Friday, May 29, 2009

For the Love of Cilla

Many people have been touched by breast cancer in one way or another. Whether that be a very personal struggle or the diagnosis of a family member, friend, co-worker, neighbor, or acquaintance – most of us at one time have unfortunately felt the impact of this life-threatening illness.

This past Memorial Day weekend I had the honor to be a part of an amazing home make over event in support of a friend who is struggling with an advanced and very rare form of breast cancer. Her name is Priscilla and she is a young, beautiful wife and mother of 2 small children. Cilla (as we loving call her) has been dealing with this illness for over 2 years.

(left to right: Husband Matt, son Josh, daughter Moira, and Priscilla)

In addition to the illness, Cilla and her family are part of a very special community – the Deaf Community. Dealing with breast cancer is difficult enough, but being deaf while trying to navigate a mostly hearing medical community makes it that much more of a struggle. But Cilla is a uniquely strong person. She’s not one that gives up and never lets adversity deter her. So although Cilla has many challenges, people that know her and even those that have only met her briefly are inspired by her positive attitude.

During the past few years, and even before while Cilla’s husband Matt dealt with some health issues of his own, maintaining the family home became difficult for obvious reasons and needed many repairs. Friends and family knew they needed help and that Cilla needed a refreshed environment in which she could take comfort in while recuperating from chemo. So, while Cilla and Matt went away for a long weekend an incredible community rallied together in support as they were determined to make over their entire home as a surprise present to the couple.

Andy (Ellie Mae's Dad) who owns a home improvement business, spearheaded the effort as Project Manager along with Tara, who is a close friend of Cilla. People from all over the deaf community volunteered to help out as well as neighbors, family, friends, school employees, co-workers, and even strangers who didn’t know the family personally but wanted to make a difference in their lives and help out. Andy was able to assemble a small army of contractors who volunteered their services which included a plumber, electrician, plasterers, carpenters, and landscapers.

And you’ll be amazed to know that these beautiful acts of kindness unfolded quietly and lovingly without the fanfare of the media or bright lights. All of it occurred by word of mouth and was organized at a very personal level. Over 50 people volunteered their time over a 6 day period. People worked from sunrise until well after midnight each day. Cilla’s brother Dave and sister Pauline put in really incredible hours.

For me it was an unforgettable experience that has left an indelible imprint on me. You see most people who volunteered were deaf themselves, and for me who is able to hear, I was amazed at how quietly all of the work took place. For there was no background music blaring as people worked or any chattering that one would normally hear (after all sign language is mostly silent) – instead it was quiet outside of the hammering and sawing that occurred. I often paused to make note of the silence and wondered if this is a small taste of what it is like to be deaf -- of course, it’s not even close.

I know Cilla and Matt through Andy (Ellie Mae’s Dad). Andy is profoundly deaf himself, but was raised in the hearing world by hearing parents. He reads lips perfectly and speaks incredibly well so I never had to learn sign language myself since we communicate with each other as though he is hearing. But over Memorial Weekend I was one of the few people that volunteered who could hear and didn’t know sign language. As I struggled to communicate with some people it made me think what it must be like to communicate differently and what it must be like for Cilla and Matt as they struggle to understand some people in the medical community as well as to be understood. It made me reflect on my own problems and how truly insignificant they all are.

But, the most touching moment of the weekend came from this man.

This is Cilla’s Dad and I have a heart-warming story to share with you about him. You see one night as we were cleaning up to go home Cilla’s father came back to the house (he’d been there every day so we were surprised to see him again when we thought he’d gone home for the night). It was well after midnight but Cilla’s Dad couldn’t sleep and he had to come back. He had to do something more to help his daughter – something personal in his own quiet way. He didn’t think he’d find us still there at the house. His intent was to be there alone and to paint a room that Cilla often recovers in. He wanted to do this himself as his own personal tribute to her. A father’s love for a child is incredibly strong even if that child is an adult herself. Andy and I were touched by this act of love. Tears streamed down our faces. We hugged him and softly kissed his cheek. He cried with us too. He held our hands ever so tight and thanked us. We wanted to stay to help him but he didn’t want us to stay. He needed to do this for Cilla himself. So, we left that night too emotional to even speak to each other on the way home. We couldn’t sleep ourselves that night. There were far more important things to do than sleep.

On Tuesday night we celebrated.

Cilla and Matt arrived home from a Key West vacation to see their home completely redone. New floors, new paint, new doors, new fixtures, new bathroom, new landscaping – almost everything was refreshed. When Cilla got out of the car she tightly hugged her children Josh and Moira and then looked up to see new landscaping and a garden in her front yard. In shock and in joy the tears streamed down her faced. Quietly everyone gathered around and hugged her. The silence again was amazing to me. The loving energy of the people who had gathered there to pay tribute to her seemed to not only warm our hearts but our bodies as well on that chilly spring evening.

Finally as Cilla walked in the house she was greeted by her Mom and Dad. This was the house in which they raised her in so there was special meaning all the way around. As she went from room to room to see all the work that had been done and how beautiful everything was Cilla thanked us for our contributions. Words could not describe these moments and really give them justice.

As Cilla thanked us, we could only thank her back. As we are grateful to know such an amazing woman and we feel blessed that she continues to be in our lives.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I HATE Waiting!

I know how Ellie feels when she waits for us to come home from work.

I hate waiting... I've been stuck in waiting mode for almost 2 weeks now. Stuck without my own computer, stuck from veggie planting (I'm waiting for Ellie's dad to finish the raised bed frames, but he has a good reason not to... I've got a heart-warming story to tell, but I'm waiting to upload the pictures so I can post it), and now the hardening off process of my squash and cucumber seedlings got slowed down by an unusual cold spell we are having in New England (it was only in the upper 40s/low 50s during the past two days - BRRRR!) so I had to take them back inside.

My back deck is literally filled with veggie seedlings, pots of caladiums bulbs waiting to sprout, annuals waiting to be potted up, and several hollyhocks and foxgloves I purchased from Bluestone which need to be planted (I'd show you a picture... but I can't upload them without a computer - I'm acutally posting this from work... shhhh... don't tell...).

A friend saw my back deck the the other day and said it looked like a mini plant market back there. Well at the rate I'm going, I might as well sell them since they may never get planted in my garden. Anyway, the plan this week was to do a little planting every day after work and then finish up this weekend. But cold rainy weather stopped me in my tracks. This weekend we've got family commitments and a party to go to. Boy has May been a busy month for us (I love all the invitations, but don't people realize I've got some gardening to do! ... just kinding of course!).

Hmmm.... I'm not feeling so well... maybe I'll call in sick from work tomorrow - it's supposed to be a lovely, sunny, warm day.

Who's Repairing My Computer? must be this little fella cause it's taking way too long!

I haven't blogged in a while because my computer is in the repair shop and has been for almost 2 weeks now. I was using Ellie's dad's computer but now that is on the fritz too... jeez just our luck we are going into computer withdrawal at our house. The only computer access I have right now is at work and the tiny little screen on my blackberry - get out the reading glasses!

I've been doing lots of gardening and have pictures of a really heart warming project we did last weekend, but alas those pics are stuck in my camera until we can get a computer to download them too. I'm hoping later this week we'll get back online and I can do some posting.

Wish us luck cause I think we'll need it -- otherwise we'll be dipping into our savings to buy a new computer and I'd really rather spend money on the garden.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

It's Bed Raising Time!

In rural 18th and 19th century America when farming and agriculture was the foundation of our nation members of a community often gathered together to raise a barn. Back then caring for livestock and working the land was essential for survival so activities like raising a barn, preparing a field for sowing seeds, and harvesting became events for celebration. Today we had our own little celebration at Ellie Mae's Cottage as we installed our first raised bed.

To those of you who have been gardening and growing vegetables for awhile this is no big deal, but to me it was something I've been dreaming about for the past year (silly I know... some women dream of the finer things in life while all I wanted was a decent patch of fertile soil). I got my first taste of vegetable gardening last year when I interplanted some veggies with perennials on our small plot of land. It didn't take much to hook us on home grown vegetables -- one taste of a sweet pea and a crisp cool cucumber was all it took. Although we got a decent harvest from our haphazard approach to gardening I knew that things could be so much better if we did a little planning and had a little better soil. So, after many months of research by looking at blogs, reading magazines and books, and talking to anyone whoever grew so much as a a tomato plant I came up with my own version of a raised bed.

The basic is a traditional raised bed. The frame was easy to build (at least it was easy for Ellie Mae's Dad - he owns a home improvement business and is a woodworking craftsman so building a square box frame was as easy for him as it is for a fine chef to make a grilled cheese sandwich). The hard part was figuring out where we were going to install the bed, how big it would be, what type of soil it would contain, and what kinds of vegetables we would plant in it.

Stakes for the bed all lined up and ready to go.

2" x 8" pine boards ready for framing (No treated lumber. Would have used cedar, but it's not in the budget this year. We'll have to replace these pine boards in a few years.)

A neat way to stack up the boards so they can be easily drilled for the screw holes - hubby knows all the tricks!

Holes all drilled.

The stake installed.

The finished product. Isn't she beautiful!

My first point of reference was Mel Bartholomew's All New Square Foot Gardening.

After reading this book the ideas in it made tons of sense, but he lost me when he recommends not using the soil that is already in the ground. Amending existing soil as long as it's not contaminated is sustainable gardening, while ignoring it completely just doesn't sit well with me. True it may take a little longer to get the soil to an optimal level when starting with the land beneath your feet, but building upon something that is already there and watching the wonders of Mother Nature transform it - worms and all - is a small miracle to me. Of course, it you don't have this option and want to garden where no soil exists than using Mel's Mix makes perfect sense.

The second book I read was The Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Edward C. Smith.

Here the author advocates the W-O-R-D system, which is Wide Rows, Organic Methods, Raised Beds, and Deep Soil. In my opinion the Smith method is more sustainable, but does lacks some of the quick fix ideas that Bartholomew's book provides. The Smith book is a comprehensive nuts and bolts approach to vegetable gardening that you can use as a foundation for learning, while the Bartholomew book will get a new gardener out of the gate and running in no time at all.

In the end I combined what I thought was the best advice from both books. We built a traditional raised bed of 4x8 feet, but instead of filling it with Mel's Mix we used the existing soil and amended it with topsoil, manure, compost, and peat moss. We then sprinkled on some lime since the home soil test indicated that we needed to neutralize some of the acid, and tilled the entire mixture together.

How much we used of each I really couldn't say (I know I should have measured and recorded what we used), but my approach to gardening is similar to the way I cook - I do it by feel using a little of this and little of that until it looks and feels right. The Vegetable Gardener's Bible helped me more in that respect since instead of giving me recipe for creating the perfect planting mix he outlines the basics of how to tell if you have a good soil. I certainly don't know if I got the mix right - as a matter I know that I didn't (it's still too sandy and rocky) and I realize that it can take years and years to work a good soil - but, I think we made a good foundation that we can build upon. Like everything else about gardening it's a process and patience certainly is a virtue.

The plan I drew up calls for 5 - 4'x8' beds (3 will go along the side yard fence and 2 near a rhodie tree). The area doesn't get as much sun as I'd like (only about 5-6 hours of full sun a day - I'd prefer 8 hours for veggie garden), but it's the sunniest place on our property outside of the front yard perennial bed. Unfortunately cutting down trees is not an option since they are on our neighbor's property - do you think they'd notice a masked bandit at night cutting down a few trees?

So with the challenges of a partially sun plot and some Massachusetts south coast sandy soil we embark on a new vegetable gardening season. We've got one bed completely built, installed, and filled with 4 more to go. At least in New England it's still early in the season - like everything we do it's taking longer than I would like but that's how we roll. Onward and upward as we say cheers to raising our bed!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Memere's Cape Cod Woodland Garden

Cape Cod is best known for it's beaches.

But, to the area's full-time residents it's so much more. We are lucky enough to live only 30 minutes from the Cape and since we have family who live there full time it's like a second home to us. Ellie Mae's Grandmother and Grandfather (Memere and Pepere or how we pronounce it - Meme and Pepe) live in the quaint seaside town of Mashpee. The town is just southwest of the more well-known Hyannis and is also unique as one of the remaining homes of the Wampanoag Nation, the Native American tribe which met the Pilgrims at Plymouth.

Meme has a beautiful woodland garden that she has carved out of a small space behind her townhome. Meme is a seasoned gardener who at one time tended to many large perennial beds and vegetables gardens outside of the historic New England home in which she and Pepe raised their family. After retirement the couple moved to Mashpee. But moving to a townhome with common areas that are mostly shaded, didn't stop her from creating her own version of Eden. Proving that you can take a gardener out of the garden but you can't stop her from gardening!

I have learned much about gardening from Meme over the years and she has inspired me create a little magic in my own world. And when I say magic I do mean magic. For example, she has honeysuckle that blooms gorgeously in a shaded area.

Here is a picture I took of it this weekend. See how the honeysuckle vine is being trained to grown in a topiary shape over chicken wire. This summer it will be filled with flowers and the chicken wire will be covered with lush foliage (click on the photo to enlarge and get a closer look).

Follow me as I take you on a small tour of some more of Meme's Garden during a misty spring day.

Hostas in all shades of green.

A little happy frog sits like a garden gnome near a bright pair of clogs. Just look at the cute little clog stand that Meme made. It's assembled from some scrape pieces of wood and corks - I love that she used corks - such ingenuity!

These little ducks are nestled in the leaves.

More woodland treasures...

A bright burst of color from a hanger... just waiting for hummingbirds to arrive.

I'll show you more in the upcoming months of this treasured little haven as it blooms and bursts forth with life.