Sunday, April 30, 2006

In search of the perfect pair of socks

On yet another shopping trip to buy new shoes and jeans for the growing boys, I furtively slipped a bag of socks into my cart. I felt a spark of joy course through my veins. New socks -- for me! Guilty pleasure.

As a little girl in San Antonio, where the humidity can hit 95% at Christmastime, I usually shucked my shoes once I got home from school and spent the rest of the day barefoot. My feet got to be so tough, I could walk down a gravel alley and not feel a thing. I could step on the sparkling bits of green CocaCola glass or catch my heel on the scary-looking pop tops we'd make into necklaces and come away with nary a scratch. By the time Mom called us in for our baths, I looked like one of those Dustbowl-era waifs.

Once I got to Oklahoma, where there's actually a winter, I experienced the discomfort of cold feet and the pleasure of a warm pair of socks. I wear my socks until they're paper thin, and when holes finally develop, I knot them up and give them to Bella for a chew toy. There's no better toy for a dog.

Is it just me, or is it impossible to find the perfect pair of socks? The package I picked up from Target said they were for shoe sizes 4-11. What the heck? Can't they make socks a little more specific? I mean, it's only logical that a size 4 foot would belong to a petite person, while a size 11 foot probably belongs to a woman who plays semi-professional basketball. It's ridiculous to expect a package of socks to be one size fits all!

My feet are pretty small. When SO first saw them, unshod, he thought they were freakishly tiny, almost hobbit-like. Most packaged socks end up with the heel of the thing hanging awkwardly from the back of my foot. So usually my joy of socks is marred by the letdown of a bad fit.

I still prefer being barefoot to wearing shoes. But I take better care of my feet. I'm not one to go shoeless to the grocery store or a master's level class. There are limits, for crying out loud. My days of running down a gravel alley are over, however.

Unless I'm wearing a thick pair of knitted wool socks.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Reunion blues

I'm in the middle of planning my 20th (gasp!) college reunion and I'm honest enough to admit I only want a handful of people to show up -- my circle of friends. The rest can just stay put. I know it's shallow, but I don't have the energy to invest any more time getting to know people I never wanted to get to know back in the day.

More than likely, most of my friends will not be coming to the reunion, and it's a shame. We'll probably never be together again like we were in those halcyon days.

I remember graduation day as if it were yesterday. After all the celebrations were over and most of the class had drifted off with their proud parents, I walked the campus mall. I ran into a few friends and we hugged goodbye, promising to keep in touch, but it was all a sham. I knew it wasn't true. Most I would never see again. Four years, probably the best years of my life in terms of freedom, growth, and adventures, and then it was on to the real world. I'm grateful I've managed to keep some of those relationships alive, but it's been hard. We've all got commitments, families, jobs. We're all exhausted.

I miss them, though. I really do.

When I look back at my college years, I hardly recognize the person I was. Is it possible I could go an entire 4 years without having a single political discussion with anyone? (My 13-year-old son knows more about the current political climate than I ever did at his age.) That I failed a current events test, making up answers to amuse The Professor? (No, Gorbachev was not the latest fashion designer to emerge from the Crimea, but I got credit for creativity.) That flirting with boys was my number one priority? (It was.) That I would change clothes 3 times in one day just to impress the student body? (I did.)

I was so superficial. Thank God they still liked me.

Teddy's gone now: the first of that dear circle of friends to die. The Advocate called with the news, sobbing, and we drove down to Texas to his memorial service, trying to tell his family how much he'd meant. All I could think about on the way back was, "Who's next?"

So it's important to me to try and get this crazy gang of alumni together so we can scour the yearbooks again, pointing to pictures and asking each other, "What ever happened to him? Who did she marry? Look at that outfit -- what were we thinking?"

All the while, never saying out loud, "I love you, you crazy bastards."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Fun with tornadoes

One of the benefits of living in Oklahoma is seeing beautiful sunsets and witnessing incredible bouts of weather. Last night we had some excitement after a tornado hit the El Reno airport, destroying a hangar and tossing some planes around like toys. As tornadoes go, this one was a gem: it was a cyclonic tornado, which means it spun backwards, a very rare phenomenon.

El Reno is only about 10 miles west of us, and when the sirens started going off, Sport ran into his bedroom like a shot, grabbed his beloved teddy bear and his OU football (autographed by the 2005 team and Coach Bob Stoops), and a favorite GI Joe. He was ready to head to the shelter. Although he was less than 2 years old, he still remembers the night of May 3, 1999, when an F5 tornado hit central Oklahoma. That evening, we got him and his brother up out of bed, grabbed our little mutt and raced to the storm shelter at a nearby church. When the dark clouds gather, he'd rather play it safe than be sorry.

LegoGuy, on the other hand, is less fearful of storms and tends to view them with a scientific eye. He's a lot like me: we love to watch the lightning displays and sit on the front porch watching the driving rain and exchanging weird weather facts. After storms, he will often hop on his bike and ride through the puddles, a huge grin splitting his face. “I could never get bored with rain!” he once said.

We ended up staying put. The weather system weakened, turning into a heavy downpour mixed with hail, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. I didn't relish the thought of spending the next hour in a dark church basement with crying children and barking dogs.

I get enough of that at home.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Brokeback heartbreak

As SO had to take the weekend off to heal up from his minor surgical procedure, I loaded up on movies checked out from our local library. One of the films I picked up was the much-hyped Brokeback Mountain. I was prepared to be disappointed. I didn't think it could possibly live up to all the buzz.

I was wrong.

It really got to me, this movie about two people caught up in an impossible, doomed relationship. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal touched me deeply as they became the characters of Ennis and Jack, young men drawn to each other against their own better judgement and dictates of society.

We watched half of it Saturday night. At church on Sunday morning, I couldn't focus on the sermon because I kept wondering what was going to happen in the movie. I've seen enough movies to get the pattern down -- I knew this kind of film would not end well. Tragedy was just around the corner. Which one of these cowboys was going to die? Were they both going to be murdered by a bloodthirsty mob? My stomach churned.

After lunch, with both kids safely involved in other things, SO and I sat down to finish the film. Lots of things were left unspoken, and the visual impact of the movie was left to the interpretation of the viewer. I'm pretty sure I would make a poor film critic because there's so much I miss. I watched several scenes many times over, and even downloaded the short story off the Internet to see what Annie Proulx had written. Maybe that would answer some of my burning questions.

My heart was broken.

When I watch a story this good, it's transcending. I'm lifted beyond what I have just seen and apply the lessons to the world around me. With the Constant Gardener, I reflected on human greed and the plight of the powerless against the powerful. In America found me sobbing over the responsibilities some children must shoulder in order to keep their families intact. Truly Madly Deeply left me devastated by the knowledge that death always wins, no matter how strong a love is shared, and that one must go on living as Pablo Neruda said so aptly in one of his poems.

What lessons did I take away from Brokeback Mountain? Some people are doomed to meet their kindred spirit in the body of another of the same sex, a coupling deemed unacceptable by society. Every moment shared brings with it the realization of how few moments there can actually be. If you refuse to apply a moral construct to this coupling, the tragedy is apparent and overwhelming.

SO and I wondered if the film would have had the same impact if the characters had been women, but women don't have the freedom to leave their families for weeks at a time in order to go "fishing" with a buddy.

I doubt there will be a Brokeback Mountain II: the Alma and Lureen story.

(Check out Eeyore's real life BBM story: Ennis and Jack and Junior and Tim.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The shadow child

I've seen him over the last few years, darting in and out of my consciousness. He stands off to the side, lost in the shadows. I can't quite see his face, but I know he has dark hair, and his eyes are so blue they look steel gray.

His name is Quinn. He's the child who will never be. As of 2 p.m. yesterday, we are out of the baby-making business. SO went in for a vasectomy and is resting uncomfortably in bed while I imagine our shadow child.

Having given birth to two boys, I can only assume our third would also have been a son. In listening to anecdotes from friends and co-workers, I know there's always one child in the family who makes all the wrong choices, takes the path less traveled, worries his parents into an early grave. In short, he's the bad seed. Quinn, I am certain, would have been that child.

Quinn would have been the one who stole my heart. His birth triggering a bout of postpartum depression from which it would take me six months to recover, I would have tried to make up for the guilt of not being there for him by overcompensating. He'd be given whatever he wanted. Instant gratification.

Flash forward.

Jealous, LegoGuy and Sport do whatever is in their power to make Quinn's childhood a living hell. And I do whatever is in my power to make Quinn happy. My marriage deteriorates. SO questions my irrational attachment to the child. Quinn steals money from my purse and his father's wallet. He gets in with the wrong crowd at school. He does poorly in all subjects and drops out at 16. A runaway, he comes back into our lives when he's 18, addicted to heroin. He begs us to help him, and we do. Again and again, we bail him out of difficult situations. At 26 he's still living at home. SO is fed up and threatens to leave, but I beg him to give the boy one more chance. He relents, but the stress catches up with him. My beloved husband dies at 69 from a massive heart attack. Quinn promises to take care of me, but ends up draining my savings account. When all the money is gone, he disappears. I'm left alone, sprawled on the kitchen floor with a broken hip ...

Maybe, after reading the above paragraphs, SO won't feel like a couple days of discomfort are such a bad deal. The thing is, he's having a hard time and I'm feeling pretty guilty. I'm the one who encouraged him to get the vasectomy, and yesterday was a long and difficult day. He's being a trooper about it, but when he read a list of the side effects from the antibiotic he's taking, we both got a little freaked out.

"Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, mouth sores, black hairy tongue..."

"Black hairy tongue?" I interrupted. "You are making that up!"

"Black hairy tongue," he insisted, showing me the paper that came with the prescription.

There it was, in print.

"What kind of radiation-soaked drug are they giving you? I mean, have you ever seen a human being with a black hairy tongue?"

We pondered that image.

It's been 16 hours and SO's feeling pretty crappy. I'm going in to check on him and see if there's anything I can get him. But it's a real challenge, communicating with his new black hairy tongue.

Friday, April 14, 2006

What fresh hell is this?

If asked which historical figure I would like to sit down to dinner with, one of the first women that comes to my mind is Dorothy Parker. She's one of those indomitable she-roes I wish I could have seen in action. Wouldn't it have been a kick, sitting near the Algonquin Roundtable, hearing her exchange insults with Robert Benchley and George S. Kaufman. "What fresh hell is this?" she'd ask as Alexander Woolcott dragged his bleary-eyed self over to order yet another drink.

I love that phrase. It comes to mind every evening at around 7:30. The clock ticks, heading inexorably to the deadline we've set for LegoGuy and Sport to start getting ready for bed.

All the parenting books we've read state emphatically that children need a good 10-12 hours of sleep each and every night. Or. They. Will. Not. Grow. Into. Decent. Human. Beings. That kid of your cousin's who stays up every night until 10 o'clock? Serial-killer in training. The infant who only sleeps in the daytime, but giggles with joy half the night? Baby Hitler.

SO and I established a bedtime routine when LegoGuy was in first grade, and during the school year, we follow that routine to the letter -- without fail. And without fail, the boys test the boundaries every single night.

7:25. I start eyeballing the clock with dread.
7:26. Sport asks, "Can I go outside and play?"
7:28. LegoGuy remembers he left something in the van.
7:29. SO retrieves him from the garage. He's been distracted by a G.I. Joe.
7:30. I tell the boys to take a shower.
7:31. Both boys are wrestling in the living room. One is poked in the eye. Accusations and excuses fly.
7:35. SO yells.
7:40. Sport is finally in the shower. LegoGuy rushes to the other shower in order to turn on the hot water and steal it from Sport. There is lots of screaming as the hot water fluctuates.
8:01. I force Sport to get out of the shower. He resists. 6 inches of water cover the bathroom floor.
8:05. SO forces LegoGuy out of the shower. Wet towels and clothes remain on the floor. Again.
8:10. Dripping wet and naked, both boys try to tell us about something that happened at school that neither would divulge while we quizzed them during dinner.
8:15. Both are asked to comb their hair. Again.
8:20. Sudden onslaught of hunger pangs -- both rush to the kitchen to eat a bowl of cereal.
8:25. Both are asked to brush their teeth. There is a tussle in the bathroom. One has his ribcage slammed into the doorknob. More accusations and excuses.
8:30. In the bedroom, but not yet in bed. Arguments over what kind of music to listen to.
8:35. More heated exchanges from bedroom. I close their door to muffle the sound.
8:45. Exhausted, SO and I stare into space.
9:00. Sport is asleep. The sound of legos being played with disturbs our somnambulence.
9:01. We put in a DVD.
9:05. LegoGuy appears with a question.
9:06. SO yells.
9:07. LegoGuys disappears.
9:15. Peace.

Of course, each night brings its own subtleties and nuances. The boys take the art of stalling to another level. They are stall masters. Each night is its own fresh hell.

It's a good thing they look so adorable while they sleep, or I'd just let them stay up all night.

But I guess the world doesn't need any more baby Hitlers.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Don't fear the Reaper, fear the reaping

I have been intimate with the porcelain throne. I woke at 2 a.m. with one thought sounding urgently in my brain, "I am going to throw up." And I did ... repeatedly. Stretched out in the hallway in front of the bathroom door, I had time on my hands between bouts of serious retching to reflect on just how crappy it is to be sick. I didn't have the energy to get myself a blanket, so I shivered on the carpet until LegoGuy stepped over me to go the bathroom, somewhere around 3 o'clock, and then brought me a blanket and a pillow.

Think about what it means when someone says to you, "Well, at least you have your health." It is a truly profound statement, and can only be fully appreciated while in the throes of a 24-hour virus.

The day before, I'd listened to a moving story about a young woman who lost her husband to a brain tumor. She'd watched him change from a loving and gentle man to a violent, verbally-abusive stranger. After battling the tumor for a year, he died, and she was glad. Yet, there on my carpeted pallet, I thought about him. What a hellish existence, the gradual loss of self, the theft of his ability to speak, recognizing fear in the eyes of his wife and children, and having to depend on them at the end for his basic needs.

"If I had a brain tumor, would you take a rock and crush my skull?" I asked SO later, when I was finally feeling a little better.

"No, but I might smother you with a pillow."

"What about injecting an air bubble into my veins? Would that feel like indigestion?" But he wanted to read more than he wanted to discuss possible end-of-life solutions.

I've never been afraid of death, but I am afraid of the process of dying. I hate the thought of having to depend on someone to bring me a cup of ice chips or to make me a bowl of soup. I don't want to rely upon the kindness of strangers to give me a sponge bath or feed me a bit of jello. When it's my time, I want it over with in a heartbeat.

This is why I am embracing a recent diagnosis of high cholesterol. Both of my parents have high cholesterol. I've inherited it from them. Instead of correcting it by diet or drug, I coddle it and nickname it Clara. Clara is my ticket out of here -- look out massive heart attack, here I come!

Unless the polar ice caps melt first. I'm not that strong a swimmer.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

You win some, you win some

I've never been very competitive. Except when playing Scrabble, it doesn't really bother me to lose. As I've said in a previous post, I like it when my kids win, but I don't push, cajole, threaten or harrass them to be the best. I'd never make a good stage mom.

When LegoGuy was in kindergarten, he joined a soccer team. I was mortified by the actions of hyper-competitive parents, overzealous souls who would scream at their six-year-old from the sidelines and reduce the child to tears. "Do you want to eat dinner tonight? Then get in there and kick that ball. Make a goal, dammit!"

We didn't stay with that league very long. I was afraid LegoGuy was going to be dragged off the field after he was seen chasing butterflies near the other goalie's box.

Which is why I was so uncomfortable at WA Sport's District Achievement Auditions. He had to play a piece in order to qualify for State. I ran into the mother of one of his piano classmates.

"I hear your son is quite a prodigy," she began, eyeballing Sport. "Ms. Melody says she can't keep up with him. Learns the music as fast as she gives it to him."

"He does love to play," I admitted.

"I saw he was picked to go to the Weatherford Competition. I asked Ms. Melody why my boy wasn't picked to go. He's been taking piano a year longer than Sport. We're paying for hour and half lessons, after all."

"Well, we've got a pretty good practice schedule worked out..." I began, but she thrust her son's sheet music at Sport.

"This is what he's playing. Have you ever played it?"

Sport eyed it, quickly making an assessment. "Nope. That's too easy for me."

I groaned inwardly. "Now, Sport, that's not true," I tried to cover for his lack of tact. At that moment, up strolled her son. She turned to him and said sharply, "Sport says this piece is too easy for him. What do you think about that?" The poor child blushed and shrugged his shoulders. What do you say when your mother humiliates you in front of casual acquaintances?

Sport's name was called by the proctor, and he hurried into the music room to perform for the judge. I thought perhaps Stage Mom would leave us alone, but she wasn't done yet. "I'm just going to listen at the door," she said to me with a crocodile smile. She took the place that was rightfully mine, pressing her ear to the wooden frame and spying through the narrow glass window.

What can I say? My kiddo played perfectly. He scored a I+, the highest that can be made. He's going to State!

Stage Mom grabbed her son and disappeared out the door. I'm not sure he had a good afternoon.

I hope this isn't going to develop into some kind of rivalry. Not between the boys, but between their mothers.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Ants go marching one by one

One of the benefits of cultivating an eco-friendly lawn is the creation of a healthy eco-system. It's also one of the downsides. Once all the toxic chemicals have been purged from the grass, insects return. They frolic, lay eggs, visit flowers, die. That's when the trashman cometh.

Our home has been invaded by ants, those friendly sanitation workers of the natural world. They started off by congregating in the kitchen. Next, they were seen dancing across the wood floors. Finally, they were sighted washing up in the bathroom.

I have a particular fondness for ants. In elementary school, I was on a first-name basis with a colony of fire ants. They would wait for me on the playground. During lunch recess, I would hurry out to throw them the crusts from my pressed-ham & mustard sandwich. They were always happy to see me. Convinced of their loyalty to me, I believed I could easily sit in the middle of the ant bed -- unbitten.

I never tested my theory.

SO, on the other hand, is not fond of ants. Grabbing a can of Raid, he attacks the platoons of raiding scouts with nary a twinge of conscience. He spent an entire afternoon last week battling the kitchen brigade. I sympathized, but part of me felt bad for those industrious fellows.

Until Saturday morning, when I had to empty all the pantry shelves and engage the little buggers in my own hellish wargames.

This week, I'm able to crush them with a thumbnail without a second thought. We are so consumed with getting them out of the house that we're seeing ants everywhere: on the paneling, crawling on the bedspread, on Sport's leg, in LegoGuy's hair. It's even more creepy to actually find one in a weird and unsettling place: one was crawling on my chin last night.

In looking for an environmentally-friendly way to uninvite the ants, I came across a home remedy that incorporates baby powder. Apparently they don't like scented talcum. Also, they won't cross a line of cayenne pepper. I'm willing to try this first before calling an exterminator.

But if I find another one of those suckers on any part of my body, I'm calling out the weapons of mass destruction.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

We're havin' us a wedding!

My boss is getting married again. A widow, she put herself out there and snagged a younger man. Last week she was weeping over the six-month anniversary of her husband's death. Three days later she was engaged.

Even more horrifying, she's planning a "semi-formal" afternoon wedding. Will she wear a white lace dress, cut to reveal the small of her back? Possibly. Will she have an entourage of attendants dressed in frothy organza? No doubt. Will I take part in her special day? Absolutely not.

I think we are all entitled to planning one over-the-top, no-holds-barred nuptial celebration. But only one. After that initial dew-eyed, naive walk into marital bliss, another wedding side-show should be barred by law. It's one thing to look on with hope as a 20-something couple ties the knot and promises to live together "till death us do part." It's quite another to watch your thrice-married cousin don yet another off-the-rack satin gown and embarrass herself in front of a church full of cynics.

I came to this conclusion about five years ago. Clothed in a lavender, tea-length dress, I stood up as bridesmaid for a co-worker who inexplicably asked me to be in her wedding. It was her second marriage. I was baffled by the request, but touched as well. I had no idea she considered me her best "work friend."

Later, I found out she only wanted me up there because I was skinny and I "clean up real good."

It was a disaster. She kept us all waiting for nearly half an hour. The pastor mumbled throughout the ceremony; no one could understand a word he said. Another bridesmaid was blistering in her criticism of the bride and her getup. One of the flower girls acted up and was mercilessly whupped in front of the entire congregation.

"If I get out of this alive," I thought, knees locked with fatigue as the ceremony dragged on, "I will never do weddings again."

I can honestly say I have not gone to another wedding since. To be honest, I haven't ruled them out completely; I'll make an exception should the need arise. Where else can you watch the bride's veil catch fire from the flame of the unity candle, or a groomsman throw up all over the photographer's shoes, or hear a song sung that celebrates the joys of premarital sex? That's some hilarious stuff.

But I'm sitting this wedding out.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

"I got you something..."

The first birthday present I remember getting from SO was a novelty cartoon t-shirt purchased from Sound Warehouse. We were 10 months into our relationship: he was new to dating; I was used to getting dumped. At that time, he didn't realize how much women read into gifts. Pulling it out of its plastic bag, my face must have given away my alarm. Was I the kind of girl who could be wooed by a George Jetson portrait, inked in flourescent pink and green? We laugh about it now, but then it caused a huge and ridiculous argument.

The art of giving gifts is fraught with peril. I schemed for months to surprise SO with an aquarium for Christmas, tricking him into thinking he was getting a new CD player in order to be certain of his total and complete surprise. The fish tank fell flat -- apparently the idea of new electronics far outweighed his desire to be an aquarist.

Who hasn't been on the receiving end of poor gift choices? God bless'em, most of our family members don't know how to shop for us. SO will never forget the time he got a box from my mother that was completely empty. His lastest Christmas present from my parents was a thrift-store shirt, complete with stain. I once got a gift of clothes hangers. They were padded, but I couldn't work up much enthusiasm.

I don't want to disparage anyone's good intentions. Buying a gift for anyone over the age of 12 is difficult. It's easy to buy for kids: they love everything. When babies, they even love boxes and the wrapping paper. I don't really feel the need for gifts. I'd rather not get one than be given something that was thrown together at the last minute. As I've gotten older, my desire to own things has dampened. Sure, I love to sink my money into plants and garden hardscape, but I no longer have the need to wear the latest fashions. I don't care what kind of car I drive as long as it's paid for. I like having a little house because it requires the least amount of furniture. SO's the same way.

He's gotten much better about gift giving as time goes by. He surprised me with an American Girls doll the year I moaned that I didn't have any little girls to dress. Bought me leather-bound volumes of my favorite books. Purchased and assembled an enormous swing made of logs before I got home from work one day.

I think BN LegoGuy is following in his father's footsteps. He came home from the Medieval Fair on Saturday bearing gifts: replicas of ancient coins for Sport, a hand-tooled leather wallet for his dad, and a tortoise pendant for me.

"I got you something for your birthday," he told me, draping it around my neck.

I love turtles, and the fact that he remembered this really touched me. But what really got me was the fact that he'd bought me a present with his own money. His dad didn't tell him to, no one prompted him to do it. He just did it.

(Flashback to all those handmade cards, beads strung on yarn, handprints in plaster, ash trays, pencil holders.)

He's kind. He's generous. And he loves his Mama.

I think I'll keep him.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Death by raptor

It was a glorious weekend to be gardening. In between shuttling Sport to soccer and LegoGuy to the Medieval Fair in Norman, I managed to put in a few good hours of hard landscaping labor on Saturday. Thanks to SO, I had a sod-free patch ready and waiting for weed barrier, sand, and pavestones. I paid for it later, though, since every muscle and bone ached through the night. I did not sleep well.

SO doesn't get the obsession. Those who neither garden nor have any inclination to garden can't understand the compulsion to get outside and change the contours of the land. SO's a computer guy, happiest when he's solving some tricky technology problem. But since he can't handle seeing me perched on top of a shovel, trying to break through Oklahoma clay, I'm lucky in that he will offer his help for things I'm not physically able to do. He's a reluctant gardener, to be sure.

Last night we visited best pals Eeyore and Willa (so named in honor of being her being a scholar of William Morris, the subject of her PhD. dissertation). She gardens; he does not. Willa and I spent awhile talking about how much we love our favorite hobby.

Why do we garden? For me, it's partly spiritual, partly Zen. I love taking care of my patch of ground, nourishing it organically without chemicals or pesticides. I'm able to leave it for weeks at a time and it utters not a peep. No shrill demands, no cries of distress. It merely sits there with the patience of a Buddha. I can filter out all external pressures and focus on the task at hand. My mind stops racing and I'm able to relax. Sure, there's lots to do if I want to: weeding, pruning, carting off dead branches and leaves, composting, mulching, adding more flower beds, planning a vegetable patch. The key is this: I do what I want to do. If I don't want to do it, I don't have to. I have complete and utter control in the garden.

I'm hoping I'll die there. Puttering about, still spry for a woman in her 80s, I pray that I'll keel over from a massive heart attack. It will be a few days before my grandkids discover their Granny, swaddled in a patch of daisies, eyes pecked out by a pair of red-tailed hawks, a Mona Lisa smile on my dessicated lips.

That would be a good death.