Oh, to be more like…the Hellebores


  • glamorous – in a dark, edgy sort of way
  • a little moody – the flowers incline their heads like thugs lighting up in a dark alley…you have to get up close to appreciate them and then KAPOW! They’re a knockout!
  • a little dangerous to know – many are poisonous…the name says it all: HELL-ebores
  • iconoclastic – they bloom in February, even through blankets of snow
  • entirely self-sufficient – they thrive and even seed themselves in poor soil
  • tenacious – they come back bigger and badder than ever every single year, with blooms that last for months
  • invincible – deer? Please! Those suckers take one look and keep on moving.

Wishing you a wonderful, wonderful weekend!

Junks I Collect No. 5: Bonsai Trees

My husband and I got married at the Meridian House, in Washington, D.C. This Neoclassical house was designed in 1920 by John Russell Pope, the architect also known for designing the Jefferson Memorial, the West Wing of the National Gallery, and the National Archives. It was built as a personal residence for Ambassador Irwin Boyle Laughlin and remained in his family until 1961 when it was sold to the American Council on Education and then to the Meridian House Foundation, which became Meridian International Center in 1992. It is now used to house the Center’s office as well as for event rentals.

I love the fact that my British husband and I got married at the home base of an “organization dedicated to promoting international understanding.” I love the Latin inscription over the front entrance to the house:  “Quo habitat felicitas nil intret mali” (Where happiness dwells, evil will not enter).

But what I loved most about the property was the rear garden with its pebbled courtyard and allée of pleached linden trees that form a sort of natural outdoor cathedral.

In keeping with the tree theme, our wedding cake featured a tree on top of it (and underneath the tree – my dog, whom I’ve written about here).

We used little potted bonsai trees as combination seat markers and favors.

The day before the wedding I picked up dozens of  little Serissa trees from Merrifield Garden Center in Falls Church, Virginia. This is my favorite gardening center, and really – my favorite store period. I sat on the floor of my parents’ back porch for hours repotting the little bonsai starters into tiny little terra cotta pots tied with ribbon. My sister poked her head in, took one look at me and my dirt-smeared face and dirt-encrusted fingernails, and stated the perfectly obvious: “You’re insane.”

Since our wedding, I’ve had a sentimental fondness for Serissa trees and have tried and failed to grow them ever since. Wikipedia says they are “fussy”: “It responds adversely…if over-watered, under-watered, if it’s too cold, too hot, or even just moved to a different location.” Oh, how I can relate to this plant! I have come to terms with the fact that I’m incapable of keeping my Serissa trees alive, so whenever I get the chance, I replenish my stock at Merrifield Garden Center, the only place I’ve ever found them as starter bonsai plants. I know they’ll die, as all my others have, but I think of them as cheaper and slightly longer-lasting than cut flowers, which I never buy. (The words “false economy” are ringing in my ears as I type).

These Serissas were about $10 each. You can usually find even smaller ones for about $3. I pot them up in bonsai pots (also from Merrifield Garden Center) and cover the soil with moss. The garden center also sells tiny little sculptures that you can add to your plants. I usually just add a little seashell or something of that sort.

I placed an ammonite fossil at the base of this one:

Believe me, I’m not blind to the sad irony that this symbol of our love is constantly dying due to my mismanagement. But I console myself with the thought that persistence (even in the face of repeated failures) counts for something. In fact, the ability to acknowledge and accept our failings, as well as a healthy dose of (often black) humor, has helped us to hold it together for almost sixteen years now. Just this morning my husband started referring to himself as “my better half.” He caught himself and said, “Actually, I’m more like your ‘tolerable eighth,’ maybe even sometimes your ‘intolerable sixteenth’.” Finally, he hastened to very generously reassure me that I was his “magnificent 7/8ths”!

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Dale Chihuly (b. 1941) is an American artist whose medium is glass. I first encountered his work in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where I saw this spectacular 30 foot high chandelier hanging from the ceiling in the main entrance:

After studying interior design at the University of Washington and art at the University of Wisconsin and the Rhode Island School of Design, Chihuly received a Fulbright Fellowship to study glass blowing in Venice. Upon his return to the States, he helped found the Pilchuk Glass School in Washington State.

After a car accident caused him to become blind in one eye and a bodysurfing injury left him unable to hold a glass blowing pipe, he began working collaboratively with a team of artists who help him create the elaborate installations for which he is known.

We went to see the Chihuly exhibit,  which is in its final week at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia.

“Fiori and Float Boats” features two wooden rowboats filled with glass, beautifully displayed on a reflective black surface.

The stunning Persian Ceiling is lit from above. The glass elements rest on a flat glass pane:

And another view:

In this series, Chihuly’s mission was to use as many colors as possible:

And finally:  “Laguna Torcello,” Chihuly’s “homage to Venice.” This is one in a series of “Mille Fiori” (thousand flowers) glass garden installations, and the largest platform installation he’s ever assembled:

Check out the Chihuly app for the iPhone, which allows you to have the experience of “blowing glass”:

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The Golden Rule

Last week was not our finest hour. All five members of my household were guilty of breaking the one cardinal rule that allows us to function in relative peace and harmony. This one simple rule above all rules is that only one person at a time is allowed to be sick, have a meltdown, or be a general pain in the @$$. Last week, not just ONE, but ALL of us were sick, had meltdowns, and were general pains in the @$$es. That, my friends, is how you spell dis@$ter, cat@$trophe, fi@$co…You get the picture.

How did this happen? I blame myself. The flu had taken me down hard, and I was too sick to enforce The Rule. Under normal circumstances,  my children are so well-trained that if one child is crying and a second child starts up, (for example), I have merely to raise an eyebrow and one admonishing finger. This signals to the the second child that s/he must immediately cease and desist until the first child has stopped with the waterworks. The children almost always fall in line with alacrity. (My husband, on the other hand, is not always so docile, but we’re working on it).

Perhaps you’re thinking this is insensitive? unreasonable?

PRECISELY! I heartily concur! 

It IS insensitive and unreasonable to muscle in on someone else’s moment of misery! Am I right?!

When people don’t wait their turn to have their “moment,” it leads to scenes such as the following one, which convinced me of the necessity of instituting our version of The Golden Rule in the first place:

Years ago, I was pregnant with my third child and feeling utterly exhausted and queasy. My sons were four and three years old at the time. They would have received far better care and nurturing had I had the foresight to turn them over to be raised by a pack of wolves for the forty weeks it took to gestate baby #3. It was hard for me to do anything during that time but lie as still as possible on the couch.

One afternoon my four year old was perched upon the porcelain throne in the bathroom at the top of the stairs. He had reached the stage where he could take care of all his own toileting needs, except for when it came to the aftermath of a #2.

“MOMMY!” he hollered down to me, “WIPE ME!”

“Unnnnhh, ” I groaned as I hoisted myself into a seated position. I slowly started to make my way to the stairs. I knew immediately this was a huge mistake. I could feel myself heaving and I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.

My poor, neglected three year old wandered by just then, looking like a forlorn little Linus holding his blankie. My son’s blankie was his beloved “clof,” one of many diaper cloths we had used as burp cloths for both the boys when they had been babies. Now we kept a pile just for him. He always had one clutched in his little hand, and held up to his face.  All that was visible were his big giraffe-lashed eyes following me as I made my way to the stairs.

IMG_0016I looked around for something to throw up into, but there was nothing. My eyes lit upon the cloth in my son’s hand, and I reached for it.

“Give me your cloth, quick!” I gasped.

Sensing imminent danger, his eyes widened.  “No, Mommy,” he said with alarm and he instinctively pulled himself and his cloth safely out of my reach.

“Give it to me, I’ll give you another one!” I snarled, willing the volcano to not erupt.

He pulled it away from me again as I lunged. For a few seconds I engaged in a desperate tug-of-war with my toddler over his cloth. Fortunately, it’s not too hard to overpower a completely traumatized three year old…to trample, nay vomit on all he holds sacred and dear. I managed to snatch it from him just in time.

As I retched over and over into his cloth, he became completely unhinged and started shrieking, “NO!!! Don’t spit on my ‘clof,’ Mommy!!!”

Punctuating all of this was my four year old’s voice in the background calling out incessantly, “MOMMY! WIPE ME!!”

It was as that moment that our Golden Rule was born.


This Is What True Love Is, or: Don’t Say I Never Did Anything For You, Kids

True love is setting your microwave timer for 2:30 pm, which is about half an hour before your kids are due to step off the bus. True love is having nightmares in your feverish delirium until then that you’ve missed the bus after you told your husband you would manage to do this one thing so that he could get a little extra work done after solo-parenting for two days. True love is scraping yourself off the couch when the timer goes off even though your head is about to explode and flames are licking at your innards. True love is crawling upstairs to the bathroom, washing your face, brushing your teeth, and even putting on a lick of makeup so as not to humiliate your children/scare the other neighbors and their children, who will also be stepping off the bus, with your ghoulish appearance.

Welcome home, kids. That’s about all the love I can muster for today. I’m going back to bed now.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

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