treasure, but they want to pay dirt for your stuff.
  4. Grandparents – These can be fun because they’re always looking for something for their grandkids. Some of them will pinch a penny until it screams though and will haggle over a quarter.
  5. Young couples with cute little children – These are my favorite. They often don’t have a lot of money so they really appreciate cheap stuff (especially toys and kid clothes which we always have).  And it’s always fun to give the kids more toys than their parents are willing to buy.

All in all, having a yard sale isn’t nearly fun (for me) as going to one. But I have to do it, right? I try to think of it as the ultimate recycling. Just doing my bit to keep my stuff out of the landfills.

And how else would I get to have fun conversations like this:

“Will you take $5 for this?”

“Uh…I don’t think so.”

“But it’s old and ugly.”

“Yes, but I don’t think the neighbors want to sell their cat.”


“Do you have a dining room table?”

“Yes, it’s in the dining room.”

“How much?”

“It’s not for sale. That’s why it’s not out here. In the driveway. Where we’re selling stuff.”

He looked at me like I had just spit on him and stalked back to his car.


“Hey, can I get a cup of coffee, too?”

“Uh, I’m not serving…What do you mean ‘too’?!” I spun around. “Alright, who took my cup?”

Okay, I made up one of those. I’ll let you figure out which.

Mother 1966

It was 1966. Dr. Zhivago was raking it in at the box office, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass put 4 albums on Billboards top 10 and troll dolls were so popular that even the first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, claimed to own one. On a rainy afternoon of March of that year, a small woman stood in the middle of a dirt road in front of her house in Newport, Rhode Island, holding an egg in one hand and a pair of pliers in the other. She was almost 23, she was pregnant and she was stuck in the mud.

Anita looked down at the mud that held her boots firmly in place. She pulled her right leg slowly up until the boot began to slide off. Sighing, she stepped down again. It sank up to the ankle. She tried the same thing with her left foot and got the same results. She stepped down again, unwilling to walk barefoot through the cold mud. It began to rain again.

Looking over her shoulder, she saw her mother pass by the kitchen window inside her house. She was making the boys lunch. Anita had two young sons who excelled at mischief and mayhem. Normally, Anita did a pretty good job at keeping up with them, but now, in the last weeks of her pregnancy, it was a little harder. Her mother came to visit as often as she could get away to help her with the boys.

She passed by the kitchen window again. Anita waved the pliers. “Mother!” she called, though she knew her mother wouldn’t hear her through the closed windows. She didn’t. Anita sighed.

She looked ahead of her toward a small house across the street. An older couple, Irene and Al, lived there, the only neighbors she knew so far. They had been very kind to her since she had moved in.

She stared hard at the house willing someone to come out. And someone did! The front door opened. Al stepped out, whistling and jangling his keys, and strolled toward his car. He glanced her way, stopped and stared a moment. Anita smiled and tried to wave with the egg hand. Al started to wave back, shook his head and strode toward her. He stopped a few feet away, squinted at her boots and cleared his throat, covering what sounded suspiciously like a chuckle.

“Mornin,’ Anita,” he said.

“Good morning, Al,” she said smiling brightly. Al looked up at the leaden sky.

“Miserable weather we’re having,” he noted.

“Yes,” she agreed. “It is.” Al stared first at the egg and then the pliers. He raised an eyebrow. “I borrowed an egg from Irene yesterday,” she said. “And your pliers.” Al nodded and rubbed his chin. The corner of his mouth twitched.

“Thought they looked familiar,” he said and studied the mud covering her feet. “Looks like you got yourself in a spot, Anita,” he finally noted.

“It would seem so,” she said and smiled again, this time a little sheepishly.

“Well, alright then, let’s get you out of there.” He stepped behind her, gently hooking his arms under hers, and struggled to drag Anita out of the mud. She curled her feet to keep the boots from slipping off and finally came free with a squelch.

Al walked her back to her house, lecturing her on the way about why young pregnant women, whose husbands are at sea, should probably not go out in the rain to return an egg and a pair of pliers. She smiled and agreed. He left her at her front door with the assurance that if she needed anything, all she had to do was call and he or Irene would be there, and walked back to his own house, shaking his head and muttering to himself about crazy pregnant women all the way.

Mom, me and my brothers on Easter Sunday, 1967.

My mother told me this story the first time a few years ago, and I laughed until my eyes leaked. The mother I remember was just so confident, so supremely competent, I couldn’t imagine her getting herself in such a predicament. Until I realized that at the time she first told me the story, I was already several years older than she was then.

And now, here I am, exactly twice as old as she was then in 1966, the year I was born. I’ve spent the last 12 years as a stay-at-home parent to my partner’s three sons. I feel incredibly fortunate to have as a parenting partner the woman who gave birth to the children and nursed them and stayed at home taking care of them before she handed off to me and went back to work.

She knows exactly what it feels like to spend all day taking care of young children with no breaks and no help so when she’s home from work in the evenings and on weekends, she is completely present and an active, involved mom.

But even with my partner’s help and support, there are times when I have felt overwhelmed or lonely or inadequate. So I called my mother, who unfortunately lived several hundred miles away, but still always made me feel better. Because that’s what good mothers do. They raise their children with all the love and attention they need and then provide emotional support for their daughters (or daughters-in-law or friends or sisters or partners) when they have their own.

So this story is for my mom and for her mother, my Nana, who I still miss and wish had lived to see me become a parent. It’s for my partner, the mother of our children, who also taught me how to be a mom. It’s for my mother-not-in-law who raised 5 amazing daughters and all my partner’s sisters. It’s for and my sister-in-law, mother to my niece and nephew, and all our friends who have raised their children alongside ours and all the talks we’ve had and stories we’ve traded. And it’s for our childless friends who have also loved our kids and supported us emotionally and understood when we turned down invitations for years because of the kids and came to see us when we couldn’t get away.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Four generations of mothers in my family. I’m the little one
sitting on my mom’s lap. And that’s my grandmother and
great-grandmother.(Also my brothers in back
and Willy and Junior in front.)

46 and Fogged

via Zazzle.com

Lately I’ve been losing my mind. It’s been a gradual process, but one I can’t deny anymore.

Take yesterday. I was in the middle of a full-blown house-cleaning frenzy when I glanced at the clock. It said 12:30. I felt a flutter at the back of my mind, like I was forgetting something important. I scrunched up my eyebrows (because I think better that way) and looked at the clock again. 12:31. My brain fluttered again. I turned off the vacuum and stared. Then it hit me. I had forgotten to pick up our youngest son from school.

There’s nothing worse than the feeling that you have forgotten your child. My stomach did a somersault, and I felt the weight of shame settle on me. Then I exploded into action. Dropping the vacuum hose, I descended the stairs like an avalanche of flailing middle-aged arms and legs (narrowly avoiding breaking one of them) and bounded down the hallway.

It was an early release day which meant that school let out 2 hours early. And in spite of the fact that my partner and my son had reminded me just that morning, it had still slipped my mind. The bell had rung 10 minutes ago. Now, our youngest son is not exactly a small child anymore. He’s fourteen, and not likely to be permanently damaged if I was a little late, but in my panic, I pictured him standing out in front of the school all alone, forlorn and forgotten, a sad little boy whose other-mom had abandoned him.

I snatched my keys and wallet from the kitchen table and dashed for the front door, sliding the last few feet – which really shouldn’t be possible in sneakers. I looked down. I wasn’t wearing my sneakers. I was wearing socks which of course explained the whole sliding down the tiled hallway thing. I quickly took stock of myself so as to ascertain if there were other problems I might want to correct before I went out in public. I was wearing ratty jeans and a bleach-stained t-shirt with no bra. I hadn’t yet showered. It would be generous to describe my hair as “tousled.”

Scrambling back up the stairs, I tripped over the vacuum cord, located shoes and a sweatshirt, tripped over the cord again, and lunged back down the stairs, wrestled open the front door, slammed it behind me, and ran for the car.

I was 25 minutes late. My son was not outside alone shivering in the chill as I imagined. He was standing in the sun, smiling, and talking with a friend. There was still a short car line and a surprising number of children still there. He smiled and waved when he saw me. I hugged him in front of his friends. Then I stopped at a gas station on the way home and bought him a soda and beef jerky.

“You should be late more often,” he said.

No, I really shouldn’t, I thought. The school is about 6 miles from our house. There are many traffic lights and the highest speed limit is 45, but I still made it there in about 12 minutes. My reflexes are getting to slow to drive like that. (And since I know you’re reading this, Mom, that was a joke.)

via pixar.wikia.com

My stuttering memory is no joke, though. I’ve always been a little absent-minded, but lately I’ve been a complete space cadet. My short-term memory is sputtering out like a neglected campfire. I feel like the forgetful little fish in Finding Nemo. (My favorite character until I became her.)

Lately, I have to proofread everything I write 14 times lately to avoid embarrassing myself by using the wrong words (like “half” instead of “have”). I mix up words when I’m talking, too, and often don’t realize until someone tells me. Like this typical exchange between my partner and me:

B:  “We used to live in Asheville, honey, not Austin.”

me:  “I know where we lived! You know I meant Austin.”

B:  “You mean Asheville?”

me:  “Shit.”

She’s really very patient, don’t you think?

And that’s not all. I have spent frantic minutes searching for my car keys only to discover them in my hand. My partner can text me to ask me to take some chicken out of the freezer to defrost for dinner, and if I don’t get up and do it right that minute, I will forget. I know it and she knows it. (That’s why she texts me again in five minutes. Did you take the chicken out of the freezer?) The other day, I almost ran out of gas because I forgot I was on empty. (Yes, I know the gas gauge was right in front of me. That’s kind of the point.)

As I’ve waded deeper into my forties, I’ve read more than a few articles on women’s health, and I know all the symptoms of my age.  But for some reason, I never really made the obvious connection with my mushrooming absent-mindedness. I just always thought I must be stressed or distracted, and then I jumped right to early onset Alzheimer’s in my imagination.

But not to worry. It’s just menopause. Yay. I’m not losing my mind. I’m just going to feel like it for the next few years.


note: Thanks to Mittens of Mittens and Boots and her excellent blog post on early menopause for the inspiration to write this and for cluing me in to the term “brain fog” which I just realized, I didn’t actually use except in the title, sort of. You can read her post at:


Were the Mayans Right? Pope Warns of Dire Threat to the Future of Humanity

Thank goodness for the pope! He’s looking out for us. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to Vatican diplomats from almost 180 different countries in an effort to rally the faithful to Church doctrine and safeguard the world from a dire threat “to the future of humanity itself.”

Good for him, right? If humanity is facing disaster, I like to think it’s a good thing that the religious leader of 1.18 billion souls worldwide is speaking up about it. With power like that, he could single-handedly change the world. Imagine it. Feed the hungry, protect the children, stop wars and the wanton destruction of the natural world. With all the multitude of catastrophic problems facing the human race in 2012, it couldn’t have been easy to decide what to focus on. So I’m sure you’re wondering by now just which threat to the future of humanity the pope was talking about.

You might guess overpopulation. That’s a pretty scary one. But no. Church doctrine pretty much helped to swamp the lifeboat on that one by adhering to its ancient stance against any form or artificial birth control. How about terrorism, global warming, a deadly viral pandemic? Nope. None of those. The pontiff wasn’t talking about the stuff of nightmares. He had something more domestic in mind, something connubial, something downright festive, really. He was talking about gay marriage.

Consider this:

via People magazine

Here are Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi at their wedding. They’re happy. They’re in love. They’ve just dedicated their lives to each other. It must be the beginning of the end for all humanity.

Okay, I admit I’m having a little trouble following the Pope’s logic. If I understand it correctly, he believes (sorry, correction: He knows, because the Holy Spirit keeps him in line with divine design in matters of his office and so he is, therefore, infallible) – so he knows that by legalizing gay marriage, the state of New York, for example, has opened the door for people like Neil Patrick Harris and his boyfriend to marry as well, thus leading the world down a path toward certain catastrophe.

via People magazine

Just look at them. They’re rich, smart, fantastically devoted to their adopted children, and let’s face it, just absolutely adorable. It’s insidious. They want to provide their children with a safe, nurturing environment with two loving parents in which to grow up. How dare they?

So I guess I’m a little dense because I’m still fuzzy about the details about how this endangers humanity, especially since gay men and women are practicing the Vatican’s favorite (and only approved) form of birth control – abstinence from heterosexual sex, and in many cases, they are providing homes for orphaned children. You’d think that would be a good thing, right? Apparently, not.

So I pondered it for a while and came up with this. Let’s see what you think:

The pope made his announcement shortly after the beginning of 2012, the very year the ancient Mayan calendar reportedly predicts the end of the world. That can’t be coincidence, can it?

Mayan calendar created by a modern craftsman
Mayan calendar created by a modern
craftsman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the way I figure it, another U.S. state is going to pass a law legalizing gay marriage (like New York did!) or fail to illegalize it twice over (like North Carolina is trying to to). This will royally tick off the pontiff (because nothing pisses him off so much as uppity Americans who insist on thinking for themselves), and then the Bishop of Rome will have some kind of holy apoplectic fit, eventually reach supreme pontifical supercritical mass which will cause a righteous chain reaction and melt down, and thereby precipitate the end of the world and extinction of “humanity itself.”

And proving the Mayans right. Except they didn’t know to blame it on the gays.

What’s that? Yeah, it sounds a little lame to me too. So how about we tell the truth? People who have a common enemy are easier to control. It’s as simple as that. Pick a group of people who are different than the group you are trying to control, demonize your victims, convince your followers they are superior to the victims, lead them against the victims, and suddenly, you have yourself some serious mind control. It worked for Hitler.

The Pope ought to know. He was there.

There’s Still Sand in My Shoes: Things People Say When They Get Back from Vacation

What they say: What they’re thinking:
“We had a lovely time at the beach.” “It was freakin’ awesome.”
“But it’s always good to come home.” “We should live there!”
“I feel so relaxed and recharged.” “I drank beer every day!”
“My life feels manageable again.” “I didn’t drive anyone to the vet, dentist, doctor or school for a   week!”
“I’m ready to get on top of things.” “I’m deleting my To-do list!”
“A week off gave me a fresh perspective.” “I could learn to sail and scuba dive!”
“It reminded me to live in the here and now…” “My phone didn’t work anywhere on the island!”
“…and to appreciate what we have…” “Of course, I’d need a boat…”
“…a wonderful home, a loving family…” “…and a beach house with its own name and maybe a pet pelican …”
“…and…um…I’m sorry. What was I saying?” “…and we’ll have bonfires on the beach and a hammock on the porch and   I’ll sleep with the sound of the surf coming through my open window every   night and write stories about sea monsters and shipwrecks and haunted   lighthouses and…”

Let’s call him Seymour.

Okay, maybe it’s is just me. I suppose I’ll be like this for a while, at least until I get the sand out of my shoes and the shells out of my pockets (keep finding them in the wash). Until next year. Smooth sailing, ya’ll.

A Garden in Spite of Itself, Part 2: All the Pretty Flowers

My mother is an amazing gardener. Her yard is always a lush, flourishing mass of foliage and blooming things and trees that attracts all manner of wildlife from butterflies to bluebirds to cotton-tailed rabbits. Hummingbirds flit from flower to flower, their ruby throats glinting in the sun. Tortoises plod through the dappled shadows. Hers is not just a garden. It’s an aesthetically delightful ecosystem that she planned and put together herself.

If there’s a gene for such green witchery, I did not inherit it. I kill house plants. I kill cactus in pots, ficus and ferns and at least one rubber tree plant. I’ve killed pothos. Nobody kills pothos. I’m pretty sure it’s immune to death. But I did it. My cat might have helped by attacking it on a semi-regular basis, shredding its leaves and eventually, I think, peeing in its pot. Repeatedly. But still, the plant was in my care when the cat killed it. So I think, karmically speaking, it goes on my record.

But just the same, a couple of years ago, my partner and I decided we wanted a garden. It would get us outdoors more, give us something new we could do together, and make our front yard look less like a vacant lot. I thought, What’s the worst that could happen? I should never ask myself that. I am very good at visualizing the worst. I saw us buying all the new expensive plants and putting them in the ground and fertilizing and watering. Then I saw plants shriveling and dying one by one until our garden looked like a botanical graveyard.  The neighbors shook their heads. I felt sad and vaguely ashamed. Or, I thought, things might not die. They might grow and flourish. Plants would bloom spontaneously at my touch and neighbors would say, Look at her pretty little garden! I decided to risk it.

So we had prepared the bed (See Part 1). The time had come to populate our little growing space. And this is where, I must say, I’m proud of my mother. She wanted very badly to tell us how to plan and what to pick for a successful gardening experience right off the bat. I told her, No, we have to learn this ourselves. The whole process, from the ground up. (And yes, I’m a little proud of that pun.)

We wanted to choose everything and arrange it all on our own. So we went to Home Depot and wandered the aisles of the garden center. And that’s when I almost had a nervous breakdown. There were so many choices! And variables to consider. And here we were ready to just pop things in our basket willy-nilly and take them home. At least my partner was. She was excited about the garden and ready to dive in the deep end. I had thought I could follow her lead. But I just don’t work that way.

I am a methodical kind of person. When embarking on a new endeavor, my nature is to research it thoroughly, taking all variables into account, weighing them against each other, and eventually making informed, careful decisions thus maximizing our chances of success. Of course, using my method, spring and maybe summer would have passed before I made my carefully-researched choices for our garden. And B knows that.

We’re going to go, she said, and just pick what we like. So we did. She would hold up a plant and say, How about this? I would remove the little plastic tab thingy from its pot and begin reading out loud about the plant’s sun exposure and climate preference, its eventual height and breadth, water requirements, etc. B would listen as far as the name, make a decision, put the plant back or in the cart, and move on with me trailing behind, still studying the little plastic thingy and muttering to myself. Soon I had a whole handful of little plastic thingies and I was seriously starting to lose my shit. B made soothing noises and led me to the checkout line. Once the purchase was made, I was okay again.

Until we got home. Now it was time to decide what to put where. We had a row of small shrubs already planted and a big expanse of bare dirt waiting for the rest. I started arranging pots on the dirt thinking about all the variables again. Were they annuals or perennials? How tall would they be? What color? Spring or summer bloomers? I rearranged. And rearranged again. And finally B saved me again.

“That looks perfect,” she said.

“You think I should put the Dusty Miller over…”

“It’s perfect the way it is.”

“Or maybe move the Salvia to…”

“Why don’t you start digging holes?” She said and handed me a shovel.

And that’s how we got all our pretty flowers planted. And miracle of miracle, only a couple of them died and the rest flourished and bloomed.

Stay tuned for Part 3: Killing Tomatoes

A Garden in Spite of Itself, Part 1: Dirt

Our dirt

Tomorrow I’m going to buy dirt. I’m trying to make a garden. Dirt seems to be a prerequisite. I know what you’re thinking. Don’t I have enough dirt already? The ground is kind of, you know, made of dirt and all. You’d think that would do.

But our garden is still a baby, and I’m learning as I go along. Last year, I decided to double the size of the garden which extended it into a valley in the yard. When it rains, the valley becomes a mini-river running from the driveway across the yard to the ditch that marks the western boundary of our property. So I was going to have to buy dirt to raise the bed and reroute the river. That’s when my education began.

Buying dirt wasn’t as simple as I imagined. After some examination of the relevant products at Home Depot, I made these determinations: There were at least three major types of dirt and many brands of each ranging in price from 98 cents for 40 pounds of “topsoil” (looks like orange dust with rocks in it) to almost $14 for 2.5 cubic feet of Miracle Gro “potting mix” (apparently the super food of the botanical world). I settled on one of the cheapest “gardening soils” and loaded up my cart.

When I was done adding dirt, the garden bed was high and safe from flooding. But at some point in the last year, it sank like a grave. A really big grave. So we need more dirt. And peat moss. Last year, after some reading, I learned that adding peat to soil that had a lot of clay made it hold water in a way that made it more available to plant roots. That seemed like a pretty slick trick for a humble moss, but who am I to doubt accepted gardening wisdom? I bought the peat and tilled it into the garden with the new dirt.

My tiller

I should mention here that our tiller is kind of a basic model. It is not gas-powered. It has no motor. It is basically a big fork with twisty tines and a handle on the end. It is operated by plunging it with some force into the ground, grasping the handle, and twisting. This process can be viewed as an invigorating workout or as an exercise in pain, depending on your perspective. So I used the big fork to mix the peat and new dirt into the garden. The old dirt is very sticky and clumpy so it was sort of like mixing up a really big batch of cookie dough. Add the butter. Stir. Add the flour. Getting really hard to stir now. Add the manure. (Sorry. I dropped the metaphor a little abruptly there.)

I didn’t actually add the manure. Apparently, proper usage of animal poo is also more complicated than it might seem. There are issues to consider involving the source of the poo, its age and how it was stored. Who knew? Bottom line is, when you add poo to the soil, it’s best to let it “age” before planting. This has something to do with nitrogen in the poo and nitrogen-loving microbes in the soil that sometimes get over-excited by fresh poo and use it up so quickly the plants can’t get at it. Or something like that. Since it was already mid-spring, I didn’t have time to wait for the manure to mature properly. So I skipped the poo.

I went through all this prep work because I needed the garden bed to be a particularly friendly place for plants, resistant to floods and full of rich yummy freshly-turned soil. I needed the plants to have every advantage I could give them at the start, because after that, they were going to have to rely on me. And after a lifetime record of killing all green, leafy things in my care, that didn’t bode well for the garden’s future inhabitants.

Stay tuned. Part 2 coming soon.

Distressed Relief – Eighteen Ways to Manage Extreme Tension and Latent Hostility in Your Life

  1. Don’t pay for therapy. Stress management that costs that much and doesn’t involve a beach house and a hot tub is counterproductive.
  2. Do exercise. Vigorously. Every day. Then you’ll be too tired to choke the living s*** out of all the idiots you have to share the planet with.
  3. Don’t turn on the news. Just because the world is going to hell in a bucket, doesn’t mean you have to watch.
  4. Do have furry pets. (Not hamsters, though. Hamsters are little balls of evil with teeth. And it’s hard to reduce your stress while you’re bleeding.)
  5. Don’t drive. Ever. Sharing a road with maniacs who speed, tailgate, weave through traffic, or honk at you for stopping for the school bus in front of you (true story) all while talking on a cell phone will do nothing but make you fantasize about choking people again.
  6. Do spend as much time as possible outside. Away from people. That part’s important. Away from people and by the ocean is ideal.
  7. Do lighten up. If you don’t have a pirate hat or a puka shell necklace, buy one now.
  8. Don’t open your kids’ progress reports. If you feel obligated to see it, be sure to have a couple of cocktails first. (Points for style if you put little umbrellas in the drinks.)
  9. Do listen to Jimmy Buffett. The man is a master of stress reduction. And he sings too.
  10. Don’t go to dentists. They are harbingers of pain and misery and they own tiny drills. Not a good combination.
  11. Do read funny books. It’s hard to be stressed when you’re laughing.*
  12. Don’t teach your teenager how to drive. You’ll be doing him a favor, because bracing your feet on the dash board and screaming every time he steps on the gas won’t do much to improve his skills or build his confidence.
  13. Don’t allow your children to make any major life decision on their own until they are at least 25. Add 5 years for boys.
  14. Do watch The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon is the funniest character ever written for TV. Watch it if you haven’t already. You’ll see.
  15. Don’t go anywhere you may have to stand in line. A little known corollary of Murphy’s Law dictates that the person directly behind you will either be a bitter old lady who will bump you in the butt with her cart until the line moves or a large sweaty man in a dirty t-shirt who has no concept of personal space.
  16. Do eat mint chocolate chip ice cream. (But send someone else to the grocery store to buy it.)
  17. Don’t talk politics with friends (that you want to keep) or family. I think every American kid knows this one by the time they’re old enough to join an adult conversation, but it’s good to review the basics.
  18. Do throw away the To-do List. (Ya’ll know why.)

*My favorite funny authors: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Tom Holt, Christopher Moore, Janet Evanovich, Bill Bryson, David Sedaris.

Don’t Put It Off. Procrastinate Now!

Here are just a few suggestions on how to procrastinate effectively. Remember, everybody’s doing it. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you’re going to have to invest a little time and imagination, develop your own style.  Here are a few tips that have worked for me.

  1. Carpe diem. Start that diet tomorrow. Or the next day. There will always be time to eat healthy later but the Shamrock shake won’t be around forever.


  2. Call your mother and talk for two hours. Every day. You can delay your entire To-do list this way. Unless it’s her birthday. Then you should wait until just before her bedtime to call.
  3. Leave your Christmas tree up until February. For those who appreciate a bolder statement, decorate it with hearts and cupids. Wait a month and change to shamrocks. Leave those up until Halloween.
  4. Choose a home improvement project. Begin and then leave it half-finished for a minimum of several months. Points for style if you leave the tools out.
  5. If the car starts making a new noise turn up the radio. Try not to take it to the mechanic until it drowns out the radio or stops running altogether.
  6. If you enjoy camping, be sure to put off taking the kids until well after those breezy springs days are past. If you wait long enough, you’ll get to spend 3 days in August sweating yourself into delirium and feeding your blood to mutant mosquitos drawn by the aroma of Deep Woods Off.
  7. Be sure to put off making dinner each evening until the children complain. This gives you the perfect excuse to pop a couple of frozen pizzas in the oven for a quick meal. Do this often enough and you’ll save money by cutting back on expensive fresh fruits, vegetables and meats.
  8. Are you experiencing pain in your back/neck/head/knee? Don’t rush off to the doctor. The additional damage that may occur to the offending joint or structural part was probably inevitable anyway. Better to wait until the pain is unbearable and then go in to get the bad news.
  9. Haven’t figured out what you want to be when you grow up? Don’t worry about it. You’re only 45. If you’re a truly dedicated procrastinator, you won’t have saved anything for retirement anyway. You’ll have plenty of time to start a new career.
  10. Starting a savings account for the kids is a laudable idea, but remember, the longer you wait, the less money you’ll have to put in it.
  11. If you’re a blogger, it’s a nice touch to start Monday’s post on Tuesday night or swap Monday and Thursday because Thursday’s is easier and then start the new Thursday post on Friday morning. Readers love it when you keep them guessing.
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