Blooming Where Planted

These asters are pinker than the typical bluer blooms.

After weeks of drought, September’s rains finally arrived long enough to give the sugar maples their first blush. The temperatures dropped in time to provide plenty of dew for bejeweling the spiders’ webs that decorated undisturbed corners of my forgotten gardens. New England asters that made themselves at home in my garden last year bloomed right on time. And gradually, very gradually I have begun to feel better.

What this long haul has taught me is to appreciate the positive and to count on a completely different set of symptoms tomorrow. When a system like mine is driven by a crazily capricious autoimmune pilot, life becomes a lesson in impermanence. Just when I think I’ve sent one unpleasant condition packing, here it comes again like the rejected suitor who refuses to take “no” for an answer. Fortunately, each time they return, they are less enthusiastic than the last time. And each time, I am fortified with better armament.

Even though my time outside is limited, I try to walk every day and take a moment to visit the flowers on my porches and vegetables in the gardens. The fact that they’ve carried on without me with only minimal effort from my husband is both humbling and comforting. We gardeners sometimes think we are indispensable with our planting guides and to-do lists, but Nature always has the final say in that regard. There have been many happy accidents and appearances that would not have occurred if I’d been diligent with weeding and pruning.

The volunteer asters mentioned above have flourished this year in particular, with multitudes of black-eyed Susans and ironweed popping up in unexpected places. An entire army of Autumn Beauty sunflowers came up from one little tortured survivor last year, and lined our driveway to the delight of the goldfinches. A month ago I found an Ageratina altissima, the notorious white snakeroot that led to Nancy Hanks Lincoln’s premature death, perkily blooming amidst my butterfly weed. I welcomed the sight since it is a beneficial native for pollinators despite its bad reputation.

There is still a long road to health, but through a slow summer and beginning autumn I have learned to let go of expectations, worry and control (mostly). There is peace (this year’s Word) to be found in a good night’s sleep, negative lab results, a beautiful chrysanthemum from a neighbor or visit from the occasional fluttering monarch. Finding a new flower friend in the mess and chaos of the world is a sign that confirms my efforts to be happy where I am in the moment.

Healing Harvest

Healthy greens from my garden are helping my recovery.

I won’t sugarcoat these past two months. While my husband has finally recovered, I have been overwhelmed by a virus that is unlike anything I’ve ever felt in my body before. Whether it remains like an unwelcome guest when the pantry has been raided bare or the specter of some mutation that has found my bodily hospitality irresistible, I have been made aware of its presence every day for weeks, often incapacitating me for days at a time.

I had falsely presumed that I was pretty healthy and protected going into the infection, but apparently my longstanding autoimmune issues and poor digestion that I’d been skirting around for years provided the perfect playground for viral monsters to enjoy. Women over sixty seem to be the likely age group that the virus likes to target for the long haul. Nearly all my symptoms are reported by others in the same boat, and there doesn’t seem to be anything that western medicine can do for us except treat the symptoms. Inflammation that moves around constantly, multiple infections, anxiety attacks, environmental sensitivities, neurological issues, insomnia and depression are all part of the welcome package, unfortunately.

There have been days when I want to give up as OTC meds and prescriptions fail or cause bad side effects. I have always been very sensitive to chemicals so this health journey has been an exercise in frustration. But not treating symptoms wasn’t an option, either. On the other hand, I am lucky because all my tests have come back normal with the exception of high blood sugar, which I was probably on the way to developing anyway but the virus kicked the pre-diabetes up a notch.

In fact, all the symptoms are issues I’ve dealt with at some time in my life, from very young (ear infection) to recent (food intolerances). My immune system has gone haywire from overreacting to innocent foods and environmental conditions, only making the symptoms worse. In eliminating the histamine triggers to buy some time for recovery, I’ve had to drastically remove many products from my life, eat a very restricted clean diet, and restrict activities including work in my beloved garden. In essence, I’m basically starting over and this is an opportunity for rebirth. I really have no choice in the matter because I can’t return to the old habits and diet. My body won’t let me.

But even on my darkest days, I’ve finally recognized the need to address the trauma from my past so that it does not dictate my future. Part of what is holding my healing back is the extreme flight-or-fight response of an inner child who never felt safe and can override any of my adult reasoning. Until I acknowledge the emotional and psychological steps in my recovery, the progress will be very slow. I’ve learned the hard way that relying on medicine alone to address my illness is just a bandaid to the underlying conditions that led me to this dramatic shift in my life. Wholistic treatments and counseling need to be a part of my recovery plan as well because building back my whole health is more important than almost anything else, and well worth my time and resources.

Seeing this situation as a lesson rather than punishment is a good first step as we enter September and the cooler breezes of autumn. May I be able to reap a healthy harvest in my efforts to heal.

Being Idle

After a fortunate two years, the dreaded illness finally entered our house in June after my husband’s business trip. And while we both managed to stay out of the hospital and recover from our initial symptoms, other lingering problems require us to rest and recuperate, a state of being neither of us has the patience for. With flower and vegetable gardens in full swing during a drought, the timing couldn’t be worse.

The fatigue they always talk about is real, requiring us to take turns with the yard duties depending on who has the energy or not. Either way, by high noon, we are relegated to sitting on the patio and watching plants and wildlife do their thing, whether we approve or not. This inactivity has become an exercise in Zen meditation, where nothing is good or bad, it just is. We are too tired to intervene.

Among our observations I’m sad to say that there are fewer pollinators at our house this year, although the lightening bugs are back in force rising up like little satellites of hope at dusk. On a positive note, wrens have finally built a nest in the wren house I put up that sat empty last year. And the bluebirds are back, always a symbol of happiness when they flash their beautiful blues. The rabbits have been quite brazen this year, particularly a buck we call Bad Bunny who was with us last summer. We know it’s still him because he’ll come right up to you, arrogantly munching our clover with a look that says “Yeah, so what are you going to do about it?”

Friends and neighbors have been very kind to us during quarantine, offering to bring us food and run errands. For the most part, we enjoy staying home and sitting out in our garden, comforted by the sense of community offered and counting ourselves lucky even though June hasn’t been the happiest of months.

The bluebirds are here to remind us that joy can still be found if you are waiting for it.

Fleet of Foot

The young bucks showed up during local hunting season at our house, leisurely strolling among the rows of bungalows acting like our little urban neighborhood close to downtown was some enchanted clapboard forest. But don’t be fooled — they are alert, wily fellows who are always on the lookout for the flash of a florescent orange hat or glint of gun metal, ready at a moment’s notice for a quick change of plans into the brambly unknown. And I’ve been right there with them this year, veering and leaping away from looming fear and uncertainty that still hunt for the vulnerable in dark shadows.

After the vaccinations, we thought we could venture out into the bright open meadows, that plague season was almost over. The news was optimistic, and we held on to those rescheduled concert tickets instead of asking for refunds. Herd immunity was within our grasp, and the seeds of future plans were planted. By midsummer, there was a faint scent of danger on the breeze but close-to-normal outdoor gatherings and events led us to believe that we were still cautiously protected as we brazenly shopped in stores barefaced.

By fall, we were masked again, waiting for boosters, forfeiting the tickets to shows that blindly continued to go on, and debated whether to gather in large numbers for our annual rituals. Last-minute decisions and changes in venue were woven into the run of our days as we tried to anticipate the hunt’s next move. At Thanksgiving we were back to zooming our greetings from afar.

Now at the turn of the year, I find that my trail has circled back to the same trap. My escapes have all been discovered and cover exposed. The herd has dispersed into separate ways, and we may not meet again. I walk into the darkest months with tools I have honed, senses sharpened, prepared to spin into new directions. As I watch the buck boys bedded down in our backyard with their antlers blended into branches, they return my gaze telling me that they know I’m there and the worst mistake in life is to become complacent.

Here’s to safer sojourns and greener pastures in 2022.

Omens and Optics

The Romanesco (a little past its prime)

I was preparing my usual last-minute blog post for May when one of my eyes began it’s long-awaited vitreous detachment during the Memorial Day weekend as a consequence of my eye surgeries last year. Most of June and two retinal tears later, I can finally bend over to plant my garden and lift the watering can again. I’m grateful for technology and medical advances but there are always nerve-wracking tradeoffs and repercussions to any alterations that didn’t come in my prenatal package.

After a relatively quiet spell of weather in May (although unusually cold) we were treated to a huge tropical storm system that precipitated a deluge of over four inches of rain in less than two hours. My family thanked our lucky stars that we lived on a hill as my husband and I bailed out our basement in the middle of the night while hundreds of sirens wailed eerily all over town for water rescues after flash flooding roared through downtown, the nearby university and right down the hill from us. I don’t think I’ve ever lived through so much rain in such a short period of time–over seven inches in three or four hours!

Someone local was wondering what we had done to deserve plague, locusts and now floods. But I surmise that we only have ourselves to blame. Oh, and the locusts are really beneficial cicadas that turned our backyard into the land of plenty for many critters and birds and left my garden alone, although there were some comical cicada rescues from my row covers and barricades to keep wildlife from eating all our vegetables. Despite the setbacks we were able to harvest lots of lettuce, broccoli, kohlrabi, cabbage and a new one–Romanesco cauliflower (or broccoli depending on who you talk to).

Speaking of wildlife, we watched the birth of deer triplets over Memorial weekend from our kitchen window. I was all set to work in my backyard that morning until I saw mama deer giving me the stink eye from our neighbor’s yard. Something about her behavior and long-forgotten childhood memories of our dairy cows about to give birth alerted me that we should stay inside and just watch. The process took all morning, and the deer’s efficiency in birth, cleanup and nursing without any human intervention was astounding to me after witnessing so many difficult birthing sessions with cows and sheep. Sadly, two fawns did not survive beyond the first week and the remaining one has a terrible leg injury. I can’t imagine trying to raise fawns in a heavily populated urban environment. There are so many hazards and predators, including a bobcat recently spotted at the edge of town.

Finally, I’m very grateful to my husband and daughter for stoically planting the multitudes of seedlings in June that I grew and refused to compost. Packs of annuals, native perennials and vegetables sat in trays for days while I recuperated from my laser eye repairs and tried to figure out where to put them all. (Note to self next year: Don’t plant or buy anything unless you have a place for them.) Now in year two, I’m still figuring out sun and shade movement around our home, and where to place containers for best effect. The new patio provides full morning and shifting afternoon sun that can be a challenge for demanding plants, and the recently constructed raised beds still need lots of amendments (I’m tracking down some organic dried chicken manure even as I type).

After the big June monsoon you’d think we would settle down into drought, but we seem to be trying to turn into the northern tropics, which our neighbor’s cursed bamboo is wildly celebrating by taking over the block along with all the groundhogs, rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels that reside in there. I’m half-expecting to see a panda emerge from the depths of his jungle any day now and wander down the street. If June is any indication of things to come, I won’t be a bit surprised.

Taming The Fear


The time I’ve been preparing for all my life is here. For years now I could smell it coming in the wind, felt the rumblings under my feet, heard whispers from the trees overhead. I’ve spent a year painfully eliminating all that I knew and believed that was no longer sustainable or trustworthy, pushed along by an inner urging. With the past crumbled into a pile of lies and the future so murky that my sense of direction was lost, I groped along in the dark with only basic instincts to guide me. Where I landed is all that I had when time as we knew it stopped.

I thought I was prepared for this: stock up on necessities, stay home and till the garden, be creatively mindful, and support those who sought my help in any way I could as I recovered from surgery. I limited the daily horrors of the news, played soothing music and started garden seeds while listening to audio books and chatting with friends as I kept a watchful eye on my level of anxiety and proclivity for mental depression.

But doing my part in staying home to stop the spread of disease was not enough, it seems. Complications from my eye surgery began promptly on the day my state’s stay-at-home order was issued. I was forced to travel three hours roundtrip to seek medical attention, where I found out I had a retinal detachment underway with orders to lie flat on my back for five days after laser treatment to keep from having surgery in some already overburdened hospital.

I thought I was prepared but fear had other ideas. The villain finally got to me, and took what was left of any security and stability I had managed to salvage since starting over in a new home and town where we had barely begun to know our neighbors. My days and nights blended together as I memorized every crack in the ceiling above me, hoping for the best and dreading the worst, letting my overactive imagination play out in creatively dreadful ways. My dreams at night which had already taken a sinister turn turned ugly with anxiety.

Seeing no other way out, I began to give myself permission to grieve the beautiful eyesight that I had briefly experienced along with the world’s sorrow as precious loved ones everywhere suffer from this insidious virus or pass away alone in hospitals while others isolated at home are tormented by abusive partners set off because of their dire circumstances. It was overwhelming at times, but I kept hanging on to what was given to me–a loving partner who takes great care of me, health insurance to cover my treatments and a roof over my head with plenty of food and toilet paper.

Five weeks have passed in a blur of uncertainty, fear’s faithful companion. Lying still for so long was an exercise in release, of expectations, of routine, of control. With all the time in the world, I found that I could truly listen to conversations and savor the moments when I sat up to eat. Since I spent several weeks not bending over or lifting anything, I left the gardening to my spouse and watched him gain confidence when the plants responded to him. I let go of planning anything besides the next doctor’s appointment as I watched trees bud, bloom and leaf out from the inside as an exceptionally colorful springtime unfolded.

Despite fear of what was happening out in the world, I realized that this was an opportunity to be still and heal, to become intimately aware of my own physical needs and what I’ve always taken for granted. I was forced to finally learn moderation if I wanted to recover and proceed with any quality of life. Nothing was spared from scrutiny, from alcohol consumption to diet to screen time to worry. And I had to allow myself to be vulnerable but not a victim.

Yesterday, I was given the green light to live life normally again. I was told to do what I want, with the exception of engaging in any boxing tournaments. The country and the state where I live are starting to entertain lifting their restrictions. But I know better. The normal we knew is over. As time goes on, the more experts realize how little they understand about this virus, the more frightened the powers that be become of the unrest already taking place, and the more we as a people acknowledge how undervalued and under-compensated those who provide our basic needs and services have been.

Whatever my purpose will be moving forward remains a mystery without expectations. For the time being, my job is to live mindfully and provide for my own basic needs and those around me in a sustainable way, making sure to leave enough for others and never taking for granted good health, plenty of food, a safe place to live and the connection to loved ones again. Fear can only destroy us if we let it in to stay.

2020 Vision


As the dust from moving house settles after the holidays amid whiffs of freshly painted walls and new furniture, I’ve been contemplating my word for 2020 while looking back at the significance of my choice for 2019. According to my rough calculations in scrolling back on this blog, I’ve been picking a special word since 2013 or so that began with One Little Word. That’s seven years of farsighted intention that has always been prophetic by New Year’s Eve.

Which brings me to my 2019 word, “Light.” It was a heavy year, judging from my few posts, highlighted by plenty of dark times. Ironically (or not), my physical sight began to noticeably dim last year, especially when I travelled to London and struggled to view Turner’s murky paintings in archival lighting. When I finally made an appointment with my eye doctor in August, I was stunned to find out that I had advanced cataracts and my vision had deteriorated dramatically over a year’s time. Because I have been extremely myopic all my life with a very high-powered prescription, the cataracts were causing blurriness that could no longer be corrected with glasses. Eye dryness has also prevented me from wearing contacts for decades so the only solution is to have cataract surgery at the ripe old age of 59 and corrective lenses implanted.

Obviously too young for Medicare, I still qualify for insurance coverage because my vision is so blurry that I haven’t been able to drive for the last six months. When I finally got in to see one of the best ophthalmologists in the state, my eyesight had deteriorated to the point that I was quickly fast-tracked to the “3-month” waiting list. Meanwhile, as a plein-air artist who was finishing a 4-year grant project by creating distant landscapes and holding a final art show, I struggled to see what I was painting and more than once had flashbacks to Monet’s foggy work in his later years due to cataracts. After touching up four years’ worth of art for the final show, I stared at the 25 paintings on display while wondering how shockingly bright these will look after my surgery.

Which brings me to 2020 wondering if I will be able to see 20/20 on the eye chart when I finish the surgeries in February. For my entire life I’ve never been able to see distance without glasses, and my blurred view of the world has both protected and isolated me from the harsh truths and prejudices buffered by my thick glasses and gullibility. And while my long distance vision may be restored, the near-sight that I have relied on for so long will be gone. The tiny veins that glisten on a dragonfly’s wings and the intricate maze of threads while detangling a knot will disappear into the lost lands of foreground without reading glasses or magnifying glass, so close yet so far.

No matter what the outcome, my focus and perspective have begun to turn inward in these grey days of perpetual twilight. The harsh artificial lamps glow with angelic halos and the sun has become gentler in what he reveals. The moon is welcome but ghostly now, and often tripled in a sky out of a science fiction movie. The senses of touch, smell and sound have become more amplified, and when night comes, the womblike absence of light surrounds me in a waiting period of gestation before the post-surgery grand re-entry and big reveal.

So it will come as no surprise (especially if you read the last post) that my word for 2020 is REBIRTH. I am prepared for a whole new world of light and color, sharp insight and fresh point of view. The little crossed-eyed infant from the past will get a second chance to take wondrous halting baby steps into my third life stage. And perhaps in life’s theatre I will prefer the balcony this time rather than a front-row seat to the world’s troubles. A little distance at my age may not be a bad thing while I cheer the young on in their noble causes and fortuitous frays without craving the spotlight myself.

After all, the bright lights would only blind me from the inner path I now need to follow.

The Kindness of Strangers

Homeward bound.
Homeward bound.

I was traveling at the beginning of the new regime. On Inauguration Day, I witnessed the protests at a different statehouse, one that had defended slavery and bore the marks of a broken nation. On Saturday during the Women’s Marches, I walked the red clay trails of a state park, marching with all in spirit. On Sunday, we arrived in New Orleans for a much-needed vacation from the burdens of a country already spinning out of control, and found ourselves in an emergency room.

My husband became very ill with a bad infection on the 8-hour drive, and so we checked into our hotel and headed straight to the nearest emergency room. What followed were three days of uncertainty and fear in a strange city where we’d never been before and knew no one. Three days of an endless stream of nurses and doctors and housekeepers and aides who spoke in odd accents, from all walks of life and every corner of the globe, with compassion in their eyes and caring in their hearts. Three days of hearing and seeing the city’s poorest and sickest soothed and treated along the ER bays and hospital wards. Three days of witnessing what the world is like from outside my comfortable little box. Three days of relying on the kindness of strangers.

After spending our entire stay in The Big Easy living moment to moment, the drug-resistant infection finally turned a corner and we were cleared to go home on a beautiful spring-like morning that the natives thought unseasonably cold. Everyone on the staff shook our hands and told us how sorry they were that we never got a chance to see the real New Orleans, to taste her food, hear her music, savor her spirit. They told us to come back and give their fair city another chance.

And we will. But I feel like we’ve already experienced her soul without ever setting foot on Bourbon Street.

Food for Thought

Beef-Butternut Stew with Pear and Thyme prepared from Mickey Trescott's beautiful Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook.
Beef-Butternut Stew with Pear and Thyme prepared from Mickey Trescott’s beautiful Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook.

Over three months into the Paleo Approach and Autoimmune Protocol diets (AIP for short) and it’s time for an update from my (rather grubby and well-used) kitchen. As faithful followers of this blog may recall, I began the elimination journey back to my hunter-gatherer ancestors’ fireside feasts on the first day of August. And, despite the formidable lists of forbidden foods and ingredients, bounty from this year’s autumn harvest has been my saving grace.

Every week, besides our usual visit to the regular grocery chain, I travel to a local orchard’s farm store to consciously purchase pastured meats, as well as fresh cider and the perfect cooking apples for homemade applesauce and crisp. I buy fermented raw kraut from the Saturday farmer’s market, and gorgeous multi-colored chard from a vegan/GF restaurant that grows its own vegetables behind the building.

I’ve taken to hanging around the organic sections, and familiarizing myself with strange, misshapen fruits that hide their beauty on the inside. Sarah Ballantyne, well-known AIP author and cook, challenged herself to buy and prepare any exotic produce that she’d never seen before. I’m not that adventurous yet, but I’m making friends with some pretty homely root vegetables.

As winter sets in, I’ve stocked up on every kind of squash and lined them along my counter, where they wait patiently for me to whip up enough courage to cut into their hard exteriors before softening them up in a slow-roasting oven. I’ve discovered that braising in a tightly covered pot can tame any wild beastie or vegetable into delectable submission. And I utilize everything, from poultry innards and bones, to the tops of beets and fennel — nothing goes to waste if I can help it.

Granted, all of this takes commitment. If I still worked at my old job, I wouldn’t have the time or energy. Slow food can take hours, even days to see results. Crock pots, pressure cookers and heavy cast iron utensils can take a toll on your arms, patience and wallet. Our lack of space in the new galley kitchen often leads to a frustrating dance while family members prepare different meals for separate diets. More than once I’ve caught myself longing for the generous side-by-side fridge that we left behind as cabbages and cauliflower roll out of our currently overstuffed apartment refrigerator.

But is there a payoff, you ask? How about no more joint pain, considerably less inflammation even after injuries, weight loss without your friends becoming alarmed, and lower doses of medicine, all while chronic conditions grow quiet or go into remission. The benefit to eliminating misbehaving dietary culprits, however socially painful, is that when I reintroduce them, I can usually tell within a day or two whether we can play well together yet. If not, the offending foe is placed on a back burner for another day.

While I had hoped for these intended results, what I didn’t expect was the spiritual connection I’ve discovered from taking this often rocky road to recovery. As in life, I’m learning not to wait until I’m starving and desperate to cook and nourish myself. This should be second nature, but in the modern world, we find it so easy to reach for the quick, impersonal calories of convenience that leave us unfulfilled and a little sick. Now, I can take a bite into something that has slowly simmered and stewed in the warm glow of an Indian summer afternoon, and really taste the thought in it.

All Day in Bed

Cold Company

Well, you can guess what happened. Nothing decadent, sexy or even mildly provocative about catching that family head cold. Sadly, I was the final holdout felled, despite all my sacrifices in the kitchen to chicken soup gods. However, if you’re turned on by flannel, hot water bottles and VapoRub, then by all means read on.

Piles of crumpled tissues aside, this is a useful opportunity to get to know your nose better, and to realize how far sinus pain can travel. Why, that old wisdom tooth war wound just comes alive from the caress of packed nasal passages, not to mention renewed fantasies about lockjaw when one is unable to open the mouth wide enough to spoon in chicken soup originally meant for others.

Even in the privacy of the bedroom, appearance means everything. Bed head takes on a whole new meaning, particularly when you are unable to see anything in the mirror because of excessive eye watering. Lingerie must be chosen carefully, good coverage for the inevitable cold shoulder, but easily removed during blasted hot flashes that this particular virus is fond of triggering for me.

The unique opportunity to lounge would be enjoyable, if I could stop sneezing long enough to work on my perfect Hollywood pose. As for entertainment, since I don’t have the slightest idea how to sterilize my phone, laptop or TV (yes, that far across the room) when all this nasal precipitation is over, my only amusement is to blearily predict what the cat will do with empty kleenex boxes strewn about the room.

The rest of my family keeps their distance, even though they are the ones who gave me this plague. My allure these days is solely dependent on whether they need anything that only I can provide (e.g., passwords, location of checkbook, last will and testament, that sort of thing). And after everyone else falls asleep, I’m guaranteed an intimate evening alone with my stuffy thoughts by the light of all-night syndicated sitcoms, while my thumbs get a real workout playing revolving rounds of Candy Crush and Farm Heroes.

So you see, the 24-hour bed deal is not all that glamorous. And as for romance, believe me, the only thing steaming up around here is my vaporizer.