Analogies Don’t Take a Vacation

Tonight, I couldn’t begin to name half the plants that surround me as I recline poolside in a lawn chair overlooking Lake Minnehaha in Uncle Paul’s back yard in Maitland. Florida’s greenery hosts many foreign breeds to this novice gardener. Nevertheless, a day trip to Bok Tower Gardens nearly an hour and a half southwest of my uncle’s domicile gave my spirits a boost. After only a few months of plant study, I was able to recognize a dozen plant varieties based on bloom and leaf arrangement.

As Uncle Paul and I meandered through the gardens accompanied by the singing tower with bells ringing classical arrangements, it was vegetation that made me feel it’s a small world after all.

Friendship was in the gardens. The hydrangeas reminded me of snapshots from my friend Kyle’s recent trip to Costa Rica where he zip lined through the Cloud Forest. The gardenias reminded me of my friend Angela’s favorite flower, and as I bent over to sniff its flagrant blossom, I recalled how she snipped the first bloom of the year and gave it to her soon to be step-daughter, Ahna, my former student that brought us together. Purple lilacs reminded me of the backyard route to a nearby school that I would take with Gabby, a girl for whom I babysat for a decade and who stood up for me in my wedding.

Family was in the gardens. The pink petunias reminded me of my mother’s yard in Syracuse, New York, and the bronze leaf begonias reminded me of a recent exchange between us where Mom divulged that like me, she rediscovered begonias this year. The lily pads reminded me of my childhood at our family’s cottage in the Adirondacks where my brothers and I would take out the row boat or the paddle boat and fish in the cove. The Spanish Moss reminded me of family vacations with my uncle, aunt, and cousins to Cocoa Beach and boogie boarding… Dad and I had matching florescent pink bathing suits!

Home was in the gardens. The blue salvia reminded me of my first trip to Home Depot where I searched for height for the back rows of my garden beds. The southern magnolias reminded me of my own hybrid blend. We even saw the unnamed plant from my neighbor Mrs. Washington’s garden that seems related to the poinsettia.

New was in the gardens. There were a dozen varieties I’d never laid eyes upon: pink Seven Sisters, Orange Plume, red Crape Myrtle, False Blue Ginger, Firebush, purple Bridal Flower, Monkey Grass, and Caladium among them. When Uncle Paul and I paused on a bench to wait for the tower’s 1 pm bell concert, he unearthed an article on his iPhone detailing a recent research study at Stanford that boasts the positive correlation between test scores and nature walks. As he recounted the details, my uncle laughed at the expense spent on mastering the obvious. Apparently, the inclination to ruminate is greatly reduced when exposed to the great outdoors.

Typically by now on my writing nights, a life analogy grips me, but I have found none… perhaps because I did not spend my day ruminating on life gone wrong. So far removed from the intricacies of my day to day life in Virginia on my vacation this week, normalcy escapes me. Though I attempted to replicate my writing night with the required glass of red wine, the bird calls and crickets around me are a far cry from those on my white wicker love seat by my red front door. Even my date from Friday night seems a lifetime ago.

I had only spent a few days chatting online with this West Virginia boy transplanted to Portsmouth on the other side of the water. We made on-the-spot dinner plans and met up a half hour later at a local chain restaurant. The first five minutes of conversation revealed he was a stoner, the first laugh revealed he was missing a front tooth, and the last hour revealed his greatest accomplishment was a classic car he’d modified to race with fuel injectors. The next day, he responded favorably to my text message asserting I believed he would agree we were not on the same page romantically, though I offered that he was a fun guy who would meet the right lady for him soon enough.

Each unsuccessful romantic encounter thus far has only given me further insight to narrow my focus and pay attention to details I had not given attention to before. Each suitor is his own crash course in Dating 101 that prepares me for the next level. Just as in college when we had to master prerequisites in order to progress to the advanced levels, I recognize that I am logging hours to master the dating scene before I progress to Relationship 201. My friend Kyle jokes that I am now an experienced First Dater. My dating profile claims that I am not looking for Mr. Right for Right now or Prince Charming, but for always and forever. My current journey is advancing this status… from first date to forever.

The gardens at Bok Tower took me on a journey through my life as I meandered on the mulched pathways. Who I am is a product of those great influences in my life. My friends, my family, little Gabby, and even Mrs. Washington have shaped me. The fact that I consider “home” as the white house with a red door in downtown Hampton where I have lived for less than a year is evidence to the impact of my recent life experiences. Three years ago, I called Nashville home. I knew nothing of magnolias or begonias or salvia or gardenias. Planting a garden was not on my radar. Nor was online dating.

The interconnectedness of the human experience, represented by wildlife over eight hundred miles from what I now call home, proves that my story is in the details. Over the span of a few hundred yards, my consciousness was flooded with memories of thirty-two years of details. The positive conclusions of the Stanford research study were evidenced in those memories. During my hours in the gardens, I did not reflect on failed relationships or doomed dates, but rather those people and experiences that built the “Laura Joy” that spends Tuesday nights writing about her current paradigm.

Were the shade of my magnolias irrelevant, I would create a garden that reminds me of the positive impacts to my life. Hydrangeas for Kyle, gardenias for Angela, lilacs for Gabby, petunias for my mother, morning glories for my grandmother, and tomatoes for my grandfather. If the habitat could support it, Spanish moss would hang from my magnolias to add in my father and our matching bathing suits. There would be no clover weeds popping up to remind me of my ex-husband or roses to remind me of my ex-boyfriend. And all of these failed first dates? They amount to little more than ground cover in my garden story, but every garden needs a little ground cover to make the important plants stand out.

In some ways, it felt like the introduction to all the new plant varieties today was simply a part of my Dating 101 course. I could liken each of my recent suitors to one of these plants and explain why I would not want them in my garden. Like West Virginia boy, the Firebush has a lot of personality, but its colors don’t mesh with mine. Like coffee boy, Monkey Grass is too simple and not much of a conversationalist. Like adultery boy, the False Blue Ginger is easy on the eyes but by name isn’t genuine.

With each plant I’ve tried in my garden and each date I’ve entertained, I’ve learned something valuable about growth and its success or failure. The story of Laura Joy is defined by a host of influences, and no amount of ruminating can undermine the positive impact of the interconnectedness of the human experience. It is by continuing to experience life that growth abounds as I’ve witnessed over sixteen weeks of recording my internal narrative. There is an indefinite number of plant varieties in the world, and an indefinite number of men, but I only need one.

The right one. The conclusion of this dating course will find me ready for my always and forever. And I’ll know him when he reveals himself because of all the wrong ones that found their ways into my story. And he’ll know me because of the hydrangeas, gardenias, lilacs, petunias, morning glories, tomatoes, and Spanish moss that made me the woman I am today.

A day in the gardens has yielded positive outcomes after all. I end it in gratitude to those garden varieties who have made my life full and blossoming beyond hope.

Compromises, Coleus Plants, and Climbing Vines

Compromise. We internalize this term with both positive and negative connotations as little children. Compromise is a common strategy at my brother’s dinner table. My nephew J.J. announces that he is full and ready for dessert. My sister-in-law explains that if he has room for dessert, he is not full, and therefore needs to finish his hot dog. “I don’t want the bun,” he declares impishly with that irresistible grin. The compromise? Finish the meat, and he can have dessert. Dispute settled.

Positive? Both sides get something they want. Negative? Both sides accept less than they originally wanted. We learn the art of negotiation early on; compromise will become a tactic in navigating relationships in J.J.’s adolescence and a mainstay in fostering successful relationships as he matures into adulthood. The dialogue each week at his dinner table is recited practically verbatim. He’s internalized, as you and I assuredly did in our own childhood, that a willingness to compromise will see fulfillment of some of his desires.

I’ve had to compromise in my garden. Though I cherish my two towering magnolia trees, they permit only a few rays of light into the front yard. To me, flowering plants are much preferred to non-flowering plants. My mother decorates her home each summer with petunias, impatiens, and geraniums. Though I knew that petunias were sun-loving flowers, I planted them in my first attempt at filling my first garden beds. Nearly two months later, their blooms are gone, but their leaves provide pretty ground cover. The geraniums’ blooms thrived briefly, but the first summer storm snapped their long stems, and now, their remaining leaves also provide pretty ground cover.

My garden is still growing, even if it’s not what I originally expected it would look like. The impatiens and salvia offer sparks of color, the gardenia’s occasional white blossoms please me, and my knock out roses boast healthy leaves with no blooms. Last week, I walked up and down the rows of Home Depot’s garden center for almost an hour searching for flowering plants that would flourish in shade. Having done my research, I knew what I was looking for, but none of those plants seemed to be in stock. Dismissing the nagging feeling that I was cheating on Home Depot, I headed over to Lowe’s. Another hour later, I had come up empty handed. There were rows of impatiens of every color, but I needed to experiment with new plants if my garden was to ever look as full as my neighbor, Mrs. Washington’s.

I kept coming back to the blue hydrangeas. They lured me in with their heavy bushes of petals… my favorite color! I would read their tags, forcing myself to settle on the words “Full sun”, and walk away in search of alternatives suited for shade only to find myself gazing at them a second, third, and fourth time. I remembered the half dozen plant varieties I’d doomed to failure and ultimately decided I would not be tempted by their beauty or fragrance a moment longer; I knew if I planted them, I’d be sentencing them to death by shade.

The day waned, and other time-sensitive commitments were waiting. Not wanting to go home empty handed when the urge to dig in the dirt had overtaken me completely, I decided to compromise. Returning to the tiny selection of shaded plants contained in one solitary aisle of the great garden center, I expanded my search. The coleus plant does not flower, yet it boasts vibrant color in its foliage of green, pink, red, and maroon. I purchased two, and in the ninety-five degree afternoon, introduced them to their new home in my garden bed.

The coleus plants have not disappointed. They complement the pink begonias beautifully and fill the empty spaces strategically. Compromise has come to be a necessity in my garden. In truth, I’d never considered begonias before I began battling my front yard’s climate, and I’ll admit they’ve grown on me as much as they’ve grown exponentially in size. Still, every day when I water the coleus plant, the same thought recites itself in my mind. “They’re nice, but they’re not wonderful. I want to see flowers.”

While I regret potentially disappointing those who have come to look forward to my reticent accounts of failed attempts, there are no new online dating adventures to report on this week. The time spent reviewing potential candidates amounted to no more than a new Facebook friend who will likely be deleted due to overly personal posting (a pet peeve of mine). Earlier today, I was bemoaning my singleness with my friend and a mutual acquaintance we bumped into at Water Country somewhere between the Rambling River and the Wave Pool. As we relaxed on lawn chairs, I voiced my frustration. My friend mentioned an EMT she knew that was single, and I asked how tall he was. The acquaintance said, “You can’t be picky.”

Grateful for sunglasses and an already wet face, I retreated into my mind and turned my head away as tears formed, letting the ladies continue their own conversation. My emotions were a mix of disappointment, anger, and fear… an admission I’m not proud of as those are not the sentiments of the mature and hopeful woman I’ve been aspiring to be throughout this search thus far. I thought of the endless time I’ve clicked “Hide match” when a profile contained something that contradicted my carefully crafted list of uncompromisable qualities for my future husband. I thought about my ex-husband and my ex-boyfriend. I thought about the children I don’t have yet. I stole a peek at the offender’s toned abs, recalling her comments about her wonderful husband and two wonderful sons. If the heat index hadn’t been above a hundred degrees, I might have also thought that my blood was boiling at that point.

I wanted to turn around in that chair and cry out, “Why can’t I be picky? Because I’m thirty-two and single? Because I’m not a size four? Because I’m divorced? Because all the quality men are already taken by women like you who were smart enough to make the right choice the first time around?” I’ve worked hard to convince myself in this process that setting high standards is my best strategy for ensuring a successful match that will result in a lifelong partnership with the man that I will grow old with on a front porch swing. I’d settle for this white wicker loveseat, but do I settle on the man?

Do I lower my standards? Do I compromise? The positive connotation of compromise is that I will settle a dispute. I will get something I wanted. Maybe if I lower my standards, I will expand my search and find a good man to grow old with. The negative connotation of compromise is that I will get something less than what I originally wanted. Maybe if I lower my standards, I will get a good man, but will I get a quality man, and will we end up growing old together? I’ve said myself that if I had made my list of uncompromisable qualities years ago, I wouldn’t have chosen the man that I ended up divorcing. I also wouldn’t have chosen the man that I broke up with months ago.

The list exists as a direct result of failed relationships that I’ve learned from. As much as I wanted those blue hydrangeas and would have planted them the first time around, I’ve seen what happens to sun-loving plants in a shaded garden, and I walked away. It would have been a tragic compromise. They would live if planted in the soil in front of my house, but there would have been no brilliant blue blossoms, just green leaves like the petunias and geraniums. When selecting a life partner, do I really have to settle for pretty ground cover? I compromised with the coleus.   After choosing a life partner, do I really want to quiet the private thought, “He’s nice, but he’s not wonderful” every day of my life?

I want to see flowers. There’s still hope for my garden. I bought a trellis yesterday because the evening glories planted a month ago have started climbing, and soon their vines will be laced between the slats of my porch. Begonias aren’t a plant that I wanted, but I’ve come to appreciate them. Coleus doesn’t flower, but I’ve accepted them as a welcome addition to my garden. Still, I refuse to marry begonias or coleus just because I’m thirty-two, single, and a size six on top and eight on the bottom. These child bearing hips are going to wait on the evening glories. One day, they will grow higher and begin to bud, and it only takes one perfect plant to make my garden perfect to me. It only takes one available, quality man to make a marriage perfect to me.

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We learn at an early age that compromise will see fulfillment of some of our desires. It’s a negotiation necessity. Compromise with parents on dinner and dessert. Compromise with friends on movie selections. Compromise with gardens on plants. But by definition, compromise means accepting something less than what you wanted. And when something has been compromised, it’s been exposed to potential danger. Is that any way to start your forever?

Picking a husband isn’t an afternoon planting adventure where you visit two stores and call it quits. I’m going to keep shopping until I find what I’m after. I refuse to compromise on my choice in a husband. I won’t settle. I will be picky. I’ll wait with the evening glories for that one, perfect bloom.

A White Wicker Loveseat

One needn’t look at a calendar tonight to know summer has arrived in Hampton. The sun has yet to set, the temperature is in the nineties, the neighbors are packing fishing gear into their truck, and Mrs. Washington two doors down is watering her garden.   At seventy-six years old, her body is so ridden with arthritis she has to balance the hose in one hand and her walker in the other, but she’s outside just about every day working the soil.

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Mrs. Washington’s Garden

Each day, I drive past her yard to get home to my own and admire that inspiring garden of hers. Mrs. Washington moved in sixteen years ago and has been nurturing her garden ever since. Her gladiolas tower above the marigolds, dusty millers, and mums. She’s reined her wild clover in, restricting them to the back of the garden. Her onion plant peeks out from beneath a large bush she calls an evergreen. One perennial that she cannot name was in the garden when she moved in a decade and a half ago, and it blooms like a Christmas poinsettia.

Mrs. Washington took an interest in my young garden, painstakingly journeying across two front yards in her walker to take a peek. I asked her advice on how to get my garden to thrive like hers, and she suggested adding marigolds because they can survive the shade and harsh rains. She was beside me when I noticed budding sprouts coming up by my evening glories in my new side garden. Four of the five types of seeds have now surfaced including the nasturtium, marigolds, and broad leaf sage.   She reminded me to be mindful not to overwater the impatiens – perhaps I should have sought her counsel before I drowned my own a month ago.

I added some marigolds to my front garden beds today despite the tags which read “Full sun” simply because Mrs. Washington told me to. This is her sole passion. Today, she admitted that last year she was too ill to work outside, and that meant she had a lot more to do this year to make the beds full and vibrant. Now that she’s able again, she says she needs her garden to stay active. It’s not just a hobby. It’s her livelihood, and while the heat might have forced others inside to air conditioning, she has nurturing to do. I’ve come to admire her even more than her garden during our chance encounters on our street a few times each week.

My next door neighbor to the left doesn’t live here anymore, but he still owns the home. Since he doesn’t pay for water or trash service, every Wednesday he comes to do yard work and piles all his branches and clippings on the curb spilling into my front yard… and there they sit all week long until Tuesday trash day, interfering with my neighbors’ street parking preferences.

Last week, Mrs. Washington caught him building up his weekly pile and read him the riot act. “What do you think you’re doing putting all your trash in that poor girl’s yard? You should be ashamed of yourself!” When he came to return my borrowed lawn mower, he recounted his interaction with Mrs. Washington for me, and my insides were bubbling over with laughter I tried my best to contain. The truth is, I can’t stand to look at those branches all week long, but I’ve never found the nerve to speak up. I wouldn’t want to cause unnecessary dissention.

The sun has finally set, and my wind chimes are wild in the wind, my new hanging impatiens baskets dancing in delight. The calm only thirty seconds ago has been replaced by frantic rains, and I’m grateful for the cover of my magnolias that protects this front porch, though I had to move to the center, my back now leaning up against my red door. I look to my right at the white wicker loveseat I usually write in, and I remember when there was a couple sitting in it. Months before, it was my boyfriend and me. Years before, it was my husband and me. Perhaps months from now they’ll be a boyfriend again, years from now, a husband again. But for now, that wicker has room for only me and my writing.

Last week, I wrote about my first first date since I was twenty-one. I have since had a second first date and a first second date. There was no lukewarm conversation this time, but rather deep, insightful, long conversations over the phone and in person that were so promising I bounced about like a school girl in my house getting ready for the dates. The right sundress and heels, classy make-up, hair perfect in curls. On our first date, we walked along the marina in downtown Hampton and he taught me about the boats we passed. He took my hand in his and nervous butterflies flitted about in my tummy. On our second date, he admitted that infidelity was at the root of his divorce, and I wanted so desperately to overlook it that I said nothing in reply.

I wouldn’t want to be judged for my past mistakes, so how could I dismiss this potential match that was so well-suited for me on paper and in person for a mistake he so clearly regretted? After taking a day to process it, we talked on the phone, I thanked him for his honesty, reminded him of the incredible qualities he had that I’d come to appreciate, and explained that given my past personal injuries, I just wasn’t able to overlook this. He respected my decision, and we parted amicably.

One might think that after two unsuccessful attempts at online love connections that I might begin to lose faith; quite the contrary is true. As I perused new eHarmony match suggestions today, I found myself even pickier than before! The handy little “hide match” feature might have felt unfairly overused, but I refuse to settle. If I see the smallest detail in a man’s profile that gives me pause, I dismiss him immediately. My sights are set on a man of integrity and shared values. I’m sticking with my list. I know what I want. It’s not unreasonable to believe he’s out there looking for me too… it’s just hopeful. And hope should not be overlooked even when past regrets cannot be.

Mrs. Washington is a new acquaintance, but that didn’t stop her from wanting the best for me. She was willing to cross the yard in her walker to face a man she believed was taking advantage of my kind disposition. Arthritis cannot halt her inner strength and courage. Had she been sitting next to me on my second date when I heard the admittance of infidelity, she would have stood up and said, “Girl, let’s get you home. It’s time to plant some new seeds!”

Can a plant that has failed in another’s garden find success in mine? Maybe, but am I willing to take the plunge and plant it? Can a marigold meant for sun find success in the shade? We’ll see. With every flower that I’ve planted, I’ve taken a risk of coin, labor, and time. After research and counsel, I’ve made my own choices about which risks I’ve been willing to take. Each day, when I admire Mrs. Washington’s garden, I’m witness to sixteen year’s worth of choices and risks that have amounted to an incredible spectrum of color and life… and I see the future of my own garden if I’m willing to keep planting in hope, toiling in faith, and risking in belief of greatness to come.

My geraniums couldn’t survive intense rains. My petunias couldn’t blossom without sun. My azalea’s blooms faded. My magnolia blossoms fell. My great oak tree rotted from the inside out.   But there’s still life in my garden with new sprouts of life nearly every day. The rains have ceased, but the wind cools my skin as I settle back into my writing perch on the wicker loveseat. Just enough room for me and my writing. Just enough room to make sense of the space between me and my future. Just enough room to appreciate the solitude.

Because unless it’s that dream man of quality and integrity, I prefer the vacancy. It reminds me that, like trying to grow my garden, dating new people will often result in poor outcomes, and we dig out the withered roots to make room for something we haven’t tried yet. Until I find something worth planting next to me, something worthy of the risk of time and labor, that vacancy is a promise of greatness to come, like Mrs. Washington’s garden.

The Nature in Faith

Three months of writing nights, and I’m wondering how I survived more than two years without recording a single string of sentiments. Each week when I assume this position on my white wicker perch overlooking my yard, random observations and variant experiences comingle, forming themselves into emergent discoveries. Chance pairings of literal growth and emotional entanglements take on figurative significance. And tonight, life is all about the moonflower.

During my recent garden make-over, I planted moonflowers in my new side garden. As I turned the packet of seeds over in my hand to give attention to the planting instructions, I took immediate notice of the alternate name: the evening glory. Momentarily, I was transported through time and space, gazing out my grandmother’s kitchen windows at her morning glories. As a young girl, Grammy’s garden was home to some of my fondest memories. She had snap dragons and black eyed susans growing out of the cracks in the cement, all fenced in. Beyond the fences, there was a vast array of colorful blooms like marigolds and bleeding hearts.

But in the fence, on the fence, along the fence… morning glories. How they fascinated me, these climbing vines, dormant in the night and blossoming in the morning! Their daily disappearance and reappearance delighted me in my youth, and they were my grandma’s pride and joy. There were times I believed Grammy loved the mornings simply because she could watch the blooms open from the kitchen window as she fixed breakfast, signaling the dawn of a new day. Sleepovers at Gram’s meant Ramen Pride in a special chicken soup bowl that now resides in my kitchen cabinet, bocce ball in the backyard with Grandpa and my brothers, and, if I was a good girl, helping Grammy in the garden.

Looking back, I probably spent more time playing with the snapdragons to open their mouths and give them words than I did helping, but the fragments of memories captured her for a lifetime in my eyes as a woman hard at work on her knees in the garden. Turning over that packet of seeds in my soil covered hands, on my knees in my own garden as a grown woman, I was overwhelmed with the sense of nostalgia. It did not occur to me until that moment that I was carrying on my grandmother’s legacy. Though she’s now ninety-one years old and confined to a wheelchair, I still picture her in my mind’s eye on her knees.

Last week it rained on Tuesday, and I was pleased that my renovated garden would be nourished. It continued to rain for two more days, and I admitted the failure of my side garden. Surely the freshly planted seeds would have drowned, and I made a mental note not to take their failure personally as I could not be personally held responsible for three days of rain. In my original garden beds, the rain helped the impatiens reestablish themselves, but the new geraniums had the life practically pelted out of them by the torrential downpour. How could these tiny seeds have possibly endured?

It’s been twelve days since I planted five kinds of seeds in the side garden. It’s been five days since the rains ceased. Not one day has passed without checking on that garden. Today, I came home to inch high spurts of green in the center of the side garden. The evening glories broke soil! I am already imagining them to full vibrancy, climbing up the sides of my porch like Grammy’s morning glories on her fence. Perhaps soon, their white blossoms will open just beside me on one of these writing nights, and I’ll celebrate with them as they signal the dusk of a new eve of thought and reflection. For it’s at night when my ideas blossom and give hope just as the dawn of a new day did for my grandmother.

20150609_230020I realize now that I gave neither those seeds nor nature enough faith. They were the newest addition to my garden, and they were tiny kernels of life. If grown plants could not withstand the rains, how could the moonflower at its starting point? None of the other seeds have dared to break ground. Wonder and amazement at the appearance of those green shoots drove me to Google. As it turns out, the evening glory will yield better results when its seed is soaked in lukewarm water for a day or two. While I was fearing the worst, nature was accounting for my lack of foresight and providing the optimal planting experience.

Until yesterday, my last first date took place eleven years ago with the man I eventually married. After my divorce, I had one relationship that grew out of a friendship and has since returned to one. My new adventures in Christian dating sites yielded their first face-to-face meeting: coffee at Panera Bread at 7 pm. Ninety-minutes of lukewarm conversation did not yield promising results; 9 pm found me googling the acceptable method of communicating a lack of interest after a first date. Apparently, in 2015, a text message is appropriate for an acquaintance of less than two weeks. So I typed, “Thanks for meeting me tonight. I didn’t feel the necessary chemistry to move forward, but I think you’re a great guy and I wish you the best of luck in your search!” He replied in kind, wishing me luck, and reminding me to keep my head up. First “first date” down. How many more will there be before my future husband makes it a last one?

Some lessons are worth revisiting. Not every flower will thrive in my garden, but I’ll never know what will bloom best until I take a plunge and plant it. I’ve seen a handful of plant varieties fail, but I keep trying. My most recent attempt is the side garden in which I planted five types of seeds. So far, only one has made an appearance. But I will keep my head up, because when it comes to the emotional garden I’m planting, one is all it takes.

The highlights of sleepovers at Grammy’s were those morning glories. Every other flower in her back yard kept its color. These vines might have been overlooked upon a Friday night arrival if I didn’t know what they promised when I awoke the next day. As a sprout of a young girl, my grandmother was teaching me the essence of faith. The blossoms always opened. You could practically set your watch by them.

Now, with my biological clock ticking, I’ll choose faith over fear and let my garden and my writing keep teaching me how to thrive as a single woman in my thirties. Grammy knew that her countless hours laboring in her garden would yield extraordinary life and growth. If the only seed I planted last weekend that takes root is that evening glory, then consider me blessed. I’ll carry on her legacy and toil the same way in my gardens. One of these days, a first date will be my last, and the evening glories won’t be my only companion on this white wicker perch.

A Garden Make-Over: Seeds of Hope

My wind chimes are silent, but there’s a chorus in calls of the birds accompanied by the syncopated rain drops dipping from the trees and the roof. When my father visited recently, he identified the call of a male cardinal. As I type to the irregular beat, seven unique squawks and whistles sing with me and keep me company in the calming dusk of a rainy weekday night. Over the steps of my porch, a tiny solar lantern casts a dim light on the newest additions to my garden – scalloped, red bricks totaling 65 edging its sides.

My friend Kyle responded to my need for guidance in last week’s post, assuming the role in my gardening that Mrs. Shelton held in my writing. After assessing my little lot and measuring and planning, he helped me devise a strategy to redeem my garden. Our mission was to raise the garden, put in bricks to edge, weed out the clovers and vines, remove the plants, lay down garden soil, replant and enrich with plant food, top off with brown mulch, and build a side garden where the sun would reach. The undertaking would be expensive, time-consuming, and physically demanding.

One day I came home to a host of seeds in my mailbox with a note of encouragement from Kyle about the venture we would endeavor upon come Saturday. And I needed it. Given my track record with gardening thus far, one simple thought threatened, echoing in my mind: would it be worth the effort, or would I invest money, time, and labor to come to the same inevitable end of summer with a wealth of dead plants? I propped Kyle’s seeds up against the empty vase on my dining room table; he had answered my doubts by planting seeds of hope with his words before we ever picked up a shovel.

On our drive to purchase the materials, sensing my apprehension, Kyle reminded me that this was not supposed to be stressful. I relaxed into our adventure. Seven hours of toil, a few hundred dollars, and three trips to Home Depot saw our mission fulfilled, and as we wiped beads of sweat matted with dirt from our foreheads, the feeling of accomplishment could not be matched. We’d salvaged the flowers we could and planted new ones that I had not tried yet. Standing on the sidewalk taking in the beauty of the fruits of our labor, it occurred to me that it didn’t matter whether or not my garden would thrive after this moment passed. It was sufficient that I had done everything I could up until this moment to foster growth.IMG_2914

My mother recently sponsored an investment in a different kind of growth: she bought me a subscription to an online Christian dating website. Up until then, I never imagined I would be seeking out my potential husband virtually. I’ve been offered 93% of the jobs I’ve applied to after a face-to-face interview and 0% of the jobs I’ve applied to only online. I lament my early twenties when nearly every outing brought me a dating proposal… at school, the gym, even the grocery store. The reality of my thirties denies me those opportunities. Dating co-workers at school is a recipe for disaster, I already met one ex-husband at the gym, and every good-looking man my age at the grocery story is buying baby food and Pampers.

Dismissing the nagging thought that if I can only land a job in person, what would possess me to try and land a husband online, I registered and built my profile. Then came the matches. If the other users are honest, then there really are single, quality, attractive men my age in my general vicinity. Though I receive multiple communications each day, I find myself far pickier than I was ten years ago. Not sure if he wants kids? Delete. Under 5’10”? Delete. Spelling errors? Delete. Lives with his parents? Delete.

I’ve only been at this online dating thing a couple of weeks, but given my track record with dating thus far, one simple thought threatens, echoing in my mind: will it be worth the effort, or would I invest (Mom’s) money, time, and labor to come to the same inevitable end of summer without a potential forever? Kyle’s seeds are in the ground, so once again my empty dining room vase greets me each day, absent cut flowers from my most recent heartbreak. I invested so much of who I was in past relationships only to wind up alone on the front porch of a three-bedroom house whose rooms are absent the life and laughter of the family I long to have.

Wading through online profiles is a great undertaking, and while Kyle listens sympathetically to my humorous attempts at navigating this dating pool, this venture is one I must tackle on my own. I recall his words on Saturday when we were just starting on our endeavor, and I don’t believe this pursuit is meant to be stressful either. My apprehension is well-founded, but it is not beneficial. Like our garden make-over, it’s all about hope. Hope that something beautiful will take root and blossom.

After assessing my life and measuring and planning, I’ve devised a strategy of my own to redeem my romantic future. Just as we raised the garden, putting in bricks to edge it, I’ve built a foundation by setting high expectations in stone. Just as we weeded out the clovers and vines, I’m intentionally ripping out every parasitic entanglement that might hinder my growth in time to come. Just as we laid down garden soil laced with plant food, I’m filling my life with the nutrients needed to foster my growth in time to come: hobbies, friends, family. Just as we added mulch atop the soil, I’m preventing the weeds from resurfacing in my life and protecting myself from exposure by diligently self-correcting. Just as we built a new side garden and planted new seeds, I’m preparing the way for potential options I haven’t tried yet.

I recognize that my mission to unearth a future husband might be expensive, time-consuming, and mentally demanding. But standing on that sidewalk with Kyle admiring the final product and relishing in a sense of accomplishment at our garden make-over now complete, I was unconcerned with the long-term outcomes. It was sufficient that I had done all I could until that moment to foster growth. Why should this adventure be any different?

The garden bed of my love-life is ready for planting. Past tears have seen it watered. Perhaps if I had gardened before my first marriage, I would have had a different set of expectations. My shaded front yard has taught me that not every flower will thrive here, that you have to pay attention to the tags, that you have to be willing to get dirty to make progress, that you often don’t know what will bloom until you take a plunge and plant it, that you have to hope beyond hope for new life, and that you have to keep trying.

And so I’m going to relax and keep pressing “Delete” until I come across a seed of hope that seems worthy of planting. And if that seed doesn’t take root and blossom, I’ll try again. The birds are silent now, and all I hear is the pitter-patter of raindrops around my house. The flowers in my garden, lit by tiny solar lanterns, are grateful for a rainy day, and I am grateful in turn for silver linings.