Fabulous Friday: Ivy Shining in the Waning Sun

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Evergreen treasurers, often overlooked during the warmer months, grow in importance as summer’s foliage blows away on autumn breezes.

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We notice that nearby forests are filled with a small army of shining holly trees, covered in bright red berries.  Clumps of mistletoe hover in the bare branches of nearby trees.

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And, we are grateful for the beautiful green and cream leaves of our stalwart ivies growing in pots and garden beds.

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A grapevine fills this pot all summer, but ivy anchors it on our deck during the winter months.   Newly planted Violas will bloom sometime in the next few weeks.

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There are many varieties of ivy available.  Find leaves large and small, wide or very narrow, green, yellow,  cream and variegated.

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The smallest leafed ivy I’ve ever found, this lovely little cultivar was sold for terrariums and fairy gardens. It is growing indoors this winter with a little Begonia.

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Now, native plant purists positively scowl at any kind word uttered about ivy.  It is not native by any stretch of the imagination, though it has naturalized throughout much of the United States.  Worse, ivy can escape cultivation and grow invasive.  This is a problem when ivy completely enshrouds a tree.

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Ivy covers these trees in a county park near Jamestown, VA.

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This vigorous vine can shade out the tree, eventually killing it, and break it apart with the strength and weight of its growth.

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Ivy was already growing on this mature beech tree when we came to the garden. The vine grows root-like anchors, but doesn’t suck sap from the tree. Ivy keeps its roots firmly in the ground and makes its own food from photosynthesis. These aerial roots may absorb dew and rainwater, but they don’t take anything from the tree.

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The ivy you or I plant this fall likely wouldn’t kill a tree in our own lifetimes.  This takes decades.  However, our ivy may escape into the wild when we are no longer tending it for whatever reason, or, the ivy may eventually form berries, and those ivy seeds may germinate elsewhere.

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Ivy makes a popular low maintenance ground cover. Keep it trimmed back, and away from your tree trunks.

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You can puzzle out the relative morality of ivy on your own terms and in your own garden.  But I will tell you that I admire it for its tenacity and toughness.

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Ivy offers some benefits for wildlife.  It shelters many sorts of insects, and so helps attract birds to the garden.  It can produce berries, once the vine is mature.

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English Ivy, Hedera helix, serves as a dense, evergreen ground cover in many Colonial Williamsburg gardens. It requires little maintenance beyond periodic trimming.

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It tolerates dry soil, sun, shade, heat and cold.  It can be cut back hard and still re-grow into a lush plant in a season.

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Newly planted Hellebore and ivy will soon fill this pot with evergreen beauty. The Hellebore will begin blooming early in the new year.

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It will fill a hanging basket beautifully, and remain lovely all winter long through the worst weather we might face here in Zone 7.

Ivy is very useful as the ‘spiller’ in potted arrangements.  I especially enjoy using it in pots where the main plants are perennials, and the pot won’t be re-worked year to year.  After several years, the ivy can take the pot without worthy competition, however.

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New Year’s Day 2017, and this basket of ivy looks fabulous.

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Let it trail, or train it on a trellis or other wire form.  Ivy can be groomed into many interesting shapes, grown on wire mesh orbs as a ‘kissing ball,’ or even grown on a  privacy screen or a fence.

If you place a rooted cutting in a vial of water or plant its roots into damp moss and a little peat, you can even grow it on a living wreath enjoyed on a shaded porch.  Just keep the wreath hydrated and out of direct sun.

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Violas and ivy make a beautiful winter hanging basket in our climate.

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Just remember the Ivy rule:  The first year it sleeps, the second it creeps, and the third, it leaps!  This is a lovely vine that takes some time to work its magic.

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In the best of possible worlds, deer generally leave ivy alone.  But we don’t live in that world, and find our ivy grazed from time to time.  Generally, it isn’t even noticeable. 

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But deer did seriously dine on a beautiful new ivy in a pot this fall.  Like with most new plants, spray it or otherwise protect it if deer frequent your garden.

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We are admiring our ivy on this Fabulous Friday.  If your green thumb is itching to grow something easy and rewarding during the cool months ahead, you might search out a beautiful ivy for your winter pots or baskets.

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Now that our stump is losing its bark, I’ve planted ivy in the pot.   Beautiful ivy will soon cover it all in a curtain of green.

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious…

Let’s infect one another!

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

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Re-Inventing A Wreath

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Making a wreath for the door is always fun.  Coming up with ideas, gathering the materials, pulling it all together, and finally hanging the finished wreath is one way I celebrate the change of seasons.  And not just at Christmas; I make wreathes throughout the year.

I remember many cold December days, when I wandered around the garden with clippers and a large bucket of water, pruning the evergreens in preparation for making Christmas wreathes.  I usually attach bundles of mixed greens to straw wreath forms with U shaped wire pins.  And oh, my hands get so cold and sticky and scratched in the process, though the evergreen branches smell wonderful!

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Holly

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Today has been sun-drenched and passably warm, after the morning’s frost burned off.  As the day wore on, I decided it was a pretty good day for the annual cutting of the greens, and went in search of my supplies.

A spur of the moment decision to make our wreathes ended up demanding yet another trip to the craft store.  I need two wreathes for our front porch, and could only find a single straw form.  This of course drew comment from my partner about the dozen or so retired wreathes hanging in the garage.

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A finished wreath from 2013

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But we headed out to the store anyway, and I searched aisle after aisle for the forms I had in mind.  Finally, in the back corner of the place I found three sizes of straw wreath:  huge, small, and tiny.  None matched the medium wreath form waiting at home.  What to do? 

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A wreath in progress…. 2013

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We walked around the store for another 10 minutes or so with two large straw wreath forms in the cart.  And all the while I was weighing the effort it would take to rehabilitate some not-so-gently-used retired grapevine wreathes resting in the basement, against the too many dollars it would require to buy these jumbo straw hoops.

A look at the long line waiting for check-out clinched the deal.  We left the new wreath forms for someone else, and headed home to see what could be done with what we had.

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Now, the grapevine wreathes waiting for us in the basement  were lovely when they were new.  And I have remade them at least once since.

But the hot glue which once held them together was pulling loose, the bright green reindeer moss had faded to grey, and they were a sad lot, to be kind.  I pulled the remaining shells away and cleaned them up a bit, before taking them out to a patch of sunshine in the front yard.  It was barely warm enough to gild them, but gild them we did.

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2014

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Gold paint makes most things a bit better, or at least a bit more interesting.   I left the wreathes to dry in the sunlight, while I set off with the clippers for a bit of green.

My first stop was the Eucalyptus.  It froze back to the ground last winter, but has come out strong again this year.  Knowing that it might be ruined again by cold weather, I didn’t hesitate to cut quite a bit of the newest growth.

Next, I pruned the lowest branches from a rogue seedling of Virginia red cedar.  The tree is about 6′ tall now and a bit of limbing up did it no harm.

Finally, I gave the large old Rosemary in our front garden a good trim.  The cold will darken this summer’s leaves soon enough.  I cut a generous portion for our wreathes.

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That was plenty of greenery for the design I had in mind, which would allow some of the grapevine and original decorations to show as well.

That said, I quickly realized that the pins I’d gotten last month for the wreathes were going to be a challenge to use on the grapevine frame.  Basically, there is nothing to grip them.  But a bit of tweaking with needle nosed pliers soon bent the ends around the strands of vine, at least enough to hold my bundles of greenery in place.

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If you are making this sort of wreath, simply combine 6 or 7 sprigs into a bundle, wrap it with a bit of wire, and secure it to the form.  Each bundle should be about 5″-7″ long, depending on the circumference of your frame.   I used the same three plants in each bundle, in the same order, for a fairly uniform appearance.  But you might also alternate the bundles for a different effect.

I covered about two-thirds of the form with greenery, leaving the original wreath to show in the open space.  I re-attached some of the gilded moss and woody flowers, and also glued the shells back to the wreath before finishing with a fresh sparkly gold ribbon bow.

I’m rather pleased with how they turned out, and even more pleased that I recycled, rather than retailed, for this project.

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Have you made your holiday wreathes yet?  If not, I hope that you draw some inspiration from this little effort, and craft your own this year.

I ended up buying our front door wreathes last year.  They were beautiful, but I also missed the DIY Christmas I’ve grown to love.

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Making a wreath is simple and satisfying.  I challenge you to DIY this year, and create something uniquely yours.   Once you’ve made your holiday wreathes, please photograph them and share their beauty with the rest of us.  Please post photos on your site, and leave a link in the comments so I can enjoy them too!

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My second wreath today

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We will enjoy a walk through Colonial Williamsburg one day soon to enjoy their beautiful seasonal wreathes.  When we do, I’ll take lots of photos to share with you again this year.  I am always delighted by the fresh takes on using fruit and greens, nuts, cones, shells and other natural (and manufactured) items in the wreathes in the historic district of Williamsburg.

Whether you love glitz and glam at the holidays, or prefer something handcrafted or inspired by nature, there are a million ways to express your holiday spirit.

I hope you will join the holiday wreath challenge this year!

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Fabulous Friday: Change Is In the Air

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Our drought dissolved in inches of cool, wonderful rain last weekend.  We had a break from the heat, too, with some wonderfully cool nights and mornings.

We’ve left doors and windows open to air out the house and gotten outdoors a bit more.   Mornings, especially, have been wonderful for puttering and watering without getting roasted when one steps out of the shade.

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Our newest crape myrtle, with blooms this year, after a visit from the doe and her fawns.  I’m relieved to see lots of new growth, which is especially pretty on this cultivar.

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Yesterday evening, we ventured into the front yard on the way to collect the mail, and were amazed by a cloud of graceful dragonflies.  Neither of us could remember seeing so many dragonflies flying about the garden all at one time.  We stood in awe, admiring them.

All sorts of creatures begin to show themselves when the rain returns and temperatures dip.  Not only dragonflies, but butterflies show up, too.

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And I’ve had a tiny hummingbird gathering courage this week, flying ever closer to the fine spray from the hose as I water.  It zips up close in the blink of an eye, and hovers, jumping forward a few inches at a time to the edge of the cool mist of water.

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The magic of cropping allows us to enjoy the crape myrtle’s flower without seeing where the tree was nibbled….

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We have a family of small rabbits sharing the garden this summer, too.  They watch us from the shadows, hopping off briskly only if we get too close for their comfort.   Small lizards rustle among the pots on the front patio, sunning themselves along the windowsills and on the porch.  A tiny one, less than 2″ long skittered through the slider as I let the cat out Wednesday morning.  I shudder to think where it may be hiding, and choose to believe it found its way back outside unseen.

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Our garden’s soundtrack begins before dawn as birds call to one another, and lingers late into the evening with frog song and chirping cicadas.  Birds nesting in the yard follow us around, calling to us from nearby trees as we work.

These are reasons we love living in our forest.  You must know, though, that its not all peaches and cream, at any time of year.  We’ve put out deer repellents three times in the last week.  It remains all too common to look out of our front windows to see a certain doe and her two fawns munching the Hydrangeas on our front lawn.

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Back out into the sun, a favorite pot of Caladiums also hosts a Crinum lily preparing to bloom. This is one of the few lily blossoms deer won’t eat, and these tough perennials get better each year.

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Yesterday afternoon, it was a black snake that surprised my partner in the shrubs beside our front porch.  It was the first we’ve seen near the house this year, and we hope the last!  Now I’ll be extra careful working near the shrubs, and keep an eye out for it.  (A former gardener’s wife refused to venture into the yard at all, for fear of snakes.  She admired it all from the windows of our home.)

Yes, change is in the air as we settle in to August.  The garden has visibly revived and begun to grow again since our rain.  We watch the forecast daily, greedily waiting for the next shower and cool day.  I’ve a ‘to do’ list which begins with pruning the roses before moving on to some serious weeding; just waiting for a cool, damp morning to inspire me.

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I noticed the interesting texture eaten into these leaves above our deck yesterday evening.

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Hibiscus fill our garden this time of year.  All of our Crape Myrtle trees have begun to bloom, and the golden Rudbeckia are coming into their prime.   There is plenty of nectar for every pollinator in our corner of the county.  Butterflies hover around the Lantana, and every sort of fabulous wasp buzzes around the pot of mountain mint growing on our deck.

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Hardy Hibiscus coccineus began to bloom in the front border this week.

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August reminds us to take some pleasure and rest while we can.  It is a month of kicking back and savoring the sweetness of life.  It is a month for catching the first whiff of change in the cool morning breezes.

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Basil loves this hot, sunny weather!

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I hope you are preparing for a weekend getaway this Fabulous Friday.  Maybe you are already there, settling in for a little holiday time.

I began the day catching up with a good friend over coffee, and am looking forward to a few hours in the garden this evening.  I’ll plan to get away later in October, once the butterflies fly south again and the hummingbirds stop dancing around me as I water.

August is too full of sweetness to leave the garden now.

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious, so let’s infect one another!

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Woodland Gnome 2017

After Christmas

 

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Happy Boxing Day, my friends.  On Boxing Day we celebrate the simple truth that we have survived another Christmas.

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Our Jewish friends might also celebrate that the Christmas season is winding down, but they are quite busy with Hanukkah, which just began on Christmas Eve this year.  They will celebrate their third night tonight.

In Europe, today is also St. Stephen’s Day and the Christmas celebrations of family gatherings and celebratory food and drink continue.

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“Boxing Day” has lingered in our culture, though few of us really remember how it began.  It’s more fun than Christmas in the UK, I’m told, and is a day for giving gifts to important people in our lives who aren’t necessarily ‘family.’

In past times, the wealthy gave ‘Christmas Boxes’ of food and gifts to their employees and vendors.

Some of us still remember the postman with a little something this time of year… and ours has certainly earned a little appreciation!  We’ve had packages left at our door before 8:00 AM more than once this month.

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Some of us still observe the old “Twelve Days of Christmas,” and will keep our Christmas lights up and plan gatherings with friends and family through the first week of January.

Our Christmas tree is usually still up as January draws to a close.  After all the fuss of putting it up, one may as well enjoy it until it dries out, don’t  you agree?

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Others await this special shopping day each year to score the best deals of the season while  retailers try to clear out their remaining holiday merchandise.

Your inbox, like mine, is probably already flooded with special messages from every online retailer with whom you do business and a few more hopefuls….

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But many of us with extended families close by will find themselves traveling to one or another home today for ‘second Christmas.’  We’ll be visiting with those we missed, or who missed us, yesterday.   We won’t find ourselves shopping, but probably will have a completely enjoyable day with loved ones.

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Whatever you do today, please enjoy the day. 

Allow for a bit of relaxation after the rigors of the Christmas shopping/ cooking/ decorating/ card writing/ crafting/ party/ season we’ve just finished.

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December always feels like a marathon to me, and I push myself to ‘get it all done’ by Christmas Eve.  Now it’s finally time for a bit of rest and enjoyment.

Maybe you feel that way too, and have put away your rolls of wrapping paper and unused cards with the same sigh of relief which escaped my lips yesterday afternoon.  What’s done is done, and I’m not going to be tempted to lose these last, sweet days of December doing much more.

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My first gardening catalog of the new year arrived on Christmas Eve.  What a sweet gift postman ‘Santa’ left for me on Saturday!  It had a nice selection of ‘New’ 2017 introductions to savor.

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That said, I can feel the joyfulness of ‘Boxing Day’ in this morning’s light.

Another Christmas has come, and now we can sit back and enjoy those things  which matter to us most.  We can gather with loved ones if we want, but we’re also free to head of to our favorite chair with a good book or catalog.

And there’s finally time to take a nap.  And of course, to head back out to the garden to simply enjoy the beauty of it all….

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Woodland Gnome 2016

A ‘Giver’s’ Tale…

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My mother and I were talking about the holidays this weekend, and I was encouraging her to simply the season by giving gift cards this year rather than shopping for presents.  Presents must still be wrapped and delivered; gift cards can easily be mailed.   Life is more complicated for elders who can no longer drive themselves or easily walk through stores.  Even internet shopping can present challenges, and I encouraged her to keep it simple this year.

She countered with a story of what happened to her when she tried to use a Red Lobster gift card at dinner last week.  Received for her birthday, she presented it to cover part of her tab.  To her surprise, the restaurant credited her for only $20 of the $25 value, claiming a $5 ‘service charge.’  Since she received the card just recently, she was surprised that she couldn’t use it for its full face value.

That is the first I’d heard of such a thing.  But she was adamant, and not entirely  convinced that my advice was good.  I had taken her shopping to Walmart on Saturday, and soon enough we encountered a huge aisle display of various gift cards.

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We approached and began looking at those available.  “You can do all of your Christmas shopping right here, Mom,” I suggested brightly.

In the spirit of the moment, I picked up a Visa gift card to send as a birthday gift, and she picked up a pack of 3 $20 Visa gift cards with a cover price of $60.00.  We have some family birthdays coming, as well as Thanksgiving with my daughter on the opposite coast.  It seemed a simple way to spread some cheer.

But, “Buyer Beware!”  We didn’t stop to read the fine print….  I checked out first, and glanced at my receipt while loading her groceries onto the counter.  There was an extra charge I couldn’t identify, and I questioned the clerk.  “Oh, that is the purchase fee,” she offered.  What?

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Turns out, and you may know this already, but there is a hefty fee charged for the convenience of using a Visa prepaid card.  Not in the habit of throwing money away, I asked her to refund the card.

She politely sent me to customer service, where the representative politely refused to issue a refund.  It is against store policy, he said, and showed me a phone number and website on the back of the card’s packaging where he assured me the refund could be easily processed.

I shared this intelligence with my mother, who promptly decided not to buy the gift cards she had picked up.  Her fee would have been nearly $10.00 for the 3 pack.  We hadn’t seen notice of the ‘fee,’ partly because it was printed in tiny white letters in the artwork on the package.  No notice of fees was given anywhere on the gift card display.

Well, Mother politely but firmly communicated her “I told you so’s,” while feeling blessed that I’d learned about the fee before she’d processed her cards.

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This morning I sat down to arrange my refund, called the ‘customer service number’ on the card’s package, and began wading through the automated phone tree.

I used every trick I know to get through to a real live person, and utterly failed.  The best I could get was instruction to go to their website to process the refund.  So, I began again at http://www.WalmartGift.com and searched that site thoroughly for a link to refunds.  The best I could find there was advice to call their customer service number.  It was the same number I’d already exhausted.

With nearly an hour invested in this circular exercise in futility, I searched for “How to get a refund on a Walmart Visa giftcard’ on the internet.

Well, that opened the floodgates of widespread frustration.  Have you any idea how many problems people are having with these cards? 

It seems that lots of other folks also exhausted the options on both the phone line and the website in utter frustration.  Everything from unknown charges on their cards, to cards that refused to activate, cards lost in the mail, and every other problem you might imagine was well documented.  And lots of others also found no way to get to a human customer service agent to actually get help with their problem.

Finally, I found Adam’s story. 

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Adam discovered that by choosing the option for the card’s transaction history, on the phone line, he could finally get to a real agent.

I decided to give it a try, only to learn that you must first enter the card’s multi-digit number, and security code, which means opening the package.  So I tore open the package (no changing my mind now….) and punched in all of the numbers… only to find that the live agent option has now been removed from the phone menu.  Guess too many people had figured out how to actually reach someone for help. 

The official Walmart website offers absolutely no help.  I searched it, too.  All they offered was the same website and phone number I’d already used.  Finally, determined to figure this one out, I called the customer service number once again, and this time entered the card’s number and code and chose the option to report my card as lost or stolen.

Finally, I broke through the miasma of the automated site and reach Gail, who pronounced her name ‘Geele.’  I explained the problem and asked for her help.  Gail politely explained why she couldn’t help me.  But, she promised to put me in touch with someone who could.  Then she transferred me to ‘Mike.’

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At this point, I’d been at it for more than an hour and a half, and felt no closer to my refund.  But Mike began asking for every scrap of  information about me, and about the store where I’d made the purchase, and about the receipt.  He needed every detail down to the exact time of the purchase.

After reading off all of this data, he asked whether  I was ready to write down the information he needed to give me.  Turns out, that although Mike took my report, I still had to email a photo of my receipt, and photos of both the front and the back of the card I want refunded,  to his bank before they would process my refund.  He said they would act within a business day of receiving the email to process the refund, and then I would get a check in the mail in a few weeks.

At last check, there has been no confirmation email back to let me know the process is underway…

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It turns out that ‘Mike’ doesn’t work for Walmart.  Mike works for a bank I’ve not heard of called ‘Green Dot Bank.’  Sound familiar?  Not to me…

There are several banks who handle these pre-paid Visa cards, and the refund comes from them.  If you look at one of these cards, the name of the issuing bank can be found at the very bottom of the back of the packaging in tiny type.   I guess the ‘purchase fee’ is so high so they can spread the profit around.

By the way, had I given this card, and the recipient didn’t use it right away, more fees would be subtracted along the way from the remaining balance.

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Why am I telling you this story?  Because you are probably starting to think about holiday gifts and shopping, too.

You may be tempted, as am I, to pick up gift cards for those loved ones who are hard to shop for.  Or maybe, like me, you wanted to send a gift card to help pay for ‘all the trimmings’ for a holiday meal to loved ones who can’t get home.  But these gift cards, convenient as they may be, come with expensive and frustrating strings attached.

“Buyer Beware!”  Mind the fine print, and maybe we’ll all have a more peaceful and affordable holiday this year!

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Mark Robert's Sugar Plum Fairy

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Woodland Gnome 2016

Welcome, Summer

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“Summertime is always the best of what might be.”

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Charles Bowden

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“Rest is not idleness,

and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees

on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur

of the water, or watching the clouds float

across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

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John Lubbock

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It is June, and we are enjoying those magical longest days of the year.  On Saturday, the sun will rise here at 5:46 AM, as it has been doing since Tuesday, June 7.  But we will have that extra minute of golden sunshine as it waits to finally set below the horizon at 8:30.  Both Saturday and Sunday will be our longest days this year, at 14 hours and 44 minutes.  Official Summer Soltice is scheduled for Monday June 20, but the sun will wait until 5:47 to rise that day, making it a minute shorter than Sunday.

Interesting, isn’t it, that our American observance of Father’s Day falls, this year, on our longest day of the year, the day when the sun takes longest to traverse the sky?

But then, on Tuesday, the sun will still rise at 5:47, but will set at 8:31 PM.  And these times of sunrise and sunset will continue through next Friday, June 24.  So we will actually enjoy a full week of Summer Solstice; days nearly 15 hours long, at our latitude.

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What are you doing to celebrate the Summer Solstice?  Are you traveling, or enjoying the pleasures of home?  Are you on vacation now from school or work?

We are enjoying these long summer days in our garden.  There are daily changes as plants grow and bloom.  Hummingbirds, song birds, and every sort of insect buzz about outside. Our yard now sports five different turtle nests, where mother turtles have left a clutch of eggs on rainy days. 

This is the time of year when we search out farm stands for peaches and home grown tomatoes, new potatoes, squash and blueberries.  The menu changes to what may be sliced quickly and eaten fresh and cold.

Our first Hibiscus buds opened yesterday.  Sweet Gardenia flowers near the door greeted me for the first time this morning.  The Buddleia have covered them selves in nectar rich blooms.   It is finally summer, and we welcome the magic summer always brings.

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“It was June, and the world smelled of roses.

The sunshine was like powdered gold

over the grassy hillside.”

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Maud Hart Lovelace

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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Shells in Christmas Decorations

Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg

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Sea shells may not seem like a traditional Christmas decoration, but they certainly can be lovely ones.

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Shells are commonplace for those of us who live near the coast; especially those shells left from a meal of oysters, clams, or scallops.  These wreathes on display now in Colonial Williamsburg feature shells as an important part of their design.

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We’ve probably all seen scallop shells transformed into angelic tree ornaments and white starfish hung from ribbons.  The della robbia wreathes at Colonial Williamsburg incorporate many surprising and commonplace materials, including shells, dried flowers, fruits, vegetables, vines, cotton, seed pods, nuts, cones and berries, as well as evergreen stems and leaves.

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This wreath hangs at Chowning's Tavern, in Colonial Williamsburg.

This wreath hangs at Chowning’s Tavern, in Colonial Williamsburg.

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These are unusual and playful decorations for the Christmas season.

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I used shells and pearls in  decorations for a ladies’ luncheon earlier today.

My ‘vase’ held branches pruned from our Mountain Laurel shrubs, dusted with gold; ‘flowers’ made from Lotus pods; white seashells; and sprays of fresh Magnolia.

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Carved wooden birds perched in the branches of the arrangement.  Several of the small Christmas trees on the tables were made entirely from shells and pearls.

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Christmas decorating is far more fun when we can take a light and playful attitude. It is fine to change things out a bit year to year, trying out new ideas and revising old ones.

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Another Colonial Williamsburg wreath.

Another Colonial Williamsburg wreath.

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This is especially true in the fabulous wreathes which come from the  CW workshops each year.   Walking the old city streets each December is an adventure, as new and creative designs manifest year after year.

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December 13, 2015 CW 017

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Woodland Gnome 2015

A Colonial Winter Garden

December 13, 2015 CW 034

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Those fierce souls who founded our nation knew the importance of taking care of business.  And their business always included raising food for their own family’s table.

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December 13, 2015 CW 055

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Our country was founded by serious gardeners.  Even  luminaries such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington maintained gardens, tended orchards, had fields of crops to use and sell, and raised those animals needed to keep meat on the table.  Although they, and others of their class kept slaves in those days; they still took a very active hands-on interest in their garden.

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December 13, 2015 CW 041

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Colonial Williamsburg maintains many gardens, but this remains my favorite.  It is a very well maintained colonial vegetable garden tended in the 18th Century style.

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December 13, 2015 CW 067

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It looks even more lush this December than usual.  But that is likely due to our fair weather these last few months.  It is a pleasing mix of herbs, flowers and vegetables.

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December 13, 2015 CW 039

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Fruit trees may be found around the edges.  There are vegetables growing from tiny seedling up to ready to harvest cabbages and collards.

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December 13, 2015 CW 070

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These vegetables are used in the CW kitchens.  They are lovingly tended up to the moment they are authentically prepared and gratefully consumed.

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December 13, 2015 CW 046

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We strolled down Duke of Gloucester Street on Sunday to enjoy the ingenious Christmas wreathes.  But as you might guess, I was distracted for quite a while by the garden.

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December 13, 2015 CW 043~

It was  a grey day, completely overcast and damp.  A few drops spritzled as we were leaving.  But it was warm and comfortable; a great day to enjoy the wreathes and seasonal decorations on every building.

I’ll share a few with you each day for the next few days.

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December 13, 2015 CW 042

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I’ve not yet made any wreathes myself,  this year. 

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December 13, 2015 CW 047~

But there is still time before Christmas Eve, and a dear friend gifted me with a bucket of Magnolia branches later Sunday afternoon.  We used some of the Magnolia while decorating for a community luncheon we’re hosting tomorrow.

And yes, there is a vase.  I just haven’t photographed it, yet!

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December 13, 2015 CW 035

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Evergreen Magnolia is one of my favorite native plants.  They grow wild here in Virginia, and my friend has a wild seedling grown large in her garden.

You’ll see lots of Magnolia used at Colonial Williamsburg in their holiday decorations.  It has wonderful color and holds up for the several weeks of our festivities.  One can’t eat it, but it decorates many holiday dinner tables and sideboards.  We spread it liberally around our buffet table and the beverage tables for tomorrow’s gathering.

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December 13, 2015 CW 142

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Which in a round about way brings us back to my neglect of wreathes this season.  Our  front doors are graced with old ones from ‘the wreath collection’ which hangs in our garage at the moment.  They are fine from a distance, with red silk roses and moss on a grapevine base.

And I just may recycle the Magnolia leaves off the buffet table into a stunning garland to hang round the front doors this year.  Southern Living Magazine has any number of fine projects featuring Magnolia leaves this December.

If you are a Virginia neighbor, you might have been admiring the December issue right along with me.

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December 13, 2015 CW 217

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It still all comes down to ‘taking care of business’ for our family and our community.

As modern as our lives might feel at times, our foundation remains in hearth and home;  friendship and family; good food and hands-on self sufficiency.    It is part of our heritage not just as Virginians or Americans;  it is part of our human heritage and a fundamental value around the world.

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December 13, 2015 CW 095

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May you take time for those things which bring you real joy this holiday season.  And may you take care of business such that you assure yourself and your loved ones of a very Happy New Year, too.

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December 13, 2015 CW 048~

Woodland Gnome 2015

Photos from Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

“A Forest Garden 2016” gardening calendar is now available, featuring some of our favorite photos from 2015.  Write to me at woodlandgnome@zoho.com for details.

Still in the Garden

 

Beautiful tomatoes were grown in a friend's garden last. summer

Beautiful tomatoes were grown in a friend’s garden last. summer

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Hugh Roberts, who challenged us all to show what sits atop our Christmas tree, has chosen the Alzheimer’s Research UK research charity to receive his very generous  gift of L250 sterling.  Hugh pledged to give a pound to charity for each entry his challenge received from participants around the world.

I learned of Hugh’s challenge early on in December through fellow blogger Sue Vincent and chose to participate.   Hugh published his round up post earlier this week, with links to all participants, and the story behind his tree-top angel, Angela.

Hugh chose to support the Alzheimer’s Research charity because that is the disease which took both his grandmother and his mother from him. It runs in his family; as degenerative brain disease runs in many of ours.

We have our own legacy of Parkinson’s disease and stroke casting a shadow in our own family. It is absolutely heartbreaking to witness the elders of our family, who we love, and respect, wrestle with these devastating changes to their lives.

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Flowers, vegetables and herbs grow together in my friends' deck garden.

Flowers, vegetables and herbs grow together in my friends’ deck garden.

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Which is why I stumbled across the wonderful book, 100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s and Age-Related Memory Loss, by Jean Carper, earlier this summer. Although the suggestions in this book are wide ranging, and include physical exercise, community involvement, sports and games; the suggestions always return to nutrition.jean-carper-book-large  By the way, gardening is also a wonderful way to keep one’s brain healthy and active !

Food is a very personal subject for us all. Food is comfort. Food is tradition. Food connects us to our family’s roots. Food is recreation and food is survival.

It is often only when facing a serious health challenge, whether diabetes, blood pressure, or cancer that we come around to realizing that food is also our best medicine.

Remember that the first humans were given a garden to meet all of their needs. Indigenous people the world over, who are generally very healthy and long-lived, still understand how to “live off of the land.”

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My friend fashioned this lovely dragon fly ornament for her garden.  Creating works of art also protects and strengthens our brains.

My friend fashioned this lovely dragon fly ornament for her garden. Creating works of art also protects and strengthens our brains.

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Physicians and medical researchers establish a clear link between what we eat and how long we live. Our quality of life is a direct result of our nutrition. And I learned this summer, from Jean Carper’s wonderful book, that eating the right foods also protects our brain from Alzheimer’s, dementia and other degenerative brain diseases.

Researchers and practicing physicians have proven over and again that plant based foods are the ones which heal us. Animal based foods feed the diseases which kill us and destroy our brains.

This is jarring for most Americans and Europeans, who eat meat, eggs, fish and dairy multiple times every day. Our traditional meals and favorite foods are all centered on animal products.

And yet, learning to eat and enjoy plant based meals is always the prescription for good health. We must eat from “the garden.”   We not only need to eat plant based foods, but also choose those which don’t come laden with the agricultural chemicals which will poison us.  Locally grown food, grown organically, nourishes us and heals us.

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My friend coaxes fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs from her steep slope.

My friend coaxes fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs from her steeply sloping garden.

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After reading Jean’s book this summer, I compiled a simple half sheet list of “Foods Which Protect Our Brains” for my parents, and shared it with my siblings. There is abundant research to back up the healing powers of each food on the list

Since then, another close family member began treatment for a very aggressive cancer. One of her survival strategies has been to follow a vegan, and mostly raw, diet. And it is helping her to remain active and energized as she continues with the other treatments her doctors prescribe.

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Herbs hold the power to heal us.  Our own garden in July-

Herbs hold the power to heal us. Our own garden in July-

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Dr. Joel Fuhrman, whose book, Eat To Live, I read several years ago, realizes that he is a “doctor of last resort.” Most of his patients would never consider following his diet advice unless it was their last hope of survival.Eat to Live

What is that radical advice? To under-consume calories. He recommends a mostly raw diet of only selected vegetables, little or no oil or butter, whole grains, and no sugar. A typical meal includes a huge bowl of salad chopped vegetables dressed with a home-made fat free dressing.

Dr. Fuhrman has since generated cookbooks and a number of additional titles including: The End of Diabetes, Super Immunity, Disease Proof Your Child, and The End of Dieting. His advice is based in his own practice with terminally ill patients,  as well as up to date research in disease prevention.  Dr Fuhrman’s first book, Eat To Live, clearly describes how animal foods create and feed those diseases which destroy our bodies and brains.

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Dill in our garden last July

Dill in our garden last July

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I “returned to the garden” in 1986, giving up all flesh foods, for a variety of reasons. I won’t bore you with those reasons, but they were far ranging. And I’ve never once been tempted to add meat back into my diet. I haven’t been as successful with eliminating dairy, although I continue to reduce the amounts we consume. 2015 may be the year for that final shift, however.

I prefer to focus on learning new ways to prepare delicious meals rich in colorful vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, and herbs.

Our creators (Elohim, from the Hebrew) gave us every single thing we need for healthy living, and we honor them, and ourselves, by living vibrant, healthy lives.

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Fig tree in our garden, August 2014

Fig tree in our garden, August 2014

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Please allow me to share the list of brain healthy foods I compiled for my parents this past summer, based on reading Jean Carper’s book, 100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s and Age-Related Memory Loss.

Adding these simple and delicious foods to our diets in greater quantity may protect our brains, and our lives, for many more years to come.

Foods to Eat Frequently

To Heal and Protect Our Brains:

Coffee, Tea, Cocoa (Caffeine)

  Fresh Vegetables (5+ daily)

Spinach, Chard, Kale, Tomato

Nuts:  Almonds, Hazelnuts, Pecans, Walnuts, Cashews

Fresh Fruit (5+daily)

2 Apples each day (or apple juice)

Berries: Blueberries, Blackberries   Strawberries, Cranberries 

Cherries

Juice: Pomegranate, Apple

Cranberry, Purple Grape

Olives, Olive Oil 

Whole grains

Cinnamon

    Eggs, Fish, Fish oils

Dark Chocolate

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Our pear crop, August 2014

Our pear crop, August 2014

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Woodland Gnome 2015

Weekly Photo Challenge: NEW

Weekly Photo Challenge:  NEW

 

January 1, 2015 sunrise 013

 

This is one of my first photos of the new year, taken soon after sunrise on New Year’s Day.

I am happy to see the many plump buds on the tips of these Dogwood branches.

Each bud will open into a delicate white flower in early April.  There will be a billowy white profusion of flowers here in a few short weeks.

But on this January morning we see only the fine lacework of the Dogwood’s branches, and a profusion of buds.

And through them, the sky is fresh and new, deeply blue, and giving us good omens for the new year ahead.

 

In response to the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  New

 

January 1, 2015 sunrise 006

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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“We spend January 1st walking through our lives,

room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done,

cracks to be patched.

Maybe this year, to balance the list,

we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives

…not looking for flaws, but for potential.”
 

Ellen Goodman

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January 1, 2015 sunrise 012

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