Friendships form in various ways, characterized by respect, affection and loyalty. Longevity isn’t promised but should be celebrated if it happens. Which is how it is with my dear friend, Marie (Joseph) Unes. We attended the same high school, but she was a senior when I was a lowly sophomore. Not even nodding acquaintances in the ‘60s, we found ourselves members of the same church some 20 years later, and with sons the same age and both named Michael. On Jan. 1, 1987, a tragic car accident claimed the lives of Marie’s mother and youngest sister. As a sincere but imperfect way of expressing sympathy, I delivered a home-cooked meal to Marie and her family. It cemented the start of our wonderful friendship.

Good friends can’t always talk or visit frequently, but they must make efforts to stay in touch. We’ve done that, celebrating our kids’ high school and college graduations, career successes, weddings, grandchildren’s births and numerous other happy events. As true friends, we’ve comforted each other through various sadnesses including parents’ deaths, health issues and some serious concerns. Most recently Marie and I took a road trip to Marion, Ill., to visit her daughter, Diana and family. It was a multi-purpose trip, allowing us uninterrupted time to talk in the car; enjoy family time; and marvel at what nature and years of “working the land” can produce. The trip was delightful!

Diana, husband Greg, and their daughter Raynah live in a house located in Mandala Gardens, “a seven-acre botanical sanctuary featuring stone sculptures, herbs and heirlooms patterned in circular garden designs and quiet pathways.” Explaining the gardens are not just for them, Diana says, “We want to preserve green space. I hope others can appreciate and enjoy it, but if I were the only person to see it, I would be content This is my art.”

Beautiful unique photos are regularly posted on their Facebook page, Mandala Gardens and their website

“We planted a lot of trees,” says Greg. Thousands of herbs and flowers and trees mixed with sweat, hard work, patience and trust have yielded a place of beauty and inspiration.

They’ve lived there since September 1998. Diana says proudly but humbly, “we did everything by hand with spades and shovels until 2011,” when they purchased a sub compact tractor.

The gardens are filled with interesting art designs and nature’s beauty. An apricot tree is a favorite. Diana’s parents and grandparents are of Lebanese descent, and in 2010, a lifelong dream was fulfilled. Marie, Diana, Greg and Raynah traveled to Aitou (Itoo) Lebanon. They visited family and the house Marie’s Mom lived in as a child. An apricot tree grows in the front yard. Marie ate two apricots from the tree, giving a seed to Diana which was later planted in Diana’s garden. Much to the family’s delight, an apricot tree is thriving. (Interesting side note: Marie says there are more descendants from Itoo living in Peoria than residents of that Village in Lebanon.)

Mandala Gardens includes a labyrinth, a Moon Gate, organic vegetables, places to relax and meditate and an atmosphere conducive to pursuing one’s vision. The sharing of that vision and nature with others, particularly two women whose friendship was enriched by such a visit, produces even more beauty in those gardens.

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