Monthly Archives: July 2011

What I hate about Barbara and Jim’s garden, part 1

Last post I mentioned that I wanted to do my own take-off on Jim’s recent “What I hate” series from his blog.   First I said some nice things, but now that I’ve done that, its on to my list of complaints.   Before I begin though, let me bring up one thing I hate even more:  WordPress.  Specifically trying to get my pictures formatted and placed correctly.   After messing with the last post for way longer than I had either time or patience to do, I ended up just lining them up in the center.   And since I have no intention of going through that type of frustration again,  I will probably do the same thing with this one.

So here in no particular order, are the first few things I hate about the garden:

  •  This vine over the garage.   I have hated it from the day we moved in, and asked several times if we can’t just take it down or at least cut it way, way back.   Apparently it is some “Southern Specialty” and it does bloom, look pretty, and smell smell good for approximately 1.7 hours each year.  The rest of the time it just grows.  According to our realtor these vines are very popular, and we’re supposed to like it (I’ve never taken well to being told what I’m supposed to like).  A few neighbors have one.   Those who don’t are welcome to have mine.  It always looks like its about ready to attack, and I can’t walk underneath it without envisioning a snake slithering through the vine, hanging down from its tail and coiling around me.   Plus I’ve just never gotten why they only go 1/2 way across.  Its asymmetrical.  Trimming it helps for no more than a week, and every time Jim gets on the ladder with tools to after it, I envision my life caring for a brain injured husband.  Jim has never taken my dislike of this Garden-of-Eden monstrosity seriously until recently when he came in from putting a bag in our trash can, which sits directly underneath the vine and a lizard fell on his head.   Who knows what else lives in there.

    Overgrown rainforest vine. Full of spiders, snakes, lizards and jaguars.

    View out the window of my neighbor's vine-free garage. I'm so jealous.

  • The cherry tomato plants around our mailbox.  When we moved into the house, Barbara had cherry tomato plants rather than flowers around the mailbox.  It seemed like a cool, different idea, so we continued the tradition.  Last year we planted the little orange kind, this year we have the little red kind.   The problem is that none of us eat many cherry tomatoes.  At least not at the level produced by these plants.  It is the only vegetable plant we have that’s doing well, and its doing much too well.   I learned last year, as I brought bag after bag of cherry tomatoes into work, as I ran out to throw them in the mailman’s truck, and as I went around the neighborhood trying to give them away, that cherry tomatoes are not nearly as popular as their full-grown cousins.  We put them in every recipe and I find myself forcing myself to snack on them even though I don’t really like them very much. One or two, fine—-200 not so fine.  They are difficult to cook with.    Next year, flowers.

Overly prolific cherry tomato plants

A typical daily harvest with a ratio of 400 cherry tomatoes for every 1 regular or roma.

  • Our dead vegetables.   Yes, the SC heat has a lot to do with this, but its so discouraging to plant all those cool veggies and see them just wilting away, not producing a single vegetable. And this was a problem last year too. They get lots of water, but I have yet to produce a single zuchinni or squash in this state?  Who can’t grow zuchinni’s?! Usually they take over and grow to mammoth proportions.    But mine 80% dead with no blooms of any sort. I was so looking forward to cucumbers, pickles, squash, melons…..even the basic green onions and radishes died this years, and the herbs look awful. And to add insult to injury, other than tomatoes (big ones!),  the things that are growing are the things I don’t really like – mainly the peppers.

Just pitiful

Look at these wonderful specimens! Did we grow these in our garden? NO, we did not...these were given to me by someone who has so many they can't keep up. I offered to give her some cherry tomatoes and she said, "Um, no thanks...just take these."


To be continued..



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Barbara and Jim’s Garden

My husband Jim has a great blog, Visionary Gleam.  When he started this endeavor, he described it as a blog about school leadership and his relatively new hobby of gardening.  Since then, the school component has taken a backseat to the gardening posts.  And that’s OK,  because topics and interests evolve over time – for instance, this one was supposed to be about learning and/or doing something new everyday, and lately I’ve only loosely stuck to that theme.

Jim talks a lot about “Barbara’s garden”, Barbara being the master gardener who owned our house before we bought it two years ago.  You will notice that it is never “Barbara and Walter’s garden”, even though Walter lived here too.  That’s because Walter, presumably, had little to do with the actual daily gardening tasks, although he did create many of the structures and planters, and even the tomato  stands in his woodworking shop.    And in that way, I also think of most everything that lies outside our walls as “Jim’s”.   Like Walter, I have very little to do with the landscaping and gardening—be it planning or day-to-day maintenance, but I have added some touches here & there.

Catie's memory garden. The birdhouse was made by Walter. I picked out the bench, the statue, and ordered the engraved stone.

I occasionally go along to the gardening store and like a kid who’s been dragged to the mall I might get to pick out something I like, usually based on a sound and educated gardening premise such as, “I like purple” or “that smells good,”  but mostly I wander around with glassy eyes wondering if we’ll get ice cream afterward if I’m  patient.    I enjoy the beauty, but the incredible amount of work that goes into gardening is just not my cup of tea and I don’t find myself reading up on plants or even remembering their names, much less what zone they prefer.    I am not joking when I say that if, God forbid, anything were to ever happen to Jim where he could not maintain the gardens, I would have to get rid of them in one way or another. Even Barbara knew that for many folks the enjoyment of looking at the gardens was quite different than the responsibility of owning it, and  when the house was for sale she offered to fill in some of the beds with sod if the new owners preferred.

Recently Jim did a series of posts about the Top-20 things he hates about Barbara’s garden.  They were all pretty amusing and true.  But it also got me thinking about the things  I  hate about “Barbara and Jim’s Garden”.   Its a different list and that’s where this post was originally going.   But then I realized it would be rude if I jumped into my garden complaints without first giving credit for the things I do like. So I will start with the nice things.

This is a view of one corner of the deck taken from the yard.I like to sit here with a book and a glass of wine and watch the birds and butterflies and hummingbirds and dogs and squirrels.

Butterflies and Hummingbirds

My own personal florist

This is really good garlic that I grew myself. Next time I'm planting more.

Tomato Pie. I'd never heard of this delightful Southern dish before moving here, but love making it with tomatoes fresh from our garden. Its basically tomatoes and herbs in a pie crust slathered with a cheesy-mayonnaise concoction.

Green Grass! When we lived in Virginia, we moved into new construction. The grass never grew the way it was supposed to. So we re-seeded it. It died. We seeded again, and it spent most of the summer brown. We put in sod and big patches of it died. We had a perpetually brown yard. In Indiana and Ohio our grass was covered in snow 10 months of the year. So having soft green grass that you can walk through barefoot most of the year is a treat.


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Romans 8:38 – Happy birthday, Catie

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38

Recently our Sunday School class studied the book of Romans.   As we read this verse in class, I was transported back to the first time I really listened to what it was saying.   Probably not the first time I’d read the verse or even heard it taught, but the first time it meant something significant to me personally.  It was in 2005 when I heard my 17 y/o daughter speaking from the pulpit. She had been invited to give the Youth sermon in church that day and stood in front of our United Methodist congregation, a few hundred in the audience, with confidence and ease.

If you’ve read Kim’s blog, you already know she has a way with words, both written and spoken.   After sharing the text with my friends, it has been requested several times, usually as a “I know someone who’s had a tragedy in their family; can I share Kim’s sermon with them?” type of exchange.    Because of this, I still have it saved in a folder in my email, ready to forward on as needed.

And so in honor of Catie’s July 7th birthday, here once again is Kim’s sermon and some pictures to remind us that faith and love prevail.

Sermon- Youth Sunday

Good Morning. My name is Kim Lewis, and I am a member of Warwick Memorial’s incredible youth group. I am
only 17, but I have been lucky enough to speak to you, the congregation, this morning about something
incredibly real in my life. God gave me an unexpected story of love and understanding in a terrible and tragic situation. This is that story.

The summer of 2004, I traveled with my swim team to a beautiful location in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to train and compete in an international meet. What an opportunity. It was truly paradise. The first few days of the trip were spent preparing for the meet mentally and physically. And did I ever prepare. I was ready.

A few days into the trip, I received a frantic message from my parents, who were also away on vacation that week. In fact, we were all gone: me, my little sisters Jenny and Anna, and my parents. All but one. The lost sheep so to speak. That person was Catie, Caitlyn Elizabeth Lewis, my older sister. Catie and I did not attend the same school, we did not hang out with the same people, we did not see eye to eye. When we became teenagers, we were practically strangers living under one roof. Catie struggled, always. For as long as I can remember, I was helpless, because her struggles were deeper than anything anyone could fix. And that’s who the message was about. Catie had committed suicide that night. An overdose, a cry for help, the end of the line.

I remember every moment of that week and the following days. How I prayed all night for a miracle when she was in the hospital. The way I chose not to fly home early from my trip. That’s right, I waited in Florida. I competed. I swam, but the water felt different. It cooled the pain for a second, but the pain was even sharper as soon as I climbed out and
faced reality. I remember how I was scared, confused, disoriented. And all my fears were validated, everything people hope never happens to them, was happening. To me. And I can still feel it.

***** Hold up Beach Ball *****
This is a beach ball. Seemingly a summer toy. Well, imagine trying to submerge this beach ball underwater.
It would take force, concentration. Sure, it can be done. But with even the slightest distraction, the ball will fly up and smack you in the face. Or worse, smack someone else in the face.

My sister’s death is my beach ball. I try to keep it submerged, but occasionally it flies up and everyone sees. “Oh, so she was keeping a secret down there.”  Well, everyone has a beach ball, not just me.

As Christians, we oftentimes have many beach balls. We try to hold under so many different things, for
whatever reason. Maybe it’s just too hard to look at. Maybe we don’t want to admit it’s there. Maybe we
don’t want the rest of the church to know about it. So we paste on smiles. We come to church and we smile, a lot, and we use words like, “awesome.” “Everything is awesome.” “God’s doing truly awesome things in my life right now.” “My family? Oh, they’re awesome as well.”
Perhaps all our positive talk is simply a cover for all the things we’re hiding under the surface. Our beach balls, so to speak.
God hasn’t always sent me fuzzy bunnies and rainbows. Sometimes God is hard, and usually God is hardest when
life is hardest. So what does this mean about God’s love, and what does it mean to me? Who can I go to?

I have found the answer is simple. Almost too simple. When God hands me a challenge, I go to God. Jesus knew
suffering. Isaiah 53 describes Messiah as being, “despised and rejected—a man of sorrows acquainted with bitterest grief.”
Jesus had grief like me. Deep, cutting grief. The kind I felt when they closed Catie’s casket for the last time. The kind of pain I feel when I read my sister’s name inscribed on that stone, forever a reminder of just who she was: part of me.
And I am no longer afraid of that grief. I try not to push it under, because I have discovered an extremely important fact as a Christian with a beach ball. The further under I push it, the more painful it is when it pops back up. And, when I’m concentrating on suppressing grief that is perfectly natural in the first place, I am unable to concentrate on God.

But the beach ball always seems to come back, a human imperfection of course. My beach ball emerged again this past summer, as I was invited to attend the same swim meet as the previous summer, in the same beautiful location in Florida. One year had passed. My sister would have been twenty years old. As I boarded the plane just 4 months ago, I could barely face what I knew was coming: my beach ball was about to spring up like it never had before.

In Florida, I literally retraced my steps from the previous year. My heart flew. I relived every emotion that I spent so long trying to forget. As I entered the pool area with one more year under my belt, the sky opened up and it began to rain. But it was still sunny. One little rain cloud, floating right above the pool area. I looked up at the sun and wondered how
that shower was for anyone else on the face of the planet. The rain washed away everything I was covering up, and I simply sat down and cried.

And I still cry. It’s still hard. As humans, we may think that we have gotten rid of our beach ball. But almost subconsciously, we pick it up, put some tape on it, and blow it up again. I have come to expect the pain, almost embrace it. I’ll read the verse from Romans again because I just believe it so powerfully conveys  God’s love in times like these:
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the
love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I love this verse, because it speaks to adversity. It recognizes the highs and the lows, while reminding us God’s love is continually overflowing, no matter what. I struggle, and I truly believe we all struggle with something. I hope that we, as Christians, can begin to embrace and appreciate struggle. If we can do that, we are deflating whatever is holding us back from God.

******* DEFLATE (pop?)  BEACH BALL ******

I have come to appreciate so many things and people from Catie’s death. To all the people that were there
at the very beginning, those tragic first few days, thank you. To all the people I met along the way, counselors and leaders, thank you. To my friends, who make me appreciate every gift so much more, thank you. And most importantly, Thank you to my family, because you have always been there, and you will always be there.

My prayer is that my story will inspire each of you to take God’s promise of love and deflate your beach
ball. Offer it to God in joy and in sorrow.  He’s  always ready and waiting.



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