Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Shady Business

Clematis 'General Sikorski,' growing in a mostly shady location in our old yard. 

Funny how looking back at something from a distance in time can bring it into clearer focus.  (I know, Lady Obvious here.)  But I noticed after I posted the garden photos yesterday that my old yard was actually very lush because it was partially shaded.  Our new yard up here is very exposed, with no big trees, so there's only two places in the yard (north and east sides of the house) that are mostly/completely shaded.  I used to look at shade as a bit of an obstacle to gardening, but I learned to work with it.  Then I lost most of it, and came to value it even more.

Fern leaf bleeding hearts - one of my favorite shade perennials. 
Unlike regular bleeding hearts, they keep their ferny foliage all season.  
They also self-seed where they're happy, and it's easy 
to move the seedlings to new homes. 

All that to say, I hope wherever we land in the future, when I'm able to buy a home again (or land a great long-term rental), that I have more shade to play with in my new garden.  Many plants benefit from partial shade, especially during the afternoon in the summer and in hot climates.  Many "full sun" plants will do okay in light shade, or shade during the later part of the day.  Experiment with the microclimates in your yard - you may be surprised to see something thrive where you least expect it to.

Oriental lily 'Bergamo,' which received filtered shade in the afternoons from an old crab apple tree.  Lilies like their "feet in the shade, head in the sun."

No-name green hosta, growing in the most inhospitable place imaginable in a garden:  under mature evergreen trees (hemlock, in this case).  They look positively tropical, don't they?

Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis).
Most columbines like a bit of shade,
in my experience.  

Peony 'Amalia Olson,' growing where it got lots of sun in the morning and early afternoon, then shade after about 2PM.  It loved it.

Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis), a classic part-shade perennial.

And toad lilies (Tricyrtis hirta), a really unique garden plant:  it prefers full, dry shade, and blooms in the fall.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

O Spring, Where Art Thou?

I'm not normally bugged by snow.  I don't mind the cold too much.  Winter isn't usually a drag for me.  Some winters, though, overstay their welcome, and are too long.  This is what we've got on the ground as of a couple days ago:

Isn't it lovely?  That's almost a solid 2 feet of snow cover, plus drifting and plowed/snowblown piles.  I'm definitely ready for spring, and well before that misbegotten woodchuck says we can expect it.  So, here are some spring pictures, just because I need to see some FLOWERS and GREEN LEAVES:

Note:  All of the above flower pictures were taken in my old garden, summer 2006-spring 2009.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Winter Olympic Projects

My parents' quilt, pinned and ready to quilt.  I'll bind it in the dark gold fabric.

It seems that I tend to do a sewing project during each Winter Olympic Season.  It's just a good time to spend evenings in front of the TV, stitching.  I've done other quilting projects, and teddy bears.  One year it was a large vase as my first ever special order (although now that I think about it, that was a Summer Olympics - I remember watching a lot of swimming).  Anyhow, I'm working on my parents' quilt, which is good timing.  Their birthdays are in three weeks, and I should have it done by then.  The Winter Olympics at Sochi go for another two weeks, so it's working out fine.  If I get bored with the Olympics (or should I say, with NBC's coverage of it, since I don't have cable or satellite TV), I'll switch to Netflix.  Lots of options there.

No word yet on the long-term sub job I applied for last week, but I'll keep hoping.  I'm already booked for daily subbing this week (four days of 7th grade resource), although lake effect snow may take a day out of that.  Next week is winter break, and I'll have to find ways to keep the kids busy.  The Princess is easy - I'm going to arrange an extra riding lesson, and she has a 4H activity at an equine rehabilitation center one afternoon, and she'd like to just spend an extra day at the stable helping with chores.  Safety Guy is harder - he likes to go out every day, no matter what.  I don't like to manufacture outings, so he might get tag-along outings when I drop his sister off for other stuff.

I'm also planning on painting the Princess' bedroom - another "getting ready to move" project.  There are a handful of those, and if she's going to be out and we're off school, it's a good time for that.  The kids' bathroom could also use a fresh coat.  Always something to do.  We'd like to have the house ready to show to a realtor by the end of February.

I'm also slightly (okay, more than slightly) obsessed with picking out fabrics for a quilt class I'm going to take at the end of March, a quick one-evening project using charm squares.  I've found some wonderful Japanese/modern fabrics in turquoise, white, gray and orange.  I've edited my list of fabrics a dozen times now.  (I think it's an avoidance mechanism - easier to dwell on that than certain other things.)  Thankfully, I've got someone interested in purchasing a larger painting from my shop, and that will pay for the fabric I want.  I'm going to have to start using stuff from my growing fabric stash for smaller wall hanging projects to put in my Etsy shop.  I don't think my family will want quilted gifts for the next 5 years!

A winter week in the life, and I'm in a better mood than I have been for a while.  It would be nice if this lasted for a bit!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Be Good To Yourself

I don't have to try to keep busy - busyness has found me, so I have no excuse to be bored, EVER.  Between doing stuff in the house toward getting it ready to put on the market, the ups and downs of my mother's recent cancer diagnosis, job hunting, and just general LIFE stuff, it's finding balance that has become a bit of a trick.  

I'm not a driven person, and I like my down time as much as anyone.  I'm not going to say that I'm busy every minute, because I'm not.  I'm just trying to balance myself, so I get stuff done and still get some space and do some things for myself.  Life is a long haul, and this year will be hard on many levels, so no break from last year.  If I don't take care of myself, I won't make it through.  Or, I'll make it through as a total train wreck, which isn't a good option.

My counselor, after listening to the latest events in my life last week, asked me how I was doing, and what I have been doing to take care of myself.  I'm glad he asked that, because I have not been good at doing that in the past.  I've gotten better over time, but it's still a very valid question.  What am I doing to make sure that I can face my challenges, get some rest, accomplish my goals, meet the needs of my kids, and still have some down time and fun?

I'm no guru, but here are my basic strategies for keeping it together more often than not:

Prioritize.  Do the most important stuff first, whatever that is at any given time.  Is it more important to clean the kitchen, or to talk with one of my kids who needs my attention?  (It depends, and sometimes I can multitask, like when Safety Guy wants to talk cars - he doesn't mind if I do stuff while we chat.  But if one of my kids needs me to focus on them, that's the top of the heap of what must be attended to, and I do that first.  Dishes can usually wait!)  Make a short list, if necessary, for each day, of a few things to get done.  If you finish the short list, do a few more things.  A long list is a discouragement.  A short, FINISHED list is a victory.

Be honest.  If I'm used up, maxed out, and ready to blow a gasket, I have to say so to whoever needs to hear it.  Nicely, but firmly, sometimes I just need to say, "Please stop doing that."  Or, "I have to take a break from this."  Or, "I can't really talk about this right now - can we revisit it later?"  Or, "I need help."  (That's the hardest one of all for me to say.)

Be realistic.  Not everything is going to get done.  Not everyone is going to be happy at the end of the day.  Mistakes happen, and so does crap.  Sometimes "Oh well!" is the best thing you can say when something derails your plans for the day.  Very little in life is worth losing my temper over, or getting hyper-stressed about.  It doesn't mean I don't care; it means that I choose what to really care about, and some things are just unimportant or can be delayed or adjusted. 

Make the best of it.  I do NOT have the life with all the answers, I have to work with what I've got.  Some days are great, some days are okay, some days truly stink.  Whatever each day brings, I need to handle it with care and try to make it better however I can with what I've got at hand.  I guess that's the definition of grace, really.  I hope and pray that whatever comes my way, I can be a vessel of God's grace to whoever needs it around me (and to myself, which I often fail to do).  

Pray.  I struggle with this sometimes.  (Okay, a lot.)  Faith isn't easy for me.  But many years ago I read a wonderful little book, 'The Practice of the Presence of God' by Brother Lawrence.  He practiced what I would consider a form of meditation, or mindfulness, being aware of God all the time, in every circumstance.  I would like to be better at that.  If the Lord knows everything and everyone, then nothing surprises Him, and I can talk to Him at any time.  Sometimes I can manage that in the moment of crisis or struggle, and sometimes I have to visit Him at the end of the day with a list of concerns, questions, praises and sorrows.  But I try to pray.  

Make time for myself.  Sometimes that's time on Facebook, where I have family and many friends.  Sometimes that's working on a project (quilting, art, gardening - whatever I'm drawn to in order to relax).  Sometimes it's a nap, or going to bed early or sleeping in.  When I can, I need to allow myself "time off" from the press of other responsibilities.  Those other things will always be there.  They aren't going anywhere.  If I take a break, I can come back to them refreshed and ready to tackle them.

There's nothing new here, nothing fancy or having a catchy buzz word or a hashtag.  Just simple common sense.  Maybe it will help you too.  I hope so, if you need it.

Words of wisdom hidden in a catchy song:  Be good to yourself.

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Lot Can Happen In Two Weeks. . . .

Winter Storm Nika, which graced us with 9" of snow (and drifted quite a bit higher than that).

The past couple weeks have seemed like a full month.  Nothing like a major medical crisis in the family to snap priorities back into place.

The long and short of it is that my mother has been diagnosed with Stage 2b/3a colon cancer.  She had surgery two weekends ago, a partial colectomy to remove an 8cm tumor, and the recovery has been difficult for her since she also got some intestinal virus the week after the surgery.  The cancer has started to spread, so she's facing chemo.  She's been referred to an oncologist at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY (not nearby, but excellent care).  (So much pain, so many emotions, in just a few dry sentences.)

I spent the weekend of her surgery with my father and two of my three sisters, and we formed a sort of Greek chorus of support at the hospital.  Between us we managed to keep someone with Mom every day for over a week, at the hospital and for the first couple days home.  I traveled to be with her again the next weekend, just an overnight visit.  

We knew she was really feeling better earlier this week when she was able to meander into the kitchen and comment that the sink needed to be cleaned (and promptly did so).  (Her house is famously NEAT.  For her to not be able or willing to take an interest in it for 10 days was highly unusual.)  

So, that's what's been going on in our life - what felt like an eon condensed into a couple weeks.  Mom's sudden illness, surgery, and recovery, as well as the kids having school, 4H activities, riding lessons, subbing for me several days each week, and working on stuff related to selling the house. Oh, and counseling appointments, snow/cold days, and LIFE.   

I'm counting our blessings, and trying to not fall to bits in the process of hanging on.