My son just started kindergarten last month. He’s a likable kid, on the tall side for his age, slightly moody — because, you know, he’s five — and he has lots of friends. He also has a litany of vision problems and wears the tiniest bifocals you’ve ever seen, but he likes them because he thinks they make him look like Harry Potter. He has silky-straight blonde hair, Continue reading “What I Can Learn from the Beauty of Tiny Beowulf”
Having grown up in a large family with dozens of younger cousins and siblings around all the time lulled me, as I plowed blindly into adulthood, into thinking that I was something of an authority on the juvenile human. From countless hours minding my younger relatives to the slew of babysitting jobs I had in high school and college, I garnered a feeling of intelligence about children which caused my breeding friends to Continue reading “Open Apology in Advance to My Pregnant or Expectant Friends When I Give Them Advice About Anything”
This week I want to highlight another blog, one I read entitled “Snobbery.” It’s by a self-proclaimed book snob, and it’s really great. (Okay, both parts of that last statement are really oversimplifications, but go with it.)
One thing the author does is review wretchedly, comically unworthy books, reading and explaining them so we are saved the misery. (Please dear God, don’t let my books ever end up there.)
But I thought you might enjoy some of this, and so this week I have her permission to feature one of her “Trashy Tuesday” reviews. This is the link to the review of the first book of the Mortal Instruments series. Enjoy.
I have a love-hate relationship with my garden.
In fact, to call it a “garden” feels a bit grandiose. It’s more appropriate to call it a collection of seemingly randomly placed plants and flower beds anchoring the edges of my front lawn. Moreover, calling my relationship with it “love-hate” is probably more generous and optimistic than the situation deserves.
I love the idea of having a garden. However, what I really want is a gorgeous refuge of healthy plant life that calls to mind the best quality of a traditional English garden: an idealized image of nature. I want lots of colorful flowers against a deep green backdrop, roses and dahlias and hydrangeas with butterfly weed and tall double hollyhock in supporting roles. I want a groundcover of whatever those charming purple blooms are that persist in growing in the shady parts of my yard that no one seems to be able to identify or sell me more of, but which are blessedly bereft of excessive weeds. I want purple crepe myrtle and blue jacaranda trees, and deep magenta bougainvillea that blooms heavily all year. I want the kind of fruit trees and vines that produce things I like to eat.
And I want my homeowners’ association to leave me alone about my yard. It is possible I want too much.
The likelihood of any of those floral desires coming to fruition is dependent on one of a few possible scenarios coming miraculously true:
1. My work schedule changes so that I am actually at home during the daylight hours for most of the year, and not completely worn out when I get there, a to-do list a mile long awaiting me.
2. I acquire an exceptionally talented gardener for my birthday.
3. The position of my house changes so that it no longer blocks all the sunlight from reaching the garden spaces on my property.
4. I move to another house which already has this perfect garden and a caretaker to maintain it.
5. I move to someplace other than what appears to probably be zone 9 or 10.
6. I am suddenly transported into an actual fairy tale.
Unfortunately, as it turns out, each of those six scenarios just might be equally likely to happen. So what’s a girl with a black thumb to do?
I’ve been thinking of zero-scaping, or simply tearing everything out and replacing it with artfully stacked rocks. Not a lot of support for this among the other members of my household. (Not that I can blame them. There’s a reason I don’t live in the desert – which, incidentally, appears to be better at keeping plants alive than I am. I have managed to inadvertently kill every cactus I’ve ever tried to grow. Or forget about growing – I can’t even keep cacti which are already thriving in their current state. It’s as if they simply succumb to despair when they realize they’ve landed in my possession.)
I have tried. I have made honest efforts. I have read books on gardening for my specific plants and for my specific area. I have investigated related websites and spoken with people from the local rose growers’ association and consultants at independent nurseries. I have planted in locations which seem to get enough sunlight. I have watered diligently and for long enough, according to expert opinions and directions, when there wasn’t enough rain. I have pulled weeds. I have pruned. And for these pains, I have been repeatedly disappointed, even to the point of having to occasionally do deep pruning – you know, with a shovel.
My front lawn and flower beds have been landscaped, or at least planted, a few times, sometimes by myself and my husband, sometimes by my mother-in-law (“Surprise! Happy Birthday!”), sometimes by professional lawn care services and even, once, an outdoor space designer. Yet things always fall apart due to the weather or my inability to maintain the place when I go four or five days in a row without getting home from work before dusk. I can’t really control either of those things. Sometimes I’ve bought plants that, despite their marketing, won’t grow in our zone. Sometimes the problem is with the soil in my yard, and I don’t identify the true problem or how to fix it until it’s too late. Sometimes the fruit tree I buy and then plant and then wait exuberantly for the fruit to grow ends up being the wrong variety, which was mislabeled when I bought it – for example, not sugar figs but some weird fig I end up being allergic to. And then that’s the plant that thrives and and has three successful blooming seasons a year! Ultimately I’m left feeling demoralized.
So it’s January again, which in my area means it’s time to prune and begin thinking about what to do with the space next. I must have indomitable spirit, because I’ve actually been brainstorming with my husband some ideas for what to do with these stubborn garden spaces.
It will begin with cutting back the roses, again, both the bushes and the climbing vines. And pulling out the weeds, which spitefully and tauntingly thrive, thrive, thrive. And perhaps purchasing some soaking hoses to make the job easier.
After that? Well, sigh. It’s anyone’s guess.
Happy New Year, everyone. Have you made any resolutions?
I tend to root myself in traditions, which I find stabilizing in the general maelstrom that is my overbusy life. Not all traditions, mind you, and not even all the ones I grew up with. Just the meaningful or interesting ones. Among my New Year’s traditions, along with black-eyed peas for good luck on New Year’s Day (which, sadly, my husband and children have so far refused to eat even when I make them with ham) and drinking a toast at midnight, is setting for myself some resolutions.
Sometimes these are successful. I remember one year, before we had children, before we owned our own home, even before I was teaching full-time, when my husband and I decided we watched too much television didn’t indulge enough our passion for reading and so would stop sitting in front of the idiot box, spending our unoccupied evening hours with books instead.
That was one of the best Januarys ever.
We managed it for a full month and really enjoyed it. But we sort of missed our favorite television shows. (This was back in the day when Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and the incredibly offensive Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? and MTV’s The Real World were the only “reality” shows on the air, and back before we owned a house that offered us opportunities for improvement and upkeep and so home improvement shows on HGTV were fun to watch.) So on January 31st, we decided that we’d had a good time reading and would allow television back into our lives more sparingly without letting go of reading every night. We learned how to enjoy the proverbial best of both worlds, and our lives were better as a result. I count that as a successful resolution.
I have made other resolutions over the years that did not turn out so well. I remember the time in college when I decided I wasn’t going to shop anymore.
That lasted almost a week. I tried giving it up for Lent that spring, too, which turned out slightly better.
There was that other time when I resolved I would stop procrastinating. I ended up having to give that one up for Lent, too. Didn’t work out either time.
I could go on, but somehow spending the first day of the new year recounting past failures seems counterproductive.
So in thinking about this year’s resolutions, I determined that — as in any good problem-solving strategy — I should look at the root of the problem to find a way out of it. And if the purpose of making resolutions is to improve the quality of my life — and honestly, isn’t that the idea, really? — then I should figure out what about my life needs improving.
I know, I know: Elementary, my dear Watson. Sometimes I come to these epiphanies slowly. Bear with me.
There are things in my life — and most of us can say this — which drive me a little nuts on a daily basis. And I would love it if I could eliminate those things, or at least ameliorate them, so that they didn’t bother me so much. (And maybe not letting myself get so worked up over them would help, too, although I admit I’ve tried that before with little success. I just ended up feeling like a slacker who had given up on her standards. Not really the direction I was looking for. There has to be a compromise in there somewhere.)
So here we go, New Year. Today, January 1st, is the day I identify the things that stress me out unnecessarily and figure out daily ways to make those things better. This is a resolution to enjoy my whole life more, every single day.
It’s a noble goal. Wish me luck.
So Friday night I went to a book launch reception and a spontaneous poetry reading broke out.
This was the Mutabilis Press event for Improbable Worlds. It was a lot of fun catching up with old friends I hadn’t seen in a while. I was pleased to see some of my students out there, too; it’s nice to provide a little real-world context for what we do in the classroom. And I admit I like it when they have a chance to see me as an author and not just as a teacher. Even though this is no doubt all in my imagination, I get the sense this lends me a little more street cred come Monday morning and I’m back behind the podium.
I had really wanted my children to come to the event, too, but it just wasn’t practical. It’s actually more important to me that my kids see me out in the world being an author, so that they can have some context for when I have to tell them I can’t take them somewhere or play with them or sit and watch cartoons all Saturday morning because I have to go to a writing date or a writers’ group meeting or poetry reading. But taking them to The Jung Center this past Friday night just wasn’t practical. Ah well, someday.
In the meantime, here’s a quick little poem I wrote a while back (speaking of my kids). It started off as an exercise, but it turned into something, sort of.
A Hand-Drawn Card from the Girl Who Does Know Better But.
after Craig Raine after John Berryman
I am the girl who does know better but.
I am desperate for your attention.
I am apologizing for pushing the little brother in the yard.
I am planning the next push anyway.
I am pulling the long hairs of the cat when your back is turned.
I am shouting a song to the sleeping baby while you nap.
I am offering the hamster a fruit snack.
I am changing clothes a dozen times a day.
I am adding extra sugar to the lemonade when you are not looking.
I am wishing you had brought me to school a little early so I could play.
I am wishing you had ironed my clean dress.
I am insisting I can brush my hair myself.
I am happier when you brush my hair for me.
I am asking you five times a night for one more bedtime song.
I am breaking and entering in your nail polish drawer.
I am impatient to grow tall enough to build my own sandwich.
I am asking for potato chips for breakfast.
I am sad when you go to your party.
I am trying to learn how to read.
I am pushing the little brother off the couch.
I am waking you up with kisses.
I am loving you, loving you, loving you.
I am trying to be patient for my sixth birthday.
I am plunging my face into the bowl of cake batter.
I am waiting for you to giggle with me.
I am looking like you every day.
I am turning into a little lady.
I am hoping you’ll take me to tea in my new hat.
I am five and loving you so much.