Up in the Clouds

The Art Farm grows with more form and color. Earlier this month, for David’s birthday, a good friend built this Bluebird house to which I added a bit of color. IMG_3782 IMG_3786 IMG_3792 IMG_3832 IMG_3827

Home-Made Blessings

While they are nothing fancy, they sure have great potential to be!  I used fabric scraps and a black Sharpie marker (holds up great in the rain) to create our own Prayer Flags. Ours hang alongside the more official Tibetan ones.  The intention is to bless our space, to bless ourselves and to bless all who walk with us.  Peace be with you.








…for us: self sustaining, small footprint, resilience, listening to the land, freedom of choice and teaching our children about consequences, being connected to community, sharing our surplus, growing forward.

Good Garden Karma


At the grey end of winter I made a list of plants for our art farm.

I opened my copy of “Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants” – the authoritative tome on matters of shrubs and trees – and cross referenced against available nursery stock.

I have nursery wholesale accounts and looked forward to buying at discount.  My wish list grew rapidly.  Our bank balance had not.

The obvious approach was to disregard planning and go the “free and found” route.

There is no turning back.  Nor need there be.  We have to date spent $43 on all the plantings.

Estate gardens overplant.   Where two Rhododendron should go, seven are planted. Trees arrive with trunks thick, the leafy canopy high and wide, accompanied by heavy equipment and work crews.

But it takes one year per inch of trunk diameter for the tree to settle into new terrain. Trees slowly overcome the transplant shock and you are better off buying a smaller tree and letting it grow into the landscape.

I know of one estate that solves this problem by handling trees like annuals.  The arborist actually told me that he sometimes leaves the metal cage on the root ball to make it easier to remove and change out the trees later.  Instant gratification. Ever-changing.

At the big house I manage, the planting phase was completed before my tenure.  My job, my challenge is about editing.   This season we attacked several problem areas.


From a thicket of lilacs, dogwoods, spirea, and one still-unidentified shrub – truly the ugliest hedge anyone had seen, and no one could solve – I partially removed shrubs along a 20-foot section.  Transplanted to our house this became the backdrop for our entire foundation beds, plus a privacy hedge along the street where our chicken coop will go.

Our plantings are scrawny, laughable like the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree, but with a quick pruning, generous serving of compost and space to grow they have leafed out and are ready to flower.  We have good soil.


Bayberry, which is salt tolerant, expands by sending out runners to start new plants.  While cleaning up the estate beds I harvested a handful of small – one gallon – shoots.  Planted here along the street, and given time, they will form a dense fragrant semi-evergreen hedge protecting the shade garden at our front porch.

It will take some time.

If the estate gave us a solid start, bio-mass abundance came from our neighbor Gina. We were renters last summer, and prohibited, by our landlord, from gardening at that house.  So when I had leftovers from the big house I passed them to Gina.

The return has been extraordinary; I delivered last summer a few one-gallon pots and this week hauled home car loads of 15 gallon pots: Rudbeckia, Monardia, Shasta Daisies, Pulmonaria, Lilies – common orange and Stella D’ora yellow, Astilbe, Iris, Lupine, Geraniums, Sedum.  She has more to offer.  I need time to make more beds.


“Welcome to the neighborhood,” indeed!  Pete, across the street, dropped off two highbush blueberry plants.  Other friends delivered eleven blackberry canes.  An orchardist gave us some grape stock, cuttings from the big house that he potted up a few years back.  The roots are as long as the shoots so these are ready to grow.

We also purchased from him a Red Haven Peach tree. For the bees and butterflies I also planted Nepeta, Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), and Buddleia davidii (Butterfly Bush).


The pace of arrival began to cause a backlog on planting.  I found a solution to that problem.

Somewhere in search of “free & found,” most likely in either our untamed back yard, or the woods where I went to gather ferns, I brushed up against a poisonous plant.  My skin is highly sensitive to the oils in poison ivy, and I have learned to be patient as it runs its course.  But this season the rash took hold and spread like wildfire; think poison ivy on steroids.

In fact, my doctor said it was not poison ivy but did prescribe steroids as rexall.  His diagnosis was “Type 4 hyper sensitivity reaction; immune system is on overdrive; caused by some plant material or pollen.  Could be in roots or soil. Most likely from a wild uncultivated place.”  Ah, toxins that protect plants, and aim to keep us away.

The steroids have worked wonders and my energy level is absurd.  After a ten-hour workday at the big house, I was outside in our garden at 11pm.  In a gentle rain, with spring peepers chanting in the distance, I planted, dare I say, more ferns.  This time from the big house, not the woods.  And this time fueled with performance enhancing steroids.


We have no budget for assistance so this has been solo work.  Perennials and shrubs that arrive measured in gallon pot size are no problem.  Trees with balled & burlapped roots are different by an order of magnitude.

We were given a multi-stem Acer ginnala (Amur maple). The tree was a gift from my Mother.  She said that she wanted to give something long lasting, to have an enduring presence on the property.  We have named it the “Family Flame” maple.

Well formed, at 7 feet tall by 6 feet wide, it will grow to about 15 feet tall and wide; we gain privacy from the street while the passing cars will enjoy its scarlet flame leaves in autumn.

This gift arrived with an estate sized root ball.  In the back of my pick-up truck, it became an immovable object.


Until a neighbor drove by, shouted an offer of assistance and then recruited some young friends.  Within minutes the tree was proudly in place.  Our daughter ran around the yard shouting, “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts!”  It was comic.  And perfect.


And so has gone our first spring at this property and place of our own.  Our art farm, transitioning from virtual to actual, has been about setting roots and feeding forward the good karma.

Our daughter, again, said it best, “Our tree is all about joy!  Because you planted it.”

Little Books = Big Stories

Years ago I was lucky enough to sit in on some book-making workshops while still living in Chicago. The process was satisfying and the product prompted all sorts of ideas to use with children. Around that same time I became interested in using stamps/stamping to tell a story.  Always looking for ways to help children tell their stories and realizing that drawing could be frustrating or intimidating, I thought about cartooning, which led me to the use of stamps and stamping.

Here I combine the media for use with my four year old. She has officially entered the magical world of inventing and reciting stories and wanting us to make up our own. And in good timing, a friend recently gifted us with stamps her children no longer use (thank you Ann!).

Here is a three point binding:


IMG_2468Using a piece of ribbon or yarn, come up through the hole on one end and down through the hole on the opposite end.  Then come up through the center hole with each end of the yarn. You can tie a bow or knot with the ends of the yarn to finish off the binding.  A bead or other small object can be added here for additional decoration.




For an accordion book, simply fold a long, rectangle-shaped paper, in half, then half again and again, until you are satisfied with the number of frames you have.  I glued a second folded paper to my first to expand the pages I would have to work in.

IMG_2479Once we had our books prepared, I made a started sample to show my daughter the concept without giving her the whole story.



My daughter quickly got to work, silent at first then chatting away about what was happening on her pages.

IMG_2498And here is her finished book…

IMG_2505“Once upon a time there was a very lonely frog and he wanted a playmate and he stayed in the water all day long. He waited and he waited and he could not miss abong.” (couldn’t get to the bottom of what that last word means!)

“The hummingbird decided she would have the day off with no one.”

IMG_2509“Night came and the stars came out. The frog was still waiting for a friend. He yelled out to the darkness.”

IMG_2513“In the morning he noticed he had a new playmate and they had a big wedding and they kissed and kissed and had big cakes and pies. They had a BIG party. The End.” – the blue half circle with symbols are the “decorations”

IMG_2518What would be the next logical thing to do once you’ve finished making your own book? Share it!



Affirming life and love

As readers of our blog may know, Becca and I were married standing beneath the Tree of Life, a Live Oak Tree in Audubon Park, NOLA.  Our blog about that tree receives the most hits among all of our writings.

As a symbol of life and love, great is the power of those trees.  Dr. William Waring has drawn upon that power in a deeply moving testimony to his love for his deceased wife.  We are posting this story, written by Claire Galofaro, as published on 14 February in The Times-Picayune.

‘Kissing trees’ at Audubon Park pay tribute to 60-year love affair

Dr. William Waring, seen Tuesday, February 12, 2013, planted two kissing trees in Audubon Park in memory of his deceased wife, Dr. Nell-Pape Waring. (Photo by Ted Jackson, Nola.com / The Times-Picayune)

He started out just planting a tree, a tribute to a beloved wife buried too soon. He sat beneath it and read to the tree, like he had for his wife in their 60 years together.

He tied ribbons around its trunk, and installed a plaque at its roots: “In memory of Nell-Pape Waring,” it read. “Beloved wife, mother, physician and friend.”

But 89-year-old Dr. William Waring still thought his memorial in Audubon Park inadequate to honor the woman he loved so madly.

“Look at her. How did I ever get this girl?” he asks now, genuinely astonished, while admiring their 60-year-old wedding photo. “Wasn’t I a lucky duck?”

What was wrong with the oak tree, her husband figured, was that it stood there alone in the park, where they had spent so many hours together.

Waring decided to plant a second tree close enough to the first that, in time, their branches could grow together. So they might be a pair once more.

“They’ll be known as the kissing oaks,” said Dianne Weber, director of horticulture for the Audubon Institute. “He lost his life-long love and he came up with this. It brings a smile to your face. That’s love.”

His wife was funny — she liked dirty jokes just as much as great literature, he said. She was bold and strong, a doctor before the medical profession welcomed women.

They lived near the park and walked there, read there, together for decades.

When she died in October, he donated the first live oak in her honor and had it planted near the Magazine Street entrance, where a 90-year-old water oak had been lost to termites.

Months later, when he began to worry that that tree might be lonely, he returned to the Audubon Nature Institute with his idea for the second.

Weber helped him pick one the same age and height as the first, around 10 years old and 20 feet tall. They found a tree with a branch arching off, in a pattern that could, with luck and sunlight, touch the tree already planted.

An 18-wheeler hauled the second tree into the park last week, and a crane buried it in the ground, far enough away that the two trees wouldn’t compete for sun or rain, but close enough that their branches might mingle one day.

Waring tied a matching red ribbon around its trunk.

It will take the trees two decades to connect, then another three to fully intertwine. But then the pair might last for hundreds of years, Weber said.

She’s already spotted squirrels running between them.

“My father is an extraordinarily romantic guy,” said their son, Peter Waring, an architect in town. “And there’s no question, they had a life-long love affair. I think he feels fortunate to have had her for 60 years.”

Dr. Waring recalls the date he met her – July 1, 1951 – as easily as he remembers his own birthday.

He was 29 years old and the chief of residents at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. His father was a doctor in Savannah, Ga. His father’s father was a doctor; the family line of doctors went back some 200 years.

That morning, he walked into the office of the chief of pediatrics.

He saw only the back of her head at first, and the look on his boss’ face, utterly charmed by the woman across his desk.

“He couldn’t resist her, and neither could I,” he says.

Dr. Nell-Pape WaringDr. Nell-Pape WaringDaniel Erath, NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune Archive

Nell-Pape was 24 years old, a New Orleans native and fresh graduate of Tulane University’s School of Medicine, where she was one of just a few women in her class. It was the first day of her internship at Johns Hopkins. She was beautiful, like a movie star, and smart enough to be a doctor, he thought.

“Look at her. How did I ever get this girl? Wasn’t I a lucky duck?” — Dr. William Waring

He had a habit of going to the hospital cafeteria for breakfast before the sun came up. He started seeing her there every day and, when he asked why she’d come so early, he suspected she was making up excuses. He thought, just maybe, he saw a glimmer in her eye.

So he asked her out for a picnic. She said yes.

A year later, they were married. He still carries a photo in his wallet of her on the day he proposed.

“She was infinitely wonderful to be with; we never had a spat,” he says. “I don’t know what the secret is. It might be a different generation now, something just changed in expectation.”

The Warings had five sons, and she quit her residency to raise them.

They lived in Japan while he was a battalion surgeon for the Army. They moved to Florida, then her parents died and left them their house near Audubon Park. So they moved to New Orleans and began their walks together.

“They existed pretty much for each other,” said their youngest son, Dr. Patrick Waring.

The couple prayed aloud together in bed each night. And they read to one another, often for hours on end.

Once they read a play about an old couple riding on a train, who’d been together for so long they could read each other’s thoughts. The Warings began signing their notes to each other with just OMOT and OWOT – for old man on train, and old woman on train.

After a 22-year hiatus from medicine, as her children got older, Nell-Pape Waring finished her residency in 1974 at Charity Hospital. She specialized in allergies and practiced for more than 30 years.

Two of their boys, meanwhile, became doctors, like their parents. Two others are lawyers; the other is an architect.

Late in life, Nell-Pape Waring had a form of Parkinson’s disease that made her shaky and prone to fall.

She was hit by a bicycle in the park and fell down, broke her hip and required replacement surgery and months of rehabilitation. She took another bad spill down the stairs and cracked her head open.

In the last months of her life, she could barely get out of bed.

Her husband would help her to the table so they could have lunch together. Then he’d help her back into bed. He read to her, like he always had.

William Waring knew he didn’t have much time left with her. And he worried.

As a doctor, he’s watched many people die.

Some cry, some thrash in last-minute agony or regret.

But on Oct. 20, a Saturday, he tucked her back into bed after lunch. He told her good night, that he loved her and he held her hand.

She died peacefully in her sleep several hours later, at 6 p.m., just as the sun began to set.

“There’s an emptiness now, a grief that you can’t imagine unless you’ve loved someone so immensely,” the doctor says. “I always felt lucky to be associated with her. And I am so sorry she decided to leave me.”

On nice days, he plans to haul a folding chair to their trees in the park to sit beneath them and read her books like he did for a half-century.

He might try, he said, to live 30 more years just to see their branches touch.

Sick Day

Amid the popsicles and PBS shows were stabs at identifying where the germs were in our bodies…not the easiest of images to see but do note the “germs” drawn by my four year old on her body tracing in the stomach, hair (!) and head spots. The elbow area is well, just her elbow!

IMG_2181Next we made a picture of what could help us get better.  She suggested a “rainbow salad”.  Below is her bowl full of fruits we drew together. Overall, a nice distraction and opportunity to connect with what is happening in her body and how she can help herself!


Christmas Trees are for the Birds


First year ever. We bought a Christmas Tree.

Out into the fields, Little Miss E and I went.

We toasted marshmallows, drank some hot chocolate then ran among the trees, E shouting, “This one! No, this one!  No, no this one!!”  In the fading light of a mid-December dusk I made a quick choice and cut rapidly with the saw.  Oh, what a big event, and its momentum carried through the holidays.

And then last Sunday it was time to take down the tree.  Along the roads now, balsams lie discarded, heaped upon the snow banks, so much trash waiting to be carted away.  “Where do they go?” E asked, and I really don’t know.  It got me wondering.

In our home, the threat of discarding the tree was too great.  E had a meltdown.  And I had an idea.  I remembered my mother, an avid birder, telling me that our feathered friends love to take shelter in the boughs and branches of the trees – whether rooted or cut down does not matter – and so a plan was hatched.  “Wait, we can help the birds!”

While Becca grabbed cranberries from the freezer, and a needle and thread, E and I hauled the tree outdoors, into the sunlight of the front yard.  We stood the tree upright in the snow.

E was thrilled.  Back into the house, she dashed to the art table and insisted “I can do it!”  I showed her how to hold the needle and thread, how to position the fingers while pulling the needle through, and she was off.  In her typical fashion, she shouted, “I can do it, I can do it.  Give me space!”


And for good style, she donned rabbit ears.  Who knows why.  It was quite a look.


We transitioned from meltdown to excitement.  She ate loads of raw berries, then danced as we hung them on the tree.  Later, while stringing popcorn, she ate far more than she strung.

But we put together enough garland to encircle the tree several times.  And so we answered her question about where our tree will go:  at our house, it is for the birds.


Diffusing the Mad

Well, I anticipated a bumpy Fall for our daughter starting Pre K, preparing for the arrival of a baby brother and gearing up to move into a new home.  What I did not anticipate was the utter grief and confusion she would experience with her father’s frequent absences.  David has been doing a good bit of the rehab himself and this combined with a full time job and preparing for another baby is enough for any adult to manage and try to cope with.  To a 3 1/2 year old child, it’s enough to tilt her axis.  I confess I have been less than my idea of a good mother through many of the melt-downs, and last night’s was epic.  I sent her to her room following some acting out and anger directed at me. I told her to come down when she felt able to make different choices.  She went upstairs and screamed and sobbed for “daddy”.  I felt helpless. Quite honestly I feel as big as a boat and as tired as any 42 year old might be in the 3rd trimester. I’ve been at the wall with how to navigate through all of this.

I got out some paper and oil pastels and started making marks…marks to describe how I felt.  Later, my daughter quieted and we had some cuddling and talked about things that make her feel better when she’s upset.  She listed off things like rocking in her chair, listening to stories, and I asked if she would like to see the picture I started, showing the strong feelings that I was having.  Soon she was adding to the picture with bold, frenzied, strong-armed marks and telling me how MAD they were.  She seemed to walk back through that energy but in a more contained way with the marks on paper.  It was something.  I witnessed, I watched and I was greatly reassured that we will all get through this. Not around it, not over or under, but through.

It’s 9 at night as I write this.  David’s task tonight is sanding the new pine boards in the kitchen/dining room.  Our girl just yelled out for him and again, he’s not here.  I went in to try and comfort her and surprisingly she didn’t refuse me.  She asked why daddy wasn’t home yet.  I explained what he was doing again and it FINALLY occurred to me to get her one of his shirts to sniff and cuddle with while she went to sleep.  A big smile, two thumbs up and now, 20 minutes later it is quiet.

our rose will remain

having gutted the house, filled a dumpster, carried out fossil fuels and old oil tanks, heaved bags of insulation down from the attic, yanked out plants overgrown along the foundation, I came across this white rose; a sentry to our new house, sending out three fragrant blossoms, in late september.  things go well.  this is the start of our garden.