Monday, December 10, 2007

Email from Rich, Sent During My Weekend in Boulder

Subject: This Morning

I didn't set my alarm today, so I awoke about 6:50 to bustling about the house. When I went downstairs, Emma Jane had already made her and Sammy's lunch, fed Chester, and was standing by the toaster waiting for her breakfast to pop up. I told her last night to pretend that she was Wendy, and that me, Sammy, and Chester were 'The Lost Boys.' I think she is taking that role to heart.

She did absolutely everything without being asked or reminded, and was out the door at 7:45! She asked if she could go to synchro today for some extra practice before the meet tomorrow. I said yes, and we are going to pick up a new black bathing suit after practice, come home, eat pizza, and watch Spiderman 3. Sammy got up at 7:45, cuddled with me, asked, "What are Nazis?", ate breakfast, got ready, danced to Talking Heads' Mr. Jones, and left at 8:30. They really seem to be growing up!

How was the Denver Bot Garden? Having a good time?

Love you,

Monday, November 5, 2007

Dog People

My father's new dog, Buddy, peed on Abby's shoe at family dinner.

The world, and my family, is divided into "dog people" and "not dog people." My sister-in-law Abby, along with my husband and my mother, fit into the "not" category.

Why was Buddy hanging around Rich and Abby at the dinnertable? Was he trying to win them over? Was he trying to annoy them? Does he, like many dogs, live in a world of sublime oblivion, where everyone is lovable and everyone loves him? Or - most likely - was it that Abby and Rich were still eating, possibly dropping table scraps?

Buddy actually was standing about five feet away from Abby when the urge to pee struck. He rushed over to her, lifted his leg, and let go, right on the rubber toe of her Chuck Taylor's.

At least they're washable.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Anxiety Dreams

I am in the parking structure when I realize that it is 6 pm. I was supposed to be at University Commons at 5:00 to give my presentation, but I was also supposed to pick up Emma Jane at synchro at 5:30. I stir, realize I am in my own bed, and decide I don't need to solve these problems at this time.

Moments later, it is 6 pm. I was supposed to be at University Commons to give the presentation at 5, but I can't find my car. I am walking down the ramps in the structure, pressing the "panic" button on my key chain, but the horn isn't honking. I still can't find my car. I'd like to call Margaret to tell her to have everyone eat dinner first. I'll be there in time to give the presentation with dessert. But my cell phone isn't working. I still can't find my car.

When I got to work this morning, I spent over an hour preparing for the presentation. I've never given a single presentation for an entire hour, unless it was about a project for which I had full ownership. This will be more like a lecture.

How can I possibly keep these people interested for a full hour?

I hope I don't get lost on the way there.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Haircut - Part 2

Setting: We are in an elevator at the eye doctor's. The elevator stops and a man gets in.
Sam: What floor?

Man: Four, thanks. (Sam pushes button.)

Man (to me): She's very polite. (pause) Is she going to get drops in her eyes?

Me (looking at Sam): Yes.

Man (to Sam): You'll do fine, young lady. The drops will wear off soon. (Elevator stops. Man gets out.)

Me: Are you ready for that haircut?

Sam (grinning): No.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Louise & Other Thoughts

My brother's babysitter, Louise, died last week. She was 20 years old. She had leukemia.

I know only a little about Louise. She made a sparkly purple cape for Kaeli with Kaeli's name sewn on the back. She took a great picture of Evie holding an orange. She had a serious boyfriend, and was going to art school in New York City.

Kaeli was crying and missing Louise at family dinner the week before last. She said that no one cried at Louise's funeral. I remember that from Grampa Jay's funeral, not seeing anyone cry.

At Bill's funeral in July, everyone was crying, even Rich. Even me. We cried at Mamaw's funeral last year, too. I guess it's a southern thing.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Me and Martha

My mom lent me her copy of Martha Stewart Living. I noticed a few differences between my baseline household maintenance and Martha's. Some examples:

She celebrates the change of seasons by switching out lampshades and area rugs to create a warmer, more intimate feeling for the winter.
Once a year I consider cleaning the dead bugs out of the halogen lamp in the living room. I've never actually done it.

She layers her picking baskets with dishtowels to prevent the tomatoes from bruising.
I use the front of my shirt as a bowl and hope: (1) my bra doesn't show and (2) the stains will come out, since I don't have time to separate the whites from the colors.

She rotates her cookies in the oven so they brown evenly.
We like burned cookies at my house. We're used to them.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Where I'm From

by Emma Jane Rickman
Hour 5

I am from the ripples
in the water from where I
dipped my paddle

From the smell of chicken

there to greet me

when I come home
That's where I am from

From "I love you," "Do you

homework!" and "Dinner's ready"
I'm from my butterfly alphabet,

Mr. Egg, and my Russian doll

That's where I am from

I'm from the "Cannonball"

when I jump in the water
From my bed, my playground out back,

and kicking the ball against the garage

making little dings.

That's where I am from

I'm from millions of cousins

and aunts, and uncles, and

people I love

Shopping with my aunts

and grandmas

That's where I am from

I am from my teachers who care and

my parents who cuddle

from shouts from the

neighbors and water fights

with soggy clothes

That's where I am from

I'm from stripey

headbands, polka dot shirts,

and plaid shorts

From planting with mom

in the garden

That's where I'm from

From Tiger's games

and Frisbee in the park

Hugs and kisses on

Graduation Day

That's where I'm from

I'm from stinky dogs

cat allergies and fish for dinner

From a brother who's a

soccer freak

That's where I'm from

From mushy baby food

and tater tots

shopping for school

supplies, and drawing

on the walls

That's where I'm from

from crying and

the creaking stairs

and scootering around

the block

That's where I'm from

from the first day of school

and my baby brother

Family dinner since I can

remember, and annoying


That's where I'm from

Canker sores and learning to tie

shoelaces and being

proud. Sad because
of going to a new

school finding friends

That's where I'm from

Friday, September 14, 2007


Nadin, we miss you!
Did you make it home okay?

Friday, September 7, 2007


Sam caught a salmon with his bare hands in Alaska. Proof that not all kids suffer from nature deficit disorder.

Sam with his sidekick, Joe (right). Someday they'll open a gas station together.

Salmon trying to bite Sam (left). He tells me it had teeth.

Unfinished Projects 2

My blog.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sorting Photos

The disadvantage of a digital camera: 723 pictures of Alaska to sort. No time for more now; I've got to get to work on it.

More (much more) to follow.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Keyless Entry

So Rich and I are lying around in the living room reading. It's been a long day. In the distance, I hear a horn honking over and over. Not a regular repetition, but erratic, kind of a "honk-honk-honk" pause "honk" pause "honk honk." I think maybe somebody got married, but that seems unlikely at 10 pm.

Then I start thinking about how, the day before, I got locked out of the car in the credit union parking lot. I was late picking up Emma Jane from synchro already. I called Rich, and he did a drive-by key drop-off while speeding toward Mack Pool.

And I started thinking how I hadn't returned his key and the keyless entry. Wondering what had happened to them. Thinking about how the drier was running.

"That sounds awfully close," Rich says.

So while he's in the driveway turning the car off and on, trying to get the horn and blinking lights to stop before the neighbors call the police, I'm in the basement rooting around in the drier. Sure enough, when I find the keyless entry and press "unlock," the horn stops beeping.

A half-hour later, I'm back on the couch with my book. Rich is in bed. The keyless entry is cooling off on the counter. And the horn starts honking again. Fortunately, I keep a screwdriver in the silverware drawer.

The sad mangled bits of Rich's keyless entry are still hanging out in the silverware drawer. Maybe someday I'll get it repaired.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Unfinished Projects

Recovering the Dining Room Chairs
Start date: January 2, 2007
Status: Four of six chairs covered.

Repairing a Hole in the Plaster in the Upstairs Hallway
Date the Plaster Began to Fall Down: some time in 2004
Start Date: March 1, 2007
Status: New piece of gypsum board installed. Not filled in,
sanded or painted.

Creating a Mudroom in the Basement
Start date: January 28, 2007
Status: Everything moved out of the room. No storage designed, purchased or installed.

Putting in a Michigan Native Plant Garden
Start date: May 5, 2007
Status: Killed the grass, dug up the yard, installed a path. Nothing planted.

Installing a Trellis around the Deck
Start date: May 5, 2007
Status: Acquired trellis. Not cut to fit or installed.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Home Garden

What's not growing this year that I expected to come back:

(1) Rhubarb - Where have all the red fruits gone?
(2) Raspberries - Long time passing!

What's growing this year that I didn't plant:

(1) Tiny yellow heirloom tomatoes - They're volunteers from last year
(2) Horseradish - Take a ride someplace else, skinny horsey roots
(3) Pumpkin - Halloween compost has come alive

What's growing better this year than last:

(1) Carrots - I planted them where Joe & Sam dug a hole to China, filled in with sand & compost
(2) Peppers - I used Bot Garden seedlings
(3) Beets - Loving beets is a prerequisite for entree into the Sikkenga family; just ask my husband

What's growing worse than last year:

(1) Cucumbers - I started them outside instead of in
(2) Eggplant - Grow, little eggplant, grow! You can do it!

What I planted that never came up:

(1) potatoes - Apparently it doesn't work to bury rotting spuds from the cupboard
(2) onions - Maybe the dog ate them

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


"Studs are much more sophisticated than dangly earrings," says Emma Jane (10), after I've admired her hair and earrings this morning. "You can get flowers." She thinks for a moment. "Or butterflies."

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Haircut

My father offered my nephew, Joe (7), and my son, Sam (9), $100 to cut their hair. Joe's hair was below his shoulders, dark and curly. Sam's hair is also below the shoulders, fluffy and blond. Both had hair in their eyes most of the time.

The money would be given in any form: five twenties, 400 quarters, 100 1's. Each time they got a trim, they would receive an additional $20.

Joe, who has been fascinated with currency since toddlerhood, accepted. He chose a crisp new $100 bill. After all, hair grows back.

Sam declined. He said that he has everything he wants, and besides, he doesn't mind being mistaken for a girl. David Beckham wears his hair long, with Alice bands.

What would you do?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Pitching In

The community garden is beautiful! Two months ago, I felt like the Little Red Hen.

"Who will help me dig the beds?" said I.
"Not I," said the Rooster, busily checking email.

"Who will help me plant the seeds?" said I.
"Not I," said the Goose, raising her eyes from a sheaf of papers.

Lately, I've been the Goose... and yet the garden is lush and green and full of food. Everyone has pitched in to plant and water and weed.

Soon, we'll harvest our first crop: basil. Pesto, here I come.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Goodbye, Papa

The last visit, Bill got up with Sam and Emma Jane at 6:30 every morning. They made pancakes. Rich and I slept in. Even though Bill wasn't feeling very well, he still played endless Karrom, Sorry! and Monopoly (a game remarkable for being at once deadly dull and extremely irksome). He never let Sam win, and never minded being beaten.

They played every day. Just like always.

And even though he cried when we hugged goodbye at the Mayo Clinic, and then we all cried, and even though we had to force ourselves to turn and walk away, I still thought we'd see him again. I still thought we'd have at least one more Christmas together.

Goodbye, Papa. We're gonna miss you.

Bill Sparks - June 28, 1938 - July 1, 2007

Papa at the breakfast table with Emma Jane and Sammy, February 2007

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Hand Watering

I've discovered that my dehumidifier produces three gallons of purified water per day. Perfect for hand watering.

I'm not always very coordinated pouring the water from the dehumidifier (large hole) into the watering can (small hole). Fortunately, my basement floor is the old-fashioned kind, cement with a drain in the middle. Perfect for spillage.

Friday, June 8, 2007

It Works!

I actually watered my garden with the rain barrel!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Birthday Present

Me: What do you want for your birthday?

Sam: I've already got friends, family, plenty to eat, and a dog.

Me (to myself): Boo hoo hoo!

Sam: But I would like a Darth Siddius light saber.

(Sam is turning 9 on June 13. My birthday is June 9, and I couldn't have asked for a better present. Really.)

Friday, June 1, 2007

The Rain Barrel

We were offering a great deal on rain barrels ($40 for members!), so I bought one. In my imagination, I was going to decorate the rain barrel, perhaps with polka dots or stripes or flowers in hip colors. Everyone who came to my house was going to admire it as a piece of art, and I was going to be able to brag about its function as well as its form, thereby gaining cachet as an environmentalist and a gardener. I was going to save on my water bill, prevent groundwater contamination, and give the plants better water. And I was never again going to have to ask my next door neighbor to water my vegetables when I go away for a few days.

I did not imagine that the accordian gutter extension would cost $15 (!), the cedar 4x4 would cost $40 (!!), the water off the gutter would be an unpleasant brown, and I'd have to go to the PTO Thrift Shop in search of old nylon stockings to prevent mosquito infestations. Plus, the guy at Fingerle's (who charged me the $40) was down on rain barrels. He'd installed one in his ultra-green, ultra-native, ultra-eco garden, forgotten to drain it before the first frost, and ended up with an ice cascade on the roof. "Why not just plant a low-water garden?" he mused while running my credit card through the machine.

I am still waiting for rain to see whether it will actually work. I installed it on Tuesday, and if you'll recall, it only rains on my days off.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Pleasing to the Senses

Three reasons I love my job:

(1) The view from my window

(2) The smell of the
Conservatory: rich, earthy, spicy, full of oxygen and perfume and dew

(3) The sound of the
red robin, spring peepers and children laughing

Friday, May 18, 2007

Baby Beckham

My little star, filmed by my big star:

Click on the first link (the one that says "video highlights").

Photos by fellow soccer mom Kirsten Carr

Monday, May 14, 2007

Why Knox?

You may not be able to tell from the picture, but Knox gives hair the consistency of a Playskool figure's. Did you know that it can take up to two weeks to comb it out?

Why, oh why?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Day Off

So I took the day off on Wednesday to put in the plants I'd bought at the plant sale. It had hardly rained a day this month, and it has not rained a day since. I needed to take a day off to work in my own garden because I was at the Botanical Gardens every day during the plant sale, and I had to be a mother at synchronized swimming meets every day the weekend before and the weekend after.

It rained. And rained. And rained.

The dog stood on the deck, occasionally scratching the screen door, giving me wet backward glances. He was dreaming of the brown sofa, where he might have spent the day, if only I'd gone to work as usual.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Unusual Harvest

We've been asked to find a use for the "harvest" from the School of Natural Resources and Environment's composting toilets. Apparently when their facilities manager called another gardening spot with the offer, the reply was "Can't you just flush it down the toilet?"

When I worked for the LSA Dean's Office on the fourth floor of the Dana Building, each and every one of my co-workers refused to use the composting toilets. In contrast, some SNRE employees will use nothing but.

We definitely won't use the harvest in the food gardens at MBG, but where should it go? Another question: does this call for an interpretive sign? Or not?
If we do it right, kids will love it. Not sure about the docents, though.
(Drawing from Oikos Green Building Source:

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Weekend

Blah, blah, blah, I'm so busy, to quote my sister. So as not to bore you, let me say it in haiku.

Don't cry, small nieces.
Your daddy will be home soon.
Lucky you're so cute.

Earth Day, family, Zen.
Sam, soccer. Emma, synchro.
No time for laundry.

Dog runs off, I'm late.
Sam gets x-rayed. He winces.
Meetings run over.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Wish I'd Written This One

From my sister's blog:

My sister [that would be me] mentioned composting on her blog recently. Compost, like dogs, is something of a running theme in our lives. When we were growing up, we
always had a compost pile for carrot peelings and teabags...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

News from the Arb

This morning, my inbox contained this great email from Arb horticulturalist and communicator extraordinaire Matthew Scott:

Good news! The next few days should be super days to walk through the Arb if you have a chance. The weeping cherry at the west end of the prairie is just starting to bloom. Some PJM azaleas along the Laurel Ridge Trail are this close to blooming, and bloodroot’s starting to flower. More and more of the Imagine/Align daffs are in bloom, too. And the Pieris in Heathdale is lovely as well. There are lots of birds enjoying this warmer weather. The red-tailed hawks are often scoping out the Main Valley, and Eastern Bluebirds, different kinds of sparrows, and goldfinches are enjoying the prairie. And, of course, the Canada Geese are livening up the riverfront. The butterflies are more numerous now, too. Yesterday I saw several mourning cloak butterflies throughout the Arboretum.

Some other things you might notice are the better view of the Main Valley from the 3 Corners area thanks to our wonderful caretakers, a more open Ridge Trail due to the hard work of Jeff, the caretakers, and volunteers, and some added sections of the wetland boardwalk thanks to Sarah Weiss’s steely resolve and her Passover-brownie-fueled assorted cast. The area around the Field Office has recently been cleaned up of much of the scrap metal and assorted wood thanks to Tom and the sheriff’s crew, too. And Tom had some of us slapping our foreheads saying “Why didn’t we think of that?” after he put door handles on the sliding garage door here at the Field Office. We recently had the Forestry Crew here taking down dead trees along the Laurel Ridge Trail. We’ll be removing that wood over the next several weeks. If you get a chance, check it out and marvel at how they managed to cut the trees down without harming any of the rhododendrons or azaleas. They did a great job.

See you at the Arb!


Matthew Scott
Collections/Natural Areas Specialist
Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum
Photo of bloodroot by Bob Grese. Laurel Ridge Trail entrance photo by MBGNA staff.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Dirt, Dress and Dinner

Three reasons I love my coworkers:

(1) I'm not the only person who keeps a container of vegetable food scraps on my kitchen counter. It bears a close resemblance to what I once called garbage. Some members of my family find the smell earthy and pleasant, while others find it, well, stinky.

(2) I'm not the only person who doesn't eat

(3) I'm not the only person who buys her
clothes at Kiwanis, the PTO Thrift Shop, and the Salvation Army.

Nevertheless, if everyone lived as I do, we would need
4.1 earths, mostly because I live in a big house, drive to work, and occasionally travel by air.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mixing Work and Play

I am in the office area at the Arboretum's Reader Center, writing case statements for our top six funding priorities, when my cell phone rings. I don't recognize the number.


"Hello, this is Lily R. Tell Emma Jane she doesn't need to bring a sleeping bag."

"Okay. Does she need anything else?"

Pause. "Pajamas, a change of clothes and a toothbrush. Oh, and if she wants, a stuffed animal."

I wonder why all the kids' friends have my cell phone number. Does Rich get interrupted in the middle of conducting psychological testing to talk about slumber parties?

Monday, April 9, 2007

Plastic Shopping Bags

Used plastic bags are taking over my house. The equation goes like this:

Weekly Accumulation of Plastic Bags
+ 3 bright orange newspaper bags
+ 1 bread bag
+ 1 bagel or English muffin bag
+ 1 miscellaneous "I forgot my canvas bag" bag
- 1 doggie poop sack
- 1 garbage sack
+ 4 net weekly increase in plastic bags

To try to control the proliferation, and in celebration of
Earth Day, I am knitting a carry-all out of used plastic bags. This involves slicing the plastic bags into one-inch spiral strips, much as one might peel an apple. The slicing takes about fifteen minutes per bag. I've sliced one bag each morning and each evening for a week, and I now have a softball-sized ball of plastic "yarn."

My original plan was to give this plastic carry-all to my sister for her birthday on May 15. The current plan is to give it to my mother for her birthday on August 11. Depending on how things proceed, my sister-in-law's birthday isn't until the end of January.

Friday, April 6, 2007

The Community Garden

A dozen staff members are sharing a plot in the new community garden area at the Gardens. I had to promise Sam (8) and Emma Jane (10) that we would still maintain our vegetable strip in the gravelly area next to the driveway at home, which they love even though it yields very little.

My wish list:

Tomato - large and grape or cherry - any color
Eggplant - small and large
Colored pepper (or green if we can't get color)
Cabbage - green
Green Beans
Onion - especially Vidalia or other mild, sweet
Carrot - any variety
Squash (summer & winter with a pumpkin or two)
Melon - is it possible?
Mushrooms - probably not possible?
Corn - maybe a separate plot just for this?

I would have added sugar snap peas to the list, but they need to be planted no later than St. Patrick's Day. I planted some at home last weekend while Sam played soccer against the garage door.

The vegetable plot pictured above is located at Missouri Botanical Garden. We hope our plot will look as lovely one day.