Thursday, December 14, 2017

#ObeseNoMore

The one question I kept asking myself:
How in hell did I get this big?
We all live our lives by labels.  Those governed by birth are immovable.  Whether you're a baby-boom, Gen-X or millennial, you'll be one for the rest of your life, even if you lie about it.  Some birth labels, like nationality, look permanent but can be changed, and some we have even more say on, at least in theory.  I've lived with one label too long.

Obese.

If there is a word in the language I hate, that's the one.  Clinically, it means someone whose Body Mass Index is higher than 30; when the extra weight can really starts to compromise someone's health. But to the many non-medical people, obesity is a character flaw, not evidence of a health problem, a weakness in someone else that can be exploited.

60 lbs. down and
I'm still OMG obese
And that kind of thinking can be hell to live with when you're obese.

See, part of the pain of being really big is how that kind of treatment undercuts your confidence.  Graduate with honors? Yeah, but you're still obese.  Complete a 5K? Doesn't matter if you're big as a house. Lose more than a hundred of those extra pounds? Well, that's a really good effort darlin', keep up the good work, but don't think that you've earned my respect.  Not unless you're thin.

For the last 30 years or so, I've heard that old song while I rode the roller coaster of weight gain.  See, as the scale numbers went up, my sense of self-worth plummeted. Like lots of other overweight people, I tried to compensate for my size by being smarter, funnier and nicer. Instead, I just got more tired, sadder, and fatter. While trying to get thin and earn respect, I learned about the degrees of obesity.  I watched myself morph from an obese woman into severely obese one, then morbidly obese, and finally super obese. And I learned all my compensation efforts didn't work. Those who liked me liked me at any weight; everyone else turned away. Eventually, the fat almost became an invisibility cloak. Because many don't like to look at fat ladies huffing and puffing along, so they turn a blind eye. Heck, by that point, I worked hard not to notice myself. Between that and turning a deaf ear to anything that sounded like negative criticism, I didn't realize how bad my health had become until I was in very bad shape.

Overweight, yes, but,
#ObeseNoMore
Funny thing is, visibility started returning coming back with physical strength as I descended the obesity ladder.  All of the sudden I could walk long distances again, run and cross my knees.  I saw improvements, as did the people I love, but the outside world still held the old label: obese. It felt like a death sentence.

Then, a few weeks ago, the scale numbers dropped again, and my Body Mass Index fell below the dreaded 30. If you looked at me, I doubt if you could tell the difference but a burden's been lifted.  I'm still too heavy but that label with dread connotations no longer applies to me.  After 30 years, it's the sun just rose and it feels like a whole new day.

#ObeseNoMore.

Being overweight never felt so good.




Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Evolution of a Door: The Misadventures of a Would-be DIY'er

Madison Avenue thinks it knows what presents women wish for. They tell us through commercials all the time. What love token should you give a lady? Give her diamonds. Give her shoes. Give her a new car.  Well, Madison Avenue never heard of me.

I wanted a new front door.
Door, the First

In all fairness, I've wanted one for the past 27 years. Our little house came with a rather standard, wooden door; one that let in the weather, but kept out the light. Can't say I liked it much. Matter of fact, I hated the thing. But, with one thing and another, the door never got replaced when we were a double-income family.  Now that we're living on one, what were the chances my front door could change?

You'd be surprised.

Not that it was easy.  First off entry doors aren't cheap, at least entry doors that have lots of glass.  Go ahead, google "3/4 lite entry door". and you'll see what I'm talking about.  I'll wait.

Scary, isn't it?

Well, I started scouring.  Craig's List, LetGo, Facebook selling, you name it.  And I finally found this beauty at a price we could afford.  Only one small issue.  Can you guess what it was?

Yup.  We had to install it ourselves.

Now, you wouldn't call us natural DIY-ers.  Actually, we're probably closer to DDIY-ers (Don't Do It Yourself).  But if I wanted a new door, this was the only option.  So, after Googling, You-Tubeing and streaming all the home improvement video I could find, I figured we were ready.

See what happens when you leave a
wife alone with a hammer?
The first part, (obviously) was removing the old door's trim, molding, and frame, then the door, itself. That's when I discovered my husband's favorite DIY hack.  See, he doesn't like doing this stuff so, whenever we ran into a problem, he went to the store. Always. And while he was gone, I'd get so impatient waiting for him, I work out the solution myself.  By noon, he'd been to the hardware store 3 times, and I had the door out of the frame.

The next part was the doozy because, it turns out, doors are like Goldilocks. For them to open and close in their frames, their plumb, level, and balance must be j-u-u-u-ust right. Close is not good enough, as we learned. We got the framed door into the spot, shoved in skinny wedges of wood called shims to keep it straight, and nailed everything into place. It looked great from the outside, but the damn thing wouldn't open or close without a fight. And, once shut, it wouldn't sit flat in the frame. My sis called about that time, asking how the project was going.  I said, "It's not really functioning as a door right now, but the light is beautiful."  My husband swore and said he had to go back to the store. And I sat down to study the problem. 
Is it the house or 
the door that's tilted?

Turns out that doors function on reverse psychology.  If you need them to come up in the top left corner, you have to adjust the bottom, right part.  And vice versa.  I also learned there are two kinds of skims: some go between the door frame and walls and others go between the hinge and frame.  It's a tricky business.  So, by tightening and nudging, making tiny adjustments, adding and pulling out shims, the door eventually straightened itself into the frame.  Finally, I was ready for hardware, just as my husband pulled back into the driveway.

In order to save money, I planned to remove the old handle and lock and transfer them to the new door, but the hardware had other ideas.  A tiny screw went flying while I unloosened the old handle and I haven't seen it since.  One of those teensy, one-of-a-kind screws, of course.  Now I had to go to the hardware store, to buy a new handle and lock. These cost half as much as the new door but I must admit they look nice.

All told, it took almost a whole week to finish up (and the spray-on foam insulation made a mess) but the new door is magnificent.  It looks like it was made for the house.  And Sis, continuing in her role as Best Sibling Ever sent two flanking planters as an early Christmas gift, either for me or the Door, I'm not really sure which.  The sawdust is cleaned up, our pulled muscles have healed, and almost all the tools are back in place.  And the light shining through is magnificent.

So be careful what you wish for if you want a new door. Diamonds might be an easier, cheaper gift. But, then again, nothing in Zales's catalog has this way of saying, "Welcome Home."


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Sense of Taste, A Sense of Place,

With the arrival of the Holiday Season, everyone is focused on families, friends, and parties, which usually means food.  That's great because I love to eat; but awful because I'm a lousy cook.  I mean world-class lousy.  I'm the gal who confused teaspoons and tablespoons in Home Ec. class and braised radishes with too much oregano. (Who braises radishes anyway?) My newlywed cooking turned Meat Loaf into Meat Cake and made my husband a permanent fan of take-out.  I'm slowly getting better at the domestic arts but it's hard overcoming a kitchen philosophy I created years ago that states, "When it comes to cooking, I'd rather read."  Luckily, I live in the South, a region of great writers, as well as great cooks, and, at times, those two fields overlap.  When that happens, the results are cookbooks that feed the body as well as the soul.

I've written before about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and her great love-affair with central Florida.  One of the most remarkable chapters of her wonderful book, Cross Creek, recounts Marjorie's own development from lousy to gifted cook and her joy learning Southern cuisine. The only problem was the book was published during World War II and her rhapsodies on the Joys of Southern Food made an awful lot of American soldiers homesick.  One fellow, who loved food, wrote to her saying, "Lady, [after reading your book] I have never been through such agonies of frustration." In response, Marjorie published "Cross Creek Cookery", a collection of recipes and anecdotes that are equally enjoyable.  For example, there is the time she confused an electric ray with flounder and shocked herself trying to catch it.  There is also the tale of Godfrey, a Florida version of Downton Abbey's Mr. Carson who considers serving collard greens beneath his dignity. (Godfrey must have been out of his mind; collard greens are the first vegetable that made me fall in love with Southern Cooking.)  Cross Creek Cookery is the first cookbook that made me laugh out loud.


But literature is more than love and laughter, and so is cooking, as Pat Conroy makes clear.  His cookbook, Recipes of My Life describes not just the art of preparing food he came to adore, but how food can become a short-cut to memories of other times, places, and people.  I know that myself; a taste of grouper, garnished with almond slices and stuffed with grapes, takes me back to an Augustine restaurant and one of the best dinners and nights of my life.  Pat takes his readers through his memories of life and garnishes the experience with recipes that recreate the scenes.   Here are the soft-shell crabs and shrimp salad of Beaufort, South Carolina, the Scottiglia and Saltimbocca of Italy, and Eugene Walter's Pepper obsession. But more than anything, Conroy makes clear how close good writing is to good food.  Both are the results of creative thinking and memory, distilled to levels of clinical precision.  A recipe, Conroy says, is just a story that ends in a good meal.  That is a philosophy that could make me want to learn to cook.

Tell me about the cookbooks you love to read and re-read!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Murder Mystery No One Expects

At one point, there was just Jane Austen.  A British lady, (by which I mean gentlewoman, not a member of the aristocracy) gifted with humor, keen powers of observation, and the tenacity to create fiction in a time where few men and no women were encouraged to write. Her novels were known to humorists and English Majors but considered too esoteric for the hoi polloi.  In those days, she was just Jane Austen.

Now, Miss Austen is an industrial source.  Her six major novels have been analyzed, adapted, pillaged, and parodied beyond belief (I have friends who debate the merits of filmed version of P&P), there are shelves heavy with revisionist tales drawn from her original stories and Jane-mania  has spawned at least two books of its own: Austenland and the Jane Austen Book Society. None of this surprises me.  In our culture, anything worth doing is worth overdoing. What I did not expect was murder, that darkest, most obsessive of crimes, would be linked to Jane Austen. And yet, the tie may be true. Of course, it would take a crime writer to see it.

Enter Lindsay Ashford, a crime journalist, late of the BBC.  With a reference from one of Ms. Austen's last letters and the analysis of a lock of Jane's hair, Ms. Ashford realizes Chic Lit's premier author may have expired, not from Addison's disease, or tuberculosis, but arsenic poisoning. Add in some research, a few other strange deaths of near relations and the result is The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen, a story that irritates as much as it charms.

Sunny, sensible, practical Jane Austen: is there any less likely candidate for murder?  Yet, Ms. Ashford concocts a theory, narrated by Anne Sharp one of the few non-relatives the real Jane Austen corresponded with.  As a governess once employed by Jane's brother, Edward, Miss Sharp has the education and sense to recognize literary genius when she sees it. She also has the perspective to see the tangled relationships and characters in the Austen clan.

Character is something Lindsay Ashford occasionally does well as she brings a younger brother, Henry, to life.  This Henry, who reinvents himself and survives on his charm, has some characteristics of Jane's ne'er-do-wells like Wickham and Henry Crawford but he is also his sister's champion. Unfortunately, Jane Austen had six brothers and, in the interest of setting out her murder plot, Ms. Ashford forgets to give each of them the necessary distinguishing detail needed to understand her theory.  In the end, you can see Jane's murder was one in a series of attacks on the Austen family and you can see who had means and opportunity.  A reasonable motive for this act is what's lacking.

Still, The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen is fascinating in the research behind it and the questions it poses.  Why did Austen die at the young age of 41? Who were the real-life models behind her classic characters?  What was contained in so many of Jane's letters that after death, her sister, Cassandra, was compelled to destroy them? In the absence of real answers, we at least have the joy of imagining what they may be.







Friday, November 3, 2017

A Tale of Autumn's Light

If you listen to painters, they are obsessed with color and light.  Well, if you listen to stories of artists, that's what they talk about.  Me, being a word instead of a picture person, I didn't understand what they meant.  Color is color, light is light, right?  You either have it or you don't.  Then I took a look at Autumn around here and I began to see what all the fuss was about. The qualities of light vary, hues change and the infinite combinations can blow your mind.  Then, I began to think that if we are made in God's image, then the Supreme Being is also the Supreme Painter and autumn is when all the crayons come out of the box to vary the leaves with the light.

The light of Autumn has its own peculiar illumination.  If Winter is a pale, fluorescent bulb, and arc lights imitate summer, then Fall is like Edison's first bulbs, full of amber, dim, uncertain illumination.  And when that yellow, watery light comes up underneath the clouds and hits the variegated leaves, the foliage seems to....glow.


For example, my neighbor has this incredible tree that puts on a show every year. (By the way, we don't "plant" trees in my neighborhood; Nature does that on her own. What we do is continually clear enough new growth to keep a road to the house.) Well before the other leaves turn, this one shimmers first from green to yellow, then orange to red, signaling the show is about to start.  And even on a grey day, this thing stands out a mile. Now get a load of this view...


This was taken during a rainstorm, but can you see how the peachy-amber of my neighbor's yard reflects the light?  To me, this is Nature worth watching.  Our autumn foliage season hits a little later than most, starting just before Halloween and peaking around Veteran's Day, so the store's outdoor holiday displays can sometimes look a bit schizophrenic, juxtaposing fake snow and Santa Clauses on top of blazing autumn leaves.  So, it's best to ignore what the merchandising calendar for now and take in what this area really shows: radiant color and unearthly light.

For the next few weeks, these colors will intensify as the light dims and yellows until Thanksgiving's sunrise will seem to set the trees aflame.  Then, in one fell swoop, most of the leaves will darken and plummet (never all of them) leaving bare branches and us back in winter.  But that isn't today.

Today is part of the planet's annual fireworks show, all color, and light. Today is when Nature is Art.  And I want to see everything in the exhibit.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Home Story

All stories are about being human and all humans need a spot they can call home. More than shelter or status symbol, "home" is part of a person's identity and many writers are known for theirs.  Faulkner didn't stir from Rowan Oak unless he was forced to.  Daphne du Maurier's obsession for Menabilly changed the course of her life.  But both of these homes are grand houses of great estates, spots most of us could not relate to.  So I traveled to Cross Creek, the home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, a simpler structure if no less beloved. In fact, so much of MKR's happiness and identity were tied to her home, she wrote one of her best books about it.  And, from the moment you enter her gate, you can see both Cross Creek and the writer are cherished by those who remember them.


City-bred, Marjorie didn't flourish as a writer until she moved to the backwoods of Florida and Cross Creek is still off the beaten path.  No disoriented tourists, adrift from Disney, will turn up at its borders. No major hotels or even gift shops entice explorers with the "Cross Creek Experience". You have to look for the place, but it's worth the search. Instead, of the routine showmanship of manufactured amusements, you get something better: a view of a remarkable person's home and life as she wrote about and lived it.

There is the porch with its writing table, complete with typewriter and ashtray.  According to the tour guide, Jack, Marjorie composed at this spot until her books brought her fame and a collection of unwanted visitors, eager to watch her actually write. (I can't think of any activity with greater potential to bore the spectator or irritate the subject.)  


Here is the living room, equipped with fireplace and bookshelves, the very definition of cozy.  Marjorie planned for Cross Creek to become a writer's retreat after her death but, the tour guide states, visiting authors made the spot a party spot instead.  When the state took over ownership of the home, Marjorie's widower removed her furniture from storage and returned them to their spots in the house.  The chairs and tables fit the room so well, you would have believed they never left there.



Marjorie's kitchen would earn the praise from today's interior designers for its pantry and prerequisite farmhouse sink but the stove astonishes me.  How did this woman find the energy to run a farm, write books and become a gourmet cook using this wood-fed contraption?  Yet she did, and wrote her own cookbook as well, which I own but refuse to cook from.  Marjorie's greatest strength was her drive but I am a person with limits.  

Another of the writer's strengths was her honesty and the guides at Cross Creek honor that, noting Marjorie's inconsistencies, and character flaws along with her virtues. Stubborn and volatile, her character was as uneven as the floor in her bathroom (made famous in her essay, "The Evolution of Comfort") and she made many mistakes. These errors cost her dearly at times and she faced many, if not all, of them in hindsight. But she was an individual, vibrant as the land she wrote about, comfortable and homey as her living room chairs.   

Most of all, she was a person who understood the value of "home" wherever it turned out to be. She invested her fortune, her talent, her dedication and sometimes her sanity in the house and orange grove of Cross Creek while recognizing herself as a mere temporary tenant. In turn, the spot brought her poverty, wealth, friends, opponents, joy, frustration, unending work, heartbreak and a spiritual as well as physical home. Oh, and it gave her her writer's voice.

All in all, not a bad deal.



Tuesday, September 5, 2017

End of Summer Report Card

"I'm just a Summer Girl,
Living in a Summer World..."

The only thing is, Summer is ending.

That much is obvious, even without the store displays of Halloween Costumes and Football gear. Days are shortening, outside light is yellowing, and the trees have begun their annual game of pelting our metal roof with nuts. (it's amazing how something that small can make that large a noise!) Autumn is coming again, and it's time to take stock of what did and didn't happen this Summer.

See More of Friends and Family: Well, yes and no.  Sadly, I missed my High School Reunion again, and I only hope my classmates and hometown will forgive me. On the other hand, my nephew came to see us in June, and I talked with my sister almost every day, which is very good.  Our folks would never have believed we've learned to be sisters and friends.

Learn to DIY on a Dime: Check.  So, I'm a slave to all of those H&G/DIY shows/pictures/ideas, a truth that frightens my husband no end. (His lawn and garden dreams involve Astroturfing the yard.) The only thing is, we haven't got the budget for hiring Home Improvement teams.  So this summer I became less afraid of power tools and more conscious of a penny these days, and I've put that to work around our house.

After restoring a trunk and subdividing a Five Dollar Fern into Four, I used $25.00 in paint, cloth, and misc. to update the rest of front porch furniture.  My Porch is important to me: it's a fourth of our home's entire footprint and more relaxing than a pitcher of martinis but, decor-wise, it needed some help.  The old desk I had out there left long ago, and the porch swing's cushions didn't fit the swing. So I restored the surface of the old, white, resin, patio table, and added a painted and recovered, thrift-store chair to make a tea-and-snacks spot at one end...




...and used the rest of the fabric to cover the severed sections of the chaise-lounge cushion covering the Porch Swing at the other end. Granted, I'm no pretender to the Fixer Upper Show, but the Porch is, once again, a comfortable, sweet place to be and I did it without breaking the bank. Next, I'm turning a felled tree into rustic pavers for a stepping stone path.




Continue to Work on Health and Weight: Yup, although I think my days of faster weight loss are done.  I've got a much lower BMI and resting heart rate now, so I really have to work to get the calorie-engine going.  Luckily, this summer I re-discovered one of the physical activities I enjoyed as a kid: swimming!


For 27 years, I've lived within a stone's throw of a beautiful community pool and never used it! That changed this year and, once I got over my bathing suit inhibitions, I realized (a) no one at the pool was looking at me, even when I accidentally wore my suit inside-out and (b) swimming is too much fun to give up, just because of age and flab.  At any rate, it helped me drop and keep off another 10 pounds. Blouses I bought, but couldn't button, back in April are suitable for public wearing now!

Re-entered the work force: Not yet, although I'm still trying. Well, the ideal job, like the ideal weight, doesn't just appear; you have to go out and get it.

Actually experiencing Summer: This was my greatest wish.  For years, I always seemed to miss participating in Summer, either through circumstance or choice, and I've felt back about that. After all, each of us has only so many summers in a lifetime, and it's a shame to skip any of life's rides. So I participated in Summer everywhere that I could, gardening and grilling, getting a tan and even jumping off the High Dive. (Which only gets more frightening with Age.) And, now that it's September, I plan to enjoy Fall to the Fullest.  I hope you have a Great Autumn too.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Blossoms of Evil

Everyone has memories they don't like but can't shake.  This is one of mine.

I was small and my parents were driving back through a desert in the southwestern states.  We hadn't seen a town for hours, and I'd gotten used to seeing the endless miles of saguaro, yucca, and empty skies. So, when we started to pass a row of shacks that lined the empty road, I was surprised.  These structures didn't seem to be part of any town or village, and it would be generous to describe them as houses.  With concave walls, covered with tarpaper and tin, they were the worst excuses for houses I'd ever seen but, judging from the faint light coming from the windows, someone seemed to be living in them.  Even odder, each shack's sway-backed porch seemed to hold at least one shiny, white, refrigerator or washer and dryer. My mom made a noise of disgust.

"It's terrible the way they are treated," she said and I asked what she was talking about.


Then, with a soft, gentle voice, that couldn't disguise her anger, Mom related this country's history concerning Native Americans as if she was telling me an unhappy bedtime story.  Attacked, betrayed, segregated and undermined for years by the white colonists and their government, the indigenous Native-Americans had been systematically corralled onto ever-smaller and poorer tracts of land and relegated to a marginalized existence.  Mom said the row of shacks we were passing was part of one reservation.  She added, "And see how the government treats them? Some official probably thought these folks would be fine if they just had modern appliances. Did you notice they don't have electricity?"


That memory came back to me as I read Killers of the Flower Moon. In a way, it was the another chapter in Mom's sad tale about how white men treat American Indians.  But, instead of a misunderstanding and callous government making mistakes, this story's a lot more personal.

Imagine a tribe actually choosing the land where they will build a reservation.  In the 1870's, as they were being relocated, the Osage Indians did exactly that. They sought and purchased a tract of Oklahoma they believed was too rocky and poor for any white man to ever desire it. Unfortunately, neither the Osage or the U. S. Government realized the land in question covered a deep, rich, oil reserve.

Killers of the Flower Moon details what happened to the Osage tribe once the drillers struck oil. A host of schemes and deals to separate the Osage from their dividends were put into play, including price-gouging, theft, and outright murder.  This fast-paced history reads like a suspense thriller, detailing not only the conspiracy that exterminated almost an entire family, until the FBI intervened but an even wider number of Osage victims whose murders were never addressed.

It's a fascinating story, but one that can make you rethink old ideas.  Where I grew up, everyone thought striking oil and becoming rich would be a wonderful thing.  The Osage could argue that striking it rich is the surest way to shorten your life.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Stories We Hide from History

Everyone has secrets they want to keep.

Keeping secrets is harder if you live in a small town.

Small towns are the original spots where everyone knows your name.  They also know your parents, your siblings, and whether you went to reform school or college.  But they have secrets they want to keep too. Sometimes, this can make small-town society seem like an insulated conspiracy of silence.

Until curiosity or a stranger shows up, that is.

This is the premise of Annie Barrows's 2015 novel, The Truth According to Us. Set in the fictional town of Macedonia, West Virginia in 1938, The Truth According to Us is almost a chemical experiment of human psychology.  What happens when a couple of curious souls look at decades of mythology and lies?

One mind belongs to Layla Beck, the WPA writer commissioned to transcribe Macedonia's history; the other to twelve-year old Willa Romeyn. Presented with conflicting reports, Layla has to decide what deserves to see print, the truth or a glossed over fiction. Was the town's founder a hero or tyrant? Was their legendary preacher a charismatic saint or sexual predator?  Layla's present and future become tied up with Macedonia's history.  To Willa, it's the way to demystify her family's past.

Where does Father go when he vanishes for weeks at a time? Why does he leave his kids with Aunt Jottie?  Why doesn't Aunt Jottie have a family and kids of her own?  At the age of twelve, Willa's beginning to notice how the people she loves the most avoid certain topics of conversation.  In fact, sometimes they lie.  With the Macedonian virtue of ferocious devotion, Willa decides to unearth the facts and learns that truth can come at a terrible cost, even while it sets you free. 

On a side-note, The Truth According to Us highlights an obscure bit of history, The Federal Writers Project. I know the notion of a federal program subsidizing writers may give some people indigestion, but it was a good idea at the time.  For meager wages, writers documented histories of places and individuals that usually wouldn't get covered: guides were written about every state in the union, and the oral histories of former slaves were transcribed. Valuable information that would have been lost altogether was saved by this work, and it trained more than a few writers that went on to literary glory including Conrad Aiken, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston and John Steinbeck. Today, our culture still enjoys the benefits of what that agency did more than eighty years ago. Not bad for a short-term, New-Deal program.

But this is background.  The Truth According to Us is what happens when a fresh light is shed on a mythology created by resentment and shame.  Passions heat up faster than the dog days of summer. It's perfect for an August read.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Assaulting a Boston Fern: Confessions of a Broke H&Ger (Part 1)

It's time to come clean

First Confession: I'm a lifestyle/Home & Garden nut. Even though I nearly flunked Home Ec (twice!) growing up, I really love a pretty house. Ditto, lawn, and garden.  Set me inside a home-improvement store and I will happily spend us into the poorhouse. 

Second Confession: We're already too close to the poorhouse for me to do much home-improvement.

Hey, that's how it goes.  When my husband and I both worked, we had the cash for decorating but no time. Now I have the time and energy needed but insufficient valuta for the home-improvement store.  What's an H&G addict to do?

Answer: Find a cheaper choice.

For example, I've always loved the look of potted ferns. They say "summer" when I see them  on a front porch. But have you priced those suckers lately? Anywhere between $10-$50 bucks each.  And I wanted at least four ferns, two to hang and two to stand.  Given that price tag, I figured my house would stay fernless this summer.
What's a porch without hanging ferns? A sad thing indded

Then, Sunday before last, I noticed my local hardware store was having a garden sale. Big racks of season ending plants were displayed in the parking lot, going including ferns for $5 bucks apiece.  I picked out the biggest, handed over five bucks and the salesman popped it into my jeep. I had a stack of old planters in the garage and an idea in my little head. If I could sub-divide this baby, I might have enough to fill two or three planters for the front porch. 

I didn't realize just how big the fernster was until I tried to wrestle it out of the jeep.  This was a Jolly Green Giant of a fern, a botanical monster, and wider at the top than me.  Still, I reasoned, as I searched for plant dividing instructions on the 'net, a plant this big should suit my purpose, provided I could sub-divide it.
The last of the 45 lb. ferns

The internet said all I had to do was draw Jolly out of his pot and saw his root ball into manageable portions with a serrated knife. Sounds easy? It wasn't! For the next 40 minutes, I hacked away at his foliage, while the roots stubbornly clung together. None of my serrated knives were long enough to cleanly divide that monster or sharp enough to slice through the roots. I eventually managed to divide and conquer but afterward, the cutting table looked like a gardening disaster and I wanted to wash my hands for an hour and repeat the Act of Contrition.

A cat sleeps by the scene of the crime!
Even subdivided, the JGG was still too big for the planters. Still, once I got his quartered remains replanted into the new pots, (complete with new soil, plant food, and water) and cleaned up the scene of the crime, things looked a bit better.  I called my sister, a real garden guru, and asked for her advice.

Bern, Verne, Sterne & LuCerne: The Four Big Greens
"Mist them," she said promptly. "Every day for a month. Ferns need to be misted."

I was this close to saying, "Are you saying I need a mister, sister, to spritz the dad-burn fern?" but I didn't. I was too tired. 

Eleven days have passed and the first shock is over for me and the fern, now known collectively as Bern, Verne, Sterne and Lucerne, the four Big Greens.  They require lots of misting and so much attention I'm beginning to wish I'd kept my money in my pocket. Still, they are behaving and starting to unfurl new fiddleheads which means, I suppose, they are happy.  And the porch looks pretty nice for five bucks.

What are your penny-conscious decorating stories?