Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Swan Song Bloom

Moments away from midnight at the end of the winter solstice 2010.  One year ago today I began this blog and my consistency has obviously wavered - no entry since before Halloween! 

It has been a year of deep grief and loss - friends dying, relationships dying, losing faith at times, losing my way and then finding my way back. Loss came with gifts...a deepening of some relationships as I was reaching out for support while struggling with others; a reminder that every moment is precious as I said goodbye to friends whose moments were cut so short; the birth of a new kind of relationship with my mother-in-law as her essence changed with the onset of Alzheimer's.  My concept of how life will be never matches the way it plays out and it's usually much richer than my vision.

I finally pulled a dead agave (century plant) out of a bed in our front yard yesterday.  It never did get enough sun there and it couldn't thrive in the shade.  Still, it had withered and died long before I finally had the courage to start tugging to remove it.  Chris is a bigger fan of those than I am and I know he wanted to keep it, so I resisted the "urge to purge" the minute it showed signs of stress.  By the time I gingerly pulled at it this week the thing offered itself to me with an almost audible sigh of relief.  Thank you - please let me move on.  I don't belong here anymore.  Each spiny "leaf" fell into my gloved hands and allowed me to toss it into the brown recycling bag.  Before I knew it there was a new space and the other succulents around it visibly perked up, allowed to shine again.  

In our back yard, on the other hand, is an agave that gets plenty of sun and threw up its one and only flower this past few months.  Century plants only bloom once and then they die, but their bloom is impressive and grand.  25 feet of proud stalk with a cluster of flowers sitting at the top like the angel on the Christmas tree.  Interesting how the same plant that didn't get what it really needed just faded away.  The one that was lucky enough to get the light and space it craved went out with a graceful and expansive dance.

The friends I lost this year passed with their spirits strong and straight and their faith and love blooming until the last minute.  I'm proud and inspired to have known them and will honor their memory by making sure I create the light and space I need in my life to keep reaching high.  And when it's time to move on I hope that someone recognizes the moment and gently lifts me... up and away.           

Monday, October 4, 2010

Full Plate vs Empty Mind

Two and a half months since my last post.  When I began this I didn't anticipate the many changes that would transpire in my life...a larger role in running Swan Songs, health challenges that demand my attention and changes in relationships with family and friends that have thrown me off balance at times. 

Yoga instructor Rodney Yee says that balance is not a static thing - you fall out of balance and come back into balance...there is constant motion and fluidity.  I notice that in my life and in my garden.  Just when I've given up hope on myself or my shrimp plant, the rain will fall, a friend will say the perfect thing, a gift will appear that is exactly what I need, the weather will cool and suddenly my stressed plant or spirit are full of life and vitality.  The hard part is trusting that. 

My mother-in-law now lives at a facility close to us and she is getting more of my attention than my garden.  She has Alzheimer's and as her mind begins to unravel she becomes more and more childlike and wears her heart on her sleeve like never before.  She has a way of leaning in to Chris, my husband and her son, and sitting forehead to forehead for awhile - she seems to find that comforting.  The other night I received a blessing from a joyful Tibetan lama and he did the same thing - forehead to forehead for a profound moment of connection.  Wherever we find the support to empty our minds and lighten our burdens, we should lean into it.

With temperatures in the high 90's for the last couple of months, issues with migraine headaches, too much on my plate and too many mosquitoes, I wasn't leaning into my garden.  As the weather shifts and the temperature drops I find myself wandering around out there or simply sitting on the porch being still, seeking balance. 

We leave for a three week tour in a couple of days, so the garden will have to wait once again.  It's always there when I return though, waiting to bless me as deeply as a Buddhist monk...and he would be the first one to remind me of that.    

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fairies and Pasta

Chris is about to create a seafood linguini pasta (gluten free for me!) with a mini harvest of tomato, chili and basil from our garden.  He is generously contributing the photo for this post; he shared it on Facebook and I was envious of the beauty and clarity so he agreed to send it along to me.  After all, I did help to grow the bounty. 

Life has been providing a bounty of late; a bounty of activity, challenges, opportunities and new beginnings.  I have spent time in my garden but not at the computer.  The gardener and the writer often have to compete for precious time, in spite of my aching desire to do both. 

I took four days in early July and created a personal, mini retreat in my own home.  Chris was off to Nova Scotia and there was nothing on the calendar.  After the demands of this year so far I knew that it was time for some rest, rejuvenation and physical detox.  My body felt overloaded, overweight, chronically tired, sore and starved for good nutrition and quiet attention.  I had to let the garden be and know that tending to my own "mother earth" was just as important.  I stayed in, took baths, slept, began to eliminate some foods from my diet that I suspected were not agreeing with me (coffee, alcohol, meat, sugar, dairy, wheat - to name a few), wrote in my journal, read quietly, did yoga - you know, everything you pay to do at a high priced spa!  What a novel concept - to stay home and take some time off.  

After just four days I was already feeling reacquainted with my self and more in tune and in touch.  The aches and pains were dissipating and so was some of the extra weight.  On the last day I ventured back out into my garden, determined to maintain the slower pace and resist the temptation to "make up for lost time" by overworking.  I quietly pulled weeds, planted a couple of things, cleaned out some oak leaves that were still hanging around and drank in the sunshine that my body was craving.

I know right where I was, hunched over to clean up under our huge pittosporum when I had an "ah-ha!' moment that was more like a whisper from some other place - perhaps I got close enough to the garden fairies to hear their tiny words of wisdom.  

Anyone who knows me or has been following this blog can probably sense that I feel pulled in many different directions and a bit overwhelmed at times.  I am blessed to have created the career that I have, but the older I get the more I am also drawn to community service and using my talents in other ways.  Five years ago I cofounded Swan Songs, a program that fulfills musical last wishes for music lovers who are facing the end of their life here.  I love this work and have devoted and donated my time to create it, nurture it and run it for many years - long before the official corporate filing in 2005.  The work is very gratifying to me and we have been successful at establishing a solid foundation for it. 

Still, at the end of the day my personal bills await and I have to go out and earn money since I am not yet an independently wealthy philanthropist.  Swan Songs needs more attention and it is a calling that I can not and will not walk away from.  It seems obvious now that transitioning from a volunteer to a paid position would be the natural next step, but I have resisted it for a long time.  Change and a deeper commitment can be frightening and I tend to subscribe to black and white thinking - if I say yes to this new role am I saying no to the music that has sustained me for 35 years?  

The fairies helped me to remember that sometimes you have to trust your instinct and take one step without knowing how it will end and what will grow from it.  I realized that I can make room in my life to tend to this very important project and gratefully accept payment for my time, thereby taking pressure off of another area of my life.  I'm not ready to hang up the guitar, but there's no reason to at this time.  Under that pittosporum I saw it all very clearly; I presented my ideas to the board and within a couple of days the idea in the garden had become a reality in my life.  

I am convinced that this blog I began in December has helped guide me.  I have taken more time to be in nature and to write and that has led to heightened intuition, increased trust in the rhythm of life and the process of growth.  I used to yank plants out when they died back in winter because I didn't understand that they'd come back in the spring.  I bought the bigger, more expensive plants because I didn't trust that with a little patience and care I could grow that same thing from a tiny little seedling that cost a fraction of the price.

I know that my new trial position with Swan Songs will evolve at its own pace.  If it's growing too fast for me, I'll prune it back a little or turn it over to another gardener.  If it's thriving and I love what I'm doing I'll build an arbor in my life to support it.  If I'm not sure which way to turn, I'll put on my green gardening gloves, baseball cap, overalls and blue rubber boots, get down on my knees close to the earth and see what the fairies have to say. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Blue Boots

Almost three weeks since I last wrote.  What's up with that?  I am finding it incredibly difficult to fulfill my vision of gardening and writing everyday.  Perhaps it's because it is 95 degrees out there.  When I wait until it cools off a bit in the evening, I get eaten alive by the pests that are waiting to devour my exposed ankles!

Mostly I am tired.  I'll admit it - uninspired.  Our property takes so much effort just to maintain that I get worn out doing the mundane - like mowing (we now have three broken mowers, two of which are in the shop.)  I was out there enthusiastically giving our unruly yard a haircut when I hit a rock and stopped the whole deal - bent the frame on the mower and did some kind of damage to the engine.  And that was our really good mower that we brought over from the studio.  The bamboo that David and I have worked so hard to clear is back, but at least it covers up the piles of bamboo roots that I still hadn't gotten rid of.  Still it's disheartening and makes me come down with a bad case of "why bother".  I'll just let the bamboo win for awhile.

What we need is a back yard make-over like you see on HGTV where they come in with heavy machinery, scoop the whole thing out and bring us a few tons of fresh dirt.  The problem is that they always preface those shows with a woman's cheery voice saying "The Gages had a budget of $30,000 to work with for their backyard makeover."  Hmmm..."The Gages have a good friend, some blue rubber boots from Target and a nice new edger to transform their backyard" - thus the "why bother" attitude.

I bother because I am thrilled when I pop a cherry tomato in my mouth from one of our plants; I'm tickled to run out to the garden and pinch off a bit of basil for our pasta sauce; I'm proud that the plants I put in a month ago seem to be thriving and taking to their new home; I love to see butterflies swarming around my perennials.  

I'm trying to learn to appreciate the small victories and the simpler pleasures - both in the garden and in my life.  When I feel overrun by the big bad bamboo, I turn my eyes to a quieter corner, untouched by its relentless aggression.  With a little effort I can almost forget that it's there.   

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Migraines and Turtles

Five weeks since my last post. Five weeks of nurturing my family instead of my garden. I left for Florida a few days after I wrote last and began the process of helping my parents move across the state to live with my older sister and her husband. I have spent 3 of the last five weeks there and in between I have tried to keep up with our world here in Austin.

I did manage to plant a rock rose, dwarf pomegranate, African iris, wheelbarrow full of herbs, four o'clocks, beets, batchelor buttons, and some pansies for color in the last few weeks. Chris kept them watered and alive while I organized and packed and moved my folks and their life's possessions. Thank God for sisters - we grew up being a team when it was time for chores around the house, and the training paid off in spades this month!

Not all the digging and pulling at the roots of our family was painless. Along the way I had a serious falling out with someone I have been close to my entire lifetime. I am left with a huge hole where a relationship used to be. Today I was incapcitated by a migraine as I played the drama over and over in my head. I finally got up and went to the garden. I stood and watered - that's about all I had the energy for. But as I watered the new plants that are fighting to stake their ground in our garden, I watered the little seed of possibility in my self. The possibility that this relationship has been dysfunctional for a long time and needed to be planted in a new place in my heart. Or maybe it needed to be pulled out and put in a dark corner for awhile, to be rooted again when the time is right. Or maybe it will never be in my heart's landscape again and I will someday plant something else there that will bear fruit and flowers and attract the hum of life.

A few days ago after my prayer and meditation time, I chose a “Medicine Card” to glean some wisdom or guidance about how to make my peace with this very disturbing event in my life. The “medicine” here refers to “anything that improves one’s connection to the Great Mystery and to all life.” It is based on Native American spirituality and I have always found the appropriateness of the “animal medicine” cards I choose uncanny and helpful.

My choice on this day was “Turtle”. “Like Turtle, you also have shields that protect you from hurt, envy, jealousy, and the unconsciousness of others….If you have chosen the Turtle symbol, you are being asked to honor the creative source within you, to be grounded to the Earth, and to observe your situation with motherly compassion. Use the water and earth energies, which represent Turtle’s two homes, to flow harmoniously with your situation and to place your feet firmly on the ground in a power stance.”

So I guess standing shell shocked with the hose in the garden was the right thing to do. It was certainly the only thing I could do today. Thank you Mother Earth. It worked better than the migraine medicine.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Slogging Through the Underbrush

It seems like the only thing I am growing lately is frustration.  My edger was in pieces so I finally went and purchased a snazzy new Black and Decker model.  It's one of those string edgers and this one actually has two lines.  So, that makes twice as many lines not functioning right.  Twice as many spools to mess with.  Twice as many reasons for me to pull my hair out and give up.  I don't know why I can't grok how these things work.  Maybe it's an inherent design flaw - either in the equipment or my brain.

Our good friend Cat generously gave us a new mower that she had never taken out of the box.  I made a trip to the gas station for gas and oil and tried to crank it up.  No go.  I don't think it's the actual mower, I just have a hard time getting those things running.   I guess I don't have the upper body strength so once again I gave up and came inside to get back to work in the office.  I was outside for an hour feebly attempting to get my tools functioning and was left with an empty pit of frustration and a yard that is badly in need of a haircut.  

Yesterday I spent all my outdoor time digging more weeds and cutting back bamboo.  The work that we are doing to contain the bamboo brigade back there is obviously energizing the troops.  For every 25 feet of bamboo roots that David digs out, 25 more shoots appear.  You can almost hear them taunting us - "Really? You think you can get rid of us by pulling up a few of our roots?  We are thousands strong down here in the trenches and when you attack one of our comrades we will not stand for it.  We will rise in force".  

I usually pride myself on the fact that we don't have a picture perfect suburban lawn.  Today I'd give anything for a tame little patch of green with some neat flower beds to tend to.  I feel like I never get to the pretty stuff - you know, the image of the gardener with her straw sun hat, pink gloves, quietly pruning her roses while sipping on iced tea.  I'm always traipsing around with chain saws and oil cans and huge bags of thistles, oak and bamboo - just trying to carve out my place amongst the powerful life forces around me. 

My entire life feels a little like that right now.  I'm constantly scrambling to keep up with demands from all directions - many of which are out of my control and just part of life.  I still have this attachment to the fallacy that if I work hard enough I should be able to tame the wildness and end up with perfect roses.  Sometimes you have to slog through the underbrush to get to the rosebush.  I guess that's what I'm doing these days. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Oak, oak and more oak

It's pouring outside.  In between rain showers I have been running out and pulling weeds because it's so much more satisfying and productive when the ground is wet.  I don't know why there are so many weeds this year but my grass is having to compete for its turf, so to speak.  Of course, I avoided using chemicals to weed and feed so I guess that explains why I have a lawn that consists of 80% dandelions, clover, chickweed and poison ivy, 10% dirt and 10% unruly, spindly patches of grass.  It's hard to get motivated to crank up the mower when there's so little actual lawn.  Also, our mower and edger are not functioning right now, so it involves driving to our studio to get the other mower.  That's way more commitment than I have been able to muster.  For a gardening blogger it's pretty embarrassing how unattractive our yard is.

I came home from a week in California to a heavy layer of oak leaves and pollen covering everything.  Every April we go through the oak barrage and our sinuses tell the tale.  This year we hired a friend to rake and sweep and bag and get it out of our life.  It's not a super hard job, but for a couple of singers it's worth having someone else spare us the five hours of inhaling the vocal poison.  Now at least I can walk outside without going into an asthma attack.  Of course there's rain in the forecast for the next several days, but the negative ions that it is stirring are already working their magic on my mood.  I don't have to find my headphones to listen to the rain app on my iphone to chill out.  I just open the door.  What a novel concept. 

I'm home for another ten days before I leave for Florida to visit my parents for several days and play in Louisiana on my way back to Texas.  By the time I leave I'd like to have some hanging baskets of colorful flowers, the tomatoes planted, beds mulched, piles of bamboo roots that my pal David has been digging up disposed of (that's a whole other story - waking up to David in his Gilligan cap hacking away at the bamboo in the backyard) and the beginnings of a new bed in front of my office window.  We'll see.  That's my wish list so I'll just keep chipping away at it.  Throughout this process I am challenging myself to not pass judgment when the demands of our life pull me away from my plans and goals.  For a list maker that's a hard one.  

But what a sweet sense of accomplishment as I watch my new grapevine take root and start to reach up towards our first bottle of MoonHouse Wine.  I can dream can't I?  Just don't hold me to it.          

Monday, April 5, 2010

In My Easter Bluebonnets

Almost three weeks since my last post.  In spite of my best intentions life keeps intruding on my gardening and writing time.  An unexpected trip to South Dakota to help my mother in law, Darleen, move into an assisted living facility pulled me away from my normal life for awhile and today I leave for Los Angeles to attend four days of meetings.  During the week I was "home" I was out of town four nights.  As you can see, I do not lead a life conducive to a daily routine revolving around the home turf.

I have managed to plant carrots, beets, blackberries, grapes, four o'clock flowers and bachelor buttons.  I've pulled piles and piles of weeds and am trying to keep up with the barrage of oak leaves covering our world.  Now the yellow/green dust is raining down on our cars, driveway, porch and kitty, who looks like she is wearing little green booties.  

As we drove home from east Texas yesterday we couldn't resist pulling over for a classic bluebonnets shot, so I am getting doses of Mother Earth even if it isn't in my own backyard.  The soft plains and hills of South Dakota also brought me comfort during a trying time.  I'll try to walk on the beach in LA for a few minutes, although I'll be in hotels and meeting rooms most of the time.  

When I return to Texas spring will still be in full bloom and my weary body will be ready to rest and rejuvenate by digging and planting and enjoying the fruits of my labor.    

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

10 Bags of Bliss

I am a woman who is very easily entertained these days.  As I blissfully loaded 10 bags of garden soil into our truck recently I realized that at the age of 24 I would not have found joy in that moment.  I probably wouldn't have created that moment.

At that time I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico and I didn't even give my brown thumb an opportunity to prove itself.  I knew it was brown and my house plants agreed.  The high desert around me was lush and colorful in its own way and that was plenty of landscape for me.  I did spend time outside - traipsing through the mountains to cut the winter's wood supply, running in my slippers out to the wood pile so I could keep the woodstove cooking, riding horses on my friend's ranch and sitting in the sun playing my guitar.  Living in Santa Fe, you can't be surrounded by that much natural beauty and not feel connected to it.  Thanks to the Sangre de Cristos, the sky, the smell of pinon and the clarity of the light, being close to nature came easy.  

These days in Austin I am also surrounded by natural beauty, but it is often overpowered by traffic, people, high rises and highways.  I have to make an extra effort to drink in the nectar of life in its many disguises.  Loading all those bags of dirt I know that soon I will be tearing in to them and adding the rich mixture to my gardens and flower beds.  I know that I will inhale its dampness and perhaps hear a redbird trilling on the telephone wire above me; I will notice a worm and wonder if it was a bonus prize in the dirt I just purchased or if he had been napping deep in the soil that I am now ferociously turning; I will feel a shift in the wind and a shower of tough, brown oak leaves will rain down on me.  

Investing in ten bags of dirt is a confirmation that this work that I love is in my future.  I am 54 and it turns out all that talk about menopause ushering in a new way of being and a rearranging of priorities is absolutely true.  The young woman with the brown thumb would be stunned to see the simple pleasures that I now yearn for.  But the little girl of 4 who loved to romp through meadows and lay in piles of hay probably wouldn't be all that surprised.        

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pear Sauce

It's been another week of distractions but I have managed to tend to the garden.  Spring is definitely making herself known this week in Austin and I can feel the vibration of new life all around me.  There is a quickening in my step when I am out and about and a sense of possibility percolating under my recent winter melancholy. 

We have a pear tree that we planted 6 or so years ago - I can't quite remember now.  Last year it bore tons of fruit for the first time and it was not strong enough to support it.  We had to prematurely pick 3 bushels of perfectly good fruit that didn't get to ripen gracefully and went to waste.  The weight of the fruit broke some of the branches, including one of the main ones.  Yesterday we decided to prune it back before the tiny buds that were starting to appear kicked into high growing gear.  Our friend David was here and with Chris's guidance we began selectively trimming long, graceful limbs and creating a tighter, stronger looking foundation for our little tree.  We ended up really going to town and wound up with a large pile of lovely pear branches that are waiting patiently for large brush day.  I was a little worried that we had gone too far and the tree would go into shock and shut down for the rest of the season. 

This afternoon I went out to do some weeding and there were these beautiful, green leaves on the remaining branches.  They were triple the size that they were yesterday, reaching and stretching as if they were in a yoga class.  I couldn't believe how much life seemed to be pumping their way, now that it wasn't being diverted in too many directions.  It's the same with our lettuce crop.  We have a tendency to plant too close together and when we finally pull one to make more room, the remaining adjacent heads explode and expand, thrilled to have the room to strut their stuff.

There's a lot to be said for a judicious use of energy.  Lord knows that I have way too many branches in my life and cram projects and activities too close together.  Perhaps as I start to cut back, prune and choose more carefully I'll find more life blood flowing to what remains.  Maybe I will begin to reach and stretch and bear just the right amount of fruit to be sweetly savored. 

(Coincidentally, we are eating pear sauce this week that Chris made from what he put up last year.  It's great to have a partner who has the forethought to do that.) 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Clearing Clutter

Today was beautiful here in Austin so I was determined to spend some of it outdoors.  We had some accounting to work on for an hour or so before Chris and I went our separate ways and then I was planning to hit the garden.  One task led to another; one discrepancy led to another; one reconciliation led to another.  That's how it happens with me.  Suddenly it was 5:30 and I had been at it all day. 

I checked the handy little natural clock on my iPhone and realized I still had a good hour of sunlight so I changed from the pjs I worked in all day to the overalls that always feel like a delicious indulgence.  Designer duds are not what I crave - it's knowing that all I have to dress for are my weeds. 

And man did I go after them today.  I found a patch so large and official looking just outside the perimeter of the vegetable garden that I thought for a minute perhaps they were stray greens that I should be gratefully and carefully harvesting, not alien intruders I was bent on destroying.  Upon closer examination I determined that they were indeed weeds and I dug the whole patch out and threw them away (pile pictured above).  I can't bring myself to put weeds in the compost so I brown bag them for the city. 

Once I got down on my knees and began to clear the space, I started seeing its potential. By the time my 90 minutes was up, I had cleaned out another area that has been under utilized and gets great sun.  This is where I will plant my blackberry bush next week.  It just feels like the right place for it.  

For me, gardening is the ultimate in not planning.  For a girl who thrives on lists and plans and spreadsheets, I love the feeling of opening the door not having a clue about what I'll do.  I walk around and wait to see what calls to me.  Today it was attacking the army of early spring weeds that rang my bell, which seems like a mundane task but ultimately led to a vision for the summer garden.

I'm a big believer in clearing clutter to allow the space for creativity, whether it's in the office, home, garden or psyche.  I wish it was as easy to clear my mind of its weeds.  Meditation helps, when I do it.  Tears help and I usually have a creative breakthrough after they fall, so I guess that's a form of emotional weeding.  It was certainly true yesterday when financial, health and family concerns caught up with me and I surrendered to a good cry.  While still blubbering I picked up my guitar and wrote a song for the first time in quite awhile.  Today I sang and refined it while I worked (on the weeding, not the accounting).   

So, I guess I should say thanks to the tears and the weeds.        

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Weeds and Bronchitis

Another big gap between blogs. Where have I been, pray tell?  It was interesting to read my last two posts before we left town for the Folk Alliance conference in Memphis.  I was definitely over working, had taken on too much and couldn't figure out how to spend any time in the garden - which usually means I am not taking care of myself either.  As grows the garden, so goes my life.  The whole point of this blog has been to notice that and make an effort towards more nurturing and less self destructing; I got a big technicolor dose of that dynamic in the last couple of weeks. 

I left for Memphis completely exhausted and wishing I could just call the whole thing off.  (Incidentally, I left for The Grammys in the same shape a month earlier.)  I was in dire need of sleep, solitude, simplicity of activity and diet and old fashioned rest and relaxation.  I pushed through the conference, operating on overdrive for four days surrounded by thousands of fellow folkies and feeling worse and worse as the days went on.  I honestly felt like I had been hit by a truck most of the time - aching, tired, coughing and laryngitis.  Alas, by the final morning (after appearing on two panels and ten showcases in four days) two weary wanderers started loading the truck to make it to Litttle Rock in time for Chris to catch a flight to Arizona for a gig with Jerry Jeff Walker.  We had a plan and although I was aching and freezing and unbelievably tired, I was going to rise to it.

First we had to deal with a big old flat tire before we could even leave the parking garage.  We kept the pedal to the medal and got Chris to the airport on time and I took over driving.  In the pouring rain I stopped to get the tire fixed at a Walmart in Arkansas and shivering yet determined I carried on.  I had books on CD to keep me company and road warrior that I am I was sure I could make it home by 1 AM, a reasonable time frame for a working musician.

By Greenville, Texas I had a raging fever and finally surrendered.  A night in a hotel with Theraflu and a hot bath did wonders.  What I noticed was how damn hard it was for me to pull over and stop.  I don't know what or whose voice it is that tells me I'm a wimp for not forging on, but she's there.  My better angels (via my brother and supportive husband and friends) convinced me that stopping was the wise thing to do.  

The last five hours to Austin the next day took some real effort, but I made it and went immediately to the doctor, grocery store and drugstore and finally unloaded a truck full of instruments, suitcases, coolers, conference crap and snacks.  All I could think about was the couch and I was practically salivating I wanted it so bad.  But first I had to drive over my laptop with the truck - just to put a little icing on this cake of a week.  

I wanted to scream and cry but by then I was too happy just to be home.  Meanwhile Chris had received news that his mom needed some extra help in South Dakota, so he went there straight from Arizona and I spent the week nursing bronchitis and getting the rest and solitude I had needed for so long.  Five days of sleeping, eating only soup and salad, resting, relaxing (with coughing and general miserable-ness thrown in) was exactly what my body had been wanting for so many weeks.

This is my pattern.  I push to the point of exhaustion and insomnia which leads to illness so that I can finally crash and burn.  I'm not proud of it, but there it is.  This experiment with the garden is to help me recognize the connections and habits that are so deeply entrenched.  Since I got my strength back in the last couple of days I made it outside again and noticed that huge weeds are appearing all over the place.  I'm talking 2 1/2 feet tall, bristly, ugly things that tower over my carefully chosen plants and flowers.  Once I get out there in the garden it's not that hard to dig those weeds up by the roots and banish them.  I used to wack them down with the edger but they would reappear bigger than ever. 

When I ignore my own needs and don't tend to them, they too are easily overrun by the big uglies -  illness, frustration, depression, hopelessness.  Living on caffeine and melatonin (or worse - Ambien) is the "edger technique" of self care; it doesn't really get to the root of the problem and the symptoms only get worse.  

The solutions are pretty simple and shouldn't be that challenging to create - time for a bath, a walk instead of a meeting, maybe a massage now and then, sitting down while I eat instead of hunkered over the desk, tea with a friend now and then, serving on three fewer committees.  It's not rocket science but sometimes it feels that foreign to me.

The other important thing to remember here is to be forgiving and receptive like my garden.  It always seems thankful for the attention I give it.  Any little tending and it seems to reach up with gratitude and smile towards the sun.  I never hear the plant fairies whispering "you've been bad; what took you so long; we are not going to let these plants respond to your loving attention now as punishment for ignoring them for so long".  They just soak it up and continue to thrive.  

My husband Chris and I went on an afternoon movie date today, to give ourselves some much needed time together and cinematic inspiration.  I didn't do any weeding in the garden, but I yanked some big ones out of my heart with just those few hours in a dark theater.  When I came out I smiled towards the sun with gratitude.     

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Heart Day

Happy Valentine's Day.  For 18 years now I have done an annual Valentine's French Show so it's never a particularly romantic day for me.  It's a work day to the nth degree - big band, lots of production, challenging music - all very inspiring and fun but it's not really about just Chris and me being cuddly and soft with each other. 

However, true love is true love so I did begin the day by giving him his gift - some big paper clippy things with hearts on them.  Office supplies/valentine's gift - how special.  His gift to me was to kick me out the door and into the garden.  I was in my overalls ready to grab 20 minutes outside but was about to use up all that time talking about bookings in May, taking care of band communication for tonight's show and watching over his shoulder as he designed business cards for the conference this week.  It takes a village to keep Christine from working, and the mayor is my husband Chris.  He reminded me that I would have alot more love in my heart for the audience tonight if I allowed time for my dirt therapy.  He was right.  Thank you Chris. 

So now I really must get back to work.  These last few days I've been carving out those moments outdoors and that "in sync with the universe" feeling is returning.  There's something about trust that emerges for me.  If there is a force that can orchestrate the ebb and flow of the life of a tree or a vine or the lettuce in my garden, surely it can handle my problems.  Now if I can just get my mind to relax and let life do its thing. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

the old Christine

I can't believe it's been two weeks since I blogged.  Well, I lie.  I have been aware of it every single day.  We returned from the LA trip to cold and wet weather here in Austin that hasn't abated much.  On the few sunny days we've had I did manage to get out there and pull some weeds, which is much easier when the ground is wet.  I've only gone into the garden for a total of 90 minutes in two weeks and haven't had the mental energy or focus to write either. 

What I have done is work, work, work at the computer.  Taxes, bookings, major non-profit projects, scheduling, communicating, promoting, organizing band members, sound companies, flights, equipment insurance schedules...oh the life of an artist.  When that's done, I throw on some cowboy boots, grab my guitar and drive to a gig to sing, talk some more and some sell CDs.  Luckily, when I finally get down to the music it always energizes my muse that has been battered by the business burden.  (Gotta love that alliteration)    

But what appeals to me, and what I need so desperately from the garden, is simplicity.  I see some weeds that don't belong there and I pull them.  Leaves have fallen and I rake them.  A space is empty and longing to welcome a new plant and I give it one.  The work refreshes me and my frenetic thoughts begin to settle.  I know this for a fact, because I have not done it much for two weeks now and the old Christine (no relation to the television show) has returned.  She doesn't sleep well, her anxiety has kicked in, she doesn't trust her choices because she hasn't slowed down enough to remember the heart behind them and her body is locked up with unreleased tension.  I realize that not everyone finds so much release and relief from the simple act of putzing around their yard, but I do.  The contrast these last couple of weeks has made that even more obvious to me.  Now to reclaim the commitment I had somehow mustered and get out there again!

Of course, I've got non-stop gigs the next few days and then I leave for Memphis for the Folk Alliance conference.  I probably won't even leave the hotel for four days much less dig in the dirt -   more opportunity to notice the difference when I don't do it.

There are still four days before I go, so I promise here and now to tend to the garden every one of those days, even if it's only for five minutes.  It helps hold me accountable to have this space I return to and you fine readers tuning in.  Many of you have told me that you're following along and it means a great deal to me.  Please feel free to call me on it when I disappear.  If you see me say something like "Hey, what's up? What happened to the big life balancing, transformational, commitment thing with the gardening and writing?"  In my shame I'll rush home and pick up a trowel and a pen.  

Whatever it takes - because it's what I need.     

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

and The Grammy goes to...

We leave in the morning to fly to Los Angeles for four nights of Grammy Awards shindigs.  No, we are not nominated, but I am honored to serve as a Trustee on the national Board of Trustees of The Recording Academy, the organization whose membership votes and bestows the awards.  Tickets to the fabulous events are a nice perk at the end of a year of countless hours of meetings, trips and committee work.  So Chris and I gussy up and listen to incredible music and drink killer martinis for four nights. 

What this has created in my life is a convergence of deadlines right on top of a trip out of town.  I am applying to be a part of the Texas Commission on the Arts touring roster, to get my French music out there into museums, schools and concerts more often.  That process has been a bear.  We are attending the Folk Alliance Conference in February and had to get all kinds of promotional materials created and to the printer before we leave tomorrow.  Our phone started ringing like crazy for bookings this spring and summer.  I had to figure out what the heck to wear to three very dressy affairs.  You get the picture.   

And where did this leave my sweet gardening blogging project - in the proverbial dust.  True confession time - I haven't picked up a hose or a trowel or put on my gardening gloves since Saturday - that's four full days.  People often keep a journal to track their body's reaction to certain foods to identify what might be causing ailments and allergies.  Through this process I am tracking my daily activity choices and noticing my response.

After four days of nonstop work I can say that I am not sleeping well, have lost that magical relaxed vibe I was so proud of, started resenting my work, have been snapping at my sweet husband...If there was any doubt, I have now proven to myself that a little bit of earth and sun everyday really is a miracle worker in my life and psyche.

Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do (like go schmooze at red carpet events) but I am counting the days until I get back to my overalls and my bamboo.   

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The March of The Bamboo

I am beginning to realize that there is no way I'm going to have time to actually work in the garden everyday, write about it, get in the meditation and exercise that I'm also embracing and make a living and be the volunteer queen.  So, I may not get to the writing part, but rest assured I am out there in the elements, moving my body, getting to know the natural world around me, and staying closer to my spiritual home base through all of this.  I just might miss a few days of blogging now and then. 

It is getting easier all the time to leave the computer chair and grab my gardening gloves.  My body craves it, my spirit demands it and so far my affairs are in as much order as they ever were and my joy is on the rise.  So I'll keep opening my arms to it. 

The army of bamboo that has been marching closer and closer to the house has finally gotten my attention.  That stuff is relentless.  My ultimate plan is to yank up the roots all the way to the back line of our property, dig a trench, fill it with cement and try to hold the line.  I love the privacy that it provides, but I hate its aggressiveness - what a bully.  I hope to work with it because I don't think I'll ever be able to get rid of it completely.  Besides, my good friend David loves a good outdoor project and has offered to lend his wisdom, guidance, sweat and back to the cause - so bring it on.   

I'm trying to cut it back enough to even see the dimensions of our yard and what we're dealing with.  It's easy enough to chop down, but then I have to cut it up into smaller pieces to shove them in a brown recycling bag.  I've learned that it is ten times easier to do that when they are freshly slaughtered and still green.  If I let them lie around for a few weeks they are dry, brittle and much harder to deal with (hmmmm....sounds like my hair in menopause).  So, that's been my project this week.  I spend an hour and you can't even tell that I made a dent in it.  I try to remind myself that it's all about the journey and not the destination; easier said than done.  

This picture gives you a sense of it but doesn't capture the enormity of the challenge.  The prone cedar tree is a story for another day.  As you can see, we don't have a perfectly manicured suburban lawn.  You know my theory - as grows the garden, so goes my life.  You should see my nails.  

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ring Around the Moon

This happens a lot.  When I finally find time to write, it is after midnight and I have missed the "date window" so my little blogs don't line up in a neat little row.  Of course I began this with the Virgo perfectionism goal of having an entry for every day of the year.  But I am one of those living things that I am learning to be more patient and flexible with.  I am bound to have hibernation periods, my foliage is going to die for awhile, I'm going to show some signs of stress when it gets too cold or too hot. 

Alas, I am finding time to get outside everyday even if I don't write about it.  Today I clipped a few things with my trusty new Home Depot Titanium clippers and then sat on the porch playing Scrabble on my iPhone.  I got to experience a mystical ring around the moon as it was rising.  I also tried to cut back my aloe vera plants that took a real hit in the freeze.  I was dripping with aloe juice and gave my porch a very healing bath when it was all said and done.  I wished that I had a bad burn so that it wouldn't go to waste.   

Without this shift in priorities I probably wouldn't have done any of those things.  My desk might be cleaner and my laundry might be done, but I would have missed that ring around the moon.  

Disclaimer - I didn't think to get a picture tonight, so this shot is from a website

Monday, January 18, 2010

Virgo Dirt

I am a happy woman.  I have been outside digging, raking leaves and hauling stuff away for several hours the last couple of days.  I am energized, relaxed, excited about my visions for the spring.  My body is feeling stronger and I do not resent the work that awaits me when I come back in to my office.     

How can it be so simple?  Why didn't I do this ages ago?  Why do we resist when that little voice is saying "I know what you need.  Just listen".  

I notice that much of the comfort of this work for me is in the smell.  Dirt is nectar for my soul.  Perhaps it's because I am a Virgo (earth sign) with five planets in Virgo.  But I also think it has to do with my childhood.  I grew up in the country in upstate New York.  My entire childhood played out in the acres that surrounded us - five that my parents owned and many more that were undeveloped adjacent to our property.  My first profound spiritual experience occurred while lying in a field of violets in the spring.  I felt the certainty of my connection to God/Life/Love, and I have carried it with me ever since.  Fall was spent raking leaves and leaping into the piles; winter days found us sledding down the hill by the barn; we passed the summer evenings playing kickball on freshly mown grass and the days splashing around in the creek down the hill.  I spent hours reading in a treehouse up in a 150 year old elm and marveled at the return of the irises every April.   My favorite place to lay and dream was under the grape arbor - it was dark and cool and secret and dripping with huge, succulent, purple grapes. 

My life choices brought me to this place - a rectangle of land with a blue house in the middle of a very large city in Texas.  We chose property that is still a bit wild and untamed.  There are huge live oak trees and too much bamboo and overgrown corners that need attention.  The butterflies love it, a family of Great Horned Owls chose to teach their babies to fly here a few years ago, all the cats in the hood hang out in our garden (the coolest litter box around), and the child explorer/dreamer in me is waking up by spending time out there - just messing around without a plan.    

So today I bought a grape vine at Home Depot to plant this spring.  I think I'll create another place to lay and dream.  

Saturday, January 16, 2010

High Tech Gardener

I put technology to work today and set an alarm on my iPhone to remind myself to put the computer on standby and get outside. The alarm went off and I of course pushed it another hour. I did go out though and finally took down the Christmas lights. I love decorating the house, both inside and out, but it feels good to get back to the space and simplicity that return when it's all packed away again.

This time of year I can see all the way down to the roots on most of my plants. The showy green growth and flowers are gone and I can find the foundation of my garden. I'm beginning to plan for the spring. Maybe I'll move some things that need more space, perhaps I'll keep other plants trimmed so they don't get as huge as they usually do. Just because the Esperanza can get 8 feet tall, do I have to let it? It looms over other lovely plants, casting a shadow that robs them of their light. There is a trumpet vine that we share with the neighbors along our driveway. Since there is no structure for it to grow on it falls over on itself and doesn't flower like it could with more support. This would be a good time to cut it all the way back and install a simple chicken wire fence for it to climb on in the spring. Voila, a little more privacy too!

I wish it was this simple to decide what to cut back in my own life and where to give myself more support so that I can "bloom and grow" like the edelweiss in the famous song. Maybe it is simple. I could start by cutting back on television (okay, I'm addicted to West Wing reruns - which I usually start about 1 AM) and support myself with more rest (the hour I spend at The White House with Martin Sheen).

In keeping with my vow to let technology serve me, I came in and exercised with our new Wii Fit after my time in the garden. I'm turning into such a high tech earth mother health nut.

(The picture today is our home when it's decked out in all its glory.  Happy New Year, a little late)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Rocked by The Mother

I returned from our week in paradise with a raging sinus/bronchial infection, so I wasn't able to jump right back in to my garden or my blog.  It was hard to drag myself out of bed to take care of the unpaid bills and unanswered emails much less get out there in the cold, damp Austin air or locate any words worth writing in my congested head.    

While we were away Austin was hit by a hard freeze.  Our housesitter did a good job saving the lettuce and the potted tropicals, but there are telltale signs of the stress all around us. The cactus, aloe plants, airplane plant, Christmas cactus and ginger, droopy and beaten, seem to be saying, "Thanks a lot.  While you were oohing and aahing over that poinsettia tree and drinking Pina Coladas, we were freezing our buns off here and were left to fend for ourselves, unprotected!"  No one takes care of your children like you do and I have all the requisite mother guilt after grabbing six days for myself.  I've learned from years past that some of them will still come back and for those that don't make it, there is a wonderful nursery a mile away just waiting for me to adopt one of their babies for a very reasonable fee.

Waking everyday to feast my eyes on the Caribbean and being rocked to sleep by the wind in the palms each night reinforced this path that I am on.  Some fundamental part of me is nurtured by nature and I have drifted away from Her.  I follow the trail of tasks and projects that feed my body and other important longings - to serve the community, to connect with friends and family, to do meaningful work - but I sometimes end up feeling lost in the wilderness.

I don't have to fly away to a tropical island to find my way back.  Sure it helps to have uninterrupted days of endless ocean, warm sun and three dimensional stars.  But I can be rocked by Mother Earth right here, and let that rhythm help me find my center again. 

I opened the book "Heart Steps - Prayers and Declarations for a Creative Life" by Julia Cameron today - looking for inspiration.  These are her words.  

All of Life is My Mentor   

I honor the wisdom of life.  I learn from Life in all its forms.  The tree teaches me.  The sparrow and the wren sing my songs.  I am open to the lessons Life brings to me from the earth.  I learn from the wind, from the sun, from the small flowers, and from the stars.  I walk without arrogance.  I learn from all I encounter.  I open my mind and my heart to the guidance and love that come from the natural world. 

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Christine Unplugged

A front blew through last night while we sang and rang in the New Year so today I picked up the sticks that were littering the yard.  A simple task for a tired woman, but even that felt good.  Perhaps my sleeping problem the last couple of nights is less about the full moon and more about my body being in shock from the unusual amounts of sunshine and fresh air it's suddenly receiving!  My internal clock doesn't know what time it is anymore. 

I said my goodbyes to our little south Austin farmland this evening.  Tomorrow we begin our journey to Belize to make music with Jerry Jeff Walker and stay with him and his wife Susan in their island home, so I won't be writing for a week or so.  Well, you might find me curled into a chair on the veranda drinking in the Caribbean air and putting pen to paper, but I won't be rushing to find a computer to post it to you back here in blog land.  There's a time and place for commitments, and this week it's time to commit to total unplugged down time.  Here I go.