The Exquisite Luxury of Bloom Time

Time is the ultimate luxury.

It’s taken me a whole lot of frivolous spending and a deeper appreciation of the short life-span of my favorite flowers to realize it.

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I remember a newspaper column by Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman I read many years ago, when I  was in my early 20s and I thought 30 was old, about how she measured the rest of her life in lilac blooms. Goodman hoped she had at least another twenty lilac blooms to go. I thought this was the strangest thing I’d ever heard.

But now that I’m on the back side of forty, I understand.

As the iris bed I planted last August begins to reap museum-quality beauty each morning, and then fades within a day or two, I understand. Another year. An entire year before I will see them again. Another year older, if I’m so blessed.

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Crocus. Daffodils. Tulips. Flowering crab trees. Lilacs. Poppies. Peonies. Irises. I cherish the succession.

Each of my lovely blooms last just a few exquisite days. I look forward to each of them like a child looks forward to a visit from Santa. I wake up each morning, grab my camera, and run outside to see what is opening, what has blossomed over night, what is peaking and what is fading.

I photograph each beautiful iris bloom in dusky morning light and in full afternoon sun. I marvel at the irises’ frilly apricot standards, the fuzzy lavender and pale yellow caterpillar beards, veins of fuchsia and purple speckled falls.

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This year is especially poignant for me. For the past two months, I have been watching as my mother’s mind slowly slips away, succumbing to the final throes of dementia. She has been staying with me a week now. While she has been frustrated, fearful, angry, sobbing, sometimes all of the above, I have seen her soothed by the familiarity of my garden. She remembers the peonies of her grandmother’s garden. She felt the satisfaction of mimicking me, as I planted container gardens. She recognized the feathery Cosmos seedlings, just three inches high.

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My poppies are thick and lush right now, as they are each Memorial Day weekend. The tight round balls of luscious pink peonies always follow in the first days of June. It’s a succession you can count on like Monday follows Sunday.

These are the luxuries that I cherish.

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Flower blooms are free to everyone. A beautiful peony is no more beautiful to the rich man as it is to the poor. In a world of technology that moves at warp speed and dissolves in the seconds of a Snapchat snap, moments spent observing the smallest details of a flower petal are savored.

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I try not to think of how many more magnificent lilac blooms I will enjoy,  how many opportunities I have to inhale their delicious perfume. As I see my mother follow the same path my grandmother took with Alzheimer’s, I wonder if I, too, will slip away too soon. But then I pull my attention back to this day, this moment. I am grateful to enjoy this bloom. I wake up each morning, a little earlier to see what’s blossomed.

I hope you do, too. Because time is the ultimate luxury.

 

 

Imagination: The Best Medicine

There is a quote attributed to Theo Van Gogh, taken from a letter written to his brother the painter, Vincent. I read the original, and it doesn’t sound much like the quote as we know it today, but I love the quote anyway. It says, “To know God is to love many things.”

Adulting is hard. The older I get, the more I cherish and need my creative escapes. I think it’s so important for children and adults alike to have an escape valve to help them release the pressure of everyday life, technology and news of the world.

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My Fisher Price Little People had 2 homes, a farm, a houseboat and a private jet. Little people, living large.

Growing up an only child, I cultivated the ability to entertain myself, as well as a life-long love of creating tiny worlds filled with family, friends and lots of animals to keep me company. My love of all things tiny started with Fisher Price Little People. I remember vividly being very sick once, maybe 4 years old, and the only thing that made me feel better was my Grandma pulling out a Little People A-Frame Cottage that she was saving to give me at Christmas. I was immersed in another world and things didn’t feel quite so bad.

Then in junior high, I read Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, and fell in love with Laura Wingfield’s fragile world of crystal animals. In this small refuge, anything was possible. Everything was manageable.

So you can imagine my unbridled joy when I got my first true writing job creating catalog and box copy at Department 56, the company renowned for their amazing Christmas Villages and Snowbabies. Bringing to life the miniature people who populated the fictional city of Merryville remains one of the highlights of my career to this day.

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A winter catalog from my time at Department 56.
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Hi! I’m Morty

Then some pretty major and traumatic life events occurred in my thirties and suddenly I felt the weight of the adult world on my shoulders. If I’d been able to have kids, maybe the wonder of experiencing the world through their eyes would have sustained me. But I lost my sense of fun. Of play. I lost my joy. I was at a new job, that wasn’t fun, which unfortunately compounded my lack of “joie de vivre.” And that’s when one day I came across a shop on Etsy called Monsters Etc. and met my friend Ruti Dan, a kindred spirit. Here was another adult, with a “real world” day job, who spent her free time making art dolls. NOT for kids.

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Unfamiliar with human customs…like confetti cake, or cake in general.

After Morty arrived, everything changed. I started finding all kinds of crazy ways to photograph him, singing karaoke, playing with the copier at work, investigating mossy woods. The next thing I knew I had started creating small vignettes of my own. I incorporated felted creatures I purchased from Kit Lane on Etsy, and then started making my own felty guys. I propped them with funny trinkets you might find in a gumball machine. Then I found them a red model convertible and a little guitar. Or I propped them in front of the alligators when I visited Avery Island in Louisiana. Before I knew it, I was buying a gigantic dollhouse. My PayPal account was more than happy to accommodate my desire for all things teensy-tiny, and my collection of itsy bitsy shabby chic decor and miniature cakes grew exponentially. As I tell my husband, it’s cheaper than redecorating the house. I can design the room of my dreams in miniature.

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Just an evening of desserts and champagne, with the anti-social Mr. Mouse.

And eventually I graduated to this…

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My spring bake shop, Fattycakes’ Bakery

and this…

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Ms. Clara Plum at work in her kitchen.

and this.

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Making Elvis Presley’s favorite – the peanut butter and banana sandwich

One of the HUGE positives of social media is the way a person can find a group of devoted, like-minded people who share a passion for just about everything and anything. I discovered that there were other mini-devotees, who were just as excited and fascinated with all things mini as I was.

I started chatting with the most amazing and inspiring people, and meeting artists who were pursuing vibrant careers based on their art.  Lauren Delaney. Bridget McCarthy. Ana Mimundorosa. Lugart Petit. Paris Miniatures. A Lavender Dilly. PetitDlicious. Kim’s Mini Bakery.  That’s just to name a few.

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A Marie Antoinette roombox at the Tom Bishop International Miniatures Show.

I traveled alone to Chicago to attend my first International Miniatures Show, where I rode in an elevator with a REAL prince (not Harry, unfortunately). He had traveled from the Arab peninsula to Chicago to pursue his passion for miniatures. I met some of my favorite artists in person and others from Spain, Italy, France, Ireland and so many more countries. I took classes from a master woodworker from Ireland, learning to hand-finish miniature cabinetry. And I saw the most magnificent dollhouses and tiny pieces that cost thousands of dollars. One day soon I hope to return and visit the world-renowned Thorne Miniature Rooms at The Art Institute of Chicago.

Following that simple whim, one day 8 years ago, when I was well, well, well beyond a reasonable age to be playing with dolls, I threw caution to the wind and allowed myself to do something silly. I bought an art doll named Morty from half-way around the world, and he reintroduced me to what I’d been missing so desperately – joy.

Through letting my imagination run wild, and indulging my childhood passions, I was able to gradually let go of some of my sadness, put the world on pause and just play. I think that’s really what we need now more than ever, grown-ups and kids alike. So the next time you see that metaphorical merry-go-round with it’s magical horses, merry music, and flashing lights, go ahead and jump on. Buy yourself that giant stuffed cheeseburger pillow. Or the light saber you’ve had your eye on for months now. It could change your life.

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Let your imagination bloom.

So Much to Love About February

For some reason the WordPress gremlins ate the text of this post. Phooey. Although, I can’t say for sure it wasn’t operator error. In any event, I’ll quickly share some of the highlights, despite the fact that it is now well into March.

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It was a snowless Minnesota in February this year. So I posted a few of my favorite things to do when winter weather doesn’t cooperate with your plans to get outdoors and have some fun in the snow.

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Dig in the Dirt. It’s the perfect time to repot your plants! Maybe you’re like me, and on occasion the poor plants are just stuck in their original container and set inside a pot. No shaming here. But your plant’s roots will be so much happier and healthier when they can stretch out their legs in some fresh, fluffy dirt. It’s a great time to feed your plants, too. With seed starting still a month away for us in the north, here’s a chance to exercise that green thumb.

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Visit a local arboretum or nursery. Even though my hair hates it, I have to admit I adore the thick sultry humidity that envelops me when I walk through the doors of the Fern Room at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in St. Paul. We also are blessed with the wonderful Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, one of the best in the country, right here in our own back yard. There are classes and special events running yearround.

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Minnesota’s own Ames Honey Farm

Enjoy an outdoor summer event, indoors. Indoor farmer’s markets, like Bachman’s Winter Market, shown above, are gaining popularity everywhere. The Landscape Arboretum and local nurseries are also hosting them this winter. What a wonderful opportunity to support local growers, farmers, artisan bakers and brewers. An extra bonus is that everyone is so happy to be at a market in midwinter, your mood is sure to get a boost from all the smiles. *The next Winter Market at Bachman’s will be held March 25th, at their Lyndale store.

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Puzzles are having a moment! I’ve read three separate celebrity interviews in the last couple months referencing the puzzle craze. More socializing and gossip is shared over puzzles at my house than just about anywhere else. If I want to have a good conversation with my husband, I need to do a puzzle with him. Puzzles are so relaxing! And so blessedly technology free. If you’re ever in the mood to really splurge, check out Liberty Puzzles. According to their website, “Liberty Puzzles are a throwback to the golden age of jigsaw puzzles.  Each one contains dozens of hand-drawn “whimsy” pieces intricately cut into the shapes of characters, animals, and geometric designs.  They are works of art within art.  The puzzles are made with 1/4” plywood and use advance print technology for eye-popping color.” These puzzles are absolutely amazing. But pricey. Maybe I’ll ask Santa for a Liberty Puzzle next year.

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Take the 2017 Good Reads Challenge. Do you have a Good Reads account? It really is a must for book lovers. Good Reads creates a virtual book shelf for you, let’s you keep track of the books you want to read, read reviews of books you’re on the fence about and get recommendations from your friends based on their bookshelves. Every year you can challenge yourself and your friends to read more, because reading is simultaneously stimulating and soothing for the mind, body and soul. Over one million Good Readers have pledged to read 73,833,021 books in 2017 to date. I’m already halfway to my goal of 25, so time to adjust that goal.

Well, there you have it – the somewhat amended, “missing” February post. I’ve left off the Valentines, but I can’t resist sharing this photo of Valentine’s for your furry loves, post-Valentine’s Day. Maybe you can start shopping for next year? Here’s one of my favorite photos from the vanished blog post…online shopping for my very spoiled dogs. Enjoy.

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Finding My Word of the Year

Committing something to paper is much like a deep breath. It’s meditation. When I write something down, I’m uncluttering and making room in my brain for other ideas to grow. Some may, and have, called me a Luddite, because I don’t do all of this online, but I need to put pen to paper every day or I am completely and utterly lost. Every day I am documenting just about everything, via a wall calendar, goal planner, day planner, or good old-fashioned diary.

Right now I am smack dab in the middle of a job hunt. So I have ample time to commit to all this daily upkeep. Plus it’s a necessity to keep me on track. Naturally this is a time when I want to make sure I’m using my time wisely and being productive. Any time you make a change of this magnitude (changing careers) you start to question things you thought you’d figured out long ago.

I’m a natural-born “resolutions girl”, but this year I felt like I needed to do something more all-encompassing, more soul-searching and that was when I happened to see Lara Casey’s “Make It Happen” Intentional Goal Planner in an Instagram post. My Pay Pal trigger finger was way ahead of me. And boom, this darling planner, filled with arty postcards, stickers and fantastic worksheets was all mine.

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This is not a traditional daily agenda for managing time. It’s a planner to help you make progress on the goals you set throughout the year. There are actually 30 pages (including guidance from the author and artwork) of worksheets for you to complete, each building on the last, and leading you to the goals you really want to “cultivate.” Because like a garden, a goal is not something that just happens. It needs tending; good soil, sunshine, water and weeding in order to grow.

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For instance, after first flipping through the pages, I saw that I needed to find a word of the year. Oh nooooo. How am I, an English major, and total vocabulary nerd, going to come up with one all-encompassing word that’s supposed to sum up everything I want to achieve this year?

But that’s not how this works. This book leads you through the worksheets to your Word of the Year. Suddenly you just find it. As you write out all of your challenges, fears, what’s working in your life, what’s not working, your priorities and all the other good stuff included in the worksheets – the word or goals develop themselves.

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I came to my word of the year, after seeing patterns in all of my work sheets. Phrases kept popping up like: people-pleaser, exhausted by trying to be everything to everyone, feel like an introvert trapped in an extrovert’s body, pretending so I can fit in, afraid of what people will think if I…Yes, my word for 2017 needed to be Authenticity.

I would show you more worksheets, because there are so many good ones, but they’re kind of personal and you never know when a potential employer might see this. But here’s one example of a more harmless page. Excuse my messy hand-writing, but Lara says it’s okay

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If all of these worksheets seem like too much work to you, trust me they’re not. They’re surprisingly easy and fun, and if you’re like me, you have to be given permission, which Lara frequently does, to just spill it out there on the page. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Whatever you write won’t be graded, or judged. So don’t get angsty about it. Just write.

Coming up on the Chickadee Book List for February, Lara Casey’s book, Make It Happen: Surrender Your Fear, Take the Leap, Live on Purpose.

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Finally, I want to share with you another of my current obsessions: Planner Stickers!

As someone who grew up with scratch & sniff stickers plastered all over my Trapper Keeper, I was all in the moment I heard stickers. You’ll find that I’m constantly scouring Instagram, Etsy, and Pinterest for things I can’t possibly live without, and so it was when I discovered these adorable stickers. If you’re going to organize your life in a bullet journal or planner and stay on top of it, you need the tools to make it fun.

From fun to functional, planner stickers are available in custom sizes to fit specific planners, like Filo Fax, Plum Planners or  Erin Condren’s . Many stickers are created by young people, and include popular characters like Harry Potter, Gilmore Girls or Unicorns. But there’s something for everyone; hipster to homemaker, and every to-do; special events, work tasks, exercise reminders and household chores.

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Go to Etsy and search Planner Stickers and you’ll find dozens and dozens of artists to fit your individual style. Some of my favorite shops are: Once More With Love, Miscellany Boulevard, The Planning Butler and Pumpkin Paper Co.

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I’m a member of Washi Tape Anonymous.

You can also find a huge selection of stickers at Michael’s and other craft stores to design your own pages.

I hope I’ve given you a couple of ideas, or a little inspiration to get your life and mind organized in 2017.

Until next time,

Melanie xo