Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Spring Planting

From my kitchen window, I can look out and see our backyard and my flower gardens. Today I was looking for tiny seedlings pushing up out of the ground, scanning the trees for buds, and thinking that, before we know it, the shrubs around the edges of the yard will be so full and thick that we'll lose the view of the neighbor's yards until the fall. I've already starting preparing the beds for planting, and soon it will be time to put some flowers in, and maybe another rosebush or two. I go a bit crazy buying plants and usually end up with way too many, and have to pack them in.

As much as I can't wait to get out and dig in the dirt, Spring is also sort of bittersweet time. It was in the spring, seven years ago, that my mom passed away. It was just a week after Easter, the holiday she loved most. In a way it's fitting, because I rejoice in the rebirth that Easter celebrates, and rejoice for my mom that she is 'home' where we'll all be together again one day. And yet, I still feel her absence like a hole in my heart. At this time of year, I miss the way we would plan our gardens, scouting out the local nurseries for plants and flowers. Unfortunately, I didn't inherit the green thumb that she had, so I would follow her around, waiting to see what went in her cart, and then grab the same thing.

Mom was a born gardener. She loved to putter around with starting her own seedlings and always found room for tomato plants, forever in search of the perfect tomato that would thrive in our clay-like Colorado soil. She had a gift for nurturing things and helping them grow, whether it was a child or a plant. A few weeks before she died, she had set out her trays of seeds as usual, and had started to transfer some of the seedlings into pots. She had a special tray for my daughter, Emily, who was just three years old at the time. Mom wanted Em to know the thrill of tending to her own plants and watching them grow. So, she bought her a little watering can, and everytime we went to see her (atleast several times a week, often daily), Mom and Em would water the container of marigold seeds. They sprouted slowly, but when they did, they took off and we could see their progress almost daily.

In the cloud of grief and numbness after Mom passed, someone had the presence of mind to go out to her little greenhouse to check the plants. There, along with the tray of marigold seedlings, were pots of pumpkin plants that were just starting to sprout. There were enough for all of the grandchildren to take home and plant in their gardens. In the fall, they all had pumpkins from Gram, and my brother saved some of the seeds, so that for several years after that, Gram sent the kids pumpkins. Emily's marigolds grew strong and hearty, and we planted them in the back yard where Em could tend to them all summer long. It gave me such peace to have those flowers in my garden, a little bit of Mom to be with us during that long summer. It's a bit like having her quilts to wrap around me, yet this is something that is living and growing. Something that she nurtured, something living, that I can care for. Now, don't get me wrong, as I said I do not have a green thumb. In fact, I've entrusted my sister-in-law (who does) with the ivy plant that was started from the little sprig of ivy in my wedding bouquet. Always with an eye on connecting the generations, Mom said that one day, my daughter would have a bouquet and a piece of the ivy would be tucked inside. However, she knew better than to give me the plant, and I'm sure she's breathed a great sigh of relief to know that Jenn has taken on its guardianship until the time comes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

God bless the butterfly. . .

She's a Butterfly

She's a butterfly, pretty as the crimson sky,
Nothing's ever gonna bring her down,
And everywhere she goes
everybody knows
she's so glad to be alive,
She's a butterfly

Like the purest light in a darkened world
So much hope inside such a
lovely girl
You should see her fly,
it's almost magical
It makes you
wanna cry,
she's so beautiful

God bless the butterfly,
give her
the strength to fly
Never let her wings touch the ground
God bless the
give her strength to fly
Never let her wings touch the

We're on Day #3 of Spring Break for middle (boy) child and youngest (girl) child. It's gone pretty well, I really thought I would be pulling my hair out by now, but the kids have managed to keep themselves entertained. It has meant small droves of 13-year-old boys in and out of the house, between trips to the rec center to play basketball and swim, and trips to the movie theatre and one another's houses. But it's all good, they're good kids and as long as I have food and drink on hand, they're pretty tame.

Em hasn't been as fortunate, as most of her friends are away on family trips. Today she suggested, "Let's have a Girls Day." I let her take the lead and we went to Bruegger's Bagels for breakfast and then to the Butterfly Pavilion. She LOVES butterflies -- thinks Martina McBride's song (above) is "her" song. Emily loves all living things, even all the other creepy crawly creatures that live at the Butterfly Pavilion. We bought a "family membership", but it may as well be a single parent and one child membership, because she and I are the only ones who go. We usually start out in the insect room where there are more spiders and cockroaches and eeewwww {{shudder}} bugs than you can shake a stick at. In fact there are lots of bugs who look like sticks, and while Em eagerly peers into each exhibit, I cautiously come in from the side, not knowing who or what will be looking back at me and when. It's like one of those drawings that you stare at for a few minutes and suddenly an object appears and jumps out at you. The tarantulas are so big and furry, they look like rodents. We always take a few minutes to hold "Rosie," the really nice and very tame tarantula, and this morning we were lucky because we arrived early and were the only ones there. Even though spiders are not my favorite things, I can't resist gently touching Rosie's furry leg. She's as soft as a kitten.

Then we move onto the crustaceans, like crabs and starfish and lobster-like critters. We pet the horseshoe crab (gently, use the backside of one finger), and marvel at the sizes and colors of the starfish. An exhibit shows how all the different kinds of seashells are formed by various inhabitants. Then -- the coup d' gras --the main atrium where hundreds of butterflies flit about and put on a show. Em is a great person to tour with, as she has her information pamphlet ready and is eager to identify all the butterflies. There are different kinds every time we go, and they come from all over the world. Our favorites are the bright blue morphos and the green birdwings. The volunteers that work at the Pavilion are very helpful and point out the new species that have arrived. Our last stop is the Gift Shop! of course, where, this morning, Emily picked out a drawing book and some new crayons.

On the way home, we sing Martina's song and I think, Emily's right, this is her song.

When I look at my daughter, so captivated by all of God's creatures, she is the purest light in this [sometimes] darkened world. At 10 years old, she's already wise to the ways of the the not-so-bright side of things. But she has an optimism and hope that only a child can have. She's not afraid to take in a different view of things, even if it's the underside of a leaf that might reveal a new kind of critter. So much hope inside, such a lovely girl . . .And she'll pull me along beside her, even if it means I'm on the floor, looking up into a exhibit, wondering if my knees will hold out when I have to get back up again. She helps me be brave and see the uniqueness in these creatures, rather than fear them because they're so. . . different. When we get out to the parking lot, she's finally free to roll on her "heelies", the sneakers with the built-in wheels, and she is speeding along, arms outstretched, smiling as big as she can. . .

You should see her fly, it's almost magical, it makes you wanna cry! She's a butterfly. . .

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Greening up

This is a picture of our backyard from behind home plate. You can see the grass is starting to green up -- yeah, Spring! Yes, we have a home plate in our back yard. My husband likes to say he is raising kids, not grass. (You don't even want to see the garden that is the "back stop".) And yes, that's a hammock back there, too. That's where my daughter likes to hang out with her blanket and book, or with her friend and have "girl talk". My dad used to have the same philosphy about his yard as my husband. We were the only family I knew of that had a 3-hole golf course in our back yard. My dad took orange juice cans, dug holes in the lawn so that the top of the can was flush with the ground, and then kept the grass mowed short. None of us grew up to be very good golfers, but we still have fun with it and that's what it's all about, right? And other than the two brown spots on either side of homeplate, it's amazing how lush and green the rest of our yard gets. I guess it's all that water and weed-n-feed and kids' feet running around that keeps it growing. I know that this spring weather is just a 'teaser' for us. My husband reminds me EVERY YEAR that 'April is the month for the highest amount of percipitation in Colorado.' Just when I dig out my capris and put my feet in sandles -- even though these feet are NOT ready for prime time, I can't resist it this weekend -- I know that it's very likely we'll get some more snow in April. The biggest April storm came one year on my birthday and I was snowed in with the kids all day. So, yes, I know that this gorgeous, beautiful spring weather is just a preview for now. But it's so nice to see the little green blades of grace shooting up through the dry brown stuff, cheering me on that yes, spring is on the way!

Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Mazda

Yesterday, I said good bye to a faithful friend. She came into our lives back in 1994 when my Mom brought her home for the first time – a soft gray, 4-door, 88 Mazda. She was just a young thing back then and unassuming to look at, but in typical fashion, my Mom brought out the best in her. Soon this plain old Mazda had a personality that shone as bright as the driver’s side visor that held a myriad of holy medals. She boasted her new-found identity on her back bumper: “I stop for garage sales” and “I (heart) the Jersey Shore”, along with a red ribbon that flew from the antenna so that Mom could find her, no matter the size of the shopping mall parking lot. As reliable as she was on the road, the car was prepared for anything with a ready-made emergency kit of kitty litter, first aid supplies, jumper cables, collapsible boxes to haul groceries and assorted cargo, snow boots and a snow scraper for in climate weather, and a can of WD-40 because you never know when you’ll need it.

To my family, the car was simply “the Mazda”, but its personality was anything but plain. It seemed to take on the persona of its owner, energetic and ready to go at a moment’s notice. The roar of the muffler announced its arrival from a block away. I used to smile at the familiar sound as it came down my street, slowed for a U-turn at the end, and ground to a quick hault in front of the house. I would listen for the sound of the emergency break being whipped into place like a zipper being smartly fastened. The kids would call out, “Grandma’s here!” and up the front steps Mom would come, pocketbook in hand, keys jingling and usually a grocery bag full of treats to have with our tea.

When Mom passed away, my brother took “the Mazda” under his wing and it performed for him and his family like a thoroughbred. It was always the car that kept running and was available to those of us who needed another set of wheels when our classier vehicles were in the shop for repairs. When my brother offered to sell it to me for my son to drive, I knew I was inheriting a rare jewel. The car’s finish was a little duller by now, perhaps more gray, and as old things will do it tended to leak fluids every now and then. She was banished to being parked on the street so as not to dirty the driveway.

Then one night, about a month ago, through no fault of her own, the Mazda made her final run. We credit all those holy medals that she bore with protecting my son, when he was broadsided at a traffic crossing. He and the Mazda were able to limp home, and when we saw the damage we knew that her days were over. I felt so disloyal bringing another, shinier model of Mazda home one day, and with a heavy heart called a towing company to come and haul the old girl away. By this time she couldn’t even raise her head, the battery having died in the weeks that she sat there. A kind man, large and tall with soft blue eyes, came with his tow truck. He wheeled her onto the tow ramp as though she were a little toy. I choked back a tear as they drove away, knowing that her legacy was not over, as she would become an organ donor for other little Mazdas. To the shiny new car sitting in the driveway, appearing so smug, I gave a nod of my head and said, “Just hope that you turn out to be half the car that she was.”

Comment from Matt. . . .
The trunk leaked whenever it rained. That was the musty smell you all thought was old floor mats. During April showers you could start your summer tomatoes in the dirt next to the spare tire. It left an oil stain every where it went, like an old dog marking its territory. I can still see the spot on the side of the house where I used to park it --  it put the Exxon Valdez to shame. I could tell it was down a quart when the engine started to sound like my Maytag washer. 
I once hooked up a power converter to its small running engine and ran extension cords to light fixtures in a warehouse allowing my crew to do a sort during a power outage. I could change the oil and air filter in 15 minutes, while sipping a beer. I pulled my neighbor's BMW out of a snow drift with it, then dragged them down the street till they could go on their own. The Maz was cabled up...yep, cables for the snow..never got stuck. It got 40 miles to the gallon and started every time until the day I handed the keys off...I could go on and on. We all have a million stories about our cars. 
But the best thing about the Mazda was that I could go through my entire day. . . good, bad, busy, completely absorbed in job, kids, errands. . .then, I would climb into the Mazda and suddenly...think of my mom and a great feeling would come over me.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Hail Mary, Thin Mints

The past couple of days I've been going 9-0 (as in MPH), trying to keep up with family, household and a bad situation at work. This morning I went to the "poor woman's spa" (the blood donor bank) in an attempt to take a few minutes, put my feet up and be pampered. They treat you like you're the most special person. They also have great snacks. As soon as I got out the door, I put my roller skates back on and started flying through the day, looking forward to when things would slow down! Unfortunately, my forced slowing down came in the form of a police officer and a radar gun. I was heading to the bowling alley with a van full of Girl Scouts, when I landed smack in the middle of a speed trap. I was totally, completely, unequivacably at fault, along with the three other cars lined up on a side street, waiting for one of three officers to come over and do the "registration, license, proof of insurance," routine. As Officer Adams walked over to my car, radar gun in hand, I casually straightened the rosary hanging from the rearview mirror, and turned around to the girls in the back, hissing "Say a Hail Mary." Immediately hands waved in the sign of the cross, and hands were folded in prayer. I still hadn't realized the extent of the violation (I was going with the flow of traffic, hauling along at a good clip) but when he explained the situation and I saw the radar gun flashing my speed -- my Catholic guilt kicked in and I almost begged him to just ticket me. After checking my driving record, he asked, "how long have you had a license in Colorado?" To my reply, "32 years," he responded, "And you've never had a ticket?!" I felt as smug as when I'd left the blood bank that morning. God bless Officer Adams. He explained that I wasn't the kind of traffic violator they were looking to give a citation -- I eagerly interjected that I had a carful of Girl Scouts, that I am a rule-follower by nature -- and let me go with a warning. He even glanced toward the back of the van and hopefully asked if we had any cookies. If we had, I would have given the man a case of Thin Mints.