April’s Charm

IMG_0165It’s been a fairly warm winter and we only had one good snow storm — but it’s been a dark one with lots of rain. There were countless days in which all I wanted to do was to cozy up with a steaming cup of tea and somebody else’s book. But work on my own book was necessary. I reread and reread to check for mistakes that the editors, proof reader, and I all had missed. When the first day of spring arrived in March, I felt burned out on my story and wanted to throw it in the glowing coals of my fireplace. Fortunately, there were voices out there that told me to take heart, that many writers feel burned out at this stage of the game.

I’ve been away from my rereads for over a week now and feeling much better about the whole thing. I’m beginning to feel very excited as the back cover is coming together with great blurbs from a few people who have already read it. My airline tickets and hotel reservations are set for my trip to Chicago next month for Book Expo America, and my publicist spent an hour on the phone with me, giving me tips on what to expect along with lots of convention etiquette.

Being one who doesn’t like big crowds, I’ll be stepping way outside of my comfort zone. But, you know what? I’m looking forward to getting one more thing crossed off of the “Big Challenges List,” that I keep tucked away in my back pocket along with my Bucket List. I suppose they’re actually one and the same, but things on my Big Challenges List are more scary than those on my Bucket List. In the long run, it really doesn’t matter what happens. I will have done it and my sense of self-esteem and confidence will be have risen a rung or two on my “Life Ladder.”

The point is that regrets are built on the steps we don’t take to live out loud. I figure that I’ve been birthing this book for a long time and I must do everything I can do to bring it to life. If an infant isn’t breathing when it comes into the world, nurses and doctors don’t give up on it without trying to save it’s life. I’m not about to let my book die in the delivery room. I want her to be breathing nicely when she hits the first book shelf.

IMG_0162In the meantime, it’s April, and I have about six weeks before I need to worry about all of that. The days are longer and sunnier, I think the robin who kept me company in the garden last spring is back, and the greening of the new season seems greener than ever.

I celebrated an unusual happening this past week when two, yes that’s 2, handwritten letters arrived in my mailbox on the same day. One was a three page missive from grandson, Noah, to his grand dad, about a trip they are planning together, but he sent me his best wishes and love as well. The other was a thank you note from a friend who had recently visited me in Charlottesville.

How many handwritten letters get delivered to your mailbox in one day, week, or year? Once this book thing is done, maybe I’ll start writing letters to friends with a pen on real paper like I used to. I believe there is something very precious about someone taking the time to write me note using their hands, putting a stamp on it, and sending it through the mail. No one does that anymore.

I’m also celebrating my garden which is more beautiful than ever this spring. On Friday I went to myIMG_0163 favorite garden center to find some plants to in fill a few empty spaces. The varieties of flora took my breath away as I ambled up and down the aisles of ferns, hellebores, columbine, early blooming irises, and peonies. What to choose? How many? Which color? I came home with a variety of things that I’ll have to cover for the next few nights. It seems that winter isn’t giving up it’s hold on the weather just yet. Last week’s 70 degree weather will be gone for a while, but will soon return. At least we’ll not get snow like so many places north of here are promised.

There is lot’s going on in the future to worry and think about. But for now April charms me with her promises of a garden full of flowers, the first butterflies of the season, and birds singing their heart’s out in the early morning light.

Do you have a Big Challenges List and how do you keep yourself grounded in the present moment?

My Garden Buddy

Mr. Robin May 1, 2015

Mr. Robin May 1, 2015

A member of the thrush family, American Robins are our most common birds. When they return from their winter travels we know spring is on it’s way. Here in Virginia they only seem to disappear for about a month or two in January and February. There are usually one or two that hang on even in the coldest months and I’ve often wanted to knit little jackets for them. I don’t put bird feeders out because I have a cat. I don’t think they eat many seeds anyway.

This year, when they returned from where ever they go, they came in huge flocks. The neighborhood was filled with their sharp clucks and trills and as the days passed some moved on further north. They’re found on most everyone’s lawn, digging about for juicy worms and grubs. They are as American as apple pie, baseball, and the Big Mac.

When I was about ten years of age, a robin became my pet for the summer and when he died later in the fall, I was heartbroken. You can read that story here. This year one of the Robins that frequents my garden and its numerous birdbaths, has become my gardening buddy.

He’s a handsome guy, with a black head and tail feathers, charcoal wings and a bright orange breast. He started hanging out with me a couple of weeks ago when I started digging up plants that needed to be relocated. Once the plant was out of the ground and I was planting it in it’s new spot, Mr. Robin dove into the soil I had just disturbed. He quickly downed the worms that were trying to wriggle their way back into the damp dirt and out of harm’s way. He’s very quick and gets quite a few out of every hole I dig.

Mr. Robin May 1, 2015

Mr. Robin May 1, 2015

When I start talking to him about how lovely the day is or ask about his family who must be nesting nearby, he stops digging, tilts his head to one side, and stares at me. Over the past few weeks he’s gotten closer, maybe two feet at times.

When I told a friend about him, she was worried that I wouldn’t have enough worms in my garden to keep it healthy, but I’m sure there are plenty to go around and I don’t mind sharing the bounty. The whole idea of keeping a garden is to relax among the plants and attract wildlife whether it be a plain old robin or a rabbit looking for a carrot patch.

The other day when it was raining and I chose not to work in the garden, I found Mr. Robin out on the patio near one of my french doors. He was looking right at me through the glass, chirping up a storm. Was he calling me to come out and dig a few holes for him? Maybe not, but with my creative imagination, I had to wonder. There are other numerous robins about but they all fly off as soon as they see me. This robin, however, is usually not visible until I start pottering about the yard. He hops about, inspecting the soil where I’ve just been working, gathers half-a-dozen or so juicy worms and flies off, returning a few minutes later. I presume he is feeding Mrs. Robin, who is keeping their light blue eggs warm.

Miss Liiliput

Miss Liiliput

Oh yes, what about the cat you ask? Lilli is getting on in age and stays in the house most of the day. Though she still stalks birds, she goes out later in the afternoon when the air has warmed up nicely, but by then it’s too warm for me to be gardening and Mr. Robin is hanging out elsewhere. When summer heats up, Lilli will be out and about more than she is now, but I will be done with the digging and planting by then. Mr. Robin will probably go off into another garden where no cats wander about.

A Lesson From My Garden

“The Only way to make sense out of change it to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
Alan Watts

The day I bought my house. March 23, 2010

The day I bought my house. March 23, 2010

When we moved into our home back in 2010, the gardens were minimal. In the back yard, there were 6 small garden plots set into a large patio of concrete pavers. In three of the plots were freshly planted Crepe Myrtles about fifteen feet tall. They have lovely white flowers in the summer.

April 25, 2015

April 25, 2015

Another held a red Japanese maple, and another a river birch, both about the same height as the other trees. None of them were tall enough to provide us with shade, so we added an awning to the back of the house.

I planted shrubs and flowers that needed full sun in order for them to grow and blossom. I continued to do so until last summer when I realized those sun loving plants weren’t doing so well. Over the past five years, the trees have grown so large that now our once sunny patio is a beautifully shaded garden that now has to be redesigned. And the awning? We use it on sunny days in the spring and fall when there are no leaves on the trees.

IMG_1446I began making a few changes last year when I replanted the bed where that marvelous, Japanese maple stands with shade loving plants. I moved Hellebores from the front of the house to the base of the tree, and added several kinds of ferns, hostas, and coral bells (heuchera), some with purple leaves, others with lime green leaves with reddish pink highlights. Pale blue, shade loving phlox are set off in one corner. It was gorgeous last summer, and this spring it’s back and popping with color. The plants are larger and fill the space nicely.

IMG_1457In the one bed without a tree,and receives sun most of the day, we planted strawberries. It was pretty thin last June but I did manage to pick about a dozen or so sweet, juicy berries that taste so much better than those bought in the store. And they’re organic. Over the winter those plants sent out runners in all directions and we now have a full strawberry patch. If their white flowers are a sign, they’ll fill my larder with a large crop of berries with which I may have to make some jam. That is, if I can get to them before the squirrels and birds do.

IMG_1449A few years ago, we put a raised bed in a sunny corner where I grew tomatoes, eggplant, and sweet peppers. But with several amazing farmer’s markets in the area, I can get all of the fresh summer vegetables I need without the extra work. I’ve turned it into an herb garden. In it I plant basil, parsley, sage, rosemary, chives, cilantro, and dill. Several types of thyme and oregano are tucked into a rock garden that runs below the old stone wall that separates my yard from the neighbors. It’s an area that gets both sun and shade, and most plants tend to do well there.

IMG_1450The rest of the beds are still a work in progress and this spring I’ve already begun to pull plants up, and move them to sunnier locations. In their stead I’ve planted some new hellebores in colors I didn’t already have. I also planted more heuchera, and as the season progresses and new plants continue to arrive in area nurseries, I’ll be adding more ferns, hostas, and whatever else strikes my fancy and loves shade.

heuchera or coral bells

heuchera or coral bells

During my social media sabbatical I never did get far on the weekly visual journal that I’d longed to start. Though I began filling in background for one page, I never finished it. I’ve carried my frustration into the spring, but now my longing to make visual art is sated, as I’m creating and painting my garden with plants. Gardens are constantly changing. Next year I will likely need to thin things out and continue to move my happy plants around a bit more.

I hope that the seeds, bulbs, and  roots you plant in your garden will flourish and fill your days with grace.

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
Winston Churchill

Changing The World, One Person At A Time!

DSC01663It’s spring! Here in Virginia, bird song fills the air and everything is in bloom.  This is one of those years when the dogwood, redbud, and fruit trees are all blooming at the same time. The brilliant greens of spring  are amazing and I notice each morning how the leaves on the trees around me have grown larger.  My strawberries are blooming. I’m looking forward to having them with my yogurt for breakfast.

Spring is always a time of hope and I’ve been filled with a wonderful sense of wellbeing and gratefulness for all that has been gifted to me. I’m especially grateful to my daughter, Lisa, who got me started on getting rid of the large amounts of sugar I was unwittingly consuming on a daily basis.  I knew I was addicted to sugar, and had been trying  to stop using it, but it wasn’t until Lisa started on the 21 Day Sugar Detox that I got serious.

I am personally watching many of those around me changing and making their way to a more healthy lifestyle.

My husband, whom I never thought would give up his carbs, joined me on this sugar-free road and has lost 17 pounds since we started.  He had blood work done last week just to check his blood sugar and cholesterol levels.  We were blown away by the results. His blood sugar levels are the lowest they’ve ever been and his cholesterol levels are also down.  He feels great, has more energy, and he isn’t as forgetful as he used to be.  AND, he has halved his blood pressure meds and his doctor said he might have to halve it again.

But there’s more.  My housekeeper and friend, Bobbie, saw my 21 Day Sugar Detox book in the kitchen one morning and asked about it.  She went out and bought the book that afternoon. A few days later, she had her family doing the detox.

She in turn told her sisters about it and they are giving it a try.  One of them told some of her friends at work about it and now all of them detoxing.  That’s just a small part of the big picture.  I know we’re not alone and that there are many more people out there who now realize that sugar, which is much more addictive than cocaine, is public health enemy number one.  Let’s keep it going!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could bring peace to the world in the same way?


DSCF0803As I sent the last of my first draft manuscripts out to my beta readers and heard the whooshing sound that my mac provides, telling me it was sent, I had second thoughts. “Oh my God, what have I done? I should have rewritten it again. Everyone will see how badly I write and how boring I can be.  I know I’m very repetitive.  My grammar is awful and my spelling is worse. They’ll hate it, I’m sure. I should have just written it for myself and forgotten the publishing part.”

On and on I went staging a pity party, and doubting myself, until I realized that horrible inner critic of mine was on the prowl, giving me a hard time, and shaking the ground I stood on.  But then I snapped to, and started fighting back.  “It’s just a first draft.  Sure it’s not perfect.  My grammar and spelling stink.  So what! That will all be taken care of later when I hire a professional editor. How would I be able to fix it if I didn’t send it out to others so that they can help? I’m way to close to it right now.  I need to go out and work in the garden or take a walk. And you, Doubting Dotty …  you can just take your words and flush them down the toilet. ”

That tirade continued for another fifteen minutes before I realized that my neck was sinking between my shoulders, I had a headache, and the pit of my stomach was roiling.  It was time to let it go.  I was turning myself into an anxious mess.

I went out into the garden and started removing the dead leaves of the hellebores I so love at this time of year. Their spotted white, pink and purple flowers are a bit late this year. They’d been beaten down and battered throughout our amazingly dark, cold and snowy winter.  They need to bathe in the warm spring light. When I was done they were all standing tall and breathing deeply.

I decided to do the same thing.  Doubting Dotty isn’t in sight and I hope she stays away forever.  But I know all too well, she has a way of sneaking in the back door when I’m not looking.  She’ll probably be back in the near future.  When she shows up again I’ll just go out into my garden, get my hands dirty, and be with my plants.