Up to my neck

I’m at physical therapy this afternoon for work on my creaky, cranky neck. I’ve been told that, comparatively, it’s about 10 years older than I am. Not an encouraging thought.

As Brittany the therapy assistant positions a heating pad across the back of my neck, I notice hip hop music is coming from a speaker in the ceiling. I must have glanced up because Brittany says, “Oh, I can change that to something more relaxing.”

I tell her it’s fine and lie back on the treatment table. She leaves the room, and I start to relax into the warmth of the heating pad. The music pauses, then restarts. But now it’s Frank Sinatra singing a big band version of “I Only Have Eyes For You,” followed by his take on “Our Love is Here to Stay.”

I think to myself, “This is my mother’s music.” Then I realize Brittany thinks I’m old enough to enjoy music from my mother’s era.

“Maybe I really do need to start dying my hair,” I tell myself.

Another song comes on. It’s something I recognize as fairly current, and I start to feel a little less ancient … until I hear the lyrics:

When your legs don’t work like they used to before
And I can’t sweep you off of your feet …

Really? Do I need another reminder that I’m over 60 and I’m going to physical therapy for an arthritic neck … and that I had to take “yoga for people 50 and over” (otherwise known, according to my physical therapist, as “yoga for stiff people”) because the beginning yoga is too hard for me?

On the bright side, though, my National Parks senior pass arrived in today’s mail. Now i can get into our national parks for free. So I guess there are some benefits to being 63.

Only the lonely

flowering tobaccoI am enamored of nicotiana, also known as flowering tobacco.

I love its long tubular blooms and sweet fragrance. I love its big, bold, felty leaves that are sticky to the touch (the better to bind bad bugs). I love the tall forms with stately white blooms, and I love the shorter forms with blooms in shades of red, pink and white, and some with even a tinge of green.

Five types of nicotiana are blooming in my garden right now, ranging in height from 12 inches to over six feet, most of them self-seeded from plants I’ve bought at Annie’s Annuals.

I have some Nicotiana alata grandiflora in the sunny side alley beside the tomatoes. It’s very fragrant. A green-tinged Nicotiana langsdorfii has been hanging out in a flowerpot beside a fern for the past two or three years. A pink Nicotiana mutabilisis by the back fence is serving as a trellis for a red and white sweet pea, which is also self-seeded. And red, rose and pink variations of Nicotiana alata x sanderae “Crimson Bedder” are scattered throughout my back garden.

And then there’s the grand and statuesque Nicotiana sylvestris “Only the Lonely,” a plant which hails from South America by way of Annie’s. It sprouted on its own near my back porch, not far the hose bib ( a good move, considering the current drought) and alongside some sheltering flowerpots. I recognized the small basal cluster of fuzzy leaves as a “nicotiana” over the winter, so I didn’t pull it out while weeding. I even threw a little water on it once in a while this spring.

It thrived. It got bigger …

nicotiana1 and bigger …nicotiana2

and bigger … and now it’s about a foot taller than me. nicotiana   Me & nicotiana

It’s glorious. It’s been blooming and expanding for about two months now, and I admire it daily. I hope it seeds freely and I get to enjoy its offspring next year.

Tackling thistle

I woke up bright and early this morning (thanks, Abby the tabby) and decided it was time to tackle the swath of thistle that’s taken over the alley between my house and my neighbor’s.

I realized I had a problem when I opened the top half of my bathroom window last week and saw a tassel of thistle reaching for my rafters. That thorny weed was big, and it wasn’t alone. Half the alley was filled with large thistles, several of which were already taller than me.

So around 7 this morning I put on a pair of sweats and thick gardening gloves, grabbed my trusty Japanese weeding sickle, and headed out to the alley. It took me about an hour to chop down all the thistles and dismember them. Biggest, nastiest thorns I’ve ever seen, but I mostly avoided getting scratched and snagged. I piled the pieces in two large stacks against the retaining wall.

Here are the before and after shots:

thistle  thistle residue.jpg

When I got to the end of the alley, I looked down the back hill … more thistles and weeds. Looks like I’ve still got a lot of work ahead of me.

Boo boo

I blame it all on my Uncle Eddie. He’s the one who showed my best friend Martha and me how to turn a stick, some string and an old wooden spool of thread into a terror-inducing device.

It was almost Halloween. We were 12 or 13 — the age when you’ve stopped going out trick or treating but haven’t yet figured out what to do instead. We lived out in the country: No streetlights, not much traffic, not much to do. You had to make your own entertainment.

So that’s what we did. We hatched a plan to scare Martha’s siblings. Her parents were out for the evening, and her one of her older sisters was babysitting the four younger kids (yes, it was a big family).

spoolUncle Eddie showed us how to use a pocket knife to notch the edges of an wooden spool (my mother sewed, so a empty spool of thread wasn’t hard to come by). Then he tied a piece of string around the center of spool, and tightly wrapped the rest of the string around it. We slid the spool onto a stick (actually, a TinkerToy connector), and tested it out by pressing the spool against a window pane and yanking the string. It made an ominous rattle against the glass: Brrapp.

We rewrapped the string and did it again. Excellent! It was already dark out, and we were ready.

We snuck across the field to Martha’s house, snickering all the way. We picked a dark window and placed the spool against the pane. We pulled the string. Brrapp. Again. Brrapp.

We ran away, giggling quietly. Found another dark window. Repeat: Brrapp. Brrapp. Heard nervous kids inside the house, saying, “What’s that? What’s that?” Brrapp. Brrapp. Then we ran back across the field to my house.

“Ha-ha, I guess we really scared them!”

After hanging out for a while, Martha went home … and that’s when things went sour. Turns out her youngest brother, Mark, got so scared that he puked, and the other kids panicked and called the police. Martha confessed, and was grounded for months. Her mother banned me from coming to their house — I was clearly a bad influence.

I vowed to never try anything like that again … until another Halloween, when my cousins (Uncle Eddie’s sons, of course) and my brother and I found ourselves with a bag of rotten apples, which we decided to throw at passing cars … never expecting that we’d actually hit one.

But that’s another story.


This is the new home of the blog formerly known as McCunications, written by the woman formerly known as Cynthia McCune.

Yes, there have been some changes in my life since last I blogged.

I’m divorced now and I’ve gone back to my original last name of Fernald. I’m back in my old house with a new cat, a Maine Coon mix named Abby the Tabby (yes, I know it sounds like she was named by a 6-year-old). I’m still teaching (and still hoping my teaching gig survives California’s continuing budget crisis).

All in all, life is pretty good. And it’s mine.