A tale of two vines – how hardship led to better growth

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

Ignoring the fact that my name isn’t Mary, nor do I consider myself contrary (well – at least, not most of the time), my garden may have looked better in prior years, but at least it is back in bloom. Thanks for asking!

A few weeks ago, I wasn’t sure that would be the case.

February and March were rather dramatic months around here weather-wise with temperature fluctuations that were extreme even for North Carolinian standards. One day would be warm enough to turn on the air conditioning and let the kids run outside in their swimsuits – the next day cold enough to pull out the parkas. Is it any wonder then that I fell ill?

“Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative” – Oscar Wilde

I don’t remember asking you Oscar, and really, what part of I was sick last week did you miss? Now, back to my story. Our news reported that much of the commercial plant life was equally confused and budded too early, causing several crops to be considered a total loss after the frost returned, which is a bummer as I always look forward to picking strawberries with my kids in May. Therefore I was delighted to notice green leaves and white flowers on the vines that grow in my backyard (kids there’s hope for us yet).

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need – Marcus Tullius Cicero

I’m not sure I completely agree with the statement above, but I appreciate where the thought is coming from. For years now I’ve been growing grapes as well as blackberries, among a few other foodstuffs, but though they grow side by side, the vines are as different as people.

blackberry blooms

thornless blackberry blooms

My blackberries, for example, barely needed to be covered in earth before they took off on their own, with several shoots of new vines popping up in other beds independent of my plantings. My grapes, on the other hand, required a little more attention.

The first year we were together, the vines grew, but never produced. The second was more of the same. I considered letting the blackberries take over, but decided to give them one more chance while doing a bit more homework.

“The more help a person has in his garden, the less it belongs to him.” – W. H. Davies

That may be true, but I think, in this case, my plants appreciated the phone-a-friend. I learned that grapevines produce best when pruned while dormant and the weather is still cold. In my area, that means late February.

I remember the first time I clipped away at the vines (which look more branch-like than vine-like at that time of year). I thought to myself how the practice must seem to the plant. Here they were, having barely survived the harshness of winter, they then forced to suffer further as their limbs were hacked away.

During such times, I imagine that if my grapes were people, they might cry at how unfair their life was compared to that of the blackberry. If they were religious fruit, they might also wonder if they were being tested and rage against their gardener. I understand what it must seem like for them, but still, I continue snipping away in the cold of winter year after year, not because of some cruel game, but because I care. I do this so that when summer finally arrives, they will be the best they can be.

“In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends.” –  John Churton Collins

grapevine

in between the heart-shaped leaves, tiny buds that will one day transform into the most delicious jam are already appearing

And when summer does arrive, the situation in my garden is quite different. My blackberries, having produced small clusters of berries in the spring are only shadows of their former glory. Several of the vines, hunched over, touching the ground under the weight their leaves, as small as they are, are more brown than green and most vines will be forced to give away to the next generation of shoots now breaking through the dirt’s surface on either side.

“When you’re green, you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you rot.” – Ray Kroc

My grapevines, however, will remain strong even under the weight of heavy bunches of fruit. The fruit itself will be protected from the cruel sun by gorgeous full leaves wider than a handspan or two, but not so protected they cannot ripen fully thanks to their vine’s earlier sacrifice. Meanwhile, tendrils of new vines, still growing, will stretch and twist around nearby surfaces, as much the bully in their newfound success as the blackberry once was.

The point is my grapevine should not envy my blackberry for its easy start (as tempting as that might be at the time). The grapevine that experienced and overcame hardship will bear fruit much longer. It will be made stronger in a way the blackberry, by its very nature, will never appreciate nor understand. That grapevine will become capable of withstanding the next extreme with a confidence felt to its roots, returning year after year in steady growth while others might rise quickly only to fall. It’s a lesson, and eventual outcome, I try to keep in mind when dealing with my own hardship or two.

While both plants produce their own delicious fruit in their own season, in terms of success per individual vine, there really is no comparison.

quotes courtesy of http://www.brainyquote.com

You don’t look so good – a healthy reminder

background image courtesy of www.flickr.com

The hacking, wheezing and overall not sleeping finally got to me. I took myself to the doctor thinking I would be in and out of the office in no time flat. I wasn’t. Though I had gone to a clinic with a word meaning speed in its name, it would seem that I wasn’t the only one seeking medical treatment that particular afternoon. The waiting room was packed.

After two hours sitting in a stiff pleather chair surrounded by the sounds of other sniffles, groans, and easy rock ballads, the battery icon on my phone turned red. Well, shoot. Faced with no other easy distraction, I looked around the room. I found myself beginning to question exactly how sick I really was feeling. What’s a little cough? I mean I had made it through an entire week already. I could make it another night. What’s the worst that could happen?

My rationalization grew louder, certain as I was that the doctor was going to tell me that I’d caught a simple virus. I knew he or she would just have to rest and run its course, things I was well equipped to do from the comfort of my home. So why continue to wait around in a room staring at my thumbs or other sick people when I could be back with my family?

I walked to the front desk. “I think I am going to leave,” I told the nurse. She blinked. Clearly, this was not a statement she was used to hearing.

She looked out into the waiting room. “But you’re next.”

I sighed. I’d been there two hours already but had only seen three patients go back. My place in the queue meant little. I followed her gaze. Two more patients had arrived after I had. A girl, barely older than my son, lay draped across her father’s shoulders. An older couple – a woman who could barely sit up, and her partner, a small man who’d caught my eye when they’d entered the room and had attempted to make small talk with me as if I was a life raft while clutching her hand.

“But there are other patients here that need the spot more than I do,” I said, and I meant it. I’d be fine.

I’m not sure the nursing staff was convinced. “We are equipped to deal with everyone. All we need is for a room to become available.”

“Right, which is why I would like one of them to go in my place.”

“But you’ve already paid.”

This was true, and my copay for a visit like this wasn’t cheap. “Can’t you just cancel the transaction or refund the money?”

“No. Once you’ve paid, you would have to wait for a check to be mailed at the end of the month.”

Well, that was a wrinkle I hadn’t quite considered. As I mulled over my response, another nurse appeared, taking the decision from me. “If you’ll come back with me now.”

I followed her through the hall and into a back room where we discussed my symptoms, each of which sounded more and more petty to my ears. So, I have had a cough and can’t sleep. I’ve had a fever and the chills, but the fever goes away and sure, I have shortness of breath and a rattle in my lungs you can hear from space, but I’m fine or will be soon. I’ve waited this long, I can wait a little longer. Really, why don’t you go and help the others?

The doctor looked at me as if she couldn’t quite determine if I’d insulted her professionalism or simply grown two heads. “You don’t need to worry about them. We’ll take care of them too.”

But I did worry. It is the downside of knowing you’ve been pretty lucky in life. You can always imagine those who have had it worse. In my mind, I saw the little girl calling for a mother who hadn’t yet arrived and her father pacing around the room at a loss as to what to do. I saw the little old man struggling to stay strong for his partner waiting to be told that their lives wouldn’t be the same. These stories played out in my head, each more tragic than the one before. I knew my story couldn’t compare – that the doctor would write me off as a waste of her time before she closed the door. Or at least that’s what I convinced myself would happen.

“Now take a deep breath,” the doctor said, pulling me out of my imagination.

Two minutes later, I learned I wasn’t fine. I had pneumonia (aka fun stuff).

While I still feel guilty thinking of those other faces in the room, it doesn’t change the fact that I was sick and deserved to be cared for too. If I had given into my doubts and gone home, those other patients might have been seen fifteen minutes earlier, but I would have been at greater risk of secondary infection, hospitalization, or even worse. The guilt I felt at delaying the other patients’ never-at-risk treatment by fifteen minutes would have paled compared against potential outcomes I now realized I had avoided by allowing myself to come first.

It turns out I needed more than just a day off. I also needed an antibiotic, a steroid, and an inhaler, but most of all, it seems I needed a reminder that while yes, I am often lucky, that doesn’t mean bad things can still happen. It was also a healthy reminder that every now and then I need to put myself first and not feel guilty about it. Because while generosity of spirit is always admirable, strength of body can be a good thing too.

A confident sailor’s message and my restless confessions

A confident sailor's message and my restless confessions - www.alliepottswrites.com

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I lay awake. An oscillating creaky noise, reminiscent of a boat too long in the water, stretching moldy tie lines as it swayed from side to side, prevented me from finding the rest I needed. I shifted my position, but no matter how or where I moved, I couldn’t eliminate the sound. It was a quiet noise, but not an ignorable one. Gradually, I accepted there would be no restful sleep this night. The sound, you see, it was coming from me.

I am death. 

Too over the top? Okay, let’s just say I’ve been better.

The noise that has kept me awake for the last several nights is a mucous induced rattle in my nose and throat I can’t seem to shake. A bug has been floating around my office recently, and I guess, it was my turn to bring it home. Yay! Have I mentioned how much I hate being sick? But on the plus side, the whole not being able to sleep thing has given me ample time to think.

One of the blogs I regularly follow (The Spectacled Bean) recently posed the question: How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are? 

Last week (with the exception of one epically terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day), I might have shaved a few years off. Would this be out of vanity? Maybe, but there wouldn’t be many physical clues. While I have a few gray hairs, overall it is much the same color as it was when I was born, and though I have noticed a wrinkle or two I can blame my lack of height for at least a portion of premature etching. (Looking up at everyone all the time is hard work). Therefore it would really come down to how old I feel mentally at any given time, which most of the time is fairly young.

I was feeling especially so when I attended a presentation with my husband’s rotary club. The guest of honor was a retired Rear Admiral from the United States Navy. He opened his presentation by talking about the crews that manned the flight deck. He asked the audience, many of whom were also retired, how old they thought the median age of the crew was. The answer was roughly nineteen and a half.

Nineteen and a half.

And they were responsible for multimillion dollar fighter jets.

At nineteen and a half, I was responsible for a very used car (which didn’t run most of the time) and getting to class on time. Way to make a person feel like an underachiever, Sir. The message the Rear Admiral was trying to make is that we need to trust the younger generation, something I know I have a difficult time doing at times. I’m sorry, but it can be hard to accept the people you babysat or whose diapers you once changed are now adults. It’s not that you aren’t capable – I know you are – it’s just that I remember when we couldn’t trust more than a few of you to walk down the hall with scissors (or worse – a capless marker).

He went on to talk about readiness and spoke of two ships. On one ship (not a US Naval vessel), hoses were a pristine white and fittings shone like the sun. The condition of other, a US ship, was a far contrast. On that ship, the hoses were worn, faded, and fittings, dented. Considering the beginning portion of the speech, and his emphasis on supporting the next generation, I was sure that the Rear Admiral was about to suggest that we weren’t spending enough – that our military was less than as ready as it could be due to inferior equipment.

I waited for the sales pitch.

Instead, the Rear Admiral made a different point entirely. The equipment showed signs of age, but that was a good thing. It meant it was used and used regularly.

Every now and then I give into a little envy. I look to people younger than me, who have accomplished so much in their short lives, and can’t help wishing my path looked more like theirs – less readiness and more doing-ess. The envy makes me question a few of my choices. Did I waste my time before? What would it have been like had I taken the chance on me sooner?

I’ll never know the answers, but I guess it really doesn’t make a difference in the long run. I am where I am now. I’ll kick this bug (I hope). I may yet conquer the world – who knows? (mid-day naps for everyone)! At least I know I am trying to take the helm. And while I sometimes feel I need a few more sick days than I used to or just a few extra hours rest, that’s just evidence that I’ve lived my life as I seen best.

It doesn’t matter how old I think I am.

Age is just a number.

It is only the experiences filling that time that matters.

For those who think I have it all together

Inspired by Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.


Even grownups can have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.

My boss came into my office. “I am going to throw a curve ball at you,” he said, shutting the door.

Just like that, I could tell that it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

“Kay has turned in her notice.”

Kay is one of my peers. This announcement meant there was a better than average chance a portion of her work would find its way to me, at least temporarily, while the position was refilled. I looked at my mug. “I am going to have to start spiking my coffee,” I replied while I considered moving to Australia.

My boss laughed but didn’t disagree.

Yep, I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Five o’clock rolled around, ending an office day filled with sympathetic looks and panicked responses (many of which were mine). I raced out the door. My husband, Lamont, was out-of-town the rest of the week (a trip I hadn’t known about until the afternoon before), therefore it fell on me to pick up our children from their various locations. All I had to do was get there on time.

I hit traffic.

Much later than I’d planned, I waited for Kiddo to pull his shoes on and collect his book bag. He, however, was more interested in showing me bits of small paper. “I’ve made a card,” he advised. “For the Leprechaun. Do you think he will come tonight?”

I silenced my inner groan along with several other choice words I won’t print here. The next day was St. Patrick’s Day, and I had nothing prepared. No Leprechaun traps. No pots ready to be filled with gold. Nothing. When exactly had leprechauns coming to your house on St Patty’s Day become a thing anyway?

I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

When we got to the house, Kiddo made a bee-line to the television, ready to consume his daily allowance of cartoons. Her Royal Highness, our dog, made an equally determined path to the front door, ready to take care of her own daily requirements. I looked to Kiddo. I looked to Her Royal Highness. Taking her outside would give me an opportunity to send a message to my mom regarding a certain Leprechaun. “I’ll be right back,” I called. The cartoon’s theme song was already playing as I closed the door.

Mom replied back within short order, not for me to worry, however, Her Royal Highness had not yet done what we’d come out to let her do. Just then a cat appeared, and not just any cat – it was the cat. The cat that is either the bravest or stupidest animal I’ve ever seen. Whatever the reason, this cat not only is not afraid of dogs, it actively seeks them out. Spotting Her Royal Highness, it immediately crossed the road, causing a car to come full stop and angry looks shot my way.

Her Royal Highness passed her cat test before we brought her home, but still, I don’t like to tempt fate, nor do I wish to be responsible for an injury of someone else’s pet. Seeing no other choice, I led Her Royal Highness away. The cat followed. Only when we rounded a corner did the cat give up its pursuit. If I wasn’t an animal lover who doesn’t condone this line of thinking, I might hope you step on a tack, cat.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

That’s what it was because when we returned inside, the house was empty. Guess whose kid decided, in those short few minutes, that he missed me more than he wanted to watch his cartoons and had run off in the opposite direction with his brother while Her Royal Highness was being chased by a cat around the corner?

If what I’d felt during the work day was panic, the myriad of swirling emotions I experienced in that moment has yet to be named. I wondered if invisible fencing for children is allowed in Australia.

I am having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, I texted my mom (or roughly something like that). I didn’t look at my phone to see if she answered.

While I was scolding/hugging my children for giving me a fright, Mom showed up on my front porch with a frozen mix of Korean noodles in hand. It was a wonderful gesture, but. . . they proved to be utterly inedible. Even Her Royal Highness turned it down.

Kiddo, wanting to show off for his Nana, took twice as long to do his homework than he usually does and LT, well LT was his normal self, but if I allowed LT access to the phone, he probably would have called Australia.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Lamont didn’t promptly return my texts, and I hate that.

Exhausted after the kids went to bed, I couldn’t motivate myself to work on my WIP and I hate a lost opportunity.

When I finally did hear from Lamont it was clear he’d been having fun while I was not. I still hadn’t figured out what to do about the Leprechaun outside of mom’s vague assurances that all would be well and calling into work sick the next day wasn’t an option.

It had been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

My mom says some days are like that, even for people who might seem to have it all together.

I guess it’s a good thing for me then, that my mom lives nearby and not in Australia.

Love you, Mom, and thanks.

A quick defense and an extra surprising empowerment

A quick defense and an extra surprising empowerment - www.alliepottswrites.com How an introduction to self defense reminded me how powerful I can be

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“Just when I thought I was out . . . they pull me back in.” – Michael Corleone, The Godfather part III

The quote pretty much sums up my feelings on our recent weather. Just a few days ago I was outside in short sleeves. The children were passing their weekends in treehouses and exploring creek beds. Flowers bloomed. I’d even seen a dusting of pollen. We thought spring was well on its way. Then, just as we thought we could pack away the cold weather gear, winter returned with a vengeance.

I suppose it could be worse. We only received a light dusting of snow when those living in states just a few hours away are once again under blizzard conditions, but they knew what they were getting into when they decided to remain in an area so used to this sort of weather they named an entire pattern system after it (Nor’easter), but I digress.

For some reason, the Zombie Bear has yet to be this year’s must-have toy

This weekend Lamont mentioned he’d found an intro to self-defense class geared for runners who happen to use Raleigh’s many greenway systems and hosted by a local Brazilian Jui Jitsu center. Now, even though I do occasionally guilt myself into going for a light jog, I do not in any shape or form consider myself a runner. (That is unless a bear or zombie – or worse a Zombie Bear – is chasing me, in which case, watch me go). I am even less skilled in martial arts. However, I do use the greenway system (at least, I do when it is warmer) and it happens my current project’s main character could benefit from similar skills, so off we went.

Class began. The task was simple. All we had to do was pretend to be resting on the side of the trail and hop up in the method and manner demonstrated resulting in a wide-legged stance, perpendicular to the threat. Lamont and I faced off. I would be the victim. He would play my attacker. He approached, entering my over-sized personal bubble of space. I forgot everything. Instead of getting up, I kicked and kicked, looking much like a roach flipped on its back.

I tried again with similar results. Now normally I don’t consider myself a slow learner, but in this case, instincts have a way of taking over, even if they aren’t always the most cooperative instincts.

We swapped places. Lamont hopped up in a ready stance as I rushed him. Lamont is over a foot taller than me and outweighs me. Suddenly I felt ridiculous and couldn’t stop giggling. If I’d really been out to do him harm, I would have had just as much luck running head first into a wall.

We switched roles again as we moved to the next exercise involving a block to the attacker’s neck followed by a slap to the ear. Now, this I took to so well, I wonder if I missed my calling as a soap opera star. My giggling reduced as I started taking what we were learning more seriously.

Then it was back to the floor exercises. The designated attacker (Lamont again) was to straddle the victim (me). Lock your hands on one arm and pin the attacker’s leg to your side, our instructors advised. Check. Now lift your hips. Here goes nothing. Lamont fell to the ground and I got away.

Again!

I sent Lamont back to the mats. Lamont, who I can wear three-inch heels around and still feel petite. Lamont, who is responsible for opening jars that just won’t budge for me or hauling heavy things away. I toppled that Lamont.

I was no longer giggling. No, instead of feeling ridiculous, I now felt something else entirely.

Powerful.

Now clearly, this wasn’t a real life situation. Lamont was sitting on me, but he wasn’t fighting me. He allowed me to get my grips and leg locks precisely where they’d be most effective – a courtesy I wouldn’t expect from a real attacker. I know, one class does not an expert make and much more practice is required. Even so, I left the class feeling more confident in my ability and myself than I had the hour prior.

It got me thinking about all the other areas in my life and career where I’ve underestimated my ability simply because I was smaller, too young, too old, too relatively unknown, or any other reasons that caused me to back down or give up without really ever trying.

Yes, I am rarely the largest presence in the room and I know I will hit the mat from time to time, but this experience proved I don’t have to stay there.

I might not be the Godfather, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still have muscle. I can kick. I can slap. I can block and I can charge. I can use other’s strength against them and I will not go down without a fight. And I know, most of all, that as long as I can find the proper leverage, I have it within me to challenge giants or move mountains be they physical or more metaphorical kind.

Now if only I could find a way to shift this weather.