I just wanted to send you this picture of the primula you brought me when you came to visit us years ago. It’s blooming again in the garden of our third house in Charlottesville, after making the trans-Atlantic voyage wrapped in a tissue in your handbag decades ago, after being transplanted from your garden in Scotland to your garden in Altrincham many, many more years before that. Every year when those faithful little flowers bloom so steadfastly and so generously, it makes me happy to think of you, and all the friends with whom I’ve shared it over the years. I’m sure those little divisions are blooming in gardens all across America right now. I imagine it’s still blooming in the first beautiful garden you planted in Dollar. I picture Colin as a baby in that great big pram, parked like a little prince amidst those flowers. I think of the small miracle that the American daughter of Korean immigrants could fall in love with and marry a boy from a third continent. In these days of “social distancing” and closing borders, the flowers remind me that enduring friendship and love are constants in our lives, even when things seem so unstable, and the world so dark…even when we are so far apart. I think of you both often with love and deepest affection.
We had to clear out of our parking spots at UVA for graduation by 12, so I got to spend the afternoon playing in my garden. In the pouring rain.
This young man had his very last full day of high school.
His younger siblings celebrated the end of the week with a game of basketball.
In the pouring rain.
Hanging out with my beloved book group was a fitting end to a near perfect day.
We took the kids to the Alamo Cinema Drafthouse to see a movie.
“Anything but the Avengers!” my husband insisted. “I don’t ever want to see another superhero movie again.”
In the immortal words of the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want…”
We did end up seeing a superhero movie after all.
RBG – the documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg gives you hope for the world by showing that there is at least one actual superhero living among us here on earth.
That darn tree is still leaning precariously. Hoping to get it and the tree it’s using as a crutch taken down and away by the end of the week. I’m sad about the trees, but hopefully more sun will bring more flowers.
The primula my mother-in-law brought from Scotland to England to America is blooming again. This humble little flower made its way to me from across the ocean wrapped in a napkin stashed in my mother-in-law’s handbag. It’s held a spot of honor in every garden of each of the three houses we’ve lived in here in Charlottesville. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve divided this sentimental favorite to share with friends…
In the evening I picked up my daughter and three of her friends after their second ever quartet practice. I laughed during the entire car ride home as the young musicians discussed their plans to get rich busking on the Downtown Mall.
“Whose case should we use to collect money?”
“Definitely mine,” said the cellist, “It’s the biggest.”
“Yeah, mine is way too small,” agreed the flautist, “It would fill up with money way too fast and we’d have to keep emptying it all the time, which would be a pain.”
Dream big, girls. Dream big!
Later that evening we had family movie night.
We’ve been watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy over the course of several weeks. Though Tolkien wrote his great epic in the 30s and 40s about hobbits, elves, dwarves and wizards, it’s uncanny how many parallels can be drawn between the trilogy’s war between the forces of good and evil and current events. Trump, Daesh, the refugee crisis, the environmental crisis…they’re all in there. I found this gorgeous edition for my daughter who has only read The Hobbit, and still has the pleasure of reading the trilogy ahead of her. The rest of us are lined up to re-read them when she’s done!
MarieBette Café & Bakery and their brioches feuilletées are one of the many reasons I love living in Charlottesville:
There are only about two and a half days in any given year when I want to be outside, and Saturday was one of them!
My husband took the kids to play frisbee golf:
…while I had fun getting my hands dirty in the garden! I transplanted a few things, planted some seeds…
and finally finished the oyster shell path I began last year! It only took three more 50 lb bags of crushed oyster shells and the last dregs of my will to carry on. If you see me hobbling around clutching my back like an old woman, you’ll know why.
Winter Jewels Hellebores are one of the very first plants I put in my new garden. These flowers are so great! They bloom crazy early and then continue on for months, untouched by deer, insects, late snows and other gardening catastrophes. They self seed and are easy to divide too.
In the evening we all met up again for dinner at Smoked, a bustling barbecue restaurant in the newly opened Piedmont Place in Crozet. There was a rather long wait for a table, so we spent a lovely hour at Over the Moon Bookstore.
I’ve been trapped in a loveless marriage with Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall for what seems like an eternity, but has really probably been less than a year. I thought I’d step out on Wolf Hall to have a meaningless fling with Carl Hiaasen’s Razor Girl, but I’m not enjoying that book nearly as much as I thought I would. So now I’m condemned to slog through TWO books before starting some of the books I bought at Over the Moon. I was discussing this with the bookseller and she told me she didn’t understand this at all:
“Life is too short. I give a book ten pages at the most, and if I’m not hooked, I just stop reading it.”
Do you feel obliged to finish a book once you’ve started? Even if you hate it?
Spotted on my way to book group brunch…
Did I mention how much I love living in Charlottesville?
This month my book group read my sister’s novel Tiger Pelt! I artfully posed some copies on the table only to realize with bitter disappointment once I got home – you can’t see the books!!!
You may not be able to spot the books in the photo, but you can find your own copy of Annabelle Kim’s Tiger Pelt online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound. It’s a great pick for book clubs! No loveless marriages here…I promise it will move and inspire you. Readers of this blog may recognize some of the events in Tiger Pelt, because the boy’s story is inspired by my father’s life story. If you read it, I would love to hear what you think.
After I got back home, I began to redecorate for spring:
My daughter and I gave her guinea pigs’ pad a new look for spring too:
I feel that it’s still missing a certain je ne sais quoi…A seagrass wallpaper to pull in a little more texture? Some ambient lighting perhaps? Some cushions for a pop of color? A chaise longue in the corner? Nothing but the finest for these round-the-clock industrial poop factories:
This was the weekend I became my mother.
I made the classic rookie mistake. I didn’t check for toilet paper before choosing a bathroom stall and doing my business. Where there should have been two industrial-sized rolls of toilet paper – there was jack squat. I sat there for a few long moments contemplating the unsavory options before me. I was saved when I suddenly remembered the extra, unused napkins I had stashed in my capacious bag when I took the kids out for lunch last weekend. They had snickered when they saw me doing it, just as I used to snicker whenever my mom would put extra napkins, ketchup packets, etc. into her bag.
“Just like Grandma,” they said shaking their heads.
Later that day I was driving my daughter home from a playdate when I spotted some adorable daisies – weeds, really – growing along the side of the road. Daisies always remind me of my mother. They are one of her favorite flowers. She carried them in her wedding bouquet and they had a special place in her flower garden.
I stopped the car and yanked a bunch out to plant in my own garden:
My daughter was shrieking with laughter when I got back into the minivan clutching my daisies with clods of dirt falling from their roots: “You’re becoming just like Grandma!”
The first time my mother visited us when we moved to Charlottesville, we took her for a tour of the campus, (“Grounds”). We stopped to admire a hedge of wild roses that had been planted by the building where my husband’s office was located. My mother methodically picked rose hips off the bushes.
I looked uneasily about to see if anyone was witnessing the plundering of the rosebushes.
“Here!” she said, handing them to me, “Try planting these in your garden. If any come up, give me some!”
Later we walked along the Downtown Mall. At each of the large black planters placed at intervals along the pedestrian walkway she would stop to admire the lush flowers. Whenever she spotted flowers that had gone to seed, she would casually pull them off.
I shrank with embarrassment, but she handed them to me saying, “These will look beautiful in your garden!”
It’s been raining for weeks now. Every morning as I drive to work I think about all the things I’m going to do in my garden the minute I get home. Some days I don’t even bother changing out of my work clothes. I just throw on a pair of garden gloves and rush outside to the garden. I’ve found myself outside in the rain almost every day, sometimes in the pitch black, sometimes dodging lightning bolts…I remember watching my mother do this when I was a child.
“MOM! You’re getting soaked! Come in!” I’d say.
“It’s the best time to plant,” she’d reply, waving me away with her gloved hand.
All the kids’ soccer games were rained out, so we spent the day running errands. We had left a bunch of paint cans for the people who are buying our house, thinking they might like to have them for future touch ups. After the home inspection they asked us to remove them, so I dropped by our old house with my daughter and her friend to gather them up. My heart sank when I heard a crash.
“Uh-oh!” I heard my daughter say, “Mommy?”
I ran upstairs to discover that she had dropped one of the paint cans on the kitchen floor. The paint was oozing all over the tile. After a major freak out, I remembered there was a roll of paper towels in the garage. My elation turned to despair when I realized there were only two sheets left on the roll.
“Now what am I going to do?!” I groaned out loud.
My daughter piped up, “Don’t worry, Mom! You have a million napkins in your bag!” And so I did!
My son’s piano recital.
He was the final performer, so I had a couple hours of high anxiety until it was his turn at last. I’ve listened to him play his two pieces over and over for months. He had never gotten to the point where he was able to play through the pieces flawlessly every single time. I’m glad to report that he played them beautifully.
We went to Crozet Pizza, a Charlottesville landmark, to celebrate:
When we got home at last, my sweet daughter put her arm around me and said, “You should go have a nap now, Mommy, so you can be rested up for your fun night with your friends in Staunton.” (More on that later).
“Now who’s being just like Grandma?” I thought as I gave her a big hug.
I’m just going to pretend I didn’t hear it was going to snow on Saturday and will enjoy the glory of my Japanese Maples:
Related post: Junks I Collect: Japanese Maples
The tulip magnolias are taking center stage around Charlottesville these days…They are almost cartoonish in their preposterous ebullience. In the blink of an eye they will be gone and it will be a whole year before we once again witness their improbable splendor.
At our new house, we are closely watching the flowers, trees, and shrubs come to life. There have been happy discoveries like this quince:
I can’t wait to see it in full bloom. And this redbud will be a sight to behold in a week or two:
There have been bitter disappointments…
I don’t love yellow flowers and I really hate forsythia. I wasn’t sure what this thicket of shrubs was going to turn out to be until those tell-tale egg-yolk yellow blooms started coming out. At work today I somehow convinced myself that there were only three or four manageable shrubs that I could easily chop down and uproot. In my foolish optimism, I actually debated whether to use a pair of scissors (HA!) or a small pair of clippers to get rid of them. Obviously, it’s going to take a lot more than either of those to tackle this mess. I’m pretty sure there’s no way this is going to end well.
On a more positive note, I planted some of my favorite flowers this evening. A peony, Brunnera macrophylla, some Virginia bluebells, a Philadelphus, and minuscule, practically microscopic lilacs:
Whenever I plant lifeless sticks, corms, roots, and seeds in the mud, I remember that gardening is an act of faith and hope for the future. It’s participating in a miraculous rite of resurrection.
Yesterday, my daughter and I planted the packet of seeds we got at my friend’s Celebration of Life. I’m not sure what the flowers are, but I know that when they bloom they will remind us that life goes on and that we can plant beauty with our hands and our hearts.
I began this latest move like every other one I’ve ever made – that is, with the very best of intentions. Inspired by the snippets I’d read of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, I zealously tackled the unfathomably large quantities of stuff I’ve acquired over the years. I returned things to their rightful owners. I found new homes for towering mountains of clothing, toys, and books. I filled dumpsters with load after load of trash. I carefully sorted and packed things away in boxes, neatly labelled with their contents. In the end, of course, as always happens despite my good intentions, I ran out of boxes and time and desperately began dumping drawers into plastic garbage bags and clearing surfaces by indiscriminately sweeping everything into buckets, shopping bags, laundry baskets, and garbage cans. Even after officially moving, we had to make a few trips back to the house to pick up things we had left behind in the rush. I am sadly resigned to the fact that it will probably take the next ten years to sort through all of those hastily filled buckets, bags, baskets, and cans…
Last week I went back to our old house, which is still on the market. There was one last thing I needed to get and it had been preying on my mind. Seventeen years ago, my mother-in-law came from England to visit us in our first house in Charlottesville. With the brio that only elderly women possess, she brought me plants from her own garden that she had dug up that morning and wrapped in tissue right before heading to the airport. They traveled in her purse across the Atlantic. She presented them to me with a flourish upon her arrival.
The primulas she brought me had been planted in the beautiful garden of my husband’s first home in Scotland.
When they moved to Manchester, they brought some to transplant to their garden there.
I planted my mother-in-law’s gift in the very first garden of our very first house.
When we moved to our next house, I divided it and brought it to our garden there.
There were many plants that I loved and nurtured for ten years in that garden…
but there was only one plant that I absolutely had to bring to our new house:
Once I’d dug up the primula, I decided to do a quick check of the kitchen drawer where we had stored batteries. I couldn’t remember packing them, and we desperately needed some at the new house. I opened the drawer, and there they were. A nagging thought occurred to me and I opened the drawer just below that one. There I discovered another gift from my mother-in-law – the family heirloom silver. Heavy silver forks engraved with the initials of my husband’s godmother, bone-handled knives, ladles with royal crests…
“Oops!” I thought to myself sheepishly as I pulled them all out of the drawer. I’m glad to have these, of course…but the real treasure is still my primula.
I love gardens, but I don’t actually love gardening. My mother once saw me recoil in horror at the sight of a grub and said scornfully, “Hmph. What kind of a gardener are you?!” A theoretical kind of gardener is what I am. I don’t believe in watering or coddling my plants…that would require too much time in the steamy, scary outdoors. Twice I’ve had to go on a course of antibiotics for Lyme Disease after getting bitten by a tick during a weeding session. When I put in a plant, I give them a little pep talk, “You’ve got to be tough to make it around here. Let’s see what you can do.” And then they’re on their own.
When I first moved to the house we’re in now, I planted a New Dawn rose and a Clematis Jackmanii at the base of our deck. I sat back and waited and waited and waited some more. The New Dawn rose bush grew spectacularly – the lush green foliage was studded with the most evil thorns you could possibly imagine, but not a single rose grew for many years. I regretted ever planting it and the thought of having to battle the thorns to take it down filled me with dread. Peering into my yard as she ministered to her impeccably manicured all-white Vita Sackville-West inspired garden, my neighbor (who happens to be a Master Gardener) would tut.
“Those roses are never going to bloom unless you fertilize them,” she would call over to me.
Fertilize? When I don’t even water my plants? I don’t think so!
It doesn’t always work out so well, but this time, sloth wins the day:
I put well over 100 miles on my chariot of fire in one day, ferrying the three kids to their soccer games all over town. I usually share the driving with my husband, but this weekend he was tied up with a conference he was running. With just one driver, the margins were razor thin. As soon as one game was done, I would have just enough time to get home to pick up the next kid. It was cold and rainy all day, so instead of standing around on the sidelines like I usually do, I ran errands. Some of the errands were important ones – like buying groceries and a new dishwasher. Others were less important, but so very satisfying.
Around this time last year, I discovered the joys of a store called Tractor Supply. I was lured into the store for the first time by a huge sign in the parking lot that was announcing “Chick Days.” My far more urbane siblings are rolling their eyes for sure as they read this. My husband is breaking out into a cold sweat as my agrarian fantasies once again rear their sweet, sweet, fuzzy little heads:
I didn’t bring home any chicks or ducklings. This time.
As soon as the last child’s soccer game was over, we raced back to the house so that he could get showered for his piano recital. We made it to the church just in time:
As we were waiting for the recital to begin, my daughter and I were admiring a spectacular floral arrangement that was on the altar. I was dying to go up and feel the flowers to see if they were real, but that would have been really uncouth and embarrassing. So I made my daughter do it. She took a photo too:
I got to spend a few blissful hours getting my hands dirty in the garden: