Sunday, March 28, 2010

What a Difference a Week Makes

A garden tends to get better with each new year. Trees and shrubs grow larger, perennials mature, bulbs multiply and annuals increase exponentially. This is certainly true in the 12th season of my little garden here in Athens.

In truth, my garden is a random assortment of plants bought on a whim. I see something I like, buy it (a lot of it if I really like it), and figure out where to put it when I get home. Planning never really enters the picture.

Sometimes my random approach to gardening works great. More often, however, it doesn't. So I try something different.

Anyway, along with 12 years of tinkering, the exceedingly wet fall and one of the coldest winters on record the garden has been truly spectacular this spring. Here are my favorite pictures from this weekend.
You can see this same shot on my last garden post. What a difference a week makes! The Pieris japonica 'Temple Bells' (white flowers) and Anemone blanda (blue daisies) are high on my list of favorites.  Might need to rethink the orange pansies next year!
These daffodils are in the last garden post, too, from a different angle. The cherry trees blooming in the background make a huge difference. Eventually grasses and day lilies will take over. The dianthus (red) and begonias (pink) are new additions.
The same daffodils from a bit further down the path. You can see the grape hyacinths (blue spikes) are blooming a lot more than they were a week ago. I bought a bag of 50 bulbs the first year I was hear and now have billions.

And that's what's happening in the garden of...

The Crotchety Old Man

Friday, March 26, 2010

My Left Turn

I am the product of a mixed marriage. Dad grew up Baptist and a Republican. Mom grew up Catholic and a Democrat. Dad converted to Catholicism so they could marry but has never lost his faith in the Republican party.

Mom and her sisters (RIP) were devoted to the Catholic Church, the Democratic party, and University of Kentucky sports though not necessarily in that order. Arguing was a family hobby. Despite countless differences of opinion about numerous things, they did agree on one thing: John F. Kennedy was a saint.

Despite my decidedly liberal aunts, my upbringing in the lily-white burbs pushed me to the right. Being different in any way from people your own age was a curse. You didn't want to be too tall, too short, too fat or too skinny. Better to blend in than to stand out. People who dared to be different were outcasts, misfits, and trouble-makers. Uniformity and conformity reigned supreme.

You could say my liberal aunts preconditioned me for the left turn I would eventually make. Perhaps. But I don't think so. My upbringing and mediocre high school record produced a spoiled little, know-it-all with an over-sized ego and a whopping sense of entitlement. Some would say I haven't changed much.

Perhaps not. We grow and age, but at the core we don't really change all that much. Hard to say whether my experience since high school has caused me to evolve into a better person or if it has merely led me to be differently biased. Obviously I prefer to think I've evolved.

Unlike a lot of gay guys, I honestly didn't suspect a thing growing up. Looking back it's clear I was just stupid. Or maybe you can't see what you don't want to see. For whatever reason I didn't connect the dots until I was almost 21.

Coming out produced a sudden, almost violent turn to the left. I became "different" and hence subject to the scorn of the same conformists I once emulated. Karma is a bitch. One three-letter word negated any positive qualities, attributes, or accomplishments. Wah.

I know, some of you think being gay is a choice. Show me three straight people who want to be gay. Nobody wants to be gay. That's not to say I'm not happy. Nor do I have any desire to change, especially at this stage of the game. I'm blessed to live in a time when it's possible for me to live my life openly, honestly and without fear.

I know, some of you think that's the whole problem with America today. We homos should get back in the closet and hide. You just don't get it and nothing I can say will make you understand. I know. Back when I first came out and didn't know any better, I used to try. Some kinds of stupid are permanent.

That's why I'm worried. I wonder where all this name-calling and brick-throwing is taking us. I see Virginia rolling back protections for gays and religious conservatives battling to save society from all us godless homosexuals and the hair on the back of my neck goes up.

Stop the hate. Please. Lives depend on it.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spring's Beautiful Beginning

Spring has certainly arrived here in Athens, Georgia. After a slow start the garden has practically exploded into bloom. The difference from last weekend to today is just amazing.

Deciding on the winners for best in bloom awards was hard because there is so much from which to choose. I finally selected my favorite four pictures from hundreds taken over the last few days. How did we survive before digital cameras?

The Helleborus orientalis described here nearly a month ago are even more beautiful now. This is old news so no new picture. Sorry. Four pictures is about the maximum for a post.

Nothing says spring like bulbs. Daffodils, wonderfully fragrant hyacinths (pink), and dainty grape hyacinths bloom along a pine straw path through the garden. The red berries in the background are Nandina domestica. You can see white Helleborus flowers on the other side of the concrete table.
A southern garden isn't complete without camellias. I have half a dozen varieties and keep adding more of these beautiful winter-blooming evergreens. Three varieties are blooming right now, the best being Camellia japonica 'Victory White', pictured below.
Because it's usually the first deciduous shrub in my garden to bloom, Magnolia stellata is another favorite. They are also lightly fragrant, depending on the time of day and the wind. The ten-year old specimen pictured below stands a good 8 or 9 feet tall.
Another early bloomer making a late appearance this year is Pieris japonica 'Temple Bells'. The one pictured below is about 12 years old. For some reason it tends to skip blooming in odd-numbered years. Beneath it is Anemone blanda, also known as windflowers and another of my favorite bulbs.
That's the view from the garden this week. Enjoy, and stay tuned. Given all the rain we've had in the last six months and the way things are starting out, it should be a spectacular spring.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Facebook: A Cure for Curiosity

I'm curious by nature. Some would say downright nosy. I get it from my mother. She will tell you we're just interested.

The family grapevine, in its heyday, was the most effective communication system ever. We knew everything about everyone else almost as soon as it happened. All too often we even knew about stuff before it happened.

The system was primitive. This was decades before cell phones, the Internet or even cordless telephones. Call waiting, caller-ID, call forwarding, unlimited long distance and voice-mail didn't exist, either. We didn't even have answering machines.

The most effective communication system I've ever seen relied entirely upon black, rotary dial telephones tethered to living room or kitchen walls. When something important was going on, you stayed off of and close to the telephone waiting for news. Once it came, information reached every leaf on the family tree at lightening speed.

No phone tree was needed. If the line was busy they already knew. You just kept dialing until you reached a line that wasn't busy. You didn't get a dozen e-mails, text messages or tweets. Just one call. Fast, efficient and never the least bit annoying.

With this long history of too much information about the intimate details of dozens of aunts, uncles, cousins and such, Facebook seemed right up my alley. Tons of information, with pictures even, just a click away. Woo hoo!

After spending hundreds of hours I'll never get back browsing profiles, I made a rather startling discovery. There are lots of things I really don't want to know about other people. This is especially true if we happen to work together.

Last weekend I spent two hours removing current and former coworkers from my friends list. That's right, I unfriended roughly 75 people. Nothing personal. I had to do it. If you were a victim of the purge, please understand it's really not about you.

I felt the difference right away. Yeah, some of my remaining friends share things I'd rather not know, too. The difference is I can speak my mind when something pushes my buttons without worrying about offending coworkers. Who knows, the ability to vent freely might make me something other than...

The Crotchety Old Man

Friday, March 12, 2010

As a Matter of Fact...

My parents bought a set of encyclopedias before I was old enough for school. I'm pretty sure they're still on the shelf at Dad's house. I don't remember the name--ours was the only set from this publisher I ever saw--but recall they were beautifully and rather ornately bound. By the time I could read, the information between those beautiful covers was largely out-of-date.

Fortunately the schools I attended had good libraries. In grade school the World Book Encyclopedia was the absolute authority on every topic and the ultimate arbiter in any dispute. If it was in World Book, it was indisputably and undeniably an established fact. You can't argue with the facts. End of discussion.

Facts gave way to theories and hypotheses in college. Broad, sweeping statements were challenged and ultimately discredited. Reality, you learn, is a lot more gray than black or white.

There are things we know (facts), things we don't know (mysteries), and things we think or believe to be true about various facts and mysteries (opinions). Trouble comes when spin, distortion and out-and-out lies cause people to confuse facts, mysteries, and opinions.

Take for example the faith and birthplace of our current president. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii and has been a Christian his entire life. These are not mysteries or opinions, but verifiable matters of fact. Yet survey after survey finds roughly twenty percent of the population continue to believe otherwise.

Say what you want but sounds to me like one in five of us has a pretty serious case of stupid. I'm not saying you're stupid if you disagree with Barack Obama. But if you hold on to long disproved lies, well, if the shoe fits...

Intelligent people have different opinions about the available options based on different schools of thought. Would be great to have a reasoned debate about the advantages and disadvantages of the various options. Perhaps by design, that never happens. The lunatic fringe makes too much noise for polite conversation.

How do you solve a problem when you can't even agree on the basic facts? You can't. That's why 535+ members of Congress and thousands of staffers can't do squat to move this country forward. I'm guessing one in five of you are satisfied with things just the way they are. If you're not, speak up. Let your elected officials know you want to see them take as much interest in our country as in his or her political party. Our future depends on it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Consider Yourself Spanked

Last week the conference I've been working on for two years finally took place. This group has no membership dues, no officers, no board of directors, and no paid staff. Just me, the duly-elected volunteer executive director and some 250 subscribers to our e-mail distribution list.

My work for this group is a labor of love. I've known many of the members for 25 years or longer. I enjoy organizing conferences (don't ask me why but I do) and have yet to receive a bad review for any I had a hand in organizing. That and the fact nobody else wants to do it are how I got the job.

The 2010 conference received high praise from the 80+ participants--a near high for conference attendance. All 40 presentations were excellent--highlighting cutting edge work on the ground, in the classroom, and in the science of this particular field. All in all it was a great conference.

That said, I want to comment on the rude behavior of a few participants. My comments arise from a sense of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Call me old-fashioned if you like, but good manners never go out of style. Here's an off-the-top-of-my-head-list of the rude behaviors I observed.

* Talking during presentations. I don't mean interactions with presenters. I'm talking about side conversations. This applies in meetings, too. Shut up and listen when someone else is talking, OK?

* Using any kind of electronic device during presentations. Yeah I know you're taking notes on your laptop. I don't care. It's distracting and annoying. Write it down and type it up later. Use of any electronic device during a presentation is just plain rude.

* Scheduling meetings during conference sessions. WTF? Yeah I know you're all here and it's a great opportunity for you to get together. You'll still be here after sessions conclude for the day, too. Meet then.

* Attending only the session that includes your presentation. If we all did that, every presenter would talk to an empty room. I know you think you know it all but you don't. You're there to learn so go to the damn sessions.

* Skipping out on sessions. OK. I admit I'm guilty of this one, too. But as a conference organizer, it's embarrassing to see how few warm bodies are in chairs for afternoon and last-day sessions. I know you think nobody will notice. Newsflash--I noticed, as did those unfortunate enough to have to present during those times.

A lot of people went to a lot of trouble to put together a program, a presentation, and a menu for your enjoyment and professional development. You owe it to them to be there, in the chair, giving them your undivided attention. Isn't that what you expect when you're the presenter?

As the organizer, I paid between $35 and $60 per day for food you never had any intention of eating. How wasteful. Had I known you wouldn't be eating with us, I would have ordered less and saved the money. Our skimpy cash reserves could use it.

OK. I'm done. If you're guilty of any of these behaviors, consider yourself spanked. I feel better, but will likely continue to be...

The Crotchety Old Man.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Has Spring Sprung?

After snowing enough on Tuesday for the University of Georgia to close, the weather here has been gradually improving. The high has increased by about five degrees a day. I'm thinking maybe spring has finally arrived in Athens.
The garden is really starting to come to life. Just over two weeks ago I wrote about snow crocus, Lenten rose, and some blooming house plants. I mentioned dwarf iris, but only a few were in bloom at the time. They are really coming in to their own now all over the yard as seen in the photo above.
Lenten rose blooms have increased dramatically. Above is an upward-looking photo of these downward-facing blossoms. They readily self-seed throughout the garden making me wonder why they are so expensive at garden centers. Below you can see the sprouts. If you're local and want some, let me know. I have millions.
The snow crocus continue to bloom and have now been joined by giant crocus. Below are some that managed to escape discovery by squirrels and chipmunks over the winter. This is the first year since I've been in Athens that they've bloomed before the daffodils--a regular occurrence when I gardened in Kentucky.
No wonder everything is so late. According to the newspaper, daytime temperatures are warmer in 19 of every 20 winters than what we've seen this year. I expect we'll see a lot of catching up over the next few weeks given the balmy/rainy forecast. I hope so. Cold weather turns me into...

The Crotchety Old Man

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The $85 Watch Battery

Almost every watch I have ever owned was a Timex. I had a Swatch once but somebody stole it. Nobody ever wanted my Timex watches. They took a licking and kept on ticking until I either stopped winding them or quit replacing batteries.

My partner bought me a nice watch for Christmas (2008). I'm sure he was disappointed by my lack of interest in fancy features. He's all about the latest technology--or was, until he turned 30. I just wanted a watch with a white face and big numbers so I could see the time without having to reach for my glasses.

We finally settled on a Swiss Army watch. It's plain, simple, and exactly what I wanted. I love it and wear it every day.

Or I did, until the battery died last week. When I mentioned to my partner my plans to drop into Walmart for a new battery, he suggested I instead go to the pawn shop for more knowledgeable assistance. Sounded like a good idea, so I did.

Rather than the pawn shop I went to the Fine Jewelry store located right next door. OK. It was really just a different door to the pawn shop. But I felt better about going in.

The kind gentleman behind the counter was only too happy to help. He took my watch to someone working in a backroom and returned to help a customer who came in after me. No problem.

While he was still helping the other customer, a lady came out of the back with my watch. She told me the cost was $10. I gave her $10 cash and she returned to the back room. She didn't give me a receipt but I had my watch so I left.

That night I noticed the watch had stopped again. I figured the pawn shop installed the wrong battery. Since I didn't have a receipt, I decided to eat the $10 rather than return to the pawn shop.

The next day I drove all the way across town to the watch store. I told the guy I'd taken the watch someplace else and shared my theory about the wrong battery. He took my watch to a back room.

When he came back he asked where I'd taken it. I panicked. Instead of the truth I told him I took it to Walmart. He said Walmart isn't authorized to work on these watches. Uh oh.

He returned to the backroom and came back with my watch and a sad look on his face. The watch was damaged and I would need to leave it for an estimate of the cost to repair it. He offered to talk to the people at Walmart about paying for the damage and wanted to know which of the two stores in town it was. UH OH.

I came clean. I admitted I'd taken the watch to a pawn shop and failed to get a receipt for the battery. He backed away from the counter and looked at me suspiciously. I'm not sure if he reacted to the lie or the fact I'd taken my nice watch to a pawn shop for a battery.

Today I picked up my fully-functioning watch. The cost? Just $70 for the part and $5 for the labor. When I entered the transaction in Quicken, I classified the $75 as an educational expense.

And that's the truth, or I'm not...

The Crotchety Old Man
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