Comfort and Joy

About the joy…

When I was growing up, my dad put the magic in our Christmas. Every year, he hunted down items on our list with great tenacity and stayed up all night assembling complicated toys in service of us having the best Christmas ever. He would troop us to a city park where an enormous manger scene with live animals was created on a baseball infield temporarily converted to a cave, making quite an impression on wide-eyed children. We would take evening drives through the Plaza to see the lights. If it was enchanting and joyful, he located it and shared it with us. No one enjoyed giving to others more than my dad. He was a lover of joy.

He was also intrigued by how things work and, to that end, spent many hours tinkering and creating and inventing because he had that kind of mind. He always marveled at what others would create whether it was art or simply a well-designed utility.

A few years ago, my husband surprised me with an IPad for Christmas. This is a photo of me on Christmas Day showing it to my dad—he was 80. I believe it captures the utter joy he felt at seeing an invention that pushed the envelope and illustrates his tremendous capacity to be awed.

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And here is the comfort part…

When reading a favorite blog this holiday season, Privilege, I shared this family memory in response to Lisa’s post about family gift-giving traditions:

Our gift-giving traditions never revolved around a single item; each person had their own gifting signature, if you will. Which is how my siblings and I, in adulthood, came to treasure my dad’s gigantic gift bag of emergency-preparedness accoutrements every year. Oh, he’d give us all money, of course, but he’d also spend hours combing hardware stores to put together just the right mix of things each of us might need in case of a car breakdown on a single lane highway in the wilderness during a 10-day blizzard or a flat-out nuclear holocaust. Think Harrison Ford in Mosquito Coast. For all of our private eye-rolling, what do you suppose we missed most last Christmas, our first without him? Yep, the flashlights and blankets and jumper cables and cans of windshield de-icer.  😉

Wishing you all much comfort and great joy this holiday season!

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Love in Bloom

Most of my Mother’s Day presents are out in the yard.  For good reason: they are plants.  Each year at this time, my husband conspires to breed some beauteous floral bounty out of our garden-challenged terrain and testy climate to give to me an ongoing outdoor bouquet.  These days, he puts the kids to work alongside him while I putter around offering moral support and the kind of supervision only a non-gardener can give:  more over here; no to the left; shouldn’t that hole be deeper; are you sure it’s supposed to look like that; why are you putting that there?

The tradition of Mother’s Day gardening started innocently enough when we moved into our present home and our son was only 3.  The years before we celebrated by going out to breakfast after church, but we had reached that point where dining out with a toddler was not the leisurely consuming of a meal, but rather the subduing of the raw, boundless energy and unrelenting inquisitiveness that only a two-year-old or a teenager with a cell phone can manifest in a restaurant setting.  Wisely, my husband turned his attention to the out of doors and a new tradition literally blossomed.

The first fall in our home, he planted irises, my favorite flower, in a bank down one side of the house and also in a small crescent-shaped plot he carved out of the lawn on the other side of the house where a gate transitions the wraparound deck into a wooden walkway leading to the driveway.  These elegant flowers are deepest purple with a saturated periwinkle center and are readily visible from the street while the others form a pale lavender line down the side of the house.  All bloom beautifully each year just in time for Mother’s Day.

His next Mother’s Day feat was to rip out a shapeless shrub next to the steps of the deck and plant a dogwood, the white flowers of which glow against the backdrop of greenery when viewed through the floor to ceiling picture window in the family room.  When you come through the front door and look straight ahead, this tree is the first thing you see past the hall, framed by the window like a 3-D photo-shopped image of a tree.  He surrounded it with May Apples and Snow on the Mountain groundcover which together form a delicate canopy beneath.  (My signature avatar is a photo of a dogwood flower on this tree.)

At the base of the deck steps he put down a path of limestones that leads to his proudest landscaping accomplishment: a two-tier water garden of native plants.  About ten years ago, he dug a hole for my birthday in March and created the outline of the garden with rough limestone, rimming it with variegated hostas.  On Mother’s Day, he installed the pond and plants. 

This garden now brims with shade-loving plants, like tall, yellow Woodland Irises, slender purple Siberian Irises, dark lavender Dame’s Rockets, and ferns, since it sits under two enormous trees, one of which is a black walnut, which, thankfully, drops walnuts only biannually, but always renders the soil acidic and hostile to grass and other sun-loving species.  Honestly, I sometimes forget how large the water garden actually is because I most often enjoy an aerial view of it from the upper deck.

Last year, armed with a chainsaw and an arsenal of handsaws and shovels, my husband and son skillfully extricated the overgrown shrubs and their voluminous roots from the raised bed in front of the house (See Another Day, Another Walk, Another Garden).  Inspired by an extraordinarily beautiful garden in our neighborhood, my Mother’s Day gift was the planting of a small Japanese maple tree and a bevy of native wildflowers in their stead: black-eyed susans, blue salvias, purple coneflowers, daisies, coreopsis, and sundry other prairie flowers. 

They have all come back up this year even after a treacherous winter, having spread and filled out the space nicely.  I’m plugging the few holes I’ve seen with some smaller plants.

This year’s gift?  Well, I got to pick them out myself: blue hydrangeas and fuchsia knockout roses to line the chain link fence on either side of the backyard.  Fifteen years ago, we bought our house in May and moved in one month later.  At the time, we had no idea that the edges of the yard were chock-full of Rose of Sharon bushes until they bloomed at the end of June.  

It was a sweet surprise because the only Rose of Sharon I’d known was directly in front of my grandmother’s house in Hyde Park and next to the carriage stone that belonged to my great grandparents and is now encased by black-eyed Susans in our wildflower garden.  Over time and without pruning, our Rose of Sharons grew from bushes into trees which bloomed with their glorious hibiscus flowers all summer long. 

This year, three of them died inexplicably—harsh winter or old age or bugs—hard to say.  Though my naturalist husband generally eschews anything smacking of corporate landscaping or suburban predictability, I pleaded my case for significant pops of color on both sides of the yard, one in full sun, the other in full shade. 

I read that knockout roses are maintenance free and bug-resistant and the June issue of Southern Living was kind enough to feature a sumptuous cover story extolling the benefits of hydrangeas.  We are going to fill in under the hydrangea bushes with blue hostas to complement the various other kinds of hostas we have planted throughout that shaded side of the yard.  These and the roses on the other side should create good borders by virtue of their color and heft.

So, more fragrant than the aroma of expensive perfumes and more exquisite than the glitter of fine jewelry, my Mother’s Day gifts tend to be ones that keep on giving: love’s labors are not lost in this yard.

Happy Mother’s Day to one and all!