How Facebook Became My Landline

I used to go on WordPress more than I did Facebook. I was happier then. I appreciate being in touch with old friends, but there is something overly exposed and in some ways debilitating about it. I guess, if you’ve been around as long as me and remember a time before there was voicemail or even answering machines, and consider how you responded when the phone would ring, this is much likely a predictor of your Facebook habits. If you would rush to pick up the phone, slamming the big brown paper bag of groceries onto the Formica, even risking crushing the Little Debbies or big bag of cheese puffs just so you could get to the ringing phone before it became nothing but a lonely dial tone, you likely have the same Facebook habits I have today.

I remember once breaking my toe in my mad dash down the hall and into the next room to answer the phone. I told people later I had broken it doing tae kwon do. (I was in both martial arts and dance classes at the time – I figured I deserved to have broken my toe in some respectable way, even though it was from nothing more than embarrassing eagerness and lack of grace, but no one would be the wiser).

So now my computer has a silent ring audible just to me, and I respond like a dog hearing a whistle just outside of human range.  On my way to the closet to hang a jacket, I lean over and tap the keyboard to wake up my laptop, and we proceed to speak our secret language.

“Hey,” I say silently. “Were you ringing?”

“Uh, no,” he says, wondering why I’m bothering him again. “I didn’t mean to be. Maybe I was snoring.”

“No, really. I swear I heard someone say something in there.”

“Well sure. Someone’s always got something to say in there. Doesn’t mean it’s all worth hearing.”

“But, yeah,” I reply. “If they bothered, might be worth checking out. And, besides, what if it’s a direct message meant for me. Don’t you think I should check it out ?”

By now, I have touched his buttons and I am full on waking him up as he grumbles slowly, ignoring my additional clicking of the keyboard while he yawns and rubs his eyes, oblivious to my incessant pressing. I tell myself this is different from the eager, embarrassing, anxious mad dash to get the phone.  This is just me wanting to check quickly (in case it’s important, I tell myself) and get back to the dutiful path I was on, picking up and putting away kids’ clothes, and washing dishes that never change or tell you the news or post pictures of dreaming kitties, or…

Finally he is fully awake. And I’m on, leaning over my desk — not sitting at it so I can quickly get back to the very important work of the day — but then as I scroll down there is something that catches my eye.  And then another something, and a group of somethings, and then an onslaught of somethings.  They may be posts about Monsanto, or an increase in crime in my neighborhood, or a picture of a new baby of a distant relative, or my high school frenemy posting pics of a new house of car or lover or shoes.  As insignificant as all this is, something about it becomes impressively important for me to know or see or sign or share or like or…  Next thing I know I am full-butt planted in my chair, clicking away, while my legs stay draped sideways behind me so I know I can escape this at any time — this barrage of truly unneeded “news,” of minutiae of really near strangers, of saccharine sweet platitudes I couldn’t bear in person, of heavy, depressing tales of woe and kids getting accidentally shot or maimed, of “friends” sparring over politics and religion and sports and things a third party has said or written (probably secretly on the Facebook payroll), of an incessant string of instructions of how to be a better parent, lover, friend, sister/mother, father/brother, human being as if all we are is a bundle of failure in endless need of improvement. Cleaning the house is less exhausting.

But instead of returning to my soulless chores, I now have one leg tucked beneath me and I am snug in my Facebook mind-numbing buzz.  Footsteps up the stairs are the only thing that snap me out if it.  My partner, admirably, must never have had my Pavlovian response to the phone ringing and can pass by the computer umpteen times a day without even a glance toward it.  So I don’t like too often to get caught in the act.  I quickly switch to anything without the recognizable blue lines and boxes.  I’m now on Google and wondering where to go next.  There’s no screeching news here reminding me of the banality of people and the pervasive pain – physical, emotional, personal, political, philosophical – of being human, or the escapades of friends of friends, or the cheering and jeering of Packers fans, and articles about whose city is best, and quizzes to show just how alike or not you are from Dr. Phil and Oprah and others, and so much more to show you just how far you have to go.  Just a plain white background and a few options – the boxes beneath the search window showing recent visits – reminding me where I’ve been.  There’s Yahoo, WordPress, and reliably Facebook.  I rise above it all and return to my busy work, till I hear my laptop ring again.

Benefits of Weird Weather

Thanks to unseasonably warm weather, I’ve been harvesting much later than usual. My table doesn’t mind, although I was certain when I sad these volunteers mid summer that they’d never make it to their prime. Climate change proved me wrong.

Question: anyone else out there reaping a later than usual harvest? Do you think it’s linked to climate change, late planting, a combination, or something else entirely? Have you revised your planting schedule as the growing season changes? Go ahead, gimme the dirt.







Bees & Butterflies by the Numbers

Unfortunately, the numbers are decreasing in alarming degrees. I’ve been meaning to write about the disturbing disappearance of honeybees for quite some time but never seemed to find the time. Now I’m afraid time is running out.

I’ve noticed fewer bees and butterflies, particularly this summer. There seemed to be no fewer yellow jackets than the occasional visitor I’m used to, but I don’t recall spotting a honeybee once all summer. Likewise, butterflies were sadly absent. There was one moth like white butterfly that sometimes flitted by by but from the looks it was just one regular guest, not a flock by a long shot. Also, I think I only saw this butterfly – if that’s even what it was – on its own, never in the company of others.

This past weekend I went to a free event in my neighborhood. It was kid-focused, a puppet parade held in the playground behind one of the public schools. It was swarming with hungry, hyped and rowdy kids. I was ready to leave when, at the last minute, I was persuaded to stay. Staying meant, as it turned out, that I heard Jennifer Hopkins, known as the Butterfly Lady, speak about what we can do to help bring back the butterflies. She recommends planting the following flowers:

Bee balm
Butterfly bush
Butterfly weed
Purple coneflower
Wild geranium

Check out more at

And more to come on bees by the numbers.

Climate Change Hits $60 Trillion. Bring on The News.

Go back home, fall.  It’s still just July.  What’s that you say?  You’re not a change of the seasons, you’re climate change and there’s no stopping you now?  Oh, in that case, I’m going back to Facebook.

I’ve never been a big fan of a/c.  We have one unit in our living room window, despite the recent heatwave.  We don’t run it all day.  I turn it on a few minutes before my partner gets home.  If I’m spending more time in the living room than where I usually am in my office (with a fan and windows open), I’ll turn it on for awhile.  So there’s no real schedule of its use.  We do experiment with how well the unit works in conjunction with the ceiling fan, and have mixed reviews.  It was some time yesterday that I wondered if I had turned the thing or left it on too long, or whether having all the windows in the house open was making it suddenly feel cold.  And if it was the latter, why that would be after weeks of having all the windows in the house open.  It seemed odd that the cold air could be coming from outside but indeed it was.  By the time I went to sleep last night, it felt downright like fall.  Waking up this morning, the birds are quieter than they were yesterday.  Fewer of them almost it seems.  The sky is gray.  The street does not having the usual bustly feel of summer.  And something just seems wrong.  I almost expect to see leaves falling to the ground (and not like the leaves on my hosta plants that wilted and singed yellow and brown at the edges from all the unbearable heat we’ve had lately).

Last night before going to bed, I checked online.  I looked around Facebook (there’s a page about m neighborhood that’s become somewhat addictive, and I like to watch the number of comments ring up after a comment I or someone else has made about something that only neighbors can be annoyed about — overcharging at a particular grocery store, the removal of waste cans on major corners because the sanitation department says they’re causing too much mess — or just the history of a building or person who’s been a fixture on these streets).  I didn’t do the full stroll and check in to LinkedIn and Twitter.

It seems anymore we don’t have to go looking for the news.  If we’re engaging in the usual social media rounds that most of our ethernet neighbors are, then the news comes to us.  I think there is the sometimes-false sense that we therefore know what’s going on.  Actual, true-life media outlets I’m sure are suffering from this hubris we have.  But in a way they seem to be chasing their tails too, sniffing out scoops online, and allowing the democratization of the news unfold without too much protestation.  If enough people are interested in it online, it must be news.  I’ve been seeing on morning television shows with increasing frequency (so now it’s just “regular” news) videos that have gone viral – a wild animal jumping into someone’s car because it was being chased by a cheetah or some other beast, Beyonce’s hair getting caught in a fan, a puppeteer who can make his puppets dance better than they do on Dancing With the Stars, you get the drift.

So what happens to the little articles that got lost in the swirl because maybe they’re a little boring, or because they’re not written simply enough for the regular reader to get their significance, or because it’s not a beast or Beyonce or a dancing puppet.  What if it’s just the Arctic taking its final swan song?  Before I went to bed, I happened upon a blog post or news article – dangerously, I can barely tell them apart these days – noting July 22, 2013 as the day to put down in the history books for when the North Pole became a lake.  I noticed it was the only article I saw like this, and even looking back now I can’t find the same article/post.  I wasn’t surprised.  If a poll were taken, I’d bet more people on FB preferred puppies and kitties and stars getting their hair stuck to the uncomfortable and downright painful truth of climate change.  I woke this morning thinking about it, wondering in my unscientific way if the air is carrying the last of the polar cap.  I wondered, too, about how that article was just a blip amid more enticing videos of stars’ hair getting stuck in fans and wildebeasts jumping in and out of Jeeps.

But then I woke up this morning and in searching for the blip on the screen last night, I found countless articles, most marked “22 minutes ago,” or “2 hours ago.”  Lots of them, too!  Turns out the arctic melting is gonna cost somebodies some big money.  Bring on the media.  This is not longer just enviro-blogger worthy.  Now it’s real news.

Security v. Freedom. the Case of the Millenium

This may well be one of the most pressing conflicts of our generation.  How do we let loose the reins enough to ensure freedom, yet pull them in enough to protect the citizenry from threats to our health and safety?

Our fellow reveler Ralph posted a thought-provoking comment recently, noting a post on another website.  The host of that site (which could be described by some as a preppers site) was sharing an email received from a reader who had purchased seeds from e-Bay and was visited by a federal agent who seized their seeds, stating it was because of the risk of disease.  Here is what Ralph said about it.  I think his contemplation well reflects the mixed feelings many of us have about the tension between the need for privacy/freedom and the desire for protection and safety/security.

from Reveler Ralph…

I just read a story at:
that I received an email about. Having just read the title and brief description from the email I thought I was going to read yet another story about our rights being taken away. After reading the story I am not so sure my initial thoughts were correct. Ignoring the feelings (mine included) about possible govt invasion into our lives, I was reminded of a question on one of the shows I listen to asking why certain plants and seeds were regulated and not allowed to be sent to certain states. Outwardly it seemed, even to me, that some of the regulations were put in place to prevent competition with commercial producers. Some plants were simply invasive and would cause all kinds of damage if let loose in the wrong places.

In spite of searching for the actual explanation I haven’t been able to locate it among the hundreds of shows on the site, so until I can locate it here’s what I can remember. Basically it boiled down to plant diseases and virus infected plants. While it seems that prohibiting certain grape seeds into California or orange seeds into Florida are giving large producers a monopoly on their markets, the real reason is that bringing a plant disease into these areas by infected plants or seeds could destroy commercial crops possibly ruining commercial producers and cause economic problems. Reading seed catalogs you can see notes that a particular seed resists some disease or virus. Seeds, somewhat like people may be immune to certain illnesses, but if a ‘foreign’ illness is brought in it will often spread ‘like wildfire’.

As for the corn in the story, corn can be pollinated by other corn miles away, so a contaminated field can spread disease far and wide. We have already seen this with GMO corn. While no fan of needless regulation, it is possible the seeds in question should not have been allowed to grow. That being the case, I would have to ask why e-Bay was selling them.

Here’s the link to the USDA site which I am going to look through when I have more time:



Thanks, Ralph, for this thought-provoking comment.  I am curious to know what readers are thinking about recent news about the National Security Administration’s data collection efforts and former CIA employee, Edward Snowden’s leaking the U.S. government’s mass surveillance practices.  I’m also wondering what others are thinking about the Illinois Deparment of Agriculture’s seizure of honeybees resistant to Monsanto’s RoundUp which were subsequently reportedly destroyed, the passing of the bill now known as the “Monsanto Protection Act,” and a slow but sure shift in farming legislation to acknowledge food and farming going on in the east coast.  There’s lots going on these days.  I’m wondering how everyone else is processing it all.

So, you know the deal.  Go ahead … gimme the dirt!

Dead Flies on Flowers

So I’ve been noticing, upon up-close inspection of several plants, that some have a bevy of flies. At first I was impressed that they stayed so still when I was looking at them so up close, then I wondered if they were doing something gross like mating since they seemed so totally oblivious to me. Then the horrible truth that they were dead dawned on me. It’s strange that I work so hard on slaughtering any beady eyed flyer who frequents my home space but upon spying one dead on a flower stem seized from me a gasp of compassion. It was sad, disturbing, intriguing.

It happened the first time several days, maybe a week ago. I’d noticed my rose bush in the ground out front wasn’t doing so great. So I went out there to give it some extra care: a little compost littering, removing some yellowed leaves, and the like. That’s when I saw a fly very near where a flower once was. The fly was very still. The fly, I realized, was dead.

A few days later, I was out back paying some attention to a potted lavender plant when I saw several of them, then some more. Again, at first I thought they were live flies, just hanging out enjoying some sun. Then I realized they were dead. All of them, dead as door nails (why is it door nails would be deader than any other nail, I wonder). And after a wave of nausea and the creeps, it just made me very sad. They were clinging toward the top of the stem, just as the rose-loving flower had been. Then I also found them on the rosemary. It was a garden invasion of dead flies. Day of the dead … flies. Zombies of the insect world.

I didn’t know whether to try to remove them or just let them be. Then I wondered if they were doing the plants any harm. So then I did what any other earth loving naturalist would do – I left the great outdoors for the glowing screen of my smartphone and looked it up online. This is what I found out.

Seedcorn maggot flies or delia platura may sometimes be found dead on twigs or stems of flowers, typically toward the top of the stem, close to the flower. Their larvae may damage vegetables but typically don’t have a negative effect on flowers, trees, or vines. According to the research (and now that I’m not there I cannot personally confirm this), if you look closely you likely will see a pink stripe around the flies’ abdomens. The pink stripe is why the fly died. It’s the spores of entomophthera fungus. Once infected, the fly’s coordination is affected. They land on a leaf, vine, twig, or plant and die. It seems they are unable to fly away but it wasn’t clear to me if they sense the end is near. Maybe not, since they get all coordination-confused. This usually happens in the spring but can appear throughout the summer since the flies can breed five generations in one year.

What confuses me is why I’ve never noticed this before. Anyone else seeing this? Anything else strange and kinda gross and not totally wonderful happening in the garden? As for the dead flies, they don’t easily flick off. Should they stay or should they go? Go ahead…gimme the dirt.




The World Is Conspiring in Your Favor. (de la Vega) It’s just not done working yet. (Revel)

Earlier this week, I had a dream that I saw myself walking in a large, tall, glass building. I was wearing a thin coat. Everyone I saw told me I would be cold outside, that I should put a coat on. I told them I was fine, but thanks anyway. I saw so many people tell me this as I watched myself walk around in this building of multiple floors and various staircases, escalators, and elevators (but still plenty wide open space, for as much as a building can have such), that I began to wonder if maybe I shouldn’t put on a warmer coat, and maybe I would be cold when I went outside. As soon as I started to doubt, I watched myself take off my thin coat, and I saw there was another under it. I then proceeded to take off that coat, revealing another under it. And another came off revealing yet another, and another, and another, and so on and so forth. I never saw myself leave the building, but I knew by what I had seen that I certainly wouldn’t be cold when I did.

This year’s garden has had more flowers in it than ever before. Not that that’s a lot. Previously, I had committed to only planting things that were useful — things I could eat, or that would protect plants I would eat. There were some flowers that I was only partly responsible for their presence: hostas that were given to me by the neighbor across the street the first summer I was here 13 years ago; day lilies my sister brought from Wisconsin a couple summers ago that now have the opening act before the hostas are in bloom (and often steal the show); a wild white rose bush that I don’t remember planting but which could have been from the summer I threw seeds with abandon wherever they would land behind me, like tossing salt and having about as much faith (I’m not one to bend to superstition but will take its gains when they happen across my path). So I was surprised to find myself being red with envy at the bright red poppies I spied through the picketed fence that separates me from my back neighbors. They nearly spat their color burst taunts at me. And I caught myself feeling ill at ease when the morning glories that usually sneak out ahead of the pack and try to hold my whole garden hostage never really made much of a show this year, and not a single sneaky purple twisty flower did I have to tear away from fences or gates or the preferred “planted” plants.

Flowers, I am finding, have got me in a big crush. I seek them out, trying to spot them, trying to name them, playing the line over in my head — a rose by any other name would smell as sweet — and wonder if it’s true. Their scent seizes me. Like a peeping tom peering through the blinds, I cannot look away. And so I resign myself to the corny fact that this is my summer of love … of flowers. Accepting that, I finally bent and took myself to Shannon’s to buy some flowers to plant, to keep my day lilies company till the hostas appear, and to perk up the lonely dirt surrounding the wild rose bush since the wild roses went away. It pained me to buy annuals – so against everything this revel gardener espouses: frugality, practicality, simplicity, efficiency. But true to the one thing that underlies it all. Under all the doing, and the digging, and the planting, transplanting, replanting, soil scrounging, compost turning, and sometimes back breaking exhaustion, there is joy. This summer, the flowers give me that. So I am making room for them.

I may have mentioned I worked with a clutter buster for about a year. A spiritual type who got to the root of the matter, he helped me see that letting go of one thing makes room for something better. My front yard right now is largely a patch of dirt. I dug up the weeds (native plants) and other plant paraphernalia that was hanging out waiting for the concert to begin. The yard seemed to heave a sigh of relief. But stripping it nearly bare, I also saw the bends and the hills and the dips and the valleys where all this recent massive rainfall has an opportunity to seep in and make things uneven under there. (So I am looking for dirt. If you got it, let me know.) I thought that I would come up with a plan — one that was organized and scheduled. With useful things like echinacea that I could use to stave off illnesses and flu. Maybe there would be mint for tea, but perfectly contained in carefully constructed border walls throughout the now-untamed yard. Something in me could not bring me to assert such control over the space. So I have left it the largely bare naked ground it is, waiting patiently for an occasional flower or two to greet the curious passerby.

This week, while I was sticking my nose in yet another stranger’s plants, the master family came out to check me out. They’re Chinese, and our conversation was choppy but largely we all got the points. No, that other one over there was not a hydrangea (though I still question this). The one that I had my nose in? Those are edible petals — to cool down, to balance heat. They were delicate and slightly twisty yellow and white petals, with a fragrance resembling that of jasmine but with a slight bit greater perfume. It was heady, exotic. I wondered if it would be the polite thing to do to leave this poor family alone and be on my way. But I couldn’t. I’m sure in part-pity, one of them, who had come up from across the street or the store or wherever she was coming from when I wasn’t looking, broke a twig off, handed it to me and told me in her own way that if I put it in water it would grow roots and then I could have one of my own (and I wouldn’t have to rendezvous with theirs). Mission accomplished – I left them alone. Went on my way. Ran my errands. Bought my groceries. Got home. Did dishes. Made food. Ate. Remembered the twig. I stuck the thing in water thinking I had ruined the opportunity. Not twenty minutes later, I was in the kitchen wondering what that marvelous smell was. And there I saw it. It’s amazing how flowers give you their scent to let you know they’re okay.

Later this week, I was on an evening walk and noticed several small plastic cups of shoots from a single plant. Handwritten on paper taped to the cement was a note indicating they were free for the taking, and to just give them a couple days till they have their own roots, and you can plant them and they will … all year long. I don’t remember what it was they do – bloom, grow, something. It was enough for me. I took one, and it now sits on my windowsill.

Somewhere inside, I knew I was going to finally deal with those tomato seeds I’d abandoned last fall. I knew I had to. They were clutter to me otherwise. Clearing them from where they’d been placed opened room for new and better things. The yellow and white mystery jasminy plant. The generous offering from the neighbors I don’t know who set out their multitude of gifts for strangers. Then out of the blue, I received a call from my very most favorite neighbor who — I didn’t tell you — moved away a year ago last November. I shared my yard with her because where she lived down the street, there was no room to plant the vegetables she wanted to grow. We spent the better part of the summer a couple years ago talking plants and soil, and comparing notes on wild edibles, and going to community free talks on urban gardening.

My partner once teased I had a crush on her. This was after my partner saw us talking plants in the front yard from the upstairs window. I can see how this was the inference. People who have the love of dirt between them are connected in a deeper way than those who merely share desktops and cubicle walls (though I don’t disparage office friendships – they are simply different). About a month or more ago, she sent me something she had written. Two stories I’d been meaning to read. I’d started them. She’s such a good writer, it was hard to put them down. But life happens, and tasks, and untended gardens, and etc. I felt bad about not reading them, and worse about not writing to her to tell her I hadn’t read them. I finally broke my own silence with her, apologizing in an email I sent earlier this week. Luck had it she was coming back for a visit, and so I got to see her tonight. We drank coffee and talked about how I just finally planted those tomato seeds and would be reaping them in December if climate change continues to screw things up, and she helped me identify a “native plant” (read: weed) that she let me know was not the cool, edible plant I was hoping it might turn out to be and instead is an invasive one that was about to eat my strawberries. And I was glad to see her again. She brought me sugar snap peas from her garden in New Jersey, that we agreed I would see come August.

As we were talking, she noticed a couple of tomato plants that sprouted up on their own in the patch of dirt behind us. Just like last summer when I brought in tomato plants because I doubted my own seeds would take, here today I found I do have more than I need. More importantly, I have all that I need, even if no one else can see it.












Back to Work — Just Me, Me, Me and My Garden Confessions

I have a crazy science-garden experiment going on here. Through details too embarrassing to divulge, I ended up with several small containers of tomato seeds in the first stage of saving. This is when you plop them together with the pulp in a small cup with airtight lid, add a little water, and let them sit. The next step is, after they’ve had a few days to mold over, thereby sterilizing and protecting the seed, you’re supposed to remove any fleshy pulp and set the seeds out to dry on a windowsill on clean, dry paper towels. Suffice it to say I didn’t get that far. I think it may have been a repressed fear of what I might find that made me late with my planting this season.

It was a tipping point trip to the grocery store, dreading in a month or so being forced to purchase the tasteless rubbish that passes for tomatoes, when last year I had probably twenty or more different heirloom varieties in my own backyard, that I decided I had to give it the old college try. Probably nothing will come from these. It’s so late in the season I’m unlikely to get any actual fruit (though the season’s been weird already so there’s no way to know if we’re not headed for a long one). I’ll be surprised if anything at all actually grows out of these seeds that were still wet from last August when I planted them today. As blush-worthy as my blunder (inadvertence, procrastination, forgetfulness — I’ll never fess up so call it what you will), it makes for a possibly interesting experiment. I’ll let you know if I see any seedlings any time soon.

Several of the subjects went into recycled plastic planter containers. These included the Kellogg’s Breakfast seeds from a couple heirloom tomatoes I bought at Amsterdam Market late last summer, a Dr. Wyche (an orangish yellowish beauty), and another one or two in recycled planters. The rest i used repurposed compostable egg cartons. The Paul Robesons have one row, while the Jaunne Flame has the other. Just one little unit holds the seeds of what I only had the wherewithal to call the “best tasting tom. of 2012.” Despite my abuse of the poor things once I’ve extracted the seeds for saving, I’m usually pretty good about labeling, especially since I have delusions of some time in the future having enough time to post some of mine on a seed exchange and it would be unethical to not be certain the variety. Really not cool and not fair to guess at something like that, especially when all heirloom varieties are at varying threats of extinction. But on that particular day, I was obviously not so careful. But, time will tell…or it might not tell me a damned thing.

In the meantime and between time, I know I will sleep a little better tonight knowing at least most of those soppy seeds are now nestled into their little egg beds, carefully laden with blankets of compost, organic potting soil, bumper crop soil builder, and vermiculite just to make it a party (and keep the others from clumping together like a gaggle of awkward wall flowers).

Progress (or lack thereof) reports to follow…..

QUESTION: what’s your garden confession? Go ahead … I won’t tell anyone … Gimme the dirt!