Inflatables, Ibises and a Swiss Cheese Plant

There are many things in this life that I will never understand. Blow-up lawn ornaments are one of them. Last week while in Lowe’s I could not help but see the selection for sale on the very high upper shelf in the – you got it – lawn care department.

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They have two dragons, one black cat looking evil (as evil as plastic can look), orange-rimmed eyes and something next to the purple dragon on the end that I cannot figure out. On another shelf they have a pumpkin carriage, a black spider (widow, no doubt), a haunted house and a green ghoula monster.

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The one that greets you – just imagine this in your neighbor’s front yard! – is this:

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Every town in America, sometimes every neighborhood, has at least one house with a variety of such “decorations.” It seems that Halloween is strongly vying for the #2 spot behind Christmas, when all manner of inflatable Santas, reindeer, snowmen, grinches, polar bears, nutcrackers, penguins and even nativity sets adorn front yards.

I have decided that I don’t have to understand or even appreciate everything. People have different eyes, different sensitivities, different preferences. Sometimes I go into a store and think: Who buys this stuff? But people do! And it’s not only what people buy. It’s the music they listen to, the foods they eat, the things that strike them as beautiful. It’s what they see, what they like, what they remember, what they want more of.

Some people will not look at Louisa’s gourds and think How beautiful! as I did when I saw them in August still hanging on their vine. Isn’t the shape magnificent? Traditionally, because a gourd’s shell will become as hard as wood, they have been used for bottles, dippers and musical instruments. People paint them, carve into them, display them. I am content and delighted to look at them hanging from a vine.

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Some people will think Coco, the little black pug I get to laugh at every day, is ugly. I did. For a long time. Curiously, I also thought she was cute. I’d say How can a dog be ugly and cute at the same time? But now I don’t think she’s ugly. She wiggled her way into my heart and now I think she’s beautiful. Yes, beautiful! And still cute. I call her Cutie Pie.

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You can put a bunch of pillows on top of her and she will still just look at you like What? Is there a problem here?

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See her in there? She doesn’t care!

You can put her on the rooftop of the chicken coop’s brooding box and she will not care!

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There are a lot of things that strike me that someone else might walk right by. I am drawn to form, pattern, color, character, authenticity and uniqueness with a curiosity that I suspect will never quite be satisfied. Last week this MO was confirmed in Galveston, Texas, at a place called Moody Gardens. Their “rainforest” is a bit imposing from the outside – a tall, glass pyramid amid lots of palm trees (this is not Virginia!).

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Inside I marveled at the patterning on this fish’s back. Do you think every one of its species has a different “fingerprint”? It’s like a maze, like the corn mazes people walk through or the ones in activity books that challenge you to get from Point A to Point B. Do you suppose there’s a way through this one?

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I don’t know what these birds are called, but there they were, right in front of us, looking as perfect as if they had been manufactured in a factory according to detailed specs.

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The shape of the one that sat so still, its distinct all-black and all-white sections so crisply divided, its unblinking eye with no shadowing, no lash, no imperfections – she’s amazing, but she doesn’t know it.

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The gorgeous color of these scarlet ibises is like something off an artist’s palette. What do you even call that color? To me, scarlet isn’t the word you want. But the birds don’t care what you call them.

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They freely walk around, seemingly oblivious to the humans observing their skinny legs, their outstanding posture, their disproportionate beaks. Why do those beaks have to be so long? Perhaps their food lives deep in the mud at the bottom of the pond?

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I have to admit that the color of the palm viper is extraordinary, but I did not stare at it for long. The coils, the gleam, the idea of what it is capable of sent me on my way even though it is behind glass. I think people must be innately repulsed for good reason!

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Onward!

I do not want to be the one who feeds the mantas, but it was quite something to watch! The man who does this has been feeding them for five years! His hand is inside the glass.

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How amazing is the patterning of this branch of the “rain tree”? It grows that way without any help from a computer program! Notice though that it’s not perfect. Some leaves are missing. If a person made this, or a program constructed it, you can bet that all the leaves would be there.

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Seen from below, with the sunlight framing it, this branch is to me even more amazing.

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The Split Leaf Philodendron or “Swiss Cheese Plant” is just plain funny! What reason could there be for the naturally-occurring holes in the leaves? To get more light to the leaves below it?

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On the sign in the lobby at Moody Gardens is a Kenyan proverb that says: Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was loaned to you by your children.

To me this says more broadly: Keep your perspective. Be careful. Pay attention.

It gets me thinking about what an incredibly diverse and fascinating world we live in. All too often we get caught up in the everyday issues – bills to pay, things that break down, people who disappoint us. We forget to take notice of the miracles all around us all the time. Without our usually noticing it, there’s beauty: someone’s smile, the color of flowers, the rays of sun making speckled shadows. There’s growth: we don’t struggle quite as much with something as we used to, our work yields more satisfaction, our cooking is more delicious than ever! And there are simple and complex systems in every corner of our world that actually, consistently work! The lights go on when we flip the switch, fresh and wonderful food from around the globe is available in our stores, the mail arrives! Much as I will never understand it, even the inflatables in people’s front yards at Halloween and Christmas give (some) people something to smile about.

Besides all this and a thousand other things, there are plants in the world that look like swiss cheese! Just for fun maybe?

Take a moment today to look around and think about what you normally take for granted. You don’t need to make a list (though mine is very long!) but I think if we all spent a bit more time being grateful for what we have instead of lamenting what we don’t have, if we celebrated the good instead of bemoaning the bad, if we channeled our energies toward gratitude and service instead of anger and greed, think what the world would be.

One Bag Only

I did it. I gave in. I packed a medium flat rate box and will ship it to my home from Sugar Land, Texas, tomorrow.

On this sixteen-day trip I flew from Charlottesville to San Francisco, from San Francisco to Boise, from Boise to Seattle, from Seattle to Houston, and tomorrow from Houston back home. I chose to fly the cheapest way possible, using the new option to take only what can fit under the seat in front of you. One bag, one bag only. Everything I need for sixteen days in various climates has to fit on my person or in my bag and under that seat. (It was 47 degrees when I left Seattle. At 10:06pm it’s still 82 here in Sugar Land.)  I like books. I brought two along. I won’t lie. My shoulder is not happy. It might be somewhat bruised from the weight I carried each time.

Everything was fine – all the airlines let me through with my one bag plus my purse — until the most recent leg to Texas on United. I get that the airlines have to generate revenue however they can, and capping the carry-on max so that they can charge for overages is one way to do it. I get that I should not have bought slippers in Berkeley or a book at the de Young Museum in San Francisco or allowed my daughter to give me two other books in Boise (though I left one of mine with her, the net result being four books instead of two). I get that my laptop is huge.

I put everything in my striped canvas bag that zippers across the top. It zippered without my having to pull it closed this last time, meaning there was room for more, right? I love this bag, but one of these days the zipper will fail or rip out. I have asked a lot of this bag over the years.

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I put the new slippers, my lunch and the book I planned to read in the plane in a small blue canvas bag (which worked better than my purse for these items) and walked up to the kiosk at the Seattle airport to get my boarding pass. They do not even let you check in via your mobile device when you have these cheapo tickets because they have to make sure you meet the luggage requirements.

The lady at the kiosk was skeptical. You have two bags, she said. This one just has my lunch and a few small things that will fit in the big bag, I said. She asked me to show her that my bag fit in the slot designated for poor travelers like me. It did! I smooshed down the top a little to show her there was room for the other stuff. They won’t let you through if everything is not in that bag, she said. You’ll have to pay $50. You might want to put your lunch in your pockets.

I did not like the stress. Never again, I said to myself. I’ll use a real carry-on like other people next time and pay for the privilege. But for now I was stuck, and you can bet your bottom dollar I wasn’t paying $50! But, yeah, getting that stuff in and getting the bag closed again without busting the zipper would be a trick. I might be able to do it, but it would be a squeeze to then get the bag under the seat, and anyway I had a better idea.

Already, to make this work, I was wearing two shirts, two sweaters, my scarf, my hat and my raincoat, so I figured Why not just wear more? There was no ladies room near my gate so I couldn’t do this as privately as I would have liked, but I stuck the slippers, side by side, into the waistband of my pants in the back – under the shirts, sweaters and raincoat – and the book into my waistband in front, under the shirts and the non-cardigan sweater and the scarf.

I just became a larger person temporarily. Lots of people are larger than I am. They get on planes.

I put my cell phone, my apple, my bread and my cheese in the pockets of my raincoat, got on the line (last boarding group, of course) and sailed through the checkpoint with my green striped bag over my shoulder and nothing else but the boarding pass in my hands. When I got to my seat near the back of the plane, I rearranged my weight. The slippers went back in the small canvas bag along with my lunch, and I sat and enjoyed my book.

(Outstanding book, by the way. Educated by Tara Westover. I will come back to this one of these days and tell you more about it.)

I left the plane with my green striped bag in one hand and my little blue canvas bag in the other. No one cared.

I have not bought anything in Texas to add to the problem, though I was sorely tempted today in Galveston to buy one on the 1900 hurricane, sorely tempted! Nonetheless, we stopped at the post office to get one of those flat rate boxes because I am not going through that stress again. I put all the books but Educated in the box, along with anything else that fit. I stuffed it full. It will cost me $13.85 to send home. I will be so relaxed tomorrow with one bag only!