Male Pattern Blindness

I may have mentioned this before, but *men and women see things in different ways. Men are wired to see the big picture, not the details; they have all the skills they need to defend and protect their loved ones, kill the beasts and then haul the meat back home to feed the family. Women are wired to see the details and then the big picture. While we women are very appreciative for the winter’s worth of meat, we also see the bloody drag marks on the floor, the bits of skin and hair that have to be cleaned and separated to pound them into leather for clothing and weave the coarse hair into rope. Then there’s all that rendering the fat for making soap, bones to shape into needles, utensils and so on. Of course there is also all the meat to cut up, cook, salt, wrap, store, etc. All this goes on while the men settle around the fire, whack each other on the back for bringing down the beast, clean and sharpen their spears, and then eat hugely of the beast. They follow this up by singing warrior songs while picking the gristle out of their teeth, tell more tales and then fall asleep by the fire, snoring and farting the night away.

To this day, men do not see the enormous dust bunnies tumbling under the kitchen table, the long strings of cobwebs dangling from the ceiling, the fact that both the toilet paper and paper towel rolls have one sheet each on them, or that the cup of stew they put in the ‘fridge for ‘later’ is now a science project gone horribly wrong. Nor do they notice that there are no forks or spoons because they are all dirty and are in the dishwasher (which by the way, still has the CLEAN sign on it). They cheerfully park the car in the driveway, leaving all the windows down and the keys in the ignition–and go to bed. And dirty clothes? They have been dirty for so long that they have formed a civilization of their own and have already split into rebel colonies and are  plotting to overthrow both the washer and the dryer.

I’m being a little over the top here, but you get the picture. If you ask a man to change a tire, they will do it in an instant, and you never have to worry about the lugnuts falling off (something you would worry about if I did it for you). Ask them to check a leak in the ceiling, and they jump to do it. Need a hand moving? They are right there, hauling and heaving every box, basket and piece of furniture you have. It took me years to figure this out, but here’s the main thing about men: they LOVE a project. They would rather build something, tear something down, haul something away or shoot a moose; these are concrete things that men can get their teeth into.

But ask them to sit down and spill their feelings, or give their opinion about the skirt you just bought, or ask them how they feel about petite fours; well, that’s a little outside their comfort zones. Men think big, and we think about all the tons of small stuff that eventually makes the big stuff. I believe that  this is why we huddle together in the darkness; men want to do big things, protect what’s theirs and do all the heavy lifting. Women want to nurture the kids and animals, tidy up all the endless crap we accumulate, and hold down the fort.

Funny system, but it seems to work for us humans.

*Now before you comment-bomb me about stereotypes, please realize that this post is based on what *I* think. You are absolutely free to disagree or just not read the post. I swear it won’t hurt my feelings.

 

The Positive Power of Encouragement

How many times have we been in a situation that seemed so hopeless that we just wanted to walk away from it? The feeling that we just can’t go forward or backward is debilitating and destructive. It makes us doubt ourselves, and, if we’re not careful, we begin sliding inexorably down that slippery slope of apathy and fear. So before we hit bottom, we need the right encouragement to climb up and try again.

I used to be a Tae Kwon Do and self-defense instructor, and one of the hardest things I had to teach my students was how to keep a positive mental attitude and to fight self-defeat. We were a strictly non-contact school, so the art of sparring was a combination of skill, control and focus. Many students became discouraged; just learning the basics of Tae Kwon Do will make you feel utterly uncoordinated and terminally clumsy. It takes a while for your body to catch up with your mind. So each evening when we came to the sparring (fighting) section of the class, lack of confidence was a real issue.

We held a big competition each fall where students competed in several areas, including sparring. Any students who wanted to compete, from white belt all the way up to black belt, were welcome. When it come to practicing for the sparring matches, it was nerve-wracking to watch these kids fight their own demons of self-doubt and fear. Of course they took it very personally when they lost a match, especially close to tournament time. There were many tears, lots of frustration and some students dropped out all together.

I had two wonderful co-instructors, and we put our heads together to figure out how to get our students ready physically and mentally for the tournament. We came up with a good battle plan: we paired up all the students who would be competing, and we split the rest of the class in half. We told each half that they were going to cheer for their own guy in the match; the louder, the better. We brought out the first sparring partners, Ray and Donny. Ray was a good head shorter than Donny, both third-graders and white belts, and both scared to death. While one instructor started the match, the other instructor and I headed the two cheering teams and whipped them in a frenzy to support their competitor.

Our dojo echoed with “Go, Ray, GO!” and “Donny, you can do it!” and “You’re gonna win this one!” and “We’re right behind you!” The match ended, and both boys were red-faced and grinning from ear to ear. We asked them how the cheering made them feel. Donny said, “It felt great to hear my name shouted out and I felt like I could do anything.” And Ray, the short kid? For the first time since he started the class, he held his head up and looked me straight in the eye. He said, “No one ever cheered me before. It was the BEST!”

Well, at that point I left the other two instructors in charge while I slipped into the bathroom to pull myself together and stop crying. By the time the tournament came around, Ray and Donny both won trophies in their sparring division; Ray a first place and Donny a second. They went on to become best friends, and they went all the way to black belt. When they passed every test for those black belts, they were soaking wet with sweat, breathing heavily and totally worn out. But they wore identical grins and held each others hand up in triumph when their names were called to receive their hard-earned black belts.

I taught for 10 years, and over that time I had a lot of students thank me for getting them to black belt. My answer was always the same: “YOU did it on your own. All I did was teach you the techniques.” The students, whether or not they made black belt, all left with something they didn’t have before: confidence and belief in themselves. We didn’t teach them that; their fellow students did. Each year the preparation for the tournament included cheering the competitors. They felt that they could not fail with all that support behind them. And when they lost a match or didn’t win a trophy, of course they were disappointed, but they all went home feeling the love and support from their class. What I and the other two instructors learned was that a little encouragement goes a long way. Once you know that someone believes in you, you can’t help but start believing in yourself, too. And once you know that, you can face more challenges and win, remembering that first time you knew someone had your back.

*This post was inspired by Phyllis Ring whose “Leaf of the Tree” posts inspire me, especially her latest, “The gift we’re glad to see returned.” I highly recommend reading her at http://phyllisring.com.

Would You Want to Read About YOU on Social Media?

Back in the prehistoric times when I was growing up (and rode a mastodon to school), everyone read newspapers. Not everyone owned a TV (black and white, no color), most owned a radio. But the day-to-day stuff was in the papers. The standard by which we were raised regarding bad behavior was ‘would you want to read THIS about yourself in the NEWSPAPER?’ If you by some amazing chance had your picture in the paper for any good reason, you took pains to look your very best. I don’t ever remember ever seeing mug shots of guys with black eyes and broken noses, or skeevy-looking women who’d left their toddler in the car with the windows up on a hot day. That just wasn’t done.

Now in the age of rampant social media, everyone’s a star. You could be sitting in your own car, minding your own business at a stop light, absentmindedly picking your nose–only to see a video of yourself later on that day as an unwitting star  ‘gone viral.’ No one bothers to ask anyone if it’s ok to do this; they just post it. And there you are, in Internet Hell, picking your nose for all technological eternity.

Social media has become the “newspapers” of today. You can post a “selfie” (BTW, I really hate that word; they ought to call it a “selfish-y”–from the ‘it’s all about meeeeeee’ folks) anywhere at any time. We now live in a minefield of endless minutiae. I once belonged to Facebook, and I lasted all of a week. I had thought it would be a good way to advertise my Etsy site (www.janesjools4u.etsy.com), connect with folks with whom I’d lost touch, etc. But no–after I “friended” a few people, I found posts on my wall from people I never heard of–they were friends of the friends I’d friended. The posts ran the gamut from “Dude, the sushi is AMAZING at So-So Sushi on Endicott and Main!” to “Did anyone see Natasha’s gorge dress at Trinity’s last night? OMG!” (Who is Natalie? What does ‘gorge’ mean in social media? Why am I getting these inane posts??) So I ditched Facebook the next day.

Those of us who grew up in non-technical times, the willingness to offer up all kinds of personal information is, well, scary. We tend to think of the long-term effects of things like posting a “selfie” of yourself stoned, drunk and half-naked for the world to see. Perhaps a few years down the road when you are interviewing for a great job, taking the bar exam, perhaps running for office–is that the picture you want your future employer, instructor, constituents family, etc. to see? Also, why in the world would you announce to the world that you’re going away for two weeks and looking forward to “having an AWESOME time??” I am assuming that all the con artists, thieves, etc. just love social media; it makes it incredibly easy to pick their targets.

Unlike the newspaper, which can be read and then burned, thrown out or used for fishwrap, anything on the Internet is FOREVER. I’m just saying: think first, post (or not) later.

 

 

Would You Rather Be Right or Happy?

I’ll admit it–I like Dr. Phil and his show. I especially like his sayings, such as “I don’t care how flat you make a pancake; it’s still got two sides.” My favorite, however, is “Would you rather be right or happy?” This one usually comes up when family members are fighting; one person wants to be right more than they want to fix what’s wrong. No matter the considerable expense to the happiness and health of the relationship; they must be right. The other person, weary of the fight, usually decides to just give in so that the “right fighter” will shut up and go away, and then fume for days over being bullied.

Make no mistake: this really is bullying, too. Of course the right-fighter is wrong some of the time, but there is something in them that desperately needs to win all the time. It’s a shame, because over time, the person on the receiving end may build up enough resentment and anger to decide that they don’t need that relationship any longer. The good Dr. Phil has endless resources to help the right-fighter situation; however, we who are not on the show don’t have that luxury. So sadly, many relationships run aground.

I speak as an ex-right-fighter; I just had to be right. I was obnoxious, rude, pushy, and couldn’t understand why everyone around me wouldn’t just do things my way; the obvious “best” way. As Dr. Phil would say, “So how did that work out for you?” Not well at all. But I can tell you the day that everything changed for me and I stopped being a right-fighter.

Back in the late 70s my best friend and I shared a small apartment. It was a lot of fun, and we had a great time merging our stuff and decorating. At the time, I had a great hairdresser who always made me look terrific, and I went to him religiously each month (short hair = lots of hairdressing appointments). On the day of MGE (My Great Ephiphany), my friend came with me for my haircut because we were going to go to the movies right afterward. To my surprise, my hairdresser wasn’t there! The other hairdresser, a nice guy who alternately cut hair and set up appointments informed me that my guy had quit to take another job in another city.

Well, I had a major meltdown. I screeched at that poor guy like a fishwife, demanding to know why I hadn’t been called about this (as if that would have changed anything), and so on and on. The man tried to explain that he would be glad to take care of me, which made me rant even more. I was so filled with righteous indignation that I felt I was justified in making the scene I did. I ended up storming out of there, loudly vowing NEVER to return.

It was at that moment that I remembered that my best friend was with me. She had a look on her face I had never seen before, and said, “Why do you always act like a jerk when you don’t get your way?!” I was gobstruck. I swear that it never occurred to me that I might just be wrong about anything I felt right about. I just assumed  it was a some kind of universal law that everyone around me would agree with–right is right, right? Uhh, NO.

I realized in that second what an ass I’d been, and I felt mortified and very ashamed. My friend and I went straight home; no movie, no talking, no nothing. Being so new to not being right, I didn’t think to call the salon and apologize for my horrible behavior. I did apologize to my friend, though. I wish I had had the maturity at that time to tell her how grateful I was for her speaking up and ending my bullying behavior. Her words changed me powerfully–and made me take a hard look at myself. Even though I was raised to be considerate of other people, I somehow felt that being right trumped being decent. I was wrong.

It’s one thing to have a total stranger reprimand you for bad behavior, but quite another to hear it from someone you love and respect. I am very lucky that I didn’t break that uniquely beautiful friendship, and that my friend gave me a new outlook and a new chance. To this day I stop myself when I hear the “right-fighter” in my voice. I’m not the smartest person in the world, but at least smart enough to remember the day of MGE.

If you are a right-fighter now as I was, there is hope. Each time you decide to argue someone to the mat about what you believe is right–STOP. THINK. EVALUATE. Is the person you’re trying to convince someone you care about? If so, realize that the extremely brief satisfaction of beating them into the ground has a long-term toxicity rate. You will pay dearly in both the short and long term. But if you think it’s worth it, go ahead. Just remember that you will pay the price sooner or later.

It reminds me of the old saying, “Buy in haste, repent at leisure,” which if you’re a right-fighter, can be rephrased as “Be right now, wrong FOREVER.”

 

Different is GOOD!!!

When we are young, we want to fit in so badly we will do almost anything. Whatever the fashions are in at the moment; we want to wear them and more importantly, look GOOD in them. If gold scarab bracelets are in, we want one. If the latest boy band, *Testosterone Rodeo, is playing in town, we want front row seats. If long hair is in, that’s what we want. If uber-short hair is in, we can’t cut it off fast enough. If thin is in, we will subsist on one cracker with diet peanut butter plus 10 glasses of water per day to get thin. See where I’m going with this? It takes a superhuman effort to be different at that age, and many just can’t do it. When we are young, we don’t always have the strength of character we develop later on in life.

As they say in the ads on TV and social media, just hang in there. It DOES get better, and you DO find your own style, your own way and your own voice. Look at all the different types of people there are–a magnificent explosion of size, shape, color, background, history, language and so much more! How much we miss if we don’t take the opportunity to appreciate all that wonderful diversity.

These days it is not at all unusual to see multiracial families, parents who put their names in to adopt only Downs Syndrome kids, gay couples who spend lavish amounts of money to adopt children from foreign lands, grandmothers who are raising their grandkids, people who make room in their lives for disabled teens, and the list goes on and on and on.

When I used to go to church I met a family, John and Lillian Messone (not their real names), who had adopted two Swedish/Japanese girls. They couldn’t have their own children, and they desperately wanted them. So they took these two little sisters into their home and their hearts. Through the grapevine, they heard of a 13-year old Latino girl who had given birth to a baby boy. Her family threatened to disown her if she didn’t give the baby up. John and Lillian adopted the baby, whom they named Jacob. Even at four months old, Jacob knew what it was like to be hungry, and all of us in church grew to recognize his hoarse and heartbreaking cry. That stopped quickly once he realized that he would never be alone or unwanted or hungry again. By the time I had moved on, Jacob was a husky, funny and endearing two-year old who kept his older sisters busy chasing after him.

And their story didn’t end there! John and Lillian took a trip to China to adopt a three-year old girl who had been abandoned on a bus. When they got there, a five-year old girl named Jade (who had been abandoned on a train) had befriended the little girl in the orphanage.  They looked at each other, then at the director of the orphanage and said, “We’ll adopt them both.” So it happened that two brunette and hazel-eyed parents who wanted children ended up with two blonde and blue-eyed girls, a dark-eyed olive-skinned Latino boy and two beautiful golden-skinned Chinese girls.

More about diversity–there is the whole size issue. We humans come in all shapes and sizes. We can be as healthy and fit as possible, and still not be “fashionably” thin.  We can be tall and gangly, short, muscular, gaunt, pear-shaped, apple-shaped; you name it. There are those who have been born with birth defects, or have suffered accidents, lost limbs, and so on. But we all breathe the same air, we all need encouragement, love, companionship, joy, and we all need to be valued for what and who we are. No matter what we look like, we all bring something worthy to humanity’s table.

Instead of us all picking each other and ourselves apart for our supposed deficiencies, how about we celebrate all of our wonderful differences? If we have a gap-toothed smile and freckles, celebrate them! If we are older and we have smile-wrinkles and age spots, celebrate them! If we are curvy, celebrate those curves! Big feet? Celebrate them! Curly hair when you wanted straight hair? Celebrate those curls! Big boobs, big butts, big legs, celebrate them! Small boobs, non-existant butt, knock-knees? Who cares? Celebrate them! When we hear disparaging remarks about ourselves; our size, our color, our sexual preference, etc., it is all about the person speaking, NOT ABOUT US. Whatever fears, doubts, inequities they feel about themselves, it bleeds off some of their pain to attack us. Let’s not hate them; just feel sorry for them. Life is way too short to waste time in tearing each other down, or worst of all, tearing ourselves down!

Different is good, different is special, different is wonderful, different is a testament to the glory of all the diversity on our little ball of mud. When I begin seeing and hearing about people celebrating differences, it gives me hope. I believe that we live in a time where we are slowly coming to the realization that we do not all have to be alike to like each other. Despite all the intolerance, hatred, bigotry and cruelty we see happening around us, there is also a growing groundswell of change. There is the start of a universal sea change, one that is more about fixing what is wrong, healing what is hurting and helping to build up ourselves and others in every way. The hand that reaches out to clasp another both gives and receives warmth. This is “different” in action.

So how about we just put aside those old Madison Avenue templates of what the perfect man and woman should look like/be like (and if any “Madmen” are reading this, I apologize if I’ve insulted you)? Let’s put down that poisonous glass of haterade and just enjoy being who we are and let no predetermined stereotypes stand in the way of our fabulous diversity!

Different is GOOD.

*This is just one of my made-up band names; this one is for guys. For girls, my group name is Estrogen Tornado.

How About We THINK Before We Speak?

How many times have we had something wonderful happen in our lives and we just couldn’t wait to tell people about it? And how many times have we broken our amazing news to someone, only to have them say, “Well, that’s nice for you….but how about all those people who aren’t as lucky as you?” ……Really? I’m not sure that this type of response meets the official passive-aggressive title, but it sure is a big old downer. Buzz-kill city!

I know it’s tough if we personally are struggling with money problems and the person next to us has just hit it big in the lottery, but does it hurt to just congratulate them and walk away? This is one of those times when it is NOT about us, but about the OTHER person. Can we not lay aside our own fear, anxiety, jealousy, and sourpussed-ness to just be happy for that person for a brief moment? Seriously, how hard is that? And selfishly, it actually lifts us up in a way. You can walk away from that happy person knowing that:

  • You shared their joy.
  • You put yourself aside to congratulate that person.
  • You became bigger than your own concerns.
  • You didn’t sour their happiness with your own problems.

This is another one of those situations where laying aside our own cares and worries can actually benefit us. It’s a lot like seeing a feel-good movie (I suggest “While You Were Sleeping,” “Love Actually,” “Frozen,” etc.)–you walk away uplifted and in a great  mood and with a lighter spirit. We SO want to say “Why couldn’t this (wonderful thing) happen to meeeeeeeeeeeee?” But if we can just manage to look that happy person in the eye and say sincerely “I’m so glad for you,” it’s a win-win.

Imagine that this amazing thing happened to us and not them. Would we not want our friend/relative/neighbor to magnify that joy for one brief moment? The old saying goes, “sorrow shared halves the sorrow; joy shared doubles the joy.” How about we start doubling some joy instead of heaping crap on top of someone else’s good fortune?

Remember the karmic law: “Put out good, you get good back. Put out crap, you get crap back.” Not only that, but the backflow is much stronger than the outgo. When we lift up others, we go up with them. Let’s choose our direction wisely!

Prepare the Solution

  • Keep the sprayed animal outside. The odor will rub off on furniture, rugs and other items that will then have to be cleaned as well.

    Collect the following ingredients for a small or average-sized animal, and mix them in an open bucket or container: 1 qt. of 3 percent solution hydrogen peroxide, 1 tsp. of liquid dish washing soap and 1/4 cup of baking soda. Double the amounts for a large animal.

Apply the Solution

  • Do not wet or bathe the pet before applying the peroxide solution. Pour the solution evenly over the animal, avoiding the face. Work it into the fur and skin. Leave the solution on the dog for 10 to 20 minutes. To clean the face, dip a toothbrush in the solution and carefully rub it into the fur. Thoroughly rinse the pet with warm water after the 10- to 20-minute waiting period. Repeat if some odor remains.

After the Application

  • Give the animal a normal bath. Do not save any of the peroxide solution, which can explode if kept in a closed container. Pour it down a drain with warm water. Within 48 hours, reapply topical flea and tick medications such as Frontline or Advantage, which will have been stripped from the fur by the peroxide solution.

Read more : http://www.ehow.com/way_5246441_homemade-skunk-odor-removal.html

Things I Don’t Do Anymore

When I was in my 20s, I wondered how I would feel when I was in my 60s. I worried about how I would go to clubs to dance (at that time in my life, I did a lot of clubbing) as an “old lady.” I wondered if I could still wear current fashions then, and oh–what would happen if I began to look, well, OLD? What you don’t realize when you’re young is that your tastes change. You grow, you change, you acquire new interests and passions; in short, you start to become your own unique person. Instead of being a tender reed in any wind, blowing this way and that, you start to put down some serious roots. You begin to realize some core truths about yourself; one of them being that the interests you had in your 20s don’t all make it through the decades.

I used to dress to impress men; super high heels, lots of makeup, the latest hairstyle, trendy fashions, and so on. I even tried growing out my very thick and coarse hair. (Every woman in my family has thick hair, which, now that I am older, is much more blessing than curse.) Over many uncomfortable months, I grew my hair to shoulder length. I kept it that way for exactly 48 hours. Why? It took hours to dry, I had to use a blow-dryer AND a curling iron (two things I really don’t care for), plus it was very heavy and very hot (not in the good way).

I had dreamed of the day when I could wear it in a French twist (which actually looked pretty good) or best of all, a ponytail. When I tried gathering up my hair into a ponytail, the sheer thickness of it was roughly the width of a standard Mason jar…I’m NOT kidding. It looked ridiculous and felt worse. So off to my stylist I went and had it cut into my usual, oh-so-easy to style short wash n’ wear hairdo. I’ve never gone back to long hair, but thanks to the ever-evolving hair product industry, I now use molding wax and/or hair paste to give me that fun and funky look that suits me so well.

I have long since developed my own style, too. When I stopped dressing for men, dressing for success (ugh, what an awful phrase), dressing to impress; I discovered my own look. I found that my favorite type of clothing is pajama-y outfits; flowy pants, swing-y jackets, bright jewel tones, lots of jewelry (I don’t think I’ve ever left the house wearing less than 12 pieces of jewelry), comfy but stylish shoes, and these days; really good bras. The following are things I’ve long left by the wayside:

  • Panty hose
  • Shiny eyeshadow
  • High heels
  • Sparkly lipstick
  • Girdles
  • Mascara on my lower lashes
  • Shoulder pads
  • Body (or face) glitter
  • Dresses and skirts (although now there are some very cute and comfy ones I intend to try)
  • Theme t-shirts (in fact, ANY t-shirt)
  • Tacky jewelry

Although I love buying jewelry, I keep it fairly inexpensive. I can fall in love with a piece, see the price–and fall instantly out of love if it’s more than I want to pay. When true serendipity brings a great piece together with a great price, I’m in love. I make a lot of my own jewelry, too (see my Etsy shop at http://www.janesjools4u.etsy.com).

One of the very best things about getting older is that you no longer feel obligated to waste your precious time (and let’s face it–the older we get, the less time we have ahead of us) on ridiculous fashions, unsuitable partners, sucky restaurants, boring books, bad TV, toxic friendships, or horrible jobs. In fact, one of my favorite work moments came when I worked for a firm with, shall we say, a pretty unstable manager. I was hired to do a certain job, which I did well. About six months into the job, he decided to change my job description to something I have NEVER done, and would never have signed up to do. When I tried reasoning with him, saying that I wasn’t hired for that position and in fact knew nothing about it, he screamed that he was the boss and I was going to f***ing well do what I was told or leave.

Well, it took me exactly 10 seconds to say, “I’ll take Door #2: I quit.” It was the first and last time I’ve ever done something like that, and the memory still makes me smile.

The great truth about growing older is that you learn so much along the way. There are “aha!” moments, “oh, crap!” moments, “duhh” moments, “what was I thinking?” moments, and many, many more. You realize that what was true for you in your 20s just no longer holds water. I used to have to be right about everything, and I do mean everything. I would get so irritated at people who didn’t do what I felt they should do. My thinking was ‘Why can’t they see how right I am?!’ That’s a memory that my mom would say makes you go ‘red in the night’ with embarrassment. When I finally realized how ridiculous I was, I felt like hiring a sky-writer to paint these words across the sky: “JANE IS A MASSIVE IDIOT AND NEVER LISTEN TO A THING SHE SAYS.”

So we live, we learn, and with hope we get better as we go forward. As someone once said, “Life is a banquet, so always bring a fork.” As for me, I’m still making mistakes, but these days I don’t make the same ones twice. I am more humble than righteous, more adaptable than stubborn, more soft than hard, and more willing to laugh at myself than hold myself up as the Supreme Smartass of the Universe.

And I always carry a fork.

 

 

The Garden That Almost Wasn’t

Last year the Crankee Yankee (my husband) and I tried our hands at having a garden. When we first started talking about it, he said that the front yard would be the perfect place for it as it gets the most sun.

I said, “Are you nuts?! A garden in the FRONT YARD? That will look ridiculous!” He just smiled at me. I asked why he wouldn’t consider using the back yard, and he said that since there is so little sun back there, what would be the point? Well, I had to give him that one. So I grumbled off and hoped that he wouldn’t actually go through with it.

A few days later, I came home from work to find that half the front yard was dug up, and it looked like hell. I realized that nothing would stop him from going ahead with this latest project, so I quietly (well, more or less) stewed about it on my own. Over the next week, I watched first in scorn, then surprise, and then downright awe as the Crankee Yankee created four beautiful raised beds, each one bordered in pine boards. He put crushed stone between the beds to facilitate easy watering, and it began to look like an English garden. We already had a crushed stone walkway from the steps to the street bordered in wood, so the garden beds fit right in.

That year we only planted potatoes and mint, and put in a large deep pink peony plant. We were over the moon when we harvested 31 highly edible potatoes, and we enjoyed the mint in iced tea and tabooleh salad.

This year, a little crazed with success from the year before, we went full throttle. In one raised bed we planted peas, tomatoes, rhubarb, chives, and bordered it and the other three beds with bright golden marigolds. In another bed, we put in purple and golden beets, more peas, lettuce and mint. In the third bed, we put in more beets, more mint, garlic, brussells sprouts, radishes and tomatoes. We noticed that two potato plants had survived from the year before, too. In the last bed, We scattered wild flower seeds, and, along with the inevitable crab grass, we now have glorious pink, white and blue flowers. We planted another peony, this one pale pink, on the other side of the steps, and planted a few more mint and garlic plants. Other gardening neighbors kindly gave us some of their excess tomato and onion plants, so we popped them in as well. We planted small pots of sage, oregano, basil, rosemary and arugula, as well as rye grass for the cats to chew on.

Well–we are now enjoying what can only be called a bumper crop of fresh produce. The radishes (not my favorite, to be honest), were crisp and peppery, the garlic scapes and chives are delicious, and I have made pesto with them and some basil–along with some garlic and olive oil, it is divine on hot pasta! The tomatoes–Big Boys, plum and cherry; are already ripening into red, and we are able to pick bowls of fresh peas each morning. I pulled up two beets, and behold and lo–real honest-to-goodness BEETS!! Amazing!

I have gone to the Crankee Yankee, proverbial hat in hand, and apologized for my lack of faith and foresight. Ya know, when he’s right, he’s right. The front yard garden is a HUGE success, and next year we are going to add four more beds on the other side. I even enjoy weeding. It’s somehow very zen-like and theraputic–almost like plucking out all the crazy that creeps into my head. Each weed I pull means another worry, another fear, another doubt–is gone. Of course, like weeds, they’ll no doubt be back, but you see the beneficial side of what could otherwise have been a dull chore.

Something very funny happened to me about a week ago. I had just pulled into the driveway after a long day at work (and a long commute; 72.5 miles one-way), and the Crankee Yankee was no where to be seen. There was a pretty and perky young woman standing on our stairs knocking at the door. She brightened up when she saw me, and trotted over to my car. As you might expect, I was tired and only wanted to get in the house, kiss my husband and the cats, get a drink and sit down.

But I mustered up a smile and said hello. I noticed that she was wearing a shirt with a popular lawn care logo on it. She asked brightly if we would like to sign up for lawn care service. I looked into those big blue eyes and said, “Miss, did you happen to notice the garden as you came up the stairs?”

“Why, yes, I did! It looks great!” She said.

I said, “So, does it look like we need lawn care since we really don’t HAVE a lawn?” She faltered a bit, but kept smiling gamely.

“Well, how about the back yard?” she beamed.

I told her that she was welcome to go back there and view what I fondly call the Crankee Yankee’s Hell Hole. From right to left as you look down from our back porch (another wonderful addition, courtesy of the C.Y.), you will see a red truck cap up on blocks, under which the neighborhood cats and skunks like to snooze). Up against that are several old tires, stacked one on top of the other, one of three wheelbarrows and some saw horses. Beyond that is a hill of very tall weeds and orange day lilies. To the left of that is a very nice stone wall that the C.Y’s brother made. Beyond that is a wooden feeder the C.Y. put up for the squirrels and birds, and to the left of that is our woodpile and cement block *fire pit. Curling around back toward the house is a another dirt pile full of weeds and more lilies. Two big trenches are dug from the stone wall back to the cellar door (under the porch); these will eventually be filled with crushed stone as a french drain. So, no–not what you’d call an area meant for a lawn. That finally killed the deal for lawn care service.

Since we are still such rookies at gardening, we are completely gobstruck that we have produce at all. I feel the same way about this as I do about trying out a new recipe. I follow the directions, use the correct ingredients, etc. and BINGO! The dish comes out looking and tasting exactly the way it should! The same with our plants–put in pea seeds, you get PEAS. Plant beet seeds, and bang–BEETS. And so on. It is positively thrilling to eat fresh peas and tomatoes right out of the garden. Who knew this could be so much fun?

And the Crankee Yankee, good man that he is, doesn’t hold it against me that I pooh-poohed his idea in the first place. Which of course means I owe him big time. But isn’t that just how a relationship goes, whether it be husband and wife or plants and dirt? You give a little, you get a little; sometimes a lot. You pull up the weeds, whether crabgrass or resentment, and the good things have room to spread out and flourish. If you’ve planned and tended well, you will get at least some good produce in return.

It seems we got lucky, in more ways than one.

*The fire pit doubles as our “shredder”: all papers with any kind of personal information are burned up as trash. Once we have a big enough pile to burn, it’s a good excuse to have “trash fire” hot dogs.

 

 

 

 

A Nice Lady

After work today I stopped at a popular discount store to pick up a few things. As I waited in line to pay up, there was a man and his little girl, about age 4, in front of me. The cashier waiting on them was a nice older (older than ME, that is) woman, who was talking cutely to the little girl. The little girl beamed up at her, and as she and her dad walked away, she said to her father, “That was a nice lady.” And to a little girl, she was indeed a very nice lady.

I put my few items on the conveyor belt and prepared to pay. The nice older woman flashed a big smile at me and asked, “Well, how are you, sweetie?” I sighed inwardly. It had been a long and frustrating day and I just wanted to pay for my things, and go home. But I smiled at her and said, “I’m just fine, thank you, and you?” She gave me a big smile and assured me that she was just as fine as she could be. Great–all pleasantries done and done.

When everything was totaled up, I asked if I could use my debit card for credit, and she grinned and said “Sure! Just go WHOOOP! with your card and select Other.”

‘WHOOOP?’ I remember her saying that to the little girl ahead of me when her dad let her use his card. I just smiled and WHOOOPED. Then she merrily walked me through the rest of the steps. When she printed the receipt for me, it obviously was at the end of the roll; it was striped with pink. She giggled and said, “Ooooh! You get the candy-striped receipt! You must be SPECIAL!!!” I gamely smiled and thanked her, gathered up my things and left before I came down with diabetes.

Look, I have been in customer service and it’s no picnic. I remember well how I had to arm myself mentally to deal kindly and patiently with people even when they were screaming at me. I’ve also been on the other end of customer service and been frustrated and angered when getting someone on the other end who obviously could care less about helping me. So, when faced with a dear old thing like this lady, what can I do but admire her unique way of dealing with her customers?

When I was a lot younger and a LOT more arrogant, I would have been fresh and insolent to a woman like this. I would have missed her obvious effort to be kind in the face of what has to be one of the most thankless jobs under the sun. This woman had to have been close to 70 (but at 63, I’m not all that far away from 70 myself!), she must have been on her feet all day, and who knows what her circumstances must be? All the way home I wondered about her. Was she alone? Was she caring for an elderly parent? Did she have her children and possibly grandchildren living with her? Was she having a hard time making ends meet and had to take whatever job she could to get by? Or was she just lonely for human contact and perhaps really loved working with people?

Well, I’ll tell you–I walked into my house with a great deal more humility and gratitude than when I left in the morning. I wished I had played along with her about that stupid pink and white striped receipt–what would it have hurt to do so? I wished I had the sense to see the greatness of spirit in this woman. How many opportunities have I missed by letting my own ego get in the way of my better self?

In other posts I’ve mentioned “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. The last two agreements are “Don’t make assumptions,” and “Always do your best.” Today I made an assumption that this woman was silly and frivolous, and I did not do my best. I’m not proud of this, but I did learn something important–grace and kindness come in unexpected packages. We miss so much by being in our own heads and letting ourselves be consumed with our own cares.

Lesson learned: next time I’ll be genuinely thrilled to get that pink and white striped receipt.

What To Do When You’re Down and Out

Although I do my best to be upbeat, positive and cheerful most days, there are “those” days when I feel like roadkill. I couldn’t put on a happy face if you offered me diamonds. If I really can’t be positive that day, I’ve learned to give in. I accept that 1) It’s just a bad day. It will pass. 2) These feelings won’t last forever. 3) You can’t be happy all the time (well, I can’t. If you can, good on ya!). 4) We are allowed to have the occasional bad day.

Thanks to a dear friend who gave me a Eckhart Tolle CD (check him out at http://www.eckharttolle.com), I learned from him to be “in the moment.” That is, if you’re going to have a bad day and you can barely get out of bed, DO NOT:

  • “Should” on yourself, as in “I should get up and DO something.”
  • Hassle yourself.
  • Worry that you will never be positive again.

DO:

  • Give yourself permission to really BE in that bad day. Make no excuses, and don’t beat yourself up for not doing anything.
  • Stay in bed. Read a trashy book. Snooze. Watch “Bridezillas.” Eat cinnamon toast.
  • Be unashamedly un-guilty.

That’s it and all; my magic formula for a bad day. Instead of forcing myself to ‘just DO something productive, already,’ I don’t. I give myself complete and total permission to be loaf around as I please. It’s the best cure for losing the blues I know of–well, that and counting all the good and great and wonderful people and things in my life. But you know how it is; sometimes you just can’t get your chin off the ground. So when that happens, give yourself permission to have a bad day and ENJOY it.

The last bad day I enjoyed was epic: I never even washed my face or brushed my teeth. I spent the day in my pajamas alternately napping, reading an old Stephen King book, and making my standby comfort food, Vegetable Spooge:

  • Make a small pot of quinoa and/or bulghur wheat (it’s easy; the directions are on the package)
  • Get out your trusty food chopper and chop up as much carrots, onions, celery, etc. as you want
  • When the quinoa is ready, dump in the chopped vegetables and add *cheese if you like
  • Enjoy (it’s not only tasty but good for you, too)!

*For dietary reasons I use goat cheese, which is surprisingly delicious

The next day, I was back on top of the world and ready to be productive. I had had my day of permissive laziness and self-indulgence, and felt better for doing it. Just remember that when you do sink down, know that the next day will be better, and you WILL feel good again.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are really having some severe depression, anxiety, etc. issues, then by all means see someone–a doctor, therapist, counselor, etc. Needless to say, on-going bad days can lead to bad things, so if you are having more bad days than good, get help. This post just addresses the occasional bad day we all have from time to time.