, , , , ,

I did not plant the bright pink petunias that I found growing out of a pot of climbing mandevilla late this summer.  Yes, I had noticed some unplanned greenery starting to sprout up in that pot on my deck.  I assumed they were weeds and being only 3-4 inches tall, they fell low on my weed removal priority list, somewhere behind the thistles bigger than the dog, and the mystery weeds that were taller than me and had already gone to seed.  Why would I crawl on my deck on my hands and knees to tweek out some little green shoots when I clearly had much bigger horticultural projects to tackle?

So I forgot about those little shoots and was surprised to discover some weeks later these petunias that were thriving unlike any I had ever planted before, tumbling over the edge of the deck in a riot of ridiculous pinkness.   It took a minute to stop congratulating myself on the improvement in my container gardening skills when I remembered that I had never planted those petunias.

They were a spontaneous eruption for which I take no credit, unless you count not keeping my containers tidy as an accomplishment.  I am left to just enjoy their bright color and envy their gumption and wonder how many things I pull out actually have so much potential and how many things I keep are weeds in disguise.

I have often heard and seen the phrase ‘bloom where you are planted,”  on greeting cards and magnets and notepads.  Mary Englebreit tells us that this is a good idea, and it is.   Of course, she also tells us that life is a chair of bowlies, so we take her advice with a grain of salt.

Yes, I can keep working to bloom where I am planted.  Or I can make like a petunia and plant myself where I want to bloom.

(Perhaps this is a good place to note that the petunias I did plant this summer, a proper and rather conservative white variety, all shriveled in the heat in a matter of days, even though I watered them.  Hmmm.)


Tonight is a hard freeze, so these beauties will be gone.  I am glad they stopped by for a visit.

greetings and salutations


, ,

Every fall, a new spider sets up her last camp on our deck.  Every year, I name her Charlotte and watch her go about her business with fascination.

Here is Charlotte 10.

She is not as large, nor did she last as long as some of her predecessors.  But she kept a tidy web and was a good companion for a while.  (Outside spiders = good companions when viewed through window.  Inside spiders, not so much.  Not at all, really.)

One morning before school, as the Little One and I were marveling at the intricacies and symmetry of her web, a bug flew into it and mild-mannered Charlotte transformed instantly into a killing machine.  I think the swift and violent death of the bug was of more interest to the boy than the beauty of the web in the morning dew, but that is just a hunch.

And then, the next morning, she was gone.  I felt a little lonely until I saw one of my Walking Stick buddies on the kitchen screen, so I said good morning to her instead.

This, my friends, is one of the primo benefits of calling myself a writer.  Writers can talk to insects, or plants, or seasons, or themselves, and it is considered normal behavior, creative and charmingly eccentric.  Before?  Not so much normal.  Not at all, really.

I like my job.

keeping my cool



Well, I did not burst into flames, the weather did cool down, autumn did arrive… although I suspect that Summer’s reluctant departure was only because she is required to follow the rules, and if it had been up to Summer alone, I would still be facing an imminent threat of internal combustion.

So, here we are and all is well.

(If you don’t count that I am personifying a season and harboring resentment against it.  Other than that, it’s all good.)

My Life as a Frog


, , , , ,

I spend too much time thinking about just how flippin’ hot it is here, an unhealthy amount of time really, time I could choose to use in much more constructive ways.  I ruminate about The Heat, working it over and over in my head like I will eventually figure out how to make heat and me get along.  I have held off writing this post, for months, because I felt whining about the weather is hardly a candid thought worth sharing.  Boo sweaty hoo.

Today, however, I sense I am close to my boiling point.  It’s hot as hell, and I don’t want to take it anymore.

Yes, 2010 has been hot, as have many other places this year.  We have not faced some biblical plague, nor catastrophic storms, just some ungodly number of Days Over 90 Degrees.  Strung together.  All in a long, long row.  I try to count my blessings that we have not had destructive weather events wreaking havoc around here.

Days Over 90 Degrees is a popular statistic here, one that the local meteorologists banter around like their Minnesota counterparts tout the snowfall totals.  They are also very fond of the concept called “Heat Index”, where some mysterious formula of factors tells you how incredibly uncomfortable you will really feel if you actually go outside when it is 97 in Cincinnati.  I have my own personal “Heat Janendex”, which, for my own safety and the safety of others, I calculate myself before I consider stepping outside in the summer months.

The Heat Janedex can be calculated with this simple formula:


Which, if you do not know me, represents the sum of:  % Humidity, % Cloud Cover, wind velocity, UV index, Smog Alert Severity and Smokey the Bear’s Fire Hazard Level, divided by the Ounces of Latte Consumed X Hot-Flash status.

(Now, who says you never use algebra again once you graduate?)

Roughly speaking, if it is 98 degrees in my driveway, my body will automatically calibrate to the conditions and make it feel like it is 103 thousand degrees.  And I will turn around and walk back into the air-conditioned house.

After 10 years here, I have come to the conclusion that July in Cincinnati is my February in Minneapolis — a time for cabin fever, cooped up days inside, staring out the window at the poor fools who venture out “for fun.”  I would rather be out in the yard in a raging snowstorm than when it is blaring sun and 99 degrees.  I have Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder.  I diagnosed myself, by the way.

CinciAugust is my MinneMarch — there are no delusions that the end is near,  but with a couple of months under the belt, a reasonable person can buckle down for the long haul.  The Dog Days.  Still, there may be occasional glimmers of hope, a Minneapolis thaw, a Cinci day or two in the low 80’s, so easy to be lured into complacency…

Which brings us to CinciSeptember, my personal MinneApril — you know the month — where expectations run high for the next season to glide into place on schedule, with all due respect to the calendar…  it is almost over… all is happy… I buy into the back-to-school ads showing smiling children mommies with sweaters draped jauntily around their shoulders, waving goodbye;  the mums filling the garden stores, ready to be placed on front porches next to the pumpkins and corn stalks in a festive autumn display.  Most years, CinciSeptember is the light at the end of the hot, weedy tunnel.

But alas, like MinneApril, it is that wave of expectations that blinds a person to the possibility of a soul-crushing return of unseasonable weather that is only supposed to happen once a century, but somehow it is the second time in four years that it happened again.  It is that freak late season snowstorm that dumps four inches of snow on the tulips.  It is the week of 90+ degrees that spans the official first days of fall.  The days when the only use for a jaunty sweater would be to strangle a weatherman. (Metaphorically, of course.)

Here we are, several days into autumn, and the high today is once again predicted to be 90 degrees.  Sigh.  I am left feeling like the frog sitting in a pot of water.  If the frog is dropped into a pot of boiling water, the frog will immediately jump out.  If the frog is set in a pot of cool water, say in May, and then you slowly turn up the heat, and leave the heat on high for, say, 92 days, the frog will slowly boil to death and never realize what hit her.

Ribbbbettttt.  Soup, anyone?

Apparently I am a northern girl at heart, and my current location just north of the Mason-Dixon line is my southern threshold for heat and humidity. And on that thought, I am done.  I have said my peace with the heat.  I can stop thinking about it now, no more whining, or ruminating.  (This looks like a good place to note that I do not, ever, complain about the winter here, ever.  I don’t want you to think I am a big whiny weather wimp.  I don’t mind the dreary, it is the hot that makes me teary…)

And, this too will pass.  The forecast says 70’s tomorrow, which means good weather for soup can not be far behind.

Little Bo Meep


, , , ,

Some may think summer is the time for kicking back and relaxing… other creatures find back-to-school much more rejuvenating.

How they still wedge themselves into the bed they shared as kittens, I don’t know.  Sometimes the combined weight will cause the cat bed to careen off the edge of the Kitty Condo Tower, sending Meep’s pear-shaped butt hurtling through the air in a desperate attempt to land on her feet.  She needs the tower to be a few feet taller to master that manuever.

Because as kittens are apt to do, they turned into Cats.

This cat formerly known as Mia — the perfect cat name I had chosen 21 years ago much the way a young girl would pick her favorite baby name — this cat has turned out to be not a Mia at all, much the way the name I dreamed of for my some-day daughter would be vetoed by my husband as the name of the girl in the back of class that ate paste.  Mia just didn’t fit right.  She was soon renamed Meep, in reference to the little squeaky peep she emits instead of a common meow.  Of course from there, it was a slippery slope to Queen Meepersly Squeakersworth.  (*Meep* )

In an unfortunate series of events, and without the use of performance-enhancing kitty treats or Ben & Jerry’s Mouse Tracks, she has morphed into a cat of Rubenesque proportions, a look that is difficult for a cat, or the rest of us for that matter, to pull off without ridicule.  Yet another visit to the Vet confirmed that cats do come in all different shapes and sizes, like the rest of us for that matter, and, while unfortunate, her shape is within the scope of normal.


Cowboy, on the other hand, is a long, tall glass of water.  He got to keep his name, because it fits him.


He has Ten Gallon ears.


So, by contrast?  When Meep stands next to him?  She looks like she has a tiny head and is wearing a furry hoop skirt.

Poor Little Bo Meep.  Maybe kicking back will tone her abs?

those Fabulous Bicker Boys


, ,

It’s quiet around here…  maybe a little too quiet.

The cats have gradually come out of hiding, casting furtive glances around the room, listening carefully for the boys that had just recently been jumping out of the woodwork with Nerf “guns”.  I was repeatedly assured that no one was aiming at the cats, however I can speak from experience that the sensation of nerf darts whizzing past one’s ears is disconcerting at best.  I can only imagine how much it freaks out a cat.  Especially Meep, who is not quite sure how she feels about her own shadow.

I am thankful that these crazy kids are still very entertained and amused by spongey ammunition, truly one of the simpler pleasures of life.  And for some reason, they argue less when they are shooting each other.  I don’t care that the basement is redecorated in Early Pillow Fort Bunker.  Technology is great, but you just can’t run around the house and leap out from behind couches to ambush someone while brandishing a cell phone.

Anyway, the cats have cautiously ventured out and are settling back into naps on the now-quiet boys’ beds.

The dog is wearing a look somewhere between boredom and relief.

I have much more uninterrupted writing time.

The Fabulous Bicker Brothers, exit stage left, boarding the bus.  A  new year has begun.  And yep, you guessed it, I miss them.

the home stretch


, , , , ,

… it’s the final kick, digging deep, rounding the bases and heading for home alone.

The school supplies are packed, the backpacks bulging with loose-leaf paper and expectations.  The boys have new clothes, new shoes (cue foreshadowing music here) and shaggy haircuts, but two out of three ain’t bad.  This has been the happiest summer I have ever spent with the boys, but it is time.  My master plan — to make the last couple weeks as painfully dull as possible — has produced the desired result: they are looking forward to school.

Inaction as action is one of my favorite strategies.

One is off to junior high, and one to the top of the elementary school food chain; already I can see that this year will have its share of life lessons.  I am steeling myself and hoping for minimal wailing and gnashing of teeth.  The Little One is kicking off the life lesson parade with his first major purchase, one he may regret, or love.  Time will tell.

That Little One, he is, well, let’s just say he is frugal with his own money.  He takes great pride in his sizeable savings of birthday money and holiday cash, his two previous sole sources of income.  (Other than those few years long ago when he agreed to pick up the dog poo for $0.25 per pile, which was a deal too good to last once he grew more wise to the ways of the world.  I am only slightly ashamed — that may go down as the greatest scam I ever pulled off as a parent.)

Recently, he came to me with an offer I could not refuse:  he volunteered to clean the litterbox and feed the cats every day in exchange for an allowance.  Now, both kids are expected to do regular chores around the house as part of being a family.  An allowance came recently for the Professor to give him both greater responsibility and freedom. The Little One would receive the same privilege at the same age.

But the cat box?  This offer showed great initiative I thought, and bravery.   Plus, in the grand division of labor that is Every Marriage, cleaning the litterbox was one of my tasks so I was more than happy to pawn it off.  The kid offered for goodness sake, who was I to crush his entrepreneurial spirit?

So he scooped and bagged and cleaned and fed, and collected his cash.

“Wow, I inspire hard work,” I thought to myself with satisfaction.

Not too many weeks later, The Little One came to me with a request for new shoes for school.  Keep in mind, we have taken great pride that neither boy has ever been the kind to beg for the latest toy or clothes or… shoes.  No ipad, or iphone, or other i-thingy, no cell phone, or PSP.  New, clean shoes for school — reasonable enough.  But this kid, this time, was not interested in regular ole’ shoes — this was the first ever request for Special Shoes, the kind that are advertised every seven minutes during every major televised sporting event, the ones with snazzy new features that are “like an energy drink for your feet”.

For the price of these shoes?  The energy drink should also wash those feet.

Hmmm, looked like a life lesson to me.  I told him I would pay the amount of a typical pair of school shoes, and he would have to pay for the rest.  Tightwad that he is, that would put an end to this nonsense.

I underestimated the fortitude of a tween.

So he bought these shoes — we had to order them online because no local store carried his size — and he handed me the wad of cash right after I pushed the “Submit Order” button on the website.  Now he waits for The Shoes to arrive.

Will the shoes even be comfortable?  Will he regret this purchase, and be filled with buyer’s remorse?  Will the shoes still fit pubescent feet three months from now?  These are not my problems, I have to keep reminding myself.  Will he wear them proudly with a new (highly energized) spring in his step?  I will soon find out.  I offered him my advice and guidance, and let him make the decision.  I figure a lesson in spending is worth the price.  And, I no longer needed to go the ATM that day.

One lesson that can’t be jammed into the backpack, and they have not even left home yet.  (Can anyone else hear the wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round?)

reality check on the prairie



I am ready to let go of the dream that either of my children will ever read the complete boxed set of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s  Little House on the Prairie — yes, I mean the collection that I purchased before they were born and had planned to read aloud to them while they played quietly with solid wooden toys.