A Bumper Crop

If anyone out there is in the market for poison ivy, honeysuckle or a nameless ground covering vine that will ruin your life, I have a bumper crop of them all growing right here in my yard.

After years of outright neglect, I woke up one day earlier this month and decided that I would finally transform my beds of invasive plants and weeds into something that can actually hold flowers.

So far, I’m about thirteen hours in and still going strong. I’m basically digging out everything and setting aside the plants I want to keep for easier access to the junk. Once a section is cleared, I go back to replant the things that stay. So it’s literally a few feet forward and a couple of feet backward.

The above pictured yard cart has been tamped down and piled high so many times, I lost track of the loads of debris carried off so far.

Surprisingly, I haven’t run out of steam or interest. It seems that this kind of physical labor has been good for my mind since all that digging, raking and tugging is good for working out aggression.

So, I come in filthy, tired and sore, popping a Tylenol on the way to the shower every evening. Plus, I have a sense of accomplishment as I fall into bed. That’s kind of neat too.

There’s something about ending your day covered in dirt to make you feel accomplished and better connected to the earth.

Writing About “The Other Half”

Yesterday took me to Columbus for an Ohio Bankers League Marketing Forum. It was a much needed break from routine and opportunity to gather practical ideas and inspiration.

We had a terrific moderator who started the day by leading us through a series of exercises to get the creative juices going. One exercise involved choosing from a set of writing prompts like “write the lyrics of a bad rap song” or “that day in Paris.”

I chose the prompt “the other half.” Here’s what I wrote:

The beautiful young man lives in the lap of luxury. He moves gracefully through a world of his own design. His meals are served on silver platters and exactly to his liking.

His days are filled with activities that soothe his soul. His day is occupied with studying nature, practicing yoga, long naps and other forms of self care. He is a man of means with seemingly unlimited resources and the cost of his extravagant life is of no consequence to him.

The young man is demanding of his staff yet forgiving of their incompetence. This can be a source of frustration but he chooses peace over anger, zen over impatience. Being a man of privilege affords him perspective and he chooses kindness when possible.

He is the other half. He is my cat.

So that’s what I wrote and I was pretty pleased with the results given that we had just a few minutes to pull it together.

Yesterday was a timely reminder that writing can and should be fun, at least part of the time. Most of what I write is utilitarian and the creative parts are often rushed. I really want to prioritize making writing fun again.

By the way, the writing prompts came from “642 Things To Write About” by San Francisco’s Writers Grotto. There are tons of books and websites dedicated to writing prompts so there’s no shortage of inspiration to help you get started.

Are you a writer? Is it fun or is it painful?

Packrats, Minimalism and Balance

There’s a shed in my yard that my dad built years ago. It looks like a small barn with a built-in workbench and a couple of corner shelves. There’s also a whole lot of junk piled up everywhere you look. Seriously, the door barely opens.

I spent some time in there last night pulling stuff out and shaking my head at the amount of junk that has accumulated. Mind you, I enjoy salvaging old stuff but there’s very little in there that merits salvaging. Rusted old curtain rods, disposable plastic flower pots, broken tools, partial bags of potting soil, pieces of siding and all manner of crap have the place bursting at the seams.

I made a very small dent and have a decent pile of stuff to go to the trash. So far, there’s not much to recycle. As I was pulling out things, I couldn’t help but notice that everything represented a choice over time. That choice was simple: “Do I throw it away now or do I throw it away later?”

And so I chose to throw it away later …. which is now.

Truth be told, I come from a long line of packrats. My dad may be their King but I suspect the generations before him were no slobs in this department.

At the risk of sounding like an enabler, I understand why we are the way we are.

I come from rural America. Southern Ohio is very Appalachian. We tend to have fewer resources here. The jobs don’t pay so well which means that we can’t always afford to buy something new or even hire a repairman when something breaks.

We were DIY’ers before influencers on YouTube told us it was cool.

Things have changed over time. Online shopping makes it so much easier to have a new appliance or lawn mower part delivered. Although, it wasn’t that long ago that you had to walk into the local hardware and have them look up your part in a paper catalog and then order it for you via a landline telephone.

We still drive thirty miles one way to buy a fridge, a pair of shoes or anything else you can’t buy at Dollar General, a small grocer, pharmacy or hardware. That is, we did until credit cards and online shopping made it so we don’t even have to leave home for these purchases.

Still, that all requires money that many people around here don’t have.

So we still tend to hold onto things. If your mower breaks and you buy new, you keep the old because you or a neighbor could salvage parts from it. Dad’s garage is like some kind of magic genie bottle. I once bought an antique radio that was missing a knob. He dug around a bit and found exactly what it lacked. This was a particular victory for him and one we won’t soon forget.

I’m not as bad as he is but I do struggle with letting go of things that might be repurposed. This is evidenced in my craft room where scrapbook supplies, bits of ribbon, stray buttons and scraps of fabric mix in with home decor items that occasionally get reimagined.

Social media is full of minimalists who tell us to keep our surfaces clear of clutter and to not stash away in a closet or drawer something that really should be tossed in the trash. They say you need just one plate, bowl, fork and cup for each person in your house and that your cupboards shouldn’t be full of extra food and stuff you don’t need this week. They tells us we will be lighter, happier and better off if we aren’t weighed down by stuff we don’t need.

This concept is tempting and so lovely but so foreign as well. I can’t help thinking that many of these people have never known true need. They’ve never been snowed into a country home where there’s no food delivery service and where the nearest grocery is several slippery miles away.

They don’t know what it’s like to break the heel on a pair of dress shoes and have to wait for replacements until you drive to town or until Amazon can ship you a new pair. The old scuffed up heels that are languishing in the back of the closet will come in handy for work until new can be acquired.

In my case, the building looks more like a hoarder’s paradise than anything useful and it is appalling. My dad at least keeps things that could be useful someday.

Once I finish cleaning out the building, Dad and I are scheming to repurpose it into a potting shed with no longterm storage. Meanwhile, there is still a lot to be done and I fear losing steam to do it before the bees, snakes, spiders and other country critters lay claim to it as the weather warms up.

While he hasn’t said so to my face, I suspect my dad is laughing and wondering who’s the packrat now.

That Moment

You know that moment when you realize you should have just stayed in bed? This was that moment for me yesterday.

At approximately 7:35 a.m., a terracotta flower pot flew off the bookshelf, taking with it the African Violet and crashing onto the window sill where it smashed into several pieces. Soil and plant, no longer contained, ran everywhere.

That plant was a gift from a coworker when she retired last year. It has done ok but hasn’t had a great life with me. Evidently, it believed life wasn’t worth living and decided to jump. Either that or the books conspired to force it off their shelf. Maybe it was an assisted suicide?

Dirt permeated the carpet, the crevices in the windows and the books nearby. You know I salvaged the books first. Luckily, I had killed another plant about a month ago and already had a replacement flower pot handy. So repotting this sorry little guy was easy.

In case you’re keeping track, I HAD five plants. One I evidently murdered through neglect and one decided to off himself. Now the violet that got such a hard start in life with me (see the link below) is nursing an injury. Meanwhile, the Christmas cactus, gifted to me by well meaning but misguided friends, is just trying not to call attention to itself.

I’m happy to report that Scout’s catnip plant is thriving but have no idea how this is possible given the abuse it takes from him every day.

Read about the African Violet’s sad introduction to life with me here.

Some days you’re better off just staying in bed. I fear the plants are wishing I would stay away and send them someone competent to tend their needs. Honestly, it’s hard to blame them.

I Ran Away

I ran away from home for a few hours Saturday.

Life in the country comes with benefits and inconveniences. One of the benefits is that you’re surrounded by sounds and sights of the forest. One of the inconveniences is that those beautiful trees and their branches sometimes fall and damage power lines.

We’ve had regular wind storms for the last few weeks, causing frequent power outages. We lost power Saturday morning. Then it came back for a while and blew again in the afternoon.

It’s hard to clean, organize or do much of anything in the dark so I sat in a chair near the window to read. And promptly started to fall asleep.

Suddenly, I was irrationally angry to be wasting yet another weekend, sitting in the dark. Hiking wasn’t safe even though I badly wanted to get outside. It was too late in the day to find my way to a city with a museum or something interesting to do. I’m So I messaged my cousin Sherrie and invited her to join me for some treasure hunting and dinner in Athens.

We went to Peddler’s Junction where I found some bargains including this sweet little Dutch Girl, a Madame Alexander doll that is pristine and in her original packaging.

These nesting dolls were a bargain at just $3. I had admired some at a shop in Ligonier, PA two Christmases ago but they were beyond my budget.

Ephemera like these cards are some of my favorite things to collect. These small pieces of art that are easy to display and change out for the season. Plus, storage is easy.

If you look closely at the card on the right, you’ll see feathers on one duck’s tail. The middle piece has a hinging neck while the birthday card on the left has some fun details inside. They just don’t make cards with such care and attention to details today.

Sherrie and I had dinner and hit a couple more stores before calling it a day. Power was restored and life was good again.

Sometimes we need to lean into the obstacles and find ways to work with them. I have spent a lot of time this year happily resting and reading. But sometimes we have to stand up and say “not today” and go look for something else. Yesterday took an unexpectedly fun turn.

I’m glad I shook off the sleep and took charge of my day.