My Family Intervention

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For many people, the Memorial Day weekend meant BBQ’s, weddings, shopping and travel.  Mine was a family intervention.

“My name is Debbie, and I am a recovering plantaholic.”

It started out innocently enough.  We’d bought a new house and I just wanted to “plant a few flowers out front”.  I’ve talked to many other plant-addicts, and this is how it usually starts.  The yard starts to look pretty, adds to the neighborhood property values, and all that physical activity is helping you look pretty good too.

Happy.  Family and friends are supportive.  When it turns from hobby to obsession, you don’t even realize the transition.

I started adding more and more garden beds, digging myself deeper and deeper into denial.  I spent thousands of dollars on “new introductions” and the latest shade of pinks.  My beds overflowed with drooping rose colored bells, majestic purple spikes and fluffy white flower heads sparkling in the light.

The addiction took more and more of my time, until it dictated my schedule.  At my most rampant phase I had 16 beds, ranging in size from tabletop to swimming pool.  Every year, my tasks grew almost as fast as the weeds.

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I’ve clipped and I’ve yanked.  Pruned and pulled.  Dug and filled.  Split and transplanted.  If my wheel barrel left those little white dashes they use to mark travel trails on a map, my entire yard would be white.

Gardening has many benefits.  But like all behaviors taken to extremes, the costs have been many:  pulled muscles, injury, wear and tear.

I’ve dragged plastic tarps laden with 20 years worth of autumn leaves, to spread over beloved plants, tucking them in for the winter.  In spring, I’ve refreshed them with sweet-smelling compost, while I smelled of manure and analgesic rubs.

My joy in their shiny green splendor has filled megabytes of photos, bookcases filled with garden tips, a shed full of dirt encrusted tools and boxes overflowing with plant tags.  If there’s a kitchen utensil missing from our house, you’ll probably find it in the garden supplies.

It was too much to maintain.  My loss of control was becoming self-evident.

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I tried to self-regulate.  I started downsizing tasks, taking shortcuts here and there.  Over the course of a few years I even grassed in that pool sized bed.  Still, more has suffered than just my bruised and battered body.  My remaining beds have suffered too, resulting in ever greater tasks.

A few weeks ago, when I hurt my knee, I bemoaned the situation to my sisters.  How it hurts me to see weeds left unpulled while I stand there supported on my crutches!  Despite my sorry state, I still yearned to add to my collection of 43 hosta varieties.  I’m already dreaming of planting more tulips this October.

It was time for a family intervention.  My sisters flew into action.

They brought their husbands and descended upon my gardens like archangels – slewing the destructive forces that wrought my sorry state.  Since this past winter was so harsh, we all lost many more plants than normal, so it was an ideal time to downsize the gardens even more.

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They extracted dead bushes, transplanted bluebells, divided the daylilies, and moved the sedum to another bed.  It took the strength of all four of them to extract a large clump of ornamental grass, it’s roots clinging to the ground like concrete – but my family emerged victorious.

Once the ground was cleared, one brother-in-law used his cultivator to grind the dirt into a smooth powder, perfect for reseeding, while my other brother-in-law did odd fix-it jobs around my house and put together my garden bench.

They were tired and dirty.  Red-faced from working all day in a full sun area.  They went through 36 bottles of water and filled 11 bags with yard waste.  The material they added to my compost pile measured 6 feet tall.

I shuffled back and forth on my crutches, feeling guilty and being able to offer little more than encouragement and water.  I fed them breakfast – lunch – dinner.

I paid them in popsicles.

When they were done, they had removed my most challenging garden bed and turned it into a beautiful little alcove, surrounded by a bluebell path, rose bushes, daylilies and clematis vines.

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What can you say to people that care for you so much?  I promised to help them with their gardens this fall, when my knee is healed,  but it hardly seems enough.

God has indeed richly blessed me, with such wonderful family.

Yesterday, Hubby reseeded my newly recovered ground with grass seed.  Heavenly, blessed grass – which only needs a simple cut once a week – instead of hours every day fighting back encroaching growth!  In my mind’s eye I can already see what it will all look like when the grass grows in and the flowers bloom.

My garden bench, sitting serenely in front of the pink and white roses; light purple clematis blooms and the bright, cream colored daylilies to the side.  A gorgeous swatch of bright green grass in front of the bench and my little deer lawn ornament.

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It will be glorious.

I’ve decided to turn it into something more low-key.  Something that doesn’t require weeding or pruning.  A wind chime garden!  I can hang them from shepherds hooks throughout the area.

Won’t that be grand?  Can’t you just hear them now?  Once I looked into it I found that wind chimes come in an amazing variety of beautiful designs.

I can’t wait!  I’ve already bought six.


The Tax Angel on new site – Scribd.

Read The Tax Angel for free!

Just found out I was put on this site.  It’s one of the top 20 media sites, a digital library including New York Times bestsellers.  And me!

Currently, you can download my story for free with a 30 day trial.  Web, iPad, iPhone, and Android friendly.

Cool!

 

Product Details


Dandelions: You Call It Weed, I Call It Reincarnation

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I’ve always told Hubby and some of my friends that if reincarnation exists, I hope I come back as a dandelion.  I come by this type of thinking naturally, as I can remember a relative saying he wanted to come back as “Groshans dog”.  (The implication was my dad’s dog had a better life than most people.  It was true.)

People I’ve told this to usually chuckle and nod, and keep their thoughts to themselves (“she’s ’round the bend again!”), but Hubby thinks it’s a pretty cool idea.

Dandelion, as it turns out, is his favorite flower.

Yeah, we all know what Hubby is like, I’ve written about him before.  (see The Light Of My Life.)  I suppose, in the “strange” department, I’m the perfect match for him.  But seriously, don’t we all have our quirks?  I’m just admitting to mine.

I honestly don’t know how I feel about reincarnation.  Part of me is disturbed by the idea of having to come back again and again until I get it right, since I can’t see myself ever getting it right!

Another part of me thinks the whole karma of having another chance is a nice thought, and can really take a load of pressure off you if you’re a control freak who is always trying to live up to your own expectations.

Some people would think that, because I say I’m a Christian, then I have no business even discussing the idea of reincarnation.  Well, I realize the whole point of Christianity is that Christ covers those sins so you don’t need to come back.  I have no argument there, but for this post I’m entertaining the idea of reincarnation anyway.

I guess you’d have to say my faith fits me, not any set of denominational standards or religious rules.  I’m happy with it this way.  We all do the best we can with how we interpret what we experience.

And then there’s the way I observe the natural world around me.  I know that everything in the garden gets recycled.  If nature recycles (and certainly we are part of nature), then why wouldn’t we?  Someone is going to point out here that reincarnation refers to soul recycling, not our bodies, which do get recycled.  But remember, I’m the person that believes plants have souls (see Ode To My Crocus).

It’s not just dead plants and clippings that recycle, most of the things we think are rot proof, really aren’t.  Ever read that book The World Without Us by Alan Weisman?

So how can anyone say for sure that reincarnation does or does not belong in a person’s belief system, when life from death is all around us?  No one has answers to these things, and as I said, I don’t even know if I believe in reincarnation.

(As an aside, if you’re a big fantasy or mythology fan, check out Pen In Her Hand for information on Life After Life and the Once Upon A Time challenge.)

But back to the dandelion thing….

My reason for being a dandelion is not because Hubby loves them, since I didn’t even know dandelion was his favorite flower until he pointed it out to me this Spring.  Rather, the reason I think of “dandelion” comes from a purely logical standpoint.  Logical to me, anyway.

I wouldn’t want to be just any dandelion.  I’d want to be one of those dandelions in the parks, or hell strips by the side of the road.

Think about it.

The city isn’t going to bother spraying for weeds there.  That’s wasted money, (Chicago Tribune – Park District dandelion policy). So you wouldn’t get “offed” by a systemic vegetation killer.  And because dandelions spread like – well, weeds – you’d have lots of dandelions around you.  Sort of like being with all your friends and relatives.

During your short life span you’d have the sun on your backs and the wind in your hair (er… leaves).  Not to mention you and your friends would look downright gorgeous creating that beautiful swath of bright yellow.  Imagine the cheery image you give the drivers as they pass!

The worst that would happen to you is you’d get your head cut off every so often when the city sent out the lawn crew.  Is that so bad, as long as you can still live and grow?

Then, you’re off to your next reincarnation, having enjoyed a basically carefree “breather”, before you come back as a person again, with all their struggles and insecurities.

What do you think?  By the way, anyone who’s brave enough to add comments to this off-beat, silly post, I salute you.


Infinity – Junk Mail Is Thy Name

I’ve been thinking I need a recycler under my mailbox.

I could take a paper shredder, use drawer sliders to attach it to the top of a big plastic container, cut a big hole in the bottom of my mailbox, and screw in the whole shredder/container contraption to the mailbox.  That way, when the mail person delivers the mail, it drops into the shredder and all I have to do is slide the container out and empty it once a week.

It would save me a lot of time and trouble.

Back when I first got married, 20 (ahem) or so years ago, it was during the peak, trendy period of hyphenating your paternal name with your husband’s.  So I went from Deborah Groshans to Deborah Groshans-Marcussen.

Oh, trouble… if only I had known the chaos that would ensue!

 

Forget the (somewhat) tender feelings I tread on when I did this.  In both my family and my husband’s:

Mom:  Debbie Jean!  That’s ridiculous.  I am NOT going to explain your name to every person we know.  Pick one or the other!  Sometimes I think you have a hole in your head.

 Mom-In-Law:   “Hmph”.   (Less wordy, but same mother-type message).

 

Forget the confusion that resulted when I could never remember which name I had used:

Veterinarian:  “I’m sorry the state says your dog hasn’t been vaccinated, and our records don’t show we ever gave your dog a rabies shot.”

Me: “Yes, he has.  Try looking under my other name.”

Veterinarian:  “Hmmm.  No, still no records.”

Me:  “Try this combination….”

Veterinarian:  “No, that didn’t work either.  Any other name we could try?”

 

No, the real problem with hyphenating your name is in the increased junk mail.  I end up on the same junk mail lists but with different names.

  • Mail in only my maiden name.
  • Mail addressed to me using my husband’s surname.
  • Mail using every combination of the two names you can imagine.

Such as:

  • Groshans-Mar
  • Groshans-Marc (keep adding letters as computer field lengths have increased)
  • Gro-Marcussen
  • DJGMarcussen

Really, the combinations are too many to list here.  You get the idea.

Then, of course, there’s junk mail in just my husband’s name… and let’s not forget the mailing lists that use your nickname, full name, middle initial, and misspelled versions!

 

Catalogs are the worst.  Some of those catalogs come twice a week, under several different names.  I mean, how many copies of the same catalog do you need?

I’ve tried sending back junk mail with a request to remove me from their mailing list.  When I get up to the fourth request, I usually throw the word “harassment” into my message.  That word seems to help more than “Please”.

Still, it’s an uphill battle to send “remove” requests, because:

  1. the location that sends the mail is usually outsourced from the company,
  2. they’ve gotten smarter over the years and now you have to pay return postage more often than not.  They know you want to send it all back.  (I’ll only put my stamp on a “remove” request for the worst offenders).

If there is a return envelope provided with “no postage required”, then it for sure goes back to them.  NOT just with the tear off reply form either, but with every piece of their mailing I can fit in that envelope.

Let them pay the extra postage cost.

Sneaky as they are, many of those tear off forms are all that fit in the “no postage required” envelope.  The additional filler they send you does not.  It’s always conveniently just a smidgen too wide.

But hey, I’m nothing if not persistent.  I trim the edges with my scissors and make  them fit.  Including all the hundreds of “free” personalized mailing labels I get.

I don’t need 1,000 return address stickers.  I don’t care if they are free.

This is my tactic, and I faithfully do it, year after year on – what seems like – a daily basis.  I will even call the catalogs and tell them I’m not 4 people – and I have to say it has all helped.  Somewhat.  Until the next month, when one of my “aliases” has gotten on some new mailing list.

I don’t even want to think about how many trees have died for me!

 

I really have no clue if it’s still the “in” thing to hyphenate your name now, when you marry.  If it is –  New Brides:  Wait!  Listen to the words of my mother!  (Whom I’m sure is sitting up in heaven laughing at her foolish offspring).

The name you take, and all its versions, will be with you as long as you live.  If you have children, they will likely bear the brunt of your actions as well.

And beyond….  especially now, when computers are programmed to listen to background noise when you answer the phone, track your preferences from multiple sources, and generate “personalized” mail automatically.

 

They really don’t care who receives the ads.

All the versions of your names will be generated and mailed somewhere for eternity.

All without any human intervention whatsoever.

Take heed… I’ve seen the future.

Infinity – Junk Mail is thy name.


God Is A Four Letter Word

What do you do when you learn that someone you care about is in trouble?  Serious trouble.  The kind of trouble they can’t hide from.  Can’t run from.  And can’t ignore.

The kind of trouble where the authorities can only help them so far.

I’ve been recovering of late from a bad knee injury.  It’s left me on crutches and throbs mercilessly, despite pain relievers.  Hubby’s been good to me… he’s done the grocery shopping, dishes… carries things I can’t fit into the plastic bag slung over a crutch.  He’s taken care of our pets, and fixes me breakfast in the morning.

Yep, he’s a great guy.

Despite my blessings, my spirits have been in the toilet all week.  The prognosis from the orthopedist left me wallowing in self-pity, crying and praying about how inconvenient this all was for me, at this point in my life.

I have lots of gardening to do.  A house that’s getting dirtier by the minute.  Writing to complete.

Sitting at my computer bothers my knee.  Standing is difficult and exhausting.  Lying on either side is painful as well.

My grandiose plans for the summer are shot all to hell.

Like many people of faith, I’ve also felt a lot of self-condemnation for not being stronger in my faith during tough times.

Who was I to cry to God over such a little thing?  Especially when every day I see messages on Facebook from friends who are struggling with far greater trials.

I only wish the best for my Facebook friends, but there’s still a disconnect there.  I know that sounds awful, but it’s true.  You can wish the best for someone and pray for them.  Even find their situation creeping into your everyday consciousness, urging you to pray for them some more.

That’s called empathy, and empathy is important.  All help we give to others starts with empathy.  We are standing on the hillside, looking down at the flood in the valley, concerned for the occupants below.

But when trouble comes to someone who plays a bigger part in your life – someone you’re connected to in ways that are not dependent on Facebook – that’s when you go beyond empathy and find yourself sliding down that hillside, dangerously close to the flood waters yourself.

That’s where I found myself yesterday.

Thoughts of my puny knee problem dissipated in the face of those flood waters, and please, if you are reading this, pray for my friend.  (I’m respecting her privacy and not telling you more about her, but God will know who you are praying for).

This is the part where I’m supposed to say that the lesson I learned from all this is to be grateful for my puny knee problem (which, believe me, I now am)…  but I’m not going to say that.

Instead, I’m going to tell you that I think we have every right to have self-pity sometimes.  Certainly my friend does.

Wallowing doesn’t help, but we need time to deal with the difficult emotions in lifePain hurts.  Physical and emotional.  We’re flesh and blood –  and whether you agree with this or not – we are ruled by our emotions.

We can garner all our efforts to control our thoughts, our circumstances or outcomes.  It matters not one bit.  Our emotions are not just extensions of ourselves which we can pluck out and set on a shelf.  Hiding them from others or even from ourselves doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Ironically, in a strange twist of fate, self-denial of your emotions seems to give them even more control over you.  Like a thief you turn your back on.

Emotions are our world.  They are who we are.  They are the reason behind the way you act, react, or fail to act at all.

Learning techniques to control your emotions can be helpful, yes.  (Dare I point out that religion itself is one of those ways?)  But you can’t stop yourself from feeling.

I think God understands we need time to process strong emotion.  Time to calm the fears enough to develop a plan.

You can’t think straight and find refuge until you’re able to turn your face and identify your pursuer.

Christianity tells us that God does not condemn us for our weaknesses.  Some believe (and some scriptures suggest) that our trials are given to us to test our faith and make us worthy of God.  I don’t really buy that.  Or maybe I just don’t buy the way it’s used in religious circles.

That implies we have to attain a certain standard before God will accept us.  It implies punishment.

Sorry Charlie… but we will never attain that standard.  That was the whole point of Christ’s sacrifice.  The whole point of Grace.  When God looks at us, he see’s us not as ourselves, but as he sees his son.  Righteous and pure.

Troubles fall on everyone.  Good person or bad, no one is excluded.

Our societal mentality is that people cause their own troubles.  I hate this “punish the victim” mentality.  Not all of our troubles are brought on by self, or within our power to control.  Even those that are, we don’t intentionally do to hurt ourselves.

We are not being punished.

God is not out to get us.

Rather, his love and power is never more available to us then when those flood waters are rising over our heads.

Until we can find that branch to hold onto, to lift us out of our despair and rest on shore, we can call on that power of God.  We don’t even have to know how to pray.  And we certainly don’t have to apologize for our neediness.

That four letter word?  Just look to God and cry…  H-E-L-P.

 

2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV):

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

 

Romans 8:26 (NIV):

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.


Man, I Love A Good Disaster Flick

disaster at sea fair use image from wikipedia

I love disaster flicks.  Show me a movie where a chunk of humanity is catastrophically destroyed and I’m a happy camper.

Who can forget The Andromeda Strain (epidemic catastrophe).  Or Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (extraterrestrial copy machines).

Armageddon, an asteroid catastrophe starring Bruce Willis as the over-protective father of Liv Tyler (who’s caught doing “the nasty” with Ben Affleck).  Or OutBreak, where the dynamic duo of Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo battle both an epidemic AND a government cover-up.

Then there’s Deep Impact (Tea Leoni, Robert Duvall, Morgan Freeman), desperately trying to keep themselves and others from getting wiped out by a comet.

Some disaster flicks I watch again and again, until I can recite the lines by heart.  It doesn’t hurt if there’s one of my favorite Hollywood hunks in the flick, either.

I’d be a stand-in any day of the week for Linda Hamilton, who plays the love interest to Pierce Brosnan in Dante’s Peak (a nasty volcano eruption).

Or invite me to join the all-star cast in the world’s tallest building, The Towering Inferno.  Yeah, as you can tell by the title it’s the hot spot in town.  Who wouldn’t want to be rescued by Paul Newman or Steve McQueen?

Another all-star cast movie, Independence Day, has one of the best scenes Bill Pullman ever did.  Will Smith and Jeff Goldlblum (who I’m totally enamored with) were off blowing up the invading alien headquarters when Pullman gave his rousing speech to the few remaining fighter pilots.  What a guy.

Whether it be old flicks (1958’s The Blob – McQueen’s first leading role), or new (Contagion – 2011), I watch them all.

I’m obviously not alone in my love of disaster flicks, else there wouldn’t be so many.

One of the blogs I follow, gracerellie.wordpress.com, is written by a woman who is making a career out of writing about disasters, (the real ones, not Hollywood versions).  Her blog is relatively new (meaning, active for less than 5 years), and yet, in the small amount of time she’s been blogging, she’s developed a healthy following.

Why is that?  What is it about disasters that we love?

My hubby doesn’t particularly care for them.  He watches them with me from time to time because he knows I love them, but he finds them too violent for his tastes.  He thinks watching scads of people in dire situations, many of them dying, is looking at the negative side of life.

He says we should love people, not kill them off in movies.  He wonders if the reason we watch disasters is because, deep down, we just don’t like each other.

I disagree with him on this point.

I seriously have no desire to wipe out my fellow (wo)man.  Sometimes I might feel like I do, but when push comes to shove, I don’t want to see harm come to any of them.  I know they’re just doing the best they can and trying to get by, just like me.  We’re just people, after all.

No, I think the reason we love disaster flicks is because it helps to ease the pain of life’s “helplessness”.

Think about it.

Don’t most disaster flicks involve forces outside of our control?  Don’t we all have those feelings of anger over the helplessness we feel in life?  Over situations, circumstances, and other people’s actions?

In disaster flicks there’s tidal waves, earthquakes, twisters, asteroids, epidemics, alien invasions, volcanoes, climate change, fire, building collapses, etc.  None of these things are in your control!

Not only that, but in disaster flicks, the main characters are usually trying to save as many other people as possible.  They may not do it in the best way (for example, deciding who will and will not be in the rescue ships of 2012), but they are still trying to save each other as well as themselves.

Disaster flicks have another thing in common… they almost always end on a positive note.

New research is achieved in Twister (Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton), which allows for earlier tornado warnings for communities.  Humanity – or what’s left of it – is still saved from extinction (The Terminator movies).  And in Knowing, the aliens at the end are actually friendly… they save many of our children from the solar flare that destroys the rest of mankind, and re-start humanity on another planet.

Thing is… in life there is great joy… but also great difficulty.  It doesn’t matter who you are or what your circumstances, at times, life will kick you upside the head and throw you in a tailspin.

The world is full of broken people.

We need to see people survive the impossible.  Disaster movies give us hope.  They give us heroes.

I think God understands this need to see a conquering of the uncontrollable.  The bible, certainly, is full of disasters.  It’s also full of God’s rescue for the afflicted.  It’s the original disaster book, pre-digital.  The darkness of strife and the beautiful dawn of overcoming, these are major themes in our religious beliefs.

Oh, and for the record, my all-time favorite disaster flick?

The Day After Tomorrow, a climate change disaster starring Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal.  Except for the political references, it’s very similar to a book I’ve been a fan of for years – The Sixth Winter -written by John Gribbin and Douglas Orgill back in the early 80’s.

If you get a chance, check this book out from your local library.  It’s a good ice age disaster that was written before all the political positions got involved in the science of climate change.

Just good, cold fun!

 

 

Even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day.  Darkness and light are alike to You.  Psalm 139:12