When Garden Art Comes Home

Garden Art Comes Home, Part 1

By AMG Julie

Little did I know when Bethany wrote her colorful article on Garden Art in the June issue of Across the Fence (publication of the Master Gardeners of Allen County, Indiana, of which I am Editor) that I would soon receive an unexpected gift of my own!

About 5 years ago I decided to send a letter to the owner of my childhood home.  There was a unique piece of garden art in the backyard placed there over a dozen years ago by my now deceased Mom.  Is it still there?  If it is and you find that you no longer want it, would you kindly let me know?  I didn’t hear anything and never drove by the house during that time to see if it was still there, visible from the street.  Life went on until I got a surprise phone call on Friday, June 5, 2020.

I found your letter in the back of a bathroom cabinet when I was remodeling a few months ago.  I have the metal piece sitting outside against the house in the backyard if you want it.  I figured it would be meaningful to someone.  Give me a call if you do . . . 

I was in shock!  Holy cow!  Mark J had removed the garden gate from the garden “hill”  on the side of the house, concrete and all, and had it neatly secured with pavers against the red bricks of the old house.  I talked to my husband (always up for a driving adventure), thought about it overnight.  And then I got really excited!  I called Mark on Saturday and said YES!  We’ll come get it!

My childhood home is in Warren, Michigan.  I had moved away in 1983 after college to the Chicagoland area then again north of Fort Wayne in 2007.  Favorite plants made the journey here as well.  But I never would have expected that this prized possession of the original garden master in my life would come home too.  I called my brother right away and had some fun reminiscing about our garden projects with our mother over the years.  I sent him photos of the garden gate on Saturday when Mark forwarded them to me.  Plans were coming together to drive up to Michigan on Sunday to pick up our new found treasure and have a quick visit with my brother and his family as well. 

The visit never happened.  Or at least not yet.  Twenty-six minutes before Mike would have received the photos that I sent by text, he went into a medical crisis that would end his life.  He never saw the photos.  We did not drive to Michigan that weekend.  I never saw my brother alive again . . .

The meaningfulness of this experience and simple piece of garden art is now greater than ever before.  Mike made his gateway to heaven the very day after our Mom’s garden gate came back into our lives.  When this time of mourning has passed, my beloved and I will make our way to Michigan for a Memorial Service and retrieval of a memorable artifact from my personal heritage.  It’s a little thing in the scheme of life yet I’ll bet that I’m not the only one out there with meaningful touch points in his or her garden beds that reflect your own stories as well.

I’d love to hear them.  JJ

It’s like I’m writing my thesis again

A long time ago in another State, marriage, home, and occupation I was writing my Master’s thesis.  As a matter of fact the weekend after I came home from my honeymoon (with the man who eventually decided he was Mr. Wrong), I spent over 20 hours pounding on the keys of an IBM computer.  Remember word processing in DOS?  No, not me either.  That actually came 3 years later.  I was typing at a TYPEWRITER and hired a TYPIST to create the final 125-page report!  Back then a trip to the copy place was an event and choosing the right type of watermark paper could make a difference between acceptance and rejection of an important document.  At least having it professionally bound was not a requirement back then . . .

All of that typing did not do me, my forearms, nor the first years of my marriage any good.  Eventually I graduated with my Master of Science degree with a thesis that was as long as most Doctoral dissertations at the time!  Oh well.  That’s what happens when your first reader is a scholar in your profession and your third reader is the head of the Department of Occupational Therapy in addition to being a pioneer in the field as well.  I remember Dr. Anne Fisher handing back to me the 11th total re-write of my baby:  it was covered in red ink!  “You are a good writer,” she said.  Say what?  Could you maybe mention that to your ball point pen my dear professor!  Sigh.  Back to the typewriter I went on my way to bilateral epicondylitis or whatever.  I think eventually the repetitive motion injury from typing turned into fibromyalgia.  So I got more than my “MS” degree in graduate school but I digress.

That was 25 years ago.  I now live in a different State with my Intended Beloved, a different occupation, pet dog, hobbies, gardens, vehicles, hair styles, family, friends, church, and dress size!  It’s all good.  And today I completed three different writing projects and it only took about 12 hours!  Thank goodness for word processing, the internet, and Office Depot!  The 3 projects included:

  1. Editing and completing the photo layouts/covers of the Fall issue of Canoe News of the United States Canoe Association.  My husband, Steve, is the Editor and I am the Assistant Editor of this quarterly publication; Fall brings the biggest issue of the year.  It took me about a week to get into the right health state to do what needed to be done and now in the wee hours of the morning I am ready to send it back to my River Bear.

  2. Revising the Huntertown Family Park Rain Garden Project proposal and submitting it to my contact person at the Department of Natural Resources Urban Wildlife Program in application for supplemental funding.

  3. Finally figuring out the Microsoft Sway online software program enough to a) export the October issue of Across the Fence to Word then b) create a pdf file to c) email it to the Horticulture Educator at the Allen County Purdue Extension Office.  This will be my first issue as Editor of the ATF newsletter for the Master Gardeners.  The Educator has been answering all my questions and yet it has been frustrating for both of us.  I hit quite a few snafus with the program not working correctly in our Chrome browser at home; going back to Internet Explorer appears to have solved the problems for now!

Tomorrow will be a rest day.  A good volunteer must do her jobs then rest and recover the next day.  Part of my day will be praising the Lord that I could even do these tasks with the lingering effects of serious illness.  Thank you Jesus for sustaining me, clearing my mind, and helping me to do the tasks to which I am called.  I do pray for restoration now as there are many unfinished chores throughout the house.  Please help me to take care of the things you have entrusted to my life, to love and serve my Stevers.  I know that You see my responsibilities and weaknesses and watch over all of the details of my life.  I rest in your gracious care my Lord.  To You be the glory for the good things accomplished this day.

In Jesus name, amen.  JJ

Canoe News, paddling, competition, racing, wife, magazine, Editor, racing, USCA, volunteer
Cover photo from Canoe News, October 2018

rain garden, rocks, drainage, flooding, native plants, volunteer
Rain Garden model bed pending for the Huntertown Family Park

master gardener, volunteer, Purdue Extension, cooperative, gardener, certification, Across the Fence, Editor

A new meaning for rainy days

“Rainy days and Mondays always get me down . . .”  sang vocalist Karen Carpenter many decades ago.  I respectfully disagree.

rain garden, rock, garden, water, flooding, filter, natural, native plants

How poetic is it that after a very trying month of family care-giving, family drama, summer travel, and exhausting events out in the elements that our “rainy days” of late could turn a corner to mean something else?  Enter here the Master Rain Gardener Class offered by Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner in Michigan.  Let us turn the rains of life into something good!

Rain gardens are specialty garden beds designed to filter water runoff from hard surfaces in your landscape.  They help to manage potential flooding, attract beneficial insects and wildlife, often include plants native to the region, and are simply lovely.  I am halfway through the 5-week class and am hooked on this idea.  I included a rain garden in our class project for my Master Gardener training which is where this interest began.  Connection with a local Native Master Gardener and her native plant nursery furthered my intrigue so I included butterfly weed and a native hibiscus in one of our garden beds.  Now its time to get serious . . . and fast before the class ends in 2 weeks!

I posted a plea on Facebook looking for anyone who would like to work with me on a rain garden project for my certification as a Master Rain Gardener.  A self-called “community connector” responded and put me in touch with the President of the Board for the not-for-profit that manages a large park in our hometown.  He is interested in the idea!  There is already an environmental education project for kids on the property.  I took some pictures before and after a huge rainstorm which suggested some viable locations.  We will be meeting soon!

Below I will post a picture of the location I am recommending that is adjacent to the cinder block building that houses the public bathrooms and vending facility.  The location is highly visible to patrons of the park, there is a water outlet nearby to help in getting the plants established the first year or so, and there is already evidence of water accumulating in a low area.  There is much work to do and many unknowns should this project go forward.  No problemmo.  The beautification project in our housing association took six months to come to fruition and is largely a success to day.  Besides, I kinda like this theme more than the other “rainy days” in my life of late!

Stay tuned.  Always something goin’ on over here and if it’s green then, for me, it is good!  JJ

flooding, Huntertown Park, community, project, rain garden

 

The County Sheriff and a mobile compost pile

Sometimes the dirt in your life follows you around for awhile . . . literally!

The weather was unusually warm here in the Midwest of the United States this past December.  By “warm” I mean that it was still in the 50’s and that was all I needed to do a little gardening project still left undone from the prior season.  Factor in the heartache of having been too sick to do it earlier, you can see why I jumped at the chance to get some dirt under my fingernails before the snow was set to fly!

And so I did.  The borders around the flower beds and tree in our front yard were re-cut and tidied up for the wintry freeze to follow. A Master Gardener simply cannot have her front yard unkempt when visitors were set to come for Christmas celebrations . . . even if they are not into landscaping!  Afterwards I felt a little better about the whole thingy.  The cuttings went into the bed of my truck like they always do with the intent of making a quick trip to dump it at the town compost pile.  That never happened.  Such a bummer being sick virtually all of the time . . .

Flash forward two months.  I was headed in my truck to my doctor’s office, hoping that they would see me on time.  Usually we patients can call ahead to see how far he is running behind and to leave our phone number for a call when they have an exam room available for us.  The phone lines were either turned off or unanswered when I had tried to call so I hurried to get on my way, lest I lose my appointment altogether!  This arrangement is a minor inconvenience for most folks but a major undertaking for me these days.  I had a more severe seizure attack waking up that morning and barely had enough time to get ready, grab some of my special food for the day (these appointments require 3+ hours plus I had an IV treatment at the hospital next door for another 4 hours later on), and focus enough to get myself out the door.  Maybe I should have had Steve drive me to the appointment?

Clearly I was a little distracted.  The purpose of the appointment was to re-evaluate the first month of IV treatments for Lyme disease.  I had first treated Lyme disease 4 years ago and it was a disaster; the next 4 years were spent taking down other infections and toxicities to get ready for intense treatment of Lyme that likely had been underlying ongoing health issues for a very long time.  The process has been most difficult.  I would learn in this appointment that the burning in my forearms that occurred during the past 5 infusions of the antibiotic (Rocephin) had caused superficial phlebitis!  All I knew is that they hurt.  More treatment recommendations would follow to add to my already complex treatment regime.  Everything came clearly into focus when I saw that beige-n-brown Dodge Charger sitting alongside Auburn Road.

As soon as I saw him I knew that I was in trouble.  That’s the color of the County Sheriff vehicles and I was traveling 14 miles per hour over the speed limit!  I thought I was only 9 MPH but unfortunately I did not see the traffic sign until my trip home!  He followed me for a block or so before turning on his flashing lights.  I sat stunned by the side of the road.  The Sheriff turned out to be friendly young lad, albeit dressed in his intimidating finery.  He recognized my last name and asked if I knew someone that he did by that name in another town?  Nope.  I could hardly speak.  “May I call my Doctor’s office?  I am running late for an appointment,” I asked.  “Sure,” he replied as he took my ID cards and walked back to his beast on wheels.  If he was friendly did that mean that he would have mercy on my story and not give me a ticket?

Nope again.  The “icy” conditions warranted a citation.  He spouted off more instructions than I could understand then left me with a cheap ticker-tape style TICKET.  All I could do was pull over onto a local street to gather myself to figure out what to do next.  The Doctor’s office finally answered their phone, apologized for not picking up earlier as they were short-staffed and stated that the Doc was running 1 1/2 hours behind schedule (as usual!).  “Would I like to leave my phone number for a call when they were ready?”  Sure, no problem I thought to myself . . .

Somehow I managed to contact my hubby at work and return home.  The struggle to leave the house earlier that morning resulted in a very expensive speeding ticket with funds earmarked for adjunct treatments not the county coffers.  I was upset at myself and upset at this wretched illness.  I was guilty of speeding.  I had not even looked down to see how fast I was travelling.  Driving a truck makes you a little over-confident in inclement weather and that false sense of security had caught up with me.  Gee, did he also notice that I still have a quarter of the bed of my truck filled with dirt, plants, and sod pieces in the middle of winter?  Perhaps not.  The pile has already begun composting into a fertile loam on sunny days!  They should make a nice, top-dressing the vegetable bed by Spring!  Maybe I’ll just leave it in there?

Sigh.  Life goes on and sometimes the State trooper is the one to remind me of this.  Regardless, if it really does get to 57 degrees tomorrow (on February 19th!) I will be digging some, Lord willing.  There’s much to do and the IV treatments are helping me feel some better.  Besides, I have a lot more room in the bed of my truck that needs to be filled dontcha know?  You can never have too much of that “black gold” stuff anyways.  :JJ

compost, gardening, truck, Nissan Frontier, garden, load, dirt,
How the professionals load compost!

 

The Day is Never Really Wasted

Missing my Dad.

Closing my online jewelry shop.

Cancelling a dinner invitation for me with new friends.

Spending the morning and evening in bed with complications of illness.

Questioning the utility of a new treatment before it really has begun to make a difference.

Perhaps you can see where I am going with this?  No where productive, positive, encouraging very fast.  These are the kinds of days when I question the value of each breath (that almost stopped twice today).  These are the evenings when I wonder why I try to plan anything away from our home anyways?  These are the days that I cry a little more than usual.  And these days are necessary, really, to grieve and move on.

When I worked as an occupational therapist in rehabilitation, we often told our patients that, “recovery is a jagged line.”  Oh how I have found that to be true these past 3 1/2 years!  Looking back to the beginning and middle of this period of time, there were many times when I am sicker than I am now.  There were many unanswered questions, new treatments to try, expenses that exceeded our income, strains on all of my relationships, and lifestyle changes that seemed too much to bear.  So many questions came to mind as the weeks extended into months and years:

I wondered if I could continue to get to know the gals I’d just met at my church or my husband’s adult children, make any new friends, or succumb to the ill-effects of isolation instead?  How much suffering could my body endure without permanent damage to my brain, neck, back, or other bodily functions when the convulsive episodes were so violent?  Would I embarrass myself in public, get into an accident in a public place, or be found on the floor some evening by my beloved husband (who was already stressed and sleep-deprived)?  Why on earth did I have to endure such hellish nightmares, flashbacks, and heart-wrenching grief at this time in my life when I had worked so hard to become free of so much sorrow in my past?  And most of all, would anything good come from all of this:  would it be wasted time and effort after it was all over?

Some of these questions have been answered by now and some have not . . . yet.  I have made many new friends.  The process of getting to know my hubby’s children has been slower than I would have liked yet it probably is for the better; we are living a long-distance from all four of them which makes everything a little different too.   My mind has actually become clearer with the extreme dietary measures, reduction in mercury toxicity/dental issues, and healing of my gut (since the brain and gut-health are related don’t ya know?).  The physical consequences of illness will require some more treatment soon but at least my weight is stable and the overall deconditioning has still allowed me to perform most of my activities of daily living.  Further, when I felt sick in public or driving down the road, I was always able to rest in my vehicle thus avoiding an incident, gratefully.  These last two are amazing to me:  the Lord’s angels must be protecting me when I am away from home.

Steve and I have found ways to cope with the nightly convulsive episodes, sudden physical collapses that require assistance with my self care, and challenges to our intimate life on occasion.  It helps that Steve is wonderful!  It helps that he relies on the Lord and fellowship with strong believers to see him through this season of our lives together.  His faith strengthens mine too.  Although we can’t be together as much as I would like to, it helps me to know that I can trust him and look to him for spiritual direction, spiritual leadership.  This is God’s plan for the home, for marriage.  And as that design plays out between us, I know that the Lord is strengthening me too.

The Lord has never left me or forsook my faith in Him.  Even in near-death experiences, demonic attacks (and there have been more than I can count), and times of deepest despair, my Jesus has carried me through it all.  The spiritual peace that developed certainly has served to clear my mind, bringing me to a place of clarity I had never seen before I got sick.  Renewal of our minds is a gift and a promise only the Lord can give as we read the Bible.  I am grateful for His work through this process.

I really don’t know if looking at the female hormone/menopausal connection with the onset of seizures (and its related testing and treatments) will be fruitful or not.  Is it catamenial seizures?  I do know that I am probably going to make some more new friends trying to figure it out!  Some more new connections will also be made in the synapses of my brain as I study a whole new body of information.  Letting go of my hobby business today and getting focused on a more professional venture will challenge these new skills, quite possibly moving me from this disabled state to one of productive living.  Oh how I hope so!  This incredible experience has inspired a new product that I invented and eBook that I am writing.  That is cool, eh?  Yeah God!  Perhaps things will come together just as they need to and when the timing is right?  This season of time will have served its purpose; it certainly will not be wasted.  This Father’s Day will just be a microcosm of the larger picture with all of its days, its parts playing a role:  good, bad, and ugly too.

And in the end I know that the good will outweigh the other two.  How compelling of a story would I be able to write if everything was always hunky-dory?  Nope.  It would be boring.  On the stage of life, we are to live fully no matter what happens to us.  We are to live like the sign on the wall of the therapist’s office that I saw when I was searching for meaning in my life at just 24 years old:

Bloom Where You are Planted, trust in the Lord, overcomer, overcoming trials, Christian response to, faith in Christ, hanging tough, Bloom, Christian blog

Yeah.  Evelyn at Catholic Charities had it right.  And the gardener in me wasn’t even awakened yet when I read that banner!  The motto of that poster has encouraged me over and over again, becoming the foundation of my life’s work as an occupational therapist and helping me to re-invent my career a half-dozen times.  As a believer in the Lord, Jesus Christ, I can see that He is the God Who uses all things for His glory.  Someday you and I will get to see how these gnarly threads of our lives have woven together to create a beautiful tapestry that characterizes the life of one surrendered to Christ.  With that hope I can face tomorrow and all that it brings.  With that hope I submit to the will of my Master Gardener, my Lord.

With that hope you can too, Gentle Reader.  Bloom!  With love, JJ