These are a few of my favorite things….

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What are your favorite things about Christmas?  Is it your tree and the familiar ornaments you enjoy rediscovering each year?  For me, my teenager dressed like Waldo makes me laugh.  image

I love my continually napping dogs, sharing a blanket by the fire.image

I enjoy making soap and other home made items to give as gifts to friends and neighbors.

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I love sitting around and cuddling the bunnies, while watching movies.  Which Christmas movie is your favorite?

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My favorite is “It’s a Wonderful Life” because it is and I adore George Bailey.

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What is your favorite Christmas cookie?  Mine are Russian Tea Cakes, served with Russian tea, of course.

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Some of my favorite Christmas memories were shared with my grandparents.

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I always think about them and remember the fun we had at Christmas.

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I love it it when my family decides to try something non-traditional, like last year’s Christmas dinner.  We had a fresh crab feed.  My grandfather would have said, “This is the best Christmas dinner we have ever had! This is the best Christmas we have ever had!”  He said that every year.  He said that every holiday.  His announcement was predictably positive and appreciative!  We say this in his honor at each meal.  My grandmother would have giggled and said, “Yes Cecil!”

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My my favorite decorations are my Christmas elves who hang out all over my kitchen. They are seen here working out in front of their gingerbread house. My grandmother’s tree was decorated in all elves like these.  They remind me of her.

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I could go on forever about my favorite things about Christmas. Christmas is about memories, traditions, music, family, love, remembrance, time spent with loved ones, feeling the joy of the season and for us, celebrating the birth of Jesus.  I love Christmas and I hope your heart is filled and over flowing with joy and happiness.  Celebrate these little favorite and special things and be thankful.  The little things we love about Christmas are truly the most valuable gifts that cannot be bought or wrapped.  I’d love to read about your favorite things.

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My Multi-Generational Home

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It it is all I ever knew.  My mom, dad, brother, grandfather and grandmother all took me home from the hospital. I was “their baby.”  I came home to “our home”- all six of us.  Our home was a custom built duplex in our small town of Forest grove.  I grew up with two kitchens, two living rooms, two bathrooms, two dining rooms, two China cupboards, two sets of washers and dryers, two pianos, two yellow family station wagons, two sofas, two land line telephone numbers (503-357-2605 & 503-357-3918), two sets of parents.  Two sets-one house.  My parents and my grandparents lived under one roof with two addresses: 3333 and 3331 17th Place.  That was our family home.  Almost a city acre, a large garden, room to play with comfortable back porches for picnics.  They built it that way.  They planned it, purchased the large lot and built a home and life together.

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I would hear other children during show and tell share about “going to visit grandma and grandpa” and I remember thinking to myself , “How sad they live far away.  I get mine every day and all the time.”  I loved having my grandparents right there.  They were warm, generous, kind, active and taught me all sorts of old school skills like canning produce, old fashioned recipes, crochet, how to thoroughly clean a house, how to properly prune a rose bush, how to weed a garden, how to operate a pump and how to properly plan, plant and water a large garden.  I learned how to hem a skirt by hand, how to embroider tea towels, how to know when vegetables and ready to pick, and how to really get a bathtub squeaky clean.  I learned how to cut hair, how to give a permanent, how to properly set a table, how to play the piano, and how warm stewed tomatoes with cottage cheese and toast for breakfast on a frosty morning is actually quite yummy.  I learned that bacon and eggs can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

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My grandfather went into the rabbit business with me, funding my 4H rabbits and hutches. I listened to hours of stories of my grandma’s childhood on the farm and my grandfather’s stories of world war 1.  I truly understood what the Great Depression was like to live through.  I learned generosity to neighbors as my grandfather divided up and distributed all his extra produce to friends and neighbors for free.  There were sacks and boxes and bushels of organic produce for anyone who could use it.image

My grandparents became adoptive grandparents to all the neighborhood kids.  They often would hire us to weed, paying .25 cents a bucket.  They would always give wrapped Christmas presents to my closest friends. They were our audience for our outdoor talent shows and would come running if we fell while roller skating and would patch up our skinned knees and elbows. My grandpa volunteered at local stores as a very genuine Santa Claus and drove the zoo train for many years.  My friends would tell me how lucky I was to have my grandma and grandpa next door. My friends always called my grandparents granny and grandpa.  They loved all the kids.

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So, this concept of “multi-generation living” is what I know.  I know first hand what a difference having two sets of parents living in my home made in my life.  Two loving sets of parents who were there for you, setting you straight, setting an example, holding you accountable and reinforcing right and wrong.  Living in our single family home feels quite strange.  It feels like I’m away at camp and I never am going home.  Having grandparents living far enough away that you have to drive or call is so foreign to me.  It feels so strange and wrong.  I keep looking to move, not because there is anything wrong with our house, but because I would like to live again in a multi-generational home.  I have found several homes lately that offer dual living.  I want that.  I could care less about how fancy, how big, how modern, how many bathrooms or the year it was built.  It is not that I want more help with my boys because I have passed that stage.  They are more independent now.  It is truly for the lifestyle and camaraderie you get from living with the mixed wisdom of multi-generations under one roof facing life and all the challenges together, every day, every storm and every celebration.

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Grandmas will often take the tantrum ridden little one off your hands and straighten them up without batting an eye.  Sometimes they feed them chocolate cake before dinner to stop them from crying.  I like that, even though it blew my mind that giving chocolate cake to end a tantrum is quite counter intuitive to discipline.  Grandmothers can get away with it and the child adores them like they were the best person in the entire world.  Grandparents can put the fear into a sassy teen by asking a simple question followed by a long pause.  Suddenly, the point is driven home that “they know” and you best knock that off and now.  I like that too.  When you live in a multi- generational home, this happens daily as things arise, not just on a phone call or visit.  Okay, and we did fight, living in an extended family.  We did tell each other to “stuff it” or “shut your mouth”, but we always forgave, apologized and moved on.  My grandfather once, in a fit of angry feelings, announced he was moving to Mexico and we all burst out laughing, including him.  Mostly because he didn’t care much for Mexican cuisine and then we imagined what he would look like in a sombrero.  We were all nuts fallen from the same tree, but quite happy to be facing life together.

 

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My grandparents lived long and full lives.  They were surrounded by love and they were the matriarch and patriarch of our family.  It seems to me that their happiness and contentment about how we lived together helped to make their very long, active and healthy retirement so enjoyable and so full of life.  It was a life lesson about caring for your loved ones to the end.  I saw courage, Faith, love and cohesiveness on a daily basis in our home.  I saw people who could disagree and settle matters in a family meeting in one of our living rooms or at our dining room table.  There were never grudges or arguments that lasted longer than 15 minutes.

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So, I continue my daily life, with the disconnected lifestyle we are living, feeling like I’m walking a marathon with shoes that are two sizes too small.  We call, we have visits, my boys ask continuously when grandma and grandpa are going to come stay for a while.  They miss my brother’s family who lives in Colorado.

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I am hard wired for togetherness.  It is part of my brain chemistry to cling to family, to care for loved ones, to absorb the words and wisdom of another and to go about life with the wisdom and charm of those older than myself.  It has been programmed and hard wired into every fiber of me.

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I will gladly care for my parents until the end.  I watched my mother and dad care for my grandparents and vise versa.  I hope I can provide the same.  Meanwhile, I keep looking for a multi-generational home for our future blended family.  Don’t be too surprised if one day we pick up and move.  Now you know why.

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Tea, gardening, literature, planting seeds…

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As a homeschooling parent, I have always found that a child’s interest is the best way to fuel the desire to learn.  Now, before you think we don’t have a curriculum, don’t lose your minds thinking I’m depriving him of typical curriculum, textbooks, theme papers, grammar, spelling and traditional tests, quizzes and a LOT of busywork.  I’ll be honest here, we skip busywork as soon as the concept is solid, but that’s another topic.  Because we homeschool using an Oregon public school online option called “Oregon Connections Academy”, he gets all the traditional textbooks plus enhanced curriculum in literature.  All of that is fine and good and he has learned so much by following a traditional “grade level” curriculum and even has the opportunity to be in a TAG section based on test scores, so his work is tailored to his level.  We like it and are motivated to finish up the daily scheduled lessons and assignments so we can go crazy and follow HIS interests for learning, like his Hobbit model he built last spring.image

I come back to the topic of tea.  Let me explain how we have come to tea.  We have been reading stories that are British like “The Secret Garden” and the tales from Beatrix Potter.  Peter Rabbit’s mama rabbit gives him two teaspoons of chamomile tea as medicine.  Mary and Dicken stop playing to have tea.  Tea is prominent in these stories and tea is interesting to him.  It began with wanting to try tea.  We have dug into our garden dirt and after visiting the garden stores, he has discovered that one can grow and harvest tea from Chamomile and  peppermint.  So, we prepare and amend soil, and plant seeds.  He designs wooden screens to dry tea leaves and chopped flowers.  He leads, I follow.  His interest towards a goal fires his desire to learn and plan how to accomplish a goal.  His intense interest fuels his love of reading more of the stories we are reading.  He is bringing to life elements from the stories.  He is engaging with the characters and inviting a little of their world into his.  He becomes captivated and this is how learning is a beautiful experience, fueling love of learning.  This is “The good stuff”, the fire in the belly that I can only hope he’ll be able to apply to a passion for study in college and into adulthood.

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Should I tell him that growing tea and drinking tea is not for boys?  I do believe that is what our popular American culture would tell him.  He certainly knows that it is not true because a lot of men drink tea, garden and enjoy growing things.  Should sexism become a judgmental cloud over what he truly wants to learn? I don’t force hobbies on my boys and Brady comes to gardening naturally.  He has a peaceful nature, an “old soul”, patience beyond measure and has a lovely way of tending to things long term.  He has a talent for art, piano, and writing. These are all qualities I admire in him.  These are all “factory installed” qualities.  My older son is quite opposite, taking no interest in gardening or birds or bunnies.  He LOVES camping, hiking and being very outdoorsy in other ways.  Both boys are growing into their natural selves.  We have chosen fertile soil for planting seeds of interest.  Let me explain.

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I homeschool because I enjoy seeing my kids grow organically into the person they already were when they came into this world.  As a trained teacher I found one dynamic about traditional school that seemed prominent is the hammer and nail tendency of group learning.  If you are holding a hammer and you see a nail sticking up a bit, your tendency is to want to hammer down the one nail that sticks up.  I think people who are allowed to grow into their genuine self without being hammered down are happier adults.

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I know a lot of adults who have spent a lot of their adult life trying to accept their true and genuine self.  They often share stories of judgement and rejection by peers and adults at school and home.  Those judgements can often become heavily engrained and damaging to self esteem.  For us, we have found a certain freedom in being able to watch our boys follow their true passions and desires without judgmental peer pressure of what is and what is not “cool”.  We just “go with it”, follow where there is motivation for learning and take that where it leads.

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Brady has learned hands on science about plants, soil composition, fertilizer, worms, helpful and harmful insects, weather, growing tea, cooking, herbs, landscape design, and long term responsibility.  And because we chose to do school differently, we have time to learn this way, follow passions for topics to learn about and follow those pathways to deeper learning as far as they will go.   Please don’t get me wrong.  I understand that so many people cannot afford to pursue this option and I am extremely grateful it is an option for us.  I also know that not all schooling options work for all kids or all parents.  For us, it’s beautiful and has been lovely for certain seasons of both our boys lives.

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Parker and I studied an entire year from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance.  When it came to diving into Shakespeare, I saw the spark.  We spent 5 days in Ashland seeing some of the plays we had studied, particularly Julius Ceasar.  We saw the single most fantastic performance of Julius Ceasar I have ever seen, where the Roman ruler was portrayed as a woman and set in a mixed time period, even a bit of Seattle grunge costuming.  I saw his interest grow and intensify.  This spring, his high school english class is reading Romeo and Juliet and again, I see him enjoying another masterpiece in literature.  I feel so thankful I had the time and opportunity to plant the seeds for a love of Shakespeare, during a time when there were not peers telling him differently.  I was able to sow seeds in healthy, organic soil.  I see the growth of those seeds that we planted so carefully together.

Looking forward to some home grown tea this summer.  Looking forward to a beautiful harvest some day.  This quote seems beautifully appropriate today.  Plant seeds, instill confidence and let those passions lead wherever they may lead.  Remind your children that you love them just as they are.  Then, remind them again.  And again.  That’s the best fertilizer ever.

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Sunny, spring days, summertime thoughts & Mr. MacGregor’s Garden…

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Spring blossoms are bursting forth, awakening memories of the bounty of summer crops.  You cannot find a better apple than local Gravenstein apples.  They make the best applesauce, apple butter and pie filling.  I canned about 30 pints of applesauce  from these local beauties.  We are down to our last few pints.  My boys will eat a chilled pint in one sitting together.  It is fantastic added to a cake or muffins and so savory when served with grilled pork chops.  If the crop is good this year I hope to put up double the amount this year.

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Brady and I have been busy planting our small bunny garden patch.  We put in six tomato plants and will have a continuous supply of lettuces, radishes, carrots and yummy salad veggies.  We’ll stagger our plantings and will continue to renew our rows all summer.  Our little garden can actually produce a lot more than we expect.

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This year our yard is to be featured on the friend’s of historic Forest Grove garden tour on Sunday, June 1st, 1-4pm,  so we’ve decided to transform our bunny garden into Mr. MacGregor’s garden.  Fitting with the beloved Beatrix Potter story, we will have a little scarecrow with a small blue coat, little brown shoes and a proper Scottish Tamoshanter.  If you look closely, you may even see Peter or Benjamin Bunny hiding in the garden.

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Brady is also working his magic miniature gardening skills in a fairy garden, gnome gardens and a three bears cottage garden.  We hope you’ll consider coming on the tour and will come see our gardens and say hello.  Friends of Historic Forest Grove help preserve the history of our town, give grants for restoration of historic homes and help FG remain a beautiful place.

Soup, grandparents and the Great Depression

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How could soup, my grandmother Mary and The Great Depression be intertwined in my memory bank forever?  Well, let me tell you about the life lessons I learned through soup my grandmother often made.

My grandmother was one of the best soup cooks I have ever known.  Her soup could rival any restaurant soup I have ever eaten.  Her soups were always savory, full of homegrown organic veggies, legumes and herbs.  Her recipes were varied and some of her best and most wonderful soups were hearty types like her navy bean and ham soup or thick, rich split pea or ox-tail with barley.  In all my childhood I never had a soup of hers that I didn’t love enough to eat for breakfast the next day and the next.  Because we lived in a two generation household, one pot could feed all six of us, my brother, parents and grandma and grandpa.  There were always leftovers.  My grandmother’s house often smelled like one of her wonderful soups simmering on her stove.  I could sometimes smell it wafting outside her kitchen window, onto her back patio as I played outside.

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This is my grandmother’s high school graduation photo in a dress her mother made.  She was born in 1909.  She graduated from high school in Spanaway, WA in 1927.  She attended beauty college after high school and opened her own hair salon.  My grandfather was a client and she caught his eye and the rest is “history”.  The stock market crashed in October of 1929.  Now about the soup and hobo signs.

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During the Great Depression, many men hopped freight trains, traveling from town to town, looking for work.  Some of these men became known as “hobos”.  Not all men looking for work lived as a hobo, but some did.  The hobos developed signs they would mark to help out other men to find shelter and food.  My grandfather worked for the Union Pacific Railroad as an engineer.  The plight of the hobo and the desperate situation of many hungry men and families were front and center for both of my grandparents.

My grandparents were the kind of Americans that when they saw a need, they found a way to do their part to fill the need.  My grandfather was a returned WW1 marine, earned the Purple Heart in the Battle of Belleau woods.  He was an imposing man of large stature with powerful hands that could brake a steam engine.  The same man had a heart as large as his stature.  I recall their eyes filling with tears as they spoke about The Great Depression, as they chopped vegetables for their many pots of soup.  My grandfather would say, while choking back tears, “I hope and pray that you will never know what it is like to have nothing and be hungry.  I hope you’ll always have enough to eat and have a roof over your head.  You’ll hopefully never know what it is like to really have nothing, God willing you never will know what desperation is really like.”

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Now, back to soup.  My grandmother was faced with owning her little beauty parlor, which she rented out a small corner of a drug store in Spanaway, WA.  After the stock market crash, people could simply not afford hair cuts and hair styling, so she moved her haircutting to her home.  Her morning routine was to wake up and start a pot of hearty soup.  Soup can be made with the broth and left over meat from the bones.  In those times, people didn’t buy canned broth.  Nothing went to waste and you could purchase a ham bone, a beef tail or soup bones from your local butcher.  So my grandmother made a daily pot of soup and offered free haircuts, hot shaves and a hot bowl of soup for hungry men who were out on foot looking for work.   Some women made hand made signs like the one below and hung it out in front of their houses, indicating to hobos that the woman of the house was willing to offer a hot meal for hungry men who were out of work.  The little smiling cat was the hobo symbol for “a kind hearted woman lives here”.

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Just think about that for a moment.  She opened her own house as a free soup kitchen and her back porch as a free barber shop for strange men.  This was a day and time when a woman could do this and not worry about being a victim of violence to the extent we see today.  I am sure there were crimes against women, but in her small Washington town, she felt called to do whatever she could to fill a need for those who were desperate.  My grandfather’s shift on the railroad would take him away from home for days in a row.  She was never afraid of being alone and boldly offered her free haircuts, shaves and hot soup until the need was over.  Even in her 70s, she would cut the neighbor’s hair because he had 14 children and she knew she could help him in this small way. She frequently bought new shoes for a family we knew who had a large family and little income.  I grew up with home haircuts and learned to cut my own boys hair by carefully and quietly watching her.

We learn life lessons through many ways.  My most important lessons were through stories shared through teary eyes who had seen first hand what desperation looks like.   Lessons were learned by listening to the stories about hobos, soup and haircuts.   This morning I woke and started a pot of chicken noodle soup.  I always make a lot more than we need so that we always have some to share.  If I ever deliver a mason jar of homemade soup to your doorstep, remember this story and the spirit of my always generous grandparents, who helped me to understand how to fill a need when I see a need.  All of my grandmother’s soup recipes I have memorized by heart.  There I was,  year after year, sitting at her kitchen bar, quietly watching her making her savory pots of love to share.

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A quiet spring and Daisy progress…

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I’ve been enjoying a quiet, rather introverted spring and it has been heavenly and peaceful.   Every morning, I wake early, take a hot bath, make a cup of coffee, turn on my 1943 zenith radio.  I cuddle into my favorite chair and listen to old time radio stories while I make slow and steady progress on my happy and lovely Daisy blanket.

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The names of the DK weight yarns are all soft names like “satin”, “soft baby steps”, “soft touch” and “simply soft”.  My spring color choices have names like daffodil, sage, lilac, leaf, blue sky, robin’s egg, shell pink, soft fern, grape, buttercup, lapis, mint- all bring the garden colors into this one scrummy, yummy, soft and cheery blanket.  I take the word scrummy from one of my favorite British bloggers, Lucy from Attic 24.  You should check out her colorful little world of scrummy, yummy yarn creations at http://www.attic24.typepad.com – I love her sunny outlook on life and how she celebrates motherhood and creativity.   I love her words, photos and kindness.  Below is a photo montage of Lucy’s world.  You might enjoy peeking into her world.

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I’m spending the season of lent, praying for friends and family.  A lot can happen in 40 days. My prayer list is long and much like my Daisy blanket, I’m making slow and steady progress on my prayer list.   I have a couple of good friends who have had moms pass away recently.  My niece welcomed into her home twin three year old girls as foster daughters.  Parker’s well loved biology teacher fell and seriously injured his leg and is laid up with a full leg cast.  My boys will celebrate birthdays – 10 and 15 on the 10th and 15th.  I pray they continue to grow into fine, kind, gentle and honest men.  I pray for my boys daily.  Parker’s friend Cydnee had surgery on her thyroid.  I keep praying she will be back at full health soon.  I pray for friends who are struggling with health issues and anyone who feels lonely or unloved. I pray for a friend who lost a parent as a child and grew up missing one of the most important people in their life.  I imagine the annual anniversary of the death of a loved one surfaces a lot of difficult emotions.  I pray daily for a grieving mama and father who bravely face each day, missing two precious daughters beyond my understanding.  I continue to pray that their quiet times will bring peace and comfort and Jesus will continue to fill the void in their hearts with purpose for Him.  During this 40 days of lent, I pray that Jesus will come to all those who call on Him.  Spring has been peaceful, colorful, quiet, gentle, prayerful, thankful. Spring = Renewal.  Love one another.  Time = Love.  Spend some quiet time if that brings you peace.  Spend time with loved ones.  Say special prayers for those in need.  Happy spring friends.

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An heirloom flower show…

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About this time every year I begin to work in my garden.  When we bought this house about 20 years ago, there was not a single plant.  There was only grass to the foundation.  Our house provided a blank canvass for me to paint with heirloom flowers.  Last spring the above heirloom rose, named “Lady Jane Grey”, unfurled in the shape of a heart.  Painting with heirloom flowers has been a passion of mine and I am endlessly pleased and I marvel at the annual flower show my beauties perform.  Here are a few early sneak peaks of what is to come from season’s past.

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May will reveal lilac blossoms.  This is a french lilac with a picotee trim of crisp white.

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This beautiful lilac was a gift from my friends Bill and Pam Anderson.  It was a start from a very old lilac in the front yard of their farmhouse in Patton Valley.  It has an intoxicatingly sweet frangrance.  Such a lovely gift.

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Early June will provide clematis blossoms, which emerge from rather homely looking dried up brown vines.  I have about 6 varieties on a couple of trellises.  They put on quite the show every year.

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My hollyhocks are appearing as small mounds with round leaves.  They will grow to about 6 feet tall and the blooms last about three weeks.  I buy heirloom starts.

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I really love hydrangeas.  The French grandmother of the children I cared for in Boston introduced me to the French lace cap hydrangeas.  They had a gorgeous hedge at their beach house on Cape Cod.  I planted two lace cap hydrangeas in her honor and I think about her when they blossom.  She was a lovely lady and has now passed on.  She is missed.

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This hydrangea is one of my newest varieties I planted in my back yard.  It is a pink and pistachio green colored blossom.  It is unusual I think.

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I always look forward to my day Lillie’s flowers.  Each blossom only lasts a day, but new ones appear each day.  Their green spikes foliage adds interest in the garden, even when they are not blooming.

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I call these my “sis” flowers.  My friend’s mother “sis” insisted that I take some of her Leopard’s Bane starts.  They were among her favorite spring flowers.  I always think of her when they bloom in May.  I often leave a bouquet of them on her grave on Memorial Day.   My Sis flowers remind me of my friend who gave me a baby shower for Parker just after he was born 15 years ago.  These happy yellow flowers make me smile.

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Who couldn’t fall in love with ranunculus?  If I were a fairy, I’d sleep inside one of these fluffy blooms.  They are dreamy and magical in every way possible.  They are showy, lovely, looking like they found the perfect shade of blush and lipstick.  The photo below is another knock out purple variety of ranunculus.  Lavender petals with dark purple eyes say, “Come hither bees!”.  Stunning purple perfection.

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Gardening is one of my favorite creative outlets that I truly adore!  I can spend all day in the dirt and my small yard has at least 100 varieties of flowers for cutting all spring and summer. I find gardening an endless source of learning new things. I will admit that one of the best things about having bunnies is their pelleted manure that flowers LOVE.   It doesn’t really take much to have a nice garden, but good dirt, compost or in my case bunny manure, water and a knowledge of planting, pruning and weeding, lots of weeding.  It also provides quiet time to think and to connect to the earth, even if it is just a small plot like ours.  I get lost in my garden and adore the beautiful flowers it provides in exchange for my time.

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If you want to catch up with me, you’ll probably find me in my yard.  If you’d like to share your garden with me, I’d be forever interested in seeing what you are growing.   If you want to garden and don ‘t know where to start, start simple, like grow a big row of giant sunflowers.   Plant one thing that you love and add one more plant each year.  Research your soil, sun exposure and choose something that likes what you have to provide.  If you don’t know what kind of soil you have, dig up a spade full and take it in a container to a good nursery like Blooming Junction on Zion Church Road and they can tell you all about your soil.  Or bring it to me, I can tell you what to plant or how to amend. Again, my 4H and FFA education continues to pay off in my adult life.

I hope you enjoyed my heirloom flower show from my little yard of heirloom varieties of flowers.  Won’t you share what’s blooming too?  Happy spring friends.