I love Halloween…

homemade Halloween decorations

Every year, each household in our family takes turns hosting different holidays.

Easter and Christmas are spent on the family farm with my youngest sister, her family and my mother.

Fourth of July and Thanksgiving are spend at my other sister’s house.

But, Halloween is all mine…

homemade Halloween decorations

We don’t do scary Halloween themes.  The young kids in the family wouldn’t appreciate it and I must admit that I don’t like scary costume or movies.

What I do like to focus on is making family-friendly decorations and making desserts.

Each year, I like to add to my homemade Halloween decorations.  Last year, I made paper-mache pumpkins.

This time I made witches hats using paper plates and party hats.  Simply glue them together and spray with black spray paint.  I added some black lace around the brim.  I am pretty happy with how they turned out.

This year I made homemade marshmallow pops, dipped in candy melts and sprinkles.  

Halloween sugar cookies

I also made Halloween sugar cookies.

The table runner is made of butcher paper with Halloween stamps – I like simple.

Because Halloween is a night for eating lots of sugar, I always ask my mother to bring a healthy pot of soup for us all to share before heading out to trick-or treat.

One of the reasons that I enjoy Halloween so much is the excitement of the little kids as they dress up and get ready to head out.  They don’t want to bother with eating any dinner ๐Ÿ˜‰

Tinker Bell costume

Here is my granddaughter, Lily, in her Tinker Bell costume.  Isn’t she cute?  My daughter made her costume ๐Ÿ™‚

Halloween

My daughter, Gracie, went as a medieval queen and my son, Kai, was a zombie like many boys his age this year.

Halloween

My youngest sister and her family came ready to trick-or-treat.

Halloween

My mother and I stayed by the fire pit in the front driveway and handed out candy.

Halloween

My brother brought over my 3-year-old twin nephews who dressed up as sharks.

Halloween

Lily could hardly wait to get started.

Halloween

We spent much of the evening keeping warm by the fire while greeting a LOT of trick-or-treaters.

Halloween decorations

The best part of Halloween is seeing what types of candy you have received.

Lily kept playing with this lollipop without taking off the paper.  I really need to teach her about focusing on the chocolate candy bars ๐Ÿ˜‰

Halloween decorations

We had a fun evening, but it was time to get the kids to bed.

Halloween decorations

And take down the Halloween decorations…

How did you spend your Halloween?

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…

Homecoming:

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.

Rachele

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.

Rachele's sea bag

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

Rachele's sea bag

So dad carried it instead.

An All To Brief Weekend

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.

Celebration:

oldest daughter

On Saturday morning, we celebrated my oldest daughter, Brittney’s, 27th birthday.  I can hardly believe that she is mine ๐Ÿ™‚

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

oldest daughter

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.

Oliver and my son Kai

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’.

delicious cake

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.

delicious 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.

birthday celebration

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.

granddaughter Lily

My granddaughter Lily was intrigued.

Notice the mother-daughter matching Vans shoes?

Aunt Rachele

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

our 4-month-old puppy

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

Lily

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

our 4-month-old puppy

But Penny was too tired to get up ๐Ÿ˜‰

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.

An All To Brief Weekend...

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.

An All To Brief Weekend...

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.

Pruning:

pruning

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:

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.

BUT…

Night Outdoors

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

Goodbye:

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?    

Birthday Celebrations and Dessert!

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

ornamental trees

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.

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

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

Freezing mint into ice cubes.

Making natural air fresheners

Making natural air fresheners.

ornamental trees

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 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.

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 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.

ornamental trees

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

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.

ornamental trees

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

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.

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.

ornamental trees

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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.

How to Plant a Tree โ€“ Part 1

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.

Kai

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

Kai underwent his fifth surgery for his hip

Hip and 2 club feet surgery

This part is definitely NOT fun.

Kai was in the hospital for 4 days.

Kai underwent his fifth surgery for his hip

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.

wheelchair

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.

wheelchair

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.

fishing

A wheelchair doesn’t hold you back from fishing.

club feet

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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…  

club feet

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

club feet

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

club feet

Newest plant – a Coral Fountain

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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

The past couple of weeks have been quite busy with helping others with their landscapes, writing articles, keeping up with the kids, throwing a baby shower and my first television appearance thrown in to boot.

You would think that all of that would be enough to keep me preoccupied.  But, there was something else going on during those two weeks that made me very happy.

My second oldest daughter, Rachele

My second oldest daughter, Rachele, came home on leave for the first time since leaving for the Navy 5 months ago.

She has finished with her much of her Navy training and we couldn’t wait to see her.

While my husband and I had seen her in Chicago after she graduated from basic training in May, the kids hadn’t seen her for a long time.

Once she arrived, the kids were overjoyed to have their big sister back in the house.  Rachele was happy that the dogs remembered her and so did her cat.

My second oldest daughter, Rachele

Rachele had a full schedule of seeing family and friends while she was home.  She would often return home late at night and fall asleep on the couch.

1970 VW Bug

Even though she was busy, she did find time to work on her 1970 VW Bug with her dad, changing the oil.

my oldest daughter and her family

For her last night home, we had the family over for dinner (my oldest daughter and her family).

It was rather bittersweet to see her go.  She is off to Gulfport, Mississippi for more training where she will learn navigation, survival skills and advanced first aid.  Earlier this week she had to hike through the swamp & woods to learn navigation.

Rachele will be back in 1 month for a couple of days before she heads to her permanent base in Southern California.  I am so glad that she will only be a few hours away so we will be able to see her more often when she is not deployed.

In the meantime, life carries on with my other kids and work.  But now, I have a little more time to spend with the newest addition to our family…

black labrador retriever

Meet Penny – our black labrador retriever.

******************

I hope you are having a good week.

I am off to see a sick citrus tree tomorrow…

Family Celebrations

The past few days have been full of celebration in our family.  Our daughter has returned home from her Navy training AND we have a new addition to our family.

For those of you who have been following along in my adventures, you may remember that my second-oldest daughter, Rachele, joined the Navy last spring.

family photo

This was our last family photo taken just before she left in March.

We missed her a lot, but were proud of her decision.  My husband and I, along with our oldest daughter traveled to Chicago back in May to see her graduate and I shared our journey with you back then.

Navy training

Since then, Rachele has been in Missouri, training to be an equipment operator learning how to drive excavators, bulldozers, scrapers, semi-trucks, etc.  She did very well and love it – I’m not sure where she got her skills (not from me ๐Ÿ˜‰

Last week, she graduated and became a “Seabee”.

Okay, so what is a “Seabee”, you may be wondering.  I know I did when she first told me that was what she would be doing.

Basically, a Seabee is a member of the Navy Construction Battalion.  They build bases, airstrips and roads – sometimes in hostile territories.  Unlike most members of the Navy, they spend little to no time on ships.

Once they graduate, Seabees trade in their traditional navy and blue camouflage uniform for  “Seabee Greens”.

Navy training

Last week, Rachele graduated and got the honor of wearing her “Seabee Greens”.

We were so proud and couldn’t wait for her to come home.  She arrived late on Saturday night.  We didn’t tell the kids when she was coming.

Navy training

They were surprised when their big sister woke them up.

Rachele

Rachele was happy that her cat remembered her.

family over for dinner

The next day after church, we went to her favorite place for lunch.

That evening, we had all of the family over for dinner.  Our home was filled with aunts, uncles, grandmas, cousins and siblings including my granddaughter…

Lily

Lily dressed up for the occasion.

I mentioned that we had an addition to our family.

I’d like for you to meet ‘Penny’…

Penny

Penny is the newest member of our furry family.  

Black Labrador Retriever

She is an 8-week old English Black Labrador Retriever.

There are two types of labradors – one is from English stock and the other, American.  The English types are shorter, stockier and blockier.

Both are classified as labrador retriever by the AKC.

Needless to say, our days have been filled with frequent trips to the backyard as Penny works on becoming housebroken.  And, our kitchen is filled with chew toys.

This summer has found us staying close to home for the most part as my son, Kai, is recovering from hip surgery.

hip surgery June 2013

June 2013

This is Kai’s sixth hip surgery and he will be the first to tell you that it is not fun.

The first part is always the worst because of the pain.

Post surgery 2006. Kai was in a stryker cast that reached up to his chest

Post surgery 2006. Kai was in a stryker cast that reached up to his chest.

The first 24 hours aren’t too bad because he is mostly sleeping. 

Leaving from the hospital in 2008

Leaving from the hospital in 2008.

But afterward, it just plain hurts – especially during the first week.

2005

2005

After a couple of weeks, the pain goes away, which is a good thing.

However, Kai still can’t walk for another 4 – 5 weeks, which is a bad thing.  Especially if you are a little boy.

Kai doesn’t let it slow him down though…

2006

2006

Bowling in 2008

Bowling in 2008

Racing with his cousins while being pushed by 'Super-Duper', a local super hero (whose secret identity is that of Kai's uncle ;-)

Racing with his cousins while being pushed by ‘Super-Duper’, a local super hero (whose secret identity is that of Kai’s uncle ๐Ÿ˜‰

Fishing

Fishing

Fighting with light sabers

Fighting with light sabers.

As you can see, Kai keeps busy and doesn’t let his wheelchair get in the way.

This summer is no different…  

Playing ping-pong

Playing ping-pong

Kai can't get in the pool, but he can have fun with squirt guns

Kai can’t get in the pool, but he can have fun with squirt guns.

Another race.  Don't worry...Kai had his seat belt on

Another race.  Don’t worry…Kai had his seat belt on ๐Ÿ˜‰

Having surgery and spending countless summers stuck in wheelchair can be hard.  But, Kai adapts so easily and doesn’t let it bother him.

I have blogged about Kai in the past including what is wrong with his hip and our adoption process.  You can read about it if you like, “Sunshine in My Life”

Some of you may have been following along as I have updated you on my daughter, Rachele’s, journey as she joined the Navy.

 For those of you who are only interested in gardening content, here is a container of violas that we saw at the Art Institute of Chicago.  This will be the only gardening part of this blog post :-)

For those of you who are only interested in gardening content, here is a container of violas that we saw at the Art Institute of Chicago.  This will be the only gardening part of this blog post ๐Ÿ™‚

We said “goodbye” to her in late March as she left for Great Lakes, IL for basic training.  During that time, we had very limited contact spread out with a few short phone calls and a few letters.  

Homesickness, discouragement were the subjects of our earlier correspondence.  However, as time passed, we started to see her resolve to finish and do her best.

The date of Rachele’s graduation was circled on our calendar and we anxiously counted down the days until we could see her again.

The last test that she had to pass was her running test.  She had to run 1.5 miles in 15 1/2 minutes.  Rachele was seriously worried that she wouldn’t pass it because she had twisted her ankle and had shin splints.  If she did not pass, then she would have to stay longer until she passed and forgo the graduation – meaning that we couldn’t come and see her.  A number of sailors don’t pass.

We got a call from Rachele a few days before graduation telling us that when she was running the last test -she was determined to run as fast as she could because she didn’t want to stay in basic training any longer then she had to.

As she was running, she didn’t know that the lap counter wasn’t working correctly.  So, when she had finished running, she hadn’t run 1.5 miles….she had actually run 1.75 miles under 15 1/2 minutes!

So, our trip was on and her dad and I along with our oldest daughter, Brittney, boarded a plane for Chicago.

Great Lakes

We arrived on a Thursday afternoon and drove up to Great Lakes, which is about 40 minutes north of Chicago.

It was hard to believe that we would see our Rachele in just a few hours.  We had to leave our hotel at 6:00 am, which was 4:00 on our internal Pacific time clock.

But, the adrenaline was flowing the morning of her graduation and we were up early and got to the Naval base.

Graduation ceremony

Graduation ceremony

The ceiling was decorated with state flags.  We could see the copper star and sun rays of the Arizona flag.

We had to arrive early for good seats, which we got.  But then, we needed to wait 2 1/2 hours for the ceremony to start. Thankfully, they had muffins and hot coffee.

We knew that the ceremony was about to begin with sailors holding the state flags came in and started marching in formation.

Did I mention that it was our 27th anniversary on that day?  I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it.

Graduation ceremony

Graduation ceremony

Graduation ceremony

Graduation ceremony

We then heard the drum corp and finally, it was time for 880 new sailors to enter…

Graduation ceremony

Graduation ceremony

Among those entering was my baby, now a sailor. I was so excited to finally see her!

Graduation ceremony

Graduation ceremony

Did I mention that it was quite cold that day?  The low that night was 39 degrees.  So, the sailors had their rain coats on until they entered.  They were holding their neatly folded rain coats.

Rachele is in the last row, the 8th person from the right.

Graduation ceremony

Graduation ceremony

Eighth from the left in the last row, above ๐Ÿ™‚

Graduation ceremony

The atmosphere was electric with all the families seeing their sailor.  There was a young girl who was wearing a very pretty dress and had a flower in her hair as she watched her boyfriend/husband march in.  She was all by herself and it was so sweet and sad to see.

Graduation ceremony

Okay, you moms out there – I can tell exactly which one is my daughter from the back because “I gave birth to that behind” all those years ago, and would know it anywhere ๐Ÿ˜‰

Kind of hard to explain exactly where she is in the photo above, but there are three girls in front of the blue/yellow flag.  Rachele is in the middle with the curly, brown hair.

Graduation ceremony

The sailors stood for 1 1/2 hours for the entire ceremony.  They had to keep straight faces, no smiling.  I had binoculars so I could see her easily.  Her eyes kept looking up at where we were sitting.

Because fainting sometimes occurs when standing so long, they had drill sergeants-in-training walking between the rows of new sailors making sure that no one looked like they were going to faint.  No one did.

After the ceremony was over, the families moved down and greeted their sailors.  I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to hold Rachele in a my arms once again.

Graduation ceremony

Here she is, wearing her dress whites.  She had lost a lot of weight and her uniform was loose because she was fitted at the beginning of basic training.

Sailors also have their dress blues, which they wear fall through early spring.

Graduation ceremony

It was a beautiful day, but cold.

My two oldest girls

My two oldest girls, together again!

shiny shoes

Rachele was showing her dad how shiny her shoes were.  She worked a long time polishing them.

Graduation ceremony

It is pretty impressive how straight she stands now.  Her mom (me) has terrible posture, but I blame it on my dad, who did too ๐Ÿ˜‰

Graduation ceremony

Rachele got ribbons for completing basic training and for marksmanship (guns).

Naval base

We weren’t allowed to visit all areas of the Naval base, but Rachele pointed out where she stayed.

Rachele had liberty for the rest of the day until 8:30 pm, which meant that she was able to leave the base for the first time since she arrived in March.

Graduation ceremony

She was also reunited with her telephone, which we brought.  Look at how happy she is! Recruits aren’t allowed to bring their phones.

Graduation ceremony

Driving with our two oldest daughters in the backseat brought back memories of us being a much smaller family before we adopted our three youngest children.

We told Rachele that we would do whatever she wanted that day.

favorite restaurant

Her first request was lunch at Chipotle, her favorite restaurant.

Proud Mama

Then a trip to the local mall where we all went to see the latest Star Trek movie – I do love all things ‘Star Trek’.

We had a wonderful day with Rachele and returned to the base and went shopping at the NEX (Naval Exchange) for Navy souvenirs to take home with us.

We dropped off to sleep that night, exhausted, but so happy.

The next morning, the Navy put the new sailors on a bus and took them to the airport at 3:30 am.  There, they would wait at the airport until their flight took off for wherever their ‘A’ school was to be.  ‘A’ school is where they learn their skill that they will use in the Navy.

So, another early morning for us as we drove to the airport to visit with Rachele.  Sailors weren’t allowed to leave the airport and so we had to spend our time with her there.

Proud Mama

Thankfully, O’Hare is a huge airport with lots to see and do.  We brought Rachele a set of civilian clothes (jeans, shoes and a shirt) that she would be allowed to wear at her ‘A’ school.  Here, she is showing us how to ‘correctly’ fold a pair of jeans.  This made me laugh because Rachele has NEVER been one to fold her clothes at home ๐Ÿ˜‰

Starbucks

Starbucks was another treat that she enjoyed that day.

Video-chatting with her younger sisters and brother

Video-chatting with her younger sisters and brother, who couldn’t come.

Rachele

The yellow envelope is filled with her medical records, which she had to bring to her ‘A’ school.

Rachele

One last meal with Rachele before her plane was scheduled to leave.  It was at this point that we started getting a little ‘teary’.

Rachele

As we waited for her plane, my oldest daughter, Brittney, asked Rachele to teach her how to salute.

At this point, I was trying to stay strong for Rachele and not focus on how few minutes that we had left together.  It was too short a time.

As they announced boarding for her plane, Rachele started crying and I just lost it too (so did Brittney).  We hugged her goodbye and she boarded the plane with her fellow sailor who was going to the same school.

As for my husband, Brittney and myself – we walked out of the terminal with tears streaming down our faces.  I’m not sure what people thought of us, but I honestly didn’t care.

We drove Brittney to the other airport in Chicago (Midway) to catch a plane home and then my husband and I were on our own.

I must admit that I was not prepared for how sad I would be after seeing Rachele again and then having to say goodbye.  But, it was very hard that night.

Rachele is going to ‘A’ school in Fort Leonard Wood which is located in the middle of Missouri.  She will be there until mid September learning how to become a heavy equipment operator for the Seabees.

The good news is that Rachele is allowed to use her cell phone and we are able to talk to her everyday, which has helped a lot.

Sunday morning my husband and I drove to downtown Chicago and had a great time exploring Michigan Avenue with its architecture and gardens, which I will share with you soon.

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Thank you for allowing me to share our military journey with you.  Your supportive comments and emails mean so much.

My next post will be full of beautiful gardens, containers and more that we saw in Chicago.

A Beautiful Flower and a Failed Vegetable

A few Saturdays ago, I woke up early in the morning instead of sleeping in.

I drove to a site in downtown Phoenix in order to participate in our local chapter of Keep America Beautiful.

The gate led into a 15-acre site on Indian School Road and Central Avenue.

Keep America Beautiful

This site is “the largest transformation of vacant land happening right now in the country.”

Other volunteers were trickling into the area and we met in the center where we were given t-shirts, tools and assignments.

Keep America Beautiful

TroyBilt, is a huge supporter of The Great American Clean-Up and they had TroyBilt  equipmen ready to be used to help clear weeds from the lot.

Over 4 million volunteers across the country, come together to help improve their community through a chapter of ‘Keep America Beautiful’.   

Keep America Beautiful

The focus is on “waste reduction, recycling, beautification and community greening.”

The available assignments that day included weeding, trash pick-up, painting and creating ‘art’ from recycled materials.

Keep America Beautiful

I volunteered to help paint picnic benches and raised garden beds.

Keeping America (and Phoenix) Beautiful

We used clear deck stain on all the wood surfaces.

I was able to make some new friends while we worked side by side.  

Keeping America (and Phoenix) Beautiful

After I had finished painting, I walked around seeing the other projects being done including some of the recycled art that will later be displayed at the site.

 recycled material

A group of girls were working hard on making a shield for a figure that was to be created out of recycled material.

This was the first time that I had participated in this kind of event and it was such a rewarding experience.

Click on the following links to see how you can participate in keeping your community beautiful:

Keep America Beautiful

Keep Phoenix Beautiful

Have you ever embarked upon an unexpected adventure?

I recently did.

It all started with an email from the folks at Troy-Bilt who asked me to partner with them and review their outdoor power products in return for my honest opinion. 

I had heard of Troy-Bilt company before and knew that they made high-quality gardening equipment.  But, I was curious about why they were contacting me.

It turns out that I was asked to be one of their six garden bloggers known as the ‘Saturday6’.

The ‘Saturday6’  is a group of six garden bloggers brought together by Troy-Bilt to share their gardening knowledge via their gardening newsletter, how-to videos and by reviewing Troy-Bilt equipment.

Troy-Bilt brought all of us together for an event-filled weekend in Scottsdale, AZ.

Five members of the ‘Saturday6’ flew in from destinations like Minnesota, Florida, Massachusetts, Tennessee and North Carolina.  I, however, just hopped into my truck and drove the 30 minutes to the hotel.

Our adventure started with a tour of the Desert Botanic Gardens in Phoenix.

Desert Botanic Gardens

Although, I have visited the gardens numerous  times, it was quite nice to have a guided tour and see the gardens through the eyes of those who are unfamiliar with desert plants.

garden bloggers

It was so nice to experience the gardens with fellow plant lovers (dare I say ‘plant fanatics?). We bonded over our shared love of plants and stopped constantly to take photos.  

garden bloggers

The evening hours were spent enjoying a delicious dinner where we soon found ourselves immersed in our own ‘special’ language that all gardeners share.  

I loved hearing about Dave’s Tennessee vegetable garden and how we enjoyed growing many of the same things.   Dave Townsend from Growing the Home Garden shared about his Tennessee vegetable garden and I found that we enjoyed growing many of the same things.  


Steve Asbell of The Rainforest Garden had written for many of the same publications that I had.  What I didn’t know was that he is an incredibly talented illustrator and is currently writing a book.

  Foreign concepts such as ‘winter sowing’ were explained to me by Amy of Get Busy Gardening who gardens in Minnesota.  Because she lives in very different climate from mine, it was fun to hear about some of the different ways we do things in the garden.  

I was very blessed to spend time with Helen Yoest from Gardening With Confidence who is a ‘wiz’ at social media and has a new book.  She was very helpful in helping me to improve my mediocre social media skills.

 Matt Mattus of Growing With Plants told me about the  30-year old Troy-Bilt rototiller that he uses on his 100-year old family farm in central Massachusetts.  He has a huge greenhouse where he grows tropical plants including South African bulbs.

Our first morning together was spent at a golf course, where we tested the many Troy-Bilt products and learned more about the company. 

garden bloggers

The equipment laid out for us to try out, including both push and riding lawn mowers.

Troy-Bilt had their regional trainers on hand to show us how everything worked.  

garden bloggers

Helen learns the finer points of driving this small-sized riding lawn mower, which fits through a standard garden gate, making it a great option for the smaller landscape.

The riding lawnmowers were the most popular piece of equipment we tested. 

Steve tries out the push mowers

Steve tries out the push mowers.

The push mowers were fun to try as well.

Next, it was time to try out the leaf blower, which is a very popular tool here in the desert southwest.

You might wonder why I'm wearing a rain coat on a sunny day?  You'll see why later

You might wonder why I’m wearing a rain coat on a sunny day?  You’ll see why later…

I am tough on gardening equipment and if it is confusing to use or does not work well – I don’t endorse it. The hand-held leaf blower was easy to hold and a breeze to pull-start.

Dave learns about the features of Troy-Bilt string trimmers and how you can switch attachments like a cultivator, pole chainsaw, blower, etc.

Dave learns about the features of Troy-Bilt string trimmers and how you can switch attachments like a cultivator, pole chainsaw, blower, etc.

digging dirt

I like digging dirt…especially with this small-sized rototiller.  I could use this to make another vegetable garden.

Matt liked the larger rototiller

Matt liked the larger rototiller.

Amy feeds branches into the chipper

Amy feeds branches into the chipper.

In addition to testing the equipment, we also had some fun…

Lawnmower races, anyone

Lawnmower races, anyone? Our testing was finished and we paused to take a  group photo.

garden bloggers

As we went indoors to learn more about the equipment and the company, the skies began to darken…

garden bloggers

Then the skies opened up and it began to hail, a lot…

garden bloggers

It looks like snow, doesn’t it?

garden bloggers
Watching 'crazy' golfers trying to finish their game through the hail and thunder

Watching ‘crazy’ golfers trying to finish their game through the hail and thunder.

I don’t think my fellow bloggers expected a cold, wintery day in the desert.

After our training, we spent another evening together, enjoying dinner with the Troy-Bilt team.  It was fun to swap stories about our gardens with their challenges and successes.

Spring training is ‘big’ in Arizona.  So, I was excited that the next day’s events included a spring training game between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs.

garden bloggers

We enjoyed bratwurst, hamburgers, peanuts and Cracker Jacks in the Budweiser tent.

You would think that we would be focused on the baseball game, but you’d be wrong.

The camaraderie we built was evident as we spent the entire time just talking.  Occasionally, we were distracted by a home run, but didn’t keep track of who was winning.

At the end of our event-filled weekend, I was even more excited to be a part of the ‘Saturday6’ and share what I know about gardening as well as having the opportunity to test Troy-Bilt products.

garden bloggers

I must admit that I’m in love with this small Neighborhood Rider.

I wonder if I can convince my husband to give up our push lawn mower?