Journey 223: Sanctuary

I’ve always enjoyed times of solitude and having my own secret place to hang out in. As a child, when I needed my own space, I sought out places that others either didn’t know about or wouldn’t bother to enter. I’d crawl under the large bush in the backyard, where I discovered a hollow space between the base of the bush and the thick leafy perimeter. Or I’d climb high into the tree in the front yard, where I had a view of the entire neighborhood and could remain still and concealed. 

From the tree next to the house it was easy enough to climb onto the roof. If my parents couldn’t find me, they checked the roof and there I’d be, happily dangling my legs over the edge. At the local swimming pool, I’d sink to the bottom, holding my breath, the laughter and noise from dozens of splashing kids becoming muffled and distant. I’ve never been able to hold my breath for long, so I’d return to the surface to gulp in air and sink again. In bad weather, although I always had my own room, when I needed deeper solitude I sat in my closet or crawled under the bed. 

I didn’t understand then why I craved those times of aloneness, in all those secret spaces. Now I do. It was my way of letting my heart settle. My way of quieting my spirit and opening to the Divine. Withdrawing to enjoy peace, calm and solitude has been a life-long habit that I’ve cultivated. 

Today I longed for that time of quiet solitary joy. It’s been a busy season. There’s been loss and grief, work and play, and precious time with family and friends. When this deep need for solitude comes upon me I especially enjoy a weekend away, with a stack of books, a collection of DVDs and my iPod. That’s not happening anytime soon! 

So I carved out my own solitary time this evening, after a full and busy day. No wonder I have created a backyard garden. With its wooden privacy fence and designated sections it very much has the feel of a secret garden, a concept I’ve loved since childhood, when I read the book by the same name. 

My time puttering around the garden was well spent, lugging the large container with the potted star jasmine to the bistro table on the brickio. The plant, which smells marvelous, was given to me at Bob’s funeral by his friend Jean. I’ll winter it indoors and transplant to the garden next spring. I’m still considering where to plant the beautiful hydrangea  that Greg’s cousins gave, as a memorial to their Uncle Bob. The hydrangea only requires morning sunlight. It will find a permanent spot near the front of the house. 

After weeding and watering and dividing the patch of Lamb’s Ear, I lit tea light candles on the bistro table and started a small fire in the fire pit. This….this is what I had been longing for all day. Darkness fell as I sat quietly, staring into the merrily crackling fire. Peace descended over me, with the twilight. Deep inhalations and slow exhalations released the day’s busyness and swirling thoughts and weariness. I didn’t  want to carry anything over into the next day. 

As the fire died to embers, I stretched and stood, content and relaxed. The dark, silent night hid me as completely as the leafy branches of my favorite childhood tree. It wasn’t as much fun though as scampering up a tree and crawling onto the roof. I eyed the top of the house speculatively as I walked toward the back door. If you ever stop by and can’t find me…look up!

Journey 38: Hope of Spring

Hope of spring dandelion

With the temperature in the low 70’s today, it seemed as if spring was stirring, even though the date, February 7, would deny that. Sunshine and a warm breezy afternoon offered an invitation to be outdoors, which I readily accepted.

Gathering gardening tools and my heavy gloves, I headed into the backyard to take advantage of the unseasonable weather (we broke a record today for high temperature) and bring some tidiness to the flower border and the apothecary garden. The first thing I saw as I entered the yard was a dandelion in bloom. What a sweet harbinger of spring!

Hope of spring messy garden

And what a blissful couple of hours spent doing one of the activities that I most enjoy. Gardening is therapeutic for me, a way to expend energy and move my body while absorbing the beauty and peace in nature. Even with the brown plants, the garden is beautiful and restorative to my body and soul. Using loppers and long bladed shears, I cleaned up the hosta garden and the southern border, cutting back dead vegetation and pulling a few courageous blades of grass. The garden slumbers now, yet soon the border will be alive with colorful perennials pushing up through the soil.

hope of spring marco

Before moving to the herb garden, I pulled a canvas chair from the garage and sat in the sunshine, head tipped back, eyes closed. Birds twittered all around me and the breeze felt fresh on my face. The cats, sensing my whereabouts, joined me in the garden, playing among the dry ornamental grasses, and taking turns sitting on my lap. When I returned to work, the youngest, Marco, stole my chair, curling up to nap in the sunshine.

hope of spring cleaned up garden

The apothecary garden gave me such joy last summer and in the fall, bountiful clippings of herbs which I dried and have used over the winter. As I cleaned up the area, cutting back plants that are dry and brown above ground, they released their aroma into the air. I removed my gloves so that the scents transferred to my hands. I stopped often to stretch my back and bring my cupped hands to my nose, inhaling spicy basil, pungent rosemary and tangy lemongrass. That gave me an idea. I collected the clippings in a bucket, eyeing my fire pit.

As the sun began to sink toward the horizon, I finished my tasks for the day and returned to the brick patio. One of the things I enjoy doing with dried herbs is making my own potpourri and burning it on a small briquette of charcoal. The earthy, fresh scent that rises into the air with the smoke fills my home. I have never burned dried herbs outdoors. Making a small framework within the fire pit, using a few small branches, I added the herb clippings and set the pile ablaze. Because of the breeze, I used the mesh cover on the fire pit. The spark leapt into life, creating a homey crackling fire, and fragrant smoke roiled into the air. I settled into my lawn chair with a contented sigh and watched the result of my work burn away, gifting me as it did so with an amazing scent.

hope of spring herbs

As the sun dropped below the level of the privacy fence, a bright red spot of sunlight appeared in a gap between boards. I was intrigued with the illusion of twin flames, one within and one without the fence, beacons of light and hope. What a beautiful finish to the day. Tomorrow, which promises to be just as warm and sunny as today, I will trim back the ornamental grasses, in preparation for their new growth this spring. I bought a new power tool today, an electric hedge trimmer, just for this task. I can’t wait to try it out!

hope of spring two fires

Day 149: S’mores Around the Fire Pit


In spite of the mass of dark clouds looming to the southwest, my sister Linda, Greg and I gathered around a blazing fire in the backyard, to make the first batch of s’mores using the new fire pit. This was Linda’s idea. Recently during a family gathering around the fire, she lamented that I didn’t have the ingredients to make s’mores.

Tonight, she brought the marshmallows, chocolate candy bars and graham crackers. I supplied the fire…and the drinks. She had a peach margarita while Greg and I sipped on cold Angry Orchard Ciders. The clouds lumbered on without shedding a drop of rain. The stars came out overhead. And the crackle of the fire enchanted us. We were ready to make s’mores.

I looked up the origin of this classic campfire treat, popular in the US and Canada. According to Wikipedia, s’mores is a contraction of the phrase “some more”. The first recorded version of the recipe was found in the publication Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts, in 1927, and remained in girl scout publications labeled as Some Mores until 1973. Merriam-Webster marks 1974 as the first use of the word s’mores.

We prepared our chocolate pieces and graham crackers and then, using long forks, toasted marshmallows. There is an art to marshmallow toasting. Hold them too close to the fire and they blaze up, charring on the outside but remaining cool inside. Patience is required to slowly brown the outside, allowing the inside to become warm and gooey. Once the marshmallows were evenly browned and starting to sag a bit on the fork, they were ready to slide off onto a square of chocolate, which in turn rested on a larger square of graham cracker. Topped with another piece of chocolate and another square of cracker and they were ready to eat.


The treats tasted great. Except Linda ate her first one and realized she forgot the chocolate! We decided it wasn’t really a s’more, but a marshmallow treat. She, of course, had to make another. Like me, she has been limiting her sugar intake, so while the s’mores were very tasty, they were also very sweet. One was all I wanted.

It was fun to sit around the fire pit, laughing, talking, munching on s’mores and watching the fire. I could sit and stare into those flames for hours, fascinated by the twisting, leaping tongues of fire. I’m glad Linda thought of this first, and the fire pit has now had its s’mores initiation. Coming up in the near future….a hot dog roast! It’s going to be a fun summer.


Day 122: Create a Fire Pit


On this bright and glorious spring day, I enjoyed spending the afternoon and early evening outside, working diligently in my backyard. The brick seating area was recently completed, thanks to Greg! Today, for my first, I built the fire pit.

As I’ve drawn up plans and sketches of the backyard transformation, this section was designated as the gathering area. I wanted a patio or courtyard big enough so that friends or family could easily sit together to visit or eat. I can also practice tai chi or yoga here or even hold a small class in this spot. I am very grateful to my friend, Kevin, for donating the brick pavers that he salvaged after his business building was destroyed by the 2011 tornado. These pavers have character, and a history, as Kevin bought them years ago after a building in St. Louis, MO was demolished. Greg has spent many hours in the backyard working on the seating area, with some help from a good friend, Tim. As I stand or sit on these sturdy bricks, I love that they have come through a demolition and a powerful storm, intact, and have now been placed into service again, as a gathering place. I love that Greg, Kevin and Tim all played a role in creating something so beautiful and functional.

I had the fun role of building the fire pit. Greg picked up the blocks, but I asked him to let me assembled the ring by myself. He was okay with that! It wasn’t difficult at all, yet I felt a great sense of satisfaction in laying those blocks. A metal fire pit that got banged up during the tornado found new life inside the circle of stone.


I can sit quietly and stare into flames for hours. The crackle and warmth of the fire, the woodsy scent, the way the flames move and shift and dance, all captivate me. There is an almost hypnotic quality to flame watching as the mind turns inward, in a reflective state. I could hardly wait for dusk. Later, sitting there on those softly hued bricks, watching the flames leap into the air as darkness fell, I felt blissful. This is the beginning of my backyard Rivendell, which will offer peace and joy to all who enter.

I look forward to the weekend and spending more time in the yard. As Greg builds a gate for the back portion of the fence, I will be laying out pathways and starting to plant around the brick patio. The metal buckets, wash tub and containers I picked up a couple of weeks ago, while out junking, will be arranged around the brick seating area, filled with soil, and then planted with greenery and flowers. In the next week or so I’ll add seating and small tables.


I’ll also begin detailed plans on the next section of the yard that will be developed, the Japanese/meditation garden. While the gathering area is designed for a few or many, the more intimate meditation garden will be for solitary use, intended for reflecting, reading, meditating or sipping tea. I’m excited about the transformation, and while I look forward to spending time in the finished garden, the joy is in the journey and the fun is in the creating.