Wednesday, October 31, 2018

31. What's Next

Since I'm no longer afraid or timid about dreaming big, I've got big ideas about the future of my backyard:

I want it to be a gathering place in the temperate months. A respite for myself, my family and friends. A getaway in a cul-de-sac on a property where the sidewalk ends, literally. I am dreaming of patio parties and workshops for littles where I can introduce them to gardening, planting seeds, cutting blossoms, and feeling closer to nature.

Phase two of the hill transformation will include building two more retaining walls—out of cedar—on either side of the existing flower garden.
The overarching goal for that space is to fill it with visual detail and plant enough stuff (a very technical term) that eventually there is very little weeding to do.
I will expand the size of my cutting garden with more rows of zinnias and sunflowers. (More flowers to share!) I will split my enormous pampas grasses and transplant them to other parts of the hill knowing that they will help fill the space and discourage growth of renegade weeds. Also, more grasses to wave in the wind, thus simulating Kansas prairie.
I envision planting lavender up high along the fence line. I love the color and the look of lavender. I also like that it waves in the wind, takes up space, and requires little maintenance.
By next fall the retaining walls will be built, so I'll know where are the best places to plant bulbs—tulips, daffodils, gladiolas. I want to look out my window in the next few years and be delighted by all the visual features of a space I transformed myself.
While I have no plans to move anytime soon, I do like to daydream about leaving that yard far more beautiful than when I got it. And thinking about the patio parties I will host, the stories told and marshmallows roasted around the fire pit. I like thinking that the bulbs I plant will delight future dwellers as much as the tulips that have been blooming every spring since I moved in fifteen years ago.
I will continue to document my journey on Instagram (@journalingjulie). I will continue to be inspired by the gardens featured in some of the accounts I now follow, especially @puscinaflowers in Italy.
I am energized and inspired thinking about how my gardening will influence and factor into my writing. I will be forever grateful for my willingness to lean in to the discomfort I felt about my yard and to follow my curiosities. It was a life-changing summer.

Late season blooms

  Thank you for following me on my journey.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

30. What I Learned

Practically speaking, I learned that the Queen Anne's lace-looking stuff that crops up each season must be vanquished whilst still in bloom. I made that mistake this spring. It looked pretty, and so I kept it around. But after it blooms, burrs develop, and they are insidious. I won't make that mistake again.

On a deeper level, this gardening experiment reinforced things I was beginning to recognize more readily in myself: I am determined, creative, and resilient. I did, in fact, inherit my grandparents' green thumbs. That bit of revelation thrills me to no end. It's a bit like learning that I'm not a complete dunce in the kitchen, which was an old, worn-out narrative I believed about myself for too many years.

I have a three-ring notebook full of reference articles. When something random catches my eye that I think I might want to return to later, I slide it into a page protector and include it in the binder. Recently, I had a few new entries to include. The binder was nearing capacity, so I flipped through it page-by-page looking for articles or idea inspirations that were past their prime. Things that I could remove to make room for other, newer items.

I was delighted and surprised to discover how many times something garden related had been added to this reference binder over the years. It seems I've been nurturing a desire to garden, to get my hands in the dirt and grow something, for a long, long time. Much the same way I nurtured my love of writing, long before I decided to claim that as a passion and something I would pursue with tenacity. Flipping through those pages was a form of archaeology. It was an enlightening, empowering discovery, and one that will serve and nourish me for years to come.

When I began this journey, I was weary of the physical scenery of my neglected, overgrown backyard. I was also tired of the stress and belief that to fix the mess, I would have to spend thousands of dollars I simply do not, nor would I have, for the foreseeable future. What a liberating thing to decide I would make it better on my own, bit-by-bit, and as budget allowed.

I was rewarded time and again by my willingness to ask for help and admit I was a novice. That quality has brought to my life the most serendipitous and helpful conversations and interactions. It also gave me the space to think out loud, to dream, and to plan.

In the process, I also had the chance to dwell in the memories of my grandparents, to ask myself the questions I would have liked to ask my grandmother, in particular, and by doing so now, wait quietly for spirit and my own intuition to help guide me to her answers.

Like my 40/40 list three years ago, this gardening experiment has been another practice ground for sharpening life and coping skills. It has served as a mirror to reflect back to me what I am seeing, feeling, and experiencing in life during this season. It's given me space to ask questions, listen for the answers. It's also been a safe place for me to grieve some losses that still felt fresh when the season began.

I feel stronger, more sure-footed, more hopeful about the future. I believe in the power of the changing of seasons—both physical and emotional.

I am the proud owner of a few new tools and a whole lot more confidence. I challenged some preconceived notions, and came out stronger than before.

I learned that I am much like the zinnias I grew: hearty and capable of withstanding harsh conditions. I am colorful, bright, and strong. I learned I AM a gardener, and far less of a novice than when I started brokenhearted and overwhelmed this spring.

Monday, October 29, 2018

29. Many Hands Make Lighter Work

The season is winding down. I feel it, and while at first I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to my flower garden, I am now. As I put my garden to bed, a new crop of story ideas and a new book project have landed lightly on my mind and heart like the monarch butterflies that have visited the zinnias in the cutting garden. I am ready to turn my full attention to a new season of writing.

In the past month, I have had the help of two sets of friends put the finishing touches on this gardening experiment gone very, very right. On September 29, five friends sacrificed their Saturday mornings to help me regrade the first level of ground past the main retaining wall.

Nine years before, the wall collapsed. It hadn't been originally built with drainage, so pressure built up, and kaboom! When the wall was rebuilt, the filler rock wasn't redistributed or graded, so it was a twisted ankle waiting to happen. It had also been host to an eye sore of renegade weeds.

My friends moved the rock around and then used a rented vibrating compactor to smooth out the surface and prepare it for weed block and mulch. They also transplanted a volunteer sycamore tree onto the grass part of the yard below. 


The rock did not make digging out this tree an easy task.

The laborers captured by my daughter lounging in the hammock.

Use of the vibrating compactor.


I paid them in really good pizza, and as we refueled and reflected on what we'd accomplished in a few hours, they discussed what my next steps were. I needed to buy weed block, staples, and order five to six cubic yards of cedar mulch.

I swallowed the pizza and tried to digest how I was going to do that next task alone. I didn't stew long because I had a summer's worth of surprise achievements under my belt.

I also knew how to proceed: Break. It. Down.

And so I did. 

I bought my supplies and then worked on it after work for several evenings.

Finishing some evenings by moonlight.

I was ready for my next set of friends who brought wheelbarrows, shovels, and a lot of pluck. We tackled the pile of mulch in my driveway. Over the three hours it took to complete the job, we tweaked and finessed our strategies and tactics and moved that mulch up and over the retaining wall. 

This is what 5 cubic yards of mulch looks like.

We've only just begun...

We've got a system down, and are making steady progress.

More progress.

These women join me in my wild adventures, and I'm grateful. I'll redistribute the piles when I'm rested.

It was hard work, but it was also deeply satisfying. It felt good to move my body in so many ways, and thanks to my yoga training, to do so safely. We worked smart, so we didn't have to work too hard.

We enjoyed a good meal and then went our separate ways. I went directly to soak in a tub of Epsom salts and relaxed the rest of the day. I am really mastering how to balance productivity and leisure, and both states feel great.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

28. Wheat State

I've thought a lot about my beloved Grandpa as I worked in my yard this summer. The last time he came for a visit, he looked out the window and brainstormed with me what I could do to rein in the weeds and tame the hill.
This man was one of my best friends, and he knew it. He told me once that he wanted me to get a hobby. I told him I had my writing and he reminded me that I could talk to him any time. But he also said that he was an old man and wouldn't be around forever. The way he saw it, a hobby would help keep me company when he was no longer around.
That conversation has replayed in my mind repeatedly all summer. I wish so much that I could tell him about my efforts, my successes, and my progress in my backyard. I want to tell him that gardening became a hobby and helped me grieve his death.
When we talked two years ago, I joked about planting wheat. To my surprise, Grandpa didn't completely laugh off the idea. We talked out the pros and cons of planting wheat. I was grateful that he took my considerations seriously.

For more than 40 years, he had a side hustle that produced beautiful leather work for horse hitches including the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales. He did business as the Wheat State Hame Company. I suggested wheat because what I want most on that hill is to look out and see plants and flowers that remind me of the beauty of Kansas. Sunflowers and wheat, iconic Kansas images.
Whether I plant wheat or not is irrelevant. What is beautiful is knowing how proud Grandpa would be of my efforts and my willingness to make something of that space with my own sweat, wits, and imagination.
Who knows? Maybe I'll throw some wheat up there in his honor after all.
Gramps and me in 2015

Saturday, October 27, 2018

27. A Dream Come True

For years, I would look up at my mess of a hill and dream of having a cutting garden. I loved the idea of cutting fresh flowers and having them displayed throughout the house. In those years, I wasn't goal-oriented. Getting through daily life zapped most of my available energy, and dreaming of something better wasn't happening either.
After my divorce, I began buying myself bouquets from ALDI. It was an affordable luxury and grew to be such an uplifting form of self-care.
I knew so little about what I was planting this summer that I didn't realize that I had planted what would become my first cutting garden. I chose sunflowers and zinnias because I liked the look of them and because the sunflowers reminded me of home.
I began googling zinnias after a text exchange with my best friend. As luck would have it, zinnias are considered a must-have in any garden according to the online resource Savvy Gardening. I experienced all of zinnias' attributes this summer: fast growing, add extensive color, grow reliably, low maintenance, grow quickly from seed, draw butterflies and pollinators, and grow well in pots or the garden. I enjoyed witnessing their all-summer-long growth.
On the Saturday of my third yoga training weekend, I cut my first sunflower from my garden and took it to the studio to share with my teachers and classmates. I cannot tell you what it meant to do this. I parked my mat next to the puja (honored area) where other students had brought flowers from their gardens the evening before.
A few more weeks passed. I was enjoying the zinnias in their natural habitat so much that I wasn't inclined to cut them and take them inside. But more days passed and colors erupted and I decided that I could spare a few blossoms without sacrificing the look of the garden.
I later deadheaded the flowers to encourage more growth. I collected dead blooms to gather seeds for next summer's garden. I tried to count how many flowers and buds were in the garden and every time I started, I lost count. There were so many! And there was no need to take inventory. They looked amazing and that was the only thing I cared about.
My sister bought me a flasket, a cool kind of vase and basket combo. You fill the reservoir at the bottom with water and slip your arm through the handle for easy carrying. She gave it to me years ago, and this summer was the first time I ever used it. 

As a minimalist, I do a fairly frequent assessment of my material possessions and move along things that haven't been used in a long time. I am so grateful I broke my own rule on this tool. I wasn't ready to let go of that dream. Thank goodness.
This summer, as I looked up at the hill that was less of a mess and reflected my hard work, sweat, and joy, my day dreaming felt a lot more realistic and possible.

The cutting garden reinforced the lesson about abundance and scarcity. At first, I was hesitant to cut the blooms for fear the garden would lose its colorful look. But then the blossoms kept coming. There were blooms to spare and when I shared them, my joy in doing so increased. And I loved my garden more. Do not hoard beauty, is what this garden reminded me. There is plenty, and the joy comes from sharing! 

I gave bouquets to my friends over and over this summer and the joy that appeared on their faces was such a gift to me.
What other dreams shall I work to make come true?

Friday, October 26, 2018

26. Best Summer Ever

Autumn. Winter. Spring. Summer. That's the order of my preferences for the four seasons as we Midwesterners experience them. Summer has always been the season I tolerated. I liked it for its break from school when I was a child, but it was always too hot and then too cold in the air conditioning. I'm the annoying one who packs a cardigan when I leave the house May through August. And the one who wears sweaters regularly the rest of the year.

My budget grounded me for the past few years. I've been antsy to travel, to get the heck out of dodge for awhile, but my practical side wins out. I made the conscious choice to make the most of a staycation this summer. I vacationed in my backyard. It's been surprisingly wonderful.

This summer flipped a switch in me. I learned that working in the shade on even the hottest days allowed me to be both productive and leisurely. I managed to not get dehydrated or get a sunburn. I paced myself and enjoyed a blend of work and rest all in the same afternoon.I have underappreciated summer in the same way that I spent too much time in my head and not enough time in my body. Gardening returned Summer to me. It was nice to get reacquainted with the joys of summer. I love being outdoors now.

I experienced the health benefits that studies say nature provides: I felt less stressed. I breathed easier after time outdoors. I liked the weariness in my bones after an afternoon laboring on my hill ripping out weeds and mashing them down in my yard waste containers. Nature did its work on me, and I am better for it. It was such a lovely surprise.

I love sweater and boot weather, but this year, I wasn't in as much of a hurry to trade out my seasonal closet as I'd been in the past. I was reluctant to pack away my flip flops and tank tops. What a lovely feeling to be nostalgic for something new. And yet, this is the beauty of living in the Midwest. The seasons change with regularity. A good reminder that no season—physical or mental—lasts forever.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

25. Habit Forming Part 2

With every passing day of summer, I became more convinced that this gardening experiment will become a new way of life for me. The hard work no longer felt like a chore. Sure there were times when my schedule made getting the lawn mowed in a timely manner tricky, but really, I like mowing. So I figured out how to better manage my time and plan ahead to make it work.

I found gardening to be another beautiful companion activity to my writing and my yoga practice. The three activities complement each other well. When I’m not physically sitting at my laptop writing, ideas and turns of phrase I can use later float into my mind as I weed or water or hold a pose on my mat. I spent so many years in my head thinking and writing and stewing. It felt good to use my body to transform my green space and to do something that showed progress and also effectively cleared my head.

Oftentimes I come home from work a little fidgety. Not ready to dive into my yoga study or work on an essay, so rather than succumb to the agitation of what to do with myself, I changed clothes (or sometimes not) and walked straight to the backyard. I turned on the hose and began watering the flowers. I climbed the hill and weeded while the water ran giving the flowers a good soaking in anticipation of the forecast for hotter temps in coming days.

As I yanked out the green trash from the hill, I felt myself breathing easier, feeling a sense of accomplishment and letting go of the low-grade panic that stole peace from the present moment.

I daydreamed about how I could get a job that let me learn more about plants, flowers, and gardening in general whilst still having good benefits: retirement savings, health care, and tuition reimbursement.

Seems for the time being, this remains an amateur thing. Novice or not, it is more fulfilling than I could have imagined. This pastime has landed on my path at exactly the right time.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

24. The Flower Garden is Complete

The Sunflowers arrived! Their taller stocks and bright yellow blossoms really rounded out the shape of my little slice of prairie paradise. Looking at these flowers reminded me of my Kansas roots, my Grandma Steele, and a better appreciation for what drew her to her garden and the outdoors so much. If I could, I would have spent hours every day out there. It became my new happy place. I’ll let the photos tell the rest.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

23. Outdoor Living

One of the lovely by-products of this gardening adventure was spending more time outside—even when I wasn't working, weeding, or watering.

I’d wanted a hammock for a long time, and finally bit the bullet and found one on sale at Target. I assembled it myself (persevering when the written instructions stumped me). I did a lot of reading earlier in the summer before the temperatures soared.

My daughter and I found badminton rackets and birdies on sale at Walgreen’s, so that became a fun pastime too. That child and I can really crack each other up. We laughed really hard as we worked on improving the number of times we can keep the birdie volleying between us. One evening, she kept getting the birdies caught in the tree. We giggled as we threw the rackets in the air hoping to shake the birdies out. Next she hit the birdie and it landed in the gutter on the front of the house. I shook my head at the absurdity of it all and walked to my tool shed where I stored my ladder.

I walked through the gate entrance into the back yard and looked up and ahead. For the first time this summer, I looked at my back yard from a different perspective. I saw the wildness still needing to be tamed and for the first time, I did not see it as ugly or something that needed to be fixed.
What I saw, instead, was a space full of potential. And I saw myself different, too. I knew I had the enthusiasm, curiosity, and patience to transform it.

Monday, October 22, 2018

22. Welcome to the Neighborhood, Ladies

After days of devoted watering and pulling weeds that threatened to choke out the plants that were intended to grow, the day finally arrived. My first zinnia appeared. It didn't take long for other blossoms to follow and I was ecstatic. I visited my garden every morning and evening to take in the beauty and monitored the changes that occur.
I was giddy over this little plot of earth. My enthusiasm made me self-conscious. I behaved as if I was the first human ever to grow something. It felt miraculous and I was thrilled and humbled to have been a part of this creative process.
My garden has cultivated so many things in my life. My writing returned after months of grief and word hibernation. The physicality of pulling weeds and mowing, moving earth and wielding tools made me appreciate what my body can do on and off the yoga mat.
My daughter commented on my “flower babies” and how I love them more than her. An absurd notion, but she read my enthusiasm correctly. I DO love my garden and what it has grown.
These blossoms were the bright spot of a yard that has caused me so much mental anguish over the years. They offered a balm and a promise that future seasons would be brighter than the past. Yet another metaphor for this new life I am living.
I could not be more delighted!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

21. Break it Down

As I faced my newest challenge, yoga teacher training, low-grade panic surged through me when I contemplated how I would memorize all of the material month-after-month. I had epiphany.
On a lunch walk, I realized that I could record myself reading each individual set of poses and then replay them over and over. This is one of the many things that brings me to the sidewalk day after day. The latin phrase, solvitur ambulando, is so right: it IS solved by walking.
Basically, I could break down yet another big, scary goal into smaller, achievable tasks. Hmm, this seems really familiar. When have I done this before?
Writing a page a day that turned into a novel draft seven months later? Yes.
Looking at my backyard and choosing to tackle one small part of the weeding at a time? Yes.
Choosing to plant seeds in one small area? Yes.
My garden was the newest practice ground for how to tackle an overwhelming task. It helped me model for myself the way to approach something that at its worst might paralyze me into non-action and at its best inspire me to surprise myself with what I accomplish.
For nearly 15 years, I was paralyzed by the size of the task, the assumed high costs of rehabilitating the space, and my perceived lack of skills, know-how, and ability to tackle the job.
No more!
What I am learning over and over is the power of breaking down big goals into smaller tasks. Every time I do, my confidence and competence grows, as do the piles of weeds I take to the curb for yard waste pick up.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

20. A New Water Source and a Set of Pliers

I’ve lived in this for fourteen-and-a-half years. Only this summer did I realize there was a water spigot on the back of my house. This was a revelation.

I have happily dragged my hose back and forth between the back and front yards, but it did seem convenient that I could have one hose in the back and one in the front. It would save me a little time and effort.

I separated the two hoses that had been one long hose, and attached the second hose to the spigot in the back yard. And then I went to work on turning it on. I worked and worked and could not budge it. I was annoyed and didn’t have time to mess with it, so I skipped watering that morning and told myself I’d ask my neighbor to check it out in the evening.

I came home from work and wasn’t interested in dealing with this hang up, so I didn’t water again, and skipped asking my neighbor for help. I was motivated to try early in the morning before work because I didn't want another hot day to pass without watering. Sometime between then and the next morning, I remembered that I hadn’t tried pliers. I needed to employ a tool stronger than my hand.

If the pliers didn’t work, then I’d definitely ask my neighbor for help. A few years ago, my dad restocked my garage with tool basics. I went to the garage to grab a set of pliers. I took them to the spigot and sure enough, it was just what I needed! The water started flowing through the hose, and I got the plants rehydrated. I can’t tell you how satisfying these little moments are for me as a solo homeowner. I texted a friend that I’d figured out my water problem without asking for help. His “nice work” was so nice to read.

I’m really glad that I figured out a way to cut down on the hose hauling. The convenience of two hoses has enhanced the gardening experience. Life really is made up of the little victories. My confidence continues to blossom like my garden.

Friday, October 19, 2018

19. A Moment of Decision

Since I’ve never grown anything from seed before, I was hesitant to do any weeding for a while. I had no idea what zinnia, sunflower, and wildflower sprouts looked like. I kept watering and sending these little sprouts my love and affection.

As the sprouts got taller and stronger, I began noticing something that was growing vigorously was also growing in places where I hadn’t planted seeds. Then one day, I noticed the same plant growing up out of a seam in my driveway. That third location sealed the deal for me. That plant wasn’t supposed to be where it was growing and it needed to go. I didn’t want it to choke out the burgeoning plants that were growing in their neat little rows.

It was a cool moment. I’d given the plants enough time to establish themselves and deduced that this particular plant didn’t belong. I could hear the catchy Sesame Street jingle in my head, “One of these things is not like the others.” And I didn’t consult anyone, either. This was my decision alone, and it proved to be a good one.

The offending weed appears directly behind the zinnia bud in the foreground.

A few days later- the flower is opening more and there's no more weed.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

18. Snake Break

Gardening is teaching me about time management and the power of committing a little time to one task. When I finish it, I reassess my energy and what is next and determine if I'll keep at it or wrap up for the time being. Either decision is the right one, depending on the moment.

I'm also being reminded about the importance of cleaning up after oneself as a metaphor for life. A good amount of my latest sessions in the backyard are cleaning up piles of clipped decorative grasses or other weeds that I pulled last year or the year before.

I spotted my first snake and knew that these piles are invitations to snakes and other unsavory “wild life.” Metaphorically, the piles remind me of the things—emotions, bad feelings, unhelpful habits—that grow bigger when left unattended.

I don't feel bad about it. It's cathartic and the hard work will teach me not to take that approach anymore. Moving forward, I will clean up the yard refuse as I go. The piles are also visual clutter which has a tendency to weigh down my mind and energy. No more piles of yard waste unless it's going into my compost pile.

And as for the snake, I was proud that I didn’t freak out. I simply stopped what I was doing, backed up, and gave him some space to do his thing. I needed to get some water anyway.

I haven’t seen him since, so my theory about clearing away the piles must be spot on.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

17. Something to Talk About

I am one chatty gal. But as I get older, I notice the value of silence as a way of combatting all the physical and digital noise around us. It’s easy to get enveloped in the noise, so I’ve worked on being more intentional about the words I say. I choose more carefully when I speak up and when I use silence to speak for me.

As I contemplated this shift, I began noticing that most people aren’t comfortable with silence and so many fill it with things like talking about the weather. In an effort to move closer to more authentic conversation, I decided to cut out the weather small talk and to see what happened.

My reasoning was that there isn’t a single thing I can do about the weather. I can’t make it stop snowing or make it rain when the ground is dry, so if I’m looking for an easy place to cut out conversational noise, the weather was a good place to start. I also chose to practice this conversational boycott to conserve energy for more meaningful interactions with strangers and acquaintances alike. Standing at the sink in the women’s restroom got a lot quieter when I stopped initiating conversation to fill those awkward few seconds in the presence of someone else. And then…

I started gardening, and I became dependent on the weather to know how to plan my watering schedules. I used to hope for rain, specifically on weekends when I was likely to mow, so that I could put it off for another day. But now that mowing isn’t such a chore, I depend on the rain to nourish my flowers, and to ease my daily watering schedule. I’m constantly looking at the clouds to predict whether or not rain is on its way. I check my phone’s weather app to see what the weekly forecast is. I am cheery and enthusiastic when rain does fall, and lament when the rain doesn’t come as forecasted or stops before it reaches my neighborhood (which has happened repeatedly this summer).

Talking about the weather now has purpose. I feel grateful for the four seasons in which I live and no longer see the weather as a filler topic of conversation. It has always been important, but I was less directly affected by it when I wasn’t gardening.

I relate better to farmers and to their dependence on the weather. I recognize now in a new way how vulnerable they are to wind and excessive rain as well as drought conditions.

This gardening thing broadened my perspective in ways I wasn’t prepared for, and I am grateful. Now, I talk about the weather, and it isn’t idle conversation. It is meaningful and holds significance in my day-to-day life.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

16. My Garden as a Mirror

This new pastime served as a mirror. It helped reflect back to me how I feel about my life, and for the first time I can say almost across the board, I feel great.
I found renewed energy that for once doesn't feel like a burst that will soon flame out. My gardening showed me that I've weathered a hard pass and am stronger on the other side.
The time outdoors nourished me in ways I never knew or expected. I woke up earlier and actually got up. Hours before I had to go to work, I completed an evening's worth of housekeeping or bill paying. Sometimes I baked something or worked in the garden. I let go of the idea that I should wake up and dread going to an office job. In doing so, I gave something far too much power.

By the time I go to work these days, I've accomplished so much already that I have momentum to keep going. I've also noticed that I don't let little things pile up like I used to. I do the task when it's smaller and easier thereby freeing mental energy and physical time for other things I'd rather be doing. Like watering my plants, weeding a bit, laughing and hanging out with my daughter, reading a book, or writing a blog post.

Could I really have gotten all of this from working out in my yard? Yes.

Going to the place I loathed the most and seeing it with new eyes allowed me to see other parts of my life from a new perspective. 
I like what I see.

Monday, October 15, 2018

15. Flower Power

I see a pattern forming in how some of the most important things I do in my life develop. I wanted to write for years, but couldn’t muster the courage or belief that I had anything worth saying. In those intermittent years, I read everything I could get my hands on about authors’ processes, their strategies, and their successes and failures. By the time I started writing seriously, I had a firm handle on what was required of me: persistence and discipline. Those two things were what I could control. 

This summer taught me that the same thing was happening as I looked outside my back windows season after season. While I didn’t know a lot of technical things, I knew what I liked and what I wanted. I knew that I wanted flowers and plants that remind me of my beloved home state of Kansas.

The afternoon that I decided to take the leap and turn part of one cleared area into a flower bed, I chose zinnias and sunflowers for my starter garden. I had no idea what would come of it. Did I have even a remote chance of inheriting my grandparents’ green thumbs? Would the seeds take?

I borrowed my neighbor’s pitch fork and tilled the ground and then added potting soil on top of the dirt. I read the instructions on the back of the seed packets and planted the seeds. I watered religiously and in four days I saw zinnia sprouts. I was thrilled. This early success built momentum.

I purposely started with a small bed. I was more interested in a little bit of success than biting off more than I could chew or losing interest. Plus, even if none of the seeds sprouted, I was only out $5.

The plants made steady progress, and one evening I took my daughter out to see the sprouts.

“I'm proud of you, Mom. I can see your hard work.”

There’s nothing better than the admiration of an eleven-year-old. I was delighted with my garden’s progress and motivated to keep watering and capturing its progress day by day.

Sprouts appeared days after I planted the seeds.

I could not believe the progress I saw from day to day, week to week.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

14. Poison Something

I’m not one to use a thimble when I needlepoint, and until recently I didn’t much care for using gloves when I weed. Even though I don’t like having messy hands, I don’t mind the feel of dirt on my skin or under my fingernails.

As I began de-weeding my jungle, I kept an eye out for poison ivy. I had reason to believe there might be some up there in the mess, but I wasn’t too sure if I’d recognize it as I yanked weeds. I googled it once or twice and what I saw did not match what came up in the google search, so I kept pulling weeds and making giant piles while wearing tank tops and bare hands.

A day or two after the most recent session in the yard, my wrists and the tops of my hands began itching. And then they began burning. The skin reddened, swelled, and became really uncomfortable.

It was peculiar how the breakouts were in nearly the same exact places on each arm. A friend looked at my arms and suggested it was time for hydrocortisone cream. The cream definitely helped and the discomfort began dissipating a few days later.

I’m still not convinced that it was actually poison ivy, but it was poison something. I feel like this brush with whatever it was was a warning: Cover up and use gloves. Next time could be worse. There’s no need to suffer unnecessarily.

I now wear long sleeve shirts and my overalls. I also wear gloves. I found some that have grippy material on the palms, so not only do they protect my skin, but they help with stubborn weeds. 

I know my grandma would be pleased that I’m taking this precaution.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

13. Student of the Garden

One of my favorite writer-mentors, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic to name a few, talks a lot about remaining a student of life. She reminds readers that oftentimes the things that are challenging to us are the first time we’ve encountered them, regardless of our age. So if it’s our first experience with something, why would we assume we’d know what to do or how to proceed? She says that in the student mode, we can be gentler with ourselves and lead with curiosity.
As the summer progressed, I grew more comfortable with the idea that I was a novice at this gardening thing. I was comforted by the thought that people who are really good at gardening, like my grandparents, at one time did not know everything about lawn care, vegetables, and flowers that they did, by the time they seemed like experts to me.
Gardening by trial and error provided me with an opportunity to flex the muscle of being okay with making mistakes. To not seek perfection, and to rely on my creativity and common sense. In this way, this experiment was liberating. It gave me practice in this approach, which I hope helps me operate this way in other areas of my life.
In the past, perfectionism kept me from trying new things because...what if I messed up? Gardening is the adult playground where my actions answer, "so what if you do? If you're having fun, who cares?" 

Friday, October 12, 2018

12. New Insight Takes Root

As I walked past the house that has the raised bed made of stone, I saw the homeowner moving her sprinkler around her front yard. I stopped and told her that her raised bed had inspired me to consider doing something similar with a surplus of stones I have taking up space in my tool shed.

She seemed up for a chat, so I started asking her questions. We spoke for several minutes about the flowers and plants in her yard. She’s not from the Midwest, so she talked about having to figure things out in a different climate and with different soil. She talked about the plants that fared well, others that didn’t, and some that she’d dug up because she didn’t like how they looked, grew, or spread.

My conversation with her planted the seed that this gardening thing is about acquired knowledge and not knowing everything before I start. That concept will take a little time to bear fruit. I tend to want to know a lot before I begin anything new. It helps keep the mistakes at a minimum, but it also ensures I miss out on some great experiences.

She told me about the flowers that tend to reseed (day lilies and zinnias) and could help fill out my vast space without extra effort on my part. This conversation helped me keep dreaming, keep envisioning what is possible for my mess of a weedy hill.

What I am most interested in is filling the space I have with low-maintenance plants and flowers that edge out the volume of weeds that have multiplied over summers past. I don’t mind weeding some, but what I am weeding at present is ridiculous.

She even invited me to come back in July to take some of the plants she plans to divide when she returns from a trip to China. Free plants! That’s an idea!