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magic fluff. [two artists tuesday]

though we are not ‘good’ at many plants, it seems, we are ‘good’ at ornamental grasses. maybe it’s the soil, maybe it’s the sun, maybe it’s location, but grasses have given us a sense of garden-accomplishment that nothing else (shy of mayyyybe the cherry tomatoes and basil and lavender this year) has bestowed upon us.

we won’t cut them down. no pruning. they will stay through the winter, magnificent plumes golden against the drear, against the snow, reminding us of good fluff of the day.

i imagine tiny animals sheltering in their masses, dense bush allowing warmth and security and invisibleness. maybe tiny chipmunks, with pantries of birdseed they have stolen from the finches and sparrows, waylaid from intrepid robins and scarlet cardinals. we’ll just keep filling the birdfeeder. judging by the birds partying in our backyard yesterday, i think we may try and find another birdfeeder to hang as well. i have turned into my parents.

dogdog comes inside each day now, laden with seed pods. if wishes were granted on seedheads, we would have so many magical dreams coming true. he seems to not mind these tiny hitchhikers tucked into his very-furry fur. we pick them off, one by one.

and now i think, who’s gonna stop us from wishing on each one? these grasses grace us in more than one way. let the magic commence.

*****

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the banana in cherrytomatoland. [two artists tuesday]

keeping the late late summer cherry tomatoes together will stimulate their ripening, i read. the ethylene emitted by them will urge them from green to pale yellow to orange to red. putting them in a brown paper bag with a banana or an apple would speed things along. right now, they are on the counter in a plastic, hopefully bpa-free, container, lidless, soaking up the sun. somehow, these tiny little tomatoes, regardless of size or shape or green innocence or red wokeness know all about impact on each other and a banana or an apple entering their tomato-only-zone would only help them.

that’s the kind of community we should all live in, work in, play in. because as barry manilow, yes, the guy who writes the songs, said, “everything you say and do is having an impact on others.”

it’s not like we are not aware of that. simple kindnesses as we go about our day make a huge difference – the concentric circles ever-widening, cherry-tomato-land goodness spreading, stimulating ripening, encouraging more goodness. it’s not as pollyannaish as it sounds. in every interaction we have a choice. the expression “there are a hundred ways you could have answered that/handled that” is worthy of our attention.

i’m from new york. growing up on long island is different than growing up in the midwest or the south or even the west coast. there is a rat-a-tat kind of rhythm to conversation there. lots of questions, lots of words. it seems aggressive, but it’s really not. it is, however, easy to interpret it that way. if you want to know about something, you ask. it’s a kind of pummeling with questions; you don’t ask one gentle question and patiently wait.

take the cherry tomatoes, for example. you could ask, what kind of cherry tomatoes are those? (and then wait.) or you could ask: what kind of cherry tomatoes are those?where did you get them?were they from seeds or tiny plants?how did you plant them?did you have to use topsoil?how much water did you give them?how often?do you have to fertilize them?what about sun?do they need to be in the sun?how long did it take before they bore fruit?do they only produce one set of tomatoes or do they keep producing?are they sweet?did you pick them before they were ripened?what about when it got cold?when did you pick the green tomatoes?how did you know what to do with them?can you still eat them?will they ripen?

i’ve had to tone down the newyork in me, slow down the question-pummeling (this is not as easy as it sounds), soften the edges of speech a little. the accent has mostly disappeared, but the rhythm is ever at-the-ready, prepared to garner answers or information or directions, not willing to miss the details. and those details…ever-important. my big brother could tell a story with more words than you can imagine; his details were picture-painting and precise and i loved every minute of his newyork style of storytelling.

we were on long island with my dear friend crunch when he was ordering a pizza. he said: “do you want gahhlic knots with the pizza?whatdyathink, gahhlic knots too?yes or no?are you hungry for gahhlic knots?they make great gahhlic knots at luigis. do you want some?tell me, i gotta awwduh. hello?” and then, in the car on the way to get the pizza and the garlic knots: “ya gotta turn up here.yeah, turn left.yeah after the driveway, turn left.here.left.ok.in about two blahhcks you’ll turn right.right.yeah, about a block now.right.uh-huh.right.yeah.hee-uhh.right.turn.ya gotta turn!”

david was losing it in the backseat. i had jumped right in. suddenly the impressionable pattern returned and i was also speaking, stepping all over crunch narrating where i was to turn. allowing no time for him to keep talking or answer anything i was saying – and vice-versa – we both just kept tawwwking and tawwwking, over each other. david’s laughter was contagious.

there had been (and have been, who am i kidding?) times – admittedly – when, in the middle of a more shall-we-say “heated” discussion d has looked at me and said, “let me finish.” hanging out on long island in the middle of pummeling vocal patterns has helped him realize i mean no harm. and i have adopted his “there are a hundred ways you could have answered that”. because it has an impact – the way we answer, the way we handle stuff.

we both try to be aware, in this still-covid time of much-togetherness and less-time-with-others, of our interactions, knowing that even the slightest acidity can affect things and will ripple outward in our day. instead of leeching negativity into each other, in the most intimate and the most community of interactions, i would rather encourage ripening, blossoming, flourishing.

i want to be like the banana in cherrytomatoland.

*****

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cactus, candles and a red wagon. [d.r. thursday]

i started a business when i was young. nothing cost more than about a dollar but i was a zealous salesperson. i pulled a red wagon around my neighborhood, going door to door – in the days when that was actually safe – and sold cactus. my sweet momma had prolific succulents and would pot tiny offshoots and volunteers into cups or chipped mugs or little clay pots, turning them over to me to sell. it’s amazing how many people would buy a 25 cent baby cactus from an eight year old at the door. i was thrilled counting my earnings at the end of the day and would impatiently wait for the next proliferation of cactus pups.

after a while and some market research, i decided to add candles to my stock. i purchased wax and three-dimensional plastic molds, tape and had a perfect little finnish knife to trim the wax after taking it out of the mold. i never lit any of those candles. they seemed more like decorations and less like candles-to-burn. funny to think about not-thinking-about-lighting-them and i wonder how many of the candles i happily sold on the streets of my growing-up were ever burned. though i’d love to revisit that project now, for fun and maybe to actually try the candle as a candle, my supplies are stuck somewhere – since 1979 – in the somewhat-finished attic room closet of a methodist church on long island, where i had helped with a youth group and taught them how to make candles.

i wonder now about what someone will think when they stumble upon all of that – my dad’s old hard plastic luggage case with molds and wax. i wonder if they will laugh thinking about the simplicity of it. after all, for my tiny business all i really did was melt the wax in a double boiler, choose a color dye, place the wick, tape and set up the molds, pour the wax into the molds and wait. once they were set, i trimmed along the seam line to create a seamless looking alligator or snail or mushroom or a variety of other marketable shapes of candles i can’t recall. i simply changed the form of wax.

i suppose it’s all like that. changing the form. the notes float and the composer grabs them out of the atmosphere, placing them together into a piece of music, changing the form of their ethereal bobbing-around-out-there. color bursts around us, nature offering us every iota of choice, and the painter gently retrieves them and places them together on the canvas, translating the iron oxide red of delicate arches into a vibrant sunrise or the flower of a still-life. the butterfly on the wing dances and the ballerina’s steps mimic the form, an expression of freedom and joy. words and expressions whirl around and turns of phrases hide inside dictionaries and the writer plucks and chooses, creating poetry and story from the raw.

my sweet momma and poppo discovered ikea in their 80s. they were intense fans. from time to time i would get big ups packages from them – ikea runs – with new wooden spoons or lanterns or cork trivets or tealights or whatever was their latest discovery there. and so i became a tealight fan. we burn them often. to light the table on our deck, to light our pop-up, inside all around the house, to honor someone with a flickering flame all day, safely burning on the stove. i guess that these are a lot easier to make than alligators or snails. and i know that they are obviously a lot easier to light and actually burn.

i still have a round yellow happy face candle i received years ago. i haven’t burned it. something about not messing with its form, i guess. why do we have candles we aren’t going to burn?

today, i think i might take out that round happy face candle. maybe i will put it on the stove, in a safe-to-burn-all-day spot. maybe it will infuse inspiring form-changing into the air around me. there’s much to purge from more recent times and much to welcome in next days. it’s worth a try.

*****

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grasses and gratitude. [k.s. friday]

this morning i read a lovely piece about an elderly woman who made it a point to dress each morning by 8 and was ready for her day, looking fresh, put together and smartly attired. i instantly felt guilty. it gets better, though. the piece then went on to say she had just made the decision to move into a retirement facility and was waiting in the hall for her room (note: room, not whole apartment) to be readied for her entrance. an aide was describing the room to her and this generous woman’s reply was, “i love it!” the aide commented to her that she hadn’t yet seen it and the woman nodded. she said that she had decided to love it, regardless of how it was arranged or how it looked. she added that her happiness was a choice she made each day and, no matter her aches or pains or worries, she was going to choose to be happy in the moment she was in, in the circumstance she was in. so now i felt even more guilty.

how many mornings have i risen with worry in my heart, trepidation for the day, feeling dissonance or hurt or angst-ridden?

i read aloud the piece about this sweet woman to david over coffee. he said we should print it out and hang it somewhere. i suppose that i could do that. but instead, i’d rather just try to remember it. to do the best i can each day to rise and be smartly dressed by 8 with an ‘i love it’ ready at my lips. to not worry about the guilt of seeing that printed and any shortcomings i might have, any times i don’t measure up, i fall shy of the happy-choice.

as the cooler air filled our room early-early this morning, we pulled up the blanket. it made me sigh with relief to feel the gentle breeze blowing through the window and as i look out now, there are a couple monarchs flying over our deck. a few cherry tomatoes are ready and the basil and lavender are smiling. beautiful. a fresh day. everything is green, vibrant, healthy.

there is something about green grasses i love. even out on trails i photograph grasses, on my knees at the level of chipmunks and daddy long legs. it feels somewhat dr. seuss-esque to say i love them on the trail, i love them in our yard, i love them in the mountains, i love them in our gard-en.

probably because of our proximity to the lake, our soil seems to speak to ornamental grasses. they grow really well in the gardens around our house. other people have many beautiful flowers and there have been times that i have wondered why i do not seem to be very good at growing various flowers. we have had a spot in the front that was blank. the plant we had planted years ago, despite any effort we made, was just not thriving. last sunday, in a moment of brilliance – preceded by much research that ended where we started – we bought an ornamental grass to go there. i took a peek at it out the front window while the sun was still low in the sky and it is happier than happy. and so, with my newfound wisdom this morning, i will choose to celebrate how well we grow grasses. not yard-grass, per se, for that is another one of those not-quite-there’s, but graceful ornamental grasses that send up beautiful plumes, that help with erosion control, that spread naturally and that make us look like successful gardeners…of a sort, anyway. celebrate what we do well. dressed smartly and looking fresh.

and i will remind myself, especially in these times, to rise gently. to hold this morning, tomorrow morning, that morning someday – any day – close to my heart. with gratitude. bowing to the sun and gracefully moving in the wind.

*****

THAT MORNING SOMEDAY from BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL (kerri sherwood)

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THAT MORNING SOMEDAY ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood


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boomer farmers. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

i cut some valentino basil to toss with tomatoes and olive oil over pasta. in an eat-less-meat effort, d grilled some tilapia. we ate outside at the table under the umbrella where we could catch wafting basil coming from the potting stand and from the little trunk across the deck. we congratulated ourselves on our farming…at least so far, anyway. it remains to be seen how long we might be successful, whether the tomato plants will ever offer actual cherry tomatoes and if the basil will do that leggy thing that basil plants do when you don’t have natural green thumbs.

keith told us to watch the millennial farmer. since we have run out of joey coconato’s youtube backpacking videos and have literally watched each one at least twice, we tried the millennial farmer on for size. keith lives in a farming community and knows about tractors and fields and heavy equipment much much more than we do, but, we have to admit, after having searched for the first of the videos, we have a deeper appreciation for all of that and we know that the millennial farmer might likely tease at our measly stand of hopeful plants. no worries, we boomer farmers are happy and, more importantly, not overwhelmed by our choices. mostly, we love tomato and basil drizzled in olive oil tossed over pasta or in caprese salads. and any planting is still planting.

we had mulled over flowers for the potting stand. it’s in full sun most of the time so that meant we needed to make some careful choices. we are very aware of what we’re spending these days so that factored in as well. when we ultimately decided to just simply plant a few edibles we were excited and went to several nurseries to choose our plants. lowes got our attention for their $6.98 tomato plants – dwarf indeterminates – which we learned means that they will stay smaller and will bear fruit throughout the season instead of just once. milaegers got our vote for their basil. the valentino smelled heavenly and sweet and looked incredibly healthy (to us) at only $3.99. a few big old clay pots out of the garage and sweeping off the barnwood-and-pipe plant stand and we were set. tomatoes and basil – “soulmates on and off the plate.” ready for a summer of lightly tossed pasta and insalata caprese.

now, zach johnson – the millennial farmer in minnesota – might have some advice for us. the diagnostics and computerized tools and mapping and equipment that they use to choose planting distances and tilling and depths and variable rate seed installation and seed choices and seasons are mind-boggling, not to mention the super-sized mechanical equipment like tractors and combines and seeders and cultivators. the science of farming, the art of farming, he makes it all sound both easier and much more complex than we could imagine. his love and nurturing of the land, his life and his fifth-generation farm are obvious.

men’s health magazine calls his youtube channel “peak relaxation” though that is simply because we are armchair-boomer-farmer-watching. zach’s wise intention, according to his channel, is “to build the connection between farmers and consumers.”

we understand. we are now both. ok, ok. light on the farmer, heavy on the consumer. no barn here. just us and our potting stand, two tomato plants and a basil. and an appreciation for real farmers everywhere.

*****

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hosta extraordinaire. [k.s. friday]

ordinary. perennially ordinary. hostas are intrepid, robust, shade-tolerant, adaptable plants. they are patient with human-planting errors and magnanimous with dogs who run amuck through their early sprouting. these plants seemingly have boundless energy to reproduce and spread and fill-in gardens in shadow. with low maintenance personalities, they happily populate yards and our hosta garden out back is an easy joy.

right next to the hosta is a garden of ferns. these are a different story. they are, indeed, more particular than hosta and, in our experience, much higher maintenance. they are beautiful, willowy and tall and a gorgeous green that changes in the light. still pretty ordinary but with a little more sass.

there are a few peonies in our backyard gardens. they are more specific about their needs. they like the sun and well-drained soil. they like a little space. they have a short-lived flowering season, but their wafting scent is remarkable. they are still ordinary plants, but need a smidge more attention than the ferns and quite a bit more attention than the hostas.

they all, however, live in community and, were we better garden-planners and were we not to have an aussie running circles in our backyard grass, would present a lovely picture. despite our lack of garden design and despite dogdog’s propensity for a bit of ruin, we are grateful for each of these living plants out back. the extraordinary of their ordinariness doesn’t escape us. they are there, they are steadfast, even without us worrying about them, fussing over them, micromanaging them. they seem to know what to do.

i recently interviewed for a job. it didn’t require a masters degree in the field, but i have one. it didn’t require experience in the area of expertise, but i have forty years. coming away from the interview, i noted to myself that it also didn’t seem to require a sense of humor or a sense of who people on either side of the call really were. is this ordinary? i’ve read many articles recently about leadership and management. the best of the best leaders and managers are human, appreciative of those they work with, looking for potential and collaboration, leaning on a bit of community warmth and pushing back at haughtiness and agenda in the workplace. the best of the best remember we are all extraordinarily ordinary, together.

i suspect i was too old for this job. that thought takes my breath away, but, these days, it seems to be true. i watch as garden centers work in our neighborhood and others we pass through. they carry in plants of great variety, design architectural gardens of varying heights and species and colors. i wonder if these gardens will require owner-vigilance or if they will propagate and grow toward their potential with the freedom that years of gained wisdom and savoir-faire and insight have granted. or if, perhaps, it will be a respectful collaboration, a chance to, in community, laugh at the breeze, bask in a bit of sun, cool off in late afternoon shade, soak in the rain and grow leaps and bounds. ordinary extraordinaires.

just like our hostas.

“it’s the ordinary people who give extraordinary love. when you sit back and look at it all you know this is what life’s made of. it’s not the stuff you accumulate or the title on your desk. it’s the people around you who make living life the best.” (song – this is life: ©️ kerri sherwood)

*****

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those ferns. [two artists tuesday]

ferns

the ferns make me think of sally; the day we pushed the wheelbarrow up and down third avenue back and forth to her house – over and over – loaded with hosta, ferns, daylilies.  the sweet-smelling peonies make me think of linda, digging in the dirt of our gardens, planting, weeding, helping to shape the space.  the grass makes me think of russ and marykay, again, a day of wheelbarrowing, again third avenue, but due north instead of south, over and over.  we dug the pond with big help from ted and monica and a bevy of friends at our ‘big dig’ party.  we sustain the pond with words of wisdom from jay and charlie.  we build bonfires in a firepit from jen and brad and we watch lettuce grow in wooden planters from 20.  we just added hosta from daena’s mother-in-law-to-be; dan and gay delivered them.  it has taken a small village to plant our garden.

it is not without luck that these have grown well.  dogdog has done his best to try and decimate the yard and My Girl worked long hot hours last summer pulling weeds any rainforest would be proud of; our stay on island and not in our backyard encouraged strong holding-on-not-letting-go weeds of great substance, but the girl prevailed over them.

we didn’t hire a garden center to ‘do’ our yard.  it’s not too planned; it’s definitely not too fancy.  it is a place of sanctuary, though.  a place, created with so many people we love.  a place where – in the middle of this pandemic, in the middle of the heart-wrenching chaos in this country, in the middle of economic worry for so many, in the middle of fear of more divisiveness and even less thoughtful leadership – we can sit in broken adirondack chairs on the patio or on the edge of the deck, arms wrapped around our knees, listening to the fountain, the birds, the wind in the trees.

the sun warms.  and we wait to hear the croaking of the pond-frog who magically appeared just a few days ago.

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“we believe in tomorrow.” [merely-a-thought monday]

plant lettuce

as a person who is at severe risk, our dear 20 is isolating alone.  it is unusual for us not to see him a couple or three times a week.  our visits are now just audio by telephone or perhaps a facetime here or there.  he has much to look forward to and, in preparing for all that, he is taking all precautions, sacrificing now for later.  he texted us this message the other day.  it was after a call the night before – a call during which we all shared the middle-of-the-night-wakefulness that is scary-as-all-get-out.

it was a text of wisdom.  a text that conveyed a message that there is always a measure of blind belief necessary.  a text i read more than once.

i know that my beloved big sister and i don’t agree on everything.  but this morning she texted me that she had gone to the post office in the wee hours last night to send a small package to us.  inside are four masks, to protect us, to protect others, to walk into tomorrow prepared.  and i am grateful.  we will wear these masks because we believe in tomorrow and because we want to protect all we can in getting there.

we stay home because we believe in tomorrow and because we want to protect all we can in getting there.

we social distance; we cross to the other side of the road on a getting-fresh-air-walk because we believe in tomorrow and because we want to protect all we can in getting there.

we wash our hands.  we wash our groceries.  we disinfect.  we let mail, packages, newspapers sit untouched for days.  we wipe everything down.  we are conscious.  we try to protect.

lettuce will grow if you plant it.  if you prepare the soil.  if you water it, if you protect it from deluge or too much arid sun.

so, like 20 suggested, we’ll bring out the wood boxes, prepare the soil and plant lettuce.  and we’ll protect it.  because we believe in tomorrow.

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY

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