Thursday, April 19, 2012

Stop This Nonsense!

I recently planted a bunch of flowers, vegetables, and herbs around my house. Immediately after, we were hit with a day in the 90s and several other really warm days with no rain. Despite my daily watering regimen, my plants were drying out and the dirt around them was getting hard and cracking. I knew that I needed to mulch my beds, but I just hadn’t quite found the time. Last night, I made the time.

I showed up at the large warehouse in search of regular mulch. I quickly learned that “regular mulch” is akin to looking for “regular sneakers.” What kind of mulch was I looking for, the sales girl asked. I tried not to sound snarky in my reply. I want the kind that helps retain moisture and reduces weeds. I stumped her. She quickly excused herself to find someone more knowledgeable about the issue. Soon a boy, who may have been a whole two years older than the girl, approached me. I gave him the same line, and he told me to use this mulch. I was standing in an aisle with probably 50 variations of mulch and he told me to use the one right at the end next to him. I suspect it may have been the highest priced mulch of the bunch.

Some mulches appear to have weed deterent chemicals imbedded in them. I didn’t want that. I just wanted plain old everyday mulch. I didn’t want the rubber stuff that’s used on playgrounds. I wanted the kind that is natural and slowly breaks down around my natural plants. The one he pointed to appeared to meet these basic needs.

The next question stopped me. What color of mulch did I prefer? What? I chose not to take Botany, but I do believe I understand enough about plants and mulch to know that mulch is made from shredded wood. Wood can be a variety of colors, but it’s a safe bet to say that most are a hue of brown. I had my choice of brown (“color guaranteed to last a whole year!”), black, or red. Being the natural girl that I am, I went with brown.

When I returned home with my bags of mulch, I again pondered the color question. Did I make the right choice? Brown is rather boring, after all. Should I have gone with red? Our chimneys are red and our pool is edged in red brick. Our porch floor is painted brick red. Maybe the red mulch would color-coordinate better and enhance the beds. Or maybe black would look good. Our house is large and white. Black would provide a good contrast to that which would make the plant colors really pop. Why didn’t they offer blue to go with the color of my pool or green to blend in with the weeds that might get through?

Stop this nonsense!

Manufacturers provide the products that consumers are asking for, not the products that consumers really need. What we need here is plain mulch that protects our plants and slowly decomposes over time. What we need is practical, not ornamental. The flowers are the ornaments.

I’m happy I chose brown. It will nicely offset the reds and purples of my tomatoes and peppers. It lets the natural colors of my marigolds shine brightly without competing with them. It provides the perfect backdrop to my purple and pink petunias.

Brown in the perfect color.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Smart Retreat

Usually, Peter is the one who retreats to Maryland for long stretches of time. He can work remotely and also take care of the house, the yard, and the vineyard. He’s pretty amazing that way. This spring, however, Peter suggested that I be the one to go to Maryland for the extended trip. Peter joined me for the first two weeks, but he returned to Bellevue to take care of our daughter and cats and to umpire for the Little League season.

I was initially reluctant to commit to the big trip. I am not as capable as Peter in getting lots of physical labor done in a day. I am more easily distracted and injured. I’m not strong enough to do some of the work that is required. I tend to be lawn mower challenged on this property. Time has once again proven the wisdom of Peter’s suggestion. (The man is rarely wrong … it’s so frustrating!) Not only have I had a good opportunity to move from Bellevue and adjust to living in Maryland, but I’m also slowly strengthening my body as I learn when to stop and take a break and when to keep going. I have been submitting my resume to various employers in the area and researching many local companies with the hope of landing a job by summer. I’m slowly turning this house into a home.

Most importantly, perhaps, I have had a break from my teenaged daughter. I love my daughter and we can get along quite well during times of low stress. This is not one of those times. She is currently choosing which college among the five that accepted her will be her final choice for the next four years. This is a stress-filled decision and not a little prickly to bring up in conversation. When she is stressed, tempers flare, accusations fly, and feelings get hurt. I confess that both of us are guilty of that.

I have chosen, therefore, to consider this break a retreat. It’s a retreat from a lot of the responsibilities that I have in Bellevue, and it’s an opportunity to break the cycle of daughter-mother bickering that can lead to very tense and unhappy homes. Peter is very well equipped to handle Allison and guide her through this process. (We did just do this a year ago, after all.) He offers her a different lens to look through as she considers her choices. He has a sense of humor that can lighten intense moments. In two weeks the decision must be made, and life will move forward. That’s about when I return to Bellevue.

So here I am, retreating in warm (hot!)sun-filled days as I plant flowers and herbs, plan long-term projects, repair and maintain the house, and attempt to find a job. Except for being away from my husband, I’m quite happy with the way things are at the moment.

Thank you, Peter. Allison is lucky to have you as her dad.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Walk in the Woods (with apologies to Bill Bryson)

I awoke today at about 3:30 am with my expected post-vacation migraine. This was a doozy that immobilized me for much of the morning despite my attempts to medicate and rest.

After my headache began to subside a little, I decided that today was too nice of a day to wallow in my misery inside on the sofa with a pillow over my face. My dog, Tully, needed a walk, and I needed a life. I decided to go for a walk.

The Three Notch Trail is a Rails to Trails project that runs in front of our house. I have walked small parts of it, but I haven’t been to the ends. Even during its busiest times, the trail lacks the clutter and danger from cyclists training for big events like the STP (I stopped using the Sammamish River Trail for that very reason.) Instead, it attracts crowds of families with kids on tricycles and dogs on leashes, casual cyclists, and skaters. It is a wild, relaxing respite from the chaos that surrounds the DC area as it traverses farmland, backyards, and woods.

Today I resolved to walk to one end. Tully and I headed north on the trail and walked about 2 ½ miles to the northern terminus in Charles County. The trail is expected to be extended, but for now that’s the limit. On another day, Tully and I will explore what lies to the south.

Along the way, I smelled the wisteria that is in full bloom along sections of the trail and inhaled some refreshing but seriously pollen-thickened air. I saw all the deciduous trees bursting into green, rabbits taunting the dog, the puffy white clouds floating overhead, and the creeks trickling along around me. I listened to the sounds of birds, crickets, bees, frogs, and squirrels. I felt the warmth of the sun and the refreshing breeze as I worked off some extra calories I found while in Europe. I reflected in all that is beautiful in my surroundings and how blessed I am to be part of it.

Am I all better? No. My head still hurts a bit, my allergies are now bugging me, and various body parts are reminding me of their middle-aged existence. Do I care? No. My mind is refreshed and alert, my mood is elevated, and my dog is exhausted. I feel energized and happier than I did before I left home. All the same problems still awaited me when I returned, but I had a better attitude in dealing with them.

The next time someone tells me that they are suffering from a migraine, don’t be surprised if my response is, “Go take a hike!” I mean well.