"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for the ‘Advice’ Category

More Thoughts on Bamboo Part 2 – Forget the Panda

potted bamboo

I never thought there would be a need for Part 2 of Bamboo Quest, but here I am, almost two years later and the battle between nature and woman continues.  I wrote a post that spring about my ongoing struggle with the bamboo I had planted based on the romantic notion of “The Fern and the Bamboo”.  I learned a tough lesson—don’t plan landscaping based on cheesy, albeit meaningful, poetic stories about nature.  You can read it here.

In the year between the first attempt at getting rid of it and now, it grew back.  The stalks themselves were not thicker—in fact, they got almost skinny-asparagus-looking, but there were many more of them.  I had spent hours digging up the stalks, presumably by the roots, to eradicate the bamboo from the side of the house.  Ironically, I believe that it actually helped aerate the remaining roots, because it spread up to the side of the house even faster, rounding the corner into the front landscaping.

Last summer, busy with Tyler’s graduation, not to mention completely frustrated with my inability to wipe it out, I just lived with it, trying in vain just to keep it contained to where it already had grown.  The best (or maybe the worst) thing about that side of the house is that I don’t really ever see it like I do the side next to the garage.  It’s times when I am cutting the grass or getting out the hose that I am reminded that I need to do something about that crazy bamboo.

Lilac

Must conquer bamboo before it strangles my Lilac Bush!

Late this winter, I started to plan what I was going to do about it.  I watched You Tube videos of people telling how they managed to get rid of that invasive plant.  One video I watched with a method I wanted to try was smothering it. The guy doing the video told of how he had left a piece of plywood on the ground and when he moved it a couple of days later, the bamboo had died.  I envisioned laying down thick, black plastic and putting gravel on top.  It seemed like a very do-able method, even if it involved a lot of gravel shoveling.  My fear was that this bionic plant would manage to pop right through the plastic anyway, and it’d be even harder to get to with the plastic barrier.  Another method, told to me by a friend who is actually a plant ecologist, was to cut it back close to the ground and pour full strength, concentrated weed killer in the stalks.  That seemed like an even better plan, and although I don’t like that it will be some time before I can plant anything there again if I sterilize the soil, I liked the idea of dousing it with the weed killer and spending the summer re-spraying as needed until it doesn’t come back.

So yesterday, I tackled the bamboo full force once again.  I prepared by going to Home Depot and buying the largest container of Round Up concentrate they sold as well as a long machete.  The machete purchase worried Darrell a bit.  Mostly because I think he thought I’d lose a digit or two—he knows me pretty well.  I had this idea of going all “Ghengis Kahn” on the bamboo, like a mighty warrior defending the homestead.  Instead, it was a pathetic version of sword-wielding with me slamming the machete into the toughened stalks and nicking them a tiny bit.  I could almost hear the bamboo laughing.  I changed my game plan after about a half hour of getting nowhere, and grabbed my little hacksaw that I use for cutting thicker branches when I’m pruning trees.  I’d grab a handful of bamboo, and saw at it like it was one large branch.  It went much quicker than individually cutting stalks and pulling them out, and left me with little stubs of bamboo sticking out of the ground.  With this method, at least when I was finished it looked like there had been some progress, even if it does grow back.  Rain was forecasted for the afternoon, so I hurriedly poured straight up Round Up concentrate directly on the stalks.  “Bottoms up,” I told the stalks.  I really hoped they were in a drinking mood.

Before - Right

Before

After - Right

After

This morning when I took a look, the remaining stubs had yellowed slightly, but didn’t look completely worse for wear.  I suppose only time will tell if it actually poisoned them completely.  I vowed to myself that I would make it a point to check on it throughout this season to see if there seems to be places where it’s getting its second…make that its third…wind.  Like any problem, hoping it will just go away on its own doesn’t work.  Again, another life lesson taught to me courtesy of yard work.  I never stop seeing metaphors for life in the yard and garden.

Before - Left

Before

After - Left

After

When I was finished, I saved a few stalks of the bamboo and put them in a pot.  I want to be able to be remind myself of how a seemingly small act like allowing something as innocent and seemingly beautiful as a slender stalk of bamboo into my space can turn out to have extreme repercussions that take a lot of work to remedy.  For now, that side along the house will remain minimal and barren, until the solution has run its course and I once again can plant something shade-loving (and much less invasive) there.  There is a bright side to this journey with the bamboo, though, in addition to those free life lessons it’s provided me.  Next winter, when it’s cold and nasty outside and I start getting the plant catalogs in the mail, I have a whole side of the house to design and plan.  Maybe a variety of Hostas or some native plants like False Indigos or Blue Lobuia.  And I’ll do my research in the plant section, not the poetry section.

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Erroneous First Impressions: A Subtle Reminder

assumptions

I was irritable.  I’m not sure if it was due to the oppressive heat, the stress of all that I needed to squeeze into the afternoon or that I was just plain hungry, but the crowded restaurant walls seemed to be closing in. Uncharacteristically I found myself thinking unkind thoughts about all the people sitting around me that were simply enjoying their lunch.

As Emily, Erin and I waited for our sandwiches at a cozy table for three, a uniformed paramedic came in.  After he ordered his lunch, he navigated towards the front counter near our table.  No sooner had he gotten there, than a young guy in his teens, dressed in long sweat pants and a hoodie with the hood pulled up over his head, approached him and told him he wanted to thank him for doing his job as a paramedic.  He went on to say that his brother had been saved from a fire by a paramedic with the Fire Department, and how much it meant to him.  The paramedic graciously thanked him, and it looked like he was truly flattered that this young man had taken a moment to come by and talk to him and show his gratitude.

I sat there with a mouthful of chicken salad sandwich and tried to swallow without letting tears escape.  I’m not sure why it touched my heart the way it did, but the kid was so sincere and his heart full of genuine gratitude.  My selfish mood was changed, and I felt ashamed of my previous outlook.  It also got me to thinking about how, had I not heard this exchange, I would have probably thought that kid was a wanna-be-hoodlum-type.  How wrong of an assumption that would have been!

Lesson learned.

Life is Better When I’m Dirty

Life's a garden--dig it!  - Joe Dirt

Life’s a garden–dig it! – Joe Dirt

I glance at the reflection in the mirror and frown.   Hair escaping its ponytail—and not in the good way like it does in the movies—smeared eyeliner under the eyes from my earlier make up and a sweaty smudge of dirt across my cheek.  The woman in the mirror looking back at me looks old and tired.

The world has its natural beauties—those fortunate women who can get by with a touch of mascara and lip gloss.  And then there are women like me, a pretty outfit and an hour with some make up and styling tools and we can really glam it up when the occasion calls for it.

When it’s early in the morning and I’m going for a run or the gym, I’m lucky to even have on matching shoes if I don’t set them out the night before.  Of course it’s not until I get there (and of course the gym is full of wall to wall mirrors) that I see the extent of my messy appearance.  It’s not that I’m vain—it’s just a little disappointing when I realize I really do look my age and can’t pull off the I-didn’t-even-try-but-look-at-me look.

I’ll blame the movies and television for these high expectations of looking good no matter what the circumstances.  Remember Helen Hunt in the movie Twister?  They were in pounding rain storms and high winds—a tornado even—and she still had a clean white tank top on with her hair only mildly tousled.  Or in television shows when someone wakes up in the morning and they still have flawless skin, bright, lash-fringed eyes and only a stray hair out of place for effect.  No eye boogers or drool tracks at all unless they are supposed to be rousing from an all-night drinking session.  Ah, the willing suspension of disbelief we give to Hollywood!  Do you imagine the farmer’s daughter milking a cow at 4 in the morning completed her chores with her hair neatly braided?  Me neither.

I contemplate the notion of my aging appearance as I finish up the row I am digging out in the garden.  And later while I’m scrubbing the floor of the bathtub.  I’ve spent a lot of money these past few years on magic potions and creams to hide the sun damage spots on my cheeks and to prevent wrinkles.  But as much as I love getting dressed up and playing with make up, once I’ve gotten my hair and make up done and put on something nice, looking at me is about all I’m good for.

The truth is, life is better when I’m dirty.  When I haven’t taken the time to do hair and make up and put on halfway decent looking clothes, I don’t mind breaking a sweat or getting up to my elbows scrubbing toilet bowls.  Because when I’m streaked with dirt and grime, I’m not trying to please anyone.  Although it may involve cleaning or another chore I don’t particularly enjoy doing, the end result makes me happy—a well-kept yard, a clean house or a stronger body.  When I do put on that dress and spend an hour primping in the mirror, that person is a happy one from the inside out.

Standing back to admire my work, I catch a glimpse at the reflection in the window I’ve just cleaned. Sweat prominently streaks through the foundation I put on for work earlier and my shirt is covered in grime and dirt.  I take one more swipe at a missed smudge on the glass and smile.

The Jokes on Me: Advice to My Younger Self

Do you remember when you were a kid—or even later when you thought you were no longer a kid—when you told yourself you were never going to do something the same way your parents did? Or have you ever declared the laughable, “I’ll never do such and such!”?

There’s a commercial for State Farm insurance out right now where the guy says “I’m never getting married,” and the next scene shows him getting hitched. The commercial continues along those same lines of “I’ll never” followed by a scene of him doing the very thing he was never going to do. It ends very sweetly with him snuggling with his wife and kids and admitting how he’ll “never let it go”. I laugh every time I see that commercial, because I think of some of the ideas and opinions I had when I was younger and how they’ve changed over the years.

While I can’t pinpoint all the reasons the when and why those opinions and “nevers” changed, I do think both life experience and maturity play a large role. If I were my 43-year-old self back when I was in my teens and early twenties, well, I just wouldn’t be the me I was meant to be today. So I’m glad I took the path I did, and I don’t have any huge regrets. But there are a few times when I wish I would have had more common sense back then, or at least been able to know a few things I know now. Although I probably wouldn’t have listened to my older self anyway, if there were a magical way to tell Young Amy a few things, I would have to at least give myself this list:

  • Wear sunscreen on your face, even if you don’t get sunburn. Yes, I know there was even a song out a few years back encouraging this, but I really wish I would have listened. I have spent a TON of money on dermatologists and skin care products to fade several huge patches on my face that have hyperpigmentation (dark spots).
  • Quit worrying about when your kids will ever sleep through the night or in their own room. It may seem like they’ll never do either one, but they will. Who ever heard of twenty-year olds that still sneak in bed with their parents when they have a bad dream? You can save your worrying for when they start driving. (Yikes!)
  • Don’t be afraid to take classes in school that are outside your major or what you think you like. Use that time in college to discover your interests and talents. Grown up life will be waiting for you soon enough—no need to rush those years.
  • Buy term life insurance when you’re young and healthy. Darrell and I did not do this when we were first married and instead bought mortgage insurance when we purchased our first house. What we paid for that insurance would have bought us at least a year or two of term life insurance. As it happened, we didn’t buy life insurance until after Darrell had a health condition, which makes the rates higher. Argh!
  • Take a tape measure with you to the furniture store. It never looks as big in the store as it does in your home. I also might add never furniture shop on a whim after having a margarita with dinner at the little Mexican place down the road from the furniture store.
  • Pay attention when your parents and grandparents tell you stories. You may think you’ve heard them a thousand times, but when they are no longer around for you to ask, it’ll make you sad when you don’t remember all the details or how the story went.
  • Practice for your piano lessons! Even if you don’t feel like it or you’re sick of playing scales.
  • Never utter the words, “My kids will never…” It is the quickest way to ensure their DNA will contain the exact genetic code to be a picky eater, nose picker, thumb sucker, etc.
  • Pay your credit card off each month. If you can’t afford to do so, you’re living beyond your means. Don’t get into credit card debt.
  • Choose to be around people that build you up, not make you be untrue to who you are. Being negative and having a bad attitude do not make you cool. Don’t be afraid to move on.
  • Leave the perms for the professional stylists to do. The same came be said for messing around with hair dye colors when you don’t know what you’re doing.
  • Take every opportunity to travel and explore new places.
  • Blame your hormones, not your loved ones. When something irrationally upsets you, realize it’s probably just PMS, shut your mouth and go to bed early. Emphasis on shut your mouth. You’ll feel better in the morning. Trust me.

It’s definitely not an all-inclusive list; after all some things have to be experienced first-hand for us to learn and grow—a pair of oh-so-stylish Sally Jesse Raphael-style eyeglasses comes to mind. The funny thing is, this list is far from being unique to just me. (Well, maybe the hair dye incident of 1985.) Regrets serve no good purpose, but what would YOU tell your young self? How would it affect the YOU of today?

PS Today is my blog’s one year anniversary!

The Best Advice—A Dragonfly Top Ten

Advice

As part of the college application process, Tyler is writing essays on various topics. The application he’s working on now gave him the option to write on either his opinion of a current international event or the best advice he’s been given. He decided that he wasn’t so sure about voicing a strong opinion on something that could be political, and took the softer option of good advice. What’s fun for me is that it got us talking about advice in general and we had more than a three sentence discussion on it. We both agreed it was hard to think of a single sliver of advice we’ve been given that was really earth shattering, but it got me thinking. What are the little tidbits of advice that have re-surfaced in useful ways in my life? So I came up with a top ten.

10.  Never pass up the opportunity to use the bathroom. I tell this to the kids all the time, but they still don’t believe me. Maybe it’s because I’m older and this body has given birth to three babies, but there’s nothing worse than wishing you’d used the restroom when you’d had the chance. Real life examples include being stuck in traffic and going out on a long run on a nature trail.

9.  Eat your vegetables. Oh, how I hated that one as a kid. It wasn’t told to me as advice exactly—more like a directive, but, having grown up eating them all of my life, I’ve learned to enjoy them. Besides, you cannot take part in any healthy lifestyle or diet that does not tout the health benefits of vegetables. I’m not ashamed to say that I still wish they tasted like chocolate, though.

8.  Don’t bite off more than you can chew. In food, finances and commitments. No matter how much I think I can pull it together at the time, I eventually choke when I overextend myself.

7.  Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. I can’t say that I wake up on Monday morning overcome with excitement about my job as an Administrative Assistant. But there are many other jobs out there I’d be miserable doing. I’ve had a few of those in my past—the kind you drive to work with a knot in your stomach dreading. I would be a lousy telemarketer or collections person.

6.  Never say something about somebody that you wouldn’t say to their face. It’s so hard to abide by this advice when the gossip is so juicy. But the older I get, the more I know that it’s the best policy. If in doubt that the words you say will be held in confidence or aren’t sure if what you’re saying is the whole truth, keep your mouth shut.

5.  Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Disclaimer: While this is great advice to live by, I find I still can be a chronic procrastinator. I am so much happier when I keep on top of things.

4.  No one can ever tell you how much you’ll fall in love with your baby. I read this in the doctor’s office in a parenting magazine when I was pregnant with Tyler. Up until I’d had my own children, I hadn’t been around babies very much. But even though I knew I loved my baby before I had him, I never dreamed how deep that bond would be. From the first time I laid eyes on my babies, I knew I loved them with an all-encompassing, unique love that is mind blowing in its simplicity and depth.

3.  Forgive others. Because if you don’t, it only hurts you. Bitterness is an acid that eats your soul if you let it. I’ve watched it happen to people in my life because they don’t understand that forgiving someone doesn’t mean having to condone a wrong; it only lifts the burden from the forgiver’s heart.

2.  You can tell a lot about a person by how they treat their waiter, tangled Christmas lights and lost luggage. Honestly I think the last two might cause a person to come to the conclusion that patience isn’t my personal best virtue. But being rude or degrading to the wait staff is a pretty good indicator of a person’s character.

1.  Be kind to everyone, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Even the most seemingly “together” person has something in their life that they’re dealing with at the moment. Maybe the kind word or the smile you give them will be the one thing that day that was positive. Sometimes being kind to someone doesn’t necessarily get you ahead. I struggle with the “nice person” syndrome. But I do feel like there’s a need for more compassion in this world. I like to think it starts with me.

So what about you? Got any advice you live by? I’d love to hear about it!

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