Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How does my garden grow?

Good question.  Does anyone know the answer?  I sure don't.  Yes, my name is Mary and Yes, I can be quite contrary.  However, the similarities to the nursery rhyme end there.  With that as a reference, I could load up on silver bells and cockel shells, but how exactly does that help my garden?  May I add, the only pretty maid I have is my 9 year-old daughter Kasey...and she knows less about gardens than I do. 

Garden in current state

Does not even look like a garden I know.  This is how it looked last week.

Garden before
 There were 7 azalea and rhododendron bushes.  They had an insect called scales that lay cottony egg sacks and deposited black soot-like waste, slowly chocking the life out of the plants.  To be honest, I am happy to see them gone.  I'm not a fan of azaleas.  Every house I have lived in, someone had planted azaleas and rhododendrons as the most prominent garden feature.  Neglectful previous owners allowed them to become overgrown monsters.

To compound the insect infestation and my dislike of azaleas, New Jersey had a rough year weather-wise.  An extremely dry, hot summer was followed by a freezing cold, stormy winter, wreaking havoc on yards from High Point down to Cape May.

The effects in my own neighborhood can be seen as I walk my dog each day.  

A once proud arborvitae

The final obstacle hindering my garden is New Jersey itself.  That is, the red clay soil that makes up Central New Jersey. 

The soil is densely packed with poor drainage.  How can you plant anything is this stuff?  Perhaps I'd do better at gardening if I quit it completely, bought a kiln and took up pottery. 

Terracotta anyone?

Standing water is a big issue

So how did New Jersey get the nick-name of "The Garden State" anyway?  

Somebody must have figured it out.  So that's what I am attempting to do. 

Did you want to help me on my quest of conquering the clay?  Do you have any hint to help me manage a beautiful garden?

Can you answer me this....How does your garden grow?

If you would like to see what a real garden should look like, check out my friend Carla's Virtual Garden Party.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What Happens in Vegas Part 2: See the Sign

I wanted to see the Las Vegas sign.  My sister successfully talked me out of seeing the sign on a previous trip.  She overemphasized the long walk along the highway...in the middle of nowhere....in the hot desert sun.  I reluctantly give in with my typical, "Alright, if you say so."  

I regretted not making the effort.

This time Dan was game.  We set off to see the sign.  Problem...neither one of us knew for sure where it was.  We managed to get vague directions of "Middle of the highway past Mandalay Bay." Sounded good enough for me.

We got off the bus in front of the Luxor with smiles on our faces. I mentioned hearing about a really nice aquarium as we passed Mandalay Bay.

Dan's response:  "Where is the sign again?"

"I don't know.... Middle of the highway past Mandalay Bay."

We watched helicopters lifting off across the highway.  I asked Dan if he would like to tour the Grand Canyon by helicopter someday.

Dan's response:  "Where is the sign again?"

"I don't know.... Middle of the highway past Mandalay Bay."

At the point where the extravagance of the Las Vegas strip dwindles down to nothing more than the airport on one side, a desolate golf club covering miles on the other, and the exact spot where Dan's patience wares out....

He asked again, ..."Where is the sign?"

"I don't know.... Middle of the highway past Mandalay Bay,"  I whined pathetically.

"How far past Mandalay Bay?"

"I don't know."  I threw my hands up, "Miles, maybe..."

I could see a sign that I might be in the middle of the highway past Mandalay Bay.

A somewhat heated discussion ensued.  Continue or return? 

Ironically, I didn't want to see the sign anymore.  He pointed out how I insisted on seeing it.  I overemphasized the long walk along the highway...in the middle of nowhere....in the hot desert sun.  Dan was determined now.  I managed to drag him this far.  He would drag me the rest of the way.  He gave me his hat, took my hand, and we walked a few hundred yards in silence.

Then it happened. 

Have you ever watched a movie of people lost in the desert?  One where a person walks endlessly over sand dunes in the grueling sun to get instantly overjoyed to come upon a mirage?  That is exactly what it was like.  We saw the sign up ahead in the distance.  Not only that, we saw Elvis.  He was dressed in full 70's garb posing for pictures with happy tourists. 

We did it!  Mission accomplished.  We saw the sign and it was awesome.

I looked past the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" to see Mandalay Bay.  It wasn't that far.  We got aggravated over nothing.

I saw the sign Sis, so there!  *sicks out tounge*

Next time you're in Vegas...SEE THE SIGN.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What happens in Vegas Part 1: What happens before Vegas

My husband Dan goes to Las Vegas every couple years to attend a trade show.  For years I have been begging to tag along.  This year, out of the blue, he tells me I can go.  He had to cash in some frequent flyer miles and arrange a couple extra nights stay in the casino, but as long as I could get my mom to babysit, I was going to Vegas.

Mom said she could watch them...no problem.  She was watching my brother’s kids the week before, but they would be home in plenty of time.

My mom...I love her, but she is quite a character.  She is just naturally goofy.  (Obviously, like mother, like daughter.)  She will get all keyed up over small things.  Once she called me 4 times in one day asking if I sent a friend a thank you note. 

However, when something truly serious happens, she will act like it’s nothing.  Case and point....five days before leaving for my trip, I get the following call from my mother:

“Did you hear the news?” she says in a light breezy tone, “Brody (my nephew) drove his 4-wheel ATV into a tree, broke both arms and deeply cut his face.  Not to worry....He’ll be fine.    And...while I’m thinking about it...can you get a document allowing me to give consent for emergency medical treatment to your kids?  Brody screamed in agony for hours in the emergency room.  That stupid hospital refused to do anything until I could get your brother on the phone.” 

My next thoughts were frightening.  I imagined being interrupted during a show in Vegas by a light breezy phone call from my mother:

“Did you hear the news?  Chris (my son) did a swan dive off the roof of the house.  He’s in a coma, but besides that, everything’s fine.  Oh...by the way...while I have you on the phone...Does he have a living will?”

Anyways, my brother and sister-in-law came home from Florida.  Brody is adjusting to life without arms for the time being.  My mom came up to my house a couple days early.  Perhaps she felt the need to be out of town for a bit. 

Preparing to leave, I noticed Mom touch her cheek and wince while walking through Costco the day before my flight.   She stopped in the medicine aisle to pick up the largest bottle of Advil I had ever seen. 

“Are you expecting my kids to give you that big of a headache?” I joked.

“My tooth hurts.  It’s been bothering me for couple weeks now.”

I asked why she didn't call her dentist, which lead into the long explanation of how she hasn't been to a dentist in over 4 years.  Her long-time dentist was in his 90's and retired.  His replacement was rude to her during her last visit.  (I would tell you how rude, but Mom was using all the words she had always told me not to say.) She simply decided to quit going.

My dentist was able to see her right away.  Turns out, she had a fractured tooth and the only option was to pull it.  As she sat in the chair in pain, I texted my sister, using all the words I’m not allowed to say.  The text read something like “HOLY @$#%^@!&*%$#?”

My sister gave up her weekend so I wouldn't have to give up mine.  She babysat Mom while Mom babysat the kids. 

Hell...They had a party.  I called from the airport to let them know Dan and I arrived safely.  Nobody cared.  They were all to busy eating pizza and calzones.

Thanks Sis!

Friday, February 18, 2011

For Better or For Worse

Let me start out by apologizing.  I managed to mismanage Miss-Managing Mary.  Applause goes out to all of those who have the ability to blog consistently.  I'd like to blame my lack of blogging on my mismanagement of life circumstances, but without my life circumstances, I'd have nothing to blog about.

Circumstances has left me without a vehicle to call my own.  My Ford Windstar, after 11 years of dutiful service, was recalled and determined to be unfixable.  I can't complain about Ford.  They did a good job of notifying us of the recall, giving us a loaner, then paying more than book value once there was no hope in fixing it.  Honestly, the time was long overdue to dump the stereotypical "Mom Mobile."  This was the perfect excuse to upgrade to something a little more sporty.  However...after much consideration...I WANT MY VAN BACK.  I miss it.  It was comfy.  It was cozy.  Most importantly, it was PAID OFF.

We are trying to do our part to buy American.  A potential prospect is the new, re-designed Ford Explorer....if only Ford can make enough for me to actually test drive one.   Apparently, they are in limited production and there is not a single 2011 Explorer to be found.  Another contender is the Ford Flex.  Beside being a little higher than our price range, it looks haunting familiar to the "Family Truckster" from National Lampoon's Vacation.  Ok....maybe a little larger than Chevy Chase's Truckster, but certainly "Truckster-ish."   All that's missing is the simulated wood-grain panels. 

Car shopping has unfortunately been put off due to my husband coming down with the flu. 

Whenever I am sick, I don't want anyone near me.  Don't talk to me.  Don't bother me to ask if I'm ok.  Don't ask me if I need anything.  Just leave me alone in a dark room and check in every once in a while to see if I'm still breathing.  My husband, on the other hand, expects me to transform into Florence Nightingale.  He uses the intercom feature on our phones to pester me every 15-20 minutes.  I hear the ring and think, "Ugh...What is it now?" 

He'll repeat over and over, "Mary, feel my fore head.  Do I have a fever?" 

Do I have to touch him?  Is that a legal requirement of the "in sickness and in health clause" somebody snuck in our marriage vows? 

Lucky for him, he has our daughter who is more than willing to wait on Daddy, hand and foot.  She loves serving him trays of soup or tea.  She fluffs his pillows and brings him extra blankets.  She even sits at his feet reading stories.  Naturally, two days later, she has the flu.  So guess who gets to wait on her?

"Mommy?  Do I have a fever?"

Stay happy and healthy and, if possible, don't touch people with the flu.

Friday, January 28, 2011

American Idiot

No, I’m not talking about me, though I get how you could easily make that assumption.  I am speaking of the Broadway Musical of Green Day’s American Idiot. I had the privilege of watching Green Day’s front man, Billie Joe Armstrong; perform in the role of St. Jimmy this past weekend.  I had the time of my life!  It was fascinating to watch the creator of this album bring it to life on stage with an entire cast of extremely talented people.

American Idiot was right up my alley, being the punk that I am.  However, it’s not necessarily the kind of show I would take my mother to.  She hesitates to see Broadway shows with me anyway.  After taking her to RENT a few years ago, she no longer trusts my judgment.  In fact, I’m surprise she didn’t require a personal inspection of the Radio City Rockettes to prove they were not actually men in drag. 

In American Idiot, Billie Joe’s character of St. Jimmy is imaginary.  He’s a figment of the main character, Johnny’s imagination.  St. Jimmy represents the manifestation of demons Johnny struggles with, similar to an animated devil sitting on his shoulder.  He lures Johnny toward the decadent temptations of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Since the show, I’ve been wondering what it would be like to have St. Jimmy, in the form of Billie Joe, follow me around all day.  The thought should scare me, but honestly, it would be totally cool.  Unfortunately, Billie Joe would be board to tears with my vices of chocolate, cheesecake and Bravo Channel reality programing.  In the end it’s right to bid him good riddance....At least for my imaginary Billie Joe's sake. 

Thank you for all the well wishes on my last post about managing skin caner.  I want you all to know, I am finished with the Carac treatment and my face looks and feels much better.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Managing Skin Cancer

My previous posts highlighted the goofy ways I manage to mismanage myself.  Today’s post will shift more towards the serious efforts to manage myself when it matters the most. 

Here is a picture taken of me this morning.  If you look closely, you will see dry, scaly lesions on the nose, cheeks, and forehead.  Embarrassing huh? Can you believe I did this on purpose?  I volunteered.  I'll go as far to say I'm tickled to see my face covered in red blotches.  Why?  Because each red blotch is sun-damaged skin being destroyed and replaced by healthy cells.  Yep...I managed to get Skin Cancer. 

My Dermatologist prescribed a treatment of Carac, Fluorouracil cream, used to treat actinic or solar keratoses which are scaly or crusted lesions caused by years of too much exposure to sunlight. It works by killing fast-growing cells such as the abnormal cells in actinic keratoses and basal cell carcinoma, according to PubMed

I am choosing to remain optimistic by looking at it similar to muscle pain you feel after a really good work out.  The discomfort is a sign it’s working and it’s only temporary.  The treatment will last another week, then my face will return to its normal, cheery self. 

However, it is startling the hear your son say "What’s wrong with your face?”

Skin cancer has been a part of my life since I was ten years old, after watching my grandfather endure numerous surgeries and infections from skin graphs.  In keeping with our family’s sense of humor, he made jokes.  It serves me right," he'd say.  "A man with skin as white as mine should never become a sailor.”

At the time, I just thought the best way to not get skin cancer was not become a sailor.  Problem solved, Right?  Wrong.  Hey, what did I know?  I was 10. 

Sailing wasn’t to blame.  It was the excessive amount of sun exposure with little to no sunscreen.  Something I had already been doing for a decade and I would continue for another two. 

Ahhh...the life of the sun worshiper...lying on the beach...drenched in tanning oil...accumulating burn after burn in quest of the perfect tan.  SPF?  What’s That?

Harsh reality struck at age 36 while expecting my third child.  My Obstetrician noticed a small red spot on my upper left shoulder when injecting a necessary rhogam shot.  An initial biopsy's results were negative for cancer, fooling us in believing everything was fine.  It wasn’t.  Within one year, the small red spot, about the size of a pea, grew to the size of a quarter.  A second biopsy revealed malignant melanoma. 

The doctors wasted no time.  Hours upon receiving the diagnosis, I was in an operating room with a large section of skin removed from my upper left arm. I was lucky....even with a nasty scar.  The melanoma spread across the top layer of skin, the epidermis, resembling oil on water.  If it had broken through the second layer, the dermis, I might not be here to share my story.

Cancer management requires 6 month check ups with my local dermatologist.  Additionally, I am seen by the Pigmented Lesion Group at the University of Pennsylvania once a year for a more extensive examination.  U of Penn is “mapping” the progression of my many moles to keep cancer under control, using photographs to document any changes. 

These less than attractive photos, I will not be sharing.  I have nightmares of coming across them in medical journals on melanoma.  Trust me...they're scary.

Please think of me when you are in the sun.  No matter what the weather or time of year, wear your sunscreen.  Make it a part of your daily routine.  Protect yourself.  And moms out there....PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN.  Save them from looking like this.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Snow Day

The storm left us with 8 inches of snow.  On top of a storm earlier this week, our snow totals are....Well....A Lot.  We are a fickle bunch here in New Jersey.  We will tell you we like it here because we can experience all four seasons.  We are also the first to complain about the weather.  We huddle up in houses and wait till every last flake is melted.  In up-state New York, where my sister lives, they know how to embrace winter.  They enjoy getting out in it.  They look forward to snowmobiling, skiing, ice skating, you name it.  Personally, I'd rather be at the beach.

The worse aspect of the snow is shoveling it.  I hate shoveling snow.  I manage to wiggle out most of the time.  My husband had the nerve to be annoyed with me during the last storm....all because he came home from a long days work with a hellish commute to find 6 inches of snow in his driveway.   In my mind, snow removal is his job.  Doesn’t he know that’s why I got married? 

All kidding aside, I do feel guilty.  I didn’t even consider helping him out by shoveling.  This time, I made sure to pitch in.  The kids were home from school, so we had plenty of hands.  Teamwork is key.  We cleared the driveway, sidewalk, and both cars within an hour.  I was especially proud to see my two sons help a neighbor who is an older woman living alone. 

Managing meals today was disappointing.  I looked for “Quick” foods.  In a 24-hour period, I managed to make for my husband; nachos with ground meat, egg sandwiches with bacon, and an Italian sub.  When I asked Dan if he wanted chicken wings, his response was...”Am I on the TGIFriday’s diet now?  Look at me....the preachy one about eating healthy.  

We ended our snow day with the Nutrimirror Bowl.  My friend Jessica, who I know through Nutrimirror, (a site dedicated to eating healthy,) connected over the Xbox to play Kinect Sports.  We had a blast competing in different sporting events.  We even spent time video chatting.  Video chat is an interesting thing.  Christmas morning, I stepped in to my family room to find my son’s friend looking at me through the TV.  When the initial shock wore off, and I confirmed I was completely dressed, it was comforting to see his house was as messy as ours.

I suddenly feel like Mrs. Jetson.