Sigh. many a great post idea has died in infancy because I've just been too busy. But here's something fun!
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Wow! What the heck is that???!!! Honestly, if someone wanted to shoot a sci-fi flick on a budget about an alien planet, all he'd have to do would be to have it set in the Gaylord Texan Hotel and Conference center in Dallas, TX. Under a massive glass atrium a little town is built, with a lazy stream, waterfalls, and weird plants. This one looks truly otherworldly.

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What an unusual combination! The reddish ones in the back and their greenish neighbors are like little palm trees. (you can tell I'm not much of a photographer. I didn't notice that green man-made thingy when I shot the photo! Oh well, let's just call it an alien mushroom.)

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???? It looks like chili peppers growing out of its middle.

And WHY did this busy homeschooling gardening mother-of-six abandon her family and soil to fly across the country, you ask? Well, I shall tell you! I went out for a conference. I have started a business!

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Selling bouquets will not put food on the table. I am a certified color analyst with 20 years experience, and when I was just starting my family I was analyzing people's best colors and representing the best skincare in the country - BeautiControl. It was time to go back to being a personal consultant! So now I'm back and business is booming! I would like to help you, no matter where you are in the country. I can send you our advanced patent-pending skin sensors that will analyze your skin's needs and customize a facial program for you. I can also color analyze you via handy-dandy internet! Please visit my website, www.clearer-image.com, and contact me on that website or send me a comment on this one. Purchases can also be made via my website. Please visit to learn about how truly outstanding our treatments are, including our Instant Facelift. I hope I can be of service to you! And I hope I can keep up my gardening blog, at least occasionally. Working in the soil is in itself food for the soul. But I need to put food in our bodies, and personal consulting pays better than bouquets! If you'd like to help put food in my children's bellies (no pressure!) please go to my website and allow me to be of service to you!

 
 
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Has it really been more than a month since I posted? Sigh. Not that I haven't mentally composed dozens of posts. Life has been insane, and I will post on that next. But I just had to share this one. It made me feel so much better.

Last night, just past twilight, I told Anna-Grace to go catch lightening bugs before the season was over. She lit up like a little lightening bug herself. Mommy hadn't just barked "It's past nine! Go to bed!" She had said, "Go out and play!" A rare occurrence with this mom. So she cheerfully ran out before I could change my mind. But within a few minutes she was back, whining to Christina. "Can you come out with me? I only caught one." Christina was cleaning up the kitchen, as was her job, and the voice inside me said, "Jeannette! Get off that dumb computer and play with your daughter!" So I volunteered. Another look of joyful surprise! Mommy's going to play! So out I ran into the twilight in my bare feet.

We ran around the darkening yard like children (not too hard for a 6 year old, but rare for me!) and I tried to explain that it was just slightly too dark, because we couldn't see their bodies after their little lights went off. Suddenly I stepped on something unpleasant. "Ouch!" I don't know if I stepped on a pricker or a bee, but it kept stinging worse, so I told Ann-Grace I had to go in and put something on it. Hopping into the house, with Anna-Grace, concerned, at my heals, I climbed quickly on a stool, muttering as I hunted through bottles of herbal medicines, "Where is that plantain tincture?" Anna-Grace perked up, spun on her heals and ran out the room. Finally I found the right bottle, and was just putting some on my poor toe when Anna-Grace reappeared with a look of triumph and held out a great big plantain leaf! I thanked her profusely and wondered why I had been so focussed on getting the tincture while I stomped all over the stuff on my way into the house?! Yet my 6 year old kept focussed on the basics and got me the real thing. I quickly chewed it up just a little to free the juices, stuck it on my toe, and felt the pain subside. I wrapped a bandade around the leaf itself to keep it on, which made Anna-Grace and Christina laugh, but it worked! I thanked my little naturopathic doctor for her quick thinking and her concern for her mommy. She looked so proud.

Few lightening bugs caught, but a host of memories preserved. And the satisfaction of knowing that I have instilled a love of the natural healing properties of our wonderful weeds into my little one. A good day.

 
 
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Happy June!  Well, the summer weeding season has begun, and although we got rain yesterday morning and expect a severe storm this evening, the gardens were slightly dry last Thursday so that I got most of my seedlings planted. Temperatures are already in the high nineties, not appropriate for the end of May in southeastern PA, but it will likely cool off again for a few weeks before it returns.

The rain, however, turned my gardens into jungles! The perennial border on the south side of my house was actually really easy to weed, because the perennials crowded out the weeds for the first time ever. They are huge, past my waist, and the little monarda plants I installed last year threaten to take over (that'll be gorgeous!). The ferns by our back door, normally about 3 feet, are as tall as I am. Anna-Grace will disappear without crouching in her secret hiding place among the ferns!

One serious downer, though. The ground under my grape vines is infested with bindweed. Gaargh! There is no way I will be able to keep that under control, and poisoning it will kill the grapes, so I'm just going to have to put down black plastic, at least for most of the summer, to kill as much as I can. It won't look very attractive - I was hoping to make nice grass there this year - but if I can kill it now, maybe I can sow grass seed in the fall and get ahead of it.

So I will now return to my summer schedule - I can get out there and weed or pick flowers from 6:30 am to 8am without breaking into a sweat (yeah! I hate heat!) then do all my millions of other projects inside until evening. I wish we lived in Eden, where it was never hot nor cold, there were no weeds to fight, and "tilling the earth" was a pleasure. But alas, we deal with the effects of the fall, and try to turn our little plots into Edens of our own. And that, in my opinion, is a noble endeavor.

 
Rain, Rain... 05/19/2011
 
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Yes, it seems to happen every year, that just as the "Last Frost Date" arrives, so does the endless rain! Most of our gardens are rather soggy, so at least two days must pass after a good rain before I can plant. Alas, in the last couple weeks, we have not had such a break from rain. It has given my back some time to heal without my feeling guilty, however, so I can be glad for that! But this picture was just so sweet I had to snap it. The sun came out between showers, and the raindrops covering the Lady's Mantle just shimmered!

I hope I can get back into more active writing, as I get back into more active gardening again, but due to some sudden serious health issues in the family, and the fact that I started yet another business (more to come on that!) I have been swamped. Not to mention the end of the home-school year, and a son graduating from high school! I am happy to announce he will be entering Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. in the fall. He gets most of the credit, since he really developed wonderful discipline and had a goal for an "Ivy League"-quality education, but I like to think I can take some credit for setting him on the right path and giving him good fundamentals! It's been an adventure, homeschooling six children all these years, but my children are very well educated, mature, and kind. And that was my goal. Two down, four more to go!

 
 
Well, I guess haven't actually gone to my actual website since November,  because although I thought I was putting up wonderful seasonal pictures over the months in my banner, I just discovered they were not appearing on the website. The autumn pic was still up. Apparently, in order to publish a new banner picture I have to hit a different button than when I publish a new blog entry. Darn, I had some lovely Christmas and snow and spring pictures up there, too. Sigh. Well, now I know and you'll see the pictures change seasonally!
 
What a Pain! 05/07/2011
 
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Well, this winter was no friend to our little pond, and Mother Nature did no favors for our frozen frogs, either. Not one full-grown frog survived (I'll spare you the gorey stories about cleaning up) nor did any fish, but we did winter over some tadpoles, so the frogs are back. And while the iris and rush are doing well, and some water celery and waterlilies made it, many other plants died. But what absolutely thrived was the string algae. Hurray.

So, today my goal was to get into that pond and clean out all the sludge and algae, and start the summer ahead of the enemy! I purchased algae eaters, stepped into the pond, and began the job. It was pleasant to stand bent over in the cool water, scooping up wet leaves and algae and throwing them on the lawn - yeah, I'm a little weird that way. But it's soothing to make environments conducive to healthier life. So I bent and scooped, bent and scooped, then lifted pots out and scrubbed the sides to get off some algae so the products would not have to work so hard. Half way through the job, as I placed a pot back into the water, it happened - TWANG! "AAAAAAAAAH!" My back went. There I hunched, thigh deep in the pond, and I couldn't move. "Teresa! Teresa!" She had been at the window not too long ago. Soon after I received a not too enthusiastic reply from the house, "Yeah?" I croaked, "I can't move. My back went." Out she ran to rescue her poor mother. It would have been comical to watch, had it not been so painful. My 90 pound, 5'1" daughter had to practically drag me out of the pond as I climbed up her body. Once out and somewhat straight, I could stand while she ran to the attic to get Daddy's crutches - made for someone over six feet tall! I'm 5'5". What a joke. She shifted the crutches, then pulled my shoulders forward, shifted and pulled, shifted and pulled, and that way we made it to the house and a couch. Then she ran out and got some comfrey leaves, put some olive oil in a pan and heated the leaves to make a hot comfrey-oil compress for my back.

Those who know me know I can't do nothing. Fifteen minutes on my stomach doing nothing and I was going crazy. So I had the girls bring me some paperwork, and little by little over the next couple hours I was able to move, make my way to the desk, and do some work. So here I am, sitting inside on a beautiful day, pond half cleaned, gardens needing weeding, and oh my achin' back. Well, I guess Angela's going to be doing most of the gardening this summer for our business. I'll have to give her a bigger cut!

 
Sweet Soil 05/02/2011
 
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This past week Angela and I dodged rain storms and got out to plant a few cool-loving seedlings that were outgrowing their pots. As we dug she asked one of those burning questions of life: "Mom, how come soil doesn't smell?" Hmmm. She clarified. "I mean, considering everything in it is dead and decomposing, it should smell, but it doesn't." In my great maternal wisdom, I replied sagely, "Well, it does smell. We just don't notice it because we're used to it. For us it's the smell of nature. I mean, different soils are different, and this is the only soil we're used to. But I remember being shocked and even a little shaken to find truly red soil down south last time we went on a road trip to Florida." Really. I remember being quite put off my equilibrium. I don't want everyone to think I'm flakey, but really. It seemed wierd. I hadn't realized until then how connected I was to the soil, and how something so ubiquitous and inconspicuous could, well, ground me, and the lack of familiar soil could shake me - at least a little. I continued to Angela, "Everything in soil is already decomposed so it doesn't stink. But the smell of soil is just so familiar to us that we don't notice it anymore. But it's the smell of LIFE." She seemed to accept my pearls of wisdom, but a moment later I heard her speaking incomprehensible words: "quarter of results...the deal in Decem...said that...intupled from $428 million..." I looked over at her. She was leaning over a tiny scrap of paper. "...AG analysts... give a boost... IPO activity...lagged behind." Everything decomposed already? Apparently not ALL of last year's mulch. OK. So soil smells like LIFE and the Wall Street Journal.

 
Mid-April Joys 04/18/2011
 
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Aah! Spring in full swing! Just a quick note to revel in the beautiful spring colors that are announcing the coming of warmer weather. What's blooming? The sunny yellow daffodils have been going for a month at least! The February Gold that started just after February are just starting to fade, and a later variety has come out recently to join them. My Teresa loves daffodils! She's in heaven.

Grecian windflower, that cheerful little daisy, is dressed in blue and white, joining glory of the snows in the same shades. Lungwort, with umbels of blue and pink, and hyacinth, too, share their soothing shades, while a vibrant violet pulsatilla next to a creeping thyme with yellow/orange tips excites the senses. Deep purple grape hyacinth and soft pink phlox are beginning to emerge, while soft yellow primrose and a profusion of tiny white blossoms on the ogon spirea cool and calm. Through it all, the solid burgundy shades of the lenten rose, bergenia, barberry and heuchera, the silvery shades of lamb's ear, and the many shades of green create a unifying background. Even my beloved weeds want to offer some joy, as the ground ivy and the purple deadnettle provide tiny pink and purple flowers. And over it all is a canopy of okame cherry blossoms, whose faces hang down so we can enjoy them! Three levels of color - floor, walls, and ceiling, in my outdoor room. 

Yes, it is a glorious time of year, even if the daytime temperature can change 30 degrees from one day to the next. Gradually my small patches of color will spread, and with them more joy in this gardener's heart.

 
 
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Finally a very nice day coincided with a couple "free" hours today, and I was able to get out to plant the lettuce and peas. And sure enough, out came little girls to help! It is amazing how much they enjoy planting and subsequently eating peas. With all the stereotypes of children refusing to eat their mushy cooked peas, to my children, fresh peas off the vine are like candy. And really, they are. If you've never planted peas, now is the time. Their natural sugars are so high that it is a wonderful substitute for candy, at least for children whose taste buds have not been over-stimulated with junk. (Remember, my youngest thinks fresh kale is a treat!)

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Eating peas for breakfast last June
The Little Marvel worked very well for us last year, and so I am doing it again this year. I have had very little success with climbers, but this bush variety was wonderful. We don’t plant enough to blanch and freeze, or even to make a meal. Just enough to give the children several weeks worth of fun food fresh from the garden. When I asked the older children once what was their fondest memory of my gardens as they were growing up, it wasn’t my beautiful flowers, sigh, it was fresh peas, beans, and cherry tomatoes from the garden. Oh, and those thick-skinned, large-pitted ancient grapes in the fall. Food leaves the longest and sweetest memories.

 
 
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…and the first fly invaded our house today. The outside temperatures hit an unseasonal 70, and since we keep the thermostat set so low in order to save on fuel that we have to wear coats in the house, we opened windows and doors – and in came the only bugs probably within a mile radius. Still, after a long, cold winter, I couldn’t begrudge their presence too much. March gave us three more snowy days, and went out more like a lion than a lamb like it’s supposed to. We were even treated to an April Fool’s Day snow! The flakes were so large, some 2 inches across, that we could aim to catch them on our tongues as they floated down. It snowed most of the morning, looking like confetti in the air and settling on the bright green spring grass, making a lovely contrast. But hopefully, now, we are done with winter.

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The Lenten Rose bloomed in time to fulfill its name, because of how late Easter is this year. The purple shade is quite liturgical, in keeping with the vestments worn during this period of penance and personal reflection. Its bowed heads seem fitting to the season as well. So many of the popular names of our traditional European flowers have religious themes, or are named after religious feasts, as their common names often were developed during the glorious Middle Ages. Glorious? Yes. Don’t believe the text books. There is more war and pestilence and filth today than there was during those times, and there were also great strides made in industry and science. Certainly not as much as today, but without the discoveries of the Middle Ages, we would not be as advanced as we are. We can thank monasteries for further developing the study of plants for medicinal purposes, and for improving farming methods, and even for the development of champagne by a French monk named Dom Perignon. Many monasteries had systems of water power that ran large industrial machines and provided running water in the kitchens and lavatories. All this learning they taught the local people, improving the lives of many, and teaching their children, both boys and girls, the three R’s, free of charge. This is why many towns in Europe are named after monasteries and convents, because the people settled around them. And it is from this culture that we get many of the common names of plants. St. John’s Wort blooms around the time of the feast of St. John the Baptist. Rose of Sharon, Jacob’s Ladder, and Star of Bethlehem take their names from the Bible. And the number of plants named for Our Lady are almost innumberable: rosemary, marigold, lady’s slipper, our lady’s bedstraw, lady’s mantle, Madonna lily, maidenhair fern… and on and on. Someday I hope to create a Mary Garden with all plants of Biblical or religious reference, as a place of meditation and peace. Maybe if this year we make a profit on our little flower business I can begin! Seed planting has begun in earnest, and little baby plants are popping up under the growlights in the basement and finding their way onto window sills…

 
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