My Father’s Lawn, and Mine

He mows it in crisp lines so it looks like a baseball field.

In my memory, it’s lush and cool when you return home from a walk or an errand, encircled by North Florida humidity, shaded by two maples and a pine. (That was years ago. Some of those trees have aged and died.)Read More »


Commonplace Book, 50

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

We celebrated Pippin’s feast day with the Feast of St Peregrine this week. He chose breaded fish, barbecue chips, cherry tomatoes, homemade ciabatta and cinnamon rolls he helped me make. He was over the moon. Kids are so easy sometimes.

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A Literary Love of Flowers

photo via

So, I think one of the perks, if not one of the outright goals, of educating little kids yourself at home is that you get to choose what to stuff into their little brains. Maybe that sounds nefarious, but aren’t the early years mostly just about learning how to learn, and learning to love learning? That’s why I used a saint-based curriculum this year for Police Preschool and it’s why as the school year winds down we are focusing on nature and birds and most of all, flowers.

Because maybe someday Pippin will be a police officer and Scout will be something totally depressing, like a dentist, but they’ll keep these memories of the difference between a dandelion and a daffodil and the way robins dance beside the turned-up garden soil and how grape hyacinth smells like Concord grapes (and maybe a fact or two about St Thérèse, too).

And on our quest, there are plenty of books to light this love of flowers.

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Commonplace Book, 49

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

In the garden, our arugula is getting started under an old window screen to keep out the [REDACTED] neighborhood cats who like to poop in the container garden. I’m counting down the days till our inherited peony blooms and the kids and I have put in marigolds, petunias, more peonies — and some gladiolus and dahlia bulbs that are almost certainly dead. (I got them last year for Mother’s Day but was too morning sick to get ’em in the ground.)

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My Garden, the Mission Field

Well, we’re back from our Superlong Vacation® and so the gardening can officially begin. But I find myself at a loss. I’ve kept tomato bushes and herbs alive, occasionally, and killed African violets with great guilt and inevitability, but my horticultural ignorance is considerable.

I feel inordinately bad when I kill things, and I don’t have the budget for it, anyway. So instead, I’ve been starting out slowly with hand-me-down plants, like the Solomon’s Seal a friend gave me last month, or the mini rose bush we received as a housewarming gift. But I keep hitting roadblocks from ignorance: Is this grassy weed-thing grass or actually some bulb? Is the peony bush supposed to look like that? Can I plant irises, and where?

A couple of weekends ago, some of J’s family came to visit. When they’re in town, we try to entertain them in high style (ha! two little kids! ha! our little town!), but on Sunday morning they materialized after Mass and his grandmother and aunt announced they were going to work on my garden.

Oh, ok, I said perplexedly. Then I noticed the gloves. They had been planning on this.

Grandma Judy rescues the front garden
For the next few hours, I flitted around unhelpfully, ferrying the occasional San Pellegrino, pulling a weed here and there as instructed, putting the baby down for her nap and getting her back up, then keeping her from eating (much) greenery.

And they — well, they revolutionized my yard. With cheerful determination, the two women shaped and tidied, tossing off advice as they went. I scrambled inside for my notebook. They sent J and his uncle to the hardware store with a list: mulch, trowel, more gloves, clippers. (When they had asked for clippers, we, with what I’m sure was charming naïveté,had fished out wire clippers.) In the interim J and his uncle fixed the gutter his keen-eyed real estate agent aunt had noticed needed attention.
The whole thing actually reminded me of the medical mission trip J and I tagged along on when we moved to Uganda as newlyweds. The doctors had drawn up careful lists of supplies and come armed to teach the local surgeon new orthopedic and urological procedures, leaving behind the scope and other tools they’d lugged with them. They’d assisted in surgery, teaching Dr. Frank as they worked, knocking out the most pressing cases in the region for free during their little mission trip. It was amazing.

New! Improved!
This, too, was a mission of mercy for clueless new homeowners. (I didn’t even know anything was wrong with our gutter, for starters.) They graciously sacrificed part of their vacation to work and work hard for our sake, and imparted their wisdom along the way. I’m not sure it’s any less noble, in its own way.

The rescue squad

The Serendipity of an Inherited Garden

Cottontail Cottage has a yard, and while it’s small, it’s the only one I’ve ever really owned. As we approached the final sale, I started haunting gardening blogs and drawing up lists. Though I’ve only ever managed a few cherry tomato bushes and a few herbs, I was excited to expand my gardening repertoire. We closed at the end of March and moved in mid-April and I was raring to go. And then…we stalled.

First J got sick, then Pippin, then Scout. I think it’s rained ever single day in May so far, and my rain boots cracked in April. Summer 2016 entails a lot of travel for us, and I’m trying to be realistic about if we can commit to weeding and watering — our vegetable garden for 2015 only survived because of the stealthy help of our neighbors, quietly watering and weeding for us as we figured out this two-kid thing.

But in the meantime, I’m getting to know what’s already here, just as I did in our last house.

the forsythia and daffodils someone else planted

At our old house in the suburbs, we had forsythia and daffodils, tulips and hyacinth. At Cottontail Cottage, we have a lot of dead grass, but also two dogwoods, and an azalea and a thing that might be a rose bush and might be a weed, and some tulips which I step on all the time getting out of the car. There’s purple stuff the lady next door says is columbine. We have a big brush heap that is going to need to be addressed, and also we have a peony bush that I’m crushing on pretty seriously.

Love you, boo.

Peonies are what I would have had in my wedding bouquet if money were no object, but they don’t grow in Florida.

So instead of jumping into gardening and then leaving everything to languish through the heat of the summer, I’m trying to embrace the slow landscaping of a lifetime. One of our first weekends here, Pippin and I planted a freebie redbud tree — twig, really — in our yard, and it seems to be taking. I love the idea that if it survives and prospers, we will always be able to measure our time in the house by the growth of the tree.

I’m making dream-lists in my head, and asking all the gardeners in my life for advice. I want a kitchen garden, and so my sweet friend is starting herbs for me while we are away. Another friend has offered me hyacinth from her yard. I want something tendril-y to cover the ugly chain link fence that surrounds our backyard. I want forsythia, which reminds me of my mom, and lilac, which reminds me of my granny. I want irises, which are what I had in my wedding bouquet instead of peonies, and which bloom magically every year about the time of our anniversary.

It’s a fine thing to dream, but in the meantime, I will watch, and wait, and enjoy the sweet surprise of a garden worked by other hands than mine.