Jill’s Garden

Jill's amazing backyard
photo credit: Jill Stevens

This is not my backyard, though I wish it was.

As much as I love plants, you would think my backyard looked, oh, attractive. Nope. I’m overwhelmed by the size, like too many different styles to commit to one thing, and am unsure how to handle all the shade we have when combined with our dry, blistering heat. It’s a field of grass surrounded by an empty bed.

Enter, Jill.

Jill is the grandmother of one of my students, which is weird to contemplate because my grandma is 4’8 and has hair the color of a strawberry Good Humor bar. Jill, on the other hand, has long dark hair and is overwhelmingly beautiful. This must be because she spends all her time in the fresh air creating an animal sanctuary in her backyard. Those are her pictures, above. One day on Facebook I had to ask her if the pictures she was posting were hers and of her property. “Yes!” she said, as if having 25 different species of birds was no big deal. Every few weeks a sparrow the color of abandoned hope will visit my yard, but that’s only because they’re tired or injured.

She hasn’t posted too many bird pictures lately because she is, obviously, certifying her garden to be a Monarch Butterfly way station. This is how I imagine Jill spends her days.


Before we get to the butterflies (I can’t wait to show you those pictures), we’ll talk birds. This may sound naive, but I thought you hung up some feeders full of seed and waited for all the birds and their animal friends to stampede toward the house like last boarding call for Noah’s Ark. I was incorrect. Apparently it takes a good deal more thought to attract birds that aren’t despondent.

I took Jill’s advice and went to a local bird store. I knew I was in the right place when we pulled up and there were a dozen different birds eating from various feeders. They had a bunch of books and helpful employees that explained to me how to attract the birds local to our area. Aside from the depressed sparrows, I didn’t know we had “birds local to our area.”

If you are interested in what I learned you can read it in this post at Wayfair, which I organized in nerdy bird watching fashion. It may not be the most riveting post in the world, but I like it because it’s organized and will help me set up the backyard once I get the nerve to get started.

Have a great weekend, and thanks for your support!

That Post I’ve Been Meaning to Write

Hello! Welcome to the latest episode of Hi/Low Blogger: Your place for jeers and tears. Two days of funny means now I’m going to depress you thoroughly. Let’s get started!

Yesterday I was out in the backyard taking pictures of Buddy and Buttercup after a not-so-great visit with the vet on Monday. (Because Monday was a pissed off llama.) I took Buddy in because his hind legs were becoming increasingly weak, to the point he would fall or toe under (his toes curled under when he stood, almost like he was standing on the top of his hind left paw). We have hardwood floors, so I was hoping it was “slippery floor for old dog” syndrome. Holy Incorrect Assumptions!

We did Buddy a huge disservice when we allowed him to become a tri-color mound of sad after Buster died. He didn’t want to move, and we didn’t push the issue. Thanks to our over-indulgence, the muscles in his hind legs, especially the left, have atrophied. He can’t take steroids because of his history of infection, so right now he is on an anti-inflammatory. I did some research and decided to rebuild his muscles using three gentle, short walks every day. Mikey does two of them, and already I’ve seen an improvement in his walking.

Buddy and Buttercup looked so pleased as they sunned themselves that I decided to come inside and write about their bro-mance. I did, without thinking or editing, and posted it to tumblr. I’m adding it here for safe keeping more than anything else since most of you read it already.



I never understood why someone would want a bird as a pet. I had two canaries as a child and don’t remember anything about them except the day a cat got to one and the other flew away. I lumped bird people with horse people. Both groups were zealous pet lovers more comfortable with their oddly-footed animals than people.

Says the woman with a tumblr and instagram account devoted to the family cockatiel.

On March 8, 2014, our 13-year-old beagle, Buster, died of an aggressive bladder cancer. We didn’t see it coming, and neither did Buddy, his friend for life.

We brought Buster home when Buddy was 6 months old, so it’s likely neither one remembered life without the other. We worried that Buster’s passing would be difficult for Buddy.

We were terribly, horribly right.


For weeks Buddy stayed by the door waiting for Buster to come home. He wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t bark, and wouldn’t move except to go to the bathroom. Almost immediately he developed pneumonia. With his already compromised “old man” lungs, it took him weeks of antibiotics and a series of breathing treatments recover. On March 7, 2014, he was an exceptionally healthy and happy nearly 14 year old beagle. By May, he could barely walk and was coughing incessantly.

We brought home Buttercup in the middle of May.

For the first time in months, Buddy’s ears pricked up. He was curious about something, finally. He started sleeping again in the bed he shared with Buster, though he stuck to his side of the bed. (Old habits die hard.) He moved, usually to wherever Buttercup was. He sniffed. He ate. He wagged his tail.

Grooming Buddy

Grooming Toes

Buttercup, we think, knows what Buddy needs in that innate way animals just know. He meticulously grooms Buddy. He perches on him and lets Buddy walk him around the yard. He lets Buddy sniff him and doesn’t get offended when Buddy gets spooked and moves to sit close to Buttercup, but not that close.

And just like that, I understood bird people. I became bird people. I learned about their complex social hierarchy, how intelligent they are, and how loving they can be with their non-bird family. I learned all this not by reading books, but by watching Buttercup slowly bring Buddy back to life.

Eye Contact

Buddy still has problems. He’s blind in one eye and nearly deaf. His hind leg muscles have atrophied because of his refusal to move more than necessary after Buster died. He still coughs and he gets up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. He’s 14 years old, after all.

Still, it’s amazing to us that 83 grams of feathers did for Buddy what two vets and an adoring family couldn’t. A pastel-faced, cinnamon pearl cockatiel gave a 14 year old beagle the companionship he missed and the will to keep going just a little bit longer. Buttercup is worth his puny weight in gold, 100 times over.

What I Did When it Hit the Fan

Mail Center

Salt cabinet

celery salt

You know I’ve been having a really hard time keeping it together, especially if you follow my Facebook page. Monday was a nightmare of epic proportions. Tuesday was slightly better. We’ll see what the rest of the week brings, though I predict kittens rolling down hills of clover into porcelain bowls filled with heavy cream because Monday was a pissed off llama.

I’m the dude who nearly loses his life but never drops his beer. Nico is the guy filming and laughing the entire time. Mikey is off screen calling animal control and worrying about rabies.

I should have gone home and watched funny animal videos, but instead I did three quick William Morris projects that have been bugging me. I organized the mail center, cleaned out my salt cabinet next to the stove, and cleaned out the fridge in the house and in the garage.

I found a kilo of wilted celery and remembered an old tip about putting it in water to crisp it back up. It worked like a charm, and since the celery still had the pretty leaves attached, I made homemade celery salt. It’s not like I made the celery salt because I had some time to kill in between dehydrating some kale and churning butter made from the milk of our free-range chickens. I have an incredible ability to remember mostly useless things, like the fact Heidi Swanson posted a homemade celery salt recipe in 2011.

So that’s what I did on Monday, and I’ve changed my mind. I’m the hamster.

Newbery Challenge | Flora & Ulysses (2014)

Newbery Challenge | Flora & Ulysses (2014)Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
Published by Candlewick Press on 2013-09-24
Genres: Action & Adventure, Comics & Graphic Novels, Family, General, Marriage & Divorce, Superheroes, Young Adult
Pages: 336
AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo one-star
Winner of the 2014 Newbery Medal! Holy unanticipated occurrences! A cynic meets an unlikely superhero in a genre-breaking new novel by master storyteller Kate DiCamillo. It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry- and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart. From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format- a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by up-and-coming artist K. G. Campbell.


God save me from people who write like John Green. Actually, God should save them from me because I want to smash them over the head with hardcover editions of Strunk & White.

If you write a phrase and think, ‘Wow, that’s really poetic, that’s really pretty, I really nailed it,’ you get rid of it [because] you’ve overdone it.

–David Sedaris

YES. Yes, David Sedaris. YOU ARE CORRECT.

Flora & Ulysses is the Newbery Gold Medal winner for 2014 and mark my words, this book will not stand the test of time. It is the product of Twitter and Snapchat, of John Green and quirky characters, of precocious kids using big words in place of humor. It is what I call “soundbite writing,” a collection of clever sentences strung together without synergistic effect. It’s like John Green, Kate DiCamillo (in this case), and authors with the same writing style clack away at their keyboard until they can lean back in their vintage rolling chairs and say, “Hot damn, that sentence is going to look awesome when someone overlays it on a soft focus image and puts it on Tumblr. Please, God, let it hit Pinterest!”

No more quirky characters, please. Flora Belle is a hopeful cynic; William Spiver is her temporarily blind neighbor; Ulysses is a superhero squirrel who flies and writes poetry because he was sucked up by a vacuum.

No more children with odd hobbies, I beg you. Flora compulsively reads a bonus comic book series called TERRIBLE THINGS CAN HAPPEN TO YOU! because hipsters don’t play with Barbies.

No more witty sentences, for the love of everything holy. “Nothing would be easier without you, because you are everything, all of it — sprinkles, quarks, giant donuts, eggs sunny – side up — you are the ever – expanding universe to me.”

F&U, 2

Many people I know loved this book. It’s so clever and inventive! It’s funny! It captures the spirit of childhood! Is that so? Because when you take away the clever dialogue, it’s a story about a girl who feels lost after her parents’ divorce. It’s funny the way tweets are funny until you retweet and forget about them. As for capturing childhood, I don’t know a single 10 year old like the ones in this book. Mikey is the age of Flora and William Spiver, and if I ever heard him say to a girl “Your face, Flora Belle, is particularly beautiful to me. Even the sepulchral gloom of this hallway cannot dim your loveliness,” I’d straight up roundhouse kick him into anti-poser class.

[sidenote: reviews claim this book is wonderful for teaching kids SAT words. Stop. Stop trying to communicate your thoughts. This book is marketed to late elementary/middle schoolers. Grades 4-8. Middle schoolers don't need to worry about SAT words, and they learn their SAT words by reading increasingly complex material as they progress through school, not by reading ONE BOOK ABOUT A SQUIRREL THAT WRITES POETRY.]

Legions of people loved this book and it won a Newbery, so it’s both commercially and critically adored. I know I’m in the minority when I say I was completely underwhelmed reading this book. I’m trying to imagine enthusiastically recommending this book to the students at school. “Holy unanticipated occurrences!”

That’s how clever people say ‘ain’t gonna happen.’

EDITED TO ADD: Called it.

Week 3

Week 3a








I learn a lot from you. I learn more from you than you do from me, especially when it comes to self care. On my Facebook page I get a lot of feedback on taking care of myself, something I struggle to do. The reason I decided to do daily exercise is twofold. One, it’s to take care of myself physically. Two, it’s to do something just for myself. It might be one reason I’ve had mixed results with stay at home yoga. The boys want to do it with me and, as much as I love them, I need some time alone.

The Mister came home on Friday night after a month of traveling (he came home on the weekends). We knew he had to leave again on Monday, but at the last minute we learned he had to leave Sunday. I decided to devote Saturday and Sunday to mental self care instead of physical. Instead of walking, we joined him in helping his mom move everything into her house after a top-to-bottom remodel. My arms and back were tight on Sunday, so I consider that a workout! On Sunday, right after the Mister left, I took the boys to San Diego to meet someone I met online 8 years ago in a due date forum for February babies! Can you believe I did it? I can’t. I admit I forced myself, but it was worth it because (1) ballsy for me! and (2) the boys love The Natural History Museum. I was so nervous that I forgot to take pictures of my friend and I together. Oh well. One of these days I’ll get the hang of this socializing thing.

It took us almost 3 hours to get home from San Diego (traffic) but it was worth it. The drive was beautiful and peaceful. Nico sang songs (and asked me 30238 times if we were there yet) and Mikey finished Nest of Serpents. We were just pulling into town when the sun went down. So pretty. Mikey took the last picture, the one of the sunset. You can see the squished bugs on our windshield.

Hi! I’m Jules.

I used to be an attorney, but it made me grumpy. Now I write about life, sweet and savory, as a wife and mother to two small boys. My knowledge of dinosaurs knows no bounds.

You can read more, including the meaning behind the name Pancakes and French Fries here. And, yes, I really am phenomenally indecisive.