Bloom Where You’re Planted (Even When You’re Stuck Living in the Suburbs)

ugly suburbsThe ugliest place I’ve ever lived was in a suburb in Suisun, California. In the 1980’s, suburbs like mine sprang up from nowhere, filling the once-lovely rolling grasslands with boxy, cookie-cutter new homes. As a teenager, I lived in one of those homes, and hated every moment. I hated the buzzing of lawn mowers on Sunday mornings, hated the smells of fresh-cut grass and swimming pool chemicals, and hated the view from my bedroom window, of look-alike rooftops and trees no taller than me. I missed my childhood home in the Bay Area—the heavy blanket of morning fog, the fragrance of eucalyptus and bay laurel trees, and the view of the San Francisco Bay from our living room balcony. Bay Area Bay Laurels

While most high school girls were busy dreaming of college party towns full of pizza restaurants and hot guys, I spent my last years of adolescence dreaming of escaping the suburbs and fleeing to the mountains. And, at the age of sixteen, that is exactly what I did. My first college was a tiny community college in the mountains, with rustic wooden buildings that looked more like summer camp cabins. Most of the students lived in apartments just off campus, and we literally had to hike through the woods just to go to class. It was totally cool, except when I had night classes, and had to hike through the forest with a flashlight, keeping an eye out for bears and skunks, which roamed the same woods in abundance. Still, that year of living completely surrounded by trees, and snow-capped peaks, and fields full of wildflowers had a kind of healing effect on my spirit.

I miss that home in the mountains for its nature, just as I miss my home in the hills of the Bay Area for its nature. And where do I live now? Well, for the past two decades, I have been back in the suburbs. Different town, different suburbs, but same feeling of longing and homesickness whenever I look out of the windows at views of look-alike houses and square green lawns. No, I never pictured ending up here – I always imagined living near the seashore, or a redwood forest, or beneath the glittering stars in some vast rural plain. But instead, college and marriage and jobs led me here, where I have often felt like a rose trying to bloom in a concrete desert. rose growing in concrete desert

And you know what? It is not impossible to bloom here. There are ways – so many small ways to grow, even in less-than-ideal circumstances. It just takes some work, chipping away at the concrete barriers to expose the earth the sun and rain. And while in my heart, I will never feel at home here, the way I did amongst the bay laurels and eucalyptus of my first home, I can keep trying to build a sort of oasis here in the concrete desert, and feeding my spirit small bits of nature that it may grow.

Ways to Embrace Nature (Even When You Live in the Suburbs)

  • Grow flowers 
  • Plant a vegetable garden
  • Create an outdoor living room, then eat meals and read books there
  • Find local nature trails to hike
  • Go walking, running, and bicycle riding
  • Learn the names of your local birds, then go birdwatching
  • Participate in local park and creek cleanup days
  • Fly kites
  • Hang bird feeders or squirrel feeders in your yard (or create some other wildlife habitat)
  • Cook outdoors
  • Drive away from the suburbs and go camping or hiking or stargazing
  • Bring nature indoors (plants, flowers, stones)

enjoy an outdoor room

Feel free to contribute. I am always searching for new ideas!

You Are the Garden / Eres el jardín

You Are the Garden


Don’t you see

that you are the garden?

It is you who lies in wait

patiently beneath the cool autumn sun

bearing the winter’s cold darkness

absorbing the rains of spring


until the pale green shoots emerge

from within your depths

growing and curling around you

with leaves unfurled like wings

and the fragrant sigh

of delicate blossoms.

Her beauty springs forth

from the life within you

and because of her

the garden has beauty.

for you the flowers bloom

Eres el jardín


¿No ves

que tú eres el jardín?

Eres tú que esperas

pacientemente bajo el sol fresco del otoño

aguantando el frío oscuro del invierno

absorbiendo las lluvias de la primavera


hasta que los brotes de verde pálido emergen

desde tus profundidades

creciendo y enroscandose alrededor de ti

con hojas desplegadas como alas

y el suspiro fragante

de flores delicadas.

Su belleza brota

de la vida en tu interior

y debido a ella

el jardín tiene belleza.

The Offering (La Ofrenda)

NOTE: I am not a native speaker of Spanish…only an eager student trying to teach myself the language. Really, I just try my best to translate and hope that it comes across well in both languages. Please feel free to offer suggestions that may improve my vocabulary. Thanks!


She stands alone on the corner

with eyes full of hope

as the people hurry past,

some strangers, some not,

all in a hurry to be somewhere else.

She offers each

a single daisy

a simple white smile of yellow sunshine

grown in her very own garden.

Some take one, and shove it into

a coat pocket

where it will never see the light.

Some drop it on the cold, hard ground

or crush it beneath their heels.

Still others turn their eyes away and do not see

the flowers at all.

But still she stands there, bouquet in hand

until the wind at last carries away

every last petal.

Then she shoves her empty hands into her pockets and

walks away, with eyes like mist

and her heart a bare garden

and she does not see the man

who stands alone on the next corner

with eyes full of hope

offering daisies to the world


Ella está sola en la esquina

con los ojos llenos de esperanza

mientras la gente pasan,

algunos desconocidos, otros no

todos se dan prisa por estar en otro lugar.

Ella ofrece a todos una sola margarita

una simple sonrisa blanca del sol amarillo

cultivado en su propio jardín.

Algunos toman una, y la meten en

el bosillo del abrigo

donde nunca verá la luz.

Algunos la dejan caer al suelo duro y frío

o aplastarla bajo sus talones.

Aún otros desvian la mirada y no ven

las flores en absoluto.

Pero todavia ella está alli, el ramo en la mano

hasta que el viento por fin se lleva

cada pétalo que queda.

Entonces se mete sus manos vacios

en sus bosillos

y se va, con ojos como neblina

y el corazón un jardín desnudo.

Por eso, no ve el hombre

que está en la esquina siguiente

con ojos llenos de esperanza

ofreciendo margaritas al mundo.

How a Photo and a Flower Taught Me to Love My Name

Tiare Flower (Gardenia Tahitiensis) National flower of Tahiti

The first time I changed my name, I was seven years old. Why? Because I hated my name. Hated it. With a passion. No one could pronounce it. No one could spell it. It seemed like a ridiculous, made-up name that no one had even heard of. I longed for a normal, boring name, like Jenny or Tiffany or Heather or Stephanie. Or if I had to have a unique name, why not something glamorous and beautiful, like Alexandria or Lydia? Ooh, how I hated my name! And so I changed it. I began to turn in my schoolwork with a variety of names that, at the time, I loved. Alyssa. Christine. Star. Anything but Tiare. (I assume that my teacher always knew that it was my work based on the sloppy handwriting).

When I was ten years old, I settled on my new real name. I announced to my entire family, “My name is now Jamie Katrelle.” After that, I refused to answer to Tiare. It had to be Jamie, or my new initials, J.K. I stuck with this new name for the next three years or so, until I reached high school and decided that Jamie was not such an interesting name after all. Still, I secretly loathed my name, including my middle name, La Brea, which I eventually learned means tar in Spanish. (Really, Mom and Dad? Couldn’t you have researched a little before picking a name in a foreign language?). When I had children of my own, I was determined to give them nice names. Somewhat normal names. Names that meant something, instead of names that just sounded nice to the ear, as is the contemporary naming tradition in many black families.

“But your name does mean something,” my mother informed me a few years ago when I complained. The year that I was born, she explained, she came across a Pullitzer Prize-winning photograph of a little girl falling from the fifth floor of a burning building. The child, whose name was Tiare, miraculously survived the fall. The photograph had a tremendous emotional impact on my mother. She gave me the little girl’s name — the name of a survivor. The name of a child who faced a fire and a tremendous fall, but was strong enough and lucky enough to go on living.

Of course, learning the story behind my name completely changed my opinion. Did I love the story? Well, no. In fact, the photo is very disturbing to look at. But it helped me to see that my name was not just something meaningless, pulled out of thin air. My mother loved me so much that she wanted to give me a name that touched her heart, from a story that impacted her life. My name was a mother’s gift. I could no longer hate it. In fact, I began to love my name, especially after I discovered that a Tiare is actually a beautiful, fragrant flower…the national flower of Tahiti, worn behind the ears of young women. I  also learned that my name is somewhat popular in Hawaii, Chile, and throughout the South Pacific. It is not so weird after all. My name is exotic, fragrant, beautiful, meaningful. And I am grateful to my mother for her gift.

(But sorry, Mom and Dad…the middle name has got to go. My name is now Tiare Liberty. There is no story that will make me embrace the old name).

A very disturbing image of a young girl and her godmother falling from a burning building after the fire escape collapsed. The little girl, Tiare Jones, my namesake, survived the fall.

Sunrise Surprises (aka Bringing Easter to the Neighbors)

The kids and I woke up very early on Easter morning. Earlier than the birds. Earlier than the Easter Bunny. Possibly earlier than the women who discovered Jesus’ empty tomb. But most importantly, we woke up earlier than our neighbors. Then we set out for a stroll around our block, armed with a big basket full of colorful spring flowers. Every now and then, we stopped in front of a neighbor’s house, picked out a pot of flowers, and left it on the doorstep.

What was the point of our early morning adventure? My seven year-old summed it up beautifully. “People are going to find these flowers when they wake up, and they’ll be so surprised and happy!” Exactly. Giving flowers to someone, especially when the person does not expect it, is a simple way to show someone love. And so today, we chose to show love to our neighbors, even to some we do not yet know. We will not get to see their reactions, but I hope that at least a few will smile. And I hope that they all have a very Happy Easter.

Happy Easter to the grumpy woman next door, who yells at my kids when they accidentally kick a ball over her fence. Happy Easter to the elderly woman who walks her dog around the block every day (and who caught us leaving flowers on her porch this morning). Happy Easter to the family with the whiny little boy who comes over our house nearly every day and makes huge messes. Happy Easter to the neighbors who have lived next door forever and who once left a basket of pumpkin muffins on my doorstep one autumn afternoon ten years ago (yes, I knew it was you). A very happy Easter to all of our neighbors, including the ones whom we have not yet met. May you be blessed by our gift of flowers.