husband calls me Merci and has made the moniker stick with a
vanity plate he ordered on the sly and screwed to the bumper
of my car.
am really is harder to pin down.
when I think I know I go and change.
obviously the curious sort, or you wouldn't be here.
I've put that darn "About Me" link on the site and
you've done gone and clicked it, I'll have to lob back.
yourself a drink and settle in while I try not to get all "War
and Peace" on you and still convey the essence that is me --
Im a city girl from Los Angeles, California,
born in 1958 to a family made up entirely of females.
it wasn't an Immaculate Conception, but suffice it to say,
there were no males in the home.
Even though mom worked long hours, we could
never afford a house, so we lived in a
series of apartments.
Each one had
lots of exotic plants, no backyard or front, but
lots of love.
it seemed that each one always had our bedroom windows
overlooking someone's yard who did have a house.
My mom, who is extremely smart, artistic,
creative, talented, skilled, and dedicated worked hard to raise her
felt guilty about this or that, she'd get through
it by redecorating our bedrooms -- while we were
you can imagine, my sisters and I never knew what to expect.
Better said: we were afraid to leave mom in the house
came home one day, and my bedroom was all afro-centric -- the
result of growing up in LA in the '60s.
get into the room, I had to
pass through these wooden beads strung across the door
that hadn't been there when I left earlier that
Once inside it was clear
had spent the day painting the walls red, black, and green.
The windows were covered in this stained glass motif.
And my comforter was housed in an African print
Another time I came home and every inch of every wall was
covered in bamboo. She had filled the room with palm
trees and orchids and had hung spears and
shields as decorative accents.
This is the same time she had gotten hold
of my grandmother's prized reproduction paintings "The Blue
Boy" by Thomas Gainsborough and Thomas Lawrence's
Well, when mom got through with them, The Blue Boy was The Black Boy with
an afro, a goatee, and a dashiki. And you know
that hat he holds at his side? Well The Blue Boy's
hat was The Black Boy's briefcase.
And Pinkie -- she had these long flowing braids with
beads and crowie shells blowing in the wind. And she
wore a sarong draped around her now sepia toned skin.
But that was only one of Sibyl's personalities
(as we affectionately refer to
One time, when another
personality took over, I came home to soft pink walls
and French provincial furniture that she had guilded with golden
she had somehow fashioned the bamboo she took down from the
walls into a canopy for my bed -- making a canopy cover
with ruffles and a bedskirt out of our
Now some people might have been
traumatized by these extremes and all this spontaneous whimsy.
But not me -- I'm crazy like that -- I just absorbed it
It taught me that taking creative risks
was always a good thing and that there were no rules in
creative expression. And if there is something that you want
that you don't own, and you can't afford, you can still make
it happen with what you do own -- no boundaries.
to a time when I have a family of my own and we
lived in Texas. Here was my first house.
I finally had
a yard to work -- oh, now it was on.
We had moved to a corner lot on
this retired air force base in Amarillo. It was pretty old, and
the yard had some grass, but it was mostly dirt.
One day, out
of the blue, I get it into my head that I want
to mow this grass. So, my husband shows
me how to put gas in the mower, how to start it,
and how to make those mower patterns in the grass.
the time, I was so weak and out of shape, he had to
start the mower for me.
Once I got going, I couldnt believe
how much fun it was.
I was breathing a little hard, I was sweating a little bit, my mind was
utterly free, and I was accomplishing something and being soothed, just following one line
up and another line down.
couldnt imagine anyone not wanting to
mow grass all the time.
The Beast had been stirred.
next thing you know, I need topsoil. I was going to fix the
bald spots in the lawn. So my husband has a truckload
get home to find this 8-foot mound of dirt sitting in the
middle of my front yard. And all I could think was that the
Beast had better be awake, because that mound didn't
look like it was going to be moving itself!
without even thinking, I changed clothes, found my portable
radio, got out the wheelbarrow and shovel, and started moving
dirt -- one wheelbarrow at a time.
the next couple of weeks, I had moved the entire mound,
applied fertilizer, and grass seed, and my lawn was starting
to look mighty fine -- being on the corner and all!
the craziest thing happened: my friends started commenting on
how fit and toned I was looking. What!!! I hadn't even thought
about that upside!
knew I had lots of energy, and I couldn't remember the last
time I felt stressed out. But this was just too much -- I
was dropping pounds fast and firming up rather nicely if I do
say so myself.
We'll I couldn't just stop. The Beast was hungry
and demanded to be fed.
gotten the lawn growing/lawn mowing thing down pat, and now I
had a blank canvas full of possibilities.
I upturned whiskey barrels and wheelbarrows and planted
flowers in them as if the flowers were spilling out.
was burying the jagged edges of a broken flower pots, and
planting flowers in the middle as if by design.
spray painted a yin and yang symbol on the grass, cut it out,
and planted red flowers in one side and yellow in the
After storms, I started gathering downed branches,
brought them inside, painted them crazy colors, and displayed
them like cut flowers.
wouldn't it be interesting to plant a vegetable garden and
watch it grow? Well I did and it was. It was downright
I had to do was stick a couple of seeds in the dirt
and keep the dirt wet -- this was too good to be true --
why isn't everyone doing this.
The more I did, the more I wanted to do. And I could do
anything. And anything could be yard art. And yard art could
be house art. And the sky was the limit.
the Beast - well, let's just say that the look on my
neighbor's face, when she found me edging the lawn with
abandon -- at night -- by streetlight -- using a kitchen
knife was priceless.
fast forward to Tennessee. Our first house here in Knoxville
was just a run-of-the-mill rancher that we rented.
call mom in LA to tell her about all its fabulosity! And Mom
says, "Baby, why don't I come down and help you guys get
Well, I knew from experience that was just
mom-speak for "Baby, why don't I come down and trick out that
yard for ya -- let me show ya how it's done -- let me show ya
what you can do!"
within days, she was in town, and me and Sybil -- the
Beastmaster -- had a ball.
we did everyday was decorate outdoors. I had to go to work,
but I was out in the yard at the crack of dawn doing something
-- anything. Then I was back again at lunch, and after work I
couldn't wait to get started.
There were even times we'd put up spotlights when
it got too dark to see just so we could finish some project
we'd dreamt up.
husband would joke that if we didn't turn that light off and
get in the house, our neighbors would start thinking we were
burying someone in the backyard.
and I were just kids playing outdoors -- and this time we had
There was this old clothesline in the backyard that
was a real eyesore. So we turned it into this teepee tunnel
tent thing with cucumbers, tomatoes, and cantaloupes growing
vertically up the sides. It became the place where my little
ones took their meals and played tea party.
trees in the backyard were low hanging and so full and lush.
So mom assembled bird houses and painted them in these crazy
colors and hung them among the branches. And I nestled the
birdbaths underneath which mom had given a verdigris patina
painted Chinese symbols along the fence posts, planted lots
and lots of shade loving plants, and stuck Buddha in
there with a few stones. And viola, we had a fabulous oriental
another spot, we set up outdoor furniture under a
portable gazebo canopy and this space became mom's alfresco
art studio retreat.
backyard also had this beat up old deck. Almost every house in
Knoxville comes standard with a deck.
we sanded it down and used forest green floor paint to revive
it. We furnished it with comfortable chairs and lots of
plants. Then added a TV, a CD player, a DVD player, a
Playstation, and a table, then took colorful cotton fabric
scraps and made a shade sail.
suddenly the deck was transformed into the
regular backyard hangout for my boys and their
was when my youngest son took an interest in learning to
barbecue. It was fabulous watching him grow up at home --
enjoying his home life with all his friends around.
I started my first pond project. It was just a little
bitty 4'x6'x4' thing. Without knowing the first thing
about building a pond I did it -- all by myself! And it was so
easy -- almost too easy.
dug the hole, I lined the hole, I filled the hole with
water, and I landscaped the area around the hole. That
was it!! And it was fabulous!
Afterwards we had birds, frogs, rabbits, opossum,
crickets -- all kinds of wildlife visiting on a regular basis.
There was this old, ugly shed in the backyard, too.
We couldn't get rid of it, so we got permission from the
owners to paint these beautiful murals all over it.
we played with hypertufa making stepping stones in the shape
of huge elephant ear leaves. And used them to make a garden
path between mom's workspace, the shed and the deck.
people who owned the house were originally from another
country. They had lived in this house for 20 years
and had raised their children in it. So they were accustomed
to it looking a certain way.
day, they dropped by unannounced, just to keep an eye on their
investment. Needless to say, they were floored. They couldn't
believe how we had transformed it -- inside and out.
rental -- their house -- became a regular tour stop for their
relatives visiting from the "old country". In fact, one time
they pulled into the driveway -- in a van -- full of
relatives. There must have been 20 people packed in there!
And mom and I were so happy to have someone appreciate our
work -- outside of ourselves -- that whenever they showed
up, we'd just line everyone up and give the "Tour".
It was fabulous!
fast forward to 3 years ago. I was blessed to build my own
home.This was the biggest investment my husband and I
would ever make and I wanted to get it right. This house was
to be my masterpiece.
So I mustered up
everything I had ever learned from my mom -- be free in
your creative expression -- you can do this -- don't be afraid
-- take risks -- there are no mistakes only opportunities --
it will be fabulous!
And I worked closely with the
builder and architects learning as much as I could. And they
had to work closely with me, too, because they would
definitely be building something that no one had ever seen
If you've had a chance to
wrought iron gazebo page, you may remember that my house is a
gazebo. And everything about it feels like some kind
of outdoor room in the seat of a tropical paradise.
After the house was completed,
we invited our builder to the housewarming. He was so
proud of his work -- our work -- that he invited his
wife, his parents and his parents' friends --
Then I turned my attention to
landscaping this new yard. Having an inner Beast was great,
but I really wanted to know more about what was coming to me
So I started learning as much as
I could by going to home shows, researching and reading all
sorts of books and articles on exterior design
After that, I started attending
hands-on seminars on landscape design, sprinkler system
installations, pond building, outdoor lighting -- the list
goes on and on.
The first project in the new
house was a major water feature. What I built
was a 25' waterfall that ends in a
Before getting started I talked
to a number of experts, then chose a contractor -- not to do
the work, but to estimate the amount of materials they would
need to deliver to the house.
I dug the entire thing
myself -- one shovel at a time. And if I wasn't in shape
before this project, I certainly was after that pond job!
When I finished the project, the
contractor stopped by to see my progress and couldn't
believe what I had done. He asked if he could feature my water
feature in a pond tour he was putting together for charity. Of
course I said yes.
For this event, my pond was
promoted as the only "owner installed" pond on the tour.
Hopefully, lots of people were inspired to do it
And I have to tell you that my
pond looked as beautiful and operated as well as every
one of the expensive, professional installations on the tour.
Then last winter, I got
cabin fever and decided to brick a patio for my
barbecue out back. So I got out the shovel, put on my coat and
gloves, dug out the space, leveled it, put in a
timber retaining wall and laid the brick down.
And this fall,
I'll be installing the 2nd phase of my water feature. I've
already got the shape cut into the hill. And I plan to spend
the fall digging the hole, lining the hole, filling the hole
and decorating the area around the hole.
Oh, if you're still wondering about
my day job and
about the rest of my family -- I'm just a mild
mannered, soft-spoken software developer, daughter of 1, sister of
2, mother of 3, wife of 1 -- that's me.
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