Do you write a family Christmas letter telling people what has been happening in the past year? I confess that I have never done this before.  But today, I thought that I would write one for you that talks about our Christmas celebration and what the coming year holds in store.

Christmas was spent with a house filled with my 5 children (including my oldest daughter from Michigan and my second-eldest from California), my son-in-law, 2 grandchildren, my husband, me plus our 4 dogs.  So that makes 10 people, not counting the dogs.

Christmas celebration

While things have been busy and chaotic, juggling bedrooms and bathrooms, keeping the dogs from eating wrapped Christmas gifts, cooking dinners for 10 people, picking up stray toys and finding time to take the grandkids on grandma and grandpa dates- I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The Christmas tree has since come down and most of the holiday decorations are stored away and our house has begun to resemble its former self, which allows time to reflect on the past month and look forward to some exciting things happening soon.

My daughter Ruthie, my twin nephews and my niece, Sofie.

My daughter Ruthie, my twin nephews and my niece, Sofie.

Every year, I host our annual cookie baking day for my nieces, nephews, grandkids as well as my own kids.  The kids look forward to it every year and it is fun to see them decide what cookie cutters they will use and how messy they get decorating their cookies.

My granddaughter Lily, nephews and my son Kai (the tallest one).

My granddaughter Lily, nephews and my son Kai (the tallest one).

While their parents sit and visit, I scramble to keep up with the kids helping them find the right color frosting and sprinkles to create their masterpieces.

After they have finished, each one can pick one cookie to eat and the rest we save to eat together when we gather with extended family on Christmas day.

Christmas celebration

This is the aftermath of a successful cookie baking day.  After an hour and a half, I am exhausted.  However, each year I am pleasantly surprised that the older kids still look forward to participating and it is so much fun seeing my young grandkids now taking part.

Christmas celebration

This Christmas was extra special because it was my grandson’s first one.  What also made it especially happy was that my daughter was able to spend Christmas with us for the first time since she joined the Navy.

Christmas celebration

The kids all enjoyed their gifts, including Gracie who especially liked the ‘sugar’ cereal and chocolate bar that her brother gave her – food that her mother doesn’t buy her ๐Ÿ˜‰

Christmas celebration

The day after Christmas was a big one for me.  I turned 50 this year and we celebrated with extended family at my sister’s house. 

To be honest, it wasn’t as much of a milestone for me as I thought it would be.  The reason is that I have spent the entire year thinking about turning 50, so I might as well as have skipped over being 49 years old.

I do feel great and am embracing my age and being in the position to have lived long enough to have learned quite a few things and young enough to still be able to do just about anything I still want to do.

Christmas celebration

I look at my mother as she spends time with my grandchildren and am thankful that I will probably be around when these two have children of their own.

Christmas celebration

This is my newest wallpaper for my phone.  My husband and I took this picture when we took Lily and Eric out on a date to McDonalds. One nice thing about little kids is that McDonalds is as fancy as you need to get and they love it.

The coming year is filled with a lot things to look forward to.

 plants growing in my garden

I have several test plants growing in my garden, which were given to me by growers who want to see how they will perform in the desert Southwest.  Of course, as a horticulturist, I am interested in seeing how they do as I like to be able to recommend a greater variety of plants to both you and my clients.  It also doesn’t hurt that they were free ๐Ÿ™‚

California poppies.

My former side vegetable garden is planted with wildflower seeds, many of which, I am growing for the first time such as different colors of California poppies.

English Roses

New roses are also on their way, which will also be added to the side garden amongst the wildflowers.  (I still have two other vegetable gardens, which grow plenty of produce for us.)

AZ Plant Lady's Christmas and New Year Newsletter

On the business front, I keep getting busier each year helping others create beautiful, low-maintenance landscapes using plants that thrive in our climate.  In 2015, I had over 85 consultations – I so enjoy meeting with people and helping them with their landscape.

Later this week, I will be appearingon a local television program, Arizona Midday, to talk about winter garden tasks.  Frost protection, planting roses, bare root fruit trees and other winter chores will be covered.  

Travel will be another big part of this year with trips planned to Seattle, California, Georgia, and Michigan already planned.  I’ll be sure to take you along with me as I blog from the road.

Arizona Federation of Garden Clubs.

Speaking engagements are also filling up my calendar with the first one happening the end of January.  Later in the year, I will be a landscape instructor for an upcoming Landscape Design School given by the Arizona Federation of Garden Clubs.

Of course, I will continue to write garden articles for Houzz and for other companies as well.  

**I wanted to take a moment to thank you for taking time out of your day to read my blog.  It means so much to me and I look forward to sharing more with you the coming year!

Some of you may remember me sharing about my oldest daughter moving to a small town in Michigan back in early September – “Goodbye Arizona, Hello Michigan”

oldest daughter moving to a small town in Michigan

It was so hard to see them go, but at the same time, I was excited for their new future as they left to join my son-in-law who just started a new job as a professor at a college in Petoskey, Michigan.

The very next day, as my husband and I booked a flight for Michigan in November.  I must admit that planning a trip within a few months of their leaving helped me to deal their absence more easily.

As November approached, I began to count down the days until we would see them again.

Grand Rapids

Our flight left on an early Friday morning and would take us to the city of Grand Rapids.

Petoskey, Michigan

From there, we rented a car for the 3-hour drive up to Petoskey, Michigan. which is located at the “tip of the mitt” as the locals like to say.

Along the way, we spotted a Bob’s Big Boy restaurant.  Now this is a place where both my husband and I spent a lot of time (separately) visiting while children growing up in Arizona and California.  Sadly, they have all but disappeared in those states, but they are still quite popular in Michigan.

So, we stopped off for dinner where we both enjoyed our favorite meals from our past.


As we sat eating our dinner, snow began to fall.  It was at this point that the fact that we weren’t local was painfully obvious as we couldn’t stop looking and talking about the snow.

We pulled into Petoskey just before 8:00 pm and Brittney, Lily & Jeff were waiting outside for us, bundled in their jackets.

It was so wonderful to be close enough to hug them all again and I could hardly wait for the next day to begin.


Our first stop was at Meijier’s, which is very large grocery store chain in the Midwest.  Lily was excited to share her coffee drink with me.  She said that it was better than Starbucks because they put sprinkles on their drinks.

We then bought some groceries.  My job was to make her a birthday cake and we also took her birthday shopping.

Northern Central Michigan College

Next, we drove to Northern Central Michigan College, where my son-in-law now teaches.  Lily loves to visit her dad at work.

Northern Central Michigan College
Northern Central Michigan College

It was so nice seeing his office, classroom and how happy he was after working so many years for his PhD.

local pizza and sandwich

Whenever we are traveling, I love to eat at restaurants that are different than what are at home.  We ate dinner at a local pizza and sandwich restaurant where I was introduced to ‘grinders’.

local pizza and sandwich

Grinders are basically Italian subs that are often served alongside pizza.  All I can say, is that were delicious!

The next morning, we were awakened early by the appearance of our granddaughter Lily, by our bedside who then got into bed with us and snuggled for a half hour before we all woke up.  I must confess, that was one of my favorite moments of our entire trip.

Little Traverse Bay.

Little Traverse Bay.

The next morning, we decided to set out for the picturesque downtown area of Petoskey, which is consistently rated in the “Top 10 Best Small Towns of America”.  

granddaughter Lily

While the walk was a short one (3 blocks), we found time to pick dandelions and blow the seeds.

Petoskey, Michigan.
Petoskey, Michigan.

The downtown area is quaint and filled with a variety of shops, restaurants and other businesses. We passed the local park with its gazebo, a lovely church with its tall steeple and gas lights and shop windows being decorated with garlands made of fresh evergreens.

You can read more about our visit to the downtown area in my previous post “A Small Town Visit and Holiday Traditions”. 

Petoskey, Michigan.
Petoskey, Michigan.

After doing some Christmas shopping the local bookstore, general store and fudge shop, we made our way back home.

Petoskey, Michigan.

While Lily took her nap, my husband and I took a mini-road trip to visit the other small towns close by before getting ready for our ‘big date’.

Petoskey, Michigan.

We had a date with our very sweet granddaughter, Lily, while her parents went on their own grown-up date.

Our restaurant of choice was ‘Roast & Toast’, which I had eaten at the year before on a prior visit to Petoskey.  Lily thought that the cups and plates stuck to the outside of the window were pretty cool – the purple coffee cup was her favorite ๐Ÿ˜‰

 our granddaughter Lily

Lily was a delightful dinner partner.

 our granddaughter Lily

We had a table located in a little alcove.

 our granddaughter Lily
 our granddaughter Lily

It turned out that the seat was perfect for lying on while eating your dinner.

*Believe it or not, I had no problem with Lily lying down eating her dinner.  In fact, I thought it was rather cute.  But, I would NEVER allow my own kids to do that, which let me to an epiphany that many grandparents experience – your standards you set for your children vs. your grandchildren are completely different, which makes it much easier to be a grandparent than a parent!

 our granddaughter Lily

The downtown area came alive in the evening with the gas light lit up with their festive greenery and Christmas lights.

Little Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan

The next day, we spent some time at home.  I found myself enjoying the view from the living room windows, where the you could just see Little Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan out of the window through the trees.


Wildlife was abundant around the house including brightly colored blue jays, cardinals, black & brown squirrels and deer.

A Welcome Visit

Of course, Flynn, their dog was there to chase those wild animals away ๐Ÿ˜‰

My Little Pony

Lily and I spent time playin with her new ‘My Little Pony’ toy, that squirted out play-doh.


Her papa showed his love for Lily by playing dolls with her for over an hour at the kitchen table.

It was so nice to completely unplug from our busy lives and just sit back and enjoy the simple pleasures.  I helped my daughter with her first knitting project and even found myself coloring a page in her new ‘adult’ coloring book, which was surprisingly enjoyable and relaxing.

After cooking dinner for the family, I set to work making Lily’s birthday cake with her help.

orange cake with hot pink frosting and sprinkles.

She wanted an orange cake with hot pink frosting and sprinkles.

orange cake with hot pink frosting and sprinkles.

And that is exactly what she got.

After we left the next day for our trip home, I reflected on how fortunate we were to have been able to spend time with our daughter and her precious family.  Thankfully, we only have to wait a few more weeks until Christmas until they come to our house for a long visit!

**Thank you for allowing me to share a glimpse with you an important part of my life ๐Ÿ™‚

Do you live in a small town?

Petoskey, Michigan

For those of us who live in cities, or in my case a suburb of a large city, visiting a small town may be as close as we get to experience the delights that they have to offer.

My husband and I recently took a trip to the delightful town of Petoskey, Michigan where our oldest daughter, Brittney moved along with her husband and daughter.

Petoskey, Michigan

The town of Petoskey is located at the “top of the mitt” as locals like to say.

I had been fortunate to have visited this picturesque downtown that sits on the shores of Little Traverse Bay, 1 1/2 years ago – long before we had any idea that my daughter and her family would end up there.  

exploring Petoskey

This time, my husband came with me and we looked forward to spending time with family as well as exploring Petoskey, which is consistently ranked as one of the “10 Best Downtowns To Visit” in America.

exploring Petoskey

Like many small towns, many residents are within walking distance of the downtown area.  So, on a brisk November’s day, we set off on foot toward the downtown area.

red berries
red berries

Signs of fall could be seen all around, from the bright red berries of Ilex decidua Possumhaw to…

fallen apples

fallen apples filling the stomachs of squirrels and autumn leaves being raked up by homeowners.

A Small Town Visit and Holiday Traditions
A Small Town Visit and Holiday Traditions

As we walked I could see gardens getting ready for a long winter’s sleep, although some plants were still in flower.

Dried hydrangea flowers

Dried hydrangea flowers decorated many gardens, which added stark beauty.  I would love to use these dried flowers for floral arrangements in my home.

Did I mention that number one on my list of plants that I wish I could grow in my desert garden is hydrangea?

evergreen plants.

Landscapes were filled with leafless shrubs and trees along with evergreen plants.

A Small Town Visit and Holiday Traditions

I think that large leafless trees have a beauty all their own, don’t you?

A Small Town Visit and Holiday Traditions

What’s a small town without a gazebo in the local park?

A Small Town Visit and Holiday Traditions

Or a general store?

Yes, those are live greens, which they use to decorate with.

Yes, those are live greens, which they use to decorate with.

The arrival of the Christmas season is a big deal in many small towns and Petoskey is no exception.  


Fall-themed window displays were soon to give way to those filled with Christmas greenery and decorations.

Christmas greenery and decorations.
Christmas greenery and decorations.

The merchants were also transforming the interior of their stores.

Christmas greenery and decorations.

Yes, that is a mannequin dressed in all her Christmas finery.  As you may have guessed this was the local florist and home decor store.

Christmas greenery and decorations.

These stainless steel Christmas tree containers outside of this store were also pretty cool.

Being a horticulturist, it is physically impossible for me to simply pass by any garden-themed store, so I went in.

Christmas greenery and decorations.

Christmas trees decorated in different themes were displayed throughout the store.  I suspect that they offer tree decorating services.

Christmas greenery and decorations.

While I am not personally a fan of artificial flowers, I really liked how they worked on this tree.  Of course, that could be due to the fact that they were decorated with one of my favorite flowers.

Christmas greenery and decorations.

Fairy or miniature gardens are pretty popular in this area as I saw several displays throughout the stores we visited.

Christmas greenery and decorations.

If I lived in area that experienced cold, long winters, I might be more likely to grow plants indoors.

However, I am not very attentive to my indoor plants, so they usually die.  Perhaps, it’s a good thing that I live in a place where I can garden outdoors year round, thereby saving defenseless indoor plants ๐Ÿ˜‰

artificial flowers and succulents,

A large display of artificial flowers and succulents, perfect for brightening up the indoors through the winter.

Shopping with my daughter and granddaughter - can life get any better?

Shopping with my daughter and granddaughter – can life get any better?

local bookstore

Next stop was the local bookstore, so of course I had to check out the gardening section.

Not surprisingly, there weren’t books on drought tolerant gardening in this region where water is plentiful.


Our next stop was to visit one of my favorite stores from my previous visit to Petoskey, ‘American Spoon‘ is a local company who sells fruit preserves and condiments from produce grown in Michigan.


I think that this was my husband’s favorite shop that we visited because there were ‘samples’.  I tried several different kinds of preserves and decided on getting my favorite, sour cherry preserves and vanilla bourbon pear conserve.

We also tried roasted pumpkin seed salsa – it was delicious, so I had to buy a jar of that too.

Petoskey, Christmas season

As I mentioned earlier, the Christmas season is celebrated throughout the gaslight district of downtown Petoskey.

What was striking to me was that the towns gaslights and stores were decorated with live evergreen wreaths and garlands – not the artificial ones that are commonplace throughout the desert Southwest.

Christmas tree

On the first Friday of December the town hosts an Holiday Open House when streets shut down and Santa arrives to light the town Christmas tree. Merchants vie to win the Holiday Window Contest and townspeople celebrate the first Friday of the season along with carolers and the local high school’s drum band.

Petoskey, Michigan

I hope that you enjoyed this glimpse of a small town.  Wherever I travel, I love to explore new places and experience and observe the local traditions, gardening practices, plants, people and of course the food!

Our next visit to this small town will be in June, when the days are long and warmer.  We’ll bring the kids with us next time and explore further out to some of the other surrounding towns and take a trip to Mackinac Island, which is just over an hour away ๐Ÿ™‚

**Have you ever lived in a small town?  What did you like about it?**

We recently welcomed a new member to our family and have named him “Aesop”.

Newest Addition "Aesop".

We chose him from a selection that included several of his ‘friends’.

Newest Addition "Aesop".

My husband and daughter, Gracie, were very excited about the newest member of our family.

Newest Addition "Aesop".

We strapped him in and began our journey home where his new home awaited.

Now at this point, you may be wondering if Aesop is a cat or dog.

The answer is neither.  

However, I will give you a couple of hints:

– We did adopt Aesop from a shelter (of sorts)

-We don’t actually own him – we are his ‘caretakers’.

-His name may give you a clue as to what type of animal he is.

If you think you know that answer OR are tired of guessing, click here to see the newest member of our family.


Goodbyes are always hard. Today, I had to say goodbye to both my daughter and granddaughter as they start their new lives in Petoskey, Michigan along with my son-in-law.

my daughter and granddaughter moved to Petoskey, Michigan

My daughter is an Arizona native and this is the beginning of a wonderful adventure for her and her young family.

my daughter and granddaughter move to Petoskey, Michigan

The past 3 weeks have been a whirlwind of packing, saying goodbye to her students at the local  high school where she is was a history teacher.

So why are they moving to Michigan – a place that my daughter has never visited before?

My son-in-law was hired as a professor at Northern Central Michigan College in Petoskey, which sits near the top of the ‘mitten’ of Michigan.

He had to leave quickly to get settled in before the new semester began, leaving my daughter to get everything packed up.

my granddaughter, Lily

Moving day was exciting for my granddaughter, Lily who watched as the movers took everything that was near and dear to her and put it in a big truck.

my granddaughter, Lily

After standing for awhile, she pulled out a chair to sit and watch all the activity until it was time to load up the chair she was sitting on.

my granddaughter, Lily with her grandpa

Her grandpa and I did our best to keep her occupied with all of the changes going on.

The best part of this entire process was that they moved in with us for several days while my daughter finished her last week teaching.

my granddaughter, Lily

We helped Lily keep in touch with her dad by texting him pictures that she drew for him.

With all the changes, Lily very well for a 3-year old girl whose world is going through a momentous change.

Our last week together was spent reading favorite books together, including “Goodnight Moon”, which I always read to her before her nap.  I gave her new one to take to Michigan.  

my granddaughter, Lily
my granddaughter, Lily

A date at our favorite McDonald’s was a must-do before they left.

This morning, we got up early and drove to them to the Phoenix airport for their flight.  This was to be Lily’s first time on an airplane and she was excited.

my granddaughter, Lily

This was the moment that I dreaded…saying goodbye to my daughter and Lily.

I realize that I have been incredibly blessed to have always had them living close by.  

my granddaughter, Lily

From being there the day Lily was born 3 1/2 years ago, seeing her take her first steps, wiping away her tears and enjoying her sunny presence twice a week when I would babysit her – there will be a hole that is hard to fill.

my granddaughter, Lily

Lily has also been my gardening buddy.

my granddaughter, Lily

From helping take care of the herb container we made for her mom…

my granddaughter, Lily

To watching her collect wildflowers for her ‘flower collection’ that she keeps in her jewelry box – I will miss her love for flowers.

my granddaughter, Lily

So, how am I doing after bidding goodbye to my oldest daughter and Lily?

After hugging them “goodbye” at the airport, I was doing pretty good – in fact I was rather proud of myself…no tears were shed.

That is until we were shopping at Costco a short time later and I saw a grandmother with her granddaughter and I completely broke down, making a spectable of myself.  Shoppers were probably wondering what it was at the meat counter that was making me so sad.

I regained control of myself, but then we passed by the bank that my daughter used to work at years ago and the tears started up again.

And then we passed by Lily’s favorite McDonald’s on our way home – and so it goes…

So, while my mother and grandmother’s heart is sad, it is also happy for them and their new adventure in beautiful Michigan.

Petoskey, Michigan

Petoskey, Michigan

As I mentioned before, they are moving the picturesque town of Petoskey.

Coincidentally, I visited Petoskey just last year along with my mother on one of our annual road trips.

Petoskey, Michigan

Petoskey, Michigan

It sits right on the water’s edge of Lake Michigan.

Petoskey, Michigan

The gardens are beautiful and I look forward to visiting them as often as I can – hopefully this fall.

There will be new adventures to be had discovering this new area.  I can hardly wait to help them create their new Michigan garden in the future.

As I write this, I am looking at Lily’s little work space next to my desk.

Goodbye Arizona...Hello Michigan!

On it is her latest coloring page alongside her much-loved crayons.  She would often sit next to me and “work with Grandma” while I wrote garden articles or worked on my latest landscape design.

I’ll put them away for awhile where they will wait for her to come back and visit – hopefully at Christmas.

Thank you for spending a few moments out of your day allowing me to share what’s on my heart. I already feel better ๐Ÿ™‚

**How about you? Do your family members live close by or far away?  How often are you able to visit?

A Small Town Visit and Holiday Traditions

As summer begins to wane, my thoughts start to turn toward fall planting and upcoming holidays.

But, before I put summer “to bed”, I thought I’d give you a glimpse of our summer adventures.

Williams, AZ.

The highlight of our summer was spending a week in Williams, AZ.

Every year we head up to this small Route 66 town, which is the known as “The Gateway to the Grand Canyon”.

We travel up to this special place along with my mother, siblings and their families.  A collection of small, rustic cabins house us for the week.

This small mound of dirt is called "Danny's Mountain" by the boys (Danny is my little 4-year old nephew to the right)

This small mound of dirt is called “Danny’s Mountain” by the boys (Danny is my little 4-year old nephew to the right).

It’s a place where smartphones and video games give way to playing outdoors with cousins finding new places to explore.

My niece Sofie and my daughter, Ruthie

My niece Sofie and my daughter, Ruthie.

Teenage girls discover the delights of pushing each other on a tree swing.

Hummingbird Festival

Little army men toys replace video games as battle strategies are discussed and put in play.

5-month old Eric having fun with his grandpa

5-month old Eric having fun with his grandpa.

As a grandparent, it is also a special time for my husband and I to spend with our two grandchildren.



My granddaughter, Lily, was busy picking flowers for her ‘collection’.  She loves flowers and keeps them in her jewelry box.

Dare I hope that she follows in her grandma’s footsteps and becomes a horticulturist?

delicious food

Of course, what’s summer vacation without delicious food!

Before, you ask…no, I didn’t eat all these pies myself – I shared with them with 15 other family members ๐Ÿ˜‰

My daughter Rachele

Fourth of July found us in the pool, waiting for fireworks to begin.

My daughter Rachele, who is in the Navy, was able to come visit with our newest family addition, Eric.  This was his first time swimming and he loved it!

Ruthie, Sofie and Gracie

Ruthie, Sofie and Gracie

At the beginning of our summer season, we had a special visitor.

My daughter, Ruthie, was adopted from China when she was 9 years old.  Her cousin, Sofie, came from the same orphanage and so did their friend, Gracie.

These girls spent their early childhood together, creating special, sisterly bonds with each other in the absence of having parents.

Now that they are all adopted and living in the U.S., they have kept in touch.  Gracie flew in to spend a few days with her ‘orphanage sisters’ and we had so much fun with her.

Pillow fights, baking sweets, enjoying good Chinese food and playing board games filled much of their time together.  

Walking along State Street in downtown Santa Barbara, CA

Walking along State Street in downtown Santa Barbara, CA

A quick trip to Southern California was taken in the beginning of June to visit Rachele.  We were able to stay in her townhouse on the Navy base.

Whenever we visit her, we take time to travel up to picturesque Santa Barbara, CA, which is where my husband and I met almost 30 years ago.  

Hummingbird Festival

Ruthie learned how squirmy little babies are when you try to get them dressedโ€ฆ

Hummingbird Festival

This summer, we went through a truly wonderful experience together.

We traveled to the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ.  Both adults and kids were looking forward to seeing planets in our solar system.  

Hummingbird Festival

While I did expect to see some great things through the telescopes, what I didn’t expect was the beautiful flowering perennials growing throughout the grounds of the observatory.

My brother, kept teasing me as I kept stopping to take pictures of the flowers.

My son, Kai, looking at Venus

My son, Kai, looking at Venus

Outdoor telescopes focused on Jupiter and Venus.

I don’t know who was more excited, the kids or the adults.  It was almost incomprehensible that we could view these faraway planets.  

My nephew, Dean, loves flowers and kept asking me what the names of them were.

My nephew, Dean, loves flowers and kept asking me what the names of them were.

I must admit that I enjoyed the flowers almost as much as I did the planets.

 My mother, helping my daughter as she looks at Saturn.

My mother, helping my daughter as she looks at Saturn.

Believe it or not, we were able to see Saturn and its rings!

Hummingbird Festival

We had a wonderful time at the observatory and learned so much.  I highly recommend visiting this or any observatory near you.  It was an unforgettable experience!

Hummingbird Festival

Hummingbird Festival

The last part of our summer fun occurred at the Hummingbird Festival, where I was asked to be a presenter.

I have two separate talks on small space hummingbird gardening and had a great time meeting new people.

Hummingbird Festival

One of my favorite parts of the festival was touring many beautiful gardens in Sedona where the festival was held.

Hummingbird Festival

I came home from the festival inspired to create a garden space dedicated to plants that attract hummingbirds.  I can hardly wait to get started this fall, which is the best time to add new plants to the garden.

In the meantime, we have increased the amount of hummingbird feeders in our backyard and have seen three hummingbirds at a single feeder ๐Ÿ™‚


Well, that was our summer fun in a nutshell.  The kids are now in school and my eyes are focused on  the fall including the upcoming Garden Writer’s Conference in Pasadena, CA in September.

**What did your ‘summer in review’ look like?  Did you travel to any new places, see old friends or have any new experiences?**  

A Few of my Favorite Thingsโ€ฆโ€ฆHummingbirds

Have you ever had your day take a completely different turn than you anticipated?  Mine certainly did, and it all started with a discovery behind the lilac vine.

My day was off to a great start.  I didn’t have any appointments or looming writing deadlines.  Couple that with a weather forecast in the 70’s, I decided to spend a few hours working in the garden.

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae) back in February

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae) back in February.

One of the things that I needed to do was to prune back my purple lilac vines now that they were finished flowering.  They just needed a little light pruning to keep them from growing into my new lemon tree.  

While I was pruning the vines, my little dog, Tobey, was trying desperately to get underneath one of the vines.  I assumed that it was a lizard, but I couldn’t call him off.

our little rescue dog

Now, Tobey, is our little rescue dog who thinks that he is big and tough, but truth be told, he’s not.  But, when I had to carry him inside because he wouldn’t leave the vine alone, I suspected that there might be something else going on.

Purple Lilac Vine

I slowly approached the vine and heard something growl.  Concerned that there may be an injured animal, I slowly parted the leaves, and a cat ran out and jumped over the fence.  

At this point, I assumed that it was a feral cat and that the problem was solved.   

But, I heard some rustling sounds and thought that I could see some movement in the dark confines of the vine’s branches.  So, I ran inside to grab a flashlight so that I could see better.  The problem was, that while we had plenty of flashlights, all their batteries were dead.  

So, I decided to use the flashlight on my cell phone to see what was making the sounds at the base of the vine.  

I slowly parted the leaves and saw what looked like little rats.

newly born kittens.

But, closer examination showed them to be newly born kittens.

newly born kittens.

I could hardly believe it!

newly born kittens.

They were just darling, and I tried to count how many there were.  I think that there were four, but it might have been three.

mama cat

I went back inside so the mama cat could come back.  She hopped to the top of the wall and waited to be sure that there weren’t any humans or dogs nearby before climbing down and disappearing into the vines.

Purple Lilac Vine

So what will we do?    

I talked to my sister who has worked with feral cats in the past.  It turns out they are incredibly self-sufficient.  We’ll probably wait until the kittens are weaned and then trap the mother and get her spayed and then re-release her.  

As for now, I need to break the news about the furry bundles behind the vines to my husband (who sleeps during the day) and the kids once they come home after school.  

4 Furry Bundles Behind the Lilac Vine

In the meantime, the dogs have been banished to the side yard for the time being, much to their dismay…

Do you have an easy time saying “goodbye” to a loved one?  Probably not.

As I sit and write this post this evening, I must confess that my mother’s heart hurts.  

We said “goodbye” this morning to our daughter, Rachele and her little baby, Eric.

back to California

back to California

Her car was all packed up and ready for her journey back to California.

We said our goodbyes just before we left for church. The day was cloudy with rain on the way. The dreary weather matched my mood.

back to California

Just 48 hours ago, Rachele and I (along with Eric) were enjoying a talent show put on by the kids in our church’s youth group.

It was a fundraiser for a future mission trip. The kids served a spaghetti dinner and entertained us all with their talent.

Gracie, played piano

My daughter, Gracie, played piano and did great, even though she was a little nervous.

My son, Kai, and daughter Ruthie

My son, Kai, and daughter Ruthie (hidden behind Kai), displayed their comedic talents. Or should I say, Kai showed how much ice cream he could eat. Ruthie while hidden behind Kai, served as his ‘hands’ as she prepared an ice cream sundae and then proceeded to feed him. Needless to say, not much ice cream made it into his mouth.

The silent auction afterward was fun and I even won a couple – Starbucks and a Diamondbacks baseball game.


24 hours ago, I was sitting with Eric, enjoying some of our last moments together.

He is almost 6 weeks old and I have been with him for everyday of his short life.

back to California.

From holding him minutes after his birth and changing his first diaper…

back to California.

To taking care of both him and my daughter during their 6 day hospital stay.

Rachele came home to stay with us while she recovered from her c-section and we enjoyed her company and holding Eric a lot.

'milk drunk'

I will miss feeding Eric and seeing him becoming ‘milk drunk’ and I will even miss his crying (a little).

back to California.

back to California

This morning, I took one last picture of Eric before it was time for them to go. It will be hard to think that we will miss the next few milestones like his first smile.

Navy journey

I remember how sad I was when Rachele first left for the Navy and how I rejoiced when we saw her again when she graduated from basic training.

You can read more about her Navy journey, here.

Then there was sadness as she was gone to Missouri and later Mississippi for further training.

back to California.

back to California

It’s hard to believe that my little girl is all grown up.  You would think that when your child is an adult, that saying “goodbye” would be fairly easy.

Well, it’s not true. I wish it was.

Now it is harder because I also miss my grandson. I realize that I was given a special gift of being able to spend so much time with them both.

While the house seems rather empty with them gone, there are some perks:

–  My son, who graciously gave up his room for them to stay in, now gets to vacate the living room couch and move back into his room.

– The Xbox, which was moved temporarily into our bedroom, is now back in his room.

– The kitchen counter is free from bottles, nipples and formula.

– The trash can will be ‘diaper-free’.

– There is more room in the family room with the absence of the baby swing, infant seat and changing pad.

– Nights will be somewhat quieter with no midnight feedings.

While the house is quieter and cleaner, I would trade it all back if I could.

But, the good news is that Rachele lives one state away, 7 hours by car and 1 hour by plane.  We already have plans to visit in April, June and September for starters.

I wonder if I can figure find a gardening conference coming up soon that is near her house?

Thank you for letting me share my mother’s heart with you today.

**For those of you with older kids, do they live nearby or far away? How often do you get to see them?

pruning apple trees

Yesterday, I spent the morning on the family farm pruning apple trees.

It was a nice break from a very busy week of landscape consulting and I was looking forward to spending time with my mother, who resides on Double S Farms with my youngest sister and her family.

pruning apple trees

The sun was rising up in the sky and the day promised warm temperatures in the upper 70’s with our unseasonably warm winter.

Now at this point, you may be noticing that the trees were already in flower and that we were getting to pruning them a bit late in the season.  Ideally fruit trees are pruned just before the buds begin to open.

But, even though we were pruning them late, it won’t make a huge difference and will improve the size and quality of our apple crop.  

pruning apple trees

 You’ll notice that the apple trees are located behind a wire fence. Well, there is a good reason for that…

Sodapop and Johnny

And their names are Sodapop and Johnny.

Soda is the daughter of our dog Missy, who passed away last year at the age of 13.

Johnny is a 3-legged doberman rescue dog who is so friendly and exuberant.

You see, the dogs love to eat the apples from the trees. Especially Soda who does her best to reach them up high.

You can read about Soda’s previous exploits here.

The problem is that the seeds of apples contain small amounts of cyanide and if dogs consume too many, they can have problems. So the fence is up, much to the dismay of Soda and Johnny.

Pruning trees

Pruning trees is one of my favorite things to do and although as a certified arborist, I talk to my clients a lot about trees, I don’t prune their trees. Instead I give them advice on how to prune them their selves or refer them to a certified arborist company who does it for them. So, my tree pruning is primarily focused on my own and my family’s.

Armed with a pair of loppers, hand pruners and a pruning saw, I took a moment before beginning to smell the sweet fragrance of the apple blossoms.  

Pruning trees

In the midst of our pruning, my granddaughter, Lily, showed up.  She proved to be a good helper and moved the small branches into a pile.

We focused on cleaning out the interior branches, which are hard to get pick apples from.  In addition, we also pruned off some of the taller branches so that come apple-picking time, we could more easily reach them. Once we finished, we had pruned away a quarter of the tree, which will allow it to focus its resources on growing the remaining flowers, which will turn into apples.

For info on how we have pruned fruit trees in the past, click here.

Pruning trees

My mother took a few of the cut branches and brought them inside and put them in a vase where they will offer beauty and fragrance indoors for a few days.

delicious vegetables

Now it was time to turn our attention to the vegetable gardens. My mother has two large, raised beds where she grows a variety of delicious vegetables.

Lily wanted to feed the chickens some lettuce from the garden.

Double S Farms

The resident chickens of Double S Farms, love lettuce.


Next, great-grandma needed Lily’s help to pick a cabbage from the garden. It was huge!  I only wish that I liked cabbage.

I asked my mother how she uses it and she told me that she uses it in soups, but blends it ahead of time so no one knows that it is in there.


Lily wondered if the chickens would like cabbage and it turned out that they liked it better than the lettuce.

smelling their fragrance.

Before leaving the gardens, Lily had to pick a flower.  Like many little girls, she loves flowers and carries them around smelling their fragrance.

The white petunias belong to Finley, my nephew, who gets a small plot in the vegetable gardens to plant what he likes.

pruning tree

As we got ready to leave, I noticed a beautiful, little bouquet made up of petunias on the kitchen table. Who knew that petunias could make such a sweet bouquet?

Visits to the family farm are always refreshing and it was great to enjoy a morning out in the sunshine gardening.

Have you ever experienced your past intersecting with your present in unexpected ways?

I have. The birth of my grandson a couple of weeks ago, led to some connections from my past that brought back memories.

But before I talk about the past, let’s talk about the the present and the birth of baby Eric and how it did not go as well as planned.

A few days ago, I shared about how the labor process was not particularly smooth – 40+ hours of labor and then pushing led us all to the OR and a c-section.  You can read more about the process to this point here.

Baby Watch: Intersecting Paths

So, I was waiting outside the door where my daughter was having her c-section and I was straining my ears for a baby’s cries.

Well, it turns out that I didn’t need to strain my ears at all – I could hear the baby’s cries loud and clear when he finally emerged at 3:17 pm – about 42 hours after we first entered the hospital.

My husband came out with the baby and gave me a ‘thumbs up’ sign and then I went with the nurse and baby to the nursery.

 baby crying is a welcome sound

When we arrived in the nursery, Eric was still crying, which was a good thing. It’s funny how that is the only time that a baby crying is a welcome sound, isn’t it?

I stood right next to him while the nurse was checking him out and he was absolutely beautiful. Eric Marshall Johnson was 7 lbs. and 20 1/2 inches. Definitely not the small baby that the doctors had anticipated.

stopped crying

After a few minutes, he stuck his fingers in his mouth and stopped crying for a little while. It was funny to see him do that since he often did the same thing during his ultrasounds.

Not surprisingly, there were signs of the rough time he had being born. He was so stuck in the birth canal, that the doctor had to really struggle to get him out.  He had a bruised ear, which you can see above, along with a bruise on his hand, his ‘manly’ parts, foot and on his head…

sweet little boy

But let’s be honest – I was just focused on this sweet little boy who was melting my heart from where I stood.


My oldest daughter and husband watched on through the v as I got the privelege of putting on the first diaper…

diaper on a newborn

I had forgotten how hard it was to put a diaper on a newborn.

It was at this time that I found out from my husband that my daughter hadn’t seen her baby yet. Due to the spinal that they had given her, she was very dizzy and felt like she was having trouble breathing because the spinal left her without the sensation of her chest rising and falling with breathing – she was breathing and had plenty of oxygen, but wouldn’t you feel a little worried if you couldn’t feel yourself breathing?

Anyhow, I felt so sad that she hadn’t seen her precious little baby yet. While waiting for her to be brought to recovery, the nurse asked if I wanted to hold him…

beauty of California


I took him in my arms and told him how excited we all were that he was finally here and that he had the best mom who loved him and couldn’t wait to see him and hold him.

About an hour after his birth, Eric was ready to meet his mom for the first time.  

beauty of California

No matter how often you see it, there is something so miraculous when you see the bond between a new mother and her baby.

I could see in Rachele’s face that it was all so worth it and she would do it again in a second for her son.

beauty of California

He is one cute baby, despite his swollen nose and upper lip. Now that he was with his mom, he was happy.

meet his aunt Brittney.

Rachele was moved to her room and then Eric got to meet his aunt Brittney.

beauty of California

Can you tell how tired and happy we all were?

While we had planned on being there for Eric’s birth and then taking him and Rachele home with us to Arizona to recuperate, we hadn’t planned on how long it would be.

The morning after his birth, my oldest daughter and husband left for home and I stayed with Rachele until she would be released to go home with me.

While there was the initial anxiousness that accompanies having to reschedule appointments and getting things into order, I must admit that I was happy to have to disconnect from home and work and just focus on Rachele and my new grandson.  

beauty of California

Over the days we spent at the hospital, this came to be my favorite view. It looks out on the city of Ventura, the Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands.

This is where the paths of my past and present intersected. You see, I grew up just a 1/2 hour south from Ventura.  I also went to college an hour  north where I met my husband. We married over 28 years ago in Ventura and my mother served as a pastor at a church there back in the 80’s and 90’s.

What makes this interesting is that we haven’t had any recent connection with this city for over 20 years. We’ve all moved away to Arizona and never came back to this town until my daughter just happened to be stationed at the Navy base nearby.

While staying with my daughter, I was fortunate to be able to stay at her little townhouse on the Navy base. To do that however, I had to get a special pass for a week so I could get through the guards and gate without being accompanied by a military person, so Rachele’s friend kindly went with me so I could get a pass.

Every morning, I would wake up and drive to the hospital and enjoy the beauty of California. Except for one day, it was beautiful and clear. We did have a day or two of Santa Ana winds, which brought back memories of struggling to walk to school when the wind felt like it would lift you off of your feet – I really don’t miss the wind.

hearing test

Back at the hospital, Eric’s first full day involved a hearing test, which he passed with flying colors.

While Eric was doing fine, Rachele was fighting a fever.  At night, she would get a fever that would spike to 102 degrees. So, they put her on antibiotics and watched closely.

During the day, her fever would leave, only to return at night. So, her stay was extended so that they could keep a close eye on her.

During that time, I decided to help ‘feather Rachele’s nest’. Her kitchen had only the bare essentials and her living room consisted of a couch, a coffee table and a TV.

I told my mother about my ‘secret’ plan and she was so excited about it that she offered to help too.  So, after bidding goodbye to Rachele at the end of one day, I went to the nearest Marshall’s store and bought 2 end tables and much needed kitchen supplies (cheese grater, colander, measuring cups, oven mitts and dish towels). I then stopped by Walmart and bought her a new area rug and door mat for the front door.

beauty of California

Meanwhile, Rachele’s fevers continued at night and now there was a complication with Eric. While changing his diaper one day with the nurse present, we noticed some strange jerky movements on his right side that were unusual.

The doctor was consulted and we were told to observe him closely. That evening, he did it again in front of the night nurse, so an EEG was ordered.    

performed an EEG

The tech came in and performed an EEG.  Eric slept through the whole thing. We were hopeful that it wasn’t anything serious and anxiously waited to hear the neurologist’s findings.

Unfortunately, it was the weekend and we had to wait until Monday for the results. Rachele handled the whole process very well considering how it hard it must be to contemplate something being wrong with your baby.

Sunday morning arrived we got great news – Rachele’s fever had left and she was able to go home with Eric!

beauty of California

I don’t think anyone was so happy about being home than Rachele after her planned 2 day stay had extended to 6.

While Rachele was allowed to leave the hospital, she wasn’t allowed to go to Arizona until the baby’s EEG results came back. Monday morning, we took Eric to the pediatrician so she could check him out again and give us the results of the EEG.

I drove Rachele to the doctor’s office and had to parallel park in a small space in the front.  Now, if you have visited California, than you know that parallel parking is a vital skill.  The problem was that I was out of practice, but with my backup camera and Rachele’s guidance, I did a pretty good job, if I do say so…

how well I parked

Okay, I admit that it is a little unusual to take a picture of your own parked car, but I wanted to show my husband how well I parked ๐Ÿ™‚

While seeing the doctor, we discovered that Eric had gained an ounce since birth and more importantly, that his EEG was normal. The doctors attributed his unusual movements as one of the many newborn quirks that they display. He hasn’t done it since the first two times.

Tuesday arrived and it was time to hit the road for Arizona with both Rachele and Eric.

beauty of California
beauty of California

But, not before stopping by the farm shack and buying strawberries straight from the fields.

We had a smooth trip home and Eric loves the car – he slept most of the way home where he was greeted by his aunts and uncle.

so much fun having a baby in the house
so much fun having a baby in the house
so much fun having a baby in the house

It is so much fun having a baby in the house and having my big girl back home for a few weeks.

After a week home, I am almost caught up on work, but I will cherish the time I spent in California taking care of Rachele and Eric.

**Thank you all so much for your kind words and comments during Rachele’s baby journey – I appreciate them so much!

Keeping America (and Phoenix) Beautiful