Repost: And So This Is Christmas

I used to love the news. Over the past several years, though, I’ve found that it brings me more stress and anxiety than information. As a result, I’ve done my best to avoid it. Every so often, though, a news story breaks through my wall — and one such item was the recent school shooting in Oxford, MI, which — according to CBS News — was the 28th school shooting of 2021. (There were 10 in 2020. Thank you, COVID.)

As I watched the news of what happened in that Michigan high school, I couldn’t help but reflect on a post I wrote nine years ago about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, in Newtown, CT. I’m as sad today as I was then.

This is not the post I planned for today.  I originally wanted to write something funny about one of my favorite holiday films, Christmas In Connecticut, or poke fun at myself for crying over Christmas carols, like Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home).”

Today, though, I have a need to write a long post (my apologies) about a very different Christmas in Connecticut, a very different Christmas in America — and the idea that I, and I think most of us, cannot stop crying — with or without Christmas carols.   For me, the overwhelming sadness is just below the skin.  It doesn’t take much — the news, a moment of silence, an overheard conversation — to unleash a flood of tears.


I also find my sadness has woven itself between anger and confusion.  To reference another classic film, Network, I want to do as Howard Beale instructed: “I want all of you to get up out of your chairs.  I want you to get up right now and go to the window.  Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’”

And there is the crux of the issue.   Since the incident in Connecticut, so many of us have asked the same question, “What’s happening in this country?”  The truth is, we all know what’s happening.  In fact, it’s been happening for so long and without any results that all we have left is our anger and fallow fields.  Personally, I’ve been angry since George W. Bush’s first presidency.

Since starting this blog, I have tried very hard to keep politics out of the posts — and I will do my best now.  My first draft, though, was complete vitriol.  I walked away from the keyboard, and upon my return have decided to contain myself — at least a little.

What I want more than anything right now, right this very minute, is some time in the garden — to think, to dig, to process, to move, to understand.  It’s December, which is not an optimal time to be in the garden — but lessons learned in the garden are timeless, regardless of the season or the circumstance.


Let’s begin with the soil.  It’s the foundation of all good and healthy growth — and there is a problem with America’s soil.  We all know it.  We all sense it.  It feels and smells depleted of nutrients and organic matter — and yet, we all feel helpless or powerless or reluctant to amend it.

Ignore it long enough and see what develops.  Weeds.  Pests.  Fungus.  Blight.

That’s why the head gardeners in the land must create policies that balance basic gardening principles with overall garden wellness.  The time has come for a sensible gun control policy.  We, as a society, can no longer afford to fall back into the usual political posturing and caving into the wants of special interest groups.  Surely, we can come up with something that protects Americans’ right to bear arms with the common sense that a weapon suited for a combat zone should not be one of those arms.

Before I actively began to garden, I did a lot of reading and research.  I think we all did and continue to do so. It’s important to know the characteristics of plants — do they prefer sun or shade or a bit of dappled sunlight?  Do they bloom in May or July?  Are they suitable for my climate zone?

better homes and gardens

That’s what we do for plants — and so it boggles my mind that individuals in some states can purchase guns and unlimited ammunition without a background check.    I can’t even purchase an over-the-counter cold remedy without showing my drivers license.

There’s also the issue of invasive plant species — anyone who has tried bamboo should have an idea of how quickly a clump can easily become an out-of-bounds forest.

It’s the same idea with weapons.   It’s possible for an individual to leave his home state (which has strict gun control legislation) for a neighboring state (which has not-so-strict gun control legislation), make a purchase, and then transport that weapon back to his home state.  Sounds like an invasive issue to me.

I only wish my same sex marriage license could so easily cross state lines.  So much for love conquering all, I guess.

Let’s say that a garden is neglected, leaving open the possibility of greater problems.  Take one aphid, for example — just don’t turn your back on that aphid or you’ll have an infestation.  When it comes to pest control, gardeners can take one of two routes: a completely organic approach or one that requires some chemicals.  Either way, gardeners have to follow the directions and monitor how, where, and when any products are used.  This helps to maximize treatment.

So when we begin the talk on sensible gun control, there also needs to be the talk about mental health and psychiatric care in this country.  There are so many, many people in need of high-quality, long-term, and even residential treatment, as well as medication, the usage of which needs to be supervised in conjunction with counseling — but how far will insurance and affordability and access go?

What Child Is This

Our land is actually a community garden.  At least that’s what I understand these words to mean: “This land is your land, this land is my land. . .”   That’s why it’s so disheartening when some member gardeners do the garden a disservice.

The news media has done a wonderful job of bringing the news story to us — non-stop.  I’m not saying they shouldn’t report it, but I have a feeling the people in Newtown would like some privacy to mourn.  But each news show has given the story its own theme music, stylish graphics, and non-stop chatter from reporters.

The nightmare is now entertainment and a ratings grabber.  Each time a newsperson uses the phrase, “One of the worst school shootings ever,” I cringe.  First, because the statement indicates that there is more than one school shooting to use as a comparison.  Second, because I fear they have just drawn a line in the sand for the next shooter.

And let’s not forget video games, movies, the Internet, and television.  Thanks to them, we — children included — are given a steady diet of violence and disrespect.  Many reality shows, such as “Amish Mafia” and “Jersey Shore,” have turned rude and crass behavior into the new normal.  In order to be shocking and “entertaining,” violence and outlandish behavior need to become more graphic.  Just look at the violence in an old James Cagney film and compare it to what is seen today in our living rooms — or even in the bedrooms of many children.

Angels We Have Heard On High

As a result of this gardening neglect, opportunistic pests have been allowed to thrive, allowed to spin webs of ignorance, rudeness, and lack of civility.  I am referring to a shopper I heard in a local box store, crowded with holiday shoppers and children.

I was a few aisles away when I heard his gravelly voice yelling into a cell phone, presumably to his wife: “Where’s the f!@#$n layaway.  I’ve been all over this f!@#$n store and I can’t find the f!@#$n layaway.”  No one, including myself, did anything to stop him or correct him.  Instead, we allowed him to speak that way out of fear.  I’m not proud of my reaction — but this is the state of our garden, overgrown and jungle-like.

What’s a home gardener to do?  After all, we can’t have a community garden without a community.  I want to know that I’m safe in my garden, my workplace, my mall, my school, my bank, my movie theater . . .

Let’s be honest: the garden can be a scary, untamed place — more so because there are so many variables working against you, and chances are the head gardeners won’t provide too much assistance to make your tasks easier.  To establish your garden, it’s probably best to take charge of your plot of land, no matter how large or small.

The first step is to make sure to create a fertile, nutrient-rich environment, where tender young shoots can flower and flourish.  In doing so, you’ll have to remain vigilant to keep pests and diseases at bay — even if it means making difficult decisions, such as refusing to purchase products that do nothing but poison your plants.

I also find it’s important to talk to your plants.  It keeps them healthy, and I believe they tend to reach higher.  When you do talk them, be sure to celebrate their beauty and strength, as well as warn them of the dangers lurking in the garden.  You know the dangers — the things that seek to nibble at the stems and leaves, ultimately devouring them of their essence.

Christmas Ornament

You should probably also be mindful of the intruders.  Speak up and let them know that you do not appreciate the toxic goods which they make readily available.  These products are often packaged to appeal to a young, impressionable market, but be wary of the skull and crossbones.  That logo is never good.

Lastly, be sure to tell the head gardeners what you want and need for your garden.  That’s the responsibility they accepted when we elected them to that position.  There is no greater lobbying group than the American people — I mean, gardeners.

It seems that there is no Christmas carol that holds more meaning this year than the lyrics written by another human being who was prematurely taken from us because of violence, John Lennon.

Have a very Merry Christmas,

And a Happy New Year,

Let’s hope it’s a good one,

Without any fear.

Twenty Years Ago & Today

I placed September 11 on a shelf twenty years ago, and I have tried very hard to keep it there over the past two decades. The news media, though, have other ideas to force me to take it out and relive it. Because this is a major anniversary, they have uncovered new angles, new footage, and new ways of delivering this nightmare — and I understand why. We’re not supposed to forget.

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Not-So-Wordless Wednesday: Holding On

This is a baby staghorn fern. I came across it recently while doing some therapeutic weeding — therapeutic for me, not so much for the weeds. I was actually surprised to see it because the closest mature staghorn is in the across-the-street neighbor’s backyard.

Plus, it was clinging to stone. In the wild, these tropical epiphyte ferns use their roots to grab tightly onto the bark of a tree while its fronds take in the needed moisture and nutrients. This little guy, though, was holding onto the rough, hard surface of a paver used as a retaining wall for a raised bed.

The more I considered its journey from a spore drifting on wind currents to its determination to hold onto something — anything — solid, the more I realized that this was the best way to illustrate my absence for the past few months.

Without going into detail, the bulk of 2020 saw Joe, myself, and his family protecting ourselves from COVID while also caring for the health of his father. Dad was diagnosed in May with malignant melanoma.

In a normal world, life is a rollercoaster. COVID, though, seemed to stifle and slow many of the ups while adding speed and dangerous curves to the downs. By the end of 2020 and into 2021, Dad needed round-the-clock care. On February 3, he passed away as a result of his weakened state, which itself was the result of two surgeries and general anesthesia that seemed to exacerbate his Alzheimer’s.

Since then, Joe and I have worked at catching up on chores long neglected: AC maintenance, plumbing issues, tree removal and shrub pruning, and that therapeutic weeding.

Through it all, though, we’ve reflected on Dad. He was many things to so many people.  He was a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, uncle and friend, and coach, referee, umpire, and mentor. To me, he was my father-in-law, a kind, decent, honest, and gentle man who lived life to its fullest. He’s also the man who instilled these same values in Joe, my husband and partner.

I admit that while some days have felt almost normal, other days have been, well, a daze. It was on one such day that I looked up and spotted an orchid blooming way up high on the trunk of a sabal palm, one that I had tied to the tree before I knew anything about how to do that.

At the time, I was told to wait for the flower spike to finish and to just tie it. Climbing a ladder, I slapped the clump of roots — no additional sphagnum moss, no coco-fiber lining to keep things together, no nothing — and sloppily wrapped green floral tape around the orchid and palm trunk, hoping for the best.

It has never bloomed, not once,  since I tied it up there. Some years, it looked as if it was barely alive.

This year, though . . . this year it’s flowering, its roots firmly attached to the trunk. It gave me a reason to get the ladder and climb up to get a closer photo of this miracle on a tree trunk, a reminder that we’re all holding on and we’re all going to be okay.

Bloomin’ Update 64: Harvest Days, SoFlo Style

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget it’s autumn. That has become my annual thought the longer I live and garden in South Florida. I know many plants, even down here, have a season, but it’s not until I see the national weather forecast for the Dakotas, my friend’s pictures of her New England view of painted leaves, and other garden blogs filled with photos of gardens in seasonal transition that I truly realize that the times, they are a-changin’.

It’s at this moment, in a land where most feel there are only two seasons — hot and hotter — that I become more aware of the later sunrises and earlier sunsets, and of the shimmering, golden hue of the sunlight in the late, late afternoon. We were even given a small tease as a weak “cold” front made its down the Florida peninsula for a day, delivering — at the very least — a drop in humidity. Other than that, though, autumn here is pretty much summer.

On the other hand, the combination of these subtle changes and a pandemic that’s kept me firmly planted at home has given me a reason to not only harvest bananas (above), but to also collect seeds and start new plants.

Pride of Barbados

This small flowering tree or tall flowering shrub began as a gift from friends. As hard as I prune it to keep it short, it seems happiest when it’s allowed to fully grow upward. Then, at the top of its stems, clusters of orchid-like flowers bloom. In turn, these are followed by dangling seed pods, which I quickly collect before they pop open so I don’t have a forest of Pride.

One pod I let dry on my potting bench. When I cut it open, I was surprised to find the seeds in an alternating pattern. I’m not sure if this is typical or a quirk of this particular pod. Either way, I was still impressed that nature could produce something so perfect and symmetrical.

I planted some of the seeds. Within days, they sprouted and now I have a pot of seedlings that need to be potted up. I’m still not sure if I’ll plant these when they’re a little older or if I’ll give them away.

Mexican Cotton Plant

One of my favorite plants that I’ve grown is Mexican Cotton Plant. I have mine in a pot, and I’ve always been able to keep it pruned to encourage branching and stronger growth. This year, though, something happened. After flowering, it produced the buds that would eventually open to reveal cotton. That’s when I noticed the leaves dying. My hope was for the plant to live long enough for these buds to mature, but that wasn’t the case.

I harvested the buds and let them dry. In a matter of days, they popped open, revealing the cotton balls. I pulled out the cotton, each piece of fluff covering a seed. These are now planted and I’m waiting for them to sprout.

White African Iris

Last year, a friend gave me some seed pods from his White African Iris. I dried the pod, removed the seeds, and planted them. They are now flowering for the first time.

Crinum Lily

One of my favorite plants is the Crinum Lily. Large and tropical, the plant is related to amaryllis rather than lilies — and it can easily fill a bed with its sword-like leaves. The treat is when they send up a flower spike (above). Within a day, the flower cluster opens even more (below).

They also spread. One way is for the mother bulb to produce pups. These can be separated and then planted. I tend to do this on a regular basis to keep the mother plants looking clean and neat.

The other method is fascinating. When a flower is pollinated, a bulblet forms on the flower spike. As it matures, its weight will either help bend the flower stalk to the ground or it will simply fall off. Recently, while cleaning the Crinums, separating pups, and weeding, I found a bulblet that had fallen to the ground, where it had germinated. At first glance, I thought the withered bulblet was a stone.

King Palm

Normally, when  palm trees produce their inflorescence, Joe cuts them off to prevent becoming overrun with sprouting palm trees everywhere — except this time. I was interested in harvesting seeds from the King Palm, so we let the hull-like structure (peduncular bract) that contains the small flowers remain attached to the tree. The photo above is of another peduncular bract that we cut in half to see how tightly packed the inflorescence is.

After a few weeks, the bract popped open, revealing its multi-branched inflorescence.

In time, the inflorescence branches spread and bees are drawn to the hundreds of small beige flowers.

Back To The Bananas

I realize bananas may not be everyone’s idea of a fall fruit. That title usually belongs to apples and pears and pumpkins. This year, though, the banana plant happened to produce just in time for a fall harvest — and there were lots of bananas. I added them to cereal, shared them with neighbors, froze some for future use, and tried my hand at banana bread for the first time.

My neighbor’s recipe called for loaf pans, but all I had was a Bundt pan — so that’s what it had to be. Not as tasty as my neighbor’s — but all in all, a delicious way to celebrate the season in a SoFlo way.

Garden Secrets of Bunny Mellon Giveaway

I wanted to take a few moments to thank everyone who participated in the recent giveaway of Garden Secrets of Bunny Mellon, by Linda Jane Holden, and to congratulate Carol H. for being the lucky winner!