Reflections from the Iris Respite House Healing Gardens September 2023

“The earth laughs in flowers.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Laughter knows no bounds. Like the natural world, it serves to connect. Truth and innocence often carry it. It can serve to link us together when we least expect it, even in the scariest of moments, and the best ones are simply unforgettable. We need good laughs, like we need each other. It’s part of what connects us as humans. And, in today’s market of stress-relieving products, it can ease suffering without costing a cent.

The therapeutic effects of laughter on the mind and body are well documented. It’s a powerful healer. The next time you laugh so hard you pee your pants, think about this: a hearty laugh ripples through the motor cortex, which is involved in muscle control (including the bladder!), the frontal lobe (which helps one understand context), and the limbic system (which modulates positive emotions). It creates social bonds, builds resiliency, facilitates intimacy, increases immune cells and antibodies, relieves tension and stress, and can lower levels of anxiety and depression. As someone who has battled high levels of anxiety, I can vouch for how much genuine laughter can temper it. Even better: you can never overdose!

Like bouquets of flowers, good laughs always leave you wanting more. I discovered that the physiological benefits of laughter actually parallel the ones experienced by people who are enjoying a bouquet of flowers, even more so if they spend any amount of time arranging them. They both can trigger the release of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, the “feel better hormones,” as well as reduce levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone.” They both serve to create social bonds, facilitate an appreciation for life, can lower anxiety, and help lift depression. Looks like Emerson had it right!

This fall, as you enjoy the earth’s autumnal laughter of flowers, see if you can spot some autumn crocuses. They have a chalice shaped flower, like that of the spring blooming crocus, but autumn crocus flowers are a bit larger. My favorite part of this plant is the unique quality of blooming long after the foliage has died back, like resurrection lilies. That’s how autumn crocuses got the common name “naked ladies,” since it’s only the flower that comes up in the fall. To anyone who didn’t know the plant, with such a long stretch of time in between foliage dye back and the “naked” flowers, it could be one of the earth’s more unexpected autumn laughs.

Genuine laughter, like great music, can’t be forced. It has to move through you from the inside out. That’s why, when it’s real, it’s such a gift. And it almost always has a great story behind it. I leave you with this: I’ve been writing this month’s blog from a cabin in the woods where my extended family has gathered for the week to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday. After a day of hiking, I had the door shut, my laptop open, and was researching the health benefits of laughter when my cousin came in the room. After chatting calmly with me for a few moments, her facial expression changed drastically when she felt what she was sure was a tick bite her on her rearend. Mind you, she was completely covered from the mid-neck down. I don’t know how any insect would have even gotten beyond her outer layer of clothing. Nevertheless, without wasting a moment, she dropped her pants in a panic right in front of me and had to make sure there were no ticks attached to her in any way. Turns out it had been a piece of plastic that had gotten lodged in her underwear! We both laughed so hard it hurt. When I finally caught my breath, before my oxytocin levels had come down, I marveled at the moment. Innocence and truth had us riding the waves of laughter once again. And my anxiety? Nowhere in sight.

Written by Jessica Giannotta, Hope Grows Horticulturist

Reflections from the Iris Respite House Healing Gardens August 2023

Apple trees are ominous. They’re not just for food. They bear the tempter’s power. Don’t hang out around them. If you do, eat at your own risk. Mythologically speaking, apples have earned the right to be feared. One bite and you lose your innocence. A gateway to darkness.

Nutritionally speaking, though, apples lose that power. Packed with 400 phytochemicals, 10% of the daily recommended dose of vitamin C, high in water and fiber (making them both hydrating and filling), apples are the picture of health. There is data to support them lowering the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes; aiding in weight loss; and promoting the growth of good gut bacteria. This is something you want to put in your body, daily! That said, Eve certainly wasn’t tempted by all of the phytonutrients God had been denying her. Instead, it was the knowledge of good and evil, the promise that “your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.” (Genesis 3:5)

Ever struggle with temptation? A trip to the dark side? A decision you regret, one made out of blindness, pleasure-seeking, or, God forbid, ill will? Who hasn’t? So often, we think it’s a way out of misery, when in the end, it always ends up yielding more turbulence. The struggle is just as real as all those phytochemicals you find in every bite. Sometimes it’s anger, sometimes it’s pride, sometimes it’s just pure selfishness. No matter what the reason, falling to temptation has always taught me some higher lesson about how great the disparity actually is between God’s will and my own desires. His ways, I have learned, really are much, much higher than ours. The fallout, loss of wisdom, light, grace, and momentum from any temptation drives that home unforgettably.

Have you ever tried to find yourself? A journey rife with temptation and blind alleys. I used to get too angry, too often. Simmer and boil. However, thanks to a prayer life, and a benevolent and loving God, once I realized an infuriating situation was not just about me, that there were other minds, experiences, and souls involved, whom God also loved very much, I started to get over it more easily. When I’m tempted to get angry about something, it’s often because I’m not seeing the whole picture. And once I do, the fire quells a bit. This doesn’t mean I am without anger, not at all. It just means I can see a little more of reality than I could before. My eyes have been opened.

One of the lessons that the Hope Grows gardens have taught me about temptation is to feed myself. I have always been tempted to blow my body off until I can’t anymore, often prioritizing something else in lieu of stopping to eat so I can get more done. Or, eating something without any merit (unlike raw apples, of course) for pleasure or just to keep moving. During the growing season at Hope Grows, I’ll sometimes find myself with extra cucumbers, peppers, or tomatoes that need to be eaten. If I’m hungry enough, I’ll wash them and eat them on the spot.

I grew up in a city apartment, so aside from an occasional backyard tomato plant, I wasn’t picking fresh veggies. If you’ve never eaten something fresh off the vine, I urge you to volunteer at a local farm. I do believe if everyone had access to fresh picked fruits and vegetables, levels of illness would take a marked downturn. The amount of healing energy that one ingests with a freshly picked vegetable or fruit never fails to stop me in my tracks. It’s still vibrating with the sun’s love and the earth’s energy, leaving me all the more fortified and able to proceed in my work. The physiological return on the investment of time it takes to stop and feed myself, with fresh food, is far higher than not taking the time to eat. Once again, my eyes have been opened.

Growing apple trees requires patience. They take 4-8 years to produce their first fruits. But they are worth the wait. An apple tree in full bloom is one of spring’s most gorgeous sights, sweet smelling and a delight to the pollinators. In the years to come, I would actually love to see apple trees, maintained of course, have a greater presence in our urban landscapes. Not only for the pleasure of their beauty and yummy fruit, but simply to offer abundant natural reminders to seek God’s will in all matters and choose wisely.

Written by Jessica Giannotta, Hope Grows Horticulturist

The Art of Letting Go: Balancing Expectations in Caregiving and Lessons from Nature

In the month of June, the ThinkCaregiver™ program and its Simple Suggestions talked about expectations and all it can ensue. We started the month off with the quote by Debra L. Reble, “We must let go of any expectations of how life should be, in order to experience how life can be.” Quite profound and very relatable to nature and all things caregiving.  

Nature is a vast and intricate system that has evolved over billions of years. It offers numerous lessons and inspirations for all of us and, as I have said in the past, has a reciprocity that closely connects to the give and take of living and caring.

Caregiving, as I have said and advocated before, involves support, assistance, and nurturing to those who require help due to an age-related disease, a chronic illness, a physical or mental disability, childhood special needs, veterans, and other circumstances. While caregiving can be fulfilling and meaningful, it can drain one physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Not too mention, it can drain us financially and of our career that one has worked very hard to achieve.

One does not go into helping someone at the most vulnerable times of their lives with the expectation that they are going to be drained of so much. Although I believe it is natural to have expectations once someone is the role of caregiving, sometimes it is best to put them aside. Once put aside, the result can indeed be helpful.

Reduced stress and frustration are at the top of the list of reasons. An increase in becoming adaptable, having improved emotional well-being, a greater dynamic in the relationship and an easier time at living in the present moment. I think it is important to point out that letting go of expectations does not mean abandoning goals or ceasing to care, it is more about cultivating a mindset of acceptance and compassion. In doing this, one can focus on providing the best care possible while recognizing and appreciating the uniqueness of each situation and individual journey.

In addition, setting aside expectations can help one to strike a balance. It’s still important to have realistic goals, seek appropriate support, and maintain a level of structure and planning in caregiving, however, finding a middle ground between letting go of rigid expectations and maintaining a proactive and organized approach can help caregivers navigate their roles effectively.

Nature can help with this. It offers a multitude of expectations and lessons. By observing and learning from nature, we can develop a greater understanding of our place in the world and foster a more harmonious relationship with both the natural environment and each other. Consider one or more of those lessons.

Ebb and Flow

The ebb and flow of life is a natural cycle that is closely interconnected with the rhythms of nature. Just as the tides of the ocean ebb and flow, so too does life go through periods of growth, change, and renewal.

Nature provides a powerful metaphor for the ebb and flow of life. For example, in the springtime, plants begin to grow and bloom after a long period of dormancy during the winter. Similarly, in our own lives, we may go through periods of rest and rejuvenation before embarking on new challenges and endeavors.

Nature also reminds us of the impermanence of life. Just as the leaves on a tree change color and fall away in the autumn, so too do we experience endings and transitions in our own lives. However, just as the tree will eventually sprout in the spring, we too have the capacity to renew ourselves and start fresh after difficult times.

Nature can provide comfort and solace during times of hardship. Spending time in nature, whether it’s walking in the woods, watching a sunset, or listening to the sound of the ocean, can help us to feel connected to something larger than ourselves and find peace in the midst of adversity.

Overall, the ebb and flow of life and nature are intricately connected, and by embracing this natural cycle, we can find meaning, purpose, and resilience in the face of life’s challenges.

The ebb and flow of caregiving refers to the cyclical nature of caring for someone who is in need of assistance, such as a loved one with a chronic illness or disability. Caregiving can be challenging and demanding, and it often involves a lot of emotional, physical, and mental energy.

Recognizing the ebb and flow of caregiving is important for both the caregiver and the person receiving care. Caregivers may experience periods of burnout or exhaustion, as well as times when they feel more energized and able to provide support. It’s important for caregivers to be aware of their own needs and limitations, and to take time for self-care when necessary.

Referring to the ebb and flow of caregiving can also help caregivers to recognize and anticipate the needs of the person they are caring for. For example, if the person is going through a difficult period of illness or recovery, they may require more hands-on assistance and support. Alternatively, if the person is feeling more independent and able to manage their own care, the caregiver may need to take a step back and provide more emotional support and encouragement.

Reinforcing the ebb and flow of caregiving involves acknowledging and validating the efforts of the caregiver. Caregiving can be a thankless job, and it’s important to recognize the hard work and dedication that caregivers provide. Simple gestures such as expressing gratitude, offering to help, or providing respite care can go a long way in reinforcing the caregiver’s efforts and helping them to feel supported.

Overall, recognizing, referring to, and reinforcing the ebb and flow of caregiving can help caregivers to manage the challenges of caregiving and provide the best possible care to their loved ones.

Weathering the ebb and flow of life and caregiving can be challenging, but incorporating simple self-care practices into your daily routine can help you feel more resilient and better equipped to handle whatever comes your way. One simple self-care practices that you can try is essential oils. Cypress essential oil is known for its calming and grounding properties, and it has been used for centuries for its therapeutic benefits. One of the ways in which cypress essential oil can help with the ebb and flow of life is by supporting the immune system.

Research has shown that cypress essential oil has immunomodulatory effects, meaning that it can help to regulate the immune system. Specifically, cypress essential oil has been found to increase the activity of natural killer (NK) cells, which are a type of white blood cell that play a critical role in the body’s immune defense against infections, cancer and cells infected with viruses.

Cypress essential oil has a calming and soothing effect on the nervous system. It can help to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and tension, and promote a sense of relaxation and peace. This can be particularly beneficial during times of stress or transition, when the ebb and flow of life may feel overwhelming.

It’s important to remember that adversity is a natural part of life, and it can often lead to personal growth and development. By facing and overcoming challenges, we can build resilience, learn important life lessons, and develop new skills and strengths.

Reflections from the Iris Respite House Healing Gardens – May 2023

Morning glory flowers shine in the morning, bloom vibrantly through the day and then stagger toward their end in the evening. Life, death and rebirth, all in 24 hours, and all on the vine of a plant many people regard as a weed! The ebb and flow of life is our focus for May. At the moment, the Hope Grows healing gardens are most definitely in a state of genuine flow, and perennials, perfect examples of this, are leading the charge. Right now, bursting forth with blooms and leaves, they seem to grow several inches overnight, it’s flow time! By November, though, they will all be in ebb, the leaves and stalks drying up. Hence, the out and in breath of Mother Earth at Hope Grows.

In our often-greedy American culture, it’s easy to be blinded by images of a culture in constant flow. Buy more, eat more, earn more, go more, be more! I certainly am guilty of getting sucked in by that. Nature, and real life, however, are completely different. Ebb and flow in nature is unavoidable. It’s built into the system. Its why people preserve fruit and vegetables, and squirrels stash nuts. In our adult lives, especially during our working years, we try and guard against ebb as much as possible by making a living. Prudent souls, cognizant of the rhythms of nature, will save money for a time when they may not have the flow of money from work. Those that mistake periods of flow for constant, may not be as wise.

I think it’s one of the lessons from the garden. Our days are full of gains and losses, high tides and low tides, growth and die back. It’s as natural as the rising and setting sun. The challenge for us as humans is to wisely maneuver both states. Do you try and control ebb and flow, make it work on your time? Or can you just let it be? Can you be grateful for both? Or are you too afraid of ebb? Can you respect both states of mind? Can you stand as tall in ebb as you do in flow? Can you maintain flow? Without regular maintenance, even the most beautiful of gardens in full flow can get out of control, and you run the risk of losing your harvest, diminishing one of flow’s greatest benefits. The best gardeners will know how to work the land in both states.

Today, actually, is my Hope Grows anniversary, as I call it, my Hope Growsiversery! As I write this reflection, I am celebrating 2 years to the day of working and learning in the Hope Grows gardens. And I’ve started to trust the garden. It’s taken a while, but before experiencing the grounding rhythms of the garden’s ebb and flow, I was a ball of worry and stress. I had not learned how to trust the land. It’s only been this spring, after the reassurance that comes from experiencing something twice, that I’ve been able to feel some of my anxiety fall away. I can almost hear the plants laughing at me, after 2 years, saying we knew what we were doing all along, glad you finally caught on!

In the coming weeks, I will be planting our 2023 cut flower garden. For me to harvest the flowers, I have to usher that garden out of ebb and into flow. This includes adding compost to the soil, choosing the most optimal spots for all the seedlings, watering and fertilizing. When those plants flow with flowers, I will give thanks to God for the bounty, and then I get to do one of my favorite parts of my job: cutting and selling bouquets, which wouldn’t be possible, nor seem as sweet, without all the previous season’s ebb. The next time you find yourself in a state of ebb, resist the temptation to fear or look down on it. Instead, try giving thanks, and keep an open mind, for the stage may be ‘being set’ for a flow you never could have imagined.

Written By
Jessica Giannotta


What does anticipation do to our psyche?

Anticipation can have both positive and negative effects on our psyche, depending on the situation and our individual personality traits and experiences. On the positive side, anticipation can create a sense of excitement and motivation. When we are looking forward to something that we expect to be enjoyable or rewarding, our brains release dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and motivation. This can help us feel more energized, focused, and engaged in our daily lives. For example, the anticipation of a vacation or a special event can help us get through a difficult work week or other challenging situations.

However, anticipation can also create anxiety and stress. When we are waiting for something that we fear or feel uncertain about, our brains can release cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. This can make us feel on edge, distracted, and irritable. For example, the anticipation of a difficult conversation or a medical procedure can cause anxiety and make it difficult to focus on other tasks.

In general, anticipation is a normal and natural part of the human experience. It can help us feel motivated and excited about the future, but it can also create anxiety and stress. By understanding how anticipation affects us individually, we can learn to manage our emotions and reactions to different situations.


Caring for a loved one can be a challenging and emotionally demanding, and anticipation can add to the stress and anxiety of our lives. There are some ways caregivers can handle anticipation.

  • Communicate with the loved one: It can be helpful to have open and honest conversations with the person you are caring for about their needs, expectations, and concerns. By understanding their perspective, you can better prepare for what lies ahead and work together to address any issues that arise.
  • Plan ahead: Anticipation can be particularly challenging when you are uncertain about what to expect. To reduce stress and anxiety, try to plan ahead as much as possible. Make a schedule of appointments, arrange for transportation, and prepare any necessary supplies or equipment in advance.
  • Take care of yourself: It’s important for caregivers to take care of their own physical and emotional well-being. This can include getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and finding time for self-care activities like exercise, meditation, or spending time with friends and family.
  • Seek support: Caregiving can be isolating, but it doesn’t have to be. Reach out to family, friends, or support groups for help and advice. You may also want to consider working with a professional caregiver or therapist who can provide additional support and guidance.
  • Stay positive: While caregiving can be challenging, it can also be a rewarding and fulfilling experience. Try to focus on the positive aspects of your role and celebrate small victories along the way. Remember that you are making a difference in the life of someone you love, and that can be a powerful motivator.

Finally, it wouldn’t be complete unless I mention nature. Anticipation is a common phenomenon in nature, and it can be observed in various contexts. For example, animals anticipate the changing of seasons, the arrival of food, the mating season, and the migration of other animals. Plants also anticipate changes in their environment and adjust their growth patterns accordingly.

We can use the lessons from nature’s anticipation to reduce stress in our own lives and there are many effective ways to engage in nature to help. Forest bathing, gardening, hiking or walking in nature, birdwatching, nature journaling and forest therapy are some ways.

If any of those spark your interest, give us a call at Hope Grows, we can guide and support you. These activities can help individuals connect with nature and reduce feelings of anticipation and anxiety. It’s important to find activities that work best for each individual’s unique needs and preferences.