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The Power of the Smallest Things

 

Garden
Small, beautiful things

The stress we are all living with can feel overpowering. So how do we survive it? How do we find happiness when we feel we are beginning to drown in the scummy, mucky swamp that has become America today? When we feel powerless, how can we reclaim our Constitutional right to enjoy Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?

In small things. It is the smallest of things, assiduously collected daily, that will save us. Find those small things that reliably make you smile. Look wherever you have to look. Go outside. Look at flowers. Listen to birdsong. Peruse family photos. Watch an old classic movie. Bogart is always good. Reread a favorite book or just read the comics. Turn off news and listen to music. Dance as if no one is looking, as they say, because you know, no one is actually paying attention to you. Everyone is too busy trying not to drown in this swamp.

This morning I made myself notice how good it felt when my older daughter reached out to me with a text request because she had lost an old favorite family recipe and knew she could count on me to have it and share it. I smiled. I photographed both sides of my handwritten recipe card and emailed the pictures to her. I love having tech solutions at my fingertips to speed up response to requests from my kids.

This brief contact with her made me smile and think of my other daughter. I decided to immerse myself in her Facebook posts and that worked wonders for my mood also. She recently posted how much she loves Portland, Oregon, because where else can you see a bagpipe-playing Darth Vader character skateboarding past you? I enjoyed again the many photos she posts or her friends post of hikes, rock climbing trips, and team endurance races done from mountain tops to ocean beaches.

I read a little in an e-book I checked out from the library. I indulged in a few minutes of an intriguing little computer game I enjoy. I streamed some classical music from a public radio station. I gazed out the window into the trees behind our house, enjoying the sunshine and blue skies.

Pursuit of Happiness. It’s not so hard. It’s in remembering to notice and enjoy the small things. So that tomorrow, with fresh strength, any one of us can swim stronger to reach that bright, shining shore and work to pull ourselves out of this swampy quagmire we call America today. Then we can turn around and begin the very good work of finding allies, recognizing comrades, helping each other and, next election, actually begin draining that hideous swamp. Go now. Pursue some happiness.

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How do You Travel to Other-Wheres?

A powerful image of magical transportation came to me as a gift from some Other-Where or some other One, as I moved from sleeping to waking. I wonder if it may become the germ of a story that I can tell. As I let my mind and heart play with this possibility, all sorts of literary memories of doors, pathways and modes of transport into Other-Wheres have been coming to me. Perhaps you remember some of these.

One of the more interesting means of transport that I hope many readers recognize comes to us via a Victorian Scots writer, George MacDonald. He wrote quite a lot of interesting stories, but the one that continues to live with me is At the Back of the North Wind, in which the young boy Diamond rides through the night with the Lady North Wind to so many Other-Wheres, the most Other of which lies at her back.

Oddly, in one of my favorite fairy tales from Norway, it is also the North Wind who leads the heroine to her Other-Where, the castle that lies East of the Sun and West of the Moon, where she works to free her beloved from a troll witch.

I think everyone knows Alice, who found not one but two ways to get Other-Where: down a rabbit hole and through a looking-glass. Then there is the door that lies at the back of a wardrobe and if you push far enough through the furs hanging there you may come to Narnia. If you can get hold of some fairy dust, you could fly to Neverland.

I don’t consider any of the portkeys that feature in Harry Potter to be quite the same, because while it is quite magical how they whisk people away, it is to another very real place, at least very real in Harry Potter’s world, rather than to a wholly different type of Other-Where. And unless you fly to New Zealand and take a Hobbiton Movie Set tour, I know of only one way to get to Middle Earth and that is to read the book. Because after all, books are the most magical portals of all.

GREEN AND GOLD

Yesterday was the great Eclipse. Kind of a bust here in cloudy, rainy Minnesota. Especially as we were not in the path of full eclipse viewing. People still took interest. And photographs, some quite artistic and moodily beautiful.

Today is in complete contrast, with pleasant winds and lots of blue skies, puffy, white clouds, and sunshine.

It was a simple joy to sit down in my chair and gaze out my back window into the stand of woods behind our backyard. God put on her Lighting Director hat today and worked with flourish, beaming focused light streams down to highlight various parts of trees, lush with shining green leaves, in a seemingly random pattern of gilding that contrasts dramatically with pockets of deep shade.

It’s a small stand of woods, and I use the term “woods” generously. Really it’s just a shallow stand of mixed deciduous trees and not the valued ones. More the step children, such as cottonwoods and buckthorns. Accompanied by lush stands of weeds and deadfalls of rotting trunks and branches. A haven for critters. And a shallow summer screen between my yard and the wetlands/marsh beyond. Nine Mile Creek meanders through and is visible at the end of our cul-de-sac.

I smile to watch red squirrels dashing up and down slim, tall tree trunks like manic commuters running up and down the moving stairways of subway stations. In a hurry. No time to stop.

Rabbits, deer, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, even the occasional red fox. Beautiful wood ducks and, in the past, pheasants. But that was before the red foxes and coyotes moved into the ‘hood. We still get great birds. Woodpeckers of all sizes, chickadees, fox sparrows and house sparrows, purple finches, Juncos, nuthatches, occasional Baltimore orioles, hummingbirds, blue jays, crows, hawks, cardinals and red-winged blackbirds. I have seen all these creatures right around my house.

So I gaze with pleasure that is run through with threads of grief. Grief at the thought of leaving all this. We are at that point in our lives where seriously downsizing and leaving behind a house and yard to care for has become the priority.

I grieve. I love this spot of earth. Remember the baby mandrake plants being wrenched, screaming, from their pots in the horticulture class attended by Harry Potter? Remember their anguished cries? I understand that now in a visceral way, as I feel tugs beginning to pull my roots out of the soil of this place.

So, I will allow myself to grieve and at the same time try to soak up every moment of joy that I can while I am still here.

Why I Love to Browse the Dictionary

Merriam Webster online is a great resource for writers. Not for spelling, or word usage (all excellent excuses to turn there) but for inspiration and sheer fun.

With the imminent July 4th celebration in my beloved country I chanced to wonder how Merriam Webster defines the word patriot. It’s a word thrown around a lot these days in our bitter and divisive national discourse, usually in service of delivering an insult. “No patriot would fill in the blank.” “A true patriot would support fill in the blank (but usually some reference to the current inhabitant of the White House).”  “Patriots, grab your guns and let’s go re-educate some of these choose one: Godless Liberals – Snowflakes – Whiny Losers. Well, you get the picture, and it isn’t pretty.

Are we having fun yet?

But back to the online definition of patriot. After scrolling down the fascinating page, I noticed their “Trending” list of words with current high volumes of look ups and saw “kakistocracy.” So, I had to click through to read about that, wouldn’t you have? Go there now and check it out, because it is fascinating. Read the excerpt from the sermon delivered in 1644 and ask yourself how many of the descriptions you can recognize and apply today in America. https://www.merriam-webster.com/news-trend-watch/when-government-is-just-the-worst-20170629?src=defrecirc-fromthem-w

It’s downright uncanny. Yes, I looked up that word too. Go ahead. You know you want to. Hopping around in the dictionary can be as much fun as rereading Alice in Wonderland. Just as surreal and just as relevant.

Hope and Renewal in the Garden

Decrepit garden
BEFORE

 

It was a sad story…a neglected garden run wild and overgrown. But it has a happy ending.

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AFTER

For this moment, the work here is done.

But only for this moment, because gardens are never “done” or finished. They keep changing. They keep needing attention. They are as demanding as children of our energy and care. Like children, they also reward us with joy and the fun of seeing progress.

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All planted and tucked in.

It took some hired help to clear out the overgrowth and weeds, and then a lot of time, working slowly, in stages. Breaking a large project up into smaller tasks and patiently accomplishing them one by one as energy and weather conditions permit is a very successful strategy. Not just for gardening, but for life in general. And this garden is far from finished. There is a large area closer to the maple tree that waits for more plants to be added. Perhaps in the early fall, when my checking account has had some recovery time.

The rewards are so real. The perennial garden is much improved, and color is added along the other side of the walk with container plantings, including two lovely tomato plants amidst the flowers.

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Tomatoes join the plant parade

Last but not least, a few blooms to brighten the corner by the porch and front door. Snapdragons mostly, and a sad, somewhat bedraggled old geranium that has yet to rebound from wintering over and being severely cut back to encourage new growth. But it will make a remarkable comeback, as it always does. It will be blooming, gloriously red, in a while.

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In a garden there is always hope and renewal.

Before and…During

There is nothing that embodies hope more than working in a garden. You do what you can. You do what you know how to do. And then you hope. For rain. For sun. For time before the inevitable first killing frost to allow small roots to dig deep. For stems and leaves to reach high. For rabbits and deer to begone from your garden, which they view as their salad bar.

An earlier post described how my perennial garden went awry when I was physically unable to keep up with the weeding and when one little, tiny mistake or two (involving aggressive groundcover plants) threatened the entire garden. Here is the before picture of all the devastation.

Decrepit garden

It left me feeling very sad, most unhappy. So I asked for help. It was worth every penny I had to spend to get this little piece of my land back under reasonable control. And the bonus came in the form of a few minutes here and there of talking gardening and plants with the man I hired to help me out. That’s what gardeners do. They compare notes. They share tips. They commiserate with the inevitable setbacks that gardens give us. These were very pleasurable random conversations.

The work is by no means done, but phase one is complete. The invasive groundcover plants have been moved and brought under control. The weeds have been vanquished. At least for the moment. Here is a look at the results of phase one.

garden free of weeds

 

And the joy is that a few perennials I thought were killed were only hiding beneath the invasive ground cover, fighting for their lives. They have been saved, replanted. Tomorrow I will visit the nursery to get a few more companion plants to join them. This will be phase two. I won’t be able to fill all the garden this year, but I can make a start, and then protect the space awaiting next year’s plants with a good, thick layer of mulch. The pile of wood chip mulch is ready and waiting to be put down. I will post one last update when this year’s work is accomplished.

This is my tangible example of progress, not perfection. And I am content. And hopeful.

If you need a laugh, check this out, by G. L. Cromarty

Writers know all about the writing zone. About how easy it is to get distracted. About how hard it can be to get started. About how difficult it is to keep going. And about how annoying it is when our nearest and dearest interrupt us in the middle of our writing flow. So, for those […]

via Writer at work! A guide to acceptable writer interruptions #writing #amwriting — G.L. Cromarty

Don’t Break a Winning Streak

Subtitled: Whatever works for you!

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I’ve been washing a lot of dishes by hand lately. I don’t know why, when I have a dishwasher that I love. It’s efficient, super quiet, and sanitizes my dishes. But there is something satisfying (if dehydrating) about putting my hands in hot, soapy water. It’s therapeutic. It’s meditative.

I worry though, if I do this as a way to procrastinate. A way to avoid sitting down in my chair and staring at a blank page on my computer screen. However, the fact is that I am writing now more than ever. I really don’t think it is procrastinating. Maybe it is the opposite?

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Perhaps the time spent cleaning up after cooking and eating a meal is what is feeding my word flow. Maybe the hands in hot, soapy water go beyond therapeutic, beyond meditative, all the way to magical?

Okay, that’s it. I’m slipping into my MLB ballplayer superstitious mode now. If washing dishes by hand does the trick for my creativity, then Imma do dishes by hand indefinitely!

Like the ballplayer, after a winning streak, who must hang his ball cap on the newel post every night, and nowhere else. Or who cannot put razor to face for fear of breaking the streak. Because who in their right mind wants to break a winning streak?

Besides, if I really want to procrastinate, there are much more fun ways to do that. Like my TBR pile.

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A Good Day to Be in the Garden

Garden

A very good day. Summer at its best. I ate my first summer nectarine and it did not disappoint. The weather is warm, breezy, not too sultry yet, and I’m smart enough to stay out of the height of afternoon heat. The sunshine, the breeze, the green grass. It all has me thinking about gardening.

I have to confess. I am an outstanding visualizer. I can imagine and envision the most amazing gardens. I love flowers. I love beautiful foliage. I love perennials. I have learned not to be charmed by voracious bunnies and deer. And don’t get me started on mosquitoes.

But I digress. The visualizations are sheer perfection. The actual execution…not so much.

The photos here document my most earnest attempts to establish a perennial garden of some beauty to approximate in my front yard what I can see in my dreams. It was nice. I was happy with what I planted. The little beauties did okay for me.

Here is the before photo, long view. You can just see the astilbe near the center that is pictured in close up above.

Before garden

Then I made a mistake, as I am prone to do, and planted an invasive ground cover. I admit my ignorance. I admit my impulsiveness when I am charmed by a little beauty in a pot at the nursery. So, I planted ajuga. Lovely ajuga, with pretty bronze and green leaves and gorgeous blue purple spikes of flowers.

Ajuga is the beast of the perennial garden. It is a killer. It is selfish and domineering and it just takes over and destroys lovely, civilized blossoms like my astilbes and those other charming pink blooming things in the photo. They are all gone. The ajuga, bully that it is, is laughing its way all over my front garden.

To make things worse, I’ve had some health issues that kept me out of the garden for a couple of years and weeds and grass moved in also. The ajuga seems to have welcomed its buddy bullies. Here is the after picture: a close up of the area where those beautiful flowers above used to live (with the addition of a bird feeder pole). I call it Decrepit Garden.

Decrepit garden

 

So I am taking action. Enough is enough. I am resisting. And hiring help! Smartest move ever.

My gardener Jim will help me banish the ajuga (I really still like it during it’s blooming season) to two contained, raised planting areas along the foundation in back of my house. There I will welcome them and invite them to run riot and be fruitful and multiply. Today Jim moved all the garden soil we brought in and spread it out in the two back planting areas and filled all my containers (for annuals) with soil leftover from that.

Tomorrow he will come back and start evicting the ajuga and replanting it in the back gardens. Yet one more day he will return and clean all the weeds and invading grass from my front perennial garden. And then, oh joy, some refined, civilized and quite genteel blooming perennials will be brought back and welcomed into my front garden. Astilbes, more bleeding hearts, perhaps some Canterbury bells and more columbine. Maybe hostas.

I can’t wait. I can see it all now in its sheer perfection. When it’s complete, I will take a photo and report back and you will all be incredibly forgiving and nod your heads and say, “Ah, yes. Progress, not perfection!”

“You would think truth were a fool.” — Shakespeare

I will return to good old Will and his insights in a moment, but first…

I saw a very good movie today at the local theater about Churchill (Brian Cox portrays Churchill) that touched a lot of feelings and yes, I basically had tears falling through most of it. There were moments of human frailty; regrets leading him to doubt the wisdom of throwing young men onto the beaches of Normandy; burdens of guilt and depression; fears causing a great leader to lash out indiscriminately at those around him; the sorrow and helplessness of those who loved him, standing by, only able to bear witness to his struggles; and the nobility of standing up to do one’s duty despite it all.

Soldier WWII

This movie did not get great reviews. Maybe because is it a slow-paced and quiet movie with rare moments of high drama. But I thought it was atmospheric and I was absorbed by how it delicately probed those many peripheral issues mentioned above; peripheral to the main story line of conflict over the launching of the D-Day operation.

It was impossible not to draw parallels between the agonies of decision-making and duties of leadership that Churchill felt just prior to the D-Day attack called Operation Overlord and the indecision and stress we feel as our nation, the U.S., struggles through divisive current events.

It’s very unsettling to have our intelligence gathering community confirm that we have been, may still be, and will certainly be again in the future, under attack from our persistent enemy, Russia. Yet alarmingly, there seems to be no will to take a stand on violations committed by Russia against our country by some of the top leadership of our country.

These are hard times for many of us in the United States as we watch and worry our way through nonstop news of politics and investigations. As we seem to be facing a very real enemy, but one without a face. In fact, news may be accurate. News may be only lies, innuendo and propaganda. This damaging propaganda could be spread by anyone among us, who may be either a witting or an unwitting agent for Russian interests rather than U.S. interests.  Indeed, William Shakespeare could have been discussing today’s state of public disinformation when he wrote, “He will lie, sir, with such volubility, that you would think truth were a fool.” All’s Well that Ends Well. If truth is a fool, then our trouble runs deep.

Fears, doubts, anger, and the death of courteous and civil discourse. These make for a brewing storm. But the real tragedy is the apparent sanctioning and unleashing of paranoia and hate, creating a horrific division in our nation, full of bitterness and vitriol. An abyss seems to separate the two differing viewpoints about the man occupying the White House and the direction he should lead our country, and no middle ground left upon which to meet and identify any points of agreement. So how do we bridge this divide, like a river separating us?

What divides us

Matthew 12:25 King James Version 

25 And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:

We seem to be approaching desolation. People on social media are starting to discuss the phenomena called confirmation bias and belief perseverance. Discussions rapidly devolve into ‘shouting’ matches full of hurled insults. Arguments where reason, factual data, and stories of personal experience of harm that will come from certain policy actions and legislation convince neither side to budge from their positions.

I think this is true and I can actually understand why this happens. A person becomes deeply invested. Your beliefs are a big part of defining who you are. So admitting that a core belief you hold is wrong threatens your sense of self. Humans have very strong psychological defenses to protect from such fundamental shocks to our systems!

Attacking and vilifying will only cause a person to harden their positions.

So how do we begin to come together again? When people resort to hurling insults or even threatening violence, who can turn the other cheek? It takes great self-possession at such times to make a choice to employ a civil tone, a touch of empathy, to attempt to understand the problems that led someone to this point. To see The Other as human, just as we are, and not as The Enemy.

Can we, as a nation, begin to do this again? We used to have this capacity. Even governing used to employ the art of compromise, with respect on both sides. What are the approaches that may prove helpful?

Do you, readers, have any thoughts, ideas, suggestions for ways to find our way back to a less divided middle ground? To agree on some common beliefs to help move us forward as a nation? If you do, please share your thoughts in the comments following this post, with my thanks.