Monthly Archives: May 2013

Often the simplest of things bring the most happiness…

In Paulo Coelho’s book, The Alchemist, he writes, “The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.”  I truly believe that, well, I have believed that for the past nine years.  My little boy, Joey, just celebrated his ninth birthday and he is among the wisest I know.  You see, Joey just discovered pinwheels.  Yes, pinwheels.  A rather simple toy by today’s standards. It’s certainly nothing fancy, as it is often made of just paper or plastic curls, attached at its axle to a stick by a pin.  It doesn’t require batteries and it can’t even be plugged in.  In fact, to get it to do anything requires a summer breeze or it must be blown upon by a person.  But to my little guy, it was pure magic.

This latest discovery of Joey’s happened by chance, as do most unexpectedJoey Discovers Pinwheels things.  There was a pinwheel in the doctor’s office and out of sheer boredom, I picked it up and began spinning it for Joey.  The look on his face when he saw all those bright colors spinning around was one of the most precious expressions I have ever seen.  Many of us have had the distinct pleasure of experiencing something through the eyes of a child, but when your child is disabled and all of the sudden he finds immense joy in a toy or a song or anything for that matter, well, it makes you stop whatever it is you’re doing and take notice.  I can tell immediately if something is going to really hold Joey’s attention or if it is just going to be a momentary infatuation.  After 45 minutes of spinning that pinwheel for Joey, I knew his love affair with pinwheels had begun.  As we sat in the doctor’s office waiting, I watched Joey look with wonder and then smile so brightly at this toy.  Who knew a toy, that  can be traced back to the late 1800’s, would bring such happiness to a little boy, 140 years later.  Joey cannot walk, talk, sit or stand, but he could reach for that pinwheel and smile and coo as it spun around and around.  So you see, it’s true, the simple things in life are very often the most extraordinary things, at least, in our family they are.  I’m in constant wonder and amazement at what my little boy teaches me every day.  All children, regardless of their abilities, have a sense of wonder and awe that we tend to lose as adults.  I’m so blessed that I get to relive my childhood through my son.

As I sat in the doctor’s office waiting – and spinning the pinwheel – I immediately began planning how to incorporate Joey’s new found love of pinwheels into his everyday life.  I tend to be like a bull in a china shop with my ideas and projects.  Once I get a notion or thought in my head, watch out – because I will do whatever it takes to make it happen, especially if it involves my little guy.  It’s my best and worst trait.  Ok, it’s one of my best and worst traits, but that’s another story for another day.  There are a handful of things I’m passionate about, first and foremost, my children.  After that, gardening.  PinwheelsSo it didn’t take long to come up with a plan that would combine pinwheels and petunias.  Right there in the doctor’s office on that tissue paper they use to cover the examining table, I actually sketched a garden that would be filled with pinwheels and flowers – complete with a path for Joey’s wheelchair.  I could feel the adrenaline – yes, I was that excited.  If you aren’t the parent of a child with special needs, you will not understand what it’s like to stumble across something that your child loves.  Joey cannot tell me, “mommy, I really love (fill in the blank) can we go do/buy/see that”.  I have to rely on trial and error.  I have to hope and pray for those moments, like the one last week, where we discover pinwheels completely by accident.  And when that discovery happens, you will do everything you can to encourage it, to repeat it, to make it a part of your child’s life.  At least, I do.

This new garden already has a name, “Il Giardino dei Girandoli di Giuseppe“.  My next step is to get pinwheels that are weather proof to be placed in the garden.  I’m going to ask friends and family to help make this happen as I feel it will add sentiment to the garden and make it special.  I truly feel like a child on Christmas morning right now, I cannot wait to begin this latest project and then watch Joey’s face when he sees it for the first time. So yes, while having a child with special needs can be exhausting, frustrating and heart breaking it can also be inspiring, magical and breath taking.

I’m learning that not much about life is perfect.  There is no such thing as perfect kids, we don’t come from or have perfect families or perfect partners, perfect jobs rarely exist, but every once in awhile, we do get a perfect moment.  I think maybe the trick is to recognize this and to not only hold on to the memory of that perfect moment, but perhaps we need to try and figure out how to make more of them.  God willing, that’s what I’m going to do.

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“And I learned what is obvious to a child. That life is simply a collection of little lives, each lived one day at a time. That each day should be spent finding beauty in flowers and poetry and talking to animals. That a day spent with dreaming and sunsets and refreshing breezes cannot be bettered.”

~Nicholas Sparks

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Sweet Tea, Storms & Savoir-Faire

Old Italian Woman GardeningAlmost two years ago I decided I wanted a vegetable garden.  I was tired of growing tomatoes in large pots on my deck.  I’m Italian/Sicilian and we’re supposed to grow our own veggies and make homemade pasta sauce – and I do, but now I wanted to do that on a larger scale.  And I wanted to one day be the proverbial little old Italian lady in the neighborhood that spent all day in her garden and was always up to something, albeit in stilettos and a sundress!

With my flower garden just about complete I began researching how to build a vegetable bed.  I didn’t like any of the ideas I saw and the ones I did like were far too expensive.  So, like many times before in my life, I set out to do it ‘my way’.   I went to the lumber store and let my imagination run wild.  I asked two employees for some help and explained to them what I wanted to do.  One gentleman was very eager to assist me and began giving me quite detailed instructions on how to build a vegetable bed that I’m certain would have resembled the Taj Mahal.  Another employee suggested I just visit the produce section at Wal-mart.   Somewhat discouraged, I thanked them for their time and decided I was going to have to do this completely on my own.  As I was leaving, I saw a large pile of wood outside that I thought would be perfect for my project.  They were landscape timbers and because they were ‘less than perfect’ they were marked down in price.  Now, I am a master in the fine art of negotiating, I actually enjoy it quite a bit. I’m also a single mom on a budget tighter than bark on a tree, so I was going to have to really work my magic to get the 15 landscape timbers I needed for my vegetable bed for less than $1 each.   I think it was Lord Chandos that once said, “Flattery is the infantry of negotiation.”  And I would have to agree.

Before I put my negotiation skills into high gear, I made a quick trip to McDonald’s.  I had a gift card that someone had given me and I used it to buy three large sweet teas.  If you aren’t from the south, Sweet Tea is considered the “house wine” of the south and many will argue it is the only way to drinkSouthern Sweet Tea tea.  I’m a California girl, but I have to agree, there is no other way to drink tea. None.   So, with my latest acquisition in hand, I returned to the lumber store and went up to the three gentleman working outside.  Before I continue, let me add that if you approach three men working outside in July, in Alabama where we have humidity higher than a 1950’s beehive hairdo and you are bringing them sweet tea with ice, you could ask them to do just about anything and they will say ‘yes’.    I gave them their drinks and explained that I needed 15 landscape timbers.  They showed me the ones that were in perfect condition but I explained that I wanted the ‘misfits’ – the ones no one else wanted.  One of the guys laughed and commented that he had seen me in here before, and how I always head to the back of the store where the almost dead plants are.  He wanted to know why I did that.  I explained to him that as long as there is still a sign of life, then they deserve a chance.  I suppose it’s a little silly, but it makes me sad to see all those plants sitting on racks about to be tossed away because they aren’t as pretty as some of the other ones.  And I enjoy bringing them back to life, often in as little as a week. I also see it as a challenge and I most certainly love a challenge.   If you have seen pictures of my garden in my previous blog posts, I want you to know that all those flowers, every single one, were almost on their last legs when I planted them – yes, even the roses.  I have bought plants that were originally priced at $15 to $20 for $.75 – and some I have been given for free.  They are now all blooming and beautiful.

The men told me they wouldn’t feel right selling the ‘misfit’ timbers to me because in some way they were damaged.  I told them not to worry about it, that I knew what I was doing (I didn’t) and then I asked them to make me an offer I wouldn’t be able to refuse.  They laughed and asked if I had ever seen “The Godfather”.  I showed them the Italian flag sticker on the back of my truck and jokingly told them I had cement blocks and rope in the back and asked them if we could hurry this along or they would be ‘sleeping with the fishes’.  When all was said and done, I left with twenty not so perfect landscape timbers – total cost: $5.  To this day, they refer to me as the ‘sweet tea lady’ – it’s funny how some friendships are formed in the most unique ways.

That was almost two years ago.  Those timbers sat in the side of my yard through countless rain storms and through many of my life’s storms, just waiting to be put to use.  And last week their time had arrived.  Armed with a hammer and some very large nails, I set out to build my vegetable bed.  I had planted some vegetables from seed earlier in the year and they were more than ready to be put into the ground.  I learned very quickly that hammering nails the size of cigars into wood takes a lot of muscle.  My project was going to be a little more labor intensive than I thought.  From start to finish, it took me three days to complete and as much as I hate to admit it, the last part of my Roseanna Borellivegetable bed was completed by a few neighborhood kids that I have known since they were five years old.  On their way home from school, they heard me ‘talking’ quite loudly to one of the nails that refused to go in straight and  they came over, while laughing, to see what was going on.  Before I knew it, the negotiation tables had been turned.  They said if I made them baked ziti for dinner, they would finish the vegetable bed and mow my lawn, front and back.  I’m no fool, I knew I was coming out on the sweet end of this deal, so I agreed, of course, letting them think they were the winners in this negotiation.

My vegetable bed is now complete and I can’t wait to construct a second one very soon.  I’ve planted three varieties of cherry tomatoes, some red bell peppers and of course, lots of herbs. There is even a climbing rose-bush as the back drop.  At the request of the boys that helped, I’ve also planted spinach and the second bed will have watermelons.  I think that’s what I’ve enjoyed most about this project, how it got the kids involved.  They feel a sense of accomplishment in having helped me that day and I’ve seen them walk past the vegetable bed on their way home from school to see how the plants are doing.  You just can’t get that kind of feeling from a video game.

I know not everyone enjoys gardening, but everyone needs to have that one thing that they can just lose themselves in.  For me, gardening is like playing – I’m a child again.  I am curious, creative, messy, I try new things knowing that if it doesn’t work out, it’s really no big deal.  Why do we lose that as adults?  We need to tap into our inner child every chance we get, I don’t care how old you are.  Two days ago it was pouring rain and I was sad because I wanted to be outside in my garden.  And then I realized, so what if it’s raining, I’m not sugar, I won’t melt.  So out I went in the rain and walked around my garden in bare feet getting soaking wet – and I loved it.   I picked some roses, checked on my newly planted vegetables and even purposely stepped in some puddles – itPlaying in the Rain was fun – the silly kind of fun that I don’t think adults participate in nearly enough.  But I do, every chance I get.  One of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou, and one that holds quite a bit of truth, is this, “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”  Now, all of you know how I handle a rainy day.  When I arrived in Italy years ago and a day before my luggage did, I used that as an opportunity to put my limited knowledge of the Italian language to use and set out on the streets of Rome to find all the things I would need for the next 24 hours.  I did this alone – my first time in another country and I didn’t know a soul.  It was the most empowering and liberating experience I’ve ever felt and I loved every second of it.  And tangled Christmas lights, let’s just say that I rival Clark Griswold in that department and that’s definitely another story for another day.  Maybe a rainy day after I’m done splashing in the puddles.

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