W is for Watermelon 🍉

I want you to show you our homegrown watermelons. They were so amazing this year!! Ha ha, amazingly tiny!! They just didn’t turn out as expected or planned–and we’ve grown wonderful melons in other years. One of our children proclaimed, “Mom why does this watermelon taste like a cucumber?” Wow, now that is a statement every gardener wants to hear. Nope, not at all!

Our expectations are so often way off, are not met, and simply are not reality. Why do we approach everything with so many expectations? Should we have any at all? Perhaps being comfortable with the uncertainty of not knowing and expecting the unexpected may be a wiser approach in life. 

The word “unexpected” is often used in our home. Life just keeps us guessing and curious as to why things often don’t go as we planned. My Dad told me on the phone the other night that he thinks God must have a great sense of humor. I think that is likely true but I also believe that His intended course for us is never our own because who would choose to have cancer, have a life long illness or get hit by a car, etc.? Ahhh, that would be no one. 

When the unexpected occurs (and it will) we can fuss and pout and vow not to plant watermelons ever again, but really what good comes from all that whining? In my experience the refinement and growth that comes from the unexpected has been life changing. Of course we are allowed to whine sometimes… I whined and complained through my surgeries and treatments, but I also made great efforts to fight against negativity and whining and tried very hard to find joy in this unbelievably difficult “unexpected” turn.

When the unexpected occurs give yourself time to adjust to the new course, it is okay to be sad for a time, but intentionally revaluate, make a new plan and start again. The Midnight Gardener and I are already discussing the reasons our watermelons were so tiny and what we can improve on next year. We are also still celebrating the amazing tomato crop we had this year. It is true–our tomato plants are still producing beautifully. 

Celebrate what is abundant in your life! Accept the unexpected and trust that God’s plan for you, though it may be a completely unexpected turn of events, will be just what you need.

B is for Blackberry Defense

Blackberries. They look and taste delicious. They make sweet jam, combine well with yogurt, and make a wonderful blackberry pie. Yum!

However, gardeners from western Washington do not hold any sweet feelings towards the plant that produces this seemingly unobtrusive fruit. In fact, two varieties are considered a noxious weeds! Found across the region, the Himalayan and evergreen blackberry are European species of blackberry that are highly invasive and difficult to control. We use words like bramble, or thicket to describe the plants because if left unattended they will invade gardens, overwhelm shrubs and outcompete trees. The ranging, thorny vines must be constantly battled. How they sap our energy and time!

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When we first moved into our Washington home, we noticed blackberry plants in the preserve at the back of our property that had entangled many of the native shrubs and trees. I recall my distress at noticing a particularly sad looking evergreen tree that was completely stunted because of thick blackberry vines entrapping the tree’s growth. When young and tender, the trunk of the tree had been forced to curve and dip along the ground in order to escape the blackberry vines. Over a period of weeks and with the held of some hard-working teenagers we hired, we hacked through the brambles, dug out the blackberry roots, and freed the bushes and trees from the thorny vines. Once the little evergreen tree was no longer on the defensive, it doubled and then tripled in size within a few short years, returning to it’s intended, ascending course.

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I am certain you know the meaning of the word Defensiveness (definition #5), but have you considered that the existence of defensiveness within relationships is like a thick, strangling, thorny blackberry vine? Defensiveness has the potential to stunt our relationships and our personal growth. Defensiveness keeps us from meaningful progress. What I share now I have learned through personal experience battling my own defensiveness.

I had been contemplating why some of my children are so defensive. There was no ownership, merely hollow words to blame and redirect scrutiny elsewhere. I felt frustrated that we often battled over defended positions rather than communicating effectively. It always became worse whenever I sought to provide the individuals with feedback about the impact of their choices or behaviors. When I combined prayer with my examination and reflection on the behaviors, it was made clear to me that my own defensiveness (and perhaps that of the Midnight Gardener 😇) was at the root of the behaviors of our children. At first I was heartbroken that I hadn’t realized this sooner. It is often very painful to examine our own faults and make needed changes, however as I have begun to change so have they, and in return our relationships have started to improve.

What is helping me? I am learning that in relationships, defensiveness needs to be traded in wholly for curiosity and empathy for those around us. Here is a YouTube clip that really helped me understand.  Molly Fletcher on Defensiveness into Curiosity  

Consider for a minute wether you might be even a little like the defensive and strangling blackberry vine. Perhaps you don’t think you are at all defensive (which, I’m just sayin’, is highly unlikely 😊). I encourage you to consider the following everyday scenario. Even if you think these can’t help you (wink, wink), may help “other people” in your life.

1. A child responds to their parent and says “You over-talk about everything.” The parent has two choices, defensiveness or curiosity. They could say, “No I don’t! Why are you always exaggerating?” Or they can respond with curiosity, “Tell me more about that.” And after the child explains, the parent could inquire further, “What do you feel inside when I over talk?” And then listen fully to their response and acknowledge you understand.

2. Your spouse comes to you and says, “I have noticed that you are a little on edge today.” Defensiveness = “No I am not! You don’t know anything about my feelings today.” Curiosity = “Hmmm, what are you noticing today that brings you to this conclusion?”

3. Parents say to their college student, “We are concerned that you aren’t using your money wisely.”
Defensiveness = “You are always judging me and assume I am making bad choices.”
Curiosity = “Help me understand why you are concerned about my  recent spending.”

4. Senior parents say to their adult daughter, “We feel that you aren’t keeping in touch with us enough.”
Defensiveness = “You could call me too!”
Curiosity = “I’m sure that is true, what would be better for you?” (And if you are really brave and comfortable in your own skin, add this next bit.) “As a parent myself, I am curious. How do you feel when I don’t maintain frequent enough contact?”

These are just examples of the wording we can use to turn our defensiveness into curiosity.  Be aware that demonstrating curiosity also requires us to be sincere, and to demonstrate that in our expressions and the tone of our voice. Otherwise, our loved ones could make an assumption that we are faking it.

If you are interested in learning more, consider reading Feeling Good Together, by David D. Burns, M.D. I found this book to be eye opening in healing relationships through curiosity.

Blackberries, like relationships, can be deliciously flavored. In order to enjoy the sweetness we must take time, choose humility, show empathy and find patience. We can let our loved ones know that we are working on changing and ask for their patience as we untangle possibly thick, defensive blackberry vines. The sweetened relationships will be genuinely sublime.

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Green is the Color of Hope


Green is the color of hope. Oscar De La Renta
To Plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. Audrey Hepburn

Gardening brings me hope for tomorrow and the next day and the next. It is so rewarding to create a  small garden that is enjoyed each day. I sometimes feel gardening has been a life saving hobby for me. If I feel down a bit of hard-work in my garden cheers my heart. 

While I have been visiting my sister I am replanting some of her gardens. I find such joy and hope even on vacation in the garden. 

Enjoy gardening even a small spot of earth. It will brighten your day.

H is for Honeycrisp Apples

May I share with you the first moment I took a bite out of a Washington Honeycrisp apple? My husband and I visited Washington State over a decade ago during the fall while on a recruiting trip for work. We were enamored by the clear weather, crisp fall air, and quaint farms and fields in the Snohomish and Sammamish River Valleys. One night during this trip we stopped by an adorable local market to pick up some snacks. I eat an apple nearly every day during the fall and winter months, so I went to find one. I noticed an apple we didn’t have in Florida, where we lived at the time. What variety could it be? Yep that’s right, it was a Honeycrisp apple. No words can adequately describe my surprise and delight as I took that first juicy bite.

Honeycrisp apples have a gorgeous appearance and in Washington you’ll find they reach a size nearly two or three times that of a regular apple! When you take a bite…WOW that is all I can say! The flavor is sweet, but not too sweet, while being simultaneously tangy but not tart, and ever so juicy while also being crisp and satisfying with every last bite.

Ok, I get that not everybody feels the same way that I do about fruits and vegetables, but go with me here as I relish in apple bliss!

Honeycrisp apples are exceptionally good when eaten fresh out of hand. They are mediocre in pie, apple crisp or fried apples, as they become very soft and don’t hold their shape well when cooked. Other varieties are better for these uses. Honeycrisp apples could be used in a delicious apple juice or sauce, but there are far more economical choices. Besides, Honeycrisp apples are divine and because of this they are likely to be eaten before you know it. In my opinion, they just have to be enjoyed as they are and for what they are. Eaten fresh they are pure goodness.

Speaking of pure goodness, I am the mother of three amazing daughters, and an aunt to sixteen amazing nieces. I am a daughter, granddaughter and great granddaughter. I have lived on both the East Coast and the West Coast of the United States. I have lived in two foreign countries. During all these experiences, I have met so many good women and shared in wonderful friendships. What I have observed from all of these women is that we simply think too little of ourselves. We don’t love and appreciate ourselves as we are. We are looking to be more of this, less of that, more like her or something more like that. It really is exhausting! It does not help us be at peace with ourselves and it prevents us from finding joy in being ourselves–being amazing women.

My post today is to encourage women everywhere to recognize the greatness others see in you. Think more of yourself, be gentle with yourself, forgive yourself, and love yourself as you are. Sadly I struggled with thinking too little of myself into my late thirties. I wrote a little about this in my post entitled Fluffy Soil. In my recovery from cancer the second and third time, God let me see myself as He sees me, as his daughter, and I am forever changed by these experiences. I discovered that God and Christ have an infinite love for us. This love allows me to just be me. Because of this knowledge, I understand that within each of us there is pure goodness. Remember what God said in Genesis 1:31, “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” We are very good even. Don’t forget it!

We are inherently good. Our choices, thoughts and actions increase our goodness and our ability to love and serve others. I want to encourage us to remember our own goodness more often and choose to care for and love ourselves. Don’t forget to enjoy a Honeycrisp apple as often as possible this fall and winter–it will remind you that you are purely good!

L is for Lettuce Alone

Flashy Trouts Back Lettuce


What do you call lettuce alone? Honeymoon salad! Super funny, right? Ha ha. 

My kids would tell you that all of my jokes are lame. I don’t remember jokes very well. I do have three go-to jokes that I remember and will use. The joke above is my number three joke. When I ask my kids about this topic, they will fain annoyance and make comments like, “Not again mom!”

Writer’s block has plagued me this last month and I have decided it is because I have needed “lettuce alone” time. I am not talking about the honeymoon kind! Goodness! It has been family time that I needed. We took our kids camping, canoeing, waterfall-exploring, and hiking during August. We also did a lot of things together at home: we made jam, tried some new dinner menus, snipped sooo many green beans, started some art challenges, played UNO (too many times), and worked and worked in the garden. The lasting memories we made brings me, and I hope them, such joy through the mundane moments of life. When we are sad or discouraged these memories we make in life will lift us and unite us.

I believe that my past battles away from death have given me a perspective that our time is limited and precious while here on earth. I feel the urgency to ensure that my time is given to my family and that we have quantity and quality time together. I protect this time to make sure my little family knows that they are loved by mom and dad. For example: at Valentines I always prepare a fancy dinner and we skip any prescheduled activities, making sure that no work travel or anything else takes us away. I do the same during our kid’s birthdays, and often extend their special time by celebrating them all week. I try very hard to be in attendance at family member’s key events. Each night I try to take the time to check-in and spend a few minutes with each family member before bed. We sing, pray, read or talk. I am not perfect and some nights I am so tired that I do just say, “Say your own prayers.” I do try, because I have learned all too personally that time is fleeting.

My encouragment this week is for all of us to enjoy some “Lettuce Alone” family time. The time spent will be lasting.

Rich Tomato Harvest

I am late on my Wednesday post this week just enjoying my Clever Girl on a return trip back to college. A simple post about our 2017 tomatoes. 

During the past three years our tomato harvest has not been as plentiful as planned due to blight and not enough time to really care for our crop. However, this year due to my Midnight Gardener and my dear Critter Girl our tomato harvest is overwhelming rich.

Here are some Tomato Garden Views.



Jen’s Whole Garden (Almost) Summer Sauce

My summer sauce recipe is here! This recipe is great for your body, nearly any vegetable could be added for extra color or vitamin, and it can be added to so many dinner menus. For example: Italian Tortellini Soup (listed under garden recipes), pizza or marinara sauce, spaghetti sauce, topping for chicken Parmesan, tomato based curry, butter chicken, beef stew, lasagna and homemade tomato soup. The recipe just adds extra goodness to every recipe (Thanks reader, Kathy for reminding me to add example recipes).
I want to be honest and up front about this recipe–it is not exact and flexibility is needed. You can add more or less of something for taste or thickness. Also note this recipe is not for the faint of heart in the kitchen. It is time consuming, but the end result will delight all year long.

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups onion, roughly chopped

5-8 cloves of garlic, finely minced

4-5 sweet peppers or 2 bell peppers any color, seeded, cored and coarsely chopped

1-2 spicy peppers, seeded and diced (jalapeño, serrano, etc.–this is optional depending on your heat preference)

1-2 medium zucchini, grated (about 4 cups)

5-6 large carrots peeled and grated (about 3 cups–you can use any variety, but I use purple carrots because of the beautiful rich red color they add to the sauce when mixed with the tomatoes. If you use orange carrots, but be warned that the color of your sauce will not be as beautiful. We eat with our eyes too!)

1 red beet peeled and grated (optional, a way to add a red color if you use orange carrots)

2 cups chopped spinach (optional)

2 can (12-ounces) tomato paste (add one more if needed)

30-35 tomatoes (all varieties welcome, I use whatever is ripe. I grow paste tomatoes and they add a nice thickness. If you are buying these, look for Romas.)

Note: Tomatoes must be peeled and core removed. My preferred method is to cut them in half, place them on a cookie sheet in the oven on broil. Afer 5-8 minutes, remove the tray and slip off the tomato skins.

1-2 tablespoons coarse, kosher salt (to taste)

1 teaspoon black pepper

3-4 tablespoons dried italian seasoning (to taste)

2 cups chopped fresh basil (to taste–I like a lot)

1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon of baking soda (add when sauce is complete and finished cooking down)
Note: This will help the acid level of the sauce to be lower and not so difficult to digest.

DIRECTIONS
In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onions, and sauté until translucent and slightly browned, 3-4 minutes. Add garlic, and cook, stirring constantly for a minute or so.

Add the rest of the ingredients. Cook all ingredients for 1-1 1/2 hours. Stirring occasionally with a potato masher. When cooked down and has a thick sauce appearance remove bay leaves and blend with a stick blender. You can use a regular blender but please just buy a stick blender. It is an awesome kitchen tool. The blender will just be a big mess.

Add the baking soda, stir and let set for 5 minutes. Cool for a couple of hours. Then freeze. I freeze the sauce in regular quart size freezer size ziplocks. I lay them flat in the freezer so they freeze in a way that will fit nicely standing up in my freezer. I make some in smaller bags for toppings.

Harvested vegetables for Jen’s Whole Garden (Almost) Summer Sauce 

Next week I will be sharing my recipe for a sauce I use all year long in soups, spaghetti and as a topping for anything that tastes great with a garden vegetable sauce. I call it Jen’s Whole Garden Summer Sauce. It’s name comes from being able to use so many summer garden vegetables all at once in one delish sauce. It is almost the Whole Garden in one sauce. Great news, it is also good for your health and kid’s will eat their vegetables because it tastes yummy and doesn’t look like vegetables. No, I am not sneaking in kale. 

I am in the middle of making the sauce, school shopping, cub camp and swim team so this week I share the harvested vegetables each one from our garden and late tonight they will create a simmering sauce. I can smell it already. Let the work begin!

August Garden Views

My post is a little late today…. but it is worth the wait for our beautiful Garden Views. My goals for this year’s garden was to create gardens that were just that beautiful. We have accomplished this in many ways but in other ways we need more time so glad every year to have another chance to try again. Next year I am hopeful a trellis will add to the beauty. My Midnight Gardener gave me the trellis supplies for Mother’s Day this year and soon we will make time to build it. Enjoy the view!

Cherokee Purple Tomato

Sun gold Tomato

Flashy Trouts Back Lettuce

Banana Squash-My Favorite Squash

Cinderella Pumpkin

C is for Cucumber: Crisp and cool with a hint of lemon

In my opinion, the Lemon Cucumber are the best tasting of all cucumber varieties. Have you ever taken a bite of a cucumber only to realize it tastes bitter? You spit it out and remind yourself to cautiously check each cucumber before it enters a salad on your table. Did you know that the lemon cucumber is never bitter? It is true! Any lemon cucumber you take a bite out of will be refreshing, cool and crisp.

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I discovered the lemon cucumber about ten years ago and have planted them every year since. If you read the description of a lemon cucumber, it will say the similarity to lemons is only in color, shape and size, yet my taste buds disagree. They say that the lemon cucumber has just a hint of lemon, which makes it perfect as cucumbers go. Happily, this variety also produces well in the cooler weather of my Pacific Northwest garden.

As I have written in other posts, I am a survivor of childhood ovarian cancer. At age 13 the disease took my ability to have children. In the years since I have had moments of deep sadness, longing and even anger as I wondered, “Why me?” so very many times. I confess that there have been times when a feeling of bitterness has stung my heart.

As mentioned in my earlier post, M is for Melon and Miracles, we pursued adoption and in time were able to adopt four children. But oh the waiting! The self-doubt and despair! The anger at the circumstances, the paperwork and the process, and anger at society! It was a long five years before our first child, and then again long years in between each child. We cried tears of deep sorrow during those many years of waiting, we felt every emotion in the anticipation of contacts and even expected placements that almost happened, and of birth parents who changed their minds. And ever present there was the enduring stress of not knowing and of feeling powerless.

Through this and many other trials I encountered bitterness. Bitterness occurs when we feel someone has taken something from us that we are powerless to get back. Bitterness is fermented un-forgiveness. In any part of your life where you are struggling to forgive another, those unresolved feelings can “mature” and deepen into bitterness.

Has it ever crept into your life? Perhaps you have experienced bitterness with family members who don’t live up to our expectations, Or maybe you have experienced a taste of bitterness with your spouse when he/she doesn’t do all you think he/she should. What about harbored bitterness for those that have offend our children? (Mama Bear Bitterness, right?) When life is hard, bitterness is so easy to embrace. The more we cling to our past injuries, the more we allow the pain to pool and fester. Bitterness will rob us of the joy we can find in anything.

And then there is a deeper sense of bitterness that we can encounter–what may begin as anger can become bitterness towards God for our seemingly unanswered prayers, or for our inevitable trials and challenges.

cucumber-1572875_1280Lemon cucumber and cucumbers in general will produce fruit within two months of being planted. The plants can look relatively sparse and immature, and yet a cucumber will suddenly appear. I wasn’t expecting any cucumbers on our plants for a couple of more weeks, and then the Midnight Gardener came in last night with our first cuke of the season.

Bitterness is the same. It will produces destructive fruits quickly. When we ruminate on past circumstances or events, too much bitterness can become a part of who we are. This thought cycle, if not challenged, can suddenly produce unexpected fruits of hatred, sadness and hopelessness towards ourselves, or towards a person or set of circumstances that are really out of our control. Bitterness has the potential to take us away from our faith, our trust in God and His plan for us. It can also rob us of meaningful and purpose-filled relationships.

What can help us root out bitterness, despite all we have been through? As I contemplated this question in my own life, four prominent answers have become clear:

1. First and most importantly for me has been faith in the enabling power of the atonement of Jesus Christ. I believe that through Christ’s atonement we can gain strength beyond our own and overcome life’s challenges with help from God.

2. Humility to ask for help. When we are clearly unable to stop overthinking the past, letting go of destructive, constant negative thoughts or scenarios, we may need to seek help from someone we trust or a mental health professional. Staying in the present, maintaining our thoughts in the moment, not in the past or the future, is key. I am a person who has to battle with this challenge and I have needed help and finally asked for it.

3. Choosing joy and remaining active. Happiness has been something I have had to work at choosing every day.  I personally must maintain a routine of physical activity (walking, swimming, Yoga) to experience joy-filled days. Also actively making time for service helps me choose happiness with ease.

4. Endurance.  I know the last part does not sound glorious! It is absolutely hard work but we have to dig our heels in and fight bitterness.

Adding just a hint of lemon to food or a beverage just brightens the flavor. Cucumbers with a hint of lemon for example are delicious. When we add love and compassion to our everyday lives these will cool a heart filled with bitterness.