Wintertime Gardening

Living in southern California means that winter isn’t really a reason to stop gardening. In some ways, it is the best time for it – the cooler days and occasional rain can help to make yardwork a little less strenuous. I was working on a story for my community association newsletter about wintertime gardening and in the process found myself falling down the rabbit hole of my own wintertime garden project.

The person I was interviewing about wintertime gardening likes to spend this time of year moving dirt around, creating new garden beds and such, but she calls it terraforming which makes it sound so much more serious. I realized that I was terraforming too – taking advantage of the one rainstorm that we’ve had to dig up some things while the dirt was soft. Of course, that one chore created a chain reaction and now there is a whole project happening.

You see, the people next door recently completed some work on their property. The payoff for putting up with two months of incessant construction noise and nuisance was that they built a fence along our shared property line (this has been at the top of my wish list since forever).

Look at that beautiful fence! Now I just have to get my rose bush to cover it.

Once the fence was up, the mounds of overgrown day lilies had to go. With the help of our so far only winter rainstorm, I filled two trashcans with shoots, roots, bulbs, and other bits. This was the first phase of my terraforming – digging up the mounds and then filling in the resulting holes.

With the day lilies cleared, my dream of creating a little patio on that side of the house finally seemed possible and I was eager to get to work. My enthusiasm for this patio endeavor was contagious enough to convince Mr. Man to get on board. His first assignment is to build a fence to separate the front and back yards.

Until now, the only thing screening that side of the yard from the street was an overgrown bush. We probably would have just left it, but it was in the way of where the fence needs to go. After I began hacking at it with my hedge clippers, I discovered that it was a job for power tools. Since our nice gardener has a chainsaw, I asked him to help. This bush was the size of a small car and I don’t even want to tell you the kinds of things we found inside of it, fortunately the gardener hauled it all away.

Once Mr. Man gets the fence up, we are going to reroute some irrigation, then it is time for patio building! The ground over there is lumpy and not level so there will be more terraforming in order to prep the space, but when we’re done our wintertime gardening project will be ideal for summertime sitting. I can’t wait to show you how it turns out!

National Cat Herders Day

Sally Gellis

I’ve been trying to take a break from National/International This-or-That day, but this one is too good to skip. Yes folks, today is National Cat Herders Day.

As a semi-retired professional cat herder, I can attest to the lack of appreciation there is for this highly skilled avocation. But in spite of this famous commercial, cat herding isn’t really about keeping your cats on the trail.

In fact, I can name numerous times that I wished I had been herding actual cats. After all, I can always at least get my cats to run away from me (like when it’s time for their flea medicine). But when it comes to wrangling a group of people in order to accomplish a goal, it doesn’t matter if they are highly paid or volunteers, motivated or just along for the ride – it’s going to be a long, dusty trail and you’re bound to wind up with at least a few scratches.

Being a cat mom can directly be applied to cat herding. If you go back to my Unsolicited Kitten Advice post, it turns out that you can apply many of those tips to dealing with people.

Much in the same way that you want your new kittens to feel secure and comfortable in a defined space, as a cat herder it is important to clearly define the boundaries for your team. Try to make sure that you have provided for their needs in terms of materials and information and then keep the lightest touch possible on whatever it is you are trying to accomplish – let individuals have freedom within their sphere of responsibilities. Keeping everyone’s claws trimmed from the beginning will improve the odds that you won’t get scratched up as badly in the long run.

Speaking of claws, when I was just starting out in my career, I worked for this wonderful cat lady. She really embodied the cat-lover lifestyle. When she had a nail appointment, she was going to get her claws retreaded. When she was going on vacation, she called it our mouse time. And even though she was the queen cat, she was also a boss cat herder.

To all those cat herders out there, keep fighting the good fight. When you finally get those cats where they’re going, a few of them might appreciate your effort. And don’t forget to wear long sleeves!

Anabel after I asked her to stop chewing on the Christmas tree
Anabel after I asked her to stop chewing on the Christmas tree

Flash Fiction Friday – Dangerous Ideas

Recently, we had a writing exercise about danger. It gave me all sorts of dangerous ideas. Here was the prompt:

Danger is an important ingredient when we write our stories. We are hardwired to anticipate it because it is of primal concern to our lives.

  • Natural Danger – Floods, hurricanes, a tree falls on your house.
  • Physical Danger – Threat of harm or death, like you work in a dynamite factory.
  • Emotional or psychological – Like a mind game, abuse, loss of a child or a love.

GIVE me 400 words MAX of a story with DANGER in it. Make me feel it!

Remember that scene in Men In Black where Will Smith shoots the cartoon little girl instead of all the scary-looking monsters? One of the reasons she was dangerous was all those books she was carrying. I just love that scene. What if that cute little girl wasn’t in a rough-looking neighborhood in the middle of the night?  Could a pigtail wearing, book-reading girl be dangerous in any-old context? Afterall, there’s a reason that women weren’t educated for so much of history. What is more dangerous than a woman with her own ideas?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Dangerous Ideas

I grew up in an idyllic suburban neighborhood. We had a white picket fence and a two-car garage. Dad wore a suit and drove to his office job every day. Mom was the queen of the neighborhood homemakers. She was as impeccable as June Cleaver and would send my sister Katie and me off to school every day with a kiss on the forehead and a reminder to “be good girls.”

As Katie and I walked together to school every morning, we talked about the challenges that we encountered in trying to live up to our mom’s expectations. Because what she meant when she said that was she wanted us to be quite and polite, to always do our very best, but to never, ever accomplish enough to stand out.

When I was in fifth grade and Katie was in third, she started to rebel. I kept finding her in the library, stacks of books on the table in front of her. Sure, she could check them out, but then our mom might realize what was going on. Katie was getting ideas.

The next year Katie decided to enter the spelling bee. I tried to talk her out of it, but she had gotten ideas from reading all of those books and she knew that she could out-spell anyone in the school. I have to admit, it was thrilling to watch. Finally, it was down to just her and Billy Jarvis.

Katie’s word was antediluvian. Really? But Katie didn’t hesitate, she didn’t ask for a definition or anything.  Then, it was Billy’s turn.  His word was libraries. And he got it wrong! In front of everyone! My sister was the Warren G. Harding Elementary School Spelling Bee champion!

Mom was waiting for us when we got home.

“I got a call from the school today.”

Katie and I froze.

“It seems as if Katie darling, you won the spelling bee. And now you are to go to the district competition.”

“Oh mother, you should have seen it! They gave me antediluvian and they gave Billy Jarvis libraries and he tried to spell it with ‘yz’!”

“Katherina Minola. I don’t know where you got the idea that you should go win a spelling bee. You don’t find your sister Bianca embarrassing boys in front of the whole school do you? That kind of behavior is dangerous!”

Holiday Gratitude Practice

Since Thanksgiving is this week, of course I thought I would do a post about holiday gratitude. Not the most original idea, but something that I think is appropriate to take a moment for. Of course, I did write a post about gratitude last year, so the challenge is to see if I have something new to share with y’all.

In some ways, it might be harder to find things to be grateful for this year. Not being able to travel to visit family or hold big holiday get-togethers might be a real bummer. It has been a tough year for everyone and the anxiety that goes along with this global pandemic is no joke.

But in some ways, maybe all of this turmoil makes it easier to be grateful for all sorts of things that we may have taken for granted before.

When I was reading the post that I wrote last year, one of the things that I noted being grateful for was our local yoga on the bluff. And one of the elements of yoga on the bluff that I particularly enjoyed was being around all the different people from all different walks of life. I’ll tell you what, I would not be grateful to find myself in a crowd of all sorts of people these days. But I do feel grateful that I have been able to cultivate a home yoga practice. In some ways it has been a great privilege to take responsibility for my own yoga practice. I can be very mindful of the way that I move through all the postures; I take more time than I used to in some positions and I am gentle with myself in ways that I wasn’t before. I might not be grateful for all of the new aches and twinges that I seem to be uncovering, but I am grateful for my ability to discern between a discomfort that needs to be worked through and one that needs to be moved away from.

In June, I did a gratitude practice of listing at least ten things every day. The challenge was to not repeat as much as possible. I mean you can imagine what my list would have looked like without that challenge: cats, coffee, sunshine, repeat. Some days were easier than others that’s for sure, but the whole exercise was very centering. Actually, now I’m starting to think that I should take it back up again …

Ok, I’ve just given myself an idea for a holiday gratitude practice and I’m going to invite you to play along with me at home.

Let’s look toward Thanksgiving and this whole holiday season in front of us and find ten things to be grateful for. Maybe write them down. Maybe put them in a gratitude jar and see if you can add one new thing from now until the end of the year. Then on New Year’s Day why not pull them out and read them? Start the new year from a place of love and gratitude.

If you’re not ready to write down ten things, how about just one? Leave it in the comments below and we can help each other to jump start a holiday gratitude practice.

I’ll start: I’m grateful for you reading this and playing along!

P.S. I will follow up with everyone who commented about the book giveaway this week!

Rough Writers 2020 Anthology

rough writers 2020 anthology

I have an exciting announcement for y’all today: we have just published the Rough Writers 2020 Anthology: A Field Day for Creativity. This is the third Rough Writers Anthology (they published a collection in 2017, before I joined the club) and I think we’re really starting to get the hang of it.

You may remember last year’s post about the 2019 Anthology. Well, as we all know, no good deed goes unpunished and I agreed to serve as Editor for this year’s anthology as well. At least this way, I was able to apply some of the lessons that I learned the hard way putting together the 2019 book.

The subtitle, A Field Day for Creativity, was proposed by one of our members as a response to the prompt and our club’s innovative way of applying Toastmaster’s curriculum to our creative writing pursuits.

Rough Writers 2020 Anthology writing prompt
This image was our writing prompt. Photo by Branislav Belko on Unsplash.

Intrigued? 

Good. Here’s an excerpt from my story:

Mrs. Bistone’s perfectly rendered exterior was her armor. It was a barrier both invisible and impenetrable. People were so taken with the apparition in front of them that they didn’t even notice what she was getting them to do, or say, or agree to. Her directives tended to be delivered in the form of questions, those kinds of small requests that would be rude to decline. She wouldn’t say she was manipulative. She just understood that by exercising absolute control over how she presented herself, she could exercise the same control over that to which she presented herself.

Everyone who had met her would say that they knew her, that they were dear friends. They would describe her poise and immaculate appearance in detail, but no one could ever recall one personal thing about her – where she grew up, what her interests were beyond the banal hobbies of any woman of means, or even the date of her birthday.  Moreover, no one ever seemed to notice, which was the way that Mrs. Bistone preferred it.

Aren’t you dying to know how that has anything to do with the photo?

Well guess what? I’m giving away several copies of the Rough Writers 2020 Anthology!

All you have to do is be a subscriber to this blog and leave a comment below by 5:00pm on Friday, November 20.

I only have a limited number of author copies, so depending on the response, I’ll come up with some random way to select winners.

If you don’t want to leave it up to chance, you can order your own copy on Amazon (and if you don’t want to use the hyperlink, just put “Rough Writers 2020 Anthology” in your Amazon search bar). There is even a Kindle version if you prefer.

Monday, November 23 at 7:00 pm is our official book launch on Zoom. If you would like to find out more about the diverse voices who contributed stories to this volume, please join us – just leave a comment below and I will send you the sign-in details.

Kindness Today and Every Day

For this edition of Health and Wellness Monday, I thought we could consider kindness.  

This Friday, November 13th is World Kindness Day, a holiday established in 1998 by The World Kindness Movement, an international consortium of NGOs, for the purpose of encouraging people to create a kinder world. I’m not really clear on what they mean by that, but it seems to have something to do with supporting projects that align with the United Nations sustainable development goals.

Did you know that there is also a Random Acts of Kindness Foundation? I didn’t either. The organization’s mission is to, “Make Kindness the Norm.” They suggest that an individual can celebrate World Kindness Day by intentionally engaging in random acts of kindness such as buying someone a cup of coffee or giving someone a compliment. I tend to think of these things more as “random acts of niceness” but that’s alright. One of my favorite random acts of niceness is sending someone a card in the mail for no reason. I mean, isn’t it exciting to get mail from an actual person! But phone calls and texts are nice too.

I thought it would be interesting would be to examine the distinction between being ‘kind’ and being ‘nice,’ so I went to the dictionary. While ‘nice’ is defined as, “polite, kind, pleasing, agreeable, appropriate, fitting,” the word ‘kind’ is defined in the Merriam Webster Dictionary as, “of a sympathetic or helpful nature.”

I like to think about kindness as being a little bit more than just doing something nice for someone. For me, an act of kindness is a compassion exercise in which I separate a person from their beliefs and/or actions in my heart. I may disagree with someone or not like their behavior, but still have sympathy (and sometimes even empathy or compassion) for them as a person. By doing so, I am better able to interact with that person in a kind manner.

Remember that story, The Box that I published last month? I would say that kindness kind-of ties into the ideas expressed in that story. It is an act of kindness to not put someone in a box based on one facet of their personality but to acknowledge that people are complex creatures who may not necessarily be defined by one element of their beliefs and/or actions. It’s like that thing about not defining yourself by your feelings (ex: I am angry) but acknowledging that you are a person having a feeling (I feel angry) applied to someone else.

This doesn’t mean that an act of kindness requires you to be a pushover or condone someone’s behavior. It’s like Brené Brown says, “Strong back, soft front, wild heart.” Know who you are and what you believe. Then be willing to accept other people for who they are and what they believe.

Here’s the thing: there will still be people who you just don’t agree with. You might plain old just not like someone. But what if you chose to face them with kindness rather than confrontation? Maybe your strong back, soft front, wild heart will inspire the same in someone else. You could start a chain reaction of kindness.

World Kindness day is Friday, but why not start today? You could even throw in a random act of niceness or two while you’re at it.

Flash Fiction Friday – Cat Mask

Ok guys, here’s another delight for you for Flash Fiction Friday. It’s been a tense week and I thought you might enjoy a little something to lighten the mood. Something about a cat mask maybe.

This time the exercise given to my writing group involved exploring using a point of view in storytelling.

Our instructions were: write a scene involving a central character and one or more strangers (people the character has never met before) using either the first-person, third-person limited, or third-person omniscient point of view. Try to pick a point of view that you don’t normally use. Also, try to limit the use of dialog, instead using descriptive language to show how people behave and interact.

I had forgotten what I wrote for this exercise and when I pulled it out, I laughed out loud. Hopefully, you will too. 

Cat Mask

Ugh, what is that guy looking at?  He is totally staring at me in a super creepy way. As if I can’t tell just because he is wearing a mask. As bizarre as it seems, wearing a mask these days is not creepy. But even with everyone’s face covered, you can still tell when someone is giving off a creepy vibe.

That’s one thing I mostly love about COVID times, the mask wearing. I feel very conspicuous, but in a completely anonymous way. I’ve taken to wearing the flashiest masks possible, confident in the knowledge that if anyone had to describe me later, they would say something along the lines of, “Oh, she was wearing a bejeweled Día de los Muertos mask,” and that would be it.

By the same token, this guy’s interest in me goes beyond delight at the fact that today’s embroidered kitty-cat mask sports very realistic-looking whiskers. And, yes, of course I accessorized my accessory with cat-eye sunglasses. And no, I am not planning on taking them off inside of the store, it is part of the look.  Geez!

I planned my entire ensemble today as an expression of my inner cattiness. The cat-eye sunglasses and be-whiskered mask are just the icing on the cake. It is finally cool enough to wear a sweater and I have the perfect cardigan with a faux fur collar and cuffs that can be pulled down over my hands. Fuzzy slippers seemed like completely appropriate footwear for the occasion. The only problem I had when I was getting dressed was deciding on the right pants to wear. In the end, I wound up going with … um … well shoot, this is embarrassing.

I may have been so excited about my whisker mask that I might have gotten distracted and forgotten to put on pants before I left the house. Yikes! Well alright creepy guy, you win. I suppose a chubby, middle-aged lady prancing through the Trader Joes parking lot without any pants on would get my attention as well.

At least no one will know that it’s me!

P.S. If anyone knows where I can get a cat face mask with whiskers, let me know!

Flash Fiction Friday – The Box

Photo by Sep on Unsplash

I’ve been having fun with the prompts that my writing group has been sending out. So much so that I’ve decided to create a new category for The In-Between Things: Flash Fiction Friday.

For this week’s post, here is the prompt we were given:

The prompt today is suggested from Harlan Ellison. Ellison liked to come up with the title of the story first. Your title prompt is, “THE BOX.” The box can become a source of fear, love, funny, or adventure. You decide what’s in the box and how it affects you!

I immediately knew what I wanted to write. I hope you like it!

The Box

I was chatting with someone when I heard it.

“The thing about you is …”

Oh, here we go again, someone wants to put me in a box. Even though it happens all the time, I still can’t help being surprised. 

I used to try on every box. It seemed like the polite thing to do. I would really try to fit. I would climb in, poke around in all the corners, and contort myself in every possible way. I was much thinner and more flexible in those days, so it was easier to humor someone when they presented the box they had selected for me. But even then, I never could make myself fit.

I always hoped that when someone recognized that I didn’t fit in their box, they would want to discover why there was more to me than they had thought. That is why I always tried to be polite. I didn’t want anyone feel embarrassed about their misjudgment.

Some people were really adamant about wanting me to fit into their box. They would shove and stomp, like they were trying to close an over-full suitcase. No matter how hard they tried, I never fit. No one ever had the right box.

One day, when I was waiting patiently to get out, the people trying to put me in that box started talking as if I couldn’t hear them.

“All I’m saying is that if we just cut off the leg right about there, we could shove it in over here and voila! Then we could get this box all sealed up.”

“Yeah, but that is going to make a big mess, I don’t think this box is coated to retain liquids. Maybe we can just snap some joints so that they bend further.”

The most surprising thing about this exchange was how invested they were in getting me sealed up in their box. Most of the time, folks would just loose interest and wander away.

These days, I still try to be polite when someone wants to put me in a box. But I don’t try them on anymore.

Photo by Sep on Unsplash

When Every Day is Coffee Day

What a caffeinated week this is!  Between National Coffee Day on Tuesday and International Coffee Day today, I am certainly feeling the buzz.

Did I ever tell you about my very first job? I worked at a coffee place in the mall. We sold fancy espresso makers and all the flavored coffee beans (remember chocolate raspberry flavored coffee beans?  My favorite!). But mostly we sold frou-frou coffee drinks, those cakes-by-the-slice with the big, chocolate leaves on top, and other snacky stuff that was sure to put a pep in your step.

I was so excited to get that job, but the blush was off the rose pretty quickly when it came to wearing that ruffled pinafore uniform. Nonetheless, I learned how to make a pretty good cappuccino, the joy of chocolate-covered espresso beans, and most importantly, that hungry people are mean and should be avoided.

The experience did nothing to dampen my love of coffee. Even when I was a starving college student, I couldn’t live without was my morning cup of coffee (brewed at home, thank you very much!). And even now, even when I’ll try all sorts of wacky health remedies (coconut oil pulling anyone?), I just have to smile and shake my head when someone suggests that I trade my morning coffee for hot tea.

Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash

Coffee Fun Facts

*just a few things that I found notable from a very extensive Wikipedia article about coffee, click here to read the whole thing.

  • Coffee originated in Ethiopia and is believed to have been brought to the world via trade with the Arabian Peninsula, in particular, a place in Yemen called Mocha in the sixteenth century. (Mocha – get it! Yum!)
  • Cultivation in the western hemisphere began in the Caribbean and South America in the early 1700s.
  • The two main varieties of coffee plants that are cultivated for commercial coffee production are C. arabica and C. canephora (aka robusta). Roughly 75% of coffee cultivated is arabica, which is considered milder. Robusta tends to be more bitter and contains as much as 50% more caffeine than arabica; it is the preferred bean for espresso.
  • Coffee plants seem to thrive in forest environments where they benefit from the protection of a diverse ecosystem. For example, one of the most damaging pests for coffee plants, the coffee borer beetle, is delicious to certain birds, so if the coffee plants are grown somewhere with trees nearby, the birds help mitigate the damage from the beetles. Isn’t nature smart!  
  • Nordic countries are the highest per capita consumers of coffee. Maybe it has something to do with the cold, dark climate. I always remember a few years ago when Mr. Man went up to Seattle in February for work. It was cold and dark and generally not the kind of weather you appreciate when you live in southern California. He was telling me about how the sun barely came out at 8am and set by 3pm; the punchline of his story was, “There’s a reason that the coffee here is so good.”

Whether you are a daily coffee drinker, someone who goes for a frou-frou princess latte on special occasions only, or caffeine-free, I hope this post put a little pep in your step.

Vote Smarter Not Harder

research your ballot

Even as someone who avoids the news, I am very aware that there is an election coming up in November.  One race is a big topic on everyone’s mind, but that is not the only item on our ballots. So in today’s post, I would like to encourage you to vote smarter not harder – to take a little time to really look into who and what you are voting for on your entire ballot so that you can make an informed decision on each candidate and ballot initiative.

vote smarter not harder

Researching my ballot is not my favorite way to spend my time and I don’t doubt there are lots of other things that you would rather be doing. But I assure you that it is time well spent. By putting that effort in, I can feel comfortable that I’m voting for the candidate who will potentially cause the least amount of harm or that I’m not supporting a ballot initiative that would cost more than its purported benefit. In the March primary election, one guy running for district court judge actually changed his first name to Judge. At first glance, I thought, “Oh, this guy is already a judge,” but no, he was actually not at all qualified and being intentionally misleading!

How to research your ballot

It can be tricky to find good sources of information about local and state races. I will sit down with my ballot and Google each item. You can search by district (ex: CA 47th Congressional District), by candidate (they all pretty much have their own website these days – it’s a good way to get an idea of their education and professional background), or by region (ex: LA County Voter Guide). Your local bar association will put out a list rating candidates for judicial positions as “well qualified,” “qualified,” or “not qualified.” I’m a big fan of the voter guide put out by the Southern California Public Radio website LAist; I hope that other public radio stations put out similar information. I like to compare what a candidate’s website, LAist, and my local newspapers have to say about things.

The League of Women Voters (LWV) also puts out a voter guide. I love the LWV; it is a non-partisan organization that was founded in 1920 (the year the 19th Amendment was ratified) to help women carry out their responsibilities as voters and today is an organization dedicated to encouraging the active and informed participation of all citizens. The LWV doesn’t take a position on initiatives, it simply presents them as written and explains potential impacts, who is supporting and opposing each one, and what a “yes” vote or a “no” vote would mean. They have a resource called Vote 411 where you can put in your address and get personalized voting information.

A new resource that I just found is Ballotpedia. The website states that its mission is to deliver, “unbiased information to educate and inspire American voters” and it seems to have a lot of straightforward information. I think that I will be incorporating this site into my ballot research.

If you haven’t already received your California voting guide in the mail, here is a link to an online version: California Voting Guide.

Who and what you decide to vote for is none of my business and I wouldn’t presume to offer you my opinions on any of the races or measures. But I do hope that you will consider committing a little bit of your time to looking up the candidates and propositions before you mail you ballot in early or head to the polls. Remember to vote smarter not harder.