Not the hands! Musicians’ greatest fear

IMG_20160711_091241546_HDR[1]One minute I was deadheading my roses and nudging the compost cart along. The next I was on the ground staring at my throbbing fingers. The open cart had become unbalanced and fallen toward me. I fell in among peach parts and chicken bones. I know I hollered as I went down. Only the trees heard, and they said: “What do you want us to do, we’re stuck in the ground?” If a woman hollers in the forest where no humans can hear her, does she make a sound?

Anyway. I landed with my left-hand fingers first, specifically the middle, ring and pinkie fingers. Yes, I’m left-handed. I also banged my left knee and whacked my ribs pretty hard on the rim of the cart, but all I cared about, once I determined I was still alive, was my fingers. I needed them to hold down the frets on the guitar and play the bass notes on the piano. Everything else I could figure out with one hand. I’ve done it before.

As a musician, I always worry about the fingers first. Once upon a time in Lincoln City, OR, I fell down the stairs of our rental house. I still wince at the memory. My injuries were relatively minor but worrisome. My sideways-pointing big toe was the doctor’s main concern, but I kept whining about my fingers, two of which were swelling rapidly, and hey, I had a performance in three days. I didn’t need my big toe, but I definitely needed my fingers.

This turned out to be not that bad. Nothing broken, just bruised and slightly swollen. After a few days of ice and rest, they’re almost like new, sore and a little purple but workable. I played all weekend. Why did I put my hands out to stop my fall? It’s instinct. Better hands than head, our body says, throwing the hands down before we have a chance to think about it.

A couple days later, I was chopping berry vines at the side of the house, my hands protected with leather gloves. My late husband Fred had left behind this pole saw thing that I had never used, but I just had to get those high vines that were leaning on my house. So I studied the thing, hung it on a branch, pulled the cord, and it cut! Excited, I started cutting everything in sight. However, in my enthusiasm, I pulled down too hard right above the chain link fence and whacked the heel of my right hand on the upward-pointing wires hard enough to bruise it. It was at that point I thought maybe klutzy musicians should not do their own gardening. But then yesterday I pinched a finger in my keyboard stand. Another bruise. Fingers are in for it no matter what we do.

Fingers are so vulnerable. They stick out at the end of our hands with no protection. Without them, it’s hard to play guitar or piano or most other instruments—although I do know two talented men who play well despite missing their left index fingers. It doesn’t take much to put you out of business. A paper cut in the wrong place, a mashed fingernail, a mosquito bite. When people shake my hand too hard, I think: Careful! The fingers!

An injury to one little finger can put us out of business. It seems like we should sit with our hands in our laps and do nothing. But we can’t do that. We have to live our lives. I’ve had sprained wrists, torn shoulder ligaments, golfer’s elbow and tendonitis from my shoulders to my fingertips. I’ve worn slings, splints, and braces. I’ve applied “liquid skin” to torn calluses. Most of the time, I played anyway. I have seen guitar players bleed on their strings from cuts that didn’t have time to heal. Life is dangerous. We take our chances and thank God every time we get to play again, even if it hurts.

It’s not just musicians and fingers. Think about the body parts people use to do their work: the artist’s eyes, the pitcher’s throwing arm, the dancer’s feet, the perfumer’s nose. And you would not believe how paranoid I am about my vocal cords. I can’t get sick! I’m a singer. But that’s a whole other blog.

I’m typing this post with all 10 fingers. The keyboard seems to be a safe place, but you never know. There’s always carpal tunnel syndrome.

Worst case, I’ll play my harmonica. No fingers needed.

Comments? Do you have any finger-hurting memories to share?

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The Hydrangea Nearly Won

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Last week I was whining about the dead hydrangea bush I was having a hard time removing. Actually “hard time” is putting it too mildly. I dug and chopped and pulled at that thing for weeks. I kept coming back to it like a dog trying to get at a rat under the house, digging and pushing and bending, nicking up my piano-playing hands. It was thoroughly dead, its branches turned to bamboo. I blame the freeze of 2014, plus the blackberries that grew up around it and choked it to death. I had given it two whole seasons to recover, but it didn’t.

IMG_20160412_110723903[1].jpgTwo weeks ago, I saw that this job was getting too big for me and contacted a gardener. After a week, he had not responded, and it was bugging me, so I dug and chopped and tugged some more as my good shoes got crusted with mud. The branches that were too thick to cut kept scratching me. I went at it with a hatchet. The branches laughed. I tried to cut it with my loppers. Nyah, nyah, they said.  I gave up for a while, but I’m not one to quit on things. I did a search on YouTube and watched a guy named Bob demonstrate the proper technique. Okay, I can do this, I thought. I didn’t own the fancy spade that he had, but I did own a spade.

It was working. Then I got down to the last mega roots, thick as parsnips. I chopped with my hatchet. I dug with my spade. I grabbed and pulled with all my might. I could hear roots popping. Progress. But then with one of those mighty heave-hos, I heard my back popping, too, and thought, uh-oh. Time out.

I threw myself on the grass in a sweaty savasana and let it go. It was hard. I knew I was close. I also knew I didn’t want to end up in the hospital.

The gardeners finally contacted me on Monday. They would charge $40 to get the plant out. Fine. Late Wednesday afternoon, they came. Three guys, two speaking mostly Spanish. One of them grabbed my rusty spade that was still leaning up against the wall. He shoved it down into the ground hard about three times, pulled on the plant and it came out, roots and all. Just like that. He carried the corpse to the truck. They smoothed the dirt, and they were done.

I was so close! I almost had it. Just a little more upper body strength and it would have been my victory. It should have been. After all, I am the founder and CEO of Blue Hydrangea Productions. That was my glorious standard for my company. I loved it when it was blooming and I should have been the one to perform the final rites. But no. Because I’m a freaking girl. I thought they would bring fancy equipment to dig and cut. Wrong. They used my rusty old spade that I found in the shed after I watched the YouTube video. Not fair!

Two minutes! They should have paid me for doing all the prep work. I should have had Annie help me. If that dog can bite through an allegedly indestructible Kong or a log from the woodpile, why can’t she take down a dead hydrangea?

Everybody says I should have called them in the first place. They also say I need to hire a gardener. Mowing the lawns kills me. My lawn is like a golf course. Huge. But there’s wonderful satisfaction in watching that lawn get neater with each row I cut. So, not yet.

Any day now, I’ll be planting a new blue hydrangea, all by myself. And I took down a dying rosebush yesterday in five minutes. Thank you, YouTube.

If You Can’t Kill Them, Claim Them as Your Garden

Vines on fenceI spent a lot of the Fourth of July weekend in hand to vine combat with wild berries. I believe in letting wild things grow, but when they attack my house and make it difficult to walk through the yard, I have to attack back. My garden pretty much consists of plants that planted themselves. Invasive plants, the rest of the world calls them, plants that grow wherever they want and keep expanding their territory. Blackberries, thimbleberries, salmonberries, huckleberries. Salal, sword ferns, foxglove, poppies, ivy. And honeysuckle. Just when I learn what those flowers are and start thinking I’m lucky to have them, I discover that they too are invasive plants. Looking more closely, I see that they’re already battling for space with the berries out front.

ThimbleberriesReal gardeners would get in here with a chain saw or a tractor and cut all this stuff out so we could plant something pretty that knows its place in the garden. But why cut out plants that are hardy and attractive just because we don’t think they should be there? Okay, I’m a little angry at the berries that are choking my big hydrangea plant to death. But in most of the yard, I have neither the time nor energy to clear, plant and tend a garden, so why not let Mother Nature take care of it? What gives a human being the right to clear a rectangle in the forest and kill anything that threatens to come in? If you can’t beat ‘em, let ‘em grow, right?

However, just like they’re choking the hydrangea, the berries were also threatening to overwhelm me and my house. They were pushing against the fence and the deck to the point where I had to fight back so that I could walk the path to my gate without thorny branches grabbing my hair and my clothes. I suffered endless thorn pricks to my hands as I cut and cut, trying to take back my one-third acre of land. I cut enough to fill the 96-gallon compost cart and more, yet it’s hard to tell I did anything because there is so much plant life.

Foxglove and berriesBack in California, they’re suffering from the drought. Only the hardiest plants will survive. My father’s planted berry vines have dried into brown strings with a few berries shriveled up like raisins. We’re short on rain here in Oregon, too. Numerous counties have declared drought emergencies. But on the coast, even after a month with no measurable rain, everything is blooming, growing, and threatening to break down the fences.

Salmonberry shootWith my little clippers, my loppers and my yellow wheelbarrow, I fight to protect my space by cutting a little here and there and claiming the rest as my bountiful garden. As for the sore muscles and the bloody cuts where the thorns got me, I consider them badges of honor. I held the enemy off again.

Meanwhile, my dog Annie is already eating blackberries on our hikes. To her, the world is one big smorgasbord. Who’s to say she isn’t smarter than we are?

A Tale of Two Hydrangeas or Mother Nature is a Better Gardener than I Am

HydranfallB You may or may not know that I call my publishing company Blue Hydrangea Productions (check out my website and buy a book, okay?). I love blue hydrangeas, especially the kind popularly known as “mopheads.” They’re in my blood. My mother had them growing next to our front porch in San Jose. My grandfather had some along the side of his house in Seacliff, California. When Fred and I bought our house in South Beach, Oregon, a luscious blue plant bloomed by the front door. Clearly we were meant to live here.

The Azores Islands from which my mother’s ancestors came are covered with blue hydrangeas. Miles and miles of them, often used as fences. When we toured Faial years ago, our bus driver gave each of the women hydrangea flowers. I started sneezing, since I’m allergic to almost everything with leaves, fur or feathers,IMG_20150504_112806116[1]IMG_20150504_112844203[1] but that did not stop me from loving them.

Now, alas, something is wrong with my big hydrangea. A smaller plant nearby is loaded with leaves and just starting to bloom. But the big one, my company namesake, is mostly sticks with a few wan leaves. What’s up? I treated them both the same. I didn’t prune either plant last fall because I was in California taking care of my dad after he broke his hip, but that doesn’t explain the difference. Was it the snow and ice in Dec. 2013 that killed my hebes? Was it not enough rain in 2014? Have the blackberry vines that poke up through the branches choked the life out of the hydrangea? Is it the fact that I don’t mulch, fertilize or feed any of my plants? If nothing happens, I’m going to prune it down to nothing next fall and start fresh. Maybe I’ll even water it, which seems redundant on the rainy Oregon coast.

Meanwhile, my rhododendron is in full bloom, a gorgeous wash of magenta that will last a couple more weeks. And the weeds, oh, they’re doing well, some of them, like the one below, so spectacular I don’t have the heart to pull them out. I don’t know what they are, but who am I to argue with what comeIMG_20150504_112708379[1]s up naturally in the middle of the coastal forest?

Visitors to my house will see rhodies in bloom, English ivy going crazy, blackberry, salmonberry and thimbleberry plants growing several inches every day, wild poppies, sword ferns, mystery weeds, and gigantic stick sculptures that used to be hebes and hydrangeas

For those fans who seem to think I’m good at everything, I’m not. Here’s proof. Welcome to my stick garden.

For information about hydrangeas, visit these sites:

Hydrangeasplus.com

http://www.waysidegardens.com/wg-hydrangea-guide/a/324/

https://plantcaretoday.com/hydrangea-care.html

http://www.hydrangeashydrangeas.com/

The Attack of the Compost Cart or People are Biodegradable, Too

I’m weird. Who else do you know who yearns for a big green compost cart from the garbage company? Here in the wilds of South Beach, just outside Newport City limits, we watched our city friends and neighbors getting carts, but not here. I called.Compost cart

“When can we have ours?”

“You live in the county. Maybe next year.”

“But what am I supposed to do with my grass and tree trimmings in the meantime?”

“You can bag them up for the landfill or drive them to the dump.”

I chose to let them pile up in the yard, with vague plans to buy a burn barrel and fill the neighborhood with smoke and ashes like some of my neighbors do.

But finally, finally, the compost carts came to our neighborhood. Except my street, all four houses. I called.

The lady on the phone laughed. “Most people are calling to complain that they don’t want them. We will deliver your bin on Friday.”

Wahoo!

It was like waiting for Santa at Christmas. I looked out the window every five minutes until finally, a little after noon, there it was, a 96-gallon monstrosity that dwarfed my 65-gallon recycle cart and my 24-gallon garbage/landfill cart. I couldn’t wait to start piling stuff inside. Soon my yard would be so clean and neat. As soon as the rain stopped gushing down, I’d get to work.

Saturday morning, I put on my sweats and garden gloves, said hello to my pristine compost cart and started piling in branches, mostly out-of-control wild blackberry vines I had trimmed away from the house. Then I moved to the big pile that has been composting naturally on the side of the house for years and started shoveling in branches, dried-out hydrangea blooms, weeds and grass.

The trouble arose when I decided to move my three-quarters-full, chest-high cart without shutting the lid. Somehow, it became unbalanced and tipped forward. At the same time, the lid clopped me in the face and I fell in, banging my shoulder hard and my knee almost as hard. Down we went, me and the cart full of thorny branches. Bang! Crap! Ow! I was in the cart.

Slowly, I pulled myself out, hoping I wasn’t broken. I could feel my pulse in my cheek, an ache in my knee, a twisted-out-of-whack feeling in my back, and serious pain in my shoulder. Not good for a musician who would be playing the piano at church in a few hours. Gingerly I moved my limbs and determined that I was not broken, only bruised. I thanked God.

I pulled up my cart, dug my gloves out from under the greenery, and gently shut the lid. Okay, cart, you win this one, but I’ll get you on Thursday, when I stuff in more grass, add my grapefruit rinds, tea bags, and chicken bones and haul you to the curb with all the other carts. Then the garbage truck will lift you up, dump you out, and smack you back to the ground while I relax on my loveseat with the dog.

Today I’m fine except for a sore but functional shoulder. Sometimes I feel like a very small woman trying to maintain a very large home. A condo somewhere with other old widows and a staff of professional maintenance people is starting to look more appealing every day. Also, it occurs to me that someday I will be compost, too. But not yet. I have to mow the lawn. And yes, I do get the irony of trying to control what grows on a one-third acre parcel in the middle of the forest.