What I hate about Barbara and Jim’s Garden, Part 2

It’s been awhile since I wrote the posts detailing what I like about Barbara and Jim’s Garden, and “what I hate, part 1″, but I still have my list and pictures, so I want to complete the trilogy.   I don’t think I’ll match Jim’s “Top 20 things I hate about Barbara’s Garden”, but I do have a few more to add.

I’ll group the first category into “clothing related issues”

People who garden go through a lot of clothes, particularly when its 160 degrees in the shade. Multiple changes a day aren't uncommon.

Regarding those multiple changes of clothing....it isn't a good idea to garden in your everyday clothes. You need special "gardening clothes" that generally come from the 49-cent last-chance rack at Goodwill. So that means the clothes that come off when its time to change into the gardening outfit frequently end up in interesting places.

Likewise, old disgusting clothes or shoes, never die, they just get recycled for gardening. The smellier the better. These gardening shoes wouldn't make this list if they actually stayed in the garden. But when I see them making an appearance in public, like church or in a restaurant, it makes me long for the old days where I would have simply tossed them in the trash then claimed ignorance of their whereabouts. Just call me Marcia Anthony.

The next category I will call “things I don’t have because of the garden.  Now granted, I  also have many other things that cost more money than the garden…..kids in college, nice cars, wonderful trips and vacations, pets, good food to eat, etc, etc.    But for whatever reason the garden gets blamed probably because while we’ve had all those other expenses for years, the garden is a relatively new one and it gets lumped into the “household items and other misc. stuff” category:

Do you like my big, huge, blingy-diamond?? Oh wait.....that's right, I don't HAVE a diamond ring! You see, when we got engaged, then married over 27 years ago, we were so young and poor we got a tiny, cheap set at the Pekin mall. Needless to say, it didn't last as long as our marriage, and 4 years ago it broke beyond repair. I got a new wedding band, but we decided to wait on the diamond until our 25th, which was 2 years away. Of course by then we were moving and changing jobs, and kids were graduating college and starting college, and we had to buy a new house, and the house had a big garden and needless to say, I never have gotten a replacement. Or maybe he's just waiting to make sure this relationship is the "real thing" first.

This picture represents just one of the inside house projects that are sacrificed on behalf of the Outside. I'd like to have a tile backsplash here, but instead I have happy trees, and burning bushes and shaded beds with important Latin-sounding names outside the window.

Even though we buy lots of wine, visit wineries, and belong to a wine club, we still have just this little wine rack bought from wine-racks-r-us about 10 years ago. I did get a little wine refrigerator this year, but we could obviously still use more storage. I had something nice all picked out this Spring, but then we remembered it was time to mulch and there went that idea.

One of the many gardening expenses. Heck, who needs bedroom curtains when you can have piles and piles of mulch. I do like this color much better than last year's though (and that's not a joke)

My water bill...no explanation needed.

The last category I’ll just call “miscellaneous things”

Allergies. I've never had them in the past, and now I find myself craving Claritin and Benadryl and Ibuprofen almost daily. I'm sure the garden isn't entirely to blame, but I'm guessing the same trees and bushes and flowers that draw the birds and bees and butterflies and hummingbirds to the yard don't help the sinus headaches.

I don't actually have anything against the gardening books, I just think its funny how they are all ginormous and weigh about a ton. No "pocket-sized book of plant names" here. Surely there must be an app for the "A to Z Guide to Every Plant in the Entire Universe" collection.

This is one of the gates into our backyard. I like our gates. What I don't like is that with all the in & out and rolling wheelbarrows around and hauling mulch and tools, and trimming and replanting plants to sunnier or shadier spots, the gates tend to be left open occasionally. And open gates with a blind dog and a "neighborly dog" aren't a particularly good combination.

One of the best parts of having a garden is showing off the pictures. But those pictures have to stored . And the resulting file of 4000 flower pictures makes it hard to find an actual picture of your children or your vacation or your Christmas morning, or the things that used to be in our photo files.

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What I hate about Barbara and Jim’s garden, part 1

Last post I mentioned that I wanted to do my own take-off on Jim’s recent “What I hate” series from his blog.   First I said some nice things, but now that I’ve done that, its on to my list of complaints.   Before I begin though, let me bring up one thing I hate even more:  WordPress.  Specifically trying to get my pictures formatted and placed correctly.   After messing with the last post for way longer than I had either time or patience to do, I ended up just lining them up in the center.   And since I have no intention of going through that type of frustration again,  I will probably do the same thing with this one.

So here in no particular order, are the first few things I hate about the garden:

  •  This vine over the garage.   I have hated it from the day we moved in, and asked several times if we can’t just take it down or at least cut it way, way back.   Apparently it is some “Southern Specialty” and it does bloom, look pretty, and smell smell good for approximately 1.7 hours each year.  The rest of the time it just grows.  According to our realtor these vines are very popular, and we’re supposed to like it (I’ve never taken well to being told what I’m supposed to like).  A few neighbors have one.   Those who don’t are welcome to have mine.  It always looks like its about ready to attack, and I can’t walk underneath it without envisioning a snake slithering through the vine, hanging down from its tail and coiling around me.   Plus I’ve just never gotten why they only go 1/2 way across.  Its asymmetrical.  Trimming it helps for no more than a week, and every time Jim gets on the ladder with tools to after it, I envision my life caring for a brain injured husband.  Jim has never taken my dislike of this Garden-of-Eden monstrosity seriously until recently when he came in from putting a bag in our trash can, which sits directly underneath the vine and a lizard fell on his head.   Who knows what else lives in there.

    Overgrown rainforest vine. Full of spiders, snakes, lizards and jaguars.

    View out the window of my neighbor's vine-free garage. I'm so jealous.

  • The cherry tomato plants around our mailbox.  When we moved into the house, Barbara had cherry tomato plants rather than flowers around the mailbox.  It seemed like a cool, different idea, so we continued the tradition.  Last year we planted the little orange kind, this year we have the little red kind.   The problem is that none of us eat many cherry tomatoes.  At least not at the level produced by these plants.  It is the only vegetable plant we have that’s doing well, and its doing much too well.   I learned last year, as I brought bag after bag of cherry tomatoes into work, as I ran out to throw them in the mailman’s truck, and as I went around the neighborhood trying to give them away, that cherry tomatoes are not nearly as popular as their full-grown cousins.  We put them in every recipe and I find myself forcing myself to snack on them even though I don’t really like them very much. One or two, fine—-200 not so fine.  They are difficult to cook with.    Next year, flowers.

Overly prolific cherry tomato plants

A typical daily harvest with a ratio of 400 cherry tomatoes for every 1 regular or roma.

  • Our dead vegetables.   Yes, the SC heat has a lot to do with this, but its so discouraging to plant all those cool veggies and see them just wilting away, not producing a single vegetable. And this was a problem last year too. They get lots of water, but I have yet to produce a single zuchinni or squash in this state?  Who can’t grow zuchinni’s?! Usually they take over and grow to mammoth proportions.    But mine 80% dead with no blooms of any sort. I was so looking forward to cucumbers, pickles, squash, melons…..even the basic green onions and radishes died this years, and the herbs look awful. And to add insult to injury, other than tomatoes (big ones!),  the things that are growing are the things I don’t really like – mainly the peppers.

Just pitiful

Look at these wonderful specimens! Did we grow these in our garden? NO, we did not...these were given to me by someone who has so many they can't keep up. I offered to give her some cherry tomatoes and she said, "Um, no thanks...just take these."

 

To be continued..

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Barbara and Jim’s Garden

My husband Jim has a great blog, Visionary Gleam.  When he started this endeavor, he described it as a blog about school leadership and his relatively new hobby of gardening.  Since then, the school component has taken a backseat to the gardening posts.  And that’s OK,  because topics and interests evolve over time – for instance, this one was supposed to be about learning and/or doing something new everyday, and lately I’ve only loosely stuck to that theme.

Jim talks a lot about “Barbara’s garden”, Barbara being the master gardener who owned our house before we bought it two years ago.  You will notice that it is never “Barbara and Walter’s garden”, even though Walter lived here too.  That’s because Walter, presumably, had little to do with the actual daily gardening tasks, although he did create many of the structures and planters, and even the tomato  stands in his woodworking shop.    And in that way, I also think of most everything that lies outside our walls as “Jim’s”.   Like Walter, I have very little to do with the landscaping and gardening—be it planning or day-to-day maintenance, but I have added some touches here & there.

Catie's memory garden. The birdhouse was made by Walter. I picked out the bench, the statue, and ordered the engraved stone.

I occasionally go along to the gardening store and like a kid who’s been dragged to the mall I might get to pick out something I like, usually based on a sound and educated gardening premise such as, “I like purple” or “that smells good,”  but mostly I wander around with glassy eyes wondering if we’ll get ice cream afterward if I’m  patient.    I enjoy the beauty, but the incredible amount of work that goes into gardening is just not my cup of tea and I don’t find myself reading up on plants or even remembering their names, much less what zone they prefer.    I am not joking when I say that if, God forbid, anything were to ever happen to Jim where he could not maintain the gardens, I would have to get rid of them in one way or another. Even Barbara knew that for many folks the enjoyment of looking at the gardens was quite different than the responsibility of owning it, and  when the house was for sale she offered to fill in some of the beds with sod if the new owners preferred.

Recently Jim did a series of posts about the Top-20 things he hates about Barbara’s garden.  They were all pretty amusing and true.  But it also got me thinking about the things  I  hate about “Barbara and Jim’s Garden”.   Its a different list and that’s where this post was originally going.   But then I realized it would be rude if I jumped into my garden complaints without first giving credit for the things I do like. So I will start with the nice things.

This is a view of one corner of the deck taken from the yard.I like to sit here with a book and a glass of wine and watch the birds and butterflies and hummingbirds and dogs and squirrels.

Butterflies and Hummingbirds

My own personal florist

This is really good garlic that I grew myself. Next time I'm planting more.

Tomato Pie. I'd never heard of this delightful Southern dish before moving here, but love making it with tomatoes fresh from our garden. Its basically tomatoes and herbs in a pie crust slathered with a cheesy-mayonnaise concoction.

Green Grass! When we lived in Virginia, we moved into new construction. The grass never grew the way it was supposed to. So we re-seeded it. It died. We seeded again, and it spent most of the summer brown. We put in sod and big patches of it died. We had a perpetually brown yard. In Indiana and Ohio our grass was covered in snow 10 months of the year. So having soft green grass that you can walk through barefoot most of the year is a treat.

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Romans 8:38 – Happy birthday, Catie

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38

Recently our Sunday School class studied the book of Romans.   As we read this verse in class, I was transported back to the first time I really listened to what it was saying.   Probably not the first time I’d read the verse or even heard it taught, but the first time it meant something significant to me personally.  It was in 2005 when I heard my 17 y/o daughter speaking from the pulpit. She had been invited to give the Youth sermon in church that day and stood in front of our United Methodist congregation, a few hundred in the audience, with confidence and ease.

If you’ve read Kim’s blog, you already know she has a way with words, both written and spoken.   After sharing the text with my friends, it has been requested several times, usually as a “I know someone who’s had a tragedy in their family; can I share Kim’s sermon with them?” type of exchange.    Because of this, I still have it saved in a folder in my email, ready to forward on as needed.

And so in honor of Catie’s July 7th birthday, here once again is Kim’s sermon and some pictures to remind us that faith and love prevail.

Sermon- Youth Sunday
11/13/05

Good Morning. My name is Kim Lewis, and I am a member of Warwick Memorial’s incredible youth group. I am
only 17, but I have been lucky enough to speak to you, the congregation, this morning about something
incredibly real in my life. God gave me an unexpected story of love and understanding in a terrible and tragic situation. This is that story.

The summer of 2004, I traveled with my swim team to a beautiful location in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to train and compete in an international meet. What an opportunity. It was truly paradise. The first few days of the trip were spent preparing for the meet mentally and physically. And did I ever prepare. I was ready.

A few days into the trip, I received a frantic message from my parents, who were also away on vacation that week. In fact, we were all gone: me, my little sisters Jenny and Anna, and my parents. All but one. The lost sheep so to speak. That person was Catie, Caitlyn Elizabeth Lewis, my older sister. Catie and I did not attend the same school, we did not hang out with the same people, we did not see eye to eye. When we became teenagers, we were practically strangers living under one roof. Catie struggled, always. For as long as I can remember, I was helpless, because her struggles were deeper than anything anyone could fix. And that’s who the message was about. Catie had committed suicide that night. An overdose, a cry for help, the end of the line.

I remember every moment of that week and the following days. How I prayed all night for a miracle when she was in the hospital. The way I chose not to fly home early from my trip. That’s right, I waited in Florida. I competed. I swam, but the water felt different. It cooled the pain for a second, but the pain was even sharper as soon as I climbed out and
faced reality. I remember how I was scared, confused, disoriented. And all my fears were validated, everything people hope never happens to them, was happening. To me. And I can still feel it.

***** Hold up Beach Ball *****
This is a beach ball. Seemingly a summer toy. Well, imagine trying to submerge this beach ball underwater.
It would take force, concentration. Sure, it can be done. But with even the slightest distraction, the ball will fly up and smack you in the face. Or worse, smack someone else in the face.

My sister’s death is my beach ball. I try to keep it submerged, but occasionally it flies up and everyone sees. “Oh, so she was keeping a secret down there.”  Well, everyone has a beach ball, not just me.

As Christians, we oftentimes have many beach balls. We try to hold under so many different things, for
whatever reason. Maybe it’s just too hard to look at. Maybe we don’t want to admit it’s there. Maybe we
don’t want the rest of the church to know about it. So we paste on smiles. We come to church and we smile, a lot, and we use words like, “awesome.” “Everything is awesome.” “God’s doing truly awesome things in my life right now.” “My family? Oh, they’re awesome as well.”
Perhaps all our positive talk is simply a cover for all the things we’re hiding under the surface. Our beach balls, so to speak.
God hasn’t always sent me fuzzy bunnies and rainbows. Sometimes God is hard, and usually God is hardest when
life is hardest. So what does this mean about God’s love, and what does it mean to me? Who can I go to?

I have found the answer is simple. Almost too simple. When God hands me a challenge, I go to God. Jesus knew
suffering. Isaiah 53 describes Messiah as being, “despised and rejected—a man of sorrows acquainted with bitterest grief.”
Jesus had grief like me. Deep, cutting grief. The kind I felt when they closed Catie’s casket for the last time. The kind of pain I feel when I read my sister’s name inscribed on that stone, forever a reminder of just who she was: part of me.
And I am no longer afraid of that grief. I try not to push it under, because I have discovered an extremely important fact as a Christian with a beach ball. The further under I push it, the more painful it is when it pops back up. And, when I’m concentrating on suppressing grief that is perfectly natural in the first place, I am unable to concentrate on God.

But the beach ball always seems to come back, a human imperfection of course. My beach ball emerged again this past summer, as I was invited to attend the same swim meet as the previous summer, in the same beautiful location in Florida. One year had passed. My sister would have been twenty years old. As I boarded the plane just 4 months ago, I could barely face what I knew was coming: my beach ball was about to spring up like it never had before.

In Florida, I literally retraced my steps from the previous year. My heart flew. I relived every emotion that I spent so long trying to forget. As I entered the pool area with one more year under my belt, the sky opened up and it began to rain. But it was still sunny. One little rain cloud, floating right above the pool area. I looked up at the sun and wondered how
that shower was for anyone else on the face of the planet. The rain washed away everything I was covering up, and I simply sat down and cried.

And I still cry. It’s still hard. As humans, we may think that we have gotten rid of our beach ball. But almost subconsciously, we pick it up, put some tape on it, and blow it up again. I have come to expect the pain, almost embrace it. I’ll read the verse from Romans again because I just believe it so powerfully conveys  God’s love in times like these:
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the
love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I love this verse, because it speaks to adversity. It recognizes the highs and the lows, while reminding us God’s love is continually overflowing, no matter what. I struggle, and I truly believe we all struggle with something. I hope that we, as Christians, can begin to embrace and appreciate struggle. If we can do that, we are deflating whatever is holding us back from God.

******* DEFLATE (pop?)  BEACH BALL ******

I have come to appreciate so many things and people from Catie’s death. To all the people that were there
at the very beginning, those tragic first few days, thank you. To all the people I met along the way, counselors and leaders, thank you. To my friends, who make me appreciate every gift so much more, thank you. And most importantly, Thank you to my family, because you have always been there, and you will always be there.

My prayer is that my story will inspire each of you to take God’s promise of love and deflate your beach
ball. Offer it to God in joy and in sorrow.  He’s  always ready and waiting.

 

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Yawn!

Sorry I haven’t written any posts, but I think I am running out of new things.  I’ve done plenty of things, but they have been old favorite things (visiting Virginia, tasting wines, seeing friends, being lazy). The books I’ve read have been summer fluff, the TV shows I’ve watched have been summer fluff, the food I’ve eaten has been summer fluff….are we seeing a pattern here?   One day I  learned something and actually said out loud, “I could write about this on my blog!”  Jim witnessed it.  Unfortunately by the end of the day, neither of us could remember what it was I was going to write about.

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Strange Google Searches

One of the most entertaining aspects of blogging on WordPress involves looking at the “Site Stats” to see  how many people have looked at the blog, where they live, and how they got here. The handful of regular “One New Thing” readers are people I know personally.   They consist primarily of family and friends, generally people who are either polite and click a link that appears on my Facebook page, or people who are extremely bored.   Some friends have blogs of their own and occasionally link to mine, which leads to a “friend of a friend” encounter.

However, it is always interesting to see the Google searches that lead here.  Most of them are pretty benign and often lead to a picture I’ve hijacked off the Internets.  When The King’s Speech was in theaters, I got dozens of hits from people searching for Colin Firth as King George VI.   And the simple search for Stars continues to show up as a Googled favorite, as are various Coke Bottle searches.

Hint to those Googling "Anti Demotivational Posters": Anti Demotivational Posters would just be Motivational

But then there are the searches that aren’t so mundane.  I continue to be amused at the number of people who end up clicking through to this post about the evils of Girl Scout cookies by searching phrases like demented girl scouts, Meth Cookies (are they looking for a recipe from Toll House?),  or Drugged on Girl Scout Cookies . I should have attached a picture of myself with a Thin Mints hangover.

Some people have questions for the great oracle of Google such as “how do I know if a Law firm is ripping me off on a class action lawsuit” (they are),   others are written in a different language (звезды), and a couple appear to have been searched for by a member of Congress (guy doing a girl with beer can resting on her back).  I have no idea which post of mine that last one links to, and am not willing to Google it to find out. Maybe my blog is more interesting than I thought!

Occasionally my Google searchers add to my own knowledge base.  Someone searched for “It was the most monstrous barbarity of the barbarous march” which linked to my post on Sherman’s March to the Sea, and I learned this was a quote from Whitelaw Reid in 1868.   I have yet to learn who Whitelaw Reid is, but I’ll get there eventually.

Lots of folks are looking for fashion advice.   While several searchers are scurrying to find out what the f*&k  resort casual is, one person wants to know if its OK to wear a leather jacket to such an event (only if its a biker resort and you have the matching pants).  There are also more than a few fanny pack fans out there, but one particular Googler made me curious enough to try this search myself.  As a result, I now have item #1 on next year’s Christmas list….the o-fishal Rockabilly Skull and Crossbones Fanny Pack:

I if I didn't have this blog, I wouldn't know about this awesome fashion accessory.

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Inviting a visitor to the US: Part 2

After our trip to visit Kim in Ecuador,  I wrote about how difficult it is to invite her new friends to visit us here in the US.  Over the past few weeks I’ve become even more  familiar with that process.    Kim’s  friend from her host family is a 20 year old college student at the university where she is placed through  the Fulbright Commission.   He is working toward his goal of becoming an English teacher in Ecuador.   He’s a good student and  lives a fairly typical, active college student type of life.  Like many young people, especially a future English teacher,  her friend would like to visit the USA.

Kim would like to be able to show him around her country, her home, and introduce him to her friends and activities.  She would like to invite him to a family wedding, to the beach, to meet her friends, shop at Target and go to Starbucks.  He could visit the school where Jim works,  play some basketball, and visit universities to see how they operate here.  He could visit Jenny in Charleston and observe how American college students frequently all live with each other rather than with their parents and grandparents, and probably wonder why anyone could possibly think that’s a good idea.  

So Kim’s friend is taking the big step of  (cue trumpets and flashing lights) *applying for a tourist visa*.   And after doing more research on what might help this process along, we are gathering documents to sponsor him.    Apparently having a sponsor is a positive, but nowhere close to a guarantee that his visa will be approved.  The bulk of the responsibility still lies with him to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to the US Consulate that no matter how tempted he is once he gets here to start picking tomatoes in searing heat for an unlivable wage, he will be a good visitor, see the sites , buy the t-shirt, then return home to his family and school.

This is where it gets even more complex.   Sponsoring a foreign visitor consists of quite a bit more than saying, “I’m a law-abiding, tax-paying, employed, US Citizen who would like to invite my friend from Ecuador to visit me for a couple of weeks during his semester break.   I’ll let him stay here and feed him and make sure someone licensed does all the driving.   I’ll pick him up when he arrives then make sure he is safely on his way home when its time to leave.”    Instead, this is what’s involved.

First, this being the  government, you have to obtain and fill out a form.   Specifically Form I-134, an “Affadavit of Support”, issued by the Department of Homeland Security.   Among other things, this form lets you know that you, the US Citizen,  may be sued and held personally responsible if your sponsoree applies for Welfare and/or Food Stamps.  It then goes on to ask for information about everything short of the results of your last colonoscopy, which of course you must have notarized. Bank account balances, stock accounts, home value, salaries, life insurance and personal property values are all covered.

There is then a list of documents to send along with the form.  This list of what they want is longer and  more intrusive than our mortgage application. First we are to write an official “letter of invitation”  to the sponsoree, and a separate letter to the US Consul telling them we’re inviting him to visit us. Since you’re already doing the form and all the documents I would think it would be obvious we’re inviting him, but this is the US government so common sense is not a strength.    The other documents they suggest include: an official letter from our employer certifying the position held and salary, the last few pay stubs, our past few years tax returns, including the accompanying W-2 forms, and our bank statements with an accompanying letter from the bank.   And a partridge in a pear tree.

We have most of this information together and have agreed to send it directly to Kim, who will assure its safe arrival at the US Embassy in Quito when her friend has his required in-person interview.  However, I am blacking out all social security and account numbers on the aforementioned documents.   I trust Kim and her friend, but not so much anyone else whose desk this may cross to keep that information secure.

We also took one more step as well to help with this process:  we called our friendly US Senator’s office.  The one who sent Kim a letter congratulating her on the Fulbright and saying, “If I may ever be of assistance, please do not hesitate to call on me.”  We decided this would be a good time to take him up on that offer.  It turns out that our request is not so uncommon, and their office has a staffer assigned to help with just this issue.   They indicated that they will write a “letter of interest” to their colleagues at the Embassy, and email a PDF copy to us so the friend can carry it in to his interview.   But they were also sure to emphasize that this is “Not a guarantee”, that they have no real influence over the outcome, and that the interviewers in Quito will still have the ultimate responsibility in deciding whether Kim’s friend can come visit us.

 

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