On patience…and garden updates

On patience

A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.

 Gertrude Jekyll 

Growing up, I was always told by my mother, “Good things come to those who wait,”  or “Patience is a virtue.”  As a teenager, all I heard was, “Blah, blah, blah.”  I was impatient for so much.  It was difficult to see past my immediate wants to see what I really needed and what was sustainable.

As an adult and mother, now I [try to] practice patience much more freely and with a deeper understanding of what it means to be patient.   I try not to immediately respond to a comment perceived as hurtful, and I try not to reprimand Mon Cœur (MC) without giving myself wait time. Just a moment to reflect before saying something that may be thought in haste, or while feeling less than patient.  

I realize that immediate gratification is just that – immediate.  It fades away in the time that passes and does not endure.  However, words said in the moment linger far longer in people’s memories than we like to admit.

Millie’s garden has stretched our patience muscles, as we have planted seeds, bare roots, bulbs, and other plants, and had to wait for them to break through the ground, grow, bud, and flower.  

Sometimes we’ve been pleasantly surprised by a quickly sprouting seed, other times we wait for so long, and either are disappointed in the end, or are amazed as we watch a plant make its appearance.

We have filled in so much of the garden since we’ve begun almost a year ago, and yet we have so much more to do.  It has been difficult not to go out and buy flowers for every inch of the garden, and yet with the daily watering, I am reminded why we are going to fill it in slowly.  

We have fought our want for immediate gratification for a garden full of blooms, instead opting to grow it over time. It has made every day a new adventure, looking for summer bulbs to break through the ground, watching for buds, smelling the flowers in bloom, and enjoying each small display of progress within the garden.  It has given us something to look forward to, to hope for, and to invest in each day.  

Recent Additions

Despite wanting to not fill the garden in completely this year, we have had many additions since our last garden update, and I have needed to redo our garden map, as the original was getting quite cramped and hard to decipher.

As I thought about how best to draw the map this time, I decided that I would color code plants by their flowering season.

We are striving to fill flower beds with flowers and plants for each season so there’s always a feature to marvel at. This has been more difficult than I had originally thought, since we are filling in as we go, and didn’t plan before planting. We are making it work, and have seen where we can fill in the gaps- the color coding is definitely helping with deciding locations for future plants.

Bee balm was transplanted from our vegetable garden to Millie’s garden and has been a nectar source for both butterflies and honeybees.

We have transplanted bee balm and milk weed; Chouchou gave me some bare root peonies, Asian lilies, and phlox for Mother’s Day; he’s also added some sedum and succulents; we received a petite butterfly bush from friends for Millie’s birthday; a neighbor gave us a few hostas and some lambs ear which have helped fill in under our cedar trees; and Sissy sent us some mixed peonies for Millie’s birthday. I also planted a few dogwood saplings and a Washington Hawthorne sapling.

Cultivating the soul

A butterfly bush in full bloom reminds us of the dear friends who offered it to us before Christmas this past year.

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.

Alfred Austin

It has become routine to go out to the garden early, before the Virginia heat and humidity set in, to water and observe each plant.  

Every day, when we go out, we are surrounded by the plants, bees, birds, and butterflies. Most of all, though, I feel the love of friends and family as we make our way around the garden.

Seeds, plants, or manual labor offered by friends and family make us think of them as we visit each plant. Every time I see a butterfly, I think of Millie, and with each plant I water, I think of the friend that offered it, showing their love for her and for us.  

Or, I may pass a hill or section of the garden, where family grabbed a shovel to dig holes for plants.  I can’t wait to see all the spring bulbs next spring, and I will think fondly of my moms who helped to plant them. 

When I sit at the bench drinking morning coffee or I watch MC playing at her tea party table, I think of Chouchou and our cousin who helped set the stones for these features.

I enjoy going out in the morning dew of the day to look at the growing garden with MC. She is a willing helper, and has learned essentially all of the flower names.  This has made her an excellent tour guide to those who come to see the garden.  

She also loves to give her opinion on the flowers – the gardenias smell like chocolate; the butterfly bush is gorgeous; her daffodils are sleeping. She keeps a look out for the hummingbirds, checking our homemade feeders every morning to make sure they are full. Seeing the garden through her eyes, and hearing her talk about it brings me such delight.

Homemade hummer feeders – made from recycled pimiento jars, with four holes punched in the lid.

Beyond patience – learning opportunities

I have also been patient and perhaps too nurturing with some of the bare roots that were given to us – our phlox and peonies are struggling and the liatris mix have remained hidden from view for over two months.  Each day for the past month, I have been hopeful to see them emerge from the earth and begin to grow in our view.  

After giving them ample time to break through and begin growing, I began researching online and reaching out to the companies that sold the plants and bulbs.

I had a really promising experience speaking with the Netherland Bulb Company, who guarantee all of their bulbs. She said give it a few more weeks, it may take some time for the liatris to break ground, but it grows very quickly once it does. If we don’t have any luck, they will send us replacements next spring.

The other company that sold the peonies and phlox were only reachable by email, and are sending replacement plants next spring.

I have learned recently though, through internet research that peonies [bare roots] should be planted in the fall, and phlox bare root planting is more complicated than the overly simple directions that were displayed on the box.

I consider myself an accidental gardener, and we are learning about flower care and symbolism as we nurture the plants within Millie’s garden.

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.

May Sarton

The garden has become such a respite from the stresses of the world, all the while cultivating a calm, a patience, and a hope within us for all that is to bloom. Additionally, it teaches us to accept with grace the ebb and flow of life, watching with anticipation for buds to bloom, and understanding that when a flower has wilted and dropped, that another will appear soon, and at the end of the bloom season that next year, that we will be blessed with more beauty from the same plant.

Millie’s garden has allowed us to slow down, enjoy the little successes, learn from our mistakes, and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us.

For previous garden updates, check out the links below:

  • You can read about our Spring and summer additions here;
  • Our nursery haul here;
  • December additions here;
  • Fall additions here;
  • The end of week one progress here;
  • Check out the grotto in progress here;
  • Read about the chopping of our cherry tree here;
  • And see what we started with in our before pictures here.

A greeting card book

I am feeling an overwhelming sense of accomplishment today, and I wanted to share. I didn’t do anything huge, or absolutely amazing, I just finally crossed a project off my list. One that has been on my list for a little under a year. One that I wanted to get done by the end of this month, but kept putting off because I wanted it to be perfect and I didn’t want to mess it up.

In a previous post, I shared that I can’t stand to throw away old cards. I’ve found ways to make banners, framed collage art, and wreaths. I’m a sucker for snail mail and the effort and love that goes into sending it, so I’d rather box them away until I figure a good repurposing project.

Why we repurposed

Last June through July we were inundated by an outpouring of love and shared sorrow over Millie. The card greetings and hand written sentiments mirrored our feelings, and I was comforted to read those cards. I still find comfort in revisiting and rereading them.

I knew I couldn’t throw them away, and I didn’t want to box them away. I also didn’t want to cut them like I had cut cards in previous projects. So online I searched for ways to assemble the cards into a collection that would be subtly displayed, and accessible for years to come.

The DIY greeting card book project I found

I stumbled across an Austin, Texas wedding photographer’s blog, with the most amazing idea and step-by-step tutorial on how to make a book of cards. She takes orders and will make the book for you – if I could have, I would have definitely entrusted her with these cards. She has a lot more practice with this endeavor, and I am sure she would have turned it around quicker than my personal procrastination timeline that I followed.

The project seemed daunting, labor intensive, and time consuming. I kept the cards in a stack in my sewing room and the link to the tutorial bookmarked on my phone. I waited and thought about it. I dragged my feet some more. I reread the directions. I said, “Tomorrow.”

This is not a time to deviate from directions!

Then I tried to get started and I cut a corner. A huge corner. A “what were you thinking?” corner. I decided to get out my Bernina one day and machine sew the cards to another piece of card stock.

“With my zipper foot I can make this work!,” I incorrectly assumed.

Also, I began the project without referring back to the directions first. HELLO? What was I thinking?! I wasn’t. I was in a hurry to get it done.

If you decide to do this project, just follow Emily’s directions. Seriously. They did seem daunting. It was labor intensive, but in a mindful, calming way when you focus on your art. It did take time. Because I procrastinated. A lot. I finally got all the cards sewn together correctly, as per the tutorial directions.

[One thing I did do differently: I took the canvas, marked the sewing lines, then I did machine baste the lines with colorful thread so that I could see the sewing line on either side of the canvas.]

I had cut the backboard pieces (I recycled heavy cardboard from a family pack of Wegman’s fruit cups). I had my paper to cover the book. And then I procrastinated some more. I bought the white card stock I needed for the end leafs. Then I realized I needed PVA glue. I ordered it. I received it. Then I procrastinated more, because I didn’t want to mess it up.

Finally finished

Today, during Mon Cœur’s (MC) nap, I finally decided to finish this project. I grabbed the tutorial, saw what I needed to do with the card stock to make end leafs, and completed that step. MC was still asleep. Okay, I decided, let’s finish the cover.

So I got out the materials and I finished the cover. I was a little heavy handed with the PVA at first because a. I was scared the glue would dry too fast (it does dry fast, but not so fast that you have to throw it on quickly and carelessly), and b. I’d never worked with it, so I was figuring out the consistency of it. There are a few places where there are ripples.

That’s life, there are imperfections no matter how hard we try to make things perfect, and that’s what adds to the beauty of my book.

I am glad to have the weight of this project lifted off of my shoulders, and I have already flipped through and read through the cards again. I anticipate in this month I will be looking back on this a few more times at least, and I am glad that it is assembled nicely so that I may do so.

If I had one thing I would have changed about the final product, I would have custom made a page (somehow) from a sheet protector to create a “pocket” for those items we kept (such as cards from flower arrangements, etc) that were not sewn into the book. A quick fix to that would be to glue a paper envelope to the back inside cover.

Bottom line, I’d do this project again, in a shorter time frame, with more confidence, and according to the directions.

Words of comfort

I wanted to end this post by sharing just a few of the words that were helpful to me.

  • A quote from Anderson Cooper about his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt (passed on as a wish for me): “She was the strongest person I’d ever met but she wasn’t tough. She never developed a thick skin to protect her from hurt. She wanted to feel life’s pleasures, its pains as well.”
  • “Always remember that you have the love and concern of family and friends.”
  • On life: “[It] truly just does not make sense sometimes. The love, though, that you had for that little one, and the love you have for MC and with your husband always will remain and sustain.”
  • About Millie: “She will always be remembered and cherished even if our only introduction was while she was in your belly preparing to meet us.”
  • “Millie is such a beautiful name. It makes me think of warm summer evenings, fireflies, freckles, and daisies.”
  • For Chouchou and me: “I hope you will find a group of like minded souls who alone know what you are suffering”
  • “…are finding a way to begin to heal and I wish only the best as you find your way forward.”
  • On grief: “Grief never ends…but it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness or a lack of faith…It is the price of love.”

Although these are personal and private exchanges from friends and family, I want to share them. At a moment like a stillbirth, I think most people are at a loss for words.

If for any reason you have found your way to this post and blog because you are experiencing the same loss, or you are looking to support a friend or family member grieving, perhaps something above speaks to your heart and helps you find the words of comfort you were looking for.

The kissing ball

As we were packing away Christmas decorations earlier in the month, Chouchou lamented that the kissing ball was going away. All of December, our kissing ball gave us pause in our rushing through life.

We’d stop between the kitchen and the living room where it hung from the ceiling and we’d take a moment for ourselves. Or Mon Cœur (MC) would hang out under it and say, “Daddy, I under kissing ball!” and smile widely waiting for her kiss. We even had some spontaneous dance parties under it. It was a nice reminder to stop and enjoy just a moment together amid a go-go-go pace.

As I packed our kissing ball away, I realized what an effective visual it was and how it reminded us all to slow down and embrace those whom we love. It is so easy to be swept away in the daily grind that we forget to show compassion and tenderness to those we love, and so I could see how important this was to have a visual reminder to take a minute.

Although I packed away our Christmas ball, I had decided to make a project for myself: a new kissing ball that would stay up through Valentine’s Day.

The next time I was at the local art store, I checked their floral section and purchased a styrofoam ball and some bouquets. I started covering the styrofoam with flowers clipped and used some twill tape to secure a loop and hang it from the ceiling. I added some pink ribbon with a button for a little something different, and finally added a paper airplane.

The airplane is a nod to my new favorite tv drama, a Spanish series called Velvet. Alberto and Ana often exchange their love notes via paper airplanes. I love this idea – it’s romantic, youthful energy behind expressing your love to another. Every time I see the paper plane, I am reminded of that idea.

I recently watched their Valentine’s Day episode (S2, E12), where Ana says, “Every day is Valentine’s Day when you’re with the one you love.” Since I’ve never been keen on the holiday, I loved that quote.

You should celebrate your love every day and take time to appreciate each other every day. Which brings me back round to our kissing ball – we shouldn’t need to be under it to take a pause and show our affection. Sometimes in this hurry, hurry world, though, it helps to have a conspicuous reminder.

Repurposing Christmas Cards

Every year after Christmas, as we are boxing away the decorations, I take all of the holiday cards off display and I place them in an envelope and pack them away with the rest of Christmas…they take up precious room in the plastic tote that is dedicated to our Christmas decorations. After a few years’ worth of cards, it gets out of control and I have to do something with them.

It’s not like we bring them out again the following year, or that I ever do anything with them…I just can’t stand to throw away or recycle all that Christmas cheer.

When the bundle started to infringe on the precious storage space, I had to think of something to do to repurpose them without just getting rid of them. I took those cards out, looked back through them all and chose some to make a paper Christmas wreath by cutting circles and arranging them in a circle. Want to make your own? It’s easy peasy!

I liked the way it turned out, and this year when we were unboxing Christmas decorations, I realized it was again time to cull down the card collection. I found my trusty quilter’s circle templates and I used all of the sizes this year to create the wreath. This year’s wreath is extra special, as I used a stamp from a special delivery from Tokyo.

I am very nostalgic although I am averse to clutter, so I love this idea of keeping cards from friends and family while keeping the clutter down. The paper wreath is so easy to pack away and adds a little bit of Christmas cheer to a wall that may need a little bit of joy.

What do you do with your Christmas cards after the season’s over?

Book Review: Uh Oh!

Mon Cœur (MC) recently picked out Uh-Oh! by Shutta Crum and illustrated by Patrice Barton at the library. It is the perfect picture book with minimal language, and lends itself to more dialogue between readers.

Two toddlers take a trip to the beach with their moms and as they adventure in sun and sand they experience many “uh-ohs.” It’s fun to talk about the pictures with Mon Cœur (MC) and talk about the uh-ohs – fallen sunglasses, crushed sand sculptures, wind blown hats, waves sweeping kids off their feet – and how the children react to these uh-ohs.

MC hasn’t been to the beach yet, so this is also a great book to introduce the concept of the beach: sand, waves, seagull, and reinforce vocabulary she is already familiar with: bucket, hat, crab, water.

There’s lots of laughing as we read and discuss the book and I love that the kids’ reactions to their missteps are positive. Something happens – an object falls or the kids are knocked down, and instead of a temper tantrum, the kids laugh about it and then figure out how to fix it and move on.

I continually try to reinforce this with MC – when we fall, we might get tears in our eyes and we might become upset – the important thing is to get back up though. When she gets hurt, we kiss boo boos and move on, and when the uh-oh is injury free then we find some way to laugh at the situation and move on.

Just the other day I was trying to put eyedrops in MC’s eye for her pink eye, and Chouchou, trying to assist, sat down on our old (and ready-to-collapse-any-minute) couch, and it fell right under us all. Boom, boom, boom. Uh-oh. We laughed so we wouldn’t cry and we were grateful it happened to us and not guests at Thanksgiving!

Instead of asking Chouchou to repair it, I decided to fix our uh-oh as best I could, with MC’s help of course…

She saw my hammer, saw, drill, and screwdriver, and right away she was off to find her toolbox. She promptly sat down beside me, as close as I would let her while I worked tracing, cutting, and drilling.

I was able to make a new support piece and attach it to the couch while Chouchou was at work; I had to enlist his help when he arrived home to reattach the new piece to the overall frame of the couch and to reinforce it.

It took patience, teamwork, and some laughter, and at the end of the day, we were able to put it back together before our Thanksgiving guests arrived!