Yesterday, as I put the hydrangeas in my vase I thought back to the day I received it from my special guy. It was literally a half century ago.. I thought it was the most beautiful vase I’d ever seen and it was undoubtedly the first truly elegant gift I'd ever received. It wasn't the kind of thing we ever had in our home and it represented a different way of looking at life.
My Mother was a minimalist long before the term was born. We had very few items that weren't absolute necessities and I don't remember ever seeing a vase or a bouquet in our home. If there had been one, I can guarantee it would not have been in a vase that required polishing. Fiesta ware and stainless steel were much more practical. We each had our own plate, bowl and cup - my set was blue, my brother chose yellow, my dad's set was an orangey peach and mother chose gray. Mother was a superlative cook, just like my grandmother, but meals were functional, not an experience. We ate. We did not dine. At the time, I didn't realize there was a difference.
My vase is sterling on bronze and requires polishing. Few household chores bring me more satisfaction than polishing metals There is a quiet, meditative feeling about considering the artistry and work that went into creating something useful as well as beautiful. Polishing, whether my copper cookware, silver flat ware, or various containers, requires that I slow down, pay attention and experience gratitude.
An empty vase also represents endless possibilities for creativity! Looking at negative space, gives a wealth of opportunities for interpretation! Oh, that's another blog post!
Anyway, in sharp contrast to our simplistic life style, my grandmother surrounded herself with flowers, gardens, vases, heirlooms and many items to polish! She ran a 74 acre farm by herself, with black angus, pigs, chickens and she raised corn and grain to feed them all. In addition, she raised, canned and prepared the food for herself and the family and friends she entertained all year long..
My grandmother's favorite flower was the dandelion and she taught me to make garlands, split stems, gather leaves for salads, and make wishes while blowing the seeds. She knew the name of every plant on her farm and would take me to visit them, sharing legends and lore. We gathered some for recipes and products, and others we admired and left behind.. We told time by the four o'clocks by the pump beside the house, gathered baney hen eggs from under the lilac bushes, and she shared stories of the fairies dancing around the mullein stalks. (She was from Indiana, after all, and very familiar with James Whitcomb Riley's pixie people).
My grandmother's formal gardens were spectacular! There were glorious stalks of gladiolas in every color, roses so fragrant we wanted to eat them - and we did, Iris, tulips, daffodils and narcissus. Other less spectacular, but often more interesting flowers were in the fields, beside the fence posts or on the way to the barn. There were pinks, primroses, cornflowers, and columbines, bleeding hearts, day lilies, honey suckle and lavender. We made dolls from the hollyhocks, pressed flower stationery, garlands and wreaths for our hair, and rings, necklaces and bracelets.
When we left Indiana and moved to West Virginia, I missed my grandmother's gardens and fields. Thankfully, I found an abandoned garden behind the faculty apartments at West Virginia Tech, on the way to the football field and the waterfall I visited almost every day. The garden, plus the wildflowers and trees along the mountain paths, brought such peace, as well as more plants to identify and study! I found spring beauties, blood roots, and sassafras, and some old friends - lady's slipper orchids, Dutchman's Britches, trilliums, celandine, coltsfoot and chicory.
After my father died, we moved to Mechanicsburg, PA. I hated it. I was homesick and heartsick. We lived in town and I was surrounded by streets and sidewalks. I called it Cement City. There were no mountain streams or paths, rivers, or waterfalls. Years later I moved into a little fishing cabin by the Yellow Breeches in the same town and got a different perspective, but at the time, the separation from nature and all I had learned to love was devastating. And no one around me seemed to notice there was something missing.
I chose Clarion University for it's geographic similarities to Tech, and not for academics. I'll admit I was probably misguided, but i finally felt at home. I continued to search for plants in Cooks Forest and by the Clarion River, as well as doing research. When I found Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons, I broke a date to read it. I literally couldn’t put it down. I felt bad but felt compelled to continue reading and taking notes. If the guy had said “I’ll pick up a pizza, bring a book and join you” we’d probably still be together. I really liked him, but he never asked me out again.. My loss.
Later, I was fortunate to live in homes surrounded by some of my favorite herbal friends, And I still do. They make every aspect of life more fulfilling. I designed and delivered a course called Enhancing Your Life with Herbs that included many aspects, from haunting herbs and herbs for romance, to healing, doctrine of signatures, zodiac herbs, holiday herbs, recipes, crafts, legend and lore. You can find many of them among my hidden treasures if you'll take the time to look!
As I reflect on my life's journey, I've been blessed. My parents taught me to value education, research, life long learning, music and diversity. Plants weren't specifically on their list, but the lessons all interweave with the path I've chosen.
Anyway, there are hundreds more stories! I’m going to write them down and call it My Life’s Journey Among the Flowers or something similar. I'll include illustrations, stories, crafts and recipes, and legends and lores, I painted over 200 illustrations for my herb course but I want to redo most of them. The reflections on the vase, and how flowers and herbs have influenced my life, have given me a framework. So if I disappear, you'll know why!
Have a fabulous summer!
The northern hemisphere's longest day of the year is today, June 21, 2018. Though this will be our longest day, the length of those days varies considerably depending on where you live. Here in Maryland we'll have about 16 hours of daylight, while the Florida Keys will have under 14 and the most northern parts of Alaska will have 24 hours of sun!.
There are perceptions that the summer solstice has an equal number of dark and light hours (12 and 12), that is is the hottest day of the year, and that with patience, you can balance an raw egg on end. All of these are false. The hours of light and dark won't be exactly equal unless you live in a very limited geographic area and the length of the day doesn't effect the temperature. I admit I've tried to balance the egg more than once and I've never beens successful.
The summer solstice means different things to each of us. For some it is simply Mother Nature's official start to summer. Others head to Stonehenge to wait for the perfect moment when the sun rises over the Heel Stone and hits the central Altar Stone. There are celebrations and parades, including the Santa Barbara and the Fremont Solstice Parade, which includes a naked bike ride. Others spend quiet moments, meditating, journaling and expressing gratitude. In Sweden, they gather flowers and herbs on the day of the solstice, and some make them into wreaths for their hair or add them to food and decorations for festivities that last all day, often ending with a bonfire. Here in Baltimore, listening to jazz in the exquisite gardens at the Rawlings Conservatory has always been one of my favorite ways to celebrate!
How delightful that we can adapt those celebrations in our own way. I've already done my daily meditation and journaling, I will be gathering herbs and flowers for recipes and decorations and i may fashion a wreath if there is time. I will listen to jazz as I prepare my favorite solstice recipes for an evening picnic, and it is very likely that Zippy will join me to howl at the moon, with or without the bonfire. Our area frowns on open flames.
My celebration begins before the actual day. Gratitude, vulnerability and contrast are on my mind as the day approaches. The solsitce promises another season, rich with nature's abundance. Many don't live in areas where there are four distinct seasons, and many don't want to! But I am grateful for the annual reminders of life's passages - birth, growth, maturity, death and decay, and back to the renewal of birth - all keep me aware. They also provide seasonal contrasts and variety, which adds so much to life.
There is a sense of vulnerability during these times. What is more vulnerable than a seed, bursting forth from its safe dark shell to expose its inner most essence? Seeds provide a metaphor for what we can become if we do our inner exploration and allow our most personal gifts to be exposed and shared. It takes courage and faith to share who we are with the world.
And then there is contrast - yin/yang. The hot forces of the summer's yang need to be balanced with the coolness of yin. If we are aware of these contrasts, we can be better prepared. This year in particular, from the raging molten lava of the volcanic eruptions in Hawaii, to the anger and rage resulting from our current political situation, we need to find ways to bring balance.
In an earlier post I referred to the serenity prayer - to let go of what we can't control, to take action if we can make a difference. There is little we can do when volcanoes rage, but we can take action to improve the political situation.
It is imperative for our health to detach as much as possible while gathering and processing information. We all have different sources. It is best to find factual information that doesn't incite anger, fear or violence. Internal rage can do more damage to you than it will to any issue you are hoping to resolve.
The solstice is a time of opportunity and growth. Have the faith to open your heart and share your talents, creativity and unique gifts. We can all contribute to making this world a better place. What seeds will you plant during the solstice? How will you nourish them and encourage their growth? What ideas and talents do you have that no one else can share with your special grace and flair? What gifts will you harvest in the coming months?
I journal daily and add seeds at the bottom of my pages so I can return to review the dates when new ideas, relationships, and projects first appeared. Many of my seeds don't even sprout, but others grow roots, fruit, and even create seeds that become spin off projects and experience. I love processing and seeing the visuals of the seeds is an exciting way to process!
I hope your solstice will be filled with joy, hope and celebrations with loved ones, and the seeds you plant in the next few weeks will result in a bountiful harvest in the months ahead.
My hydrangeas are so gorgeous so I thought I'd share!
The name Hydrangea comes from the Greek word for water, "hydra", and “angos,”, the word for vessel.
The hydrangea is a flower of duplicity, both in form and meaning. It's large and showy pompom is mad of tiny, delicate, four petaled flowers. It has two meanings as well. It has been associated with sincere and heart felt emotions and gratitude, but a contrary meaning if one of coldness and frigidity.
At one time, families were cautioned not to place hydrangeas near their front door if they had single daughters. The flowers guaranteed the maidens would never marry.
Hydrangeas contain cyanide. DO NOT eat them. One of my first thoughts was how darling the delicate flower segments would be candied, like violets or lavender (recipes for both are hidden somewhere on this site, by the way.) But I am always cautious and do research. Sadly, they are poisonous and can't be candied or used in salads or desserts. Luckily, there are plenty of other herbs and flowers available.
They do come in handy for other purposes though. In addition to making gorgeous fresh bouquets, they can be dried and used in wreathes, bouquets and garlands, but they are best made while the flowers are just beginning to dry, and placed where they won't be touched or moved. Once dried, they are very fragile.
"To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing."
So many, myself included, are distracted with the fear based events of the day - the political situation, the media's successful attempts to keep us uncomfortable and distracted. These distractions rob us of the our energy.
One of the last things we think about is our talents, our gifts, what we have been brought on this earth to share to add value to our own lives and the lives of those impacted by our voice. Too many of us our silent.
Lack of confidence in our opinions and perspectives is also a factor. The fear of being judged keeps many of us silent. There was a time that one negative comment could stop me cold. A quote from Aristotle - "To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing" - created a shift in my perception. Now I collect criticism. It means I am extending my reach beyond what is safe. Leaving our comfort zones is the only way any of us will ever truly have an impact.
If we blend in the mushy middle of what is always safe, our voice will remain common and essentially useless. Our talents, gifts and opinions are valuable when they are used to make others think. Sometimes their not agreeing with us will ultimately have more value than rubber stamping our cautious, guarded options. We have an obligation to share our gifts in a way that makes us vulnerable and valuable.
This is the fourth year I've attended the UniverSoul Circus as a guest of Reverend James Lyles and
Youth 10Xs Better from Harrisburg. The circus is in Baltimore and I meet the bus load of young people and chaperones outside the circus tent.
This year, I was especially delighted to run into two dear friends, Lillian Bates and Phyllis Sweeting. We volunteered on various projects in Harrisburg for over two decades. They are still very involved with numerous community initiatives to benefit young people, families and the community.
This very special circus always pulsates with color, energy, vibrancy and talent. And they always weave a bit of their open and inclusive philosophy into the show. Groups from all over the world are represented and for the grand finale, they brought every group together with each county's flag and reminded us of the importance of being inclusive.
Below are a few of the photos I've taken over the years. You really need to attend personally to hear the music, feel the explosive and exuberant excitement from the crowd, get a sense of the amazing variety of talent and skills, but this will give you a fractional idea.
,Years ago, a few months before I lost my home in a flood, my daughter gave me this business card holder. She knew my volunteering had spun out of control. In addition to my full time job, I had key positions with America's Promise, United Way of the Capital Region, Project Youth, the Gandhi King Peace Coalition, and more. Asset based, youth driven initiatives were my favorite and supporting Judge Jeannine Turgeon with Do the Write Thing was one I considered most worthwhile.
Losing my home and my move to Baltimore forced me to make changes, and much to Mycala's delight, most of the volunteering ended. I did some courses with the Renaissance Institute locally and have continued to support Youth 10xs Better in Harrisburg because their mission incorporates all of Colin Powell's Five Promises (American's Promise), but my direct interaction with youth programs ended.
Moving to Baltimore has been a blessing. I love this town for more reasons than I have time to write or you have time to read. But the youth violence is staggering. I've been quietly watching since I moved to Baltimore County in 2012. I purchased a home in the city in 2015 and have continued to consider the best way to help.
Almost over night it occurred to me that Do the Write Thing might be the answer. I have always believed that young people, not adults, know the answers. When I first started out in social services, I am embarrassed to admit that I was part of deficit based programs centered around "what's wrong with young people and how can we (adults) fix them."
Fortunately, I was introduced to healthy communities. I became our local director in Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry and norther York counties through SHIP (State Health Improvement Plan) under the PA Department of Health. The healthy community philosophy embraced Dr. Peter Benson's 40 Assets for Youth from the Search institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota. One of the most startling realizations was that only 20% of young people feel that adults value their opinions.
Do the Write Thing encourages young people from middle school to process questions and come up with answers. And adults listen. It reaches people who are young enough to be guided to make better decisions.. It gives them the opportunity to consider actions and their consequences, gives them a voice and makes them feel part of making positive changes.
A Postive Experience in the Courtroom
Judge Turgeon felt strongly that academic participation and achievement should be given the same value as those for athletic competitions, so she always provided trophies for the students.
How often do young people and their families have an opportunity to have a positive experience in the court room? This was one of the most gratifying aspects of the program.
So now I am exploring the options of bringing this program to Baltimore. I would be willing to organize the project, but it require approval from the national organization to add another community to those already participating and also to find someone with the credentials and status who would be enthusiastic and dedicated to support the initiative.
In Harrisburg I was well connected and familiar with the community. I had spent decades working with people from board rooms to prisons, and had worked in state agencies, school systems from K through university level, health care systems, police departments, social service organizations and people on both sides of the political spectrum. In Baltimore I'm not nearly so well connected but recently I have connected with some people who might be able to help me with coordinating the community efforts. There seem to be so many people interested in making a difference but not sure how to help.
I still have contacts with people participating in Do the Write Thing and i am exploring the options of adding a Baltimore.
Do the Write Thing combines so many things I value - youth opinion, writing, processing, asset based programming, and community collaboration
Years ago I heard a metaphor for chaos and clarity. A fraction of an inch under the surface of a mirror, it is absolute chaos. But a tiny move can bring everything into perfect focus. Hopefully, there will be a clear of vision of what this might look like in the near future.
"My mission is
to help others see and cherish the beauty,
romance and treasures within and around them
that are often dismissed or completely overlooked."
Mikell is a writer, artist and professional treasure hunter, finding the greatest treasures in the wonderful people who enter her life!