Opening up to a new season

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The holidays can be a rough time, can’t they? Especially if your memories of the season are difficult to process. I’d planned to take the 2017 holidays off, but that would just be hiding from all the negative emotion instead of letting it pass through and make way for new traditions. So I’m opening my heart to a new season of life and will see where it may lead.

A Christmas reflection

The sun arrived in the middle of Christmas morning, streaming through the windows in beams that cut across the ripped and crumpled wrapping paper on the floor. It’s been such a grey December, even fleeting rays among the remnants of a Christmas Eve rainstorm brought cheers. Winter is only a few days old, but we’re already weary of its heavy pall.

As the afternoon unfolded and the thermometer rose, a desire to breathe fresh air fought through a head cold that was threatening to pull my entire body into malaise. I was alone on Christmas afternoon for the first time in my life. This has been a year of great transition, this last month the hardest, as I navigate the emotions that surround holidays in our newly-defined family. Read More

Getting creative on Halloween

Seven years ago, when my son had just turned three years old, we were planning to go to a Halloween party as a family. My Halloween costumes have always been ad-hoc creations, momentary glimpses into my imagination. On the Halloween in question, I decided to go as a Punk-in. After a couple of tubes of orange and black face paint, I was transformed into something that scared my toddler son so badly, he refused to look at me or go to the party. Ever since then, my enthusiasm for Halloween costumes — and Halloween in general — hasn’t been the same.

Recently, I’ve channeled my Halloween creativity into my annual Jack-o-Lantern. I enjoy the challenge of using leftover fruits and veggies and plants from the garden in my creation. I like to design quickly, because the smell of fresh pumpkin is a bit nauseating to me. In fact, I’m not sure I’d do it at all if I had to gut the pumpkins myself. Thanks to the pumpkin-gutting generosity of my in-laws (who always visit us on Halloween), I start with a hallowed-out pumpkin and go from there.
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Confessions of an Amaryllis convert

My first Amaryllis bloomed today. It’s a beautiful candy-striped variety named ‘Minerva’ that I picked up in the discount bin our our local garden center a few weeks ago. It was on sale because it had already started to sprout and wouldn’t make the best holiday gift plant if it bloomed before Christmas. So there it sat with other early premature bloomers, marked down to $5 a bulb.

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Fresh cut for the holidays

The first weekend in December heralds our family’s expedition to a local tree farm to cut a Christmas tree for our home. This tradition started in 1994, a year after our first Christmas together as a married couple. That first Christmas, we bought a cut tree from a tree lot in town. In the process of decorating it, the white shirt I was wearing started to turn green. Our “fresh” tree had been spray-painted green. After that experience, we’ve insisted on cutting a tree ourselves. Not only are we assured a fresh tree, it’s also a way to support the local economy instead of a tree farm hundreds of miles away.

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Holiday plants for a good cause

Last weekend, when I visited our local garden center, I was somewhat disappointed in the quality of the poinsettias. The flowers had already been snipped out of many of the plants, a sure sign they’d come into flower early and would be less likely to last through the holiday season. When I heard about the poinsettias being sold as a University of Illinois Conservatory and Plant Collections fundraiser, I made a trip over to the Plant Sciences Lab to purchase some.

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Jumpstarting Christmas

Oh, the weather outside is ….. gray. Yes, it was another textbook November day here in Illinois. Aside from the brief break in the clouds that played peek-a-boo with a sliver of blue sky and sunshine, today was a carbon copy of yesterday’s unpleasantness, only colder and more windy. The weather muted my ears to the sirens of the garden, so I did the next best thing. I visited a garden center to get a jumpstart on Christmas.

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Making room in our hearts

One of the first things we try to instill in our children is the concept of sharing, the giving of ourselves in order to better the lives of others. This concept is at the core of nearly all human interaction, whether the intimacy of lovers, the companionship of friends, or the mentoring of parent to child. We share our love, talents, and time and in return get to share in the love, talents and time of others. Without sharing, we stand in isolation.

Last March I was walking across campus with my camera, and stopped to photograph a Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) that grows outside the University of Illinois Observatory. Resting in a heart-shaped knot on one of the branches were two lady beetles. I was immediately struck by the analogy to our human lives, how we must make room to allow others into our hearts in order to share our lives with them.

As Valentine’s Day dawns this year, this photographic metaphor of two lives sharing one heart is prominent in my mind. In spite all of the stress and anxiety surrounding this over-commercialized holiday, for me Valentine’s Day is an annual checkup of sorts. It is a day when I can ask myself if I am truly sharing my life, rather than just taking what others have to offer. It is a day when I take stock of myself as partner, as friend, as father, as brother, and as son. It is a day when I remember that the human heart seems boundless, as long as we make room for those we love.

I wish each and every one of you a Happy Valentine’s Day.

Look closely for nature’s holiday decorations

I took advantage of yesterday’s warming to hike around the University of Illinois Arboretum on a bright, sunny morning. The open fields and woods were still covered in a few inches of snow from last week’s storms, although the increased temperatures has melted the snow from most of the trees and shrubs.

When taking the winter landscape as a whole, we often are subdued by its grey lifeless tones. But if we look close enough, we’ll notice that Mother Nature has her own way of decorating for the winter holidays.

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