June 09, 2015

The day I lost my car, my hair straightener, my uncle, and my chance to see the Lonesome Trio.

This should be a long overdue garden update. After working from sun up to sun down last week, I had great plans to spend this weekend working outside and taking pictures of how well everything is coming along. There are flowers blooming, tiny tomatoes forming, and watermelon vines climbing all over my yard. But this weekend, all of that took a backseat to the worst case of deja vu I've ever experienced.

It all started last Friday when I was out running errands with my mom. She's been setting up a little booth in an antiques shop, and I do most of the heavy lifting for her. We stopped by Publix on the way home, and I sat in the car while she grabbed a few groceries. It had been a good day so far. I'd finally gotten the pool fixed that morning, after a month of trying, and everyone in my life was in a decent mood. Things were just going swell. And then my mom came out to the car in tears.

Let me just say that my mom's 17-year-old dog died not too long ago, and she breaks into tears at the drop of a hat, so I wasn't too concerned at first.

But then she told me we had to hurry back to her house. My heart sank. I just knew something terrible had happened to my 13-year-old paralyzed dog who was back there hanging out with my dad. Before my mind could wander, she said "Scott died."


"Scott Died."

"Oh my...oh my...no way. What?"

I couldn't comprehend those words. 

Scott is my uncle, my dad's younger brother. He's lived behind my parents for my entire life, and I see him every week, either in person or driving down the road. His daughter is one of my best friends, and he'd just been at my parents' house the weekend before helping my dad fix a lawnmower. He looked good. He laughed with me when we made fun of my dad. He was actually supposed to go back to my parents' house that Tuesday and finish the lawnmower job, but he never showed up. My dad wanted to wait until the weekend to call him. He assumed he'd just forgotten to stop by or was busy.

But he didn't stop by because he never got out of bed that day, and I still can't quite believe it.   

It wasn't that he and I were particularly close. It's more that he was just always there, and now it feels like my family is lopsided. If anyone's keeping up, we lost my grandfather last June. It was tough, but he was nearly 90 and dealing with some health issues. My grandfather left us much sooner than we thought he might, but it was easier to accept. It was easier to come to terms with because we all knew it would happen eventually, and we did what we had to do to keep our family up and move forward without him. The loss of my uncle touched a whole new generation with absolutely no warning. It came too soon after my grandfather's death for it to make sense. It just wasn't part of the plan.

It wasn't part of my short-term plan for this month, either. June was supposed to be a Month Full of Awesome, compared to last year. It would start with me finally getting the pool fixed, thanks to a twist of fate that happened in a Home Depot parking lot. Shortly after that, I had plans to welcome four chickens into my new-found enjoyment of doing outside things. My cousin and I, the one whose father died, decided we would not let our dorky annual family Florida trip die with our grandfather, and we made arrangements to go on our own. And I had plans to go to a concert that I'd been wanting to see for years. Sort of.

Well, maybe not years.

Long time reader(s) of this blog know I'm a huge bluegrass fan. You may also know I'm a fan of the actor Ed Helms. At some point during the last few years, I learned that the universe had somehow combined the two, and the actor Ed Helms was actually a bluegrass musician. I knew his band did some shows in Los Angeles a while back or something, and I actually tried to go once, but the timing was bad. I'd always hoped he do something in Atlanta, but as my own busy life and career prevent me from keeping up with these things as closely as I'd like, I didn't really pay much attention...

...until a couple of a weeks ago when I was scrolling through Facebook and saw an ad for an upcoming show at a small concert venue in my fair city. I looked closely at the picture in the ad and realized that the band was the Lonesome Trio, a trio that includes Mr. Helms.

This was it. My chance to see him perform bluegrass music in person.

I immediately contacted my cousin to see if he would accompany me. I can't get anyone I know to attend a bluegrass show with me, and he'll do anything if it gives him the opportunity to wear a new outfit and mingle with potentially attractive young men. To be honest, I wasn't sure what the crowd would be like —I've been to concerts where I was the only person under retirement age — but I promised him a bevy of attractive young men anyway.  He agreed. I bought the tickets, and I added a new activity to the calendar that was June: My Month Full of Awesome.

On Saturday, I found out my uncle's funeral would be at 2:00 on Monday, the same day as the concert. My family wanted to get together afterwards, but that should take, what, a couple of hours?  The concert didn't start until 8:00. I could do this. Did I feel like a selfish jerk? You bet your sweet ass I did, but you have no idea how badly I wanted to go to this thing.

The day started with me plugging in my hair straightener. I'm not sure what I was thinking with this heat and humidity, because even if I had straightened my hair, it would have puffed out 10 inches by noon. As if someone was trying to tell me not to waste my time, the amazing straightener I've used to keep myself looking fabulous decent for nearly a decade decided it had fried its last strand of hair, and the handle popped right off into my bathroom sink.

Just as I was trying to figure out if I could manually squeeze my luscious locks in between the warm paddles, I heard my dad come inside downstairs. I heard him say something about "hitting Sarah's something" and yell "dammit." Sarah's something turned out to be Sarah's, er, my car. He's not used to it being parked in their driveway, and his mind has been elsewhere all weekend, naturally. So, he backed out of the driveway in my mom's SUV and basically totaled the vehicle that has driven me around Atlanta and other parts of the country for longer than the straightener has been hiding my natural curls.

Though I'd only been awake a couple of hours, that's all it took for me to realize that this day was already making me exhausted. There was no way I could go be a dutiful mourner, be there for my cousins, and put my family first with the concert looming over my head. I didn't want to spend the afternoon watching the clock, and I just couldn't make myself get into the mood to tell someone who just lost her father that I am sorry, and I'd love to reminisce, but Ed Helms and his friends and some awesome music await. The King Plow Arts Center is not where I needed to spend this particular evening.

I tried to give my tickets away (for free!) on Facebook, but I should have known that none of my bluegrass-hating friends would want to go. I went through this a year or two ago when I ended up driving out to the middle of nowhere solo to see Ralph Stanley.

Ironically, I also found out something I didn't know about my uncle today: He was actually a big bluegrass fan. As a matter of fact, his son quoted and played a Ralph Stanley song during his eulogy. It was at that moment that I realized I'd asked everyone I knew to go to that Ralph Stanley concert with me but my uncle. I don't even know that he would have gone, but it really made me think about how much we often take our families for granted. This entire weekend has been a lesson in that.

So, I'm probably going to have to get a new car. I had to wear my hair in a bun because I live in Georgia, and it's summer, and without technology, my hair does not make public appearances. I had to make the very difficult decision to not see a concert that is the stuff my dreams are made of.

But I wouldn't say I'm unlucky. I did get to spend the day celebrating the life of a man who will be missed more than words can say with people who don't really care what my hair looks like or would gladly give me a ride if I didn't have a car at all. I got to be there for my cousin when the loss of her father overwhelmed her, I got to see my dad 's face light up when friends from his childhood came to support him as he buried his brother, and I received a huge reminder of what's most important in life.

I'll probably always regret not seeing that concert, but I would have regretted going even more. And as luck would have it, I decided to check Facebook when I returned home tonight, and there was an Entertainment Weekly article featuring The Lonesome Trio with an advance streaming of their new album. I didn't actually realize there was an album accompanying the concert tour, but there is, and it comes out June 16, and I will buy it. And if there is a next time for a concert, I will go, even if I have to walk. Even if I have to go with my curly hair flowing wild in the midst of a hot Georgia summer.

My uncle, Scott, my aunt, and baby me circa 30ish years ago.

May 14, 2015

A little progress

I know, 20 days seems to be my average time between posts. The problem is that I am self-employed, and what little free time I do get lately I spend outside. I take lots of pictures, but most of them sit on a computer or digital camera and then everything grows a little more and then...well, excuses and more excuses. Let me get to the point: I have made some progress.

When I planted my little lonely Heinz tomato in the middle of my stick garden, I didn't take into consideration that it would need a cage. I tried making one out of bamboo the other day, and it looked awful. So, I made one today out of sticks I had left over from making the border for the bed. I ran out of jute, so it still needs another layer or two, but this is what it looks like. Very rustic.

Here's how it looks in the bed. I'm not crazy about it, but what can you do? (Besides try to move the tomato and risk losing my prize Heinz tomato that is the kind they grow to make the ketchup, aka my crack.)

As you can see, the other stuff in my stick bed is really growing. The herbs are huge, the lettuce and onions are getting huge, and even my gladiolus started growing, though one bulb is still somewhere in the dirt. Ignore the background...I'm still working on the place.

I also got some plants potted. I didn't realize the sun was so bright when I did took these pictures, so bear with me. Here are two pots of verbena, a gerbera daisy, and some dianthus. The second pot from the left is broken, but I thought it looked kind of neat. I found it in my grandfather's storage space after he died. I'll add it to my little shabby chic flower garden I'm working on.

On my last post, I mentioned that I'm now working on a bed on the side of the old house and fence. It's turned into sort of a salsa garden with peppers, tomatoes, herbs, onions, lettuce, carrots, and flowers. It also has a couple of zucchini plants. Here are the beginnings of it — it's still a major work in progress. 

I've got 12 pepper plants in there with bamboo stakes. I'm hoping they will hold up. I'm hoping the peppers even grow at all as this spot is a little shady, and they are close together. There is one cayenne pepper, seven chili peppers, and four jalapenos. You can also see my rosemary, a pot of cardinal climbers that I'm hoping will grow up that gutter, and some green onions that need some major help. 

Well, that's it for now. I've made a vow to work outside for at least an hour every day, and I'm going out of town in June, so I want to have all my garden stuff completed by then. Hopefully, I'll be able to update more often, too...hopefully.

April 23, 2015

Stick Wattle Bed Complete

I know it's been 20 days since I last updated with progress on my great garden project of 2015, but it has rained nearly every single day since. I'm not kidding. The few days it didn't, I had tons of work to do or places to be, and that left me no time to work outside. Today, however, I had a few hours, and I finally completed phase one. I think it's the third day I've been able to do anything out there all month.

So, I finally got the wattle bed finished. That took far longer than I thought it would. It's sort of like putting together a puzzle without knowing what the end result is. It's not really 100% wattle, but it's close enough. I cheated and used some jute to tie the sticks in place to keep a storm or animal from knocking them over.

Then it took forever to fill it even just halfway with dirt. I try to do everything organically or as organic as possible, but I must admit I caved and used some Miracle Grow garden soil because Home Depot had it so cheap. Just a little...the rest of it dirt from my garden from last year and my compost from the last two years. Yeah, I have two years worth of compost. I'm such a hippie. So, here's what the completed thing looked like before I planted anything in it.

As of today, it has about 20 onions, 1 tomato, 4 rows of lettuce, 4 rows of cosmos, sunflowers, dianthus, echinacea, alyssum, English daisies, sage, oregano, cilantro, bachelor's button, gladiolus, and chamomile. I kind of squeezed it all in there in small amounts, so hopefully, it will all thrive. Here's the finished product.

Here is some of my lavender, the herbs, and the English daisies. All the little sticks in the soil mark where I planted seeds.And that little chair is from my childhood, but it makes gardening easy and less dirty.

And here is the first tomato I have ever planted. Last year, right before my grandfather died, I was telling him what all I wanted to plant in the garden that never was. After reading off a list of exotic veggies, he asked if I ever considered just trying tomatoes. Truthfully, I hate tomatoes, but 1) I'm addicted to planting stuff, and 2) I am going to try to make my own tomato sauce for Italian dishes. We'll see how that goes. This is a Heinz heirloom tomato.

On one of those non-rainy days, I did get to plant a few things, including four rows of lettuce, some onions, and cosmos. All three are growing like crazy, but only every other row of lettuce is, so I have to figure that out. Here's one of the rows.Look closely. The pine straw was supposed to help keep the rain from washing the seeds away.

And here are some things I still need to plant. I kind of went nuts at Home Depot.The sad thing is I'm going to a local nursery tomorrow.

I also bought this lovely hibiscus. I've always wanted one, and I've got this gorgeous green pot I want to put it in. That will be a project for next week. I may park it at the pool instead of in my garden since it loves hot, humid weather.

And this is the start of my next project. There is a large area next to the back porch and fence that has mostly just been storage/weeds for several years. I started chopping down trees and bushes last week. The soil is amazing, so I'm hoping it'll make a nice place for a little salsa garden of sorts.

Here is how it looks today. There was a huge stump I had to bust up last night, and by "had to bust up" I mean attempted it, whined about it enough, and someone else did it for me.

Here is the whole area — I'll be planting from the steps on the left to the gate of the fence on the right. Tomorrow, I'll start cleaning it up more and getting the soil ready for my next project!

April 03, 2015

Sticks and Puppies. Puppies and Sticks.

It's been about a week since I declared this the year of the Great Garden Project of 2015, and I have to say I haven't gotten very far.

After I posted about it last week, I received a ton of work from one of my main freelance clients, and that took a few days to finish. Then a friend asked if I could keep her 8-week old puppy while she went out of town for a few days.

She had me at 8-week-old puppy.

That turned out to be more work than I thought it would be, and I didn't get to work outside as much as I would have liked during those days, but this little face made it all worth it.

Ginger, the puppy I've been babysitting for a few days.

I spent half of one day driving across a few counties to help a neighbor whose husband was in the hospital having surgery. She needed something from her house, and I was only person close by she could get in touch with. Once all that was finished, it started raining and lightning, and I figured standing outside holding metal garden tools would not be a good idea.

I did get to work outside today, though, and finally finished my first major project: cutting up sticks.
Seriously, I felt like one of those Alaskan Bush People. My parents moved into my grandfather's house late last year, and they've been trimming shrubs and trees. I've been taking what they trim and cutting it up to make wattle garden beds for my project, sort of like this:

Raised wattle bed via Organicgardening.com
Mine will probably never look that nice. These beds are cheap to make and allow you to recycle things from your own yard. Win win. They also look easy to make.

Unless you have lots of sticks laying around, they are not easy to make.

I've spent many hours over the last week cutting sticks, cutting all my body parts, and today, even cutting my shirt. This is why my parents will not loan me their chainsaw.  Anyway, I haven't even gotten to the garden bed yet. I just finished the sticks up today around 6:00 p.m. If you look closely, you can see that what looks like brush here is actually piles of young trees that I cut up without the help of electric power tools...just my arms of steel.

Here are some stakes I made from some shrubbery my mom cut up.

I got the dirt plowed up and ready for the first bed. Okay, full disclosure: I started with a hoe and my aforementioned arms of steel, but my dad took pity on me and brought his tiller over.

I did get the stakes into the ground and started playing around with the few sticks I had already cut, but I'm going to have to start over because I went about it all wrong. This is a learning process.

So, that's where I am so far. I plan to plant onions and lettuce here. Maybe a few herbs and flowers. I have a ton of stuff out there I need to get into the ground as soon as possible. I need to mix up the dirt and compost for the bed. It's supposed to be a pretty weekend, but I do have some work to do, and I have family Easter stuff on Sunday. I hope to at least have this bed finished by Monday, though. Then what? I have no idea. Probably my climbing rose bush, but more on that later.

March 23, 2015

The Great Garden Project of 2015

Recently, I realized one reason I haven't blogged much in the last year is because I didn't really do much worth blogging about. Moving 1,028 times, mourning loved ones, and writing articles and web copy for small businesses isn't exactly the stuff people want to hear about. I'm not sure that gardening is that stuff either, but it's what I want to talk about, so tough. I'm going to give it a whirl again this year and document every moment, but this time, I'm going big.

I've become obsessed with French and English cottage and portager gardens. For those of you who have no idea what a portager garden is (and I didn't until a couple of weeks ago), it's a little fenced in space right outside your home where you grow a combo of vegetables, herbs, fruit, and flowers. According to Organicgardening.com,

In England and France, where kitchen gardens are called potagers (poh-tah-JAYS), a lot of planning goes into making sure these humble gardens are as attractive as they are practical. Potagers feature patterned beds and arches where herbs, edible flowers, and fruits mingle with the carefully selected vegetables in a celebration of color, flavor, fragrance, and form.

Here are a couple of pictures of such gardens:

You can see more pictures of portager gardens here.

And so, after reading about these little gardens for weeks on end, I decided I was going to set out to make one and keep this thing updated with my progress in order to hold myself accountable. First, there are a few things I must note.

1. I don't have a good track record.

If you remember, I started a lovely little garden last year, and by the end of June, it looked like this.

In my defense, my grandfather died that month, and my life as I knew it changed. But I can't blame it all on that. I was trying to grow cool weather plants in warm weather and I had no problem going off on 8-day vacations and not bothering to ask anyone to water it or anything for me. Then it just got so hot and bugs and frogs and well, I gave up.  I must persevere this year.

2. I don't have a yard. 

I wasn't sure where to do this at first, because I don't have a proper space for it at the moment. However, my parents just happen to own my old family home that was built in the 1800s. They lived there up until last year, and I've been toying with the idea of remodeling it. It's the perfect place for an old-fashioned garden, though. It already has a fenced in backyard where they used to let their dogs out, and I think it's the perfect size for what I want to do. It needs some major cleaning up as it's been neglected for a few years, but that will make it all the more glorious right? Consider these my before pictures:

3. I have no idea what I'm doing. 

Gardening and dealing with plants should be in my blood. My grandfather and parents have made these huge elaborate gardens ever since I can remember. My grandmother on my mom's side was a florist, and no visit to her house was complete without walking around the perimeters of her yard to see what all she was growing. Even after weeks of reading and a million trips to Home Depot and my favorite local nursery and even being a biology major for a while there when I thought I'd go to medical school, I am kind of hopeless when it comes to turning seeds into vegetables, turning bulbs into flowers, and keeping plants alive once you get them into the ground.

4. I don't have a huge budget. 

I originally set out with ideas of building wooden raised beds and buying dozens of trees and shrubs, but then I realized I have to, you know, buy food and pay bills and stuff like that. So, until I become a real estate mogul or a best-selling author or something along those lines, my budget will be a little tight. But I want it to be rustic, so that kind of works in my favor. I've already started my first project (more on that to come).

So, there you have it. This is what I plan to do for the remainder of the spring and summer, and I will share every step and detail with you fine people (or person?). I already have a few supplies.

January 30, 2015

I hate the Super Bowl

I hate the Super Bowl.

There, I said it.

It has taken me a long time to come to terms with it, because on paper, it is everything I should love about football and life. But I don't. I hate it. It's not because my team is rarely in it or because no one invites me to Super Bowl parties. It's not because I have some political and social hang ups about capitalism or conditions for players or ridiculous salaries or violence or anything like that.

So, why do I hate he so-called biggest football game of the year? Let me count the ways.

1. Commercials

Well, I hate it because of the commercials. I don't care how cute the puppies are or which celebrities are selling your products. I hate commercials 364 days a year, and unless you have some kind of advertising fetish, so do you and all of your friends who post them on Facebook and talk about how excited they are to watch them. So, stop letting other people tell you that you should. 

And hell, even if you do really just happen to love them all on your own and not because it's the in thing, you'll see them for months on TV after the big event, and these days, you can watch them weeks before the Super Bowl on YouTube.  At some point, you'll probably even accidentally spend a few minutes watching/reading some horrible "Top 10 Super Bowl Commercials" show/article, so who cares? It's not a big deal.

2. Politics 
And what's worse than Super Bowl commercials? Super Bowl commercials with a message. Last year, I think there was some crap about people of the world getting along. This year, I understand, there will be something about domestic violence.  Call me cold-hearted, but when I sit down to watch a football game, I'm trying not to think about what's wrong with the world. If I wanted to do that, I'd flip over to a cable news channel or watch Oprah reruns.

Also, few days ago, I saw something about how NBC would interview the president before the game. Why? Why? For the few hours I'm watching a game, I don't care what's going on in Washington, DC or the Middle East or anywhere beyond my house and that stadium, and I don't care who President Obama (or Bush or Clinton or whomever) is rooting for, so this is simply not necessary.

3. Half-Time Show

I also hate it because of the half-time show. Every year, the NFL parades some Godawful commercial "musician" out there to appeal to the masses. A week after it happens, no one is talking about what a solid performance it was. They're talking about whose boobs hung out of what outfit or what rock star is too old to act like that or how this 90s band didn't sing live or how his pop tart should never sing live again. Half-time is for bathroom breaks and game analysis, not concerts featuring talentless celebrities.

4. Super Bowl Parties

And then there are Super Bowl parties. If you want to get together with your friends, drink beer, and order pizza while you watch football, go for it. If you want to invite your entire Sunday School class and their kids over to look at the decorations you spent weeks making after spending half of January pouring over Pinterest and making frequent trips to the craft store, you are missing the point. You don't need 13 different types of cheese dips and 29 types of crackers. You don't need football-shaped burgers and cupcakes with little Patriots jerseys painted on the top. You need to get a life and probably stick to watching soccer. 

5. Pretend Football Fans

I don't hate football fans, but I do hate people who pretend to be football fans. This can happen on many levels. Maybe you sort of kind of root for the Falcons or the Dolphins. Suddenly, you've always loved Seattle, because they've been in the Super Bowl two years in a row, and that's the bandwagon to be on. Maybe you saw Rob Gronkowski hanging out with Justin Bieber, thought he was cute, and suddenly, you're a Patriots fan. I'm willing to cut you some slack on this point...after all, I follow Peyton Manning around the league like he's the Jesus of football. You know I own me some Colts and Broncos gear. But I can't take it when these new pretend fans could care less about what happens when September rolls around. I can't take it when these pretend fans can tell you who Aaron Rogers is dating but say things like, "What's a first down?" or "Which team has the ball?" or "Why isn't Troy Aikman playing?"

6. The Narrative

Then there's the media narrative. I'll admit, I'm extremely biased this year because the two teams in the Super Bowl are the two teams I hate more than anything. Much of my hatred for these two teams comes from what they've done against the teams and players I like. Much of it comes because I find the organizations, players, and fans to be obnoxious and cocky. But much of it comes from the hype. I don't find Tom Brady charming or think he's the best quarterback of all time because his team has made a lot of Super Bowl appearances and he married a supermodel. I don't think Marshawn Lynch is some kind of deep individual or comedic genius because of the way he handled a press conference. I can think for myself, thank you very much, ESPN. 

7. The Emotional Crap

 Plus, when Super Bowl time rolls around, suddenly every guy on whichever two teams are playing is some sort of saint. You get endless montages about how he grew up in a broken home in the worst part of the worst city in the country and overcame it all and paints his mama's name on his arm before every game and holds orphans with AIDS every Monday. By March, you've forgotten all about the guy until his name pops back up in the news because he got  DUI or didn't pay his child support for two years or something. I love a feel-good story as much as the next person, but I don't want to spend Super Bowl Sunday weeping because this team's tight end saved 5,000 puppies. Save it for the off season.

Anyway, I could go on, but I think you get the point. The Super Bowl is kind of like New Year's Eve. If you aren't watching every Sunday, please keep your amateur ass at home. If you must gather around the TV for some reason Super Bowl Sunday, I hear there's a "Walking Dead" marathon on whatever network airs that show, and you can watch commercials until your heart is content on every single channel but PBS. If you need to get all self-righteous about something, that is what social media is for.

And I get that a lot of it is about money, and the NFL is already commercial, and the current commissioner would rather the guys to sit around a bonfire and roast marshmallows instead of celebrate in the end zone or do anything remotely interesting. But at least, during the rest of the season, the game is still, for the most part, the focal point and not some sort of hodgepodge of circus tricks.

Give me a random game in October between two mid-level teams any day.

January 20, 2015

As if taxes weren't scary enough...thanks, H&R Block.

A few nights ago, I was coming downstairs in the middle of the night in the dark, and out of the blue, I heard someone whisper, "Sarrrrraaaah." It scared me. But both of my grandparents died in this house, and I grew up in the house next door which saw many family deaths. I've experienced many creepy things there throughout my lifetime. Anyway, I tried to tell myself I was hearing things and ignored it.

Fast forward to last night. I had to give a dog a bath in the middle of the night. I came out of the bathroom and brought said dog into the living room, and the minute I walk into the room, I hear it again.


At this point, I realized I wasn't making it up, but what could it be? Were my dead grandparents really trying to get my attention? After all, the night before last, I swear I heard someone playing the piano, but when I went in there, it was closed.

So, after the dog bath, I'm sitting in my bedroom trying to finish up some work before I go to sleep, and I hear it again. The same creepy person whispering my name. There was no doubt that it was coming from the TV, but all I saw was an H&R block commercial. Maybe it was some kind of psychological thing about how I'm dreading making a big tax payment in a couple of weeks?

A little research proved that I was definitely not hearing things. H&R Block has a new commercial called "Get Your Billions Back, America: Sarah." In it, the guy fans a stack of money and whispers in a creepy voice, "Sarrrrrrraaaaaah," as if the money is calling out to someone named Sarah. One look at the comments on the YouTube videos proves that many other Sarahs had similar experiences, so I don't feel so stupid.  Take a look for yourself.

January 15, 2015

2014: A Recap

Well, it's a new year (or, at least, 15 days into one), and it's been eight months since my last blog post. There's a good reason for that.

2014 kind of sucked.
The last time I posted, it was mid-May. I'd just learned that I liked to buy seeds and flowers, but putting them into the ground...not so much. Most of the plants I bought never actually made it into the ground, and the ones that did didn't exactly flourish, especially when I decided I preferred traveling for days at a time to standing around in the 90-degree heat and humidity trying to keep it all weeded and watered. 

Gabby ready for the beach.

I had many trips planned for 2014. Some got canceled; some happened but aren't even worth. mentioning. The first week of June, I loaded Gabby up, and we made our annual pilgrimage to Tom Petty's (ex wife's) beach house. It wasn't that great of a trip, and it may be the last time I go, which is sad, because I do love that place. And any time I get to take Gabby to the beach is great, because she loves it, and after all she's been through in her 12 years, I feel like she deserves it. 

Gabby relaxing in TP's guest room. We've spent many nights here.

Gabby doing what Gabby does best on the beach.

Fast forward to the end of June - I hadn't even fully unpacked from that trip. One of the worst things that has ever happened to me happened: my grandfather died unexpectedly.  I feel stupid saying unexpectedly, because he was sick and he was nearly 90, but if you met him, you'd never know he was that old. One Friday afternoon, his doctor gave him another one to three years to live. That Sunday morning, my dad and aunt found him in his bed. I still remember walking to his house as the ambulance pulled up. Maybe I'll write more about that day in the future.

It's fuzzy but him and me in my little Herschel Walker jersey, circa the 1980s.

My grandparents on their wedding day.

It's still really hard to believe. I've lived next door to him or on the same street as he did for most of my life, minus a few years. He was like my third parent. It was definitely the worst part of my year and my life so far. My family gathered over the course of the next 24 hours after he died, and looking back, it feels like we were all moving in slow motion. I wrote a eulogy. My cousins and I cleaned his house. We had so much food, and relatives came from out of town.

My grandfather was out setting up his beloved garden weeks before he died.

My dad taking down my grandfather's garden for the last time.

There are many other reasons why 2014 sucked, but I'm choosing to forget all that focus on the positive now.

Right before Christmas, I took a trip to Charleston, and I had so much fun. I go there all the time, but this was definitely one of my favorite trips. I think it would have been a little better if I hadn't tried to work while we were there and if we'd had an extra couple of days to do more because I was with someone who had never been, but it was definitely the getaway I needed after what feels like non-stop stress of working six to seven days a week for months, dealing with a variety of family issues, and moving everything I owned three times (yeah, three times—that was fun).

Charleston Marina right before dark. I love boats.

I also received some great encouragement from one of the least likely places. All of my adult life, I've gone back and forth with some of my career plans. I've figured some of it out with the writing, I think. I know some things are still missing. However, I received a little handwritten note in the mail from someone I admire, someone who is so talented, so busy, and so legendary that no one believes me when I tell them, and right now, it sits on my dresser like a little prompt I can glance at when I let my thoughts about my future bog me down. If this guy can be positive about my future plans, then so can I.

In an effort to further nurture my hippie leanings, I found a really cool farm in the mountains that sells amazing grass-fed beef and pork and has adorable little goats.

Hmm. What else? My grandfather was in the midst of having the pool re-plastered when he died. It'd turned into a major headache for him, because the guy who did it last year really screwed him over. I ended up overseeing that and taking care of it for the remainder of the summer. I thought it looked nice when it was all finished. Ironically, he spent last summer teaching me as much as he could about pool maintenance. This year, I learned a lot more on my own. My parents own it now (they moved into his house in November), so I have a feeling I will be their pool girl for a while whenever I'm around. I also had no idea it was so much work, so that's another reason the garden never took off. Maybe next year?

This thing is more work than one might think.
Sadie enjoying my grandfather's—now my parents'—porch and backyard.

So yeah, maybe my garden looks like this now (see the picture below). But it's something I'll always remember, even if I never try it again. I did it on my parents' and grandfather's land, which meant many weekends sitting outside with them as they set up their own gardens—something they've been doing all of my life. I didn't realize it at the time, but those are memories I will always cherish.

Many things about my life have changed in the last year. I've had to put many plans on hold. But I'm learning to be a little more flexible than I have in the past when things didn't go the way I wanted them to, so there's that.  

Sadie and my parents' dog checking out my garden circa August.

May 13, 2014

Attempted Gardening, Part 1

I've never been an outside kind of person. Don't get me wrong; I like to hike, swim, and do things like that, but as far yard work and gardening and the like go, I've always avoided it.

Ironically, I grew up in a world where my parents and grandfather spent entire summers working their combined acreage, growing tomatoes, corn, beans, and squash, and my grandmother on the other side was a florist and had a yard full of lowers like nothing you've ever seen, but I just don't have the patience for such things.

Until now. 

I've had a hankering to dig in the dirt lately, and since I won't have a permanent home until later in the year, I didn't want to put a ton of effort into anything. But my parents were kind of enough to give me a little bit of space in their garden (the shady spot with bad drainage, of course), and I am determined to turn it into some kind of English cottage meets organic vegetable garden kind of thing.
So far, it's been pretty fun. I've learned a few lessons:

1. Buying flowers is as addictive as buying Reese's Peanut Butter Cups or MAC eye shadows.  Seriously, I've spent more time (and money) in local nurseries than I ever imagined. 

My new favorite hangout.
2. You can never have enough supplies. This is my work area. See the blood and bone meal bags? Who knew gardening was so macabre?

Finally found a way to put the AJC to good use

3. Onions and Spinach are not for summer planting. The first thing I did was order red onion and spinach seeds. See the bed with the marigolds? If you look closely, you can see spinach and onions  growing on either side, but these 90-degree days are making them wilt, so I'm not holding out much hope.

Flowers > wilted vegetables

 4. You're not supposed to plant flowers this close together. I didn't know that, so I'm hoping they don't die on me. I also learned that I can't plant in a straight line. If you could see these from another angle, you'd see they are actually going diagonally across the bed. Sigh. (Carrots are supposed to grow on either side of these, but whether it'll happen remains to be seen.)

This bed might need a redo.

 5. This is not cauliflower. I also planted cauliflower which is also not suppose to do well in 90-degree temps, but I figured I'd give it a try anyway. So, what do you know, I come back two or three days later, and this little thing is shooting out of the ground. I took pictures. I made people come look at it. I even posted about it on Facebook. I just knew I was THE person who conquered growing cauliflower in warm weather.

Then I noticed these things were also growing in the nearby woods. They're just weeds. Not cauliflower.  Oh, well. 

Nothing to see here. Just a weed.

So, between working on book number two, writing for freelance clients, getting book number one published, and traveling, this is what I'll be doing this summer, and you can bet your sweet ass I'm going to drone on and on about it here!  I'll post better pictures when I've accomplished more. I'll also probably be ordering warmer weather seeds.

P.S. I've only seen one frog so far, and that was shortly after seeing a huge snake, so it didn't phase me quite as badly as it normally would. If this becomes a habit, the whole "gardening all summer" plan is subject to change

Oh, and be glad I didn't post pictures of my compost and earthworm collection.

May 06, 2014

13 Reasons to See "Now: In the Wings On a World Stage"

After months of anticipation, I finally got to see NOW: In the Wings On a World Stage last night. While sleep beckons, I feel as if I need to get my thoughts about this important film down while they are fresh. I just wish I had a bigger platform for this than my many years-old, out-dated blog that is in the midst of a major makeover.    

Let me start by saying I planned to see this in a theater in Atlanta last week, but as with any plans I make lately, my professional life got in the way, so I had to settle for the $12.99 download from KevinSpacey.com ($13.99 for 20 minutes of bonus material and a $1 donation to the Kevin Spacey Foundation). I'm so glad I ended up watching it from my bed, because it was such an intimate experience that I didn't really want to share it with dozens of people I don't know. (That said, don't let it stop you from seeing a public showing, because I'm also a bit of loner at heart. I just feel like the experiences might be different. Not bad, just different. Or maybe that's just me. But I digress.)

I'm terrible at reviewing movies, but I kick ass at lists, so, I thought I'd list some reasons why I think someone who might be on the fence or who thinks they probably wouldn't be interested should watch it. 

1. If you love the theater, you'll love this movie. 

This one is pretty self-explanatory. After all, it is a documentary about a theater company who travels to multiples cities around the world to perform Richard III to packed houses. 

2. If you like to go behind the scenes, you'll love this movie. 

Even if theater isn't your thing, if you like to see what goes on behind the scenes of whatever - making a movie, a concert, your favorite restaurant...the United States Postal Service? - it's got that kind of appeal to it that some reality shows offer these days. However, I promise there are no Kardashians or people who live in or around swamps.

3. If you like to be inspired, you'll love this movie. 

One thing I really took from the film was just how passionate the actors were about their craft. There was a common theme of going for your dreams and doing what you love, no matter your age, health, wealth, experience, background, appearance, where you live, etc. Whether you want to be an actor or a tennis pro, a chef, or a dog trainer, I think that you'll find it inspiring to watch other people fulfill their own goals, and in some cases, overcoming the odds to do so. I did. 

4. If you like Shakespeare, you'll love this movie. 

Another obvious one. While this ain't exactly your father's Shakespeare, it really takes you on a unique journey through the ins and outs of the play, while providing a little insight into how a modern audience and actors react and relate to Sweet William's work.

5. If you wish you knew more about Shakespeare, you'll love this movie.  

On the other hand, if you slept through high school and college English and think "Romeo and Juliet" is just some 1990s-era film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, this is a great opportunity to learn a little something something without having to open a book or turn on your Kindle or whatever it is you people do these days. In all seriousness, I did a huge project on Shakespeare when I was in college, and I knew very little about Richard III going into this.

6. If you enjoy talented people, you'll like this movie. 

If you can stay with me and my college years for just a moment, I took a theater class back in the day, and while my professor was kind of a jerk, something she said has always stuck in my mind: "When you tell someone you're an actor, they want to know if you've ever been on the cover of People magazine, but when you tell people you're a doctor, they don't start asking about whether you've been in any medical journals. Success and fame are not equal." Sure, this movie has Kevin Spacey, and we all know he's ridiculously talented, but I was blown away by the talent of these other actors, most of whom I was not familiar with. Again, they all come from a wide array of backgrounds, but the way they came together to make this whole thing happen was incredible, or at least, the movie portrays it that way. It's a good life lesson for anyone who does automatically associate fame with talent and certain professions: There's a world out there beyond what's on Entertainment Tonight.

7. If you have ever wanted to be an actor, this movie will save you about $500. 

I'm not sure what the going rate for a decent acting class is these days, but let me assure you that you can take one less if you watch this film. Fun fact: I dropped out of college to study acting about a decade a few years ago, and I learned just as much from watching this film as I did from some of the classes I took. (I promise that's the last reference to my life circa my early twenties.) 

8. If you love culture and history, you'll love this movie.  

So, if you're all theater, Shakespeare, acting, blah blah blah, let me just tell you that there's a bit more to it than that. First of all, the theater company combines British and American actors. While this might not seem like a big deal at first, it's really interesting to see how the two cultures mix and mingle while they work. But what's even more exciting is seeing some of the most interesting places in the world through the eyes of the actors. From the Great Wall of China to the Old Vic in London, you'll get an enlightening little lesson in world history and cultures.

9. If you want to see the world, you'll love this movie. 

This one sort of ties in with number 8, but you get to witness some beautiful scenery from throughout the world while you watch the film. If you're the type of person who likes to read travel books or watch documentaries, television shows, or entire television networks dedicated to world travel, you won't be disappointed.

10. If you enjoy emotional human interest stories, you'll love this movie. 

I often joke with friends that I only get emotionally involved with movies when a dog dies or is mistreated, but if I'm being 100 percent honest, I guess I do occasionally find myself emotionally invested in the lives of humans, as well, and watching this film proved that. As I've said, it's not just about the play; it's about the lives of the actors. By the end, I found myself crying with them and rooting for them. I got nervous with them before they went on stage. I even found myself thinking about them while I was out shopping today. As a writer, that's something I love to hear about my characters, and I think that translates into something filmmakers would want to hear about their work, as well, even if the characters are real people.

11.  If you want to support innovation, you'll love this movie. 

Still on the fence? Do it for technology. Do it to stick it to the man. Do it for change and creativity and innovation. Perhaps I'm being dramatic, but one thing I find really cool about this whole thing is that Kevin Spacey distributed this documentary on his own. Well, I'm sure he had some help, but what I mean is that he didn't take the traditional route. If he had, I may never have seen it, and you wouldn't be able to rush right over to the website to watch it after you read this, all five of you.

At some point, someone took all of the art and creativity out of entertainment and replaced it with rules and regulations and turned it into something of a dictatorship. They tell you what to watch and when to watch it. They limit your options. The result is a gazillion Transformers movies and endless episodes of The Bachelor.

I've never actually seen an episode of The Bachelor or a Transformers movie, so let's all get our panties out of a wad and try to understand my convoluted point. Actually, if I keep going, you'll have to hear my theories on why I'm bittersweet on Stephen Colbert moving to CBS and other things that have nothing to do with this movie, so let me invite you to take a look at this interview with Spacey himself at RogerEbert.com where he explains his own version of this idea. He's much more eloquent than I can ever be.

I will say that I do feel like supporting modern ventures like this help put the control of the entertainment industry back in the hands of the people who spend their hard-earned dollars to see a movie, a play, a stand-up routine, a concert, etc., as well as talented people who don't have a father who is a movie producer or who don't have Jennifer Aniston's figure or who don't have a million dollars to invest. It's kind of like the digital version of buying plants at a small garden shop instead of Home Depot...not that there's anything wrong with shopping at Home Depot, but as a consumer of anything, I want as many choices as possible, and you should, too. If you're even slightly inclined to check it out, do it for that reason. Vote with your dollars. (And stop rolling your eyes. I swear I'm wrapping this point up now.) 

12. If you like Kevin Spacey and Sam Mendes, you'll love this movie. 

I kind of saved this for last. I know people will watch this movie because it's Kevin Spacey or it's Sam Mendes or it's the iconic combination of Kevin Spacey and Sam Mendes that brought you American Beauty. And it is worth watching just for these reasons, but you don't need me to explain why this is a good thing.  

That said, watching the two men work together to get the role right was really interesting, as was watching how Spacey becomes Richard on his own. It was like witnessing a world-renowned surgeon perform some amazing procedure with unheard of precision, except far more fascinating. And maybe with more blood. (This marks the last actor/doctor comparison I'll make here.)

13. If you like to be entertained, you'll love this movie. 

If you take nothing else from my garrulous writing, know that you will not get through the hour and a half-long movie, give or take a few minutes, and wish you'd spent it doing something else. Seriously, when I had to pause it for a few minutes for a Diet Coke break, I saw that I only had 20 minutes left. Major bummer. Some documentaries drag on with parts that don't keep you engaged. This one doesn't do that at all. I even rewound a few parts to watch them again. So, if you hate theater, Shakespeare, actors, people, travel, history, culture, Kevin Spacey, etc., well, you're probably a terrible person, but I still think you'll find something redeeming here.


So, stop what you're doing. Watch the trailer. Then go pay the $12.99 to watch the whole thing (you'd pay that much or more in gas to get to your local mall to see some crap movie with terrible jokes, a predictable plot, and gratuitous fake boobs anyway).