Tuesday, June 30, 2020

My Graduating Class Of 2020


Of all the quirky, off-putting, not-quite-right situations going on in our Covid-crazed world right now,  cancelled graduation ceremonies are near the top of the list.

Most kids dream of the day when they'll zip into an ankle length polyester robe, put on a coordinating square hat sporting a dangly tassel, and walk across a stage in front of hundreds if not thousands to shake hands with a stranger. As their name is announced, they will be handed an empty cloth-covered case, and the crowd will roar with approval.

Alright, I'll be the first to admit that's kind of a kooky tradition but darn if we all don't look forward to such a notable act of completion, and in that respect, I'm sorry for the graduates of 2020, high school and college alike, for the fact that they are missing out. 

So all the more was my intention to be sure that the graduates in my life were properly fĂȘted with that other time-honored graduation tradition of receiving envelopes stuffed with cold, hard cash.

Yes, as you may have guessed, the homemade graduation card is alive and well at my house, and I created quite a flock of them this year. 


^ First, I painted. I truly believe the psychotherapy profession and self-care industry would shutter their windows and close down forever if we all spent time every day with several shades of acrylic paint, a paintbrush, and a short stack of printer paper. This is a sublimely satisfying way to spend an afternoon, and it's no accident that I decided to make this my first step.

Rather than facing the unmasked masses, I decided to make do with the supplies I had on hand at home. I picked six pairs of similar shades of paint - two blues, two greens, two teals, two reds, two yellows, two pinks - layered them one on top of the other, and combed through them to create interesting lines. 

Yes, paint combs are a real thing, and just in case you don't believe me, I'll link you. Here.


^ Though I wasn't entirely sure of my design concept just yet - I mean, let's jump in with both feet and figure out the details later, right? - I was pretty sure I wanted black covers. So I painted some more. Black and white. And combed some more too.

It's insanely satisfying. 


^ Now that my therapy session was complete, my stress gone, and my chakras fully aligned, I started in on the math.

First, I wrote out the names of each graduate and counted the number of letters in their first name. 

Then I tallied the number of numbers. 

Wait. That's doesn't sound right. Oh math, it's so hard to put you into words sometimes.

What I mean to say is that I counted up how many graduates had 8 or 7 letters, 6 or 5 letters, and 4 or 3 letters. That number would drive how many pages needed in each book, as you will soon see.

In a first-ever situation, this year I had a graduate with a two-letter name. Boy, her card threw me for a loop. But we'll get to that later. 


^ Now at this point, my brain was throbbing with all these figures and I needed a break. So I cut the cardboard covers. That was easy. 


^ Next came the tricky part. Using the grid on my paper cutter to make the measurements, I cut watercolor paper to varying lengths, based on the number of letters in each name. 


^ Then I accordion folded each strip, using a bone folder to get super sharp creases because I'm all about those super sharp creases. 

Which probably goes back to the day when we used to iron creases down the front of our Levis. I don't remember exactly when that was a hot look, but trust me, there was such a time. And this fashion statement didn't work on just any old jeans. Had to be Levis. This may have happened during the anything-goes 70s but trust me, we had standards. 


^ Now it seems that around eighteen years ago, there was another hot trend - though this one had nothing to do with ironing your Levis. No, this fashion statement was all about giving your newborn baby a name with seven or eight letters. I sure had a lot of long names crop up on my list this year. 

And since my watercolor paper was not long enough to afford me seven-or-eight-letters-long strips, I had to do some splicing. 

And I'm extremely sorry to say that it was about halfway through this splicing step that I ran out of glue sticks. So work screeched to a halt while I placed a glue stick order for pick up at Target and dug around for a clean face mask. 

It was a while before I got back to work. 


^ But eventually the day came that I had spliced all my strips together, weighted them down with some big, heavy books called dictionaries and encyclopedias that we used to read in the past but now only use for weighing down things that have been glued.

I was ready for the next step.

On each folded page, I glued a background paper. For most of these graduates, who used to be my math students, I used pages from some old algebra textbooks. Now when my students opened their cards, they would see the old familiar font of their math homework problems and be horribly triggered. And then they would remember, "Oh, right, I'm graduated now and I never have to work another grizzly old algebra problem in my life." Sadly, that's probably not true but graduation is no time to burst anyone's bubble so I won't say a word about college level math. 

But a handful of these cards are going to graduates who were not my students, so I needed a different option for them. For the boys, I found a sleek and simple design that looked kind of like a model of a molecule, and for the girls, I drew daisies. 

* * * * *

Then, in a blur of late-night sessions of wild cutting and pasting, I snipped out the letters of each graduate's name from my painted papers and glued them over the background papers. One letter per page.

I also wrapped the cardboard covers with the black-painted papers, then glued and taped the heck out of them. 

Picking a second color to coordinate with the first, I made a simple pocket to be attached to either the last page - for odd-numbered names - or to the back cover - for even-numbered names. 

And just to go the extra mile, I sprinkled a few hole punches of the pocket color across the pages with the names. I'm all about telling a cohesive color story too. 

Which probably goes back to the day that for every shirt in my high school wardrobe, I had a color-coordinated necklace. The girl in my class who won Best Dressed that year, Dee Ann Maki, used the same strategy only with color-coordinated scarves instead of necklaces. I felt, then and now, that we were kindreds. 


^ Okay so here we are, 

accordion strips spliced and folded, 
background papers in place, 
names glued down, 
pockets at the ready.


This is a good time to just stop, breathe, and appreciate my work in progress. 

Besides, the next step requires ribbon. And that means another trip to the store.

So here's a question I often ponder. How long can you wear a face mask before it needs to be washed? 

And is that based on the number of wearings or the total hours worn?

Oh Covid. You're confusing on so many levels. 


^ Okay, deep breath. We're on the home stretch.

Attach the ribbon to the inside of the back cover with a whole lotta tape. 

From the two colors used on each card, cut out the numerals 2020 (or 2018 or 2019 - I'll explain) and glue to the cover. 

Now glue the covers to the backs of the first and last accordion pages. 

On bitty scraps of paper cut to fit the pockets perfectly, write out a small note of congratulations, And run to the bank - no mask needed at the drive thru ATM! - for some cash to stuff in the pockets as well. 

* * * * *


Ready for the final and most fun step?

On tiny strips of white paper, write a word that begins with the corresponding letter in each name and describes something special about that person. 

I love this process.

Oh sure, I could write "amazing' for every A, "excellent" for every E, and "intelligent" for every I. But what fun would that be?

Instead, I spend a fairly obsessive amount of time, poring over lists of personal characteristics online, debating the pros and cons of various adjectives - what exactly is the difference between "moral" and "mature"? - and trying to nail each graduate's personality as best I can. 

In the end, I glued the tiny descriptive words under each letter, and finally - at long last - my cards were done.

And now, may I present to you, my graduating class of 2020.



^ These guys are identical twins who have been friends of our family since they were five months old. We've spent an infinity of hours with them jumping on our trampoline, baking chocolate chip cookies, and watching Finding Nemo piled together on the couch. Now they are all tall and cool and teenager-y and when I'm out walking my dog over at the high school and happen to see them with their friends, I just nod and smile and try not to make a scene. But that doesn't mean I don't love them forever. Because I do. 


^ When my youngest daughter was wrapping up her career at our K-12 school for homeschoolers, there was a group of younger kids who started taking classes with me. As I went through the pangs of dealing with an empty homeschooling nest, these students stepped in and kept me busy doing what I loved to do. The oldest of that group has now reached graduation age, and Laney is one of them. Woohoo, you made it, Laney!


^ Lydia is a missionary kid who grew up in China and moved back to the States as a high school junior. Smart as a whip, she had some gaps in her math education and a big fat Algebra 2 credit that she needed to earn in order to graduate. The fates brought us together and this lady worked her tail off to wrap up the year with a solid A. Cheers, Lydia!


^ Madalen was another one of the kids I took on as my own homeschooling years were winding down. You know how, when a group of kids gets wound up and full of energy, there's often one who sits quietly at work, deep in her own thoughts, and apparently blissfully unaware of the nearby chaos? Yep, that's Madalen. 


^ In our family's homeschooling social circle was a family of ten kids and the youngest was Grace. I've known her since she was five, all big brown eyes and long brown hair, following after a crowd of older kids and silently watching the world spin around them. Now Grace is graduating from university and has found her own voice. It's been a joy to watch her unfold. 


^ Lily is another long-time family friend and homeschooling buddy. Many are the hours she spent horsing around with my youngest daughter while Lily's mom - my teaching partner - and I planned classes, troubleshot problems, and talked forever, as moms do. Lily's now all grown up and graduated from college with her nursing degree, and I can't imagine a better use of her smart and spunky gifts. 


^ I often teach math to multiple kids in the same family but not usually to siblings who are working at the same level at the same time. Esther and her one-grade-younger sister, Evie are an exception to that rule, and the three of us spent three years together in their living room, learning math and sharing life. I'm shamefully late in recognizing their graduations: Esther graduated high school in 2018. Evie in 2019. Both spent a year at a Texas bible school before pursuing their passions - for horses and cows, respectively - in ranch management. 


^ Quite often, I work with students who have a natural aptitude for math and work hard, but for one reason or another, just have not experienced that aha! moment when all their studies come together and ignite their brains with an explosion of algebra. Daniel was one of those students and during the year we worked together, it was a total joy to watch him catch fire. He also has a super cool gaming chair that he allowed me to sit in while I taught him lessons. Honored. 


^ Here is Jo, recipient of my first two-letter name graduation book, and all-around lovely person. She's the oldest of four, and while I worked with her for just a few months, I'm now teaching her second-oldest sister. So that means she's stuck with me for a while. 


^ I worked my way through the whole Smith family: first Makenzie, who graduated from high school years ago and has since wrapped up her bachelor's degree and in 2019, a master's in education. Next comes Isabelle, who graduated university this year, and third-born Natalie who finished high school in 2018. Yippee to all three of you for your dedication to math and your amazing hard work. So glad to be part of the family!


^ Last but never least is this lady, the youngest bio-sibling of her family and the fourth of the four kids to pass through my program. Just when I thought I'd worked myself out of students, this family was thoughtful enough to adopt one more and hopefully he will eventually end up in my tutelage. But there will never be another student quite like Danielle - I'll always remember explaining new concepts to her smart-as-a-whip brain as she sat intently listening while stroking the little black dog curled up on her lap.  

* * * * *


So there you have it, my graduating class of 2020. And now that my cards have been delivered to each of your deserving hands, you may grasp your tassels, graduates, and move them from right to left. You are officially graduated!

Sunday, June 28, 2020

My Anti-Racism Project

Scroll through any social media feeds these past few weeks and odds are very good that you'll find an avalanche of links to articles, videos, and news items filled with the voices of Black America. Which I believe is a very good thing. I've been doing my fair share of clicking and reading, but when I ran across this graphic, I was intrigued. 

Click here to go straight to the direct links. 

Yes. I'm always down for a good challenge, especially one with a scavenger hunt vibe, and since I had just the night before viewed the documentary 13th and could therefore immediately tick off Box #1, I was hooked. 

In the past week, I've worked my way through the first ten activities. 

All were interesting. 
Some opened my eyes. 
A few I'd already read/listened to but gained from a second time around.

None were a waste of my time.

So I'm excited to keep working through the list and see what else I might find.

* * * * *
As I've watched and listened and read through these resources, I've also thought back over my life to consider other experiences I've had that have taught me important things about what it is to be Black in America. And so, with all due respect to the fact that some of these selections may seem outdated or less than ideal allyship according to 2020 standards, I offer a few personal additions to the Anti-Racism Challenge.

There are probably newer and - dare I say it - better biographies on this amazing woman but this is 
the venerable old classic version that I read. 

In second grade, I smuggled this book out of the classroom library and kept it hidden in my desk to read on the sly when I had finished my assignments but my fellow students were still working. The circumstances of Harriet Tubman's life and her eventual work in leading fellow slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad set my little six-year-old world to rocking. My poor little brain could not understand why she had to sneak the slaves away; I could understand that their owners wouldn't want to lose them but wouldn't everyone agree that they should be set free? 

* * * * *

"We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like the waters and 
righteousness like a mighty stream."

Whatever words I choose to describe what I feel when I listen to this speech - the deep pain of freedom denied, the beautiful images of children of all colors hand in hand, the rhythmic cadence of the sentence structure, the powerful surging of emotion that crescendos to the close - will fall far short of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's masterpiece. All I can do is watch it, time and again, and let the tears stream down my face. 

* * * * *

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner poster.jpg
 I watched it again last week and understand my mother's obsession on all three counts. 

When I was a little girl, on very rare occasions, my mom would grant me special permission to stay up late and watch a movie with her. This movie was one of those extraordinary occasions, and I knew that she had a special purpose in inviting me to watch. Intuitively, my eight-year-old self understood that she loved this movie, agreed with the message, and was also crushing hard on actor Sidney Poitier. The plot is set in motion when an upper class white twenty-something shows up at her parents' house with a brand new black boyfriend, and announces their plan to marry. Both sets of parents struggle with misgivings and fear, but in the end, they come together to support the young couple. 

* * * * *

What I actually saw that day was album art and while I can't find the same photo online, this captures the same feeling as the original. 

I was eleven years old when I was first introduced to The Supremes. Oh, of course I'd heard their music many times before, as had any kid growing up within range of radio in the days of Motown. But it was that fateful day in the fall of seventh grade when I first saw a photo of the three incredibly glamorous and insanely chic ladies behind the music. And while I now can see that their appearances were clearly designed to fit the stereotypes of white culture, I can also say without a doubt that I saw them not as pretty black ladies but as the very epitome of beauty.

* * * * *

Easily one of my top twenty favorite children's books. 

Though this book was around when I was a little girl, I didn't come across it until I had little girls of my own. It's a delightfully simple story of a little boy playing in freshly fallen snow. the artwork is strikingly modern and bold. It's also recognized as the first full-color children's book featuring a black hero. And what I cherished most about that fact is that my daughters never pointed out the dark skin or made any particular comment about his racial character. He was just a cute little boy playing in the snow, and we loved him exactly as he was. 

* * * * *

Sadly, the band fell apart due to conflict and drug use, but when they were good, they were great. 

Growing up in the Motown years, my musical education was profoundly influenced by the black culture of the times. But even more powerful to me was the vision offered by Sly And The Family Stone, the first major American band to have a racially integrated, male and female line-up. And though I was still under ten during their heyday, the lyrics to Everyday People profoundly shaped my racial consciousness as well.

* * * * *

I've read it before, and I'm reading it again right now. 

Maya Angelou's debut memoir captures the pain and pleasure, mystery and madness, of her childhood in the deep South. Though her life is poisoned by bigotry and violence, young Maya learns of the healing power of words, and finds a way to fly free. I love this book, and others like it, that tells the ugly truth about racism and also the great soaring spirit of the human heart that finds a way to overcome. 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Accept The Gift


"Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, 
humanity cannot survive." -Dalai Lama

These are trying times, my friend.

Police violence.
Economic freefall.
Mandatory face masks.

And oh, let me just throw in the fact that here in the U.S. it's an election year with a highly volatile incumbent sitting in the White House who adds a layer of controversy and crazy to all the challenges we face.

There is no denying that these uncertain times stir up a variety of emotions:


We have every right to feel hopeless.

But I offer you hope. I'm tired, just like you are, but I see that light at the end of the tunnel. This nightmare will end, a better day will come, and we will look back on this time and say, "Whew! What a wild ride!" This season will not last forever.

But I choose not to wait for the future to find my relief. I don't want to keep holding my breath, afraid of what tomorrow will bring, angry about the turmoil that smacks me in the face every time I turn around. 

Today, right now, when I choose to reach out and take it, this day offers me love and compassion.

And I want to offer that love and compassion to you too.

Today, right now, we are here together on this earth, in this life, and everything is okay. 
Not perfect. But okay.

Now, if I'm wrong about that - if you are not okay today - then I want you to know that I'm with you. I offer you my love and compassion and helping hands.

I'm here if you need me.

Undoubtedly, we need more than love and compassion to move the mountains of disease and isolation and economic ruin and social injustice that we are facing. But love and compassion are the only things that make this life worth living. 

So I offer you today the love and compassion that we all so desperately need right now. 

And I hope that you will accept the gift. 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Shop Slow And Don't Settle

Last May, I challenged myself to a year-long shopping ban.

Inspired by a book called The Year of Less, in which millennial author Cait Flanders triple-dog-dared her over-shopped self to stop buying new things, I followed her lead by setting up some rules around what I was and wasn't allowed to buy as part of the ban.

It's only fair to say from the start that I've never been a runaway shopper. That's not a particular problem area in my life; I don't even own a credit card, let alone use one to overspend. So my goal in taking on this challenge was not so much to change troublesome behaviors but to better understand how and why I spend my money, and give myself some guidelines for making good choices while shopping. 

Now here I stand, well past the twelve-month duration of this project, none the worse for wear, glad that I took on my own year of less. And here are the two key takeaways that I learned along the way.

* * * * *

In the photos, I'll show you everything I broke down and bought during the year, and explain my reasoning. While I'll be the first to admit that I did purchase some things that were not allowed, I also did not get around to buying several things that were. 

^ The single biggest violation of my shopping ban was the purchase of these matching nightstands. The vintage nightstands we'd been using for decades were stylish and sleek - square topped wooden models with one drawer each and long slender Shaker style legs - but both my husband and I found that they just didn't provide enough real estate up top to keep us happy. After a long and intensive waiting period, in which I drilled my husband endlessly about his vision of the perfect bedside table, we landed on these just in time for the Covid sale at West Elm. No regrets. 

^ At the beginning of my year of less, I'd already been planning to buy a much-needed set of new sheets for my bed so I built that purchase into my shopping rules. Six months later, I finally pulled the trigger on these white linen babies from Garnet Hill. We love them so much that I bought a second set last month. They were a bit spendy but a sound investment. Gracie approves. 

^ When running errands with my second-born in Ohio last January, I saw this little kitty plate on sale for a couple bucks. Not sure if I wanted to yield to my whims, I carried her around the store while my daughter picked out some baking sheets. At the check stand, I decided to call her a souvenir and forked out my five dollar bill. Six months later, I'm still in love. 

Shop Slow

The goal of the shopping ban was never to reduce my wardrobe to tatteers, replace my furniture with wooden crates, or take away all my fun. In simplest terms, my intention was to eliminate unthinking consumption. To sharpen my reflexes at detecting and preventing emotionally driven purchases. To work past the intoxicating moment of seeing something that I like in order to rationally evaluate whether I want to invite that thing into my life. 

The shopping ban helped me accomplish that goal. I now do a better job of imagining not just the immediate joy of bringing some new thing into my life, but also visualizing how I might feel in three months, or three years, after bringing said item home. I think of other things that I've bought that eventually failed the long-term test, and remember the cold sensation of dissatisfaction that came from dropping that no-longer-loved thing into a donation box. 

I have gotten a lot better at picking up an object that I think I want to buy, holding it in my hands as I mull over how much I want to buy it, and then reminding myself of all the reasons that maybe I don't want it after all. More often than not, I can relax my consumerist urges, set the item back down, and walk away. 

And of course, the digital version of this process is to drop a beloved item or twelve into a shopping cart and then walk away. A twenty-four hour cooling off period helps me regather my wits.

I'm also a huge fan of thinking before I shop. Now I'll be the first to admit that I can take this to an outrageous extreme; I'll often find myself mulling over a purchase for weeks, months, even years before I finally pull the trigger. And while this can easily fall into a tedious practice of indecision, I also find it a sure fire way to make wise and well-founded purchases. 

The shopping ban has definitely helped me practice flexing my muscles of self-control, and I've become much more better at loving something but also deciding to let it go. This is the sweet secret of shopping slow. 


^ This corner of my family room has been lacking a lamp for a long time. I've wanted something warm and inviting, not necessarily of surgical suite intensity but with lots of character. One night, I stuck my head in my fourth-born's bedroom and saw the perfect specimen sitting up on a shelf. So I ordered one for myself. Though this was technically a violation of the shopping ban, and the Covid-era delivery took months, it was worth the wait. 


^ Ever since we said sayonara to our hideous family room carpet and welcomed in the hardwoods, our coffee table situation had been in a state of flux. After considerable trial and error, I determined that the room flowed much better without a big table in the middle of the couches, but with a couple smaller models, just big enough to hold a drink, a bowl of berries, and of course, the remote. This purchase wasn't in my shopping plan, but it made total sense for the room's function. So last fall, I sprung for the gold model on the left, and never looked back. 


^ So I was in Michael's the other day, waiting on my fourth-born who was picking out markers, and I stumbled upon this lil faux succulent arrangement. Fake plants are not my jam, but cute white geometric planters definitely are. And at 70% off, the price came in under five bucks. Eventually, I'll pry off the plastic greenery and reconfigure this as a home for a live air plant, but for now, I'm content to enjoy it as is. 

Don't Settle

In the past few years, we've been fortunate to take in many of our parents' former possessions. I've spent countless hours looking over serving dishes, art work, blankets, silver ware, coffee table books, dressers, end tables, pots and pans. And what I notice, as I run my hands across these old treasures and lift them to test their heft, is that they all have one thing in common.

They are quality.

Neither my mom nor my husband's parents were rich. Solidly middle class, for sure, and more importantly, careful with a hard-earned dollar. Throughout their lives, whatever they were buying, they bought the best they could afford, and invested in a small number of high value belongings, rather than flood their homes with chintzy clutter.

And so the things they have left behind for me are lovely, and my sense of quality has been reawakened by their treasures. 

Now that's not to say I can waltz out to any high end store I want and snatch up the Tiffany's and Tesla-level best that the world has to offer.

But it does mean that I can choose not to waste my money on low-quality products, even if they would give me that funny little rush of buying something, anything, that's new. I'm looking at you, Target Dollar Bins. I've learned to resist the temptation of novelty, and hold out for the best I can afford. 

In other words, I try not to settle for less. 


^ Plants and plant pots. These are my greatest weakness, and definitely my most frequent non-authorized purchase. But over the yearlong ban, I got better at choosing only the pots that I thought I would love forever (or at least a couple years) and resisting the temptation to buy something, anything! just to have a treasure to take home. 


^It's almost embarrassing to admit that I spent almost five years gathering the courage to pull the trigger on this puppy. Before I bought the new model, I was using an old and very basic cast iron Dutch oven at least three times a week, and while it got the job done, I desperately wanted - and deserved - to upgrade my game. After narrowing down my brand selection to Le Crucest - the Dansk model came in a close second - I was really stumped over color choices. On Black Friday weekend, I found a great sale price for exactly the size I wanted, and I knew it was time to decide. Red had been the first color I was drawn to, and I decided that was a sure sign that it should be my final choice. So here I am, finally united with my dream Dutch oven, and I have no regrets. 

Shop slow and don't settle. 

Those two mantras capture the best of what I learned in my year of less, and I'm excited to carry them forward into my future shopping adventures. 
* * * * *

Read all the stories from my year-long shopping ban and my decluttering adventures too:

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Got It Done

I blasted out of bed this morning with a fire in my belly and a burning desire to get to work. Today marks the first week of my official summer holiday and as much as I love teaching math, I've been itching to get started on the long list of projects and odd jobs that need doing around here.

But here's the thing. I don't actually make To Do lists.

Oh sure, in my head, I may keep a running tally of tasks I want to accomplish. And when they threaten to overflow my brain, I sometimes grab a marker and download them to my laundry room white board. 

Then I ignore them.

Because my favorite way to get motivated to get work done is to simply mill around outside and wait for a job to present itself to me. 

Now I must confess, somewhere deep in my DNA, I am driven to work. 

I love to work. 

All around my yard are cozy places to sit in the shade or lounge in the sun, always with a table nearby to rest a cool drink or a book, and another chair or two for someone to sit down and share the moment.

But the wild irony is that I have no desire to sit. I'd much rather pull the latest crop of weeds, trim back the dead rose canes, mulch the hostas, or do any one of the other hundred thousand things that need doing around the yard.

Which is why I don't need To Do lists to motivate me or direct my energies. I just go outside, wander around until inspiration strikes, and then get to work. 

One job leads to the next and the next...until the hours have flown by and my big brown-eyed dog is gazing longingly into my eyes, reminding me that walk time (and doggy dinner hour) are fast upon us. 

Today was a perfect case in point. What with the new fence project that just wrapped up in my back yard, the whole place had the look of an abandoned construction zone. Which is to say there was a lot of cleaning up that needed doing. Without any forethought or plan of attack, I managed to spend the whole afternoon in constant motion.


^ I'm a barefoot person. I chalk the habit up to my country upbringing, but here's the twist: even though I grew up toughening my tootsies on rocky dirt roads, splinter-filled wooden docks, and endless picker bushes, I now prefer to pamper my summer feet on perfectly smooth and flawlessly clean surfaces. So that means I spend obsessive amounts of time hosing and sweeping my backyard patio until it is perfectly, immaculately, ridiculously clean. Today, facing the fallout of the fence project, I fell into a major session. When every inch of the big stone pavers was once again sparkling, I set up my mom's iconic directors' chairs in their time-honored summer spot. 

Except now I really want to pressure wash the whole shebang. Maybe over the weekend. 


^ Here's another long look at that spanking clean patio, as well as the raspberries that I oh so carefully pruned and re-barked. The poor plants took quite a beating during the fence work, but now that I've tucked them in to fresh beds of mulch and pampered them with the soaker hose, they may just forgive me for the abuses they suffered under the heavy boots of the fencers. 

As I was working, I came across the first red ripe raspberry of the season. I ate it. And it was delicious. 


^ Oh, right, laundry. My washer has been on the fritz lately and the loads have been stacking up for a solid week. But the repairman came and worked his magic this morning so in between the outdoor chores, I kept the machines humming all afternoon. The bath towels spent some quality time out in the sunshine and Gracie cleverly worked their shade to her advantage. 

Good dog.


My vertical succulent garden is quickly approaching her fifth birthday, just as charming as ever. Over the years - and especially after the winters - she needs a bit of TLC so for the past month, she's been lounging flat on her back in the sunshine, allowing the latest generation of baby succs to settle their roots in the freshly topped-up soil. Today was the big day when we wrestled her back into place against the new fence and all is right in my world again. 

Favorite Thing #568 about my husband's work-from-home situation: Me yelling through the open window toward his desk, "Hey, when you have a minute, can you come to the backyard and help me for just thirty seconds?"

His standard response: "Uhhh, I'm on a call."

* * * * *

That's not all I got done today.

I dumped everything off the potting bench, carried it out to the yard (see Favorite Thing #568) to hose it off and scrub it clean, sorted through all the pots and saucers, old seed packets, homeless plants, and dirty tools that had accumulated there, discarded more than half of it, and put what remained back together, better than before. 

I put the finishing touch on my new raised planter boxes by mulching the tomatoes and strawberries I planted over the weekend, and watering everyone into their new happy home. Still to come: copper tape around the bases of the boxes to keep the slugs at bay.

But you can bet your bottom dollar that I won't be writing that on a To Do list any time soon. I'll get to it sooner or later, and then I'll add it here, on my Got It Done list.

* * * * *


P.S.  I sure don't need a To Do list to remind me to take Gracie on her walk every day. Today, we headed out right on schedule, around five p.m., and came back to her full dinner bowl waiting for her at the front door. 

Then, while she ate, I weeded out a couple small gardens near the front patio. Another job added to my Got It Done list. 

Friday, June 19, 2020

Foxglove Farm

A sample of this year's crop.

As June unfolds in my garden, I play my annual game of hide and seek. Foxglove - tall spires of trumpet-shaped blossoms in shades of pale pink - pop up in here and there, planted not according to my designs but by the whims of the breezes that blew last year’s seeds this way and that until they found a happy place to settle in and put down roots. 

These foxglove make themselves right at home. 

But of course, I’m the one who invited them here in the first place. Or more precisely, my mom. 

* * * * *

We were driving through North Cascade National Park in late spring, a pleasure tour of the local mountain range that was still mostly buried under many feet of snow. But through the foothills, warm winds had coaxed the wildflowers into bloom and in particular, the stands of wild foxglove were intoxicating. 

“Let’s get some!” my industrious mother suggested. 

“Mom,” I said sternly. “This is a National Prk. We can’t just help ourselves to these plants. “

“Well, I don’t know why not,” she came back at me. “Look at them. They’re growing by the thousands, right up along the edge of the road. It’s not like we’re traipsing through pristine alpine meadows to rip them out. We can pull over and yank a few out of the ground right along the side of the road.”

Hmm. They were so pretty. And she was right; there were an awful lot of them. 

“Just pull over. I’ll do the yanking,” my mom doubled down. 

“Am I pulling over?” my husband diplomatically asked.

I gave in. “Alright. Pull over.”

My mom wasted no time. She opened the back of my car, found a stack of old newspapers with which to protect the carpet because stealing plants from the guardians of nature is one thing but tracking soil into the back of anyone’s car is quite another. Thank goodness this was back in the prehistoric days before curbside recycling when we had to deliver our used newspapers to a recycling center and therefore often had a stash in the back of the car. For that matter, these were the days when we actually read old-fashioned newsprint rather than clicking and scrolling through the day’s headlines. Seems like a long, long time ago. 

Anyway, once the getaway car was properly prepared, my mom deftly yanked a dozen foxglove plants from an arm's length of the car, cleverly selecting a nice balance of colors, laid them out in the newspapers, then hopped back inside, breathless with excitement. Loose gravel shot from the tires as my husband gunned the Subaru back on the road, and we were off. 

Back at home, my mom and I tenderly tucked our stolen plants into my double-dug, well-composted garden beds, a far cry from their previous roadside accommodation. Though wildflowers often resist transplanting, especially while in full bloom, these foxgloves didn’t mind a bit. Not only did they survive; they thrived. 

And ever since, from that day to this one, the descendants of this flowers have multiplied many times over, gracing my gardens year after year with their impossibly tall spires and elegant tubular blooms. 

I'm glad I listened to my mom. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

My Beautiful Rescue

You know, I've tried to be cool about my peonies once again turning to mush in the infamous Pacific Northwest June rains. I mean, every year the poor things barely get a chance to unfold their delicate tissue paper petals when their magnificent multi-layered blooms fill with rain and melt into a mushy mess. So why should I be shocked or hurt when it happened again this week?

But I am shocked and hurt. I can't bear it that my plants labor all year long to produce these unspeakably beautiful flowers and within a few hours, they are utterly ruined. I feel somehow responsible for this tragedy. I want to save my peonies. 

Still, there's no stopping the rain, is there. I have to accept the good with the bad, another circle-of-life truth from Mother Nature's handbook and an unavoidable fact of our worldly existence, right? 

Well. Maybe.

But you know what. I've kind of fed up with life's unavoidable facts lately, and well put out by my outrageous inability to control what matters to me.

I can't defend the human race against Covid. Shoot, it took me months to even convince my own husband to wear his face mask in public. 

I cannot change the hearts and minds of my countrymen with regard to racism. Lord knows that if I could, I would.

And I cannot stop the rain from falling on my peonies.

Or can I?

This afternoon, my youngest and I were commiserating about our poor mushy pink flowers. I don't remember which one of us said it out loud first, but suddenly we realized we had a crazy, wild, radical, disruptive and highly workable idea.

Tonight's bounty. 
We left the still-closed buds in place to ripen in the intermittent sunshine until their petals unfurl and they become vulnerable to the never-ending rain. Then we will bring them indoors too.

We went outdoors, cut all my blooming peonies off, and brought them into the house. 

Now this may have seemed an obvious solution to my problem. But in normal circumstances, I'm wildly opposed to cutting flowers from my garden. Blooming flowers last so much longer when allowed to live out their natural lives attached to their stems, thank you very much. Once cut, they can only die.

But for my peonies, I'm making an exception. From now on, once their blossoms open, I will gather their fragile pink heads lovingly in my arms, and carry them into the sanctuary of the house where they can live out their lives under my roof, safe and dry, and gracefully grow old with me. 

I feel much better now.

U.S. Covid cases are still on the rise, and what we thought may be the beginning of the end is actually just more of the same. The coast, I'm sorry to say, was never as clear as we hoped it might be, and we must continue to live with the threat of the virus. How much longer until we can hope for a vaccine and a life beyond the pandemic?

Our national nightmare around race rages on as the body of missing Black Lives Matter activist Oluwatoyin Salu was recently found in Tallahassee. What will it take for people to stop hating and learn to live in peace? How many more will die before we extinguish this evil once and for all?

I don't know. I have no answers. Like everyone else on the planet, I've no choice but to live in the tension of unknowing, of dreading, of despair. 

But here at home, my peonies are finally safe from the summer storms, and I am thankful for my beautiful rescue. 

Dangerous Beauty

^ Ballerina rose by my front door, showing off with a blast of apricot beauties.

^ The purple Columbine fill my garden with their weedy offspring, but this pink and yellow version has perfect manners and stays obediently in her place, year after year.

^ Native foxglove roam freely around my yard but never wear out their welcome.

^ Ruffled rugosa rose smells as good as she looks.

^ This climbing white rose has moved here and there around the yard over the years; as one patch of sunshine shaded over, she demanded that I replant her in a sunny spot. About fifteen years ago, I finally got it right and she grows here in perfect contentment.

^ Double peonies are the prima donnas of my garden; I stake them carefully long before their massive blooms open, hoping to keep them safe during their high season.

^ More white roses, against purple geranium. I'm a fan of this pairing.

June is a glorious month in my garden. She unleashes blossoms of roses, peonies, and foxglove; countless layers of delicate petals, ruffled clusters of pastel perfection, exploding across the gardens in a symphony of extravagance.

Certainly every month in the garden has something to recommend, but June is the queen of the year. As spring crescendos into summer, I excitedly await her arrival and hold my breath as I watch the magic unfold.

And then I sigh as the realities of June come crashing down.

She's a cool, damp, and wet one, this Pacific Northwest goddess of early summer, and once her plentiful raindrops flood the lush blossoms, turn them to mush, and beat them down to the ground, the slugs slip in to take refuge. 

It's a game of dangerous beauty I have chosen to play, but even as I survey my soggy blossoms through the never-ending mists, I know it's a game that I'm winning. 


And Gracie, who loves a good drink of fresh rain water, is equally content.