I grew up in a house in Ashtabula, Ohio where flowers were substitutions for apologies. My parents would fight and sometimes carnations would appear in a vase on the kitchen table as a way to say sorry. But the day after that, they’d fight again.
On Valentine’s Days throughout high school, if someone had a crush on you they could spend $1 and you’d get a white rose delivered to your homeroom desk. If you were dating someone you might get a red one from them if they remembered to do anything besides brag to their friends that they were in a relationship. Or maybe, a yellow rose would come from a friend who knew that your spirit was beautiful even if your acne + braces + self-cut-hair told a different story. I received none of these on my desk in homeroom on Valentine’s Day (I’d eat candy to compensate, though). I decided that flowers were for jerks, dumb kids in love, and funerals. And I grew to hate them.
Fast forward a few years to find me out of Ohio (whew! It was hard to thrive in a small town lacking in diversity, Thai food, and public transportation) and in Pittsburgh, working at the Whole Foods in East Liberty as a cashier. Part of customer service at Whole Foods is being nebby: "How are you today?" "What are you gonna do with this quinoa?" and "Who are you buying these flowers for?" I listened to flower stories that didn’t have ulterior motives or death as a theme (I got some good quinoa recipes, too!). I came to realize that most people getting flowers were thoughtfully buying them for friends. Sure there were hospital visits to be made, but moreso, celebrations of wonderful people. And I found out that a lot of people buy flowers for themselves, too, to just have around, because they make them happy. "What a waste of $$$!" a former version of myself would assume. But when you value yourself, you are good to yourself. Sometimes being good to yourself means surrounding yourself with beauty.
I work at Oakland Planning and Development Corporation (OPDC)now. I help to run Oakwatch: the Oakland Code Enforcement Project there. Oakwatch collaborates with many partners to prioritize quality of life-affecting codeviolations for enforcement officials. It’s been a really successful model and it so encouraging to see that involvement does translate to improvement. Engaging folks meaningfully to care about their shared environment and to be advocates for themselves is rewarding beyond measure.
I also work for a wonderful florist who specializes in detailed and often opulent events and weddings. I love helping with the lavish to-dos there but my personal style of flowers has evolved to be creative yet simple, with local tones.
Through a wonderful friend I landed a gig, too, putting together flowers sometimes for the best restaurant in Pittsburgh, Legume (I say best based on food, approach, and people).
Anyhow, throughout all this I came to realize just how much people enjoy flowers. I think it’s partly because we are not often reminded that we matter and are deserving of wonderful things. I have come to see code enforcement in a similar light to the one I see sharing flowers in— both improve the quality of lives. When we remember that more beautiful, code-compliant communities are everyone’s responsibility, everyone is able thrive. And when we recognize and appreciate each other as humans, thriving gets even easier.
I hold the value that flowers are for everyone, not just folks like Elton John or people with extra spending $.
In that vein, my favorite summertime code violation is high weeds and tall grass. My favorite thing to do with weeds is to walk around and pick them (and, ultimately, encourage people to take care of their properties) (I like picking up litter, too, but that’s another page!). Gleaning beauty from the mundane has colored my approach to flowers and largely, to life.
Rinse out a salsa jar. Pick some weeds. Make a bouquet for yourself. Rinse out a jelly jar. Pick more weeds. Make a bouquet for someone you care about. Create beautiful things; share them. Flowers can be for everyone!
In Pittsburgh, through 311 and our new transparentmayor and administration, civic engagement is for everyone, too. Caring about different things can be frustrating when there is no clear way to act to make things better. Apathy is easy because you’ll rarely be disappointed if you disconnect. It doesn’t have to be that way, though— you can be the difference you’ve been waiting for, and I would encourage you to do so by paying attention, accessing resources when you have concerns, and picking weeds.
Without oversharing too much, my parents are in love again after 34 years of marriage, which is sweet, but kind of gross, too (parent PDA’s are extra awkward when you’re not used to them!). He brings her flowers at work now, just because.
OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO FOR JENNY LEWIS' JUST ONE OF THE GUYS, featuring Kristen Stewart, Brie Larson and Anne Hathaway.
OH THIS LADY and her pouty friends. I am recalling a million Jenny memories listening to this delightful song, here are 7.
1. My brother Jeremy burning me Rilo Kiley’s More Adventurous when I was in high school, and how much less lonely that album made me feel.
2. Can vanity and happiness coexist? -Love and War, 11 11 46
3. Jeremy taking me to the House of Blues for my birthday to see Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins on their Rabbit Fur Coat tour.
4. Jeremy going with me to see Rilo Kiley in Santa Monica on their Under the Blacklight tour.
5. The Jenny Lewis shrine I used to have in my room. How when I moved in with a boyfriend there was one rule for each of us, I wasn’t allowed to have a Jenny shrine in the common area and he wasn’t allowed to fart in the kitchen. Years later, I was tired of moving that shrine from rented place to rented place so I gave it to someone sweet for the price of two beers.
6. What are you changing? Who do you think you’re changing? You can’t change things/ we’re all stuck in our ways. It’s like trying to clean the ocean— what, do you think you can drain it? -Rise Up with Fists!!!
7. My obsession has dwindled to a fond memory, but damn it all to hell if I do not still love one Ms. Jenny Lewis.
careful to not complain too much / careful to not keep everything under wraps.
be mindful / try not to overthink things.
be accepting and kind / note when folks do not keep you in mind as much as you keep them and avoid continuing to keep them in mind.
give without keeping track / except maybe you should keep track slightly so you are not exhausted by funneling energy into caring a lot but getting no satisfaction or sweetness or even a tiny: hey, thanks.
call your mom all the time / exist without having report every detail.
love, love, love / do not smother.
swim, swim, swim / take care to not burn or get pruney.
don’t put all your eggs in a single basket / don’t be a jack-of-all-trades, master of none.
out of sight and out of mind / distance makes the heart grow fonder.
be sweet but don’t take shit.
be smart but stay humble.
independence mixed with sense of belonging: individuality / community.
: a scene from biking this morn: 1) an older man wishing every kid on an open-windowed school bus at a red light a good day, individually, and shouting, “Learn something! Be somebody!” as the light turned green. 2) three little boys on that bus pressing their faces against the back window and waving at me and me waving back carefully, fervently, because my balance is terrible as the bus turned right on Penn Ave.
I have been thinking a lot lately about neighborhoods and how from as early as age 5 I was told that some neighborhoods are good and others bad so avoid them. I am mad about that now. Maybe it was for safety’s sake but shouldn’t safety be everyone’s concern? And the more people who are out and about, looking out for one another, doesn’t that make a place safer? So anytime anyone perpetuates the idea of a neighborhood being dangerous and to avoid it, doesn’t it just become more dangerous? Sure, crime statistics. What about all the other hours of a day when a place is peaceful? I know I have a vagina and shouldn’t be lollygagging in any neighborhood late at night much less a ‘bad’ one during the day because I should probably be afraid at all times of men and guns and getting the twelve dollars in my purse forcibly taken from me. I’m tired of being afraid though. I just wanna go everywhere, in good neighborhoods and ones I have heard are ‘bad’ and say hello to anyone making eye contact, and witness really lovely scenes like the one described above. And then I start thinking about cars, and how nice they are for when you wanna buy a whole watermelon at the grocery store and pick up free stuff off Craig’s List, or visit your mom and dad 140 miles away, or show up places on time and not sweaty, but they keep you in little climate-controlled compartments (if you’re lucky enough to have a/c, woof!) that go very fast and completely remove you of the pleasures (and sometimes discomfort) of experiencing a neighborhood. So, less fear, more walking, biking, being in places physically? Okay.
there is only one thing better than putting flowers together and that is giving them to people: this woman married a neighborhood activist who was honored at a recent event my work put on. I got to make the bouquets!
Transplant two most beautiful/ productive hydrangea bushes (pink, blue, green, reddish all on a single bloom). They are beautiful/ productive because their root systems extend two feet in each direction. One for me, one for someone I love. - Some work, but not too much. Coffee at Lili, rye toast with avocado and nutritional yeast. The Internet. - POOL SEASON BEGAN at 1pm. 3 cannonballs into 64 degree water. Heart-to-heart with an old buddy while sprawled on towels beneath a cloudy sky, followed by a rhubarb upside-down cake invitation. Accepted. - Bike downtown to the City-County building for the Mayor’s Night In. Chat with wonderful people while waiting about gardening and almond milk and police brutality and neighborhoods with 500 vacant lots. Talk, flounder, connect, fall harder in love with Pittsburgh. Applaud this administration’s transparency. Bike home through Strip District alleys as dusk turns the city blue. - Uh, change out of bathing suit. Go to the bar to write a letter and have a beer. Try to figure out which makes my heart swell more: Pittsburgh or summer?