365 Grateful: for parents who loved the land and its bounty

365-09-12-2015I’m on a mission to find a weeping pussy willow tree, so I pester Charlie to visit Scot’s Landscaping to see if they have them in stock (they don’t).

What they do have — and what a surprise — are shelves groaning with locally sourced produce. I’m talking peaches and plums, zucchini (yeah, someone had an awfully prolific crop), onions, apples, half runners, a few things I’m not too sure about (sugar pears?) and look! The holy grail:  Lima beans, unshelled!

Ohhh, yeah. So now I don’t care about shrubs and trees; I’m having the Lima beans. You hardly ever see fresh Limas these days. And this isn’t even a farmer’s market. It’s a landscape nursery, for crying out loud, but one that sure puts our local farmer’s markets to shame.

At any rate, I grab a bag and prepare to scoop up my beans when I notice a clear plastic container filled with already shelled Lima beans sitting in the bin. Holding it up, I look at the lone employee with one eyebrow raised, ready to ask if they have them already shelled. He shrugs. “Those are just for display,” he says. “No one seems to understand how Limas appear in the real world.”

Never mind that the sign says, “Lima Beans.” I take that to mean we’ve lost touch with what it means to produce and consume our own food. I’m a little staggered by that thought. I guess most people have probably only seen Lima beans in frozen bags at the grocer’s or in cans. Possibly dried in bags on the shelf.

There’s something sad about that. And I’m grateful for having grown up with parents who gardened, a mother who canned all summer long, and a dad who love buttered Lima beans. I inherited that love of limas; as a kid, I would even eat them cold.

Most of all, however, I’m grateful today for stopping by a nursery for a tree and coming out with fresh produce instead.


365 Grateful: We are all drupes

365 - 09-08-2015I step out of the car at my sister’s, nose to nose with the most electrifyingly blue drupes.

Are those crickets I hear?

You know, drupes. Heavily protected seeds with awesome survival techniques.

No? OK, peaches. Plums. Apricots. Almonds. These are all drupes. You might call them fruits (or nuts). The drupes currently hanging near my nose are attached to Susie’s Fringe Tree, Chionanthus virginicus, and they will be a smorgasbord for birds as they ripen.

It’s impossible to capture the play of light on the light green stems that contrast so nicely with the deep blue fruit, but I have to try. Even the scent of my sister’s handmade pizza wafting out the door doesn’t stop me from standing there for a few minutes, fiddling with the camera and delighting in the play of light and color.

Drupes are one of Nature’s smart inventions. They work in a most delicious way, too.

It’s all about protecting the delicate seed inside, and a drupe does that by encasing that seed in a very hard substance known as an endocarp. We call it a stone or a pit.

It then wraps that highly protective casing in a thick, tasty layer of flesh known as a mesocarp. We just call it tasty, especially if it’s a juicy, perfectly ripe peach.

And as if that weren’t enough, it wraps that fruity goodness in a thin layer of skin known as an exocarp to protect everything inside from whatever the elements may shower upon it. We just call that peach fuzz (if it’s that peach we hold).

It’s that rich, sweet mesocarpish inner flesh that entices animals to enjoy and, by enjoying, to help spread that heavily protected seed through, well, feces. And that’s after it makes the journey through their digestive acids, which helps soften the stone so when it lands (in a prime, already fertilized spot, one hopes), the seed deep inside sprouts and cracks the weakened endocarp. Thus the spiral of life continues as that seed reaches deep into the earth for nutrients and stretches high toward the skies for sustenance. Nature wins, and if nature wins, we certainly do, too.

Of course, that’s not even the coolest part of my two-minute nose-to-drupe reverie in my sister’s front yard.

We – all of us – are drupes. Our skin (exocarp) surrounds and protects that most amazing system of muscles, tendons, and ligaments (mesocarp — the inner flesh that forms us, makes us human, attracts others to us). Deeper yet are the bones (endocarp) that knit us into our human shape and give us the means to protect ourselves.

While you might think that those three elements are there to protect our vital organs, I actually would argue that what makes us walking drupes isn’t our organs (although they’re vitally important) but our psyche – our inner spirit or soul.

So as I stand here with this burgeoning analogy filling my thoughts, I’m filled with sorrow at how often we pamper our exocarp with lotions and clothing and ink and makeup, and nurture our mesocarp to be attractive and to attract others, and cultivate our endocarp to be strong and functional … yet we keep that delicate seed – the psyche – buried deep inside, afraid to let it crack through, lest it find itself on unfertile ground and wither instead of sprouting, stretching toward the skies, and thriving.

I’m grateful today for drupes, because they don’t worry about that. They just do it, and it works for them. I suspect it will work for us, too, if we simply trust that we’ll find the fertile ground so necessary for us to reach for the skies. After all, we’re drupes. We’ve got this.

365 Grateful: vice

VicesSince I returned from the Pacific Northwest – Whidbey Island, specifically – and the incredibly healthy eating style of the folks at Aldermarsh Retreat Center, I’ve been really, really good. I’m weaned off caffeine, mostly, thanks to a week spent without diet Coke™. I’m cooking organic these days and visiting restaurants far less. Basically, I’m becoming a nuts and berries kind of person. I’d fit in well out there.

And that feels really good. Or it did until Monday, when I had a doctor’s appointment smack in the middle of a busy day, which meant I had a light breakfast at 6 a.m. and then never made it to a lunchable spot until 2:45 p.m. That’s 3+ hours after normal in my world. When I passed Tim Horton’s, I envisioned panini sandwiches dancing in my head, quickly joined by a chorus line of pastries and donuts. I was hungry, and in my low-carb daze, I stumbled toward the door.

There, right by the curb, was a lonely Oreo™ cookie and a cigarette butt, neither of them looking very random. Still Life: Cookie With Cigarette. … or maybe Two Vices Are Better Than One. Whatever. I passed them by and reached for the restaurant door. Then I noticed the hastily scrawled note.

“Due to Electrical Issues, We Will Be Unable To Heat Any Sandwiches Until After 5 p.m.”


I went in, but when you’re hangry, it’s pretty easy to get out of sorts in an instant. Irked, I immediately turned and walked back out, oddly determined to find healthier fare, not to mention a restaurant with working equipment. It wasn’t until I passed that sidewalk still life that I realized why. It was just another awesome Quantum Flirt at work. The universe winked at me with humor and, in my hangry state, I nearly missed it.

Grateful for such a visual reminder of health in the guise of a discarded cookie with its burned up companion. Hangry or not, I traveled another few miles to find an open-faced turkey sandwich with fruit, washed down with a big glass of ice water.

365 Grateful: a visit from a walkingstick

365-08-30-2015A walkingstick comes wandering to my garage today, all slender-like and tentative, his woodsiness sorely out of place on the white vinyl doorjamb. The pincers at the bottom of his abdomen give him away — only males have those.

I think it odd to see a four-legged species — an anomaly for sure, given that his kind sports six twiggy appendages, but as I gaze at him, he takes a few lumbering steps. Ah, there they are! Two legs splayed directly above his head like thick, stick-like antennae, obscuring the more delicate feelers below.

I marvel at my visitor, for it’s been years since I’ve seen one in nature and not pinned in pseudo-lifelike poses beneath glass at the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, with taxonomy neatly scribed beside it. He’s a Diapheromera femorata, I think, of the Northern Walkingsticks clan.

I shut my door, reluctantly leaving him on the doorjamb, to go about an afternoon of errands. But when I return, I slip over again, curious to see if he’s had enough of vinyl and hot sun. Gone! Then I look up. He hangs above my head, clinging to the lintel, still in stark contrast to the white vinyl. Though I’m ridiculously glad he’s still visiting, I can’t help but think he’s vulnerable on my vinyl since he normally prefers the leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs in the woods, where he blends in and camouflages for protection. I’ve yet to see vinyl thriving and growing in the woods! Luckily, the edge of our woods is mere yards from my door. Better yet, I’ve a red maple tree a few steps away.

I glance around and spy several leftover spokes of straw from our spring grass seeding, and I thrust a few up toward him. His legs wave in alarm but then grasp at something organic, something that must jog his memory, perhaps. He climbs aboard for the short flight to my tree.

I don’t know if that journey seems miraculous to him or is just another moment in his life that simply spans a few walking stick football fields. I hold his transportation up at the intersection of a small leafy branch, and he daintily — but quickly — steps off that straw vessel and onto what I think must feel like home.

Within seconds, he clambers underneath a small leafy umbrella, lifting one leg as if saluting some benevolent spirit for carrying him to safety … or perhaps simply searching for the next step. With a pang, I watch him blend in, knowing I’ll not find him again in his own habitat. While I may be a little bereft of his presence, I’m infinitely more wealthy for having spent time in his company. And I’m grateful that he chose to grace my vinyl sided doorjamb today.

365 Grateful: All my life’s a circle …

365 - 08-20-2015
Once upon a time …

There was a West Virginia native who lived two clicks over into Ohio across a deep river. On the day of separation from an awesome Circle Way Practicum on Whidbey Island, Washington, where cell service was slivered, she reached the big city of Seattle, where she curled up in her hotel to await the next day’s dawn flight. She begrudgingly decided to check email (she had 300+) and found tucked in among the spam and junk a tiny inquiry from a local educational institution back home: “Wondering if you would be interested in teaching English Composition this semester. I need an instructor.”

“English comp?!? How uninspiring,” was her first thought, as she thought only of the her end-of-year schedule.
 “Although it would be cool to start with a Story Council,” was her second.
 “Wonder if it’s possible to change the whole ‘boring’ classroom experience by conducting it using circle way concepts,” was her third.

So, on her 12-hour trip toward West Virginia Ohio, she let those thoughts roll around in her head. The next day, which she had presciently taken off from work, she struck out in her trusty Prius only to discover a nail – with a circular head – stuck in her circular, though somewhat misshapen, tire. The AAA repairman removed the lug nuts (arranged in a circular way around the rim) to install a cute little donut tire, leading to the subsequent transformation of the misshapen tire back into a fully inflated circle. Voila! Whole again, just in time to visit her sister who, in addition to taking pity on a jetlagged sibling by cooking breakfast, showed off her newly installed circular firepit, perfect for a Story Council Circle.

And she began thinking about how the closing of one circle is truly a difficult, sometimes painful, process, yet absolutely natural. And how that closure makes way for the creation and repair of new and continuing circles in life. It’s uncanny how the universe just hands you what you need and want, if you simply take the time to see, and notice, and listen deeply.

So she’s agreed to teach that English Comp class and committed to trying to find circle applications in the doing of it. Her ongoing circle meets in a week and is interested to hear about her experience, so she’s hosting that with renewed circle principles, a little like that reconstituted tire. At work, new opportunities to work with circle practices are emerging.

Grateful for the opportunity to study the Circle Way with the founders and with 19 other amazing participants in a most sacred space in a Pacific Northwest alder marsh. “All my life’s a circle, sunrise to sundown…” *

*Harry Chapin, All My Life’s a Circle


365 Grateful: It’s the little things

We’re on our way to a weekend family reunion in Virginia when, yes, that diet cola kicks in and the words “Rest Stop” become magical.  We pull over along the West Virginia Turnpike so I can zip in to the women’s room. What I spy there almost (almost!) makes me forget what I came in for.  

There on the wall by the sinks with their typically placed soap dispensers is one hanging about waist height … and it’s absolutely awesome! Colorful, bright, just for kids (and a few adults, like me!)  I have to bend down to stick my hand underneath, sure I am capturing some special kid-only soap.  It’s magical. I laugh out loud, whip out my phone, and snap a photo.  The folks coming in the door sidle away, but what do I care?  They’re grown ups … big people.  Not kids. A flash of sympathy sweeps through me, and I fling a wish into the stratosphere: that they may experience for themselves — and soon — the excitement of discovering delight in little things. Grateful that I still do.  

365 Grateful: we are infinitely more than we seem

365 - 08-02-2015

We visited the Butterfly House at Thomson’s Landscaping in Marietta, Ohio, this weekend. While there were a few Monarch butterflies in various stages of life — from still-wet wings to voracious flower hunters — there were far more striking caterpillars inching their way along the leaves, leaving behind them strangely denuded stems.

As I watched them cling, and eat, and eat, and inch, and dangle, and eat … they seemed so far removed from their future selves. If I hadn’t learned about the life cycle of a butterfly in science class so long ago, I would never think that one begets the other.

Maybe we’re like those caterpillars. We travel in our ruts, doing what we’ve always done, looking for what we’ve always seen, hearing what we’ve always heard. Until one day we pause in our journey and wonder what else is out there and what more we might become. Purpose takes hold, and we know — we just KNOW — that there’s something else out there for us.

Psychoanalyst Carl Jung called it individuation — the process of the self emerging from an undifferentiated unconscious. It’s then that innate elements of our personalities (our immature psyche) integrate with our life experiences and we become a more complete, well-functioning whole. It takes a lifetime, and we never become fully, totally complete. We can always evolve.

Today, I’m grateful for delightful caterpillars, as beautiful in their many-footed way as their winged selves will be in the not-too-distant future.

Caterpillar2    butterfly    Caterpillar1