Turning into leaves of gold

Ginkgo leaves in Grand Coteau

Little evidence supports my illusions of a green thumb in and around my home. Even so, the lack of proof has never slowed my fascination with certain plants — especially orchids, maidenhair ferns, Gerber daisies, California poppies, hydrangeas and ginkgo trees, with the gingko tree being my favorite.
I first learned about the ginkgo tree the summer after my ninth grade at a horticulture camp at Mississippi State University.
Yes, you read that correctly. When I was 15, of my own volition, I spent a week at a “camp,” where we walked for miles and miles to look at specific plants (in July in Mississippi) and then went to botany and plant science classes the rest of the day.
I went to the camp, not out of any special interest at all, but because in a process I imagined to be as secret and ceremonial as a coronation, the Garden Club ladies from the small town where I grew up, selected one high school-aged girl to attend the camp each summer — and that year, they picked me.
With about 30 other kids about as interested in horticulture as I was, we trounced all over campus and in and out of laboratories. We saw rare plant specimens and learned about propagating, hybrids, splicing, canning fruit and winemaking.
On one tour, we stopped in front of a tree. I’m unsure why I remember almost every word the horticulturist said next, but I do.
“This tree is special. It is a living fossil, related to no other living plant. The ginkgo dates back 270 million years. Whatever killed the dinosaurs didn’t kill it. The trees originated in Asia, and the female trees produce nuts that are popular in some Asian dishes, but stinky from the tree. The tree’s fan-shaped leaves are distinct. It’s one of the slowest growing trees around, and it’s almost indestructible. In fact, some ginkgo trees actually survived the atomic blast that hit Hiroshima.”
Even though horticulture wasn’t my thing, the ginkgo tree was amazing.
A few years after the horticulture camp, I graduated high school and ended up attending Mississippi State as a student. Almost every day, I walked past the beautiful ginkgo tree I had learned about a few years earlier. As I passed it, I could almost hear the horticulturist saying, “This tree is special. It is a living fossil….”
However, when fall found the ginkgo tree and its beautiful leaves turned a shade of gold I had never known, my appreciation for the tree skyrocketed. In those golden days, the ginkgo became my tree. Like Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors, I dreamed of “Somewhere that’s green” and planting my very own ginkgo tree.
As it turns out, buying a gingko tree isn’t always easy. Once we moved to Louisiana in 2001, I began my quest for a ginkgo – at nurseries and online. I’m good at such searching, and I was rather relentless.
Even so, I came up empty handed every time. Time passed, but I never gave up on my ginkgo.
Nearly four years ago, my husband and I were struggling to decide where to send our daughters to school. I won’t go so far as to say it was the ginkgo tree in the circle drive in front of the Academy of the Sacred Heart that made the decision for us, but that tree certainly didn’t hurt. Learning that the Sacred Heart ginkgo was the oldest one in Louisiana was lagniappe. On our tour of the campus, I stood in front of the school, focusing on the ginkgo instead of the monumental live oaks.
About a year later, I attended Conge, the school’s spring festival. Away from the hubbub of the games and confetti eggs, the school hosts a plant sale. Various people donate plants. I was walking by the plant sale, on my way to get a glass of lemonade and happened to look down.
Much to my amazement and shock, I was looking at three little trees with fan-shaped leaves for sale.
I could barely speak and wondered if I was seeing clearly. I stuttered to the volunteer, who happened to be the Sacred Heart groundskeeper, “These are ginkgo trees?”
“Yes,” he said. “They’re $6 each.”
I could barely form words. “I’ll take them,” I said.
And I came home and planted my three waist-high gingko trees, remembering all the while that they’re one of the slowest growing trees on earth.
Even though my thumb isn’t very green, my ginkgos have survived. Almost every time I pass them, some little ginkgo-related memory sneaks in my head.
This late in the fall, all of the leaves have dropped from one of the trees and only a few remain on another. For some reason, the third tree still has 39 beautiful golden leaves clinging. I know that it’s just a matter of time until they fall too.
But come springtime, they’ll be back.

Try the Gratitude Experiment


Last week, I found a list of stores that wouldn’t be open on Thanksgiving. I shared the list with friends saying that I wanted to make a special effort to do business with stores that chose to honor the holiday that I believe represents so much of what makes our country special.

My cousin, Melinda Henderson Kyzar, a missionary in Prague, sent a message agreeing with my assessment. Her dad was a missionary in Korea and the Philippines. Though she’s as American as can be, she has spent most of her life living in other countries.
After reading my list of stores, she sent me a message to say that she agrees. She said she was in the States for a few days recently looking for Thanksgiving decorations to take back to Prague
“I found it surprisingly difficult to find much because Christmas retail was already in full-swing. I wondered if America wasn’t going to give up Thanksgiving altogether one of these days,” she wrote.
She went on to ask if it wasn’t possible for us to keep one day set aside to give thanks and not make people work at retail stores?
“I have lived overseas for most of my life and have seen how foreigners have a fascination with American Thanksgiving. It is a unique holiday that is so much a part of the soul and emotions of Americans — that we can never adequately explain it to them. We need that day,” she said.
I believe she’s right. Gratitude is such a vital part of living an abundant and happy life. Scientists have proven time and again that being grateful simply makes people happier — and being grateful is something that we can actively work toward. It’s not like saying, “I need to be happier,” and then sit and try to be happy. Being grateful is active. We can demonstrate our gratitude to others. Being grateful can be practiced.
After years of research, psychologist John Gottman recently announced in a study that lasting relationships come down to two things — kindness and gratitude. Gottman and his wife have researched what makes relationships work for the past four decades, studying thousands of couples.
While the Gottmans research couples and relationships, I believe almost all lasting relationships come down to those two traits.
In my book, kindness is trickier that gratitude. Sometimes when I’ve sincerely tried to be kind, I later learn that my actions were misinterpreted. Don’t worry — that won’t stop my efforts toward kindness! However, my real point is that while gratitude may seem to be about what we offer others, it is so much more about what being grateful to others does for ourselves.
Gratitude makes us happier.
Gratitude makes us better friends.
Gratitude makes us better parents.
Gratitude makes us better children.
Gratitude makes us better employees.
Gratitude makes us better managers.
It just makes us better all the way around.
And this week, we have a whole day set aside to focus on being grateful. May each of us use this week and time to reinforce a daily practice of gratitude throughout the year.
Try an experiment of reminding yourself to say and demonstrate your thanks at least five times a day. Try to tell people thanks in real time – sincerely, but if you realize you haven’t said thanks to enough people before you go to bed, send them a thank you email. Whatever it takes, just be and show your gratefulness.
See what happens. I’d love to hear about your results.
Therefore, go and be grateful!

Email Jan Risher at jan@janrisher.com

Another man’s treasure…

one man's treasure...

She was born Lydia Myrene Henderson. She was my grandmother.
And, in all my life, I’ve never known anyone who appreciated a bargain any more than she did. She lived in a constant state of believing that some object she picked up somewhere would eventually be recognized by one and all as immensely valuable and quite possible The Greatest Thing in the History of Time and Space.
She is the reason I smiled this week when Rae Gremillion, director of community development at the Hospice of Acadiana, called. Gremillion told me a story about a big find at their upcoming Hospice Garage Sale, scheduled for 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Nov. 22 at the Hospice of Acadiana offices at 2600 Johnston Street.
Hospice of Acadiana has been accepting antiques, glassware, artwork, household goods and unusual treasures from throughout the community. They will continue accepting decorative items through Nov. 14 and furniture until Nov. 21.
Just from the general description of the event, my grandmother would not have been able to sleep in anticipation of such a feast of items up for grabs for pennies on the dollar. However, there was much more to the story than just the allure of rooms full of one man’s potential treasure. Gremillion connected me with Cheryl Cockrell of Cheryl Cockrell Estate Sales who Hospice asked to help price the items for the Nov. 22 sale.
“Man, was I surprised when I was walking around and right smack in the middle of the coffee cups was this pre-1930 Steuben blue Aurene Tumble up pitcher. It’s worth hundreds of dollars and was sitting on the .25 table!” Cockrell explained to me.
After some research, I learned that Steuben Glass, founded in 1903, created some of the most iconic glass pieces of the Twentieth Century.
According to Collectors Weekly, “When collectors think of Steuben glass, two distinct styles come to mind. The first was pioneered by Steuben co-founder Frederick Carder in 1903. As Steuben’s chief designer, Carder created a new form of iridescent glass called Aurene. Unlike Tiffany’s dense and dark Favrile line of iridescent glass, which was introduced in 1894, Carder’s Aurene pieces were luminous and lustrous, seeming to radiate more light than they absorbed. So distinctive was Aurene from Favrile that Steuben was granted a patent on the technique in 1904, the year after the company’s founding. That did not stop Tiffany from filing a lawsuit against Steuben….”
But Steuben prevailed, and the company’s early years were devoted to making Aurene glass, with blue being one of the most popular colors. The little Tumble Up pitcher was donated anonymously by someone here in the Acadiana region. Perhaps they knew its value and perhaps they didn’t. Cockrell has placed the item on eBay. Bidding ends Tuesday, and profits will go to benefit Hospice of Acadiana.
“I saw many more fabulous items including real oil paintings, a French tapestry, an Asian inlaid table, two old John Deere children’s tractors, Magnalite, a huge collection of 1960’s Swanky Swig juice glasses and many more vintage finds,” Cockrell said. “This event will be a virtual treasure hunt, and I encourage people to get out there and dig through the rooms and rooms of things.”
Despite some misconceptions that Hospice of Acadiana is an umbrella organization for all area hospices, it is not. It is a non-profit dedicated to enabling persons with life-threatening conditions to live as fully and comfortably as possible. Their mission is to emphasize quality rather than length of life. They also help people deal with grief.
According to Gremillion, thus far in 2014, Hospice of Acadiana has given more than 600 days of care to indigent patients. Their Center for Loss and Transition has served 280 patients this year, with a total of 1,000 client visits. More than 1,700 people have participated in educational programming, and 25 campers, ages 7 through 11, participate in Camp Brave Hearts two-day camp for grieving children.
Twenty physicians and 375 community volunteers have donated more than 5,350 hours of time to Hospice and the people the organization serves.
The only thing that could make this event more fun for me would be if my grandmother were alive to go with me!
For more information about Hospice of Acadiana and their upcoming garage sale, call 337-232-1234 or go to www.hospiceacadiana.com.

How to (and how not to) build a relationship

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 2.39.42 PMEver been in or observed a relationship that didn’t seem quite right, but you couldn’t put your finger on what it was that was wrong? Ever wondered if you should stay in the relationship you’re in, but you’re not sure where to look for clues?
When we’re honest, these thoughts have crossed all of our minds at one point or the other. There are so many factors to consider in making the decision to keep on keeping on in a relationship or knowing that it’s time to call it quits.
I recently read a single sentence that I believe sums up the bulk of what to base a relationship decision upon: A healthy relationship is one where two independent people just make a deal that they will help make the other person the best version of him or herself possible. (I would like to attribute it to someone specific, but alas my Internet searches all come up empty.)
The first big truth of that sentence lies in the words “two independent people.” If the people involved in a relationship rely too much on the other (or anyone else, for that matter), chances are high that the relationship will never be completely healthy. Last week, in an interview for his new book, Gene Simmons, front man for KISS (and not someone I usually go to for advice), made a great point about the importance of girls and women establishing independence and financial security before getting into a serious relationship. In my book, he’s right.
My husband and I are approaching our 21st wedding anniversary. If I had to identify what has made our relationship work through the years, the key lies in the fact that I know that he does what he can to make me the best version of myself. In all likelihood, he’s probably better at this than I am. Through the years, I hope I have learned from his example and that I contribute to him being a better person. At this point, I’m probably better at doing so that I was when I was younger.
When I look back at various relationships I was in before we married, I’m able to pinpoint the reason most of them didn’t work to the fact that one of us wanted the other to be something that he or she envisioned rather than the best version of ourselves that we could be. That mistake is a red flag in any relationship and happens far too often in young love. Sometimes those relationships keep going, leaving both in a Sisyphean struggle. Finally, one partner pushes the other across a Rubicon, and the relationship is over.
This truth applies beyond romantic relationships and includes friendships and other familial relationships, as well.
Granted, every relationship can be challenging, and there’s a fine line between keeping on keeping on and keeping on when the effort is futile. Asking the simple question: Has this person made a deal to do his or her best to make that person the best version of him or herself?
Knowing at what point in a relationship to ask the question can be tricky, but if you’re wondering if the time has come to ask it, then the time probably is nigh. The answer is usually obvious.