Gardening Tools

We long for lush, neatly-edged lawns, perfectly placed shrubs, lovely flower beds.  We want a place that evokes eternity.  Easter.  Eden.  Sanctuary.  A GARDEN.

But every time I pull a weed or move a stone, something wriggles.

And the grass is growing up around the bottom of the picket fence.

and tent caterpillars have made a home on a peach tree

and the lawn is as much weeds as it is grass

and there’s a bare patch on the lawn where we had to dig up the septic.  again.

Gardening is a battle for which one must be properly armed.  We need an action plan and we need TOOLS.

My plan of action is simple:  work my way around the yard fixing things as I go.  Mulching the lilac hedge, weeding stone stairs, digging trenches under fences and laying weed block, collecting creek stones to fill the trenches, as well as mowing and trimming as needed.  I started in April and now, near the end of May, I’m about halfway around the yard.  I will probably make it all the way around by the end of July.  And then I’ll start again, improving and completing what I started the first time around.

My tools are also simple.  I could wax poetic about hand tools allowing one to be intimate with the earth, the well-worn wood of each handle, the history, the lost skills, how the tools have come into my possession, environmental responsibility, and how truly calming it is to work in relative quiet, but really it’s that power tools give me the fits.  I have a tendency to bend back a fingernail or punch myself in the nose when I try to start the weed whacker.  Things with motors are always breaking or out of gas.  I can’t be bothered.

My hand tools are repaired and maintained by me with a sharpening stone, oil, and a rag.  Wiped after each use and put away carefully.  It’s simple, and being so meticulous makes me feel very German.

Of course it takes CONSTANT VIGILANCE to keep hand tools from walking off on their own.  They seem to enjoy lying down at the most recent site of use to be forgotten until rusty.  I know you, dear reader, would never allow that to happen, but I can’t seem to get the borrowing garden elves to be as scrupulous as they ought.

It seems I’m always looking for my bent old dandelion fork.  Tap roots are a bitch and the majority of gardening is weeding.  So, I look and I ask and finally I find it sticking straight up out of the ground like an industrial flower.

I’m not sure how I came to own three hoes but it’s good that I have because they keep disappearing and reappearing in the oddest places.  This year all three of them were huddled together in a disused corn crib where some thoughtful person placed them at the end of last fall.  Unfortunately, thoughtfulness and forgetfulness sometimes walk together.

My old-fashioned hedge clippers, pruners, loppers and saws don’t wander as much as the other tools, but my shovel vanishes constantly and my lovely, lovely reel mower has occasionally taken off for the vegetable patch without so much as a by-your-leave.  I think it says something about my introverted nature that I love being able to mow quietly.  So satisfying.

Mysteriously, my boots also occasionally relocate themselves to the far side of the porch with the inserts all twisted up inside.  I’m using a pair of Muck chore boots.  They have almost no tread and spring mud can be treacherous so I’ve learned to take some truly tiny steps, but they make up for this deficiency by keeping my socks from squelching and being thick enough to stand on a shovel.

I almost never misplace my gloves.  After years of messing about with pretty gardening gloves that didn’t do shit, I’ve finally been converted to heavy leather work gloves through which I can feel nary a squiggly worm.

The gloves are important because, you see, hands are the tools I use most often in the garden.  There are no tips or tricks, no gadgets or amendments that eliminate the need to do the work with my own two hands.  Every shortcut comes with a price.  Every tool, product, method, plan has a down side.  Just like every other kind of work, the only way to do it is just to do it.




The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Where did I learn that a waxing moon can be cupped in your right hand and a waning moon in your left?  Not literally of course, because that would be magic and would possibly knock earth off its orbit and be the death of us all and then that trick wouldn’t seem so nifty.  But maybe it was one of you nice people who taught me this bit of scientific coolness?  Can you teach me the counting by nines finger thing?

I can’t remember in which hand I held the moon last night while I was walking puppy.  If you’re looking for a way to increase your activity, I recommend a puppy.  Nothing motivates better than the fear of dog shit in the house.  I’ve gone from around 6,000 non-exercise steps a day to 10,000.


Spring has sprung and the little boy gifts have begun to arrive.  Some little plants for my terrarium, pussy willows for the counter, creek fossils for … I think we need a fossilarium.



Peepers are peeping, there are ducks on the pond, the creek is full, the mud is thick,  and the air is balmy.   Life is full of baseball, swimming, and 4H.  The strawberries will be uncovered today, and the peas and lettuces are going in this week.

It is the most wonderful time of the year.


How I Got Fat and Began to Get Unfat

part 3

I knew I was going to get fat.  All of the women in my family are fat.  It was genetic destiny.  It was fate.  It was the dynastic plan.  Or was it a self-fulfilling prophecy?

I knew so absolutely that I was going to become overweight that before I would marry him, I made my husband promise to love and desire me no matter what, “even when I get fat.”  For the record, he has been true to his word for 19 1/2 years.


But I was not showing love for myself.

I ate without thinking.  I ate without hunger.  I ate because I was tired, nervous, sad, or scared. I ate past the point of satiety, fullness, and comfort.  And in the short term, eating made me feel better, or at least numbed me a bit.

It took me a long time to accept that what worked for me in the past would not work with my current lifestyle.  I could not simply increase my activity.  I did not have the time or desire to walk and bike everywhere with children strapped to my body.  And when I tried, it always resulted in crazy hunger, which led to overcompensating with more food than I actually needed.

I had to be willing to eat less overall to reach a healthy weight and then to be willing to eat at maintenance to, well, maintain that weight.

All I did  for the first couple of weeks was jot down everything I ate on a piece of paper.  I didn’t try to change what or how much I ate, but in a kind of observer effect, my behavior modified in response to being recorded.  I made lower calorie choices and lost a little weight.

Honestly?  I felt terrible.  I was cold, I was hungry, and I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I got shaky. All I could think about was food.  I was probably eating too few calories but I wasn’t counting calories so I didn’t know that.

Part 4 coming soon.

part 2, part 1




I thought maybe I owed you an explanation for why I haven’t been around.  Her name is Captain Kaylee and she is NOT my dog.  A certain middle child only wanted one thing for his tenth birthday.


My Fatness Testimony

part 2

Maintaining a healthy weight is not the only thing that matters when it comes to physical fitness.  There’s also cardiovascular health, and bone density, and body fat percentage, and muscles, and macronutrients and micronutrients, and individual physiologies and abilities and limitations, and mental baggage!  

And all of these things are interrelated.

But getting to a healthy weight was the idea I started with, so that’s where I’ll start talking.  I’m not saying anything new, and I’m likely saying it less well than others have said it, but maybe my little voice will mean something to someone so…

There’s a formula to weight loss.  Take in less energy than you expend.  We take in energy by eating and we expend energy by being alive.  We can increase energy intake by eating more and we can increase energy output by moving more.  Two dials to adjust to get us where we want to be:  the energy in knob and the energy out knob.  Simple does not mean easy.  I know.  Getting these controls in a comfortable balance can take some practice.

In the U.S. we generally call energy by its unit of measurement: calorie.  It’s also know as a  kilocalorie or kcal.*  There are other units of measure used in other parts of the world (hello, kilojoule), but however you measure it is fine.  So, you can state the weight loss formula as “take in fewer calories than you expend” or calories in < calories out or CI

When I was a teenager and a young woman, I kept my weight mostly steady by occasionally increasing my energy output, my energy expenditure, my calories out, my CO, with exercise.  I also smoked cigarettes to manage stress.

When I got a little older, I had less time and inclination to exercise, I gave up the unhealthy habit of smoking and replaced it with the better bad habit of over-snacking, I moved from the city to the suburbs where driving is more of a necessity, I grew three babies in my body in five years, and then felt somewhat housebound by my responsibilities in raising them.  Oh, and sleep deprivation common to new mothers drastically decreased my non-exercise activity.  The result was that during the course of my marriage I put on about eighty pounds of fat.

Look out for part 2 coming soon.

*A kilocalorie is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water one degree Celsius. Please visit USDA’s Nutrient Data Laboratory for additional information.

part 3, part 1

Homeschoolers Get a Snow Day

Did you know that, in a pinch, diesel fuel can be used in place heating oil?  That’s what our oil man told us on the phone when we ran out in the middle of the so-called blizzard last night.  So, we’re warm now.

As homeschoolers we don’t get school cancellations for “snow days,” but we do get, “yay, it’s snowing! days.”  And that’s what we had yesterday.  My husband had the day off and he and the boys played cards and Battleship and the never-ending Monopoly.  There was a snow fort, and hot herbal tea, and a walk in the woods.


The birds were raucous:  swooping hawks, darting cardinals, hoarsely crying crows.  There was a flock of fine fat robins sitting together in some brush but they scattered as I approached…probably because I had this guy with me


Today we have some learning to make up and some messes to tidy, but it was worth it.

Becoming Physically Fit

A little over a year ago, I was unhappy.  I was tired and feeling helpless to improve anything.  I couldn’t see any way to make things better.  The weather was dark and cold and so was my outlook on life.  I was spending unhealthy amounts of time doodling around the Internet and typing in desperate questions; like shouting into the ether, praying into the web.

I came across the idea of a mind map and by making my own, I discovered that there were actions I could take to get me to a better place.  There were things on that map that I couldn’t immediately change, but there was one thing I could begin to work on right away:  physical fitness.

I realized that:

  • I don’t want to be prematurely old.  I don’t want to accept certain aches and pains as the inevitable result of aging when a bit of exercise could prevent them.
  • I don’t want to have to sit on the sidelines when there’s something fun to do.  I don’t want to be disabled by my own fatness.
  • I don’t want to be in pain.
  • I want to climb hills and fill my lungs with fresh air and feel good.
  • I want to be able to wipe my own butt for as long as possible.
  • I don’t want to be invisible.
  • I want to exercise control over my life rather than letting life just happen.  I want to make choices instead of having choices made for me.

Since then, I’ve been concentrating on my health and fitness – weight loss, specifically, but also building/preserving muscle.  Fitness has become a hobby, and a bit of a passion.  And somehow, in spite of my many other obligations and interests, my life has made room for this important area of focus.

I didn’t talk or write much about this for a while because there was a distinct possibility I’d be all talk and no action, so to maximize my likelihood of success, I kept mostly mum.

But I’m getting pretty comfortable with these new habits now and I feel like I have some things to say about it.  I want to tell you about how I eat and how I exercise and how I feel about how I eat and how I exercise.  I want to tell you about my future plans and obstacles I’ve had to overcome.  And I want to tell you in a way so that you can see it all in the context of my everyday life.  AND I want to know how you feel about these things!  So, if I can stay interested in blogging, and if I can figure out the right words, I’ll be around a little more often I think.


part 3, part 2

Raising Adults

If my boys ever pass out of the girls-are-yucky phase, a daughter-in-law will one day point an accusing finger at me because “You’re son left the seat up.”

It’s been said (by whom I can’t remember) that we parents aren’t raising children, but future adults.  No pressure there.

But there is progress.  Today I’m celebrating the following recent entries in the win column:

  • I didn’t have to re-wash the dishes after my children did them!  They even washed the outside of the bowls.
  • Last week my 12-year-old asked, “Are you using the washer today?  I’d like to do my laundry.”  and then he did his laundry!  And put it away!  With only a couple of reminders!
  • He also bakes and washes up after.
  • The number of times I sit in pee on the toilet seat has dramatically diminished in the last few months.
  • My reluctant reader is reading (slowly) and writing letters and lists voluntarily.*

Their struggles are my struggles.  I know how hard it is to do things without being told.  I still hate brushing my teeth.  I still have to force myself to wash the dishes.  I still prefer to wear pajamas all day. It’s hard not to overeat.  It’s hard not to doodle around on the computer all day.  It’s hard to exercise regularly.  I have become accustomed to exerting my will over these difficulties, but it still feels hard and I sometimes fail.  So I understand why they question the need for a top sheet.

*Thanks, Julie for program recommendations. And thanks for documenting your own path through this “boybarian” wilderness.  It has been more helpful than I can explain to see your boys growing into responsible adults.

On Age and Feeling

Age has a way of dulling passion.  You can say “tempering” instead of dulling if you prefer, but it all adds up to less:  less feeling, less expression, less certainty.

Rage doesn’t happen.  The white hot uncontrollable, flinging, spewing, guitar-smashing fire ebbs away.  Its space is taken up by tutting sarcasm, stealth sniping, detached cynicism that just can’t be bothered.

The acquisition of wisdom means self-containment.  My life becomes a mask of calm politeness and you can only wonder whether or not it reflects the truth.

Age makes hypocrites of us all.

When you were twelve, you said any old stupid thing and the people you didn’t scare off are probably still your friends now that you’re fifty.

When you were twenty, you knew everything and you shared your knowledge with everyone.  The people you didn’t alienate are now your family.

Note:  This is a writing exercise from a book called Writing Life Stories.  I’m feeling pretty good right now, so don’t worry too much about the weirdness.