Death in the Long Grass

This is a book by Peter H. Capstick, which, I confess, I’ve never read, although my father and younger brother both love it. No, in my mind it isn’t so much a title, but a spooky chant that echoes in my head every time I step into the back yard.

Death in the long grass, death in the long grass, death in the long grass…

Because the Ever-Suffering Mother does not have enough to do with ignoring all the housework, it is also her responsibility to ignore the yard. I would offer photographs depicting the effects of such negligence, but it is far too embarrassing.

While day-to-day yard maintenance such as lawn-mowing, leaf-raking, and porch-sweeping/de-cobwebbing suffers (and brings down property values within the immediate neighborhood), gardening is no problem at all. Give the Ever-Suffering Mother some seeds, soil, and a spade and within a few months she will give you vegetables. (Quite literally. The garbage truck driver got to take home a couple of tomatoes today.)

In fact, the success of the tomato plants in the back yard caused all manner of problems. They overstepped their boundaries. They piled over the tops of their cages like uneven, green, toppling wedding cakes. And then, then they began their pilgrimage across the lawn. I just let them drift. [Internal editor: that’s a point-of-view shift. You had been talking about yourself in third person. Me: Now I’m talking to you/myself in second person. Internal editor: throws hands in air, gives up. Me: Yeah, that’s right.]

Fast-forward a couple of months, and the tomato plants have overtaken that side of the yard.

Last week I finally hacked my way through the jungle. I wasn’t going to clip the plants completely back, as there were still a few lingering green tomatoes, but when I saw what the jungle had done to my grass (think swamp), and when I saw the fat brown slugs masticating their way through that swamp, I got a little carried away. The only reason the three plants are still in the ground is because the yard waste bin and the compost pile were overflowing.

Z was thrilled because she finally got to “break the rule” and pick all those green tomatoes.

Don’t worry, we’ve still got ten or so tomato plants in the side yard…inching their way across the long, long grass.

The Land of Dull Knives and Duller Wits

A year and five months ago I proudly showed off my new home to a couple of friends. “Wow, this place is great!” they said. When we reached the family room, the tone changed. “OMG you have to get rid of these vertical blinds.”

The family room is a fabulous room. Funky wood floors, an old wood stove, big windows, and three doors to the backyard. Doors covered in…vertical blinds! The blinds were supposed to be white once upon a time, or at the very least cream colored, but now they have a sort of sallow, yellow look. If a paint company needed a name for this precise shade, they might choose “malarial yellow*.” And because the family room has two sliding doors and a french door, there are three sets of vertical blinds. It’s practically all you see when you walk in.

Yeah, I know. Ew.

But we move a little slowly in this house, not only when I’m on the elliptical machine, but also when it comes to getting things done, and while we have finally actually looked at various options for the blinds, we haven’t found anything we like…at least that we can agree on. This slow relaxed pace doesn’t only apply to large-ish jobs like window treatments. We usually start off with, “It would be so much easier to find things in our closet if we had some kind of storage system.” (Piles of shoeboxes and stacks of folded shirts continue to topple out every time we open the door.) Or, “Hmm, maybe we should you know, clean the scum out of the bathtub so our toddler can graduate from her infant tub.” (She’s still in the infant tub.)

Frustrated when trying to carve the turkey last Thanksgiving, Husband’s parents gave us a knife sharpener for Christmas. Five months later, we have sharpened two (2) knives. Even really simple chores, like replacing the sprinkler heads so our lawn doesn’t turn brown, get shuffled to the end of the to-do list in favor of a) reading, b) writing, c) sleeping, or d) just about anything else.

How I wish I could blame it on Z. She was the perfect screaming scapegoat when she was four months old and permanently attached to my chest. I could barely take a shower, much less manage to vacuum or unload the dishwasher. Now that she’s older and can play on her own for up to an hour, I’m fresh out of scapegoats. The truth is, we’re just not the type of people who enjoy productive pursuits.

Sometimes I fantasize about going back to Jane Austen time, when people could dabble in painting, learn languages, and embroider because they had nannies and gardeners and cooks and maids.

Then I remember: not every person had those perks, because somebody had to actually be the nannies, gardeners, cooks, and maids. So while I’m nostalgic for a time I’ve never known, I end up wondering: would I have been Elizabeth Bennet, touring the countryside and popping up at Pemberley, or would I have been Hill, catering to every freaking complaint of Mrs. Bennet?

It’s not a risk I’m willing to take. I’ll manage my own child, garden, sandwiches, and laundry, thanks.

– – – –

*Yes, I realize malaria is not the same as yellow fever. Creative license, dears.

My Friday Five

A Friday Free-for-All

1. I really do love Sarah Dessen’s blog. There usually isn’t anything particularly helpful in it, which I like in a blog (as you can probably see if you’re reading mine). Hers is entertaining. Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, and sometimes way too true, as she is also the mother of a toddler. Because imitation is the finest form of flattery, I’m stealing her Friday Five idea and using it today, because there are too many bits floating around in my head. [Sidenote: if you want to explore her books, my two favorites are The Truth About Forever and This Lullaby.]

2. My friend and Birthday Buddy, Cora, is not yet a year old and she is already facing her fourth surgery. At least, I think it is her fourth; I have to admit I have lost count because there have been extra trips to the hospital not involving surgery. I bet her parents could tell you without any thought at all how many surgeries Cora has had. Right now, Baby Cora needs to get her nourishment through an IV, and hopefully in a few weeks she’ll have gained enough weight to be strong enough for the next surgery. I don’t want to share details here because a) I’m terrible at medical details, being so swayed by the emotional aspect, and b) Cora is not my baby so I’m really not at liberty to share her information. At any rate, please pray for Cora, or send positive thoughts to the Universe, or virtual hugs to her and her parents, or whatever it is that you can do right now for her. She is a special little girl who does not deserve to have to go through this again. No baby does.

3. Um, it’s really hard to move on from Point #2. But let’s try. Z woke up around 2:30 and could not go back to sleep. She tried. I know, because she was in our bed and I was watching her. Z has always slept with us, from Day 1, and this was a conscious decision we made before she came home with us. I think, however, that even if we hadn’t made that decision, co-sleeping is where we would’ve ended up, anyway, since she screamed if she wasn’t with me. But back to my story. Finally, after watching her flip and flop and almost ruin her chances of a sibling with some of her kicks towards Husband, I asked her if it was her diaper. She actually said yes. So I picked her up, changed her diaper, then rocked her and sang through our current lullabies twice (“All the Pretty Horses” and “Ring Around the Moon”). Then I waited a half hour for her to fall asleep in her crib, sneaked back to my room (hmm, “snuck” comes underlined red with spell check). The creaking floors must have given me away, because she woke up and I had to do the wait-by-the-crib routine all over again. I’m a freaking hero, okay?

4. I hit the Big One with the library hold list this week. Usually I get one or two books at a time–totally manageable. Right now I’ve got eight of them, all taking up space on an already-crowded bookshelf. Then yesterday: a message that five more are just waiting onĀ  me. Here’s my list:

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, audio recording (I LOVE this book!)
  • A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb (finished on Thursday; I had the feeling I’d already read it though)
  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (D-Chan’s been trying to get me to read this for years)
  • The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (MG book, random interest)
  • Accents: a Manual for Actors by Robert Blumenfeld (I’m terrible at accents, but so curious)
  • The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life by Noah Lukeman (author is a literary agent who has published numerous books and articles on writing and querying)
  • Gone by Lisa McMann (may as well finish the trilogy)
  • My Soul to Take by Rachel Vincent (reading now. Love her Werecats series. Unimpressed with this one)
  • The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp (hated the baby one, but friend said this one is better)
  • Urban Shaman by C. E. Murphy (might be terrible–who knows?)
  • The Dark Divine by Bree Despain (ditto the above parenthetical comment. We’ve got to take a chance occasionally)
  • Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception by Maggie Stiefvater (I’ve been on hold for months waiting for Shiver–buy more copies, library!)

5. Although it isn’t official yet, since the “official” first day isn’t until tomorrow, spring is here. From the seeds I planted last week, the lettuce has already sprouted. The weather is warm enough I can go without socks around the house, and Z and I have resumed our morning walks. Everyone seems to be happy about this, and I’m wondering: is anyone sad to see the end of winter?

I’m barely proofing this thing in my rush to get it out. Hope it’s okay…. And happy Friday!

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

A Monday Book Review

“Nae king! Nae quin! Nae laird! Nae master!” This is part of the refrain of the Wee Free Men, the little pictsies who help Tiffany Aching along on her quest to find her kidnapped brat-of-a-brother Wentworth. It’s also what I imagine the stinking* irises are shouting at me as I scold them into submission before ripping them from the ground.

Iris Foetidissima

Stinking Irises

But, oh yes, Pratchett’s book. It was quite funny! I love a book that makes me laugh, and there’s something inherently funny about picsties (six-inch blue men with red hair) who love fighting, stealing, and drinking. Plus what’s not to love about a girl who will use her little brother as bait so she can bash a monster over the head with a frying pan?

*possible spoilers in here*

But when Tiffany finds out the fairy queen kidnapped Wentworth, she follows them to a fairy kingdom to retrieve him, the Wee Free Men tagging along to help her out. And that’s where I stopped having as much fun with the book.

Let me be clear: Terry Pratchett really is a genius, and I could not write his books better. The following is a matter of personal taste, not an attack on his skill as an author.

Basically, I don’t have much patience for fairy kingdoms or alternate worlds (exception to this rule: Graceling by Kristin Cashore). Not my thing. Someday I might have a great idea and go with it for a book of my own, but I sort of doubt it. When the rules change, and when dreams are involved and the rules change rapidly, my ability to suspend disbelief is…suspended. Not only that, but when the dreams are controlled by a character, and then that control is wrested away by another character, and so on? Nope. I’m not buying it.

Plus I’m trying to read fast because Z is running around tackling me and trying to swipe my book away, and then there’s like this never-ending ending, the climax of the story going on forever.

The book was good. I’m glad I read it. And when I need some funny little blue people to bring some laughter into my day, I’ll pick up another of Pratchett’s books. Or I can paint Z blue, dye her hair red, and dress her in a kilt. Teach her to talk with a Scottish accent.

*Note: “Stinking” here is not an adjective, but part of a compound noun. That’s really the name of the irises, iris foetidissima. While getting rid of the tempting red poisonous berry seeds is one reason I’m pulling them up, the other reason is I resent their very stubborn presence. Husband says it’s because they are as stubborn as I am. I was a little resentful of his presence too, when he said that.

It’s a Disease

A Friday Free-for-All Entry

One thing that I love about reading Janet Evanovich and Sarah Dessen is the food. All kinds of snack food–everything you can dream of. Donuts are practically their own character in Evanovich’s books, as well as fried chicken and pineapple upside-down cake. And the teens in Dessen’s novels are constantly guzzling giant sodas and buying snacks from the gas station mini-marts. Ah, what wouldn’t I give for that sort of fictional metabolism?

The other day (it doesn’t really matter which day, as in this respect most days are the same), I had to have chocolate. Any kind would do, and the chocolate chips were long gone from their hiding place on the top shelf in the spice cupboard. Taking a leaf out of one of Dessen’s books, I strapped Z into her stroller and headed to the nearest Quik-Zip (in real life known as the Tower Mart).

On the way there I consoled myself with thoughts of how I had been working out every day (until I came down with that blasted cold), and would soon resume the exercise habit. I reminded myself of my virtuous salads, made from the lettuce growing in my own back yard (which of course makes it even healthier). I thought, Why, I’m walking to the store! That should burn the equivalent of the calories in one almond in the candy bar I am about to purchase!

With thoughts of chocolate-coated almonds distracting me, I could totally ignore the part of me wondering what sort of example I was setting for my child. And when I could ignore it no longer, I berated it, because Z isn’t even two yet! She won’t remember one tiny trip to the Tower Mart taken on one March morning when she was nineteen months old. (Whether she will remember repeated trips taken frequently throughout the rest of her toddlerhood remains to be seen.)

As luck had it, chocolate bars were on sale. I bought two. Okay! Fine! I’ll be honest!

I bought four.

As I stood in line, clutching my chocolate, I looked at the woman in line to the front of me, buying a pack of cigarettes. Then I turned to the man behind me who held a case of Budweiser.

I’d like to say that I drew the appropriate conclusion, put the candy back on the display, and wheeled Z out of the store. What actually happened was I drew the appropriate conclusion, bought the chocolate anyway, and ate one of them as soon as Z went down for her nap that afternoon.

Okay! Fine! I’ll be honest!

I ate two.

Eh. Nothing much else to say about that.

Invinc-ible!

A Friday Free-for-All Entry

“You have not had sex with Russian girl? Come to us and you shall have it!” Usually I barely glance at the messages in my spam folder, but this one caught my eye. I can almost hear someone whispering it in a Russian accent. I picture the speaker as Boris from the James Bond movie GoldenEye–you know the guy: He figures out some password or other geeky problem, then shouts “I am INVIN-CIBLE!”…And then he’s iced in place by a high-tech blasty-thing, fists frozen high in the air from victory.

Some of my recent experiences remind me of Boris. I’m flying high on the positive response from an agent…and then I find slugs binging on my romaine. Or I finally manage to squeeze back into a pair of old pants…and then the agent writes back with a no, thanks. Or I get to Round 2 of the Amazon contest…what’s next? I am full of trepidation. Illness? Injury? Stain on favorite sweater? Will it be major, or minor?

I guess it might come down to whether I believe the universe operates on balance. For every positive, there must be a negative. For every good, a bad. For every James Bond, a Dr. No. I guess that depends on God’s plan–at least that’s what I believe. I just tried to think of a counter-example in the world of rejection letters. There isn’t always a correlating positive for negative in querying for a novel. Usually it’s a whole lot of negative responses with the very rare positive response. BUT that one positive outweighs, and, I hope, nullifies the negatives. You just have to get there, to that positive.

And then, once you get the positive response, and the publisher, there are probably negative reviews. Unless you’ve written The Hunger Games, in which case, maybe there are other negatives going on in your life. But I’m not spiteful enough to wish that on anyone. Well, maybe that person who cut me off in the library parking lot the other day….

This entry has gone in a completely different direction from the intended. Not that I intend much for the Friday Free-for-Alls. But I’m at a good ending point for this entry, since I’m not getting that hour I wrote about on Wednesday. Z spent a few minutes “reading” my Wicked Spanish dictionary and singing along with Anne Murray to “You Are My Sunshine,” but since then she has smashed her finger in the desk drawer, tripped over a Duplo, and had a dirty diaper.

Until Monday, then!

Sequoia Weeds

As promised, a photo of my mini-garden. It is confined to planter boxes for the time being, but we have plans to expand into the back lawn.

Hello salad!

That’s the flattering angle of my “garden.” From the other direction, scary. The arugula is just screaming for attention–it’s in the far planter, crowded, insisting on space, and stealing it from the stunted beets and the three sickly soybean plants.

At dinner last night I asked Husband if he thought it was the coolest thing in the world that I can step into the back yard and “pick” our salad just before we eat it. For him, the novelty wore off after the first night. For me, it never gets old. I look at the bright green things in my salad bowl and just marvel at how these used to be tiny seeds. I have loved them. Like a proud parent, I even made phone calls to friends and family when they sprouted.

I’ve been spending so much of my attention on these two planter boxes (and the failed experiments of container lettuce) that I neglected the front and side yards. Now they are SCARY.

Monster Weed

I don’t think this photo can really get my point across. This is only a small cross-section of one-eighth of the tree-sized weed growing in the side yard. It’s–really–big. Well, it was. And it has friends–many friends. And it had these prickly leaves (hence the heavy work gloves…oh, who am I kidding–I’m freaked out about spiders and all kinds of bugs and always wear gloves when I work in the yard).

The gardening stuff gives me something else to think about. This week had a downer (the agent formerly interested in Savage Autumn sent an impersonal r e j e c t i o n letter), and an upper (SA made it into the second round of the ABNA contest). And I’m starting to really think about the next book, which is so much fun, but my brain needs a break sometimes, and it needs to get outside.

Well, the sequel to The Hunger Games awaits. So glad the weekend starts tomorrow!