Saturday, March 28, 2015

Raising teenagers is hard

Raising teenagers is hard.

Especially boys.  Though I haven't gone through it with a girl yet. Probably that will be just as hard in its own way.

A teenager's very job description is to figure out what he or she believes for him or her self, apart from you. So you get to experience a lot of resistance and rejection. It's hard not to take that personally.

But for the most part, it's not personal. It's just them needing the space to figure out their own opinions and beliefs, which often means coming around to the very beliefs with which they were raised.

As moms especially, we tend to think of our children as part of ourselves. Going through the teen years should permanently disabuse you of this illusion. They are not an extension of you, Mom: They are very much their own, separate selves. Accepting that fundamental separateness can be rough on both ends.

As a parent, you want so much for them to make the right choices. To build a good foundation for the future. To experience wholesome relationships. To be safe.  To steer a wide path around all the landmines and traps our culture sets before them. You want this more than anything, you ache for it. And you have wisdom to share. You could spare them a lot of hurt and pain, if they would just listen. Human nature being what it is--especially immature human nature--this doesn't always happen.

What we often experience as parents is that suddenly the entire game has changed. The strategies that used to work in relating with our children and especially, dealing with problems and discipline issues, now seem to backfire. Suddenly, it no longer works to function as "me parent/you child," or to say things like, "because I'm the parent, and I said so."

As far as I've been able to figure out, these are the new rules of play: You are no longer "standing over them" as a parent. You are coming alongside as an ally. Not always a wanted ally, but a very loyal one all the same. Not shielding them from the tough consequences, but letting them know they don't have to face life alone. You, the parent-ally, still love them, still see the good in them, no matter what. When they feel like it (which is not always when you feel like it), you let them talk (and talk) and process. You try to refrain from giving advice unless you're asked, though because you love them so much, sometimes you give them advice or share your experiences anyway. Maybe some of it sinks in. But they will probably remember more the fact that you were there, and you listened. Or that you weren't and didn't.

In my experience, the more you try to "come down" on them as a parent, the more you try to tighten things up, be strict, and control them, the worse things get. Teenagers must have the space to make their own choices. When not given that space, they act in really ugly ways, and will tend to create that space anyway, through lying, sneaking, or outright defiance and rebellion.

And yes, this means you are giving them space to fail, even spectacularly, and to experience tough real-life consequences. When this happens, you don't want to be the one standing over them, saying "I told you so. Why didn't you listen to me?" confirming their own feelings of failure and condemnation. You want to be the ally.

What they need to know is: You still love them. They may have blown it big time and made some really dumb decisions, but they themselves are not bad. Because in real life, everybody makes mistakes. That is often how we learn the stuff we need to know. Mistakes aren't the end of the road, and they don't mean the teen should label him or herself as "bad" or a failure. They need to learn that mistakes mean it's time to pick yourself up, get back on the right road, start again, and keep on walking. There are so many things that happen in life that can derail us if we don't have this kind of attitude. They need resilience to be able to grow up and succeed in life.

And, they need an ally or two. We all do.

We've gotten through teenager number one and I don't overstate things to say that it was traumatic for the entire family. Now we are in the thick of it with teenager number two. He's a different personality than his brother. Not nearly as hard-hearted. He actually feels really bad when he does something wrong. But he is also way more susceptible to the influence of his peers. Hence, we are dealing with totally different issues than we did with the first.

Parenting is learn-as-you-go. I've read a lot of parenting books, but have never read any that were as helpful as really knowing your own individual child and listening to the Spirit for clues re. what that particular child needs in a particular situation. Spending time with close friends who've walked the road before is helpful, too. Each child (or young adult) is different, each family and situation is unique, and there aren't any hard or fast rules or sure-fire strategies that always work. But a few things I have learned for myself are:

Don't harden my heart. Keep loving them, and keep reaching out in unconditional love. They may not respond, but at least they'll know I cared enough to try, and that counts in the end. Also, as a parent, I have to be the mature one--the one to forgive and reach out. Over and over again if need be.

Often when they are the nastiest, and treating you and others the worst, it's because they are feeling horrible inside, and they just don't have the experience or maturity to know how to deal with those emotions. You can help them with this. (Hopefully, you have learned how to do this yourself. If not, a good counselor is probably necessary!)

And, last of all, you will both get through it. Someday, that front cerebral cortex will develop. They'll be able to get consequences, come to conclusions, and think things through in new ways. Believe it or not, they will probably seem like a completely different person at 19 or 20.

I'm guessing that for most of us, teens and parents alike, it's a rough ride. It's a deep, narrow river dotted with class 4 rapids, not a placid lake. I'd love to have a happy-go-lucky, go with the flow, placid-lake kind of teen, but looking at my 9 year old daughter now (the youngest), I'm thinking it's not likely. Maybe they all take too much after their mom, who was a "question everything" sort of person. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, and can be a kind of strength. In the long run.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A much more sound faith

Triggered by my son's 20th birthday, I'm still thinking about how different I am now from the young woman who gave birth to her first child then. With all her old dreams in tow. With her rigid picture of what a Christian mother and a Christian family should be and should look like. My faith was real and deep then, but it is so much more so now. I have been thinking about the difference.

My faith feels much more sound now. I've been disabused of many illusions. Of the false sense that faith would insulate me from suffering somehow, instead of guide and sustain me through it. I'm not jaded exactly, and not bitter, because I choose not to be. I am much less strident and demanding. Much more at peace and settled on the inside, and more 'grim' in the sense of being determined, and capable of following faith through to the end.  I'm much more strong, not easily shaken. I can endure much, if I must--and sometimes one must. Because now I know, not only theoretically but in real, lived experience, that Christ is with me so completely. This is something I feel all the time. There is a togetherness on the inside of me--he is in me and I am in him, until the two become intertwined. I can no longer really tell where one ends and the other begins.

To a few that could sound blasphemous. I do not mean that I am equal to God or god-like in any sense. What I mean is that he has shared himself with me, has chosen to join himself to me: Probably only a teeny tiny bit of himself, only as much as I can stand. But I feel him with me all the time. I sense his thoughts and his emotions about the various things I face. I am no longer operating as "just me", a person alone trying to her best to call out to a god who exists somewhere "out there."

Those who know me know that I live this out in a halting and imperfect way. I certainly demonstrate many sinful traits, like impatience, intolerance of others, basic selfishness, and the like. As the Bible says, we have this treasure in earthen vessels. We are jars of rough, ugly clay, containing within a treasure of priceless, incomparable beauty. For now, the two things exist side by side. Someday we will be all beauty. For now Christ dwells in me, but I am still in this body, in this flesh, which is prone to sin. But there is so much grace in Christ. He knows exactly what I am, and yet he accepts me and chooses to dwell in me anyway. The Bible tells us there is no condemnation in Christ--only perfect love, which casts out all fear, and covers a multitude of sins.

I know more about the end, and where I am headed. The incredible beauty and reward and relief of heaven. The justice that will, in time, come. It makes a difference to know that, when we suffer evil down here on earth.

I know that what looks like the case is often not the case. And that people are a thousand times more complex than they seem on the outside. And that the effective grace of God is mysteriously and thoroughly working in and through every single thing that happens, even the darkest, most evil things, though this is often unseeable and unknowable to us. We get little glimpses though. We get to taste and see, a little. And that is enough to go on.

The joy and the love of God is so deep, so pure, and so absolute, in the end it will bubble up and burst through every other thing. The wonder is that he chooses to share his joy with us, when we are so tiny, so barely capable of understanding, receiving, and acting upon it. That God invites us in to this joy, that he wants to share himself and his life with us, is staggeringly amazing.  Why does he do it???  Simply because he is good, and he loves us with the tender, unbreakable love of a parent. As a parent, we can understand a little. Even when our children disappoint us terribly, or say and do things that are downright cruel, we still love them. So God has made a way for us to come back, to share his home with us, to experience his love and joy. At unthinkable cost to himself. We can hardly grasp the cost.

Yet he paid it gladly, and would pay it again. This is what we celebrate at Eastertime.

I wish more people could see that the Christian religion is not the oppressive, ridiculous thing we have often made it out to be. It is instead a routeway to freedom and joy.

So much freedom, to be and do whatever God made us to be and do, it is absolutely terrifying, really. Perhaps that is the real deterrent underneath the other objections people voice about coming to God.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Twenty Years Ago Today

It's hard to believe that twenty years ago today I became a mother.

So many things have changed since then. I feel like a completely different person than who I was, and who I thought I would be, on March 19, 1995.

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I had so many dreams and ideals then. I'm still full of dreams and ideas, though they have been edited and revised, sometimes severely.  Some of the original ones just weren't real life in the first place. Others didn't fit for me.  Still others I would have liked to come true, but they didn't work out.

More than anything, both then and now, I wanted to be a mother. I had no idea now hard that would be, how heart breaking and humbling at times. How it would bring me to empty, again and again. But I would still choose it. Because people, relationships, families--that's what matters.

I'm very proud of the young man my son is becoming. He runs a successful business creating YouTube videos about online gaming (check him out here or here), and he makes more money doing this than I would make if I worked full time at my bank job.  He is a highly gifted, focused, and disciplined young man. He is learning who he is and who he isn't, which is what you really need to do when you're twenty (rather than, ahem, forty or fifty).

Sometimes it's hard for parents to let our kids do this. Most parents would freak out at the idea of their son dropping out of high school to get a GED, and then wanting to play an online game for much of the day. I certainly did. Yet here he is making a successful career out of it, and he has just signed up for college classes in order to explore more options for the future. It's been an unconventional path, not a smooth one. I'm so happy to see him succeeding.  Seeing the amount of work and discipline he has put in to building up his Youtube channel, has inspired me to see  what it takes to grow as a creative professional in today's world.  A lot of it is just plugging away, day after day.  Putting in the time. Doing the work. Believing your work is of value, even when some of the people around you might not get it.

I look forward to how things will develop in his life for the future, and for my other children, too. Each one so unique, right from the womb. Each one fascinated by completely different subjects, and driven to do different things. May they have the courage to follow the inner call God has written into their souls.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Edible Landscaping Part Two: The Backyard

Garden-dreaming, planning and plotting, is a wonderful thing to do in early Spring.  My long term goal is to turn the rather typical, ugly suburban yard we bought a few years ago into a "fruit and berry forest".  There will be a vegetable garden as well, but the whole family likes fruit better, and I find fruit to be much less work than vegetables.  Sporadic bursts of intense hacking and pruning, a bit of spraying, and harvesting seem to fit my personality better than the everyday micro-management that vegetables require.  Apple, plum and cherry trees grow unattended and wild all over the Eastern Washington town where I live, so I have assumed they must be fairly easy to grow here. And berries can also be had in our climate with very little effort.

Our backyard is composed of a wall of lilacs on the east side (which smell amazing in May but are too high up to pick), hard soil with bits of dry grass in the middle (playing host to a trampoline and a basketball hoop for dunking practice), and a wild-jungle of a hillside to the west. The hillside was formerly covered by a profusion of Oregon Grape, a few messy Mock orange shrubs, some gigantic overgrown juniper and Ivy growing through all.  When we started hacking stuff away, we found stems of Ivy as thick as my wrist in some places, and dense spiderwebs that would be right at home in Mirkwood or the forbidden forest at Hogwarts.  I never knew an ivy stem could be that thick!

A close friend came over one day not long after we bought the house and helped me tackle the wild hill with a pick-axe and giant loppers (that's her below). How awesome is that?! Just so you can see what we started with, here are a few pictures:

Fast forward two years.  For the most part we've cleared the hillside, though the Oregon Grape keeps sprouting new heads. I stuck a few plants in the backyard last year;"stuck in" being the right expression.  They languished in their tiny pots and were periodically flooded with icy hose water whenever I remembered for over a month before even that happened. Surprisingly, most survived. So we have two Triple Crown blackberries, a row of Tulamagic raspberries (highly rated for taste but they flop across the ground, how annoying!), and two cherry trees, a bright red Sweetheart and a yellow Nugent.  I also put some bean seeds, zucchini and strawberries beneath the retaining wall. As beans and zucchini will, they grew just great, and were barely harvested. It was not a good summer for the over-busy working Mama.

But this summer will be different.  I will not be working a day job, so will have lots of time to focus on the garden.  I just put in an order for more blackberries (Triple Crown and a few Kiowa), which will grow to form a high fence-like border at the top of the hill which will prevent the deer from coming down.  The deer decimated the two baby cherry trees last year, so something needs to happen. Blackberries can admittedly become rather jungle-like, but they are both my husband's and my favorite, and I am a zealous pruner.  On the hill itself I'll be putting currant and gooseberry bushes here and there, and a few patches of asparagus.  A ground cover of part clover (Alsike and Red Crimson) and Birdsfoot Trefoil, all which supposedly fix nitrogen and don't need a ton of watering, will be sown in between the shrubs.  Maybe I'll try some Lupine seed as well.  I've read a lot about comfrey and nitrogen fixing shrubs like goumi and silverberry which I might try to fit in to the scheme of things someday, but I'm still researching those.

Dunking practice!  And he'll be three 
inches taller this summer to boot.
At the base of the hill there will be a line of dwarf fruit trees (the two cherries and apricots), and the big long vegetable bed.  All of this faces east, so will receive the morning sun.  I haven't considered what to do yet with the west-facing side, backed by the wall of lilacs.  Right now it's the dunking court.  Nothing grows well there, so maybe when the kids have outgrown the trampoline and basketball hoop, we'll put in a large area for a fire pit and chairs.

In back of the house there is a large paved porch area, with plenty of room for an eating table and barbeque beneath the deck.  There are some large planting boxes in front of the deck posts, I put an Interlaken grape in one and Blue Moon Wisteria in the other, but the Wisteria never thrived and still looks like a little dry stick. So maybe I'll replace it with a red grape to go with the green one.

But before we can really move forward with all of this, we need to take out a giant shade-creating, sickly flowering plum, and two huge junipers that remain at the top of the hill.  I've been wanting to hire someone to do this all at once, but I came home today to find most of the tree branches littering the yard, so apparently my husband has other ideas.

If the kids had their way we would pave the whole backyard and create a basketball court--but--I'm just sayin' no to that one :).  And I haven't even mentioned the broken hot-tub which I am thinking of replacing with some kind of greenhouse someday.  Old though it looks, we were really enjoying it until its ancient and irreplaceable circuit board broke.  How much it is to remove, I've been too scared to ask.  Though all of the above seems like a lot, in reality it's been an almost three-year process so far, and at this point it's still looking less than stellar.  This is a compact and dense summary of those three years thus far.  We've really been plodding along, taking it one project at a time.

Something both wonderful and frustrating about gardens is that they are never "done".  Even once you've completed the major overhaul (still working on that part), there is always something to tweak or revise.  Some plantings work brilliantly, and others flop.  Building soil (ours is yukky clay) is a many-year process in itself.  The world of plants is endless and intricate, and I always feel like I'm learning new, incredible things about the created world.  That is one thing I love about it.  Producing our own food that is delicious, chemical-free, beautiful, and nurturing will hopefully be another.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A litany of stressful things that turns into a story of faith.

I haven't been posting much for a bit.  Number one, the weather has been amazing, so when I have a free hour I've been taking the dog on long walks and digging in the garden.  Which hasn't always been possible, because I've been so darned busy.  Number two, perhaps because it is tax time, work has felt busy and stressful.  Then as soon as I hit the front door things have been busy and stressful. Between the two, there just hasn't been much left in me to give.  Number three, the last two counseling sessions have brought up really difficult stuff.  I've hardly had time to process it, and I've had an entire week of practically not sleeping at all.  The only way I've been able to fall asleep is by going out to the couch and plugging in a not-very-exciting audiobook read in a soothing voice (Anthony Trollope's The Small House at Allington), then I can trick my mind into relaxing enough to let go and fall sleep. Sort of.  I drift in and out all night, not really awake enough to turn the book off, but it's better than nothing.

I realize that nobody wants to read a post full of excuses.  So, here are some positives, some victories to celebrate, in the midst of all the hard:

Despite all the things that have happened to me, many which were in darkness and shadow until very recently, I'm doing amazingly well.  Many people with these experiences don't make it. They make life-destroying choices, over and over again.  Their relationships, if they have any, are a twisted mess. They hide from life itself behind layers and layers of avoidance and addiction.  How have I escaped that kind of fate?

Even though there was a lot of hidden, underlying stuff in the extended family that wasn't talked about or dealt with, my parents did love me.  Looking back I think they were often overwhelmed by their own struggles. But in significant ways I had their unconditional love and support, and that mattered.

The other thing is, I think I am someone who has always pursued the truth.  Even as a small child, life felt like a struggle.  A continual fight against the darkness, heaviness and sadness that wanted to pull me right under.  But I could see around me that there was also goodness in the world. That darkness was not the last word: There was also happiness, and light.  I could see it out there and around me. And I wanted to experience it, too.  So, I have pursued.  I have kept asking questions, and refused to let go. I have not given in to the darkness, and let it overwhelm me.  This has been a desperate fight at times. And honestly--I feel like not one person around me has ever seen, has ever understood, how dark things have been at times. Except for Jesus.

I was not raised in the Christian religion, or going to church. Which is helpful in the sense that I don't have a lot of religious nonsense to unlearn.  There was a crux point in my life in high school when I prayed:  God, I know you're out there.  There is too much order, too much beauty in life, for all of it to be a meaningless, random accident.  So--here I am.  That was my prayer because I really had no idea how to pray, but it was accepted, heard and answered.  I did not know the name of Jesus, had never read the Bible, did not know about the Cross, did not know anything, really, beyond the fact that logical sense pointed to the existence of a Creator-God out there somewhere.  And the existence of love also had to root back to somewhere, otherwise love made no sense, either. Other religions like Hinduism and Buddhism (at which I took a fairly immature and simplistic look at as a young person) simply did not explain the love part.  So I called out to this God that I knew must be out there, and He answered me.

Slowly, unfoldingly, beautifully and lovingly, over many many years, He answered me, and he is still answering.  The cry of a little girl, broken and unseen by others and horribly used.  The cry of a confused teenager, overwhelmed by darkness and unable to comprehend the differences between her perceptions and those of her friends, so she learns to imitate and pretend, to try and act normal and fit in.  The cry of an engaged young woman, terrorized by panic attacks and severe nightmares that seemed to come out of nowhere.  The cry of a young mother, overwhelmed by the needs of her small children, knowing that there is an emptiness and lack of capacity inside to nurture them, but trying her best to do it anyway, and getting through each day.  The cry of a despairing mother of a teenager who is lashing out, and going through his own dark time.  The cry of a 40+ woman who is finally putting the pieces together, and seeing the terrifying childhood experiences at the root of all the rest. Struggling with migraines and over-busyness and insomnia.  Always struggling, all the way through. But not without moments of peace and comfort and joy, because she has not been alone in all the struggle. Because God Himself, Jesus, has entered in, is walking alongside. Has been gently revealing what is true all along the way.

We are saved by looking at the truth of our lives: The truth about ourselves, our barrenness and emptiness, and the truth about the goodness and love and power of God. As we mature, if we are willing, we see the brokenness and evil that lies at the very heart of our world. In the old stories there is a serpent or dragon who lies at the foot of the world tree, gnawing at its roots.  But there is also a god who sacrifices himself on that world tree, who gives himself for the world.  A profound picture, I think, of the reality of the situation.  If we are willing, if we are seeking, we also begin to see the love of God which will overcome the darkness.  Which has chosen to enter in to our broken-beyond-repair world, to restore and in time, to remake it.  Because He sees something, or someones, that are worth saving.

We are saved little by little, because of the mercy of God. If we are willing, we are rescued and led into these hard and bright and dazzling truths eventually, over the span of our entire life, because God is gentle and kind.  Because dealing with all of it at once would maybe shatter us into pieces. But perhaps the most important thing of all to know is, no matter how hard or difficult life can be sometimes, we are never alone.

And here is something to know if that statement galls you, if it feels fantastical or untrue:  God is gentleman.  Not a bully like so many in our world.  He will not override or overwhelm us. He is there, his love and help is on offer for everyone, but we must reach out for him--sometimes only a little, sometimes with persistence--in order to experience it, because he will not force himself on us. This love and help is something we can only experience directly, not theorize about in our minds, keeping a safe distance, with no personal commitment.  How do we do this?  I think it is a little different for everyone, so I can't necessarily tell you.  You reach out with your heart.  It is abstract and absolutely not-abstract at the same time.  But here is a verse that is true:  "You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart," Jeremiah 29:13. So don't give in to feelings of darkness and despair, distance yourself with intellectual cynicism, or simply avoid ever dealing with your creator God, the source of all life.  This is what life is all about:  Have the courage and hope and faith to keep seeking.

Monday, March 9, 2015

International Women's Day: Celebrating Woman-power with Pickaxe and Shovel!

Yesterday, March 8th, was International Women's Day.  I must confess I had never heard of International Women's Day, until the Survivor's group was cancelled this week because of it.

I didn't coordinate these events ahead of time, but on International Women's Day I took a pickaxe to the backyard and ripped through the sod for a 3' by 20' (actually I didn't measure, but that baby was LONG) garden bed. February was a freakishly warm, gorgeous month here in Washington State, and I've been so eager to start garden beds in our new-to-us backyard that I just couldn't wait for my husband. Who is still absorbed in the cheapest-ever do-it-yourself kitchen remodel he started just before Christmas.  And from knowing us you never would have guessed, but I am the one who enjoys the grubby outside work, while he prefers home projects inside.

I suppose it had never occurred to me in the past that I could dig out a bed myself.  And it's true that I can't do it in the same exact style or with the same efficiency as my husband.  The pickaxe--which I've always felt a bit afraid of with its huge metal spike, which my mother-imagination can visualize going right into someone's head or thigh--turns out to be a great implement for a fairly wimpy forty-plus year old woman who can't push a shovel blade straight through the grass.  So, mind over matter. I can innovate.  I can use my brain instead of just my muscles.  I am woman, hear me roar.

So I broke up the soil, going over the entire area first in one direction and then the other.  It's all in clumps now, waiting for phase two, when I can load it into a wheelbarrow with a shovel.  (Or, as it turns out, just throw it to the side.  Since I haven't bought amendments and compost yet, I decided the wheelbarrow bit wasn't necessary.)  Being very very careful to keep my back straight and use my legs in both cases.  Now, it's time for me to go buy some giant bags of compost and load them into my SUV.

How do I feel the day after?

I feel awesome.  I feel accomplished.  I feel a little sore, but not nearly as sore as I expected.  And I'm excited that I've thought of a new way to physically work out that doesn't involve stuffy gyms, clanging metal machines, unfriendly focused people all on their individual listening devices, or the smell of chlorine.

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Here I am in Phase Two already, halfway down my looooonnng bed!
This year, I'm learning that I'm stronger than I realized.  Stronger in my mind, stronger emotionally, and stronger in body too.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Edible Landscaping Part One: The Front Yard

I've had gardening on the brain lately.  Maybe because February was unusually beautiful, and maybe because it's just that time of year.  It's a very positive thing to do in the winter, especially when other aspects of life have felt less than positive.  So I'm going to write a few posts about gardening, in part to keep my mind focusing on this positive thing in the midst of some real downers lately.  And so I have this written record of what I have done for posterity.

I never would have expected to love gardening.  I've never considered myself an "outside" person, particularly concerning anything sporty.  Curled up on the couch with a good book or sitting at a table with art supplies strewn all over is more like it.  But since owning a home and the attendant necessary refurbishing of a few seriously neglected yards, I have found there is nothing more therapeutic than sitting in the dirt and running my hands through the soil, especially soft, silky loam like we had at our old house. I need to figure out how to create that kind of dirt here in Pullman, because it is the about the best smelling stuff in the world. Working in the garden, I feel calm and connected in a way I almost never otherwise do.  And pulling weeds is a terrific way of dispensing anger, whether it's anger following a run-in with a teenager or anger at the world in general.  In the past few years I have become increasingly fascinated with edible landscaping, and especially growing fruit.  Here in America many of us, especially in the West, have such a luxury of space: I like the idea of using it to produce something. Something wholesome and delicious and not corrupted by cancer-causing chemicals.  I love to cook too, and reading about different varieties of fruit and vegetables in gardening catalogs is totally inspiring.  Especially those varieties with gorgeous French names.  I'm a bit of a sucker for seeds with French names.

Last summer we concentrated on the front yard, creating a wide curving gravel path to the front door lined with dwarf fruit trees and flowers and herbs.  There are four apple trees that ripen at different times to pollinate each other: Wealthy, Honeycrisp, Spartan and Gold Rush, as well as two plums, Mount Royale and Green Gage. Last winter I spent many happy hours reading about fruit varieties, blossom times, and the qualities of different rootstocks before settling on my choices.  The flowers and herbs along the path are Basket of Gold Alyssum, thyme, oregano, and Sweet William. At each end of the path there is Munstead Lavender and Golden Creeping Jenny, which is doing a fantastic job of creeping all over the place.  Some of the flowers chosen attract beneficial insects which are natural enemies of the fruit tree pests, and I am researching others that will do the same.  On the border between our yard and the neighbor's there is a line of blueberries, Hardyblue and Blueray (or Jay?).  Blueberries really aren't difficult, just mix the soil half and half with peat moss to make it acid. I bought my trees and berries from Raintree and Burnt Ridge Nursery.

Here is a picture of the front yard in progress--the fruit trees in and the gravel path just beginning to be dug out in the far right corner.  You can also see the gap where we dug out the arborvitae.

In front of the house I put in various shrubs, including two Nanking Cherries I bought at the end of the season when they were marked way down, a Serviceberry tree, a clove currant (I bought the wrong kind which doesn't taste good, but the yellow flowers smell lovely so it stays), a purple-leaved Ninebark for color, and a hydrangea which was also on clearance.  The house faces north and this area is shady, so I'm not sure if the Nanking cherries will work.  They may get replaced with currants. I've been researching and reading luscious descriptions of currants and gooseberries, just as I was doing last year over trees. With names like ben sarek, titiana, minaj smyriou and black velvet, it's hard to choose!  And usually hydrangea's die on me because it is just so dry here, but this one is near the rather leaky hose spigot and seems to be making it.

Near the street, there is a large bed that had shrubs--a false cypress (not sure?), and some super-ugly arborvitae which was replaced by a Black Lace Elderberry bush, a Hardhack Spirea (which looks terrific, I like it so much better than the regular garden center spirea!), a dusky pink colored rose also bought on clearance, and flowers I dug divisions of from my mom's beds: Black-Eyed Susan, Liatris and more Lavender.  All which love our dry summer climate.  I should get a peony and maybe some catnip--they love it here too.  And definitely some more of that Creeping Jenny.  One of the biggest keys to gardening is to plant things that happen to like your dirt and your climate!

Up the ugly leaning lamp post (which is just to the left of the picture) I'm trying to grow a clematis, but the soil keeps washing away down the slope, so we'll see.  The lamppost is surrounded by prostrate juniper. Our entire neighborhood is cursed with juniper, in every variety, ubiquitous in almost every yard and sometimes composing (consuming?) literally an entire front yard, which seemed to be the thing to plant back when these houses were built in the 1960's.  I hate it, but I'm not sure how to take this little patch out as it really anchors the steep corner slope of our yard.  The clematis might at least add a little color, and if doesn't work I'll try honeysuckle, which grew like gangbusters at our old house.  I'd like to take the lamp post out, but my daughter likes it--it's a Narnia thing.  My husband thinks it's a safety thing, as it is near the steps that climb up from the driveway into the yard.  But no matter how we try to prop it up, it still leans.

Then there is "the messy bed" along the sidewalk to the front door.  This bed is on top of an eyesore of a retaining wall.  Really, I'd like to see this whole area bulldozed down and replaced by giant naturalistic rocks, but for now it's a three foot wide strip with fairly rich soil and good sun exposure that is way, way overcrowded by Shasta Daisies, chives and cilantro.  There used to be two huge rhubarb plants, but I dug them up because I didn't really want these as the starring feature on the way to the front door, and nobody else likes rhubarb so if I bake with it, I end up eating the entire crisp or crumble by myself--not good.  It is truly amazing how a whole new rhubarb plant can grow from the tiniest chunk of root left in the ground--I will probably have another baby rhubarb this year.  In any case, I think the daisies are going to have to go.  They are nice looking flowers but they simply thug everything else out. Last year I used the space to grow a couple of bean-teepees, but the beans were nasty and fibrous, maybe because it was a super dry year, or we simply did not like those varieties (Marvel of Venice and Kentucky Wonder).  I will go back to Fortex and Provider this year.  I also divided up some clearance Stella d'Oro Day Lilies and put a Russian Sage in the hottest corner.  I am not totally sure what to do with this space, but more flowers that succeed (the same Black Eyed Susan, Lavender and whatnot that I have throughout the yard), along with vegetables and herbs are probably the answer, since I don't want to put anything permanent or valuable there.

At the end of last summer, only one swathe of grass was left.  Grass is my enemy.  I am deathly allergic to the stuff, it's ugly and boring, and it's a water hog.  By allergic I mean when I go for an allergy test, the spot for grass pollen swells to a few inches in diameter, sometimes I start breathing rough, and the nurses run to give me a shot of adrenalin.  I want all of it GONE.  But my husband, who is extremely frugal (read, cheap!), who did not want to rent a sod-cutter and dug out much of the grass with a shovel (!), was worn out by the end of last season.  I am thinking of tilling up the remainder and sowing it with a clover/beneficial flower mix.  You can buy some neat seed mixes for beneficial insect plants and compost crops here, where you can also find various clovers and birdsfoot trefoil.

I keep trying to read books on Permaculture, which tend to be very confusing. The more you read on the topic, the less you understand.  But I enjoyed this one because you could see the process of a Permaculture yard unfolding: The trial and error of it, the learning and experimentation that happened as these guys went along, instead of having it all exactly right from the front end.  Which seems to be the way real-life gardening works.  Not to mention real life.