Thursday, June 26, 2014

How Does Your Garden Grow?

From the Miami News-Record, June 22 (with a few extra pics!)
I have never been a gardener, nor been interested in gardening. It has been a long-standing rule around our house that I am not allowed to touch any potted plants or hanging baskets because when I do, they die. I moved to Stillwater at 19 and my mom sent a philodendron because, as she said, “You can’t kill a philodendron. Anyone can grow them.” When I moved back home six weeks later, along with a new collection of Eskimo Joe’s cups and t-shirts, I also brought my poor, dead plant. Last spring I received a hanging basket of beautiful pink flowers. I tried not to touch it, but I also didn’t want someone to think me rude by asking them to keep it away from me and whisk it off to the safety of my car before I had any effect on it. But I politely admired it and carried it myself and ….yeah, it died.

When we moved and I got this idea to plant a garden, my husband said it was a bad idea. He reminded me ever so gently of my plant-killing background. He was sweet about reiterating to me the fact that I do not have a green thumb. Yet I kept insisting, so he just went along with it and started tilling me a garden. He picked up some tomato and pepper plants and I excitedly called my mom from the seed aisle at Walmart because I didn’t know the first thing about what types of seeds to get - you know, because of the whole not-being-able-to-grow-stuff thing. Upon her advice I settled on yellow crookneck squash, okra, cucumbers, zucchini, peaches and cream corn, and green beans, then some jack o’ lantern pumpkin and watermelon seeds for the youngest (who actually does have the ability to grow things). I wanted eggplant and radishes and broccoli and lettuce and all the really tasty and wonderful things garden people grow, but no one here likes broccoli but me. And you can forget about eggplant – no one is actually sure they hate it seeing as how none of them have ever tried it, but they’re all relatively certain they do.
So. Hott.
We planted late because we were garden novices and had no clue what we were doing, but in our ignorance we saved ourselves some work because of the chilly spring freezes that took out a few gardens. Then when things started growing we had week after week of rain and things started looking pretty bleak out there. Enter the usual veggie-loving bugs and we all but threw in the towel. I didn’t check it for about a week, and then to my surprise one night we had pole beans in need of poles because they were attacking each other. After telling them to play nice while I unwound vine after vine, we drove in a few stakes, realizing quickly we needed more than a just “few” stakes. Paul took off for the shop while I pulled weeds. When he came back I could only laugh – he was carrying a cattle panel. Like for a corral. It actually works great and just kind of completes the redneck atmosphere we’ve got going on around our entire place.

Our little garden won’t win any awards, but we’re excited every time we find a new tiny veggie. I didn’t even bother with a scarecrow this year – I just grab my daughter’s pink Red Ryder BB gun and shoot the birds from the back porch window. I’m making a list of all the stuff we did wrong and things I want to try for next year and I’m finding that I actually like this new adventure and don’t mind the dirt and sweat too much. I find a strange peace while pulling weeds (and on evenings I’m particularly frustrated, it makes for a great stress reliever) and am in awe of seeing God’s handiwork firsthand in my little redneck garden with a metal cattle panel right in the middle.

Gardening ain't for sissies - or those who dislike dirty piggies.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

My Daughter, Myself

From the Miami News-Record, Sunday June 15
Of my three kids, I have two daughters. The oldest, Abby, is 17 and a half. She’s quiet, introverted, reserved, and sarcastic, doesn’t emote much, rarely cries, and would rather go through life just observing and blending into the background. She looks like, and is very much like, her father. The youngest daughter, Kady (or Bugg), is 12 and a half. She is loud, talkative, outgoing, boisterous, and emotional, loves being the center of attention, doesn’t know a stranger, and prefers her world to be full of fanfare, excitement, and noise. She looks like, and is very much like, me.

It took me years to fully appreciate our eldest’s quiet demeanor. She would rather be subjected to root canals sans anesthetic than speak before a crowd. This blows my mind. Why would you NOT want to speak in front of a crowd? Now, know this, I am an introvert – an outgoing introvert (Yes, we exist; look us up - we’re fascinating), but an introvert all the same. Our introverted personalities, scathing wit, ability to spin a yarn, and our utter intolerance for grammatical errors are pretty much the only personality traits we share. She hates chick flicks, I love them. I like sci-fi, geeky, nerdy, comic-bookish things, she laughs at me and all of my fellow nerds. I talk a lot, she does not. The list of things we do differently goes on awhile. We get along fabulously.
The youngest child is my mini me. We both have a strict policy that no one cries alone in our presence (something I inherited from my own mother and passed on to her – you ought to see the three of us watch “Steel Magnolias”). We love to hum, sing, talk, and communicate. We can read for hours on end and become totally lost in the story. We both have big feet. When we are mad and frustrated, door slamming seems to make us both feel better. We are both simultaneously scatter-brained yet strangely organized all at the same time. We fight. Constantly.
I knew we were a lot alike, but it wasn’t until this past week when I was helping her pack for church camp that I realized the depth of our similarities. She asked if I would help her organize her suitcase, a task she was more than capable of handling on her own, but she asked for my help and who was I to turn down quality time with my youngest before she headed off to camp? And as she whipped out note cards, color-coded for each day of the week of camp, each containing a list of the day’s outfit, color of flip-flops, bracelets and earrings, I busted out laughing. As a tween and teen myself, I would start weeks before camp, writing lists and making tags and labels for different pieces of an outfit. It was a bit of déjà vu. I mean, if listening to her cry over math on a daily basis wasn’t enough to make me realize she’s my spiritual doppelgänger, this freakishly organized packing ritual certainly was.
We do fuss a lot. Because we are so very, very much alike. We are both sensitive and emotional creatures and when you put that much passionate energy together, sometimes bombs go off. I slam doors in her honor and she slams them in mine. And after a particularly rough math lesson last week, as I fumed behind a firmly closed door at how infuriating she had just been to me, I was hit with a revelation: I used to infuriate my mother just as much. Because we, too, are so very, very much alike.
So while the relationship with one daughter has been easy from the start, I am now holding on firmly to the hope that the relationship with the other will get easier and stronger as we both age. Much like the relationship between my own mother and me.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Surprise Visits

I grew up with the notion that when you went to visit someone, you called first. It was the polite thing to do, I was told. We never spontaneously dropped in on someone when I was a kid and people didn’t drop in on us. My husband’s family, on the other hand, never calls first. They just show up. I went straight from my momma’s house to my own, so I went straight from forewarned to surprised.
For a young married woman, this was unnerving. I was barely 20 and trying to get my sea legs for homemaking. Then later, for a young mother drowning in diapers, toys, VHS tapes of puppets and animated dragons, and a house that was rarely tidy, this was the seventh level of Hell. I just couldn’t understand why they didn’t just call first and was always flustered and embarrassed we had to move a pile (or two) of laundry from the couch so visitors could sit. I died a little every time we just had to kick a path through Legos, dolls, and Hot Wheels so they could make it to The Couch of Laundry and Hidden Sippy Cups. The porch was always covered in dirty shovels and pails from our latest yard expedition. Wet swimsuits were hung over chairs and the “decorative” antique ladder that was only “decorative” until the new puppy decided to eat the garland of autumn leaves, knock over the pot of mums (that I would’ve killed anyway), and I won’t even mention what he did to the Jack O’Lantern.
Needless to say, I will never end up on the cover of House Beautiful, but if they ever decide to publish one called Cluttered and Disorganized, I am a shoe-in for their spokesperson.
The kids are older now and there aren’t many toys in our house these days. And aside from the classroom (which is always in disarray – because learning is messy) (that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it), the house isn’t as cluttered. Now I welcome the drop-ins.
And I am loving it.
For the first 21 years of our marriage we lived closer to my family – the family of warning calls – and now we are within two miles of pretty much all of Paul’s family – the family of surprises. If we go a day without a visit from someone we start to wonder if everyone has the flu. There is almost always a brother, nephew, or neighbor in the yard and the female counterpart to the guy in the yard can usually be found on a bar stool in my kitchen. Sure, I still have to stack up a pile of bills and receipts and move it from the bar so they can set down their sweet tea, and with two teenagers and a tween there is usually still a pile of laundry or two on the couch, but now that I have stopped worrying about the details I can enjoy the visits so much more. When I was younger I spent the visits silently berating myself for the mess, zoning out of the conversations while busying myself with cleaning up toys – and the conversations continued without me.
So today, at this point in my life, I am just…visiting. And now that I am tuned into the conversations and the precious people in my home I am aware of the goings-on, the news, the updates, and the whole reason they came to our house in the first place – because they love us. They didn’t come to judge my housekeeping skills, my ability (or lack thereof) to keep dust off the bookshelf, or to tsk-tsk at how the kids just tracked grass through the house after their latest water fight in the yard. They didn’t come to see our house; they came to see us. Which would be fine if they hadn’t caught me without makeup or without a bra.

Hey, I’m a work in progress.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Our First Graduate

For the past year I have been writing a weekly column for the local newspaper. As long as no one objects (and really, this is my blog so if you object, just don't read it lol) I plan to start sharing each week's column here. I'll probably share some of the older ones as well, seeing as how I'm working on lesson plans for the class I'm teaching this fall at our homeschool co-op, plus my own kids' lesson plans, plus keeping house, keeping my children from killing each other and various other glamorous things. As you might surmise, writing time is limited for me these days. 
Anyway, this is what was published a few weeks ago, the weekend of Abby's graduation. Just thought I'd share - and add a few pictures. 
Our oldest daughter graduated this weekend. Since we homeschool there was no cap, gown, Pomp and Circumstance, or walking across a stage. We didn't sit in a hot gymnasium or on bleachers at a football field – we just got together with our friends and family, ate some hot dogs and hamburgers, and celebrated a pretty amazing young woman. She got a diploma, of course. I debated long and hard about who to say the certificate was issued by. See, our school’s “unofficial” name is The Hoover Academy of Higher Learning and General Shenanigans, but I was afraid the line wasn't long enough to hold all of that. One example I read online was, “Her parents, Bob and Suzy Homeschooler”, but I was afraid that would just really drive home the awkward homeschooler persona. Eventually, I just decided on “Hoover Academy." It looks nice. And not at all like she completed a lot of her school work in her pajamas on the couch.
It’s been 17 and a half years since her birth and I remember it like it was yesterday. After a very uneventful and quick delivery, she was laid into my arms, a quiet — slightly blue — wide-eyed gorgeous papoose with black hair and eyes so dark her pupils couldn't be seen. She didn't cry, just looked around at us like we had seriously offended her by forcing her entry into the world. We were in awe. We fell instantly in love. She was a miraculous blessing, a thing of wonder, a promise, a fulfillment, a tiny piece of joy in a crazy, stupid, busy world. She rarely cried, memorized If You Give a Mouse a Cookie when she was 18 months old, carried her toy tools in her Elmo purse and drove her Barbies around in her Tonka dump truck. She was a good starter kid. She eased us into the crazy world of Parenting.
She is a Pre-K dropout, but completed her final two years of high school in one year. She is quiet and sometimes shy, yet she’s a force to be reckoned with. She is passionate. Few people possess her determination. She never feels the need to small talk, chit chat or just fill the air with unnecessary words, but will talk to you about important, meaningful things as long as you want. She is amazingly artistic and if she wasn’t scared to death we’d beat her until candy comes out, she’d be decorating the world with graffiti any chance she got. I marvel at the things that kid can create. She started her own hair bow business a couple of years ago and is responsible for many a little girl’s accessorizing. She has little tolerance for blatant stupidity, people who aren’t nice to animals and children, boys who don’t respect girls, and any green vegetable. My sister taught her the art of sarcasm, which she has mastered. She is kind, gentle, witty, wise, and has amazing hair.
So look out, world. We have unleashed upon you amongst this year’s graduates, a tiny little tornado named Abby. She has promise. She has talent. She has overcome bullies and haters and is more compassionate for it. She can make a mean grilled cheese. She can count back change. She loves Jesus. She doesn’t like to camp. She thinks ice cream and cheesecake are two of the best things on this earth. She is allergic to pretty much everything in the air around her. She wants to be a foster parent. She is simply wonderful and she’ll rock your socks if you’ll let her. She already rocks ours.

Congratulations, Abby and the rest of the Class of 2014. Here’s my advice: Be kind. Make a difference. Make good choices. (And when you make bad ones don’t beat yourself up too much. Just learn from it.) Go through this life looking for experiences that will make for amazing stories later. Look out for the little guy. Laugh – a lot. Make us proud.

We....the people

Originally published in The Miami News-Record, July 2020 Everything is different now. I’m not just talking about masks and social distancing...