The Semi-Homemade Garden

BurpeeI come from a long line of farmers on my father’s side of the family.  They were a talented bunch of people who could coax food from the soil and I like to pretend that I received some of that DNA.  And, as a result, I got sucked into buying a garden kit this year to start my garden from seeds.

This happened last year too.  I get this notion that starting a garden from seeds is somehow more authentic and pioneer.   So, I put the seeds into the soil-like stuff that expands when you add water (which may be the most exciting part of the entire process) and then carefully add the seeds one by one.   They grow so happily and look like they’re reaching toward the light, which makes me feel weirdly proud in a demented way.

Then came the day that it finally stopped raining and the frost was over (and yes, that was indeed almost the end of May here in Michigan) and I could plant the cute little sun chasing embryonic plants.   So I carefully dug holes, covered them with life inducing soil and watered them.  They looked more like little sprouts for salads than little sprouts that would turn into big plants, but I forged ahead.  And then they died.  The end.

Well, okay, not quite the end because I went out and bought pre-grown plants, like I should have in the first stupid place.   Who did I think I was?  The Pioneer Woman?   She confesses to being able to cook and homeschool at the same time (while raising animals and hosting a television show, of course).  The only thing I’m confessing to is the fact that I can’t grow s*** from seeds and I like Sandra Lee and the Cake Mix Doctor way better than Martha Stewart.  And, no, I don’t make my own macaroni and cheese.

Therefore I have decided that  I have a semi-homemade garden.  I let someone else grow the plants for their first few months and then I transplant them into my garden.  All of the veggies, none of the sprout guilt, plus I still have time to blog. Who says you can’t have it all?

Holla To Your Mom

magnets-wow-i-get-to-give-birth-and-change-diapersMother’s Day.  Is there any other day that brings out such sentiments of love in human hearts?

As a mom myself, I have to say that giving birth to a child is a lot of work.  Staying up half the night with a small, screaming infant or a sick, miserable child is exhausting. Having small children who have inexhaustible amounts of energy and zero fear is also rather trying.  Homework is never-ending, reading parenting books is defeating and there is never enough toilet paper.  These are all a given.

However, NO ONE warned me about the fact that these experiences pale in comparison to the worries that parents have when their child is grown.  And drives. And smashes their car.  More than once.

Recently, I have diagnosed myself with PTODD, which stands for Post Traumatic Offspring Driving Disorder.  You won’t find it in any DSM but, trust me, it exists.   It began when Eldest Son started driver’s training and I’m still not over it.  The symptoms vary, but, in my case, it manifests itself by me believing, beyond a doubt, that my child is in mortal danger when I wake up in the middle of the night and didn’t hear him or her come in.  I can go from zero to mortally wounded and in a ditch in 0.2 seconds.

Recently, I brought this up to our eldest children.   I expressed my love and concern for them and told them about my darkest fears.  It went something like this:

Me: “You know, when you come home late and I don’t realize that you’re home, I think the worst.  I worry that you’ve been in an accident and they can’t find your i.d. and your cell phone is smashed and that’s why the police haven’t notified me.  I realize that this is a little over the top but I just want you to be careful.”
Eldest Son: “I’m sorry, Mom.  I don’t mean to worry you.  That’s terrible.”
Teenage Daughter: “Mom, that’s just weird.  If I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t find someone, I would just figure that they went out to pick up food.”

Clearly, I need to take some cues from Teenage Daughter.

Wishing all you moms out there a chill Mother’s Day.  You deserve it.

In Praise of Tedium

cubiclesIf you have been following my blog for any length of time, you might have picked up on the fact that Teenage Daughter has a bit of a cynical streak.  I am quite certain that she came by this trait from her father.  She also has an attitude about her senior year in high school and, lately, is rather skeptical of adult life in general.

One evening she sat down with me and we had a meaningful chat about the future.  More specifically, about attending community college in the fall and transferring to Michigan State University the following year.  This is pretty much how it went.

Me:  “You need to pick out classes for next fall so you’d better go to the Michigan State website and see what transfers.  Are you still thinking about business?”
Teenage Daughter: “Yeah, I suppose so.  But it sounds tedious.”
Me: “Tedious?  How do you mean?”
Teenage Daughter: “I mean that you get up every morning and go to work and then you sit in your cubicle and work some more and then you just keep doing that until you die.”
At this point, I was compelled to stop clipping the coupons I’d been working on and listen up.
Me: “Sweetie, maybe you should be looking into careers that don’t include cubicles.  There have to be other things you’re interested in that aren’t exclusively in an office.”
Teenage Daughter: “No, mom, they are all tedious.  It’s all the same… work, work, work, tedium and die.”
She then walked out of the room and I was left with coupons and my own tedious life to think about what she had just said.

There was some truth to it, after all.  Work life is often referred to as ‘the grind’, ‘same ‘ol’, ‘old hat’, etc for a reason.  For millions of Americans, it’s neither exciting nor adventurous, but rather a means to an end.  And, running water, heat, electricity and food but not necessarily happiness or personal fulfillment.  Contrary to popular belief by the 20 something crowd, life is not always a series of endless, memorable moments.  Being a grown up can be a really boring-ass job.

Personally, I embrace tedium.  I don’t like to be bored, but I do like the comfort of knowing every day I have a job, a house and food.   I also have lower expectations.  I didn’t grow up with unlimited sources of instant gratification.   There was no texting when I was young and we had to actually get out of the chair to change the television channel.  Finally, in my humble opinion, there is nothing quite like a weekend with no plans.

I am hoping that Teenage Daughter uses her cynicism to find a job that suits her.  There really is nothing wrong with taking ones time to decide what is best for them instead of choosing the wrong career.   I know many people who have changed jobs and locations in order to suit themselves better to which I say ‘good for you’.

Carpe diem or patiently endure – your choice.  Might as well enjoy the tedium if you’re going to die anyhow.

Auld Lang Syne

Image courtesy of Anne Taintor

Image courtesy of Anne Taintor

I really haven’t received too many end of the year/Christmas/’how many trips we’ve taken this year but God bless us all’ letters this year.  By not many, I should say, zero.

It’s too bad, really.  I do like to hear what other people are up to.  However, I suspect that Facebook has taken much of the wonder out of the “So, whatcha been up to lately?” question because I pretty much know what many people ate for dinner last night and I have the pictures on my news feed to prove it.

That said, do we really know what’s going on in people’s lives?  Are they forthright and honest or do we just post happy things so that no one needs to know the truth?

I’ve never written one of those letters before but I think it would be fun to write a letter that is very honest and insightful.  If I were going to purchase stationary framed with holly and ivy, and, using a pretty flowing font, tell all about my 2012, here is how it would go.

December 30, 2012

Dearest family and friends,

I hope that this letter finds you all happy and well.

Gosh, where to begin?  Well, let’s go all the way back to last January when three days after we rang in the New Year, we celebrated by rescuing a puppy.  Not just any puppy but one who had lived on the streets and picked up a parasite so that our living room carpeting still smells slightly suspect after three cleanings.  Izzo is adorable, sweet as sugar and very loyal.  So loyal that after allowing him to sleep in our bed one time so that my 40+ brain wouldn’t be sleep deprived and addled, he never left.  He still keeps me up at night, so much so that I have moments of complete and utter despair.   The good news is that, 11 months later, our 7-year-old dog JoJo will now look at me without hatred in her eyes.   It’s gonna be okay after all.

Our children continue to do well.  Eldest Son is now a sophomore in college and doesn’t like to cut his hair on a regular basis.  He wears a stocking hat, an Army green coat and a beard and now resembles a sketchy hoodlum.   Despite his obvious disregard of scissors, he does like living with us and commuting to school and that means that I will not have a home office any time in the future.   It’s a good thing he’s so gosh darn cute.  And smart.  I will stay on good terms with him so that he can support us when we are old and without Social Security.

Teenage Daughter is graduating in June and not one minute too soon, thank you very much.  She gets an A+ for fashion, hair, makeup and accessories and all things social.  But, even she would tell you that four years in high school is too long and she was bitten by the Senioritis Bug months ago.  It causes swelling of the attitude glands and can also make getting up in the morning and attending school a chore.   Despite all this, I will cry at her graduation ceremony because she is still my little girl and because sleep deprivation does that too you.  And because the new chapter of her life is so important and I hope she is happy.

Youngest Son is going to be going into middle school after this school year and I have upped my medication in anticipation of that event.  He is still playing hockey and is generally one of the nicest, most loving kids ever.  I am praying that the teenage years are kind to him and to his parents, who are getting too old to deal with bullshit.

We are now the lucky owners of three older cars with many miles and the potential for all sorts of problems. It’s kind of exciting in a ‘gosh, what could go wrong?’ kind of way.  If no one gets into an accident or has car trouble, I consider that to be a good day.  Lowering ones standards is very important in this life, you know.

I am still a librarian and my library appears to have weathered the financial meltdown that threatened to make me unemployed a few years back.  It’s an interesting time to be a librarian.  People still have doubts if we are relevant and like to write about it.  Ad nauseum.  Of course, I know I am relevant and I can do all sorts of tricks and I can even sit pretty for thank you’s from adoring patrons.  I know how to find a good book for you, find accurate information, fix your resume and teach you how to make a top-notch spreadsheet.  And, when I tell people where to go, they actually listen.  All for free.  Who knew?

My mom continues to battle cancer, which sucks.  Truly.  I went to sit with her one time during chemotherapy and witnessed rows of people reclining in comfy chairs with chemotherapy medication tubes dripping into their IV tubes.  They were chatting with each other and their loved ones or caretakers and the whole place seemed like a social gathering gone very wrong.   So, when my mom had a PET scan in January, we are all hoping for good news.

On a happier note, my hubby and I celebrated our 21st anniversary this year and he still continues to charm me after all this time.  Except now it’s cute things like transferring money into my bank account when it gets dangerously low and saying it’s okay that I didn’t cook dinner for the 3rd day in a row.  And surprising me with a Keurig coffee maker for Christmas.  He’s a keeper for sure.

So, hope your 2012 was both exciting and happy.  I am medicated and motivated for a great 2013 and I hope you are too.  Motivated, that is.  You probably wouldn’t tell me about the medication though, would you?

Love,

Amy

10 One Minute (or Less!) Book Reviews

As a librarian, I read many book reviews.  Lots and lots of them.  Oodles and gobs of other people’s opinions.

Some of these reviews are quite good; to the point and spot on.  Others are vague, seeming to not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. For example, the line, “Suitable for most libraries” is a favorite phrase.  There’s a lot of wiggle room in that sentence and it basically says nothing.

Other reviews are LONG.  You get the blow-by-blow of the book, some background info on the author, and then some commentary on the state of whatever the books are about.  It can be just Too Much Information.  Really, I just want to know two things:  Was it well written and is it worth my time?

I received some divine inspiration last week while reading Ladies Home Journal. (Yeah, go ahead and laugh.  SOME of us don’t have time to paw through the New Yorker. No names used.)  They included three 15 second book reviews, three sentences or less.  All of the information, none of the fuss.  Perfect.

So, in the spirit of books and time management, here are 10 one minute (or less) book reviews.  All of the fun, fewer calories.  Enjoy.

Theodora by Stella Duffy:  In the 5th century lived a little girl who danced in the Hippodrome, grew up to become an actress and was rumored to be a whore and a party girl.  At 16,  she fled her hometown of Constantinople, hung out in the desert, became a Christian, and finally caught the eye of the Emperor Justinian, whom she ended up marrying.  And we all think that Kris Kardashian is a marketing genius…

Justinian’s Flea by William Rosen:  Desiring to further my education regarding the Byzantine empire, I thought I’d give Justinian’s Flea a try.  Instead of learning about one of the first outbreaks of bubonic plague, I had to read endless, boring, confusing paragraphs about the making of Byzantine cavalry armies and the development of the plague in a rat’s colonic DNA.  You lost me at Y. Pestis. 

Fiction Ruined My Life by Jeanne Darst:  Author Jeanne Darst delivers her first quote of this book followed by an F-bomb, leaving the reader wondering if it’s all downhill from there.  Which, of course, it is as Darst follows her bizarre (but let’s not forget creative!)  parents into the oblivion of alcohol and dysfunction. And yet, there is indeed fiction and some very funny one-liners, which ultimately saves this book from true ruin.  Kind of like “The Glass Castle” meets Chelsea Handler.

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante:
At first glance, this book appears to be about the decline of a prominent physician due to her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.  That’s sad enough, but it gets worse.  Her best friend is a scary, self-righteous lunatic and her children are dysfunctional.  So is her marriage.  So, when her best friend is found murdered and she becomes a suspect and more confused, the plot thickens.  Totally creepy.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Greene:
Girl meets boy and both are smitten.  That’s all well and fine except both the girl and the boy are terminally ill with cancer and they meet at a support group.  Does that take away from the smitten part?  Not at all.  Should the fact that they won’t live to adulthood make a difference?  I think it would in most cases, but not in this book.  It’s clever, sad and “Death be not proud” all at the same time.

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly
Oh, hush.  I know you already read this and saw the movie like AGES ago, but I hadn’t so just humor me while I tell you how delighted I was with this book.  Criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller is the ‘Lincoln Lawyer’ because he works out of his car and takes cases that usually, but not always, include defending criminals who are guilty.  When his most recent case looks like he finally has an innocent man to defend, things become more complicated and more interesting.  Right up until the very last page.

The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis
Not all of Denmark is the friendly, postcard perfect country that naive Americans like myself imagine.  In fact, just like Stieg Larsson’s view of Sweden in his Nordic crime novels, it’s got a scary underside that is best left alone.  That is, unless you are a self-satisfied nurse do-gooder named Nina, who, when given a key to a locker in a train station, finds a drugged three-year old in a suitcase.  In that case, you have to delve deep into the scary and find out who wants him and why.  Don’t let the unfortunate title of this book scare you off – it’s a great read.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I don’t know about you, but I find circuses to be slightly creepy in and of themselves.  So, Morgenstern’s novel about illusionists Celia and Marco, who were magically bound to each other as rivals when they were young, and the circus Le Cirque des Rêves, which shows up unannounced and only opens at night, didn’t disappoint.  The most fascinating thing about this truly different novel were the absolutely mesmerizing descriptions, which transported me as the reader to the turn of the 19th century and another world entirely.  I see black and white stripes.

Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore
Is it possible to finish an entire book and still not be certain what you’ve read?  Why, yes!  Yes, that is indeed possible and this novel proves it.  It had something to do with famous artists of the Impressionist era in Paris, the color blue, the evil Color Man, a muse named Bleu and the mystery surrounding Van Gogh’s death.  My suggestion is to drink absinthe while reading and just go with it.  De rien.

Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick
I have to say that this book had one strike against it after the first CD – it reminded me a lot of ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ which has to be #2 on my “10 Books I Absolutely Hated” list.  However, I after putting in the 2nd cd, I changed my mind.  This book had none of the sappy trappings of the former.  In fact, it was filled with sad truths of poverty, longing, lust and infidelity, and, not one covered bridge to be found.   A cautionary tale with a bottle of whiskey thrown in for good measure.

Pay Attention (please)

It’s spring and the school year is almost finished here in Michigan.  For those parents with high school seniors, it’s prom and graduation time.  For those with kindergarteners, fifth graders or eighth graders, it’s a time to move on to the next big level – first grade, middle school or high school.  Then there are the end of the year concerts, recitals and tournaments for spring sports.  It’s both the end and a beginning, a time to reflect and wonder. 

Just last week, my friend Shari wrote this on her Facebook page:
‘We have this big, old swing set in our backyard where my kids used to play all summer long. When I’d stand at my kitchen window and yell for them to come inside, they’d always ask for “just one last time” to jump off the swings or go down the slide. So yesterday I realized the three of them haven’t been on that swing set in the longest time, and no doubt never will again. And I… just wish so badly that I would have known the last time I called them in WAS the last time. I wish somebody would’ve whispered in my ear.. pay attention, you’ll never see this again. This truly is their “one last time.” We know when the big milestones are coming.. graduations, off to college etc… but it’s all those other last times that slip right by without our noticing that make me sad.’
 
I know what Shari means (and, by the by, I know for a fact that Shari is a wonderful mother and probably paid better attention to her kids than she thinks).  You’re busy raising your kids, and, sometimes, things are not terribly exciting.  Actually, there are many, many non-exciting, non-eventful days in all of our lives.  Weeks might go by between holidays, birthdays or other milestone days and they’re seemingly same ol’, same ol’.   That’s when the best moments happen and you might not even realize it.  We never really know when some phase is ending and you’ll never see it again (and, yes, you might even miss sleep deprivation and diapers at some weak moment in the future). 
 
When I think of the happiest moments of our family, there are not too many holidays that stick out as being ‘the best day ever’.   Come to think of it, there were some pretty stressful summer vacations moments as well.  No, the best times that I can remember were very subtle, almost so subtle that I’m glad that I was paying attention, otherwise I would have missed them. 
 
I had an incident with Youngest Son’s teacher conference that made me realize that sometimes all young children need is the present of your presence.  They don’t need expensive parties, lavish vacations or anything more than just your attention. (Disclaimer:  This is not especially true of teenagers.  Please do not leave nasty comments on my blog about your 16-year-old and how I don’t know what I’m talking about because honestly I do).
 
There was a very good blog that I read called “Don’t Carpe Diem” by Glennon Melton.  She said that the ‘Carpe Diem Thing’ (aka the hyperactive, salivating ‘Seize the Day’!) mantra didn’t work for her.  It was just too much pressure.   I get what she was saying too – what if you look back and every moment wasn’t Currier and Ives portrait perfect?  Did you fail as a parent? 
 
Her suggestion was to cherish the Kairos times in our lives.   She describes Kairos as God’s time, that which is metaphysical and magical and seems to stand still.   What a beautiful analogy.
 
I’m not telling you in that loud, caffeine crazed ‘Parenting Magazine’ manner that you are GOING TO LOVE EVERY MOMENT OF YOUR CHILD’S LIFE.   I’m not saying that I enjoyed every Christmas, Halloween, or vacation.  I’m not even going to tell you that parenting is a rockin’ good time and I never cried tears of frustration.  That would be a lie.  I too do  not want to cause more stress to young parents.
 
I will tell you that Youngest Son wore a pig nose headband that he made in storytime at the library for three days straight, until it fell apart.  This was during one very dull week in February many years back.  I still get a little choked up when I think about that cute face wearing a pig’s nose during nap time.   There was nothing about the incident that yelled, Carpe Diem! or WOW – did you see that?  It was just a really sweet moment in his life and I’m glad that I still remember it.
 
I’m just quietly whispering in your ear, “Pay attention”.  Enjoy small moments of grace along with the big events.  You’ll be happy that you did.
 

Plinky and the Art of Inspired Content

 

I miss blogging. Miss it, miss it, miss it. 

SOME bloggers are becoming famous and writing books and I spent two years wasting time going back to school.  I could have just continued to slap words onto a blog for free but instead I spent money that I’m still paying off.   I will consider that to be a mid-life crisis and move on, but, in the meantime, I’ve got a lot of time to make up.

I also have a very bad case of writer’s block.  Every time I sit down to compose a piece, I second guess myself.  I ask myself serious, angsty questions such as, “Will this offend someone?” or “Will anyone care” or better yet, “Do I care?” I worry that I need a ‘theme’ to my blog or that I need to only talk about one thing. 

This is where Plinky comes in handy. 

Plinky was designed for the struggling blogger.  It prompts you to answer provocative questions and “create inspired content” because “sometimes you need a push”.   To which I say, “Hurrah!” and add that there are many people I would like to push, but right now I personally need some help.

Okay, I am ready – bring it, Plinky!

Question 1:  If tattoos only lasted for one year, would you want one?
Answer:  Oooo, Plinky… such a question.  Why, yes, I would. I would have “Book Pusher” tattooed across my ankle and only wear flip-flops, even in winter. 

Question 2:  List 3 things you’ll never understand.
Answer:  Only 3? 
1. Why my dogs insist on taking my socks outside and chewing on them.
2.  Why I wore such awful glasses in the 80’s/90’s.
3.  Why Nicholas Sparks is so popular.

Question 3: What place seemed smaller after coming back to visit again?
Answer:  My laundry room, after every time I visit Pinterest.

Question 4: What are the top 3 things you want to do before you kick the bucket:
Answer: 1.  Write a book. 
2.  Go to Europe. 
3.  Get rid of the age spots on my face.

Question 5:  If you could make your pet understand one thing, what would it be?
Answer:  See question #2

Questions 6:  If you had the attention of the entire world for two minutes, what would you say?
That’s a trick question, Plinky.  I can’t get my kids to pay attention to me, do you expect the world to listen?
Okay, if I was going to pull this off, I would telecast a commercial with cute puppies over everyone’s television, cell phone and computer.  At the bottom I would have the following scrolling (in all different languages):

“Print preview is your friend”…”Nice matters”…”Entitlement is a sin” and finally…”God is coming – look busy”