Cement plus Gardener equals Butchart Garden

Jeanette Foster Kennedy (Jennie) was born in Toronto, Canada in 1868. When she was orphaned in her early teens she went to live with her aunt and 7 cousins in Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada. She was an extremely gifted child, artistic, intelligent and adventurous — so much so that when given the opportunity to fly in a hot air balloon and a plane, she took it. (Back then these activities qualified you for daredevil status.)

She graduated from the Brantford Young Ladies’ College, (one of the most prestigious schools in Canada) where she earned a scholarship to study art in Paris. She declined the opportunity, opting to marry her sweetheart, Robert Butchard when she was 18.

Robert was raised in his family’s hardware business and while the couple was on their honeymoon in England he learned the process of producing cement in bags rather than barrels (the common practice at the time). He returned home and shortly after established the Owen Sound Cement Company. Jennie became a chief chemist for the company.

In 1902 the couple and their 2 daughters moved to Tod Inlet in Vancouver where raw materials for the cement were plentiful. They purchased a homesite property with a limestone quarry and established the first Portland Cement plant. The business was extremely successful and within a few years, the 3.5 acre quarry was depleted.

During those first few years in Vancouver, Jennie, who had never had an interest in gardening, fell in love with the abundance and variety of vegetation on the West Coast. She planted a small flower and vegetable garden at her home. Her new hobby became a passion and a short time later she commissioned a well-known Japanese Garden Designer to design a formal garden on the property.

While she appreciated her husband’s success, she wasn’t so happy with the environmental impact (aka, big hole) on their property. So being the adventurous, intelligent and artistic woman she was, she set to work transforming the site.

Laborers that were no longer needed at the quarry to extract limestone were put to work cleaning out the rocks and debris left behind. Countless loads of topsoil were brought in by horse and cart. Jennie herself hung from a buson’s chair to plant ivy and dwarf trees in the quarry’s walls. She had trees planted to hide the old cement plant.

It took over 10 years, but she turned that ugly, scared pit into what is known today as the “Sunken Garden” of Butchart Gardens. Today the gardens (yes, there are more than just the Japanese and the Sunken Garden) receive over a million visitors a year and are registered as a National Historic Site of Canada.

You can’t keep a good woman down.

*Would you like to see some pictures? Check out my visit to Butchart Gardens.



Here in the Heartland

Today I’m writing from southern Missouri, in America’s Heartland, close to where the Ohio River collides with the Mississippi at the bottom of Illinois. Every day has been chilly, damp and dreary just as I expected.

I know this country. Decades ago at this same time of year, when I was 7 months pregnant my husband and I packed up and hauled a dozen horses and a half dozen truck and trailer loads full of belongings across the country to start over again right here in America’s “Heartland”. This is where he grew up and knowing that a grandma would be right down the street was reason enough for me to give it a try.

When we arrived we stayed with his parents in their home situated on his grandparents’ 40-acre farm. We took walks through the defunct pastures and down the tree-canopied defunct railway that bisected the property. He rigged horse stables and pens together in the weathered old barn and when the deep chill of winter finally broke I dug a vegetable patch in the barnyard.

The soil was damp and loamy, scented with decomposed manure’s soft pungency. Sunshiny yellow daffodils sprouted randomly at the barn wall’s circumference.  The pastures greened with the spring warmth and tiny iridescent green leaves covered the old trees along the railway. Almost instantly spring had arrived in the Heartland.

I daydreamed about eating red ripe tomatoes and sweet peas off the vine as I worked the soil. I marked rows, dropped seeds and waited for my garden and me to give birth.


Away from the barn, we drove through the country to meet my husband’s friends, past old strip mines and woods suffocated with tangled vines and overgrown underbrush. We visited the horse trader whose mumbles about horse genealogies made the book of Genesis look like an adventure story.  And the coon-hunter, who, in a slow monotone drawl—praised—his—fast—hunting—dogs—for—treein’—dat—dar—coon—n—keep—em—der—til—mornin’. (Sounds like some excitin’ hunting now don’t it?)

But back at the barn there was more happening than either of these two men could have kept up with. Within hours green sprouts appeared on the garden’s surface. I mean, I’m here to tell ya, those seeds were barely in the ground long enough for that horse trader to get through even one mare’s lineage.

When night fell we nestled into our guest room and listened to the thunderstorms. Violent thunder. Winds. Cracks of lightning. Another thunderclap followed by a flash of lightning, again and again. And thick rain as if we were standing directly behind a waterfall. I feared for my fragile little garden greenlings.

peas on vine

In the morning I ran to the barn in and what do you think I saw? I swear those darn greenlings had grown an inch overnight. Stronger than I could have imagined. After pulling equally prolific weeds and feeding the horses we hopped in the truck and headed off for another day of visiting Heartland natives.

Again that evening rain storms moved through. The next morning, with ruler in hand, I’d surveyed my garden. Another inch on the tomatoes, green beans, peas and corn. Feathery stalks promised carrots within days, and lettuce would be on the table by the weekend. It was unbelievable, this life in the heartland. So lush and green and ready to grow that I dubbed it “the Jungle”.

Within weeks I was cradling my newborn, picking carrots and eating peas off the vine.* I could hardly wait for the tomatoes and corn to ripen to perfection and plate the combination for dinner. Oh how my mouth salivated just thinking about it.

3827465303_ecbc5ffcc5_zBut I was robbed. Literally. A heartland jungle Grinch snatched them right off the vine. Stole every last tomato from every last plant. Gone. Just like that. The peppers too, and most of the corn.

A few days later my dog disappeared.

I couldn’t believe it. I never expected such surreptitious acts, particularly in a place named Heartland.

After all that we took matters into our own hands. With a newborn in tow, we packed up and disappeared from the Heartland. It was not what we expected. But then again, starting over is like that. You never know what you’re going to get.

 *If you get a chance to eat fresh peas off the vine, I suggest you do. Few finer treats exist on the planet.



One More Stop in Little Rock…The Clinton Presidential Center

Balance is the key to everything. One day a hike, the next a museum.

The William J Clinton Presidential Center & Park is so much more than a museum though. Oh sure it has the usual stuff — exhibits about his vision and accomplishments and displays pertinent to life in the White House.

I also learned about Bill’s upbringing, his family life and how he decided to pursue the presidency in his pubescent years! He blazed his own trail to the white house from that day forward.

I walked through a reconstructed model of the staff room and the Oval Office. I saw pictures and documents, historical data and political data. All in all, it was a lesson on the struggles and victories that anyone might encounter on their way to and while living in the White House.

But who knew I’d encounter the Xtreme Bug Exhibit there? Apparently, Mr. Clinton is an avid fan of bugs’ abilities to leverage the power of cooperation. See the ClintonFoundation.org’s full article on the exhibit and why it’s a natural fit for the museum.

“According to the Pulitzer Prize winning biologist E.O. Wilson, ants, termites, bees, and people are among the most successful species on earth because they are the greatest cooperators,” said President Bill Clinton. “Insects are a window into how our world works, and show us how species thrive through cooperation – whether a colony of ants, or a community of people working together to make the world a better place.”

And, who knew I’d be awed by the beauty of Clinton Park? Thirty acres of reclaimed land (previously a run-down warehouse district) that is now a stunning public recreation area and a prime example of urban renewal in our country.

Who knew I’d find the Choctaw Train Station, also situated on the Clinton Presidential Center Campus? It’s now restored and home to the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, the first school in the nation to offer a Masters Degree in Public Service.

And, most surprising, who knew I’d find the headquarters for Heifer International, with a school and animals right here as well? (Check it out, one of my favorite non-profit organizations, all about promoting self-sufficiency.)

And who knew I’d find a garden that recognizes Anne Frank among others on the very same ground, with words that humble me and remind me that my life is blessed beyond measure.

“From my favorite spot on the floor, I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind…As long as this exists, I thought, and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this last, I cannot be unhappy.”

‘Tis the Season: HallowThanksmas

Sunday I celebrated a solstice of sorts. Twelve weeks until Christmas. The glorious season of HallowThanksmas is upon us. 
In addition to the usual slurry of advertisements to over spend and over eat, this year we’ll participate in an important election. I’ll experience the birth of another grandchild and take a trip to Spain. Halloween. Thanksgiving. Christmas.  It’s going to be quite a season.
My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. I love that a day (and usually an entire weekend) is set aside to give thanks in our country. In our family, we gather at my ex-laws home to celebrate with a prime rib dinner.
Yup, prime rib with the ex-husband and his wife and the rest of the clan. The die-hard turkey eaters could really balk at the menu alone. But that’s not our priority on this day. Being able to set aside our differences and sit around the table together is. Just like every other family we have our fair share of family disharmony, but we choose not to let it interrupt our Giving-Thanks day. Being grateful for what we have takes precedence over holding fast to our differences.

Is Your Job Making You a Better Person?

Before becoming a full-time workamper I was focused on being the best corporate employee that I could be. Once I got on the ladder I climbed it as fast as I could. Within a few short years, I doubled my income and received some pretty great perks for climbing the rungs.
But that climb came with a price that surpassed what I was earning. The stress that came with it affected my health and my spirit. 
I stepped off the ladder when I became a workamper living in a motorhome. I traded the corporate package benefits for a grand lifestyle, with grand vistas and even grander personalities in the transient world where I lived and worked. 
Now I have a position that pays like a corporate job but allows me the freedom of living on the road. I found it by leveraging all of the talents I have developed from every job I have ever had and even then I still had to put hours of time and effort into training for my new position.
Our jobs are so much more than just a conglomeration of tasks and people-pleasing.
Think about this. If you are a full-time employee you spend over 2,000 hours a year at your job. And, on average, most people work about 40 years before they retire. That’s eighty thousand hours!
Putting that kind of time into anything could make you an expert at it. So, yes, you could be the best whatever-you-do in your profession. But are all those hours making you a better person, or just sucking the life out of you?
Maybe it’s time to evaluate, and step up your game or make a change. Consider the following.

Are You Learning New Skills?

I know plenty of people who can answer that question with a frustrating “yes” based purely on the amount of learning required to keep up with the ever-changing technologies of our times. But learning new skills beyond these simple necessities offer many benefits.
Expanding your skill set makes you more valuable to your employer. And typically greater value equals greater pay. Take advantage of the opportunities around you. Many employers offer online training courses or will pitch in to cover the cost of a college course or two. These educational options will naturally be oriented toward making you more effective in your current position. However, think about their benefits to you personally. You can use them to make a move to a better position or to survive an economic downturn, or even start your own business.
Learning a new skill can also keep you healthier longer. Did you know that keeping your mind active and engaged is a great way to ward off physical and mental diseases and slow the aging process? According to Nancy Merz Nordstrom, author of Learning Later Living Greater, continual learning opens our minds and helps us to develop our natural abilities. So by learning a new professional skill, you could be inadvertently improving a skill that will enhance your personal life as well.

Are Your Professional Goals Aligned With Your Personal Goals?

I recently completed an online Employee Performance Review that asked whether my position was still aligned with my personal goals. Plenty of things can change in a year and I was impressed that my employer was insightful enough to recognize this and phrase the question in a way to encourages employees to ponder its significance.
First of all, what are your personal goals? Do you want to spend more time with your family, or care for an elder? Want to take some time off to travel, or pursue a hobby? Think about your answers and carefully calculate where you are in those 40 years and 80,000 hours. Is your job helping you reach your goals or getting in the way of them?

Do Your Values Align With Those of Your Employer?

Values are at the core of who you are. They are what you stand for, what you believe in, and what you are willing to fight for. Does your employer share your same core values? Are they actively fleshed out on the workplace on a regular basis?
I have had to leave jobs that I loved because I so adamantly opposed the values that were expressed throughout the workforce. And I have stayed at lesser-paying jobs longer that I should have because the opposite was true. Conflicting core values can be a source of excessive stress and dissatisfaction in your professional life. Don’t underestimate the impact that this can have on your personal life.

Who Are Your Colleagues?

Are you surrounded by positive and encouraging co-workers? Or is there a Debbie-Downer around every corner?
Listen to the conversations surrounding you throughout your day. You can only be a better person if you surround yourself with people that also want to be better people. That means being around people that encourage you to try new things and help you through tough learning curves. It means being around people that honor your abilities, and support your professional responsibilities by competently managing their own. It’s difficult NOT to become a better person when you surround yourself with the right kind of people.
So what are you doing with your 80,000+ work hours? Are you satisfied with just a paycheck, or do you want to use that time to become a better person too? The choice is yours, consider your course of action wisely. Then take action!
*This post is recycled from an article posted on Infobarrel.com. To read more of my Infobarrel Articles click here. Photo image credit:www.thebusinesswomanmedia.com

My Mantra: "simply living"

In my last post I spoke about “simply living”. It’s a phrase that resonates deep within me. However, it’s just a couple of words to most people that see it in my writing or on my business card.
The two words melded into a way of life for me in 2002 when my entire life dissolved. Yes, dissolved, liquefied into a state of chaos and nothingness simultaneously. Within a few hours, I lost my home, my job, my car and everything I owned. It was a horrific experience.

It was also a godsend. The greatest gift ever.

The first night was the hardest. My mind wrestled with the grief of my losses, and then the anger that it happened to me. That little voice in my head spewed out survival options. Then it argued that I didn’t have the resources or the strength to put any of those ideas into action. And finally, it pointed to the source of all this calamity — me.

You see I had taken a step back from my faith during the two years prior to this day. Before then I trusted that God would see me through anything, and true to his word, he had. He gave me what I needed. But I wanted the American film version of everything. I wanted more. I always wanted more.

So I stopped relying on him and took matters into my own hands — or so I thought. I wanted a better job, and I got one. I wanted a bigger better home, and I got one. I wanted more prestige and a wealthier community, and I wanted to be the star of that community. That happened too. And then it all vanished. Where had I gone wrong, and how was I going to get it back?

Flash forward six months and I can tell you that none of it mattered. In those six months I became wealthier than I ever imagined. My life changed the instant I changed my mind from wanting it all back to letting it all go. And that’s when “simply living” began.

That American film version had tricked me. And I imagine it’s tricked a few of you as well. It’s not what it’s cracked up to be. It fills us with stress, and anxiety, and worry. It takes away our joy, and our sense of wonder, and even our health if we’re not paying attention.

“Simply living” is far better than the American film version. It’s about focusing on what is real and true and joyful instead of what is glitz and glamor and good lighting. To me, it is a spiritual path, but it doesn’t have to be. It can simply mean decluttering your home and calming your stress.

Let me show you what I mean. These are just some of the ways I simply live:

I don’t sweat the little things. Did you know that an adult makes about 35,000 decisions in a day? A child makes about 3,000. I choose to be childlike. I limit which decisions I make and how long I will deliberate my options.

I don’t squander my energy on semi-important things. A friend of mine once suggested that I think about what will matter when I am 85 years old. From that perspective there are a lot of semi-important things in my life that are easy to let go. 

I avoid fighting for anything that is not really worth it.  Guess what? It really is better to be happy than right!

I say “no” more often. There are lots of ways to say no without using this “n” word. I practice all of them on a regular basis. 

I don’t gather much. I don’t keep much. And, I get rid of a lot. I started living this when my 2002 life dissolved. I perfected it when I lived in my motorhome. It is truly unbelievable to me how little we all need to live and which possessions we cherish out of those few we really need! It’s the message that I was put on this earth to cry out until the day I die.

I live in gratitude. As I said in my dreary day post, one of the best things you can do for yourself and others is to appreciate what you have. Focusing on the positive decreases any negative, I know that for sure!

When I write I am continually lured to this theme of simply living. But each time I touch the subject I’m awed by its complexity. It’s simple like the “simple pleasure in life” — so simple that we often forget to notice. 
I’m here to remind you. 

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But sotre up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and hwere thieves do not break in and steal. For hwere your treasure is, there your hert will be also.”  Matthew 6:19-21

All Lives Matter

Now stick with me here. We’re going to talk about spiders. Yes, one of my least favorite things on this planet….or so I thought.

I rarely saw spiders in the 20 years I lived in Arizona. And in Colorado most spiders that I came in contact with looked totally harmless. So it was easy to “live and let live”. But, that’s not the case here in North Carolina.

Not only do the spiders here appear more frightful, they are far more plentiful than any other place I have lived. And, they aren’t the only insects here either. There are beetles, and roaches, and inch-long thick, slimy, curly worms that crawl into the apartment at night, birth inch-long skinny, slimy, curly worms during the night. In the morning there’s a community of these little guys inching their way around the apartment, only to dry up, die, and curl into Cheeto puff-like shapes all over the floor by noon! (Imagine taking a quick trip to the bathroom in the dark with that going on under your feet!)

Anyway, now that you have a little idea about how active the insect kingdom is here, let’s get back to the spiders. 

Truly I am not a big fan. So, when a fairly large, hearty-looking spider settled at eye-level on the entry wall outside the door to my apartment my first thought was to shoo it away. (I try not to kill anything unless it is absolutely destroying my peace of mind or my property.) But I was busy that day and figured it would make it’s way down the hall and out to the sunshine as I trekked in and out of the apartment tending to last minute pre-travel errands.

Each time I went in and out of the apartment I saw that spider. I must have taken 10 trips in and out and it NEVER moved. Not one inch! So, logically (at least to me) I concluded that this must be God’s way of getting me comfortable with the darn things. It was outside. It wasn’t harming me and the fact that it was sitting still was a much better option that trying to track it down with my specially designated “bug-catching cup” on a very busy day. 

I slept well that night. Well, except for the creepy crawly curly worms that is. 

The next morning I walked out of my apartment door and look what I saw.

It had turned into a She. She was busy building a nest all day yesterday. (Ha! God had snuck in a reminder: it’s not all about me!)

Arrrrrgggghhh! Now it wasn’t just a spider. It was a Momma spider. Now I was in a real predicament. I was a mother looking at another mother. And that little puff ball of a nest was the equivalent of nine months of pregnancy in human time. I couldn’t disregard the miracle of birth that I was witnessing.

I knew that leaving my home for three weeks without destroying this nest would mean that those little babies were bound to be born and migrate right into my home to welcome me when I got back. Not exactly the welcome committee I wanted.  (I was appreciating the dead cheeto puff worms more with every passing minute!)

What could I do? I knew that the bug-catching cup couldn’t relocate mama spider and her babies without harm, and I couldn’t separate momma spider from her babies without feeling great guilt about creating orphans — regardless of my feeling towards such family types. 

As I contemplated my options she moved her leg over to the center of the nest as if she were reading my thoughts and weighing her own options on how to defend her babies should I strike.

She left me no choice. I decided to live and let live. If I had to come home to an apartment full of spiders so be it. It was better than living with the guilt of destroying the home of the innocent young within.

Flash forward three weeks, and voila! Tiny holes where the baby spiders had crawled out. 

I know some of you have favorite baby animals that can’t possibly be as cute as I imagine these baby spiders were.  Just think and compare: baby hippos, baby eagles, baby pugs, how about baby gold fish — ever see one of them? We sing songs about itsy bitsy spiders, how bad could they be?

I dropped my luggage inside the front door and began to search the apartment. Nothing…. except for the dead, curly cheeto puff worms here and there. Mamma spider had politely birthed her babies and escorted them down the hall, off the patio, and into the woods.

I settled back into the apartment, and after the rain finally stopped today I stepped out on to my patio. Below are the images of what I found — 2 spectacular fully intact spider webs. 

 I’m still not a big fan, but I’m learning to appreciate them. They are simply living, just like me. They want a family, they want a home, and they want to provided for those they love.  

Those spider webs are traps for flies and all sorts of other insects that would pester me if they didn’t stop them there. (I wish they would catch some of those cheeto puff worms!) At any rate,their little insignificant spider lives matter.

A call has gone out across our nation. “All lives matter.” Those chanting the phrase may be referring to human lives, but these spiders gave me a starting point. 

Ever meet someone that you disliked? As much as I dislike spiders? In a few short weeks my attitude towards spiders has turned from despise to appreciation. All it took was a little empathy.  Seems like the same could be true for the people we may dislike or misunderstand. They, like me, like the spider, like you, are simply living. 

Look at these stunning spider webs. Look at the intricacies of their design. Can you pull something that beautiful out of your butt? 

Look at how they enhance the sunshine that pours through them. How could anything that makes something so delicate, and so intricate be anything but a blessing in my life.

All lives DO matter. 

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” —Eph 4:2