Lovingkindness: My Experience Growing Grandiflora Magnolias From Seed

Magnolia Grandiflora watercolor and ink by Julianna Paradisi 2019

Two years ago, I became enamored of magnolia trees. It began with my observations of a particular tulip magnolia tree I passed by while walking to work and home from work, almost daily.

Portland’s neighborhoods are rich in many varieties of magnolias, and soon I found myself fascinated by the multi-lobed pods of other varieties such as Little Gem, and of course, Magnolia grandiflora, also known as the southern magnolia, or bull bay.

I collected a few fallen pods from sidewalks, and decided to try growing seedlings. I’ve grown houseplants and gardens most of my life, and supposed growing magnolia grandiflora from seeds would be as simple as planting them into potting soil, placing them on the windowsill, and providing lovingkindness. After a couple of months of trying to cajole growth from the pots, I was disappointed: Nothing sprouted. So I did some research. Magnolia grandiflora seeds require several steps of preparation before planting. There’s actually a 6 month process to starting magnolias from seed.

A year ago this autumn, I collected new pods with fresh seeds, and tried again. This time I was successful, but magnolias seeds are so fussy, it’s a wonder to me they are able to survive in the wild at all. They require a great deal of lovingkindness.

I planted nine seeds, and this spring eight of them sprouted, but not without complications. Three broke ground upside down, roots skyward. With the gentleness of a nurse who once cared for tiny, premature babies, I replanted them roots down. Only one survived the procedure.

Another pair could not break free of their seed casings even though I had removed the tough outer shells with sandpaper before planting as instructed. Their tender leaves withered within their tiny prisons.

Four hardy seedlings survive. I gave one to my mother-in-law, who is a master gardener and I suspect will have the ultimate success with her tiny charge. It sits on a table facing west, with a view of the Pacific Ocean; what or who wouldn’t thrive with expert lovingkindness in such a favorable location?

The other three seedlings face east on my windowsill in Portland with a partially obstructed view of the Willamette River. So far, they too are thriving.

Above is an ink and watercolor painting I made of the largest of the trio.

According to Wikipedia, magnolias produce their first seed pods at ten years of age, but the height of production occurs at 25 years.

Really, it’s a wonder magnolias have survived through the centuries at all.

Hope is a Feathered Thing

Hope is the thing with feathers t
hat perches in the soul,
 and sings the tune without the words, 
and never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
 and sore must be the storm
 that could abash the little bird
 that kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land, 
and on the strangest sea;
 yet, never, in extremity, 
It asked a crumb of me.

Emily Dickinson

A few weeks ago I witnessed a miracle.

No, really, I did.

While running along the Willamette River in Portland’s Waterfront Park, a flock of seagulls (not the punk group; the kind with feathers and wings) scavenged for food several yards ahead. From the neck of one of the birds a plastic grocery bag dangled in the sight breeze like a cape.

In 2011 Portland’s city council outlawed the use of plastic grocery bags by retailers for environmental reasons. This sea gull’s plight illustrates one.

The bag was a death sentence. Besides scavenging, gulls feed by dipping for small creatures from the river, and this action will fill the bag with water. When the bag becomes heavy enough, it will sink below the river’s surface and drown the gull.

From habit, my nurse’s brain searched rapidly for an intervention. Briefly, the ludicrous image of me somehow restraining the bird and removing the bag flashed by, but before I was completely convinced of this impossibility, the birds took flight and landed on the river including the unfortunate gull with the plastic bag cape fluttering behind.

“Oh no,” I thought.” I’m going to watch the poor bird drown.” Mesmerized the way people become when they can’t avoid watching a train wreck I stopped running and leaned against the rail of the sea wall, following the bird with my gaze.

The gull bobbed on the river’s current, the plastic bag making him easy to spot. He dipped forward and placed his beak beneath the surface of the water. I saw the bag fill, then sink. Pulled down by the weight of it, the gull fought, flapping its wings wildly as it struggled to take flight.

“This is it, I said out loud, though no one else was watching.

But it wasn’t it. Miraculously, the bag slipped away from the gull and he was airborne. I watched the bag, half submerged, float down the river like a malignant cell seeking another victim.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t a miracle, but it felt like one. I had been so sure the gull was doomed.

Maybe the miracle is that I received an object lesson about embracing phenomenon, to stay hopeful, to marvel.

Because hope is a feathered thing.

“Resonance-Extended” Anka Gallery First Thursday

Tonight is the First Thursday Art Walk in Portland, Oregon. I have a couple paintings in a group show at Anka Gallery. The show runs January 1, 2011 until January 28, 2011.



This January The Anka Gallery is proud to extend the Resonance exhibit with additional new works by 25 local artist and designers.
First Thursday Opening
January 6th, 2011
6:00 to 10:00

Portland, Oregon: Nurse Practioner Provides for City’s Children & Needs Your Support

     Fellow Portlander, Registered Nurse, and blogger Peggy McDaniel posted this on my Facebook Wall yesterday:

Make a difference and help out Dr. Janie. Copy and paste this as your profile status. Help underprivileged kids get critical medical care by voting for Rose City Pediatrics Pepsi Refresh grant. Vote today and every day through the end of the May. http://www.refresheverything.com/healthcareforunderinsuredkids


Pepsi is giving away millions each month to fund refreshing ideas that change the world. The ideas with the most votes will receive grants, so vote for your favorites. Do you have an idea that needs support? Learn how Pepsi can help.
The American Journal of Nursing has posted it nationally on their blog Off the Charts.
So, click on the Pepsi Refresh link above, and vote for Dr. Janie’s (a pediatric Nurse Practitioner) project providing health care to Portland’s uninsured children.
Peggy also sent a link to this article from the Portland Tribune,  providing more information about the project. Please join me in supporting it with your vote.

Snowbound for the Holidays


Portland in a water-glass. photo: JParadisi 2009

     While drinking my morning coffee, I noticed a perfect reflection of Portland in a water-glass on the window sill. The glass is holding a start of a cactus I’m hoping will root. My imagination lit up to the concept of a city, held in a drinking glass.

  I have a dear friend, living in Nebraska, where there is a recording-breaking snow storm.  The drifts of snow in her front yard stand up to 10 feet high. She’s snowed in with her animals, waiting for snowplows to remove the snow.  Her  Christmas cards wait on a table for mailing.  A woman and her pets, held in a home on a prairie, surrounded by snow.

     Here in Oregon, I have the flu. (Those of you following this blog know I had the  H1N1 vaccination).  An artist held in the soft blankets of her bed, or sometimes the sofa. My Christmas cards remain unwritten this year. Figuratively speaking, I’m a little snowed in myself.

     My friend in Nebraska is also an artist, and in an email to her, I wrote:

     I’m itching to get back to the studio. The balance between family and creativity is always tilted one way or another. But it’s family that makes us human, and art should serve humanity, not the other way around.

     A life can be snow bound for many reasons. It’s not an accident that the western New Year falls on the heels of Christmas, giving us an opportunity to start over, following a holiday season that sometimes leaves us feeling depleted, or bloated, for a variety of reasons. The snow will melt, the flu will pass.

     And sunlight shines on Portland in a water-glass.


Daylight Savings Time: For What?

full moon 001

Full Moon Over the Willamette River photo: JParadisi

     Am I the only person who thinks that the little clock on coffee makers should change time via satellite, like cellphones and computers do?

     Tonight, the full moon hangs in the sky like a silvery lozenge, over the Willamette River.  The problem is, it’s only six o’clock in the evening. The early darkness cues my body for sleep. Or to sit in front of the TV and eat. There’s brownie mix in the pantry…

     I am not ready for winter. Why do I need to save time, as if it will be there waiting for me later?

Color Theory: The Color White and Praise for Hospital Gowns

     One of the most challenging differences between working in a hospital and my current position in an ambulatory infusion unit, for me, is keeping my patients’ clothes clean. 

     On admission to a hospital, one of the first things a patient does is change out of his or her street clothes and into the much maligned, backless, unisex gown provided by the hospital. I always thought we made them wear it so that doctors and nurses can have quick access to the body part that we are interested in using or assessing at the moment. It’s one of the tools we’ve developed to make our jobs easier. It disguises the individuality of  a person, while easily identifying them as a patient, much like the sterile drapes of an OR.  But now I realize another important purpose of the gown: if I accidentally spill a drop of blood on it while drawing labs or starting an IV, it’s no big, because I can get a new one from the endless worldwide supply of them on the linen cart. 

      Ambulatory infusion clinics are popular, from our patients’ perspective, because they avoid a hospital  admission, and because of this, they are allowed, in fact expected, to wear their own clothes. We have a couple of regulars (frequent flyers) who come in their jammies and fuzzy slippers to spend the day with us, but mostly our patients dress in street clothes, often with plans of going out to lunch with a friend after a morning appointment, because Portland is a great food town.

     I used to ask myself why every patient I admitted for an outpatient blood transfusion wears white? (I’ve come to realize it’s because when you are very pale from anemia, the color white creates the illusion of skin tone.) White blouses and sweaters cover their chest ports, which I have to somehow access, draw a type and match from, flush, and connect to blood-primed tubing, all without spilling a drop of blood on the lovely surface of the white fabric. Maybe for most nurses this isn’t a big deal, because I never hear my colleagues complain about it. Maybe it’s just my own anxiety that my inner artist (who is a child at heart) can’t resist making a mark on any blank surface; I don’t know.

     I have accidentally dripped blood on a few patients, despite being careful, and I feel awful when it happens. But it is the nature of the patients I care for, and particularly the nature of oncology patients, that I have always been forgiven. The gift of life-changing illness for most patients, I have found, is that they don’t sweat the small stuff. And I love them for that.

Mistakes are Judged by their Outcomes

     It’s been a long time now, since I was on my knees, praying that the  young woman lying crumpled in front of me on the street would keep breathing. Her face was a bloody mess of tangled, curly brown hair, broken teeth, and road rash.  I noticed she had blue eyes and freckles too. Her twisted bicycle lay next to her.  I didn’t see a helmet anywhere.

     A few minutes earlier, on that summer evening, my husband and I sat at a table in a restaurant, after attending an artists’ reception for a show I was exhibiting in. As the server touched the plates holding our food to the table, I heard someone outside yell “Oh God!”, then a crashing sound. My attention focused to the window facing the street, where I saw a large, shadowy object fly over the roof of at least two cars, before landing on  the larger boulevard, which faced west. The sun was slowly setting, and was at eye level with the horizon. She had run a stop sign from a side street to the boulevard, and was hit by an oncoming motorist , who couldn’t see her silhouette in the setting sun.

     A surgeon I know once remarked that if  medications for cancer treatment keep improving, she might be out of a job. I had told her not to worry; there will always be trauma patients. It’s human nature, people make mistakes.

     I kneeled over the young woman, who was unconscious, counting her respirations, and assessing their quality, making sure she got enough oxygen until the paramedics arrived. A crowd gathered around, and I heard people whispering, “That guy over there, he hit her in his car.” I remember wondering what the driver might be feeling.

     I’d forgotten that I was kneeling in the middle of a lane of a busy city street. When I did remember, I looked behind me. There was David, ready to scoop me up from harm’s way if another motorist came too close. But that wasn’t necessary, because, behind David, thirty or forty Portlanders made a human fence, protecting us from traffic, and beyond them, another two Portlanders directed traffic until the police arrived, keeping the human fence safe too. It’s one of my favorite memories of this city that I live in: Each one of us doing our part to keep each other safe.

     People are human. They make mistakes in judgement sometimes. Mistakes are often judged by the severity of their outcomes, regardless of intent. Crimes are committed by intent. The bicyclist ran a stop sign. All I know is that I wanted her to keep breathing until the paramedics arrived. I wanted her to live.

    It seemed like forever, but it was probably about fifteen minutes before the paramedics could get their rig through, and take the young woman to a hospital. She was regaining conciousness when they loaded her on a stretcher into the ambulance. I watched for the story on the news and in the papers, but I never found out what happened to her in the end.

Spring Time in Portland

photo: J.Paradisi 2009

photo: J.Paradisi 2009

     The weather is awesome, especially after a particularly cold winter and there are definitive signs that it’s spring in Oregon.

      I’m going to see if I can get a last minute appointment at Bouffant Salon ( http://www.bouffanthairsalon.com/) today for a pedicure, so I can wear my sandals with confidence. Amanda is doing my hair today there, too. Nice and fresh for spring.

     The cherry trees are in full bloom at Water Front Park. This is a rare year the rain and wind hasn’t immediately obliterated them and the effect is spectacular. It’s fun to see all of the pale legs walking around in shorts, enjoying the sun.

     Then there is the sign of spring that is truly an Oregonian thing: The gardening aisle at Fred Meyers is lined with gallon-sized jugs of Mold & Algae killer, Round-Up Weed Killer, and Slug & Snail Bait. So, as you go forth in sunlight, don’t forget your arsenol of protection from nature.

Joe on the Go: Fox 12 Oregon Covers the Chair Affair

resurrection-chair-2009-007Joe on the Go  from Fox 12  Oregon has a video spot featuring Portland’s Community Warehouse and it’s upcoming fundraiser,

The Chair Affair. Click on


to see the video.