Monthly Archives: June 2015

Staying Afloat

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Lists.

Long, long lists of unfinished business.

They keep me awake at night, or rouse me from a sound sleep to toss and turn with worry. Daytime, they cause me, agitated, to skitter from one activity to another, foiling the chance of any true productivity, or paralyze me with the futility of the effort.

There are the simple tasks of daily home maintenance, that seem to pile up faster than I can address them. In addition to sweeping floors, wiping down surfaces and keeping the laundry moving through it’s cycles, I have a layer of dust on top of my refrigerator and food spoiling inside of it. I have windows that advertise this home is not friendly to flies and mosquitoes. The list goes on…

Home repair needs a list all alone. There are things that have never been finished, like woodwork at floor level and trim around closets. There is the major issue of a real floor, rather than the painted particle board I have now. There are things that need maintenance: kitchen cupboards need to be replaced or at least painted; shingles are sliding down from the roof; the particle board floor – if I must live with it – really needs another coat of paint. Screen doors…if summer brings the heat…would be a nice addition.

Yard and garden has a long list this time of year. Mow, trim, pull weeds and dead-head flowers, pick fruits and vegetables…and then repeat, over and over, until the snow flies.

I always have a list of tasks to accomplish for the news magazine. At this moment, I have township news and  a couple of community events to write up. I have subscriptions to update, invoices to send out and banking to do. I have interviews to do for the next feature story, some editing…and my own writing.

Other jobs have lists of their own, varying in importance and worry-potential, depending on the activities going on at the time. I gave my aunt’s house a good going-over on Friday, so can write that off for a week or so. Phragmites treatment is coming up soon, so meetings and paperwork are demanding more time. The hardware store keeps me busy while I’m there, and I always have a running list of things I’d like to re-organize…when I have time.

Studio work, which should be a pleasure, holds its own list of “must-do”s and “should-do”s. Now, with all of the busy-ness of summer, I would usually be closing the studio door until fall…but I have deadlines, an art show, and work that needs to be finished.

There are lists of bills to be paid. I have my charge slip at the hardware store, that includes large veterinary bills and other things that I’ve purchased. Some of it is deducted from every paycheck. I feel like I might catch up, if I could just back off on the cheese crackers, pistachios and candy bars…but then I’ll do something insane – like get a lawnmower – and I’m right back in the weeds. I have my folder of bills, and I generally make enough money to pay them all regularly…except when something unforeseen happens. This month, two visits to the dentist, gravel for my driveway, a flat tire, an oil change and a wheel bearing for my car were enough, in combination, to throw my budget into a tailspin.

That leads to the list of resources. Do I have anything to sell? Do I have work I have not been paid for? A little savings account I could close? I keep a “hidden balance” in my checking account. I accumulate it by rounding up for every check I write, and rounding down every deposit. It’s just the cents, not the dollar amounts, and yet it adds up to about three hundred dollars a year. Some years, that has covered the cost of a small vacation or a special expenditure. This year, it contributed to getting me through a financial crisis.

There are other lists: letters I need to write; recipes I’d like to try; books I want to read; places I’d like to visit…and if these were the only lists running through my mind in the middle of the night, I think I could happily roll over and go back to sleep with a smile on my face.

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An Assessment of My Day Off

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I got up at 4AM to respond to two Emails that had been disturbing my sleep.

I did a bit of bookkeeping, wrote a couple checks and played a game of on-line Scrabble.

At 7:30 in the morning, I decided to go back to sleep. Three phone calls came in while I dozed, but I let the machine pick up.

At 8:30 I got up and made coffee. I checked the answering machine and made a few telephone calls. An hour of writing, a bit of tidying the house, then a shower.

I pulled up some grasses from the edge of the walkway, and pruned some dead branches from the spirea bush.

I drove to town, picked up my paycheck at the hardware store, and went to the bank. One short visit with Sue, who carries my work in her sweet gallery here, and a look around at her new offerings, then back to business. I checked on my car, which is in the repair shop. He was still working on it, and told me to keep the little Tracker he’d loaned me, for now. If he got my car finished, he’d drive it out to my house and pick up the “loaner.”

Home…first inside, to greet Rosa, and to make a sandwich for lunch.

Mowing the lawn was my big plan for the day.

I was away in May, when I should, first, have mowed. I returned home to an overgrown lawn, followed by rain that soaked the long grass and made it impossible to mow every time I had a day off to do it. Then my riding mower went on the fritz. It’s an old, old Craftsman, with tires that go flat overnight and a gas tank that leaks, but it keeps on running…until it doesn’t. My neighbor and I have been talking about it, had a guy come take a look at it, but so far no firm diagnosis, and no cure.

Last weekend, I bought a new mower. It’s a cheap push mower, with pathetic little wheels for this rough lawn, but better than nothing. The mosquitoes were about to carry us away! It was like a jungle out there for poor little Rosa Parks! Something had to be done! Every night after work, I’ve been mowing a little…except the evening when it rained…and the evening when I got invited to dinner…and the evening I had company. Today, with the entire afternoon to devote to it, I could get some mowing done!

I did, too!

Not the back yard, which has such huge clumps of quack grass that I’ll have to take the trimmer to it first. Not the south side of the driveway: that got roughed-up when the guys came to set my garden shed in place, and needs to be smoothed out with rake and shovel before the grass can be tackled. Not the trim work around the house, flower beds, fire pit or trees. No time for that.

The yard on the north side of the driveway is about seventy feet wide. From the house to the stand of trees at the front, where I stop mowing, is 150 to 200 feet. That’s the area I mowed today.

From 2PM until 4:30, when I mercifully ran out of gas (which signaled time for a break), then back at it from 5PM until almost seven-thirty. The tall, tough stalks topped with yellow flowers have to be mowed over several times, and sometimes pulled by hand. Areas where the grass was especially thick…or wet…or both…had to be approached slowly, one small bite at a time, or it would cause the lawn-mower to stall out. Wild blackberry bushes had gotten a good start in the front near the wood, and crackled as the blades broke them up. As dusk came on, the insects came out in force. Several applications of insect repellent hardly slowed them down. A dampness in the air suggested impending rain; I was determined to finish that section.

I did it, then stowed the lawn mower back in the shed and came in for the night.

I count three black fly bites, and about a dozen mosquito bites. Two new bruises, with no explanation for them.

Leftovers for dinner: poached tilapia, and some vegetables and grains in a light sauce. It all seemed a bit healthy, so I re-heated it with a pat of butter. Perfect! Chocolate almond ice cream with a sliced banana for dessert.

One long, hot bath.

One large glass of plum wine.

Thunder…a storm is rolling in.

Bedtime.

Advice to Myself (if I could begin again…)

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No doubt about it, I love a good “do-over.”

My battle cry, as a child, when a game of pretend went off in a crazy direction that I didn’t like was, “Starting over…” Calling it out was like crying “dibs” or being first to claim the window seat:  to maintain order, it had to be respected. Sometimes we’d “start over” a dozen times before it seemed right.

I wish I had that option in real life. Too often, I’ve taken an extreme position, let an opportunity go by or did something really stupid…out of a temporary sense of daring, a moment of “throwing caution to the wind,” foolishness, anger, sadness, or just not thinking things through.

I don’t want to start all the way over in life, but there are certainly things I wish I could re-do. If I could, and if I could offer a few suggestions beforehand (this is assuming I would listen…), some of these pointers might come in handy.

  • Don’t be so stubborn. It’s okay to change your mind, to change your pattern of behavior, to change your entire life direction if you want to. You do not have to follow every decision to it’s end; you do not have to uphold every rule. It is okay to just relax and let it go sometimes.
  • Perennial flower beds are not always the best way to go. Perennials sound like a good way to have a permanent, established and carefree garden. You don’t have to buy plants and put them in the ground each spring. However…when weeds move in, which they undoubtedly will, perennial beds are extremely hard to manage. If birds drop seeds, if neighboring trees drop seeds…or if your neighbor gets tired of looking at your lawn with grasses so tall they have gone to seed, and comes over with his own lawn mower to do the job you have neglected, but doesn’t think to aim the discharge away from the flower beds and fills them all with millions of grass and weed seeds, perennial beds present problems. The roots of weeds can get tangled around day lily corms or iris tubers, and hold on tight. Grasses growing among the foliage of poppies are almost impossible to ferret out. Maybe, just maybe, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to churn up the soil in those beds each spring, get rid of every single weed, fertilize, and plant annuals, fresh and bright?
  • Avoid situations where your voice is recorded. Stay out of photographs. When you cannot avoid having your picture taken, avoid at all costs that wide, open-mouth laughing face that makes your mouth look like a big, gaping hole. Do not lift your chin for pictures, like a child trying to be taller. Do not lower your chin to the point that you show a double-chin. Keep your arms close to your sides! When you allow your arms to go akimbo, elbows out, you emphasize everything that is already too obviously wrong with your stature and your posture. If possible, just take a cue from your father, and avoid photographs altogether. Finally, avoid any situation where you might be caught on videotape. If you find yourself in a situation…like a township meeting, for instance…where filming is going on, do not, for heaven’s sake, sit anywhere near the person wielding the camera!
  • Whenever you get the urge to employ a stern directive, wittily handled, know that you are the only one that will think it is cute. Others will see it as bossy, condescending, rude or worse. You will hurt feelings, or offend. Long after words have been exchanged and apologies have been spoken, you’ll still be waking up in the middle of the night, cringing at things that cannot be taken back. You know that your biggest regrets in this life involve things that you said, out loud or in letters, responding to anger or frustration or rallying for a cause, without thinking it through. It might be wise, as a good rule-of-thumb, to just keep your mouth shut!
  • Never, never, never move into a house that is not completely finished…because once you’ve moved in, chances are it never will be.
  • If you ever again find yourself at one hundred pounds, with a full, thick head of hair and long, black eyelashes, don’t you dare be critical!
  • You could probably get by with a lot less books.
  • Say “I love you,” often, and with feeling, whenever you feel it. Do not hold back  Opportunities go by, never to come again. Let people know that they matter.

There’s probably more…but this is a good start. If I’d only had this advice…and followed it…always, in my life so far, how much better I would feel today! If only there were do-overs!