Friday, December 23, 2016

2016 In Reverse

I knew a guy that used to joke about the Christmas letters people write.  He found it funny that these letters were either chalk-full of the amazing things people did all year or it was a laundry list of their woes.  At the time, I laughed along and said to myself, “that’s so true.”

That was all way before Facebook where this sort of external showcasing of your life is now so commonplace.  But even after a decade of change spurred on by social media’s entrenchment in our lives, I remember the meaning behind his joke: our lives are more complex than our accomplishments and they can be more joyful than our woes might tell.  You don't just have a great year or a bad year - it's almost always a mixture of both.  

Even knowing that it’s impossible to capture the essence of an entire year in a single letter or blog post I find that here on the brink of Christmas, at the end of the year, I wanted to write something about 2016.  If I followed the Christmas letter theme, I’d start with January and work my way through the seasons.  But I think life is most often remembered in reverse, like a movie watched while the tape is rewound.

With that in mind, here's how I remember 2016.

December:  It’s been colder than normal.  We’ve had lots and lots of rain this year which is good.  We need it after years of drought.  I spent a lot of time on the couch, under heated blankets, falling asleep too early in the evening.  We didn’t drive around the neighborhood and look at Christmas lights as much as last year.  The season seemed to sneak up on me and I felt like I missed things that should have been important.  We did spend one magical weekend at Disneyland where I felt blessed to be able to afford a trip like that, blessed to have a daughter just the right age to love the trip.  Blessed to have a wife that knew I needed a little magic and happiness in my life.

Splash Mountain at Disneyland

November: Felt like a hard month for me in ways I wasn't quite prepared for or expecting.  It’s supposed to be a time of Thanksgiving but I felt cheated.  Looking back I can see that I let myself withdraw from life more than I should have.  I kind of closed up and went into hibernation.  

October: I can’t even tell you about this month.  Looking at my calendar I can see it was a busy month at work and I know we did the whole Halloween thing.  But the month, in general, is just a blur.  

September: Just a few months after celebrating his graduation from the Royal Canadian Mounties program, my nephew sent us a picture of himself and his girlfriend on the top of a mountain and she was wearing a huge diamond ring on her finger.  The whole family was thrilled and we can't wait to get back together and celebrate something so joyful as a wedding.  

The happily engaged couple

August: Hot and miserable in Northern California as per normal.  August is also the time when our kids head back to school.  My daughter started 3rd grade this August.  As with most milestones in her life, I found myself dwelling on the swift passage of time with a mix of nostalgia and excitement for the future.  We picked her up from school and went out for ice cream that afternoon.  I remember wanting to share pictures from that day with my mom who felt so far away to me.

A beautiful night in Boston's Fenway Park

July: At the end of July we took a long-planned-for trip to Boston to see the Red Sox play a couple games and do the touristy things.  It was a welcome distraction for me and I loved getting to show the ladies in my life the city on the other coast that I love so much.  

Earlier in July, we flew back to my home state of Washington and met the rest of my family for the funeral.

June: On a night at the end of June I left work and saw that I had two missed phone calls on my cell.  One was from my brother-in-law and one was from my step-dad.  I instinctively knew why they were calling so I didn’t want to call them back.  Not yet.  The longer I waited, the longer I could ignore what they had to tell me.  

A little while later we sat close together on the couch and told Bailey that her Grandma had died. 

May: We took a quick trip to Portland, Oregon.  I managed to blog about it and post some pictures well after the fact.  My daughter got her ears pierced on this trip.  We were trying to carry on with life and do normal things.

April: I finished building a raised-bed vegetable garden I had wanted to build for months.  April in Sacramento is beautiful.  I proudly sent my mom photos of my garden’s progress.  She loved to garden and loved that I loved to garden.  Every time she came to visit, she’d spend time reading a book in a chair in my garden.  I felt a surge of pride whenever I thought she was enjoying herself in the gardens I worked so hard to create.  

March: Mom called and told me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer but not to worry because they caught it early and her prognosis was good.  I cried that night.  I’m not used to good outcomes when it comes to cancer.  I sat down that night and wrote her a long text message and told her that I was sad but also thankful for her and for the things she taught me, did for me, sacrificed for me, and cultivated in me.  She wrote back and I saved a screen shot of what she sent because I knew I would want to remember her words.  

February: We went to Hawaii for the first time ever and had a wonderful trip.  Life was beautiful and good and we felt so lucky to be alive and to see such a different and beautiful part of the world.  We went to a luau one night and watched the sun set into the Pacific ocean while someone nearby blew into a Pu shell to signify the end of the day.  It was glorious. 

One of my life's best moments

Maui sunset

January: It was a new year and we had lots to look forward to.  It feels like such a long time ago now.  When January of 2017 comes, I hope that there are things to look forward to again.  

Thursday, June 30, 2016

When It All Comes Together

One of the best books I've read about garden design, The Inward Journey, talks about creating your garden in a way that reflects your oldest desires.  For me, that meant creating a cove.

I attempted to do that in the far corner of my backyard by sectioning it off from the rest of the yard with a boxwood hedge and a simple iron arbor.  There was an existing mature apple tree that gave me a good start on the feeling of being closed in.  I added several Japanese maples and a chair and after just a couple years it really is starting to feel like a cove.

Japanese maples - Seiryu (in the foreground) and Iniba Shidare in the background

My satisfaction peaked the other day when my daughter came out to read while I worked in the yard.  I wasn't paying much attention while I worked but when I looked up and saw that she had chosen to sit in this uncomfortable chair and read a book I was thrilled.  Thrilled that she loves to read so much and thrilled that something in her was drawn to spend time in this part of the yard.

I could stand to learn a few things from her example.

After she caught me taking this picture she started hamming it up for the camera.  Here's a better view of the way the "cove" is coming together:

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Chinese Garden in Portland

Too much has gone on in my life recently for me to devote much free time to blogging.  And as previous posts have mentioned, the drought has put a damper on things for me . . . even if it hasn't dampened anything else.

Not too long ago we had a chance to tag along with my wife on a work trip to Portland, Oregon.  When she wasn't working we had a chance to explore one of our favorite cities and this time I convinced them to tour the Chinese Garden.  They were not thrilled.  But they were good sports.

That quickly changed though.  Almost immediately after entering the gardens we saw that they were giving a demonstration on how to make Hawaiian leis.

The pond was a big hit too even though the koi had been transported to another facility while they rehabilitated the habitat for some reason.  

I found the stone work in the pathways to be remarkable and enviable.  How long would it take to do something like this?

There was a lot of variety in the patterns throughout the different parts of the garden.

I don't know what these are called, but I thought this was a cool way to border a tree with stone.

This was a look I'd definitely like to mimic in the right situation.  I believe that's Japanese forest grass and black Mondo grass which I already grow.

Intricate, beautiful, and amazing.

Who hasn't wanted a moon gate of their own?

 One of the most charming aspects of the garden is that it is literally surrounded by downtown buildings.  But you quickly forget about them.  When I left the garden I found myself envious of the people whose office windows look down upon this garden.

They had a small selection of bonsai on display.  And by that I mean they had just a few - not that the bonsai was small.  But it was small.  The bonsai was I mean.

 My wife photo bombing skills were on point.

I will be writing more often I hope.  If you've given up on checking in on me, I don't blame you at all.  I hope to give you a reason to stop by and say hello once in a while though.