Our Garden Home After 1 Month Away

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It’s always nice to come home. Normally I would have freaked out at the mess in the garden and all the work I needed to do but one month in Italy has performed its magic. My Italian side still has nothing but positive, wonderful, and charming things to say about the place.

“Look at all that green? Where did that come from? It’s fantastic!”

“It looks like a lovely cabin in the woods. Who lives there? I do! What fun!”

And lastly, “Let’s straighten things up and have friends over. We must have something to celebrate, right?”

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Home Sweet Home.

From the plane I’d been able to see roughly where I’d grown up just outside of the city, and then I saw one of the few Italian family farms left in the area. Not too long ago there were so many more and all of the large Italian families in the city had one of their own.

All of this was quite emotional for me. In the space of a generation or two so many had disappeared as Italian-Americans were able to become so many more things because we do have that ability here, or at least we did. Now I’m not so sure about the American Dream, but I know for many of the immigrants in my family, it was real.

Having just returned from Italy were there are so many small farms, it made me sad—but proud too. Oregon is a great place and I am so happy to live here. It’s not always comfortable for me, but overall, after this last trip to Italy, I feel like both of my feet are firmly on the ground now. Funny I find myself wanting to sell produce or plants or even food more and more, but I know exactly where that impulse comes from and I am proud of it.

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Willamette Falls, Oregon City, Oregon.

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Rossi Farms on NE 122nd Avenue. One of the few Italian family farms left in the area.

After passing out for a few days I was able to get up the energy to walk through my garden to see how things were going.

So many of my favorite plants were blooming, and thanks to friends, all of the seedlings were doing great too.

The plane rides had been really hard on me and my swelling was very bad initially but it got better and eventually I saw my doctor and we discussed where I was at concerning my health but I will get to that in another post. I just wanted to emphasize, it really took me several days to get out and walk around and when I did it was quite painful.

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Rosa “Sombreuil”.

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Clematis “Jackmanii”.

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Unknown Dutch Iris.

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Unknown Dutch Iris.

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Rosa “Golden Showers”.

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Rosa rugosa.

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Billbergia nutans, Billbergia Bromeliad, Queen’s-Tears.

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Fave blooms.

The fava bean plants immediately excited me—even though I was in pain. As much as I’d loved being in Italy, I missed my kitchen and while there I’d wished I could have spent more time just hanging out in kitchens watching people cook. I have so much to learn and often feel like a pokey and useless creature but what comes out of my kitchen usually makes me proud. There was so much I didn’t see in one month. There were so many words I didn’t get to hear.

Back home I recommitted myself to cooking more difficult things and I’ve set out to learn more skills.

I also decided that my war on the edible garden is over now. My distaste for my former life is done and I’m ready to move on and I knew I badly need to do the garden renovation dance.

So, during the last week I’ve attacked the front yard with a great gusto, but I have a few big projects to get through before I can say the kitchen garden is up and running as it should be. I am renovating and clearing several areas at the same time with particular goals in mind. Yes, I want more food space, but I also need to dedicate my time and energy to plants which produce seeds I can sell. Maybe I can even get to some plant selection of my own in time. I hope so. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do.

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LuLu gained a little bit of weight while we were gone. I hate to call her neurotic, but she has her issues. Overeating nervously is one of them. 

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Maurice wanted us to know we were missed. Many stern looks were tossed our way between naps.

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Mona was happy to see me and couldn’t sit still. Even at her age she’s still Miss Wigglesworth.

The cats were happy to see us—as you can see. At first LuLu was in shock and hid from us but she continued to look at us with a pinch-me-is-this-real? look. After a few days we all settled in again. I think that’s in part due to the fact we had a great house sitter who really cared about the cats. Additionally, I think that we have 3 cats now who like one another. Mona getting along with LuLu has been a welcome surprise.

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Sweet souvenir: my new Bialetti.

We brought back a few things from Italy. Since we had to carry everything, I wasn’t feeling quite as generous as I wanted to be but my back survived.

My first gift to myself was this lovely little coffeemaker. Now I can make a quick shot of espresso just for me. Or, I could make one for you, the garden visitor. It works perfectly and makes a great cup of espresso.

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Not sure yet where we will hang this up.

The second gift to ourselves were these terra-cotta pieces for the back garden. We had to have St. Mark’s lion, and for me, well, something more historic.

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I mentioned LuLu is a bit neurotic, right?

That first week after we returned this is what always greeted me when I left the house or when I returned home. She melted my heart all over again. We immediately went on diets together too and I’ve been enforcing strict activity goals for her. Ok, maybe not that strict, but both of us have lost some weight.

Been a long time in the garden: Wine, Women and Song

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Was taken to a few wineries in September for my 41st birthday. Here I am shoveling some very delicious Willamette Valley grapes in my face. Thank goodness for friends and their cameras.

A few months have passed since I last blogged. With a blogoversary on the horizon I think it’s time for me to begin again. This time of year is always very busy for me with all of my indoor gardening and seed work. I have plenty to share so stay tuned.IMG_5477

Cooking has continued to play an important role in my life. As a gift, my combined wedding anniversary and birthday gift from my husband was an amazing meal at Castagna.

I could write a book about that incredible meal but instead I’ll recommend that you read about the chef and go there yourself. It was an incredible dining experience and one I’ll never forget.

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LuLu and Quincy loved to chase one another in the willow arbor.

Mid September our little buddy Quincy went missing one Friday night. He wasn’t with us for long, and we miss him dearly. I refuse to give up hope and continue to search for him. Luckily our county has a wonderful system for lost animals and I receive daily notifications.

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Gardener, garden writer and designer Kate Bryant enjoying a bit of salmon fishing.

Dad took two of my friends and I salmon fishing back in September. It was a quick trip but we all had a wonderful time with lots of laughs and great food. We may not have caught anything, but a boat of fishermen did offer us a free fish to take home.

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During September I also visited Sarracenia Northwest for their Open House. This is a beautifully fun story and I promise to write more about it in an upcoming post.  IMG_5814

The tomatoes kept coming this year and they kept me busy. As a matter of fact I finished up eating them just a few days ago. I was a bit shocked to have ripe tomatoes from the garden on November 1.

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With a tromboncino squash I was gifted I made homemade gnocchi with butter and sage sauce. It was a great idea for a little garden writing group that I’ve helped to start just to get me to write more. I want to write more. I really do.
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I decided to purchase my first fancy apron after catering for a small party. This was a lovely reward after having succeeded with all of those fundraiser dinners this summer. As difficult as that work was, I do miss entertaining and making menus. Am taking the holidays off too because I cannot afford to feed as many people as I used to so taking a holiday will be a nice break.IMG_6783

To thank friends who offered to help me this summer after my last surgery I hosted a pizza party. I avoided making Italian-style pizza for a very long time, but I feel comfortable with it now. IMG_6057

As I stated a few months ago, I was yearning to return to school. I did. I am taking one class right now and am loving plant ID in the horticulture department at Clackamas Community College.

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There have been the garden visits to friends’ green realms with more meals and laughs. I am a big fan of Felony Flats Botanical Garden and its head gardeners Eric and Robert.

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Petunia exserta.

In addition to school and a new part-time job (more on that in my next post), I’m beginning to take care of my seed shop again and have been collecting, accepting by mail from friends, and shopping online again for things I’d like to grow. As I rip out the garden, I am looking for new growing spaces while considering the possibilities.

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White alpine strawberry.

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Pelargonium peltatum, the species from Cistus Nursery.

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Lastly, I also hosted the Fall Garden Blogger Plant Swap. It’s kind of like Fight Club so I won’t go on and on about it, but if you’re a blogger and you live nearby, let me know. The primarily requirement is that you be a blogger. IMG_6183

LuLu has been my new little furry rock since Quincy disappeared. She’s taken up as my stalker where my little old lady Macavity left off when she passed away last year.

Here she is loving up Maurice but we all know she’s just letting him know who’s in charge. She’s a bossy pants, piglet. In addition to climbing the walls and my pant legs, she’s almost always underfoot. I adore her and her youthful kitten energy.IMG_6246 Luckily LuLu goes out a little bit, but she’s not going to be allowed to be an outdoor cat. Here she is helping me to collect tomatoes. IMG_6264She also helps me with my botanical studies. Here she is letting me know that DOGWOODS bore her.
IMG_6859So welcome back! Welcome to indoor gardening and there’s more to come. I promise!

Eating and Sleeping in the Garden

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Mona the Cat dangles her foot while trying to stay cool during our recent heatwave.

Moving a blog from one platform to another takes time. I dreaded working through this process, and now, I’m simply overwhelmed by it.

The list of required changes looms large on my list of lists. Days continue to pass by me but daily I’m trying to learn a new trick here at my new home while I’m still cleaning up over at the old blog.

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A bloom on a Hypoestes phyllostachya (aka Polka Dot Plant).

Recently I’ve been collecting seeds for Milton’s Garden Menagerie and I’ve been taking notes on where to find more seeds in the coming weeks.

This Polka Dot Plant is a plant I grew from seed this past winter and I hope to collect its seeds in September.

(I just love this plant.)

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Lilies in a friend’s garden in August.

Garden tour season is in full swing. I’ve been trying to get out to see more gardens but my physical therapy is taking up a lot of my time. (I cannot begin to express how much better I’m feeling after back surgery.)

Sometimes I’m amazed that I’m just seeing some gardens for the first time, but life has been keeping me busy these past few years.

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Maurice the Cat trying to sleep through the heat.

My garden is still in the middle of a major redesign. As I remove plants that have underperformed for me—rather than shop for new ones to fill the space—I’m just enjoying the emptiness.

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Zucchini Salad: fresh uncooked zucchini, fresh Italian parsley, olive oil, and a pinch of salt.

Recently, Paul Bonine of Xera Plants Inc invited us over for dinner and we had the pleasure of returning the invitation to him this past weekend.

It was terrifying to have him over because my garden is such a wild mess, but the conversations he and I had as we walked through my own urban jungle helped me so much.

I badly needed guidance.

(He brought me some seeds too.)

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My breakfast in the garden à la John. Eggs fried in brown butter, polenta, and a side of prickly pear.

The next morning I awoke recharged and refreshed. I went out to the garden to weed and John made me breakfast with a side of prickly pear.

If you’re new (or a veteran) to this blog, you may not know that my oft-used online handle Ficurinia is Sicilian dialect for ‘prickly pear’.

It was his first prickly pear experience—and he like it.

Good to know since he married this Ficurinia 11 months ago today.

Digging in the Roots: A Pre-Spring Reverie

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Viola odorata. 
After work tonight my husband and I walked to the grocery store. Along the way I plucked a few stray Viola odorata blooms and then cupped them in my left palm like small birds. From time to time—passing the halal markets and medical marijuana storefronts—I held my hand to my nose and drew in their scent. I instinctively wanted to bite into my violets because my brain recognized their sweet scent as a favorite candy. But I didn’t. Instead I walked along enjoying the moment thinking about how much I love plants—especially sensual plants.

Here at home the seedlings are growing in their little pots and plugs. I’m keeping up with my planting schedule (for the most part) but I’m not certain if I’ll be able to finish things up before we leave for Italy.

We have a housesitting plan, a cat sitter, and a seedling sitter.

(I think that it’s wonderful to know there are friends available to help you with your plants, don’t you?)

Whatever doesn’t get planted, at least I can buy at a local nursery. Portland is blessed with so many plant nurseries. [Sigh.]

One of my favorite images from the Yard, Garden & Patio Show.

I made it to the Yard, Garden & Patio Show a few weeks ago here in Portland. (I hadn’t been in years!) It was a fantastic experience and I hope to post pictures from it eventually, but I know, I’ve said that in the past.

I mean it this time. It will happen. I will post the pictures.

This pledge is happening because I’ve been taking my writing more seriously. Being paid to write is a wonderful thing. Thanks to being able to work at doing what I love, a recent goal I’ve acknowledged is to finally organize my photos. This will help me professionally too. I can’t wait to share them.

The plant room has been cleaned out again—for what I hope will be the last time. It is looking better and better but there is still much work to do. Last weekend the compact fluorescent light that has been keeping my plants alive for a few years popped and blew out. That’s one more unexpected garden expense that needs to be attended to but it’s worth it! That room is cheerful during the dreary and rainy months because of that light and those plants bring so much life into the dead of winter.

This is probably the reason why Mona (the partially feral cat) lives in that room now. She’s always loved it back there but now it’s her room—at least that is until is warms up enough to be outside all day.

Yesterday I made it outside for a bit. It was the first work I’d done in the garden in a long time. My health has not been great. I had a bad infection for several weeks last month but I toughed it out and am ok now. I’m amazed by how easily I lose my strength and conditioning. I feel strong when I exercise regularly and walk a lot but after a few months off I feel as though I have to begin all over again.

Luckily, it’s worth it. The benefits of exercise for me are undeniable. Nothing makes chronic pain go away more than exercise. I guess it really is important to stay limber.

Happy (early) St Patrick’s Day!

Since I won’t be here again until after Monday I thought I’d leave you with this. I was born an Annie, and internally, I’ll always be a little redhead named Annie. There’s just a wee bit of Irish in me, can you tell? And I do love the color green, now don’t I?

(This post is dedicated to Father Cathal Brennan. RIP I still miss you very much.)
My mom with Father Brennan.

Merry Christmas

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Hope you had a lovely holiday full of laughter and love. We filled the house with food and friends and feasted on The Feast of Seven Fishes. I’m ashamed I didn’t take more photos, but I can assure you I was busy for several hours and nothing was left on a single plate. It was delicious.
These are a few of our handmade spinach ravioli with Dungeness crab filling. This was a huge win for us because we’d never made them.
After the guests had departed I received my presents. The first was the book above. We’re planning a trip to Italy in 2014 so I need to get my green hat on again soon. This book will help me. I’ve never been, and John is taking me to see places from his childhood. He wanted to take me to Sicily too, but I’d rather see friends, so we’re thinking about alternatives. I’m excited, but traveling is always hard on my body so I have a lot of planning and special physical therapy exercises in store for me.

My second gift was this pearl necklace. No one has ever given me anything like this before and it means a lot to me. I can only afford the basics within my budget so this is a true gift. I feel a bit grown up wearing it. Last night I wanted to fall asleep with it on. I felt like a little girl playing dress up and that made me happy for some funny reason.

I’m pretty sure I’m not allowed to garden with it on, but the thought did cross my mind.
I am getting John a kitten. This is crazy since we already have 3 cats, but it is what he wants. (More on that new arrival soon. We are being very careful with our choice.)
So, the future looks bright and my garden is waking up and I’m looking forward to revising it in the coming months. There will be more shared meals and laughter in this house. I hope to meet new people and have more creative energy and ideas. Best of all, I want to continue to help people and share my thoughts about what I’ve learned through managing my own chronic illness. I’ve built up more and more strength and I am ready now. It was rough to revisit where I was in my life but I’m truly supported and encouraged now by those around me.
The only immediate issue I currently have is about continuing my education. Part of me wants to study again, but I will need more strength and endurance. What to study? Horticulture, garden design, writing? I don’t know, but I’m open to developing my potential again. I want to dig in, get involved, and become more of the professional I know I am.
With that, I must bid you all adieu!
Merry Christmas!
(More from the garden soon!)

The Quince, Sea Beans, and a Black Oregon Truffle

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Since it’s almost Christmas, it’s time for me to post what’s been waiting in my hopper. (These past few weeks have been a blur.)

Between cooking for folks here at home, ghostblogging about food for someone else, and cooking food for clients I’ve been working for as a caregiver, I’m feeling fairly proficient in the kitchen nowadays.

Our Thanksgiving Quinces as Still-life.

Last month we purchased some quince from a local co-op. We’d gone there to look for raw goat milk for making cheese and whey. When we got home, John set about making quince paste. It was a fun process and quite different than I’d imagined. Both culinary projects went well and they tasted so good. The quince paste was served with some wild boar charcuterie at Thanksgiving alongside some Spanish cheeses.

Oh! That seems like ages ago to me right now.

There are so many vegetables to give thanks for this time of year.
Sausage, Potato and Savoy Cabbage Soup is a comfort food of mine.

We’ve pickled a few beets during the last few weeks and just last week I prepared my favorite cabbage soup when we had a large family of friends over for dinner. My best friend from college and his wife have adopted a baby and I get to be an auntie again. With his whole family in town, of course I had to invite them all over for dinner too.

Know your Italian chicories: Radicchio and Treviso.

Last month there was a tasty salad I made with some radicchio too. It was raw radicchio—not grilled—so I was weary at first. Somehow serving it with crispy red onions and a citrus vinaigrette did something magical to its bitterness. It was another great success I hope to serve again soon.

Wild foraged Sea Beans.

I’d always wanted to try these so last month I purchased some samphire at the Portland Farmers Market. I was pleasantly surprised by how salty they were when I popped one into my mouth.

Sea Beans with Rice Vinegar and Furikake.

Days later I put this little salad together at home. I recommend sea beans highly if you’re into salt. They are very crunchy too. Somewhere in my office I have seeds for them. I am really curious now to see how they’ll taste when grown in my home garden.

Copper Beech in front of the Millar Library at PSU.

While at PSU attending the Portland Farmer’s Market, I enjoyed looking around. The market takes place in the park blocks and there are so many beautiful trees to look at while people watching and shopping.

For many years it was a painful place for me to visit because my health had been very poor while I was a student there. Now that I’m much better, I can reflect on those years. We all need to process our past and move forward stronger and more aware. Being surrounded by the market makes that process kind of fun for me now. My love of food and my knowledge of plants has given me some much needed strength over the past few years.

After one of the trips to the market I went thrift store shopping. I was looking for a new ikebana vase when I found this old 1980s mauve piece. When I saw the sticker it made me smile. This shop is no longer in business and had belonged to my niece’s grandmother on her mother’s side of the family. While driving home, the poor thing broke, but my niece was happy I’d at least thought to pick it up for her.
Wild Foraged Chanterelles.

I made these into an omelette. What do you like to make with yours? Just curious.

Oregon Black Truffle.

We bought truffles too and John made a delicious risotto for us. (Risotto is common in the region of Italy he hails from and he was raised eating it.) The Oregon truffle was a fun twist on our usual recipe for both of us. Yes, the domestic truffle is not as tasty as European truffles, but they are more affordable. I’ll take that tradeoff. Truffles just make me happy too. I smell them and they make me smile. When they are near me, I am content.

Seriously. I love truffles.

Lastly, for Thanksgiving we also had some flowers. It began with this simple arrangement but then I expanded from there. This year I also made sure to buy American-grown flowers. I’m dedicated to buying them more often now and I can assure you that you’ll be hearing more and more about this topic during the coming months.

Goodbye for now.
PS: Hope your holidays are going well!

An Autumn Field Report

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My life feels like it’s on fire right now—but my house looks like it thanks to the annual display put on by the Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).
While my life takes off, I’m too busy to even sit and consider what’ll happen to me now if I swell up. It took me a long time, and it took a lot of searching and self-acceptance, but finally, I seem to have a professional life and a work schedule I not only can manage, but I’ve set myself up to succeed and it feels so much better.

The garden is no longer neglected. In my mind, it’s on hold. It’s slowly starting up again (really coming to life for the first time) and I’m introducing John to it little by little.

His first unique seed experience was this ‘Cruel’ vine seed head (Araujia sericifera). It’s the only one produced by this non-hardy vine that has survived a few too many winters here in Oregon. I grew if from seed. To see it set seed after several years is very exciting to me.

The vine is in front of the house and isn’t really that special. It chokes out all that gets in its way and I was getting tired of its unneighborly behavior. Then it bloomed rows of small, pretty white fragrant flowers and my dislike (aka hatred) for the plant relented.

I am a proud mama now. I can’t kill my baby. I’ve got to collect its seeds!

The small autumn-blooming Camellia ‘Silver Dollar’ is currently bursting with blooms. I appreciate and admire its restraint and grace. So many of the other garden plants are dressed up like painted ladies this time of year. I love the little touch of class this plant offers my eyes.

The Amsonia I grew from seed a few years ago is looking beautiful next to this Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides)—speaking of painted ladies!

Life in the house and garden is changing though. Our family has changed and I’m working more and more outside of the house now.

Maurice the Cat is ever the trooper and despite his age, arthritic pain, and weight problem, he’s soldiering on and has enjoyed every last bit of sunshine he can grasp in his polydactyl paws.

Cats do not like change and only now are they trusting that their lives are not being tossed hither and thither.

The leaves are changing and falling. The air is crisp and tonight we may have some frosty temps in the Portland metro area.

It’s a beautiful time of the year and I’m preparing again to participate in NaNoWriMo.

I’m writing a novel again in November—but unlike last year—this story is fully cooked and ready to go. I am also preparing to write many other things. Actually, I’m already doing so. It’s time. I am well enough now.

There is still some physical recovery to do. A decade of illness is not easy to repair. I need to lose more weight. My blood pressure and heart need a break. I’ve lost a lot of weight and have continued to regain and build muscle but my body needs to be leaner and meaner. I am caring for me now and it feels good too.

I will do all of these things that I’ve set out to do now. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve always done. It’s good to be me again.

I’m working as a caregiver now, and I work all kinds of odd shifts with the elderly and those in hospice.

Illness has prepared me for this and I’m comfortable and confident with what I’m doing.

It’s not a forever job, but for now, I’m enjoying the pleasure of working hard and the opportunity of getting to know new and interesting people.

They’ve lived different lives than mine and we honor and respect one another as we work through basic daily tasks that have become increasingly more difficult for the clients. The adjustment has not been easy for me, but it’s improving. I know what I’m doing and I know that I can help them.

It feels good.

This autumn we’ve talked a lot about eventually buying a place in the country near the ocean. I’ve thought about the garden it would have and what palate of plants I would pick. This is another project I’m working on right now.

I’ve never really designed a  project like this, but oddly, I’m ready and willing to accept the challenge.

This has led to me thinking a lot about my own design aesthetic. I never knew I had one but it runs through almost everything I do. It ties into the novel writing, so I’m a happily contained little mind now. Inside I am germinating.

There have been many meals and many recipes recently. John has been cooking new things, learning new techniques in the kitchen, and he’s been shopping at farmer’s markets. As for me, I’m in love with my Cauliflower (Brassica) ‘Minaret’. Yes, I’ve been cooking too, but I’ve been enjoying all of John’s food more. I’m proud of him. He’s a great cook.

For me, food has become another job. This is a good thing—literally, a job! I’m still kind of in shock this even happened, but it did.

So, it’s exciting to announce this publicly. Here goes: I’ve been hired to work as a ghost blogger for a food blogger. That is all I can say, since I am obviously a ghost blogger, but to say that the experience is thrilling is an understatement. I want to be a paid writer. I crave it. I need it. I would like to continue working as an editor too. With this opportunity, I will be able to do both of these things.

And from here it will only get better…

Lastly, I’ve returned to arranging flowers and that’s been good for me during the times when I still feel chronic pain from either swelling or injuries I sustained years ago. I’m arranging plant material weekly in an effort to relieve stress and to be creative. It gets my juices flowing and it gives me a problem to solve. I relish that kind of thing.

The whole process brings a kind of value to my life that’s irreplaceable.

It’s still cleanup time in the garden—my garden: I’m still blogging, there are seeds to sow, I see a future garden to begin designing, and there are many words in the air. My mind has been swept and it is still a bit shady in there, but I see leaks of light and the words are in lines now that float and I can grasp their syntax.

Someday I will describe the mind of chronic pain to show how dull and slow it can become and how one can lose so many words. The feelings and thoughts were all inside of me but I couldn’t get them out. I struggled. I was inarticulate for so many years.

It is difficult when the words come to me quickly now. I still feel as though I’m sitting behind the wheel of a fast car as the words pour out. I know that I am not yet as suave as I once was though, I’m rough, I repeat a lot. I could use better words—and I will.

But I will use them for my novel and it will have a garden and it will have plants and there will be so many other wonderful things. My many layers are peeling away now and as winter comes low over the horizon from the cold north I will let the chilling winds lay bare that which I want so badly to articulate but have yet been unable to do so.