The Un(in)tended Garden

dying daisies


Ahh, my garden full of daisies… When I moved in I had such high hopes for it.

It started out quite well – a whole big flowerbed bursting with them, blooming fuller than I ever could have hoped for. But about a year in, there was this one patch that was struggling… Thinning out. A little brown around the edges. Not nearly so many blooms as before. But I had high hopes – I could bring it back! All it would take was a little more TLC to revive it to its previous glory, I was sure of it. I could do this.

But no matter how much attention I paid, no matter how I fed and watered and nurtured it, that patch of the garden just seemed to keep getting worse. Was it the soil? The fertilizer? Maybe I was over-watering? < sigh > So much energy devoted to one little patch of plants…

So finally, after about a year of worrying incessantly over that section of the garden and still watching it steadily decline, I got fed up. I yanked it out. And of course immediately regretted it. What had I done? Any potential there was for that poor plant was just thwarted by my own hand. I had killed the very thing I was trying so hard to bring back. I was a daisy murderer.

But you know what? Maybe it was for the best. I don’t think that damn bunch of daisies was probably ever going to grow in the way I wanted it to. All that extra effort I had been pouring into it all this time did nothing but prolong the inevitable and cause me to neglect the rest of the garden, letting everything else get all leggy and overgrown. I had gotten so focused on the damned dying daisies that I distracted from the ones that were still doing great. I let everything else slide to focus on one bit of it that apparently wasn’t so happy to grow there.

So fine. Don’t grow if you don’t want to. I’m done trying to help you along. And it’s about time I got back to tending the rest of that garden.

So now what to do with that one ornery patch? I guess I’ll wait until the spring to make my final decision. Now that I’ve pulled out the stems the fate of that plant is pretty much out of my hands anyway. Nature has a habit of doing things its own way on its own time, and perhaps that patch will surprise me. Maybe now that there’s no top growth, the roots will regroup underground and spring forth anew with the first warm breezes, blooming better than ever. Maybe it just needed time to get its collective root-shit together. Maybe I’m dreaming.

If (IF…) it decides to come back in the spring, I suppose I’ll have to decide if I really even want it there. For all the time I invested in it, is that really the flower that I want? Should I plant something else that would suit me better? Something that will grow there happily with less maintenance? Or perhaps I should just get one of those decorative resin Buddha statues to plunk down in that spot for now – it’ll be one less section for me to worry about until I get the rest back in shape.

But damn… I did have such high hopes.

For the time being that garden’s on its own – until the spring thaw there’s not much I can do with it anyway, and there’s plenty of inside stuff to be done. Time to focus my energies inward – the living room is in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint.


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This fall I’ve retired my rake.



I have a big yard with lots of mature trees, bordered by woods.  When I tell you that I have leaves in the fall, I mean I have LEAVES.  Tons of them.  About a foot deep.

Last fall (my first year here) I was the gung-ho new homeowner and went out and raked them all — which took about 7 zillion hours and completely ruined the tenuous friendship I have with my back for several weeks.

This year, after some serious contemplation (and not-so-fond memories of aching arms and back) I decided to re-think my leaf related strategy.  It occurred to me that, as far as I know, Mother Nature has never raked a leaf in her life, and she’s been at this a helluva lot longer than me.  Perhaps she’s on to something here.  And perhaps it’s in my lawn’s best interest that I should follow her lead.

This year I decided to retire my rake and mulch my leaves instead.  

Quite frankly, most of my reasoning on this relates to lack of time and perhaps some inherent laziness. But there’s also some sound agronomics and environmental benefits behind it, so I feel happily justified in my sloth.

Let’s start with the agronomics.  Nature is the Original and Great Recycler, and for eons has taken the fallen dead stuff and broken it down into its nutrient components to feed and support the next generation of live stuff.  By mowing/mulching my leaves in instead of raking them, I’m just giving Mother Nature a helping hand in doing what she does best.  Being a South Jersey dweller, I also suffer from heavy clay soils that hold water like nobody’s business.  By incorporating more organic matter into the soil (i.e. chopped up leaves and grass clippings) instead of removing them, I’m adding structure to the soil and making it more “air friendly” as well as adding free fertilizer. Mulching my leaves not only feeds the following year’s growth, but over time will also make it drain easier so it’s less of a stagnant swamp during the rainy season, and will also allow it to hold more moisture when things really start to dry out at the end of the summer.

Then there’s the environmental side.  I could rake all that carbon-based goodness up and haul it to the dump every fall, killing my back in the process and using way more fossil fuel than my little mower does. (Our township forces the hand a bit by not offering leaf pick-up.)  Then I could apply a synthetic fertilizer in the spring and fall, which uses even MORE fossil fuels to make, truck to the local big box store, and drive home.  The tree-hugger bit of me cringes at that.  (Not to mention I already have a bag of rock-hard fertilizer in the garage that I never got around to spreading out this spring.)

And then there’s that time crunched/lazy part. (See previous statement about rock-hard fertilizer.) Why on earth would I want to spend several days raking leaves, another couple of hours mowing, and then yet another couple of hours fertilizing, when 3 hours walking behind my mower with a single pass can deal with all three?  Duh.

So whether you want to chalk it up to agronomic acumen, environmental responsibility, or sheer laziness on my part, I’m opting to mulch my leaves from now on.

You should, too.

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Weeds are in the eye of the beholder

Weeds are in the eye of the beholder

Weeds are in the eye of the beholder

Last year I bought a house with a huge, beautiful yard. Quite honestly it’s probably way too big for a single working parent to sanely tackle on her own, but I’ve never been known for my sanity and I fell in love with it the moment I saw it.

I work in the professional green industry – albeit as a marketer and not a practitioner- but still I won’t insult my colleagues’ sensibilities by referring to my back yard ( or the front for that matter) as a lawn. It’s not. Hell, half of it isn’t even grass, although it does do a mighty fine impersonation for a day or two after I mow the tops off the weeds. And if you don’t look too closely.

For the sake of my professional credibility I’ll refer to it as a marginally manicured meadow, as that’s probably closer to the truth.

I’ll cop to this particular homeowner crime. I don’t fertilize. I don’t put down weed killer. I don’t water. Chalk it up to lack of time or laziness (both are partially true) but for right now I choose to let nature take care of her own.

And she does, for the most part. And every Sunday she leaves me new and wondrous surprises for my mowing pleasure. The beautiful purple blooms of wild violets. Clumps of Star of Bethlehem, which look like wild onion, only with delicate star-shaped white flowers that open and close with the sun. Some prehistoric- looking fern thing with intricately lobed rust-colored leaves that I have yet to properly identify. Snuggled along the fence line are wild strawberries with their tiny vibrant red fruits. Every week Mother Nature paints her bright canvas anew, providing me with endless visual amusement as I happily push the mower back and forth.

At first I felt like the bad neighbor, who was letting her property go as the rest maintained picture-perfect lawns. But in the end I decided to take a more zen approach. Instead of fighting against all the wild things that grow in from the creek and woods that border the property, I chose instead to notice and appreciate the natural diversity and its inherent beauty.

I’m willing to make peace with nature – as long as it doesn’t mind a weekly haircut.


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Dancing with an armful of daisies…

Back when I started writing Picking Daisies in Purgatory my life actually felt like purgatory — it seemed like everything in my life had stagnated, and I was just waiting around in some kind of holding pattern for something to happen.  So I figured while I was waiting I might as well entertain myself (and hopefully you as well) by writing about events and ideas that mattered to me.  I was trying to pick whatever daisies I could find.

I guess over the last couple of years I must have finally burned off the last of whatever bad karma I had hanging over me. Suddenly everything started to change. My stagnant little life started moving again.  Things started going right.  I got a fantastic promotion complete with an amazing boss who happily let me off the leash. The negative people that plagued various parts of my existence suddenly picked up and moved on. I met the love of my life and have experienced more personal happiness than I actually thought was possible. And after two years of searching I finally found the perfect house to call home.

This past year I haven’t been picking daisies – they’ve practically been thrown at me. And I am grateful for every last one of them. I’m not giving up the blog just yet, but it may still be a while before you see me around here again regularly. Now that I have all these beautiful flowers, this happy girl is going to sit back and enjoy them for just a bit longer. Can you blame me?


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Lunch Roulette

My office is tucked in a little industrial park, pretty much close to nothing as far as lunch fare is concerned.  The closest thing within grab-n-go distance is a Wendy’s off the interstate, so that’s usually where I end up. Generally speaking, I like Wendy’s food — they’ve got a decent selection at a decent price, and have some reasonably healthy options on the menu.  But this one in particular has got to be the world’s worst.

We’ve nicknamed the Wendy’s noontime ordeal “lunch roulette” — akin to Russian roulette, except with food.  You pull the trigger on your order, and you’re never really sure what you’re going to get until it’s too late. They give you the wrong food, forget the salad dressing, or send you off with an inordinate amount of plastic knives.  What’s in the bag today?  It’s anybody’s guess.

This week they didn’t even wait until I picked up the food to fuck with me.


Speaker:  Welcome to Wendy’s. Can I take your order?

Me:  I’d like a plain baked potato with butter (polite pause for order entry), a side salad with French dressing (another polite pause), and a medium Hi-C*.

*I like Hi-C.  Shut up.

Speaker:  OK — a baked potato, and what else?

Me:  (mental sigh) A side salad with French dressing. And a medium Hi-C.

Speaker:  Um… we don’t have French dressing.

Me:  (strange… they had French dressing yesterday…) What are my dressing options?

Speaker:  We have Fat Free French.

Me:  Um.. (no, no, don’t go there — it’s just not worth it.) Yes, that will work fine.

Speaker:  Will that complete your order?

Me:  And a medium Hi-C, please.

Speaker:  (sounding more than slightly annoyed) We’re OUT of Hi-C.

Me:  Sorry, I was not aware.

Speaker:  Will that complete your order?

Me:  (Well, not really but…) Sure…


I proceeded to drive around, hand over my money, and collect my mystery bag.

The contents:  1 overcooked baked potato, no butter.  One side salad with Fat Free French dressing. 3 forks, 1 straw (??) and no napkins.


Lunch should just not be this hard.  Quite frankly, the stale Cheez-Its in the vending machine are looking better every day…










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Is it too late to purchase the extended plan?

It happened…  My warranty expired.

No, not the one on my TV or my car — the one on me.  My chiropractor warned me shortly after my 40th birthday (I had thrown my back out by standing up and sneezing at the same time — go figure), but I didn’t believe him. His theory is that once you hit the age of 40, your it’s all downhill from there.  Just like cars and major appliances, the day after the warranty runs out is when things start to squeak and rattle and break.  I thought he was crazy.

Crap.  I think he was right.

Since he opened his big mouth, it’s been an annoying downhill amble.  Nothing major, just some extra cracks and pops and aches that I never noticed before.  Back pain, stiff neck, a swollen knuckle that looks suspiciously like the beginnings of arthritis.

Oh, and I can’t see for squat.  I used to have eyes like a hawk, and now I need to have my kid stand on the other side of the room with things just so I can read them.  This getting old stuff is for the birds.

Is it too late to purchase the extended warranty?


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My ears runneth over


The teachers tell me that at school my son hardly ever speaks.  I swear they are talking to the wrong mom.

Either that, or he just saves it all up for me, because at home he never stops talking.  He launches into a running monologue from the moment I pick him up after school until the second his head hits the pillow.  Something as simple as getting a fork out of the drawer launches him into yet another tangental story.

I hear parents mourn the good old days of family dinners when everyone talked to each other, instead of wolfing down their food and bolting from the table.  They should come to our house. Dinner takes twice as long to eat than it did to cook, and a “short” 45-minute meal only happens when I tell him to shush and keep eating. Seven times.

It takes an hour to read a 10-minute story.  Every sentence begs for embellishment. Every picture needs in-depth analysis.  His running commentary on the characters and plot is much more detailed than what’s actually written in the pages. Did the author realize he had left so much out?

It’s a good day when I can get a word in edgewise.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I love the fact that he enjoys telling stories, and that at this age he still enjoys telling them to me. I know that one day — all too soon — he will think mom is totally boring and want to run off with his friends. But sometimes my poor old mommy ears just need a break.

Anyone have an aspirin?


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A Tale of Two Beaches


Yesterday marked the last hurrah at the Jersey Shore for our family.  The kiddo and I made our way down in the late morning to meet my dad and his wife who had driven in the night before.  It ended up being cold and rainy (not the best weather for a shore-bound day), but not even that could put a damper on our family’s generations-old traditions.

Now for those of you not familiar with South Jersey, the residents are generally divided into two types: those that go to Wildwood and those that go to Ocean City. Both beaches have sand, a boardwalk, and ravenous seagulls who will swoop down and steal food right out of your hand, but the similarities stop there.  Ocean City is generally quiet, peaceful, and (in my mind anyway) a little bit boring.  Wildwood, on the other hand, is a noisy three-ring circus of game barkers, flashing lights and wild rides. Just about every family has a history at one of these two beaches, and, much like migrating Canadian Geese, we return year after year to the one we grew up on.

Me? I’m a third-generation Wildwood kid. My grandparents started vacationing there in the 1950′s — back in the city’s Doo-Wop hey day — and it’s been the “family beach” ever since.  As a kid I didn’t even realize other beaches existed, and as an adult it’s still the only one for me. It’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea (just ask the Ocean City people), but I love every tacky, gaudy, raucus, neon-flashing, Jetson-styled “watch-the-tram-car-please” inch of it.

Yesterday we started our Wildwood afternoon with a quick tour of the rides on Morey’s Pier, followed by lunch inside the hallowed purple walls of Mack’s Pizza at Wildwood Ave. We sat at the counter and scarfed down a couple of slices, and chased it down with Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer.  And yes, old Mrs. T is still sitting there at the end of the counter keeping an eye on things, just as she has been for the last 35 years.

Next it was back out onto the pier for another round of bumper cars, flying elephants, furiously spinning teacups and other assorted rides before the rain finally chased everyone under cover. We scurried down the boardwalk to Douglass Fudge, which is strangely where our family always ends up in Wildwood when it rains.  Stopping in there is a must, rain or shine, becuase a trip to Wildwood just isn’t complete without a pound of fudge to take home. (Although quite frankly a full pound has never made it all the way home with our family in three generations.)   After a soggy trip back down the boardwalk with our fudge in tow, we were back in the car and headed home.

Now back to that Wildwood vs. Ocean City thing.  As I said, I’m a Wildwood kid, born and raised.  My son’s dad is one of those Ocean City people.  (Should have known that relationship was doomed from the start!)

For now my son gets to enjoy both beaches with his respective parents, but I’m sure there’s an unofficial rule somewhere that doesn’t allow South Jersey residents  to have “dual summership” — to be a proper South Jerseyan at some point he’ll have to choose allegiance to one or the other.

I hope he’ll choose Wildwood. I need a roller coaster buddy and someone to help lug the fudge.




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Life consists not simply in what heredity and environment do to us but in what we make out of what they do to us.
— Harry Emerson Fosdick


I’ve always been a bit of a creative.  Ever since I can remember I was creating something — casting plays, writing stories, fabricating fanciful things. When I think back to my childhood I see a puddle of purple Crayola paints.  I smell Scotch tape.  I hear the sound of safety scissors pushing through construction paper. These are the remembered joys of my unboundaried young life.

As I grew older my creative repertoire expanded to include poetry, dance, drawing, and sculpting. I filled countless hours communing with the creative muse in one form or another, trying on all sorts of artistic expression to see if they fit.  And I never really took it all that seriously; it was something that was a part of me — just for me — that I didn’t share with many people.

It’s no surprise, really.  I come from a long line of closet creatives.  My grandmother was a housewife who had a secret talent for painting flowers with magnificent details of shadow and light. My grandfather was an auto mechanic who could turn a solid block of wood into a wonder of intricately cut detail. My mother was a customer service representative who could sketch people like nobody’s business.  Outside of the immediate family, nobody knew.

Art in our family was always something you kept for yourself.  It wasn’t a real occupation; it wasn’t practical.  As much as my family appreciated the personal pursuit of artistic expression, it wasn’t something you could make a life at. Not when there was a family to feed and bills to pay. It was just an amusement, a diversion from the drudgery of real life. What you really needed to find was a respectable and stable occupation.

I was the first person in my family to go to college, and everyone (myself included) expected me to follow a good academic career path  ending with the title of doctor, lawyer, teacher, corporate executive.  I tried; really I did. I studied biology, and then spent my spare time in the dorm writing poetry and sketching. I got my first full-time job in an admin positon, and used my down time to design posters for all of the company functions.  I went back to school for anthropology, and right after graduation I got a job doing marketing and graphic design.  No matter how hard I tried, I always came back to art in some form or another.

About 15 years ago I finally gave up on the guilt and reconciled myself to the fact that I’m one of those people who needs to create for a living. I’ve happily never looked back. Although as a  corporate marketer/designer I do have to make some fairly regular concessions in my “artistic vision,” it still keeps me happily engaged and gainfully employed. I figure it’s a small price to pay for the daily fulfillment I receive. I also still try to honor the family tradition of creating just for me when I can, simply for the joy of it.

At the end of the day I believe we all have a calling in life, an inner voice that speaks to us about what we should really be doing with ourselves. An inner compass that we may follow in our younger years, but all too soon give up in deference to what our parents, our friends, our culture think we should be.

What about your inner voice? Did you follow it or dismiss it? Do you still hear it call now and then?

I accept now that the need for artistic expression in my life is a part of my DNA, a gift handed down through previous generations. After years of fighting against it I now do what I can— whenever I can — to honor that voice.

I wonder how differently the rest of my family would have lived if they had honored theirs…

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It’s not you. It’s me.

Gate wedgie

All suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their own happiness or satisfaction.”  — Dalai Lama


“He ate the last one, and he knows they’re my favorite!”

“What do you mean it’s sold out? You just don’t want me to have one.”

“I know he cut me off on purpose…”

Really, people. Let’s be reasonable about this. With the exception of maybe a few select sociopaths, no one plots over their Wheaties in the morning trying to find ways to ruin your day. They were most likely pondering ways to make their day better – and chances are you just stumbled into their way.

We human beings are inherently selfish animals, and we default to the path that serves our own best interests without thinking much more about it. Unfortunately we forget that taking that particular path might cause us to trample on other people’s interests along the way.  I’ve done it.  So have you. It doesn’t make us bad people, just occasionally inconsiderate and fallible.  Human.

We could all stand a bit more tolerance and forgiveness in our lives.  So the next time you find yourself getting your undies in a bunch over something “done to you” in the course of your day, try this:

  1. Take a deep breath or two.
  2. Grasp your bunched undies firmly with both hands and tug them back down where they belong.
  3. Treat it as a bump in your path instead of a collision, and continue about your day.
Try it. What could it hurt?
Even better – what could it heal?  

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