Training a Rose

The bulk of the main root hid beneath the rotting wood deck, waiting to be discovered.  It was big and dark as a beef bone. For years someone chopped it off at soil level to keep it from crowding out the vegetable garden, so for years the energy of the plant burrowed back into the root. Last spring, spying a few red leaves poking up next to the chives plant, I recognized a rose bush trying to live.

iStock_000004257765SmallWhat a find I thought!  At first I tried to move it, but the root was too big and deep, so I marked the spot with a stick:  Rose bush. Do not cut!

Getting to know our new garden has been like excavating the gardens of Babylon.  A long time ago someone with expert gardening knowledge set the bones and structure in place.  Large willows anchor the soggy back corners, soaking up extra water in the spring. Red twig dogwoods border the back and sides with a flush of color in the winter. Crabapple trees lean over the lawn to show off their colors and pines trees provide crunch underfoot with needles and cones. In the shadows wild ginger and sweet woodruff  sit quietly while the peonies and iris bend to the sun.

Although the garden clearly started out well, over time and across multiple owners, it suffered from the disastrous effects of an over zealous lawn service. All the shrubs had bad haircuts, wearing stubby branches that sprouted out at the ends with witches brooms. I figured the most humane thing to do was just let the whole thing grow.

Almost immediately the knotted forsythia threw out its wiry arms in a sun salute. The stunted privets poured forth graceful boughs that make them the beauties of the backyard despite their lowly reputation.  The burning bush shot up and out like the flamethrower it wants to be.

All in all it is a happy garden now, especially in the pink flush of late spring.

The school year is almost over for my daughter, a bud of a woman herself, waiting for her opportunity to burst out and claim her own life. Being fifteen she wobbles on the stepping stones between adolescence and young adulthood, calling me Mama one moment and snapping at me the next. There are thorns beneath that flower, too.

We play this game back and forth. I say something I think is helpful and she lashes out. I am hurt and she tiptoes back.  Our voices rise a few notes in apology and life continues. All is soon forgotten.

I remember myself at her age, excited and scared at the same time, looking for some sort of guidance, but not asking for any.

Last summer the rose root revealed its true self.  It is not a dainty tea, a tough rugosa, or even a rangy rambler.  It is a climber. In its second year of freedom it grew ten feet. Over winter it did not lose one single cane. Its flowers are blood red.

This is the year the garden will shine, I think to myself.  This is the summer I have waited  and worked for, moving plants to better spots, dividing up unruly ones, allowing others to stay where they are, like the rose.

The bulk of the work  is done and I wait for the heavy pink rose  buds to ferment to red. Its strong canes wave like  thorny tentacles in the wind,  as if searching for something sturdy to lean onto, although it doesn’t seem to need anything.

Posted in Body, mind and spirit, Happiness, Parenting, The Garden | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 79 Comments

The Big Reveal About ME!

award-1Just when I thought the day would end with the soft thud of nothing-new-is- going-on-here, there’s JT Weaver in my comment section nominating my little blog for A Very Inspiring Blogger Award!  Thank you for thinking of me JT! You do me an honor.

The deal with this award is you must follow the rules, which includes publicly stating (in my case admitting) 7 things about yourself. So, in the name of playing along, I can tell you that:

1) I just ate four Baker’s Chocolate brownies that my daughter made for me for Mother’s Day and am feeling a little sick now.

2) I can’t stop watching reruns of Frasier. Help me.

3) I got a Master’s degree and have done absolutely nothing with it.  I finished it after 7 years because someone said I never finish things. At the time they were correct.  Annoying, but correct. Mean, but correct. Haughty, holier-than-thou and made me cry nasty, but correct. Damn her.

4) Every day I come up with another idea for a reality TV show.  Not the gross sad ones like Hoarders, but interesting ones like “What the Heck is that Airplane Doing In Your Garage? This spurt of ideas usually happens on my walks around the neighborhood when my blood has an abnormally high level of oxygen in it.

5) I am a feminist. Sometimes I rant and rave about it all. Just warning you who are afraid of feminists, like we all want something we’re not entitled to.

6) My 20th wedding anniversary is coming up this year. Oy.

7) My dream is to become a successful writer so I can buy some decent clothes and actually have some places to wear them. I used to own 30 pairs of shoes.  Now I have clogs. Old, worn-out clogs.  They just will not die.

Now, check out the blogs I am nominating to pay it forward. Most of them are about writing:

A Wilderness of Words,

Yangsze Choo

Now get reading!!!!

Posted in Happiness, Very Inspiring Blogger Award, Women, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

The Growing Season

The doctor held out my test results, two 3×3 inch black and white Rorschach blobs.

“You won’t be having any of your own children.” She tilted her head a bit to the side in what I took to be her effort at doctor – patient empathy.  After years of trying to get pregnant, I was not surprised at the diagnosis.

I scanned the obscure pictures hoping to understand this medical verification of my infertility. Apparently she expected me to see what she could see: the puddled dye from the failed dye test, the blocked tubes, the scar tissue and rogue endometrial cells. I saw amorphous shapes that looked more like an abstract watercolor than a clinical message to start contacting adoption agencies.

I asked her to explain the pictures, again. She sighed.

“I’ve been doing this a long time. It is very clear. Nothing can get through. I’m sorry.”

She didn’t sound sorry.  She sounded bothered.

I pushed. “I don’t see the blockage.  I don’t see the dye.”  I don’t feel blocked either, I wanted to say.

I left the medical center and called my husband from the parking lot. He was calm, understanding and plainly factual. “Well, we knew this might happen. Let’s go forward.”

In the coming weeks and months I called several adoption agencies, sent for information and started a new sales job. It was winter and I was selling garden supplies. My schedule was full, having to run around to ten or fifteen garden centers in a single day as they prepared and bought for the upcoming growing season. My car carried samples of fancy pruners, planting boxes and bags of fertilizer instead of the baby seats, diapers and spit-up that I hoped for. I was fine though. I was on auto-pilot. Just get through the day.

April was a wet month with record flooding in Chicago. Water filled up the basement of our home, dribbling in from the eighty year old walls as we desperately tried to fill the holes with our fingers and hydraulic cement.  Two days later there was the dross of pictures, extra furniture and high school mementos that had to be trashed. Physical ideas of what life used to be were let go in a day.

The Illinois countryside was my sales territory. From mom and pop garden stores to chains of big box stores I peddled hundreds of lines of potting soils and hoses, grass seed and bird seed.  I was determined to find my future in the green industry, a gentle, quiet business of beauty.

One day, out near Oswego, south and west of nowhere special, I stopped into Taco Bell and got my usual two hard shells and a diet Pepsi. Then I went next door to Walgreen’s and bought a pregnancy test. I was killing time until my next appointment. It was a moment of fantasy, like trying on a wedding dress before you’ve even met the guy. It’s just fun to shop.

That night, as I lay in bed watching my husband criss-cross the room as he arranged his things for the next day, I quietly waited for the moment that would change his life forever.   The test I took in the bathroom at Taco Bell was positive. He stopped and smiled.

“Is that why you waited to send in the big check to the adoption agency?”  I had no idea why I waited, but I think it had something to do with a mother’s intuition.


Posted in Children, Intuition, Mother's Day, Parenting, Women | 19 Comments

The Drive. Part Four: The Bittersweet End.

The little brown car was laid to rest under a tree at the tow truck driver’s house.  It joined several other cars in various stages of dying.  I gathered the insurance papers and Dad’s Frank Sinatra tapes from the glove compartment, and at the last minute, took a couple pictures of the damage for the insurance company. No amount of money would make up for how much Dad was going to miss his car. This was likely the end of his foreign car love affair.  I imagined the introductions at the wedding the next day: “This is my daughter Mimi and her boyfriend, the ones who wrecked my favorite car yesterday.”


Only in northern Michigan,(or maybe Butcher Holler), would it happen that the tow truck driver’s brother is a demolition derby driver. Of course he is. Gasoline was in the family blood and the brothers had the perfect business partnership– one rescued cars and the other smashed them up.  This arrangement probably happens a lot more often than we think.

Steve and I stood around in the driveway for a few minutes wondering what to do with ourselves when the demolition derby driver, the younger of the brothers, mentioned they were leaving for a race that night at the county fairgrounds in Midland. We could ride along if we wanted.  It was excellent news. I had a friend in Midland and anywhere east of the car cemetery got us closer to Detroit. The sun was heavy in the sky when we set off with the brothers, another smashed up car trailing behind us. We were a strange group, and on that day only one thing separated us:  they ruined cars on purpose, whereas we preferred the element of surprise.

Ten miles later Steve and I are sitting on our suitcases on the dirt midway at the Midland County fairgrounds. Somehow I didn’t think we’d just be dropped in the middle of nowhere, but for the last two hours the kind people of northern Michigan did everything for us and now we must fend for ourselves.

The situation got ugly as whiplash settled in. We looked like a couple of puppets as we argued over where to find a pay phone.  I dragged myself to my feet and staggered around for a phone.

Brenda. Dear, sweet, Brenda, please be home. Brenda was still single, living at home and of an indeterminate age. At my very first job as a DJ at a tiny 1000-watt station, Brenda, the office manager became my friend. At first I was afraid of her.  She was stern, kept the books and paid the bills. Did she ever smile? Hers was serious work compared to playing music and mispronouncing baseball players’ names for a living.  One day I asked Brenda to help me out at the board by punching the commercial buttons for me so I could take a bathroom break. I think she liked hanging out in the studio and I showed her how things worked. Soon after that I started writing copy too, so we shared the front office for a few hours every day after my shift. Next thing I know I’m her shopping buddy at the Saginaw Mall. She had money, so I watched her buy things.

Within an hour of my call Brenda picks us up from the fairgrounds and informs me there is no place in Midland to rent a car.  Of  course there isn’t. We have to go to Saginaw. Of course we do. So dear Brenda drives us all the way to Saginaw where another hour later we finally get a car and start driving to Detroit.  The sun is turning orange. We should be at the hotel already getting ready for dinner, so I gun the big Buick as fast as I dared down I-75. It is such a relief to be in a car again. We feel rejuvenated and giddy as we speed south into the lavender summer night.

Once at the hotel, I throw on my wrinkled dress. Steve is completely wiped out and refuses to accompany me to the dinner. I refuse to let him off the hook. This is when he points out that he has already gone the distance by getting his hair trimmed for the trip, which he really didn’t appreciate doing. My latest request is too much for him.  But then, a second later, he realizes he’s hungry.

God only knows where the rehearsal dinner was that night, but we couldn’t find it. Neither of us had been to Detroit before, much less the suburbs of Detroit.  (Well I had, but I can’t share any information about that misguided trip since I didn’t know where I was then either.) We did eventually find it, and strolled in around 10 o’clock at night, feeling as sheepish as a flock.  All my Mom said was “I’m glad you made the effort to show up.”  Then she adjusted my shoulder pads for me which were facing backward like wings.

All in all, my entire family was pretty understanding about the whole debacle.  I got my older sister Michelle to tell my Dad about the car before we even got there. I was scared out of my mind, but Dad was a class act. He never once mentioned it, and in addition to paying for the hotel room, he paid for the rental car too. The only thing I could offer him in return was my eternal gratitude and a couple pictures of the smashed up car. Looking at them later he said, “It doesn’t look that bad!”

About a week before the wedding there was a big plane crash there and over a hundred and fifty people died. As we lifted off the runway, headed back to LA, we flew right over the hull of the plane still lying there in pieces, half sunk into the earth, yellow tape flapping around.  It was a quiet flight back to LA.

Within a month I moved out of the guest house, found my own place, and made a vow to move back to the Midwest. I missed the lake. I missed my family. I missed rain. I missed it all. Eight months later I quit my job, rigged up a cap for my Mazda pickup, held a garage sale, and said goodbye to all my California friends.

The last thing I did was buy two souvenirs of LA: an exquisite leather jacket and a crystal from the Bodhi Tree bookstore.. And then I headed east. It was going to be a long drive.

Posted in Dad, Fearless Living, Happiness, Vacation | Tagged | 3 Comments

The Drive. Part Three: How Could it Get Any Worse Than This?

The trip has been good for us. It is a peaceful respite from the noise, heat and pressure of big city living. On vacation there is no rent due, there are no arguments about why I am working until eleven at night. It doesn’t matter if dinner doesn’t get cooked or the place is a mess. All that ugliness slithers away and for two days we just are. We hike Sleeping Bear Dunes, we stroll small art fairs, and we dream of  living forever in this hazy, slow, blue world.

The night before we leave for Detroit we hunker down in the local bar. It is filled with swollen wood booths that are sticky with beer and lake air. We choose one by the window, under a stuffed fish. The dark wood walls sponge up our words as we bend our heads together, devising a plan to live in Leelanau forever, selling pizza.  In the winter we would deliver it by snowmobile, in the summer by bicycle. We are food marketing geniuses!  At midnight we slosh our way along the narrow road through town, following the porch light to our B&B, and hit the pillows, sinking into a deep, wooded slumber.

The next morning is a Michigan classic: deep blue skies and a polite wind mingling with the birches.  Everything alive lets out its belt to breathe.  Steve got up at 6am and went for a walk on the beach.  He came back a few hours later exuberant, high on the pinky-orange sunrise rolling over water and woods. We finally share something other than the same address.

We zip down the peninsula and into the flat part of the state.  M-115 is a two lane nightmare that slices diagonally through the heart of Michigan.  Normally I avoid two lane highways for safety reasons, but this day was going to be a long one, so we go with it and head for Cadillac.

In a car designed for slender, fine-boned Italians, not sturdy, wide Americans, I slip the tight seat belt off and tilt back, letting Steve drive while I contemplate why my brother had to get married in Detroit when he and his beloved both live in Seattle.

Zip zip went the flat farm land out the window and we switch to the small highway. Ten seconds later someone in my head yells at me to put on my seatbelt. It was an insistent no-nonsense voice that was neither male, nor female. Never having heard this voice before, I buckled up and briefly wondered who was giving the orders upstairs.

Up ahead someone had the gall to make a left turn on a two lane highway on a Friday afternoon. A whole line of cars came to a screeching halt.  Steve slammed on the brakes just in time to avoid  the outboard motor of the fishing boat being towed in front of us.  Composing myself I glanced in the rear-view mirror. An older couple in a huge Buick  loomed in the reflection.  “Hold on” I said in a calm tone meant to alert, but not scare poor Steve whose chest was still heaving from the shock of near decapitation by outboard propeller.  “This guy behind us is not stopping.”

Never having been in a big accident I didn’t know what to do.  I had one second to prepare. I sat back, made sure my head was against the leather headrest and grabbed the doorhandle as if leaping out was an option.  One quick sharp crunch later the gear shift flew out of Steve’s hand and wobbled helplessly between us.  The Buick pushed its way through the trunk, rearranged the back seats, and stopped just short of the front seats, forcing us to do the crash-test dummy hurl.

The little brown car whimpered like a lame greyhound.  I thought the worst was over, but a sick feeling roiled in my gut when I realized we were still moving into on-coming traffic. What a crappy way to die I think as we careen into the gaping mouth of a huge old green truck, the kind that eats little sports cars for lunch.  There was nothing else we could do but pray to the laws of Newtonian physics (as they apply to spinning brown Italian sportscars).

As we got closer and closer to the truck I could see the driver, a young woman, mouth those tell-tale words, like what parents do when they want to swear out loud but can’t.  She tries to swerve but we all end up like Disney teacups in the middle of the highway. Dad’s poor little car, the car of his middle-aged dreams is flying apart in front of my eyes.

Car-wreck triage is immediately in action and people came running toward us.  Within a minute a young man stops and directs traffic in the middle of the highway with the skill of an unflappable Chicago cop.  Someone else scurries off for the fire department and we are led by kind strangers to sit in shock at the side of the highway, waiting for the police.

These people knew what to do. They had to clear this road and they had to do it now.  After all, it was a beautiful Friday afternoon and they have to get to their cabins, boats and pontoons.  VFW halls across the state are heating up vats of oil for Friday fish fries.  Frog legs are being severed, dipped and battered as we wait around for tow trucks. Coolers of beer are chilling.  Ski-Doos are weighing down trailers heading in both directions. Looking over the mayhem I  swear I heard a collective sigh of disappointment as cars a mile down the road slowed, put it in park, and waited for us to move off the road.

This accident, so overwhelming to Steve and me appeared to be small potatoes to these tough, northern folk.  Strangers moved the accident debris (i.e. Dad’s car) to the side of the road and within twenty minutes, traffic moves around the remains in steady, determined fashion.  Life for these Michiganders resumes as normal. Friday is saved.

Steve and I sit in the tall grass and wild blue cornflowers and watch it all.  Outside of a gash on Steve’s leg, we are basically uninjured, but in shock and can barely move.

“Your Dad is going to freak out,” says Steve.  I nod, wondering who I could get to tell him the car is gone.  I know we’ll be late to the rehearsal dinner, but I just sit there in the sun, not moving, not thinking, but feeling very alive.

The policeman radios for the tow truck and cancels the third fire truck. I remark to him on everyone’s efficiency.  He turns and looks at me. “You folks aren’t from around here are you? This happens almost every Friday at this same spot.  You were lucky today.”

But now comes the tricky part of getting to the wedding…

Posted in Dad, Vacation | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

The Drive. Part Two: To the North Country

photo (1)It’s a couple days in to our summer vacation and everything is going well. My parents like my boyfriend Steve.  He is a cheery, polite and enthusiastic little helper for Dad.  Soon the two are visiting Ace Hardware together and washing up the little brown car which Dad has generously offered to us for our trip north to the Leelanau Peninsula. After that we would meet the family in Detroit for my brother’s wedding a few days later. It was a plan made with hearty Midwestern good intentions all around.

On a warm breeze from Indiana we head north out of St. Joe on old Blue Star Highway that skirts Lake Michigan all the way from Indiana to Mackinaw.  It’s a patchwork strip of concrete and asphalt that winds through the dunes and woods that drift along the coastline. Every thirty miles or so another wood town with a post office and a sagging farmstand flies by with a whiff of 1930 in the breeze.  The little brown car is speedy and Steve loves the way it handles. It was light, agile and fast, like a BMW without the heavy Germanic ego.

We scoot off the highway to make a brief stop in Holland to check out the old windmill from the Netherlands. Steve has a Dutch last name, but that’s as far as his cultural background goes, so he stares at the windmill for a long time, maybe hoping to absorb some of its history, giving him some roots to hold onto that he can’t find anywhere back in LA.

Back on the road we find an abandoned rest stop that looks like a great place for a picnic. The grass is up to our knees and the tables are cracked, but the view is unforgettable. We sit looking west across a field to the lake, caught in a Monet painting of blue waves fluttering with whitecaps.  We devoured the sandwiches my mom packed up with tomato slices the size of hockey pucks and slathered with a vein clogging layer of mayonnaise.

I am in heaven.  It was the perfect Michigan summer day. The kind of day that you never forget even though it’s twenty years later.  You still feel the soft, warm wind on your cheek. You still feel your hair blowing all around you, getting in your eyes and mouth. You still hear the hush of the birch leaves and the wind in the pines.  Steve can’t contain himself.  “Like, this is so cool! It’s as big as the ocean, man!”

It was actually never a good idea to bring Steve to the wedding, but you would have had to tell me that months before I ever got my brother’s wedding announcement, before Steve and I even moved in together and way before I realized Steve was in every way not the guy for me, even though when we met, his cheery disposition was just what I needed.  Somehow having nothing in common with him was a salve for my life at that point. It let me forget everything for a while and just live. Like I said, he was just what I needed.

For a brief time I had a cushy job at a small ad agency where I produced radio commercials and bought commercial time at stations around the country. I would use a sound studio in Burbank for production, where I’d meet the voice-over talent, sit in the booth, press a button and say “Could I have that one again please?”  It was a cushy alright and I liked it. It was the late 80s in LA after all, so the job included lots of lunches with sales reps and afternoons at the studio. It was Mad Men of the 1980s, when we were still allowed to accept gifts, leave work and go to parties and drink in your office.

But all good things end all too soon and now I was at a big agency, which meant less nonsense, long hours and low pay. The media department was a female ghetto, full of young women working for nothing. The only benefit was being able to put the agency name on your résumé. To me that meant work for a year and get out. To make that happen, Steve and I moved in together in the dilapidated guest house behind his parents house. For a while it was OK, but my hours at work were so long we never saw each other and our tenuous connection began to fray. That’s when we left for Michigan…

Posted in Body, mind and spirit, Fearless Living, Happiness, Vacation | 8 Comments

The Drive. Part One: From Heaven to Hell

As we await the warm weather I thought I’d share a story with you about summer…(Oh, and by the way, if anyone can tell me how to easily increase the size of this font, I’d be forever in your debt. I do not know HTML or anything else useful).

 The Drive

“Take this exit NOW!” yells Steve, motioning to the right as if I couldn’t hear him screaming in my ear right next to me.

iStock_000016908460XSmallMy arms shake with exhaustion from navigating Detroit’s Friday rush hour traffic, but I yank the wheel of the enormous rented Buick hard and to the right with all the finesse of a 5-year-old at the wheel of a pink Barbie Jeep. We bounce down the exit ramp and head into the darkening Detroit night.  It is our third try at finding the reception hall where my brother and bride-to-be have already eaten their rehearsal dinner chicken, and were now waiting for the last dinner guests to arrive – me and my soon to be ex-boyfriend.

Our directions to this event, which I scribbled a week earlier on the back of a plane ticket got us as far as the hotel.  But now we were lost in the mean streets of Detroit and it was getting really late.  The sick feeling in my stomach  reminded me of the time I got lost in East LA after a Dodger’s game (which I swear is really easy to do).  In that situation I figured the only way to survive the mobs at the street corners was to not stop or even slow down, but to run every red light and get the hell out of there.

I am happy to report my idea worked in LA and then again on the west side of Chicago, but here in Detroit on a Friday night there are too many cars on the road to apply survival-driving techniques.

I pull into a 7-11, and tell Steve to get directions while my mind reels over the spiraling disasters of the day.  Twelve hours ago everything was great.   Twelve hours ago I had a semi-boyfriend, my Dad’s Italian sports car, a comfy room at the bed and breakfast in Glen Arbor, and a neck that could easily turn in both directions.

But now! Now I have nothing but whiplash, a rental car the size of a house and the fading memory of Lake Michigan in Glen Arbor on a late summer day.

Was it just three days earlier that we landed at O’Hare, flying in from Los Angeles on a sparkling August day?   My father, driving his brown Italian Lancia, picked us up and sped us into Chicago for a whirlwind tour before we headed over to Michigan.  Steve, who somehow never escaped the confines of Los Angeles except to go to a San Diego football game, gaped at the tall buildings and grand architecture and was perplexed when he couldn’t see across the lake to Michigan.

As we wound our way east around the lake, we chatted about nothing in particular because it was that kind of day: so beautiful we just took it in through our pores and soaked.  Dad always took the Skyway, the shortcut  to Indiana, so we held our noses by the sulphury Gary Steelworks, waved to the dunes and whizzed over the Michigan state line in what seemed like ten minutes.

Soon we entered the apple and peach orchards of southwest Michigan’s fruit belt and my heart was finally home.  I never tire of this drive despite having crossed this way a million times.  My summer vacation was off to a great start…


Posted in Body, mind and spirit, Fearless Living, Happiness, Vacation | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments