Tag Archives: gratitude

The Long Growth: There to Here; Green to Gold

“I looked it up–we need to get a male and a female,” Richard said as we stood over the muscadine vines at Cofer’s. I picked up a gallon size bucket with a thin green vine growing inside. I held it up above my head and looked at the bottom. “This one must be female.” I picked up another container. “Shoot, this one must be too…nothing dangling under here!”

He shook his head and smiled at my silliness. “Seriously, how do you tell the difference?”

He stretched out the narrow white label that was tied around the base of the vine. “Here we go–this one has an M. Look for an F.”

We paid a lot of money for those straggling vines. That afternoon, we planted them on either side of the small archway in the backyard that had been built by a previous owner. I remember wondering if the plants would be close enough for the male and the female to matter or if the vines needed to intertwine. Once the roots were buried in the clay, the vines barely reached to the bottom of the trellis. We tied them up with some twine and left nature to do its thing.

Muscadine vine, 13 years later.

Muscadine vine, 13 years later.


Its slow, slow thing. Nature’s veeeeery slow thing.

Richard died before ever getting to taste a muscadine from those vines. We stood under that bare archway after our wedding, with vines that still hadn’t reached waist high. I neglected the yard that summer, and the next. But the vines kept growing.

It took years for them to creep up and cover the top of the archway, their male and female tendrils twining together at last. After about five years, I spotted tiny fruit, but the birds got every grape.

I’ve never pruned it, fertilized it, watered it, nothing. Just let it be. One autumn, when the leaves changed color, I noticed that the muscadine vines had grown all up in the redbud tree next to the arch. All that growing, at long last.

But last weekend, while cleaning the pool, the light hit the vines just so and revealed heavy bunches of golden grapes. I couldn’t stop smiling. I stood under the dark shade of the covered arch and ate those sweet muscadines right off the vine. I made a basket with the tail of my t-shirt and picked all I could reach.

Muscadines are wild grapes; scuppernongs are the golden variety.

Muscadines are wild grapes; scuppernongs are the golden variety.

That thick pop of the skin and the sudden sweetness. When I was a kid, I used to buy a pint of scuppernongs every year at the Cotton Pickin’ Fair from Owens Vineyard. Back then, I’d enjoy the juice then spit out the pulp to avoid the seeds. I’m older and wiser now, and as I stood there in the shade of those vines we planted thirteen years ago, I enjoyed every bit of the grape.

It takes a while.

Back then I was young and willing to trust that this would lead to that. You look things up, you read the label, you plant things on the sunny side and you wait. And wait and wait and wait. I got swamped by life for all those years and I lost sight of the idea of grapes that we had entertained over a decade ago. During the growth years and the bird years and the years I was too busy with babies to worry about what was going on in my own backyard.

Then one Saturday I taste the sweetness that we had planted so long ago. From there to here. From green to gold. From all of that…to sweetness.

You just have to hold on and keep growing. It takes longer than I ever imagined.

Scuppernong tendrils

Scuppernong tendrils

The Gold Bug

Green Beetle With Brown Legs by Jan Vincentsz van der Vinne

Green Beetle With Brown Legs by Jan Vincentsz van der Vinne

I went on a personal archaeology expedition last week and got choked up on a little gold bug. A yellow plastic beetle, to be exact.

Ever since I read that journal that I wrote while my marriage to Fartbuster was ending–“Bless My Stupid Heart”–I’ve been trying to recall more about that time of my life. After 15 years, the big events stand out, but the minutiae of our ordinary life together has begun to fade. I started keeping gratitude journals about a year before our marriage went up in flames, so I pulled out the really old ones, the dusty ones in the bottom drawer of the nightstand and I began to read.

I spent 3 hours reading through 2 years worth of gratitude journals–a tough two years. I was prepared for the awful days, those days when I wrote terse little entries like, “Well, at least I have myself” or “Now I know the truth” and “my neighbor came over to check on me when she noticed I was parking in the middle of the garage.” I turned the corner down on those pages so I could come back to them when I need to.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the days just before those awful ones. It’s so had to look back and see what I was genuinely grateful for the day before my whole life blew up.

In the detail of thousands of entries, my old life assembled itself again. The hollyhocks that grew higher than the windows in the sunroom. The way my dog, Zoe, shivered after her bath. Margaritas at his grandmother’s house on Christmas night. The lazy Sunday mornings when I woke up with my feet entwined with my husband’s. A new Judybats CD coming in the mail. Reading Oxford American magazine. Pecan rice with a roasted pork tenderloin. That time we installed the dog door without arguing. Painting the bathroom a terra cotta color and talking about going to Rome someday. Walking the dogs in the evening when the whole neighborhood smelled like dryer sheets. Dusting bookshelves then finding myself rereading a favorite book. Valentines. Nicknames we gave each other.

About every 20 minutes of that 3 hour journey through my grateful past, I had to stop to cry. Once, I got so sad for my younger self that I tiptoed into Carlos’ room to listen to him breathe those deep little boy sleepy breaths.

It wasn’t all bad, that life.

It ended so badly that I have trouble remembering that it wasn’t all bad. I wasn’t stupid to love Fartbuster. Most days, we were doing our best.

That came clear for me when I read one little line in a journal that brought a dear memory back through all the pain:

“a little gold beetle in my drink at dinner.”

gold beetleI don’t remember how I ended up with a yellow plastic beetle–it doesn’t matter. One night, I tucked it under the covers on Fartbuster’s side of the bed. He saw it and jumped. We laughed. The next day, I picked up my drink at dinner and there sat the little gold beetle on the bottom of the glass. A few days later, he found the beetle in the toe of his shoe. For weeks, we traded the gold beetle back and forth in pockets, the sun visor, on the towel bar, in the cereal box.

It was fun. We had fun.

When your heart is broken by someone you trusted, it’s so hard to remember the good times. It’s hard to accept that those days were just as real as the months I spent in that middle place of fear and pain.

The muddle of it all reminds me of an idea from Hermann Hesse, one of Fartbuster’s favorite writers: “Oh, love isn’t there to make us happy. I believe it exists to show us how much we can endure.”


Something Broke Here a While Ago

Six or seven months ago, as I walked to my office one morning, I saw a man from the grounds crew chopping up azalea plants by the sidewalk.  My first reaction was horror–those plants were perfectly healthy.  While I stood there on the sidewalk with my mouth hanging open, the man turned to me and shrugged.  He spread his arms out wide over the wreckage then shook his head with resigned disgust.

“Somebody plowed right through here last night.”


That’s when I saw the bigger picture.  He wasn’t tearing down healthy azaleas–he was disentangling broken limbs from the car shaped hole that had been left in the hedge. Next to the car shaped hole, two deep tire tracks gouged the lawn all the way back to the spot where they had left the blacktop. Someone had gone across two lanes, up and over the sidewalk, across the grass and into our azaleas.  Jesus.

He and I shook our heads in wonder.  But there was nothing for me to do, so he got back to his work and I headed on to mine.  As I continued on the sidewalk, he said, “Careful–there’s glass everywhere.”

The pebbled sidewalk lay covered with a glaze of green glass pebbles from the shattered windshield.  I picked my way through.  By that afternoon, the hole in the hedge had been transformed into a seamless part of the landscaping.  The sidewalk had been cleared as if nothing had happened.  Life went back to normal.

I’ve walked that same path a few hundred times since that day, in winter then spring then summer.  Today, though, I walked by at a different time of day.  The angle of the sun sparkled off something in the grass.  The lawn twinkled with pale green jewels, mixed in with the browning leaves and twigs from the old oaks, the acorn caps left by squirrels, the brittle grass of summer and the dry Georgia clay. All around, emeralds at my feet.  A carpet of peridots.

Through all those days of all that weather, the pebbles of windshield glass survived.  It got me thinking about the scars we carry with us from the hardest parts of our lives.  The rough edged surprises that can still make us bleed.  The fallout.  The flinch.

The evidence that something broke here, a while ago.

From a distance, and in the right light, they shine like jewels.


Sunday Sweetness–Having It All

Today’s story is a flashback to New Year’s Eve when I stood on a pink beach and watched a gold balloon float into the sky.  You can’t have it all, but there is so much to love. Have a great day today, for “when it is August, you can have it August and abundantly so.” Click the photo to read “There Is This.”

Image courtesy Pixabay

Image courtesy Pixabay

This Blue Sky Is Not Beautiful Because…

As I walked between buildings this morning with my face in my smartphone and my head filled with project deadlines, housekeeping minutiae, goals and dreams and regrets that make up the miasma that sublets my head, a red rosebud caught my attention.  I turned off the phone for a second.

I took a deeper breath and pushed it down through my tense muscles, all the way to my feet. My feet sent back the message that I was walking on a pebbled path made of gentle curves, passing under five old oak trees.  My brain wafted down the word “psithurism”–the word for the sound that wind makes in trees.  I couldn’t help but smile.

At the end of the path, I stopped on the sidewalk to let a car pass, even though I had the right of way at the crosswalk.  Reflexively, my mind clicked over to berating the car’s driver for not seeing me…but I stopped and chose to breathe again.  I lifted my eyes, and this is what I saw:blue sky

Such a surprise, to SEE the sky and accept with grateful wonder that I get to live in a place on a day in a moment when that color is right there for me to see.  No charge, no ticket required, no restrictions apply.

At that moment, what words popped into my head?

“This blue sky is not beautiful BECAUSE of anything.  It just IS. It is and it is beautiful.

Not because I have a job.

Not because my clothes match and smell nice.

Not because my son’s potty training is on or off track.

Not because the scale said a certain number.

Not because I met that deadline.

Not because I wrote today or slept last night or ate the right balance of carbs to protein or remembered to take the school supplies to the teacher.  All those things that fill my mind have nothing whatsoever to do with this blue sky that brings me such delight.

And no self-respecting Georgia Girl could dive into a sky like that without humming “Blue Sky” by The Allman Brothers.  Here’s one of only five recordings of “Blue Sky” from the glory days of the brothers, the band, the Betts.  This version was recorded live in 1971 at SUNY Stonybrook.  It’s long, because it was the 70s.  Worth every single second–breathe your way through it instead of playing Candy Crush or worrying about carbs.

“You’re my blue sky, you’re my sunny day.  Lord y’know it makes me high when you turn your love my way. Turn your love my way…” Click the photo of the band if you’d like to go back to that day:


Sunday Sweetness–A Piece of Poppy

Do you have a cozy quilt that makes you feel safe?  Did you have a special “lovey” when you were a kid?  I have a tiny “piece of Poppy” that I carry with me everywhere because it reminds me that I am loved by a very generous boy who wanted me to feel better. Today’s story is called “Five Security Blankets.”  Click on one of the stars in this quilt to read it!



A Sentence That’s Always True

Last night, just after I had taken my antibiotics and some ibuprofen to battle strep throat, I wrote my gratitude list for the day.  My body felt gross all over from the fever and my throat felt like raw glass every time I swallowed.  So in my list, I wrote “I can go to the doctor when I need to,” and “G took care of the kids so I could rest.”  I added a few more lines about the kids and my excitement over BlogHer.  For the last line in my gratitude list, I wrote, “This too shall pass.”ring

When the throat pain woke me up at 5 a.m. that morning, I thought it was postnasal drip.  By lunchtime, when the pain continued to escalate, I remembered our pediatrician saying, “A sore throat without a cough is strep,” I didn’t wait any longer.  Went straight to the doc in a box and felt great relief when I walked out with a positive strep test and a prescription.  I know that I will feel better in about 24 hours.  I know now what I’m dealing with, I’ve taken the actions that I can take.  Now I rest in the knowledge that “this too shall pass.”

But where’s the comfort in “this too shall pass?”  This proverb is often attributed to King Solomon, but it also appears in the works of Sufi poets.  I’ve heard it told that King Solomon asked his greatest wise men to think of a sentence that is always true, under every condition and in every situation.  The wise men, after much consideration, presented him with the sentence “This too shall pass.”  Solomon had the sentence inscribed on a ring so that each day, he could turn the ring and remind himself of something that was always true.

We most often hear this phrase in tough times, when we remind ourselves that the pain of today will pass.  The sore throat will heal.  The teenager will come around.  The job situation will resolve itself.  The budget won’t always be this tight.  Sleep will come tomorrow night.

Do we remember to say it on good days too?  As my son runs towards me to give me a hug, do I put down my phone so I can hug him with both arms?  When my daughter wants me to play some complicated game that she’s invented herself, do I make the time?  When the frogs are croaking outside, do I sit and listen?  Because this too shall pass.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned with time, with grief, with joy–is that this too shall pass.  The great lie that my depression used to tell me is “you will always feel like this.”  That’s not true.  The great lie that anxiety tells me is “you will always feel like this.”  Nope, it passes.  Physical pain, emotional pain.  It passes.

Every night, I sneak into my son’s room after he’s asleep to run my fingers through his hair.  Because this too shall pass.