African violet victories

Geri's AV with ribbons at fair

I grew this African violet from a leaf cutting three years ago as part of an anxiety-inducing repotting operation. 

There was a time when I avoided even looking at the African violets I passed in grocery and home improvement stores. Experience told me I did not have whatever knack, touch, or mojo was required to care for them. Enough heartbreak, I vowed.

Then my dear spouse Kathy presented me with an absolutely beautiful African violet from McNamara Florist (location formerly known as Sand Point), one of my favorite nurseries here in Fort Wayne. It thrived for two years. I was amazed.

Then I noticed it was looking a bit gangly and the lower leaves were drooping. The need to repot was a sign of success … but it was also another opportunity to screw up.

I consulted fellow Master Gardeners. I studied the African Violet Society of America‘s website. Then I gathered my courage, tools, and potting medium, and performed the transplant.

After some transitory drooping, the patient pulled through like a champ and bloomed again. I hadn’t killed it! What’s more, a few of the cuttings I’d rooted from the leaves removed from the parent plant became brand new little African violet plants.

I gave some of the offspring as gifts, letting my intuition tell me which plant needed to go to what person. Or you might say I let the plants tell me.

The baby African violet that went to my friend Geri knew what it was doing. Under her care, it grew many more lush green leaves, bloomed abundantly, and needed a new pot after about a year. Just like its mum, it took the transplant well.

Summer arrived, and Kathy suggested Geri and I enter our brilliant young charge in the Allen County 4-H Fair. Geri and I are city girls. 4-H and county fairs have not been part of our experience, by and large. But what the heck, we figured. Geri filled out the form and entered the African violet in the adult House Plants: Propagated Potted Plant category.

The plant won Best of Show.

So if you think you don’t have African violet mojo, try the following:

  1. Get a plant from a good source, such as a reputable local nursery.
  2. Water weekly with a weak African violet fertilizer solution (weekly, weakly).
  3. Repot when needed, and don’t panic if it droops afterward. Give it time to recover.
  4. Consult sources such as the AVSA or your local Master Gardeners for information and support.

You just never know what you can accomplish with smart sourcing, well-researched information, and a little help from your friends.

Mismatched sand dollars

198414763_32ccdcb344_bIt’s the task adult children dread: Sorting through the detritus of a parent’s life, however well-lived, while also sorting through grief.

My mother loved her independent apartment in a Southwest Florida retirement community. She had a blast furnishing it 10 years ago, and she got to stay there until she died a couple of days after Christmas (see obit). She’d moved there on her own initiative and resisted being hustled into assisted living. Mom had already pared down quite a bit before moving into her apartment, but when you’re 90, you’ve still got plenty of stuff.

In one drawer was an abundance of earrings, many of which I could not remember her wearing. They were all organized — worn and put carefully back in place. Except for one pair of gold sand dollar post earrings. One had been bent, possibly stepped on. They were both little gold(ish) sand dollars, but they didn’t match. Their hues and patterns were different enough for me to notice, but similar enough for Mom’s eyesight. How similar are any two sand dollars on the beach, anyway?

I poked around for the other sand dollar earrings, but did not find them. That’s how it is. We accumulate experiences, emotions, relationships, scars and stuff. Not all of it matches and some of it’s a little bent out of shape, but it’s ours. We hope that what we don’t take with us will benefit someone somehow, even just to leave a smile.

The sand dollar earrings went into the “keep” box. Life doesn’t match up. Wear it and rock it anyway.

Photo credit: tashland via / CC BY-NC-ND

Five great things about majoring in English

4421990486_37247437fa_bI started college 30-some years ago knowing only that I loved books and literature and could write well. Advertising? Public relations? Journalism? Teaching? It all kind of swirled together in an abstract of future career possibilities. Even at 18, I think I also knew a lot would depend on what job opportunities presented themselves when I finished this four-year marathon . . . and that the future does funny things to your efforts to prepare for it.

Journalism would have been a natural choice, but when I entered Butler University, the journalism department seemed in danger of being eliminated. Its students were understandably uneasy. The English department was all stability, warmth, and great books by everyone from Julian of Norwich to the poets and novelists who visited. How could I not major in English?

A liberal arts education was more fashionable back then, but I still got the invariable questions. All were some variation of: “What are you going to do with it?” More than one person suggested business as a double major. Or I could at least join a sorority for the connections and a place in the university’s social order. (I did neither.)

What I did was intern for a couple of local publications, help Dr. Jim Watt grade freshman writing exercises, and write a bit and edit tons more for the college literary magazine, Manuscripts. I got to read and study great literature and practice the art and craft of writing.

Did my career path become clearer as graduation drew closer? Nope. Life kept happening. And, what do you know, that’s the nature of literature — and perhaps, life. We react, respond, and try to make sense of the world as it turns and shifts. Some of us write about it, or we study how other people write about it and what that means and why. And if we confuse the daylights out of everyone by the time we’re done, so much the better. (Just kidding. Mostly.)

Whether you are thinking about majoring in English or did so decades ago, here are five great things about it. These are based on my experience and observation; academic advisors, parents, and other advice-givers may say otherwise. As always, individual results may vary.

1. It’s highly flexible and applicable. The communication and critical thinking skills you will develop by majoring in English will benefit you in all kinds of work environments. Internships can give you valuable experience in specific areas such as teaching and journalism. If you find you can’t stand a particular line of work, you have plenty of other options without changing your major.

2. It works as a single or double. You can combine an English major with a major or minor in another discipline. For example: Double major in English and engineering (and have fun moving between those two worlds) and become a technical writer who can actually explain mechanical stuff to English majors.

3. It puts the ball in your court. What you do with an English major and how it pays off — whatever that might mean — is really up to you. There is no prescribed career path for a student majoring in English; you are free to create your own. Some paths are more financially rewarding than others. Some are more suited to your gifts, talents, and life circumstances than others. So you get to start by applying your critical thinking skills and creativity to your own life.

4. It allows you to see through eyes very different from your own. You will read books, poems, essays, and plays by writers from throughout history, all over the world, and many walks of life. Read the ancient Greek poets and see how a civilization comes together. Read Alice Walker and learn about resilience in the face of racism and male domination. Read Mark Twain and learn how a person takes the world’s woes and incongruities — but not necessarily himself — seriously.

5. It’s an important work in progress. Piecing together your classes, extracurriculars, internships, and whatever else your college years bring is a great introduction to piecing together your life. Studying literature and learning to form and express your own ideas is not a bad way to tell, and live, your own story.

Blessings on the journey.