The Amazing Sunflower

THE AMAZING SUNFLOWER

The natural world around us never fails to amaze me, and because of ongoing research, there is always some interesting fact to discover. Most recently, I read an article stating that sunflowers, on a cloudy day, turn to face each other for protection because they know rain might occur and cause harm. (The article went on to assert that perhaps it would be good for humans to show the same sort of protection to one another, an assertion that seems reasonable and palliative in the world we inhabit at present. That action is in our genes and we ought to pay attention to it, the way plants and trees, who are said to have no brains, do.)

I wondered what other fabulous facts about sunflowers I could garner if I went searching. Gardeners generally know that sunflowers turn to face the sun during the day, hence the French name, “tournesol.” To actually watch fields of sunflowers in southern France as they turn during the day is a delight.

Sunflower is the only flower with flower in its name. “Helianthus,” the scientific name of sunflower, comes fromheliafor sun and anthusfor flower. There are about 70 species of sunflowers.

What makes them turn?  Both their circadian clocks and genetically-driven growth rates. This is called heliotropism(solar tracking). Special motor cells at the bases of the flower buds shrink or enlarge as they absorb water, which moves their faces towards the sun. The stems of young sunflowers grow more at night, but only on their west side, which is what allows their heads to bend eastward. 

How did sunflowers get here? Sunflowers are native to the Americas, cultivated as far back as 3000 BC.  They were brought from the Netherlands to Russia by Tsar Peter the Great and used for the only sanctioned oil during Lent, then brought back to the USA by Russian immigrants. 

Other amazing facts:They have traveled to space. In 2012, US astronaut Don Pettit brought sunflower seeds to the International Space Station. You can read his blog about his gardening process. They have a history of healing. In Mexico, the flowers were thought to sooth chest pain. A number of Native American tribes agreed. The Cherokee utilized an infusion of sunflower leaves to treat kidneys while the Dakota brought it out to sooth “chest pain and pulmanery troubles.”

What is a sunflower’s petals not?  Because the ray florets lack either of the male and female gametes, it’s a neuter flower and has lost its ability to perform sexual reproduction.  The realflower is the brown patches present on the inner sides. The florets inside the circular head are called disc florets, which mature into seeds. The disc florets have both male and female sex organs and each one produces a seed. The sunflower looks like it does in order to attract insects and birds, which pollinate it so we animals get thousands of seeds. Thank you, Big H!

How are the heads organized? The flower petals within the sunflower’s cluster are always in a spiral pattern. Each floret is oriented toward the next by approximately the goldenangle*, 137.5 degrees, producing a pattern of interconnecting spirals, where the number of left spirals and the number of right spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers.* Typically, there are 34 spirals in one direction and 55 in the other; on a very large sunflower there could be 89 in one direction and 144 in the other.  Wow! Just like everything else in our ordered universe. Kinda woo-woo. I had never really studied a sunflower head intensely before, but after reading this fact, I looked and you can see the spirals and the artistry there. So totally amazing!

What is an interesting super-power that sunflowers have?  They can remove toxins, such as lead, arsenic, and uranium, from contaminated soil. (That’s probably why nothing, not even weeds, grows on the heap of metals-imbued topsoil we received last year, with the exception of sunflowers, seeds probably dropped by birds.) They were used after the Chernobyl disaster to remove uranium, cesium-137, and strontium-90 from the soil.

A quotidian super-power:  Once the flower heads are empty of seeds, they can be converted into disposable scrubbing pads for tough jobs. Who knew? Are you going to try it?

What are sunflowers symbols for? Faith, loyalty, and adoration. They also symbolize worship and faithfulness in various religions, and are associated with spiritual knowledge and the desire to seek light and truth. Incas used sunflowers to symbolize the Sun God, and brought them to temples for worship.

The sunflower is the state flower of what state?  Kansas

How tall can sunflowers grow?Due to hybridization, some are as small as 2’ tall and some, over 10’ tall. In 16thcentury Spain the record height was 24 feet, bested in 2014 in Germany by 30.09 feet. 

For us normal gardeners, how do sunflowers grow best?  They need 6-8 hours of sunlight a day to grow their best. They like a pH 6.0 to 7.5. They require 34 inches of water annually and if cut for a bouquet, will last 5-12 days. Cut your bouquet flowers in the morning so they last longer. Most sunflowers are annuals, and can re-seed themselves if the seed heads are left for birds to enjoy during the winter. Some perennial varieties exist and will grow flowers the next season.  You can deadhead them before the seeds start to form in order for more blooms to grow, but why? You’re a better steward of nature if you let them seed for our avian friends. If you want the seeds for yourself, wait until the seeds dry completely, then cut off the head about 12-18 inches down the stem. You can put a paper sack around the stem so the seeds can be caught, or you can pick them all out yourself by hand.  Then boil in salted water for 5-10 minutes, dry the seeds on a baking sheet, and bake at 325 degrees F. for 25 minutes or so. When cool, chew and leave spit-out hulls everywhere like you did in junior high. Hahahaha!

Human uses of sunflower seeds: They are a healthy snack food, with an ability to stimulate hair growth, promote heart health, aid in weight loss, lower cholesterol levels, and affect cancer cells. They provide us with alpha-tocopherol and B6, antioxidants, carotenoids and much more. ¼ cup serving contains over 200 calories. The seeds contain tryptophan, which increases the brain’s fabrication of serotonin, which then reduces tension and creates a relaxed feeling. The choline content plays a vital role in memory and vision functions. The seeds also, because of betaine and arginine , protect against cardiovascular diseases like high blood pressure. The lignans prevent heart attacks and atherosclerosis. Sunflower seeds help the thyroid gland maintain optimal metabolism. The fiber helps with digestion-related problems. They help reduce arthritis symptoms. It’s not good to eat too many, however. ¼ cup daily is about right, but remember those 200 calories.

What animals eat sunflower seeds? Besides livestock and birds, the seeds are also sought out by squirrels, chipmunks, garden mice, bears and raccoons. 

And finally, can you propagate sunflowers?Yes. Take your material from vigorous and succulent side shoots. A 4-6-inch-long stem with mature leaves and no buds or flowers will root best and produce a shapely plant. 

When I started my research, I knew very little about sunflowers, except that seeing them made me happy. That alone was enough for me until the article spurred my research. I’ve seen sunflowers all my life, yet realize I’ve taken them for granted. We do this with many mundane things, I fear. How interesting to study the commonplace and be astounded!

Here’s an addendum to spur your interest in the commonplace:  Flies have two compound eyes, each made up of 3000-6000 lenses, and a triangle of three simple eyes, called ocelli. Now, it’s your turn to find out more!

Golden angle: In geometry, the golden angle is the smaller of the two angles created by sectioning the circumference of a circle according to thegolden ratio; that is, into two arcs such that the ratio of the length of the smaller arc to the length of the larger arc is the same as the ratio of the length of the larger arc to the full circumference of the circle.

Fibonacci numbers:  In mathematics, the Fibonacci numbers for a sequence, such that each number is the sum of the two preceding ones, starting from 0 and 1. For example: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55… This appears in biological settings, such as branching in trees, the arrangement of leaves on a stem, the fruit sprouts of a pineapple, the flowering of an artichoke, and uncurling fern and the arrangement of a pine cone’s bracts. 

All of the facts presented herein were found in Wikipedia and other online sources. 

Fair Sharing

When I went to the Tillamook County Fair Office to pick up my ribbons and rewards, I was excited to receive $15 in prize money. This may not seem like a sum worthy of excitation, but what it represents to me, is. 

In my teen years, our family lived on a 30-acre farm. My father also worked nights at the nearby lumber mill. We practiced subsistence living, not because it was trendy, but because we were very, very, very poor. My parents agonized every year, worried they could not make the place payment. 

Simply put, there was no money for anything other than the most essential of essentials, not even emergencies. If my sister Anita and I wanted to wear clothes, we had to make the money to pay for them ourselves. Our parents decided we would do that by raising sheep, which by the way, I detested. We had no say in the matter, which is really what I detested. I wanted to raise a pig because I saw they brought a bigger paycheck when sold, they didn’t stink like lanolin, we generated lots of green matter to feed them, and they were not stupid. One could have a good conversation with a pig. Not so with a sheep.

No one listened to the budding MBA in me, however, so sheep it was. We also had taken 4-H since we were of age, and had learned to cook, sew, craft leatherwork, judge livestock, and identify weeds and crops. We also won ribbons and received prizes for this labor, besides showing our sheep and selling a lamb for profit at the Union County Fair. 

I remember after fair one year, I had made $60, enough for one new outfit at least, and shoes, I hoped. I bought those first, because my sophomore year I went for a couple of months with no shoes, my cheap Sprouse Reitz pair having disintegrated in the rain, mud, and snow, early on. I couldn’t even borrow a pair from my mother because my feet were so huge. My embarrassment was enormous having to wear nothing but boots over my socks, those cheap plastic boots normally worn over shoes. They flopped all around loosely when I walked, making slapping noises as I walked down the halls. I did all I could to be invisible to classmates during those months.

Because of this humiliation, I made sure from then on to always buy decent shoes first when I came into money, then underwear, and then focus on the outer realm. The only way I could do that was to enter items into the fair and trudge through another year of barely motivated sheep raising. 

That’s the reason prize money from the fair has meaning for me. It was the only thing that kept my sister and I clothed from year to year. I am so grateful to 4-H for having given us that opportunity. 

Now, I enter things in the fair because of the fun factor only. I like showing my beautiful and odd flowers and my mosaic glasswork because these things bring me and others joy. Besides, this time, it’s my choice how I’ll make my fair money and how I will pay my riches forward in some quiet way. (My friend LaVerna bought a corn dog with her winnings!) 

Fairs are important because anyone can share the fruits of their labors, and the joys to be found in preparation and sharing. I love seeing what other talents of our community are to be found at a fair and discovering who did what. That’s the joy of entering things in the annual fair. It’s rarely about the money, the acquisition of ribbons, or the fame. We entrants are sharing our soul.

LUNCH AT TWIN PEAKS
by Karen Keltz

My husband, Neal, and I were looking for lunch in Fort Meyers, FL, where we were vacationing, and went to a restaurant called Twin Peaks, across the road from our motel. 

It was abundantly clear what “twin peaks” stood for, since they hung right out there in our faces. Most “peaks” were embellished with giant jewels hanging down from the women’s necks, in case you missed their twin attributes at first glance. I learned later that Twin Peaks is described as a “breastaurant.” Each “girly girl” (as they are advertised) was wearing a little red and black lumberjack plaid bikini shrugglet on top, short shorts with jewel encrusted belts, and because, god knows they had to be cold, knee high socks and warm boots, like Uggs or lumberjack boots.  Hanging down from their belts was a purse like what men wearing kilts tie around their waists. 

(Later, my husband looked at the website https://twinpeaksrestaurant.comand exclaimed, “Good Lord, listen to this! It sounds like they are advertising prostitutes! ‘The Twin Peaks Girls are the essential ingredient to the perfect lodge experience. They are the beautiful faces that represent the brand and the reason our customers consistently come back for more. Equal parts friendly, engaging, and attentive, the Twin Peas Girls ensure every guest feels like a regular.’”)


TV’s, 100’s of TV’s, hung everywhere, all of them going at once. At each booth was a TV as well, so couples eating, instead of looking at each other, watched their TV screens. There were to be sure, some couples who disregarded their TV’s and stared at their cell phones instead. We sat right next to each other, shouted and read lips to actually communicate, while mood music like “Cocaine” blared in the background.

As Neal said, the decor was a cross between Hooters and Cabela’s, with antler chandeliers and stuffed animal heads along the walls, above the TV’s, of course. I told him none of the “finer points” about this place escaped his notice. 

To be fair, I have to say the food was delicious, though calorie-laden, with not much coming in under 1200 calories. The beer, coming in “man size” and “girly size” was also delicious. Apparently, you are not a man if you don’t drink 22 ounces of beer at a time. My husband, who is 6’ 4”, jeopardized his manliness by ordering the girly 10 oz. beer. We noticed also that the company bottles its ketchup with a “Bottoms Up” logo, featuring a woman’s rear end.

A couple of dads had brought their daughters and I wondered what was going through those little girls’ minds about what they saw, and what lessons they were being taught about what it meant to be female. One father was ignoring his daughter altogether, engrossed in events playing out on one of the many TV’s.

The website describes this establishment as a place with lodge ‘mantality’ where men wear their manliness “like a badge of honor.” Everything is done with the intention to cater to men’s desires like the lumberjacks they are. I couldn’t help noticing that 98% of the men at both the inside and outside bars were soft and obese, not really fitting the “lumberjack” type the restaurant says it’s aiming for as a customer.

Although when I went to the website to check out the girly girl requirements, it told me I had an excellent resume, I think it’s too late for me to apply to work here. For many reasons. One, I’d freeze wearing pants with no legs and shirts with no fronts. Also, for me to fit the advertised requirements, the restaurant would have to be renamed “Twin Suspension.” And finally, nothing makes me more angry than to see women objectified with that “show me your tits” mentality, like some young show cow. 

However, if you truly are a “girly girl” you might enjoy working here. The only sticking point is that you’d have to put your brains away. You could still wear your glasses, though.

I love vacation adventures, don’t you?

CONFESSIONS OF A KILLER

CONFESSIONS OF A KILLER

Because let’s face it—if you are a gardener, you’re also a killer.

If you have weeds overtaking your grass, flowerbeds, and vegetable garden, what do you do?

If you find slugs on the leaves of your precious plants or crossing the sidewalk, what do you do?

If you find ants and earwigs at the bottom of your artichoke leaves, what do you do?

If you find eggs laid on your broccoli heads, what do you do?

If grass is growing over your stepping stones so much you can’t even tell a stone is there, what do you do?

I rest my case.

“…in this world/you have to decide what/you’re willing to kill.” –Tony Hoagland, in his poem “Candlelight”

So this week, here’s what the gardeners on our small patch of ground have been willing to kill: We’ve pulled beets for canning and eating; called Eco Life to come dispatch our bald hornet nest; stepped on and snipped slugs; tossed out the possibly mosquito larvae-ridden water in the birdbaths and swapped for clean water; pulled weeds wherever we saw them (though not nearly enough); pruned back some errant raspberry vines; soaked the artichoke heads in warm salt water and then sprayed them to get all the ants out; and turning over a stepping stone, gasped and smashed ant eggs.

When you’re a gardener, you are making life or death decisions daily. When you hoe or pull weeds, you are telling them bye-bye. Some folks let them lie if there are no seed heads, and let them become compost right where they are. You dig and find slug eggs, ant eggs, and potato bugs. Stamp, stamp, squish, squish! When you prune, you decide what branches get to live and what ones don’t. Deadheading is more gentle, since what you clip off usually isn’t still alive, although if there are seed heads at the ends of stalks, then the promise of life remains. (If you find dried up heads and you want more of that plant next year, save the seeds and plant them in the spring. That’s how I get my hollyhocks, Sweet Williams, and marigolds. In the herb garden, the feverfew, parsley, and chamomile re-seed themselves. Dried seed heads from those weeds I’ve missed is how I get new weeds, too! Oops.) We spray Neem, insecticidal soap, and fungicide; we share pest management with other species, buying ladybugs and lacewings. We plant Whack-A-Moles. What’s more, we are not alone in our murderous intentions.

But don’t despair (unless you are a disciple of Jainism). You are ridding your gardens of thugs. (Now if only someone could come take out the voles making holes in the mole trails everywhere I look!) There is a saving grace: For everything you kill in your garden, something else more beneficial or beautiful gets to live and grow. We might yank out the pea vines or the fava bean stalks, but they have left lovely nitrogen for our other plant life. We have to pull up the carrots and beets, and dig the potatoes in order to eat them. Ridding blooms and branches of pests keeps our flowers and trees growing lovely and healthily.

Once again, we see how our gardens are metaphors for our larger lives. If we are carnivorous, we kill for meat. If we are vegetarian, we kill vegetables. If we are pescatarian, we kill fish. We kill to survive and to make our world a more beneficial and beautiful place.

An Answer

I revised this older post first written seven years ago because the message in it is relevant right now–and probably forever.

INVICTUS

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

–William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

When my husband and I saw the film Invictus seven years ago, at the end of the film, the full-house audience stayed seated until the screen turned black. I like to think everyone was thinking about the message of the story or their memories of the time when apartheid was in full force, not only in South Africa, but here. Or maybe they were thinking how inequality still exists here at home with those who don’t look like us. I hope formulating their intention to change things kept people in their seats.

The poem “Invictus” hung on my classroom wall all my years of teaching, not only as inspiration to the students who may have read it but also for myself. Facing daily adversities requires something a person can grab hold of for strength, and this poem was my reminder that no matter what was done to or around me, I alone governed how I reacted. While we cannot control what is done to us, we are in control of how we respond. This lesson is not easy to learn, taking me at least 55 years before I REALLY got it.

Viewing this film also took me back to the school year of 1979-1980 when one of my students was a foreign exchange student from South Africa. Les was a good-looking, swarthy, sturdily-built lad and much in demand on the football field. In class, he did his assignments and was socially appropriate. He seemed so nice, I wanted to know why he embraced apartheid. Finally, the time came when I could ask him, when my asking would not embarrass him. How could a class of whites who appeared to be well-educated as his father was, for example, continue this racist division I asked him. I wasn’t making comparisons between his country and ours, I assured him, but I wanted to understand. When you know a thing is wrong, why do you keep doing it?

“If we do not keep separate,” he told me,” they will overrun us. They are many and we are few. They will destroy us. We will not have the country we know. Everything we worked for will be gone. I don’t harbor them any ill will. Most people don’t. It’s just better this way.”

I thanked him for answering me honestly. I didn’t debate the issue out of respect for that honesty. Besides, my little arguments would change nothing. But I understood.

Fear, then. Fear keeps us choosing to do the wrong thing. Later, after much reading of enlightened authors and my own life experiences, I learned we do what we do for two reasons. Our choices always boil down to these two reasons: fear or love. Always.

So when I saw Invictus, I thought about Les and wondered how he’d fared in the last 37 years through all the changes in his homeland. I wondered if he became the master of his fate, the captain of his soul. I wondered if his life has taught him well, and he now bases his actions on love.

SAUERKRAUT MAKING

SAUERKRAUT MAKING
Cabbage.
Sliced.
Splayed.
Sprayed across the upper kitchen cabinets,
the blender, the toaster,
and the counter top.
Chunks ice-green, limp and sweaty, cling
to my knees, toes, arms, and hair.
Nest in my cleavage.
Flop on the floor.
Soak in salt water.
Crocked.
Sauerkraut-making day.
Later, the fragrance of fermentation
(as when my father says,
“Pull my finger”)
Permeates the garage.
I cut short my errands past the crock,
Become a mouth breather.
Six weeks passes like eternity.
My father grew up next to a family of 11
who lived in a one-room cabin,
ate sauerkraut all winter
from a Hogshead barrel.
Imagine.
Still, there’s a reason
My ancestors celebrated
The new year with pork roast,
Potatoes and sauerkraut.
I can taste the salty succulence now.
Worth all the slicing, dicing,
Brewing and stink.

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A Doll Like Her

In Nicholas Kristof’s column of October 6, 2016, he posted a photo of a Syrian girl, reading to forget the war.

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What’s happening in Syria is a horrible atrocity, indeed, which should concern us all, but there’s something else concerning in the photo as well. On the shelf behind her sits her doll, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, wearing a dress of lace and pink fluff and what seems to be wings behind that. The doll’s skin is what we’d term on forms of inquiry as “white.” Are angels only white, with blonde hair? Why doesn’t she have a doll, just as pretty and angelic, that looks more like her?

 

This “white-skinned” doll, so out of place in war-torn Syria, took me back to my childhood, to when I became aware of certain, subtle differences in how people treated me.

 

At school, from the very beginning day, the teachers oohed and ahhed over my classmates who were blonde and it seemed to me those girls were teachers’ pets and got special privileges. I got to be an angel, even with my brown hair and brown eyes, in Christmas pageants, but it was my petite, blonde-haired, blue-eyed classmate who was chosen to play the head angel, say actual lines, and sing all by herself to much public acclaim and a photo in the local newspaper.

 

When I began to color, after being introduced to crayons and coloring books in the first grade, I mimicked the world around me. All the princesses I saw in the coloring books and in the Disney movies, were blond and blue-eyed, except for Snow White. I colored all the blonde princesses in the book my younger sister and I shared, and I made her color all the princesses who had dark-colored hair. Of course, she soon balked at that, because she knew the blonde-haired princesses were deemed more worthy, too.

 

She got the drop on me later, though, when I was in the sixth grade, and she in the third. The Christmas play was a variation of the Nutcracker, and she was a sugar plum fairy, dressed in a pink, crepe-paper tu-tu. Me? I was forced to play a dirty, brown tree stump, made of chicken wire covered with poster paper that I had to make myself, with tiny eye-holes that were hot and impossible to see out of because the stumps bounced up and down when we were dancing.

 

Who got the dates in high school? Blonde classmates. Who got the parts in Hollywood? Blonde starlets. Who modeled in magazines? Blondes. No one had to tell us blondes had more fun because it had been apparent since the un-blonde of us were children.

 

To be sure, there were exceptions to my generality, like Annette Funicello or Elizabeth Taylor. The preference was still there, however, no matter how many exceptions could be pointed out.

 

I’d like to think that kind of bias has disappeared from our subconscious thinking, especially since our hair can be any color we want, but I don’t know for sure. You may think the appearance of a doll on a Syrian girl’s shelf is nothing to be concerned about, but just like Williams’ red wheelbarrow, so much depends on it. It’s the image that leads to the larger and hurtful notion that one race, one skin or hair color, one religion is somehow better in every way than any other race, skin, or belief system. Maybe you’d say that at least she has a doll when other Syrian girls don’t . Maybe an American relief society gave it to her. Maybe one of her relatives is from the USA. You could be right.

 

All I know is this: A girl ought to have a doll that looks like her. Her angels should look like her, too, and be found just as beautiful and desirable as she is. Especially as sweet, sad, starving, and thoughtful as that girl is, living in a war-torn country with hatred right outside pounding on her window.

 

 

 

YOU BLOODY WELL CAN DO IT!

I just finished reading my grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry, by Fredrik Backman. Although I loved it all, this was my favorite part:

 

“The others at school say girls can’t be Spider-Man…”

Alf takes two dragging steps down the stairs. Stops. Looks at her.

“Don’t you think a lot of bastards said that to your grandmother?”

Elsa peers at him.

“Did she dress up as Spider-Man?”

“No.”

“What are you talking about then?”

“She dressed up as a doctor.”

Did they tell her she couldn’t be a doctor? Because she was a girl?”

Alf shifts something in the toolbox and then stuffs in the Santa suit.

“Most likely they told her a whole lot of damned things she wasn’t allowed to do, for a range of different reasons. But she damned well did them all the same. A few years after she was born they were still telling girls they couldn’t vote in the bleeding elections, but now the girls do it all the same. That’s damned well how you stand up to bastards who tell you what you can and can’t do. You bloody do those things all the bloody same.”

It’s a lovely mantra, isn’t it? “You bloody do those things all the bloody same.”

My sisters and I grew up on a farm, where if things needed doing my father couldn’t do alone, we were recruited to help, because there were no boys sitting at our dinner table. We did all the things around the farm that boys would normally have done, some of the jobs better than others, granted, but we did them, nonetheless. There were plenty of things we didn’t want to do, but whatever we wanted to do, we did. Some of them my father tried to discourage, saying girls can’t do that, but, hey, he started it, so that flag didn’t fly anymore, and there was no stopping it once it got started.

“You bloody do those things all the bloody same.” *

Our lives as adults weren’t easy because we believed this at a time other adults didn’t. Like husbands, bosses, and colleagues, both male and female. “Women can’t be (insert whatever position it was—electricians, ministers, soccer players, principals, etc.).”

When we were appointed by others in charge to a position our male colleagues thought was their due, because of tradition, longevity, or simply being male, things got ugly. “I’ve been here longer, I should be department head.” (Never mind the commitment, ability level or training.) Harassment and bullying of all kinds ensued.

On the home front that resentment exploded into bad behavior and violence on more than one occasion.

My single-parent-due-to-divorce sister, who built cabinets to finance her college education, was later told by the manager of a cabinet shop that instead of working she needed to be home with her children. She asked him how he expected she would be able to take care of them if she didn’t have a job. He had no answer but he still didn’t hire her. He missed out on skilled labor.

My other sister manages a cemetery and has had to deal with “women can’t do that” mentality from employees—now former employees, because, yes, she could do that.

In the public domain—well, you only need to look at comments about any female politician to know what happens publically.

My sisters and I weren’t the only women who suffered from being and doing what we wanted, who ignored naysayers and just did it anyway. The poet Sister Helena Brand used to say, “Do what you need to do. You can always repent later.” She was a member of the biggest partriarchy of them all.

My friend Judy wrote a book about her early experiences about doing what she wanted to do, being who she wanted to be. How on a staff of fellow PhD’s, she was often left out of bonding experiences, until she found out about them, and then inserted her presence. The first time was ugly, and then after that, not so much. If there was a mess, she was assigned to be in charge of cleaning it up, and when she actually did that, they were angry she’d succeeded. She kept on, though, and garnered the respect she should have had at the beginning.

I hope her daughters decide to print that book, because our young daughters and granddaughters need to know that anything is possible, no matter how anyone tries to limit you or block your path. Because they will.

The same holds true for young men. There is no one thing you have to do or be. One younger man I admire is a graphic artist, picture book author, and a stay-at-home dad, and he is teaching the community at large—nationally and now internationally–that men can parent creatively and successfully if that is what they want to do.

Here’s the thing: If you don’t do the things you want to do, then you aren’t really living your life.

Ageism is another problem that keeps us from being who we want to be. I remember feeling invisible as I approached 50. The comedienne Amy Schumer produced a hilarious and all-too-true sketch about women’s last f***able moment. If a person of a certain age applies for a job, they often don’t get it. How stupid on the part of the employer is that? Older people have tons of experience, both jobwise and human connection-wise. No worries that you’ll be gone because of your kids being sick.

Men I know who were counting on retirement, some as close as a year away, were suddenly let go. This happened to my female friends as well. You either are now costing your employer too much, or you are going to, so off you go.

I love that my daughter, who is now over the half-century mark, decided four years ago to pursue the career she always wanted, and now is a BSN-RN. In nursing, her age is a plus, not only because of her clinical experience, but because of her life experience. As my classmate Susie says, “I say when you have lived one life, “bloody well” live another and another—try them all out until you’ve lived them all! Do as many as you please!” She started out as a train engineer, and now she has a position at Crown Media. My friend Carol still works in real estate but she’s had many lives before that one.

There will always be naysayers, and the loudest one is often in your own head. None of them have your best interests at heart or even understand what’s in your heart, so ignore them.

My point is this: If someone tells you, “Girls can’t do that! Boys can’t do that!” you let them know you can. Then stay the course and then bloody well do it!

*(You don’t have to say “bloody” because you might not want to swear. But if do, then have at it!)

 

 

REFLECTIONS

 

Old Orange

When my husband placed the orange plant in the low ceramic bowl on the deck bench at the start of spring, I assumed it was a stop-gap measure, a rescue plant, something to sit there until he’d planted something beautiful to take its place. This succulent had no flowers, and had been the last surviving remnant of a prior summer’s succulent display. The lifeless leaves drooping off the bottom section of the center stems led me to believe it wasn’t long for this world. I resigned myself to looking at its dried-out, long and stringy appearance until either it died or its replacement arrived. Morning coffee in hand, I stared at it daily through the living room French doors. Ho-hum, if I have to.

 

Then something amazing happened. With every spring rain, every sunny day and every bit of fertilizer, this plant, whose fronds swooped and swayed like Donald Trump’s hair, grew, filling the pot that had at first been 2/3 empty. As other pots full of geraniums, marigolds, and four-o’clocks arrived, Old Orange transformed into a lush beauty right before my eyes, his stems greening, then turning to amber, as they rose from the pot. I began to look forward to seeing him every morning, his golden assertion a vivid contrast to the blue-potted beauties surrounding him.

 

Nothing is a coincidence. We’re meant to see what we do, so I always look for the gift in my observations. The lesson I gleaned is this: In your gardens and in life, pay attention to the oddballs, and keep them close to you. If you do, they’ll grow on you.

 

Shucking and Sloughing

 

Our front walkway flowerbed was a mess, a mass of dessicated, droopy dead daffodil blades, numerous weeds of the huge and habitual variety, and spider webs full of insect parts. Clean-up day arrived, and I was armed and ready. I pulled and yanked, trimmed and tossed. I dug, finding a plethora of sowbugs and their basketball-shaped mommies. (We’ve overdosed on sowbugs this season. Enough already!)

 

Halfway through my tidying, I found the cutest thing. At first I thought it was a sloughed-off snakeskin and I was loathe to touch it. I noticed, though, it was short, so because of myopia and cataracts, I picked it up and held it close to my eyes to get a better look. Aha!

 

In my hand lay the shed skin of a newt, the outer wrapping of his little platypus bill-shaped head, his wee arms waving in the wind, and his stump of a tail. I wondered how it happened—did he brush up against a tough stem and wriggle? Did it take hours to happen or did he just keep walking right on out of his skin? How did he know it was time for a change?

 

I consulted the internet then and there, right handy on the phone in my pocket, (which I keep there when I’m outside because I see cool things and it has a camera). On YouTube, I watched a newt shedding his skin and saw he used the items in his aquarium to rub up against. More Googled information told me that shedding is a process controlled by hormones from the pituitary and thyroid glands. Newts rub the skin down from their head, where shedding starts at the mouth, to their waist, then reach around, grab the roll in their mouth and pull it off their hind legs and tail. Or they use a series of wriggles and once the hind limbs are extracted they push the skin farther back until the tail, which is pressed down, removes the rest of it by friction. I was lucky to find the skin from our resident newt because apparently it’s common practice for a newt to eat his shed skin. A shed skin is a true, thin shadow of its former self.

 

At the end of the bed, I removed the bottom portion of the downspout and the flat catcher that diverts the water down the sidewalk so I could pull the weeds and dead stuff away. I lifted a large flat stone, and there was Mr. Newt, resplendent in his new skin. He might have been miffed at my disturbing the peace of his dark and damp domicile. He froze for a moment, staring me down. I said hello, and then he gave up the stink eye and wiggled away (as fast as a newt can) to await my departure. I don’t know if there’s a Mrs. Newt because I only ever see one. I suspect, however, there must be, because we’ve enjoyed a resident newt since the first moment we moved here. I hope he’s been eating sowbugs.

 

I read that newts grow each time they shuck their old skin. Humans do that, too, don’t they? Sloughing off what doesn’t work for us anymore helps us to grow as well.

 

Tenacity

 

My snowball bush teaches me the other side of the coin. It’s a tough call to know when to hang on. Every spring the bush blooms, and the wind persists until the blooms are blown away…all but one snowball. Maybe it arrives late so it goes late, but for some reason, one snowball remains a month later than all the others. Maybe it likes hanging out with the blooms of other later-blooming species. Each morning it’s still there, way at the top of the bush, I smile and give it a silent “Atta girl!”

 

Gardening teaches us important life lessons if we remain aware. This month, I was reminded of three things. Sometimes you wait, sometimes you slough off, and sometimes you hang on.