Lost in Translation


The blogging world is a giant playground for writers. So many different lives and voices and stories clamoring for attention.

There are young people and old, athletes and chefs, people who are ill and those seeking health, writers and engineers, cheerleaders for every cause and those who want to chronicle the lives of their children, their goats and their pets.

So many people want to tap us on the shoulder and say, “Hey, you’ll never believe what I just figured out!” I’m guilty of this as well. But I suspect many of the recipients of this wisdom roll their eyes like my teenager during one of my lectures.

She magically translates all my words through a filter of age, experience and hormones. So if I say, for example, “You need to clean your room,” the teenager hears, “I think your room should be spotless, because otherwise a neighborhood committee might inspect it someday or because some new, mutant disease is breeding under the bed.” An observation that six-inch heels look painful becomes “Tennis shoes are the height of fashion and should be worn at all times.” A suggestion to find and focus on a few passions translates to “It’s great if you spend all your time shopping for clothes or hanging out with your boyfriend.”

The same magic happens when I talk to my husband. If I say, “I had a really bad day today,” he hears, “I have a problem, and I need you to fix it.”

This translating occurs across all generations and races and classes. I heard an interview with the late Mike Wallace the other day in which his son Chris asked his father how he felt about getting old. As someone teetering on the edge of seniordom, I waited for Mike Wallace to say he’d found new serenity or wisdom or deeper relationships. Instead he pointed to his hearing aids, his failing eyesight and his pacemaker. “I hate it,” he said flatly. I can only imagine his reaction when he read advice from middle-aged baby boomers about growing old gracefully.

Many experiences must be lived to be understood. You can read a thousand parenting blogs, but until you are responsible for a tiny person’s life, you don’t really know the fear that can keep you up nights. Until someone you love dies, you don’t really know how it sets you apart from other people. So many times I’ve given someone advice or thought I understood something, then reached that point myself and realized I was wrong.

I sometimes think it’s possible to tell the age of any blogger by reading their posts. Twenty-somethings are idealistic and often sure they’re right. Thirty-somethings are preoccupied with their careers and families. Forty-somethings are busy creating and trying to leave their mark on the world. Those in their fifties seem more tolerant. They’re reinventing their dreams. Those in their sixties often look back. Bloggers over seventy are explorers who still like to learn and make new connections.

But the wonderful thing about blogging is that it draws all these people into conversation. Where else will you find a 50-year-old housewife discussing life and politics and books with a 20-year-old programmer half a world away or a 90-year-old ex-rancher the next state over? In our day-to-day lives we tend to interact with people like ourselves, but the online world is much wider.

We may not get what everyone is saying, but at least we’re talking.

Is Your College Degree Past Its Expiration Date?

The Great Recession has taught many lessons, and as someone who has not escaped unscathed, here are two conclusions I’ve reached about college:

Not all college degrees are created equal. Yes, I know, this is obvious. I see Microsoft and Amazon workers at the mall blithely buying iPads (well, maybe not these unless it’s on the sly) and $200 Nikes, and I wonder whatever possessed me to get a journalism degree. I console myself that maybe I’m better off than those who tried humanities or women’s studies, but let’s face it, I should have stuck with math.

College degrees have an expiration date. When you’re handed your shiny, new degree, you don’t really think about this. I sort of figured the process worked like high school, where you use your diploma to get into college and then you stick it in a box somewhere. I thought a college degree would start you on the job path and then fade into the past. But what if your job doesn’t offer constant updates to your skills and credentials? Or your career changes course? Then your 20-year-old degree may end up not worth the expensive paper it’s printed on. How do you know if this has happened? Below are my top ten ways to tell if your degree has reached its expiration date:

Top Ten Ways to Tell if Your College Degree has Expired

  1. Your deferred student loan payments are now larger than your house payment. This isn’t as hard to achieve as you’d think, since the average student loan burden has ballooned to around $25,000. Overall, U.S. student-loan debt has surpassed credit-card and auto-loan debt, and now stands close to a whopping $1 trillion dollars. (Federal Reserve Bank of New York) If you want to scare yourself, you can track the overall numbers here: Student Loan Debt Clock
  2. You’re embarrassed to tell anyone your major.
  3. You now realize that a bachelor’s degree is only a stepping stone to grad school. In 2009, someone with a bachelor’s degree could count on mean earnings of $56,655, while someone with a high school certificate brought home $30,627. Those who went on to a master’s or a doctorate degree did much better with $73,738 and $103,054 respectively. More important, they’re now the ones with the jobs.
  4. The alumni association no longer hunts you down to ask for money.
  5. Putting your degree on a resume brings more questions than answers.
  6. You can remember the name of the campus pizza hangout, but you can’t remember any calculus.
  7. You tell your kids you walked 10 miles across campus in the snow to get to class.
  8. You visit the campus, and your major is either housed in a shiny, new building or the basement of the most distant building on campus.
  9. Job descriptions look like they’ve been written in another language that you need a teenager to translate.
  10. You tell your children what you majored in, and they laugh.

So here is my updated career advice. Stay current and don’t stop building credentials once you’re out of college. If you switch careers or are forced to sideline your job for a while, keep taking classes and the occasional contract job to keep your resume relevant. And when you think a career in the arts sounds like your calling, take a computer class instead and enjoy your hobby while you collect a paycheck.

How has your degree fared? Has it been worth the high cost and loans?

Seed Starting Time

If you want to grow your own vegetables, now is the time to grab some seeds and start planting. (Actually, it’s a little late on some crops, but not too late.) How do you know when it’s time? I go by the plants outside. When I see the hellebores begin to bloom, it’s time to start asparagus, leeks, onions and celery indoors. They need 10 to 12 weeks to grow before the last frost date. A couple weeks after that, it’s time for the peppers and tomatoes, and the first sowing of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce.

Old eaves under an overhang make a good place to start peas out of the rain.

When the following plants start to bloom (I’m a little behind this year), it’s time to plant spinach and peas outside. I like to use an old eave by the side of the house to start the first batch of peas. It keeps the seeds out of our incessant rain so they don’t rot and helps protect the seedlings from slugs and birds.

Finally, about mid April, I’ll start the squashes and cucumbers. They grow fast and don’t want to be kept waiting. Outside, it’s time to plant potatoes and more of the cool-weather crops. In mid-May, the beans go into the ground, and the corn follows sometime in the next couple weeks as the weather warms.

Why go to all this trouble? Starting your own seeds gives you more choices of plant varieties and allows you to manage quantities and timing better. It also can save you money on vegetables, although as I said in an earlier post, it’s not a solution to poverty. Avoid most of the expensive gardening products out there and keep things simple. For example, seed starting systems are great, but you can do as well with egg cartons on top of your refrigerator and a couple 40-watt fluorescent shop lights.

For more specific instructions on how to start seeds, here are a couple great sites that also list some other top vegetable gardening blogs:

Veggie Gardener: “The Top 15 Best Vegetable Gardening Blogs”

Vegetable Garden Basics: “My Top 10 Vegetable Gardening Blogs”

And, as I’ve said before, Territorial Seed Company has a wealth of information in its seed catalogue and on its website.

Things look muddy and brown now, but it won’t be long before empty beds and pots will be filled with lettuce and chard and spinach and beans. What’s going into your garden?