Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Birthday Reflection Pulse Check

a monarch butterfly, her orange and black wings open, in a wildflower field

Hello fellow readers, Monday, the day the column is due to The Press, became a Birthday Reflection Pulse Check I’d like to share with you. Thank you for reading! May we all remember to embrace the unexpected in this garden of life and take more time to play.

Birthday Reflection Pulse Check

As I begin this write on the screen porch, the brook is racing like a river. And the “cement pond” that serves as a mountain run-off is tippy topped from the remnants of Hurricane Henri. It’s column number 476, each taking about eight hours to research, write, and edit. That’s 3,808 hours over nine-plus years. Wowza! I’ve learned so much from all of you. Thank you, kind readers.

But today, if you don’t mind, I am gifting myself a pulse check. You see, it’s my birthday. The start of a new year of growth, God willing. During Comfort Zone Camp weekends, volunteers are asked how we are doing—pulse checks in a word or two. The grief camp for kids is loads of fun and sad, too, hearing the stories from the young campers maneuvering through the loss of a parent or sibling.

I’m feeling excited and a little giddy about where this chat will lead. Okay, that’s more than a few words— Excited and giddy. That’s two.

An oak leaf frozen in a pond About the Lesson of the Leaf

I’ve been part of the Hay House Writer’s Community, a publisher of inspiration, in pursuit of a book underway titled the Lesson of the Leaf based on a poem my brother Bill left behind. But the roadblock of limited time, and in truth, self-doubt are stalling me.

I missed a deadline of June 30th; the next is December 15th. Feasible if I stay on task, but I’m waffling. Maybe instead, the book should be a collection of our most memorable and inspirational column chats interwoven with the story of the Lesson of the Leaf.

“What’s the genre?” Hay House will ask. A Teaching Memoir is a genre coined by Kelly Notaras, who leads the group along with Reid Tracy.

My intention is the book will share my story to help others maneuver through overlapping losses that can lead to hope and unconditional love. Maybe it’ll work better if peppered with columns and stories about delights and discoveries in the garden of life? Perhaps you, kind readers, can help me decide.

(I’m taking the rest of this column in the form of dictation while on a road walk.)

The Garden Dilemmas Delights and Discoveries in the garden of life with Mary Stone logo with her photo and golden retriever Ellie. A Year Ago…

Today not only marks a birthday, but it’s also the week a year ago we said goodbye to Miss Ellie. And as it turns out, Jolee’s rescue paperwork indicates her birthdate about the same day. So, in that light, I asked Curt to take photos of Jolee and me with consideration of changing our column photo. Jolee has unusual ears (I dictated goofy, but I don’t wish to cause a complex :^). They are soft as velvet and adorable, but they flip back, and so her ears appear to be missing most of the time.

I’d love your input on the contending photos, along with your thoughts on favorite columns or lessons gained from nature and our gardens. Or shall I try again for the perfect shot with an eared version of Jolee? Isn’t perfection overrated anyway?  Smile. You can email me at or by leaving a reply at the end of this post.

Of course, I have mixed feelings about changing the photo, though it’s changed a few times as the years unfolded to keep up with our “maturing” process. I’m smiling as “Old Dog” was one of Mom’s last words during the final stages of her long goodbye from dementia. Ellie was only eight then, 56 in dog years. Not old by my standards, but her face had grown white. A sugar face, someone said, and it blended beautifully with her golden color, kind of like a Good Humor Creamsicle Bar.

Take More Time to Play
a blond woman in a black t-shirt sitting with a black and white dog

Me and Jolee after our walk.

a blond woman in a grey t-shirt sitting with a black and white dog both smiling

Jolee’s adorable ears appear to be missing most of the time.

As I started our walk, the sun was coming out, but it shifted back to tiny droplets I call spritzes of kisses from heaven. Jolee is drop-butt zooming through the puddles as I hold tight on the leash. Reminding me, we all should take more time to play. I wave to the passersby, maybe lifting someone’s spirits as much as it does mine.

At the end of each podcast, I remind folks to embrace the unexpected in the garden of life. Today, I remind myself to do just that. Garden Dilemmas? (and on your favorite Podcast App.).

As of this post, most friends chose the first photo after our walk as their fav. Which is yours?

And, I’d love to hear your input on our most memorable and inspirational column chats.  Or lessons you’ve gained from nature and your garden.

Thank you so much, kind readers, Mary Stone

a monarch butterfly, her orange and black wings open, in a wildflower field

Mom’s Monarch Butterfly

Added tidbits dictated during our walk: 

I’m smiling as my dear sister Dot mails greeting cards “from Mom’s extensive collection of unsent cards (until now).” Today’s birthday card was of two teddy bears, one being stitched by another from its long years of wear. Inside it said: You’re not just getting older. You’re getting more valuable. Happy Birthday.

an old card with two teddy bears next to a card with a turtle and three by five cardDot used a three-by-five card to jot a note in remembrance of how Mom used them as stationery and for to-dos. I cherish the pale stains on the card’s border, evidence that she enjoyed reading it a few times.

It’s true we gain wisdom from experience as we age, and with any luck, we grow in love. A monarch butterfly just flew around my head and landed on a nearby wildflower just as I dictated this. :^)

My birthday often overlapped the family vacation growing up; a camping trip followed by visiting Grandpa in Pine Bush, New York. But I don’t think I ever had a party. I don’t think any of us did. When you have five kids and work full-time at a garden center, you don’t have time for such things.

A black and white dog chewing on a fallen branchStill, Mom would always bake a cake and leave a brown bag with a modest gift at the breakfast table. We could pick our cake flavors she would make either from scratch or a mix. The most memorable was when I asked for a green cake with green frosting. I recall my four siblings didn’t think it was very appetizing. But to me then, just as today, green it’s good. :^)

Jolee stops to make a chewstick out of a fallen branch. And pounds through the puddles as a child within you. That’s interesting that “within you” typed as I dictated on the walk.  I meant as a child would do. Or maybe I didn’t. :^) The lesson: Let us all allow and embrace the child within us.

More about the Lesson of the Leaf




Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary
  1. Diane Reply

    Mary, I love your bears birthday card!❤️

    I had to laugh about your green cake. It reminded me of the all green cake I made for a church bake sale, when I was a teen. St. Patrick’s DY was coming up, so I decorated it with green cherry half “shamrocks”! Unfortunately, it didn’t sell. I was really upset! Looking back, I know I would never have told a kid that; I’d have thrown it away before I’d do that.

    • Mary Stone Reply

      Hi Diane, so we share green cakes in common. Smile. For the record, I would have bought your cake, but I bet your figured so ;^) Thanks for sharing and reading my column ! Mary

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