The Guilt Trip on the Holidays: It Works

My mom, Frankie Ann as she was known to her loved ones, could guilt her children into anything. I was annoyed by that talent for many years. I now am awed by it.

Aggie and I walked downtown today, and my charming tourist town was buzzing with folks who’d just arrived for the holiday. I watched the families coming together over coffee at our local coffee shop, and lunch at the local sandwich shop. Everyone was on their best behavior (it is only Wednesday), and smiles were everywhere.  I love the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the day before the big meal prep starts, when families are arriving, and there isn’t much to do except enjoy each other. You can run errands for the cook, while squeezing in some time for coffee and talk. I literally had to stop myself from pulling up a chair, and getting in on the coffee, conversation, and catching up.

So, how’s college going? Any girls?

How’s the new job? Tell me all about it.

So, you’re pregnant! Do we know if it is a boy or girl? How exciting.

You bought a new house? Oh wow. Show me pictures.

I adore those boots. Where did you get them?

I love that first glow of family togetherness when everyone is excited to see each other. That caught-off-guard feeling of how much you missed one another because life has been too busy to notice until this precise second when you are face-to-face again. And then, there are the hours of talking, laughing and telling stories. Awesome.

But these days I find myself, more often than not, on the other side of an empty table, with no family to catch up with, and my mother’s voice ringing in my ears.

There are lots of reasons for my present alone-ness. Children have moved away, parents have passed away, sisters live far away, and they’re trying to figure out how to gather their families under one roof, which is the theme of this particular post. Getting everyone together. Something I feel should be a offered as major in college for future moms, because it takes such finesse to pull it off.

It’s a strange time.

I fear I have missed a step. I missed the step where my family comes home to my house for the holidays. I have been each of those people at the table catching up over coffee, but one. I was the college student, the new career woman, the excited pregnant mom, the new home owner, and the stylish boot wearer, but I have not been the mom prepping the Thanksgiving meal as my family walks through the door. I have not been that mom with a cup of good coffee, sitting across the dining room table from my children, the night before Thanksgiving (or Christmas, or Easter, or fill-in-the-blank) soaking up their personalities and lives. There’s a good reason why not. I have children (son and daughter-in-law) in the military. (So that is an entire semester of study for the mom major. How to get past the government and corral your kids into one spot.)

Here’s the truth of the holidays for the mother. Every mother on the dang planet wants her children, in-laws, and grandchildren to come to her house for the holidays. Along with a whole host of friends for dessert.

Frankie Ann was unscrupulous about it.  She cared less if she guilted you or forced you, so long as you ended up at her house. Feel free to grumble and complain all the way back to your own house, whiile she tidied and reflected on her delight that we were all together.

For years. I swore I’d never do that to my kids. I’d never guilt them into a holiday trip home, but now, I might reconsider. It worked so fabulously for Mom. I even scolded her over it once, “Give it up, Mom. Debbie (my oldest sister) has 10 kids, who all have spouses, who all have mothers who want them to come to their houses. It’s impossible because of Debbie.” It was nice having a sister with 10 kids. She made a good scapegoat.

My scolding didn’t phase her. She repeated what she always said. “It is important for everyone to be together sometimes.”

This past spring, she sent out an email invite to everyone for Mother’s Day, about 2 months prior to Mother’s Day. It read, “Join me for church and then lunch at Fuddrucker’s on May 11. RSVP. Immediately.” That was sent to 4 daughters, 2 husbands, 17 grandchildren, 5 spouses of grandchildren and assorted boyfriends and girlfriends, and 11 great grandchildren. All but a few accepted, and we were almost all together that day. Here she is with my youngest. I love this picture of them.

Guilt Trip for the Holidays; It Works

Mom and Micah

The church was full of her family and we took up the back section at Fuddruckers. There was lots of picture taking, and lots of hey there’s, and hugs. It was a scene reminenscent of this morning as I watched families giving big hugs across tables covered with coffee cups, highchairs, booster seats, and walkers. Brothers jostled each other, sisters gloated over babies, and the mother? Well, she was in her element. Her family was in town and yes, she had a ton of work to do, turkeys to cook and dressing to make, but she was happy. Dad looked pretty happy, too.

Frankie Ann was in her element. Her family gathered around her and smiles everywhere. It was a good Mother’s Day for her.

So, while I miss my family this Thanksgiving, and am planning my guilt moves for next year’s holiday season (you think I kid), I am so tremendously thankful for May 11th 2014. Sometimes it is important for everyone to be together, because you don’t know if it will be the last time. I am glad Mom ignored me and did just as she pleased, guilt-ing us all into one last Mother’s Day together.

Frankie Ann and her “girls”

Frankie Ann and her “girls

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"pouring rain, brothers with umbrellas"

Pondering the Past in the Pouring Rain

It is pouring rain and I have spent the day pondering the past. I would add that I have spent the day curled up in my bed, pjs on, drifting in and out of sleep, while I reflected and considered. It is good practice. I recommend it.

My backyard is a puddle. The Weather Channel is now calling for flash flood watches, and staying indoors seemed the most profitable thing to do, and so I have. I have given myself the delightful, but unusual for me, rare treat of doing absolutely nothing all day. The animals were thrilled. Their owner was home and rarity of rarities, she was still. The cat, or Little Kitty, as she is called, went as far down under the covers as she could go and wrapped herself around my feet and slept. Aggie, the dog, curled into a tight ball and crammed herself against me, sleeping the day away.

I allowed myself the time to think.

I wondered this: Do I see my life correctly? Can I see my life correctly? Could it be that God, who calls things that were not into being (Romans 4:17), looks down upon my life and sees something I do not, and cannot?

What does God see when he sees me?

  • I see that I did not stay to my budget this month.
  • I see that I did not hold my tongue when I promised myself I would.
  • I see that I forgot to call my perfect grandchildren because I got busy with mundane tasks.
  • I see that I still do not have a successful career.
  • I see that I have not mopped the kitchen floor.
  • I see that I still did not get the car cleaned out.
  • I see that it is Sunday night and Monday looms, and there is still so much to be done, and I am typing away at a blog that has 15 readers. Seriously?

And that is the small stuff. Early this morning, knees bent, head bowed, the question is prayed, “Lord, how could you love someone like me?”

Early to bed. Early to rise. Work like hell: fertilize. (Emily Whaley) is my motto more than not. I look for meaning and comfort, and believe that if I just work hard enough, I can right wrongs. If I figure out a way to get life “right” now, then my past–those places and memories I hate to remember but cannot seem to forget–will be redeemed, by me. Oops. That is the very place my thinking takes a quirky turn. I cannot work that hard. No, I need not work that hard.

Those places, those memories, those very things I want to strangle myself over while somehow setting them right, have been redeemed in Jesus.

How do I keep forgetting that?

What does God see when he sees me? Jesus.

That means, this day spent sleeping in the rain, is exactly okay. The work I tirelessly strive to do is the work Christ has already done. I can put my pjs on, roll over and let it rain.

 

 

Why I Love being a Garden Coach, Aside from My Awesome Boot Collection

I seriously love being a garden coach. For one, it gives me reason to have an awesome boot collection.

Here are my new boots from Altar’d State. I only wear them on sunny, dry days in the afternoon. Here’s my totally waterproof and stylish (yes, those boots exist) Rockport boots. (These made the trek down the Oregon/California coast with me. I looked darn good standing in the Pacific Ocean in them.) My Land’s End snow boots (in black, not brown, hate that red stripe on the brown), and my LOWA boots which I admit I did not want to drop the cash on, but will also admit that they are handy in cold, wind, rain, sleet, and snow. Plus, all the guys are completely jealous of them, so they were worth the cash for that alone.

Boots aside, I love being a garden coach because I love strolling through gardens chatting with folks. I mean, come on. What a great way to spend a day. And, my folks are every bit as diverse as the plants we discuss. I never want our hour to end.

I want time to stand still while the 37 year-old autistic man gets his courage to ask for the instructions to be repeated again. He must be brave to say, “Will you go over it again?” I want to shout with delight, “YOU did it! You asked for what you needed.” And, yes, I will. I absolutely will go over it all again. And, so we do. How we measure ‘on center’ for planting. How the roots should be broken up to look like the spokes on a wheel when placed in the ground. How we determine color according to bloom time, and what deadheading is.

It isn’t just him. It’s too much information for anyone. When to prune what, when to fertilize, how to amend the soil, what is mulch and what kind to use. How to determine sunlight hours, and how those hours determine what plants we’ll pick. It’s a lot of material to remember, and no one gets it all the first time. Besides, he’s learning about more than plants. He’s learning to look out for himself. He’s learning to get his money’s worth. He’s learning to speak up and be heard. That is so terribly important, but even more important, he’s learning to listen. If I correct him, he makes the necessary adjustment. I watch him and learn, and make the necessary adjustment myself.

My personality is quiet and calm, so I’m a good fit to walk in the garden with the young father whose 8 year-old son recently died of cancer. “Everyone wants us to plant a tree to remember him,” he says, pointing to the place in the yard it’s supposed to go. “But I don’t want a tree. I never keep anything alive. What if I kill the stupid tree?” He’s wondering if he killed his son, somehow. If, as his father, he could have done something different, something more. Taken him to the doctor sooner? Asked the right questions? Found a different doctor before it was too late? Was this his fault? What if the tree dies, and just confirms his fears that he did not save his son? He’d rather have his son than the tree, anyway. I suggest a small statue. Perhaps the one of the boy reading a book. Didn’t your son love to read?

“You mean I don’t have to plant a tree?” he asks. He’s feeling so much pressure from God knows where or who. “No. You do not,” I say as firmly as I can, while looking directly into his eyes. You did not kill your beautiful son, and we do not have to plant anything you don’t want too.

My favorite client ever is quirky, and tall, and gorgeous, and artsy, and lives in a pretty conservative neighborhood with her uber-conservative husband who was trying to get in on the garden fun, and so painted a rod-iron staircase magenta. What a complete shock for her (and myself) as party night drew near. But what a dear she was to love him more than the staircase or the party-goers. We got some super funky-fun chartreuse pots, and filled them with purple wandering jew, pink angelonia, and white bacopa (sounds hideous, but it was awesome). Then we added big pots of bright red hibiscus. If you’re going magenta on the rod-iron staircase against the brick-red house, all bets are off and the fun is on. Anyway, the whole family has a slightly, crazy bent that make them my loves for life.

I can’t leave out my boxwood client, whose yard is full of the most gorgeous boxwoods–years old, well established, pruned to perfection, and without a bare or brown spot to be seen, except on the two next to the driveway. He feared it was boxwood blight, which would mean all of them would have to go. He held his breath while I examined. “Does anyone park here that has a bad exhaust on their car?” The gardener does. Of course. The gardener is always the culprit in murder mysteries, why not in boxwood mysteries? Tell the gardener to stop parking where his exhaust is spewing on your pretty boxwoods, and, tell him to prune this out. We had a delightful chat in the perennial garden following our hour, complete with tea, and a very interesting talk about his hemlock hedge, and his last child leaving home for college. Really. Conversation about hemlocks is balm for the soul. Did you know that?

Sometimes, I think my job is so meaningless because I am not writing a brilliant novel, or using some new life-saving surgical technique on a patient, or teaching a child to read. It’s just plants and where and how to plant them, and the cultural care needed for them to thrive. But, if this were not my job, I’d have missed that moment when, the young mom who loves permaculture, showed me her first chicken eggs and her bright, red tomatoes she planned to serve her family. Pure delight. She was beside herself. Plus, she loved my new boots, and oohed and aahed as much over them as I did her fresh produce. We determined, we both love a compliment.

 

Here’s What I Want: To Be Enough

Here’s what I want. To be able to fix the things in my life that I think need fixing. Relationships, employment, writing, health, a plan. Oh my gosh, I need a plan! But there isn’t one. I’m still in transition. But, have I always been? In transition, I mean. Because aren’t we all always trying to discern what is next? What comes next?

Do I move for my job (straight out of school)?

Do I marry this person?

Do I have children?

Do I go it alone?

Do I move to China?

Do I work at the same place forever?

Do I cheat on my spouse?

Do I believe this God stuff (oh, please let the God stuff be true)?

Do I ask for a promotion?

Do I ask for a raise?

Do I look for another job?

Do I stay close to my aging parents?

Do I retire early?

How much money does one need to retire?

Oh dear lord, may we just have a plan? And then, may we be happy with the plan? May we spend our days feeling smug and self-satisfied that it was indeed a good plan? Because a good plan means, somehow, that we succeeded. And, there is great comfort in a plan. Especially one without glitches or things that pop up that you cannot control. Like:

Your lover, your soon-to-be spouse changes their mind and the wedding announcements are replaced with the no-wedding notices.

Or maybe, no one ever asks you to marry them. Why not? Is it me? Is it them? Is it the world? What the heck is it?

Your child is not perfect. They have a few issues.

The roof leaks.

There is no money to fix the roof because your child has issues.

No matter how many budgets you make, and keep, the unexpected always exceeds the category for the unexpected.

You get laid off.

You get fired.

You work with people who are underhanded, manipulative and downright scary. And, they think they’re nice.

Your parents are off on to some spa in Arizona. Weren’t they going to need you?

Your parents are old, and boy do they need you. They desperately need you.

Grandchildren are perfect. Why can’t everyone just have grandchildren?

You’ve saved money. You’ve spent money. You’ve been in debt. You’ve been debt free. But still, you always have the same amount of money. What does your financial planner say about that?

Old age is scary. But aren’t all ages scary?

Your adult kids worry you. You keep silent.

The worst actually does happen, just when you’ve convinced yourself that worry is silly, the worst rears its head, and actually happens. What is up?

You lay awake at night wondering. How do I fix my marriage, my children, my job, my house, my budget, my health, my social life? Do I go to the party? And then, DANG, you remember, I’m supposed to be exercising in the middle of all this. I’m supposed to be skinny, look good, wear great clothes, look professional or cool or sexy or whatever the occasion calls for. Heck, I’m not just supposed to be on top of all this other mess, I’m supposed to be on top of me, too. Don’t I have a physical soon? Geez.

The darkness of night literally mocks you. Did I make the right decisions? Is it too late to make new ones? You pray, God, please be real, and please have a purpose for my life other than just being an organ donor. Not that you don’t want to be an organ donor, you do. You really do. You’re a nice person. You think. You hope.

So, you shake it off. Go play golf. Go for a bike ride. Go shopping. Go walk the dog. Go sit outside in the sunlight for a bit. You forget for a few moments that you’re supposed to fix everything. Nothing needs fixing. The sunlight just feels good. You wonder, why is it I’m not supposed to bury my head in the sand? You like sand.

Abraham did not have a plan. God said, GO to Abraham, and he went. But, for Pete’s sake, that was sort of a plan. God at least said something–Go. You wonder, if God told me to go, would I start walking right now? You’re tempted. Just walk right out that door and keep walking and don’t look back and don’t wonder where you’re going because that would involve a plan, and aside from planning what to eat for supper, you’re rather sick of plans.

But, maybe God said stay. Stay and let him fix the roof, the marriage, the health, the finances, the kids, the crazy co-workers, the dark nights. Even when everyone else is gone, you stay. Can you do that? Can you stay and trust God to fix, in the way only he can fix, what needs fixing? Can you truly trust the God of the universe to care enough about your little universe to fix anything where you’re concerned? Is he really the good shepherd or are you following him straight to the slaughter house? Is he enough? You already know you’re not. I already know that I am not.

The darkness whispers he is. God is enough. Follow him. He’s got a plan. And, in one simple moment of clarity, you realize that’s the plan. Following God. That is really the only possible plan because he’s got the big picture and you only have a slice.You shake your head in the darkness. Lord, you say, I’ll follow your plan. I’ll follow you. And, finally you go to sleep. That’s a plan.

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I Love Plants. I Should Have Married the Doctor. My Next Husband Will Hate Gardening.

I’m a horticulturist, a gardener, a plant geek. I love plants. So do the people I work with. It’s literally all we talk about. We never discuss movies, or tv shows, or politics or art (unless it is art related to gardening). We only discuss plants and, though it is a pretty-far-off-second, sometimes food.

I once dated a doctor and when he was with his friends, who were also doctors, they only discussed medicine. I thought he was obnoxious. It was impossible to have dinner with these men and their spouses/girlfriends because the men (the doctors) monopolized the conversation with the world of medicine. I wasn’t interested in medicine. I was interested in plants. So, I stopped dating him and found a forester to marry who talked incessantly about plants, too. I thought that would suit me much better, though admittedly, I would be poorer for it. Sadly, sometimes one’s passions trump one’s reason.

It was years later, while reading Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden that Mrs. Whaley, a Charleston gardener and author of the book, made the astute observation that it wasn’t always wise to marry someone who shared your passion for gardening. That meant they would have opinions in the garden, and no one wants that. Instead, aim to marry someone who enjoys the garden, funds the garden, but takes no interest in the garden, i.e. they could care less if camellias would be planted that year, or the birches limbed up to allow more light in the perennial garden. Brilliant advice, but I was 20 years in, and the doctor was a confirmed bachelor by then. There was no going back. Reflection did force me to agree with Mrs. Whaley, and while hindsight is 20-20, I realized, conversation aside, the doctor cared little for gardens, and would have happily funded mine while pursuing his passion for medicine without a single opinion regarding the garden.

The forester had opinions in the garden. He was a naturalist who followed a Darwinian methodology of gardening–only the strong survive. I ascribe to the right-plant-right-spot common sense method of gardening, but I already knew what plants would survive in my garden–the ones I wanted. I am the gardener, not the observer, and I stated this during many of our heated “plant conversations” I’d been so keen to have.

We argued over the choice and placement of every tree, shrub, perennial and even vegetable. His stupid cantaloupes were planted exactly where my eggplant was supposed to be nodding their fat, purple heads. As if anyone wants cantaloupe instead of eggplant. He wanted shade. I wanted full sun with areas of dappled light. He wanted conifers. I wanted roses. One sad day of gardening arguing ended with two 25 foot tall Norway Spruces becoming topiaries. The forester and myself did not recover from the shock of that day, and neither did the spruces. When the snows came that winter, our topiaries were pitiful. Their snow-piled limbs hung down their bare trunks defeated and embarrassed to be reduced to that silly state, when only months before their beautiful swaying branches would have accommodated that snow with grace and poise. I couldn’t drive down the driveway without feeling shame when they came into view, because that mishap was mine. What was supposed to be a compromise on dappled light versus shade, became topiaries.

The one thing the forester and I agreed on? The native perennials. We had the loveliest stand of trilliums, trout lilies, Alleghany spruge, lady slippers, phlox, bloodroot and Virigina bluebells. For some reason, in the presence of mayapples, we were united.

Sadly, just about the time we got the garden established and firmly determined our prospective areas (and learned the polite art of staying out of said areas or even mentioning said areas), the forester discovered passions beyond our garden gate, and became the ex. The good news? If any future spouses present themselves, I will heed Mrs. Whaley’s advice. Future spouses will hate the labor of gardening but love the rewards, and be absolutely opinion-less on the subject. Future spouses will view it as a sort of hobby that keeps me out of their hair.

I will gladly listen to a future spouse (or spouses, you never know) rattle on about any subject from Fantasy Football to the History Channel–so long as they absolutely abandon the garden to me–while I continue my daily dialogue with co-workers wise enough to marry first-time-spouses whose passions range the globe, but always detour the world of plants.