March madness

This tough winter just doesn’t seem to want to leave. Yesterday the trees and early flowers were coated in ice, and today a cold rain dampens the earth and my spirits in equal measure.

Even the usually cheerful UPS man was down when I saw him. When I called out to ask how he was, he said, “I’m ready for the sun to come out!” Me, too. How about you?

I know spring is coming, and it will defeat winter in the end, but the lingering bad weather brings with it its own kind of March madness as my friends and neighbors try to put on brave faces about the weather (“It could be worse!”) and more school closings (“Maybe we won’t lose another day of spring break.”). We’re trying to carry the bliss of beautiful hints and spring and warm, sunny days scattered in with slick roads and wintry mixes and general cold grayness.

At least there’s college basketball to distract us, right? I grew up in a place where this time of year is sacred – not only for Lent and Easter approaching – but also for conference basketball tournaments and then the NCAAs. It was perfectly normal from elementary school through high school to watch basketball at school, occasionally writing essays about the game in French to justify the TV on in the classroom.

There are many who believe tournament time is at the very least worthy of its own national holiday(s). That’s the place I come from, the place where March madness is a perfectly acceptable disease, and you’re the odd outlier if you don’t suffer from it.

There were games last night, and there will be more games to come, but today, to escape the other sort of March madness, I ventured out on this cold, rainy day, looking for signs of spring. Here are some of my favorites to share with you:


Witchhazel is already blooming.


Peach blossoms getting ready.


Another kind of peach tree, ready to welcome spring


Buds on a weeping smoothleaf elm


More peach blossoms — they were my favorites today.


An empty trellis waits for spring.

You may remember my post a few summers back about the passion flower. This trellis is where their vines will reappear when the weather is right. If you need a shot of summer right now, revisit the post.

I’m clearly not the only one suffering from March madness, given some of the art installations I discovered on my journey:




A new monster has emerged from the soil over the winter.


Turned mad from a prolonged winter?


The tail end of the mad monster

I hope these photos bring you some smiles, along with the knowledge that nature knows it’s time for spring to arrive. In the meantime, scroll down for another way to beat the madness that March brings.


Tread carefully around those whose eyes are filled with any variety of March madness.

It’s hard to turn anywhere without seeing a March madness bracket of some sort (favorite Southern city, favorite rock songs, favorite desserts). I’ve been thinking that if the four seasons were each brackets, how on earth would winter’s bracket have sixteen things? I mean, I could see the other seasons needing play-in games, but winter? I struggled, but here’s my list of winter’s 16 (I hope you’ll fill in the lines yourself):

(1) Christmas
(16) Snow days (The lowest seed this year for being the obnoxious Cinderella team that won’t quit)

(8) Sledding
(9) Fires in the fireplace

(5) Hibernating snakes
(12) Soup

(4) Camellias
(13) Fuzzy socks

(6) Less chafing while running (Non-runners have to trust me on this one.)
(11) Low humidity

(3) Hot chocolate
(14) Indoor track

(7) Down comforters
(10) No poison ivy

(2) No mosquitoes
(15) Fewer gardening chores

So who would win winter’s bracket? What did I leave out that you think should be in this bracket? Is there any winter team that could take on spring and therefore meet the autumn/summer winner in the final match-up? Which season would win it all and why? Jump in the game with your thoughts below.

Late bloomers (flowers and people)

Right after Christmas, my camellia looked ready to bust out in gorgeous blooms too numerous to count. One perfect bloom had even opened up. But then came the coldest weather we’ve had in years. The buds stayed tightly shut and browned a little at the tips.


I thought the camellia buds would stay like this until I plucked them off.

Slight warming and then bitter cold repeated again and again until I had given up hope that any of the buds would open. But then, this past weekend, we had a glorious stretch of spring weather, and my camellia bush embraced the change:


Just one of the open camellia flowers

The one above, tucked toward the house and away from the harshest of the winds, managed to avoid browning much at all. Even the ones with browner tips, though, make me happy as I see them open one after another. I think they’re all beautiful, brown bits and all.


A little brown around the edges, but beautiful nonetheless

I can relate well to these late bloomers in my garden. I’ve always thought of myself as a late bloomer. My teenage years felt like torture while I waited to catch up with my friends. I’ve had a few career starts and stops and redirections while trying to discover what path I was supposed to be on. My marriage came later than most of my friends, though not as late as some (I had a great aunt who married for the first time just before she turned 60!).

I was even a late bloomer when it came to running, an integral part of my life now that I hope to continue for the rest of my life.

I’ve been quiet on the running front on my blog lately, mostly because of a nagging injury which is healing after I finally admitted I needed to try something different. A great physical therapist, discipline when it comes to the stretches and exercise she gives me, and a new way of running seem to be the right recipe. I am improving, and I am getting faster in the process (bonus!).

I often wonder how my running life might have gone differently if I had started when I was younger and thinner and free of injury. By the time I started running in my early thirties, I had already sprained a toe (for which I blame Riverdance and my barefoot attempts to follow along in my carpeted living room), and I had struggled with weight gain.

But what if I had used the injury and extra weight to keep me from trying to run at all? What if I had let myself believe I was too old to pick up a new activity? I might never have started running, and then, I might never have discovered the beautiful things in me that running has helped me see. The discipline. The courage. The stubborn streak (oh, wait, I think I knew about that one before running.). The mental toughness. The physical strength.

I might never have understood the community – and the camaraderie – of runners. I might never have visited some of the beautiful places I’ve encountered on my runs. I might never have shared my love of running and the ways it has made my life immeasurably better with the girls I coach. I would not have been the me I am now.

So to those of you who feel like late bloomers, who feel like that tightly closed bud on the camellia bush that may or may not open, I say to you: Let yourself bloom. Don’t ever let anyone convince you it’s too late to bloom, or that you’re too damaged or imperfect. When you bloom, you’ll see: you will be beautiful.

As a little gift to you today, to encourage you to bloom, here’s a little something I made to share with you:


Are you a late bloomer in some area(s) of your life? Are you afraid of what might happen if you bloom imperfectly? Did this post inspire you to try something new? I’d love to hear from you in the space below.

Flurries and flowers

This morning started with the lightest of flurries. I may have rolled my eyes as I saw the snowflakes flutter down. Spring paid us a visit last week, and some early flowers have started to bud, and after this week’s cold snap, warmer weather is on its way. I’m ready.

Though today started out cloudy and dreary, the sun has come out – not enough to chase the cold away but enough to make the day less dreary.

I wanted to share some of the early spring flowers with you for the same reason. These pictures may not drive the cold away, but maybe they too will take away some dreariness we may feel in the lingering winter.

Because today is a bittersweet day in the calendar for me and several I hold dear – a day that would have been the 12th birthday of one of the sweetest girls I have ever known, a girl who loved purple and wore tiaras as much as possible and turned everyday moments into celebrations, a girl who left us too soon at six years old – for her memory, I want to start with this purple Lenten rose.


A purple beauty

I find these early blooms a solace, a promise that winter will soon leave. And I thrill to walk out in the garden and see what new flower is pushing its way up out of the cold ground.

The crocuses usually come first, and they must have really enjoyed the colder-than-usual winter. They’re showing off more than they typically do:


Dainty crocus blooms are usually the first whisper of spring

The other Lenten rose varieties also seem to have thrived through this winter, and I’m enjoying the different varieties.


Pink Lenten roses, the happiest of my Hellebores


I love how this one looks like a tiny inverted tulip.


This variety is producing flowers for the first time, and I’m excited to see them open.

Just yesterday, I noticed my hyacinth bulbs poking up through the mulch. They were a Valentine’s gift from my husband several years ago, and I’m always happy when they come back in February.


New life among the squirrels’ winter leftovers

Orchid babies!
Even inside the house, there’s new life abloom.

On Saturday, we had some friends over, and one of them wandered in from the room where I keep two orchids – one a gift from my husband and the other a gift from my mother-in-law.

My friend is great with plants, but she enthused about how well my orchids are doing. “I always kill mine, but yours have babies!” she said, wanting to know my secret.

My secret is that I’m following my mother-in-law’s advice and spraying them with a bottle filled with water and orchid food. These are the first two orchids I’ve managed to keep alive for any length of time, and I was happy a few weeks back when I noticed the one from my husband had sprouted new leaves. I’m optimistic, but even if there are no new blooms, I’m content that it’s still living and growing after more than two years here.


Maybe this one will bloom again?

I was looking at both of them again later that evening and noticed something new on the other orchid, the one from my mother-in-law. I don’t know how I had missed it, but there it was:


Getting ready to bloom

This will be the first orchid I’ve ever had bloom from “scratch.” And considering that I usually commiserate with orchids when they come into my home, sad that they couldn’t go to a better home for their own sakes, I’m pretty darn excited about the prospect of this one opening up.

For all you orchid growers out there, any tips on repotting? I’d love to transplant both into permanent pots instead of the plastic ones they came in, but maybe I should just leave well enough alone?

For the rest of you, what flowers signal the promise of spring? Do you have a favorite that you look for each year? What ways have flowers given you solace?

The dog days of winter

I love snow days, and today has offered up a good one where I live. I know many of you who live north of here are sick and tired of snow, but for those of us who don’t often get snow, it’s pretty special when it happens.

My dog and I got out early this morning, and with the exception of a few cars trying to head down the road and a few other paw prints and footprints in the snow, we had the streets to ourselves.

I have always loved snow days. My dad often had to walk to work, but both he and my mom made sure snow days were special for us. My brother and I spent most of our time outside on snow days: sledding, building snowmen, having snowball fights, sledding, sledding, more sledding. Even my mom, a northern transplant herself, took some rides on the sled. It helped that we lived on the perfect hill for sledding, and I sometimes wonder how many times I’ve walked that hill dragging the Flexible Flyer behind me for the next ride.

When we came in to thaw out, she’d have soup and grilled cheese and maybe even hot chocolate waiting for us after we peeled off sopping-wet layers to dry by the fire. I even wrote my first book (when I was five) on a snow day and called it The Snowy Day. It was a picture book – because I liked to draw, too, and I was busy reading picture books at that age – and I updated it a few short years later on another snow day.

I think my inner child taps into those memories and enjoys spending time outside, alternating with trips inside to thaw out with something hot to drink and a pen in my hand.

Having a dog makes snow days even more fun. My dog especially loves to freeze her tennis ball in layers of snow, chase after it, bury it in the snow and then dig it back up with her nose or her paws. She is equal parts joy and energy on snow days.


A blur of fun


Guarding her prized tennis ball; waiting for another throw

I think this is one of my favorite pictures of her.

The colder-than-usual weather forced both of us back inside pretty quickly (she would have lingered if I had let her). It’s one thing to play in 30 degrees and snow but another entirely in 18 in wind and snow.


Warming up from the snowy chill

I went back outside later to take some more photographs. Tonight looks like it’ll be the coldest night we have had in years, and I’m hoping the snow will protect the plants. I guess I won’t know until spring which ones will survive and which won’t.


A gardenia waiting for spring


A snow bud?

I didn’t last long on this trip outside with my camera.

When I went back inside, I curled up under a blanket with a book I’ve been reading, Isabel Allende’s memoir My Invented Country. The dog snored and dreamed of chasing her snow-encrusted tennis ball while I read for a bit and enjoyed some hot tea.

One of the most poignant parts of Allende’s book so far is her description of leaving Chile as a child, with a journal in hand to keep her company:

I wrote everything down in my notebook with the industry of a notary,
as if even then I foresaw that only writing would anchor me to reality.
… When she gave me that notebook, my mother somehow intuited
that I would have to dig up my Chilean roots, and that lacking a land
into which to sink them I would have to do that on paper. (108-109)

My parents always kept scrap paper handy, and so I can relate to Allende’s sense that writing would be an anchor for her, that paper would be where she thrived. Maybe that’s why writing is one of my anchors on snow days and why snow days remind me of my earliest days as a writer.

How about you? What do you love best about snow days?

The promise of spring

“Ha!” I can hear many of you saying as you sit blanketed under snow today. Or is it a “Bah!” that you’re calling out to my promising the return of spring.

Spring seems an unreal probability in this wintry season. Even here in the south, we got a little sneeze of snow last night. Not enough to cover the world with its cleansing white cover, but enough to get the local kids excited about a school delay and enough to glue the little kid still inside me to the windows as the snow drifted down last night. I dream of a proper snow day while many of you are ready for it to just. go. away. already.

I will admit to wishing for warmer weather. too. This has been an unusually cold winter, and if it’s going to be this cold, I’d prefer snow to accompany it. While I’m busy wishing for more snow or warmer weather or both – after all, it could be warmer here and still snow, too – I thought I’d share some photos from my recent visit to San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden with you.

Some of the trees in the gardens are bare, but there are cherry blossoms, too. And nothing promises spring to me as much as a cherry blossom. So enjoy these photos and a cup of something warm. I promise: spring is on its way, but for some of us, it can’t get here soon enough.


Nothing promises spring to me like a cherry blossom


Someone is having fun training these shrubs (trees?) to grow like this.


The koi and the trees’ reflections mesmerized me in equal measure.


More reflections, thanks to a clear, still day


I love the shape of this gnarled tree and am thankful for winter’s opportunity to see the flinging shape of its branches.


A garden of dwarf trees, while a pagoda looms over the garden

A quick note about this garden of dwarf trees. Sometimes even trees get caught up in wars, and these dwarf trees are no exception. The Hagiwara family that cared for this garden from 1895 to 1942 was, according to the plaque nearby, “forced to relocate” during World War II. I guess that’s the genteel way of describing the internment of Japanese Americans during that war. The Hagiwara family left these trees in the care of a landscape architect Samuel Newson, who later sold the collection to Hugh Fraser. Fraser’s wife gave the collection back to the tea garden in her will, and they’ve been back here – flourishing – for almost 50 years.


One last picture of these hopeful koi (I didn’t feed them, but they hoped nonetheless.)

What are the signals or promises that you look for to prove that spring will return?