This past weekend was a busy one in our household.  Packed with a homecoming, a celebration, working with heavy equipment, a little bit of pruning, a night outdoors and a goodbye.

At the end of all of our comings and goings, it turns out the weekend was all to brief…


Our weekend began on Friday night when we all loaded up into the car & truck (one vehicle doesn’t fit us all), and headed out to the airport to pick up our daughter, Rachele, who was flying in from Mississippi after finishing up her combat school.

After showing up at the wrong terminal, we were just in time to meet Rachele as she walked into baggage claim.

It was so great to see her again.  

I apologize for the a few of the following pictures, since all I had was my phone camera.

Kai decided that he wanted to try to carry Rachele’s sea bag to the car.

Well, it was so heavy, that he almost fell backward 😉

So dad carried it instead.

What you are witnessing in the photo above, is a joyful reunion.  Rachele had bought her first new car all by herself and had only 2 days to drive it before leaving for Mississippi for combat school.  So, she was very happy to see her car again.


On Saturday morning, we celebrated my oldest daughter, Brittney’s, 27th birthday.  I can hardly believe that she is mine 🙂

Brittney had two requests for her birthday.  One – she wanted a cast iron skillet.  She loves to cook!

Of course, if you give someone a cast iron skillet, you need to pair it with a cookbook.  
Now, my daughter is not a ‘dummie’, but that was the only cast iron cookbook that our local Barnes & Noble had.

My nephew, Oliver and my son Kai are trying their best to look interested while Brittney is opening her gifts, when they would much rather get back to playing ‘zombies’.

Now it was time for the cake.  Every year my two oldest daughters request that I make the same cake, which is called ‘Holy Cow’.  And every year I try to convince them to let me make another type of cake.

Not that I don’t like ‘Holy Cow’ cake – but I am a recreational cake baker and like to experiment with different cake recipes.

But, every year, I give in and make their favorite birthday cake.

The cake starts with a chocolate cake mix with lots of good things added including sweetened condensed milk, caramel, whip cream, cream cheese and crushed Butterfinger candy bars.

You can find the recipe here if you are interested in making this delicious cake.  But be forewarned – your family will not let you make any other kind of cake after they taste this one.

While the birthday celebration wore on, my daughter, Rachele, showed us the 7 different ways that you can carry people that she learned in her combat school.

Her younger sister, Gracie, was happy to help her demonstrate.

My granddaughter Lily was intrigued.
Notice the mother-daughter matching Vans shoes?

Lily decided to volunteer to help her Aunt Rachele show how to carry people.

Then it was time for Lily to visit the object of her latest obsession – our 4-month-old puppy, Penny.

Lily did her best to get Penny to come so she could pet her.

But Penny was too tired to get up 😉

Heavy Equipment:

My daughter Rachele is an Equipment Operator in the Navy.  She has just finished 6 months of training and can operate all types of heavy equipment.

So, when she stopped by the family farm (where my mother, sister and her family reside), she volunteered to help with some of the work they were doing.

They were leveling parts of the backyard to get rid of gopher holes.

It was so fun for her dad to see her do this for the first time.  He said that he was so proud to see what she could do – it felt like he was witnessing her college graduation.


Meanwhile at our homestead, there was pruning to be done.  
I took this picture just as half of the shrubs were pruned away.

You see, I have a pair of Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) growing underneath my kitchen window.  

In the summer, I love how they grow in front of my window because they visually cool my kitchen with their pretty foliage and flowers.

But, once fall arrives, I want to see my side garden again.  So, even though you should wait until January to prune them back to 1 foot, I asked my husband if he wouldn’t mind doing it now.

Night Outdoors:

On Sunday night, my son decided that he wanted to camp outdoors – or rather on our patio.

So, he and his dad set up the tent and got it all set up.  

Of course, you need vital equipment including wearing your ‘camo’ pajamas and backpack, a knit hat, a sleeping bag with a few blankets just to make sure you will keep warm.

I half expected Kai to wake up in the middle of the night to come indoors to sleep in his own bed.


At 9:00 in the morning, he was still sleeping.


Early on Monday morning, Rachele, left for her permanent posting in California.  It is an exciting time for her, now that she has finished her Navy training and can now begin her career with the Navy.

Because she lives so close to us now, we will be able to see her much more often.

**Thank you for taking a few minutes out of your day to read about our family’s adventures.  

I’d love to hear about your past weekend.  What did you do?

Have you ever paused to think about the events of the previous month?

I seldom do, but the other day I was going through my recent photos and was surprised at how busy the past month of September was.  

Here are a few snapshots from September…

My daughter, Rachele, graduated from her Navy Seabee School and was able to come home for 2 weeks after being gone for 5 months.

The newest addition to our family, Penny is continuing to learn what is okay to chew and what is NOT okay to chew on.
I did quite a few different gardening projects for my contributions to the Birds & Blooms blog

Freezing mint into ice cubes.
Starting lettuce seeds indoors using recycled plastic containers.

Many of the events this month, were celebrations…

My friend and I gave a baby shower to the youth pastor and his wife at our church.  I made the cupcakes and she made the cookies.
My nephews, Dean & Danny, turned 3-years-old and the party was held at our house.

I made some new discoveries while doing landscape consults…

I love this Adenium that a client of mine had.  This plant is native to Africa, but she obtained this plant from a nursery in Tucson.  I think I may have to get one for my patio.
I was asked to consult on the landscape of a fellow blogger, Diana Elizabeth, who is a fabulous photographer by the way.  I loved this unusual combination of Mexican Honeysuckle, Pink ‘Katie’ Ruellia and Liriope along her front walk.
After spending some quality time at home with her dad, fixing her 1970 VW Bug, my daughter left for combat school in Mississippi.  Soon she will be permanently stationed in Southern California.

While my son, Kai, playing football in the backyard isn’t an unusual event – it was extra special this month because he has finally recovered from his hip surgery in early June and has ditched his wheelchair and walker.
I made my first television appearance, showcasing fuss-free plants for fall.  I was nervous, but in the end, I enjoyed it.
Last Saturday, I was asked by Wendy, the ‘Cupcake Queen’ if ‘AZ Plant Lady’ would make an appearance at our local cupcake shop.  So, I showed up with my husband and granddaughter in tow and we all enjoyed the delicious sampling of Gigi’s delicious cupcakes.

The month of September ended with a visit to our local nursery to buy some vegetable transplants for my edible gardens.  My granddaughter, Lily wasn’t too excited about the vegetables.  Instead, she wanted to stop and smell every flower she saw 🙂

Well, that is September in a nutshell.  This month promises to be a busy month in the garden.  Did you know that October is the best time of year to add most ornamental trees and shrubs to your garden?

So, get up and go outside where the weather is finally cooling down and start planting.

Early in June, our son Kai underwent his fifth surgery for his hip.  You may remember me blogging about it earlier.

For those of you who may be newer readers of my blog, Kai was born with a dislocated hip and 2 club feet.  His birth parents abandoned him when he was 2 weeks old in China.  We adopted him when he was 2 1/2 years old.  

You would think that after 4 hip surgeries, that we would be prepared for the difficulties ahead.  But, this last surgery was the hardest on us and Kai.  I think as he grows older, the reality of his condition is settling in.

On our way to the hospital.  Kai’s best friend left a ‘good luck’ poster on our truck.

This part is definitely NOT fun.

Kai was in the hospital for 4 days.

He was then confined to a wheelchair for the entire summer.

He held up pretty well overall with visits from his uncle and cousins helping to take his mind off of his limited mobility.

It is not always fun to be stuck in a wheelchair and unable to swim.  But, that didn’t stop his getting wet, just the same.

Who says you have to be able to run in order to race your younger cousins?  A wheelchair pushed by you big cousin works just fine.

A wheelchair doesn’t hold you back from fishing.

And, a wheelchair makes it easy to hold your niece on your lap.

When school started earlier this year, Kai was still in a wheelchair.  He didn’t want to go to school until he was able to walk because he was embarrassed.

But, he did go and it all worked out just fine.  His friends still treated him the same and because Kai is such a people person – he was happier.

I am thrilled to say that Kai is no longer in his wheelchair.  He graduated to a walker for 4 weeks, which was a relief for him and for my back – carrying an 11-year old boy is not easy 😉

Last weekend, Kai was invited on an outing by his uncle.  My husband stopped by to see how Kai was doing and took the following photo…

I was so happy to see my son climbing a rock wall, just 3 1/2 months after his surgery.

Kai is also able to throw the football with his dad again, which is a nightly tradition, just before dinner.

He even helped his dad dig a hole for my newest plant – a Coral Fountain (Russellia equisetiformis).

Kai is doing quite well, but is till going in for PT to help with his limp.

Thank you for taking a few minutes out of your day to let me tell you about Kai 🙂

If you would like to read more about Kai and his journey, you can start here.

I bet you have all been waiting with ‘baited breath’ for me to reveal our “TOP SECRET” Family Recipe, ever since I referred to it in my last post about making peach vinegar.

First, before I reveal our family recipe (and risk the wrath of my family for revealing this secret recipe 😉, I thought that I should give you a little background first….

At this point, you are probably asking what the picture of this lady has to do with the recipe.
Well, this was her homemade salad dressing recipe.  To be honest, I don’t know where she got the recipe or if she created it herself.
So, who is this woman?
Her name was Ruth A. Smith and she was my grandmother. My dad was her only child.  At one point, their family lived in Phoenix in the 1940’s during the war and she worked in a factory that made airplane parts.  I call this photo ‘Rosie the Riveter’.
She was a wonderful grandmother and loved spending time with us…
Yes, that is me on the far right with my ‘boy’ haircut.  My sister, Jennifer is sitting next to me and my grandmother is holding my brother, Scott (my youngest sister, Grace, hadn’t been born yet).
When we were young, we spent a couple of summers in Germany with them, where my grandfather worked. Later, they moved back to the States and settled in California where we lived. Now, my grandmother wasn’t a great cook – however, she wasn’t bad either. When we would visit them – we would have the same menu each time, which included:
– Roast Beef (it was always a bit dry) with potatoes and salad
– Ground Beef Patties with a vegetable that we hated (squash) and salad
After dinner, we always had a VanDeKamps’ Angel Food cake with whipped chocolate frosting and vanilla ice milk.
The fact that my grandmother wasn’t a great cook makes it all the more interesting that she made fabulous homemade salad dressing. Years later, my siblings and I would reminisce about her yummy salad dressing. The only problem was that we never asked her how to make it. 
A few years ago, I asked my mother if she could remember what my grand mother put in her salad dressing. Thankfully, my mother was able to remember all the ingredients – just not the proportions.  So, I set to work to figure out the recipe and I was thrilled to finally get it! Since then, it is all we use on our salads with a few different ingredients from time to time to change it up. 
So, I am breaking all the family rules by sharing this with you (just kidding) – but seriously it is too good a recipe to keep to ourselves.
So here it is:
Ruth Smith’s Vinaigrette
2 Tablespoons Canola Oil (or other non-flavored vegetable oil – don’t use olive oil)
2 1/2 Tablespoons Sugar
 1 pinch Salt
3 – 4 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar or other fruit-flavored vinegar (My Homemade Peach Vinegar is pictured above) 
 I’ve also used Pomegranate White Balsamic vinegar too.
In a small jar add the salt, sugar and apple cider vinegar.  Then add the oil and place the lid on the jar and shake until all ingredients are combined.
Pour over your salad and enjoy!
You can copy and paste the recipe below if you like:
Grandma Smith’s Vinaigrette
2 Tablespoons Canola Oil (or other non-flavored vegetable oil – don’t use olive oil)
2 1/2 Tablespoons Sugar*
 1 pinch Salt
3 – 4 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar or other fruit-flavored vinegar
In a small jar add the salt, sugar and apple cider vinegar.  Then add the oil and place the lid on the jar and shake until all ingredients are combined.

Serve over your favorite salad!
*You can use Splenda instead of sugar if desired.

I hope you enjoy our ‘Top Secret’ salad dressing!  Grandma Smith would be thrilled to know that I’m sharing it with all of you 🙂

Okay, I realize that I am terribly late when it comes to posting holiday photos.  But believe it or not, I am quite organized when it comes to other aspects of Christmas – especially shopping for gifts -I’m usually done in November 🙂

With an extended family as large as ours, it is hard to have everyone present for photo opportunities, but this past Christmas, we were all there.

The second difficulty that frequently arises when trying to get everything to gather together for the photo is getting all the kids to stop playing and come and sit and smile – (I’m sure many of you know what I mean 😉

Well, my mother in all her wisdom knew how to get everything one all together and fast….

“No one could open presents until we had taken our family group picture.”

My mother, two sisters, brother and our families.
Well you can only imagine how quickly the kids ran inside and sat down.  Even us grown kids put down our coffee and snacks to smile for the camera.
I only hope to be as wise as my mother someday 🙂

I am sure that many of you have been on the edge of your seats for the next installment of my youngest daughter’s butterfly raising adventures 😉  In case you missed it, you can read the first installment here.

We have been waiting for the caterpillars to form their chrysalis so that we could take them out of their containers and transfer them to their new butterfly enclosure.  

The caterpillars attached themselves to the underside of the lids and formed a chrysalis.  And so, the next step was to carefully take the lids off and take the caterpillars (chrysalis) out. 

To be honest, I was a little nervous about this part.  I didn’t want to accidentally dislodge any of the chrysalis from the undersides of the container lids.


At this point, one of the caterpillars within the chrysalis began wiggling madly about.  Now, I usually pride myself on not being squeamish around bugs, but the wiggling kind of grossed me out a bit.


The next step was to pin the lids to the lower sides of the butterfly enclosure.  

*You may notice that the enclosure comes with its own beautiful silk flowers, something that I try to stay from….I like real flowers best 😉

The last step was to hang the butterfly enclosure outdoors and wait for the new butterflies to emerge in a few days.  
We can hardly wait….

I’m sure most of you know how much fun it can be to garden with your kids.  I remember my dad building each of us a raised planter where we could grow vegetables and flowers.  Today, my kids and I went to the store to buy flowers for their new garden.  You will NEVER guess what they are planting their flowers in…

Our first stop was our local nursery.  Each was allowed to pick out two six-packs of flowers.  The kids decided to each pick a different type of flower and then shared them.  My youngest daughter, Gracie, selected geraniums and blue petunias.
Ruthie went the fragrant route and selected stock, (beautiful and fragrant despite its ordinary name) and white alyssum.

Dianthus and snapdragons were Kai’s choice.

We finished making our selections and then got ready to go home and start planting.  The only question the kids had was – where were they going to plant their flowers?
How about their old kiddie pool?  You know – the ones that cost about $10 that your kids play in during the summer.  However, once summer is over, most people either throw out their pool or store it somewhere out of the way.  
Well, now you can use it as a planter for either flowers or shallow-rooted vegetables or herbs.
The process is easy, and your kids will have fun assisting you.
First, move the pool where you want the garden to be as it will be too heavy once you fill it with soil.  Then make multiple holes on the bottom for drainage.  Then fill with a mixture of potting mix.  Sprinkle some slow-release fertilizer and now begin planting!
Gracie planted her first plant, a peach-colored geranium.


My teenage daughter, Rachele, was overseeing our progress while texting on her phone.
We finished!  The kids are so excited to see their flowers grow.  The garden will be a riot of different colors and has no sense of design, which is as it should be for a children’s flower garden.
This will be our ‘before’ picture.  We planted alyssum, dianthus, geraniums, petunias, snapdragons, and stock.
If you would like to try this at home and want the garden to become a more permanent part of the landscape, you can add a brick border or plant shrubs and perennials around the outside of the pool.