Life one bite at a time…….

Pilgrim’s Progress

Every newcomer gets the same schpiel. There was nothing here when we moved in, except mature trees.  It’s hard to internalize the work, plants and time altering this homeplace. Time and an eroded memory made me start to question what progress indeed has been.  There has certainly been a lot of back and forth in this dance, but how much ground has really been covered?

I stumbled across some pictures of my little arboretum, taken about the time it was purchased, early May, 2000.  The house was purchased more for the possibilities and the amenities than curb appeal.



West side




Stick built in 1960, one of the first in this new country estate plat outside of Dayton.  Cedar and brick, definitely mid century modern, but also with some hollas out to Frank Lloyd and the early century brotherhood.  A project house, inside and out.

Outside there were oaks, locusts, linden and silver maples.  Apparently the folks from whom we purchased had been told to boost the curb appeal.  Curb appeal translated into purchasing eight very small boxwoods and plopping them around the drip line of the house.  One of the first changes I inflicted was moving those boxwoods into a hedge on the east side of the house.  About the time they reached maturity, they were heavily infested with white fly and mites.  I have learned to hate boxwood and will never willingly have them in my landscape.

What a difference a decade (or so) has made.

This space became my outlet, my sanctuary.  Two sides of my roughly acre lot have mixed plantings, 200′ x 6′. (I learned Great Dixter’s beds are 200X20, I need to catch up).  Beds now surround the house and all the trees.  A particularly wooded area with an ancient crab apple, now sorely in decline, has been embraced with shade lovers.  A lot of sweat, trial and error, time and ………. dollars.  “Estate” trees, code for self seeding volunteers, redbuds were moved to the west side along the drive, alternating with limelight hydrangeas.  Fast growers, the redbuds have created quite a screen.  Giving weight and age to a blank slate. The west side of the house almost unrecognizable compared to it’s year 2000 genesis.


The year Hurricane Ike exacted vengeance on Ohio, a 50 foot scraggly white pine was lost, luckily taking nothing else with it.   In its wake, an opportunity to “spruce’ up this island bed in the front of the house. While it took a couple iterations to get it right, it’s now filled with mahogany leaved paper birch, witchhazels and grasses.


The borders I added on two long sides of the property were achieved with massive amounts of chopped fall leaves and layers of cardboard.  The plantings are mixed.  Lilacs, roses of sharon, nine bark creating the backbone; shrubs and sub shrubs like caryopteris, mock orange, daphne and roses filling in at their feet. This doesn’t comprise all the plants but these are the repeaters that I use throughout the beds.


Terraces were built in back, since the house had been built on a “hump” on a sloping plot.  Impossible to mow safely, the hump had to be eliminated.   The base of the terrace is over 120′ feet long.  Built from those easy construct-a-wall cement “locking” blocks, pushed a cart load at a time by me. Each block weighing about 22 pounds, I could haul nine of them at a time.  Built after work and on weekends, it took quite a few months to complete.

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The terraces had to have plants capable of transitioning from “bright” shade to six hours of brutal western sun exposure.  The shade part was easy: hosta, a few spring bulbs, hellebores, jack in the pulpit, ferns.  But as it moves west, becomes exceedingly more difficult.  Some sedums worked, a couple of fairy roses held on, tall phlox pretty much overran everything.  I am still trying to work out a mix.

I’ve added trees.  Beyond being a tree-hugger, I am tree lover.  Given a space big enough, I believe I could populate it with every tree I encountered!  To date I’ve added three beautiful columnar red birches called “Obelisk”, variegated dogwoods, a couple of columnar hornbeams and some big leaf magnolias.  Future trees will have to be in pots; as I age the pots I create are becoming more and more of an issue.  Glutton for punishment, I bought tiny japanese maples late last year, so I’m not out of the “woods” yet!

A couple of years ago, I turned to the house.  Window boxes were installed.  Five, each five feet long and roughly a foot wide.  Transformative!

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This year was a banner year in many ways.  After five years of searching for a me place,  I decided to stay in the one I already created.  During those years I had held back on doing much in the garden beyond maintenance.  With the decision to stay, came the decision to take on two areas that had long been a burr in my saddle.  They were begging for a facelift and I had ignored their pleas.  So, I ordered three dump truck loads of leaves from the township, which delivered them free!  Leaves and cardboard were spread, deep enough to retard the grass underneath.  As my neighbors chased every leaf from their lawns with leaf blowers, I cheered the arrival of dump trucks full of them.


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Since visiting Yew Dell Gardens near Louisville several years ago, I have been madly in love with paper bark maples.  Rarely seen in any landscape, especially a suburban one.  Smaller trees, with great fall color.  The real attraction is exfoliating bark, colorful and crazy and marvelous.  This year I attended a local garden show and like a bolt from heaven two vendors had two different types. There were dwarf brooms possibly attaining 5-10 feet and then a “normal” one topping out at about 20′.  All of them came home with me,  the dwarf brooms becoming specimens in my new curbside bed along with grasses shared from other spots in the garden.  I went crazy with bulbs, a friend shared poppy starts and I found some amazing scratch and dent roses for $2 each.


Progress, progress indeed!





Gardening, from Eden

I have been reading a lovely book, Deep-Rooted Wisdom by Augustus Jenkins Farmer, a multi-generational gardener.  He speaks to the slow way, the older way of gardening and gardeners.  Ways not only pragmatic, but in the new lingo, sustainable, renewable, cost effective. Taught how to root plants, save seeds, and plant by his mother, friends, grandparents, father and others.  It sends tremors through my psychic web, and not in the supernatural sense.  Many of these techniques I have been doing myself, in a vacuum.

While I have read quite a bit about gardening, in books and periodicals, these techniques are generally not covered and certainly not “condoned” by the folks running the Master Gardener’s course I completed.  My Mom has always loved plants and we certainly had a decent sized vegetable garden for a time in my childhood.  I cannot recall any gardening lessons, just the eating ones, picking a fresh tomato and sitting in the garden with the salt shaker eating it right off the vine.  So, from what ether did my psyche pull these tricks?

A work table in my garage near the back door simultaneously has pieces from projects completed and not so much, other detritus working its way to the shed or into the basement; a backdoor catch all.  It’s also the place where flotsam from houseplants and garden converge.  Used pots, fertilizer, drainage dishes, seeds.  Jars and envelops of seeds; sometimes in paper bags, sometimes on paper towels, paper plates.  Not too long ago, electricians were in house, working on the never ending remodeling projects.  One of them commented on a paper plate by the backdoor, filled with the seeds from a Eucomis that bloomed prolifically last summer.  A pineapple lily called ‘Sparkling Burgundy’.  As each flowering stem waned, I harvested it.  The flower spikes are very long and covered with seed pods, the best option for allowing them to dry out without losing any seed was a paper plate. So my trove of eucomis seed ended up by the back door, awaiting my next move.  The electrician, probably about my age, said he hadn’t seen anyone save off seed like that since his grandfather.

I cannot have florists roses in my home without the overwhelming desire to cut they little heads off and root them, especially if the stem shows some fecundity.  I have rooted enough roses this way, with nubile young stems cut from other roses, including those rustled from parking lots and ditches, to know that I have about a 50% rate of return.  According to Mr. Farmer, that’s 100% success.  I stumbled across this technique quite by accident, and then found out within my circle of acquaintances, their grandparents did this.

Shrubs, like forsythia, oak leaf hydrangea, roses taught me other lessons.  These are natural self-peggers, rooting where branches and stems fall to ground level. I gave an assist to these “under gardeners” to create plants to spread throughout my garden, adding to its cohesion.  Repeated plants giving the eye a sense of continuation, familiarity as one travels through the garden. A neighborhood of relatives.

And then there’s the self-seeders.  I remember a first trip to California, amused by some of the terminology used in the wine industry to create a sense of weight to their product, finding out many of those terms didn’t necessarily mean anything but an advertising ploy, “old vines”, “ancient vines” and a personal favorite, “estate grown”.  As I built beds around our personal arboretum, it killed my soul to think of  killing these intrepid little interlopers, so I started using them in the garden plan.  Roses of Sharon, redbuds, tree peonies and even hostas found their way into beds and planting scheme.  The little seeds that could.  Being able to distinguish between a seedling and a weed at the formative stages is not always easy, but quite a few of these hardy little self seeders were relocated to better fit within the garden and became my own version of “estate grown”.  For me, estate was a state of mind, an inward chuckle on garden tours.

I also can’t stand to see plants in big box or grocery stores without wanting to rescue them all.  It’s a primal instinct, I can’t explain it, nor can I deny it.  I have a hard time letting anything die, even when I know it’s well past the time it should go. These plants are put in harm’s way, a marketing gambit for an impulse purchase, often to become fodder for the garbage dump.

How did this become so intertwined in my life?  Maybe it’s vestigial, harkening back to Eden.  Perhaps a recognition or a line of shared memory to a time when surrounded by a garden, life was perfect.  Many of the greatest moments of peace I have had as an adult were experienced in my garden.  Certainly not in the overly manicured, overwrought professionally landscaped places, but in areas where plants feel some sense of inclusion in the creative process.  Allowed their own captaincy in how they will live, and ultimately, die.  Living near their parent, their siblings, finding their own place in the world, in my garden.  Like Mr. Farmer, I would rather weed out the excess than baby those divas that really don’t belong there.  So I have evolved into a live and let live gardener, messy by some folk’s standards.

Some people are compelled to make music, paint, or play soccer; I have lived a life in blissful coexistence with plants.  From where this drive comes, I will never from know.  But in the larger scheme of things, in saving and nurturing the lives of these denizens of the garden world, I have been saved, over and over again.  Even in the dead of winter, sometimes wrapped in despair so dark I cannot feel my way out, suddenly a house plant will lure me to its side.  A leaf to be culled, a vine pinched, water applied, and before I know it my spirit is transformed and an hour or two has passed as I move amongst rooms of house plants, communing, supporting, loving. A plant whisperer………….or am I a plant listener?

For my part, I believe we are descended from the same mother, the one who began her life in a garden.  From her have I inherited the gene to be looking homeward to Eden, and by osmosis becoming a gardener.


At Play in the fields………

Taking country drives as newlyweds was a cheap and lovely means of entertainment. No matter the season, the desire to discover sights unseen, using gas already paid for was like proffered gold. Early Sunday mornings, Saturdays at dusk, always something to see.

In southeast Ohio, delving deep into the back roads, encountering the downtrodden Amish farms of those shunned due to mental illness or alcoholism, not the quaint buttoned down places of the tourist traps, but slightly derelict farmhouses on borrowed time. Fifteen pairs of boots lined up on a peeling porch, slightly askew.

In the deepest depths of winter, sharing the roads with Amish families wedged into buggies, lap-rugged and freezing. Cheeks ablaze with cold. Staunch and hearty. Two lovers grateful for a speedy Honda and blasting heat.

Some favorite roads rollicked through the rolling hills and woodlands; fields fallow for a year or for fifty. Golden in the sunshine, skimmed with snow or mysterious and beckoning in the twilight. Maize and buff, charcoal and siena. Mine eyes were dazzled. Heady stuff, holding hands, young, in love. Buffered.

There were fields like rejected lovers, cast off by a booming oil and gas business in decades past, populated by time warped industrial structures.  Slowly, slowly crept upon by honeysuckle and sumac, grasses and sunflowers.  Fallow farm fields were plenty, crop rotation being practiced, the skin of the mother being allowed to rest, rejuvenate.  Luxuriating in wind and weather, rain and sun. Recharging, sleepily and steadily.

Later, as I began to grow in my gardening life and relocated into suburbia, I read more about crop rotation and organic gardening. Fallow fields and crop rotation almost biblical in its simplicity.  Fields allowed to go dormant not only allowed for recharge but also detoxed in the event any unwelcome, unseen inhabitants had been encouraged by former tenants. Seeds and plants introduced into prepared, rested ground performed better, were healthier. A process ensuring the viability of the soil for generations.

In 2014 I completed the first year of the last half of my century.  A year of momentous change, risk taking, decisions made.  When I left corporate life in 2013, I took the plunge and changed gears a bit.  Became a consultant.  Yes, the C word.  But still “employed”, bringing in the bacon.  But I found myself becoming unhappier and unhappier.  In 2014, I decided I had lived through enough unhappiness, it was ridiculous to perpetuate it further with a bad professional choice.  Roughly mid year, I cut the cord.  God had guided me through some pretty nasty sailing thus far, a small thing like income was a no brainer for a guy like him.  So I trusted and leapt.

There was plenty to do.  Remodeling was still ongoing in my mid-century modern.  Basement to finish, mudroom to design.  Being a “doer” meant I did as much as I could on my own. But it seemed disaster followed disaster as my aging home rebelled, and like a furious diva extracted a pound of flesh for every improvement forced on her structure. Sometime in the fall, I was beyond exhausted.  Four plus years of grief, depression, loneliness and remodeling had drained my reserves.  I was spent.

I had been reading two books “Letting Go” and “God Will Make A Way” to try and move myself forward.  Instead, the onion peeling work of “Letting Go” seemed to increase the malaise in which I found myself.  The late summer cloaked me in the wet wool of an even deeper depression.  And I thought the first year was tough.  But somehow, as I became immersed in “God Will Make A Way”, a curious thing began to happen, and I wasn’t even going to the forum.  The work of the first book led me to the path of the second.  “Letting Go” was beginning to happen.  I was on the right path.

The time was right to become fallow.  And I understood I needed no one’s permission but my own. After 26 years in the corporate trenches and a year as a consultant, it was time to recharge.   I had lost my roots in the creative arts, in music, in dance.  They had been lost to the pressures of being a contributor to a marriage, a household, a professional life.  An unnecessary casualty of an unexamined life.

My mind and body began their dormancy. Wet wool began to lift.   I wanted to dance for the first time in years.  So I took salsa lessons.  I bought a canvas and a sketch book.  Every day items are becoming evocative of a possible hidden life, an artistic use.  Last night, I couldn’t sleep because I was mentally exploring a new art project.  Heady.

Surprising and yet not surprising that the dust of our bodies works like the soil of the earth.  2015, looking for a year of happiness, of health, of creativity.  Long live the Mother, and may she rest.


Dear Dad,

Happy Birthday!  It has been a long time since we’ve spoken.  I miss you.  I miss knowing you.

Your life has taken on an epic arch for me.  You were born into abject poverty in the coal mines of western Kentucky.  One boy out of five children, one lost early to diphtheria.  Living in a shack on company property, using company scrip.  Always hungry.  Always underclothed.  Never having shoes that fit, never having shoes in summer.  Your first winter coat coming from the largess of a man you would never know or meet, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Waiting in line to get it.


Your dad a quiet retiring man.  Loving kids and cigarettes.  Braving machine guns posted at the door to his workplace, helping to bring justice and equality to those who descended into the deep dark, bringing up black gold for the men who would live in palaces. Dying from black lung and disappointment.  Your mom, intelligent, driven, hard.  Hating life and hating you.  Finding Jesus long after she needed to find Him to bring His compassion into your life.


img032You escaped.  Or so you thought.  You left Muehlenberg County for a life in the armed forces.  Bringing that manly, silent type to the close lipped service of the Air Force during Korea, bringing our boys home, again and again.  Suddenly, you saw life outside of coal dust and poverty.  Bright lights and big cities.  Tailor made suits for your slimness, bringing life to your dapperness, your aesthetic.  Stylin.  A long way from no shoes and clothes worn too thin and too small.


img033Leaving the service with the vow to never go back, never be a slave to those who would require kowtows and secret handshakes.  But the world was no longer the same.  You were no longer the same.  What does an intelligent, undereducated guy do after seeing the world?



How you got to that blackened hell hole of a steel mill, I will never know.  Did you jump at the first job opportunity?  While other southern migrant workers were finding positions at GM and Ford, Bethlehem and US Steel, you landed at Blaw Knox. Being under serviced by a second tier, corrupt union, taking your dues and looking the other way. Sometimes working two jobs when a strike was called, attempting to put food on the table for your fledgling family.

The baby children we were, adored you.  You were funny and giddy.  I remember the dancing and singing and the smell of Old Spice.  Eventually, your growing silences distanced you from your children.  Those silences becoming frightening and stifling.  And the silences themselves growing, broken more and more regularly by angry outbursts.

We were orphans, our family.  Not that there weren’t grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.  We were isolated geographically, we were isolated by experience, by circumstance.  The annual pilgrimages back to the promised land were what connected us to our people, but it was a one way trip. There was only us, and we were fracturing.

By the time I was in my teens, our interactions were sparse.  More often, I would attempt to escape the house, escape your notice, afraid I would raise your ire yet another time. When it came time for college, I only wanted to get as far away from home as possible. And that leave taking was the first time as a young adult I knew you loved me.  Hugging me good bye when you left me on campus, you had tears in your eyes.  Standing there by the gaping maw of that empty LeSabre trunk, you cried and I was stunned. It was game changer.

It was never possible to have a phone conversation with you, you passed the phone to Mom.  It was on the breaks from school that I found my Dad.  We talked and you started telling me a few things, teasers.  I had found myself during college and in so doing, lost my fear.  Those were precious years, but neither of us knew we were in the elimination round.  There should have been more speed. I was able to catch a glimpse of what you had endured, what you had climbed out of.  A surface scratched.

Your sickness started sometime in the 70’s.  Your silence and anger masking what must have been debilitating pain.  None of us knew what you suffered, you didn’t let us in.  After that first major episode, there were ups and downs medically.  When you had passed the ten year mark, you were safe, isn’t that the rule?  By the time my life was gaining momentum, focusing, yours was veering off course.

I married in 1986. As I prepared to walk down the aisle on your arm, you gave me a chance to back out.  Maybe you knew something I didn’t; maybe you just wanted to keep your newly found baby girl.  You were so handsome that day, no indication of the time bomb going off in your chest. Ten short days and you were gone.

I have a tendency to shift the scraps of knowledge I have about you to try and build a complete, or a more complete, picture.  The game I play to try to wrap my arms around a wraith.  The picture always stays slightly out of focus. Lately I’ve been learning to let go.  It isn’t easy.  Sometimes there’s a great comfort in hanging on to these painful scraps, especially when they’re all you have.

In the end, I know you loved me.  You gave to me all that wasn’t given to you as a child, and so much more.  You sacrificed, you loved.  I benefitted.  I have had opportunities and experiences you wouldn’t even dream of. Your tough love made me strong, resilient, independent.  Prepared me for even tougher days ahead.

I love you.




Two of my favorite films of all times are Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Growing up, there was not a time when this aired on television I didn’t clear my “agenda” and make sure that I was available to watch this commercial-interrupted version year after year. I couldn’t get enough of it. As I became a teenager and a singer and actress in my own right, I sometimes wondered, pre-k.d. lang and Patsy Cline, if somehow I weren’t somehow linked with her. I had her song book, knew her life, watched her films. I so wanted to be Judy Garland. A career spanning stage, screen and cabaret, what not to want to be? Yes, there were addictions and temperaments but to me small price to pay.

Growing up in the overlapping hoods of The Jacksons and Stevie Wonder, living in a neighborhood of a melange of early 70s music, I hotly anticipated Q’s remake of my classic. When it came out, I was sold. Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsy Russel just to skim the surface on a visually and musically funkalicious score.  I was hooked.  Don’t care about anyone else’s opinion.  If this is my guilty pleasure, believe me, there are worse.

And then there was Home.  Shortly after buying the two album set, I had the words, timing,emotive part down.  I could do this cold.  Performed it live at a gig in 1982.  I have sung this tune naked, drunk, painting a shed (none of these public venues).  It’s my go-to tune.  Like mac and cheese or a really good pinot.  Home food.  Pun intended.

For me it turned the corner on Somewhere Over the Rainbow (also in my repertoire), and added an urban need to knowing what your life was/is.  Diana killed it.  Already a Diana fan from The Supremes days, this was icing.  A really well executed butter cream type.

And then life hit.  I left music, became suburban, stopped singing.  Spent too many years trying to anticipate the demands of the man.  After life hit, it left.  I had forgotten about Home.

It’s been just over four years since life slammed into my psyche like a derailed express train. I searched for home.  There were so many days  I just wanted to run somewhere, anywhere.  I looked at real estate in France, Italy, northern California.  I have lost count of the times I drove around town talking myself out of missing the turn off or even hitting the bridge abutment.  Sometimes a really active argument.    I even fantasized about swinging by the house, picking up the fuzzy faces and heading out of town, no looking back.  Couldn’t leave them but surely did not want to stay.

I wanted to exfoliate this life by any means necessary.  It itched.  I was raw with it.

You see, I felt I had a home with my life partner.  It didn’t matter the zip code.  He was home.  Where he was, was home.  It sounds so biblical, but for me it was.  And home had evaporated; not sure it ever really was, except in the zip code of my mind.

For several years, I have searched.  The areas have changed, sometimes closer to family, sometime closer to here.  Consuming the real estate listings like an addict.  Looked at a couple of real possibles.  The one that got away still haunts, a beautiful 1930s bungalow on 13 acres outside of Danville Kentucky.  Again, that whole 1930s thing.  I still look for it in the Danville listings.  When I encountered it, I was still far too wounded to decide.  And it slipped away.

For four years I have tried to execute the projects I knew would make my house salable.  Painting, flooring, remodeling, lighting.  I let the garden go until 2013.  By that time, becoming a sad neglected jungle in places.  The house consumed me.  I needed to get it off my skin.  I needed a place of my own, I needed.  I needed.  I needed. I needed peace, contentment.  I needed.

Last gardening year, was a time of clean up.  I knew no one would want this place with overgrown beds full of self seeders and self pegging roses.  So most of the summer was spent trying to reclaim, trying to simplify and streamline.  Suburbanners don’t want high maintenance landscapes.  If my house were to sell, I had to make it simple.

As I cleaned up, I started connecting, talking to my plant partners.  This may be even crazier than liking The Wiz, but I fully believe plants are sensitive to us, they hear our voices, know our presence.  I touch as often as I can, talk, encourage.  There have been studies recently that indicate plants hear.  It mattered to me to know who had made it through the years of neglect, who had met their demise.  Who was flourishing. My 120+ year old rose bush was transplanted.  My zone 7 crepe myrtle, a miniature I cloche every year, had survived. And so many others had put their cockney thumbs to the sides of their noses and were thriving.

The 2014 garden year was about accenting what was already here, with as minimal a cost as possible.  So many plants had not been divided in several years, a means of killing two birds with one stone.  Build up beds with plant materials already on the farm.  The repetitious use of plants is how a cohesive planting scheme is achieved, as well as minimizing costs.  I have spent the spring and early summer dividing and tucking, moving plants hither and thither.  Fleshing out areas that needed, well, you know, fleshing out.  Nothing crazy.

Interestingly enough, the midwest has been blessed with what I will term as “California weather”.  Not too hot, not too cold, plenty of precipitation.  Clear skies with low humidity.  Ideal for transplanting.  The skies this summer actually remind me of time spent in Montana with crystalline blue skies, no humidity and just a touch of coolness.  Beautiful.  If this is global warming, where do I sign up?  The beds this year are lush and diverse.  My zone 7 crepe myrtle, as tiny as it is, is the biggest it’s ever been.  My 120 year old rose surviving its transplant is on its way to climbing the arbor.  The grass is lush and verdant. The farm is full of birds and insects.  The air is sweet and caressing.

There are still projects.  The basement remodel, a problematic little so and so, is on its way to being finished.  There are a couple of smaller items on the wish list.   I need a new roof, a new air conditioner, a new driveway.  Cheap.

This afternoon, I took some time off from doing.  The yard was mowed, the basement ready for the next onslaught of contractors.  Surrounded by fuzzy faces, farm cat Fletcher, Joy and Dante, I carved out some sweet moments on the deck to read.  I listened to the wrens and the robins. Watched the crows.  Heard the music of the wind soughing through the branches of the oak and the locust and the linden.  The air was unbelievable, almost too cool for normal summer gear.  I was digging it.  Fletcher curled around my feet, Joy and Dante flanked my chair.  No sounds of mechanization anywhere.

The sound of Home, right here in my own back yard.  No heel clicking necessary.  When I think of Home, I think of love overflowing.  Welcome Home.










The Slow-Rhea Movement

It’s only June and the year has already been so interesting and so tough.  In the past I’ve written mostly as a catharsis, sometimes healing wounds too deep to see.  It’s been a while since I put digits to keyboard; I’ve been avoiding the demands of the computer lurking and taunting me as I scuttle through my day.

It’s not as if I haven’t had some ideas.  The slowness of the spring to develop lent some ideas for the Burgeon Queen or the Burgeon Rhea, but I just never could force my self to sit down and do it.  Like my dogs, there have been too many distractions to sit and stay.

Today, I missed my window for mowing.   My mowing method is a trusty, old John Deere push mower.  While self propelled, in the last couple years the propelling has become open to interpretation.  When it dies and I scatter its ashes, time for a new mower.  But not today.

No, today I bother my dear reader with the musings of a different 2014.  I ran across a quote a couple years back “If you want different results, you have to do things differently.”  My experiment for 2014.  I attempted a consulting life in 2013; in 2014 I realized that I really didn’t like working with people that really didn’t want me in their offices, regardless of how badly they needed help.  So I learned to say no and bye-bye.    Instead of rushing into the next gig, I am taking a step back.  As Jim Carey said in his graduation address, I think I want to fail at something I really love to do.  At least I will have enjoyed the journey.

I am trying to Let Go and Let God.  I am trying to not always be DOING.  I am still trying to learn not kill myself with so much hard labor. And I am learning while alcohol is a compelling way to relax and sometimes temporarily forget, it is a slope I really don’t have the muscle to climb.

How do you slow a Rhea down?  Very carefully.

2014 in the garden has also been a year of different ventures, different results.  Last year, I had to take the bull by the horns and do massive scorched earth operations in beds not maintained for three years.  Self pegging roses attempted to eat me alive and not even leave anything for compost.  I decommissioned a huge sun bed full of tree peonies, roses, irises, butterfly weed. Giving away, transplanting, sometimes abandoning.  It was going back to sod.  I needed to simplify.

While our Plains brethren scoffed at our winter weather, for the midwest it was an unbelievable season.  I grew up outside of Chicago, so I know a few things about winter weather.  First, let me say that this area is not used to sustained weather of any kind.  The winter of 2013-2014 not only brought lots of snow, it brought sustained low temperatures, aggressive winds lasting for days.  The result being even lower temperatures.

Generally, by the time April has rolled into the hood, there are some pretty advanced signs Mother Nature is softening her stance.  Not so, 2014.  For weeks it was even too cold to venture out to check the beds without some serious gear.  Finally able to go out with only a heavy sweater, I saw so little peaking above the soil level it was frightening.  Sometime in May, early, or very late April, I saw the first defiant digits of peonies clearing the ground.  It took several days after that before anything else was brave enough.  Scary.  There was a bit of a warm snap and for any intrepid hostas that proved their undoing. Some came up and some were scorched back to earth by cold.

Then finally, temperatures began to settle in the warmer brackets.  Slowly, slowly trees budded out, spring ephemerals launched.  Ahhh, burgeoning.

As it turns out, for some peonies and most of the irises it was a great spring.   Apparently the coral family of peonies really loved being hammered by cold.  My woodland tree peony was stunning, and some of the irises bloomed like they have never bloomed before.


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For roses, a spotty spring.  Most roses died back to the ground.  Even the two knock outs I purchased for $5 in a scratch and dent sale, were knocked back to earth.  As it turns out, rosa The Fairy which someone begged me to pull out of their yard a decade or more ago was hardly impacted. And while my rangy pink Grootendorst had some fall out, she’s doing quite well, thank you.  The real rose stand outs were Darlow’s Enigma which has been trained into a maple on an exposed northern face of the yard;





the Chrysler Imperial which is about the only hybrid tea I fool with, for me never a very robust rose but I cannot live without that fragrance;





and the last rose has no name and no picture. It is a storied rose in my garden.  Part of the roll out of the old sun garden, last year it was moved.  As it came out of its spot of 15 years, it broke into pieces.  And in pieces, it was placed along a new arbor and fence line.  As of today, this rose is about 120 years old.  Given to me in the mid nineties by a friend who had no need of it, but because her 90 year old client had given it to her she couldn’t just take it out with extreme prejudice.  So she gave it to me.  This rose had been growing outside the front door of her client’s birth place.  I was saddened and worried that I had to move this gem.  It was a beautiful rose; old fashioned quartered blooms in a nice palish/mid pink with a marvelous old rose fragrance.  It had been growing inside a tuteur with a dusky purple clematis in my sun garden.  I had low hopes that either would survive relocation or that deadly winter.  And she thumbed her nose at me.  All the various pieces living and blooming, including the clematis.  Will try to post pictures when the second flush graces me with her presence.

The real beneficiaries of this new winter/new results have been my hostas.  Even those clobbered by an early roll out, have thrived.  So thick and so lush it’s been unbelievable.


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Weeds too appear to have been unintended beneficiaries to this harsh new winter.  Commando efforts will be necessary to eradicate or at least knock back these interlopers.  Different efforts here include having to resort to chemical means in some areas to removed these unwanted pests.  A very conflicting change.

New on the scene this year are projects I am taking on:

The truck garden that from last fall to this went from compost to set up to full of, yes burgeoning, vegetables.

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Hanging my newly acquired green man:







After five years, opening my fountain:





The new fountain project, in progress:

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Blooming rattle snake plant, YOWZA!

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Deer stalking……

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And after that marathon, bi-annual update, something completely new to the farm:






Hmmmmm, the slow life………


There is a beautiful verbal exchange in Pride and Prejudice between Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth. She has just been taken to task for not being a piano proficient, and in turn she has taken Mr. Darcy to task for being antisocial. Both deficits, it seems can be solved by practice.  I do so love the language of Jane Austen, so delicate and yet so clear.  I am afraid I am more Mr. Darcy than Miss Elizabeth.

I have a few people in my acquaintance.  I have never endeavored to amass an enormous sphere of social contacts, having always lived a more insular life, even as a child.  I love deeply and freely but not loudly.  Living love loudly takes practice.  And I must admit a certain aversion to exercise.  I like to think those who know, know and if you don’t know you probably still know.  One way or the other.

Like those soundbites describing how true friends need say nothing, can be in each other’s presence for hours or absent for years and then one day the phone rings and it’s as if no time has passed.  My management style exactly.

Within my sphere, I have had the pleasure of acquaintance with some profoundly talented and bright people. Beautiful people, really.  I have been lucky.  And blessed.

When for the first time I ventured out as an adult by myself I was going to college, pursuing music.  Having been active in my high school’s vocal and theatre departments I thought I had some decent background for this pursuit.  I was not prepared, truly I was not.

One of the first into whose path I was tossed, became a teacher, a mentor, a friend.  He was the kind of guy everyone wanted to know, get a piece of.  Larger than life. His artistic pursuits were so numerous, so varied and so thickly interwoven one would have thought it would take an army of people to hold it all down.  His name has been dropped so often he could be mistaken as the Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey of my college set.

We became acquainted through a series of entry level courses he taught.  Deepening our relationship by singing together in the small chamber group which progressed to singing in his jazz vocal group.  I was thrilled when he asked me to sub the girl singer spot in his big band.  I knew then what the wise guys must feel when they became made men.  I was in.

There were eight guys in the band.  I was young and naive and most of them treated me like a little sister.  My teacher/mentor/friend, the band leader was notoriously on sleep deficit.  Surviving sometimes on a couple of hours of sleep a night for days on end, gigging, teaching, writing charts, traveling.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  One of my new found brothers advised me: keep him awake by talking about two subjects, baseball or sex.  I was screwed.  I would be hurtling through the night at high speed in a van packed to the gills with equipment, and no idea what to say to keep him awake. Nothing needed to keep ME awake.

I had the privilege to ride shotgun with him for four years.  It was definitely not four years of baseball lingo and sex chats.  I found someone to whom I could speak without having to worry about being understood.  In some ways I think he knew me better than I knew myself. His advice was always spot on and he never treated me like a kid. Our conversations ran the gamut.  Excluding sex and baseball.

In the final part of my college career I had two private studies with him.  One was an indulgence, since it was a private jazz piano session, and my piano playing certainly wasn’t up to snuff (perhaps if I had practiced?).  The other a music analysis course.  Given a piece of music each week, I had to deconstruct, analyze and then verbalize the results into a 5-10 page term paper, hand typed.  Each week.  Did I mention this was each week?  It was one of the funnest classes I had. It allowed me to indulge so many aspects of my personality and then play it to an appreciative audience.  What not to like?

That class became a catalyst for what was to become one of the most momentous events of my life.  During one gig commute, we talked about my nonexistent love life.  I still remember every word he said to me and then what he did practically in the next breath.  At the gig that night, he corralled one of my band mates.  This guy was brilliant, talented, funny and sensitive.  And preternaturally shy.  Mr. Brilliant was told he would walk a mile for a girl that could write a term paper like I did.  Sexy.

It worked.  Mr. Brilliant/talented/funny/sensitive asked me out and soon became my husband.  My friend/mentor/band leader had now become my Yente. I do not like to use the word debt, as there would be no way to repay it.  But it earned a permanent place in  my personal pantheon.

Some of the most profound compliments I ever received came from him, which I hold in my heart. Buried treasure. But unfortunately as life progressed and my management style set in, we didn’t keep up. I failed to practice.

So here I am, breaching the silence of those interstitial spaces in our relationship. Loving loudly.

I love you man.  Djeet?

Let them eat cupcakes!

Monday I am going to the doctor for the first time in well over a year, maybe even two. Yes, I can hear the coming admonition about doctor’s visits and women “of a certain age”. I know. It hasn’t been because I haven’t had some complaints. For three months or so I have fought a running skirmish with sinus issues that have been cyclically debilitating, a few muscle problems to work through. Nothing serious.

No my absence of medical advice has been primarily due to my current employment situation which is “self-employed” and the saga of the health care portal. I was a bit anxious to expose my healthcare to a system that might pull the rug out just as I was getting to the good stuff. For the record, while the healthcare marketplace website was a debacle of no small order, once I actually got it working it was pretty slick. (To my Obama hating public: I don’t want to hear about it!)

This will be a new doctor for me. I want someone who will look at me and my life holistically. I am going to ask her about her relationships with pharmaceutical companies and other suppliers so I know I will not be subjected to medicines and procedures based upon some quota that sends her to Cozumel for a week.

I am hoping this isn’t going to be like some medical relationships past, one which tried to blame an impending gall bladder explosion on the fact that I just had too much weight pressing on my internal organs. Seriously, that is what is causing your reflux, indigestion, and heartburn, Mrs. Smith. You can pay at the window, next please.

I am a short, round woman. I have commando gardened for long enough that while I look like a cupcake, the cover can be deceiving. This past summer I unloaded and deployed over 250 bags of 3 cubic feet of mulch around my acre of heaven, some totally saturated with water. And that was just part of my gardening season. Am I a little slower with less stamina than in the past. Indeed. There has been too much water under my bridge in the last couple of years for me to retain my past commando crown, but I pull my share.

Four years ago I decided to work with a personal trainer. I was working out at home in addition to my commando time and just wanted to make sure I was not doing anything wrong, causing more problems than I was solving. Before I could even begin, I had to have a sign off by my physician. Check. Then they had to do a physical assessment. Check. I was tested for strength, balance and flexibility. They were astonished at how strong I was, how flexible, how good my balance. Honestly, I had to keep from laughing. I guess it suspends belief that a short round woman can actually be in decent shape.

A couple of months ago I attended a drop in yoga class. I arrive in my baggy ancient sweatshirt and sweats into the spandex and midriff bearing crowd. Oh boy. The young instructor sidles over to me and starts the conversation, “You’re new?” Yes. “What do you hope to gain from coming tonight?” Well, I’ve been doing some yoga at home and want to make sure I am doing it right. “Okay. Well, don’t feel like you have to keep up. If at any time you need sit it out, please feel free. Work at your speed.” Sure, says I with a cheshire grin.

The workout was intense, more so than at home. I have a bum knee from a 15 year old hiking/climbing accident that doesn’t allow certain positions, or at least not easily, so I gingerly worked through those. For the most part, I kept up throughout the whole hour and half. Not bad for a first timer I thought. After class, the instructor sidles up to me and says, “You’re really strong and flexible.” Yeah, I know, I look like a cupcake.

Over New Year’s I accomplished a life goal. I’ve always wanted to see a Mayan ruin. I am totally an archeology geek. If I had one reason to bring back my cable service it would be so I could watch archeology shows on History and Nat Geo. On the Riviera Maya is a lesser known Mayan temple called Ek Balam. Not as touristy, still accessible, indescribably wonderful. And I was able to make the climb. I didn’t climb over a short wall at the top not wanting to subject my knee to potentially more trauma than what I was going to need going down. The height is giddy-inducing. I have a love-hate relationship with heights that sometimes makes me experience a free fall feeling when on the top-side. So I took a few iPhone shots and started down. Yeah, I know. Cupcake.

So Monday is the doctor. I am hopeful that I won’t be compared to a bunch of sanitized statistics managed and massaged by the insurance industry. I don’t desire to live into longevity. Long life doesn’t necessarily mean a good one. I have friends in their 80s and some past 90, and the crowd is evenly divided on how well they view their lives. I want to live well, make my own choices, rattle a few cages. Go down without living in a forest of tubes and monitors and medications. I have already beaten the abysmally poor infant mortality statistics of the modern American health system. I want to have some honesty and dignity in my health care relationship.

Geez, I hope this doctor ain’t a cupcake.


Isn’t Marjorie a beautiful name? To me evocative of English accents, cocktails and dinner parties.

I am lucky to have a Marjorie in my life.  Some folks call her Marjie or some such.  But to me it short sells a beautiful word, aptly applied to a beautiful person.

How did I come to have a Marjorie you might ask?  When I found the sanctuary of Grace UMC, I was alone.  Every Sunday for months, I would enter the calm stillness and hope to find peace, true grace and a way ahead.  Every Sunday, two lovely ladies sat near where I sat.  Sometimes, I would sit right behind them.  Soon, we struck up a friendship.  It didn’t take long to find out my new friends Joyce and Marjorie had existed in my state of onesiness for a long time.  They knew where I was, and made an effort to make sure I got where I needed to go.

Soon, we were seeking each other out before service.  It was delightful meeting those ladies.  Joyce sent me cards.  Long after the madding crowd had left my little drama, a card now and again would pop through the mail.  Made me feel there was someone out there thinking.

I recognized a fiesty streak in Marjorie.  Don’t ask me how.   I was blown away when she stood up in the pulpit and described not only that she had been attending Grace for over 80 years, but she had begun the journey as a little girl,  alone.  First walking, and then riding a trolley.  Beyond fiesty.  Determined.  Very, very determined.

When we began serving on the finance committee together, I loved seeing her work the room.  She was a force.    I became chair of the committee and soon Marjorie and I were riding together, sharing space, sharing tales.  I started realizing how shallow the end of the pool I inhabited.  She was quite simply, Something.

I thought I was so cool, so pushing the envelope when I picked her up for her birthday lunch in my hot little convertible.   That day we were ladies who lunched.  Taking our time, swapping stories.  It wasn’t until afterwards, when I had forgotten to take the convertible up to 90 in honor of her upcoming date, that I realized I needed to run a lot faster than that to keep up.  She told me that she and her husband had owned a GTO back in the day.  Not only did they own it, they drove it Mexico.  When he needed a nap, she took over the driving.  Wide open spaces, foreign country, muscle car, Marjorie at the wheel.  Then her husband woke up and discovered she was doing 90.

And she is the 90 I would aspire to be.  Curious, energetic, thoughtful, smart.  She volunteers, she leads, she continually keeps moving and it seems takes no prisoners, except me. Sweet, gentle, fiery.

Happy birthday, Marjorie.

The Good, the Bad and oh, whatever…….


Today is a day I have been dreading.  Not like the April 15, I gotta send money kinda dread.  But in the “this is gonna be some serious hard work” kinda way.

It’s been at least five years since I’ve been at the compost bins.

Can I digress here and say I don’t always get the English?  Don’t they say comPAHST?  So if that’s the case isn’t it The Pahstman Always Ring Twice?

Anyway, I have been procrastinating.  I know there is deep rich stuff in them there bins.  But the shoveling and filtering is dirty heavy business.  But in the end comes gold.  Black gold.  Ohio tea.  Like in the picture above.  One bin of sieved, compost filled an entire large Vermont cart.  This is the stuff of gardener’s green dreams.

For me, this is the beginning of a new project.  Part of the procrastination.  There is scope creep in this here project.  First some background.  Although I live in a suburban area, we are mightily plagued with an expanding deer population.  I have tried on several occasions to vegetable garden here.  I have the room and some ideally sunny areas.  But those spots are also easily marauded by our four legged friends, not to mention the raccoons, possums, skunks and anything else running loose.  I have been most successful with pots near the shed.  Not ideal in terms of sun space, but close to rainbarrels and the building seems to act as a deterrent to marauders.

So here is the next generation project……


Raised beds ala stock tanks.  I have done a little reading.  Very little as I am a woman of action!

Unfortunately, the feeding of the procrastination is moving the wood pile in this area, figuring out the best spot for sun and then filling said stock tanks with compost.  The Vermont cart full filled one stock tank about halfway.  I have to rehome the wood pile, figure out the walking path and then get the rest of the compost sieved.  I’m exhausted just writing this.  And I have yet to plant a thing.

I am hoping with these deep tanks, root vegetables, garlic, onions will have a chance.  I am not greedy.  I am limiting my potential harvest to tomatoes, peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, potatoes and green beans.  If there is  enough room, can asparagus be too far behind.?  But first I have to prove this little experiment will work.  I am worried there is too much shade.

And the bad?  You might have interpolated that the bad in the title was the hard work.  Unfortunately, not so.  Don’t forget I am a professional commando gardener.  Used to these bursts of high energy farm labor.  The bad is actually human intervention.  Someone put a broken bottle into my compost bin.  And one enterprising piece found its way into the palm of my hand.  I swear I felt it hit me all the way to my shoulder.  It’s for these occurrences I keep the peroxide handy.  Hard to type a post with just one hand……

And the news from the rest of the estate?  Ah, there is news indeed.  In addition to mantis this year, has been a blessing of butterflies, many which I have no idea who they are, many of which are swallowtails.

I was blessed to see that a Giant Swallowtail was flitting through the farm.  Think really large black/brown chocolatey wings with yellow racing stripes looking much like unwound film.  More dark than light. Enchanting.  Flew through too quickly for  me to get the camera, or so I thought.

A few days ago, there was something decidedly nasty, decidedly sinister on my lemon tree.  Yes folks, the same lemon tree the deer pulled off it’s resting place and broke many of it’s branches.  Patched up it survived.  Who knew deer liked lemon?

But the thing on my lemon tree?  At first, I thought it a particularly artistic means of bird self expression.  Yes, bird poop.  But it was fascinatingly weird, I couldn’t take my eyes from it.  When it moved I realized what I took for the terminal glop of poo, really looked like a baby alligator, or a dragon.  Holy smokes!  this is either animated bird poop ala Stephen Spielberg or it it’s ALIVE!

And thus I get to see the caterpillar form of the giant swallowtail, hanging it in my lemon tree……..


As a point of comparison, this is what a yellow swallowtail caterpillar looks like, just so you don’t think I have this bizarre sense of drama (okay I do have a bizarre since of drama but not with caterpillars)…..


Big difference, no?

Then there are the mantis.  In my previous post, it might be recalled that in the nine mantis counted, one was a two and half incher.  Clearly out of his league amongst all the heavy weights around him.  Yes, it was a him.  The next day, I found his headless, dessicated body not far from where I first spotted him.  Seems he found his femme fatale.  Interestingly enough, his replacement was an even smaller mantis, under two inches.  Good luck little guy.  May you creep under the radar.



I sedum come and I sedum go…….


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