April 25, 2018

What's Saving My Bacon

The short answer is: weeds and spring bulbs.

Remember how I didn't decide to start a flower farm / florist business until the end of January?
What that means is I missed out on my chance for certain spring bulbs that bloom early.
Things like anemones and ranunculus, or even snowdrops.
Be that as it may, it's all those bulbs I planted last fall that are going to get me through these early months of bouquet making.

My vendor booth officially opens May 1! 
That's when I'll start doing online marketing on Facebook and such, as well.

I went around and counted what was blooming right now or almost blooming, because I have this perpetual fear that I will not have enough of anything to sell.
I counted approximately 100 daffodils (1/3-1/2 of them minis) and 86 tulips, if the deer don't eat any more of them. So that's enough to get me through a week or two--unless demand is far greater than I expect. Without the daffodils and tulips I planted last fall, I would have nothing right now!

I've also got alliums, a few more tulips, and Dutch irises to look forward to within the next month.

The violas and pansies I planted last fall have also wintered over.
I may be digging them up in a couple of weeks for a Mother's Day idea I have.

For filler, I have been foraging. :) 
In other words, collecting weeds.
None of our trees have leafed out yet, and again, cultivated filler is not to be had this year.
However, there is a really pretty-looking feathery green weed that grows in abundance around here.
I've used it in 2 different arrangements now and gotten compliments on it both times! 
Hee hee. Love that. 
Also, it holds up in the vase for something like 2 weeks! That's hard to beat.
The extra good thing about weeds is that nobody minds if you pull them up or cut them.
There's a particularly nice patch of the feathery ones right across the street from our house, next to a horse pasture. I suspect I will be using them as long as I can this spring!
There are some other pretty ones in the "wild" part of our backyard that have tiny white flowers at the very ends, that I think would make great filler as well.

For other vase fillers, I have had to change my mindset.
I was pruning my lilac bush the other day (not the hard prune that it really needs, but more taking off the 3 D's: dead, damaged, diseased), when I realized that many of the branches I was taking off had really interesting structural shapes with just a tuft of leaves on the end.
I went and got a container to put them in and saved them for arrangements.

Just this morning, in fact, I used some of them in an arrangement I did for a "Women in Business" luncheon. I must say, the lilac branches, the feathery weeds, another weed with tiny purple flowers, and a selection of my prettiest daffodils were quite lovely. I will post a picture once I get it. (I forgot to take one, so someone else took one on her phone and is sending it to me.)
Yes, my house has containers full of branches and weeds sprouting up in the most unlikely places.

Meanwhile, I am sowing seeds, (and *cough* buying dahlias *cough*, ) in hopes of having more traditional flowers to offer as well.

* * * * *

As I look around my yard, I take a deep breath and smile.
The lilac bush is full of buds.
The rose bushes all are starting to sprout.
Peonies are leafing out.
And there always the weeds to fill things out if needed. :)

It's going to be okay.
There will be enough.

April 19, 2018

Chicken Helper(s)

We have been letting the chickens out almost every day, now that the weather has warmed up, to roam around the yard--pardon me, to free range.
They are quite docile and so far have rarely even ventured to the other side of the yard, let alone attempted to fly over the fence. That is good, because we haven't clipped their wings.

So what happens when the gardener decides to do some weeding while the chickens are out?

No fewer than 6 chickens come running straight over!
They park themselves right in front of where I'm working and get busy looking for worms, scratching the dirt, jumping into my weed bucket, and eating weeds out of my hands.
Also, pecking at my gloves.

Yes you. Hello.

It's a little hard to get anything done, but it's quite entertaining, so I go with it.

Every now and then I push them aside so I can dig up a few more weeds.
They come right back over as soon as they see me turning over the dirt.
If one gets a worm and another sees it, the first one takes off running, with 3 of 4 chasing after her.
It's so funny! 

When it's time to let them out, they can hardly wait and all come crowding out at once.
Once they've been out for an hour or two, they're much more content to stay in the coop once we put them back. They've had their exercise, I guess, and are ready to go back.

We're still averaging nearly a dozen eggs per day.
We will probably never make back in eggs the money we've spent on feed and equipment, but I have to say entertainment value is pretty high on the list as well.
My kids pick them up and carry them around all the time.
So that's something.

No names. They all look so much alike we can't tell them apart anyway.
We've decided our next batch of chicks (whenever that comes along) will be a different breed, so we can at least tell apart the older ones from the younger. 

April 14, 2018

Spring Blooms and Deer Problems

Well, until today I had several groups of tulips growing out front.
They have all been munched back to the ground. Grrr!
Deer are the flower nemesis around here.

I chopped up cloves of garlic and put a juicy bit in the leaves of each tulip--or at least what remained of the leaves. I guess now I'll find out if they manage to grow back.

Look how pretty these tulip leaves are/were?
Edged in pink. I've never seen that before.
If they make it through this season I will be digging them up to grow undercover next year.
It looks like a deer fence will have to be in our future.
Can't fence the front beds, though.

These daffodils are blooming now, along with several others in front.
At least the deer haven't eaten them yet.

Meanwhile, I have several patches of violas that have been cheering me up for a couple of months.
I was so surprised to see that they survived the winter, but I'm not complaining!

The bulbs coming up in the background there are alliums.
Also seem to be deer-proof. Must be the onion smell/taste.

Violas are some of my favorites!

Back in Washington we had to worry about rabbits eating our stuff, but that was about it.

Give me all your tips for keeping the deer away!
Or what to plant that they don't like.

April 13, 2018

Mini Theme: Survival

Let's talk about survival for a moment, shall we? It's always amazing how some people survive dire situations while many others don't. What makes that crucial difference? It's especially fascinating to me how it's usually smaller decisions that are the turning point, the key between life and death. The book I've read most recently on this topic delves into all of these issues.

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes--and Why, by Amanda Ripley

5 stars: Let's talk about it!

When disaster strikes, people act in all sorts of unpredictable ways. Some people respond by freezing up, some immediately take action (for better or worse), and some dither and can't decide what to do until impending events take away all choice. Worse still, no-one can be sure how they personally will respond, until they have been in a situation like that.

Ripley has studied people's responses to all sorts of big disasters; from the 9/11, to hostage situations, to the plane that went down in the Hudson river. She has also interviewed many experts from a variety of fields on not only what people do in times of crisis, but how to increase any one person's chance for survival.

She found that we all go through 3 stages, when faced with a disaster: denial, deliberation, and the decisive moment. Those are the three parts of the book. The chapters within each part delve further into each stage of our response, from delay and procrastination (Denial) to groupthink (Deliberation) to heroism (the Decisive Moment.) There's more; that's just a sampling.

* * * * *
This book was fascinating. I have talked it over with several other people since reading it. The topics lead to great discussions naturally. How do we assess risk, and are our assessment tools accurate? (Hint: watching the news doesn't help on this one!) How can we shorten the amount of time we spend in denial and deliberation, so that we move straight to action and keep ourselves alive? How do you think you would react in any of these situations?

It was chock-full of stories from survivors of disastrous events, as well as some stories of those who didn't make it. Though it may seem like a depressing or anxiety-producing book to read, I found that it was actually the opposite. Reading this helped put some of my personal risk in perspective, as well as gave me tools to prepare myself for these types of events.

One of the biggest takeaways for me was from her section on risk. You can't live your life in fear. So you take a rational, clear-eyed look at what disasters you are most likely to experience, then you prepare for those things. In my area, it's probably wildfires and earthquakes. Possibly flooding from the river. A distant fourth would be flooding from the dam breaking up at the reservoir. Okay; knowing that, would do I need to do to prepare my family for those things? You make a plan and you practice it. Even if every detail of your plan doesn't work out--which it probably won't--you stand a much better chance at surviving than those with no plan at all, who have never even considered the possibility.

On a very personal note, I actually read this one the weekend before we had the fire in our home. I stayed awake half the night thinking about what I would do if our home caught on fire. How would we get the kids out? What if it happened at night while we were all asleep on the 2nd floor of our home? I remember thinking--it's the middle of winter; we would need to somehow grab shoes and coats if we could.

It's a good thing I did, since just 3 days later I had a chance to use the planning and deliberating I had done. The wall behind our boiler caught fire when it was just me home with the kids. (Full story here.) Thankfully, we were not asleep and not trapped upstairs. As I picked up the baby and called 911, I remember grabbing jackets on my way out and making sure the kids had shoes on. It was 15 degrees that night.

I want to read this one with a book club so I can discuss it more. So many more interesting things I could tell you, but this review is already getting lengthy.

* * * * *

Apparently I'm drawn to this type of story, because I pulled up numerous examples from my reading past to share with you today.

Of course, there's this one about the Donner Party expedition, that I reviewed at the end of February.

Here are a few others to whet your appetite for survival stories:

Ada BlackJack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic, by Jennifer Niven

4 stars

So Ada was part of an explorer team sent to Wrangell Island (north of Siberia) in the early part of the 1900's. She was hired on to the team in Nome, Alaska, to be seamstress and cook for the expedition. The other members of the expedition were 4 men, most in their 20's, who were going to live on Wrangell Island for at least a year and prepare it for colonization. Also, they claimed the island for Great Britain, which caused an international scandal (Russia believed itself the owner.)

They had good times and bad, but eventually, times went from bad to miserable. After a year in, the supply ship sent to relieve them couldn't make it due to ice blockage. Game was scarce. Their food supply about the same. 3 of the men headed off across the ice pack, hoping to reach Siberia and eventually Alaska, to get help. The 4th man was too sick to travel. Ada stayed behind with him and eventually was left alone on the island. This is the whole story, starting from the beginnings of the expedition to the end and the aftermath.

Niven's portrayal of Ada was even-handed, not glossing over the less savory parts of her story, while still showing her resilience and courage in the face of great adversity.

I don't know if I'm getting less adventurous as I go, or if I'm just seeing my true self more clearly as time goes on. In any case, when it comes to Wrangell Island, I'm more than happy to be simply an armchair traveler.

(March 2015)

Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage, and Survival, by Velma Wallis 

4 stars

It was a time of starvation and the two old women ate more than they were able to contribute. So the tribe left them behind and moved on. They didn't count on the will to survive and the latent knowledge that the two old women possessed between them. Though old bones creaked and old muscles tired quickly, the women made their way to a place where game could be found, and somehow...survived.

Based on an Athabascan legend. This story fascinated me. I loved reading the details of Arctic survival, and how the old women refused to let each other give up, until they made it. The account of the reconciliation with the tribe was also meaningful. A quick read, but well worth your time.


Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand

5 stars

Louie Zamperini was at the peak of his form as a runner when the war began. Many predicted he would be the man to break the 4-minute mile. But instead of training for the next Olympics, he began training to be a bombadier in the belly of a B-24 fighter plane. As his flying group completed missions, more and more of his friends didn't come back. Then one day it was him going down into the unforgiving Pacific.
His story of surviving the plane crash and subsequent raft journey on the ocean is riveting. Then he and the pilot are finally rescued, but delivered to a worse fate: POW camp. They come to miss the days on the raft.
This story follows Zamperini and a few others all the way through the horrors and hardship of POW camps, into later life and how their experiences affected them.

I have been wanting to read this one for some time, but when I finally got the chance I had already moved on from my "war books" phase, so it was with reluctance that I went back. It was well worth my time. Hillenbrand keeps the narrative flowing, adding in pieces of information as needed to fill in the gaps. Highly recommended.


* * * * *
Do you have what it takes to survive a crisis situation? Maybe you should read some of these books and try to find out!

April 9, 2018

Inspiring Women, First Quarter Report

One of my book-related goals this year has been to read about inspiring women and report back on it once per quarter. Well, since this is April, it is high time for the first quarter report!

Inspiring Women: First Quarter Report

You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, by Eleanor Roosevelt

5 stars: So much to take away from this one!

Each of the eleven keys mentioned in the title gets its own chapter, including "Uses of Time," "The Difficult Art of Maturity," "How to Get the Best Out of People," and "How Everyone Can Take Part in Politics." The very first paragraph of the first chapter sums up her underlying philosophy of life: "What I have done is to live every experience to the utmost." This first chapter is titled "Learning to Learn" and it is all about this deeply present way of experiencing life.

If I go by how many passages I highlighted, this books has been one of my favorites! She has so many practical suggestions and sound ideas. She is a strong believer in the power of self-discipline, and in being open to new experiences or viewpoints. I really appreciated her emphasis on home and family being the most important thing. Even with all of her public roles and responsibilities, she organized her time so that she was able to be there for her children and husband when they needed her.

As I am starting my business, I have thought a lot lately about my role as a mother and how this new venture will effect that role. I feel so alive and excited when I'm working on my business plans, or thinking about it, or planting the seeds, etc. I am enjoying the process immensely. At the same time, I am very aware that as I move forward with this, I will not have as much "free time" or as much time for my children, perhaps. I certainly don't want to neglect them or their needs. Along those lines, this quote from the book really spoke to me:

"It has always seemed important to me that women should try to develop some interests in which their whole family can share. This is valuable all around. It intensifies family solidarity. It provides the children with a nucleus of things with which they have a certain familiarity when they go out to new surroundings. And it enables the women whose children have grown up to draw on already established fields of activity when they find themselves with more time and freedom." (p. 56)

That's what I'm hoping for with my flower farm! I want to draw my children into it with me. Teach them how to grow beautiful plants and even how to make beautiful arrangements from the flowers that we grow. I'm hoping we can learn the business side of it together: marketing, sales, planning, and so on. I'll let you know how it goes!

Another one I highlighted from the chapter "Learning to Be Useful:"

"Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product. Paradoxically, the one sure way not to be happy is deliberately to map out a way of life in which one would please oneself completely and exclusively. After a short time, a very short time, there would be little that one really enjoyed. For what keeps our interest in life and makes us look forward to tomorrow is giving pleasure to other people." (p. 95)

As I was looking back through the book for this review, I found even more passages to highlight. This is one I definitely want to re-read from time to time, in hopes of absorbing more of her wisdom!


Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World, by Sy Montgomery

4 stars: A down-to-earth portrait of a unique lady.

Temple Grandin was always different--from her siblings; from her peers. Though she always had lots of friends in elementary school, she never quite fit in. Back then autism was still a new diagnosis,  so while her parents knew she had some trouble they didn't know quite what to do to help her. Her later schooling didn't go so well, but she rallied and eventually went on to college.

She had a brilliant mind that processed everything in pictures and yet, she couldn't understand how to hold a "normal" conversation or read social cues. She often felt frustrated and misunderstood. One place that she always felt calm and at home, though, was in the cow pen. She understood cows--what made them frightened or angry, and what made them feel calm and happy.

As she got older, she used her skill at inventing machines and drawing up plans to began to make a difference for these big animals she loved. She visited feedlots and slaughterhouses, big and small farms. Many times, once the men in charge let her in, she could see at once what would be causing the problem. They often would lead her around to the most awful and disgusting parts of the operation, hoping to make her go away. It didn't work. It made her more determined to do what she could to fix the problem.

So she invented cattle chutes that were circular, with high walls so the cows couldn't see things that would make them antsy. She invented systems for slaughterhouses that would allow the cows to not be afraid or treated badly before they were killed. My favorite was her invention for the dip vat. Cows were getting scabies, caused by mites burrowing under their skin and laying eggs. The only treatment available required the cow to be completely submerged in a vat of the medicine mixed with water. Farmers were having terrible trouble trying to give this medicine to their cows. The cows were so afraid that they were drowning in the vat. They turned to Temple Grandin in desperation.

Temple took the task in hand and designed a large tank, with a gently sloping, nonslip ramp down into the medicated water. At the very end of the ramp, it steepened dramatically, which caused the cows to dip under the water. Then they would pop back up, swim to the other side, and walk up another ramp to get back out again. No fear. No more dead or injured cows. No more scabies. Triple win!

She continues to work and advocate for the humane treatment of animals, particularly farm animals.

* * * * *
Sy Montgomery once again has done a top-notch job bringing her subject to life. This book is geared toward a middle grade audience. It is full of photographs, many of them full-page. There are pages inserted here and there talking more in-depth about autism, giving statistics about farming, and other relevant information.

My almost-10 year old picked this one up on his own and read it, when I had it laying out. I was inwardly delighted and outwardly cool and casual. I want to read it to his siblings at some point, as well.

I am inspired by the way Grandin has made a place for herself in the world, doing what she loves and cares about, despite what many would regard as a disability. I especially appreciate the message of this book--that it's okay to be different from everyone else. You have something to contribute!

Now I want to learn more about her. She has written books and there is a movie about her life, too.

A worthy addition to the list!


Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist, by Karen Swallow Prior

3.5 stars: Why have I never heard of her before now?

Hannah More loved to write from the time she was a little girl. She asked for paper for any gift, because her parents weren't very well-off, and paper was expensive. As she grew up, she and her older sisters opened up and ran a very successful school for young ladies. Hannah was first a student at the school, then later on became one of the instructors.

Her writing earned her much acclaim throughout her life and great influence, as well. One of the things she was most passionate about was abolition. At the time, Great Britain depended heavily on the slave trade. More was a contemporary of William Wilberforce, portrayed in the excellent movie "Amazing Grace." While Wilberforce used his influence in Parliament to push for stopping the slave trade, More used her pen. Her work was widely read by both high born and commoners.

When she realized that salacious tracts, nicknamed "Penny Dreadfuls," were some of the only literature available for poor and lower-class families, she undertook to write some of her own. They were written in story form, each with a strong moral and self-improvement tips sprinkled throughout. While today we may think it a bit presumptuous or heavy-handed, they were immensely popular at the time and sold out as fast as they could be printed.

More's passion in life was advocating for those who did not have a voice of their own and she was remarkably successful at it.

* * * * *
Hannah More was very popular with all levels of society in her own time. It's a shame that she has been so forgotten in our time. (Or has she? Did you know who she was?) She was a woman not afraid to express her opinion, and use her way with words to influence others for the greater good. I'm glad I got to know some about her.

Interestingly enough, More never married. She was a courted by a man for several years who kept backing out on marriage at the last minute, until she final had enough and severed ties.

A quote I particularly liked: "The 'mischief,' she wrote, 'arises not from our living in the world, but from the world living in us; occupying out hearts, and monopolizing our affections.'" (p. 206)
Well said, Ms. More, well said.

I thought Prior did a good job portraying Hannah without idolizing her. She didn't gloss over or justify More's faults, but instead showed us a real portrait of a compassionate woman, moved to action on behalf of others.


* * * * *

Okay, who should I read about next? If you have a real-life heroine, let's hear about her!

April 3, 2018

A Flower Farm in the Making

I am moving toward getting my flower farm up and growing!

In some ways, it's a crazy time to do this.
We're still not back in our house, I have a 9-month old baby and her 3 active siblings to care for, and it's not like I have nothing else to do in my life.
However, I do have significantly more garden space than I ever have, my older kids are old enough to help, and I'm in a community that doesn't have ready access to fresh flowers.
In short, I decided that there's never going to be a perfect, ideal time to do it, so it might as well be now. Also, my husband is a wonderful provider, so I don't have to feed our family with what I make. That gives me the luxury that many don't have: I can build up the business over time, learning as I go.

I am so excited! 

The name is (drumroll please):

Bluebird Flower Farm

I love that the bluebird is a symbol of happiness.
Flowers spread happiness by their very existence.
The two belong together!
(More prosaically, the name and web domain were available.)

"Hot Mama"
Speaking of names, I just can't seem to help naming my bouquets.
I've stopped trying to fight it.

Yes, "farm" is a bit optimistic at this point, since at this point it will all be flowers from my garden and yard. I prefer to think of it as a name I can grow into. :)
In addition to the shrubs and bulbs, I'm going to grow flowers from seed to fill out the bouquets.

"Big and Little"

The paperwork has taken much longer than I thought it would.
When I first picked up the business license applications from the city, I thought,
"Oh, I'll fill this out and get it turned in by the end of the week." 
Well, that turned into a month.

There were unforeseen issues and potential issues, as well as decisions about things I knew nothing about. For example, did I want this to be a "Sole Proprietor" business, or an LLC?
What would be the advantages and disadvantages of either?

Another small example: I am doing this as a  "home occupation," but the stated laws for home occupations in our city are that you can't have anything outside, or say--run your business out of your garden shed. Um...problematic for a flower growing business! 
Fortunately, the ladies at the city licensing office seem to be just as excited about my flower farm as I am, and were eager to figure out how this would work with the stipulations.

"Vivid Lady"

I've been working through the issues one at a time, with the (FREE!) help of some great people at our Small Business Resource Center.  
And...now I'm waiting to hear back from the city.
I turned in my application 2 weeks ago.

In the meantime, I'm working on a business plan, pricing supplies, getting ready to start seeds in the next week or two, and keeping a close eye on my spring bulbs that are coming up.
Flower purchases from here on out will be a tax write-off for my business! I'm so excited!!
In related news, my husband has hidden the credit cards.
Ha! Just kidding.
I don't want to get a startup loan, so I am watching the budget, while simultaneously feeling no guilt at all for said flower-related purchases. :)

I'm going to rent a vendor space from a local store and plan to do a lot of direct sales.
I've got a former college roommate, who is an amazing artist, working on a logo for me.

My goal at this point is to open up for business officially May 1.
More details (and pictures) to come as I get them nailed down.

Friends, this is going to be great!