Tag Archives: gardening

Exploring the Chianti countryside

Another stop on our tour of the Chianti region was at the terra cotta workshop of Sergio Ricceri.

Sergia Ricceri throwing a pot.

Here we learned about the high quality of clay in this region, which produces superior terra cotta pots and decorative items. I was attracted to the planters decorated with lemons and also the roosters.


Sergio’s works are available directly from him (and several people in my group ordered pieces which he shipped–and they arrived perfectly intact).

These three pictures are from Sergio’s website; the painted pieces are hand-painted.

Picture from Sergio’s website.

As we left Sergio’s workshop, the sun was setting, and everywhere we looked, the sky was vibrant pink.

What the future will bring

I learned to sew in Home Economics class when I was eleven years old, and I continued to sew for the next 40 years—until I got a job that required travel more than half of the year. When I was at home, I had too much catching up to do to sit and sew.

For me, sewing requires dedicated time and a certain state of mind. I need to be able to focus on what I am making. Sewing gives me the most pleasure when I can spend an hour or two (or more) at my sewing machine.


Knitting has taken up some of the space I would have devoted to sewing; gardening has taken up some as well. They are both creative outlets for me, but they are not sewing.

Sewing was spiritual for me. I thought it was almost miraculous that I could take a rectangular piece of fabric and in as little as a half hour, turn that piece of fabric into a skirt. The idea of something being transformed into something else spoke to me of God’s creating from nothing and of God’s being able to reshape us (I love the image of God as a potter, creating something from a lump of clay).

I have other hobbies I can do while doing something else (I can knit while watching television, for example, or read a book while I am in a waiting room) but sewing requires its own space and time without distractions.

By the time my friend Jim got brain cancer, I hadn’t done any serious sewing for about ten years. We had not talked about my sewing, so I was surprised when, a few days before he died, he said, “I hope you sew again.” It seemed to come out of left field, but when I reflect on it now, I can see what he saw—my life was fuller when I sewed. I was more myself with that creative outlet.

But since he died ten years ago, I still have not started sewing again.

Then one day in France three months ago, I had the thought, “I want to sew.” A few days later, I was in a baby shop looking at hand-sewn bibs, and again I thought, “I want to sew.”

Ironically, that morning at prayer, two Scriptures had spoken to me:

Isaiah 43:16-17: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see I am doing something new, and

Philippians 3:14: Just one thing, forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead….


Sewing is from my past; could it also be in my future?

Is it time for me to return to this hobby of old, even to see if it is still something that brings me joy?

Do you have a hobby from your youth that still calls to you? That still engages your imagination and fosters a sense of creativity?

Finding joy in simple things

We had a streak of unusually warm days a few weeks ago, and I took advantage of them to work in the yard. I removed dead flowers from the garden, raked leaves and pruned my Rose of Sharon. Every warm day found me outside for at least an hour or two.

One day I repotted house plants. Some were clippings I had rooted that were ready for dirt and others were plants that had outgrown their pots. One was a small spider plant I had rooted last winter and planted in the spring. All summer, it sat in its little pot on my sunporch, producing new roots and sending out baby spider plants.

When I tried to lift it out of its pot, I found it was completely trapped and I had to break to pot to free the plant. The roots had completely filled the pot; there was virtually no dirt left. I apologized to the plant (yes, I sometimes talk to my houseplants—they are living things!)

Anyway, I carefully unwound its root system and gently clipped off the excess bits so it could breathe, and then planted it in a larger pot.

As I worked on my houseplants, I was aware of how peaceful I felt, how much I felt like myself, doing something I love to do.

The next morning, I reflected on the peace I felt while repotting plants and how I felt like myself doing that simple task. I can sometimes become busy with work and other obligations and ignore the things I love to do, the things that bring me joy.

I then began to wonder how often my prayer life becomes like that little spider plant—all rootbound, no air to breathe or dirt to help me grow.

Of the many things that have been cancelled because of the pandemic, I think that the cancellation of my annual retreat is having the greatest impact on me. That one week away, completely focused on God, is what I need to shake things up in my prayer life. It is the time I give myself over to God to lift me out of whatever may be constricting, to prune away the excess and replant me in new soil.

Retreat begins with asking for a grace, something I think I need at that time. For me, it is usually something like courage, trust or compassion but it can be anything. Having a whole week to pray with a focus on that grace usually leads to some insight or revelation about where God is moving in my life and where God is inviting me to move.

Retreats, like puttering with plants, are simple activities that can bring new insight and deep joy. Those days in the garden helped me see that I am hungry for times without scheduled activities, times to play in the dirt, to widen my vision and be present to the grace God gives me every day.

What simple activities bring you joy?

What feeds your soul?

How long have you been knitting? asked one of the women in a group I was teaching to knit.

Not long, I replied. Only about fifteen years.

Fifteen years! she exclaimed. That’s almost my whole life. She was twenty-two; I was fifty. We had different life perspectives.


That memory came back to me the other day, along with a memory of a blog I read a few years ago by a young man who had been meditating for fifteen minutes a day for thirty days. He was writing about how that practice for those thirty days had changed his life.

I thought, Tell me how meditation has changed your life after you have been meditating every day for thirty years.

In the first blush of learning something new, when we are in the honeymoon phase, we can imagine that this is it—the one thing that will change our lives forever. But as everyone knows, the honeymoon ends and then we need to figure out a way to live out our commitments.

Meditating for thirty days is a good start, but it is just that—a start.

Very little lasts forever or with the initial enthusiasm. Relationships that seemed so full of promise can fall apart. Jobs that seemed so perfect can end up being confining. A spiritual practice that offers new insights after thirty days can feel like a chore after six months.

I think we need that honeymoon phase to entice us to do what is for our own good. Plus, those first feelings of connection, interest or passion give us something to fall back on once the honeymoon is over.

In relationships, it is important to remember what about this person first attracted us, because we know that those quirky habits that seemed so endearing at the beginning can become the very things we find irritating later in the relationship.

The spiritual journey is like that, too. Those good feelings at the beginning of a spiritual practice might fade once the practice feels like a chore. But that initial spark is something we can always return to if the spark fades.

I have been participating in an eight-week, on-line retreat focused on the foundations of soul work. The retreat directors have discussed a variety of frameworks for spiritual growth within the Christian tradition, from the desert fathers and mothers to the Rule of St. Benedict, the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola and the more recent work of Thomas Keating.

The culmination of the retreat is to name our own “Rule of Life,” those foundational practices that keep us growing spiritually, and to describe or illustrate those practices in some way.

For me, the pillars that support my spiritual life are

  • daily prayer (Lectio Divina)
  • community/worship
  • creativity (knitting, gardening, cooking, etc.)
  • curiosity (learning)
  • journaling/writing
  • service  
  • annual silent retreats.

These elements have been the underpinnings of my spiritual life for many years, some since I was a child.

What fosters your spiritual growth and feeds your soul?


Do more of this

I recently attended a workshop at a local nursery called Hydrangeas 101, covering the basics of successfully growing Hydrangeas. I had questions about the one that came with my house, as this is my first experience with this particular flower.

When I moved here, I had Googled “pruning Hydrangeas” and learned that pruning was a no-no. Numerous websites advised planting them where they have enough room to grow to their full size. Mine has room; I was more interested in knowing if it needed to be pruned for its health.

At the end of the hour-long workshop, I had the answers to my questions, and I walked out of the nursery aware that I was feeling light and happy.

Gardening is one of my favorite things and learning about flowers is as much fun as the actual gardening. I joined the local garden club when I moved here four years ago, to learn what is indigenous and what grows best in this zone. Now, I watch Monarch butterflies on Echinacea and hummingbirds at the Rose of Sharon.prayer-examen-garden

But, back to the workshop and the lightness I felt when I left.

I am by nature a curious person. Not nosey (I barely know my neighbors or their habits), but inquisitive; I love to learn.

As I walked out of the nursery, the words that popped into my heard were, Do more of this. The feeling was similar to the one I have when I am leaving my Polish classes—happy, light and free.

Entering with the awareness that I am seeking knowledge and leaving having acquired something—a clearer understanding of what my Hydrangea needs in order to be happier, or perhaps one new Polish word—it does not have to be much to make me happy.

Do more of this. The words reminded me of a prayer practice developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola called The Examen.

St. Ignatius saw the benefit of periodically stopping during the day and looking at how the day was going. Was he drawing closer to God through his words and actions? Or was he moving away from God?

I have heard The Examen explained in a number of ways, but the main point is to look at how the day is unfolding, to look at patterns in our lives, and to do more of the things that draw us closer to God and less of those that take us away from God.prayer-examen-gardenI tend to think of gratitude as an indicator of how my day is going. If it am feeling grateful, things are generally good. If I am feeling resentful or jealous or put upon in some way, I know I need to change something because what I am doing is moving me away from God.

The Examen can be helpful in leading me away from toxic people and situations. It can help point out patterns that are harmful and also patterns that are grace-filled. The Examen redirects me toward God and freedom.



Tips for a relaxing staycation

I am taking a staycation—my first real vacation in almost two years. There are many positive aspects to staying home, but one fear I have is that the many projects around the house begging for my attention will take up all my time and I will be as tired at the end as I am at the beginning. So instead of following my own inclinations, I am going to try to follow the schedule of someone whose life is an extended staycation—my dog, Detroit.


Dogs seem to have a handle on how to live a good life. Detroit’s days are made up of five main activities: food, exercise, sleep, work and play.

Food. I think Detroit loves food more than anything else. My sister says I feed Detroit too often, which may be true, but I am a grazer, and so it makes sense that my dog would be a grazer, too. In between meals, Detroit likes lots of little treats—me, too.

Exercise. Every morning we go for a long walk, and Detroit checks out her surroundings, greets neighborhood dogs, leaves little messages for dogs who will come along later, stalks squirrels until they run up trees and generally enjoys the fresh air. Although I impose this walk on her, Detroit seems to enjoy it. For me, though this walk is more stroll than exercise, so on my staycation, I plan to take extra walks and maybe even ride my bike.

Sleep. When we get back from our morning walk, Detroit stretches out on my lap and within a few seconds, her body is totally limp and she is sound asleep. I will follow her lead and take a nap.

Work. Waking up refreshed, Detroit gets to work. Her job is to patrol the backyard, keeping it free of squirrels, rabbits, cats and birds. It is an important job, and she can spend an hour or so clearing out all the undesirables.

detroit in yard


She also likes to take some time to sit and admire her work. IMG_3513

After a nap, I will tackle some house project. The list is long, and I will alternate between chores that are more and less enjoyable. More enjoyable projects for me include working in the yard, sewing and painting furniture; less enjoyable ones include washing windows, cleaning out the freezer and dusting. After work, it is time for another nap.

Play. Every day includes at least one extended play time when Detroit will get a toy and bring it to me for a game of tug-of-war or some fetching.

Detroit running

During my staycation, I plan to spend more time writing, praying and studying Polish. My play time will also include reading, gardening and perhaps exploring some nearby towns to poke around in shops or maybe go to a museum or two.

I figure if I pace myself and adhere to Detroit’s schedule, my staycation will be somewhat productive but much more restful and relaxing.