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March 27, 2005

Spring has Sprung

As far as I’m concerned, spring officially began yesterday. With temperatures forecast for over 50 degrees, we brought the willow furniture up from the basement storeroom and set it under the pergola. When the weather gets warmer, we’ll treat the furniture with a clear waterproofer to help them last longer.

The new loveseat we commissioned this year looks great with the other pieces
and it adds a few more seats around the copper fire pit. I was ready to sit out yesterday afternoon with a glass of something but by the time I was finished doing my spring garden clean up, it was too chilly.

Soon, though, we’ll be spending our days amidst the gardens – reading books with Graham, taking naps in the sun and catching up with our friends and neighbors. Just seeing the furniture from the window makes me smile. From March to November, it gives us nearly nine months of pleasure.

Working in the garden again also gave me a great deal of pleasure – and pain. By the end of the two and a half hours I spent bending, straightening and carrying, I was feeling my ancient years. If this is what 40 feels like, it stinks. I’m hoping it’s just that I’m terribly out of shape.

In my excitement to be outside again, I cut a wide swathe. All the ornamental grasses that looked so lovely in the fall, but now seemed rather sad, were chopped down. Any remaining perennials that had escaped the clipper last fall became compost. The hydrangeas were cut back, with ivory panicles floating down like rain in a sepia photograph. The gardens are now bare and ready for the flush of spring growth.

And the growth has already begun. While cutting things down, I saw what was coming up: pale, tender shoots of the first daffodils; needle-thin chives; green pebbles of sedum and feathery yarrow.

The list of new growth continues:
• Scottish campanula
• Several varieties of thyme including the wooly thyme surrounding the prairie garden stepping stones
• Daisies
• Strawberries
• Mums
• Penstemon “Husker Red”
• Primroses
• Heuchera
• Hellebores

In the ornamental grass bed, the gray kittenish fuzz of prairie crocus brought back memories of spring in North Dakota and begged to be stroked. The uncurling leaves of prairie smoke promised splendor to come.

Next to the house, I lifted bags of leaves and found hollyhocks and lavender “Hidcote” basking in the southern sun. The hollyhock leaves were emerald green and some were as big as my hand. The lavender was also lush; last year’s growth managed to overwinter under the added protection of the bags.

I tried a new chore this spring. Each summer we mulch extensively with shredded cypress. We typically think of it in July or August when the perennials have already grown so much that it’s difficult to spread the mulch around the plants. In particular, the beds underneath the flowering crabs have never received proper attention. It occurred to me that with everything cut back last fall, I could spread the mulch now to get complete coverage, and I wouldn’t be harming anything since the ground was still frozen and the daffodils hadn’t come up yet. Brian was able to pick up the mulch yesterday morning at Home Depot and it was my last accomplishment before dragging my tired body in the house for supper.

With my Concord grape vine pruned back today, my early spring chore list is complete, all before the end of March. Now I can think about planting!

Posted by maasx003 at 7:09 PM

March 14, 2005

Happy Birthday, Big Sister

I know I’ve been yammering on and on and on about my 40th birthday but this blog is about my big sister, Juanita.

We have a bond that’s pretty unique because I have the very great honor of being born on March 15, 1965, Juanita’s 10th birthday. You could even say I was her 10th birthday present. I like to think she was pleased about it but she probably would have preferred another Barbie instead. Family lore is that she named me and I think she made a good choice. It suits me.

For birthdays in our household, our mother would elaborately decorate cut-out cakes in the shapes of fish, rabbits or castles, but my favorite was the year Juanita and I had matching star-shaped cakes topped by a Barbie. It made me feel very important to share a cake with her.

Our father has special nicknames for us. In German families, daughters are often called “Sissy.” It’s not an insult, but an endearment. Juanita is Big Sissy and I, of course, am Little Sissy. And damn proud of it.

Through the years Juanita has always gone out of her way to make my birthday special. I particularly remember one year during elementary school when she stayed up late into the night making me a Holly Hobby doll. She presented it in the midst of my slumber party, to the delight of my friends.

Juanita has always made me feel special, too. She attended countless musical and choir performances, offered support and counsel, and probably bit her tongue more times than she could count. Her home was a place of refuge for me during my college years and that’s where our family gathers when we are together. She is our family’s lodestar.

Nita, you are my big sister, confidante, role model and friend. I wish you the very best on our birthday and throughout the coming year.

Posted by maasx003 at 6:01 PM

March 13, 2005

It’s All About Me

I have one steadfast rule in my life – I never work on my birthday. If it happens to fall on a weekend, I’ll take a take a day off either before or after the date.

I can’t remember when I started doing this but I know I was adamant about it the year after Graham was born. That day is clearly etched on my mind; I can even remember what I wore.

I dropped Graham off at school and then had breakfast at Zander’s Café on Selby Avenue, back when they still served their killer Eggs Benedict. While sopping up the delicious lemony sauce, I read a book about gardening with ornamental grasses. When I told her it was my special day, the waitress brought me a sweet roll the size of my head.

Then I went to the Como Conservatory fern room and read from “The Code of Love,” a book about a British couple who were separated in World War II while he was interned in a Japanese concentration camp. I remember how quietly I sat, just soaking in the words, the scents and sights of the ferns and the easy feeling of not having to do anything, be anywhere or care for anyone.

And the day just got better when I went for a massage with Barbara Glommen, an amazing healer. My emotional wellspring was dry and I needed someone to focus only on making me feel better. And she did. Then I ended the day by sharing an English high tea with my friend Sherri before picking Graham up again and heading home.

In short, it was a day all about me. And it was just what I needed, after nearly a year of nurturing our small son and spending my time at work nurturing potential volunteers, who sometimes seem as helpless as small children.

Each year since I have followed a similar pattern – a special meal, a massage and the opportunity to do something I’ve always been meaning to but just couldn’t justify. One year I gave myself $20 to spend on whatever I wanted at the Bibelot, the ultimate shopping destination for pretty but not particularly practical items. I purchased a set of three tiny vases I’d been eying for a long time and three green frogs for Graham’s bathtub, all for only $19.96!

I think the only time I didn’t follow this routine was the year we finished our addition/remodeling project. Then I took off an entire week and spent it unwrapping, washing and finding homes for all the china, dishes and kitchenware that had been in storage for over six months. With BBC America shows on the television and a hot latte on the new granite island, I was content.

And now I’m facing another birthday hooky day and I’m trying to decide what to do with that precious time. It’s a little stressful because I know it will be full year before I have another day all to myself. I do know I will be spending it alone.

I guess it’s the Meyers–Briggs “Introvert” or “I” coming out in me. While other friends would cram their special days with appointments, excursions or outings with girlfriends, I, on the other hand, just want to be alone. I need time to regroup, unwind and find my energy again and I do that best by myself.

I don’t have an overwhelming need for a massage this year, which I see as a good thing. I must be regaining balance in my life, because I’m not feeling so needy right now.

My list of other potential activities is endless – starting a tray of seeds, reading a good book, going through my closet, reading a trashy book, organizing my office, reading a gardening book, writing without any distractions, or even (dare I say it?) taking a nap. Or reading a book.

No matter what, I will spend the day at home. I love our “new” house - watching how the sun lights up each room differently depending on the time of day and season, knowing how comfortable we all are with our bigger space and reveling in the peaceful colors and textures - but working full time, that enjoyment is limited to weekends and holidays.

So Tuesday, it’s a pretty good bet that at some point during the day, I’ll be sacked out on a couch with a dog or two across my lap, reading a good book and quite probably falling asleep. In short, doing nothing but things I want to do.

On my birthday, it really is all about me.

(Where’s Brian in all this?, you may be wondering. Well, I’m actually taking two days off this year – one just for us and one for me. But finding couple time is a topic for another blog and another day so I’ll leave that for then.)

Posted by maasx003 at 6:03 PM

March 8, 2005


Check out my latest gardening piece in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Home and Garden section. My secret obsession is finally revealed! (Okay, so it wasn’t that big of a secret.)

Posted by maasx003 at 10:24 PM

March 7, 2005

Victoria’s Secret for the Pre-School Set

Much has been written about the millions of dollars spent each year on advertising campaigns aimed towards very young children. If they are typical kids who watch a couple hours of TV a day, by the end of the week they may see hundreds of images whose seductive pitches attempt to woo them to their products.

We take an active role in monitoring the programs that Graham watches, the violence of classic Tom and Jerry cartoons notwithstanding, so we hear very few pleas for this certain sugary breakfast cereal or that spectacular new toy.

I can explain to Graham why eating SuperSugarChocoPops is not good for his body, but how I am supposed to react when he responds to an advertising campaign aimed at a more adult audience?

Here’s what happened: one night last week when Brian was working, I was washing dishes while watching Monty Python on the BBC America television station, trying to get my weekly hit of dry British humor.

Graham was racing round and round the house with Pont, the new puppy, when suddenly both of us stopped what we were doing, mesmerized by a whirling vision on the screen.

A beautiful young woman was posing her voluptuous body on a fashion runway. As she arched her back and spread her long, lean legs, the camera zoomed in and around her black bra and panties, highlighting Victoria Secret’s latest technological marvel in the science of breasticular engineering.

While she contorted this way and that, I was doing a mental inventory of the model’s assets. “Let’s see, about 23 years old. Hmm, that taut tummy has never carried a baby. And those have definitely never been working breasts,” comparing them to my own kangaroo pouch of a tummy stretched by the 50 pounds I gained with Graham and my sagging, post-nursing mommy glands.

When the commercial was finished, Graham turned to me and said, “Wow, Mommy! We should get one of those for you!”

In between snorts of laughter, I was able to choke out, “Gee, what a great idea, Graham.”

The feminist in me should probably have had a long, serious talk about the objectification of women in the media (in terms that a four year old could understand, of course) and how we need to respect women for all their skills and contributions, not just their ability to defy gravity north of the equator.

But my vain, inner girly-girl was popping with pride, basking in the knowledge that her son thought she was pretty, too.

Either that or he’s already been brainwashed by the media.

I prefer the former.

Note: Graham did recently perform at his first Irish Dance recital. You can see a few pictures at my husbands blog....but realize you are also going to a sports blog. You've had fair warning.

Posted by maasx003 at 7:58 PM