Sunday, April 29, 2012

No-Freddie Friday

I have not eaten at the Golden Arches in decades--well, except for the time I got an Egg McMuffin craving a couple of years ago. I also haven't been drinking coffee on weekdays for the past many weeks. I lost my travel mug; then I just got tired of taking time to make it with the time-hog French press; then I got the Kona Beans-of-the-Week at Fresh Market, and didn't like it. Now, understand that I am a coffee snob. I don't drink Folgers and I don't drink coffee from large metal pots. But I once saw a "We serve Seattle's Best" sign in the window of the McDonald's I pass on my way to work. Wednesday morning I head for work earlier than my usual early, and I really want to enjoy a cup of java at my desk in the solitude before the rest of staff arrives. And I don't want to pay $3.62 for it at the over-roasted Starbucks I also pass. What the heck, I think, for a buck it's worth a try. Can they really mess up SB coffee?

As it turns out, the coffee's really quite acceptable. But the real treasure is Freddie at the pick-up window. A young Hispanic man, Freddie has a smile beneath twinkling eyes that lights the world one person at a time. "Good morning! Have a wonderful day! See you tomorrow morning, Miss!" Okay, for Freddie (and coffee), I do return on Thursday. And Friday. But Friday he isn't at the window. The young woman at his post is perfectly nice. But she is not Freddie. I am disappointed. Is the coffee not quite as good on Friday?

For a person who likes rearranging furniture and moving to new dwellings and planting new things in the garden and adventure in general, I do like my favorite things. And I don't like it when they disappear from view.

For about twelve years, I have purchased a blueberry scone from The Fresh Market to enjoy each weekend with coffee and my journal at this or that coffee shop. About three years ago, when the scones were inexplicably removed from the shelf for nearly year, I was a lost and angry soul. "They weren't rising right," was the response to my complaint. "They were perfect," I snarled. I searched out and tried other scones: the Cowpie at Starbucks, the Pop-tart at Harris Teeter, the Doughboy at Whole Foods. Dear Friend Dori (who also disappeared from my view a year ago) joined me in scouting. I discovered they served the very same scone at the coffee shop in Salem, VA where Emma was in college. And at O'Hare airport. Both inconvenient. Finally, turning to All and other web sites, and armed with the ingredient label from my last FM jewel, I set up a research and test center in my kitchen. After weeks of experimentation, I finally got it pretty darn close. Then, out of the blue, the scone returned--in its original form. I was ecstatic!

Thursday I make my usual trek to Fresh Market to pick up the two scones held for me each week, and WHAT IS THIS?, they have changed the scone! New vendor I am told. Not good, I respond. So. Not. Okay. I am trying it this morning. And declaring it "Not Okay." It doesn't taste bad, though it is pretty blueberry deprived; but it's too chewy, too small, too puffy, too not the "right" one.

My old weekend journaling place was the Bear Rock Cafe, first the one in Cary's Saltbox Village, and later the one at Crossroads. After I moved, it was too far to drive, so I switched to Cafe Carolina. But I still miss the fireplace, the fake rustic ambiance, and the ability to hide in a corner at Bear Rock. It pops into my head once in a while, and my thoughts wax sentimental. I find myself at the shopping center yesterday, and needing lunch. I decide to indulge my nostalgia at BR. I drive up. "Yopops," the sign over the door announces.

In the garden, a favorite, the Balloon Flower, didn't bloom last year. I missed it. The plant is up this year. So far there is no sign of bloom. The dove whines "hoo hoo hoo" over and over and over as I lie in bed each morning. Give it a rest I think; the girls don't want you today. Perhaps I would miss him if he weren't there. But a couple of times a week, the dove stops for a moment and gives up its space on the sound waves to the owl that calls "Whoo whoot who-whooo." Twice. That's it. I want more.

I am cleaning out books this week and run across one my dad gave my Emma for her fifth birthday. It is inscribed with his dear and distinctively-Daddy printed hand-writing. Seeing it is a treasure. Emma turned 28 this week. Her papa has been gone for almost 17 years.

Things die. New things take their place. Piling up, one on top of another. The sunrise is beautiful, and fleeting. The dragon fly and its shadow paints a picture on a stone in the garden, then flits off. Everything leaves, making room for the next thing waiting in line to take its place. Even the Seattle's Best Coffee logo has changed (not for the Best, in my opinion). Always. Moving. Forward. I want my scone back. I guess I will dig out my recipe. Or maybe it's a sign; time for a new adventure for me. And I think I will write Freddie a hand-written note tomorrow to exchange for the coffee and smile he hands me.

“Life’s irrefutable forward motion...I was raking leaves one day when I felt such a vast chasm of what was gone that I had to stop and sit down...All this raw material, from new shoots to compost in what seemed a single breath…. I was raking dead leaves in the shelter of my garden while the bulbs, patient and thoughtless, waited to be planted. It seemed obscene.... How to live in a world where loss, some of it unbearable, is as common as dust or moonlight.” (Gail Caldwell, Let’s Take the Long Way Home)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Transplanting the Foxglove

The foxglove, which remains above ground through the winter, resurrected this spring into a robust doubled-in-size specimen of good health. As did the weeping Japanese maple I planted behind it the spring after I put the foxglove in the ground. It is no longer a good home for the foxglove. There won't be room for the stalk. So last Sunday I move it to an empty space across the flagstone path. I also transplant one of the many ostrich fern babies--one that popped up under the now-enormous Autumn Brilliance fern. And then there is the heart-leaf bergenia. Another above ground winterer in my garden. It has not bloomed since I planted it, but this spring it has birthed a new plant. I keep thinking maybe this year it will bloom. I don't know what to do with it; so I let it be.

Monday morning the foxglove sprawls limply on the ground, its leaves like lettuce that stayed in the refrigerator drawer for too many weeks. I've killed it, I think, and it was so beautiful. The hole wasn't deep enough or wide enough; the dirt too hard; I didn't add enough compost. I didn't take enough time to prepare the soil to receive it. I must have done something wrong. I am sad. The fern, on the other hand, looks like it has come fresh from the beauty parlor; not a hair out of place. Tuesday, Wednesday: limp foxglove, unfazed fern. But then, slowly slowly, the foxglove starts to perk up. I keep watering it and talking to it. Encouraging it to come back in its own time. Being patient with it. And it does. Today, except for a few leaves on the bottom, it is itself again. Hopefully a happier, healthier self, with room to stretch. But I will have to wait some more to know that.

I have been reading the blog of one of last summer's writing camp classmates. Her husband is undergoing a stem cell transplant. The ultimate transplant. With a stem cell transplant the body has to come as close as physically possible to death; then, at the last moment--the exact right time--the new cells are introduced. And then the really hard part starts. Waiting and hoping and praying. Watching her husband wilt down until he is unrecognizable. Then waiting some more to see if the cells will take over his body and learn their new home and find nourishment and bring him to new life.

The fern, the bergenia, the foxglove. Some people move around in their lives with ease, seemingly oblivious to change; knowing how to seek out the nourishment they need to thrive, never missing a beat. Others stay put because the foliage is healthy; and try not to be concerned that there is no bloom. Still others, recognizing an inability to grow and bloom where they are, cautiously take the leap, but transition slowly, finding it difficult to let go of what was and bloom into what is now and next. We leave the place we have filled up, and move on to empty space that is waiting for new life to inhabit it. It takes us longer to find our way and stretch our roots deep into the soil. We are patient with ourselves...or try to be.

Yesterday, between rain showers, I plant zinnia and sunflower seeds. In this instant society, I love planting seeds. I push them out of sight and spread the soil back over them. Deferred gratification. In a few days they will sprout, and then will come the challenge of distinguishing them from weeds. It's a good excuse not to pull weeds until I can be sure what I am pulling.

The garden is in its spring prime. The weekend rain, which follows a long dry spell, will revive the flagging pansies. The second round of snapdragons--the tall ones I didn't know I planted--have exploded open. I pick the first snap peas and a few leaves of spinach for my weekly garden pasta. Exciting! My first attempt at both. The roses are beautiful, but for one bush that has no buds. The first purple heart bloom delights me and the last bleeding hearts bid adieu to early spring. Pincushion flower, yarrow, and candytuft add their bling in the sun garden. And mid-week, here is the too-crazy-to-not-believe-in-God passion flower.

My mother and sisters visited last weekend (hence no blog post). We are a family of transplants. My mother left her childhood Tennessee for Washington (with my mid-west father). My sisters and I left the west coast and transplanted ourselves on the east coast. My younger sister and my daughter have left the right and replanted themselves on the left again. My son left the North Carolina Piedmont in favor of the mountains. We are a family of curiosity. What if... Perhaps curiosity is the forerunner of change. I wondered if the foxglove would be happier in a new space, if its roots would find the nourishment it needed to reconnect with the earth in its new home. The only way to know is to give it the chance. Perhaps it will be too traumatized to bloom this year. But I am betting that in the long run, it will thrive.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


It might be more appropriate to title a blog post on Easter Sunday something having to do with new life, or resurrection, or something equally Eastery. And crustaceans do not apply. But shrimp are not really what's on my mind.

I have frequently referred to, and thought of, myself as selfish. I crave solitude. I love silence. I like solo activities like writing, walking, reading, gardening. I don’t volunteer. I don’t join clubs or book groups. I don’t hesitate to say “no” to invitations, even from friends, when it intrudes on my plans with myself. (I am trying to get better on that last--I need and love my friends.) I feel bad about my selfishness. Both of my sisters and my mother are generous women; what, I wonder, happened to that gene in me? My mother has always put others ahead of herself and her needs. I daresay she has never even honestly asked herself if that is what she needs.

Then, yesterday, I read Julia Cameron’s thoughts on the topic (Walking in this World). "We get our lives wrong because we get our questions wrong. We get our questions wrong because we have been raised in a culture that is punishing to the forms of freedom necessary for artists to flourish. These freedoms are the ones that allow us to be a little less nice so that we can be a little more genuine... It is my considered opinion that most creative people are actually too selfless... 'Selfish enough' gives us the self for self-expression... For an artist, being too virtuous is no virtue at all. It is destructive and counterproductive."

Wow. I have a hard time thinking of myself as an artist or a writer. I do consider myself creative, however. And I know when I don't have time to create, I am out-of-sorts. I can't squeeze it in between life and life's activities. It is life to me. (And maybe someday I can call myself an artist or writer. For now I am grateful to others who name it for me.)

I am so glad there are people in this world whose passions revolve around improving quality of life for other people. They are the heroes of the earth. Can I let it be okay that I am not that selfless? And could I start by not referring to myself with a word I consider a "bad person" word? Not selfish, in touch with my inner self. Sharing myself in a way tuned in to that inner me.

On Maundy Thursday,  at Pullen's evening service, I read the Matthew text about Jesus in the garden at Gethsemane, as I have for several years now. I know that people who have a need to categorize people have figured out what Jesus' Myers Briggs Inventory letters are. It doesn't really matter to me. If he was an introvert, he had highly evolved extrovert skills. If he was an extrovert, he was in tune with his need for solitude. I love this text, Jesus is so human in it. He is angry. He is afraid. He wants his life to go in another way, and he asks that it be so. And he accepts who he is. He asks his friends for "me time." In that moment, he is not there for them, he is taking care of his own needs. Did that make him selfish?

The MT service at Pullen includes foot-washing. Maundy meaning mandate, and Jesus mandating the importance of the symbolic act of foot-washing. I was honored to wash the feet of someone who had until this week, held back from this ritual. He told me later that he was prepared for the gift of washing my feet--the humble servant part--but he was surprised by the pleasure of receiving. I think many of us think it's selfish to enjoy receiving gifts. Begone with that idea, I say. I have suggested to my mother that if she can't bring herself to ask for what she needs, think of the people she is depriving of the opportunity to give. Better, though, to just sit back and allow oneself to be ministered to. And that includes ministering to oneself.

Lent is my season. I recognized that several years ago. I relish the quiet and introspection that the spiritual season asks of us. And I love being in the garden in the cold, when everything in the natural world is happening out of sight. And then slowly and quietly life sneaks back in. If we are dancing about the garden, we miss it. It is when we are quietly watching and waiting that we begin to notice a sprout here, a bud there. A bird song piercing the quiet, and the answering call from a distant roost.

New life happens for me at the end of Lent, again and again. It is, at first glance, coincidental and uncanny. But really it is not. It is my season. It is synchronicity. It is my self in touch with my world.

And now it is Easter. New life. Time to go back out. I wept through a singing of "In the Garden" this morning. Then went out and bought the garden a gift. A calla lily. As it turns out, a calla lily is neither a calla nor a lily. And I am not a shellfish. I am off to the garden. Alleluia!

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
And he walks with me and he talks with me
And he tells me I am his own
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Measuring Marigolds

Inchworm, inchworm
Measuring the marigolds.
Seems to me you'd stop and see
How beautiful they are.

It was an early Schaum or Fletcher Method piano lesson. I think of it every time I see an inch worm measuring the garden. Apparently there is a bumper crop this year, dropping and hanging from the trees; a gift of the warm winter. A whole lotta measuring going on.

A whole lot of growing going on, too. It's too much outpouring for the worms to keep up. The giant hosta has spent the last three weeks growing its tight leaves taller; and suddenly overnight this week, they begin unfurling. The banana leaves are waving in the breeze and the iris are opening in all their complexity. The evergreen Autumn Brilliance fern is going crazy with its embryonic new growth, and the Ostrich fern gets taller before my eyes. The roses are budding, the salvia is blooming, the feathery tiarella is open atop its slender stalk. The Japanese maple that I rescued from smothered oblivion, rises scarlet and triumphant above the gardenia.

The trees that surround the back yard are clothed in spring green against Carolina blue skies, with subtle purple wisteria hanging high in the branches. I know the wisteria is not good for the trees, but it is beautiful. I have certainly engaged in things beautiful that weren't good for me; but to have not had the connection would have left me less the person that I am. So I enjoy the brief wisteria season. As I sit under the dogwood, its Easter white blooms giving way to green leaves, a ballet of baby moths rises in a choreographed cloud from the grass.

I spend last weekend pulling weeds. I have said before that I enjoy pulling weeds, making space in the garden. Most of all I love the surprise of uncovering the perennials hiding under the weeds: the Mexican petunia, the gaura, the balloon flower. I pull new growth English ivy every once in a while. Its shiny green new leaves are a reminder in stark contrast of the mountains of dark leaves and hairy vines I pulled five years ago, and four, that was the beginning of the restoration of the garden and the healing of my heart. Like the garden, I am a different being now; as I healed the garden, the garden healed me.

Carpenter bees are at work under the deck rail. I don't know what to do about them. Unlike termites, they are harmless to the structure--at least in the deck rail where I observe them. They don't consume wood; they merely drill a beautiful, near-perfectly round half-inch hole in which to lay their eggs; the female then partitions it to suit her (genius). They are big and bumbly and loud; but the males don't sting, the females rarely. They don't party, but are seen in the singular--much like me. The babies don't stick around. The riddance method is distasteful to me: fill the hole with caulk with the bee inside. They have a right to be, and I am going to let them.

It is a Smudge weekend. A return to the vet on Friday shows her glucose skyrocketing and her weight dropping dangerously. We are back to twice daily insulin injections. It was a nice vacation. Yesterday, while sweeping, I find one of her teeth on the floor. I thought several weeks ago something wasn't right with that tooth. She doesn't seem to be bothered by its loss; most likely she is better off without it, as we all are when something is poking uncomfortably. Both events are reminders that she is aging; and that one day--like dear Santi who said goodbye to her beloved Bella Dona this week--another loss will just about break my heart. Yesterday she brings me a dead robin, as if to tell me she's still feisty and strong. No goodbyes just yet. 

A thunderstorm rumbles through in the night. It reverberates in the distance, rolling slowly closer and louder; like a freight train crescendoing up the track; its continuous, resonant echo coming, coming, coming. The rain adds its patter on the roof, the number of drops bouncing off the shingles doubling and tripling every few moments. Weaving through the percussion, a siren whines; closer, closer, closer. After many long minutes the climax arrives: booming bass, pounding rain and hail, piercing siren. It passes without pause and decrescendos to the north; going, going, going.

Had I awoken only to the storm at it height; should I pay attention to the garden only at its peak; had I not had to pull ivy in order to find the garden; if I look only at the highlights of my living, I miss the journey. And the journey is everything. Personally, I think the inch worm does see every beautiful detail of the marigold as it measures it. 

Every spring is the only spring - a perpetual astonishment
~Ellis Peters