birth of my daughter's first baby

Have you ever spent time looking forward to a big event and found that it seemed to take forever until it arrived?

Well, it certainly was like that for me waiting for the birth of my daughter’s first baby.

(Warning – there is no gardening content in this post, but lots of edge of your seat drama 😉

I was counting down the weeks and later, the days until her due date of January 20th. My husband and I really wanted to be there to support her when the baby was born (the father is deployed overseas). The drive to Rachele’s house on the Navy base is over 7 hours away by car, so we had our bags packed and ready to go at a moments notice.

Finally, we got the call we were waiting for – the doctor was going to induce her because he had concerns regarding the baby’s low weight. That meant that we could be there ahead of time. So, my husband and I as well as our oldest daughter, Brittney, hit the road on Monday morning (the 19th).

We met Rachele at her new townhouse on the base and saw how she had made everything ready for the baby’s arrival. While the rest of the family watched ‘The Office’ on Netflix, I made them all a homemade dinner in preparation for a long night ahead.


Finally it was time to leave for the hospital – Rachele’s induction was scheduled for 7:30 pm.

Labor & Delivery

we walked down the hall to Labor & Delivery

As we walked down the hall to Labor & Delivery, I stopped to take this photo, thinking of how changed Rachele’s life would be after she left the hospital.

waiting room

It turned out that there were a lot of babies being born, so we had to wait a little while before Rachele could be induced, so we spent time in the waiting room. Brittney showed Rachele a photo on her of what she had looked like just before going into labor.

labor & delivery room

labor & delivery room

We finally got into the labor & delivery room where we would spend the next hours helping Rachele through labor. She told us that she wanted me with her the entire time, including delivery – I was so excited and a bit nervous!

labor & delivery room

labor & delivery room

So, Rachele settled in for the night. They found that she was already in early labor, but she did receive some medication to speed it along a bit.

We were all allowed to spend the night with Rachele in her room. So far, the pain was not bad and they gave her a pill to help her sleep. We were excited for the next day (Tuesday) and the birth of her child.

labor & delivery room

labor & delivery room

The next morning, Rachele was still smiling because she still wasn’t in much pain – but her labor was moving very slowly.

On one hand, she wasn’t in a lot of pain, but Rachele was beginning to get impatient and truth be told, so were the rest of us. We had all gotten a few hours of interrupted sleep the previous night and were quite tired.

That evening, my oldest daughter and I decided to drive to a nearby hotel to get a few hours of sleep, but only after the nurse assured us that Rachele wouldn’t deliver that night. So, we stopped by a somewhat ramshackle hotel by the beach. I couldn’t care less that the hotel had seen better days – the room was clean and we soon dropped off to sleep.

I called my husband, who was staying with Rachele at 4:00 to get an update and they had started her on Pitocin, and the labor was progressing, but not quickly, so he told us to sleep a few more hours.

At 6 am, he called and told us to hurry over since she was in hard labor and had made lots of progress. I was so excited, it was a miracle that I managed to find our way back to the hospital.

When we arrived, Rachele was in a lot of pain, but handling it very well. Before we knew it, she was ready to push and Rachele allowed all of us to stay to help coach her.

Baby Watch: An Unexpected Detour...

At this point, we started taking bets as to when the baby would be born.

I was texting family back home throughout the whole labor process including grandmas, aunts, uncles, cousins and Rachele’s siblings. They all came in with predictions for the birth including the latest one from my daughter, Ruthie, who predicted the baby would be born at 1:34. I said that there was no way that the baby would be born that late.

But, I was wrong…

Baby Watch: An Unexpected Detour...

Rachele’s epidural was working well at this point and we watched her contractions come and go and helped coach her as she pushed.  

She pushed very well and was making great progress – the labor nurse said that he was almost there. But then, the baby was stuck and Rachele was making no further progress no matter how hard she tried.

The doctor came in and examined her and determined that the baby was face up instead of the more normal position of face down. He discussed the option of using the vacuum, but said that even if it worked, that there would be a lot of tearing and chances are that it wouldn’t work at all. In addition, they are limited to only three tries with the vacuum, before they are forced to do a caesarean section.

So, the decision was made to do a caesarean section. I must admit that we were all disappointed, except for Rachele, who after 40+ hours of labor and then pushing was ready to give birth any way feasible.

Baby Watch: An Unexpected Detour...

So, an hour later, her dad and I found ourselves waiting outside the OR. The plan was for my husband to be with her during the surgery since he is better in those kinds of situations than I am.

I got special permission to wait outside the OR and then would accompany the baby to the nursery.

Baby Watch: An Unexpected Detour...

It was hard waiting and I could hear snatches of conversation between the doctor and nurses along with a few answers from my daughter.

After what seemed like forever, I heard the most beautiful sound of a baby’s cries coming from behind the door.

My heart melted at those sounds and I couldn’t wait until they brought him out.


This is already a long post, so I invite you to join me for ‘Part Two’ when I share baby photos along with some other ‘hiccups’ that happened along the way making my trip to CA lasting a lot longer than I had planned…

Baby Watch: Intersecting Paths

Every year, I always look forward to Christmas.  It begins in late October when I start shopping for the perfect gift for those on my list.

I am blessed to have my entire family living within 20 minutes from me (with the exception of my daughter, Rachele, who is in the Navy).  However, it didn’t use to be that way.  My family used to all live in California, therefore, we spent much of the holidays on the road. 

It’s because of this that I am so thankful that they are all nearby now and our holiday celebrations are even more special.

Here is a glimpse of how we spent our time together.

Christmas cookie

It all begins early in the week with my annual Christmas cookie baking day.  All the old and young kids in the family are invited, ranging from ages 20 on down to 3 years old.

My neice Sofie, my daughter Brittney and granddaughter Lily

My neice Sofie, my daughter Brittney and granddaughter Lily.

The kids look forward to it every year and so do I, although it is rather a chaotic few hours.

twin nephews came for the first time

This year, my 4-year old, twin nephews came for the first time.  They really enjoyed cutting out the cookies.  We have a standing rule that the kids can eat one cookie and then we save the rest for eating on Christmas day.

A Fun-Filled Family Holiday

The twins were really helpful until they ate their one cookie at which time, they lost interest and decided to play.  So their dad, my brother Scott, stepped in and helped decorate the others.

Christmas Day

We had a large variety of sprinkles and frosting and the kids had fun coming up with creative ways to decorate their cookies.

Christmas Day

My nephew Oliver, makes very unique Christmas cookies including his ‘zombie’ gingerbread man.

our gifts on Christmas eve

A few days later, we opened our gifts on Christmas eve.  It never ceases to amaze me how helpful my kids are with helping me get everything ready just before it is time to open gifts 😉

We had a somewhat traditional Southwestern Christmas dinner of tamales, chips & homemade salsa with Mexican rice.

Noble gift card

Gracie was thrilled with her Barnes & Noble gift card.

Christmas Day at Double S Farms

Christmas Day at Double S Farms

Christmas Day found us gathered at Double S Farms, where my mother, sister and her family live.

Because our extended family is so large, we draw names each year so that each person give one gift to one person.

This year, we picked both of the twins which made it especially fun to pick out a gift for them.

Christmas Day at Double S Farms

They have begun to move past Thomas the Train and onto Disney Cars – so their new ‘Cars’ race track was pretty popular.

A Fun-Filled Family Holiday

While we all give my mother gifts each year, my siblings and I get together each Christmas to give her a gift on behalf of my dad who is no longer with us.

Over the past years we have given her an apricot tree, perfume and a homemade cookbook.

This year, we made her an apron with the handprints from all of her grand and great-grandkids.

After the gifts have been opened, we all participate in another Christmas tradition which is a ‘treasure hunt’.

My mother leaves clues around the house and garden, which lead us on a merry hunt.  Both adults and kids get into the fun.

vegetable garden

The hunt can lead us to clues hiding in the vegetable garden…

A Fun-Filled Family Holiday

On to a nativity…


To leftover pumpkins…

A Fun-Filled Family Holiday

And even the family dog has a clue tied up in her collar.

Special gifts from my mother to all of us await us at the end of the treasure hunt.

Dinner is simple, but delicious, and usually features lasagna from Costco.  For dessert, are the cookies that the kids made and decorated earlier in the week.

As evening arrives the last and perhaps the most important tradition of our Christmas celebration begins.

Oliver was Joseph

The kids dress up as Mary, Joseph and the shepherds.  This year, Lily got to be Mary and my nephew, Oliver was Joseph.  The twins were the shepherds.

A Fun-Filled Family Holiday

While walking through a dark house, carrying candles, Mary and Joseph search for room to rest for the night.  Sadly, no one has room, including the inn keeper.

But, he does have room in his stable, so we all proceed to the ‘stable’ in the backyard.

A Fun-Filled Family Holiday

There is baby Jesus with Mary, Joseph and the shepherds gathered around.

Christmas story

My mother then reads the Christmas story and we all sing ‘Silent Night’.

Both the adults and kids look forward to this tradition, called ‘Las Posadas’ every year.

I hope you enjoyed a wonderful holiday season and are ready for a happy New Year!


This coming year will bring a new member to our family.  Our daughter, Rachele, is expecting her first child in January.  She is currently stationed at a Navy base in California.

She is being closely monitored by her doctor because her baby is underweight according to the ultrasound, but developmentally, he looks good.

In the meantime, I have my packing list ready because once I get the call that she is in labor, I will be too excited and nervous to remember everything I need to bring.

It will take us 7 hours to get there and I hope we make before our grandson is born!

Cookies and Sugar Cone Christmas Trees

Old Christmas Tree

Do you celebrate Christmas with a natural tree?  If so, what do you do with it once the holidays are over?

If you are like many people, your beautifully decorated tree eventually ends up at the curb waiting for trash pickup.

But, what if you could find another purpose for your old Christmas trees – one that benefits nature?

I recently did some research on the different ways that Christmas trees can be used, with some surprising results.

You can read more in my latest article for

Each region has their own way of celebrating Christmas.  Of course Christmas lights seem just about universal and they are one of my favorite parts of decorating for Christmas.

Some of you may feel that it is not Christmas without snow, but growing up in Southern California near the coast – the only white Christmas that I have seen is watching Christmas movies on television.

Californians have their own way of celebrating Christmas, including a parade of boats decorated with lights and decorations.  One of my fondest memories is sitting on the breakwater and watching the boats parade along the coast.

Well, now that I have lived in Arizona for quite a while, I have become quite familiar with the unique way that desert dwellers decorate for Christmas.

The Christmas tree for our town is not actually a real tree…..

Arizona Style Christmas Celebration
p class=”has-text-align-center” style=”font-size:14px;”> Arizona Style Christmas Celebration

It is actually made up of tumbleweed.

Arizona Style Christmas Celebration

Hard to believe, isn’t it?

But, it is just beautiful, especially when it is all lit up at night.

Some residents love their cactus and it plays a starring role in how they decorate the outside of their homes.

holiday decorations

Agave also play a part in holiday decorations….

Arizona Style Christmas Celebration

I’ve even seen some agave with round, glass Christmas tree ornaments stuck on their pointy tips.

Arizona Style Christmas Celebration

Did you know that Ocotillo can also stand-in as a Christmas tree?

I hope you have enjoyed these glimpses into Christmas….Arizona Style.

Even though we may not enjoy a white Christmas in our beautiful desert, I like to think of the fact that the first Christmas occurred in a desert not that much different then ours…









Cookies and Sugar Cone Christmas Trees

Have you ever looked back at your calendar and wondered at how you ever got everything done while still remaining somewhat sane?

I have…

Oh, I knew ahead of time that it would take a small miracle to get through the 30 days, starting with Halloween.  

At this point, I’d like to apologize for the lack of blog posts, but in my defense, I was lucky to be able to remember to feed my kids (just kidding).

Seldom, have I looked forward to December as a time where I will be less busy, but in comparison to what I’ve done the past month, it should be a breeze.

It all started with our annual Halloween celebration, which is held at our house.

(half a Twinkie dipped in white chocolate)

I spent the day making ghosts (half a Twinkie dipped in white chocolate), black spiders (mini chocolate donuts with chocolate dipped pretzel legs) and candy corn rice krispy treats.

my granddaughter, Lily,

The entire family came over for dinner and trick-or-treating, including my granddaughter, Lily, who dressed up as Sleeping Beauty.

Two days later, we had an even larger group of people gather at our house for Lily’s birthday party – she turned 3!  


Lily is seriously into princesses, so there was a lot of pink in the room.

princess cake

I made her a princess cake, which went along with her favorite cake pops.

In the week that followed, I continued my work with a local golf course, where they are removing 30 acres of turf in favor of landscape areas filled with drought tolerant plants.

parkland style golf course

The areas of turf being removed are largely out of play in this parkland style golf course.  Not all 30 acres are being removed all at once – instead, the grass is being taken out in smaller sections.

While a lot of my time was being spent at the golf course, I spent two days selling handmade items at a large holiday boutique.

Now, I’ve never sold anything at a boutique, but this past summer my mother, who is extremely talented, asked my sister and I to do it with her.  I knew that it would be tough, since November is one of my busiest months since I spend most of my time outdoors consulting on landscapes.  But, I really wanted to do it, so I used some of my down time this summer to make some things.

Xerigraphica air plant in a terrarium

Xerigraphica air plant in a terrarium

The items we sold were made using sustainable, recycled and/or repurposed items.

Air plants in terrariums were a big hit.

Twinkies, a Princess, Turf, Seedpods, Root Rot, a Puppy, a Shower & Thanksgiving

We also had hanging terrariums filled with air plants.  I made bird houses from gourds, many of which we grew in our gardens.

Twinkies, a Princess, Turf, Seedpods, Root Rot, a Puppy, a Shower & Thanksgiving

My sister made Christmas ornaments using seed pods from a variety of trees, including these little snowmen made from the seedpods from the Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora) tree.

Texas Mountain Laurel

Texas Mountain Laurel

basil salt

I also sold basil salt, which quickly sold out.

We sold out of a lot of items and I must admit that I had so much fun.  We’re already planning for next year.

Back in the garden, I was asked to consult on a landscape where a Brazilian Pepper tree (Schinus terebinthifolius) had suddenly died

 root rot

If you look closely, you’ll notice that the leaves are still on the tree.  Also, two of the Texas sage shrubs, underneath the window, were also starting to die.

The homeowners were understandably concerned. It didn’t take long to diagnose a case of Cotton (Texas) root rot.  The classic signs are plants suddenly dying toward the end of summer and retaining their leaves.

Some plants are more susceptible to root rot and Brazilian peppers top the list.  The solution to this problem is to remove the affected plants and replace them with plants that are resistant to root rot.  Trees that are resistant include desert willow, mesquite and palo verde.

labrador puppy

Some of you may remember that we welcomed a new yellow labrador puppy into our family in September.

labrador puppy

Polly is growing fast and although she gets into trouble now and then, she is doing great!

Last weekend, was a day that I had long been waiting for…

Rachele, is expecting her first child

My second-oldest daughter, Rachele, is expecting her first child – a boy.

She came home from her Navy base to celebrate her birthday and baby shower, which were on the same day.  Rachele had been looking forward to this day when her family and friends would celebrate with her.

But, the day didn’t go quite as planned…

That morning, I was busy getting the house and food ready for 50+ people when she walked out of her room with tears in her eyes to tell me that she had been up all night being sick to her stomach.

We didn’t have time to cancel, and she was determined to make it through the shower.

Twinkies, a Princess, Turf, Seedpods, Root Rot, a Puppy, a Shower & Thanksgiving

It was obvious to all that she didn’t feel well, but she did get through the shower without having to leave.  However, as soon as everyone left, she got sick to her stomach again.

Needless to say, the rest of the day was spent in bed with a large bowl ;-(

Thankfully, it was only a 24-hour bug and she was up and feeling much better the next day.

Now, you’d think that that was the end of my busy month – but, no…

We were hosting a large family reunion for Thanksgiving just days later!

My mother spearheaded the family reunion and asked my sisters and I to help her with it.

I was tasked with making centerpieces using old family photos AND more importantly, making food for 54 people.

Our family started out in California and hasn’t spread very far – we all live in either Arizona, California or Washington.

We gathered together, on the eve before Thanksgiving, for dinner.  My mother didn’t have enough room for 54 people inside her house, so she rented tables and we ate inside the garage.

As I mentioned earlier, I made a lot of food for our reunion, which lasted 3 days.  I traded the busyness of work for working in the kitchen.  I contributed two batches of meatball soup, 4 loaves of artisan bread, 2 batches of toffee bars, 6 loaves of pumpkin bread, 2 carrot cakes and an icebox birthday cake to our reunion.

For our Thanksgiving meal, we searched high and low for a place where we could purchase a hot, Thanksgiving meal.  It wasn’t that easy – grocery stores will provide you with a meal, but you have to pick it up the night before and heat it up on Thanksgiving day.  Same with some restaurants.  But, we did find that Cracker Barrel does provide ‘to-go’ Thanksgiving dinners – it was really delicious!


And so, that is a brief synopsis of the past 30 days.  I am happy that I survived with my sanity intact – mostly 😉

I hope you enjoyed a very happy Thanksgiving!

I have lots to share with you in the upcoming monthy on a variety of gardening subjects including some really cool garden accessories.  

For those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I sometimes write about the goings on in my life.  And so I begin the post with fair warning- if you are looking for gardening content – there will be some, but not a lot.

Do you ever look back at your calendar for the past month and wonder where the time went?

I did just that and was pleasantly surprised to see how much went on.  I thought that I’d share with you a small snapshot of the past month in the life of ‘az plant lady’ (me)!

 town of Carpentaria California

The most exciting event was visiting my daughter in California and being there for her ultrasound when she found out that she was having a little boy.

I am so excited and can’t wait for January to get here so that I can hold him in my arms!

Surf shop in Carpentaria California

Surf shop in Carpinteria, California

While visiting my daughter, who is in the Navy and stationed in California, we stopped by the small beach town of Carpinteria, which is just south of Santa Barbara.

We visited a couple of nurseries in Carpinteria, California where I discovered a new flowering perennial introduction and enjoyed a very unique experience at another nursery.

It was fun to stop and watch the surfers.  *Did you know that surfing is a really big deal in Carpinteria, California?  My high school had a surf club and I had many friends and family who were surfers.  As for me, I’ve never set foot on a surfboard 😉

Santa Barbara Mission and rose garden

Santa Barbara Mission and rose garden.

We stopped off to visit the beautiful mission of Santa Barbara, which was founded in 1786.  I always enjoy visiting the mission, but I must confess that my attention was diverted by the adjoining rose garden that was in full bloom.

I’ll share more about my visit to another special rose garden later this week.

My husband and I both enjoy visiting this area since we spent time there when we attended Westmont College in Santa Barbara, which is where we met.

The college has beautiful grounds and I recently shared some photos of our most recent visit there, which you can see here.  

Our daughter, Ruthie

Back home, homecoming at our local high school arrived early this year.  Our daughter, Ruthie had fun getting ready and had a great time!

Carpentaria California

Earlier in the month, Ruthie took part in the ice-bucket challenge for ALS on behalf of her grandpa who died from this truly horrible disease 3 years ago.

I was so proud of her.

Harley Davdison motorcycle

Has your husband ever had a dream of owning a certain car or motorcycle?

Mine has wanted a Harley Davidson motorcycle for over 9 years.  He has stacks of old motorcycle magazines dating back from 2006 that he has kept hidden away in a huge Rubbermaid plastic tub.

I am married to someone who is so giving and self-sacrificing and it was so nice to see the joy as his dream was finally realized.

He has been walking around with a smile on his face for weeks now and he looks forward to driving to and from work on his new bike.

my granddaughter, Lily

Surprisingly, my granddaughter, Lily, has been quite taken with her papa’s new motorcycle and asks to see “the Harley Davidson” when she visits.

It is really kind of funny since her parents aren’t into motorcycles at all.  But, she adores her papa and his new bike.

While at our local Harley Davidson dealer, my husband saw kid tattoos and picked up one for her that had a scorpion on it.

Lily likes to wear little tattoos of Minnie Mouse or other cartoon characters, but I was shocked when she wanted to wear the one her papa bought her with a scorpion on it.

If my granddaughter turns out to be a ‘biker chick’ when she gets older – it will be her papa’s fault 😉  

Carpinteria California

Two weeks ago, we received record-breaking 5 1/2 of rainfall within a few hours time!!!

My husband had to delay going to work in order to sweep water off of the patio to keep our house from flooding.  When he did finally get on the road to get to work, it took 30 minutes to drive 4 miles!

The garden loved the rain and now all the weeds are beginning to come up, so I’ll mix up a batch of my homemade weed killer.

So what will the coming month bring?

golf course

Right now, I’m busy designing landscape for four different areas on a golf course, where they are removing large areas of turf, in favor of a drought tolerant landscape.

My dining room table has been taken over by large sheets of vellum (what I draw my designs on), drafting supplies and the like.

I tend to get involved in creating designs this way and can easily spend an entire day in my own little world.

Arizona State University

This month also brings another first for us.  My husband and I are both alumni of Arizona State University and have season tickets this year.

We are so excited and hopefully, our team will do well this year.

Next week, we will be adding a new member to our family.

welcome a new dog

Meet Polly!

We recently said “goodbye” to our 15 year-old golden retriever and decided to welcome a new dog into our lives.

Although Polly is not ready to come live with us yet, we were able to visit her and her litter mates.

It will be hard to wait a whole week to hold her again.  In the meantime, I’ll stock on doggy toys, puppy food, dig out the baby gates again and be sure to have a lot of pet/floor cleaner on hand 😉


Well, that is a snapshot of the past month and some of what will be happening soon.

Thank you for taking a little time out of your day and allowing me to share a little of my life.

I appreciate it so much!

Have you ever come upon an unexpected discovery?

I did.

Last week, my husband and I flew to Southern California for a visit with our second-oldest daughter, Rachele, who is stationed at a Navy base there.

The purpose for our trip was to be there when she got her 20-week ultrasound to see what sex her baby was (more about that later).

Southern California

Of course, a trip to California wasn’t complete without visiting some of the places I grew up in.  We decided to take a trip up north to the small beach town of Carpinteria, which has a fun and funky downtown area.  

Southern California

My family and I used to camp there every fall next to the beach and it was and still is one of my favorite places to visit.

Southern California

Every time we visit Carpinteria, we have to stop by our favorite cupcake place – CrushCakes.

Can you tell that my husband is excited about our new grand baby?

Vividly Vanilla

My favorite cupcake is Vividly Vanilla and I have it every time we visit.  I should branch out and try the other flavors, but I have never gotten past this one 😉

After we had eaten our cupcakes, we ventured out and past not one but two plant nurseries.  Talk about good fortune!

I am always on the lookout for new plants, unique gardening ideas as well as photographs to share with you and also in articles I write.

While I didn’t have my regular camera, I did have my phone and was eager to discover what the first nursery had to see.

Butterflies were flying from flower to flower and the nursery was awash in beautifully blooming plants.

Southern California

While walking through the nursery, my attention was caught by a lovely flowering perennials including Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan) and Echinacea (purple coneflower).



Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea purpurea  

For those of you familiar with both of these plants – what do you think a ‘baby’ from these two plants would look like?

Well, wonder no more.  Let me introduce a new perennial that is garnering a lot of attention – ‘Echibeckia’



What do you think?

Aren’t they gorgeous?

perennial garden

As you can see, they have golden yellow petals with orange centers.  Once the flowers begin to age, the petals turn to a darker orange.

The flowers last 2 – 3 months and make great cut flowers.  Echibeckia is hardy to zones 6 and up and would make a great addition for any perennial garden.  

Echibeckia along with its parents

Echibeckia along with its parents. 

I have purple coneflower and black-eyed Susan growing in my desert vegetable garden where they enjoy the fertile soil and regular water.  I may need to try Echibeckia too!

I toured through the rest of the nursery and took lots of great photos and then stopped at the nursery next door, which was very unique.  I’ll share more of my nursery visits next time.

But, back to the real purpose of my visit to California.  

New Perennial Discovery and a Baby

We came to visit our daughter and to be there when she found out whether she was having a little boy or girl.

The ultrasound technician was showing us the baby’s heart, head and spine, which all looked great.  But, when he started to concentrate on the legs and arms – I was frankly, dying for him to get to the big question we all had – boy or girl???

New Perennial Discovery and a Baby

I was expecting him to build up to the announcement or at least say, “Do you want to know what it is?”  But no – there was no build-up to his announcement.  In the middle of talking about the arms and how much the baby was moving he casually said, “By the way it’s a boy.”

I was looking at my daughter at that moment and she was so happy to finally know what she was having.  None of us had a preference besides a healthy baby, but it is so nice to be able to know the sex.

After the ultrasound, we drove to the nearest Target store and I helped her with deciding what items to add to her baby registry.

It never ceases to amaze me how interesting things like bottles, cribs, high chairs, mobiles and strollers suddenly become once you are expecting.

Our grandson is due in January and we couldn’t be happier.  Now our granddaughter, will have a little cousin to play with 🙂

Have you ever had a ‘substitute’ teacher?  As most of you know, a substitute teacher doesn’t do things the same way our regular teacher does.

A few years ago, I was asked to step in as a ‘substitute’ gardener for my father-in-law’s landscape.

Meticulously pruned desert ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)

Photo: Meticulously pruned desert ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis)

My father-in-law had always been a meticulous gardener and took a lot of pride in his landscape. Have you ever seen rounder shrubs?

A few years earlier, I had designed the landscape around his new home and tried to convince him to allow his plants to grow into their natural shapes. But as you can see from the photo above, he didn’t follow my advice.  

He eventually took out his backyard grass and replaced it with artificial turf and whenever flowers or leaves would fall on the grass, he would vacuum them up – I’m not kidding.  

We would often joke with each other about our very different styles of gardening – especially when he would come over to my house for a visit and see my plants growing “wild and free” as he would say.    

But despite our differences, we shared the same love for plants and the garden.  

Unfortunately, his gardening days were numbered and he asked me to come over and help him with the gardening tasks that he could no longer do.  

My father-in-law was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in October 2010 and it progressed very rapidly.  

So, I became his ‘substitute gardener’ and I was happy to be able to help out so that he could still enjoy the beauty of his garden, even if he could not care for it himself.

gold lantana

In early August of 2011, I lightly pruned back his gold lantana.  At this point, my father-in-law spent most of his time indoors sitting down. But, as I was pruning, I saw him slowly make his way out, with his walker, so he could watch me prune his plants.  

At this point, he could no longer talk due to ALS and I’m certain that if he could have spoken, he might have asked me to make the lantana ’rounder’.

After this light pruning, the lantana would grow back to its original size before stopping during winter.  If they had not been pruned, they would have look quite overgrown for my father-in-law’s taste.  

Light pruning involves removing 1/3 or less.  The timing of this light pruning is crucial – prune too late and your plants will be extra susceptible to damage from frost.  Don’t prune after early August in zone 9 (July in zone 8) gardens. Pruning in fall should not be done for this very reason.

Substitute Gardener

Substitute Gardener

Another part of the garden that my father-in-law took a lot of pride in was his flowering annuals.  Every year, he would plant the same red geraniums and white-flowering bacopa in winter.  Once spring rolled around, he would plant red and white vinca. He never deviated by trying out newer colors or varieties.  

I found myself taking over this job as well and when I came home and see all there was to do in my neglected garden – I didn’t mind.  It felt so good to be able to control how his garden looked because ALS had taken control of everything else.  

My father-in-law died in September 2011, just 11 months after being diagnosed with ALS.    

It’s been almost 3 years since he passed away, but whenever August comes around and I find myself lightly pruning back my gold lantana – I enjoy the memory of one our last moments together in the garden as I pruned his lantana.

Pruning Flowering Shrubs in Late Summer

Mexican Fence Post

This is a story about new beginnings – one for a new cactus and another beginning for my second-oldest daughter, Rachele.

Believe me when I say that both stories are connected in a way.

This cactus, above, is a Mexican Fence Post (Pachycereus marinatus), which has been happily growing in my front garden.

What may not be initially obvious is that 11 years ago, I started this cactus from a 2 ft. piece of one (called a ‘cutting’) given to me by a client from their large Mexican Fence Post cactus.

Well, exactly 1 year ago, I repeated the favor for our neighbors.

Mexican Fence Post

Look carefully at the photo above and compare it with the first one.  Can you see where we cut off a piece of the cactus?

Our neighbors had recently re-landscaped their front yard and wanted a cactus like ours.  Of course, they knew that they would have to start out with a much smaller one – but they were unprepared for how expensive it would be to buy one at the nursery.

Our cactus had been growing so well, we decided to offer them a piece (cutting) off of our Mexican Fence Post.  So, my husband, daughter and I gathered together to take a cutting from our cactus.

Here is how we did it…  

Mexican Fence Post

We selected a good-sized length of cactus and while I held onto it, my husband took a pruning saw and started sawing it off at the bottom.

Multiple layers of newspaper and gloves are helpful to use to grab onto cacti with short thorns. For cacti with longer thorns, you can use carpet remnants. When you cut out a piece of cactus, it will be much heavier then you are expecting – so be prepared.

Mexican Fence Post

My husband and daughter wheeled the cactus cutting over to our neighbor’s house using our wheelbarrow.

Mexican Fence Post

We then placed the cutting in a dry, shady spot for 2 weeks in order to allow the cut site to ‘callus’ over, which would protect the cacti from rotting when it is replanted.

*Exactly 3 days after helping us with the cactus cutting , my daughter, Rachele, left for the Navy and basic training.  It was a sad goodbye for us, but a new beginning for her.

After 2 weeks had passed, the new cactus was planted in its new location with a wooden stake for support.

No water was applied for the first month after planting, in order to make sure that the entire cut end had callused over.

One month after planting, the cactus was watered deeply, monthly, until November.

my second-oldest daughter, Rachele

*Whenever I looked at the newly-planted cactus, thoughts of my daughter and how she was doing in her new Navy life always crossed my mind.

new cutting

One year later, the new cutting is doing so well and has even grown two new sections.

You can see the parent cactus in the background..

Now, I may not be located as closely to my daughter as these two cacti, but like the new cactus, she is growing and doing so well in her new career with the Navy.  We are so proud of her!

You can read more about Rachele’s adventures, here.


Propagating cactus via cuttings can be done with many species of cacti.

But there are some guidelines to follow for success:

1. Propagate cactus during the warm season, when the threat of frost is over.

2. Make the cut at the joint where the segment attaches to the parent plant.  For prickly pear cacti, you can cut a segment that consists of 1 – 3 pads.

3. Place the new cutting in a dry, shady spot for 2 weeks to allow the cut site to ‘callus’, which protects the cacti from rot when it is replanted.

4. Plant your new cactus in full sun with well-drained soil.

5. Don’t water for a month after planting.  Then water deeply, monthly until fall.

6. Provide temporary shade for the first summer.  You can do this by placing a plastic patio chair over the top or using shade cloth.

Soon, you will begin to see new growth on your cactus.

I love Christmas…

Not just the day itself and celebrating our Savior’s birth, but I love all the preparations and celebrations that occur this time of year.

At this point, I can usually take a deep breath and sit back and enjoy the coming days.  Gifts are wrapped, the house is somewhat clean and desserts have been made.

If you haven’t realized this before – I love making desserts.  If there is a birthday to be celebrated, I am often asked to bring the cake.  Of course, the holidays bring a whole other slate of desserts – pumpkin bread, cinnamon sugar monkey bread, snickerdoodles, toffee bars AND Christmas sugar cookies.

Every year, I invite my nieces and nephews over to join my kids and I in making Christmas sugar cookies.

This year was extra special because my granddaughter, Lily, joined us for the first time.

Christmas Sugar Cookies

Making sugar cookies is always a bit messy.  However, when you mix in a bunch of young kids, the mess is amplified.

Christmas Sugar Cookies

My son Kai, and nephew Oliver, had fun choosing their favorite cookie cutters.

Christmas Sugar Cookies

Lily was excited to see that there was a snowman cookie cutter.  After watching “Frosty the Snowman” for the first time this year, she is obsessed with snowmen.

Christmas Sugar Cookies

Ready for the oven.

Christmas Sugar Cookies

My nephew Finley and daughter Ruthie, got to work with frosting their cookies.

Christmas Sugar Cookies

Lily decided to use a fork to spread the frosting with.

Christmas Sugar Cookies

You really shouldn’t wear black if you are working near flour 😉

Oliver was determined to put as many sprinkles as his cookie would hold.

Christmas Sugar Cookies

Finley made a gingerbread man wearing shorts.

Christmas Sugar Cookies

I remember doing this when my two oldest daughters were young.  Now they are grown, but it was so nice to have my granddaughter take part in our annual tradition.

Christmas Sugar Cookies

We have a rule that the kids each get to pick one cookie to eat and the rest will be saved until Christmas Day when we all gather together.

Christmas Sugar Cookies

It is fun to see the kids show off their finished cookies to their parents on Christmas.

Christmas Sugar Cookies

After the cookies were finished, I thought that we would try something new that I had seen on Pinterest.

These are sugar cones that have been frosted and sprinkles added to make miniature Christmas trees.


We used buttercream frosting on the cones.


Then the kids got to decide which sprinkles they wanted to ‘decorate’ their trees with.

It is so much fun to see my oldest daughter all grown up and making desserts with her daughter 🙂

mini-chocolate chip

Finley’s tree is finished with a mini-chocolate chip as the start on top.

Christmas Sugar Cookies

Oliver had to make sure that the frosting tasted good.

sugar cone Christmas trees.

I think that the kids really enjoyed making the sugar cone Christmas trees.

sugar cone Christmas trees.

You could use them for decoration or eat them.  The kids decided to eat theirs.

My husband (who has a huge sweet tooth) filled the inside of his cone with frosting and then frosted the outside before eating it.

Making Christmas cookies

Making Christmas cookies is fun, but awfully messy.  I am glad that I used paper plates, bowls and plastic knives.

Cookies and Sugar Cone Christmas Trees

After a busy morning of making cookies, Lily decided to take a little rest next to her aunt Gracie.


The sugar cookie recipe that I use makes soft cookies and I am often asked for the recipe.

It starts with a sugar cookie mix (I use Betty Crocker’s Sugar Cookie Mix).

4 oz. softened cream cheese

17 oz. bag sugar cookie mix

1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon flour

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients together and bake following the directions on the sugar cookie mix package.

You’ll love these cookies!

For the frosting, I used royal icing.  

Merry Christmas Cookies!