The best of everything. Isn't it what we all want? The fastest computer, the hottest jeans, the greenest lawn? The problem is it's getting harder and harder to know what the best is because of all the products out there. The choices are endless for the things we use, the food we eat, the travel we do and the clothes we wear. From televisions, to cars, to dish towels and soap, we are constantly being asked to evaluate and judge, winnow the choices, and ultimately decide upon the one perfect thing.

The truth is that with so many options available, there is rarely one true "perfect" thing. Many people believe that if they labor long enough, research diligently and shop endlessly, they will discover the perfect object of their desire. This is a myth, of course, because what is "perfect" today will be replaced by a new best thing tomorrow and the next day, and the day after that.

Are we better for all this diversity? Are we really fortunate to have all these options? Or does the staggering array of merchandise just create more stress in our already frantic lives? When the purchase of bed linens must take into account thread counts, fabric content and blend, long staple, short staple, pima or Egyptian cotton, flannel or sateen, fitted or flat, extra deep or extra long and of course, the matter of color ... it makes me wonder if we are truly liberated by all these choices or imprisoned by them. Could endless choice be the thief of time that we are always looking for, but never find?

This is nothing new, of course. If there is one thing that America has always done well, it is to produce lots of stuff. In our democratic society, there is something for everyone. There are sunglasses for every taste, a coat for every climate, a mountain bike for every skill level and a lotion for every skin type. We are bombarded by advertising, and often feel compelled to keep up with the "latest." Keeping up with the latest is nearly impossible for an ordinary person. There is just too much to know.

I remember when I was growing up in the seventies, my parents subscribed to Consumer Reports magazine. My father loved the thick issue that arrived monthly with reviews of nearly everything there was to buy. Similar products from various manufacturers were rated according to performance, price and overall value. The magazine appealed to his analytical, unemotional method of decision making. He read it faithfully to research every major purchase before he and my mother ever set out for the store. My mother hated the magazine and dreaded its arrival. In the endless struggle my parents were engaged in whenever spending money was necessary, the magazine served as arbiter. It was almost like a third person in the marriage, a tie breaker. And it rarely sided with my mother.

The products that got the highest ratings from the magazine's editors (my father's heroes) were often the simplest, bare bones models, pared down and "feature free." They were often less expensive as well. The recommended models were never the models my mother wanted, but it was hard to argue with all the charts and numbers. But argue she did, and she eventually threw off the tyranny of the wretched periodical and canceled the subscription. My father lost a true ally that day in the ongoing battle to keep his money in his wallet.

Now I don't claim to do the exhaustive research that Consumer Reports does, but, like my father, I know quality when I see it and I refuse to spend money on junk. I have started a list of my own "best things" and I'll share a few of them with you. I'll contain my list to gardening, for now, since spring has finally arrived and green things are emerging all over the place, begging for my attention. All of the items listed here are available from local garden centers.

For digging in the dirt, nothing beats the Trake. It's a trowel and a rake in one tool. The trowel is on one end of the tough aluminum shaft and the rake is on the other. The midsection is cushioned with a bright plastic sleeve, making it easy to spot in the garden.

With our wet springs, traditional garden gloves can become soaked within a matter of minutes. I never even go into the garden without my pair of Mud Gloves. They are comfortable cotton gloves coated in flexible plastic to keep your hands dry and protect them from thorns. They are excellent for pruning roses, and they too are brightly colored to make them hard to lose.

My husband will disagree with this one, but I maintain that the best way to mulch the flower beds is to buy individual bags of mulch and drop them in the beds. Then you can open them one by one, as you need them, and spread the mulch. He is a fan of having several cubic yards of bulk mulch delivered to the driveway and then dragging it around the yard in a wheel barrow. It's cheaper, I know, but my back can't take it. I wonder what Consumer Reports would say...

The best fertilizer for roses is 1 tablespoon of Miracle Grow, 1 tablespoon of fish emulsion and one tablespoon of Epsom salts dissolved in a gallon of water. Use this every week to ten days during the growing season and you will have more blooms than you know what to do with.

The best climber for instant color is the Heavenly Blue morning glory. Buy or make a tuteur and plant the seeds around the base. It's wise to nick the coating of the seeds with a nail file and soak them in water the night before planting. These plants are slow to start, but once the weather gets really warm, they will take off and climb right up and around the tuteur to give your garden height and beautiful color. If you want the blooms to last later in the day, plant them in an area that gets afternoon shade. Don't forget to collect the seeds in the fall for next year's plants.

Our choices today are staggering and our jobs as consumers are demanding, but I wouldn't give up a thing. I like the diversity. It lets me be me. The trick to not getting too stressed by the choices is to save the detailed decision making for the items that really matter and don't get stuck in analysis paralysis over every purchase. Be impulsive once in a while and try something you've never heard of and don't know anything about. You could be pleasantly surprised. If you find you just can't do it alone, and need some help, you could always subscribe to Consumer Reports, just don't tell your spouse you got the idea from me.

I would love to hear about your "best things." You can write to me at jen.gregory@comcast.net

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