Seed Catalogs

The catalogs started piling up in December, but by a long-standing rule, they stayed by the door until after Christmas. Then they were dropped without ceremony onto a pile of other catalogs until after the middle of January. That date has passed, and now the gardening catalogs are displayed on the table in all their immanent colorful glory.

OK, I’ll admit on the eleventh, I broke down and bought one of those “herb gardens on your kitchen window” kits. I just couldn’t bear it anymore – wait! Let me Italicize that for emphasis I just couldn’t wait any longer!

Things are going to be a bit different this year. I mean it! My hip surgery last August left me evaluating how I use the spatial limits and advantages of the garden and how my physical inabilities butted up against those. So instead of tearing through pages of colorful flowers and veggies, I’ve been looking at elevated planters. I think the days of spending lots of time on my knees may become strictly rationed.

The websites and catalogs are full of goodies promising to make my gardening life easier. But, after an initial viewing, I cut to the chase and went to the many reviews on how these stack up. There are lots of reviews of these products. I am looking at their esthetics, potential longevity, capacity, and pricing. I haven’t made any firm commitments.

For many years I was an advocate of grow bags. They are cheap, economical on water ( rather than watering the whole bed, you just water the bag), and very friendly to be placed in useable but odd locations around the garden. However, their principal problem is that they are ugly and don’t age well. Also, I still have to stoop to weed them. I want to limit stooping and kneeling. Some of the grow bags will go into the further reaches of the garden. Those in poor condition will be repurposed. They are made from heavy-duty landscape cloth, so cutting them up and using them as landscape barriers is a good repurposing.

January tends to be my month for planning and exploring new options in both the shop and the garden. It’s a strategy I’ve found helps me get through the worst of this part of the winter. In February, I’ll start more plants inside, ordering and assembling what I need for spring, and get busy making maple syrup.

If you have the winter blahs, having a plan is essential.


Overcoming fear is a tricky thing. Not having driven until my early thirties ( It’s New York City thing!) I was leary of driving. Not frightened, but just leary of it. Living in coastal Maine, I found that driving was a great skill to have. Previously I had only lived in urban areas where public transportation made most local traffic easy; friends made up the slack by taking me where busses and trains didn’t run.

My first wife was willing to teach me to drive, but it didn’t take long to learn that she was terrified of it. She drove daily, sometimes for long distances, but was intensely fearful of it. Not being a driver, her fear, as my teacher, passed on to me.

It took a lot of driving to learn to be a careful but not continually frightened driver. It was many years, however, before I appreciated how brave my first wife was. She successfully mastered great fear daily to drive her car to work, social events, vacations, and stores.

I gradually overcame my fear, but for her, it was a question of mastering it daily.

Cold, Slow, and Rotten

January doesn’t last forever; it sometimes just feels that way. But, just so you know, the “normal” New England January is like its comrade in arms, February, a severe period of cold, storm, and darkness. Except, as we all know, that seems to be changing. The end of December was warm, and instead of having a day or two of an affable January thaw, we seem to be having an extended Winter thaw.

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll know that January is not my favorite month. So you might think this extended period of above-freezing weather would make me rejoice. Nope.

I’ve lived in New England for most of my adult life, and if it’s one thing I’ve learned, trusting our climate is an invitation to be sucker punched. It’s not like I’m lacking gratitude for the warmth, so much that I worry that this climatic shilly-shally will result in huge snow drifts in late February, March, and April.

Looking at the seven-day forecast on January fourteenth was like looking at the perfect weather for tapping my maple trees for sap, which made me pause. The season has been erratic for several years, and I’ve tapped as early as January twenty-seventh. But I wonder if the premature tapping of the trees hurt them.

A slow, cold, rotten January is not a nice thing. But it’s what we are used to having. I hate to say it about January, but am I beginning to miss how it used to be?


Personal soundtracks. Don’t have one? Then create one. You’ll walk down the street strutting your stuff. Or as George Clinton, the leader of a funk group, said, “put a glide in your stride, a dip in yo’ hip, and come on up to the mothership.”

A soundtrack is much better than going through life and looking down periodically at a script. The script knows where it’s going. You are just along for the ride. A soundtrack is an inspiration to be yourself.

Dance yourself silly to your soundtrack. Sure, you’ll get in trouble. But, at least it’s original to you.


We walked those long city blocks for miles when I was young in New York City. If you didn’t walk, you rode on the subway trains or the buses. For the cost of a token, the world – as seen from a proper New Yorkers’ perspective – was yours. Unless you had to go to some exotic location, like New Jersey or Long Island, you didn’t need a car. Then, of course, those locations required my father’s car. But ordinarily, you could get around by foot and public transportation.

On leaving New York to ramble, my thumb became my primary method of soliciting rides. The callouses on it became thick with use as I moved around large hunks of the United States and Canada. I still didn’t have a car. 

Then there was a while when travel by boat was my favorite mode of transport. From where I lived, it was easier to get somewhere by boat. Especially if you adamantly refused to learn to drive. Somehow the Harbor master never pulled me over for speeding. But creating a blur of speed in the little wreck of a skiff I had just wasn’t possible.

I eventually learned to drive and am now among the ranks of the stodgy, traveling to and fro on hydro-carbon fumes.

If I had to pin down my favorite mode, I’d say that my sentimental favorite was by boat. There was a sense of adventure and challenge about it. 

Of course, it was no fun that time I was lost in the fog. I was only thirty feet off the dock but didn’t know it for an hour.


We were good over Christmas. As a family, we kept the vow to reduce wrapping paper, buy less, and consume less. As a result, trash day at our home had the average volume, or maybe less—no highest volume of the year due to cardboard, plastic, and wrapping paper. As we all know corporations are involved in diabolical plots to choke the planet with clamshell plastic packaging.

My wife, however, insisted that I did not have enough tools in the eight-by-ten greenhouse/shop, which has been past its limit on devices for a few years. I noted that most of the stuff from Lee-Valley seemed to come in cardboard that went right into the recycle. Somebody in Ottawa must be listening to our requests for recyclable packaging.

January is a time for tool companies to send flyers, catalogs, and junk emails. Having behaved for the holidays, they now seek a reversal of my vows to be good and get me to spend on more tools and clamshell packaging. I have a strategy to fight this; all tool company catalogs and flyers are automatically put into recycling. I don’t even look at the covers. Likewise, all emails from tool vendors have been flagged as junk and consigned to the trash bin automatically.

There is a certain amount of warmth of feeling, and yes, I feel vindicated and superior about this. I have behaved in the face of great temptation.

But the seed catalogs are arriving, and I feel my seed lust growing. Will there be room in the garden for the new varieties of tomatoes I want to grow?

Conventional Wisdom

What is your mission?

I don’t think of myself as a folk artist. In fact, none of the craftspeople and artists I know are comfortable with all-encompassing labels. One of my peers who smirked at the folk artist label being applied to her and her work cackled and said, ” let them call me what they will as long as they buy the work.” I think she sells her impressionistic paintings at different galleries than where she sells her folksy greeting cards. It boggles the imagination that critics, folklorists, and others seem to think that just because you produce one type of work in a particular area that it renders you unable to do other things.

The little angel is me in folk arts mode. It’s my mission to confound and confuse the narrow-minded.

Darn it! Let’s fold, spindle, and mutilate convention, and have a good time doing it too!


Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” George S. Patton

 I think the general was on to something. And to relate to why I’ll quote Bill Gates on the same issue, “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”  Having knocked around life for a while, I’ve learned that success and failure are linked. And that they are not permanent states of existence. Work to succeed, but expect that there will always be the possibility of failure somewhere along the way.

I’ve been shattered on the reefs of life a few times. Sometimes it’s impossible to rebuild the way things were. Making it may result from opportunity, chance, or hard work. Having worked the options in one way once does not imply that the same efforts will work the same way again. Developing extra skills, broad knowledge, and abilities is essential. These are your insurance package. They may feed and house you when you’ve hit bottom.

 It’s easy to accept the advice that you only need to do one thing well, and you’ll be employable, needed, and successful for life. However, if this is your take on life, I think you’ve been distracted by a good line of BS. Technologies mature, skills fade, and most importantly, the world is full of prejudice. I’ve had numerous friends find their employment opportunities strangely shrink after forty-five.

Another thing to think about is that your personal goals and objectives grow and change. Success at twenty doesn’t look the same as it does at thirty. If you’ve done a good job of exploring the universe, you may decide that going in an entirely different direction is right for you.

So when I get asked to define success, I suggest that it’s being prepared for what might come next, seizing the diamonds in misfortune, and forging a new adventure.

Or that Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.”  


Do you want to live forever?

Live forever? Dear Good God! Wait, maybe dear, not so good, god. There’s a nasty bit of myth about the gift of eternal life. It seems that a goddess wishing to reward her mortal lover gave him eternal life. But having a busy schedule that day, she failed to include eternal youth or good health. He aged.
Probably, he aged like most of us do in youth, barely perceptively. But as the years rolled on, he noticed that his left shoulder was cranky. In addition, the loss of acuity in vision left him less than satisfied while watching sunsets or clouds scudding across a moonlit sky. Finally, being a practical guy, he noticed that his fingers didn’t darn as well if he repaired his socks. The realization that he was aging was sealed with the graying of his previously lustrous brown hair.

His calls to his lover went unanswered. She had moved on to younger men and had stopped thinking of him years ago. The years and centuries rolled on, and his condition continued to deteriorate. Nevertheless, he still lives today, and if capable, he advises you to be careful of what gifts you accept from forgetful deities. If I remember, it was a Greek goddess involved, and perhaps that was the actual origin of the saying to “beware of Greeks bearing gifts.”
Well, anyway, “live long and prosper!”

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