Sundays are soulful days for me, a time to disconnect from busyness as often as I can. On these self care days I can focus inward on my heart and soul, upward on my Creator, and then outward on others. I’ve looked forward all week to this time of reflection and solitude, of peace and quiet joy, and deep connection.
It was a beautiful journey this morning, spent alone with my thoughts and a full and grateful heart. I relaxed in the backyard garden in spite of the higher temperatures, soaking up sunshine, my senses awakened by the sights and sounds and scents of life stirring among the grasses and flowers surrounding me.
I sat with my thoughts, at rest, in a state of deep peace, and let them rise one by one and pass through. There was nothing to deal with, no urgent matters, no conflicts to resolve. My heart opened and enlarged and flooded my being with love, which then overflowed and radiated outward.
After a time of refection I enjoyed the rest of my day, doing some of my favorite things and later connecting with others.
I strolled through my local DVD rental store, alone except for a solitary worker who waited for me near the register. I slowly walked past rows and rows of recent releases, until a movie captured my attention. I brought home the one meant for me, to watch later this week.
And I had a long and soulful conversation with a family member this evening, to complete an amazing day. I enjoy connecting with others at a deeper level, sharing about our journeys, weighing in on life in all of its intricate complexities and marvelous curiosities. I am grateful for the heart to heart, soul to soul chat that blessed me and enriched me as much as the time of solitude did, in the garden.
A friend posted the meme below this morning, on Facebook. It was a perfect reminder of the value of practicing self-care, of loving myself enough to make sure I take time to rest and play and sometimes, do nothing at all. It is a great question to ask oneself, I think. I answered that question, beautifully, all day long.
This restoration project has been another long one, primarily because I’d look at the overly exuberant ivy growing wild in the flower bed, and shake my head and walk away. I redid the other front flower bed in early June. But the tangle of ivy with its tough woody stems has merrily defied my puny efforts to remove it. I’ve kept four plants watered and alive on my deck for almost three months, with the intention of getting them into the ground, as I did their counterparts on the other side of the steps.
A few days ago, knowing I was at last making a supreme effort to get this last flower bed restored, Greg came to my rescue. Using a garden spade, he rapidly dug out the majority of the ivy, getting underneath the shallow root system. I am so grateful, or I would not be posting this particular blog post tonight. After two days of heavy rain, six inches of water, according to my rain gauge, I donned my oldest gardening clothes and sneakers this afternoon and determined that I would finish this project today.
The ivy is a hardy plant, I’ll give it that. My grandson Dayan and I planted one small sprig five years ago, and it took off, spreading until it choked out all other plants in the bed. The 2011 tornado and two years of drought and high summer temps did nothing to deter it. Instead, it thrived! I’ve learned a lot about gardening in the past few years, and this is a plant that does best as ground cover, or when you have an area that you want it to take over! At last today, after a few more minutes of Greg wielding a shovel, bare ground was revealed.
After diligently removing roots, which was an interesting game of tug of war, for the most part, I had a ready to plant bed. The rain made the soil dark and rich and easy to work. In a few moments, I had the four long-suffering plants tucked into the ground. They are not nearly as mature as their associates in the other front garden bed, but they will catch up. I know I will have to be watchful for new ivy shoots to appear, and remove them promptly.
A fresh layer of mulch, after a light watering, and the task was completed. It felt so incredibly good to step back and eye my work. At each end are dwarf ornamental grasses…Hamelin Dwarf Fountain Grass and Bronco Leatherleaf Sage. The Hamelin Grass in the left front garden has feathery spears. Next year, this resilient grass on this side will too. In between, as on the other side, are two yellow Stella de Oro Daylilies. Now that this bed is finished, I returned a couple of favorite rocks to the bed. And at the far end, rests a little terra cotta statue, or what remains of it, anyway. At one time, five years ago, it was a cute little rabbit. I found it today, buried beneath the mass of ivy, missing its ears and well worn and weathered. I considered chucking it into the trash bin. But I washed it off, and kept it. I like it. It reminds me of the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, who discovered, “…once you are real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand”. I understand. And I think my rabbit statue is beautiful.
After cleaning up my mess, and trust me, there was one, and before heading in to take a much needed shower, and trust me, it was a necessity, I tucked one more plant into the ground. Greg’s cousins bought a lovely Hydrangea, that was delivered to the cemetery for the graveside service for Greg’s dad. I have been keeping it healthy and watered on the front deck. Today, after much consideration about its new location, I planted it in the Hosta garden, since it needs very little sunlight, near Coral Bells. Interestingly, there is a rabbit statue there as well, although this one has its ears still. What a beautiful plant, and a beautiful reminder of Bob Moore. I will cherish this plant, and think of him, and the cousins, Mark, Pam, Linda and Tim, and their families, every time I look at it. What a gorgeous day, to do wonderfully restorative work, for me and for the garden. For this season, the planting is done. Now there is maintenance….and dreaming up new features and flower beds for next year. But first, I will enjoy the remainder of this season….and let my gardens and myself rest.
I am weary today. Not discouraged or depressed, but tired, deeply so, a result of long days, short nights and an extended time of heightened alertness. We only spent half the day in Arkansas, taking care of some business and spending time in Dad Moore’s home.
The house feels still, the absense of Greg’s dad notable in a way that’s changed since yesterday, even though he’s been out of the house all week. It is the knowledge that he won’t return that shifted the energy. Anticipation is gone.
However, we enjoyed looking for photos, exclaiming over long forgotten pictures tucked into drawers, boxes and shelves. I found a large box full of aviation photos that I have never seen before. Tears came to my eyes as I looked at the handsome young man sitting cross-legged on the wing of an airplane. How Bob loved to fly!
After a brief and delicious nap, I joined Greg and daughter Adriel and her fiancé Nate for a cold treat at Andy’s. I deliberately choose a flavor of concrete that I had never had before, key lime pie, in the spirit of first things. We sat around a small table and enjoyed our simple treats. I loved the joy of spending a few minutes chatting with dear loved ones. We talked about loss…Greg’s dad and a friend of Adriel’s and Nate’s. We talked about life. We laughed. We hugged tightly outside the restaurant before heading off separately into the beautiful evening.
That simple treat, the ice cream and the time with family, was as restorative as the nap. I left feeling more alert, less tired. Tomorrow I am taking a Me Day, spending time resting and puttering in my garden. I can reflect and allow my body and heart, mind and spirit to center as I allow peace and joy to surround me. It’s going to be another beautiful day!
In 2010, my grandson Dayan and I spent days planning and then planting flower beds in front of the porch, on either side of the steps, and in the sunny southern border on the side of the house. We worked and sweated and in the end, we were very pleased with our labors. Then, the following year, the tornado struck Joplin, and my house. The gardens were damaged. The house was empty for 18 months, as work was done, and we experienced two of the hottest summers we have ever had. Needless to say, the gardens suffered. And in some places, ran wild!
I’ve been back in the house a little over two years. The first year the yard had to be remediated. The destruction of so many older homes deposited lead-based paint in the yards in the tornado zone. My yard was tested and found to be too high in lead content. Which meant, the old dirt was removed, to a depth of two feet, and “clean” new soil was brought in. This couldn’t have worked better for me, as I was planning a major backyard garden. I planted in that backyard paradise last spring and summer. This year, so very pleased with how the back garden is thriving and expanding, I have turned my attention at last to the front and side gardens.
The neglected front flower beds
I prepared the left front bed a couple of weeks ago. Being so close to the house, this soil has not been replaced. As I removed old landscaping timbers and cleaned up the vegetation, I came across broken shingles, tar paper, pieces of glass and metal debris embedded in the ground…all reminders of the forces of nature that ripped my town apart. With great satisfaction, I chucked all those sad shards into the trash dumpster. The top 8 inches or so of soil was removed and I now had a clean bed, awaiting my creativity.
Dusk was gathering this evening as I returned from Lowe’s Garden Center, my arms full of plants. I could have waited until tomorrow to plant, however, I enjoy working outside in the cool of the evening. I sprayed myself with home-made mosquito repellant (you can get the instructions for making your own here) and in just a few minutes, I had the plants into the ground.
I have fallen in love with ornamental grasses, so I chose two dwarf varieties to plant in the front, Hamelin Dwarf Fountain Grass and Bronco Leatherleaf Sage. In between the grasses I placed a couple of Stella de Oro Daylilies. Their bright yellow blooms will contrast well with the soft green and cream of the fountain grass and the rusty brown of the leatherleaf sage. I added a bag of cedar mulch to keep weeds at bay and hold moisture in.
I tucked one of my favorite small rocks among the daylilies. I’ve had this rock for 20 plus years. I don’t even remember where I found it. It has a tiny reservoir within its craggy interior and I love keeping it filled with water. Last of all, I returned a decorative metal garden stake to the bed. This stake survived the tornado, remaining anchored to the ground, but the stake is bent, from the wind or from being struck by debris. Its little silver metal ball remains in place, amazingly. I have kept this piece as a positive reminder that when the storms of life strike, I can remain anchored in my faith, in my beliefs…and remain steadfast…although I may be impacted by what I have journeyed through. I can bend, without breaking, a beautiful reminder of my strength and resilience.
I loved the peace and stillness in the air as I completed my work, the light from the front porch illuminating my freshly planted bed. One of the benefits of gardening in the evening twilight was that I saw my first firefly, a reminder that summer is upon us. I washed my hands and arms using the garden hose. There is something magical to me about washing up with the hose. It brings back childhood memories of my sisters and I spraying each other, cooling off as the last of the day’s heat rose in waves from the ground. I gathered that deep peace around me like a shawl, entering the house. And laughed as I beheld my hands. I missed some places, washing up in the dark. I prefer to garden without wearing gloves. I like getting my hands dirty. I accomplished that….and more…tonight.
The wildness of the right flower bed. Dayan and I planted one small ivy plant, in 2010. It was not affected by the drought and heat! My next project….
I have intended to do this first for a couple of months now. The Butterfly Garden & Overlook, located in Cunningham Park at 26th and Maiden Lane, was dedicated and officially opened on May 22 of this year. I was there for that moving ceremony, along with my grandson Dayan and my sister Linda, and hundreds of others from the Joplin and Springfield areas. It was wonderful to hear the speeches and see so many turn up for the dedication. After the ceremony, I moved through the structures quickly, not able to see many of the features due to the crowd. That was okay. I planned, in the near future, to visit again and look at everything and spend time in that serene, beautiful space.
Two plus months later, the time for that visit arrived. Tonight, for my first, I visited the Butterfly Garden & Overlook, just after sunset, and spent time there soaking up the peace. I wasn’t sure how lighted the garden would be and if it was even possible to be there after dark. While the lighting was not overly bright, it was well lit enough to walk the pathways. The lower lighting contributed to the calming, restorative atmosphere of the space.
I enjoyed wandering around. There were four youth in the structures when I arrived but they moved on into the park, leaving tranquility behind. Greg, who had not seen the Butterfly Garden & Overlook, accompanied me and strolled around on his own, reading the plaques and trying out one of the benches. I was moved, as I was the day of the dedication, by the simple yet powerful design of the outline houses. Looking over toward where St. John’s Hospital used to stand, I remembered all that had changed in this area. Grief and disbelief welled up and I didn’t try to staunch those feelings. Tonight, I let them rise and flow outward from my chest area. I breathed in deeply and slowly released the air and the energy swirling around my heart. The sound resembled a sigh.
For the first time this evening, I sat on the bench with the journal beneath it. I held the journal, which was full, stories and sentiments and drawings on every page. I didn’t try to read the words. I simply held the journal and felt the emotions emanating from it. I let the sound of water from the nearby large fountain soothe me. Healing is taking place in me and in my city. I very rarely hear anymore in my mind, as I am trying to sleep, the sounds of breaking glass and debris hitting the house. However, a part of me acknowledges what happened each day as I live and drive and dine and shop in the tornado zone. I accept it and I release any need to explain what happened or question why. As I sat quietly on the bench, peace flooded through me, and peace filled that sacred place.
As I continued walking through the garden, I stopped to lightly touch a flowering lavender plant. The scent lingered on my fingers and I was refreshed, renewed. As I straightened, my eyes were drawn to a word, carved in bold letters, on the back of the fountain. A spotlight brought the word sharply into focus, a beacon in the darkness. HOPE. Hope for Joplin. Hope for me. Hope for all who live and work and play here. That one word promises so much. I am grateful.
This has been a busy week with several long days of work and a day spent at the hospital while my stepdad had a lengthy and risky surgery. Thankfully, he is recovering well. And it’s also been an interesting week of firsts, as almost every day has seen a shift away from the planned first and the arrival of something unexpected. Today, in between showing property to great clients, I drove my grandson, Dayan, to a dental appointment and then to a friend’s house. We were discussing my busyness and how my firsts had all changed this week. He asked what my first for today was, and I answered that I had not decided yet. “Yaya” he said, “It’s 1:30. You should know what your first is!” I love this young man and how he holds me accountable!
And then this clever teen proceeded to come up with my first for today. Dayan suggested that I have a quiet, peaceful time in my garden. That alone would not be a first, as I have spent many peaceful evenings in the garden. However, Dayan added that to lie down and gaze into the sky, while doing nothing else, would be a first. What a lovely idea for a new experience. As I finished another longish day, I decided Dayan’s suggestion was perfect.
As the sun began to set, I gathered a variety of candles and placed them on the brick patio, near my metal containers full of sweetly scented petunias and blooming lavender. I lit candles in the meditation area and also in the Japanese garden and hosta garden. I started a small fire in the fire pit. And lastly, I placed a thick quilted throw, in shades of cream, yellow and blue, on the brick patio and added a couple of plump throw pillows. My beautiful, serene retreat area was ready.
A cool, fresh breeze stirred around me as I settled onto the quilt. The warmth of the bricks radiated upward through the quilt in gentle waves, making the space surprising cozy and comfortable. I stretched out and inhaled deeply, enjoying the scent of the nearby flowers and herbs, and felt tension and fatigue leave my body as I exhaled. Bliss. The fire crackled and the candles, deep within their glass containers, cast a warm glow. Overhead, the sky turned a dark velvety blue and the first stars and Mars, the red planet, appeared. As I did when I was a child, I made a wish on the first star I saw.
Starlight twinkled above and below, flitting about the backyard, fireflies answered with twinkles of their own. I spent a very peaceful hour enjoying this sanctuary and allowing the busyness of the past two days to slip away. Before I put my things away, I sat on the quilt and held a few yoga poses, stretching, breathing, opening. Resting there a moment more, several other possible firsts came to mind that would allow me to enjoy the backyard further.
I am very grateful to Dayan for suggesting this restorative first. How important it is to my soul to seek solitude and quiet my mind so my spirit can soar. Mark Buchanan says, “Most of the things we need, to be most fully alive, never come in busyness. They grow in rest.” I agree, wholeheartedly.
Last year, as my sister Debbie and her family prepared to move into a new home, I was gifted with two old wooden chairs that my grandfather owned, and supposedly built. The chairs were wobbly and needed some repairs. Debbie had used them in her pool area, with plants plopped on the seats so no one would risk sitting on them. I was thrilled to receive them and had visions of them in my backyard garden.
Today, my first was to restore these two chairs, in the hopes of making them usable again rather than decorative. What a satisfying project it turned out to be! Greg supervised my work and stepped in a couple of times to show me how to use a tool. But for the most part, he allowed me to do the work. Like many people, I can competently use a hammer and screw driver. But when it comes to using power tools, or a hand saw, I’ve gladly stepped aside to allow someone else, anyone else, to use those more intimidating tools.
I started by assessing the chairs and determining what needed to be done, with Greg’s help. Both chairs had been repaired in the past, and we smiled over some of those repairs. There were many small tacks to remove and on the lighter colored chair, at least 6 layers of fabric on the seat, all rotted. The lighter chair also had missing dowel rods in the back and some cracked and split pieces that needed glued, repaired or replaced. Looking it over, I didn’t think it could be made usable. That was okay. It could be a decorative chair in the garden and hold a pot of flowers. The red chair was in much better condition although it needed tightening up and minor repair work. I was confident this chair could be usable again.
The chairs had the same frame style, but the seats and backs were very different. Whether they were always that way, or whether multiple repairs had gradually changed their appearances, I didn’t know. My paternal grandfather died when I was 5 years old. I have warm memories of sitting on his lap and tipping my head back to watch him laugh and talk. I’d reach up to touch the stubble that always seemed present on his chin. He loved to make things and tinker with cars and I enjoyed playing in his large workshop, my imagination running wild as I poked through containers of nails, bolts and assorted gadgets. We called him Poopaw. The day he passed away, Poopaw had a premonition of his impending death, and visited all his children and grandchildren, either in person or by phone. Shortly after his round of visits was completed, he had a massive heart attack and died.
My father passed away 4 years ago after fighting valiantly against pancreatic cancer. I can’t ask him questions either about the chairs. I can only preserve them and enjoy them. I think Dad and Poopaw would be surprised and delighted that I did most of the restoration myself. Today I used a hammer and a pry bar, which were no biggies. But I also learned to use a hand saw, bar clamps and wood glue, a compressor and nail gun, and a speed square. The compressor and nail gun, noisy but very efficient, has always scared me! The thought of putting a nail through my own hand has caused me to avoid it. I did great though.
The red chair simply needed reinforcement with wood glue and a few nails. It became very sturdy and usable again quickly. I like the chippy paint and the uneven boards across the back and the seat. The lighter colored chair was more challenging. I put new dowel rods in the back, and glued cracked and broken sections and then reinforced those areas with nails. After removing layer after layer of material from the seat, I had a clean frame but no seat to sit upon. I went looking for inspiration and found it in my own backyard. Lath work that had been removed from the upstairs after the tornado was piled on the picnic table. Greg had saved it for making birdhouses. Looking at it, I knew I’d found the perfect material for the chair seat. It was even faded to a nice gray tone, which matched the chair. I sawed those narrow boards to the correct length and attached them to the framework. I was thrilled with the results. The chair that I thought was beyond repair became sturdy and ready for use.
Both chairs are now in my meditation area. I don’t want to paint them. I don’t want to make them look like new again. I appreciate the Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi…beauty in imperfection. The chippy paint, the uneven boards, the faded glory, even the repairs present a beauty and grace of their own. My grandfather loved these chairs. My dad loved them as well. My sister loved them and cared for them and passed them on to me. I love these chairs. They have a new home in my garden and I will enjoy using them. And perhaps, occasionally, I’ll feel the warmth of my grandfather’s or father’s smile, and know they are near and pleased to see that the chairs are still being cherished.
My planned first for the day was a line dancing lesson. As I wrapped up the day close to 7:00 pm, finishing up a showing with a delightful young couple, I knew that wasn’t going to happen! Deciding to save line dancing for another time, I now had to come up with a first, relatively late in the day. At home, browsing through possibilities, I realized my body was drawn toward deep rest. One thing I’ve learned during my journey these past few years is to listen to what my body is telling me. For my first today, I practiced intentional deep relaxation.
I regularly practice meditation and frequently include relaxation as a part of that practice. It is very easy to allow stress to build up in the body and settle into the muscles, creating tension and pain. When I’ve been overly busy, or have had too many long days and short nights, stress and tension accumulate in my neck and shoulder muscles. A painful stiff neck or shoulder is my signal to relax and meditate. Taking 15 to 20 minutes to consciously relax the muscles and allow stress to drain away restores and refreshes me physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Tonight I tried a deep relaxation technique suggested by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who writes and teaches about mindful living. He says that deep relaxation is an opportunity for our bodies to rest, heal and be restored. As we relax, we send love and care to each part of our bodies, holding that part in our awareness as we breathe in and out.
I wanted to be very intentional about relaxing, so I created an environment to support and encourage it. Candles were lit throughout my darkened bedroom. I combined dried lavender, white sage, sweet grass and a bay leaf to create a soothing and cleansing potpourri to burn on a small piece of charcoal. And I had 40 minutes of soft, meditative music playing on my phone. I was ready to relax!
I don’t normally lie down to meditate, as I will too easily slip beyond relaxation and into sleep. I decided this evening to get comfortable lying down and that if deep relaxation took me into slumber it was because my body needed that rest. Lying on my bed, snuggled beneath a heavy blanket, candlelight flickering and music playing, I closed my eyes and focused on taking long slow deep breaths. Beginning with my toes, I held them in my awareness and said, as breathed in and out:
Breathing in, I am aware of my toes
Breathing out, I smile to my toes
This is mindfulness. This is bringing my attention to myself and willing myself to relax my muscles. I moved my awareness up my body, mentally cradling each part, repeating the above statement about my knees, my liver, my arms, my heart, my shoulders, all the way to the top of my head. Sending love and care and gratitude to each part of me, smiling, spending a little extra time being mindful of any sore spot, I relaxed so deeply. Muscles unknotted, my breathing grew deeper and I felt myself sinking into sleep. I let go.
I didn’t sleep long, and waking slowly, I felt wonderful. I could have rolled over and slept until morning and will return to pick up where I left off shortly. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “When you direct the energy of your mindfulness to the part of your body that you are embracing with love and tenderness, you are doing exactly what your body needs.” This was exactly what I needed tonight and I’m grateful that I listened to my body. This was self care at a high level.