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Floribunda.

I used to be a closet Spring hater.  In the ranking of seasons, my husband and I have always concurred that Spring is dead last.  Before you think ill of me (or at least for this fact), let me hopefully redeem myself by saying it’s because I am an out-of-the-closet humidity hater.

Growing up in Pennsylvania and spending the better part of my adult years on the east coast or in the Midwest, Spring to me was not a romantic vision of rebirth, hope, and possibility, but a promise of heavy, sticky, bad hair days.  Spring air flip-flopped between just enough chill to require a light jacket and just enough heat and moisture to require removal of said jacket.  Just thinking of it now, I can feel cold sweat beads forming on my upper lip and my hair becoming swollen and unruly a la Rosanne Roseannadanna.

Here, however, in the paradoxical land of plenty of moisture yet little relative humidity (I still need someone to explain this to me), I rarely feel that the weather qualifies as humid.  So, in the way that most normal people love Spring, as a welcome respite to many months of grey skies and cold days, a return of the birds’ songs of courtship, and the garden flaunting its ripe pregnant belly, I too have come to love it.

Thus far, our Spring has been spectacular.  We’ve already passed the eighty degree mark (which I believe didn’t happen until August last year) and it would seem that there have been more sunny days than cloudy ones.  Today the rain has returned and I’m actually relieved that I don’t need to get out to my garden to water this year’s newly planted seeds and starts.

I have to have a good chuckle about the fact that I’ve now written several garden posts – enough, in fact, to warrant a searchable category for “gardening.”  Up until recently, I’d be about as likely to post photos of my flowers as I would to post nude pictures.  As I’ve mentioned before, our existing garden has forced me into this role.  Lest we want our property to get all Grey Gardens, it’s going to need some tending.  Although I’ve come to it somewhat reluctantly, our garden has been a large part in realizing one of the primary reasons we moved here – to spend more time outside.  And the garden definitely beckons (and often insists) that we get outdoors and give it some attention.

There are so many apt metaphors about gardens and Spring that point to the ephemeral nature of life, of rebirth and death, of hope and promise and of sheer abundance – and they are all present in my little patch of earth.  Standing in the midst of all this, birds skittering about, hummingbirds at the feeder, grass needing to be mowed every other day, it can be hard to fathom that just a couple months ago and a few short months to come, its equal and opposing force – scarcity, darkness, quiet – awaits.  The trick, I think, is to know that – to hold that knowledge in the midst of all this – but to fully enjoy Spring while it’s here.  That, and to celebrate non-frizzy hair.

Lavender along the driveway.  Our little taste of the Mediterranean.

The poppies are back!  A couple years back I pulled them all out by mistake, thinking the foliage resembled dandelions.

A lover of anticipation much more than the culmination of something, I similarly love the moment right before a bud is about to burst, often more than the actual flower.

The bleeding heart (like the fuchsia below) is a plant that proves sometimes Mother Nature just likes to show off.

I had never seen a fuchsia ’til moving here.  They look like little dangling earrings.

Allium.

Columbine.

All the different shades of columbine.

Bachelor Buttons.  I have a soft spot for blue flowers.

One of many Rhodies.  Ours aren’t doing so well, but there are patches where they are thriving.

This one looks like it’s being served up on a platter.

Wild iris.

Peony.  Might be my favorite of the bunch.  Like the poppy, I love it when it’s like this and about to burst.  Unfortunately, the deer do, too.

Little Blue Journal - May 17, 2013 - 7:06 pm

Ah, Shannon – I wish I knew! Remember, I’m the one who thought they were dandelions! I love how many of you know your plants so well. Maybe Tierney will grow up with a much better grasp of what all of this is!

Shannon - May 17, 2013 - 5:36 pm

Beautiful pics. That poppy is amazing. I need to add some to our beds. Do you know the variety? Love the purple middle. Love the allium, too. I mean to get those every year and then forget. And bachelor buttons. Those were my favorite when I used to work at Dad’s seed store. Another to add to the list. Thanks!

Many hands.

This is not going to be another post about how bad things have been of late.  I’m sure it’s safe to say that we’re all pretty fatigued by recent headlines.  I don’t know about you, but my personal circle seems to be reflecting the collective sadnesses.  In this circle, there have been losses, diagnoses (sometimes more than one in a family) and unthinkable tragedy.  Lately I have stopped my husband short of giving me updates until he can promise that he doesn’t have more bad news.  Even then, I accidentally overheard some yesterday morning at my workout class.  For all intents and purposes, one could say:  things are bad.

But we’ve all seen the flip side of the bad news, too.  First responders, regular joes, canine helpers – this list (thankfully) seems to surpass the other in both sheer number and force behind it.  We might even dare to say:  things are good.

So it may seem strange to connect the current state of affairs with a tale of pulled pork and manual labor, but bear with me.

Last Spring we decided to get a little help in prepping our garden beds for the season.  For those of you who are gardeners, you know this can be hard work, requiring a lot of muscle and time to execute.  For two seasons prior to that one, we had watched as our neighbors all over the island enlisted the assistance of professionals to get the job done.  After trying to do it on our own (and swearing up and down we’d never do it again), we decided to bite the bullet and pay someone to help.  Two thousand dollars later (over 50% above the original quote), we did have a beautiful yard, but we thought of all the things we would have rather done with that money.  Plus, we’re pretty much do-it-yourself types, so we felt no sense of pride in the final product.

Fast forward to this year and an epiphany we had about how we could get the job done a little differently.  We have friends/neighbors who have yards that similarly need tending, who likely aren’t that excited about paying someone to do the work, and who we know like to eat and drink.  Check, check, check.  The plan:  to exchange mulch spreading for some camaraderie, slow cooked pulled pork sandwiches, Pisco sours, and my husband’s very favorite key lime dessert.

We asked, they agreed, I pre-weeded.  This past Saturday, the friends came – wheelbarrows, shovels, and garden gloves in tow.  We banged out the project in a couple hours.  We shared a leisurely lunch together while the kiddos ate theirs on the front rug, picnic-style.  None of us was particularly physically taxed and all seemed to enjoy the opportunity to catch up and eat tasty food together.  In the next few weeks, we plan on repeating this day at the other two families’ homes.

From the givers’ side, the ways we offer help can seem pretty insignificant when times get tough.  There always seems to be an imbalance in the suffering we see happening in others and what we can humbly offer in an attempt to help.  In the past few weeks in response to many unrelated situations, we’ve sent donations, baked muffins, delivered dinners, written notes and offered babysitting.  This list feels almost embarrassingly lean in proportion to the heft of the pain experienced on the receiving end.  But, over and over, the recipients seemed truly grateful – to be remembered, to be relieved of a daily chore, and to know how many people were thinking of them.  Having been on the receiving end of such gifts in my own trying times, I know not to underestimate these gestures.  They are, in essence, what weaves together the full picture, the warp to the weft of life, when we can be gracious beneficiaries in our trying times and then rally with muffins, notes and phone calls when needed.

Our little yard project felt good.  It felt good to share the burden, to break bread together, and mostly to remind ourselves that times don’t have to be bad to lean on one another for help.  And I imagine it wasn’t too much of a burden on our friends.  I imagine the net for them was an overall good time and that they are looking forward to having us come to help out with their work.

I can’t be certain what the scales would tell us on a global level, but my hunch is they are much more heavily weighted on the side of the helpers, the shoulder-lenders, the cleaner-uppers, the advocates and the mulch spreaders.  I see evidence of it all the time and it’s certainly what keeps me going in times like these.  It’s what will sustain me when I’m on the front-line receiving end and what keeps me going when I try to make sense of others’ misfortunes and the often befuddling decisions that are made by people in elected positions who are supposed to be acting on our behalf.

Thanks to all of you who I know and don’t know, for graciously receiving my humble gifts.  I’ll look forward to yours in return.  Thank you to all of you fighting the hard fights and for sometimes just speaking words that reassure me I’m not the only one who thinks there is some wacko stuff going on out there.  It is said that many hands make light work.  This truth reveals itself over and over, in big ways and small, and is something I think we can all agree on as good.

Enjoying a toast to a job well done.  *Apologies to friends who are dressed for garden work, not photo shoots.  This is one instance where my lack of photography skills works in my favor.

Image and recipe from Food52.  Find here.

Job complete!

 

Erin McCarthy - April 25, 2013 - 6:07 pm

Love it, Amy! Your yard looks amazing!

Melisa @ Speak Your Mind. - April 25, 2013 - 8:52 am

Wonderfully done, per usual. You have such a gift in your writing, Amy. To inspire, to lift up, to make laugh, to encourage pondering. I’m grateful that you share this gift with us, and I’m hugely grateful for your friendship. x

Sunny skies.

There are things in life that you don’t realize you miss until they return after an absence.  For me, these would be things like birdsong, the ease of wearing sandals in the Summer, another season of Parenthood, and just this last week, sunshine.

I had forgotten how good a few consecutive days of sun really felt.  This may seem surprising given where we live, but this year’s Winter was relatively mild and we had just enough (or so I thought) good days in the mix.

I also apparently really missed my nuclear family.  Yes, we “see” each other every day, but we certainly don’t spend enough time with one another to fall into a rhythm of waking, eating, strolling, eating, adventuring, eating, lolling and sleeping all at the same time.

Vacations are great like that.

Here’s how this one happened:  a short bit ago, we got a call from some friends who live in San Diego (Coronado Island) who were traveling to Argentina for their Spring Break.  Knowing our Springtime climate up here, they asked if we would want to stay in their place for the week and watch their pooch while they were gone.  I think we had our first bag packed before the end of the conversation.

This housesitting/vacation situation happened to us once before and with relative certainty I can now declare that these have been two of my all-time favorite vacations. The first time was a few years back while visiting Paris.  Our friends who lived there were traveling to India during the time we were going to be there, but insisted we stay in their place in the Marais in their absence.  For a week and a half, we lived on their cobblestone street in a flat a couple floors above a Parisian cafe whose smell of roasting chicken would dance its way to our windows around three o’clock each day.  Halfway through the trip, we took a side jaunt to Florence, but then returned to “our” place in Paris.  Leaving and returning sealed the deal of it feeling like we lived there.  We dragged our rolling suitcases along those bumpy cobblestone streets from the Metro to the poulet-scented apartment and felt, if only for a short bit, like this was our real life.

This trip was just like that, albeit sunnier and with more palm trees.  Getting the chance to live in a private home in a delightfully charming neighborhood in Coronado was a similar treat.  There is the obvious downside that while staying in a friend’s home in their absence you don’t get the chance to actually spend time with those friends, but you can still feel their presence and get a sense of their day-to-day lives by living those lives for a bit.

Having a dog come with the deal was the true icing on the cake.   To me, a house isn’t a home without a dog, and about the only thing that makes me miss home when we travel is missing our dog Sally.  So, having a dog to borrow (an awesome one with tons of personality) grounded us in our temporary residence, giving us an emotional connection that one typically doesn’t feel while on vacation.

I’ve said it before and will say it again that I’m a lousy photographer, relying mostly on my iphone to grab pics.  But better than my words, these will hopefully give a little sense of why we enjoyed our sunny respite as much as we did.

Now we just have to wait about three more months for it to look something like this here at home..

My seasoned traveler.  This is the ramp to the ferry on the Bainbridge side.  She was so far up ahead that I had to run to grab this shot.

It is HARD to leave Seattle on a day like this.  I think this was the one day that it was actually warmer in Seattle than in San Diego.

From one island to another.  Having lived on the East Coast or in the Midwest my whole life, it is still such a treat that California is only a couple hours away by plane.

My people.  And our dog for the week.  Seriously, I am in love with this dog.  No one tell Sally.

This was Bug’s favorite garden.  We had to scooter/bike by it every day to get in a good sniff.  It seemed that everyone had a garden like this.  Even if the house was so-so (which wasn’t often because the houses were great too), the garden was amazing.

Sniffing said garden.  Roses as big as your head, people.

I wasn’t kidding about visiting every day…

Outdoor shower.  At some point, I need a house with an outdoor shower.

Street after street that looked like this.

Sharing the Sea World map and recounting the day with Nikos the dog.

Our island obviously has beaches, but they’re not exactly the kind you want to walk on while barefoot.

Sunning seals in La Jolla.

Kiddo toes on the beach.

A huge thank you to our friends Sara and Jeffere and their son, Winston, for sharing their world and pooch with us for the week.  The only thing that would have made the trip better would have been having them there in their home to enjoy it with us!

Jeffere - April 12, 2013 - 11:42 am

So glad to see you guys in the midst of your holiday adventure…. lots of radiance!

rob dalton - April 12, 2013 - 9:39 am

look at me — green with envy up in here.

Plant Party.

It’s called Sweetbox.  I wish I had known this before now because I’ve been calling it by its Latin name, Sarcococca for almost three years.  I have discovered that the former owner of our house, who three years ago graciously gave me a detailed tour of her beloved and well-tended garden, called a lot of the plants by their Latin names.  That day, I dutifully copied down those names, spelled them phonetically in my notebook and later looked them up to find out how they were really spelled and pronounced.  These are the names I have committed to memory.  But say the word Sarcococca three times quickly and you too might conclude that it has one too many “c’s” in it to be said with any dignity.  I’m guessing that knowing I would stumble over these plant names for at least as long as it would take me to learn the ins and outs of her garden may have given the former owner a glimmer of pleasure in the midst of the obvious sad fact that such a newbie would now be tending to her long cared-for botanical babies.

If you’ve ever met this plant before, I doubt you will have forgotten it.  While agreeably somewhat forgettable in appearance, its sweet fragrance will have more than made up for its lackluster display.  The great beauty of the Sweetbox, in my opinion, is that it blooms in the Winter.  Growing up in Pennsylvania and spending the better part of my adulthood in climates where almost nothing grows in the months between the autumnal and vernal equinoxes, this plant is a delicious novelty to me.  It was wisely planted along the front of our house so that when you arrive at our front door, or open it from the inside, a wash of heady sweetness greets you from either side.  Though the fragrance is light in aroma, its pervasiveness requires not the nose of a well-trained sommelier, but simply the possession of nostrils.  I can even smell it from the back of the house, despite the fact that the only plant I’ve spotted on our property is the one out front.

It would only seem fitting then that we had to do a little something to recognize this plant and its brief annual appearance – a Sweetbox party.  Before you get excited (because really, what is more exciting than a plant party?), I must tell you that it never came to pass.  I barely had a chance to look up how to fashion a botanical crown – human and canine versions – or how to steep some Sweetbox tea (is it even edible?) when I realized the blooms were spent.  I missed my window.  The small fry and I had poked our heads out the front door to take a big whiff and she, with next generation superior sniffing capacity, proclaimed them sans scent.  Sweetbox out.

Why even tell you this?  I suppose there is a hidden or not-so-hidden carpe diem agenda in here, a get-it-while-it’s-hot type of thing.  There’s also a soliciting of consolation, as in:  I’m really sorry you missed your plant party, better luck next year (said with genuine feeling and no hint of lady, you really need to take up crocheting or selling Tupperware or something).

Mostly, I just wanted to write about it.  We’re coming up on our three year anniversary of living here on the island and things like this still feel so new to me.  I suppose I want to be able to look back a few years from now, ennui settling in, and I want to remember what it felt like for everything to still seem so fresh and exciting.  I’ve never been one for keeping a day-to-day journal, but I wish that in those seminal moments of my life, after a move or a big transition, I had written about it so I could call up those feelings at a later time when the novel had succumbed to the mundane.   I want to incorporate into our annual repertoire small rituals like the Sweetbox party to honor moments like the one not so long ago when I first smelled a flower blooming in February.

Valentine’s Day.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Little Blue Journal - February 15, 2013 - 7:26 am

Julie – please do! I can’t wait to see it!

Julie Lambert - February 15, 2013 - 4:33 am

Sweet! Love to see pics of your family! Happy Valentine’s Day (belated) to you!
Julie
p.s. for my Valentine’s Day, Pete ordered the Orla Kiely wallpaper. Will have to post a FB pic once it’s hung!

The hubby - February 14, 2013 - 10:30 pm

If I may be so bold as to suggest an amendment to your previous post, inspired by your above photos: “everything in moderation – except love.”

I love you more than much.