Learning to Grow Your Own Food Comes with a Host of Benefits

As you may already know if you have been a reader of my blog for very long, I love gardening. After my surgery in 2012 that left me disabled, I discovered that I would not be able to garden in the way that I always had. It took some time for me to find a new way to make a garden. The results of my efforts are not that great in the way of actual food produced, but the enjoyment I get out of the process is enormous. I love to see the plants growing. I love to see the first flowers blooming, and then the first little beans or tomatoes or eggplants emerging from the blossoms. I might only get one or two pots of beans, or two or three tomatoes all season long, but the little garden I made provides me with the opportunity to get my hands dirty; with a reason to get outside in the fresh air and sunshine; and a feeling of satisfaction that I was able to do it. 

gardening can heal the soul.

My little garden on boards.

Learning to grow your own food comes with a host of benefits. The benefits are so good that it’s being recommended as an activity for veterans to engage in, especially if they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or combat-related stress. The more people learn about the good that can result, the more they may be staking off a plot in the yard to get planting.

“Anyone who has tried their hand at gardening has felt the difference that it can make in their life,” explains Julia Falke, co-founder of the Boulder Crest Retreat. “We believe in getting veterans into gardening and it is why we built the Wallis Annenberg Heroes Garden, the nation’s second handicapped-accessible walled garden. It provides combat veterans and their families with the chance to engage in a calming and peaceful activity, and focuses them on the subject of healthy eating and nutrition. It’s one small part of what we do, but it makes a significant difference.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that gardening can be a great way to enjoy the outdoors, among other benefits. Some of the other many benefits of growing your own food include:

Gardening is Therapeutic.

Boulder Crest Retreat

Boulder Crest Retreat

According to the American Horticulture Therapy Association (AHTA), horticulture is a time-proven practice and the benefits have been documented since ancient times. They report that during the 1940s and 1950s, it was used in rehabilitative care of hospitalized war veterans, and today it is accepted as a beneficial and effective therapeutic modality. 

Gardening is Healthy.

Boulder Crest Retreat

Boulder Crest Retreat

There is a good chance that when one grows their own food they will end up consuming at least some of it. This is a good way to get healthier foods into the diet, specifically more fruits and vegetables. When I grow my own food, I know there were no harmful chemicals used on the vegetables I eat. 

Gardening is Social.

Boulder Crest Retreat

Boulder Crest Retreat

Growing your own food can be a social activity, especially if you choose to get involved in a gardening group or community garden. Many people are starting community gardens around the country, where they work together for a common purpose. While the food grown may be consumed by those growing it, some is also often given away to local charities, giving those doing the gardening an added benefit.

Gardening for me gets me out of the house. I go to garden supply stores several times during the season, and talk to the people there, getting advice on the best plants, and best products to use in my garden. The garden is a topic of conversation when delivery people stop at my house. If I happen to have extra veggies, I can give them to my neighbors, which provides another social interaction. 

Gardening provides Physical and Mental Benefits.

Boulder Crest Retreat

Boulder Crest Retreat

Engaging in gardening can help bring about mental clarity and reduce stress. In addition to it being a mind-clearing activity, it’s also a form of physical exercise, helping to keep people active and healthy. I know gardening has been good for my mental health. Being able to do something I thought I would never be able to do again has really brightened my life. 

Gardening can Reduce Pain.

The AHTA reports that some of the additional benefits that people get from growing their own food include that it can help reduce physical pain, and help with rehabilitation and recovery from surgery or other medical interventions.

Boulder Crest Retreat

“The Retreat utilizes a range of everyday family activities, including gardening, cooking well-balanced meals, hiking, kayaking, as well as age-old and proven warrior practices like labyrinths and meditation,” adds Falke. “This enables combat veterans to make peace with their past, live in the present, and begin planning for a great future – full of passion, purpose and service – here at home.”

Summer is a time to get out into the garden and nature, as well as reconnect with those around us. The Wallis Annenberg Heroes Garden was built in 2014 and designed by Donna Hackman, in association with Lisa Catlett.

“For me, this special garden was love at first sight, and I am compelled to try and make every year even more beautiful than the last season,” Donna Hackman explains. “It has been my honor to design and help tend to this garden, and our combat veterans and their families deserve the very best nature has to offer.”

Boulder Crest Retreat is presently building out its horticulture and culinary activities, that will serve the many combat veterans and their families that stay at the facility. The near future result will be a complete veteran ‘farm-to-table’ program adapted for every season. Ongoing support over the past two years, from organizations such as The Burpee Foundation, The Fauquier and Loudoun Garden Club and Middleburg Garden Club, and countless community volunteer hours are helping to make this vision a reality.

Boulder Crest Retreat is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization that is funded entirely by private donations by individuals and organizations from around the country. For more information about the retreat, please go to www.bouldercrestretreat.org


Boulder Crest Retreat for Military and Veteran Wellness is a rural sanctuary that provides free accommodations, recreational and therapeutic activities and programs to help our nation’s military and veteran personnel and their families recover and reconnect during their long journey of healing from physical and invisible wounds of war. The 37-acre retreat is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Bluemont, Virginia, just 50 miles west of Washington, D.C. The Retreat is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and is entirely funded through private donations from individuals, foundations and corporations. For more information about Boulder Crest Retreat, please visit www.bouldercrestretreat.org. To make a donation to Boulder Crest Retreat or volunteer, click here

My Smartpond Project: Building A Container Fountain For a Butterfly Garden

This post is brought to you by Smartpond

When we bought our house, we had this ugly pond that the previous owners built in our yard. It was too close to the house; it needed a lot of work on it to make it functional; and it had creatures living in it that were noisy. I mean, the frogs that lived there sounded like they were under my bed, croaking all night long. And, on top of that, it was a danger to our young grandchildren, who were drawn to the water hole. This is what it looked like from our porch:

The old pond was not even pretty! It needed a lot of work done to make it look good.

The old pond was not even pretty! It needed a lot of work done to make it look good.

We drained the pond and filled it in a couple of years ago. We have been thinking about making a butterfly garden, so when Smartpond asked me to try some of their products, we said yes. Fabgrandpa and I discussed how we wanted to go about creating a beautiful Smartpond fountain and butterfly garden. This is the drawing we came up with:

smart pond fountain supplies

Our drawing for our fountain and butterfly garden

The octagon shaped thing in our drawing is a sort of deck, to place a half barrel on to hold the fountain. Because our yard is not very level, and we wanted to be able to place pots of annuals around the pond and plant perennials in the ground as well, we decided to build the small deck.  It measures about 2.5 feet on all sides. We hire a local handy man to do things like this for us because we are both disabled, but it is an easy project to do on your own if you are handy with carpenter tools. The cost of the deck supplies was a total of $140.00. The handy man charged us $100 to go and pick up supplies, build the deck, and then put the fountain together for us, and to add an outdoor electric plug. It doesn’t look like much all by itself. Some of my friends stopped by to ask what the heck it was!

smart pond fountain supplies

The deck for the pond was completed for a couple weeks. People in the neighborhood stopped to ask what it was.

Next, I went shopping for flowers and a half barrel at Lowes. I found some very pretty coreopsis, shasta daisies, and cone flowers. I also looked at butterfly bushes, some lantana, and some yarrow. I think we have decided on getting some Mexican heather too. You can probably tell I like the wildflower look. Here is a pic of some of the things I got at Lowes:

smart pond fountain supplies

I got my 1/2 barrel and some pretty flowers at Lowes.

Along the way, after we had made our original design, I found a cute fish ceramic ornamental statue thing that I just fell in love with. It was just about the same price as the pump handle we had talked about, and I liked it more. So, for $39, I bought the fish to use as the “spit” for the fountain. It already had a hole in the bottom, so it was a perfect choice. 

smart pond fountain supplies

The ceramic fish I found. Isn’t it fun?

The other day, my handy man came back to put together the fountain. We had a Smartpond Complete Pump Filter Kit, which is available at Lowes. It is a complete pump system, which makes building a fountain so easy even I could do it. All there was to it was to immerse the pump in water, hook up the 1/2 inch tubing, and plug it in. We had that fish spitting water in no time at all! 

smart pond

The half barrel we used for the pond project.

pond skin liner

Pond Skin Liner from Smartpond Model #: PL0710

So, when my handy man came back, he cut the liner to fit the half barrell, and stapled it to the top of the barrel. Then, he built a wooden platform for the ceramic fish to sit on, and lined the top of it with leftovers from the liner. Next, he immersed the pump and filter kit in the water, and attached the half inch tubing to it. The tubing was connected to the pump, up over the back of the barrel, and through the hole in the bottom of the ceramic fish. The tube was threaded through the fish to come out just at the mouth. When the pump was turned on, the water started spitting out of the fish’s mouth. This whimsical pond is exactly what I had envisioned when I saw that fish, and like I said, it was so easy to do I probably could have done it myself, if not for the carpentry work that needed to be done.

smart pond fountain project

The finished pond. It just needs flowers now.


smart pond fountain project

The ceramic fish is so cute spitting the water out. I love this fountain!


The pump allows both the fountain spray, and the spit from the fish to go at the same time.

The fish is perfect for this fountain.


This is sort of what it will look like when we have planted flowers around. They will hide the working parts.

This is sort of what it will look like when we have planted flowers around. They will hide the working parts.

I am so excited to be planting flowers next. So many birds, such as humming birds, goldfinches, wrens, pine siskins, and more, are attracted to the sound of running water. The flowers we are choosing are ones that will also attract humming birds and butterflies. What do you think of my Smartpond Fountain project so far? To see the pond with flowers planted, and video of it running, click here.

Late on Spring Cleaning? Don’t Sweat It!

washing windows

Getting into spring cleaning by washing windows. Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

It seems that spring for many of us has finally come and it’s nearly summer already. With such late winter and spring weather I am sure many are feeling a bit out of sorts with spring cleaning that didn’t get done because it was cold so late in the year. Now it seems a mad rush to the end of school and graduations, vacation plans and everything else that goes with the beginning of summer. So today we have some tips for getting yourself organized, prioritized and off to a late but great start to the summer season of fun!

If your spring cleaning got pushed back because of weather and long winter blues, these quick tips will help you get done enough to get by for now and not overwhelmed enough to ruin your summer.

Super-fast de-clutter

  • Go room by room through your home and get rid of the surface clutter.
  • No deep cleaning just the clutter you can see.
  • Don’t shuffle it around– put it away or throw it away.
  • You shouldn’t spend more than a couple hours per room.
  • If you have one catch-all room that you know will take longer, avoid that until you have a whole day to devote to that room alone.


laundromat laundry machines

 Image courtesy of Pexels.com

  • Wash the curtains or change them to pretty summery styles that let in all that natural sunlight.
  • Feather dust cobwebs from the corners, again no deep cleaning just cobwebs.
  • Sweep and mop or shampoo carpets- if you have many carpeted rooms hire a professional, look for multiple room specials.
  • Put essential oil diffusers in each room of your home with fresh citrus or flower scents.
  • Wash bedding and rugs; hang them outside if possible to get that fresh air scent.

Spring Cleaning To-do later list

  • Deep cleaning that really needs to be done.
  • Home repairs or upgrades needed that you find as you de-clutter and refresh.
  • Change out leaky faucets with Maestro Bath products
  • Note things that you want to give to charity or put in a yard sale.
  • Note anything else that is a major task to do later.

Plan work days for rainy forecasts

Check the weather forecasts to plan a deep cleaning day, home repair day or reorganization day when there is going to be rain or clouds. This lets you get the basic spring cleaning and refreshing done in a weekend and not feel guilty about deep cleaning. By planning ahead, you can concentrate on larger tasks for one whole day when you aren’t going to be rushed or stressed about getting it all done. No need to do all the spring cleaning in just one day.  That never works.

Start a new routine

  • Keep clutter under control daily, everything in the home should have its place and should go there immediately.
  • If a new item comes into the house, an old one goes out.
  • Assign family managers of certain rooms or tasks and delegate the upkeep to them.

With these quick tips and planned deep cleaning or repair days you should be able to get your house de-cluttered and refreshed in a single weekend. That will leave you free to worry about what fun you are going to have this summer and not the spring cleaning that did not get done.

There is no rule that says you have to do all the spring cleaning at once, or that it even has to be done in the spring. Most of us are craving fresh air and light when we want to clean and freshen the house, so do that and don’t sweat the deep cleaning all at once!

Flower Power: How Flowers Can Improve Your Mood

Flowers are one of things that make life worth living. A beautiful flower reminds us of the fragility and beauty of life. One minute it is here in all its lush color and prettiness, then soon enough it wilts. But don’t worry: you can just go out and pick some more!

It is well known that green plants and shrubs can improve air quality in your home or workplace, but did you know that flowers have some remarkable stress-busting qualities?

Flowers can improve your mood in the morning

flowers can improve your mood

Photo from ai3310X used under Creative Commons license

Are you a morning person? There are a heck of a lot of people who would answer no to this question, including me. The problem is that for most of us we have to try and feel positive in the morning, whether that’s for work, school, or family commitments. That’s life! Recent research from Harvard has shown that flowers can improve your mood in the morning, increasing energy and positivity. Participants of the behavioral study reported being much happier after looking at flowers in the morning, particularly if they were in the kitchen. These happy feelings tend to be transferred to others around us when we venture out into the world. 

Flowers increase productivity

flowers increase productivity

Photo from KevinGessner used under Creative Commons License


Exposure to flowers in the workplace has been shown to reduce negativity at work and improve memory. A bunch of flowers can also improve creativity. Studies suggest that both men and women working in an office demonstrated more innovative thinking and originality than workers in flower free environments. One of the secrets to productivity is getting a good night’s sleep, and flowers can help with this too. Putting lavender in your pillow is a tried and tested way to improve your zzzzz…..

Flowers can help with anxiety disorders 

flowers can help with anxiety disorders

Photo from PRMF used under Creative Commons license

Having flowers around promotes relaxation and lowers blood pressure, which is the key to dealing with a range of anxiety disorders. Smelling the scent of your favorite flower is an instant way to feel less anxious. Many people recommend taking a good long sniff before an exam or job interview. Watering your flowers also gives you an excuse to take a break from whatever you’re doing, and research suggests regular breaks are vital for mental well being, especially if you lead a very busy life. 

Is your life lacking color? Make room for flowers in your day and you may just see some radical improvements! Why not take a look at some online buyer guides and get your flowers delivered? Then you don’t have to worry about borrowing them from your neighbor’s garden or the local park…


5 Signature Pieces to Make Your Living Room Pop

Interior designer Tony Fornabaio says “The best interiors make your heart pound.” And he’s right. Think about it for a minute. How many times have you walked into a space and thought, wow-? If you’ve stopped in your tracks and admired the design of a space, then some part of you understands what power interior design has over our daily lives.

interior design

Making your living room pop (photo courtesy of TonyFornabiointeriordesign.com)

Having a room to call your own gives you the chance to create a space devoted to your personal stylings. As someone who flourishes in environments of color and who becomes impassioned by talk of consumerism, politics and art, Pop Art is your friend. An art movement that took root during the 1950s and ‘60s, Pop Art sought to blur the lines between “high art and low culture.” Artists of the movement made prints, paintings and sculptures of mundane objects and fashionable celebrities. A prime example of this would be Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans or Roy Lichtenstein’s M-Maybe. Instead of depicting a moral tale or historical moment, pop artists took the commonplace and made it into something bigger. They made it art.

Now here’s your chance to turn your living room into a livable work of art outfitted with furnishings that tell your guests exactly what you think. So put on a Lou Reed record and buckle up, you’re going to learn about five pieces that will make your space pop!


The White Box: Your Living Room

We all need a place to sit, to rest our heads and to feel snug. We don’t have to be limited in our choices. Color and texture goes a long way. Every living room comes equipped with the same fixtures: the couch, coffee table, table lamp and chair. The walls are painted white, and all of the furniture frames the TV. Who wants this kind of living room? Roy Lichtenstein said that “Pop Art looks into the world. It doesn’t look like a painting of something, it looks like the thing itself.” If you want to feel like you are living an authentic life, then design your space authentically. Fill it with things that are the physical manifestations of your thoughts.


The Sofa

Pop Art often uses bright, bold colors to help its audience identify the space and theme of the work. Why not do this with our furniture? The Gus Modern Switch Sofa comes complete with reversible seat and back cushions with two select patterns: striped and gridded. The modern-designed sofa lets users mix and match patterns all while warming the living room with its laurentian citrine color.

The Pillow

No sofa is complete without throw pillows. Functional and beautifying, throw pillows let you rest your head in style. To complement the sofa, get throw pillows that are patterned and solid. Houzz suggests mixing and matching prints of opposite colors. This will really make the room come alive.

The Lamp

A funky lamp can really change up a space. The Dioscuri table lamp designed by Artemide is a spherical orb reminiscent of a comic book character’s thought bubble. This minimalist table lamp emits a soft glow, it’s rounded, bright white design adds a stark contrast to the other colors of the room.

The Rug

You want a cushy rug to sink your feet into after a long day. The Sepia rug, designed by Mat-The-Basics features a multi-colored wavy line pattern that looks eerily similar to an abstract painting you would find hanging in your local art museum. With Pop Art having been partly inspired by the Abstract Expressionist movement, you’re showing your appreciation for the art world and its politics one furnishing at a time.

The Art

One of the main focuses of Pop Art is its opposition to elitist art, or high art. Pop artists worked to make a piece that called attention to the ironic (re: Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans). Would anyone decorate their space with a soup can? Probably not, but because it’s been made into a painting, now it’s art. Fortunately, you don’t have to own a Warhol or Lichtenstein print to have a piece of Pop Art hanging on the wall. In fact, you can make your own. After you’ve finished, hang it in the living room where it would be most visible. It’s a conversation piece.

It’s your house. Fill it with things that make you happy.

Garden Update: Getting Plants In Planters

It’s time to update on the garden again. Can you believe it is May 1st already? It seems like just last week was new years! So, here is the update on my little garden.



This planter looked like it would be a good one when I bought it, but it is turning out not to be. It does not have any drainage holes in it, so I found out yesterday that I was drowning my little herb garden. The parsley is drooping, and the oregano leaves are turning yellow. I tipped the planter over on its side for a bit and drained off a LOT of water, so maybe the plants will recover. When I get a minute I am going to poke some holes in the bottom of it with an ice pick. 

English peas

English peas

The English peas are getting really tall. They bloomed a few days ago and now have a few little pea pods on them. These should be ready to pic and add to a salad in a few more days. These vines have been wrapping their little tendrils around the trellis I put next to it like the plant knows it is supposed to. 

Can you believe these red potato plants?

Can you believe these red potato plants?

Can you believe the size of these red potato plants? That container it is in is a bushel laundry basket. That big! The plant lets me know that it needs watering because as soon as it gets the least bit dry, the leaves start drooping. I can not wait to harvest new potatoes!

Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard

We are going out to dinner tonight, but if I was making dinner at home, we would be having some steamed Swiss Chard. This is ready to pick. Once I pick the bigger leaves off, it will continue to put out more leaves all summer. Do you like Swiss Chard? It is beautiful to grow and tastes really good. 

Sweet Basil

Sweet Basil

This is the Sweet Basil from Back To Nature that I started in a can on the window sill. I transplanted it about a week or so ago. I seems to be doing well. The plant on the left is dill, and the one on the right is my purple heirloom tomato plant. I had to poke holes in the bottom of that orange planter too, because the tomato was drowning. This planter is supposed to have a well in the bottom that keeps water off of the plants, but it is not working out like that. 



Fabgrandpa picked out this Kalanchoe. It had tiny buds with just a bit of red on the tips of them when we bought it. It has bloomed out so pretty in the couple of weeks since it has been potted up. It is living on the porch rail for now. 

These need to planted in pots

These need to planted in pots

All these plants are waiting to be planted in pots. I can do about two or three a day before I get tired. There are a couple of tomato plants, bell pepper, eggplant, impatience, begonias, and a few more. Our porch is just brimming with loveliness. 

Pink petunias in a hanging basket

Pink petunias in a hanging basket

I just put these pink petunias in a hanging basket this week. They will eventually drape over the sides of the basket and make a really pretty hanging arrangement. It will also attract butterflies and hummingbirds. 

Salmon petunias in hanging basket

Salmon petunias in hanging basket

This is how the pink petunias will look eventually. We bought this hanging basket already planted. Fabgrandpa just couldn’t resist it. 

Marigolds in a hanging basket.

Marigolds in a hanging basket.

Fabgrandpa also picked out these marigolds. He put them in a hanging basket this week. As they grow they will look better. I might see if I can find a piece of ivy or other green vine to add to this planter. 

Carpenter bee trap

Carpenter bee trap

We have a big problem with carpenter bees. There are a bunch of them out there. They fly around the porch, and hover in the air right in front of me when I try to work out there. We asked at the nursery what we could do to get rid of them, and they suggested getting a trap. So, we got the one shown above. It seems to be working, right?



I think this is a carnation. It might also be a pink. Whatever it is, it is a really pretty flower. It will be potted up soon.

Eggplant on the left, bell pepper on the right

Eggplant on the left, bell pepper on the right

I got these two plants put in their pots a couple of days ago. The one on the left is eggplant (yum) and purple bell pepper on the right. 

More herbs

More herbs


Can you tell I love fresh herbs? This planter has Basil, Sage, and Oregano in it. They are doing quite well, too. 

Garden kitty

Garden kitty

The garden kitty helps us with the garden by knocking plants over that need to be replanted anyway. How clever of her to do that for us.