Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Expectant Gardener and the Mystery of the Bonsai Tomato Plants

I am a new vegetable gardener. This May, I became a surrogate parent to multiple tomato plants. But, after 3 weeks in the ground, nothing grew. I checked and rechecked them, questioned my ability to judge whether they’ve grown, sought measuring devices and, finally, determined that I was a failure and filled my deep remorse by replacing the plants.

Those did not grow either.

It might be the soil that caused retarded growth. My husband, Fred, ordered 5 yards of top soil from a local “Dirt Dealer”--a guy in a hat and raincoat carrying an attaché case, who whispered the password, “Salsa.” To me, top soil means rich, dark, moist, nutritious dirt that my tiny seedlings would wallow the stuff you buy in bags. When Fred directed the truck and dumped the dirt in my raised garden bed, it looked more like road dirt to me. Or Moon dust.

But the plot thickens...

One day, mid-May, after my morning stroll around the garden, I saw two robin’s eggs lying near my tomato plants. No nest. No sign of egg yolk or embryonic bird. What could that possibly mean? Something's got my tomatoes by the roots...maybe that 'something' scared the eggs out of the robin?

...Which brings me to strange phenomenon number 2. Another morning stroll and I discovered what looked like a rabbit tail, minus the rabbit, amidst the squash. Are wild animal rituals being performed in my garden? Later that same day, I saw morning doves walking around the garden bed, pecking at the dirt. This makes me “puzzle” (like the “Grinch”)...and my puzzler is sore.

Oddly enough, there’s more.

We now have never-had-before tics in the yard. Without benefit of snow to mark footprints, I can only surmise that deer (wearing tic coats) are coming from out of the woods to look at my tomato plants...and to perhaps also party with the tail-less rabbit and the barren bird.

So, I’ve been watering the garden, despite animal refuse, and the parsley is yellowing—a tell-tale sign of an over-protective gardener. I put millorganite (hear: manure; hear: poo) around the plants and Miracle Grow-ed the buggars. Nothing grew.

As it turns out, even though it’s not freezing cold, vegetables (especially tomatoes) need heat to grow. Sure enough, as soon as we had a full week of over 70 degree temperature, things started happening. And...

After a 2-month-long labor, I’ve brought forth the form of 3 tender, green Roma tomatoes. The nagging fear that I accidentally purchased Bonsai tomato plants now banished.

There’s still the bit about the rabbit tail that bothers me...but that’s another blog.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cuts, Warm Air and Unemployment Beer

Fred has been out of work for almost 2 months now. Life on my tiny salary, plus his unemployment, presents new challenges. We have made some changes until things look up--before we have to start renting out rooms.

First, some simple cuts were necessary to help the budget balance. There are a remarkable number of “generic” products available out there. Some are just fine. Ketchup and mustard taste the same. “So-Soapy” shampoo works the same. “Ole’ Roy” kibble seems to satisfy our dog, Jasmine. But...when I made Fred a sandwich the other day, the texture of the no-name brand bread was what my grandmother used to call “cleechy.” That is...barely baked, chewy and sticks to the front of your teeth when you bite into it—full of holes and air. It looked like something you’d use to cover a wound.

“It’s AWFUL,” said Fred.

“That’s ‘Unemployment bread,’” I said, “too cheap to resist.”

And, for the present, Fred has given up on his favorite brand and started drinking “Unemployment Beer”-- which will likely make him pee blue and grow a white stripe down his back.

Second, we have started cutting down bills. If you visit us this summer, we’ll turn the air conditioning on for you. But if you just show up--you’ll see us limp, sweaty and fanning ourselves upstairs in front of my jet-engine 40s Westinghouse “Mobilaire” fan, or fist-fighting over the 3 comfortable seats downstairs in the T.V. room, where it’s nice and cool. Although...I hate to admit it, I do like the fresh air (be it hot) better than refrigerated.

I also called around and got better insurance rates for our cars, which riled our current agent, who grilled me about the new company and its policies to make sure I knew that they weren’t all the same. The old, “Make your customer feel stupid so they’ll come running back to you” tactic failed on me.

Lowering the cable bill was another move to hover just-above the cesspool of financial uncertainty. I called to see if there was a cheaper plan, and instead of cutting services, they reduced my bill! Apparently, there was a “promotional deal” just waiting for the asking. Time Warner REALLY doesn’t want to lose its digital cable box users--just call them!

Third---and probably the most sensible way we’ve been able to keep more money in our bank account, is by eating at home. Convenience snack food and restaurants were part of our lives for many years. Passing them on the street was hard, but after 2 months, I snapped into “Penny-pincher” mode, and remembered how to cook ‘big meat’ and use the leftovers for a variety of ‘offspring’ meals. De-meating bones is messy, but doesn’t really take that much time. If Jasmine is around, she can have the stuff I drop on the floor to supplement her “Ole Roy” farts-a-lot diet.

Life’s not so bad—until next month, when my gray roots are in full bloom. Fred will need a lot of “Unemployment Beer” to blur that image.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Field Trip Down Mt. Stupidity--Despite Warning Signs

I always help my kids’ teachers when I can—send in boxes of crackers periodically and purchase junk from kiddies during fundraising season. I recently volunteered to go on a field trip with 70 3rd graders for an All-Day, 3-Point Journey. The pre-trip instructions read: WEAR LONG PANTS/BRING BUG SPRAY. That was the first ignored sign...a sign I should have stayed in my hermit hole.

The theme of the field trip was “Rocks.” We reached Point A, near the eastern shore of Green Bay, WI. The children sat on the lawn and a savvy guide lead us all through some history and warnings. The following fragments stood out: decaying bridge-over-waterfall (sign 2), guard rails (sign 3), single-file decent (sign 4). Ignoring signs is becoming a bad habit.

Point B began with an over-capacity school bus filled with sandwiched children, 3 to a seat, an exit path packed with 25 parents, and ended with a sharp decline down a steep, slope into a quarry.

But Point C had the most rules:

1. “Don’t touch the poison ivy.”

2. “Gravity is at work. Use your muscles to keep you from going too fast down the bluff.”

3. “Don’t go past the igneous rock formation—that’s the “Falling Rocks” zone.”

4. “...Blah, blah, blah...single-file, loop around...stay close to cliff.”

There were a lot more rules, but once she said, “...close to cliff,” all I heard was THUMP, THUMP, THUMP--drumbeats of a quickening pulse. As we walked down the path, I did indeed feel gravity pulling me. I remembered:

“Lemmings follow each other off cliffs. You’re being a Lemming!”


“What goes down must go back up again.”

But all the other parents were doing it, and pride kept me from saying, “I’ll wait in my car.”

When we reached the bottom, the bus followed down a road to meet us. The children were running late, and they hurried on the bus. All the parents started climbing a vertical stairway back up the cliff. No parent was getting a ride.

The presenting staircase was tall and rustic. I muttered, “You’d have to be a Grand Canyon donkey to get back up that bluff.” We parents needed to get back up fast in order to pick up our kids from school. So...I started climbing the stairs...quickly. At stair 10, I started wheezing. By stair 50, parents were passing me, so I side-stepped and hugged the cliff to allow more room...brushing a poison ivy patch. I thought about crying, but I needed the hydration to produce the race-horse foam filling my arid mouth.

I did make it home, but next time, I’m having my ear banded like a repopulated moose, so someone can find me on Mt. Stupidity.

And I’ll be looking into renting a donkey named “Pride.”

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bits of Ego Survive following Tough, Slumber-less Child Party

I always wanted to be a “Kool-Aid Mom” and have the house where all the neighborhood kids wanted to go to play. I love children, but interacting with groups of them makes me feel awkward and un-cool. I have only two successful ice-breakers: making balloon creatures and hog-calling.

All activities I plan for kids either go way too fast, leaving hours of chaos, or they bomb. I had a piñata for my son’s birthday once, and the first boy angrily wailed on it until it opened. Once, I devised a “Pin the Tail on an Animal” game for my daughter’s 5th birthday party, where I made different tails for the animal body (pig tail, lion tail, fish tail, etc.), and gave each child a different one. But...they argued about whose tail was best and they all cheated and looked under their blindfold. I didn’t have enough prizes for 10 winners. Then they “booed” me.

My daughter, Krista, recently begged me to host a slumber party for her and 5 friends. I’ve been doing birthday parties for YEARS and YEARS. The ‘gut-feeling’ gremlin inside my stomach and the angel/devil on each of my shoulders were, for a change, all in agreement regarding the potential gaggle of girls and my not-so-confident captainship:

“Don’t do it. They’ll eat you alive...again,” they prodded in unison.

After much resistance, the party was scheduled and Krista invited several guests:

Folded-Arms Girl - wouldn’t participate in any of the 3 Ms (music, movies or makeup)

Painfully-Shy Girl - wouldn’t speak to anyone but my daughter

Passed-Out Girl – slept through everything past 8 pm, even my “Do you want me to call your mother?” reputation-tarnishing question delivered at 3:30 am, when ‘Folded-Arms Girl’ became rambunctious with a microwave popcorn bag on her head.

Overly-Sensitive Girl - wept twice (I still don’t know why), and bawled when ‘Painfully-Shy Girl’ spilled orange soda on a corner of her sleeping bag.

The Godfather - The pinkie-to-her lips “Dr. Evil”, who rallied the girls to her side and performed a coup. She even took over control of my dog.

One of the main activities was the “Decorate your Own Cupcake” course. ‘Folded-Arms Girl’ really got into this activity, and instead of making her cupcake pretty, started a contest amongst the other girls of “Who can pile up the most frosting?” ‘Painfully-Shy Girl’ took one bite of her cupcake mountain and ran to the bathroom...for 20 minutes. When I tapped on the door and said:

“Are you o.k.?” three times, each with increasingly urgency, she finally, meekly, squeaked out, “I’m fine.”

The high-octane cupcake sugar fueled “The Godfather,” who avoided all planned fun, enlisting our dog in “Attention/At East” exercises. At one point the dog slipped me a note that said, “Help me.” I sent one back that read, “Hey—tonight it’s every animal for herself. Bite her if you want.”

Following dog obedience, “The Godfather’ returned to the group, coaxed the girls into smearing the colored frosting all over their faces, like war paint. Visions of “Lord of the Flies” danced in my head. Even Krista fell under the influence of the dark side. Even Krista.

I, the living embodiment of the “Survivor” theme--outwitted and outplayed and outlasted, have given up on birthday parties. I’ll pay anyone, anything to do it for me next time.

Idea: Serve turkey, dressing and large quantities of cabbage—stuff that will make them SLEEPY.

Important Frosting Tip: Colored, decorator frosting available in tube form....STAINS skin.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Down the Frump Path

I spent most of my life doing my hair every day, making my face up and holding my stomach in. There’s nothing wrong with taking care of yourself and looking nice, but when you’re finally content with your life, you should be able to let your guard down and slip out a few belches once in a while.

Warning: Once you let that first audible belch out, you may find yourself at a T in the road. ‘Left’ is the way of eternal beauty, manicures, hair color and toned thighs; turning ‘Right’ leads down “The Frump Path.”

At the start of “The Frump Path,” the trees encroach like arches, filtering light through limbs decorated with tight jeans, Spanx, support hose, high-heels and various other elements of torture that newly liberated frumps have cast upwards in moments of jubilance. Eyelash curlers, gummy mascara wands and clip-on earrings dot bushes and ivies. Down a stretch, past the Recliner Forrest and into the Valley of the Slouching Posture lies “The Land of Comfort.”

“The Land of Comfort” is populated with boutiques and shops stocked with elastic-wasted pants, extra-large cotton sweatshirts and flat, sensible shoes. The bras in this utopia are not restricting or itchy or pokey. They are comfy and cotton and they close in front, creating a socially acceptable “uniboob” that offends no one. Women can purchase and wear peony printed swimsuits with swim-skirts and remain untanned, hairy and varicose-veined in broad daylight. There, makeup-less women, limp-haired and shoeless, can co-exist peacefully without being compared to stick models with silicone injected breasts; a “Frump Colony” where everyone is frumpy, and everyone is equal and no one cares what “Fashion Faux Paw” means anyway. On the horizon loom Muumuus, Kaftans and backless slippers that slap your cracked, dry heels when you walk.

Once you’re visited this most-righteous land, like “Shangri-La,” you can’t go back to the real world the same. You’ve tasted the fruit of self-acceptance...and it's sweet. When you love yourself, looking like Homer Simpson isn't the worst thing in the world. Eat that chocolate cupcake! Forget to shave your legs--ah, glorious freedom of being.

I am a frequent 'Comfort Land' visitor now. I think I saw my mother there. She was clipping the dead skin off her heel with a pair of manicure scissors, watching it fly through the air and land four feet away. My transformation into a frump is nearly complete. I’m starting to see the wisdom in being comfortable and not fretting about waning, outer beauty.