Spring Flowers

We are currently in the midst of the few livable days of the year in Virginia. It’s glorious: not too hot, not too cold, and nary a mosquito in sight.

The garden has been waking up and the best part of every day this week (other than hammock time with Chloe and Gingersnap), has been the time I’ve spent outside yanking weeds out of my garden.

This morning my daughter was looking out the window at a whisky barrel planter on my deck, which holds a Golden Celebration rose. It’s a David Austin rose with extravagant, deep yellow blooms and an intoxicating scent of “wonderfully combined notes of Sauternes wine and strawberry.” At the moment, however, it just looks like bare, wiry stems.

“Oh, look Mama! There are beautiful flowers blooming in your planter,” my daughter exclaimed.

“Really?” I asked, trying to remember if I’d underplanted the rose with something else that I had forgotten about.

“Yes! They’re white, and lacy, and really pretty!”

I went over to the window to investigate…

Yep. Those are the same weeds I’ve been ruthlessly pulling out of my garden every morning. A good reminder that notions about what is beautiful and worthy are arbitrary constructs.

Weekend Snapshots 58: Easter Fools Editions


We celebrated the start of the kids’ spring break at Maru, the new Korean restaurant on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall.


There are some interesting twists on the menu, like kimchi arancini.img_3497

And there are straight classics, like dolsot bibimbap.

The kids loved their bossam, (lettuce wraps).


Virginia Bluebells always remind me of this scene in Sleeping Beauty, when the fairy godmothers try to outspell each other to make her dress blue, no pink, no blue!

When my mother-in-law’s primulas start blooming, I know it really is spring at last. 

I took the kids to see Fun Home at LiveArts. The themes and language were far more adult than I was expecting, but the musical was deeply moving and beautifully performed.



I awoke in the early hours of the morning to the sound of tape being ripped with ferocious intensity. The night before the younger two made their declaration of war. Their older brother asked to be left out of the battle. It took me a moment to figure out that the Great April Fools Easter War of 2018 had officially begun.

The noise I had heard was the sound of the 15 year old taping saran wrap to his sister’s bedroom door. She had frozen his toothbrush in a mug of water the night before. He retaliated by using his Water Pik against her like a makeshift water gun. She in turn attacked him with chalk fingerprints all over his choir robe.

Finally, after singing for two Easter services in a row, we were all feeling rather exhausted.

“Please, let’s stop this. I can’t take anymore,” the 15 year old said as we trudged back to the car.

The 12 year old was exultant: “Does that mean I won?!”

“Yes! You won. I’ll take my punishment. But, please let me do it tomorrow. I just can’t face it today.” (More on that later).

And so an Easter Armistice was declared.

The kids celebrated the end of war with the Easter egg hunt that awaited them back at home…

The biggest hit was the new basketball the Easter bunny left for them…

That evening we sat down to a traditional Easter dinner…if Easter just so happened to coincide with April Fool’s Day…The parents had one last trick up their sleeve:

Oh…and that punishment I mentioned earlier?



Spring Sprang Sprung

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.

IMG_8361IMG_8363IMG_8366At 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.



April Garden

Here’s what’s blooming in my garden right now…

“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

The year’s at the spring
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hillside’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven –
All’s right with the world!

-Robert Browning

Well-apparell’d April on the heel
Of limping winter treads…

-William Shakespeare

And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley

“I hear a thousand nightingales. Spring hath sent them to awaken Earth from her morning slumber, and Earth trembles with ecstasy, her flowers are hymns, which she sings in inspiration to the sun… “– Heinrich Heine

My Spring Garden

Once upon a time, it was NOT rainy and gray…I’m glad I got these photos before the deluge began.

Last but not least, the birthday dogwood!

We’ve planted birthday trees for our two oldest children, and every year we try to take some photos with the kids next to their trees on or around their birthdays:

Confession: This is actually my son’s second birthday tree. The first birthday tree we planted didn’t survive when we moved to the house we’re in now, and tried to transplant it in our new yard. We somehow managed to kill my second son’s first birthday tree as well. In an attempt to avoid being serial tree murderers, we have not planted a tree for our youngest…


Today the sun shone for the first time in days. Most of the snow has now melted and my beloved crocuses are pirouetting all over my yard. Oh joy! Thanks to Daylight Savings, there was just enough light when I got home from work today to take some photos.

The first thing I planted in the yard of our very first house was a variety of purple crocuses. For seven springs I loved watching them come up through the grass. I think I’m so fond of them, because of the way they intrepidly shoot up right through the snow to announce that spring is just around the corner. When we moved to our current house, I couldn’t bear to have a spring without them and so I planted them by the handful again, all over our new front yard. I know I’ll do the same when we move to our next house.

It takes a certain amount of faith to shove crocus corms into the earth in the autumn. There’s something quite miraculous about the fact that within these hard, brown kernels are hiding gorgeous silky flowers that bide their time all winter long, just waiting for spring to come sashaying up out of the mud.

In her poem The Crocus (1858), Harriet Beecher Stowe compares the miracle of the crocus with the miracle of the Resurrection:

Beneath the sunny autumn sky,
With gold leaves dropping 
We sought, my little friend and I,
The consecrated ground,

Where, calm beneath the holy cross,
O’ershadowed by sweet skies,
Sleeps tranquilly that youthful form,
Those blue unclouded eyes.

Around the soft, green swelling mound
We scooped the earth away,
And buried deep the crocus-bulbs
Against a coming day.
“These roots are dry, and brown, and sere;
Why plant them here?” he said,
“To leave them, all the winter long,
So desolate and dead.”

“Dear child, within each sere dead form
There sleeps a living flower,
And angel-like it shall arise
In spring’s returning hour.”
Ah, deeper down cold, dark, and chill
We buried our heart’s flower,
But angel-like shall he arise
In spring’s immortal hour.

In blue and yellow from its grave
Springs up the crocus fair,
And God shall raise those bright blue eyes,
Those sunny waves of hair.
Not for a fading summer’s morn,
Not for a fleeting hour,
But for an endless age of bliss,
Shall rise our heart’s dear flower.

In The Year’s Awakening Thomas Hardy ponders the mystery of nature’s unerring ability to detect the shifting of seasons. The “vespering” bird and the crocus are the canny heralds of spring:

How do you know that the pilgrim track
Along the belting zodiac
Swept by the sun in his seeming rounds
Is traced by now to the Fishes’ bounds
And into the Ram, when weeks of cloud
Have wrapt the sky in a clammy shroud,
And never as yet a tinct of spring
Has shown in the Earth’s appareling;
O vespering bird, how do you know, 
How do you know?

How do you know, deep underground,
Hid in your bed from sight and sound,
Without a turn in temperature,
With weather life can scarce endure,
That light has won a fraction’s strength,
And day put on some moment’s length,
Whereof in merest rote will come,
Weeks hence, mild airs that do not numb;
O crocus root, how do you know,
How do you know?


Alfred Kreymborg describes the wonder of the changing of the seasons when “the first small crocus” banishes winter to the grave:


When trees have lost remembrance of the leaves
that spring bequeaths to summer, autumn weaves
and loosens mournfully – this dirge, to whom
does it belong – who treads the hidden loom?

When peaks are overwhelmed with snow and ice,
and clouds with crepe bedeck and shroud the skies – 
nor any sun or moon or star, it seems,
can wedge a path of light through such black dreams – 

All motion cold, and dead all traces thereof:
What sudden shock below, or spark above,
starts torrents raging down till rivers surge – 
that aid the first small crocus to emerge?

The earth will turn and spin and fairly soar,
that couldn’t move a tortoise-foot before – 
and planets permeate the atmosphere
till misery depart and mystery clear! –

And yet, so insignificant a hearse? –
who gave it the endurance so to brave
such elements – shove winter down a grave? –
and then lead on again the universe?


 Happy Weekend!

Signs of Spring

Friday morning the sun was shining and the snow was melting fast…We went from this:

To this, in just a couple of days:

On Sunday I spent a pleasant afternoon with the sun on my back as I strolled around the yard on my very first hunt for spring for the very first time this year…

It’s become a daily ritual that I look forward to around this time of the year…

…when the monochrome landscape suddenly transforms into a technicolor scene of riotous shape and gaudy color with new surprises springing up from the muddy earth every single day.

Every year it seems to me that I am witnessing an impossible miracle.

I was most excited about spotting this little friend, the greatest miracle of all:

I always consider the first sighting of the fish in our backyard pond as the true harbinger of spring. It always fills me with an unreasonable amount of joy!


When I wrote the epilogue to Pets, Revisited (see last post) a few years ago, our goldfish Hobbes was still kicking it in his own private pond in our backyard. We had dug the little pond ourselves, put in a preformed liner, and stocked it with ten scrawny little 27 cent feeder fish. These are the fish that are sold as food for superior aquarium fish or pet turtles. They spend their last days on death row in ghastly, overcrowded cells teeming with their fellow inmates, both living and dead. Sadly, their reprieve in our pond was short-lived. The fish died with alarming rapidity one after the other until only one survivor named Hobbes was left.

Hobbes flourished and thrived year after year, eventually developing into a magnificent, brilliant red specimen. When last we saw him, he was about seven inches long. For seven years, our first Hobbes sighting of the year was cause for rejoicing. It meant that spring had finally arrived. Our affection for him grew with each winter he weathered. He even managed to survive The Great Olive Oil Catastrophe of 2011, when a little neighbor friend accidentally spilled an entire bottle of the stuff into the pond. However absurd it may seem, we loved that fish inordinately.

A couple years ago, we were crushed when he did not make his customary reappearance in the spring. We figured he was eaten by a cat or a raccoon, or that maybe he died of old age. We never restocked the pond again and since it didn’t have any fish left in it, we neglected it. It was full of leaves and mud. A few stones that had covered the edges of the liner fell into the water and we never bothered to pull them back out.

This past Friday morning I heard my daughter shouting that there were two baby fish that looked just like Hobbes swimming in the pond! I still don’t know how this is possible. But then again, in the depths of winter it’s hard to believe that the spare white landscape will one day melt to reveal a muddy, gaudy, exuberant display of life in all of its glory. This little miracle is just what I needed to reset after this endless winter. Miracles do happen, every single spring.

Garden Party

I’m an indoorsy kind of person, except for in the spring months. Here in Virginia, the mosquitoes will soon be out for blood, it will be oppressively hot and humid, and I’ll retreat to my natural habitat: the Great Air-Conditioned Indoors. But springtime in Virginia is so rapturously beautiful, that I am irresistibly drawn outside. It’s a spectacular party that goes on for weeks, where I keep running into old friends that I haven’t seen in ages.

Even the uninvited guests are charming in their own way…

…sort of.

It’s been a difficult week…May we all find peace and solace in nature.
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
William Shakespeare, As You Like It
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