Monday, July 21, 2014

10 Things Every Divorced Person Over 40 Knows (About the Next Relationship)

I just finished reading this sweet and empowered article on HuffPost called 10 Things Only People Over 30 Know About Dating, chuckled at some points and shook my head at others. This piece inspired me to think about what I know about relationships at 44, after being married for 10 years (1997-2007), and experiencing probably the kindest, most undramatic divorce ever. It lacked so much drama that we remain friends to this day. But to my point. I fancy myself a bit wiser now than I was in my 20s and 30s, and I certainly have the psychological battle scars to support that hard-won attitude. As I was reading this HuffPost piece, I realized that what I now know about being in a relationship after being married, and then single for four years, and then dating a bit before finding the perfect man for me, will probably sound very familiar to anyone else who is in this position. To the list!

10. You both have ingrained attitudes and ideas that will not change. This is the one that my love and I butt heads about all the time, but we always recover because in the end, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that we disagree about politics or see the world through different lenses. In the end, we honor each other's experiences and accept that our differences stem from a lifetime of experience - a lifetime that, until relatively recently, didn't include both of us. There is no need to compromise on what we each know - expecting to change your partner's mind or expecting compromise is an exercise in futility and a complete waste of energy - we simply have to acknowledge and accept our partner's hard-won wisdom as legitimate. Suddenly, with this shared mindset, it's easy to laugh off and forgive statements that would have set off World War III in our 20s. Because in the end, those ideas and attitudes don't (and shouldn't) affect how you treat each other day to day.

9. You both have limitations and must accept this. Perhaps this is just a function of physically aging, but limitations come in all forms and can be frustrating to deal with. If your partner has a limitation that you find frustrating, no good will come from anger or a lack of acceptance. You both have limitations and must accept each other's limitations without judgment. Find a way to make it work because there is more to your partner than those limitations.

8. You must see beneath the surface. Being physically attracted to your mate is important, yes, but striving for an unrealistic laundry list of surface attributes is a surefire way to miss out on someone wonderful. When my honey and I met online, I found the photo of him in Grundens holding a large dead fish quite intriguing because I am also an angler. But many women wouldn't have even clicked onto his profile because of that picture. And thank goodness they didn't. Because he is so much more than a guy who fishes. He is funny, and my intellectual equal to the point of beating me quite frequently at Scrabble. He writes well, loves experiencing adventures with me, and tries to understand all of my ingrained attitudes and ideas. If you look at our physical forms, you would see a 44 year old woman and a 47 (almost 48) year old man who both look like they enjoy eating out entirely too much and who probably never go to the gym - how shameful! Not. Physical appearance really isn't everything. In fact, it becomes secondary very quickly. Seeing beneath the surface opens a whole world of joy, comfort, acceptance, love, and generosity that just is not available to those who stay on the surface.

7. Together, you should form the calm at the center of life's storms. This is something I didn't understand when I was married. But I get it now. It is so vitally important that your relationship be the calm center - it must not be the storm itself. When shitty people damage you, when systems beat you down, when family turns on you, when everything goes haywire-screwy, the one person you should always, without question or fail, be able to turn to for help, advice, comfort, and calmness, is your partner. If your partner adds stress to your life, then that isn't the right partner for you. Find the one you want to run to when life goes wonky. Find the one who soothes your spirit when the world crushes you. It makes all the difference.

6. Compromise is non-negotiable. I know I just said that ingrained attitudes and ideas will not be compromised, and that still stands. The compromise I'm referring to is the daily, weekly, monthly, yearly decisions that you will face together. You must both be willing to compromise and give in to the other. When this comes from a place of love and understanding, no one loses. Sometimes I give in because I know the activity is something he will truly love. Sometimes he gives in because he knows how much I want that experience. In the end, all of the compromises balance out and you both get exactly what you want: A willing partner.

5. It is important to share your dreams, goals, and plans for the future. The big goals and plans that you each have as individuals should be shared as soon into the relationship as possible (maybe even while dating) because you'll want to know if your goals and plans are compatible and there is no conflict. For instance, if I wanted to move to Boise, Idaho for a job and he was unable to pick up and go, that's an important conversation to have. Compromise will likely come into play here, but being secretive about your plans and goals is a bad idea. Plus, sharing means you have a great chance of finding shared dreams and goals, and nothing is sweeter than planning to achieve those together.

4. Respect each other's independence. You are both fully formed adults with histories and experiences that make you who you are today. You both have homes, possibly mortgages, hobbies, friends, and careers that were formed and in place well before you met. Nobody likes to be told what to do or how to live, least of all after being independent for so many years. Respect each other's independence, while looking forward to and enjoying every moment you do spend together.

3. Be interested in your partner's life and interests. This seems like a no-brainer, but it is something that I learned a long time ago and it remains important in relationships. You cannot be selfish and self-centered, expecting your partner to bend to your interests all the time. You really need to not just participate in your partner's interests and activities, but do so wholeheartedly without misgivings. If your partner senses that you are just going along to appease and to bide your time, this will cause heartache and disharmony down the line. Better to jump in with both feet and just go for it so that your partner will return the favor.

2. Have the hard conversations. Oh boy, this is something that I still think about from when I was married. So many hard conversations that we either never had or didn't have enough. It is a mistake to avoid difficult subjects with the person you love and trust. You must be willing to trust your partner with your vulnerability, your fears, and your deepest truths. Hard conversations come in all subjects and at our age, it sometimes involves discussing health care directives, power of attorney, and death (of family members, of ourselves) and sometimes it involves discussing increasing physical limitations or sex. Myriad subjects can fall into this "hard conversation" category, but whatever the subject, you owe it to yourself and to each other to delve deeply together. You will emerge with an even stronger bond.

1. Live fearless, together. Hesitating, allowing fear to stop you from trying something, or listening to voices from the past (usually parents) in your head telling you not to do something are the best ways to avoid living your life. This fearfulness can be especially dangerous in a relationship because sharing new experiences together is not only incredibly fun, but also strengthens your relationship. When opportunities arise, agree readily and try new activities together to tap into unbridled joy, excitement, and a storehouse of bright memories that will slowly darken past relationship experiences into harmless shadows.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why I'm a Feminist

My dad made me a feminist.

Before you get all proud and happy about enlightened maleness, let me explain.

My honey and I stopped at my parents' place on our return trip from Voyageurs National Park and it was not good. Being off the grid for a week meant that I missed the whole #yesallwomen phenomenon and the crime that inspired it, but I find this hashtag and its attendant backlash very interesting because of my own situation.

My dad does not accept me for who I am. I suspect that he never has. My choices are never right, my decisions are wrong, and my opinions are irrelevant. I'm actually not sure if any parent anywhere has the ability and willingness to accept their kids the way they are, but I have many friends with kids now and they certainly seem to accept their kids as they are...but you never know what goes on in the home. My story is a case in point.

Every time my friends have met my parents, for my whole life, they always come away impressed with my folks' vigor, energy, and kindness. My parents are great in public. But you know that idea about public face versus private face? Yeah. Well.

Here's an example of what goes on to this day when I am in my parents' home:

Dad starts talking about how a CA town needs to take water from somewhere in another state or they'll go dry. I mention that's been done before, how it's not a good idea for the people living in the place where the water is, and...

Dad stands up and cuts me off with a loud and vehement, "I don't want to hear any of your liberal crap!"

I turn my head and stare at my honey and my mom, who gently scolds dad's comment. I'm used to being silenced by my dad. He's been trying to silence me my entire life.

I proceed anyway and explain the story of the Hetch-Hetchy Valley, how John Muir fought to keep the valley from being flooded to provide San Francisco with water, and how devastating that dam was to the ecosystem in the Yosemite region. I then attempt to bring up the Glen Canyon Dam, which now blocks the Colorado River from flowing freely, that was installed to create a recreation area as well as to provide electricity for the region.

Dad's getting angrier and angrier and as per usual, starts yelling about how I don't know what I'm talking about and on and on and on.

I am a feminist because the example of male behavior I grew up with showed me that men control, dominate, and silence women.

During this same visit, I asked my parents if we could please have a half gallon of gas - they have several five gallon cans in the shed full of gasoline - and we arrived with the low fuel light on. It was Memorial Day and they live five miles from the nearest gas station, so I figured taking a half gallon would guarantee we would not get stuck on the way to get gas in the morning. I offered to pay for it, too.

Mom said yes.

Dad said no. Because he didn't want to have to drive that five miles to fill up that lost half gallon.

He would rather me run out of gas and get stuck on the side of a remote mountain road than give or sell me a half gallon of gas.

In the morning, I whispered to my mom: "Let's go out to the shed so I can get that gas."

She said, to my horror, "I dare not override your father."

Shocked and appalled, I whispered, "He'll never know! Don't tell him, just let's go."

True to her word, she went over to the dining room table, where my dad was talking to my honey, and interrupted them to ASK if she could give me a half gallon of gas. I was on my way out the front door, and just heard my dad protesting mightily. I shut the door and walked out to the shed. Mom joined me and I tried handing her a five dollar bill. She declined it and said, "I'm not like Dad."

"Good thing, or I'd never be here," I said.

The worst part of the visit was shortly after we had arrived the night before. We were sitting in the living room and Mom announced that they would not be coming to my annual summer party this year. My dad then took over and gave only one reason - they would rather stay home.

This weekend, they are traveling to visit two different sets of friends in SC and GA.

But they don't want to drive across the state to attend my family and friend party that I've put on each summer, usually around my birthday in July, because I just enjoy being surrounded by the people I care about.

Evidently, that's not enough. Dad would rather stay home than come to my party and see me.

To say I'm insulted is an understatement.

And to show how serious their plan to remain home is, my mom gave me my birthday present right then and there. On Memorial Day.

As we left, it occurred to me that my Dad must love me because I'm his daughter, but he definitely doesn't like me. He never asked me anything during our visit or addressed me directly, except to yell at me to be quiet.

I left home at 18 because of this. I am a feminist because of this.

I am also a feminist because my Mom can't be. I really listened during our visit and almost every sentence that came out of her mouth deferred to my dad: He wants, he likes, he doesn't want, he doesn't like. I wanted so badly to ask my mom, in my dad's presence, what does SHE want? But I know her answer because I've asked her before. She would say, "It's just easier this way." And if I asked in his presence, there would have been a fight, as usual. For my mom, it's easier to just cater to my dad's every whim because of the stressful misery her life becomes when she doesn't.

I'm a feminist because my mom has spent most of her adult life serving a man who sees fit to insult, be mean, and silence both her and her daughter whenever he feels like it and then acts like it's our fault - we brought it on - it's not him, it's us.

The repercussions of this reality still affect me today. I have tried, very hard, to NOT look at men like the enemy - but I do not have a healthy relationship with men. Even my honey now, whom I trust and who has done more for me than any man ever has, and who is NOTHING like my father, feels the brunt of my unintended reactions. Every suggestion is a sharp criticism in my damaged brain. When he told me this weekend that he might as well change his name to my dad's name because that's how I treat him, I felt this comment like a punch to the solar plexus. I was devastated all over again and remained upset all night.

My dad never beat me, and always provided financial security, but he did damage me. He's kind and outgoing to my cousin, his friends, my friends, but he is not kind and outgoing to me. Not only do I feel disrespected, I also feel so very sad. Because this is my reality and even when he's gone, I will still have to deal with the consequences.

That's why I'm a feminist.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"The immortal truth and beauty of Nature"

John Muir, a writer and one of the most significant environmental activists in the United States (we have him to thank for Yosemite National Park), wrote passionately about wildness and wilderness, plants and mountains, creatures large and tiny, and above all, the inherent value of Nature. Although he wasn't necessarily focused on the cultivated landscapes of gardens, his words and ideas inform my attitude and approach toward both national parks and my own garden, which is certainly cultivated, planned, and constructed, but not fussy and precise. My own natural space may be a pale comparison to the grandeur and scale of such parks as Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Glacier, but it brings me a similar feeling of contentment and perspective. I came across this quote today from Muir's essay, "Cedar Keys:" 

"I joyfully return to the immortal truth and immortal beauty of Nature."

Recently, I've been working hard to install new beds for squash and melons, as well as planting hundreds of zinnia, sunflower, and marigold seeds, and new shade plants to replace the ones killed by the arctic blast this winter. Yesterday, I finished the planting and sat down to enjoy the results of my labors. As I sat still and observed, I felt compelled to write about what I saw and heard:

Fat, industrious black and gold bumblebees buzz loudly from dying flower to dying flower on the nearly spent pale pink azalea. Two other azaleas crowd nearby, sill lush and heavy with firm, open blossoms in white and fuschia, but the dying pink flowers must be sweeter for they hold the bees' attention the most. Zinnia and marigold sprouts show two, four, six leaves, ornamental grasses now feature more thirsty green than dry hay-colored remnants of last season's growth, and the Dutch Irises rise above the rock wall in defiance of last year's harsh chewing abuse by the local groundhog. The oak leaf hydrangea dangles dried brown flowers while sporting crowns of sage green leaves from nearly the same spot on each branch. Clematis vines grow rapidly at this time of year, seemingly inches a day, as the sun heats up and the wind softens. 

Robins, cardinals, catbirds, sparrows, hawks, crows, and buzzards all make appearances on land and in the air under a blue sky whispered with streaks of white clouds. Bullfrogs harumph deep resonances from the creek out back. The first mosquitoes follow me inside, smelling dinner. The Russian Sage looks dead and dry, but on each thin stalk and branch, silvery green lace stands tall, and the raspberry and blackberry canes are growing so vigorously, they seem like an advertisement for organic gardening. 

The garden is alive. Lush, vibrant, and healthy. I look forward to witnessing its changes each day, for there is always something new to see, smell, hear, or experience. This tranquil oasis bursting with color, texture, and life brings me back to me. A needed reminder that petty human behavior is like so much pollen blowing out of the trees - hardly worth noticing even though it makes you miserable for a short time, because in the end, the pollen washes away, leaving the constancy of nature - something greater and worth more than the minor temporary annoyance caused by the blowing pollen. 

It may not be a national park, but my garden helps me understand what Muir meant when he wrote about joyfully returning to the immortal truth and beauty of Nature. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

World’s Shortest (Feminist) Fairy Tale

So this "delightful" meme is showing up all over social media, shared by men who find it amusing, laugh-out-loud funny, and completely harmless:

And therein lies the problem. Memes and ideas such as these are not harmless, are not delightful, and are not funny because misogyny. Doubters should read this fine definition on that reviled (and yet relied-upon) site, Wikipedia: Misogyny. Hating women does extend to such "harmless silliness" represented by this meme (one of many women-hating memes, trust me.) Hating women is ubiquitous and continues unabated. Just watch this latest takedown of Bill O'Reilly by two of his female guests AND Stephen Colbert over Hillary Clinton's potential run for the White House in 2016: 

Instead of ranting on about why misogyny and anti-women memes, and misogynistic ideas are a problem, I simply offer this counternarrative. Enjoy.

World’s Shortest (Feminist) Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, a guy asked a girl, “Will you marry me?”

The girl said, “No!”

And the girl, who was really not a girl, but a young woman of 21, lived happily ever after in a home she purchased with her own money, earned from the career that she carved out with her creativity and intelligence and networking skills, went hiking and camping and fishing and to theatre shows and art galleries and museums and she ate gourmet dinners and fine wines and traveled and read books and widened her circle of friends every year and hired a cleaning service to keep her house clean so that she could enjoy even more of life, and enjoyed the company of men whenever she wanted until she chose a different path.

The End, which is not really an end, but more of a new beginning.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What First Year Composition Isn't

My three-year term as the University Writing Center Director is coming to a close in May and I find myself filled with emotions. So many unexpected things have happened during my time as director and I've learned so much about people, managing, administration, and negotiating expectations. As a result, I have so much to say, but I will just end my time in this position by sharing some knowledge that has been reinforced for me over and over again during the past three years. It has been quite the ride. With this, I bid adieu to the Writing Center and wish my successor and all of the tutors the very best wishes for a successful operation.

What First Year Composition (FYC) Isn't

FYC is not the training ground for other disciplines. Bio and Psych and Soc and Business and Art (etc) profs who want their students to know HOW to write Bio and Psych and Soc and Business and Art (etc) research papers should dedicate class time to teaching that type of discipline-specific writing. Why on earth is this such a hard concept to grasp? It is infuriating to those of us who try to teach freshmen the basics about how to write at a college level in 15 weeks. We are not multi-disciplinary experts and do NOT teach students how to write in every discipline.

FYC is not the dumping ground for complaints about student writing readiness in the disciplines. While there are research projects generally required in FYC, they vary and may delve into the creative, digital, and multimodal realms instead of remaining locked into one rigid disciplinary style. And guess what? That teaches students flexibility as they learn how to navigate different audiences, different medium expectations, and different rhetorical choices.

The lessons of FYC may not be retained by college students two, three, and four years after they've taken the class. In fact, when students leave FYC, if they do not receive regular writing instruction along with subject studies, they will lose the ability to write coherently and cohesively with research as well as anecdotes. Writing, like any skill, must be PRACTICED.

FYC is not the Holy Grail of writing instruction. It is the rough and ready basic training to get students in shape to continue learning additional writing skills and techniques at the college level. But when those additional lessons are not forthcoming because the other disciplines don't want to spend the time teaching students HOW to write in those disciplines, then the students will not do well. They don't know how to write in those disciplines because no one has taught them how.

FYC is not enough. Fifteen weeks is not enough time to fully train student writers. Fifteen weeks is barely enough time to get them on board. When they leave us, we know what they are walking in to - classes that tell them they must write, but don't explain how. Assignments that ask them to incorporate research in specific ways that they may have never encountered before, but no one is bothering to stop and teach them how to do so in that discipline. Students need more time to develop as writers across the disciplines, and they need the practical instruction of their professors IN those disciplines. Students do not come pre-loaded with disciplinary writing knowledge and it appalls me that there are profs out there who expect this.

FYC is not the enemy. Too many professors and administrators across colleges and disciplines turn their noses up at composition, the professionals who teach this difficult and varied subject, and the students who successfully complete the course. The time for nose turning is over. Enough with the snobbery and unrealistic expectations. Our students come from such immensely varied backgrounds with different levels of experience with writing - some have never written a research paper in high school and have no idea what that even means - others have written advanced research projects that synthesize multiple authors' perspectives. And these two students sit side by side in one of our classes. We must navigate a middle ground between them so that they both learn something. And we do a damn good job of it.

Now, go thank a composition professor, and continue about your day. :)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

An Open Letter to Student Writers (of All Ages)

Dear student writers,

You may already be rolling your eyes at yet another "older, wiser" adult trying to give you advice. I understand because that's what I would have done at your age. The reason I write to you now, however, really is important. It's about your voice and your writing style. First, let me tell you a story.

When I was a sophomore in high school, my English teacher handed back one of my essays with a D on it. As a strong writer from a young age, I was angry. I approached my teacher and asked her why she graded my work with a D? She explained that I wrote the essay wrong, in the wrong tone, in the wrong voice. But I write in my voice, I said, and I included everything you asked for. She shook her head and said, you wrote the wrong way. I advocated for my own voice and was told that I was wrong.

I took the essay to my parents and explained what had happened. To their credit, they have always encouraged my creative expression and individuality in all forms, especially writing, so they set up a meeting with my teacher. The principal attended. I was not present, but they advocated for my voice and because they were adults who knew the words to use, I ended up with a B and a raft of dirty looks from that teacher for the rest of the school year.

That was the moment I understood that there would always be people who disliked my writing voice. But I am stubborn enough to use it anyway. And decades later, when I decided to become a writing professor, that moment rushed back into my mind and I was angry all over again. Never would I make any of my students feel that their writing voices, styles, and choices were wrong.

So that's the takeaway for you. I'm sure you've been told by one or more teachers that you are writing something wrong. If we're talking grammar and spelling and punctuation - easily discovered and fixed errors - that's different. I'm willing to bet that you've heard a teacher tell you that you are writing something the wrong way simply because you chose a different path, a different subject, or a different tone or approach. Perhaps you were trying to infuse a boring litany of facts with some life with an anecdote of personal experience and ended up with a D because you strayed too far outside the rubric's boundaries.

Sometimes, the consequences of advocating for your own voice will be bad grades. In my Master's program, I took a hideous course on James Joyce. I can hear the reverberations of complaints as academics and writers read that phrase "hideous course on James Joyce" because for some reason people love him. Fine. I don't. I'm not a particular fan of Faulkner either. So there. Back to my story. I took this course because I needed a course and that was the only one available, so I struggled through and tried very hard to learn something. Sadly, I suffered then and suffer to this day from Eyerollitis, a low Bullshit tolerance, and Whisperedasideaxis, which means I wasn't the professor's favorite. My final research project was A-level work, but earned a B because he didn't like my attitude. Fair enough. So much for a perfect 4.0. Sometimes you gladly take the consequences just to be yourself.

When it comes to writing, no one has the right to dictate the terms of your creativity, or contain the exuberance of your voice. We get this so wrong in education. What we need in this world is more voices, different voices, unique perspectives, not more of the same, cookie-cutter writers writing the same way about the same subjects ad nauseam.

Please remember this. Remember that whether you are 13 or 16 or 18 or 22, your voice is your own, your style is your own, and your voice is valuable and right just the way it is, as it is. Make sure you hit all of the grammatical correctness issues - proofread carefully and construct confidently - but we need more writers to break down the barriers and push through the boundaries. And although I am loathe to admit it, James Joyce broke those barriers with aplomb, and so did Faulkner. I admire those writers for their willingness to take chances, leap into the unknown with vigor, and flout conventionality. I strive to do the same with my own work and try very hard to help my students see the value of their own words.

Write from your soul. Write what is true and real. Write fearlessly. And don't be afraid when someone, a teacher, a parent, a friend, doesn't like what you've written - it's too unsettling, it's too sad, it's too angry, it's too unfamiliar. Good. Make people uncomfortable. Make us think. Make us wonder. Make those people who say you aren't writing right sit back in wonder as you start to succeed.

Don't let anyone else dictate your voice and you will go far.

- Dr. M.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Eight true confessions of a garden dreamer

Confession #1: I just spent $80 on zinnia seeds. But with names like Raspberry Lemonade, Queen Red Lime, White Wedding, and Zaraha Double Fire, how could I resist? :) Ok, so it wasn't the names that got me. It was the color and size varieties. I've decided to focus almost exclusively on zinnias this year as my annuals, which means no big box store or nursery petunias, lobelia, or other potted flowering annual standards for the back yard and most of my pots. That's my gardener logic - I'm spending more on seeds because I'll spend less on potted annuals later.

Oh, who am I kidding.

Hello, my name is Amanda and I'm addicted to my garden.

Confession #2: I'm creating a new garden bed this year just for squash and melons. Last year, the acorn and spaghetti squash took over my main 10' x 14' planting bed, along with the heirloom purple pole beans and sweet potatoes. If you walked by that bed in late July, you would not have known that there were pepper and tomato plants lurking in there. I must have done something right with the soil because everything did really well in that small space, crowding problems aside. But this year, I am DETERMINED to do better. I suspect all gardeners share this sickness.

Confession #3: I miss Paul James, The Gardener Guy. I love to cook, so I enjoy watching cooking shows for relaxation and education. I also read Food & Wine magazine and cookbooks, but sometimes, I just want to kick back with a lemonade and watch some cooking shows and dream. Same thing with gardening. I love to garden. Having my first home means having space for gardens - flowers, perennials, vegetables, fruit, shrubs, and trees. I read gardening books, web sites, and blogs. What I don't have is a good gardening show. Victory Garden on PBS is ok, but it's not on all the time and isn't the kind of hands-on show I'm looking for. I wish #HGTV would either resuscitate The Gardener Guy, or create a new show of the same style and energy as all of those hands-on cooking shows. Honestly, I couldn't care less about yard crashing - that's not useful to me! Nor is it entertaining because who the hell has a crew of 30 people, three days, and a limitless budget to do the overboard shit they do on those shows?! I mean, really. Give me someone who is mildly peppy, knowledgable, and capable of sharing information that helps me to learn something while being entertained. Is that REALLY asking too much #HGTV? Really?? :/

Confession #4: While purchasing my exorbitant amount of zinnia seeds, I also bought a packet of Chianti Hybrid Sunflower seeds that I will attempt to start when I return from this last academic conference of the season. And yes, it is a dark red wine-colored sunflower.

I may weep if the rabbits get these sunflowers.

Confession #5: I seem to be incapable of restraint when it comes to my garden. Whereas in other areas of my life, I am quite capable of showing an abundance of restraint, with my garden, I just want more. I haven't overloaded any of my beds...yet. But I suspect that my spacing is probably too close. But I do adore walking through my ever-changing garden and yard beginning right now and going all the way through the end of autumn - just watching and noticing every little change in the plants and weeds and soil. How the blanket flower pushes through the taller zinnias, how the pinwheel zinnias look like they are bursting out of the rock wall, how the scents shift and change day to day, how the abundance of colors and foliage and textures are so comforting and welcoming.

Hello, my name is Amanda and I have a plant spacing problem.

Confession #6: I don't use any pesticides in my gardens, but will not hesitate to kill any mammals that aim to eat my flowers and decimate my food plants.

What can I say? I am a zinnia mystery wrapped in a cypress vine enigma standing in a black raspberry paradox.

Confession #7: My garden spaces, the physical work, the planning, and the money spent are more consistently pleasurable to me than much of my paying job. I would not want to garden for a living because anytime you take something this pleasurable and turn it into a professional career, it kills the joyful spirit that drew you there in the first place. That's what happened to me with creative writing - I can no longer write fiction because I spent ten years earning my living as a professional writer. The ability to make stories up out of thin air dissipated like so many farts in the wind as each assignment ticked by over that decade and now, well, now I love my creative nonfiction, but my stories must be true to be both written and enjoyed (by me). It's the biggest reason why I haven't pushed my professional photography services too hard - I'm good enough to make a living as a photog, but I don't want to because I want to retain that creative curiousity and joy.

So, gardening. I'm just fine with gardening in my free time, in the evenings, on the rare weekend that I'm home. Gardening is pure joy. Because every night that I come home from work, beginning next week, before unlocking my front door, I will wander down the fenceline, into the backyard, and walk all the way around the entire space, pausing to observe, listen, feel leaves, pull a weed, enjoy the manipulated natural space that I am carving out for my own pleasure and when I enter the house, I will feel refreshed, relaxed, and re-invigorated with a sense of hope and peace.

Confession #8: I wish I had more land so that I could have a bigger garden. Knowing that this wish comes with a ton of extra work, I still wish I had more land. My man and I sometimes dream together about the perfect place for us - view of mountains, on a body of water, five acres with a large enough sunny space for an extra large and vigorous garden and plenty of room for flowering annuals, bulbs, perennials, shrubs, a large berry patch, perhaps a small orchard. Don't ask me when I will have the time to tend to all of this space and all of these plants...a woman can dream.

Hello, my name is Amanda and I dream about my future gardens.