Something to Count On

Every year about this time, I start to feel an itch.

It first flickers in the back of my mind and slowly makes its way down my shoulders and arms. Pretty soon my hands and fingers ache for the feel of garden gloves and the weight of pruning shears. Even my knees seem to want to touch the soft earth, though almost as soon as I kneel they’ll undoubtedly begin to curse me.

Always, I’m chomping at the proverbial bit before the garden. It pays me no mind. It’s still fast asleep, and its alarm clock won’t go off for another few weeks. There are no buds on the trees. Canes on the rosebushes are still wintry shades of ginger. Not even a weed has popped its head through the chilly ground.

So I wait. I wait while the calendar counts down. I wait while Mother Nature sends the last of her wet and windy storms. I wait by the windows and look for clues of spring.

Sometimes I do more than wait. I worry. Was there enough moisture this season? Did the temperature drop too far below freezing too often? Will everything wake up strong and healthy?

That’s about the time I take a deep breath and resurrect pictures of the garden from prior years. It’s reassuring to see the vibrant colors and the thick foliage. It reminds me that I can count on spring.

Being able to count on something is such a blessing, don’t you think?

It seems serendipitous that, in the days and weeks since I shared news about three loved ones who have cancer, I’ve been able to count on something besides spring. You. The one with your eyes on this page right now.

This stormy day, while I wait for the latest winter advisory to pass, seems like a good time to thank you all for your prayers and messages. They’re priceless. As are you.

Most especially …

Thank you, John, for generously paying for Saturday brunch even though you were at a table full of women who have a habit of talking about things you’d sometimes rather not hear.

Thank you, Mary and Diane, for the cheerful cards and notes. And to Mary again for volunteering to sit with our family at the surgery center on Wednesday while we wait for news about the leader of our band.

Cathy, you’ve done more than this, but I’m compelled to call out your text message that began, “Now that I’ve stopped crying….” It meant so much to have someone care enough to weep at the fretful news I’d just shared.

Leslie, Jesse, Lori, Paul, Joan, Barb and Jan – I’d be lost without your unconditional love and ready support even when some of you are in the midst of your own challenges.

By this time next month, when the first flowers are getting ready to grace the garden, I’ll be remembering you all. It’s a gift to know I can always count on spring. And on you.

Rose Garden in Spring 2018

What We Do for Love

Gardening is caregiving.

The thought occurred to me last week while carrying gallons of water from one corner of our property to the other. I continued until my side ached. I continued because there hasn’t been a drop of rain since we turned off the irrigation system for the winter.

Caregiving - It's About LoveI made 33 round trips from the spigot to the rose garden that day. Caregiving came to mind because hauling water is one of those tasks you aren’t necessarily eager to do, but you do it anyway. You do it to ensure the object of your care receives what’s necessary to survive. You do it without promise of rest. You do it for love.

How do I know? My mother lived with me the last 12 years of her life and, for nine of those years, she depended on me for her care.

It unfolded the way a tree grows in the desert. When you first plant the seedling, it gets along on moderate amounts of water and fertilizer. As it reaches ever upward toward the heavens, its need for your support increases exponentially. The demands wear you out sometimes, but it’s a privilege to be part of the experience.

It’s funny how the garden puts sweet metaphors into my head at just the right time. It’s funnier still how the world circles around to hug you when you need it.

On December 9th it will be five years since my mother quietly pulled up roots and drifted unfettered toward the heavens. It’s a tough anniversary. Maybe because human hands typically have five fingers, we tend to think of five as some kind of golden measurement.

Five-year-olds start kindergarten. Five letters are always vowels. Five food groups teach us to eat healthy. Five questions answered in a Jeopardy category is a sweep. Five years post breast cancer is a celebration. Five, five, five.

If only five meant that I could mark mourning off my post-Mom “to do” list. Regrettably, grief has no end date and, by the time the sun came up on November 1st this year, I was already dreading the anniversary. Thank goodness for angels on Earth.

“Would you like to go to the caregiver recognition luncheon with me on the 14th?” came my friend’s first text that morning.

And then, “Would you be willing to judge some of our nominations?”

Within hours I was reading about extraordinary people who tirelessly care for family, friends, and clients. Their stories were inspiring and unexpectedly comforting. Caregiving is my past, but it’s their present, and participating in the award process allowed me to support their journey. The luncheon popped up on my schedule last week. It was healing, even cathartic.

Two days later, I made those 33 round trips to the water spigot. Every time I filled up the container, my soul also filled up – with compassion for caregivers everywhere and with gratitude for my own experience.

Long about trip No. 5, I realized … it wasn’t water I was carrying. It was love.

One Brief Shining Moment

Today’s blog post is dedicated to Mike Willden, Chief of Staff for Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and leader of the Camelot in my career.

My rose garden … in fact our whole yard … awakened last spring with gusto. The lush foliage and thick sprays of colorful blossoms rivaled the best botanical parks I’ve toured. All this because the Northern Nevada desert experienced one of the warmest, wettest winters on record.

20180512_161821Most amazing was the effect on my Lady Banks roses. If these two climbers produce anything, it’s usually a smattering of tiny, yellow blooms. This year they were covered with dozens of romantic bouquets.

Why was this so astonishing?

Lady Banks is rated down to Zone 6, and I live in 7, but it fares best in Zones 9 and up where the minimum year-round temperature is higher. Mega-grower Monrovia calls it a “nearly tropical” plant because it’s so vulnerable to frost.

I didn’t know this when I innocently bought two at a big box store in 2009. A few years later, after a particularly hard winter, I turned for advice to a respected local nursery because the plants looked like goners. They questioned why I bought them in the first place.

We don’t even sell those. You know those pictures of English cottages covered in rose vines? Those are typically Lady Banks.

They recommended replacement with something more desert friendly.

Well, I tried, but they were stubborn buggers. The stumps wouldn’t budge. I finally gave up. A few weeks later I decided to give it another go but, lo and behold, new shoots had appeared. If you want to stay so badly, I said aloud, have at it.

Then came the warm, wet winter of 2017-18. I imagine those ladies stretching downward with their roots and skyward with their vines while singing a plant version of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

The song playing in my own head was Camelot.

A law was made a distant moon ago here. July and August cannot be too hot. And there’s a legal limit to the snow here. In Camelot.

The experience brought to mind a joyful decade during my career when my colleagues and I confidently took bold risks and produced amazing outcomes. The power came from enlightened, supportive leadership. It was like the winter of 2017-18. Oh, what heights you can reach when the climate is perfect.

I have to wonder. Wouldn’t it be paradise if we lived in a world where support fell like warm rain in the tropics? Where leaders put themselves last and everyone else first? Where every home was a haven of love and encouragement? Where the streets were filled with kindness and acceptance? Where Camelot was never doomed and the sad reprise never sung?

For the sake of my Lady Banks, and all my other flowering bushes, I hope we have another warm, wet winter. After 21 years in this neck of the woods, I know it isn’t likely. Instead, I’ll be out there, watering during dry spells, trying to mimic Mother Nature and recreate this year’s one brief shining moment. Won’t you join me? In the garden. Or wherever Camelot beckons.

Never Give Up

A couple of evenings ago, while surveying the front yard roses, a quote from one of my favorite science fiction spoofs came to mind.

“Never give up. Never surrender.”

It’s primarily attributed to Jason Nesmith, the cheesy captain played by Tim Allen in Galaxy Quest. However, throughout the movie, it’s repeated by many characters in moments of despair, hope and triumph. It came to me when I was standing over a rosebush so small that it barely counts as a bush but still produced two dainty, yellow roses this summer.

Thanks to my retirement at the end of 2017, this was the first spring and summer in at least a decade that I’ve actually had time to pay close attention to the front yard. When I went out there in the early blush of April, I was determined to take control of the mess it had become. I pulled weeds and raked fallen leaves by the barrel, pruned roses that didn’t know what shears were, and dug up two butterfly bushes that had died from overcrowding.

Somewhere in the process, I considered whether to remove this little twig of a rosebush that was buried in debris and getting virtually no water from the pathetic dripper head nearby. I decided there was no harm in letting it try to recover and helped it along with fertilizer and a new, more effective dripper. Pretty soon it rewarded me with one tiny yellow rosebud. Later in the summer, another appeared.

Today, as autumn temperatures push the garden into slumber, I’m grateful I gave the forgotten rosebush a chance. It quickly recovered from years of inattention and scant nourishment and has grown enough to measure. I can’t wait to see what it will do next spring.

Quite naturally, I see that bush as a symbol of what we, as human beings, are capable of achieving in less-than-ideal circumstances.

Almost everyone I know can pull a tragic memory from their past. Something that derailed them and changed the course of their life. The world calls them defining experiences.

But are they defining in a negative way? At first perhaps. With time and inner strength and support, calamities can motivate people to reach great heights. To do great good. To leave the world a better place.

It’s not an accident that this line of thought comes to mind while the world outside my garden is overrun with turmoil, rancor, and deeply polarizing events. It’s horrifying no matter where you stand on issues, policies, and ideologies. Every day I wonder how we can collectively turn the tide and recover from the divisive conflicts that hog the headlines and define our times.

It’s not as simple as raking up the debris, throwing some fertilizer and water at the problem, and sitting back to watch the transformation. But we can do it. I know we can.

“Never give up. Never surrender.”

Words to live by from a cheesy space captain and a little, yellow rose.

Be There

Do roses have a purpose?

The apple and pear trees in our desert garden produce fruit. In the fall, we share the best of the crop with our family and give the less appealing picks to our daughter-in-law for her chickens. Likewise, the raspberry bush creeping up the back fence produces enough fruit to give us a taste and the birds a treat.

Bee PhotoBut what about the roses?

Toward the end of summer, if you let the hips ripen instead of deadheading the spent blooms, they become a source of nutrition for birds, other wildlife and humans. Most people don’t know that you can harvest the hips to make tea or jelly. It’s quite a bit more involved than plucking an apple and sinking your teeth into it, but it’s possible even for a backyard gardener.

Beyond that, what is the purpose of a rose?

I’ve come to the conclusion that their purpose is the same as mine. To be there. More specifically, to be there for others.

As humans, we marvel at the magnificent rose blossoms that have become symbolic for love, gratitude, friendship, and hope. We drink in the fragrance and find ways to infuse that sensory joy into perfumes, bath oils, and candles.

We aren’t alone. Honeybees gravitate to fragrant, open roses for pollen. Leafcutter bees collect bits of leaves to build their nests. No rose enthusiast wants to see aphids on their beloved bushes, but these tiny insects thrive on the juice of the rose plant. (Luckily, nature has its own karmic remedy for that as ladybugs thrive on aphids.)

If the simple rose is a source of support for the rest of the living world, shouldn’t we follow suit?

I watch in wonder as my best friend spends her retirement in service to everyone but herself. She is the statewide leader of a national organization, sits on multiple boards and commissions, testifies at legislative hearings, is a long-distance caregiver for elderly relatives, and repeatedly travels hundreds of miles to visit and look after her young grandchildren. Last year she sat with my husband while I was in surgery for breast cancer. Last week she sat with another close friend whose mother was in open-heart surgery.

I can’t say I’m as selfless as she, but I do try to live in a way that lifts up others. As I moved around in my career, I continually looked for what was worthwhile about my assignments. No surprise. It was always about helping someone – helping a client through a crisis, helping a co-worker reach their potential, helping my organization develop a positive culture. Now that I’m retired, I’m able to channel more of this energy to my family, friends, fellow cancer survivors, and to my readers.

Perhaps I’ve developed a “be there” outlook because of the intrinsic rewards found in lifting up others. That makes it a tad mercenary, I suppose. But I honestly can’t think of any better way to be than the roses in my garden.