The wisdom of a driver named Minnie

I heard her pleasant good evening, how are you all tonight? as I ducked my head into her Chevy Cruze, barely making out her profile in the driver’s seat, that five o’clock view you get of most Uber drivers’ faces. Minnie was our ride from the hotel to a Latin restaurant a few miles away, our short connection a happenstance of supply and demand at the right time, right place. Her voice was as pleasant as the smile that graced the corner of her mouth and her personality filled the car with joy.

Our trip didn’t last more than a few minutes, but we learned that Minnie was born in rural Northern Arkansas, not far from Memphis. She’d spent years in Detroit but moved to Louisville for a new start away from a once vibrant Motor City.

I was there when our mayor smoked crack, she noted.

Ah, good old Marion Barry, I chuckled.

She was quick to defend her former home and her family members that still live there. They’re doing a lot better now. 

She told us about her mother who’d recently passed — the glue of their family, the reason for all coming together on a regular basis. Her family was a United NationsWe had blacks, and Asians, and Caucasians, and Puerto Ricans. And we all came together. She worried that they’d drift apart now that their matriarch was gone.

As we approached our destination one of us commented how upside-down the world seems right now. Minnie paused, and said matter-of-factly, We just need a little more love. Love is easy. It takes effort to hate. 

Her words bounced around in my mind and heart as we stepped out of the car and wished her a wonderful evening.

Love is easy. It takes effort to hate. 

New heights


I’ll admit it.

I’m not good with heights.

I wouldn’t go so far as saying I’m petrified of them, but climbing to wide open heights doesn’t exactly top my list of favorite activities.

When I learned we’d be climbing the 100 stairs of the fire tower at Forest Glen Preserve this last weekend, I knew I’d have to harden my constitution. After all, as scout leaders we encourage our boys to step out of their comfort zone and grow. I’d need to do the same. Read More

Kale, coneflowers and creativity: The visual delight of Shawna Coronado’s garden


As many of you know, my front yard is currently going through a metamorphosis. I’ve removed about two-thirds of the lawn, soon to replace it with a mixed ornamental and edible garden. Growing edibles in the front yard is not a new concept, but it’s one that has taken a while for me to embrace. As a gardener, I’m more concerned with aesthetic than production. However, due to increasing shade, we no longer have the luxury of sticking the vegetable garden in an out-of-sight corner of the back yard. Read More

Where humanity and nature blend: The garden of William Dick and Katrina Cheney

IMG_8084Torrential had just started to let up as we walked into Katrina Cheney and William Dick’s garden as a part of the Champaign County Master Gardener Garden walk in late June. Their property lies adjacent to the Park District’s Boulware Trail, which was mostly under water at the time of our arrival.

Katrina and William have transformed their large lot into a beautiful garden over the past seven years, centered around a large, multi-tiered koi pond. We spent nearly an hour at the garden, talking with Katrina and William about the garden, koi pond and their pet exotic birds. Read More

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.

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A short course on shade gardening … and hospitality

My wife and I traveled to Madison, WI in early June to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. As the weekend approached, she 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.

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One person CAN make a difference

Those of you who’ve been readers here know that I’m a big fan of TED talks….and of my good friend Shawna Coronado. Imagine my delight when the stars aligned and Shawna was invited to give her own talk at TEDxCrestmoorParkWomen in Denver.

I’ve known Shawna since we met at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show in 2011, and we’ve grown to be very close friends. Quite simply, she’s family to me.

What makes Shawna special is that she believes in others, in their abilities, passions and capacities to make a difference in the lives of others. I’ve seen her inspire a room full of people, not in praise of her accomplishments, but rather by helping them see that potential for accomplishment in themselves.

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Finding her pack

A few weeks ago in Dubuque, Iowa, I saw my sister Monica for the first time in two years. I can’t say I ever expected our reunion to happen in the City of Five Flags, more than 1,000 miles away from her home in New Hampshire and a decent four-hour jaunt from our home in Illinois. She and her dog Trip were in Dubuque for the DockDogs World Championships. If you’ve never seen DockDogs before, just imagine water olympics of the canine kind. Monica and Trip qualified for the “high jump” event — called Extreme Vertical. Read More

Without a doubt: My visit to Shawna Coronado’s garden

Visiting a good friend’s garden for the first time is simultaneously exciting and stressful. The excitement is self-explanatory; for me as a gardener, walking through and sharing the stories of a friend’s garden is an unparalleled experience of joy.

But why stressful? Well, what if you don’t like the garden? How do you hide the expression on your face if you’re underwhelmed with the garden’s design or visual impact? It’s not a problem when visiting the gardens of strangers. The stress enters the equation when the gardener is a friend. You want to love the garden.

Yesterday, I drove north to visit Shawna Coronado.  Shawna and I first met in person at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show in March 2011, and have grown to be wonderful friends despite living three hours apart. I’d hoped to visit her garden last summer, but our schedules never meshed, and before we knew it, the growing season was over.

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Not a bad epitaph

A few weeks ago, a large box arrived at our doorstep. Inside was a beautiful vase and a brief note that indicated it was from my grandmother, who passed away nearly a decade ago. My internal voice of reason dismissed the possibility of Swedish glass from beyond the grave, so I assumed it was a generous gesture of my uncle who is the executor of my grandparents’ estate.

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