Get Your Mower out of My Driveway


Hang up and mow!

There are things you would think you’d never have to explain to others, but no. That old term Common Sense seems to have aged poorly, becoming a wistful irony at best, an oxymoron in general practice. Sense, yes; in abundance. Good sense? O, would that it were so!

I’m recollecting the time when our then-regular yard service crew decided it was time for a general pruning in all of their clients’ gardens. Besides the butchery of our precious rhododendrons that made me almost apoplectic when I came home that evening to their skeletal remains–a heartrending sight that on its own would have driven me to buy a cheap push mower and better pruning shears and end the ‘service’ contract–they decided to clear the gate at the north side of the house. Not having noticed, apparently, that I’d sealed that useless gate in favor of the wide open passage on the driveway side of the house, where mowers and wheelbarrows could pass with ease. So they tore out the tender seedling Garry oak by the gate, the one I’d coddled up to nearly five feet tall.

I would have assumed that a longtime yard ‘care’ business would employ people who knew the basics, if not the art, of pruning to do it; the several years of assiduous nursing it took me to save the rhodies were spent in wonder that it was so evidently not obvious to that crew. But yanking up a slow-growing native seedling tree without asking? Really? If I’d had the broom to ride, I’d’ve been skywriting that company’s performance review with the postscript, ‘RIP: Common Sense.’

No, it was not the end of the world, or even (happily) the end of those brave, scrappy rhododendrons. I suppose the only thing that suffered fatally in the event was my trust in that yard company. That, and my mower-free personal time per the end of their contract. But it certainly dealt a glancing blow, as well, to my naïveté about what is and isn’t Common Sense. Guess there’s always time to learn new things. Just keep away from my garden babies in the meantime and nobody gets hurt.


I don’t care if it *is* growing in a crack on the driveway; if it’s in bloom, don’t mess with it.

The Power of Being Well Behaved

When I was teaching, I thought it useful to devote a bit of the informational materials I handed out at the beginning of every term to basic issues of classroom decorum. The idea that so-called common courtesy has to be taught, not just to children but to all ages, is no less ridiculous than understanding constant the need for training and refreshing what is called common knowledge or common sense. Generations have passed since people saw a need to comment on or complain about the uncommonness of all of these virtues.

More significantly, as a teacher I knew that if I didn’t encourage, if not demand, attention to such virtues in my classroom there was little hope of any other sort of learning happening in there. I’m old-fashioned that way. The silly thing is probably that it was only after leaving teaching that I thought very clearly about how much these attitudes mattered in any and every kind of cooperative venture, not only in the classroom but in the boardroom, the living room, and certainly in the places where politics, religion, health care, social activities and civic progress are in progress. At least, if we want actual progress to occur.

And that’s how my two cents came out as a personalized set of ten ‘commandments’. Ah, well. I’m kind of a megalomaniac, and I did feel the need to keep my eyes on what was happening.pen & ink


for getting along with Kathryn

I   Come to class unless you are dead.

II   Show up on time. Lectures don’t always begin on the dot of the class-starting time, but if a deadline is stated as “beginning of class, 18 March” and you  arrive one minute late, technically I can tell you that you missed the deadline and so your project is rejected. Flunked. That’s harsh. But trust me, it’s fair. Besides, it’s a safe bet that if the lecture does start on time and you miss part of it, I’m not going to be terribly enthusiastic about repeating myself and your classmates who have just heard the stuff will definitely not be amused to have it reiterated. Be in place, cell phone and watch alarms and headsets off and fully participating in class, and we’ll all get along famously. Hurray for good manners!

III   Bring all assigned materials and have them in ready-to-use position when class starts. Written tests, especially pop quizzes, are uncommon in my classes (they do exist), but notes and written critiques can be required at any time. Be ready. Write down everything, and date it. Even if I don’t say you have to. Then you have documentation of what I told you (and when) if I should change plans inexplicably or you have a question. Also, it makes you look attentive and enthusiastic whether you are or not.

IV   Flattery will get you places. Forget that baloney about it getting you nowhere. You lose nothing by Making Nice with people and attempting to impress them with your admirable and outstanding qualities; they might even enjoy buying into the whole idea. It’s an excellent tool for impressing others, this making them think you find them worthwhile and fabulous. Conversely, the quickest way to turn a potential ally into a pain in the neck is to belittle, ignore, challenge the primacy of, argue with or antagonize her. Diplomacy and tact mean that you can frankly say, “I disagree,” or “what do you think of _____,” and get a respectful hearing. We are only human (if we’re lucky).

V   By the way, if your death prevents your attending class, call and let me know in advance.

VI   If you have big plans, talk to me. It’s possible that your previous experience with and knowledge of this topic mean you can quickly “test out” of the class requirements and go forward into a more challenging and personally fulfilling independent project. If so, let’s work together to get maximum use out of your time and energies.

VII   If you feel out of your depth, it’s okay to swim over to the shallow end and meet with me privately by appointment. Probably all you need is a bit of individual coaching beyond what’s available or comfortable in class time. Of course, if you’ll kindly risk asking the question in class, there are always others who benefit by having their identical question answered, and probably your learning it together will make it simpler.

VIII   Ignorance shouldn’t embarrass you. Holding on to ignorance should. You’re in class, presumably,because you don’t know Everything yet, same as the rest of us.  So ask your “stupid question,” please. Real stupidity is avoiding or refusing to try or doing something wrong because fear of lowering yourself prevented your asking the question that would’ve resolved the problem.

IX   Be patient. Spend the time. Attempt the highest levels of craftsmanship and professionalism. Pay attention to the tiniest detail.

X   Be bold and adventurous. Climb out of ruts. Seek a new perspective on the familiar and become familiar with the alien. Look for connections. Expect the infinite.

Foodie Tuesday: The New Miracle Diet that will Give You X-ray Vision, Eidetic Memory and the Pheromones to Attract Every Sexy Human You can Possibly Want!!!


If the Perfect Miracle Food were the food you despised most, would you eat a barrel of it anyway?

I’m beside myself [Ed: yes, right over here] with ecstasy that we live in an age where we’re constantly receiving updates apparently teleported, straight from God’s lips, on new life-saving Superfoods and diet strategies that will bring about world peace and end the shortage of sporty convertibles in our time. I realize that as long as there have been hucksters and hyperbolists that could spell Snake Oil there have been such claims filling the air and jamming our brainwaves with unrealistic wishful optimism. Purveyors of serious science and common sense have both long since given up on the possibility of coming to a definitive answer to the perpetual question of what’s good for us to eat, at least one on which all sentient beings can agree. That never stops anyone from trying either to discover it or to convince us (with our remarkably flexible wallet-hinges) that they have.

But the modern info-bombardment wherein we swim encourages us to see, hear and believe an ever-noisier, ever more enthusiastic and far-reaching set of claims to this Truth. Amazing! Astounding! and the ever-popular exclamation that I so love, Incredible! (As if I can’t tell just from the obnoxious typography of the advert and the hilariously awful before-and-after unretouched photos that there’s nothing remotely credible to be found in the accompanying claims.) Scientists are almost as guilty of outrageous claims as anyone, in this environment where every research program has to compete for every dime with not only every other genuine researcher but also the whole phalanx of false prophets and their wonderful platinum-plated products. It takes only a tiny effort for the completely uninformed amateur to sleuth out at least two diametrically opposed studies on any given dietary claim that have produced what looks and sounds like fairly convincing data, so I am loath to do anything more dramatic than take it all with a grain of salt.


. . . and how do you prefer your sodium chloride: hickory smoked or deep fried?

Which, indeed, is what I will likely do. Hey, there are enough mutually exclusive authorities regarding how much sodium is permissible in whose diet and in what forms to keep a whole herd of elk dying in wait for the salt lick. I’m fond enough of being alive and not feeling like, say, I’m in imminent danger of keeling over with toxins squirting out of every pore of my body while I disintegrate to dirty swamp water like the alien in a 50s B-movie that I do try on the average to put things into my mouth with a modicum of moderation and thoughtfulness. I look for what seems to make me feel my best and work to include that in my meals rather than always succumbing to the lure of the luridly unhealthy.

It just seems to me that we have actually been living for a bit right in the middle of Woody Allen‘s Sleeper. Regardless of your view on Woody Allen movies, I’m nearly at the point where I think all school health classes should be required to see that film at some juncture in their studies just for the scenes where hero Miles Monroe is brought out of his cryogenic sleep and is coached by his attending doctors on how the understanding of health has changed in the two hundred years while he was snoozing on ice. There’s something almost eerily familiar nowadays when reputable researchers and doctors from every corner are admitting that perhaps not all of our longtime religiously held convictions about sugars, fats, proteins and all of those other pesky elements of edibles we fear and worship are exactly the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. That perhaps there is a bit more difference in how one person or another is affected, and how good or evil that might be.

All I can say is, it’s kind of a relief to think that I don’t have total control over my destiny through what I ingest, so I’m going to continue to consider myself a so-far live experiment subject willing to undergo certain tests to see what can be most deliciously survived in my lifetime. Come on over and chow down with me, and don’t get too hung up on it, okay? There’s too much edible, drinkable goodness of every kind just hovering on the edge of my ken for me not to show it some respect and appreciation. Amen, let’s eat.

photo collage

So many tasty choices, so little time . . .