Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Yard: 1, Randy: 0

I am genetically deficient.

Yes, it's true.

Somewhere, down in the lines of code that make up who I am, carefully stirred amongst generations and generations of my ancestry, someone dropped a part. Cracked an egg. Fed the last piece of the puzzle to the family dog.


I speak of yardwork.

My mamaw--my father's mother--she could grow anything. I swear, the woman could put rocks in pots and water them, and before long, she'd be taking pieces of plants to neighbors because her living room looked like a botanical experiment gone awry. My mom's family are farmers, for goodness sake. And while chickens don't usually count as vegetable matter, the very fact that they cut a living out of valley in northwest Arkansas should stand as clear evidence that they and the land lived in peace and harmony.


I'm at war with my live oak trees.

Flashback seven years ago. I'm house hunting with Carrie, my beautiful (and also organically inept) wife. What do we look for? No, not the luxurious master bathroom so evident in track housing in North Texas. Not a stable, termite-less foundation. Not even an attic you could move around in to change a filter in the AC.

We wanted trees.

Not mini Home-Depot-purchased play-trees that contractors plant with every new home to assuage some environmental regulation. No. Big-honkin' defy-Texas-heat trees. And we got 'em. Three. Ginormous. Huge-antic. Umbrella. Trees.

Now, let me explain to you what they mean when they label these particular trees "live oaks". By "live", they mean living. By living, they mean intelligent. Oh, yes. The trees watch us. Not in some friendly "we love you" way. No, no. They watch us. When we least suspect it.

Let me illustrate.

Once a quarter, I feel guilty enough that I'm the only unretired green-thumb-certified ex-pro-gardener on my block, and so I drag out a truckload of well-battered lawn tools to begin my battle:
  • 5 horsepower Murray mulching Mower (sometimes even starts).
  • Weed eater (change cord every five minutes).
  • Edger (shrieks like a cat in the washer).
  • Hedge trimmers (actually, I think these work)
  • Clippers (missing a spring and are too dull to cut wet spaghetti)
  • Gloves (check for spiders)
  • Rake (screw loose; head randomly spins or detaches for fun)
  • Extendable tree-pole saw (with trick "bendy" saw head)
  • Leaf blower - vac (permanently "on"; plug in and chase)
Occasionally, I also add a ladder to the carnival, which I'm certain voids part of my medical insurance, if I were to check the fine print.

And thus begins the dance.

I mow. I blow. I cut. I suck. I scoop. I bend. I trim. Usually for four or five hours, as time distorts itself, speeding up to be sure I never have time to do everything in one day. I ignore the heat. I fight off rabid fire ants. I pay great attention to detail!

Somewhere, as the sun is setting over the California coast, and I am returning my arsenal to a tangled jumble of extension cords in my garage, my yard looks as good as it will look. Which is to say, if you took a picture of our Cul-de-Sac, our yard is the one which makes me understand just a bit of how homeowners associations came to be. Despite my best efforts, I still go to bed fearing that tomorrow, the President will fly over and declare our home a national disaster area. At least then, maybe I'd get some federal funding.

And there, in the quiet still of the night, when my body is reminding me that it's tired of maintaining an active metabolism...that's when they strike.

The trees.

I remind you, they are named "live oak trees". They are cunning. Cleverest of all trees, the live oak abides by no rules of seasonal leaf-shedding. No! It cannot be! They are the non-conformists of the aboreal world. Green-year round, they shed their small thick leaves only when they wish.

And their shedding dreams are no more fulfilled than when my lawn is clean and free of leaves. The earthy scent of freshly-raked soil; the aroma of trimmed grass; the acrid lingering reminder of an electric leaf blower with a short--this combination, this chemical conconction of my efforts triggers something primal and vicious in my live oak trees.

And that is when they strike.

With the new day, I arise to see the fruits of my efforts, which were unobservable in the darkness under which my labors ceased. I open my front door, peering through my frame-of-a storm-door (by product of a rock and a malicious weed-eater)...

...onto a yard of leaves. No, that is unfair. It's not always leaves. I misspeak of the tree. No, no. In the fall, it adds a generous mix of non-rakeable acorns. In the spring, it's the little snaky strings of tree-poop, which layer our yard like new-fallen yellow snow (God bless Claritin). In the winter, it adds sticks and twigs to the mix for extra fiber.

They win. I give up. The battle goes to the trees. No, I will continue my efforts. A neighbor once shamed me by taping a sign to my door: "Take pride in were you live". Yes, just like that, spelling and all. And I have learned! I may not be talented, but let that not stop me! Next quarter, I will again arm myself! I will fight the dirt and the flora.

I will lose.

But that's alright.

I've made a deal with the sprinkler.

Next summer...the trees are done for.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How our words abuse us!

Anyone who's been on a date knows how easily your words and intentions can be misconstrued to embarrassing results. Take that setting, and remove all of those wonderful cues of interaction that our brains process without conscious effort--subtleties in spoken tone, facial expressions, body language, etc.

Guess what you have?

Email, forums and chat!

I've seen time after time that unwanted conflict creeps into electronic communication when one of two things happens:
  • Someone tries to type a mail with clever and subtle sarcasm that isn't conveyed with the words they use,
  • someone reads into the message tone and meaning that it was never intended to have.
Those misunderstandings escalate rapidly and spiral far out of control, and cause relationships to collapse.

There is one good way to try and avoid this, though:

Be over-sensitive to your own writing.

Be flat-out paranoid about ways you communicate. If there's ever a question, be clear instead of funny. It'll save you heartache.

At the same time:
Be cautious about how you allow other people's writing to affect you.

A lot of times, reading something a second or third time, and thinking of it from several angles of intent, will give you a completely different interpretation of what someone meant. If you are still unsure, ask them PRIVATELY before escalating and arming in public.

Bottom line: realize that written communication is rarely clear. Very, very few people write with skill enough to communicate correct intention. It always pays to clarify before engaging any interesting emotions.


Our word for the week, thanks to our new Sunday School curriculum at church, is "inititive". The kids and I have been talking about ways we show inititive- seeing something that needs to be done and doing it. This morning our devotion said that showing initive was obeying God.

Now, I've learned over the past several years how to motivate the kids into doing something. Rachel is hard. She needs to impress someone and be reminded many times of how great she is. Graham, on the other hand, will do anything for a buck. So this morning I told them if they can come home from school and tell me how they showed inititive today then I'd give them a quarter and they can buy a pencil tomorrow.

We prayed and then Graham followed me back into my room so I could fix his hair. He said with all sincerity and conviction and not an ounce of drama in his voice, "Mom, you don't have to give me a quarter, because we don't need to be rewarded for something we're supposed to do anyway."

Dear God, thank you for a son that "gets it" more than me sometimes and forgive me for ever expecting payment or reward for obeying your Word.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Funny Rachel

So we made it through the first week of school. On the first day Rachel came home with half an eyebrow. Apparantly there's a game involving stickers and ripping them off your face.