Leap Year

I spent the first part of my spring break visiting family in San Antonio. It’s always strange revisiting the city and home of my childhood, only this time as an adult. It’s interesting to note the changes, both in the environment and in how I perceive the surroundings.

We went straight from the airport to a lovely gluten-free restaurant and bakery, where I had my first Belgian waffles in over 8 years. Other patrons commented on and related to the ecstasy I was experiencing with my meal; once something has been taken away, it will never again be taken for granted.

photo 1-1The next stop was the zoo, where my mom and I got to experience a first for both of us – a front row seat to some lion hanky panky. You know that rumbling roar that you heard on Saturday afternoon? Well, I saw its origin. Yikes. Let’s just say, I’m glad I’m not a lioness.

I’ll spare you the pictures of the carnal shenanigans (what? you know you would have clicked too), and share some of the other big cats we saw instead. The facility has replaced parts of the enclosures with glass, which makes for an amazingly up-close and intimate experience.

photo 4photo 3-1It’s funny, even though we are largely visual creatures, smells have a way of activating memory like no image ever can. When I encountered the overripe candle scent of the mold-o-rama animal machine, I was instantly 6 again, tugging on my dad’s hand while stating the reasons I needed a five inch wax gorilla in order to survive. I prevailed. The gorilla, however, did not. It turns out soft plastic toys are not particularly suited to the climate of South Texas.

photo 1-2The zoo’s new (to me, at least) Africa exhibit allows a great view of an okapi, which I described as, “A giraffe and a zebra walk into a bar…” These quiet creatures were undiscovered until the late 19th century and early reports were met with skepticism. Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.

photo 5The zoo memories were all safe ones; although my ex and I went together several times, it was more a place from early childhood. The next day’s outing was the potentially dangerous one.

My ex worked at Sea World for almost two years in our late teens/early twenties. He would come home from his jack-of-all trades position in the scenic department with his polyester uniform stiff with dried sweat and imbued with a tenacious odor of fish to regal me with stories of mischievous animals and demanding bosses. During those years, I often went to the park with him, using the free pass to gain access to Great White, a short but oh-so-sweet hanging roller coaster. I had not been to the park since he quit that position, almost 18 years ago.

photo 2-2

It turns out that 18 years is a long time. The park has changed and morphed so much, that not only did it hold few memories (except for Great White, whose every twist and turn I could still recall), but I even found myself getting lost on the winding paths. And with all of the renovations over the years, every set that his hands had touched had long since been relegated to the garbage. Seemed appropriate.

My mom and I are on our way to becoming professional patio hoppers.

photo 5-1

We toured the patios of the Texas Hill country and ended up stopping at Luckenbach, a “city” that when I was teenager was described as “having a population of two, but one died.” The city has become famous through Willie Nelson, as its post office has now turned into a gift shop surrounded by a bar, outdoor music venue and dance hall that is frequented by country and folk musicians. Although it has grown, the vibe has remained the same. It felt like coming home again.

photo 4-1You can take the girl out of Texas, but you can’t take the Texas out of the girl…

photo-4While I was gone, spring continued to proceed in Atlanta (if there was a pause button, I would have pushed it). My husband sent me some pictures of the party our azaleas were throwing. I was worried about my new plantings, still tender and unsure with shallow roots and delicate leaves. Much like us, they need some nurturing during times of change and stress.

And when they receive the care they need, they respond with growth.

flowersAs I examined the emergent growth, I was reminded of the common saying in the gardening world:

The first year, they sleep. The second year, they creep. And the third year, they leap.

And I thought back to my own growth process after divorce. The slow, almost undetectable changes of the first year. The gradual improvements of the second. And the radical changes in year three as the behind the scenes work paid off.

Provide nurture in your sleep year. Surround yourself with support. Feed your hope and your soul. Be gentle and kind to your displaced heart.

Be patient in your creep year. Remove any weeds that invade your life. Continue to seek out supplemental support, yet also learn to trust that you can survive periods of harshness.

Celebrate your leap year. Don’t hesitate to show your true colors and live out loud. Know that your early work has built a strong foundation that will withstand even the most savage storms.

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Time to Bloom

You would think I would know better by now.

But apparently I don’t.

Okay, so that’s not quite true.

I DO know better. I just choose to ignore what I know I should do so that I can instead do what I want to do.

Sometimes the risk pays off and the rewards are early and plentiful.

Other times?

The risk leads to added work, stunted progress or even an early demise.

The official frost-free date for the Atlanta area is April 15. This means that, to be safe, nothing other than the hardiest of shrubs or perennials should be placed in the ground until that date.

And after emerging from the dark of winter, the middle of April feels a lifetime away. Added to that are the early blooms catcalling to me on every corner and the seduction of 80 degree days interspersed among the cold, damp days of early spring.

And so, like every other year I’ve had a plot of soil, I gave in. I spent all day Saturday turning this

photo 2into this.

photo 1And now there is a freeze predicted for the coming weekend. And if I don’t respond, my new plants will end up stunted or even dead.

But even though I will be hauling blankets and towels across my yard this weekend, I don’t regret my choice. Those early flowers are bringing joy now and with a little TLC over the next couple weeks, will become a permanent tapestry in the garden.

I had to laugh at myself this past weekend as I stubbornly and impatiently ignored the advice of the experts as I tucked the tender foliage into the cool soil. I was reminded of how I was after my ex left. When I stubbornly and impatiently ignored the advice of the experts as I dove headfirst into the dating world.

I was advised to wait until the divorce was final to begin dating. But that still-unknown date felt like a lifetime away. Besides, the marriage was dead and buried the day he left. I was counseled to wait until I was healed before fraternizing with other men. But even though I was making progress, healed as a finality still seemed an impossibility (and I also fully believe that some areas of healing can only happen within the context of a new relationship). Besides, I reasoned, I’m not looking for a relationship. Just some dates for some education and distraction. It was suggested that I start out slowly, testing the dating waters (and my own constitution) before going all-in.

I stubbornly and impatiently ignored all of that advice, signing up for Match and (over)filling my dating calendar.

It was a risk. I was still a tender plant not yet toughened to the harsh world outside the protection of the nursery. I could have faced stunted growth or even my destruction.

I wasn’t ignorant of these facts. But I chose to ignore them.

To heed the drive inside that demanded growth and blooms.

To feed the soul that craved some beauty in a life that had been reduced to rubbish.

To believe the hope that abundance would return and that roots would form again.

It wasn’t always an easy path. There were times I had to cover myself in blankets as I waited out a chill I was not yet strong enough to endure. I faced setbacks and challenges. But I do not regret my choice.

There are always those who advocate waiting to explore love again. There is often prudence to waiting. But it can also become a trap of never finding the perfect conditions.

My advice?

You’re ready when the urge to grow becomes greater than the need to hibernate.

You’re ready when the potential of the rewards makes the risks seem bearable.

You’re ready when you can accept that the blooms may be temporary, but that you can enjoy them nonetheless.

And most importantly –

You’re ready when you’re ready. Not when some expert tells you that you should be.

Plant Your Bulbs

I get geeked out for spring.

No, really.

I mean I become a full-on fan girl for everything green and growing.

I can shriek as loudly as my students at a One Direction concert when I walk into a well-stocked nursery.

Yeah, it’s kinda sad.

Yesterday afternoon, I took Tiger for a walk around the neighborhood and enjoyed the early spring bulbs just beginning to show their faces after the late and overly harsh winter storms we endured this year. My own yard is late to the party; the ample shade means that it takes just a little longer for everything to grow and bloom.

So I was thrilled when I returned home from the walk to notice the small purple blooms on my leaf litter-covered speedwell. The sight is especially welcome after a week consumed by loss.

photo-145A new cycle has begun.

My planting beds are peppered with green stalks bursting with daffodils ready to bloom. I remember planting those bare, dry lifeless roots in the cold soil last fall. Even though I’ve planted fall bulbs many times, it’s always an exercise in faith. In my region, the bulbs go into the ground just as the warm weather annuals ave gone from bloom to blackened and the perennials are shriveled and brown. It’s a time of death in the garden. And yet I still plant those hard little brown nubs, trusting that life will sprout again.

And it always does.

In the autumns of life, it’s important to plant your bulbs – those roots and beginnings of hope and new life. It is an exercise of faith as you trust that those small beginnings will lead to flowers later. Yet, with patience and nurturing, the blooms always come.

I Hate Mums

We walked into Home Depot the other day to buy a section of fence to replace the one that was splintered by the felled tree the other day (totally off topic, but you never realize how large those fence sections are until you try to carry one and you never realize how sail-like they are until they are trying to lift your CRV into the air from their position on the roof.) While walking in, a large display of mums (the fall flower, not the British mother) caught my eye. The flowers were a welcome sight of fresh color at a time when all the hue seems to drain from the other perennials as they succumb to the heat and decide to Rip Van Winkle for several months. I was admiring the diverse colors and full, healthy plants, when out of nowhere a voice in my head declared,

“I hate mums.”

It was a familiar sentiment; I remembered feeling that way and uttering those words. But I was confused. If I hated mums, why was I drawn to them? If I disliked their blooms, why did I have to resist the urge to gather some pots up along with the section of fence?

Perhaps my tastes have changed. After all, I now gravitate towards spicy foods when I used to prefer bland. I am more apt to don color now than the all dark tones that used to dominate my closet. Maybe I somehow developed a fondness for mums with my advancing age.

But I don’t think that’s it.

In fact, I have a very specific memory about mums.

My ex and I were walking into a house about twenty years ago. The front stoop was framed by two large pots of mums, their orange, yellow and copper blooms echoing the colors of autumn. They provided a welcoming, homey image and seemed to freshen the air with their presence.

Upon spying the flowers, my ex announced,

“I hate mums.”

“Me too,” I replied. But did I really have a distaste for the flowers? Or was I trying to show my allegiance to my mum-hating boyfriend? It’s scary to contemplate the latter. That I may have suppressed the urge to disagree with him on something so trivial. It makes me wonder what else I let him decide for me?

Maybe I never really hated mums.

I just let myself believe I did.

 

And now I’ve added them to list of plants to buy for the front of the house next spring. Because I’ve decided that I like mums after all. And, if I’m lucky, maybe they’ll have special ex-repellent properties:)

 

 

Are You Pot Bound In Your Life?

When I first started gardening, I was timid with my new plants. I would very gently ease them out of their nursery pots, cutting away at any plastic that was bound too tightly. I would carefully tease apart the roots, unwinding them from their circular pot-shaped path and tenderly place the new acquisition in its meticulously prepared hole. Then I would water and wait, assured that the foliage would soon attain the glorious heights featured in the magazines.

Sometimes I lucked out and the plant survived.

But, more often than not, those early attempts at gardening failed. The plants would appear to thrive for a period of time and then they would begin to wither and die.

I didn’t understand. After all, I had selected the right plants for the conditions. I prepared the soil. I watered judiciously. I babied the plant.

I thought I was doing everything right.

But still they failed to thrive.

Throughout this time, I kept trying. New plants. New locations. And finally, a new nursery. I discovered a discount seller that offered small plants at amazing prices. I made a shopping list, covered the interior of my car in blue tarps and came home with over 100 individual plants. It was impossible to baby them all. There was no way I could gently tease the overgrown roots from the plastic pots without damage. My new strategy was to squeeze or thump the pot to release the soil and then to slide the new plant on its side on the bare soil. Then, instead of carefully unwinding the roots, I would use my trowel to quickly make four clean, vertical cuts along the root ball before placing the plant in its new home. The tender loving care was replaced with a quick message that the plant was no longer bound to its pot. The roots were told to spread. To explore. To anchor and find sustenance from the surrounding soil.

I watered and I waited. And the plants grew. And grew. Not one fell victim to the precedent of early growth followed by slow death. Just to be sure that the results were not due to some factor related to the nursery, I applied that same planting technique to plants acquired from other sources and the results were equally as positive.

I came to realize that my early attempts were misguided; the gentle unwinding of the roots was not a strong enough message to the plant. When I pulled up the struggling foliage, I found that the roots had resumed their former pot bound growth pattern, becoming a congested gnarled cylindrical knot, incapable of providing the plant with the nourishment it needed. The boundary was no longer present, yet the plants acted as though they were still constrained.

Do you ever feel stuck?

Do you feel constrained by perceived boundaries?

Do you ever feel like you’re growing in circles?

Are you pot bound in your own life?

In retrospect, I can see this pattern in my former marriage. My world became too small, too constrained. I was looking for nourishment and support within a small space. The divorce was more battle axe than trowel upon my exposed roots, but it certainly served to send me the message that it was okay to spread. To grow. To leave the perceived security of the known.

We are only pot bound when we believe that we are limited by our perceptions and beliefs. When we are afraid of growing too far and too fast. Sometimes it takes a strong message to release our roots from their accustomed path. Sometimes it takes some injury and pain to shock the system into a new way of being.

Don’t fear the cut of the trowel; it’s just the universe sending you the message that it’s okay to grow.