Tag Archives: gardening

Learning a bit about “Making do”

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Life has thrust us into a simpler existence…

An existence that moves at a slower pace, promotes stillness and self-reflection. Life has transitioned away from the frantic pace of keeping up to a slow crawl that promotes mindfulness and presence. The tragedy that is unfolding around us has left mankind readjusting their pace and their trajectory, as we all get use to a new kind of “normal,” but crisis and chaos have the power to birth a better way of being.

One of the blessings I have seen born out of the challenges of today, is a new way of navigating life. No longer driven by speed and ease, we find ourselves navigating by new standards. Even in this short season of quarantine I see in myself a greater consciousness of how finite things are. It has changed the way I live, the choices we make, the care we give, and the things we value. Gone are the days when everything was expendable and replaceable. We are all now looking at our environment through eyes of cautious conservation, and old adages like this one, are becoming our guiding principle:

use it up

Haircuts at Home

After weeks of the boys getting shaggier and shaggier, and barber shops shut down around the state, we decided to take matters into our own hands. The impromptu front porch barber shop was born out of a request by Grace who asked if I could give her bangs. She was looking for a change and decided bangs were just the thing she needed to give her a lift.

When Braden heard that Grace was getting her hair cut, he quickly requested that he be added the list. Rusty also chimed in that he was in need of a haircut and Tyler, who had no interest in getting his hair cut, was added to the queue despite his protests.

We started with the boys. Toby ran the clippers and I worked with scissors.

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Rusty’s cut was nice and easy, as he just wanted his hair buzzed.

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Braden and Tyler chose to buzz the sides and keep the top long, with just some trimming to get those curls under control.

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This was my first attempt at recreating the cuts they usually get at Great Clips, but I was quite proud of the finished results. Not bad for a pandemic haircut!

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When the boys were all trimmed up and looking more like young men than cavemen, Grace took her place in the hot seat so I could give her the bangs she was requesting. She was tickled pink with the finished look:

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Making Masks

Our dining room has slowly transformed into a greenhouse for the garden seedlings and a sewing center for making masks.

Last Friday Grace, Molly and I sat down to make plans for sewing masks, following  Governor Wolf’s announcement that all Pennsylvanian’s should be wearing masks when out in public. We spent time online researching different patterns and then went searching through the house for needed supplies. Our plan was to set up an assembly line in the dinning room and use the down time between General Conference sessions over the weekend to sew masks for family and to donate to others.

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I was in charge of the scissors and took on the task of cutting out the pieces for the masks.

Molly took her place at the ironing board, ironing and pinning the pieces I gave her before they were handed over to Gracie to be sewn together.

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Working together we were able to sew mask after mask while visiting and enjoying each other’s company.

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The finished results were modeled by these two (not so) eager models:

Prepping the Garden

Never has the necessity for garden felt as pressing for our family as it does this year. With so much uncertainty in the world the push to prep our garden, with the goal of growing fresh vegetables at home, has driven us to reassess our gardens. The last few summers have been so busy that our gardens have been sorely neglected.  Busyness certainly isn’t an issue at the moment so we have been focusing on getting our gardens ready for planting,

Part of that process includes some new raised beds.

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This is a project Braden and Toby have been working on together.

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As a result, Braden has been learning some new skills while also being a big help for Toby.

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Making our own Fun

It has been a blessing to be forced to slow down and focus on the important rather than the urgent. Having the time to just be present with my family has been the greatest gift that has come out of this challenging time. Daily family walks, meals at the table with the entire family present, pockets of playfulness and unscheduled discovery have been great  gifts.

The other day, as we were working in the yard, the kids came across a pile of unopened geodes that we brought home from our Kentucky houseboat trip a few years ago. We lugged them home with plans to break them open at home but they ended up in a forgotten pile of rubble at the corner of the yard.

Once rediscovered, yardwork was put on hold, hammers were gathered and we enjoyed an impromptu science lesson on the front walk.

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The kids took turns breaking open the geodes to discover the beauty hidden within very ordinary looking stones…

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Enjoying the experience with childlike wonder.

Getting Ready for Bees

Toby has been kept busy with many a project around the house. Not only is he using this time at home to work his way down the list of repairs that have needed done, but he has also taken on some new projects as we focus on increased self-sustainability at Patchwork Farm.

One of those projects has been to build a second beehive.

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In May he will be picking up the bees he ordered from a local farmer, so for now he is getting their digs all set before they move in.

Cleaning out the Deep Freezer

We have also been accomplishing many cleaning and organization tasks around the house. We have dedicated a couple hours each day to work on cleaning out and organizing those areas of the house that tend to be overlooked. We have been working on cleaning out and organizing the basement. As part of that project we have been cleaning out the deep freezer and getting rid of the food that has expired.

Harley, our pot belly pig has been the greatest benefactor of our efforts…

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Although the dogs and cats have reaped the rewards as well!!

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The other day Molly took a tub of expired cool whip out to Harley, making him the happiest pig to ever walk the earth!

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You would have thought he had died and gone to heaven.

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His grunts of joy and enthusiastic consumption of that sweet treat made us all smile with delight.

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Oh, how we love our silly pig!

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A New Chicken Yard

The chickens have also benefited from Toby’s increased time at home during this season of quarantine. We moved the new chicks into the old chicken coop and needed to rehome the older hens to a different area of the farm. We decided to use the frame of the old, torn trampoline, along with materials found around the farm, to build a new chicken house and chicken yard outside.

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Once the area was set up and secure, Toby and Rusty moved the old chickens to their new digs, so as to make space for the 13 new chicks.

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It was an ingenious solution that made use of what we had on hand.

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It has been a great blessing to revert back to a place where ingenuity and creativity are needed. Out of daily needs (that can’t be met in traditional ways) come solutions that are even better than the “typical” and “easy” ways things were done before.

I appreciate the skills my kids are learning as a result of a situation beyond our control, and we all find ourselves exercising the muscles of thriftiness, problem solving, making do, gratitude, and contentment.

It is a step back towards a simpler way of living,

And that is the blessing that has been born of the tragedy that is unfolding around us.

God is good.

Always good.

 

 

 

 

 

Longwood Gardens

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Last Friday, following my graduation ceremony the previous night, we found ourselves headed east for another big event. In preparation for her upcoming wedding at the Philadelphia temple in October, Grace decided to receive her endowments at the same temple. This was a special milestone in Gracie’s spiritual journey as she prepared to make covenants with Heavenly Father in the House of the Lord that would serve as a strengthening force and great personal blessing to her throughout her life.

She invited me to escort her on her first time through the temple, and it was a joy to take that journey with my sweet girl on her special day.

When Gracie made reservations at the Philadelphia temple months before her July 27th appointment, it was our hope that Toby and I would both be able to accompany her. Our ability to slip away with Grace for the weekend hinged on making sure all the other kids were stable and ok to be left at home. It all worked out and God’s hand was in the details. Ozzie continues to be safely settled in at his trauma-care facility in Erie. Braden was invited by his Pap (His former adoptive father who is battling cancer) to spend a weekend with him this summer, so we made plans for that weekend to coincide with Gracie’s endowment ceremony. Molly and Rusty coordinated their work schedules so that Tyler would only have to be home alone for a minimal amount of time. And because everyone is in such a good place emotionally, we found that we were able to drive to Philly with no concerns.

Along with Toby and I, Grace was also joined by her fiancé, Zach’s parents, and sister, Andrea. Zach chose to drive out with us on Friday with his family meeting up with us at the temple on Saturday morning.

Knowing what a gift it was to have this alone time with Zach and Grace, we allowed Grace to pick a fun excursion for Friday afternoon, and Grace didn’t even hesitate. She knew exactly where she wanted to go.

Less than an hour outside of downtown Philadelphia, is one of America’s most impressive outdoor spaces: Longwood Gardens.

Last time Grace visited this historic Philadelphian landmark it was Christmas. Zach’s sister, Andrea, had taken her there and she was blown away by this place that was cloaked in Christmas magic. She loved it and took hundreds of pictures. She couldn’t wait to return and was eager to visit it during the summer months when the outdoor gardens were in bloom. She couldn’t wait to share this special place with the rest of us.

We arrived and stepped into a floral wonderland, laced with magnificent architecture, roving entertainment and timeless edifices of American History.

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The land that would one day become Longwood Gardens was purchased from William Penn in 1700 to be used as a farm. In 1798, twin brothers Joshua and Samuel Peirce began planting trees, and, by 1850, the land had become one of the best collections of trees in the country. Known as Peirce’s Park, the land was a popular destination for visitors. However, due to declining interest by the family, the trees came under threat of being cut down by a local lumber company. Pierre du Pont stepped in and bought the land to preserve it.

However, du Pont didn’t just preserve the land. In fact, he begun adding to it and created much of what can be seen today. When du Pont died in 1954, he left most of his fortune to the Longwood Foundation to maintain and improve the gardens. Today, more than 50 years after du Pont’s death, his gardens continue to delight visitors 365 days a year.

We arrived, purchased our tickets, and headed inside.

Once inside the gardens, we found there were several destinations worth checking out. The most impressive area, in my opinion, was the Conservatory, which features over four acres of indoor gardens.

Gracie was especially eager to show us the green hallway that leads to the bathrooms in the conservatory. This is one of Gracie’s favorite places at Longwood Gardens, as her favorite plants are ferns…the very flora that covers the walls of that hallway.

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While in the Conservatory, we stopped to check out the organ installed by du Pont. With over 10,000 pipes, this organ was one of the largest private pipe organs in the world when it was installed here in 1929. Visitors can walk around the organ to learn about its history and even get a glimpse into the inner workings through a window. We stayed her long enough to enjoy a few songs and soak up the beauty of the ballroom.

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We found the Conservatory composed of room after room of tropical plants from around the world.

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Outside was an amazing waterlily display with aquatic plants from across the globe. It was stunning, truly a photographer’s dream with its huge lily pads and colorful blooms.

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Other gardens on the 1,000-acre property range from roses and peonies to wisteria, conifers, and an allée of catalpa trees. There was a dahlia garden, an idea garden, an edibles section, and a long fence covered by clematis of many varieties.

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At the far side of Longwood Gardens, near the wooden treehouse, we found the Italian Water Garden, one of my favorite spots at Longwood.

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The water display in the sunken area was patterned after one at the Villa Gamberaia near Florence, Italy, with great care by Mr. du Pont to keep the perspective symmetrical – the water pool farthest away is 14 feet longer than the closest pool assuring that these would all look the same length.

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These fountains were not the only water display at the gardens. Located in front of the conservatory we discovered the main fountain garden.

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After a two-year, $90 million renovation, the Main Fountain Garden at Longwood Gardens has opened. The new fountain replaces the garden’s original fountain, and much of that original plumbing can be seen in a small museum next to the fountain.

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The new Main Fountain Garden features 1,719 jets that shoot water as high as 175 feet into the air. Standard fountain shows are performed 4-5 times each day and are 12 minutes in length. These shows are set to a variety of music from classical to modern pop.

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While we were visiting, the Festival of the Fountains was going on. The timing of our stroll around the gardens resulted in us missing out on the nighttime show, but we did catch some of the daytime musical production as we were walking by.

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We ended up spending 3 hours in the gardens but could have spent days. I was amazed at how extensive the gardens were. The entire experience was a feast for the senses. As it was, I left with my SD card filled with hundreds of photos. I simply couldn’t keep myself in check. Longwood Gardens truly is a small slice of heaven here on earth.

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A “Phipp’in” Good Time!

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Last week we headed south to Pittsburgh for a field trip to Phipps Conservatory. We hadn’t visited Phipps for probably a decade so it was fun to have an excuse to go back. Beautiful anytime a year, Phipps is especially stunning during the month of December when the halls are decked for Christmas.

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“A green oasis in the middle of Pittsburgh’s vibrant Oakland neighborhood, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has provided a world-class garden experience to its visitors since 1893. Explore the beauty and wonders of nature at Phipps, encompassing 15 acres including a 14-room glasshouse and 23 distinct gardens. Experience industry-leading sustainable architecture and green practices, stunning seasonal flower shows, exclusive commissioned exhibits, renowned orchid and bonsai collections and more. This historic landmark is just a few miles from downtown Pittsburgh in Schenley Park.”

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We arrived, checked in, and were given our schedule for the day. The first hour was to be spent exploring the green houses with a self-guided tour. The second hour was scheduled to be more formal with a presentation on the Flora of Cuba and corresponding activities.

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We began our self-guided tour in the atrium where beautiful Christmas trees lined the stone courtyard.

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Turning left we worked our way through the various rooms, enjoying the Christmas themes that blanked each area.

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The décor was stunning and the magic occurring within the glass of the greenhouse shone all the more brightly framed by the falling snow outside.

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Everyone had a favorite room.

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Following in the footsteps of his Grandpa Rich, Rusty loved the cactus room:

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Grace fell in love with this beautiful room paved in stone that is frequently rented out for weddings:

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Molly had a hard time choosing a favorite, enthralled by the natural beauty found in each themed greenhouse:

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As for Tyler…

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Well, let’s just say this outing was NOT his idea of a good time. As we moved from room to room he would slump with fatigue and whine, “We already saw these plants.”

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Poor kid just couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for room after room of foliage.

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Thank goodness for the pockets of child-friendly fun scattered among the acres of plants that allowed Tyler to fortify himself for all the walking and flower gazing that accompanied a field trip to Phipps Conservatory.

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The miniature railroad display and play grocery store were among his favorites.

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While he played “grocery store,” I enjoyed strolling through the room checking out all the Christmas sculptures created from flowers.

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For the second half of the field trip we joined other students and their families in one of the auditoriums for a presentation highlighting one of Phipps’s newest displays: “Tropical Forests of Cuba.”

We enjoyed a slide show introducing us to the habitats of Cuba, particularly the flora and fauna found in its tropical forests.

After an educational slide show we were taken to the Cuba room where the kids were set loose with scavenger hunt sheets and given 15 minutes to find the information missing from their sheets. The answers they found were then used to compete in a Cuba Jeopardy game.

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The kids paired off in groups of two, with Grace and Rusty competing against Molly and Tyler.

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This activity was more up Tyler’s alley and he loved the competitive nature of racing through the rain forest display in search of answers.

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After time expired, we walked back to the auditorium for the Jeopardy game where the kids had a chance to use their newly acquired knowledge of Cuba’s tropical forests to compete against the other students for bragging rights.

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The greatest take-away from the activity was probably the awesome conversation Molly enjoyed with the presenter following the game. Waiting until the crowds had left, Molly approached the young lady who had been our teacher and asked about her educational background and the life experiences that led her to this career. After speaking with Molly about different environmental science programs and possible directions that can be pursued, Molly left wanting to look further into environmental education as a possible narrowed focus to her environmental science degree, thus marrying her passion for nature with her love for people.

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We ended our day with a picnic lunch.

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It was a lovely day spent in an even lovelier place!

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Go Play in the Dirt

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“I grow plants for many reasons:  to please my soul, to challenge the elements or to challenge my patience, for novelty, or for nostalgia, but mostly for the joy in seeing them grow.” – David Hobson

Last night I got dirty with some of my friends…

because you know what they say:

 “Life is too short to have clean fingernails.”  🙂

I have a new calling at church. (A new responsibility)

I’m the 2nd counselor in Relief Society and am in charge of working with a committee to plan classes and activities for the ladies at church. I am so excited for this new responsibility and last night was our first activity. We planned a container gardening class.

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The committee members worked together to come up with creative containers to plant in, which then served as the centerpieces for the night.

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The class was taught by Sharon, one of the creative ladies at church. She has been container gardening for years and did a wonderful job of introducing us to the basics and the benefits of gardening this way.

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After Sharon’s class we made our own “upcycled” container garden using old milk jugs. We planted them with lettuce and when they mature we will be able to pick off leaves of lettuce to enjoy with our meals.

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Our finished "craft"

Our finished “craft”

For our treat …to end our fun night… we had edible dirt which Hannah, another committee member, made. The pudding/oreo trifles were topped with gummy worms, thus completing the look. They were charming.

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It was a nice night and all those involved did a great job. I think it gave us all spring fever and the itch to start planting. It was a fun night with a fabulous group of ladies!

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“Gotcha Day!”

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On Wednesday we celebrated Tyler’s “Gotcha Day.”

A year ago we had the opportunity to stand before a judge and commit to be his forever family. It was one on the most joyous days of our life as we celebrated the “birth” of our newest son. The sweet feelings were even more profoundly felt because of the struggle it took to get to that point.

Tyler moved in 11 months earlier. We didn’t fully comprehend the commitment we were making when we opened our home and hearts to this little six-year-old boy. We blindly stepped forward in faith, having no idea the roller coaster we were climbing on, as we learned to parent and love a little boy who was broken. It was a journey filled with feelings of fear, discouragement, and feelings of inadequacy as we struggled to parent behaviors we had never faced in the raising of our biological kids. The first year of Tyler’s life with us was filled with tantrums that lasted hours, things being broken as he raged, profanity and words of hate as he tried to push us away in fear that eventually we would push him away. It was a long year…a tiring year…a surreal year.

Our journey toward adoption was a “one step forward, two step back” sort of tango that left us feeling we were on an emotional treadmill that never made any progress. The days left us exhausted and feeling as though we were  running in place.

There were days that the only thing that kept me from packing my bags and running away was the testimony that God had called us to be this little boy’s parents and the faith that this was serving a purpose in His bigger plan.

Adoption is about commitment.

It has been said that:

“Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the mood you said it in has left you.”

Yes.

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Yesterday we spent the afternoon in the garden. As I pulled weeds and harvested squash I thought about how gardening can be likened to parenting.

It begins with a commitment. The seed is placed in the ground with the promise that you will care and nourish it until the season’s end. In those early years a lot of care is needed and protection is required. You are there to shield it from the harsh frost and dangers that threaten it. All too soon your plant breaks through the soil and you eagerly begin watching it grow. It becomes a labor of love. As it grows so do the weeds that surround it, threatening to choke it out and impede its growth. Parenting is a test of endurance. For every weed you pull, two more sprout up.  It is a constant battle that requires daily commitment. It means daily putting on the work gloves, even when you don’t want to.

Often weeks will pass and despite your laborious effort it doesn’t seem as though any growth is happening at all. Your seedling is still only inches tall and the promise of fruit for your labors seems a billion years away. This is the test of commitment…

Will you still keep showing up and working hard when there is no progress being seen? Will you remain committed when the fun of digging in the cool spring soil is gone and all that is left is hard, sweaty work under the hot July sun?

This is the test.

It is hard to keep showing up when there is no sign of growth or improvement. It is easy to get discouraged when you are pulling those same weeds day after day and your plant is not growing.

BUT… the interesting thing about gardening is that so much of the growth that happens, happens out of sight. When you think there is little progress happening on the surface,  roots are pushing deep into the soil. It is when we most feel as though our children are “stalled” in their progress that the real work is happening deep in their hearts.

Then one day you step outside to tend your plants and before you sits a lush jungle of tomatoes and squash. You don’t know quite when it changed. Overnight, it seems, the growth happened. You can’t pinpoint the breakthrough moment… you just realize the dry season has passed and the fruits of your labor are visible.

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The value of commitment has been lost in our generation. We have become a disposable society. While our parents and grandparents lived by the philosophy of “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without,” we live in a world that says “If it is broken, toss it out.” Rather than taking care of our things we disregard their value with the thought, “I can always buy a new one.” Rather than fixing what is broken we simply replace it.

This is not only true of our possessions, but of our relationships as well. We toss friendships away when they get hard. Spouses get replaced when they are no longer shiny and new.

It is hard to be committed when the good feelings aren’t there. It is tempting to “run” when it gets hard, but if we walk out halfway through the season we miss the miracle of the harvest.

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One day you will wake up and see a jungle of growth and wonder when it happened.

The deep, meaningful sweetness of a relationship comes with time. You must remain committed through those hard times to enjoy the sweetness that comes later.

It was a labor of love with Tyler. It was two years of daily watering, pulling weeds and choosing to show up every day… but we are now in harvest season. Daily I am astounded at his growth and the fruits of our labors. God knew exactly what he was doing when he took that angry, broken, abused little boy and placed him in our lives.

I look at Tyler and my heart overflows.

Happy “Gotcha Day” Tyler!

We love you forever and a day.

For Tyler's "Gotcha Day" celebration he chose to play tennis as a family and go out for ice cream.

For Tyler’s “Gotcha Day” celebration he chose to play tennis as a family and go out for ice cream.

“We were so excited we wet our plants”

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We finally did it…

a month late

but better late than never.

Our vegetable garden is in!

The busy month of May left us with little time to get our garden prepped and planted so on the last day of the month we found ourselves weeding, spreading manure, and planting in an attempt to get it done before June. 🙂

The day began with a trip to Home Depot to buy supplies. The little boys went with us while the big kids began the laborious task of weeding out the beds to prepare them for planting.

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“Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden.” -Robert Brault

After arriving home we had a few hours to weed and clean out our raised beds before we had to take a break for Tyler’s first soccer game of the day at 11:00am.

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Mimi Joy met us at the school to watch Tyler play before she had to meet up with a friend that she had plans with. After Tyler’s game we were back home for two more hours of weeding and fence mending before we had to leave for Tyler’s second game of the day.

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Gardening requires a lot of water – most of it in the form of perspiration.” – Lou Erickson

Ellie May had fun being out where the action was. She was fascinated by some of the critters she met while outside.

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At 1:00 we left for Tyler’s second game of the day while the big kids took a break for lunch. When we arrived home Toby began filling the garden boxes with manure with help from the little boys. Ozzie was grossed out and somewhat horrified by the addition of animal dung to his garden bed. After getting the beds prepped it was soon time to string off the squares for our “square foot gardens.”

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A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.” -Gertrude Jekyll

After prepping our garden beds it was time or the older three kids to get cleaned up and ready for their date with Aunt Beth. She was taking them out to dinner and shopping for their belated birthday celebrations. They had a wonderful time with her and while they were gone we mowed, weed-wacked the yard and planted flowers all while the little boys played.

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After the kids arrived home everyone gathered together to decide who was going to take which raised bed and who was growing what vegetables. It was a lesson in diplomacy as everyone “called dibs” on which veggies they wanted and didn’t want to grow in their garden.

Each child has their own 16 x 4 foot garden bed that they are in charge of for the summer. They pick the vegetables they will grow and then they are responsible for watering, weeding and harvesting that garden. After much debate it was decided that…

Gracie would grow tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini.

Molly would grow Corn and spaghetti squash.

Rusty would grow summer squash, herbs, and sunflowers.

Tyler would grow turnips, onions, carrots and pumpkins.

Ozzie decided he wanted to grow lettuce, peppers and “pickles.” 🙂

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“”Gardening is about enjoying the smell of things growing in the soil, getting dirty without feeling guilty, and generally taking the time to soak up a little peace and serenity.” – Lindley Karstens

After a long day of hard work we decided to do something fun for dinner…hot dogs and s’mores over the fire.

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After enjoying our campfire for a while we sent the two little boys, the very dirty little boys, inside for baths. We told them to put clothes back on rather than PJs because we had a surprise for them. At 9:30 at night we loaded everyone up into the car, along with blankets and chairs, and drove to the neighboring town for their community day’s fireworks. It was a fun way to end a busy summer Saturday!

Waiting for fireworks...

Waiting for fireworks…

 

Grace and Molly

Grace and Molly

Ozzie danced to the "Booms" while Tyler snuggled under the blanket to keep warm. (Tyler is the red lump on the ground.)  :)

Ozzie danced to the “Booms” while Tyler snuggled under the blanket to keep warm. (Tyler is the red lump on the ground.)  🙂

 

 

“Quiet Strength”

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I find it amazing how quickly the pace of our days and weeks speed by now that we are back to school and fully immersed in school year activities. I can’t believe it is already Friday. Here is a little glimpse of what happened this week…

MONDAY:

On Monday Tyler had his “one on one” time with me. For his time he had two requests. He wanted to set up a Minecraft account and try the mentos in soda trick. He had been saving up birthday money for the Minecraft account. It is an online game that all the boys at co-op are into right now. Rusty bought an account for himself a few months ago and Tyler was eager to be able to play with the big boys too. On Monday, as part of his time, we set up his account.

Tyler enjoying his new game :)

Tyler enjoying his new game 🙂

For the other half of his “one on one” time he wanted to try the mentos experiment that Rusty had told him about. It involves dropping a package of mentos into a bottle of soda. The end result is an impressive geyser of sticky soda. Here Tyler drops the mentos in the soda and runs for it!

Run, Tyler, Run!

Run, Tyler, Run!

Monday I also went out to pick our hot peppers before frost did them in. For two plants we were blessed with an abundance of peppers. I think we will be making hot pepper jelly this weekend. 🙂

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TUESDAY:

On Tuesday night we had someone come in and teach the young women at church the art of face painting. The timing was perfect with Halloween just around the corner and the woman teaching the class did a fantastic job. They will be using their newly learned skills at an upcoming service project. The girls loved it! Grace and Molly came home eager to rethink their Halloween costumes now that they caught a glimpse of all that can be done with face paint.

Molly getting her face painted.

Molly getting her face painted.

Gracie painting her own face.

Gracie painting her own face.

Molly painted a butterfly on my face.

Molly painted a butterfly on my face.

WEDNESDAY:

Wednesday morning we woke up early to get ready to go to our homeschooling co-op and were treated to a spectacular sunrise…

What a way to wake up!

What a way to wake up!

Gracie is taking a digital photography class through school (which she is loving) so she joined me outside with her camera to try to get some good pictures for class.

Miss Grace

Miss Grace

We had a wonderful day at co-op. I continue to be amazed at the growth I have seen in Tyler over the past year. When I compare our co-op experiences last September to this September the difference is astounding. Last year consisted of tears and fighting to get Tyler out the door and then once we arrived it was a battle to get him to go to class. He couldn’t sit still and struggled with retaining anything that was taught. This year he eagerly looks forward to Wednesdays, goes to class without a fight and is actually able to pass his online assessments when we get home. It amazes me the growth that has occurred over the past year. God is good!

Wednesday night was Gracie’s date night. I take one kid with me every Wednesday night to go grocery shopping. This is a treat for them because in addition to getting some undivided attention they also get picking rights for things like cereals and chips. After grocery shopping we go out for an inexpensive dinner where we have the chance to sit and visit. It is an opportunity to hear the whisperings of their hearts. The rule with dinner is that they have $10.00 to spend and it must feed both of us. It is fun to see what the kids do with their $10.00. The girls will sometimes pick someplace nicer, like Applebees, and just get an appetizer to share. Rusty typically picks fast food, orders off the dollar menu, thus leaving enough money to get an icecream cone afterwards. Tyler ALWAYS picks McDonalds and enjoys the treat of being able to order a happy meal. This past Wednesday Gracie picked Subway. We both ordered a sub and enjoyed visiting for a while before we had to head home and put away groceries.

THURSDAY:

Thursday morning we woke with icicles hanging from our noses..ok, not literally… but it was cold. We hadn’t turned on the furnace yet so when the kids crawled out of bed they were all shivering. (I thought it felt wonderful!) Both boys came out wearing their warm robes. They looked so cute I couldn’t help taking a picture.

My cute boys!

My cute boys!

Thursday morning, as part of her morning chores, Molly started dinner in the crock pot. The kids all have a day when they are in charge of dinner..Grace has Monday, Rusty has Tuesday, Tyler has Wednesday, Molly has Thursday, I have Friday and Saturday and Toby makes spaghetti every Sunday. When football season began I found we were having a hard time fitting dinner preparation into the kids schedules between the end of school and the time we needed to leave for football so we switched our meal planning to crockpot only meals. Every Wednesday, before I grocery shop, the kids look through my crockpot cookbooks and pick their meal for the week and then add the ingredients they need to my grocery list. It has worked out so well. They make their dinner in the morning before school and by the time school is done for the day it is cooked and ready to be enjoyed before evening activities. This past week, compliments of the kids, we have enjoyed fajitas, cheesy chicken bake, sweet and sour chicken and corn chowder.

Molly making dinner.

Molly making dinner.

Thursday evening Toby took Tyler to football and I drove Rusty to Taekwondo. This week was the belt presentation ceremony. It was a treat to be able to watch Rusty as he was acknowledged for all his hard work as he received his new belt. He is now a yellow stripe. As his teacher presented him with his new belt she expressed her enjoyment of having Rusty in class and then gave him a nice complement. She said, ” Rusty, you have a strong presence in a quiet way. The world needs more young men like you.” I was touched by her words and found her assessment of Russ to be right on.  He is my quiet one, my introvert. Sometimes he gets lost in the shadows of my more visible, extrovert children so to have his strength and value acknowledged in the presence of his peers was powerful. Rusty is “quiet strength” and I am so proud to be his mom!

Rusty

Rusty

Summer Strawberries!

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This morning we woke up with one thing on our minds..Strawberries!  The day was beautiful. It was sunny but not too hot for strawberry picking so we decided to head out after breakfast to our favorite “you pick” farm. We have been getting our strawberries from a farm in Ohio called Catalpa’s for the last 5 years. A friend introduced us to it after we moved into the home we are in now and we had such a great experience we continue to return every year.

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The kids were excited. They were trying to describe the experience to Tyler, who had never gone strawberry picking before. When we arrived we discovered that we weren’t the only ones who thought it was a perfect strawberry picking day. The place was bustling with “pickers.” We even ran into friends from church while we were there. 🙂

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Everyone trying to smile with the sun in their eyes 🙂

As we began picking, the kids were told that they each had to fill two quarts so that we could leave with 12 quarts… 10 for jam and  2 for eating! I thought Tyler might lose interest after the novelty wore off but he stuck with it to the end.

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Grace and Tyler picking together.

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I love this little boy!

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Miss Molly

Miss Gracie

Miss Gracie

All of the kids did a great job but Rusty was our strawberry picking champion. He filled 3 1/2 quarts to the rest of our 2 quarts. When we were done picking we stopped at the store at the front of the farm for a treat.

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Our quarts are filled!

They sell the most delicious strawberry smoothies made from fresh strawberries that come from their farm for $1.50 so Toby bought three..one for he and I to share, one for the boys and one for the girls. They were extra yummy!

The boys share a strawberry smoothie.

The boys share a strawberry smoothie.

When we arrived home we set up our strawberry assembly line with some washing, some cutting off the greens, some smashing and some jam making. It was a fun afternoon but by the last quart the kids were ready to be done. We were all tired, sticky and stained pink but we had 30 pints of jam and some great family memories to show for our efforts. 🙂

Jam making time!

Jam making time!

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Mash those strawberries, Tyler!

Some of the finished product.

Some of the finished product.

Ups and Downs with a little boy..

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Oh, where do I begin..the last few days have been full of ups and downs. Friday morning began with a down..

Tyler on the fence post

Tyler on the fence post

(A DOWN): I thought all was well when I headed to my bathroom to grab a quick shower. Tyler was fed, dressed, had his morning pills and was playing nicely so I thought I was safe leaving the children unsupervised for a few minutes. I was in the shower with a full head of shampoo when I heard over the shower stream the banging of frantic children on my bathroom door…”Mom, come quick, it’s an emergency!” Not knowing what constituted an emergency and expecting the worse I jumped out of the shower with my hair full of shampoo and dripping wet. I threw on my robe and ran to the kitchen. The “emergency” was Tyler and Rusty fighting over a bowl of dog food. Tyler was on one side of the bowl and Rusty was on the other side and dog food was flying as they fought over who should feed the dog. It is Rusty’s job but Tyler wanted a chance to do it. When Rusty wouldn’t let go Tyler began hitting Rusty’s arm to “encourage” him to let go. Everyone’s emotions were running high when I ran into the kitchen dripping wet. They both quickly began telling their side of the story as soon as they saw me..each raising their voices to be heard over each other. “Stop,” I told them both. “Tyler let go of the bowl.” To which Tyler very unwisely answered “No! You can’t make me!” Thus setting off a series of events that ended in Tyler spending much of the morning sitting on the fencepost while I stood outside watching him as the sun cooked the shampoo lather into my hair. We were outside for a couple of hours as I tried to figure out what was wrong and Tyler responded to my inquiries with, “Blah, Blah, Blah” which then resulted in more time on the fence post. Two hours later he was ready to apologize and I was ready to rinse the soap out of my now dry hair.

(A DOWN): Later that day we had to go shopping for a swim suit for me (a definite down) but it was necessary because next week we are going to Kalahari water park for two days and the suit I have been using for the last few years has lost all elastic so in an effort to avoid scaring small children I deemed it necessary..  regardless of how unpleasant… to buy a new suit. I had been putting it off for weeks knowing how unpleasant and challenging it was going to be to take four kids into a store and expect them to sit outside the dressing room while I struggled to find a suit that was somewhat decent…it sounded like a disaster waiting to happen but I put on my brave face and headed out. On the way there we passed a policeman sitting off the side of the road. Tyler spoke up from the back seat in a panic, “Don’t go too fast, Momma. I don’t want you to go to jail.” I told him that I wasn’t speeding and I wasn’t going to go to jail. He was quiet for a minute and then spoke up again, “What if you and Daddy both go to jail? I don’t want you to go to jail because then I’ll have to move to a new family. I don’t want a new family.” I knew he was talking about what had happened to his biological parents and I was once again amazed at the memories he carries from when he was two years old…and the residual fears from those memories. I told him that Daddy and I were not going to go to jail and that he was not going to go to a new family. I think he wants to believe me but is still haunted by those old fears.

(AN UP): When we arrived at the store I began the arduous task of taking armfuls of swimsuits into the dressing room while the kids waited outside the dressing room on a couch. I had an overly enthusiastic sales girl trying to get me into swimsuits with plunging necklines and shoelaces holding the sides together. When I tried to explain that I was looking for something a bit more modest she told me that I needed to “embrace my inner sexy.” I saw Grace out of the corner of my eye trying not to laugh. Tyler was also eager to help. He called me over to see the swimsuit that he thought I should buy. It was a two piece bra and panty set in a hot pink leopard print. “Isn’t it pretty, Momma?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that it wasn’t a swimsuit. I just told him that it wasn’t my size.  Much to Tyler’s and the saleslady’s disappointment I didn’t “embrace my inner sexy” but I did find a suit that won’t scare the children and we made it out of the store without any major catastrophes…success!

(AN UP): Friday night Tyler needed a bath. Tyler always needs a bath. Within an hour of getting a bath Tyler needs a bath so it wasn’t unusual for Tyler to spend Friday evening in the tub. What was unusual though was that Tyler let me wash his hair. This was one of those adoption milestones for me. When he came to us he was very private about his body. He wouldn’t let me see him change his shirt much less help him with his bath. As his trust in me has grown some of those walls have come down. Friday night, though, was the first time he had let me in the bathroom while he was in the tub. He was already in the tub when I heard him calling me. I stood outside his door asking what he needed when he told me he wanted me to wash his hair. I couldn’t believe it. I walked into the bathroom and discovered him a mass of bubbles with his washcloth strategically placed. “Can you wash my hair for me, Momma?” he asked. My heart melted. As I knelt next to the tub shampooing his hair and washing his back those early memories of doing the same for my other kids came rushing back to me. It was such a gift to be given that special moment of bonding with Tyler. As he tipped his head back, his eyes closed, waiting for me to rinse the soap out of his hair I looked at him and my heart overflowed with gratitude for this special blessing God has given us!

My baby boy!

My baby boy!

(AN UP): Bedtime has greatly improved with the boys. A dear friend gave us a bottle of doTERRA essential oil (calming blend) and suggested that we try rubbing it on the soles of the boys’ feet before bed. It has made a huge difference! Rusty is now falling asleep within 30 minutes of using it and we haven’t had anymore sleepless night in weeks. God is good!

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(AN UP): Saturday was a day of up’s. The morning began with Tyler’s soccer game. When we arrived we discovered the team that we were playing had only 3 boys to our 7 so our coach asked the boys who wanted to play on the other team. It was funny watching all the boys raise their hand and shout, “Me, me!” So much for team loyalty. 🙂 The coach picked Tyler to move to the other team. Tyler had a great game and his “new team” won with Tyler’s help much to the disappointment of his real team. It was a tough game to watch because I didn’t know whether to cheer for our team or for Tyler.

After the game we drove over to the post office to pick up a package that had arrived for the girls. It was their birthday gift from Aunt Kelly and Uncle Tom. They were thrilled with their new shirts, hat and lip gloss.

The girls' new shirts!

The girls’ new shirts!

While we were out we also stopped at the hardware store to pick up some supplies we needed to put up a fence around our garden to keep out critters. We had some boys from church over on Saturday to help out. Some projects we worked on were… putting in the fence posts..

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Some of the critters we are trying to keep out of the garden.

Some of the critters we are trying to keep out of the garden.

..filling a sewer pipe that Toby scavenged and cut down to size to use for a potato garden bed with dirt,

Tyler helped by rolling the pipe into place.

Tyler helped by rolling the pipe into place.

and Molly filled it!

…hanging the hamocks..yep, summer is really here now! The view from the hammock..

Ahhhhh...

Ahhhhh…

and finally canning honey. We received two metal cans of honey from someone who was moving. It was perfectly good but had crystalized so we needed to first melt it to get it out of the cans. A friend suggested wrapping them in heating pads. It took about 10 hours to melt it but it worked!

Melting honey

Melting honey

We then transferred the honey into quart jars for easier use. The end result of our efforts was 25 quarts of honey..YUM! (a definite UP!)

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Overall a pretty great weekend with more UPs than DOWNs!

“Where are the dandelion seeds?”

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“The radiant dandelion, shining in the grass, like a spark dropped from the sun.” – Henry Ward Beecher

Spring was in the air on Friday! We began the day with school, an appointment with Tyler’s therapist, a visit from a social worker and by noon Toby was home for the day. He was done with work for the day so he decided to come home so that we could take advantage of the beautiful weather and start preparing the gardens for planting. The sun was out, a cool breeze was blowing, the kids were done with their schoolwork for the day so it was a perfect day for yard work. We had a few things we were hoping to accomplish..move the ducks and bunnies out of the basement, clean out the barn, begin cleaning up the vegetable garden beds to prepare for planting and start our seeds inside.

Task #1:

The girls began carrying the animals up from the basement. First the bunnies:

Our baby bunnies are all grown up!

Our baby bunnies are all grown up!

…then the ducks. Toby cleared out the old chicken coop for the bunnies and ducks to share until he builds the new rabbit hutches. Can you believe how big the ducks have gotten??

Tyler and his pet duck, Pretty.

Tyler and his pet duck, Pretty.

Tyler was very nervous about that arrangement. “But what if the bunnies hurt the ducks?” he kept asking. Toby tried to calm his fears by pointing out the fact that the ducks were three times taller than the rabbits but Tyler continued to check on his duck all afternoon just to make sure that no bullying was taking place in the henhouse. 🙂

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Task #2:

We began the process of cleaning out the garden beds. There was a lot of clean-up that needed to be done that we neglected to do at the end of the growing season last year. The baby goats were eager to help with the weeding. This time we watched closely to make sure they didn’t eat anything that would land them back in the emergency room!

The goats helping with the weeding

“Gardening requires lots of water- most of it in the form of perspiration.” – Lou Erickson

Bailey also spent some time outside enjoying the sun while we kept an eye on her. She is back home and we are waiting until she grows a little stronger before we do her final treatment.

Miss Bailey

Miss Bailey

As we prepared the garden I assigned each kid the bed they would have for the summer. When I told Tyler which bed would be his he looked at me in panic and asked, “Why do I have to sleep out here, Momma? Can’t I keep my old bed?” I forget how literal he can be. I explained that his “bed” was not where he would sleep. It was where his vegetables would sleep and that he was in charge of weeding and watering the vegetables in his assigned bed. In Rusty’s bed we found carrots that we had missed picking in the fall..

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“One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides.” – W. E. Johns

Task #3:

We took the manure that Toby had cleaned out of the barn to mix into the newly weeded garden beds. Tyler was eager to help Toby until he found out what he was scooping with his pitchfork…then he was horrified! “I don’t want that in my garden!” he said. We told him that he would get more vegetables if he added it to his soil and he reluctantly agreed.

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“Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden.” – Robert Brault

Task #4:

Time to start our seeds! As we weeded the kids discussed what we should plant and who was planting which vegetable in their garden. Tyler was listening and then asked, “Where are the dandelion seeds? That’s what I want in my garden!” Tyler loves dandelions and spends time everyday outside picking them and bringing them into me by the handful. He was devastated to learn that I hadn’t bought any dandelion seeds for his garden. He finally decided that he would just transplant the dandelions that were already growing wild in the yard. This kept him occupied for a long time while the rest of the family did yard work.

"If Dandelions were hard to grow they would be most welcome on any lawn." -Andrew Mason

“If dandelions were hard to grow they would be most welcome on any lawn.” -Andrew Mason

When we were done working outside we moved inside to plant our seeds. We do “Square Foot Gardening”  so the kids had to first map out their gardens in grids to see what vegetables they wanted to grow and then calculates how many of each type of plant they needed. They all had favorites that they wanted to make sure we would be planting. Tyler wanted pumpkins and watermelons. Rusty wanted carrots. Gracie wanted a variety of tomatoes and Molly wanted squash. We planted all of those things along with many other vegetables. Hopefully the other vegetables we planted will do as well as our tomatoes and squash typically do, but we will see…  as S.J. Perelman said:

“Tomatoes and squash never fail to reach maturity. You can spray them with acid, beat them with sticks, and burn them;  they love it!”

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Happy planting!