The other day, I was on my way out to the car for work when I noticed that the azalea bush at the bottom of my front steps had little pink buds on it.

Let me backtrack for a moment. When I say “azalea bush,” I am exaggerating just a bit. When I first moved here in 2004, there was an azalea bush there. Over the years, it was overtaken by some unexplained rot/mold/disease, and each spring, it appeared to be closer and closer to the doom of nonexistence. One year, when the condo association landscapers came to prune the bushes, I asked them if there was anything they could do to save it. The manager surveyed the sad little bush, shook his head, and told me that he would cut off the dead parts, but the bush would probably need to be removed. He worked away at it for a bit and when he was done, there was little left. “I don’t think that’ll help, but we’ll see,” he told me.

And for the past several years, my struggling azalea bush has been little more than a bundle of sawed off stumps with some dried twigs sticking up. Every now and then, a leaf appears, but nothing more.

So imagine my surprise when I walked out the door on a beautiful spring morning, and the beginnings of an azalea bush were growing from one side of the bundle of old rotten bush-parts. Tiny shoots flaunted bright pink buds that caught my eye. It wasn’t just one twig with a bud or two. It was a forest of shoots, each with multiple leaves and buds.

That afternoon when I returned from work, I gave the little bush some TLC. I carefully removed all of the rotten pieces, one by one. I pulled them out and created a pile of refuse next to my walkway. Now, there is more room for the shoots to grow and flourish.

I had almost given up hope on this little bush, but somehow I knew the life would return and the azalea would see spring again. And I was right—there was just enough life left in the roots connected to those old, dry twigs to send up shoots that will someday be a whole new bush.

“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”     – E. B. White


Recently, I was on a social media site, and I saw a picture of a pinecone in a tiny pot sprouting itty bitty pine trees. This picture was astonishing to me, both in its cuteness, and in its simplicity. The idea that I could take something as generally disregarded as a pinecone, put it in some dirt, and watch it grow captured my attention.

Not long after seeing this picture—on one of only a smattering of gorgeous spring days we’ve experienced—I stepped out for a walk during lunch. Rather than walking toward the road, I chose to walk to the back of our building. I had only a couple minutes to enjoy the warmth and the sunshine, and the grassy yard was calling to me. The ground under the pine trees was littered with beautiful, perfect pinecones. I’m going to try to grow one! I thought to myself, so I picked one up and brought it inside.

One of my students immediately discounted my idea to grow it. “It’s so dry,” she commented. “I can’t imagine anything growing out of that.” But then again, that is the miracle of a seed, isn’t it? That an object so small and dry and seemingly worthless can sprout life and become something as majestic as a tree.

Maybe my little pinecone will grow a seedling, and maybe it won’t. But I’m going to give it a try. I’m feeling a need for simplicity and growth in my life.

And if this pinecone does grow, maybe it really would be just a little bit of a miracle.

Positivity Post: Light

The weekend gave us a taste of some beautiful spring weather, and on Monday, I drove to work through falling snow. It has been a long, hard winter—literally and figuratively.

This morning, as he was disappearing out the door into the churning gray fog of an indecisive season, W turned to me and said, “Is it supposed to get light out today?”

Now, I knew what he meant, but it seemed an odd thing to say as the sun struggled its way over the horizon, sending as much of its radiant light as it could through the thick cover of rain-snow clouds.

My gaze followed him out the door, but I said nothing. Grey and dreary with a cold, soaking rain. This was as light as the day was likely to get.

But outside my kitchen window, crocuses, hyacinths, tulips and daffodils are poking their little green heads out of the ground, testing the air to see if it’s ready. Because outside my window is the promise of spring, and the light that is destined to arrive.

Positivity Post: Silliness

It was Saturday, and we were visiting my son at college, looking for ways to bide some time before a theater performance later that evening. “Here’s a thought,” I ventured. We were seated at one end of the long dining hall table. “We can go pet the llamas!”

The college is situated at the top of a hill. On the way up the hill, we pass an alpaca farm, and the alpacas are frequently outside grazing. I chose, for this moment, to call them llamas because… face it, “llamas” is a word that is both more fun to say and more fun to write.

My son stared at me as if I had made one of the craziest statements he had ever heard. “Mom,” he admonished. “I’m pretty sure those are private llamas.”

“Well, we can just go pet them for a minute. Then we’ll go to the farm stand and look at the succulents.”

“Mom! Those are not public llamas!” He spoke just a little louder this time, to make sure I heard and understood. Which I did. But really… who would keep llamas out where everyone could see them and not share? But I gave in and instead, we decided to check out all of the little shops in town.

Later that afternoon, as we attempted to find an acceptable place for dinner, we happened to drive by the farm with the alpacas. “Oh,” I feigned my deep disappointment as we ascended the hill. “The llamas aren’t out….”

“No, Mom,” my son said sternly. “That’s probably because they belong to someone and that someone put them away.”

So… I suppose that’s the definition of “private llamas,” huh? I believe if I had llamas, I would definitely make them public llamas!

{Image credit: Unsplash.com/Colby Thomas}

The Cactus


Tonight at dinner, my daughter went running up to her room and came back to the table with something in her hand. “Here,” she said, thrusting it into my hand. “Do you like my cactus?”

Over the past year or so, she has developed a love of succulents. I’m not exactly sure when this happened or why, but slowly, the plants began to disappear from the windowsill in the kitchen and reappear on the windowsill in her room. I noticed that some smaller pots were materializing, and shoots had been taken from the plants of mine that hadn’t yet made the trek up the stairs. [I am really hoping she doesn’t decide she needs some of my Christmas cactus in the next few days because it has just started to poke out some teeny tiny bud-lings….]

I examined the ceramic cactus in my hand. It was “growing” in a pot that almost looked like a wicker basket. The plant had understated spikes that gave the green ball a distinct cactus look. And the cactus bloomed with two dusty pink flowers.

“It’s beautiful!” I told her when I had finished my inspection.

“I made it,” she told me.

“No you didn’t,” I responded, only partially convinced by her words.

“Yes I did. It came out of the kiln yesterday.” And then she turned it upside down, so I could see the bottom. “My initials,” she pointed out.

Indeed, the bottom indicated that the piece was handmade. And it was beautiful! She just started taking a pottery class at school, this year. I can’t wait to see what else she brings home!

Veggies and Weeds #atozchallenge

Life Lessons from the Garden:


I have spent the past several years as a gardener in my town’s Community Garden. At this time of year, I am typically planning my vegetable garden. I am acquiring seeds and making sure I have the proper fencing. I am hauling out tomato cages, and sorting through tools and row markers, loading up a bucket of supplies, and planning the layout of the garden I will grow. Not to mention fretting over how I am possibly going to fit everything into my small 10 x 20 garden plot (which is actually two plots in our community garden).

I have taken many lessons from the gardening experiences I have had throughout my life. I only hope that my children have learned one or two of these lessons as we have gardened together.

Planning: If you want to get the most out of your garden, you have to plan ahead. Vegetables are not planted haphazardly. Some require rows, some hills, and some—like tomatoes—are more individual in nature.

Patience: Once you plant the seeds, it will be a week or two before you even see the tiniest shoot of green emerge from the ground. And those shoots are just the beginning. It will be much longer before you can truly enjoy the fruits of your labor.

“Personal space” varies: Just like people, plants have different space requirements. Some plants only need to be separated from their friends by a couple of inches to grow to their potential, but others need their own little patch of space to grow up and spread out and produce the best vegetables.

Focus on the good: Nurture the plants you want in your garden. Remove the weeds, insects, and rodents that are not healthy or wanted and may even be harmful. These things can grow out of control, take over and ultimately, choke out the good stuff.

Persistence: As with any relationship, a gardener must constantly work at gardening. One day, you may spend hours in the garden weeding, and two days later, the weeds will have taken hold, once again, as the prominent greenery. Constant care and attention are required.

Things don’t always turn out the way you planned: There are so many variables that factor into a successful garden. Depending on the weather, the forces of nature, the local fauna, you may not reap what you think you have sown. One season might produce smaller than normal tomatoes. One season might produce a bumper crop of squash bugs—which means no squash/pumpkins/watermelon. But each season brings surprises. There maybe disappointments, but there will likely be pleasant surprises, as well.

Self-sufficiency: Growing a garden demands a great deal of attention, but it also demonstrates the amazing human potential to feed oneself using the resources of nature. And if your crop is big enough, you can preserve some of your harvest (by freezing or canning) for the coming winter.

Satisfaction: After a busy year of planting, watering, nurturing, weeding, and chasing vermin out of the garden, you can relish the satisfaction of having grown your own food. And there is nothing better than garden fresh veggies picked within the hour. Yes, vegetables taste just a bit better when you have grown them yourself.

This year, I will take a hiatus from my garden for a number of reasons. I will miss the daily reminders of these simple life lessons. But perhaps next year, I will choose to garden once again.

Thanksgiving Research

Last night after Thanksgiving dinner, my aunt offered me a turnip from a bag she had in the trunk of her car. At first, I said no, but then I changed my mind and decided to take one. After all, she had extra, I like turnip, and I am currently working with a limited diet. I took one and stashed it in the trunk of my own car. The cool nights, I figured, would keep it fresh until I could cook it this weekend.

This afternoon, I took my children to a local shop that we enjoy visiting. The shop has all kinds of fun toys, games, gadgets, greeting cards, decorations, etc. We did a little holiday shopping, and I came away with a bag of goodies. We decided we would walk the main shopping district of this small town, but I wanted to put my bag in the car first. I opened the back, not even thinking.

C’s brow wrinkled in surprise. “What’s that?” he pointed to the corner of the trunk, and I immediately remembered that I had placed the turnip in that spot last night.


I laughed. “That’s a turnip. Looks like jicama, doesn’t it?” I asked him. When my aunt had given it to me last night, I realized the similar appearances between the two roots. I think C, who has recently discovered jicama, was hopeful that I had purchased (and hidden) this in my car trunk.

The similarities did prompt me to do some quick research on whether jicama and turnip are related. I was surprised to learn that jicama is actually a legume, and the root is the only edible part of the plant; the rest, it seems, is poisonous, and contains a chemical used in pesticides. Turnip, on the other hand, is a root vegetable, and even the greens are edible. Despite the similar appearance, these two roots are not related.

The things you can learn when you think your car is a good place to store a turnip for a day or two…. And now you know, too!

Brussels Sprouts


This morning, my youngest almost caught me putting Brussels Sprouts in his lunchbox. Almost. But I snuck them in before he saw me. Yes, you heard that right: Brussels Sprouts in his lunchbox.

This is the point in the school year when I start to get bored with the lunches I pack for my children. Now, I understand that my children are perfectly capable of packing their own lunches. However, they would put it off until the last minute, remember as they are running out the door, grab something from the pantry, and call it lunch. On any given day, such a “lunch” might consist of an entire ‘party size’ bag of chips or a single granola bar. Then, the kids would arrive back at home hungry and cranky, and they would snack their way through the pantry and the refrigerator before dinner, ruining their appetite for real nutrition. Since I don’t want to take my chances, I pack their lunches. Every day.

So last night, I put out the question: What do you want in your lunch that I haven’t been putting in there?

And W, being the smart-alec 14 year old that he is, said (without hesitation), “Brussels Sprouts.”

“Ha!” I chuckled. “What do you really want?”

And I got the typical 14-year-old-kid response: “I don’t know.”

Surprisingly, I actually have Brussels Sprouts in my refrigerator. Last week, there was a story on NPR about the local crop of Brussels Sprouts, the fact that they are in season despite the cooler weather, and how they are actually sweeter after the cold sets in. And I bought some on my next trip to the market.

This morning as I packed lunches, I popped two Brussels Sprouts into a sandwich bag. I was getting ready to draw a smiley face on the bag in Sharpie when I heard the upstairs bathroom door open. I quickly threw the bag into W’s lunchbox, minus a note or smile face. I went about the rest of the breakfast/lunch preparations as if nothing unusual had happened. Because in our house, that really was nothing unusual.

As expected, he didn’t eat the Brussels Sprouts. Instead, he jokingly offered them to a friend, who actually took a bite. From the report I got, I’m pretty sure when W found the bag in his lunchbox, it was good for a mid-day giggle.

Real Estate

“Mom, can we grow some fresh herbs on the windowsill?” C—my culinary kid—asks me out of the blue. We live in a townhouse, and we have windows on only our north and south walls. We have one main window where plants will actually grow, our south-facing kitchen window, and thankfully, it is a picture window with a deep sill.

“Um, sorry,” comes the voice of W from the other room. “I’ve already reserved the windowsill for a science experiment.”

“Dude!” C replies (because for some unknown reason, boys always call each other “dude”). “You can’t reserve the windowsill!! What kind of ‘science experiment’ do you have planned that you can do in the kitchen anyway?” His attitude is typical of a 16 year old who knows everything, and it is designed to be off-putting to a younger brother. W doesn’t bother to respond. He knows he will be criticized and chastised for even thinking he could take over the windowsill. In fact, through his brother’s tone of voice, he already has been.

“You can’t claim the windowsill,” C continues on his rant. “All I want to do is grow some herbs. Herbs belong in the kitchen. We can use them for cooking… we can dry them… and, your science experiment… in the kitchen? Really?”

“Mom already said I could do my science experiment. On the windowsill.” W is quiet but firm in his response. Personally, while I remember him saying he wants to ionize soil to see if plants will grow better, I can’t remember any other experiment; so I am hoping that this is the one. The combination of the stress of single-handedly raising three teenagers and middle age is not always the most conducive to productive thought processes. Things get lost in my head more often than I would like to admit.

“W, remind me again which experiment you want to do? I remember several you mentioned recently,” and it’s true. There is always something brewing in the head of this kid. Newer, better, more effective ways to do whatever the task at hand. And unlike his Mama, he has no problem accessing his thoughts and ideas in his amazingly complex mind. Thankfully, I am right that he wants to test plants and soil.

“Why don’t you combine your projects?” I suggest. “We can see if herbs grow best in soil that is ionized as opposed to soil that isn’t.” I, of course, think this is the perfect solution to the problem, and one that will limit the clutter on my windowsill. My boys do not.

“I don’t want my herbs to be part of some science experiment! He can grow his own plants in his experimental soil!” Clearly, this discussion is going nowhere. At least nowhere positive.

“Well, that would be a way for you to both use the windowsill and to collaborate. Ionizing the soil isn’t going to hurt your herbs. It’s not like he’s using radiation or something hazardous.”

“No way, Mom!” C leaves the room, and W and I look at each other. I roll my eyes. It is going to take some convincing. Teens are tough that way. Once they know something (and by know, I mean yup, he’s the expert), it can be difficult to sway them otherwise. Experimental soil or not, it seems this is the most likely solution to the real estate issue.

Of course, there is another option. I could continue to hog the windowsill with my plants. I do, after all, pay the mortgage.

Roots and Shoots

The plants on my windowsill have been growing pale and leggy with neglect, so the other day, I transplanted the most needy of the lot. One of them had been pushed off the windowsill in the midst of a cat-fight months ago; it was lacking dirt and trying to hold itself together in a cracked pot. This plant was my first patient. After some loving attention, it is still struggling, though I am hopeful it will overcome the recent stresses it has faced.

My Christmas cactus was my second patient. It had outgrown its small pot and was craving a larger space in which it could stretch its roots—spread out a bit. I had no idea how bad it had become until I slid the roots from the pot. It was—essentially—all root. There was little dirt in amongst the tangled, pot-shaped ball. This plant has begun to recover from the stress of roots that were too tight.

The third plant to warrant my attention was purchased as a miniature plant, but had clearly moved beyond “miniature” status. A new, larger pot, and it is doing just fine, thank you. This plant is standing straight and tall, undaunted by its early days tagged with a “miniature” label. It is healthy and shiny and reaching toward the sun.

The experience of re-potting these plants has made me see that sometimes, we also become “pot bound.” We long for more in our lives, and we look for change—something new or a new way of doing things. We might need to stretch our own roots and move on to another phase in our lives. We might start something new or end something that isn’t working. We might re-plant ourselves in a different location, putting down roots in a new area, or simply spreading our roots where we are as we readjust the path of our journey. Or, we might, instead, send up new shoots by taking on a new project or a new way to challenge ourselves. Whatever you choose, I hope you find the space you need to stretch, to spread your roots toward stability, to grow tall, and to stand proud.