Confessions of a perennial killer

Author: natalie  //  Category: Home sweet home

Early spring is upon us, and I’m preparing for the annual sprucing-up of our flowerbeds.   It’s a mystery why I haven’t been investigated by one of Baytown’s many garden clubs, and eternally banned from landscaping attempts. Exasperation, amaryllis envy, and far too many errors in my trials, have proven me an herbicidal maniac. Maybe I’m asking too much in wanting nice flowerbeds before I’m pushing up daisies.

Jeff and his aching back are the brawn behind the operation, and I, of course, am the brains. I must tread lightly here as I don’t want him to resign from his esteemed position. He’s been around long enough to know that my mind tediously creates a beautiful image, while he has the much-easier task of reading my ruminations, and doing my horticultural bidding. I’ve kept him on the job for so long because he’s good at it, and frankly, I can afford what he charges.

Long walks this time of year, under the guise of exercise, are actually reconnaissance missions where I meticulously choose my victims. No lawn is safe from my spying eyes. Those who have nothing better to do or maybe they’re just good at the flower-gardening thing, already have pansies blooming, and color abounding.

 Adding color is my major goal, as my beds are a bland wash of too much green.   By copying a little from here, and a little from there, I too can appear to be a gardening genius – for a few weeks, anyway.  Some lucky souls (it is luck, and I’ll accept no other explanation) have figured out the right combination of plants for having year-round, practically-effortless color.  I’m hopeful that one day I’ll stumble upon what will be my flowering magnum opus.

Home improvement chains love me, as my inability to keep things alive for the long haul keeps profit margins favorable.  Over 13 years, I’ve tried just about every variety of plant offered, and no doubt spent a small fortune.  “You can do it. We can help”, surely refers to emptying my wallet. I’m starting to realize I can’t do it, and no one can help.

Genetically speaking, I should be able to hold two green thumbs way up, as my lineage boasts of some rather impressive gardeners.  Somehow, I learned to enjoy the results far more than the process, and to this day cannot engage in plant-related conversation without my eyes glazing over.

I have a small library of plant and gardening books. Even there I managed to contribute to the death of a tree by consuming the paper they’re printed on.  As interested as I am in the end result, I can’t bring myself to care how to get there.     

All issues aside, my spring is not complete without this ritual. I love to stand in front of my freshly done beds each year, close my eyes, breathe in the scent of fresh mulch, and know that budding new promises are poking through. Then I open my eyes, see the leggy, fried mess, and realize being green with envy is about as good as my thumbs are going to get.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley

Smoothing over life’s wrinkles

Author: natalie  //  Category: Life with children

I’ve come to the realization that my life mimics an electrical appliance. I’m an overgrown, walking, talking (I confess, sometimes shouting), iron. As a stay-at-home mom, my primary function is to smooth the wrinkles in my family’s life. Occasionally, I have notions of taking some problems to the cleaners, but experience has taught me it’s best to take care of one’s own dirty laundry. Mostly, I get creative, call those pesky creases pleats, and hope no one notices.


Ironing seems a mindless, often-robotic task, but I’ve concluded it has major implications as I’m preparing fabrics to make their own way in the world. Heat and steam lovingly applied seems to ensure a much smoother path. Starch is never used as stiff is not the desired result.


My productivity could be greatly increased if I really could plug into an electrical outlet.  Some days, the fabrics needing my care drain my reserves, and I often wonder why I was given a Sunbeam body when a Rowenta is better suited for the job.


I  also have physical features similar to the iron: a stainless steel soleplate, as moms need a suit of armor; steam surge, as I’ve been known to blow from the ears and nostrils, simultaneously; soft-grip handle, of which I’ll refrain from elaboration; retractable cord to unplug, and reel in my attachment  in a moment’s notice (this comes in very handy when out with a teenager who suddenly spots a friend); and a large, easy to fill reservoir – fill me with water (or even ice chips), and I can labor for hours.


For the most part, I’m learning through trial and error. I’ve been reading the garment care tags for years, but I’m often confronted with new materials that inspire changes in my methods.  The relatively new teen-aged male cotton organdy feels very inflexible and rough, leading me to believe it needs full heat. I’m finding that a lower setting actually works better, and minimizes the scorching. Then there’s the female pre-teen acrylic; it’s very delicate, and I must use the very lowest setting or burn right through.


I’m hoping no one will have long-lasting recollections of instances when I applied far too much heat for the given material. The stubborn, sticky residue left on my soleplate is a visual reminder of the soul I scorched.  I’ve found the mess is best cleaned while it’s fresh to avoid smearing on other fabrics, or hardening to a point that’s difficult to remove later.


I fear that by the time I get the hang of this household chore, my ironing days will be over. I’m starting to spit rust, and finding that I care less and less about wrinkle removal, and more about having resilient fabrics that don’t wrinkle much in the first place.


Now if I could just do something about the wrinkles appearing on my face. It seems the more ironing I do, the more wrinkles I have. Since each one has been earned through some pretty rewarding work, I think I’ll call them pleats and wear them proudly.


© 2008 Natalie Whatley





I couldn’t possibly count the ways

Author: natalie  //  Category: Holidays, Life with children, Wedded bliss

For those of you who may have been hiding out in a cave, or just prefer to keep your head stuck in the sand, Valentine’s Day is this Thursday. Your significant other will want to hear your accounting of Victorian-era poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”.  

Valentine’s celebrations became very simple for Jeff and me 15 years ago when we celebrated for the first time as parents. In honor of our new son, and to avoid over-drafting the bank account, we renounced the commercial side of the holiday. Sounds a little sad, I know, but we couldn’t have been happier.

I’ve never missed the “stuff”, and I receive roses periodically, and “just because” at other times of the year. I’ll refrain from explaining why, as I don’t wish to upset my floral friends. I recall a conversation, shortly after quitting my job to become a full-time mother, where groceries vs. flowers was discussed. It was a short conversation. Bless his heart for asking, “Would it be okay if we eat for the next couple of weeks, or can you make some sort of soup with the dead flowers?”  Of course I let him off the hook; we managed just fine, and the pantry was not bare.

Middle age and expanding waistlines have given us many reasons (pounds) to eliminate candy in February.  We spend most of January trying to undo the Halloween through New Year damage, and by Valentine’s we’re feeling pretty good about our progress.  The very recent memory of just how uncomfortable our jeans had become is a powerful motivator.

We’re not exchanging cards this year, as the box containing nearly 17 year’s worth is full. I think we’ll open that box, and visit Valentine past. We’ll chuckle over the fact that Jeff has purchased the same card multiple times over the years, and enjoy all over again the cards proudly crafted by tiny hands.

I’m afraid even Valentine’s dinner out at a restaurant has suffered the ax. This one no longer has roots in budgetary constraints; we just prefer less-crowded dates, and much shorter waits.

Our leanest financial years have been behind us for some time now, but I learned through that period that I truly enjoy the simple things life has to offer. It’s a good thing I had all of those years to practice because that same little boy who inspired Mom and Dad to think beyond themselves will start driving exactly 11 months after this Valentine’s Day. Maxine at Ken Mitchell’s State Farm office has given me a pretty good idea of just how lean it’s going to get.

It’s OK, really. What I’ve given up absolutely pales in comparison to what I got in return: a husband who has encouraged and allowed me to follow my dreams, and three no-longer-little people who have made all the struggles worthwhile.

I can only hope that the semi-constant supply of clean clothes, meals, and my undying love can come close to showing my heart-felt thanks to my valentine.  My answer to “How do I love thee?”   I couldn’t possibly ever count all the ways.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley

Back to the S.A.L.T. mines

Author: natalie  //  Category: Life with children

Well, it’s been about a month since students, parents, and teachers donned their lighted hats and headed back to the salt mines to complete this school year. I probably shouldn’t portray getting an education in such light, but those with multiple children enrolled in school will surely understand where I’m coming from. The good news: the canary is still alive and kicking, and what will not kill us will surely make us stronger.

While I thoroughly enjoyed third grade with Ms. Emmert the first time at James F. Bay Elementary in Seabrook, Texas, (GO BEAVERS!) third grade the fourth time around is proving to be pretty TAKSing on me.

In His infinite wisdom, the Big Man upstairs knew this would be the case, and sent the last one down with an independent streak not seen since her mother. She’s my reward for getting her brothers through the years I swore I’d not survive. I let her think it’s her idea to handle most of her school business, but I know the ugly truth: I just can’t bring myself to do it again.

One of the hardest parts of having three in school is managing the avalanche of paper that comes home each day. Even though I have extensive training and experience in document control, I struggle. My semi-elaborate filing system is complete with procedures regarding retention, and timing of proper destruction. Sounds silly, I know, but it was that, buy a larger home, or rent storage space.

Even with tight document control, I fear I’ll be advised in the future that I signed away my first-born. After ten years of spending each weekday signing here and initialing there, I find myself in a trance-like state as I perform my duty. I try to pay attention, but it’s the same song, fourth verse, and I already know all the words.

The second hardest part for me is the current technology. I haven’t decided whether being able to see grades and cafeteria purchases via the internet is a blessing or a curse. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

As of next school year, I’ll only have one left in elementary. I’m unsure whether to be happy or sad regarding that fact, but I’m leaning heavily towards happy. I don’t want to rush them growing up, but I’m learning that I like my children more and more the older they get, and the more responsibility they take for themselves. They no doubt will continue to need me for many years to come, as I am tethered to the checkbook.

I don’t believe one should ever stop learning, so it’s off to the S.A.L.T. (Students and Adults Learning Together) mines for me. I’m catching a slight twinkle of light every now and then at the end of the tunnel; some days I fear it’s a freight train headed my way.

Who knows how I’ll feel when our work in the mines is done, but I know one thing for sure…we’ll all be worth our salt.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley