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Ten Things I’d Love to Tell My Younger Self

A second time for this favorite. First was a year ago. This is an article I found on Divine Caroline, a writing site I joined and began publishing on in 2009. Originally published on a site called Vibrant Nation, a site for 50 plus women, I haven’t forgotten this piece. So I present it for enjoyment and posterity.

I’ve learned some valuable things about life, love, and being female over the past half century. Here is the advice I try to pass on to younger women in my life (family and friends) in the hope that it will save them some precious time:

1. You are at least ten times prettier than you think you are.

That holds true no matter how pretty you already think you are! Don’t believe me? Ask your mother/aunty/granny if she thought she was pretty when she was twenty. She’ll say no. Then find a photo of her at that age. See what I mean?

2. The only thing you should be faking is confidence.
If you don’t have it yet, pretend you do. In every new situation, pretend you’re not nervous, pretend you’re not afraid. After a few times doing this, the pretend part disappears.

3. Want to try something new, like painting, skiing, or running your own business? Go to the library and borrow ten different books on the subject.
Skim through them all, find the ones that have the most vital information and study them. Then see number 2.

4. No matter how old you get, remember what it was like to be a nine-year-old girl.

Remember the feeling of freedom. If you’ve already forgotten, do a cartwheel. You can so still do one. Savor that feeling. Wake up with it every day. You’ll stay young until the day you die.

5. In the same vein, cut or potted flowers are never a waste of money.

Because every time we glance at them, they remind us how much beauty there can be in the world.

6. Speaking of money, starting right this moment, whether you’re twenty or sixty, you can turn your finances around.
Don’t leave someone else completely in charge, whether it’s your husband, partner, parents, or banker. Become financially savvy. Financial independence gives you the freedom to walk away from many bad situations. How do you know you’re in bad situation? See number seven.

7. If your stomach hurts and you haven’t got a virus, you’re in a bad situation.
Before you know what it is, your stomach always does. Give yourself some time to ponder what it might be that’s making your stomach hurt. Chances are you already do know, you just don’t want to believe it, for some reason. You can ignore advice from your friends, even your own brain, but you can’t ignore your stomach, because the stomach never lies. Oh, and by the way—drowning your stomach in alcohol won’t make it stop telling you the truth, either.

8. When meeting someone new and he or she seems to be behaving like an ass**le, show compassion first.

If after you display your sincere compassion, they are still acting like an assh*le, walk away. If they follow you, call the police.

9. Wear sunscreen on your face, neck, and hands every day, winter and summer.

I don’t care how dark your skin is naturally. Wear it. You’ll remember me when you look in the mirror at age fifty. Always keep in mind that your body is directly connected to your spirit. Look after your body. Exercise, floss, and brush your teeth. Put nothing in your body that can permanently harm your spirit, including the wrong man.

10. And if you are in bed with a man and he’s the right man:
… meaning your stomach doesn’t hurt, he’s smiling at you, he knows your name, he’s not drunk, and neither are you—for god’s sake, enjoy yourself. He is not at all thinking about how fat your thighs look.

By Patricia Volonakis Davis
Originally published on

Vibrant Nation

Then Divine Caroline

Woman Vs. Plant

The Sequel to My Brown Thumb, Woman Vs. Plant was published elsewhere first. And edited for this rebroad. My actual garden remains ignored while I’m tied to a baby.

When last we heard from our horticulturally challenged heroine, she had bravely begun a garden revamp and, although thwarted by an irreverent ground cover, she remained determined to eradicate this invasive, albeit attractive, plant. The grand scheme of this the most viewed garden, was in its early stages.

Now, a month and a half later, this possessed plant and I are engaged in a death match. I used to be sure hell would be painting miles and miles of woodwork. The extraction of this plant has become my new hell and this dirt, the portal there.

What began as a redesign of my garden has turned into the gauntlet of gardening. Why bother? Because when I set my mind to a task, my determination will complete it. And this time, it’s personal.

I must confess that I spent money on this particular patch of dirt some years ago. This may be payback from the landscaper. I annoyed her with my penny-pinching and my offers to be helpful. When I asked if we could keep this specific ‘pretty’ plant in the garden, the wide eyed look she gave me probably meant something.

Since that fateful expenditure, I have systematically taken out most of the other plants she put in. But when only one of my purple coneflowers, usually so robust and abundant, barely came up this summer, I realized something was amiss. Could it be this “multicolored heart shaped leaved spreading-like-a-weed ground cover with a pretty white flower that blooms in the springtime” was to blame? And that’s when I discovered the root system of this seemingly innocuous plant covered 60% of my 20 by 10 foot garden bed.

DSC00942I am fond of saying, “Drops in the bucket fill the bucket up”. I am all about the bucket. I envisioned the filling of this bucket would take some back aching labor. Once done, the rains would come and make all plants happy. Cue the springtime and ta-da, I’d have a whole new garden. But as I shoved my shovel under these plants, the root system astounded me.

I have spent at least twelve woman hours stooped over this bed. Several times just for an hour and still I dripped sweat. Having reached twelve inches below the surface, I might find the end of the spaghetti-like tendrils that tunneled down to the sand layer. Hairy Spaghetti that breaks easily. And just when I thought I was done, more and then more. Its quirky little habits include running under brick sidewalks and through another plant’s root ball.DSC00946

I called up my friend Miss Patty yesterday and I belly ached and moaned about all of this. She said, “Did you consider using Round-up?” She’s a woman who loves to garden and would love to help but she has these pesky twelve hour shifts she works. I said something dumb like, “Wow, I seem to be a woman of leasure”. And she says, not missing a beat, “Someone needs to be”.

I should be ashamed of myself for carrying on about my stinky garden. Surely Patty would give something up, I presume to know not what, to have the time to have my problems. But someone’s got to pay for her kids’ college education. Surely, I am not grateful enough for how well I am kept by my husband who appears happy when I am happy.  If I am happy complaining about my garden, so be it.DSC00947

Of course, the perfect gardening weather occurred the third week of October while I was involved in a fundraiser event. This was promptly followed by a virus that hostilely took over my household and still refuses to leave my nose. There was no gardening going on. Just longing agitated looks out the kitchen window.

Yesterday, with the chilly wind whistling over my bare ears, I was finally out there. I don’t know why I was surprised to discover still another pocket of the spaghetti roots under the plastic under the bricks (and Miss Codependence has to escort every single worm over to its own safe worm zone).DSC00943

Cue the maniacally rapid fire quacking from the ducks nearby; a “quack, quack, quack, quack, quack, quack, and quack”, that sounds just like the evil laugh of Batman’s archenemy the Penguin. It was a sign. I had missed the warm weather. I had missed a bunch of good rain. I had pulled out wheelbarrows of this stuff that my sister called “painter’s palette” (although no database will concur). Yet, surely, as the sun will rise tomorrow, the mystery ground cover from hell will pop its pretty little head out of this bed numerous times next spring.

For now, I just have to soldier on. With the second draft of my garden plot shoved in my back pocket, I began to transplant plants that are probably unhappy being ousted from their comfy beds. All of this in need of completion before the window of weather opportunity officially smashes down on my fingers.

I know there’s karma at work; payback for all those poor little plants I failed to keep alive. I’m sorry New Guinea Impatiens. I’m sorry alyssums and cleomes. It’s a far better place you go to. As for this “plant”, I wouldn’t be surprised to see my composting hillside covered with it come next spring. Did I mention the hillside’s behind a church? Hallowed ground? Karma, I’m telling you.

My Brown Thumb

For years, I dreamed of a patch of dirt to lovingly cultivate my garden in. I exclaimed that was the reason I wanted to own a house. “Be careful what you wish for” doesn’t begin to sum up the torture I’ve endured for the sake of the dirt that accompanied the house I bought nine years ago. As I now dig in this soil, a parade of ghost plants taunts me and whispers “bad plant mommy.” My guilt piles up with the little plant bodies, tossed over the garden wall in a heap to decompose.our weeping cherry and the church

My brown thumb is well-earned. In springtime, like many, I have instant gratification needs to meet. I must plant every area in my garden so it looks great immediately. I would have had the same results digging a hole and burning the money I have spent on the plants I’ve killed with improper soil and light, insufficient water, and lack of compost or mulch. Those poor little pampered plants straight from the greenhouse, all hopped up on steroids, yanked from their pots yelling, “Hey … lady … not here. For the love of all things green, you’re not thinking of putting me here, are you?” They never have a choice, chance, or prayer. And being such an uber-caretaker, I’ve taken every little brown spindly plant death personally. I failed. I didn’t water it, feed it, sun it, mulch it, or talk to it enough. Bad, bad mommy.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Due to my now numerous years of Russian roulette gardening, I now also fear the Trojan horse plant. So innocuous in its little green plastic pot, it seems to say, “Take me home and I promise to be pretty and proper and make you proud of me.” That’s what they all say but this one fulfills its promised destiny and wages a coupe on the planting bed. But grab it by the stem and pull and the roots don’t come with it. Over the fall and spring, it has become the Hostile Takeover Plant. Artemisia, painter’s palette, and “obedient” plants all require garden discipline. Like the mint before them, I spare their lives but shame them in front of their peers and banish them to their own bed with a sunken wall or pot. Like kids, plants need boundaries.Tomatoe plants

I also suggest you avoid those people who make gardening look and sound easy. You know them. They have schedules for garden maintenance. They see gardens as multi-dimensional. The first dimension is soil and sun compatibility. The second is visual texture. And the third is the seasonal bloom times. I don’t have the patience to test the soil! Much less consider twelve months worth of possible color/texture combos. Hello, I’m impulse girl. So I watch as that beautiful foxglove dies a slow two-year death in front of my house. I know, shame on me for coveting a plant indigenous to gardens in England. Where it rains. All the time. Better to keep company with lesser gardeners than yourself. Ding dongs who take eight years to discover mulch doesn’t cost that much but should for how it actually does keep the weeds at bay.

About mid-July this past summer, when it was the hottest and about to be the driest, I got the jones to start transplanting but I resisted my compulsion to uproot and rearrange those doomed plants. I was a good parent. And now, with the weather breaking, you’d think I’d be relieved as I expect lowered water bills and more chair time. It’s time to pull the garden plan out and replant in anticipation of all the lovely rain and happier perennial plants. Except, I procrastinated making that plan. Last week, I was outside with graph paper to plot the ten beds correctly and my neighbor teased me. His wife is also a member of the “buy it ‘cause it’s pretty and plop it in the ground” club. I drew my plot but I still don’t get how to use it. Don’t tell him though.

Blurry beautiful flowersNo surprise that I am completely overwhelmed and yet I will be digging up and transplanting something, even if it’s wrong. How in the world do we ever know anything without a little try and see? Why do we expect to know everything immediately (all the time)? Why is it always so personal? So a couple dozen plants have died at my murderous hand. Oh well, these things take time. Wish me and my plants luck. Maybe fifteen years from now, you’ll see pictures of my garden published in one of those “Living” magazines. If bovines take to the air … Or if, free of charge, I have a crew of knowledgeable people work on my garden instead of me. A girl can dream, can’t she?

Goodbye Dear Friend

It is probably one of the hardest things I’ll ask myself to do other than birth that baby. To throw out my dear friend word processor. And here’s the rest of the story.

I wanted to write. Always. And at some point, my Mom and Grandmother and maybe my Sister all chipped in to buy me the word processor. It’s a glorified type writer. And it was my way to professionally type and create stories. I even had a story that I worked on for a while. And one day might work on again just for s and g’s. I also wrote letters and college papers on this hunk of beige plastic. Computers weren’t affordable yet, OK?

So this thing represented me being a writer. And I moved it’s awkward heavy body and it has sat in a box in my attic the entire time we’ve lived here; 13 years. I kept thinking I’d want to make sure I printed out the documents on the hard disks before I threw it out. But I think the real hangup is that I don’t realize I’ve already become a writer. I have arrived unnoticed into the future I imagined. And I have to let go of the past where I kept dreaming of what would be to see I am right where I’m supposed to be.

And so I write this piece this morning as I plan to take my old friend and the owner’s manuals to the homeowner’s drop off site for recycling. And leave her there. Gods speed to word processor heaven. Your time has come and gone. And frankly, I love my new laptop tremendously. Parting is such sweet sorrow old friend.

Reformation of a Clutterbug

This article was first published in August, 2009 on Divine Caroline. This is pre-blog and the second article I wrote and published on-line. It speaks to what I mentioned in my yard sale pieces about that last yard sale I had after I shut my shop down.

As a housewarming gift, our friends rented us a moving van. This was not so much an act of kindness but self-preservation. They knew me. They knew my stuff. The moving van couldn’t fit it all in. My stuff reached critical mass when I shut the doors of my gifts and antiques shop and the leftovers came home to my garage. There I stood shadowed by teetering piles of my stuff and contemplated the sorting process for a yard sale. I had a profound thought about my stuff and me. My definition of myself could change and thus the context of my stuff would change. I was no longer a shop owner. I’d either find the perfect place for an item or it would become totally unnecessary.

I had come by my pack rat tendencies honestly. As I grew up, so did the piles in our basement chock full of dusty paper ream boxes brimming with old plastic kitchen thingamajigs and macramé magazines from the 70’s. Like many in America, my grandparents survived the Great Depression and passed down their “waste not, want not” mentality to my mother. According to a Johns Hopkins study, the percentage of our society with a problem with hoarding stuff is staggering at way over 50%.

If the self-storage facilities popping up on the highways are any indication, our society defines itself by increments of more. More is better. But now we have obesity of possession. The cause of our stuff-itis epidemic may be economical, societal, historical, or familial. No matter when your husband’s dropping subtle hints that he wants his “Happy Space” back or else the stuff gets it.

I had a couple of mental speed bumps on my road to recovering my space. Too much of what I owned seemed to have excessive sentiment attached. If the object was a reminder of fond memories of childhood or Grandma, it had extra meaning. But if everything’s special, nothing is. My brain got stuck when I knew I’d spent money I’d never get back. But some money back by selling it is more than none. Then I was afraid if I ditched it, I’d need it later. The fear of scarcity leads to hoarding and not scarcity’s opposite: abundance. If I have no faith that change will come, I’ll white knuckle what I’ve got and make no room for abundance.

A book from my library provided inspiration. The author suggested throwing fifty things away today. And those things could include unfinished projects or definitions of you that no longer fit. There in the very un-Happy Space, stuff piled up to the ten-foot ceiling, I had an “aha” moment. I could redefine myself and choose to no longer be a “seller of stuff” as I was rather apparently no longer business owner. Anything I owned was mine. Not to be kept for the possible future sale. Armed with some masking tape, sharpies, and empty boxes, I cleared a space to put my priced stuff into. And I placed two ads in the local paper for the yard sale to end all yard sales promising myself good deeds with the profits.

Here are some of my fast and fearless hints for sorting out your stuff:

If an object has sat in one place for a while, it may have developed an invisible force field around it defying you to take action against it. Dismiss your first inclination to leave it there. Pick it up, show it who is boss around your home, and put it in time out somewhere else. Tell it you’ll get to it later and mean it.

If your problem area is a desktop, drawer, closet, or three by three-foot section of the basement floor, commit thirty minutes with a timer to putting all of it, unsorted into a box and/or bag and remove it to another place for sorting at your leisure. You can create keep, repair, toss, and give away piles with signs. Just the action of clearing the spot will give you a boost called hope and clarity on how to proceed. Once again, break the spell.

Trickier items to deal with may be items that were gifted to you, items that represent someone you used to be, and items that other people expect you to keep for them. Beware! These items have been responsible for many brain seizures and the subsequent skedaddling from the commitment to clear clutter. There are rules. You get to “pass along” gifts after a year. Surely the person that gifted it to you would want to see it being used and enjoyed. If it reminds you of an ex-husband or beau or life you’d rather not think about, it’s gone. If the person is no longer living, you could schedule a day to take pictures and make a photo album of the items with notes on their meaning and memories. And keep one item with the album.

The memories belong to you not the objects. And if the items remind you of your former self, or someone you might want to be, all you’ve got is today. Yesterday is history. So are the fashions. And when you get to tomorrow, it’ll be such a big deal that you did lost the weight, you’ll be allowed to buy new stuff. And lastly, if you’re from a family of clutterbugs, someone may have snuck something into your possession and then made rules about your not getting rid of it. That’s the worst. Yes, you should have said no in the first place but … At this point your boundary issues take precedence. You may want to seek therapy and simply let them know, if they want it back, they can come get it before the yard sale.

If you nodded or grunted in response to any of this, there’s still hope for you. My yard sale put $400 in my pocket. Money I had vowed to use for proper storage containers and an electrolysis appointment. I took the unsold leftovers to auction and got another $30 out of it. I never saw any of it again. I had touched that stuff four times and I was quite sick of it. That’s another way to be done with it. And once you move it out, it does not come back. As I continue to figure out what’s important to me, who I am, and what I can let go of, my brain and my living space have opened up. It’s simpler here. I continue to let go of perfection and have opened up to an abundance I used to be skeptical about. You will create what you believe and you won’t what you don’t. And it’s never a done deal.

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