Tag Archives: Joy

In The Garden

In The Garden

Just remember, in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows, lies a seed that with the sun’s love, in the spring, becomes the rose.   —Bette Midler

was interviewing my colleague Rose for a newsletter story about her newly found passion for gardening. It was a joy to listen to the lilt in her voice as she described learning about the variety of flowers and shrubs available, how much sunlight and water they need to thrive. We agree that our gardens are the perfect spot to decompress from our current climate. A beautiful alternative to news that rocks our souls daily.

“The garden is an oasis that calms the chaos,” I reply to her description of happiness her new garden brings.

This got me thinking about my gardens. How they are a labor of love that took many years to cultivate. Trial and error when I misjudged the light and soil conditions. How some of the perennials took in spite of my ignorance. Others withered away. Roses present a particular challenge to me. I’ve killed my fair share of hybrid tea roses. You must carefully tend them, fertilizing and cutting back, ensuring not too much water lest the leaves turn yellow and eventually fall, leaving a long thorny stem and anemic, stilted blooms. I finally learned roses I grow best are the knockout variety—they like the south and north corners of the front of my house. These showy grand dames require less tending, bringing heady fragrance and energy in late spring. I recently planted a new deep pink one in the hole vacated by last year’s failed rhubarb experiment. So far, she’s happy.

Gardens require pruning, feeding and weeding. Funny thing about weeds, some appear with handsome flowers so are welcome among the more regal lilies, brown eyed Susan’s and cone flowers. Some have to go, because they zap too much energy of the floribunda. It’s a delicate balance.

There are seasons to gardens. That’s a well know fact. Plant too early and the frost will destroy your tender plants. Skip fertilizing and mulching, and you’ll get flowers that struggle to bloom. Oh, they will survive the first year.  Each year thereafter, they are smaller and less healthy, until they finally give up the ghost. If you respect their simple needs for light, food and water, however, they plant their roots deep, giving back with their powerful charm. Then come fall, its time to put them to bed for a long sleep while the roots and bulbs go dormant. What a blessing of renewal spring brings when they awake and send up tender shoots. The cycle resumes.

It’s also a delight to discover surprises—stray seeds brought as gifts from the birds and squirrels that nestle in a small unclaimed patch of earth. In my Syracuse garden one year, giant sunflowers appeared, growing six feet high with enormous mop heads that blossomed fully. After the flowers faded, they gave back to their winged friends as small wrens perched on the bent necks plucking the ripe seeds. Working together, they made magic real.

I taught my boys well about the care and feeding of a garden in their teen years in Syracuse. I had them water the extensive beds most summer early evenings and mornings. There was often griping and protestations. But here’s my little secret they didn’t know then. It was deliberate because one cannot help but ruminate on life with optimism when faced with such beauty while hands are occupied carefully watering the stems, not the blooms. This insistence flummoxed them because it would have made the chore pass quickly. Enforced solitude is good for the soul.

Seems the lessons took because now they both call me sharing their delights as their buds bloom. My sons have become gardeners. The country mouse and the city mouse.

Although technically the Adams’ home isn’t really in the country, but a charming Tudor in a smallish Michigan city. They are reclaiming their yard plant-by-plant. T and I helped them overhaul the bones of their yard when we visited last September. Now they are digging and shaping, planting bulbs, shrubs and perennials while filling their space with Adam’s considerable collection of Pier 1 gewgaws and lanterns.

Alex lives in Baltimore City with his beloved Will in a historic row home and they are planting in window boxes, pots on the deck and perennials in the small patch of soil beyond the boards. Their backyard is their haven filled with bird song, greenery and new plants. Alex decorates with his unique blend of bones, ephemera and sparkle. He teaches Zoom yoga from the deck, sharing his little slice of heaven with his students.

Alex & Will’s garden

Adams’ Garden

My sons have learned how calming it is to dig, plant and deadhead. It’s hard to stay angry or sad when you work amidst such miracles you’ve nurtured. When you’re really vexed, there’s nothing like a good weed pulling spell to dissipate the mood. If ever there was such a time we need a break from the trials in our world, it surely is now. 

This is what we know. Gardens offer solace and pleasure, thoughtful pause. Like Rose says, “They make me happy.” Indeed. Time to go give the girls a drink and see who’s come out to shine beauty, peace and joy in the neighborhood today.

Of Wrinkles and Spots

Of Wrinkles and Spots

I have a few wrinkles and brown spots—we greet each other cordially in the mirror every morning. But does that mean I shouldn’t be allowed to feel contemporary, confident and sexy?      —Lois Joy Johnson*

Photo courtesy of Tony ❤️ 2020

No, I’m not talking about my blouses. You know, the drill when you dab a Shout© pen on the balsamic vinegar spill from your lunch with gal pals or take a scorching iron to the white cotton Chico’s blouse.

I’m talking my glorious face of 62 years. Suitably wrinkled and showing those pesky brown spots that arose because of my aversion to sunscreen in my 20’s.

Like many women of a certain age, my face shows the roadmap of my life. Laugh lines crinkle the corners of my eyes, there are permanent vertical indents in my forehead. Then my inheritance from my mother Joyce, fluffy jowls when my weight yoyo’s.

I happened upon the article, The Invisible Woman by Lois when sitting at my breakfast table on an ordinary Thursday morning. It resonated with me because I too am a woman in my 60s. The difference between us is that I don’t pay as much attention to the world of cosmetics as armor against ageism. I have my basic regimen of Clinique’s 3 step cleansing, pots of moisturizers and light makeup with SPF 20. So maybe I do have a few thousand dollars invested in the brand I’ve used for 35+ years. But (here comes the rationalization…wait for it) I do think the constant cleansing and good choices have helped me keep a lovely complexion. In spite of “clinically proven’ claims to lift sagging skin, reduce the appearance of wrinkles and make my skin brighter,” I believe all that promise comes to fruition from self love.

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Cut the roses, use the china.

Cut the roses, use the china.

This Old Table

This Old Table

“Use it up, wear it out, make do.”—New England proverb

I’m sitting as usual enjoying my second cup of coffee as I began thinking about our dining room table. It’s not elegant or trendy. The top is scratched and the legs could use some serious refinishing. Calvin Kitty joins me in the mornings waiting for his taste of my scrambled eggs. He sits politely at the corner looking out at our backyard, chittering as the birds flit among the trees. I’ve never been one of those people who minds a cat sharing her table top has long as he waits until I’ve offered a dish for his tasting.

I ponder all that has happened around our old table. We’ve had it for 28 years. It was meant to be a short term solution when we were a very young family. Mark loves to tell the story of how we acquired it. Lechmere had just opened a store in the mall so we went to purchase a small dining set. We opened an account charging the set to get the 10% discount. As it turned out, Lechmere never charged us for it— though, honest as we were, Mark called them three times to tell them of their mistake. Apparently the Universe gifted us this set as they never followed up.

Raising twins, assorted business start-ups, part-time jobs interspersed with staying home full time to raise our sons meant less cash in the coffers. So our temporary set became a permanent fixture. On periodic moments of flush cash, I would lust after Stickley mission dining tables and chairs. Then circumstances would evaporate our windfalls and I’d polish her up, clean the dried bits of toddler meals and move on.  Read the rest of this entry

The Heart Knows

The Heart Knows

“The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of…we know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart.”—Blaise Pascal

As I walked Miles one cold Sunday afternoon recently at our favorite park, I was pondering my career and life. This is nothing new as the hamster wheel of what to do next spins constantly in my brain. I was feeling chipper and relaxed as I meandered with my big black dog. The sun popped out which is always so welcome in winter. The timing was cosmic, however.

I paused as we crossed the bridge to the main entrance to admire the view when I spied the heart-shaped rock in the middle of the stream. I’d made this trip dozens of times, but never before had I seen this gem peaceful amid the flowing waters. As I studied the scene, I noticed mini rapids flowing toward the heart positioned smack in the middle of the stream. Then I saw that the water surrounding the rock and beyond was calm, serene. The long bend of the stream was an elegant and subtle twist with the beauty found only in winter grays and browns of slumbering trees and tall grasses.

It occurred to me that this scene is a metaphor for my own journey. I’ve come through a rocky period in the D’Ag family in 2018. Death, job transitions, legal battles, bodily conditions out of control. It wasn’t all rough water—there were weddings and family celebrations aplenty. Freedom to explore my interior landscape and where I want to go next in the land of earning money, and just plain joy in the journey time.

What seemed suddenly revealed to me was the wisdom nature’s heart talisman offered. I often repeated to my sons they will never go wrong if they let their heart lead them to their happiness. Once you accept that simple, inescapable fact, you hit smooth waters. There is adventure waiting if you follow your heart as it points the way to your greatest path of joy.

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Coda

Coda

“Coda: a concluding segment of a piece of music, a dance, or a statement. It’s usually short and adds a final embellishment beyond a natural ending point.”—Vocabulary.com

Here I am, on the precipice once again.
Corporate job—over.
Writing life—ready to resume.

I’ve declared to many that personal writing is what I want to do. That this was to be my new path when we started our new life in Baltimore five years ago. I’ve journaled much about this in the past few years. I traveled to San Francisco to learn about publishing. I began a new book, a memoir on raising gay twin sons.

Then along the way, I lost my writing mojo. The defining moment for this was having to move from the rental house to a permanent house in Towson. It derailed my memoir writing as I had to spend the majority of my time looking for a new home for us in a truly short period of time—60 days. Then, the buying, moving and settling in time. The tragic loss of our beloved black lab Fenway that following spring knocked me off my pins for months.

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Farewell to my Kitchen Sister

Farewell to my Kitchen Sister

“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”—Julia Childs

Lana Lee Jones D’Agostino, July 18, 1955 – April 25, 2018

Friday, April 27, 2018. Lana, you’re missing the conversation about your life that’s happening as we listen to your brother Michael and wife Megan read your obituary we are crafting. Although you made your presence known when you knocked over the framed tribute President O’Bama signed to our father-in-law Vic thanking him for his military service. That passage you approved was about being a strong [and independent] woman—Steve’s addition.

Strong and independent. Yes indeed. But also tender and loving.

We knew you as our sister. Had conversations over the years about your work as a journalist. But as we sister-in-laws shared last night at your viewing, we really didn’t know the breadth of your professional life. Until you died.

Steve is collecting your press badges for your memorial service. They tell a story in their own right. 911 In New York City. The elevation of Cardinal O’Malley in Rome,  The Boston marathon bombings. The Whitey Bolger story. JFK Junior’s plane crash. These were some of the big ones. You covered thousands of smaller stories that kept us informed and connected to the world outside our bubbles. Over 20,000 in your 30-year career.

Isn’t it a pity that we don’t get to glimpse our impact while we’re here. Perhaps a tad narcissistic, some might think. Yet it can also be an opportunity to measure how much more there is to do with whatever days are marked on our earthly calendar. Your days reflected how deeply you cared about social justice and truth telling. And family.  Read the rest of this entry

The Cookie Maker

The Cookie Maker

Life doesn’t come with a manual. It comes with a mother.

Happy 60th Mom!You would have turned 90 today. December 15 is the fine day you arrived, aptly named Joyce to herald in the joy of the Christmas season.

I think of you every day. Little memories come to me as I glance at your photo on my jewelry chest. It’s the old snap of us on my 4th birthday. We are looking up bright-eyed with happiness at the unseen photographer. Sometimes I stop and study the images, wondering about our lives then and how we would share it now.

Your cookie baking Christmas tradition binds us tenderly together in this season of joy. You loved making delicious trays of cookies and candies for us, dear friends and co-workers. I remember tins and Tupperware stacking up as you baked. You began just after Thanksgiving since you had such a huge volume to produce.

Your artistry was masterful as you assembled the trays with delectable confections. Round balls, cut-outs, drop cookies, bars, tiny pastry shells of pecan pie. Chocolate peanut butter balls danced among the sugary orbs. The tins and platters were also part of the gift, selected with the receiver in mind. Ours were child-themed for your twin grandsons. I still have those trays, and the dinged up Courier and Ives tins that housed your treats.

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Choosing Joy on Mother’s Day

Choosing Joy on Mother’s Day

All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.—Abraham Lincoln

Mom, Debbie & me

Mom, Debbie & me

Grandma Joyce & Baby Boinkers

Grandma Joyce & Baby Boinkers

Mom & Dad in finery

Mom & Dad in wedding finery

Grandma's lap is best!

Grandma’s lap is best!

Happy 1st Birthday Adam & Alex!

Happy 1st Birthday Adam & Alex!

Aunt Ellie, Aunt Bev & Mom. Sisters!

Sisters! Aunt Ellie, Aunt Bev & Mom

Happy 60th Mom!

Happy 60th Mom!

My your pie is yummy Joyce (Debbie, Mom, Carmen, Bev)

My your pie is yummy Joyce (Debbie, Mom, Carmen, Bev)

Story time with Grandma

Story time with Grandma. (Adam l, Alex r)

It’s the 20th Mother’s Day without my mom Joyce. TWENTY YEARS. That’s a lifetime. Enough days woven together to raise kids, change careers, move and relish life while tromping through the daily grind. All spent without advice and support from the woman who loved me unconditionally.

I think Mom would say I’ve done a good job of raising my family. She told my sister I was a “good little mother” in the early years of parenting our twin sons. Thank you Debbie for sharing that with me. I’ve held onto that gift more than you can ever know, replaying it over and over when the bumps were especially rough.

Do I think of Mom every day? No. Oh sure I see our birthday photo that lives atop my jewelry chest each day as I make the bed. I say a silent hello. But I don’t always pause to truly think about her. The many ways she lived a rich, spiritual life. How she dealt with a devastating diagnosis that almost took my sister’s life. Of a husband who successfully fought mental demons while she raised her first-born, worked full time and ran the household. Sitting bed-side by her sisters as they were dying. Watching her son struggle with such depression it almost ended badly but through the grace of God, come back to the light.

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The Soundtrack of My Life

The Soundtrack of My Life

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.—Berthold Auerbach, poet and author

I can chart tMusic of My Life2.JPGhe course of my life through song from the earliest days when my parents’ hi-fi played Oklahoma, The King and I, My Fair Lady and the Sound of Music. Through teen years, college, marriage, raising kids, business started and shuttered, parents departing too soon, music has been my balm and touchstone to the times mere memory obscures.

My first album was Carol King’s Tapestry. Each song seemed to express the longing of my 13-year-old heart for love and adventure. When I was an insecure girl searching for lasting friendships, You’ve Got a Friend promised a BFF wasn’t far off. Natural Woman gave me hope of future beauty and love. Tapestry spoke of a life fulfilled and no fear of the great beyond. Heady stuff for a tender age. My much loved LP, cover scratched with age now, traveled to college, New Hampshire and Syracuse. Yet the words remain timeless as I listen today on my iPad or phone.

Peace Train Concert 2014

I knew Mark was my musical soul mate through our mutual love for Harry Chapin and Cat Stevens— troubadours singing about everyday moments, family and the search for meaning in life. As newlyweds masquerading as journalists, we sat 10 feet from Cat Stevens turned Yusuf Islam in a press conference on his trip to Syracuse. In 2014 we had the transcendent experience of Cat/Yusuf’s first US concert tour in 20 years, part of the Boston peaceful boomer crowd singing along to the familiar lyrics.

Our wedding first dance was to Cat Stevens’ Foreigner Suite. Pre-wedding, Mark would sing the words to me as we practiced in our living room, “The moment you walked inside my door I knew that I need not look no more…” Father & Son is the primer for advice given to sons eager to explore the world. Adam and Alex have heard the lessons distilled from Cat’s wisdom many times over.

Amazing Grace comforted me through pregnancy, raising babies and our parents’ funerals. The simple melody and words are so consoling although I do not think myself a wretch. I sang this softly so often while carrying the boys and then as a lullaby rocking sleepy babies. Later walking behind caskets, tears choking my throat. Read the rest of this entry