An Indelible Reminder

tattooI’ve spent much of my life, the last decade in particular, trying on different skins, looking for the one that felt right. I was searching for the man I wanted and needed to be.

I wanted to both feel right and be in the right.

There are times when I’ve craved a blank slate, a new canvas on which to start over. Blank slates, though, are fallacies. Impossibilities. Figments of our imagination. Our history can’t be rewritten or erased. It’s what lies under our skin.

I thought I was looking for the right skin. Continue reading


On the Other Side

I set out to kill my optimist this time last year.

I proclaimed that replacing him with my realist would help me deal more evenly with life’s failures and disappointments. I told myself that my realist would help me accept life as it is, rather than always striving for something better. I tried to run my optimist through the ringer. Life, at times, enthusiastically tried to participate in his demise.

There was one problem.

I’m an optimist. I’m a believer that I can create better versions of myself through intentional choice. If there’s something at my core, it is this belief. Continue reading

Allowing the Present to Arrive

My Monday commute started 300 miles from my office, long before the Eastern horizon even hinted at dawn. I saw flashes of lightning silhouetting clouds in the darkness, soon followed by sheets of rain that provided ample volume for the semis to spray on the windshield. In between the swoosh of wipers, I tried to keep my focus on the newly painted lane markings along the always-under-construction I-70 West — my road most traveled between Ohio and Illinois — but my mind kept wandering to seven words from Friday night’s Shabbat service.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

It was my first Shabbat service ever. As a recovering Catholic who has been non-practicing and essentially agnostic for more than half of my 45 years, the simple act of being inside any religious building is surreal. But I proudly sat next to my girlfriend at the official start to the weekend’s celebration of her daughter becoming a Bat Mitzvah, an adult in the eyes of her Jewish community.

Near the end of the service, congregant and community notable Artie Issac was invited to give a guest sermon as the Jewish calendar approaches Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. He rambled delightfully among several philosophical themes but ended with a reminder.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

By the time I reached the halfway point of this morning’s commute, the rain stopped but clouds still covered the sky to the horizon. The weather forecast promised cooler temperatures, but the heavy overcast was a pall over my hope for a beautiful fall day. We were a few days past the equinox, but yet to be blessed with that first really crisp, cool, and crystal sky day.

My mind still tossed around Artie’s words.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

I just got divorced two weeks ago. Well, I moved out of the house we shared more than two years ago, but a family court judge — deliberating his last docket before retirement — pronounced my divorce official just two weeks ago. Our marriage was effectively over the day I moved out, but I still feel the weight of its failure — my failure, our failure.

Artie’s words made me think of the relative power of Catholic versus Jewish guilt, and the endless debate over which is more severe.  Regardless of the winner (loser?), nothing is heavier than guilt. It was there when it was clear my marriage of nearly 20 years was ending. It was there the day we told our son. The day I started packing boxes. The day I first turned the key to my new apartment home.

And it was there two weeks ago, when the judge wished us good luck after declaring our divorce final.

I can run in selfish, justifying circles of logic to describe why our marriage failed, but there is no escaping my personal failure. I failed to be the person and husband I promised to be. I failed to work hard. I failed to turn right when I should have turned left. I failed to care enough. It may not have been my failure alone, but it was still my failure.

There is nothing I can do to change my failure. I can learn from it. I can be kind, patient, and understanding as the best co-parent possible for our son. But I can’t change my failure.

As I approached the Illinois border along I-74, blue sky appeared on the horizon. I could see the trailing edge of the storm front, but couldn’t judge its distance from me.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

I think I was destined to sit in that chapel to hear Artie’s words about self-atonement. I’ve been waiting for the world to absolve me of my transgressions. Perhaps the world has moved on to more important things, and I’m the one who needs to stop waiting for its forgiveness.

My late friend Laura once told me put down the 2×4. I think she was saying the same thing as Artie.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.



I arrived home and stepped out on my balcony for a moment. The edge of the clouds dissipated directly above me into the clearest blue sky.

What’s done is done. What’s past is past. No amount of self-flagellation will resolve it, and simply allows the past to control the present. Forgiveness from the world, from others, may arrive and we should welcome it if it does.

But I think I know what Artie was saying now. Until we learn to forgive ourselves, we don’t allow the present to arrive.







2013 Garden Walk – Metz Garden

Mary Ann and Dan Metz’s home and garden grace their old town Champaign, Illinois neighborhood with mature beds of hosta, peonies, and woody ornamentals that complement the home’s traditional architecture and an elegant, yet almost organic hardscape. The garden’s solid foundation supports surprising moments of fancy and artistic details. Mindy and I visited the Metz garden with our friend Laura (of Durable Gardening) as a part of the Champaign County Master Gardener garden walk on June 22.

The potted red cordyline in the front garden immediately caught my eye as we entered the garden. Its soft undertones of brown-green reflect the house siding, while the red variegation echo the Japanese maple foliage and American flag hanging from the front porch. It provides an architectural foil to the soft mounds of hosta.

The strong foundation of the Metz garden is beautifully highlighted with unique art and splashes of floral color.

Of course, I’d be remiss to ignore the hosta, peonies and shrubs that make up most of the garden.

Alongside the patio and conservatory on the back of the Metz’s home is a large pond, deftly edged with aquatic and tropical plants.

Full sun is at a premium in most older neighborhoods like this one. I loved the choice of variegated Gomphrena to fill one of the elusive sunny spots.

A fast and furious thunderstorm rolled in as we were just finishing the garden tour, so we took refuge under cover on the patio. Sitting on a tile table was this sparkly high heel, overflowing with a textural bonanza of miniature plants.

It was this small piece of the garden that helped me realize that what makes the Metz’s garden so wonderful is a sense of purpose and design at every corner. Every plant, every stone, every piece of art makes a conscious contribution to the overall aesthetic.

I owe a big thank you to Mary Ann and Dan Metz for opening their garden to us. The generous opportunity to visit other gardens can be one of inspiration and reflection on our own gardens. The Metz’s garden has me wondering about my own garden choices. How does each of the elements in my garden contribute — consciously — to the whole?

A Short Course on Shade Gardening … and Hospitality

My wife, Mindy, and I traveled to Madison, WI in early June to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. As the weekend approached, Mindy suggested that we find a few public gardens to tour during our visit. We’ve grown fond of Madison over the years, but hadn’t ever thought about garden tours in our previous visits. So I used a little insider information by way of Ed Lyon, director of Allen Centennial Gardens on the University of Wisconsin campus, who I’d met earlier this year at National Green Centre in St. Louis. Ed graciously took time out of his hectic spring planting schedule to fill me in on all the area horticultural hot spots, and even invited us to tour his home garden on Saturday afternoon.

Ed greeted us like old friends on the sidewalk that fronts the home he shares with his partner Darrell, immediately engaging us with stories about the multiple iterations of plants he’s tried in the parkway strip, the only full sun area of his small urban lot. The rest of the front yard and entire back yard sit in moderate to dense shade under a canopy of silver maple and black walnut.

I’d seen photos of Ed’s home garden before, but our first steps down the front entry were nothing short of a breathtaking short course on shade gardening. What was nothing but trees and grass in 2006 is now a flowing masterpiece of green, gold, caramel, bronze and purple. Short of the narrow mulched paths that wind gently in a constant reveal of new vistas, there is no ground showing in the garden. Ed has mixed species, color and texture with the knowledge of a plantsman and the touch of a true artist.

It is with humility that I share these photos of Ed’s garden with you, for they certainly can’t capture its true splendor. Other gardeners will understand when I talk of a garden as both a peaceful oasis and arousing inspiration. I can find no other words than to describe Ed’s garden as unsurpassed among urban lot landscapes.

Mindy and I were touched by Ed’s generosity in spending so much of his afternoon with us, weaving stories of life through the history of his garden. As the filtered gold of evening began to backlight airy spikes of blooming Heuchera, Ed sent us in the direction of the Flower Factory, his favorite perennial nursery in the area. We were too late to do much shopping, but saw enough to draw us back the next morning.

It’s no surprise that the inspiration of Ed’s garden helped to fill our vehicle with lasting memories of Madison. Thank you, Ed, for the wonderful Wisconsin hospitality!