Sunday, February 16, 2014

Pushing Spring

It's been a long, hard winter for most of the country and everyone seems anxious for spring to arrive ASAP. Hard winter or not, we have a history of pushing spring at our house and because the winter has been so tough, I'm willing to share my pushing spring strategies with of all of you.....for free. That's right, it will be my gift to you. All you need is a little bit of open-mindedness and some optimism.

We start pushing spring by taking our lawn mower into the shop to get serviced early. Really early. This year the date will be March 8th. That way but we can beat the rush. The guys at the lawn mower shop probably take bets or have an office pool to see who can guess the exact date we show up with our mower.  Taking your lawn mower in early to be serviced is not only good planning, but I think it helps spring to get here sooner.  It might even make the grass grow faster. You skeptics out there should try it.**

Also on the list of things to do to push spring is to haul out most of our patio furniture in early March, just in case a 70 degree day comes along. If you think about it, that furniture can sit out on the deck and patio just as easy as it sits in the basement. Besides, the early putting out of patio furniture, combined with the early servicing of the lawn mower, increases the odds that spring will arrive sooner.  Again, if you are skeptical, just try it yourself and see. **

Pots of bulbs who want sunshine.
Pots that got sunshine
And if that wasn't enough, I am also planning on hauling the 20 pots planted with spring bulbs from the garage out to our deck on the weekend of March 8th.  Every December, I plant pots with tulips, daffodils, crocus and grape hyacinth and leave them in the garage to cook, I mean cool. By the first of March, they are crying to get out into the sunshine and spring to life, gracing our deck with a splash of spring color by early April. And did you know that spring bulbs are very competitive? That's right. When the bulbs in the pots on the deck start blooming, the bulbs planted in the garden below get agitated and try to catch up.

Cleaned-up garden
You can add early garden clean-up to your list of  pushing spring strategies. Last year, we had some warmer days in late February, around 50 degrees and I  managed to tear down 5 trash cans full of Sweet Autumn vine that covers our fence.  The 5 cans went out on the curb one  for the garbage guys to haul away. I put out 3 more cans of garden waste the next week after I just had to go out and start cleaning up the flower garden. You see, putting out your yard waste early also helps spring get here sooner.  But beware, the garbage guys might take umbrage with this strategy.  There has been years when we can hear the garbage guys muttering under their breath... wondering what would possess someone to put out garden waste so early. They are skeptics of my pushing spring strategies.

These are not illegal plants
One final strategy. In mid-March  I will get the seeds started and put under the grow lights in the basement again this year.  That, along with the earlier review of seed catalogs followed by a robust order of seeds for the vegetable garden, are sure to coax spring to arrive early.

So you can see that we have a well-conceived, multiple option strategy at our house, all intended to push spring. And of course, the results speak for themselves. Sort of. Alright, maybe I've exaggerated just a bit. 

Spring will get here soon enough, this I have learned. Being a gardener teaches you that Mother Nature runs on her own time.  And on her own terms. Like so many things in life, the more you try to control it, the less control you realize you have. Mother Nature wins every round.  She is undefeated. I keep trying to out wit her. But to no avail.

Look at it this way. Even if spring arrives later than you would like, when it does arrive, your mower is ready and your garden is clean. And while your neighbors are barely waking from their long winter naps, you'll be relaxing on your patio or deck.

** The above results are not typical and are based on the writer's overly developed sense of optimism. You assume full responsibility for pulled muscles, irritated garbage guys and periods of depression that may result as a result of spring not arriving early.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

An Unexpected Opportunity To Serve

There was a time in my life when I afraid of funerals. Now I've gotten used to them. Well, maybe not used to them, per se,  but I have gotten used to speaking at them. Most recently when I spoke at my brother Tony's funeral this week in San Diego.

You might be wondering how someone gets into the funeral speaking circuit.  Or you might be wondering why someone who isn't a minister or priest would volunteer for such a role. I was thinking about both of those questions on Tuesday morning when I put the final touches on the words I was going to share in a few hours. I was beginning to wish I hadn't accepted the role. It would be easier to just sit in the congregation with everyone else. This one was going to be hard.

I'm one of the few people, it seems, who doesn't have the # 1 fear of most adults, the fear of public speaking. Whether extemporaneously or in a prepared speech, speaking in front of groups has always been easy for me. It's how I've made my living much of the time. That being said, there is nothing easy about speaking at the funeral of a loved one. Walking through your own grief while attempting to eulogize a brother or parent can be a little dicey.

Here's a sampling of the funerals I've spoken at:

  • At my brother-in-law's service in 1993, where I spoke without preparation along with several others.
  • When my wife's mother died two weeks after we were married in 1997, and she asked me to represent her family and give the eulogy.
  • In 2002, I delivered the eulogy at my dad's services, ironically at the same mortuary where my brother's visitation was held this week. That was a tough one to deliver.
  • When our daughter-in-law passed away from lupus in 2010, my step-son Mike asked me to facilitate her services which were held outdoors in El Cajon, CA. It was the least I could do.
  • Same thing at my sister Katie's services which were held at a mortuary in Queens, NY in 2011. I facilitated the service and delivered the eulogy.
And I probably would have done more of the same when our mother passed in 2012, except she didn't have any services. That's another story for another day.

In all those situations, there were points in the deliver where I was almost overcome by emotion, choking back tears and yet, pressing ahead.  I was always able to hold it together enough to deliver the message intended to honor the lost loved one and comfort those who were sitting in front of me.  And when family and friends tell you afterwards that your words touched them and helped them through their grief, I've experienced a feeling of gratitude and usefulness that is deeply meaningful.

When we arrived in San Diego last weekend, I was expecting to sit this one out. Tony was having a Catholic mass at his home parish and everything was planned. But when Tony's wife mentioned that there was an opportunity for someone to speak for about 5 minutes just before the closing of the Mass, and would I be interested, I'd said yes. Again. It was least I could do for her. And for my brother.

As soon as I said "yes", my mind immediately began to sketch out the message, even before I sat down to write it out. And for the next day a half, I was writing his eulogy in my mind, in between visiting with family, dining out and going for a run in the beautiful San Diego weather. Finally, I got my Ipad out and began to write out the 5 minute message I was going to deliver.

At Tony's visitation on Monday afternoon, I met the woman who was coordinating the services.  She reminded me that 5 minutes was enough time and offered a piece of advice. "No fishing stories." Apparently some eulogizers have told fishing stories. I politely thanked her and said I would keep my words in the right context.

Tony's funeral was held in a modern Catholic church where the altar is open and slightly elevated. His parish priest  who led the Mass had a warm and comforting manner.  Just after communion, he introduced me as the family member who was going to share some words about Tony.

With Ipad in hand, I stood up from my pew and immediately could feel the emotion welling up inside me. Oh boy, breathe deep. Breathe. I noticed that each of the lay people who had delivered readings, paused momentarily at the edge of the altar and bowed their head before stepping up to the lectern. I did the same and took another deep breath. Then I calmly (on the outside) stepped up to the lectern, opened my Ipad where my words were written, and delivered the eulogy.

I think I spoke for about 5 minutes, maybe a little more. The hardest part was the last 4 sentences.

"So rest in peace, little brother. You lived a blessed life. You made us all better people. And your faith will live on inside all of us."

 I lost count of the people who told me afterwards how much my words meant to them. Several asked me what I did for a living. Most meaningful were those who said I captured the essence of who Tony was. And the words of gratitude from Tony's wife, Patti, and daughter Laura, will stay with me forever.

 The women who told me "no fishing stories" caught me outside the church and said it was the best eulogy she'd ever heard delivered in that church.  Good thing Tony didn't love fishing, I thought.

It was never my intention to be a funeral speaker. It is not my intention to find another funeral to speak at. But you never know when an opportunity to be of service will present itself. And if that opportunity presents itself, I'll take a deep breath and step up to the podium. It's the least I can do for those I love and who love me back. And it's the least I can do as an expression of gratitude for the gifts I've been  given