Night Swimming

Sophie glared at me from her hiding place inside a 7-11 Big Gulp cup. She had backed butt-first into the cup so that only her head was poking out of the mouth of the cup. Her huge Papillon ears were back, a sure sign she was angry and afraid. And no wonder. She was prisoner in a cage with dozens of dirty, squawking, pecking birds. The noise was deafening. The smell was overpowering. She shivered and tried to retreat further into her cup.




She had been in the cage for weeks and I had just found her there. Horrified and guilt-stricken, I beat at the horrible birds with my bare arms and hands. They flew at me, pecking, pecking, pecking at my face and eyes, drawing blood.  As I fought off the next wave I stretched out my hands to reach Sophie. She was just beyond my reach.

“Come here, My Precious!” Yes, Gollum-like, I often call her My Precious. She stared at me from inside the revolting cage. I couldn’t reach her. I watched, bleeding and helpless as the birds consumed her.

Of course, My Precious Sophie was not in the cage. She was right here with me, as she is now.

I have created a quasi-altar in my bedroom. Atop a rough-hewn wooden bench are candles, a couple of Buddha figurines, a cross, some shells, a vase of dried pussy willow and My Precious. She is in a wooden box ornamented with carved flowers. Her name is engraved on a brass plaque. She has been there since April 18 when she died in my arms following a sudden health decline and one horrible night.




Sophie often visits me in my dreams. Sometimes she just sits beside me, leaning her small body against my thigh as I read or write in my journal. In my dreams I catch a whiff of her ripe dog smell. I like that smell.

Other times she is staring into my eyes. Sophie excelled at gazing into my eyes, beaming her thoughts to me. I usually received the message loud and clear. We were like that, me and My Precious.

One night a couple of weeks ago Sophie and I went swimming. We were in a beautiful pool, surrounded by exotic plants under thousands of twinkling stars. We were alone, but it didn’t matter because we were content to be together. We clung to the side of the pool and took turns launching off and swimming back, splashing each other and laughing as best girlfriends will do. Side-by-side we kicked our legs—my two, her four—and talked and laughed some more. I don’t remember what we talked about. It doesn’t matter. We were talking about happy things that made us laugh until tears ran down our faces and our sides hurt.

It was the most joyful dream I have had in many years.

I was recently talking with some friends about being visited by the spirits of departed relatives. They believe. I am skeptical. But I told them about my dream and they said Sophie’s spirit was visiting me. The idea gives me some comfort.




I have a rich life that comes into full bloom during the dark hours when I close my eyes. I sometimes think of that life as just another version of me—like the flip side of a record—no less real for being on the flip side. Now, rather than keeping me company as I go about my day at work, around the house and in the garden, Sophie is part of my life on the flip side.

I still grieve. But there is comfort there in the dark, where Sophie and I can walk—or go night swimming—and talk and have adventures together. Friends forever.

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  • Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening says:

    I am glad you finding comfort visiting Sophie on the flip side.

  • Cristina says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss!
    The spirits of the ones we’ve lost do come to visit us and to comfort us, for they are sorry we are suffering. They come in our dreams. The same happened to me with everyone I lost, including my beloved cat.

  • Layanee says:

    How wonderful to have Sophie visit in your dreams. She was quite a personality. I know the pain of losing a beloved pet. Nothing can compare. Anyone who has been touched by the love of a pet is transformed in some way and Sophie will live on in the lessons she taught you. This is a lovely tribute to her.

  • Diane says:

    Well said Robin.
    Work on expanding “My Life on the Flip Side” as the title works in so many ways…
    I know your ache, and Sophie truly shows you how much she adores you by appearing in dreams…this is very difficult for departed ones to do…My Miss Kitty only returned once…Know you are indeed blessed. Diane

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Lunch: In Praise of the Middle Meal

If I owned a restaurant, it would most certainly be a lunch-only establishment. You would not find me frying eggs sunny side up for caffeine junkies at 6 a.m. or serving apple martinis and pretzels at 5 p.m. to office workers looking to do a little after hours networking (if you know what I mean). And I most certainly would not be sweating it up in a back kitchen at 9 p.m. grilling steaks and mashing potatoes for day-worn and half-sober diners, when a civilized person (of a certain age, at least) is supposed to have traded the dining room chair for an easy chair and a big fat book.

But aside from the mid-day work hour convenience of a lunch cafe ownership, I think lunch just may be the best meal of the day.

And don’t you think lunch is highly underrated? In fact, I think lunch is the middle child of meals.

I mean, we hear all the time from celebrities and cereal companies about how breakfast is the “most important meal of the day.” There are special foods we only eat at breakfast. Belgian waffles, scrambled eggs, sausage patties, granola, oatmeal and the like. Breakfast has a special drink associated with it—coffee. Make that two drinks—orange juice is the other.

Gay's Light Lunch

Hot dogs and Campbell’s soup at Gay’s Light Lunch

Dinner gets loads of respect. Folks are always celebrating birthdays and graduations and engagements over dinner with spouses, parents, friends and business associates. There are early bird specials for people who eat dinner before their lunch has been properly digested. Restaurants have special menu items they whip up just for dinner. What’s more, they trot out uber sincere waiters to lovingly describe each ingredient of today’s special as if it were their own newborn child.

And dinner often comes in multiple courses that slowly drift out of the kitchen small plate after small plate, requiring that people linger for long periods at the dinner table and often pay dearly for it afterward both in cash and calories.

Oh right. Dinner also has a special drink—wine. (Okay, I like the wine part.)

But lunch?

People eat lunch at their desks or otherwise eat the middle meal alone. Lines of folks drive through the fast food lane and eat their lunches out of greasy paper bags cradled on their laps while they cruise along listening to top 40s music or while parked at the far side of the local Walmart with the other lunch eaters. We don’t expect to pay much at all for lunch. Dollar deals anyone?

Some philistines even skip lunch altogether.

I know I’m sounding a bit like an evangelist or perhaps like your Uncle Joe after a couple of beers. Maybe I have some sort of special lunch gene passed down from my mother’s side of the family.

For a while my grandparents had a little lunch joint. It was called Gay’s Light Lunch, named after my mom. (Yes, my mom is Gay.) As you can see, they served hot dogs and Campbell’s soup.

My lunch café would be quite different. First, Gay’s Light Lunch was in black and white. My lunch restaurant would be in color.

There are lots of other ways my restaurant would be different than the places where Americans eat lunch every day. There would be no standing in tedious lines to order food from a backlit sign. There would be no plastic utensils and no paper cups with plastic lids. Food would not arrive wrapped in logo paper describing the contents and would certainly not be delivered in a paper bag. Paper napkins? Nope.

And too many restaurants play it safe and offer the same dishes everyone else is serving. How many Caesar salads must one person eat in a lifetime? Does the world really need another restaurant that is proud to serve chicken wings, even if they call them buffalo wings? Don’t even get me started on salad bars with suspicious bacon bits and bottled Thousand Island dressing that gets poured out of five-gallon drums.

Oh, and too many restaurants take themselves too seriously. No matter how big it is or how tenderly described the contents, a menu is not and will never be a contender for the Pulitzer prize. And speaking of menus, do we really need to have insultingly hopeful photos of what’s on offer so we can decide between the pepperoni pizza or the mushroom pizza? It’s pizza, people!

But lest I be accused of only offering criticisms and lists of things that must be abolished (like some political party currently getting a great deal of media attention) in my next installment I will turn my attention to what my lunch café would be like.

I’ll give you a hint. My restaurant will have a sense of humor. Yes, I know that restaurants themselves don’t have a sense of humor just as I know that corporations are not people. But my restaurant will be fun. You wait and see.

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Of Being a Grownup–and Weeds

It is before 6 a.m. on a Sat­ur­day morn­ing. As I do every morn­ing I stepped on the bath­room scale and then looked in the mir­ror. On some morn­ings the news is worse than oth­ers. Today was a bad news day. I know the 2 and 4 a.m. moon­light walks with a diar­rheal dog didn’t help how I looked. And I gained two pounds overnight.

sarah on black rug

Post-bath diar­rheal dog

At that moment the thought occurred to me that I may be on the down­hill side of life. And what’s weird is that I can’t even remem­ber becom­ing a grownup. I mean, I still find myself won­der­ing what I want to be when I grow up. I still get these ideas that I can pur­sue all sorts of careers and passions.

I want to be a pro­fes­sional fig­ure skater!”

I’m going to start a rock-and-roll girl band!”

I think I would make a really good pri­vate detective!”

I know! I’ll go to med­ical school!”

Real­ity intrudes most days. The fact is that I have a house with a big yard and gar­den. I have three cars, two dogs, eight pet chick­ens, pro­gres­sive lenses, 27 mag­a­zine and two news­pa­per sub­scrip­tions and four sets of dinnerware.

Yes, in fact, I do call it din­ner­ware. When was the last time you heard some­one other than a grownup say the word “din­ner­ware?” Never, that’s when.

The sad fact is, the train has left the sta­tion on my being a figure-skating-rock-and-roll-private-detective-doctor.

I’m not going to reveal my age, so let’s just say I’m past the age at which some­one would con­sider me to be a kid. I know, for exam­ple, that you would look at me and think “Yup, she’s a grownup.” And the signs are all there.

I know I’m a grownup because I’m the one who cleans up the dog vomit at 4 a.m.

I know I’m a grownup because wear­ing a string bikini is no longer an option. (You’re welcome.)

I know I’m a grownup because I some­times turn on closed cap­tion­ing to watch True Detec­tive.

I know I’m a grownup because I have a reminder on my cal­en­dar to change the heat­ing and air con­di­tion­ing air fil­ters on the first of the month. It’s a paper calendar.

I know I’m a grownup when I hear rap music.

And weeds. Weeds make me know I’m def­i­nitely a grownup. No child vol­un­tar­ily weeds. But here I am, a grownup, wide awake before 6 a.m. on a Sat­ur­day morn­ing with the great big to-do list sit­ting on the kitchen counter that says in big cap­i­tal let­ters “PULL WEEDS.”

Oh yes. I have grownup writ­ten all over me. I think I have a t-shirt in the back of my closet that says “Keep Calm. I’m a Grownup.”

You know what? Even if I’m a grownup I should do some­thing to make weed­ing fun—or at least make weed­ing funny.

Two weeds walk into a bar…

prostrate spurge

pros­trate spurge

Hey, I think this funny weed idea has legs. Already we have some funny weed names. Quak­grass. Nut­grass. Pros­trate spurge. Creep­ing Char­lie. Pig­weed. Hen­bit. Hairy bit­ter­cress. I know some­one was pok­ing fun when they were nam­ing these things.

What else can make weeds funny? Lim­er­icks. Lim­er­icks are funny.

There once was a gar­dener in Maine

Who set out to kill the purslane.

Instead of a weed she killed her best steed.

And now she’s con­sid­ered insane.

No wait. That’s not funny at all. Let’s try again.

There once was a gar­dener in Beed

Who set out to kill a big weed.

Instead of a hoe he used his big toe

And now the whole garden’s weed seed.

Hum­mmm. Maybe this better?

There once was a gar­dener named Cass

Who set out to kill some quakgrass.

Instead of a hoe she used her big toe

Of course she is now on her ass.

Oh well. Time to go be a grownup, drink cof­fee and pull some weeds.

Now let’s see…two weeds walk into a bar…

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  • Carol says:

    Funny. I know I’m older than you. I have decided after being a grown up, I will start a sec­ond child­hood. Of course, in my sec­ond child­hood I will still have to weed, but only because I want to. I won’t try to write a lim­er­ick, but I will share I think I have a weed in my gar­den called Devil’s Beg­gartick. Now, who named in that?

  • M A says:

    You need to get out and “weed” more often! This is hilarious.

  • Dee Nash says:

    That was pretty damned funny. Did you hear the one about the rabbi, the priest and the weed? No, wait, that’s not right. ~~Dee

  • Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening says:

    Didn’t you feel like a grownup after you had a kid? I didn’t either. I don’t feel like a grownup, I just feel like the dis­junct between my mind and my body is get­ting greater. In my mind, it hasn’t been that long since I grad­u­ated from col­lege. I am always shocked when I do the math. But my body def­i­nitely knows I’m not a kid any­more. And if I’m not a kid, I must be a grownup. I guess.

  • Christina says:

    I always look upon weed­ing as ther­apy time for your insides and out (eat and har­vest them as you go!) and think how pretty they will look pre­sented on all that din­ner­ware! We could start a din­ner­ware library and then we can have infi­nite sets to use (I feel good now know­ing I’m not the only one with all these weird thoughts and habits!) See you almost are a doctor/therapist.

  • Layanee says:

    I am try­ing to embrace ‘being a grownup’. I think I will go order one of those very pop­u­lar adult col­or­ing books! Wait, I can just go grab one of my granddaughter’s kid col­or­ing books. Oh, and I read that as ‘Harry Bit­ter­cress’. Stop call­ing Harry a weed! Very entertaining.

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Behind the Hedge–Garden Work Areas

Unless you count the jun­gle of house plants in my child­hood and later col­lege dorm rooms, I started gar­den­ing as a veg­etable gar­dener rather than a flower or orna­men­tals gar­dener. After all, I do love food. I also come from a fam­ily in which prac­ti­cal and use­ful activities—such as fix­ing your own car, build­ing a shed or grow­ing your own food—are highly valued.

But even more than that, the intel­lec­tual part of me under­stands that food is grown from the ground thanks to the com­bi­na­tion of sun, soil and rain. The roman­tic part of me, on the other hand, thinks that grow­ing veg­eta­bles, herbs and fruits is some­how magic. When I grow a tomato, I can mar­vel at it for quite a long time before I get around to sink­ing my teeth into it. The cucum­bers I pickle are more than mere jars of food. They are the prod­uct of my abil­ity to do magic—to make some­thing from prac­ti­cally nothing.

Down Place Greenhouse

Green­house at Down Place

Unlike some of my gar­den­ing friends, I have not had the advan­tage of a gar­den mentor—a par­ent or grand­par­ent to show me how to stake toma­toes, wran­gle rangy straw­berry plants or iden­tify which end of the bulb goes up. What I have learned about gar­den­ing has largely been gleaned from read­ing books and killing plants. So when I digress from my report­ing of my Big Fat Eng­lish Gar­den Vaca­tion to sneak behind the hedge and look at the lit­tle green­houses and poke among the uneven rows of nurs­ery pots, just under­stand that I’m still try­ing to fig­ure out this whole gar­den­ing busi­ness. Part of me still believes that if I can just see how these incred­i­ble gar­den­ers do things behind the scenes I may learn some secrets that will help trans­form my own gar­den into some ver­sion of the Eng­lish ideal. For me, it’s like sneak­ing behind the magician’s curtain.

So let me tell you about a few of the things I saw there behind the hedge.

In many Amer­i­can gar­dens I have vis­ited, there is no obvi­ous place where plants are started and nur­tured before being set into the ground or pot­ted up into a pretty con­tainer. In some Amer­i­can gar­dens it looks as if every flower and shrub comes straight from the nurs­ery and gets plopped right into a hole wait­ing for it to arrive. In oth­ers there is a lit­tle stash of plants in nurs­ery pots that looks as if they were shoved behind a garage or under a deck in the hurry to tidy up for vis­i­tors. But I haven’t seen a lot of pot­ting benches and even fewer greenhouses.

greenhouse at The Grange


greenhouse at Old Erringham Cottage

In con­trast, every gar­den we vis­ited on my recent Eng­lish gar­den tour has a place tucked out of sight and around a cor­ner to prop­a­gate plants. At one small town gar­den we vis­ited the gar­den­ers only had space for a small cold­frame, but most gar­dens had at least a small greenhouse.

As you can imag­ine, a few of the green­houses were pic­turesque or even archi­tec­tural show­cases in them­selves. But sur­pris­ingly, most of the green­houses I saw—even on the grand estates—were small­ish, eco­nom­i­cal and util­i­tar­ian struc­tures. Some were well-swept, quite tidy and visitor-ready, but oth­ers were a lit­tle bit messy. Oh they weren’t oh-my-god messy, just the kind of messy that hap­pens when there is work in progress. Many times it looked as if the gar­dener had just stepped away from the pot­ting bench for a cup of tea.

garden work area2

A few of the green­houses were used for grow­ing toma­toes and cucum­bers. If, like me, you are a veg­etable gar­dener then you know that toma­toes and cucum­bers like the warm sum­mer weather that we have here in most of the U.S. I sup­pose the com­par­a­tively cool British sum­mers aren’t all that con­ducive to grow­ing these warmth-loving veg­gies in the open air, so they become cod­dled indoor veg­gies in the U.K.

Some of the green­houses still had seed start­ing oper­a­tions in progress while oth­ers had been mostly emp­tied out by the time we vis­ited in mid-June. A good num­ber of them seemed to have long-term plant board­ers on the green­house shelves. One green­house even had a grape vine as thick as my arm grow­ing through the pot­ting bench, up the wall and cov­er­ing the ceiling.

vine in greenhouse

Near the green­house there were the inevitable com­post bins. As with the green­houses, some were magazine-worthy (for a cer­tain type of mag­a­zine any­way) while oth­ers were no more glam­orous than lay­ered yard waste, but they all had a com­post oper­a­tion going on.

When we asked the gar­den­ers about whether they fer­til­ize, even sin­gle gar­dener said, “Yes!” A cou­ple of gar­den­ers men­tioned spe­cial tomato food. But most often they men­tioned the lib­eral use of fish, blood and bone. In fact, I saw con­tain­ers of fish, blood and bone fer­til­izer in a cou­ple of the work sheds. When I returned home and Googled around to learn about sim­i­lar fer­til­izer com­bi­na­tions here in the U.S., there were none to be found. Strangely enough I did find a Mir­a­cle Grow (of all com­pa­nies!) fish, blood and bone fer­til­izer avail­able in the U.K.

fish blood and bone

Another thing I noticed in the green­houses were plenty of terra cotta pots, although I didn’t see many actu­ally put to use. The nurs­ery plants were all in those ubiq­ui­tous black nurs­ery pots–nothing at all fancy about that.

Potting Shed

Invari­ably, tools were care­fully orga­nized and well-maintained. There was no putting away a dirty shovel or hoe in these Eng­lish gar­dens. I can’t say if they were reg­u­larly sharp­ened, but I’m will­ing to bet that they were and that the fru­gal Brits know the value of tool maintenance.

tool garage

Birds must be a major prob­lem for gar­den­ers grow­ing berries and cur­rants. But rather than toss­ing on a stiff (and often tan­gled) black plas­tic net like I do here in my gar­den, nearly all the fruit­ing plants were caged in proper, neatly con­structed chicken wire houses, com­plete with lit­tle doors and some­times with raised beds. It’s obvi­ously work­ing for them because the cur­rents were gor­geous. We were there almost at peak pick­ing time.

red currents

Berry house at Nyewood House

Come to think of it, the gar­den­ers may have had their fruits pro­tected to keep vis­i­tors like me from gob­bling them right there by the bush. I mean, I had never had a goose­berry before so when everyone’s back was turned I picked and gob­bled the first unpro­tected goose­berry I came across in one of the fancy gar­dens! Have you had one? It’s an inter­est­ing tex­ture and a bit tart. But tasty. I can def­i­nitely see mak­ing goose­berry jam.

I have plenty of gor­geous pho­tos of the actual gar­dens. I took 1,977 pho­tos dur­ing my week-long tour, so it’s tak­ing me a while to fig­ure out how to share them. Check back!

A note about the pho­tos: I haven’t iden­ti­fied the loca­tion of most of these pho­tos. There is cer­tainly noth­ing shame­ful about well-organized tools or green­houses. But these pho­tos are cer­tainly not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the beau­ti­ful gar­dens we saw, so I’ll wait to iden­tify the gar­dens with the pretty photos–to come.



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About Those English Gardens

There is no place like an Eng­lish gar­den. And as a gar­dener, there was no bet­ter way to spend a week away from my own gar­den than vis­it­ing gar­dens in Eng­land. So in June, off I went on—of all things—an orga­nized bus tour.

As a prac­tic­ing semi-hermit, I’m not usu­ally enthu­si­as­tic about orga­nized group activ­i­ties. But an orga­nized bus tour of Eng­lish gar­dens makes a great deal of sense.

For one thing, the trip coor­di­na­tor was able to get us an incred­i­bly good deal on a pack­age that included air­fare, hotel, most meals and gar­den entrance fees. Because we were a small group of just 25 peo­ple, she also was able to get us into pri­vate gar­dens that the aver­age tourist would never be able to visit on their own. Trav­el­ing on a lux­ury bus meant we didn’t have to sweat the details of direc­tions or sched­ules. And finally, when you travel with other enthu­si­as­tic gar­den­ers there will always be some­one nearby to help iden­tify that splen­did shrub or drop dead gor­geous flower, not to men­tion enjoy a pub lunch or just a lit­tle sit on a well-placed gar­den bench.

Old Erringham Cottage 2

Old Erring­ham Cot­tage, Shoreham-By-Sea, Sus­sex, UK

Over the course of a week we vis­ited 16 gar­dens, 12 of them pri­vate rather than pub­lic gardens.

The Eng­lish coun­try­side is idyl­lic in the spring and sum­mer. The long agrar­ian tra­di­tion can still be seen in the Eng­lish coun­try­side. You still see miles and miles of ver­dant rolling hills sur­rounded by stone walls and dot­ted with idyl­lic sheep, cows and goats. Drive through the small vil­lages and towns and even the most mod­est homes have roses scram­bling up the walls, lov­ingly main­tained win­dow boxes and wildly bloom­ing peren­nial borders.

English Countryside


Old stone walls and older stone houses add to the rugged but beau­ti­ful back­drop for all the exu­ber­ant plant growth. Flow­ers are allowed to seed and grow in cracks and crevices. Roses are encour­aged to scram­ble up the sides of stone fences and gar­den walls. The warm brown color of the stone pro­vides the per­fect pal­let back­drop for both the soft pas­tels or the more flam­boy­ant flowers.

One of the rea­sons Eng­lish gar­dens are so spec­tac­u­larly full of vig­or­ous plants that in some cases are twice the size of their Amer­i­can ver­sions is that the days are incred­i­bly long. Located at about a lat­i­tude of 51, Eng­land sits much far­ther north than, for exam­ple, Anchor­age, Alaska, at 61 degrees lat­i­tude. That means that in the third week of June, sun­rise in West Sus­sex was at 4:50 a.m. and sun­set was at 9:18 p.m. That’s more than 16 long hours of day­light for the plants to sun­bathe and grow. Com­pare that to my Mary­land gar­den, which gets a measly 14 hours of sum­mer sun­light. As a prac­ti­cal mat­ter, it also meant that the sun in Eng­land woke me up at 3:30 a.m. as it began its ascent over the horizon.

Plants in Steps

Then there is the issue of heat and humid­ity. I know that peo­ple in some more of the more hell­ish parts of the U.S. will scoff at my weather whin­ing, but here in Mary­land the sum­mer days can eas­ily get into the 90s and the humid­ity num­bers hover around that same num­ber. Dare to go out­side in the late after­noon and it is like swim­ming in hot air. While we were in Eng­land, some of the hotel staff and even some gar­den­ers com­plained about the heat. It was 75 degrees! Hah. I laugh at their heat!

All this heat and humid­ity pro­vides the per­fect breed­ing ground for mos­qui­toes and ticks. In Eng­land, ticks are not as much a prob­lem as in the U.S., although Google tells me that disease-carrying ticks are on the rise there as well. And when we asked one gar­dener about the mos­quito sit­u­a­tion in Eng­land she assured us that they may have a few but that “They only bite the animals—not humans.”

Well, how civilized!

Old Erringham Cottage

Old Erring­ham Cot­tage, Shoreham-By-Sea, Sus­sex, UK


As a vis­i­tor one of the first things that you notice is that Eng­lish gar­dens are full. Packed full. Plants grow up and out and over and under and around. Won­der­fully tex­tured shrubs, such as cot­i­nus or spirea, serve as the back­drop against which peren­ni­als are wedged. Add some creep­ing vines, such as clema­tis, or a ram­bling rose scam­per up walls, trel­lises and tuteurs so that your eye is car­rier upward. Maybe there will be some clipped box­wood or a nicely shaped yew to pro­vide a bit of struc­ture as a foil to all the ram­bunc­tious scram­bling plants.

Garden House at Parsonage Farm

Gar­den House at Par­son­age Farm, Kid­ford, Sus­sex, UK

You will see broad expanses of lawns on large estates, but in smaller gar­dens the swaths of green grass that make up most of Amer­i­can gar­den real estate just aren’t to be found. And I noticed par­tic­u­larly on this trip that even grand estates are allow­ing rib­bons, patches and even fields of grass to grow high. Some­times it may be just a ring around a tree. In other places the tall grass may run along an old stone fence. In one gar­den we vis­ited the field was a true flower meadow in which wild orchids had taken up res­i­dence. I loved that the home own­ers had placed lit­tle iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cards on sticks around the perime­ter so that we could find the orchids.

The Grange

The Grange, Sus­sex, UK


Eng­lish gar­dens are all about peren­nial borders—really, really wide bor­ders where the plants are jam packed in so that you can’t see even the small­est patch of soil. That means that the plants touch.

Arundel Castle aliums and lavender

Ali­ums and Laven­der at Arun­del Cas­tle and Garden


(Aside: I have heard more than one gar­den designer here in the U.S. laugh at clients who have panic attacks because they installed plants that touch. Well, as we learned even before kinder­garten, there is good touch­ing and there is bad touch­ing. When plants touch, it is good touch­ing. Okay?)

And let me tell you about the edg­ing. Those Brits adore their razor sharp bor­der edg­ing. They are cut deep into the sod and are as pre­cise as a mil­i­tary crease. They are metic­u­lously groomed to keep it in tip-top shape. One gar­dener showed us her husband’s prized tool for this task. I was so impressed I came right home and found a sim­i­lar tool for myself.

Almost every Eng­lish gar­den I have vis­ited has a lit­tle green­house, nurs­ery beds and work stag­ing area. These work areas are tucked away so you don’t really notice them, but I always seek them out because they tell me some­thing about how the work gets done. Most of the green­houses have some sort of prop­a­ga­tion project in the works. These gar­dens are already packed full, so per­haps they are expand­ing their bor­ders, grow­ing for friends or maybe grow­ing new plants that will be sold at their local gar­den club or other fundraiser.

Rose at Sandhill Farm

Climb­ing rose at Rose­mary Alexander’s Sand­hill Farm, Sus­sex, UK

Eng­lish gar­dens are all about flow­ers and beauty. Veg­etable gar­dens are quite attrac­tive, but usu­ally quite util­i­tar­ian and tucked away so that you must go search­ing for them. Toma­toes and cucum­bers are often grow­ing in the greenhouses.

Hah! We may not be able to grow David Austin roses here in Mary­land, but we can grow toma­toes and cucum­bers with­out a greenhouse!

The British rally together with their gar­den­ing spirit too, invit­ing the pub­lic into pri­vate gar­dens as part of what they call their National Gar­dens Scheme. I love that they call it a “scheme.” Here state­side we think of schemes as nefar­i­ous plots. The British con­sider a scheme a really good idea, in this case a way of rais­ing money for char­i­ta­ble causes. Gar­den­ers can apply to become a part of the National Gar­den Scheme. They are inter­viewed and their gar­dens inspected. Gar­den­ers whose gar­den­ers are accepted into the scheme must offer some pub­lic days each year and also host pri­vate groups. Fees col­lected for the gar­den vis­its all go into the National Gar­den Scheme cof­fers and are dis­trib­uted to char­i­ta­ble organizations.

Arundel Castle Garden

Arun­del Cas­tle Garden


Lest you start to despair about how inad­e­quate your gar­den is (I did!), let me tell you that only two of the gar­dens were pri­mar­ily maintained—if not created—by the home­own­ers. At sev­eral of the gar­dens we vis­ited, we were met and guided around by the full-time gar­dener. At one gar­den, the full-time chief gar­dener told us he had two part-time helpers—one who worked two days a week and another who worked three days a week. Both are 71 years old and, accord­ing to the young-ish head gar­dener, “Have a most excel­lent work ethic.” One of the old timers was pre­vi­ously in the mil­i­tary. The head gar­dener said that he could set his watch by the guy.

His start­ing time is at 8:30 in the morn­ing. At 8:31 I hear the trim­mer start. His quit­ting time is at 4:30 in the after­noon. At 4:29 I hear him put away his tools.”
Ah, to have help in the garden.

But even if you don’t have help, a con­tainer or two or per­haps a win­dow box sit­u­ated so you can see it as you scrub up the evening dishes can perk up your out­door space. I hope you find the pho­tos as inspir­ing as I do.

Old Erringham Cottage Poppy Field

Poppy field at Old Erring­ham Cot­tage, Shoreham-By-Sea, Sus­sex, UK


I’ll be shar­ing more. Come along on the trip with me.


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  • Carol says:

    I loved com­ing along with you via your blog post and look for­ward to your next post about your trip. It sounds lovely, and I hope to/plan to go some­time to see for myself.

    • Robin Ripley says:

      You’re over­due, Carol! Go for it!

  • Jean says:

    Wow, how I would love a small group tour in Eng­land. Every time I go there I have a hard time get­ting around since we usu­ally don’t have a car. And those gar­dens are some­times dif­fi­cult to get to with­out one.

    Although I know most of those gar­dens have full or part-time gar­den­ers, don’t you think it’s fan­tas­tic that they even have a cul­ture of hir­ing peo­ple for that kind of exper­tise? I wish we did. Looks like you all had a fab­u­lous time!

    • Robin Ripley says:

      You’re exactly right, Jean. It’s dif­fi­cult to even find a reli­able land­scape crew around here. And the ones that you can find can’t tell a hosta from a helle­bore. Oh, the sto­ries I could tell!

  • Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening says:

    I really enjoyed the broad overview you gave, not­ing dif­fer­ences in empha­sis and style. I knew Britain had a milder cli­mate, but I had never really con­sid­ered the effect of longer day­light on the plants.

    • Robin Ripley says:

      Thanks Kathy. Longer days for the plants may also mean longer days for the gar­dener. LOL

  • Kat says:

    What a won­der­ful trip! I love Eng­lish gar­dens and the whole con­cept of flow­ers “touch­ing”! I do wish we had their added hours of sun­light and milder tem­per­a­tures, but at least we’ve had lots of rain here in Mary­land, unlike recent years. I hope you’re enjoy­ing your sum­mer so far!


    • Robin Ripley says:

      Hi Kat — My gar­den is lov­ing the rain, although I must be alert now to fun­gus issues. Still, it’s bet­ter than drought, so I’ll take it. Hope all is well!

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Lessons from Miss P

We lost our 18-year-old cat Miss P a cou­ple of months ago. It was a very sad time around here. But I still think I see her shadow out of the cor­ner of my eye from time to time. Two months later I’m pretty sure some of the pet hair I see on my coat is hers. And I will always have the things she taught me in our time together.

There are many lessons one learns from liv­ing with a cat. Notice that I say “liv­ing with a cat” and not some­thing ridicu­lous such as “hav­ing a cat” or—most pre­pos­ter­ous of all—“owning a cat.”

You can­not own a cat. A cat may con­sent to live in your house as long as you keep the Deli Cat and tuna treats flow­ing. It helps also if you have a sunny win­dow and some fine newly uphol­stered fur­ni­ture to shred when they’re in the mood. But you can no more “own” a cat than you can own the air. Cats will be where they will be. Even cap­tive house cats can­not be told to “be” on the floor rather than on the guest bed silk duvet cover. Try explain­ing rules to a cat and see where it gets you.

Miss P in Pink sm


One of the most impor­tant lessons I learned from Miss P is to ignore peo­ple who speak harshly or say mean things. Inter­net trolls cer­tainly fall into this cat­e­gory. So do peo­ple who work at the DMV. And some elderly rel­a­tives whose social fil­ters are break­ing down.

Try say­ing some­thing mean to a cat and see how she reacts.

Gosh, Miss P! Your lit­ter box smells like a third world out­house! What have you been eating?”

Good grief, Miss P! I don’t need another dead mouse! I haven’t eaten the last one you gave me!”

A cat will look at you with sleepy eyes, del­i­cately lick a front paw and go back to shred­ding the taffeta chaise. It would no more occur to a cat to feel hurt or shame than it would for her to take up square danc­ing or col­lect Hum­mel figurines.

Oh, you might be think­ing some­thing all log­i­cal right now, such as “But cats don’t speak English.”

Dogs don’t speak Eng­lish either—or at least not fluently—and you can make a dog feel hurt or ashamed with­out even try­ing. Dogs have very del­i­cate feel­ings. Use a harsh tone of voice with a dog and it can com­pletely ruin her nat­u­rally jovial mood.

If I snap, “Darn it, Sophie! Did you send that fart cloud over here?”

Sophie won’t even be able to look at me. She will hang her head in shame, tuck her tail between her legs and blink her eyes in abject apol­ogy. Sophie is obvi­ously crushed that you would speak to her in such an unfriendly manner.

It occurred to me one day when I was observ­ing Miss P that I could take a les­son from her.

I was hav­ing a par­tic­u­larly bad morn­ing because of a snippy email from a client. It didn’t even make sense that I should be upset. I already knew that this client was noto­ri­ously tone deaf to how her email com­mu­ni­ca­tions came across. Other peo­ple had men­tioned how sur­prised they were at this pecu­liar aspect of her char­ac­ter. In per­son she is a delight­ful and warm human being. She will give you a hug if you haven’t seen her in a while. She always remem­bers your kid’s name and asks after him. She is always the first to thank you for a job well done.

But give that woman an email account and she has all the sub­tlety of Chris Christie respond­ing to a heck­ler. Some peo­ple just shouldn’t be allowed to send emails.

Any­way, I was feel­ing injured and ques­tion­ing whether this client even really liked me any­more when Miss P saun­tered through the room. You know that won­der­ful cat saunter? It’s com­pletely noise­less and unhur­ried, with the front feet planted care­fully one in front of the other and the back hips rolling in sync. It’s like a small lion, but with more silk.

It occurred to me then that I could chan­nel my inner Miss P. I could look at the irri­ta­ble email, blink and go back to shred­ding the antique chaise. I could saunter over to the sunny spot on the couch and just rest my eyes and absorb the warmth. Or I could at least not let that poorly worded email launch me toward the cookie jar.

Miss P Walking sm

In my mind I know that an email from a tone deaf emailer doesn’t mean that I am worth less as a human being. I know it doesn’t mean that my work is lousy, that I’m hor­ri­bly lazy, that I should just hang up my hat on my career and try a new pro­fes­sion as a man­i­curist. Or maybe give real estate or multi-level mar­ket­ing a whirl. Log­i­cally I know that noth­ing about me has changed in the 10 min­utes since I read the email. But it feels like it does.

Shame is a pow­er­ful emo­tion. I think that we all walk around in life with a bub­ble of bad feel­ings hid­den deep inside. It’s so easy for some­one to take their sharp words and put a lit­tle nick in the del­i­cate, stretched mem­brane of that bub­ble so that the bad feel­ings begin to seep out, lit­tle by lit­tle, work­ing as a cor­ro­sive on our self-esteem.

Cats don’t have this bad feel­ing bub­ble inside. They were all born bad-bubble defi­cient. As a result, cats never feel shame because they really don’t give a damn what you think or say. Yell at a cat to get off the kitchen counter and she might jump down. But if she does, she’ll act as if jump­ing down were the plan all along.

Cats don’t do shame. They do pride. They are supremely self-confident in their cathood. Noth­ing you can say will make them feel dif­fer­ently about themselves.

Now, thanks to Miss P’s lessons, when I am feel­ing par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble or injured, I pull on my Miss P-like per­son­al­ity. I am con­fi­dent and self-assured like a cat. Like Miss P.



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The Story of Little Man or Don’t Push Robin Too Far

The story I’m about to tell may make you think dif­fer­ently about me.

It started this past spring. To fill out my coop I ordered six female chicks from My Pet Chicken—two Appen­zeller Spitzhaubens and four Pol­ish chicks.

If you’ve never ordered chicks before, you may be sur­prised to learn that you can order a wide vari­ety of chick breeds online and have them deliv­ered right to your local post office for pickup. Aside from breed and quan­tity, you have two options in order­ing. You can order straight run chicks, which means you take your chances with sex and will prob­a­bly get a mix of male and female chicks. You can also pay a lit­tle bit extra and order sexed chicks, so that you get females.

Any­way, I digress, but this is impor­tant back­ground, as you’ll see.

The chicks arrived and thrived. It wasn’t long, how­ever, before I began to sus­pect that one of the sup­posed female chicks was never going to grow up to be an egg-laying hen. That was a rooster.

littleman3 sm

Lit­tle Man

Roost­erly behav­ior begins quite early. Male chicks no big­ger than a grape­fruit will begin chal­leng­ing other chicks with shoves and chest thumps. By the time they reach the size of a small cab­bage, they are trum­pet­ing their mag­nif­i­cence to the world, begin­ning with hoarse, stran­gled sound­ing vocal­iza­tions. Their gen­eral atti­tude of arro­gance and enti­tle­ment grows until they begin try­ing to fig­ure out the whole barn­yard sex thing.

I like to watch the chick­ens and learn about their grow­ing per­son­al­i­ties. I call it Chicken TV.

I gen­er­ally wait to see how chick­ens look and act before nam­ing them because I think the name should describe the chicken. So, for exam­ple, my pretty, round white Wyan­dotte is named Pearl. The creamy, caramel and choco­late Pol­ish hen is named Twix. (You know, the candy bar?) The two Appen­zeller Spitzhaubens seem to be teth­ered together as they cruise around the yard. They are Thelma and Louise.

And the rooster? Well, I named him Lit­tle Man because he reminds me of some diminu­tive men I have known who over-compensate for what they lack in stature with out­sized attitudes.

When it comes to roost­ers, I like to think I have an open mind. I’ll give a rooster a chance to prove him­self and pull his weight around the coop. My hus­band, on the other hand, has decided that all roost­ers are lit­tle sadists just wait­ing to rape, pil­lage and even­tu­ally come after me with their spurs when I am not look­ing. He began talk­ing about the final solution.

Give it some time,” I told him. T. Boone Chick­ens and Johnny Cash were were roost­ers and two of the finest chick­ens I have ever met—not overly rough with the hens and stand­ing tall and alert to the sky while the hens were head-down peck­ing and scratch­ing on walkabout.

On the other hand, Ricky Ricardo was a par­tic­u­larly wicked rooster. Good rid­dance to that bad boy.

What is it about nasty roost­ers that they tend to pick on one hen, in par­tic­u­lar? Ricky Ricardo had it out for Tina Turner and Lit­tle Man hated Dorothy with a passion.

Poor Dorothy could never rest and could hardly eat. Lit­tle Man was always chas­ing her, mount­ing her, peck­ing at her and gen­er­ally mak­ing her life mis­er­able. She had lost a con­sid­er­able num­ber of feath­ers from his attacks. She had become ner­vous and twitchy.

Dorothy 3sm


I felt so sad for Dorothy. She is not a par­tic­u­larly pretty hen. She has a kind of undis­tin­guished brown and white coat and the kind of facial feath­ers that resem­ble a fake Hal­loween beard. But Dorothy has spunk, I tell you. She is always the first hen to see when I am walk­ing toward the coop with left­over pizza in my hands. Dorothy lives for pizza. She is also the hen who would most like to see the world. Chick­ens never stray far from their coop when on walk­a­bout, but Dorothy always walks up the hilly dri­ve­way as far as she dares to go. I often imag­ine she is think­ing, “I won­der what’s over that moun­tain. I will go there some­day and see for myself!”

Sadly, I even­tu­ally came around to Harry’s way of think­ing. Lit­tle Man had no place in our coop.

Now, get­ting rid of a rooster is a prob­lem. You can’t hope they’ll run away from home because they never leave the yard. And you can’t give away a rooster. I have seen many ads on Craig’s List for free roost­ers and no one seems to be tak­ing those ads down. Peo­ple will go to some lengths to re-home a rooster. I once saw a huge road­side sign that said “FREE ROOSTER!” (Aside: I shared the photo on Twit­ter and one quick-witted fol­lower fired back, “Who is Rooster and why is he incarcerated?”)

I decided to con­sult with my very expe­ri­enced and skilled chicken-keeping neigh­bor V. V is a no non­sense per­son. She is not overly sen­ti­men­tal about what needs to be done with bad roost­ers and has become skilled at the task. If I needed to get rid of Lit­tle Man, I could do it myself or she would help. She described to me the method she researched and found most effective—a broom han­dle over the back of the neck and a quick snatch of the head backward.

I did what I nor­mally do in these types of uncom­fort­able sit­u­a­tions. I pro­cras­ti­nated. I kept think­ing that the sit­u­a­tion would resolve itself. Maybe one of the peo­ple I had asked would mirac­u­lously decide to take Lit­tle Man into their coop. Maybe Lit­tle Man would get reli­gion and become a kinder, gen­tler Lit­tle Man. Maybe the Cir­cle of Life would claim him early through dis­ease, injury or stalk­ing predator.

This did not prove to be an effec­tive strat­egy. Day after day Lit­tle Man con­tin­ued to tor­ment Dorothy.

Finally, one after­noon Lit­tle Man pushed Dorothy—and me—just a lit­tle too far. I decided that was his final day.

I took the first step. I went into the house and had a glass of wine. Liq­uid courage.

I took some deep breaths. I put on my Lit­tle Man killing gloves and marched out into the yard with my broom. I could almost hear dooms­day music play­ing in my head. I cor­nered that lit­tle tyrant in the coop. He was vocal­iz­ing and fight­ing like, well, I was try­ing to kill him.

I wasted no time. I took mean Lit­tle Man out­side. “Okay, you. I’ve had enough of you!” I flat­tened nasty Lit­tle Man on the ground. “You do NOT, repeat do NOT mess with my hens.” (I was really work­ing up my fury and courage now.) I put the broom han­dle over hor­rid Lit­tle Man’s head. “This will teach you a les­son!” I yanked his despi­ca­ble Lit­tle Man head back with a force­ful jerk. He went com­pletely limp.

That’s it,” I thought look­ing down at my gloved hands. “I have killed with my own hands. Premeditated.”

I put down the broom, with Lit­tle Man at my feet. I stood up to med­i­tate on what what my fury had wrought…and Lit­tle Man jumped up and raced into the woods! He wasn’t dead!

Now I not only had a mean rooster, I had a mad mean rooster.

Time to call in the Spe­cial Forces. I called my neigh­bor V. Very calmly she offered to help.

But I don’t believe in wast­ing per­fectly good chick­ens. I can bring him home for dinner.”

She didn’t mean as a guest.

She was here within five min­utes. I explained the ridicu­lous results of how I had tried to do the deed.

That sounds like the first time I butchered a turkey in my basement.”

(Note to self: Do not mess with V.)

By this time Lit­tle Man had made it back to his tor­ture Dorothy location.

V headed toward the coop. I noticed she wasn’t wear­ing gloves, so I offered mine. She took them, but I got the feel­ing that she was humor­ing me.

In no time flat V had snatched up that rooster, held him by his feet, slapped him on the ground, put the broom over his neck and sent him to rooster heaven (or hell). The end.

To rein­force her point about waste, I noticed that V had brought her own garbage bag to put Lit­tle Man in. Really, she could have just car­ried him home by his feet. But I sup­pose the spec­ta­cle of her walk­ing down the road swing­ing a dead rooster by the feet was too much even for V.

So there it is. The story of how I tried to kill Lit­tle Man and failed—and then called in a trained pro­fes­sional for the job.

It’s not how I saw myself behav­ing when I began keep­ing pet chick­ens sev­eral years ago. I am still sen­ti­men­tal about them. I give them spe­cial treats to keep them happy and extra spe­cial treats on hol­i­days. I give them names and mourn when a good hen passes. We bury hens that get sick and die.  I have been known to cry over a chicken.

But now I know when to say “enough is enough.” I know when to pro­tect the good chick­ens from a bad chicken. And now I know how to do it.

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The Totally Real Dangers of Rural Living

Liv­ing here in a fairly rural part of Mary­land, I see things that the aver­age sub­ur­ban­ite wouldn’t encounter in a year liv­ing in a san­i­tized and man­i­cured neighborhood.

I can sit in my favorite chair and watch red foxes play fight in the back field. In spring, the tulip trees look like Christ­mas trees with twin­kling fire­flies in the night. I have stared in awe to see an eagle fly not 20 feet over where I was walk­ing my lit­tle dogs. I was tick­led when blue­birds col­o­nized my hugely expen­sive and unused pur­ple mar­tin gourds. And one mem­o­rable day I watched on as turkeys for­ni­cated on my front lawn.

live bunnies sm

Live baby bun­nies in a nest

On the other hand, I have had to boldly inter­vene when Tina Turner, a beau­ti­ful Pol­ish chicken, was chased down by a hawk who wasn’t at all impressed with my wind­mill arms and lunatic shriek­ing. I have stum­bled upon dead moles, dead snakes, dead wood­chucks and dead baby bun­nies, only to return a short time later to haul them off to the woods with a shovel to find that they had dis­ap­peared. And one time dur­ing an early morn­ing run, my hus­band encoun­tered a still­born deer in the mid­dle of our driveway.

Turkey Sex dm

Turkey sex

At 10 in the morn­ing this past Hal­loween Day a bloody-footed rac­coon walked across our front porch just between the door sill and the mat, leav­ing a pool of blood to one side and drip­ping blood down the side­walk before ambling across the lawn and into the woods.

bloody footprints 2 sm

Bloody rac­coon foot­prints by my front door

You don’t see that every day in the burbs.

Recently I was out for my run when I slammed into a force field of stench. It was just up the dri­ve­way from the house where an omi­nous band of silent black vul­tures had con­gre­gated. The odor was so over­pow­er­ing I was forced to sprint past hold­ing my nose and mouth breath­ing. My eyes were water­ing like a spigot. The smell attached itself to my clothes and fol­lowed me up the road.

No small corpse could be caus­ing such an impres­sive stink. Surely it was some­thing quite large. Maybe an ele­phant. Or a brontosaurus.

Maybe some ani­mal had taken the next step on the Cir­cle of Life ride.

Then my mind raced. What if it wasn’t a dead ani­mal? What if it was really human remains out there in the woods near my dri­ve­way? What should I do?  Should I investigate?

But maybe some­one had dumped a dead and putre­fy­ing body there and I would stum­ble across it, acci­den­tally plant­ing my DNA on the corpse and when I called the county sher­iff they would come out to inves­ti­gate and con­clude that I blud­geoned and dumped the body of a blog­ger who had writ­ten a mean review about my book and they would take me off to prison and I would be all like Orange is the New Black and have to get a gangsta nick­name like Ugly Stretch and have an inter­est­ing but diverse new group of friends and never put up another jar of jam, although maybe I could get a job in the prison kitchen if I was really nice to the ter­ri­fy­ing Russ­ian lady in charge, but really they would prob­a­bly make me work in the elec­tri­cal shop as part of my reha­bil­i­ta­tion but instead I would get elec­tro­cuted and die young because I’m not good at fix­ing things.

My hus­band could totally deal with prison bet­ter than me.

But he wasn’t home to go look instead of me, so I finally worked up my courage to inves­ti­gate. I put on my big rub­ber boots and gloves and tied a pretty scarf around my face bandito-style. Might as well go out in style, right?

I shoed away the black vul­tures (gosh, they’re scary) and care­fully tip­toed into the woods so I wouldn’t dis­turb any evi­dence. A cou­ple of feet past the tree line I spied the enor­mous, bloated dead deer that was caus­ing the stink.

I’m sorry, Bambi, but thank you, Jesus! I am not going to prison! I’m free! I went home to cel­e­brate my free­dom with a plate of cookies.

Boy howdy. That stench had stay­ing power. It took four days for nature’s cleanup crew to fin­ish their pic­nic and for the smell to dis­perse. In the mean­time the dri­ve­way to our home looked like a more Mafioso ver­sion of The Birds.

Since I’m not going to prison after all I’m enjoy­ing the fresh air of free­dom. It feels won­der­ful not to be behind bars, to savor the quiet and shower all by myself.

Ah, rural liv­ing! I think I would be bored liv­ing suburbs.



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Announcing My Big New Plan to Make a Whole Lot of Money

Now that I have put the pack back on, so to speak, and am blog­ging again after my year-long blog vaca­tion, I decided I bet­ter check in on those clever blog gurus. You know who they are. They’re the pro­fes­sional blog­gers who tell us amateur-hour blog­gers all the things we need to do to become big-time blog­gers as clever, indus­tri­ous and remark­able as they are.

One of the first things I noticed is that the gurus are all talk­ing about how to mon­e­tize your blog. “Mon­e­tize your blog” is the fancy way of say­ing “mak­ing money from your blog.”

(*Head slap*)

Bril­liant! I’m going to make this lit­tle Word­Press baby into a money press so that I can sit back and watch that beau­ti­ful green stuff pile up in my check­ing account while I fid­dle with pretty tomato jam pho­tos and give updates from my incred­i­bly excit­ing and col­or­ful life. Why have I waited so long to get onboard with this wealth-generating phenomenon?

So, I did some surfing—I mean, I invested in the future of my blog by spend­ing an after­noon doing research—and read up all about how to make money blog­ging. There’s a lot out there. I mean—a LOT.

There’s just one prob­lem. From what I can tell, it involves a lot of work.

To make money blog­ging involves blog­ging at least once a day—but prefer­ably more. You have to have a really unique and clever niche about which you know more than any­one. Then you have to fig­ure out all sorts of soft­ware and plu­g­ins so you can mine infor­ma­tion you col­lect from peo­ple who visit your blog. Then you have to entice your blog vis­i­tors with offers so that they will divulge their email addresses. Then you have to pro­duce ebooks and white papers and pod­casts and Youtube videos and all sorts of other stuff so that you can offer it for free to the blog vis­i­tors so that they will love you and hang on your every word and will come back to visit your blog every sin­gle day so that you can then try to sell them other ebooks and white papers and pod­casts and Youtube videos. Then when you get a whole bunch of emails of peo­ple who love you and can’t get enough of your free stuff you can roll out your sub­scrip­tion prod­ucts so that all those peo­ple will pay you to write even more stuff to pro­mote other stuff that you will write to sell.

To quote the immor­tal words of that Youtube lady, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

Besides, I came up with a bet­ter, brilliant-er plan.

Wait for it!

Instead of mon­e­tiz­ing my blog, I am going to mon­e­tize my dog!

Sophie on Sophie Chair sm

I am going to turn the Papillon-driven cash flow that’s been going on around here back in my direc­tion. I am going to put Sophie to work to pay for her expen­sive home­made roast chicken thigh din­ners, $300/year den­tal clean­ings, $50/month pre­scrip­tion med­ica­tions, $40 beauty shop appoint­ments, not to men­tion all the designer sweaters, neck ker­chiefs and bling she likes to wear when she lounges around the house on my furniture.

sophie on scarf sm

There­fore, I am announc­ing the fol­low­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties to inter­act with Sophie.

Hire Sophie as Your Team Mas­cot – Sophie loves sports, espe­cially if she gets to dress as one of the play­ers. Sophie will show up at your games and bark her head off. She will allow peo­ple to pet and admire her.

linebacker sophie sm

She will hap­pily chow down with the play­ers at the team buf­fet table and prance down the field at parade time. Bet­ter yet, you can wheel her around in her own per­sonal conveyance.

sophie in garden cart

Book Sophie for a Per­sonal Appear­ance at Par­ties, Open­ings and Other Events (Just Like Paris Hilton!) – Sophie can be quite the party ani­mal. She has her own bling, but if Harry Win­ston wants to drape a few dia­monds around her neck, she will be happy to oblige.

sophie with goldfish

Buy Sophie’s Col­lectible, Lim­ited Edi­tion Paw Print – And you can pick a paw! She has four of them, so there are actu­ally four sets of lim­ited edi­tions. Col­lect all four!

Upcom­ing prod­ucts will include the inevitable t-shirts, ball caps, bumper stick­ers and more.

There will also be a Sophie iPhone and Adroid app. We are par­tic­u­larly excited about this one. The new Sophie app will wake you every sin­gle day, includ­ing Sat­ur­days and hol­i­days, at the crack of dawn with her unique musi­cal blend of snort­ing, sniff­ing and cough­ing. If you opt to pur­chase the iPhone scent-generator attach­ment, you can enjoy the unmis­tak­able eau de dog­gie fart.

But wait! There’s more!

The Sophie app will occasionally—but unpredictably—wake you at 3 a.m. to go out­side and look at the stars while it dis­plays an ani­mated Sophie wan­der­ing in cir­cles look­ing for just the right spot to poo.

You may be won­der­ing about how Sarah, Sophie’s best fren­emy, fits into this scheme. She doesn’t. Sarah hates to have her pic­ture taken. I’m not sure, but when I point the cam­era in her direc­tion she seems to think I’m try­ing to steal her soul.

Sarah Papillon

Until I get Sophie’s per­sonal web­site and toll-free num­ber set up, you can just con­tact me by email. Price list avail­able on request.

Go Sophie! Cha-ching!



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What I Did on My Vacation from Blogging

Well, hello there! Did you notice I was gone? Did you miss me? I missed you.

Truly, I didn’t set out to take nearly a full year off from blog­ging here at Bum­ble­bee. Some­times, life just gets in the way. Some­times you have to make a choice between liv­ing life or writ­ing about it. Not that liv­ing and writ­ing are mutu­ally exclu­sive, of course. I rec­og­nize that. Heck, all those Mount Ever­est climbers, round-the-world sailors, Appalachian Trail hik­ers, North Pole explor­ers and Eng­lish Chan­nel swim­mers are cer­tainly pro­lific about crank­ing out the books. I bet some of them even blog more than once a year.

It’s just that I was writ­ing other things, par­tic­u­larly for work. But I did write also write a book. Yes, it’s finally out! Wis­dom for Home Pre­servers was released at the begin­ning of this month.

I sneaked into Barnes Noble the other day and took a selfie with the only copy they had on their store shelf. I sup­pose they had sold the dozens of other copies they had stocked because they really did have only one copy. Just one!

wisdom in Barnes and Noble

Let that be a les­son to you. You must run right out and buy a copy before they are all gone!

The book includes 500 (500!) tips about can­ning, freez­ing, cur­ing, smok­ing, root cel­lar­ing and more. It’s an easy read and the spe­cially com­mis­sioned linocut prints by print­maker Melvyn Evans pro­vide a nice retro vibe to this tidy lit­tle hard­back book.

I’ll be back soon writ­ing about the life I’m liv­ing. It’s not Chan­nel swim­ming or polar explo­ration though. Just more coun­try life.



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