Winter came early, settled in to stay, and shows no signs of an early leave-taking.
By Friday, we will have counted forty days since Christmas. The strength of the sun has grown, but I do miss those cheerful days of twinkle-lights and candy canes.
Still, I would not unwind time. Onward and upward. Spring beckons, though it is only a light far down a very long tunnel.
Now, we mark the traditional halfway point of winter. Friday is Candlemas, the day when candles were blessed for the dark days of winter that remained, the day when we remember Christ presented at the Temple and sing Zechariah’s song:
… the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Peace is a way, a path, a choice.
I am sorry to say that peace often looks anything but peaceful when we begin to choose it. In order to seek peace, we must sometimes fix our eyes on the light we only barely see, far down a very long tunnel.
Peace is a wholeness, a completeness, and a rightness. We seek peace and we pursue it when we walk toward–not away–from those things in our homes, our neighborhoods, and our world that are broken, incomplete, and wrong.
We are peacemakers, not peacetakers out to grab whatever we can for ourselves.
The good news is that we seek that which we have already received.
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.
We cultivate seeds planted in us long, long ago.
Halfway through this long, dark season, I desperately need to remember all that is special and good about winter. Things like long books, warm fires, garden dreams, geraniums on the windowsill, and so much more.
I need a winter reset.
If you feel the same, I think this gift will help.
The third installment is finally here: it’s a Winter Giveaway!
When I first imagined the book that eventually became Roots and Sky, I pictured an old-fashioned treasure, something like the books I seek out in thrift stores and used bookstores. I thought my stories would be interspersed with seasonal tips and recipes and nostalgic pen-and-ink illustrations.
Almost as soon as I began writing, I realized that the story I needed to tell was simpler and leaner. Those first four seasons at Maplehurst were more quiet and watchful than busy and industrious, and the book needed to reflect that.
But the idea of offering more–seasonal stories, tips, recipes, and beautiful illustrations–has never gone away.
Last summer we celebrated five years of cultivating home in this Victorian red brick farmhouse.
I can’t think of a better way to mark that anniversary than by finally giving you the more I imagined so long ago. In fact, I plan to give you more (and more, and more, and more). I have four gifts planned, each one arriving with a new season.
In collaboration with the talented designer and illustrator Jennifer Tucker of Little House Studio, I’ve created four winter-themed pages from that book of my dreams.
They are free for every one of my email subscribers to download and print.
One comes from my kitchen, two from the garden, and one from my bookshelves. Each page offers something practical and beautiful wrapped up in my own lyrical point of view.
I’m planning to print and frame mine, but they’ll do just as well tacked to a bulletin board or tucked into a garden journal or recipe box. Feel free to share this post with friends who might like to subscribe and print their own.
Simply click the subscribe box below, enter your email address, and a confirmation email will be sent straight to you. Confirm your address, and you’ll be taken to the link in order to claim your download.
If you are already a subscriber, check your inbox. Your link should be waiting for you.
Here are two things to remember:
One: TWO WEEKS from today, the offer expires, and the prints will no longer be available.
Two: Spring won’t keep us waiting forever. Look for my spring giveaway in April.
(this post contains affiliate links)
I moved to this old farmhouse with dreams of a garden, but it wasn’t a flower garden. What an extravagant dream that would have been. I was a garden do-gooder. If you had asked me to place a spiritual value on a box of seed packets, tomatoes for canning and cucumbers for pickling would have risen right to the top. Morning glories were an indulgence.
Extravagance is something I have had to learn.
Jesus told us he came to give us life. But not just enough life to scrape by. Not a pinched and narrow life. Life to the full. Abundant life. Life like a cup overflowing.
Life like a garden bursting with flowers.
There is a ministry of flowers. I don’t think I can yet claim it as my own. If I practice it, it is only in small ways. A bouquet for a neighbor here. A flower photo on instagram there.
These days, the ministry of flowers is God’s ministry to me. The flowers that grow here at Maplehurst have become an emblem of God’s wild love and evidence of his generative presence on this earth. They are extravagant. Foolish in their ephemeral beauty. Profuse and profligate and anything but practical.
But this is a post about books.
And it is a post about the ministry of cake.
D. L. Mayfield is one of my favorite online writers. Her first book comes out today, and it is a gorgeous, heartbreaking, and wise collection of personal essays.
Assimilate Or Go Home shows us how Mayfield’s own do-gooder dream deflated, not in the garden but on the mission field. In her own words:
The more I failed to communicate the love of God to my refugee friends, the more I experienced it for myself. The more overwhelmed I felt as I became involved in the myriads of problems facing my friends who experience poverty in America, the less pressure I felt to attain success or wealth or prestige. And the more my world started to expand at the edges of my periphery, the more it became clear that life was more beautiful and more terrible than I had been told.
There are so many reasons to read this book, but I especially recommend it for Mayfield’s final reflections on the ministry of cake. Cake, like flowers, seems like a nonessential. In a world rocked by wars and rumors of wars, in a world of unbearable sorrows and grief, a world where too many people lack even basic necessities, what is the point of cake? I am reminded of Marie Antoinette. If we celebrate flowers or cake, if we celebrate at all, are we hopelessly out of touch? Extravagant to the point of selfishness?
Sometimes we must receive something in order to understand that it is worth giving. Because God gave me flowers, I tend those flowers and I give them away knowing that they matter. Mayfield wanted to give her refugee friends everything: answers, solutions, even the love of God, but they gave her cake and that changed everything.
Her most of all.
Here are two more book recommendations (one for cake and one for flowers). Perhaps they might help you to receive the love of God in more beautiful and more delicious ways.
This is my new favorite cookbook. It’s a book of seasonal desserts inspired by homegrown produce and farmer’s market bounty. As soon as I opened it, I wanted to bake my way from first page to last.
The banana and summer squash cake is my children’s new favorite cake. Seriously. Also, there is a cake recipe inspired by those apple cider doughnuts so beloved at Amish farmstands and pick-your-own apple orchards. Need I say more?
This beautiful book was a birthday gift to me from my sister Kelli. It is pretty and inspiring, but it’s also informative and practical. I still have so much to learn about floral design (okay, I still have everything to learn), but I’ve already implemented a few good tips and ideas from this book. Because the bouquet we take to a neighbor, and the flowers we arrange for our own bedside table, matter more than we know.
Tell me, what books are on your nightstand?
Today, I am not giving you a peek at the bookshelves lining the walls of this old farmhouse.
Instead, I am giving you a peek at what you’ll find spilling out of baskets and boxes. What you’ll find stacked beside my bed and by my armchair near the fireplace. I’m showing you my pile of dreams. My paper stack of wishes.
I am recommending plant and seed catalogs.
Why now? Why now as I put my vegetable garden to bed and watch for the first hard freeze?
Because gardens are born in winter. And this is the perfect time to sign up for at least a few (free) catalogs. They’ll be the guides to your dreams come December.
A garden should make you feel you’ve entered privileged space – a place not just set apart but reverberant – and it seems to me that, to achieve this, the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry. – Michael Pollan
The vegetable and flower seed catalog from Seed Savers Exchange is always a glossy, full-color treasure trove. This one is perfect for winter browsing, almost as good as a collection of short stories. You’ll read about the real “Grandpa Ott” behind “Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glories,” and the fascinating history of the “Moon and Stars” watermelon. Even better, by ordering heirloom seeds from the exchange you are also supporting the biodiversity of our planet.
The supermarket produce shelf offers a tiny slice – not even that, perhaps a pin drop – of the variety of creation. If a blight shows up this year favoring the (tasteless) grocery-story tomato, it will be the home-gardening seed savers and networks like Seed Savers Exchange who save tomatoes for future generations.
I don’t save many of my own seeds beyond a few dried flower heads. I’ve listed that activity under things I’ll do when I no longer have children underfoot. Until then, I do my part by ordering from Seed Savers.
Gardening is akin to writing stories. No experience could have taught me more about grief or flowers, about achieving survival by going, your fingers in the ground, the limit of physical exhaustion. – Eudora Welty
If you ever buy bulbs through the mail, especially daffodils and tulips, your mailbox will be flooded with catalogs claiming direct links to Dutch tulip fields. They will have phrases like “fine purveyors” on their covers. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, a family operation based in Virginia, is pretty much the opposite of that. And I love them.
Brent and Becky (yes, they are real people) offer excellent service, quality bulbs, and fair prices. You can buy all the classic varieties, and you can find homegrown varieties they have named for a favorite relative or friend. Their catalog is full of advice and inspiration, and you can enjoy it at least twice a year. They send out separate catalogs for spring and fall-planted bulbs.
I buy my daffodil and tulips bulbs here every year. Last year I filled a bed with their lily bulbs. And I’ll soon be planting a few of their purple alliums.
I am intrigued by writers who garden and gardeners who write. The pen and the trowel are not interchangeable, but seem often linked. – Marta McDowell
The Antique Rose Emporium in Independence, Texas is a magical place. I grew up visiting it with my father, a farmer-turned-gardener, yet I somehow never dreamed of growing roses myself. Until, I came to Maplehurst.
Our little corner of Pennsylvania was once well-known for the roses Quaker farmers grew here for city markets. That heritage is still evident in street names and in long memories. Last year, it seemed important to me to bring roses back to Maplehurst. Of course, now I’m hooked.
I used to hear “antique roses” and imagine fussy, hard-to-please plants. If caring for antique furniture was more complicated than dusting a piece from IKEA, then surely plants were the same. Strangely, the opposite is true. If you are looking for a rose that is easy to grow, less susceptible to diseases and insects, and (bonus!) highly scented, then it is an antique rose that you want.
You can also find them described as “Old Garden Roses,” and the catalog from the Antique Rose Emporium is one of the best ways to learn about these wonderful plants. Thanks to this catalog and other books published by its founder, I have gorgeous, cabbage-y pink roses still blooming in my garden today. In the middle of October. Yes, you can call me a fan.
Also, I think it very important to support any business with “emporium” in its name. Just a personal pledge of mine.
I love my garden, and I love working in it. To potter with green, growing things, watching each day to see the dear, new sprouts come up, is like taking a hand in creation, I think. Just now my garden is like faith – the substance of things hoped for. – L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams
I grew dahlias for the first time this year, and I am hooked. My gardens all look a bit shabby by October, but the flower bed across from our front door has exploded with beautiful, bouncy, mop-headed dahlias. You can find a million pictures (approximately) of my dahlias on instagram. Like this one. And this one. I can’t seem to stop taking their pictures.
I’ve done little dahlia comparison shopping, but Swan Island Dahlias was recommended to me, and I will be ordering from them again. Their catalog is beautiful and extensive, and every one of the tubers they sent grew and thrived. My favorite bit? They stamp each tuber with the name of the variety. This made it easy to remember what I was planting and where.
Dahlias always intimidated me because I knew they weren’t cold-hardy. The thought of planting something only to dig it up again in the fall seemed ridiculous. Why would I do that? Well, now I know exactly why. (Also, here’s a tip. If you aren’t sure you can handle that amount of effort: plant them anyway. No one will ever know if you just leave them in the ground. And if it’s a mild winter? They may just come blooming back again.)
However many years she lived, Mary always felt that “she should never forget that first morning when her garden began to grow.” – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Now I’d love to know, do any of you garden? What are your favorite sources? Please share them in the comments!
My youngest, not yet two years old, has begun to say her own name. She has been speaking of other things for quite some time. Important words like “shoe” and “mine” and “chicken.” But apparently one can live perfectly well for many, many months without feeling a pressing need to pronounce your own name.
But if I ask … if I say, “Elsa, where is Elsa?” then she will tap her own chest and say “Elsuh-suh.”
She is my fourth child. This means I am under no illusions. I know that even if I write the memory down in her baby book, even if I manage to capture phonetically the doubled sounds of her pronunciation, I will forget. A day will come, sooner than I imagine, when I will find myself unable to recall the particular cadence of my daughter, naming herself at not-quite-two.
This season, this brief summer at home with my children, seems built entirely of such small things. In five years, I doubt I will be able to recall anything of these weeks.
Scripture speaks repeatedly of a “fountain of life.” I am a mother, and I tend a garden. Raising babies and flowers, I have learned to seek that living, renewing water in things that would seem to be the most fleeting. The most temporary. I have learned that the most important things in life are only rarely weighty enough to settle permanently in our memories.
For instance, just when I had entirely forgotten them, the morning glories have returned. Green leaves and deep purple flowers are twining themselves around the spindles of the front porch. Each fall, the vines die. They die utterly, to the tips of their roots, but before the arrival of the first killing freeze, they scatter their seeds.
In early summer, those seeds sprout and stretch and reach for the same spindles of the same front porch. They are the most ephemeral of flowers. Yet, somehow, they are the most enduring. They are, in their way, eternal.
For years I sought eternity by keeping my arms wrapped tightly around solid things. Permanent things. Things known and understood. Things that were sure to last. These were the things I believed had eternal significance.
But years of mothering and years of gardening have taught me to look elsewhere. These years have taught me that I touch the far horizon of forever when I step forward into emptiness, seeking, like a twirling vine, for things unseen. Unknown. Imperfectly understood.
God our maker has “set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We reach for the far horizon of forever like those vines reaching for the home, the source, they have never actually touched.
It may be that eternity is the home of so many things I have forgotten or misplaced or failed even to notice.
Certainly, eternity is God’s home. The throne room of the One who counts hairs. Bottles tears. Holds sparrows as they fall.
We have quite successfully banished grief from our lives.
Dying proceeds in hospitals. It leaves no lingering trace in the pristine spaces of our homes.
Death is sometimes marked in an old-fashioned way. We do occasionally carve the same old stones. Though the ancient words requiescat in pace have been abbreviated and largely limited to Halloween décor.
But then we follow the trail of job offers and changes of scene until the grave stones that matter, the ones we still see with our mind’s eye, lie miles away. We cannot bring flowers. We cannot bring our children and tell them stories of the one we knew and loved.
But somehow grief still finds us. It winds its way in on unexpected paths. And in unexpected places.
For instance, the garden.
An old tree falls, and we are surprised, embarrassed even, by our tears.
We learn practical gardening techniques, and give them misleadingly neutral names like layered gardening or four seasons gardening. Now, we cheerfully interplant our tulips and daffodils with shallow-rooted perennials. See! What fun! You and I need no longer be assaulted by the dying bulb foliage. Death is always camouflaged by the next blooming plant.
Always there is the next thing. We need never look back. Daffodils! Then lilac! Then azaleas! Then roses! Now hydrangeas! And daylilies! And late-summer dahlias!
There is no need to mourn the passing of the daffodils.
But if the gaps still find you … If the empty space in your flowerbed haunts your sleep even in the midst of summer’s blooming bounty … well, the horticulturists can help.
They have tinkered and fiddled (plotted and potted), and now you can purchase the solution to your sorrow.
Every plant now has its reblooming variety.
Reblooming lilac. Reblooming azaleas. Reblooming roses. Reblooming daylilies.
Dry your eyes. Take up your nursery catalog. Look for words like boomerang and knock-out.
Because even in the garden we need never say goodbye. We need never sit in quietness waiting for the return of every beautiful thing we have loved and lost.