A simple summer bucket list

IMG_0021Life is busy. Life is stressful. And even though summer is a time to relax and enjoy the outdoors, the reality is you still have to go to work, clean the house, pay the bills, deal with the ups and downs of a life. My summer bucket list is simple. I want to:

  • Sit for a few moments with my face to the sun.
  • Enjoy a glass of wine or two with a friend.
  • Arrange some flowers from my garden for the house.
  • Watch the deer in my yard without worrying about what they’re eating.
  • Enjoy the green around me, even if some of it is weeds.
  • Read a good book. Or two. Or six.
  • Share an evening meal on the porch with my family.
  • Experience a few moments of pure, uncompromised joy.

It’s not too much to ask. Is it?

This is a post for the SITS Girls “Stop the Summer Slump” challenge

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I had a pair of yoga pants

IMG_0344One of our favorite family reads is a book called Joseph Had a Little Overcoat about a resourceful man who recycles a coat down to a little button. An excerpt:

Joseph had a little overcoat. It was old and worn. So he made a jacket out of it and went to the fair.

Joseph had a little jacket. It got old and worn. So he made a vest out of it and danced at his nephew’s wedding.

~ Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, © Simms Taback, 1999

In memoriam to a pair of faithful, but recently retired yoga pants, I have written my own version:

I had a pair of yoga pants. They were new and snazzy. So I put them on, went to yoga class, and did Adho Mukha Svanasana about 400 times.

I had a pair of yoga pants. They were old and worn. So I designated them as home office wear, and wore them all winter while I wrote medical website copy.

I had a pair of office pants. They were old and worn. So I turned them into cleaning pants, and mucked out the utility room.

I had a pair of cleaning pants. They were old and worn. So I cut them off above the knees, and wore them to spade the garden.

I had a pair of garden shorts. They were old and worn. So I retired them, took them to the garage, and used them to wipe down the car.

I had a rag to wipe the car. It was old and worn. So my husband used it to block a gap under the garage door on a 9 degree morning.

Which was today. I don’t think there is anywhere for them to go now but into the trash. A sorry ending for a loyal companion.

Namaste.

Finished! An exercise in gratitude

IMG_0309Euphoria – that’s what I felt after finally finishing my deck this weekend. Or maybe I was just a little giddy from the deck stain fumes.

Yes, I know it’s a little late in the year to be staining a deck. I prefer to think of it as a head start on next year.

And in that spirit, rather than dwell on the negatives (like the 8,000 oak leaves that fell as I worked, or the birds who decided to party a little too hard on my freshly cleaned deck), I’ve decided to express gratitude for the people and circumstances that contributed to my success.

I’d like to thank:

  • Twenty-odd years of yoga for enabling me to work in a crouching position all weekend.
  • A well-ventilated area, that is to say, the outdoors, although even that was not quite ventilated enough.
  • My friend Barb who drove my daughter home so I could stay doggedly at my task.
  • Sherwin-Williams’ semi-transparent stain for covering up a multitude of evils.
  • That the deck is outside so every time I got frustrated with the quality of my efforts I could say, “Get a grip, it’s OUTSIDE, how good does it have to look?”
  • A couple of rain-free, just-windy-enough-days.
  • The Gopher-Michigan football game for providing energizing background noise (for a change).
  • The excellent gouda cheese my husband bought at Costco. It may not seem like there’s a link here, but trust me, there is.
  • Evening opera tix to La Fanciulla del West, which was the light at the end of a cedar-stain covered tunnel. (I know that those of you who don’t care for opera, which is about 99.75% of you, are wondering how an opera could possibly be the light at the end of anyone’s tunnel – and in fact would probably stain a deck to avoid having to go to the opera. I make no apologies.)
  • Scott and Heather who took my boys boating for a whole day. That was eight hours I was not interrupted every 15 seconds. Do you realize how fast all that time adds up?
  • That I remembered to “paint” myself toward the porch door so I was not stranded on the deck until it dried.
  • Coffee, ’nuff said.
  • Wine, see above.

So, my thanks to all – and one last grateful thought about all those leaves that fell during my project: At least it wasn’t snow.

Twice as much or twice as long?

IMG_0590Because I am a small, aging woman, it falls upon me to do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to the chores around the house. (See why here.) Thus it was I found myself power washing the deck on a beautiful afternoon in a last-gasp attempt to refinish it before the snow flies.

In some Minnesota households, this is like a hobby. You spend the period from May to October scanning the weather forecast for three nice, warm, consecutive days. When the planets align, you put your plan into action:

  • Day #1: Power wash deck
  • Day #2: Let it dry thoroughly and prep it for stain
  • Day #3: Watch unexpected storm cover deck with dirt and debris
  • Repeat

You get the idea. If you’re lucky, you finish the project in time to host an outdoor party that requires only a light jacket, and not a parka.

My companion in this task is a well with a pump that pre-dates the Mad Men era. The pump’s a plucky old gal whose primary attribute (providing free outdoor water) outweighs the fact that she’s a little arthritic, and requires frequent breaks to recharge herself.

When you’re lazily watering a garden plot this is no obstacle. The water trickles to a halt, you pull a few weeds, and when it hisses back on you continue. But it’s not so tolerable when you’re washing a large deck whose condition I’ve likened in previous posts to a shipwreck that someone pulled up from the bottom of a freshwater lake and deposited on our lawn, barnacles and all.  While some around these parts are fanatical about keeping a clean deck, I’m pretty sure ours hasn’t been washed since our youngest was still eating his Cheerios in front of Elmo’s World (he’s 10).

So this large, filthy endeavor was made worse by my unreliable partner. The old gal would work diligently for a few minutes, then stop to catch her breath, and after a brief set-down, would get going again. (Lest there be confusion, the old gal in this instance is the pump, not me.)

I tried to make the most of the interruptions. I made myself a snack. I had a cup of coffee. I had another cup of coffee. But how much coffee does one really need? I’m not a patient person, and wasting all this time was getting on my nerves. The caffeine was not helpful.

So I decided to do what any reasonable person would do when faced with too many chores and too few nice days – weed in between washing. My garden’s a disaster, and the weeds, at this point, were mocking my efforts, so I decided to dispose of a few of the little suckers just to make myself feel better.

And so it went. Power wash for 2-3 minutes. Hear water sputter off. Set hose down. Descend deck stairs. Weed for 5 minutes. Hear water sputter back on. Climb deck stairs. Restart washer. Continue ad nauseum.

I grew frustrated. And my glutes were getting a little sore. The work was taking twice as long as it should have. But then, again, I was doing two tasks simultaneously. So maybe it was taking half the time. Or maybe I was doing twice as much work in the same time. Or maybe none of this was true.

It made my head hurt.

So I gave up the reasonable person’s plan, and instead opted for what an unreasonable person would do. I decided to blog about washing the deck in my downtime. In fits and starts. 2 to 3 minutes at a time. All afternoon.

Anything for a little time to write.

Tips for the desperate gardener

IMG_0711What an embarrassment. My perennial garden, a source of pride in past years, is a weedy mess.

While we were running around during a busy spring, and huddling inside during uncooperative, rainy weather, the weeds moved in and took over.

Then, feeling neglected, many of my perennials decided to migrate to different locations, infringe on their neighbors, or waste away to nothing. It’s as if Mother Nature’s testing my resolve.

Well, I don’t have much, but even I’ve reached my limits. The weekend found me up to my waist in tick-infested, overgrown foliage, yanking out handfuls of invaders.

Before I had my kids, the garden was a refuge. I’d head home after a long day at the office, don my grubbies, and dig around in the dirt in the long mid-summer evenings. Pulling weeds felt like an accomplishment. Dividing perennials like a fresh start. I enjoyed the physicality of it.

Fast forward a few years, and the garden took a hit. I no longer had the energy or the time to tend it. Ever try to weed with a fussy baby next to you in a playpen, or turn soil with a toddler eating deer poop off the lawn? I have.

Here are some tips when the state of your garden calls for triage:

Pay the neighbor kids to help. My kids are old enough to assist now, but they aren’t willing helpers. I have to bribe, pay, threaten or conscript them. However, my neighbor and I have discovered that our kids, who sometimes balk at doing even work they’re being paid for at home will often jump at a chance to do the exact, same work at someone else’s house. So we trade kids.

Pull the tallest weeds first. A method my oldest son caught on to right away because it fills up the bags faster. But it also makes the most immediate visual impact. You’ll actually feel like you got something done.

 Pull all the similar weeds first. This is a good method to use if you have new weeders who might accidentally remove the expensive day lily you drove miles and miles to obtain. Pull a sample weed. Hand it to them. Say, “Pull out everything that looks exactly like this.” Repeat at necessary intervals.

Utilize those garden tools. There is a reason they were developed. If your garden is really awful, like mine, turning over dirt might actually be faster than pulling each, individual weed. Plus, (if you’ll pardon the generalization) those boy children would rather use the tools anyway.

Assign tasks based on individual strengths. My oldest son is all about filling up the bags, but my youngest wants to find a tiny plot of soil and make it perfectly smooth and weed free. Assign the perfectionist to the paths and borders where neatness really counts. Otherwise, you’ll just be frustrated that in the time you’ve been clearing the back 40, this child has cleared only one, perfect square foot.

And my #1 tip…

Embrace native plants, a method I borrowed from another neighbor. I’ve ceded one whole section of a perennial bed to a large stand of milkweed. The butterflies like it, and it’s pretty enough, especially when it’s in bloom. And I’ve let some other wildflowers take root.

“What’s the difference between a weed and a wildflower?” my youngest asked.

“A weed is just a wildflower growing where you don’t want it,” I answered.

I almost believe that.