Early May Gardening

I post a photo a day on social media, have done it for over a year now. Every day, at least one photo.  Lately, because I am lazy and also because I love the newness of this season, I post images of the flowers I am planting, the pepper plants and herbs.  I never have to leave the yard, and there is the added bonus of a photographic record of my early intentions as I welcome summer. 

But it isn’t summer yet, and the spring flowers, my favorite, are still making their appearance. Some home repair last summer threatened my Annabelle hydrangea, so I separated it into three plants, which I now call Sad, Sadder, and Saddest.  But maybe after a good settling in they will survive and even thrive in their new little plots of land.

The peony has bloomed and it looked lonely.  It needs company but it is such a lovely peony I hesitate to give it any because I am convinced no other peony will compare and a less than gorgeous plant will bring down the neighborhood, knock some of the shine off this one, out there, doing its beautiful thing. 

The porch and patio table still heave with flat boxes of things I need to get into the ground.  The packets of zinnia seeds sit on the mantel by the side door in a vain attempt to remind me to scatter them in the beds that have been prepared for weeks. 

But what I don’t have, what I long for more than anything, are my grandmother’s bearded iris.  There was an ancient bed of them along the side of her house, a part of the yard we were seldom in.  There was a cherry tree near by, perfectly scaled for children to climb, and I imagine that figured into our lack of unsupervised time there.  

But no matter, her elderly neighbor, Annie Starks, had iris, too, on the other side of my grandmother’s yard, and they stood in dense and uneven rows in the cool early mornings, dripping with dew and heavy with scent, a scent I will always think of as purple. I used to sit among them, feeling the cool dry dirt that anchored them, the morning damp on my bare legs.  

But surely this isn’t right.  Perhaps I just wanted to nestle down with them, to search for the little faces of yellow that played hide and seek deep in their throats, to drink in the coolness, the rich earth, the good place for hiding and being alone.  

The iris of my heart is purple, deep purple, I think, but maybe not.  I can’t remember now the exact color and no photos exist that might tell me. They may have been lighter, lilac perhaps, and I have searched for them in garden centers and other people’s yards, and I am surprised by the amount of time I dither over this. But it seems important, that color.

For my friend, Silas, the color is yellow. He has moved several times since his aunt, Sis, died, and always she moves with him in the irises he dug from her yard, the ones he transplants and tends and tears up over each spring.  She is miles and years away from him now, but never closer than when her yellow iris bloom, filling a vase with bursts of bright and elegant color, filling the house with the particular scent, swelling his heart for this aunt who was more than an aunt to him. 

I post photos of peonies and people post photos of their peonies back.  Or share stories of their grandmother’s peonies, how they wish they had them still, long swaths of them lining the driveway of a house no longer standing. I post close-ups of sage and Greek oregano, again, out of laziness, but also because the leaves are delicately edged and intricate in a way we never notice when we harvest them in a hurry, something simmering on the stove requiring their attendance. 

There will come a time when the weather will turn hot, which is hard on me, but not as hard as the humidity that will come with it. I give my plants and flowers as good a beginning as I can, knowing that neglect is coming.  In the sweltering, asthma-inducing height of summer, my approach to gardening is Darwinian. 

But for now, for a little while longer, let the tenderness continue. 

Bicycles, Lost and Found

My bicycle, my beautiful English bike, was stolen a few years ago, lifted from my garage in the night, just as summer was arriving.  The policeman who took the report explained it.  It was the time of year when bikes went missing, kids or professional thieves casing neighborhoods, striking while we slept. 

I blame myself, in part, for the loss.   I had workmen in to shore up the listing walls of the garage, and I gave a fleeting thought to moving my bicycle inside, away from falling objects and the eyes of people I don’t know.   And the back gate by the alley didn’t latch properly at the time and some mornings I would wake to its wide-mouthed gaping, blown open in the night.  These may have been factors. 

But mostly, I felt wretched about the loss and mean-hearted toward humanity, whichever particular members were involved in nicking my bike.  It was distinctive and easy to spot and I never saw it again, although I prowled the streets and stopped by the police station once a week. 

I decided I didn’t deserve nice things.

I had fallen in love with the British “sit up and beg” bicycles while staying in Oxford, but who doesn’t fall in love with bikes there?  They are everywhere, chained to gates with signs saying  DO NOT LOCK BIKES ON GATE, they sit shoulder to shoulder in bike racks throughout the city, in front of every college, library and quad.  At the train station a sea of bicycles, shiny bikes, rusty ones, leather saddles here, saddles wrapped in plastic Tesco bags there. 

I wanted one. 

A shiny black one. 

An old-fashioned one.

So, I bought one. 

But I bought it in the States and at the time there was only one place to get such a thing and only in one size.   If I am honest, it never fit me quite right.  It was too big, but I convinced myself it was perfect.

Now, I think I want another bicycle.  But I don’t know. 

If my own friends are any indication, the statistics aren’t good.  Most of my pals who ride have had accidents.  And this is the worst part, the part that depresses me.  Most of the falls have occurred as they were getting on or off.  

Basically, standing still, which seems too cruel to contemplate.

Even so, I see myself plunking along quiet side streets or cruising the greenbelt, maybe, helmeted and slow moving, taking the air.  Never mind that my balance isn’t quite what it once was, that my reaction time now is leisurely and vague.  I am searching the English and Dutch websites for big, beautiful bicycles that weigh a ton but just roll, and roll, and roll. 

But then.  


In my garage, leaning against the ladder and rakes, is my old Schwinn Suburban, the bike I’ve had since college.  I held it upright, and even accounting for the deflated tires, it fit.  The way the seat hit me just so at the hip, the perfect height for momentum and stability. Holding the handlebars I could feel, even now, the curve of every turn, the arc of the front wheel lifting as I jumped a break in pavement or took a curb. The geometry of this bicycle the mirror image of my own geometry.

In her memoir, “Ghostbread,” author Sonja Livingston describes her sister, Steph, as kind and strong, and the reader experiences her this way, too.  Heroic, even.  But what I love best about her, Steph, is the way she commandeered the cobwebby basement, spruced it up in order to set up shop building bicycles from old and broken parts she and a neighbor kid scavenged.  Rusted and bent pieces found in empty lots and alleys, perhaps, and then—how on earth — they crafted rideable, like-new shiny bikes.

I’m thinking of Steph as I balance my old bike against my hip, inspecting the rims and wondering  how long have they have sat there, flattening on the concrete floor. Could I restore her to something serviceable?  What would it take besides new tires, a better seat and replacing the ossified gear shifts?  Surely, this wouldn’t be beyond me.  

What I can’t fix myself,  I can hire out.  Which, even as I channel Stephanie, I know is likely to be most of it.  I even like the way the paint is worn and dull, scratched up, a place rubbed raw on the front fender where the basket used to sit. This good old girl, left too long and unloved in the dark.

A Name for Everything

I had stopped by my coworker’s house to drop something off.  She was elderly and proper, tall and elegant, but cranky, and given to airs, and while I thought I would just stand on the stoop of her modest home for the hand-off, she insisted I come in.

She walked me through her small rooms like a docent in a long-forgotten writer’s home, one of those dusty little places preserved by ardor, quarters and a folding bill or two.  The kind of place where, halfway through the tour, you can’t decide if the docent is a scholar of the writer’s work or a half-mad imaginary lover. 

She walked me past the sugar chest, the Duncan Fife, maybe something Sheraton, the Limoges or Haviland, or Wedgwood china.  There wasn’t much of it, what she pointed out with such love and pride, and  I was too young to appreciate any of it, although I was polite, knowing these few items stood in place of the things she once thought would be bigger, grander, more.  She was neither mad nor a fantasist, but prideful and disappointed, yet she made the most of her few but fine possessions.

Then, as it was early summer, we had to walk the grounds, the small plot of land that was her backyard. Along the fence row were bushes and shrubs, some flowering, some just past, and we walked slowly in front of them, as if inspecting the troops, her hand lightly sweeping across each one as she told me its provenance, its common name, and when she could recall, its name in Latin. 

I was missing a Joan and David shoe sale for this, one I planned to hit before returning to the office in those stolen minutes on either side of an errand, shoes my own particular vanity back then.   Even so, as I pulled away from her tidy house on the small street I grudgingly admired her knowledge of and her care for things, especially flowers and shrubs, and saw in a new light the blooms she brought into the office throughout the year, stems wrapped in wet paper towels, a vase dug out from under her desk. 

Fast-forward and now I care deeply about plants, their names, their provenance.  And while I don’t inspect them in quite the same militaristic way, I offer greetings each morning as I walk around the yard, cheerful, happy greetings, like I did when I still worked and poked my head into open offices as I I toddled down the hall.

I am neither schooled nor trained in any way, but sometimes friends ask me to come over and identify plants or blooms in their yard. Some things I identify, some I can’t.  But it doesn’t matter because I have an app on my phone that will tell us anything we want to know about flora. 

It is called “Picture This,” and it is to flowers and trees what “Shazam” is to the music world.  Instead of naming a song in a few seconds, “Picture This” will tell you what plant you are looking at once you snap a photo and wait for the results. Already this week I have identified a bald cypress tree, arborvitae, and the Star of Bethlehem. 

Star of Bethlehem crops up in one small spot in my yard and I have no idea what I am looking at.  It is small, delicate, and blooms in early spring with these little white starburst flowers.  I usually pull them up because there is something of the weed about them, but then I identified it by name, and I found the name lovely. 

It is a pretty little plant, and I was all tenderhearted about it until I read it can also kill you.  Well, maybe just the bulbs can, and some sources say it is invasive, although mine have never overrun the yard.  But I dig them up regularly, bare-handed, which is a no-no, apparently, as they can be toxic. 

But just now I read they date from the Middle Ages and the Crusades so I am back in love with them.  They don’t really hurt anything, with their slender leaves shooting up then draping gracefully, waiting for the white blooms to arrive. I guess I will leave them as they are.

I think of my old colleague, and her insistence on names, not just a plate, but Limoges.  Not a chair, but Queen Ann. Not just a shrub, but a mophead hydrangea.  She knew these things like family, loved them like family, too, I think. 

My relationship to possessions  is different from hers, in almost every way.  Yet, now I, too, like knowing the names of things, their requirements for a long life, their habits and peculiarities.  As much as I am able, I mean to accommodate.  It works in the garden, it works with friends and loved ones. It works in life.

Church Camp and Something Else

It has been well over a year, one with illnesses and deaths in the family, new babies to be passed around like warm loaves of bread, and my oldest friends and I trudged through it all without clapping eyes on each other.  We reached out by text, phone calls on occasion, and enjoyed one very clandestine lunch, socially distanced in a secret location, when one of us was home to bury her father. 

We see her so rarely that we risked getting together to hear the choir of our voices, to laugh together, because surely her father loved a good laugh, and to almost touch in that awkward Covid way in which we mime hugs.  This one small lunch standing in for all the mutual support we have missed, all the hugs and tears we might have shared, the irreverent comments and sarcasm that define us, a thing that appalled my mother when we were young. 

But we are vaccinated now and Margaret decided we should go to camp. She will deny that she decided this, but it was her idea, and she made the phone calls to find out rates and availability, and the rest of us are slobs who sit around and talk big, while Margaret gets things going.  

We didn’t go far, just to Breckinridge County, to Camp Loucon, the Methodist church camp of their youth.  And when I say ‘their,’ I mean every one in the group but me, the outlying little Baptist.  I grew up hearing about weekend retreats at Loucon, was envious and heartbroken to have missed the fun, wondered which ancestor, way back, chose one Protestant denomination over another.  I pouted. We had a church camp, too, but it couldn’t compare, and it didn’t. 

So, off we went for a couple of days to the woods with enough food for a week, to commune with nature and each other.  We spent more time rearranging the food in the tiny kitchen than we did preparing or eating it.  We need a little structure, or think we do, and I had volunteered to share with the group yogic breathing and deep relaxation techniques.  Soon, we were flaked out in the corpse pose just before bedtime,  a couple snoring away on their mats, and being of a certain age where sleep can be elusive, we decided it was a wonderful thing.

My pals are all kitted out with iWatches and Fitbits and they do love their steps.  I clocked one discussion lasting over seven and half minutes as they compared the number of steps and flights of stairs they had scaled that day, and they may be talking about it still, I don’t know.  I went to my room to read.

I was clear, then, the next day when they wanted to tackle a hike involving a big hill, I wanted no part of it.  Instead, I took a quilt, a kite, and books to the large meadow, for a quiet afternoon.  I can’t remember the last time I was on a quilt in the grass.  Was I three? Four? Suddenly a rush of memory and I am in my grandmother’s backyard.  The grass, looking so soft, but not, really, under the quilt with tufts poking through, the blades surprisingly sharp.  The smell of earth, insects buzzing close to the ground, just at my ear, the wildness of that, the safety of my grandmother’s backdoor, just over there.

The afternoon was too still for the kite, so I read some and fell asleep, waking with a start when Nancy shuffled through the grass to stand over me.  We wandered back to the cabin together, while the others caught up.  Close by we met up with friends from home, volunteers from Settle Memorial Methodist, the church they all grew up in, who were getting the camp ready for summer.  They, too, had come to this camp as kids.  

Now retired, they spend time varnishing benches and repairing screens, whatever needs doing to keep the camp up and running.  They wear old Loucon t-shirts to work in.  It’s endearing.  We chat, and they talk about how their dads worked at the camp, too, years ago, repairing roofs, hanging doors. 

And I think about connection, how it doesn’t just happen.  It takes work, commitment, a burnishing of what is important. The holding on and letting go, the small alterations that keep us afloat in a boat with worn and peeling paint, but sea worthy, even so.

My Little Family In The Dirt

Already I have stopped by a couple of nurseries and picked up some babies, herbs mostly, but a Shasta daisy or two, hibiscus, a geranium, old-fashioned perennials I’m not too sure about.  But then, how can we ever know, I mean really, what the little ones will grow into?Will they take to the ways in which we have trained them, nurtured them?  Or will they go their own way, headstrong and difficult, exasperating us, bullying their more delicate siblings, hogging all the light? 

My happiest time in spring is seeing all my young plants, flowers and herbs together, bunched up on the porch in a puppy pile of color and texture.  They sit in the shallow cardboard boxes I bring them home in, and I thrill at the riotous abundance of it.

The day will come when I separate them, take them out of the playpen and put them in their own beds, and it will be sad for all of us.  They will thrive, eventually, more than they ever could on the porch, crowded and craning their slender necks so they might face the sun.  But for the first few nights they will look small and a bit lost in all that space I’ve given them to grow.  

Soon they will settle in, they will nestle sweetly under a brown blanket of new soil and mulch, but there will be a difficult night or two. They may get cold and need extra cover, and I will oblige, placing tea towels and pillowcases just so.  Some nights they are thirsty.  Other nights will arrive with too much wind, until the time they come to rely on it, the sound of it drifting them off to sleep, their roots growing sturdier with each gust and whisper.

I have taken to calling them girls. I greet them in the morning, compliment them, even when they don’t deserve it, just to encourage them along. But sometimes the compliments are genuine, heartfelt, especially in the early days and all that color and green and hopefulness take me by surprise when I open the door in the morning or return from an errand and see their happy brilliance as I pull into the drive. 

But I am a casual parent, too.  By summer’s end they will have had it, will have grown old and tired, or turned their faces to the wall, fading as slowly as their blooms. I give them what they need, food and drink, and I help them tidy up their rooms on occasion.  Sometimes a little treat to refresh their blossoms, or support for their giant and heavy heads. But I let them be themselves. It is the only way.  For I know, I always know, these girls will leave me.

A couple of grandpas and grandmas live around my house. I am not quite so casual with them.  I scratch on their branches, looking for that bit of green that says they have survived one more winter.  I watch for signs of new leaf or budding with a mixture of dread and hope and anticipatory grief. 

I talk to them, too, but in a different timbre, and we commiserate where as the young flowers and I dream. There isn’t much to do for them, really, but sit with them in the sun, enjoy the deepening shadows as they play across their faces. There are no heroic measures to be taken in my yard.  I tried that once, long ago, and hastened the death of a perfectly good, but aged shrub.  One that had a bit more to teach me. A bit more to give. I thought I knew more than I did, and overdid the cure, a cure for which there was no disease but simple, noble old age. 

My little family will grow over the next few weeks, more plants carried home in boxes and containers and little paper packets to be opened and emptied upon prepared patches of ground. I learn each season which plants are apt to be happiest here, which ones will need more light than I can provide.  I will stock the shelves with nourishing food and special treats, but not too many.  Maybe a little something to brighten their blooms like party dresses.  Maybe something to keep the bugs off.  After that, they, like all of us, are on their own.  

Better Dreams through Yoga

An early casualty of the pandemic was the pleasant nature of my dreams. For over a year now, every night has been given over to the most vivid and unusual dreams. I am in places I don’t recognize with people I don’t know, and always, just around the edges is a Greek chorus with enough familiar faces to ground each dream in an unsettling kind of reality.

Just this past week I stood in my backyard with my neighbor, John, as we watched the back of my house crumble and fall in a distressing pile of rock, brick and plaster. John’s house, on the other hand, stood straight as a sentinel, all tidy and reflected in a large pond as the sun began to set.
He reckoned it was the stream that ran behind our properties. It must have diverted underground in some way, eroding my firm foundation. I groaned to think what fixing this would cost, and wondered, even, if it was fixable at all.

My house, you must know, is neither brick nor crumbling, nor built on rocky soil. And while John is the best of neighbors and knows lots of things, he wasn’t correct about the stream having gone underground. The only thing that runs behind my house is an alley, a very nice alley that is wide and well-paved and my mother admired it so much she would go out of her way to drive down it.

And there is no reflecting pond beside John’s house but sometimes, when it rains really hard, water will stand for a few minutes in the gutters. But I don’t dream of my mother or rain-filled gutters. I dream this nonsense. Every night, all night long.

It isn’t enough to have one such dream. I have several each night. They don’t seem to be repackaged do-overs of my day the way some dreams are. And while they aren’t nightmares, they aren’t good dreams, either. I do many things in these dreams that are worrisome and odd and and discombobulate me.

But, in the end, I am doing everyday kinds of things in these dreams and that is one of the horrors of it. My mind is on an endless loop of unfamiliar and undesired activity, none of it of my choosing, and I am not even flying or rescuing my buddies from the jungle.

Last night I didn’t have odd dreams.

Last night I slept deeply and well almost all night long. Last night I listened to yoga meditations for six hours straight, right there, on my phone, by way of YouTube. I have just gotten up and I can’t wait for nightfall so I can do it again.

We know that sounds heard at different megahertz impact the brain, creating states of high concentration and arousal to deep relaxation and sleep. Breathing helps us relax, too, especially deep, intentional breathing, sometimes called the deep yogic breath. Anyone can learn this, no spandex required.

Yoga Nidra is the practice of yogic sleep, or that state between waking and slumber where your body is relaxed and your mind is still aware. But it is a hop, skip and a jump from that to a good night’s sleep, if you do it right. Guided imagery is part of Yoga Nidra, with a calming voice directing your thoughts while you lay flat out in corpse pose, my absolute favorite.

In Yoga Nidra great attention is paid to getting comfy. All that tossing around and pulling at the covers and smoothing out the blankets and adjusting and re-adjusting your head and limbs is a crucial part of it, and the yogi gives you plenty of time to get yourself sorted.

But calmly.

All your movements are calm and unhurried and the voice is gentle and warm and some of us may even be tempted to suck our thumbs.

Then, the music. Or what I will call music although there must be another word for it. There are droning low notes and tones that wash over you while the quiet voice guides you through imagined meadows or perhaps does a body scan which is rewarding, too. Who knew thinking about your right pinky or your left ankle could be so relaxing?

There are hundreds to choose from, deep sleep meditations and Nidra offerings, or deep sleep music with no one talking. I wish I had found them months ago, when I was in the middle of the river, giving motivational speeches from the back of a coal barge to all the 4th of July boaters gathered around…all night long.

Big Art and Little Winters

I have fantasies of fleeing the country, flying the coop, finding new vistas to gaze upon, vistas both exotic and comforting, with a pub and a few rooms to rent upstairs, a fireplace, perhaps, and signposts just there, by the road, pointing the way to ancient byways and Roman viaducts. Or anyplace, really, one that isn’t confined to my neighborhood or my own backyard.

Then, I read the news, although I try to avoid it, and Great Britain and the EU can’t seem to get their vaccine programs quite right, and even if we wanted to wear a mask for twenty hours as we fly across the ocean, once we arrive there will be nothing much to see or do. Everything locked down, or locking down. Fantasies in the dumpster, like old cardboard boxes and chunks of drywall.

Then, just as I was about to despair, I saw this. The Louvre, in Paris, is making available on-line all 840,000 pieces of its art collection for us to view while they remain closed during the pandemic. The Louvre, I am saying. So much art for us to see. The first virtual reality exhibit involves that most famous of painted ladies, entitled “Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass.”

And if you have ever been in her presence you know just what this means, this small painting, enshrined in glass and almost invisible behind the wall of backs and shoulders and cameras you must clamor over to get even a glimpse. It is exciting as you come near her, hear the muffled voices trying to be quiet but not succeeding, and maybe you catch a glimpse of her hands, half her head and an eye, but mostly it is just a crush of tourists and their shambolic images cast back at you by the glass cage that holds her.

This exhibit, though, imagines more than the mysterious smile, takes us to a belvedere where she might have posed for the painting, places her there, tells us how her clothes were made, how her hair was styled, the brushstrokes of the artist, his technique. It is not quite the Louvre, or Mona Lisa, but it is fascinating all the same.

I plan to explore the site to look for a painting I saw there decades ago. I can’t remember the artist or the name of the painting, but it was huge, and it moved me as art must be intended to do. I stood looking, then I sat down and looked some more. Then I think I cried. Or what passed for crying for a twenty-something easily embarrassed and not all that deep. But I have tried since then to find that painting. Now, I think, with patience, I might.

If that is too indoorsy for you, or you just can’t stand driving by garden centers without stopping, I can verify that daily they receive plants, potting soil and manure. The little kiosks are stocked with vegetable and flower seeds and everything bright and shiny and seductive. Tonight and tomorrow we may have freezing temperatures, but next week the lows are in the fifties, and, while that may not hold, it is enough to get me out digging in the dirt, working to get ready.

My friend, Silas, says we are in Redbud Winter. He is an expert on all the little winters we have in spring. I may be all excited about planting shrubs or peonies, hydrangeas and dahlias. His enthusiasm is genuine, but muted and tinged with gloom.

“Yes, but we haven’t had Dogwood Winter, yet.”

And then he sighs.

Which leaves Locust, Blackberry and something called Britches Winters to go.

Even so, he will plant beans this Friday, Good Friday, because that, too, is a sign that gardeners know and live by. My vegetable garden consists of herbs, basil like you can’t believe, and peppers, because the squirrels won’t touch them. But I am at least two little winters away from getting all that in the ground.

Until then, I will till and weed, sow some grass, although the time for that was autumn, and thumb my garden catalogs to pieces. I’ll listen to Silas, but not too much, although we will swap advice and encouragement. Maybe in the bright days ahead you will do the same. Admire the art the Louvre has so generously offered. Admire the art of beautiful things popping up all around, just outside your door.

Eastern Redbud

Time it Was, and Is, and Will Be

It is time, dear ones, to start stocking up on sleep, if you possibly can.  We will awake on Sunday morning to discover we have lost an hour, only to discover it lurking around in the shadows of the backyard later in the evening.  And we will be exhausted.  It exhausts me, that lost hour, for easily a week or more, and I don’t quite recover until mid-June, when day and night are equal lengths.  

But then, I am also exhausted for a couple of weeks when we gain an hour, so I guess what I am saying is, time is a construct, time is emotional, time is physical. Time is circadian.  Time, sometimes, can be all in our heads.  

I blame my father. 

He was a good sleeper, a cheerful riser, his feet hitting the floor as soon as he awoke. 

But for a couple of weeks after the time changed he moped around the house, Theda Bara-like, draping himself on a velvet fainting couch, hand across his brow while sighing,  “But really it isn’t eight o’clock, it is seven.”  Or in fall, the other way around. 

That we didn’t have a velvet fainting couch, that he wasn’t built to drape is beside the point.  He felt the time changes acutely and passed this on to me.  It irked my mother, a practical sort, with five children to see to, all those mouths to feed.   She hadn’t time for his nonsense.  She looked at the clock.  If it said 3:00 p.m. the kids would soon be home from school and it was time to start dinner. 

My siblings never seemed to care much, although they, too, were off kilter for a week or so right after we changed the clocks.  Perhaps I took to the abstract aspect of changing time more than my siblings.  I could entertain myself for hours, although sometimes it felt like torture, thinking about puzzlements.  Like this one. 

Let’s say you know objects only by one sense—touch, for example.

Then you see a group of objects all lined up with other objects you also have only experienced by touch.  Can you now pick out the round object only by sight, or the square one, if you have only touched round and square objects?  Would sharp edges and curved surfaces translate visually?

This one took me years. 

And while I am not sure my answer is correct, I am quite enamored with it and it comforts me when I am bored or downcast.

The disappearing and reappearing hour is one of those things.  Calculating time in general, is one of those things.  A couple of weeks ago I attended, by ZOOM, a reading held in Cork City, Ireland.  It was evening there, midday here.  Friends from two time zones would be watching, and what gyrations we went through making sure we didn’t miss it, making sure we heard every lovely word that fell soft as rain from the writer, Billy O’Callaghan’s, Gaelic lips.  

It didn’t matter our phones told us exactly what time it was in Cork.  We didn’t completely trust it, and we counted backward on our fingers —or I did, I’ll confess—right up to the moment the presentation began.

I once kept myself company on a long international flight trying to work out exactly how many hours I had been awake, and how long, really, the journey was.  There is time zone time and real time, and I worked it out on the many napkins they brought with my drinks.  Somewhere over Newfoundland it dawned on me I could do the simple math of comparing the local time I left and  the local time I would arrive home, adjusting for time zones, but even as I write this I have confused myself all over again. 

I will go around my house this Saturday night changing what clocks I have, all of them, in fact, attached to appliances—the coffee maker, the stove, the microwave.  On Sunday morning I will take it hard, oversleep—I sort of book that in early as an indulgent excuse—and I will nod off by eight, as I settle in front of Masterpiece Theatre, even though I didn’t nod off at seven the Sunday before. 

By midweek, I will be languishing, and I will cast about for a fainting couch to drape upon, nudging the memory of my father in the ribs so he might scoot over, make some room for me. 


Already there is something stirring, call it spring, call it the vaccine, call it about time.

The weather looks to be better, some nights around freezing, maybe, but daytime temps are creeping up into the fifties, the sixties by the weekend.

It seems the same for friends whose weather I keep up with. I have taken you to my heart, truly and forever, if your city pops up on my phone’s weather app. I keep up with the weather in a couple of places I love like people, too. And almost all of us can count on temperatures at least in the 50s by the middle of the month.

Even if it is snowing where you are now.
Even if you are freezing right this minute.
Even if it won’t last.

Already I am eyeing that spot along the fence that separates my drive from my neighbor’s yard. He has been eyeing it for months now, too. In the fall I offloaded bags of manure and compost with the intention of filling in the low places and preparing a flowerbed for spring. I didn’t have quite enough dirt so I left it all sitting there until I could do the job properly, and there it has sat since.

He has offered to spread the contents of the bags for me, but no, I am happy to do that myself. I want to do it, think I can call it exercise, and so it would be. But first I need more dirt. He is a patient fellow, but he will be glad when I get after it. Soon, John, soon.

This week might just be the week, in fact, because seed and flower catalogs are jamming my mailbox and nothing inspires me quite so much. They are stacking bags of mulch at Kroger and I am giddy about it. I know they are, because my cousin posted a photo of those big bags last week, when she was giddy first.

I have tried watching the British gardening shows, Monty Don being one of my favorites. But if I am honest, he exhausts me. He moves slowly and calmly, digging, uprooting, rerooting, I will give you that. But I think of all the behind the scenes efforts — just getting those nice bins filled up with that custom peatless potting soil, I mean, how long does that take? How does he drag all the ingredients into his well-appointed potting shed? And those wonderful giant terra cotta pots he has all over the place. How much do they weigh? Empty? Loaded?

No, I have already decided, from the comfort of my couch, to pare down my gardening this year, sticking with those things that provide real bang for the buck. I have managed to keep two rosemary bushes alive all winter, and I am trying to overwinter some big geraniums in the basement. My fence row garden plot may serve as an AirBnB for zinnias until fall, when I may plant iris.

But, even so, there will still be plenty of trips to the nurseries, the garden centers and those places that fetch bags of mulch for you and dump them like a body in your trunk. I will be glad to have gardening back, to have it back as the joyful, playful activity it is. Digging in the dirt, water play, all my favorite childhood past times. But now no one yells out the back door to bring those serving spoons back in the house this minute.

I have had tools. I have a wheelbarrow.

So, celebrate with me. It’s almost spring, the vaccine is here and it is more than time.

The Pleasure and Pathos of Paper Dolls

I was dismal at crafts, never liked them much, beyond decorating a shoe box with doilies for Valentine’s Day.  That was easy, as crafting goes, and it was my limit.  The little Sunday school lambs made with glued-on cotton balls, the bean and macaroni art in Vacation Bible School — I am  pretty sure Joseph didn’t wear a beard made of pinto beans—I completed them, but was never proud of them. 

And Girl Scouts, oh, how I hated crafts at troop meetings.  Those pleated  Reader’s Digests folded into fat Christmas trees, the green paint all over my hands, ending up smeared on my cheek.  Popsicle sticks stuck to my fingers, or dropped and glued to my shoe. Glitter everywhere but in the spot I aimed it.

No, I was built for other things.  But now, it seems, I have the rare opportunity to teach one of my craftiest friends a thing or two, and it has gone straight to my head. 

You can barely move in Alice’s work space for all the scissors, colored pencils, pads of watercolor paper, and stacks of Flow Magazines, magazines that seem to be filled with nothing on earth but wallpaper samples, although I am told it is art paper.  That’s it.  Just a magazine full of brightly printed paper.  And here, there, and everywhere, shoe boxes and fruit boxes full of ephemera, ribbons and feathers and buttons and I don’t know what all. 

Yet, for all this, Alice does not know how to cut out a continuous strand of paper dolls. 

And I do. 

Because my grandmother, a child of the prairie, taught me.  With her off-limits fabric shears she sat on the floor and folded newspaper and grocery bags, and with fingers flying, cut in one intricate but smooth motion, ten, fifteen little girls, all holding hands, dress hems touching, hair turned up on the end, their tiny feet pointing in opposite directions.  She and her sisters entertained themselves for hours doing this.  She entertained us for hours likewise. On winter days she folded typing paper and with her sharp little embroidery scissors fashioned beautiful snowflakes as big as our heads.  Well, our faces. 

Alice doesn’t know how to make these, either. 

I have promised to teach her, and was practicing over the weekend to see if I still remembered and I cut a string of paper dolls.  They looked so cute I posted a picture on social media.  You can’t believe how many people responded, many wanting to know how to do it so they might make them with their own grandchildren.  A smaller number remembered making them themselves when they were children.

My niece, Hannah, commented on my Facebook page, saying they were “cool,” and I couldn’t believe in all the times she and her sister, Katie, were at my house, we never made paper dolls.  I felt like quite the wretched and neglectful aunt.  It seems now it should have been an essential part of our time together, that sweet particular bonding activity which was sadly forfeited for other, lesser things. 

When I was little, maybe six, I loved Betsy McCall paper dolls, a page of creamy paper with Betsy standing demurely in her underwear and shoes, dresses and coats and sometimes hats, framing her delicately drawn figure.  Each little dress, little sweater, pair of snow pants had white tabs protruding, tabs to fasten the clothes at critical junctures — shoulders, waist, ankles.

My mother had to cut out Betsy, all those frills around her petticoat or panties, but I attacked the dresses with the peter pan collars, the pedal pushers, the sweater sets.  And always, always I got in a hurry, or got distracted for just a second, and snipped off a tab, sometimes more than one.  And I am pretty sure I cried.  Not so much for having botched it for Betsy, but in frustration for the perfect thing, now not.

Mother tried to repair the damage but the make-do-ness of it just killed me.  I wore my  brother’s hand-me-down corduroys, wore sweaters with turned up cuffs, bought at the end of a season to “grow into,” had socks that bunched at the toe or chewed down into my shoe, always too big or too small.  But Betsy McCall was perfect, holding a little doll in front of her while standing in her undies.  A summer dress and she is holding a bunch of flowers.  A winter coat, and she holds a muff.  And I was Betsy, wearing those pretty clothes, perfect on the page, until the cutting began.

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