Monday, June 23, 2008

Pulling Weeds & Feeding the Dog

"I swear I pulled that very weed two days ago!" Do you ever feel like this? Well, in my case, I probably had pulled that weed two days ago, because due to time constraints, my weeding philosophy (yes, I actually have one!) has been to pull weeds so that the bed looks good and not worry about getting it all the way down to the root. I'm more interested in my native prairie plants looking neat and tidy, than worrying about what is actually going on under the soil (this year, at least!). I can hear all you Real Gardeners groaning out there . . . .

As I was pulling the same weeds today that I pulled a few days ago, I started thinking about how much that is like life. How we all have things that really should be rooted out, but often we are more concerned with appearances and not actually getting down to the heart of matters. I rarely have these kinds of quiet moments where I can think like this (Bean & Bear are at church day camp all week -- THANKS, MOM!! and Bug was napping -- one of the sweetest words in the English language), so as I let my mind wander around with that thought for a while, I did stumble on a couple of other ideas moving within the same metaphor. For instance, this year, we took precautions by putting down weed cloth and mulch so that what weeds did grow would be easier to yank out. I also weed almost everyday, so the bane of my existence, (creeping charlie-the blasted stuff!) is smaller and less. This got me thinking about what precautions I need to take in the rest of my life to avoid letting garbage fester and bad habits take over. Forcing more peaceful moments each day with just my thoughts and God might be a good start! One more reason to start getting up earlier . . . .

And finally, all of this weed pulling and thinking and hot sun congealed into a crystallized moment (I think that is a mixed metaphor since congealing things aren't really crystallizing -- but just go with me here!) that has nothing to do with gardening. I don't know about you, but I have character flaws (frankly, this should read: SINS) that I think I will deal with until the day I die. But I was reminded today about a metaphor from C.S. Lewis about dogs. He likened our physical, natural character to a black dog and our spiritual, God-attuned side to a white dog. Whichever dog you choose to feed becomes stronger, while the other starves. I have found this to be so true. Even though I may never fully triumph over some issues in my life, if I choose not to feed that wrong desire or fault, it will become weaker and weaker in its pull on me. When I cultivate my relationship with Christ, I become stronger and more able to resist and flee temptation. To be honest, I recently failed in fighting an old issue that I thought was dead and there it goes, gaining in strength again. Starvation mode is now in full swing. I want to put that sucker down for the count!

So today, as I finish up some yard work and take care of Luna/Yu-Ya/Woo-Da/Lerda (that dear, sweet soul from Cayman who comes to a variety of names), I'm going to be thinking about what other things I might need to root out and starve and what needs to be fed more. I need to more concerned about what is going on in my heart, than what other people perceive about me. Just because I can say the right words or put up enough of a facade to keep people from seeing the real me, does not mean that everything is weed-free and pristine on the inside. That needs to be the never-ending quest of life --pulling out the weeds and starving that bad, bad dog.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Of Dinny Pids and Other News

I have been so devastated by Big Brown's Belmont loss that I have been in mourning and unable to write! Seriously, you don't think I'm that big of a nerd, do you? Oh, don't answer! It was an unbelievable loss for the favorite to come in dead last and the biggest long shot to lead the entire race. Amazing. As Big Brown's jockey observed, it just goes to show what “freaks” the previous eleven Triple Crown winners really were. The only good thing is that now you probably won't have to read about horse racing from me until next May! (Unless I decide to write up something about “Big Red” -- Secretariat. I just love that horse!)

So as my title suggests, there is a new addition to the ZamFam! We are all taken by the new critter Oreo who has taken up residence in the girls' room. I'm not big on using living creatures as bribes, but Bean was rewarded for her excellent report card and for finishing first grade with no discipline issues with a new pet, so we now have a “dinny pid” (Bear-speak – say it out loud if you can't figure it out!). He is the silky soft Peruvian variety, and I'll let you guess what color he is by his name.

El Guapo is both blessed and cursed by being incredibly busy at work these days, so the poor guy is pretty beat when he gets home at night. That hasn't stopped us from attempting to get some major yard work done, though. You might think that having a horticulturist-wanna-be (I was accepted to Purdue's horticulture program in 1991, but ended up going into English/ history/education instead) and a strapping, not-that-old Mexican living in the same house, we'd have the best lawn/landscaping combo on the block. Well, you'd be wrong! Just ask the neighbors. We decided this is the year to change that, so we have been tearing up planting beds, laying down weed cloth, installing edging, planting and mulching like crazy. I think we have finally struck a plan that will work, and by “work” I mean require almost no maintenance after this year and not look like a weed patch. We went with a garden plan we found online that is based on native prairie grasses and other low-maintenance options. We splurged on some solar- powered lighting, and I've planted up some annuals for color in Mexican terracotta pots we've collected. We even added a windchime. Now the bronze turtle I got for mother's day looks right at home out there!

With school out, I do a kind of summer camp for the kids each morning with a different theme each week. We start each day with a nature “hike” in our back yard. Bean documents our finds in a notebook, Bear is awesome at describing (with great enthusiasm) what we've seen and Bug mostly picks dandelions (maybe he'll be the lawn guy in the family . . . ). Some of this week's nature highlights were seeing a spit bug nest (to recreate our experience, spit on a plant –seriously, that's exactly what it looks like!), some giant spiders and their spectacular webs (think “Charlotte”), and black-winged damselflies up really close. (I also make the kids pick weeds. Shhhh, don't tell! I make a game, like “Who can pick the most weeds while I count to 50?” or “Who can pick 10 weeds the fastest?” I am so sneaky like that!) We then read books from our theme (being a librarian can be really handy that way!) and sing songs (Bear's favorite is “Three Blind Mice.” Ironically, she thinks it's “tyute.”) or do a craft. Bean is also working on some workbook-type stuff so that her academic skills don't leak out of her ear over the summer. We also try to exercise each day. Grandparents who take their grandkids swimming are really helpful in this department, but so are sneaky competitions, like “Who can run around the house the fastest?” -- except when they backfire and the kids come up with challenges like jumping jacks. We were all laughing so hard at ME that we almost fell over!!

And while this is not a “rant blog,” can you indulge me for just a moment? The weather has been really crazy around most of the country lately and here has been no exception. Last Thursday, Bear, Bug and I went on an adventure that started out, “Hey guys, did you know that our garage has a hole in it? Do you want to go down there and check it out?” We spent about 25 minutes hunkered in the crawl space with snacks, water, flashlights, books and blankets while some mean-looking weather blew through. Which brings me to the rant. The next day, I was at work and the tornado sirens went off. I'm not afraid of much, but bad weather freaks me out, so I pretty much just wanted to run and hide, but since I was at work, I was partially responsible for herding patrons into the basement. Even though we made an announcement over the PA and you could hear the sirens blaring, people were arguing with us about moving. This is the basement of a library that houses meeting rooms and a bookstore, so we are not talking about some dank, dirty place here. People actually thought that fifteen more minutes on MySpace or standing and staring at the DVD shelves was more important than getting to safety. I wanted to scream. Mostly just scream, but I also wanted to say something like, “I've got babies to live for! I don't know what your problem is, but I'm going to the basement.” Of course, we have to be professional and calm, so we must politely persuade the idiot patron to kindly come to the basement or LEAVE! Oh, the joys of working with the public!

And finally, I don't believe in karma, but if I did, El Guapo was the recipient of the instant variety this weekend. While we were standing on the front porch watching a howling rain storm, our cat scrambled out from somewhere caterwauling to come in. El Guapo thought that it was hilarious to toss him back out into the rain in the general direction of the overflow from our gutters. With no other shelter available, Scout's only option was to return to the porch, only to be unceremoniously dumped back out into the rain. (Sorry, cousin M, I know this is paining you!) Well, after a few times of this, the poor cat is drenched to the bone. (Please do not write to PETA about this, it was only water for goodness sake!!) Well, the final time, El Guapo's back goes out – total pain in his lower back from gently (I said GENTLY) heaving the cat into the rain. So, we all come inside, sopping Scout included. Normally he takes refuge in Luna's bed (which she hates), but that night he sneaked into our room, found a pile of towels on the floor (I know, I know) and buried a huge load in them. Fast forward to bed time and a room that smells worse than any cat box. Cue frantic search for aforementioned load, disgusting discovery, lovely white towels into the garbage. I think that's called instant karma, El Guapo. I also think that might put an end to the tormenting-your-pets-for-your-amusement episodes at Mustard Seed House. But maybe not.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Happy Birthday, El Guapo

Dubya called and wanted me to tell you, “The celebrification of a person's bornfulness is a rightitude we hold dear in this nation.” Happy Birthday, babe!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Happy Summer Reading

If you know me in the real world, gentle is probably not a word that would immediately leap to mind if you were asked to describe me. Loud, opinionated, prone to sticking my foot in my mouth -- those might pop to mind, but not gentle. It's one of those “fruits of the Spirit” that I am still working on (and will be for a while.). So it is ironic that someone who played “communist” (don't ask, it's a LOOONG story) with neighborhood friends, established indoor beachheads in my mother's living room with G.I. Joes on rainy days and longed for camouflage pants (one of the first things I bought when I went away to college!), loves to read a genre called “gentle reads.” Before you start thinking granny underpants, cardigan sweaters and fuzzy cats, let me explain. (And hey, I have more than one of those items, but I won't show or tell!!)

Gentle reads are defined as “books brimming with a simple, old-fashioned flavor and populated by endearing, intriguing, and very often eccentric characters. They can be charming, touching, poignant, humorous, or spiritually uplifting. They can be highly literate or a hoot-and-a-half. The stories generally contain little graphic violence or sex and provide a pleasurable reading experience” (from “The Reader's Advisory” -- don't worry about it. It's a librarian thingy.) So are you bored yet? Still thinking granny underwear? Well, stick with me here, because I have two series to recommend that will just open up your literary world and make you thankful for that first grade teacher who taught you how to read.

The Penderwicks and The Penderwicks on Gardham Street by Jeanne Birdsall are actually young people's books, but are so phenomenally written, they are worth the read and sure to become classics. The subtitle of the first book is intriguing and enticing: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy and that is exactly what Birdsall serves up. She is able to create rich characters and enchanting plots that remind you of everything that is delightful about a carefree, warm July night. These two books, of which I hope there are many more, chronicle the adventures of four sisters and their Latin-quoting, botanist father. As “children's” books, they offer just the right amount of stretching vocabulary while still being approachable and engaging. And while they are filled with the trials and travails of young girls growing up after the death of their mother, they are not filled with some of the oh-so-trendy angst and darkness of some other modern selections. For adults, the stories may end up exactly as you predicted, but this is so satisfying and so hoped-for that you won't mind. In fact, I predict you'll be delighted.

And speaking of delightful, you will not find a more appealing heroine than “traditionally-built” Precious Ramotswe of Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. I just finished reading the ninth installment The Miracle at Speedy Motors, and I have never been disappointed by Ma Ramotswe, her sidekick Ma Makutsi or mechanic-extraordinaire JLB Matekoni. Set in spectacular Botswana, Smith has created a series that is charming, eloquent, insightful and life-affirming. They revel in the simple pleasures of life and the details of rain, cattle, desert sounds and acacia trees. They also prove that most of life's problems can be solved with a little time and the perfect cup of tea. Marvelous and big-hearted, Ma Ramotswe and friends dispense wisdom, advice and universal truths as they ponder the mysteries of humanity and solve cases involving cheating spouses, missing family members and dog-eating crocodiles. Absolutely brill!

They can be read in any order, but for maximum enjoyment, start at the beginning. You won't be disappointed.
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
Tears of the Giraffe
Morality for Beautiful Girls
The Kalahari Typing School for Men
The Full Cupboard of Life
In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
Blue Shoes and Happiness
The Good Husband of Zebra Drive
The Miracle at Speedy Motors

Happy summer reading!

King Filly

I was going to apologize for writing another horse racing tome here, but I've decided not to. The story I am telling today is so great that even if you are a smelly, unshaven Frenchman who eats horse meat, you will be moved. If you're not moved, well, check your pulse, you may not have a beating heart.

I mentioned Ruffian in passing in my post on the Kentucky Derby, and in light of the Belmont Stakes this weekend and the hopes that our hero Big Brown will be winning a Triple Crown title, we'll talk about another champion who never felt the dirt on her face.

Foaled in 1972, Ruffian was a spectacular, leggy, almost coal black racing machine, thought to be an even better horse than great-of-all-greats Secretariat. She won all ten races in which she competed, always in the lead, breaking or equaling every track record she ever raced on. As a two-year old she aced her maiden race in record time by 15 lengths. In 1975, Ruffian captured the Filly Triple Crown (now called the Triple Tiara) and was dubbed “Queen of the Fillies (that's a young girl horse for all you non-equine folks out there!).

Her eleventh race was run at Belmont Park on July 6, 1975, before a crowd of 50,000 and a television audience of over 18 million. It was a match race against that year's Kentucky Derby winner, a colt called Foolish Pleasure. This “equine battle of the sexes” was eagerly anticipated, and interest was compounded by the fact that the regular jockey for both horses was Jacinto Vasquez. He chose to ride Ruffian in the match race considering her to be the better horse.

As the starting bell sounded, Ruffian slammed her shoulder into the starting gate. Faltering for only a moment, she blazed ahead, completing the first quarter mile in a blistering 22 seconds, ahead of Foolish Pleasure by a nose. Never having a race so close, our big-hearted gal hammered ahead, pulling in front by half a length when suddenly her right foreleg snapped. Vasquez heroically kept her upright, but was unable to force Ruffian to a complete stop. So unaccustomed to seeing another horse in front of her, she continued running on three legs, pulverizing her sesamoid bones and grinding the gritty sand of Belmont into her open wound. In the age of the Internet, one can find film of her tragedy online, but the tape was deemed so gruesome that Ruffian's demise was censored by media outlets and never aired on public airwaves again.

She was attended to by a team of veterinarians and surgeons who labored for three hours to try to repair the damage. As she came out of the anesthesia, Ruffian attempted to win her match race, flailing around on the ground and thrashing wildly as if running. The intense movement smashed the cast against her elbow crushing the joint to bits, breaking off the cast and reopening the surgical site. Knowing that she would not survive a more extensive operation, her team decided to euthanize her.

Her spectacular performances in 1975, earned her the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Three-Year-Old Filly and in 1976, she was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Since Ruffian's death, no match race has taken place at Belmont Park, where she is the only horse buried in the infield, near a flag pole, facing the finish line. Ironically, her trainer Frank Whiteley, Jr. died the day after Eight Belles went down at the derby. He was 93. To his dying day, he believed that Ruffian was the greatest horse he had ever trained and never allowed her stall to be occupied saying, ''There'll never be a horse worthy of entering it.''

Why do I love horse racing? Because tales of heart and heroism are not limited to the human race. So, again, fingers crossed for a safe race this weekend and go Big Brown!