🌊 Is that you, Beach Lady? 🌊

Photo by Denitsa Kireva on Pexels.com

Butterfly season is winding down. When I go outside to pick tomatoes in the garden, even on the high-temperature days, I feel a lack of warmth in the air, and it’s not only because we are headed into autumn. I search around the perimeter of the yard as if I am a grammar school kid waiting for my neighborhood buddy to meet up and play.

In my case, I await the “Painted Lady,” but she has disappeared. I suppose she already migrated south to Mexico, although I wish she stayed around just a little longer. I had become accustomed to my daily garden visitor. I’ve never really paid much attention to butterflies until I met this one. She was fearless. A few times when she orbited near my face, she startled me. Each time I went outside, I began to long for her peaceful presence. Her delicious tangerine-colored body made me yearn for a ripe summer fruit. The white spots and black markings on her wings drew me in further. It was as if I were stalled from my daily routine and, instead, standing inside an art gallery, meditating on a painting’s technique and imagery. Her appearance awakened my senses as if they were young and keen again.

One day in mid-July, I had a sudden feeling of recognition at the sight of her. “Is that you, Beach Lady?”

Could the Painted Lady possibly be a reincarnation of the Beach Lady, an extraordinary woman I met in the early 2000s during my travel writing days?

You see, I was working on a story about Amelia Island in Florida and was introduced to MaVynee Betsch. In the same year she was born, 1935, her great-grandfather, A.L. (Abraham Lincoln) Lewis, one of the seven co-founders of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company and Florida’s first Black millionaire, bought the American Beach property on Amelia Island.

As racial segregation and oppression escalated across the United States, A.L. purchased what, thanks predominately to Mavynee’s influence, today is designated as a Florida Heritage Landmark. His vision was to create a beach resort to benefit his company’s executives and also use as a sales incentive for his employees. What’s more, he opened up American Beach to the Black population. In essence, it was a safe haven for the marginalized population to experience sun, respite and fun.

I only spent a weekend with A.L.’s great-granddaughter, but the environmental activist reinforced my views of the preservation of our natural resources. She, too, inspired me to believe that positive outcomes were possible. After all, she had spent a core of her life fighting to preserve and protect a historically African-American beach on Florida’s Atlantic coast. She additionally provided me with enough food for thought to help fill my insatiable appetite for American history.

When I first met the Beach Lady, as she was lovingly called, she lived predominately in a trailer on the property where she was as much a fixture as the land she loved, a diamond by the sea. The most unique diamond that I can imagine. Actually, she preferred to wear shell and beach stone-themed jewelry, and when she walked, she rattled.

Whenever I picture her crease-less face with her hair packed on the top of her head like a solid soup tureen and free falling dreadlocks down past her ankles, I first remember her sandy, bare feet. Her dark toes were full of the contrasting light-colored American Beach sand. The little shells wrapped around her ankles were as distinct as the bold orangy colors that draped her body. Her statement was loud and clear in the many button pins, including political and pro-vegetarianism, attached to her hair and clothing. Her ageless-aging process was an example that builds me up as I now watch liver spots form near the palms of my hands. When, for example, I dare to go against convention and wear my rose tinted, lizard-patterned boots that shout “totally inappropriate for my age,” the Beach Lady’s legacy fuels every step in my soles.

Her six-foot height along with her over foot-long nails curling from her fingers on one hand matched her big, beautiful personality. Everything about her was as natural as the sun, sea and sky. For over 20 years, she allowed her hair to grow without touching up the grays or cutting any of it. Some of her tresses, in fact, measured over seven-feet long. Her stretched-to-the sky fingernails proved the point that things could have natural, healthy growth without any meat protein.

“All I want is to be reincarnated into a butterfly,” she announced to me on numerous occasions.

A few years later, I learned that the Beach Lady died from cancer at the age of 70 in 2005. She was posthumously honored as an Unsung Hero of Compassion by the Dalai Lama in the same year.

So nearly twenty years after meeting her in person, I suddenly see a bright and beautiful butterfly greeting me at every turn. Is it possibly her in a new form front and center in my backyard? Did she get her wish? If anyone should have been granted everything she wished for, it was MaVynee Betsch.

All summer long, every time I spotted the butterfly, I couldn’t help but inquire out load, “Is that you, Beach Lady?”

Whether it really was the Beach Lady reincarnated into a butterfly or my pure imagination or not, the Painted Lady gave me a little faith to realize that when we are beaten down to soil level proportions, sometimes all we need is a flutter of hope to defy gravity.

Faith Muscle

Tomat-🍅OHs

Building on the blog post I wrote on August 16, when it comes to growth and allowing the process of life (and death) to happen organically both in the garden and in the daily human arena, I pondered the faith lessons that our tomato plants have taught me over these past three years.

As I mentioned in the post, historically, my brown thumb has sat me on the sidelines, safely away from any kind of gardening endeavors. My roomie, Pat, is a master gardener and about three summers ago planted on the side of the house a few starter heirloom tomato plants that Brother Paul, another master gardener, gifted to us.

Shortly after, on one of our walks, we arrived home loaded down with additional starter pots of tomato plants that one of the neighbors generously left on the curb in front of her house and marked “FREE.” Pat added them to the garden and spent the beginning of the summer watering and weeding the starter plants. I played the role of interested bystander. My distance was due to my paranoia about causing any harm to the harvest.

By August, even though my brown thumb was not guilty of the results, the harvest was sparse and the fruits of Pat’s labor were on the sour side. Maybe, I stated to Pat, the soil is bad. I mean, “it’s never given life to anything but weeds before you moved in.”

The following summer found us both on a tomato-growing craze. Pat planted another row of tomato plants from my brother in the same spot as she had done the prior summer. I focused my loyalties indoors and grew cherry tomato plants in my AeroGarden. I’ve used the hydroponic system for nearly a decade. It is a simple and nearly brainless gardening experience, invented for brown thumbs like me.

My military green-colored leaves and stems grew like burly soldiers, but did not produce more than a couple cherry tomatoes. I decided to take the risk and transplanted the cherry tomatoes on the side of the house along with Pat’s Early Girl, Big Beef and Roma tomato varieties.

Heeding to my brother’s advice, I also purchased a set of three self-watering tomato planters, complete with burlap and other thingamajigs. The planters are intended to set you free from “weeding, creating a watering schedule or figuring out the right soil composition.”

At summer’s end, my brother may have had terrific success with them over the years, but for us, the venture turned out to be a dud. In fact, I gladly got rid of them, putting the self-watering tomato planters smack center into Brother Paul’s green-thumbed hands. The rest of the harvest in the garden was, unfortunately, mediocre and the tomatoes tasted sour again.

I was stumped. I couldn’t figure out why the rest of the world seemed to grow super sweet, healthy tomatoes, and ours failed. I think Pat felt the same way. This summer, she only planted three small tomato plants, compliments of my brother, and, apart from watering, we basically turned our backs on the rocky patch of soil.

As the summer rolled on, out of the blue, I noticed what I first thought were weeds poking out of the garden. Incredulously, I took a closer look only to see about a dozen additional tomato plants sprouting. How? I suddenly realized that they were growing on their own from seeds unintentionally left from last year’s tomatoes.

For the last three years, we caressed, cared, toiled and fought hard with the earth, but it did not provide us with the rewards we deserved from the efficacy in our efforts. This year, we threw in the hoe, and our little military-green leafed soldiers stand tall and proud. Everyday when I pick the generous harvest, I drop a cherry tomato into my mouth. The warm burst of flavor transports me back to my youth. I spent summers wandering gardens that looked as if they were straight out of award-winning, artistically rendered fairy tales. Standing on the dirt, I’d sample my dad’s winning loot, sweet like cotton candy and as juicy as watermelon dripping down my mouth.

The faith lessons that I have learned from my homegrown tomatoes are that faith is a gift and a fruit that can grow abundantly even in the rockiest terrain. The secret is not to give up on hope. All you need, too, is a smidgen of it. The size of a mustard seed will do.

Faith Muscle

Chef-Curated Birthday Recipes

I had visions of spending my birthday yesterday dug deep in the latest book I am reading by one of my favorite authors. Snacking on reduced-fat cheese doodles, listening to the yelping contest between the two tiny mutts that live in the big colonial behind us.

As a prologue of things to unwrap, three days before the “Big Day,” my dear blogger friend Alec had remembered about my upcoming birthday and sent sweet greetings.

“Alec,” I wanted to reply, “thanks for remembering, but I’m trying to forget.”

It’s not that I did not appreciate his reaching out. It’s that I’ve always experienced conflicting feelings about my birthdays. When I was young, the date emphasized my state of detached reality. “Ungraceful aging” became the theme as time marched on. Nearly three years ago, of course, my birthday signaled hot rods of pain, loss and the idea of “unhappy endings” trumping “happily ever after.” It was the time that I temporarily deactivated my Facebook page because the “Fakebook” well-wishers only exasperated the grief.

What’s remained consistent is the two twins I recalled every year that were in my grammar school, Terry and Jerry. Out of 32 kids in our classroom, our trio was excluded from birthday celebrations during the school year. My birthday was August 22 and their birthday was August 23.  As luck would have it, all the other students’ birthdays fell within, or close enough, to the school year to celebrate. Each month we watched sad-eyed on the sidelines as a classmate celebrated a birthday during a particular week and delighted in song, praise and the biggest slice of cake out of the class, topped off with a spanking brand-new pencil to bring home.

These last few years, in fact, as my birthday approaches, it feels like the alarm goes off when my mind remembers Terry and Jerry’s longing eyes. The image kicks me into an impending feeling of despair. It helps, though, when I bring to mind one of my dearest friends, Michelle, a relatively young, quite recent widow, who always made it a point to say that the “big dates” that grievers anticipate on the calendar end up to be much more manageable and right-sized once the actual day unfolds.

The Saturday before the big day, my memory became ripe with regrets and remorse. Early in the week, Brother Paul insisted he and my sister-in-law, Diane, take me and my daughter out for dinner on Sunday and, even though I told him countless times that I wanted to “keep a low profile,” I acquiesced to their invitation.

“I’m reading a wonderful book. I really don’t have the time.” I didn’t think my excuse would fly and did not try and renege on the date.

Sunday afternoon rolled around and we gathered at a privately owned Italian restaurant. Three hours later, we peeled ourselves from our seats. In other words, I can’t remember a better time I’ve shared in an awful long time. I don’t think it was anything in particular about the conversation. It was more about being in sync and in the present moment. It was a bite into a slice of zen, a delightful, full-bodied flavor. It was the kind of meal that left you full, satisfied and met your needs beyond your belly.

Yesterday, wouldn’t you know it, my daughter took the entire day off from work.  If I had known, I would have stopped her. To backtrack, my birthday morning started with my gastroenterologist’s (the word rolls off your tongue as part of the aging process) office calling to change my October appointment.

After a few seconds on the phone, the doctor’s administrator announced, “There’s a picture of a birthday cake in front of your name in the chart. Happy birthday!”

“Thank you,” I murmured.

“Happy birthday!” the woman said louder.

“Thank you!” I replied, mirroring her sharp ding.

Then I received an IM birthday greeting from a random woman I barely know who always signs up for get-rich-schemes and tries to get me on board (without avail). I was amazed she reached out without trying to sell me something. The next IM birthday greetings came from relatives in Ukraine.  

When I checked my email, I was flooded with free computer screen downloads from the Pillsbury Doughboy who sent them to me as a birthday gift. I also received a flood of birthday coupons from retail stores and fast food chains. Too bad the Boston Market near us recently went out of business.

My friend, Camille, dropped by with fresh yellow roses and a beautiful card. My roomie gifted me a lovely blouse and another sentimental card that was added to the other make-you-cry-happy tears collection from my brother, daughter, niece and her husband. I also received a string of text messages from my fiance and the rest of the fam in Jersey.

Last night, I sat in my fave restaurant with my daughter and roomie and the minute I whispered, “I just really wanted to keep a low profile,” the waiter and the restaurant staff appeared with a blazing sparkler that was so fierce, it scared me, and I almost slipped off my chair. Afterwards, we dug into homemade cake and desserts.

Four hours we nested at the restaurant, together doing another helping of zen and life and digging into the moment, because that’s all we had in front of us. The best part about the experience was that it was uncurated. Instead, it flowed natural, unrefined without GMOs, in the purest form, and if this isn’t the recipe for faith, then I don’t know what is. After all, the plate in front of me carried the clear signature of a Great Chef.

Faith Muscle

Lessons from “O”

For years, I was bent on orchid ownership. Week after week, I wandered around as a distant observer in the floral aisle at our local Trader Joe’s. Once my intimidation dissipated, I’d move in closer to examine one of the deep-green leafed plants displaying round faces of velvety violet, white and beige-colored tones. The minute the icy cold surface of the ceramic white container penetrated the palms of my hands, the exotic orchid went right back to its proper position on the display shelf lightly sprinkled with dirt.

I hid my brown-thumbed hands deep in my pockets, and my skittishness left me darting in a straight-as-an-arrow direction toward the dairy aisle as if I had a sudden hankering for a 5.3 ounce tub of non-fat Greek Yogurt. I picked up my yogurt, moved swiftly to the checkout aisle and made my escape out of the store.

Having limited faith in my orchid care abilities, I was determined to build up my confidence. There seems to exist an association for nearly everything under the sun and, sure enough, on the internet I discovered the American Orchid Society. 

If you sign up, you are gifted with a free orchid magazine, Orchid.

In print since 1932, this magazine is treasured by tens of thousands of readers around the world.”

I knew I had come to the right place when I found a section earmarked for “beginning orchid growers.” It said, “If you are anxious to get going with orchids, check our quickstart guide to orchid culture, ORCHIDS 101. This article will give you an understanding of what is required for growing these marvelous plants!”

Pushing beyond my anxiousness, I learned everything I could about the sweet-faced anomaly until I felt empowered enough to take on the challenge of adopting one. About two weeks after Google brought me to the orchid society’s web page, I picked up an inexpensive flowering white orchid from Trader Joe’s and brought it home.

In the first two years, I received a gamut of advice from an assortment of orchid experts.

“Don’t wet the leaves! It’s fatal!”

“Don’t over-water! It’s fatal!”

“Put an ice cube on the top of the pot’s soil. Don’t touch the leaves. Don’t water it directly. It’s fatal!”

“Don’t keep it in direct sunlight. It’s fatal!”

Over the orchid’s last four-year life cycle, I am the first to admit that someone else should have taken custody of my orchid from the moment it came home with me. I confess that plenty of times, I’ve over-watered it. More than once, I’ve left it outside on the deck and forgotten about it until it ended up drenched in rainstorms. Other times, I’ve forgotten about it on the deck, and it was left in direct sunlight for so long that if it were human, it would have been hospitalized for severe sunburn. Other times, weeks passed before I remembered to water it.

Would you believe, four years later, it’s still alive? In fact, every year around the cooler, darker months, it never fails to gift me with a surprise of blossoms.

Through our trials and tribulations, I’ve grown attached enough to the orchid that I’ve determined her to be a female and have named her “O.” As in, “OH! She’s still alive.”

O’s life cycle brings credence to some of my mom’s favorite adages:

In this case, “You can do it all wrong, and it ends up all right.” (On the other side of the token she would say, “You can do it all right, and it ends up all wrong.”)

Recently, one of my fellow bloggers was discussing the idea of “what is for us cannot miss us.”

I had never heard that phrase before. In regards to my orchid, it was meant to stay alive and no one, not even a brown-thumbed mama was going to change the course of its life span.

It lives!

Now, that I’ve said that, it has taken a bad turn and it may be dying! Seriously. In the last two weeks, its leaves are falling off, and it has taken on a skeletal appearance. In fact, if it were a human, I think we’d be headed to the nearest ER for some oxygen therapy.

Time, of course, will tell. Orchid magazine and the society can no longer help me in this rescue attempt.

I do know that my O reminds me of an important life lesson in faith. Life will happen sometimes in the weirdest, most shocking and unfair and sometimes unrelated ways to our plans as possible. In other words, when we think we have it all figured out, we are thrown into a dunk tank of life.

This crazy O of mine through the years seems to whisper to me to “Leave it alone. Let things play out. Allow things to happen naturally, organically. Step outside on the deck and breathe. Green thumb, brown thumb or no thumb, have faith that the outcome is ultimately not in your hands.”

Faith Muscle

Faith it

Faith Muscle

The Changing Night Sky

Image by red-star-dreamy from Pixabay

The Delta Aquariids meteror showers finally inspired me and my fiance to try out a new telescope that’s been gathering dust in our living room since this past June.

These days, I mark very few thing on my calendar, but I did mark the meteor showers in fat red letters.

After twenty minutes of squinting into the contraption, we figured out that looking into the telescope paled when compared to relying on the human eye. As a result, we ended up in lawn chairs, heads bent ninety decrees, drawing imaginary lines as we star hopped across the sky.

Beyond the North Star, Big and Little Dipper, we vowed to study up on our future night maps to gain a broader insight into the language of the stars and, thereby, honor the majesty of our night sky.

In about a two-hour period, we spotted under a dozen shooting stars. Shooting stars, in actuality, are not shooting stars.

“Shooting stars, or meteors, are caused by tiny specks of dust from space. These particles burn up 65 to 135 km above Earth’s surface as they plunge at terrific speeds into the upper atmosphere, making the air glow as they pass.”

Reading the definition, I equate the phenomenon to the sky’s personal housekeeping practices and its changeless inclination to change. The process is akin to, for instance, letting go of an old piece of artwork, making room for a new one. It re-energizes and rids the room of stagnation, creates a clean slate and invites birth and new memories.

I was reminded of the paradox that if change signifies life then fighting change is … stagnation? Death? Imagine if we walked around in our baby booties for our entire lives? Ouch, that’s a pair of cramped feet. I suppose that’s how some people choose to live. I, actually, knew a middle-aged woman who still wore the same clothes she wore forty years prior. Single and alone, afraid of intimacy at any degree, she lived her life under a protective shell that warded out all degrees of hurt. Protective shells might keep you risk-free from the outside world, but inside their confines they limit the oxygen supply. Instead of having room to soak in the sunny and starry-lighted world to a point where it takes your breath away, over-protection can lead to living life on a sick bed. You have the proper apparatus to keep the heart pumping, but the equipment binds you to the bed.

Like it or not, change is a necessary part of life and maybe the more flexible we consciously become, the more we can accept the life cycle –birth to death – in everything, even a star. They say one day, albeit billions of years away, the sun and earth will one day die.

Unexpectedly, while we were finding our way around the finale of July’s night sky, I came to a state of awareness that helps me navigate our small orbit on earth. Day after day, summer to fall, the Big Dipper repositions and reminds me that I have no control over the natural flow of life. I can wish on an infinite array of lucky stars, but the truth is that all the faith in the world does not anchor life and halt its course to alter it to my desires; faith provides me the anchor to ride the wave of stardust.

Faith Muscle

Simply No Other Way

Faith Muscle

Faith-Full Tank

Faith Muscle

To-Do List for Today

Faith Muscle

One More Day … just one more day

Faith Muscle