Seven Lessons on Life from My Houseplants

1. There are other ways to understand.

My plants can’t speak to me, but they have a language all their own and I’ve had to learn to understand it. I’ve had to study soil composition and learn the meaning and purpose of air roots, nodes, and petiole. I’ve closely observed the cycles of new growth and dying back, of yellowing, spotting, and curling leaves. I’ve had to interpret these signs from a perspective foreign to human reasoning.

What at first appears to be a sign of distress could instead be a sign of thriving, a sign of the next cycle, or simply a lesson in letting go. I’ve learned to listen outside of my experience and assumptions and to simply take in what a thing is trying to say.

2. Make time to check in.

A lot can change from day today. Temperatures, amount of sunlight, humidity, growth, and pests can come on and shift within days or even hours. Make time every morning to poke the soil, move some leaves around, inspect stalks and roots, prune, move, or adjust as needed. Make time in the evening too, if you can. You’ll keep from spiraling, from losing motivation, progress, or focus, you’ll keep life from getting too hard to manage and situations from getting too far gone to recover from.

3. Adapt to the needs of each day.

When I first started collecting different types of plants, I set out to set up a calendar and corresponding spreadsheet to track which plant needed water, when. What happened was a lot of swinging from too dry to too damp. A lot of drooping leaves and rotted roots. The problem was, I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t taking into account the changes in temperature, humidity, and light. I wasn’t considering circumstance and change. For some things, planning and preparation are impossible. Some days have to be reacted to.

4. Giving too much can be as detrimental as giving too little.

I’ve often given too much to my plants. Watering before they were ready, placing them in direct sunlight in an attempt to force growth. Soil that’s too rich followed by fertilization far too often, all because I thought more was better. I thought I was doing what was right, but I was only doing what made me feel good and that isn’t the same as love or care. In our relationships, we have to love as others need us to, not as we want to.

5. Appreciate seasons, surprises, and even setbacks.

Viewed within the confines of a home and from day to day today, the life of a house plant hardly seems to change at all, but if you begin to be mindful of the sun, the temperatures, the soil, of each new leaf and each flower, you can see there are seasons even for the sheltered and the carefully cared for.

There are seasons for dormancy, for slowing, for fertilizing, for repotting, seasons to cut back, to water more, and to water less. There are seasons for everything, and no season can be made into another. Take each as it is and for its purpose, you will see so much more progress this way.

6. Take on only what your environment can support.

There are so many beautiful and exotic plants I would love to own, but the hard truth is I live in the wrong climate zone for most. The air is too dry, and the sun sits too low. Temperatures are too cold for too many months out of the year and inside, I have the wrong size windows and none of the faces in any of the right directions.

The kinds of plants I can properly care for aren’t the kinds of plants you see in those Instagram-worthy photos, but they are what works for me, my lifestyle, and my environment. Accepting this has resulted in less stress for me and less stress on my plants.

7. Propagate, give away, share, spread the love.

For a long time, I hoarded my plants. I refused to separate, to cut, to share them with anyone. I had done the research. I had done the work. These pups and propagations were rightfully mine and mine alone, but soon many of them outgrew their pots, my windowsills, and the limits of time I had to give.

I now consider it a testament to how hard I have worked and how much I have learned that I have so much new growth to give away. Now I enjoy potting my baby plants and finding new homes for them. It feels good to brighten the room and moods of loved ones and perfect strangers alike. It feels good to impart these lessons to as many people as I can reach. And if I choose, and there will still always be more left over to keep for myself.


124 // Heavy

The days never look as good while you are working your way through them as they do in retrospect. Yesterday, for example, felt slow, drab, and unproductive throughout but looking back over my goals and to-dos from this tomorrow I can see quite a lot actually got done and I’m proud.

My hope is that today will be the same. The sun is out at least, and that is a vast improvement already. It good to have gotten through Monday, and so far I’m plodding along pretty steadily from task to task. My workload is a little heavier but if I use my time mindfully this shouldn’t be a problem.

I’m struggling to want to write, but having the hour scheduled for later helps. I can focus on taking notes, freewriting, and thinking which has always been my favorite part of writing. That and the “having written“.

I thought I’d tackle a book review next. It’s been quite a long time since I’ve shared my thoughts on any recent reads. The books I tend to enjoy are so heavy though, it makes it hard to be light-hearted or short-winded. It makes it hard not to give the whole book away.

I think more light-hearted writing is in order though, to balance so much of my heavy feeling. I’ve always tended to take life and myself far too seriously and that makes for hard writing and I worry it makes for hard reading too.

123 // Use These Swinging Moods

I woke this morning to yet another cold and dreary day. I don’t mind rain so much, usually, but we’ve had quite a lot of it and none of it’s been quite the right kind. It’s been the all day gray and depressing stuff, not the swift and severe kind that roll in through the summer afternoons that I love so much.

It’s hard to focus today, though I have very little around to serve as any distraction. The mind always finds a way, it seems. I’m far too fatigued and unfriendly feeling to get anything done for myself or for anyone else.

I don’t expect the clouds or the chill to lift until tomorrow, neither do I hope for my mood to improve until the sun peeks out again. I’m learning to use these swinging moods of mine to my advantage. A drab day doesn’t have to mean being listless or low, it can mean being pensive and purposeful. It can mean time to pull inside myself and pull at what’s been building or bothering.

When the blue sky returns I will emerge again, to focus on interaction, inspiration, and input, but today is for introspection, silence, and solitude and there isn’t a thing at all wrong with that.

Goals // Week 18: Simply Flowing

This week marks the beginning of a new month and what I hope will finally be the end of wintery cold and clouds. I’m looking forward to the sun, Spring finally springing, and to the world opening up, to life returning everywhere.

It isn’t a particularly busy time at work right now. Instead, it’s a time of preparing. The school year will end in just a few short weeks and though the vast majority of the kids will be enjoying their summer break, there is still work to be done as we ready for the next year to begin. There is summer school, trainings, conferences, renovations and purchases to make, and a plethora of policy changes to implement.

This week I’m dividing my time. I’m preparing at work and I’m pulling away for my own passions too. I have returned to writing and I don’t want to lose my motivation or momentum by either looking away or looking too closely. This week I’m simply flowing.

This week I will:

Continue meditating. I let the practice go some months ago, and the failure hit me so hard I haven’t been able to return until last week. It hasn’t been easy to get return to either. I’m fidgety and mind wanders far too easily, but I’m learning not to resist them but to let them come and then let them go. A much-needed lesson in these trying times.

Set aside one hour a day of writing. Ideally, this will be the first hour I am home directly after work. No one is expecting anything from me during that time, and I am generally alone. I will sometimes use that hour for a quick nap or to take care of neglected house chores, but that is only a way of procrastinating that I think will result in less guilt. It doesn’t.

Use all other free time for doing the “fun” parts of blogging. Reading, commenting, image searching, idea generation, and design are all things I tend to do instead of actually tying words onto the screen. The point of the scheduled hour is two-fold, to remember when to write and to be able to give myself permission not to write.

Read for 30 minutes every day. The next TBR to tackle is Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail by Frances Fox Piven. It’s a great book and the difficulty I face trying to finish it is through no fault of the author. I simply struggle to concentrate while reading from a screen, but like all things I expect I only need more practice. This week’s lunch hours are allocated for the work.

Finish one blog post this week. I have many drafts started and plenty of notes and free writing done, but nothing edited and nothing ended, which is always the hardest part for me. This week I’m going to stick to my writing schedule and tackle the drafts one by one. Hopefully next week I can hope for two blog posts! Bonus: Wrap up one newsletter draft as well.

This week I will not put too much pressure on myself. Things have been enjoyable lately and I don’t want to lose that feeling. I want to write, and read, and learn, and connect, but I don’t want it to be work and I don’t want it to be hard. I want these goals to be a source of joy and peace, not a reason to have to negotiate or berate myself.

What doesn’t feel good or right will go, and what works will go on working for me as long as it will. Change is not only welcome, it is sought, and I’ve decided too that it shouldn’t hurt. It just shouldn’t be this hard. The rest of life already is. What you give and ask of yourself should be the balance.


Photo by Tom Robertson on Unsplash

122 // Usual Sunday Blues

The morning started out sunny, but around lunchtime the skies grew dark and our phone began warning us of severe storms on the way. Some of my outdoor projects will have to be put off. Tomorrow is looking dreary too, so it may be midweek before progress is made.

It’s nearing evening now, and I’m frustrated by how easily the body gives out. Coffee and some natural drive got me through the morning, but my energy levels quickly fizzled out from there. I’m considering some afternoon tea and a boost of B12 to carry me through the until bedtime.

Not that there is much left to do now, or much time left to do it in even if I wanted. The groceries are bought, the laundry is folded, the dishes washed and put away. There will be some time for writing, for planning the work week, and for crucial self-care needs, but the to-do list never really ends and there is always more you wish you could do and more weekend you wish you had to do it in.

I make the best use of what I have, but there is always something left unchecked, something I didn’t get to, something that has to be put off. Two days has never been enough for the errands, the cleaning, the visits with family, the projects, the rest, and all the fun you’re in desperate need of before you must give up more precious hours of your life for bills and necessities you only end up resenting.

And like clockwork, I slip into the usual Sunday blues.

121 // Any Small Peace

I woke up this morning believing it was Friday rather than Saturday and though nothing at all indicated that it was a workday—no alarms had rung and my wife was still in bed—I dragged myself from the warmth into the cold darkness of my house to begin getting ready.

I shortly realized that I’d made a sad mistake and promptly returned to my cozy comforter, but what struck me afterward wasn’t the mistake and the disruption to my rest, but that I’d a habit was forming again. I was able to do what needed to be done, the hard thing, in response to a circumstance without complaint or the need for negotiation with the self.

All this is to say, it’s getting easier to rise and enjoy my mornings again. This is a sure sign of healing and a welcome return to a part of myself I can recognize and cling to in these hard times. It’s a small thing for most, but for me, any small peace whether found in time, space, or the heart, is crucial.

120 // Returning

Today was a good writing day, but only because it was allowed to be an entirely unproductive work day. My bosses are often understanding of the need for days of rest and relief, days where there are no expectations, only time to take care of self or reconnect with the team. Today was one such day.

I wrote a new “Currently” post for the first time all year and tried my hand at drafting the first newsletter I’ve sent in years. I also shared a letter I wrote over a week ago to someone very dear to me. Between those pieces and these recent journal entries, a lot has been released. I’m lighter than I’ve felt in weeks.

The weekend looks busy from here, but instead of focusing on the tasks and to-dos I’m looking forward to getting back to rising before the sun and spending a few quiet hours over a cup of strong coffee and the lit up keys of my laptop. I’m looking forward to more writing.

Returning to written words has been like returning to an old friend, picking up where I left off and going on as if I’d never left. It’s a relief to be so accepted, to be loved back by something you thought had stopped loving you.

Survivor Love Letter // I See You

Dear Survivor,

I want you to know more than anything that I see you. I do not look past you to your tragedy, nor do I see through you to the future when you are free from it. No, I see you now and as you are now. I see you as you cannot see yourself.

I see you through the lens of this moment and this moment only because I know you are not who you were then and you are not yet who you are going to become. I accept you for who you still are, who you have worked so hard to grow into, and for what I know you carry with you in every waking moment. I accept you. I accept all of you.

I want you to know that though the road has been unimaginably hard, and the road ahead has its own twists and turns, sharp declines, and uphill battles, I will walk the way with you. I will not fall behind lingering over battles already won, nor I will not walk ahead where you are not ready to tread. I will walk the way with you, hand in hand.

I will speak to you along the way so you know you are not alone, and I will listen without judgment when you need to share your deepest pain. I will remind you of what you have forgotten and remember forever the courage you are teaching me to have now too.

When the way gets hard, I want you to know that you deserve your body. You deserve your mind, your heart, your soul. You deserve your hopes and dreams. You deserve your emotions, all of them, from your light and lovely joy to your red-hot burning rage. You deserve safety and a secure sense of self. You deserve to live and, when you are ready, you deserve the infinite love this world has to offer.

More than that, you deserve the infinite love you have to give yourself.

Until then, dear Survivor, I will hold you in my heart until you can hold yourself again. Until then, I will love enough for us both—for the entire world if I have to! I will love you when you think you cannot be loved. I will love you when you would wish me not to. I will love you at your lowest just as much as I would love you at your best because to me there is no difference.

There is only you, beautiful and bright you, shining through, always.


Currently // April 2021: After the Storms

April
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

― Edna St. Vincent Millay, Spring

I’m not in the mood for Spring this year. Though I’m glad to be rid of winter’s frigid drab, I’ll admit that the flowers and sunshine serve only to remind me more of this last year’s hardships and the long road of growth and healing that lies ahead. This particular April has been the cruelest month.

Normally April is the beginning of my own personal new year. In April I grow older and in April I come alive. It’s in this prelude to the summer when I come into my prime emotionally, physically, and professionally. There is still some of that, some days. I can’t keep the sun from my heart, no matter how much it breaks and, anyway, time heals as much as it hurts anymore.

The snow is melting, and the storms are passing. There is sunshine and rainbows, life coming back to life, and a new cycle appears ready to begin.

I’m desperate to begin with it.

But before I do, here is what I am currently:

Writing on a real schedule. It isn’t much, just one hour a day after work and two to four hours starting just before sunrise on the weekends. I’ve only just started, but I have noticed a two-fold benefit already. It’s not only easier to write when the time comes, but easier to do non-writing things without guilt at any other time I feel like it.

Making some blog changes. You may have already noticed some small design changes and I’ve been posting regularly again too. I’m working on a lot more posts to come and trying out different kinds of posts too. In addition, I’m keeping up with comments, following new sources of inspiration, and working to connect my writing to real people. There might even be a newsletter revival around the corner too!

Planning those weekend house projects. We’ve gone too many years letting too many things fall into disrepair and we’ve come to a point where we have to face what is difficult, make the time, and simply take the work weekend project by weekend project, and for the overwhelming bits, we’ve decided that it’s better to pay someone else than to

Reading Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail by Frances Fox Piven. I started it many months ago for a bookclub I never met with and only just now getting around to working through it. This month I also finished The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus, Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, and Poetics by Aristotle. According to Goodreads, I’m just 12 books behind schedule for my goal.

Watching A Black Lady Sketch Show on HBO for the laughs and Grey’s Anatomy on ABC when I don’t want to think too hard. Some other things I enjoyed: Tina on HBO, an account in her own words of the life of music icon and domestic abuse survivor Tina Turner and Exterminate all the Brutes a frank account of race, oppression, and genocide through European colonial history.

Learning how to focus on breath and body again. I’ve rejoined Headspace and after three or more months away it’s amazing how much effort it takes to keep the body still while the mind follows each breath in and out. The worries intrude easily now, but I know with practice I can find my peace again.

Anticipating additional anxiety as we return to some semblance of “normalcy”. I feel as though I have forgotten entirely what I used to enjoy before the pandemic began, and the proper way to socialize outside of work and immediate family escapes me. Worse still, there is a part of me that has grown to like my isolation and would perhaps prefer never to come out of it again.

Reflecting on the lessons of right now. I am not exaggerating when I say that this last year has been the hardest I’ve ever been through. I’ve lost some people, almost lost others, and even lost myself for a while too. Life is looking vastly different from here than last May, and since I can’t change a single second of it, I may as well take in the new lessons and find the new joys.

Fearing more missteps and misunderstandings. One lesson I’ve learned this past month is how quickly things can change. I’ve dealt with downward trends that took weeks or even days, but it is possible to come to such a volatile time in life that within hours your entire universe can invert. I fear now that nothing can be fully predicted, least of all the people you think you know the best.

Hating how little control I actually have. We pretend at control. We imagine free will. We think ourselves each the master of a little universe willing and manifesting day in and day out. It’s an illusion. It’s worse than that. It’s a lie. What choice and will you have is smaller than you know. It’s ok though. Work with what you have and let go of the rest.

Loving the chance to learn from someone younger than me. I’ve struggled with my fears for a long time. I thought I had come to a place of progress, but it was only a place of comfort. I have been hiding while pretending to be brave. I’m learning to find my courage by watching the next generation surpass me in every way. But rather than from resentment

Needing rest. I don’t mean sleep exactly, but simply, rest. I need a place or a time to put down the weight I’ve been carrying. I’m not just talking about the weight of the last year. I realize now I’m carrying things that have been with me for far, far longer. I need to stop for a moment. I need to lighten the load.

Hoping the worst is behind me and my loved ones, and we can finally look forward to a life of light and love. I’m hoping for a sense of self and safety that won’t be shaken again. I’m hoping with all my heart for joy, for connection, for meaning and purpose. More than anything, though, I’m hoping for a reason to hope.


So, yeah, all in all, April, was hard but I’ve learned and loved and taught and been loved back so much that the heartache and heaviness have become at least possible to bear. I know where my strength lies and I know what weaknesses need work. I know what to look for and I have a better idea of what to do next. None of it was in vain.

But what about you? Has Spring sprung where you are? Have you received your COVID vaccine doses? Is your world opening up? Are you yet in bloom?

Let me know in the comments.