The tree that couldn’t die…and why I’m typing with tiny thorns embedded in my fingertips

I sit here on my patio trying to type with dozens of prickly pear thorns embedded in my fingertips…but I got the photos!

prickily 1 (2)Why? Why would I (in obvious plain stupidity) get down on the ground, risk slivers of thorns in my bare hands, and not even think to at least grab for some gardening gloves?

Clear to me now, tunnel vision had taken over…to get pictures of my perilous tree which had finally bloomed again after 12 years.

In the historic ’05 hurricane season, Wilma toppled this breathtaking prickly pear, sprawling it across three backyards. Cleanup was a bear. For days my daughter Jenna and I gingerly picked up and hauled branches covered with needle-like thorns that penetrated our flimsy gloves (all we had in those post-hurricane days). Greg was away every hour of daylight repairing damage at work, and Jenna and I finally just threw the last remnants of branches in a heap, where they stayed throughout that year.

Unbeknownst to us, those remnants took root and began to grow into a sort of unattractive spinney near the back fence of my tropical yard. For some odd reason (or pure self-preservation in not handling the wicked thorns), we never cut down the tiny replicas of the magnificent original.

Over a decade later and by now 10-feet high, the prickly pear took another devastating hit from Irma last fall.  With so many other things to deal with post-hurricane, we left it on it’s own to just sit there—and rot.

And then one day, these breathtaking flowers appeared amidst the dying tree.
Prickily 2 (2)

They seemed to be calling out to me about our incredible Creator, and I just had to capture it.

The symbolic flowers were telling a story by their mere existence, a true tale of life, storms, destruction, and a glimpse of the future…all for my prickly pear tree, and me.
Prckily 5 (2)
Between those hurricanes, my own physical stability and health took a fierce hit with longtime damage, too. Maybe that’s why those flowers are calling out to me in such a meaningful way this spring—reminding me of what God can do with our hurt, our injuries, what appears to be near ruin.

Our God, our Protector, our Healerthe One who gives life to me, to you, and to a crazy bunch of half-trees in my backyard that for some reason are still standing and may even amaze us with some fruit late this summer.

A conversation about the beauty of Kale…and whether or not I ever really lived in Haiti…

So there I was, standing in the grocery store express line with some chicken and produce. I mean, I figured that my husband shouldn’t have to fix EVERY. SINGLE. MEAL during my month-long run with the flu and bronchitis.

The cashier worked quickly through my groceries, but when she got to the kale, she stopped. “This is very good stuff,” she exclaimed, gazing upon its beauty.
As I fished in my wallet for my debit card, I agreed with her by nodding. Oddly, though, when I looked up, she was still holding onto the kale.

“This is very good stuff,” she repeated, “especially when you cook it with meat…”

I laughed and confessed to my new cashier-friend that I really had no idea how to cook kale, and I only bought it for green juicing.

But oblivious to my passion for juicing, she continued. “Have you ever tried Haitian food? I think you’d like my kale.”

Wait, now we’re talking about Haitian food? A bit puzzled, but going with the flow, I told her, “I’ve eaten a lot of Haitian food, just not with kale.” She looked up and starting listing a myriad of other ingredients she adds to her evidently delicious kale recipe.

I was aware of the long line behind me and wanted to kick myself for adding to the conversation. I tried to end things there by holding up my debit card and shifting over to the payment machine, but the end of our chit-chat was nowhere in sight. The teenage boy waiting to bag my groceries chimed in, “YOU’VE eaten Haitian food?” He challenged me, as if this was an impossibility.  “YOU, really?”

Not sure why this seemed so odd, I laughed as I inserted my debit card. “Yes, I lived in Haiti for a couple of years.”

Oh, my. Now the line was never going to move. The kale forgotten, he looked me straight in the eyes, “No you didn’t.”

And then here’s how it went:

“Yes, I did.”

“You did not.”

“Yes, we lived in Port-au-Prince.”

“You did not.”

“Well, yes.” Now I was trying to keep the conversation friendly. “We lived there when my husband was a pilot…”

“You did not.”

He almost had me believing I had never lived there. He almost had me convinced I had never eaten a Haitian dish. And all this happening while the line grew longer behind us and my few groceries piled up waiting to be bagged.

Amused and bewildered, I tried again to hurry up the process, but stunned bagger-boy was grinning from ear to ear as he stuck out his hand to shake mine.

Well, okay, I thought, no problem. I’ll shake your hand…

He laughed. I smiled.

I think it was a truce of sorts, but I’m pretty sure neither he nor the kale-loving cashier believed a single word I had said.


Not really sure what had just happened, I headed home to make some dinner…and some kale-enriched green juice.



Ten Things I Still Want to Learn

My daughter Jenna recently blogged at about ten things she still wants to learn. I felt like I was seeing an entirely new dimension in her as I read how she wants to learn more about art history, kickboxing, and how to stay motivated in cleaning her studio. Ok, well that last one actually wasn’t too surprising.


I mean, seriously, though. Even though I think I know Jenna pretty well, it was fascinating to see all these areas of potential growth, mixed in with her almost non-funny humor. Her question stuck with me: What are ten things you still want to learn?

And so I took the challenge. I’m 27 years older than Jenna, with some vastly different interests. Nonetheless, here are ten things I still want to learn, in the order they come to mind.

1. Navigating our U-verse system better. I want to be able to watch what I want to watch and find what I want to find. I’m sure it’s not rocket science.

2. Advanced management of a WordPress website. This would be helpful on the job and for my personal blog. I’m sure IT at work wouldn’t mind me learning this, either.

3. Keeping up our fish tanks, from the scientific angle. I’d like to be able to keep the fish alive when my husband has to travel.

4. Cooking a decent burger on the grill—and on a completely different note, making my own kombucha. Maybe this summer for both.

5. Becoming more knowledgeable in the actual science of essential oils. There’s that word “science” again…

6. Writing quicker, finishing a blog faster, and not looking back.

7. (Stealing this from Jenna, although I’m a beginner and she’s advanced): Understanding InDesign and PhotoShop better. I need this in several areas of my life, and PicMoney isn’t cutting it anymore.

8. Navigating and dictating directions to my husband while he’s driving. I mean, I can follow a GPS, sort of—but this weakness isn’t especially strengthening to our relationship.

9. Laying out an amazing garden rather than just planting hodge-podge around the yard. The latter seems to work for me, but still.

10. Sewing. There, I said it. The only thing I’ve used a sewing machine for in the past 10 years was a Fred Flinstone costume for Greg. (And yes, he wore it.)

I feel obligated to clarify—this isn’t a bucket list of things I’d like to do, rather my list of things to learn and master. Also, it was harder than I imagined to come up with ten, and that was alarming in itself. At somewhere around 50, I’m hoping I always want to learn. Maybe in six months I’ll do an update on this post, cross off some things I’ve conquered, and add a few more.

My family hopes I start with the burgers.

What ten things do you still want to learn?


Come Grow a Tomato with Me

My first vegetable garden was on my apartment patio in plastic containers bought at Home Depot. The vegetables never received any direct sun and did poorly from the start. I eventually replaced the wilting tomatoes with flowers which also received no sun. They looked pretty for my mother-in-law’s visit but died soon after she left.

My second vegetable “garden” was on the kitchen counter in Solo cups as part of my daughter’s homeschool project. To her delight, the green bean plants grew quickly—but then never produced any more than a hint of a bean.

For the next decade I stuck to silk plants inside and a single flower pot by the front door. But again and again, as I replaced those potted seasonal flowers (if I could afford it), that gardening itch kept returning. Finally in my early 40s, I decided it might be time to get it right. With a little more planning and a lot more effort, vegetable garden number three was the charm.


As a Christmas gift that year, my husband surprised me with all the elements needed for my first backyard vegetable gardening experience, including several bags of beautiful black soil, a must-have in our sandy Florida yard. (Don’t judge him for that; he also gave me a necklace!) The next week I methodically positioned my first plants in the 4×8 raised bed he built. I began to faithfully water my six cabbage plants, three tomatoes, and a few herbs. I watered and waited, watered and waited—and hoped for the best.

Crazy thing, but everything actually began to grow! I mean, I knew that was supposed to happen, but it had just never happened for me. I can’t even tell you how much fun I had watching those plants reach taller, expand wider, and start showing signs of real, edible food.


And then came the day I realized it was time to snip off and use a couple sprigs of the herbs, harvest that very first cabbage, and start eating the tomatos. I felt like I’d become my dad during our Illinois summers in the 70s when he would come in from the garden completely delighted to cover the kitchen counter with his homegrown produce.

During the next year, my husband caught the gardening bug, too, and our joint efforts resulted in non-stop tomatoes for months and months, even after all the leaves were practically dead on the stems.


As the tomatoes kept coming, I began to sympathize with my mom’s consuming efforts of trying to keep up with all the zucchinis my dad grew. I personally didn’t grow zucchini, but I felt like I was bonding with her in a new way, realizing her mix of gratefulness and frustration with so many homegrown garden delights. By the end of that second season, I had eaten so many tomatoes I became allergic to them.

Tomatoes on hold for me, and with the extended gardening season in South Florida, Greg tried planting peppers, onions, and carrots. Then one afternoon I walked around our backyard and realized he’d dug up yet another area—to plant carrots.

See, I told you he’d caught the vegetable gardening bug. Then he started planting fruit trees, and even brought home a baby avocado tree for me on Valentine’s Day.


In the next couple years, we learned how easy it is to grow pineapples, if you’re super patient, that is.


Of course, along the way, we had to brighten it all with some some orchids, another low-maintenance gardening beauty.


Admittedly, the perennials I planted around the yard helped during the times the veggies died off and weeds overtook the gardens. During those times, this red shrimp plant just kept showing off its colors.


After all this time, we’re still planting, watering, and watching things grow. It’s been a decade-long adventure of seeing up close the wonder of God’s artistry. I love it how during at least three seasons of the year, His intricate creation supplies us with fresh fruit, fresh veggies, and produce for juicing, smoothies, and salads.

2013-04-11 19.48.15

I don’t claim to be an expert on backyard farming, nor am I a photographer (except with my phone). But with those disclaimers, I invite you to join me here on my blog. Along the way, if you get the urge to dig a hole in your own soil and grow something edible (or just simply pretty), I’d love to hear from you.

My blog won’t always be about gardening, but you can be sure I’ll be returning to the backyard again and again in my writing. So go ahead and subscribe to Beyond (left of screen) for future ideas, photos, stories, successes, bloopers, and how to be part of this fun and fulfilling “farm to table” and flower-filled living.

(And one last thing. If you love essential oils, they’re going to pop up here, too. What do they have to do with gardening? Stay tuned. Because I’m rarely in my garden without them.)


Fifteen Easters Ago

Fifteen years ago on Easter Sunday morning, my family and I sat on the far side of the balcony in our crowded church. I had purposely chosen this unfamiliar hideaway, steering clear of our routine place downstairs with the usual mob of friends and acquaintances.

The praise team began singing, and the congregation quieted. I remember noticing how my daughters, 9 and 13, were amused at our new location. They had no idea. My husband threw his arm around the back of my shoulders, but his touch felt strangely awkward that morning. I don’t know why. Maybe because we’d never sat in church together so sick with worry.

I went from bad to worse as the service progressed. Instead of bursting with joy for our risen Savior, I silently endured the singing and ambivalently checked out during the message. (Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?)

Fear of the future gripped me. I’d learned a few days earlier that an ugly “something” was growing inside me, with more tests scheduled the coming week. As I sat in church, I became keenly aware in my heart that life was about to change. I felt terrible, and no wonder. Unknown to me at that time, my tumor was growing at the rate of a centimeter a day.

Church ended, and I had barely heard a word. I’d been thinking about the Easter baskets hidden at home, waiting to be found. And I’d been praying that whatever was coming my way, God would intervene so my girls wouldn’t have to grow up without a mommy. (Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?)

God is never taken by surprise, and at that moment He already knew the number of my days. Of course I didn’t, and I came up with vivid scenarios of the worst. Actually, those imaginations came true almost immediately with surgeries, chemotherapy, weight gain, and a wig that never seemed to stayed in place. But alongside my “imaginations-turned-true” also came something unexpected. Over those hard days and weeks and months and years which followed, I slowly began to know God and trust Him in a way I’d never dared to dream was possible.

Then somehow, in the blink of an eye it seemed, my doctor was jubilantly noting on my charts the 10-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. Driving back to work that spring morning, I realized God had answered the prayers I had started pleading of Him during the Easter service so long ago. My girls had grown beautifully despite, or perhaps through, the trials our family had faced. Jenna was no longer my little 9-year-old, but 19 and in her first year of college. Melissa, no longer a junior higher, was now 23, a college graduate planning her wedding. (I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again, my Savior and my God!)

Today, as I write this, another five years have gone by. Five more years of ups and downs and highlights and valleys. Five more years of birthdays and Easters and answered prayers. Yet as I launch this blog titled Beyond, I’m not writing to just dwell on the past. I’m not writing to merely look back at where I’ve been.

This Easter season, I’m thinking about what’s yet to come and how much I still have to learn about God’s love and grace. I’m here to talk about Jesus, my risen Savior, and the hope I find today in Christ alone.

I invite you to join me on a journey of looking forward, of learning to live beyond the confusion of the moment and instead in the grace and exuberant living Jesus Christ offers.

Beyond, my friends, beyond.

Happy Easter!

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?
I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again, my Savior and my God!
Psalm 42