Mothering Moments

Okay friends, you are going to need to cut me some slack on this mothering moment that I’m going to share. I had only been 20 years old for about 14 days when my first baby arrived in the world and probably not even 22 when this story took place.

I was pregnant with baby #2 and exhausted. Usually a good sleeper, lately Matt seemed to sense the moment my weary head hit my pillow. Well, on the night this story took place, I was settling in for sleep for what seemed to be the umpteenth time when my not quite two-year-old little Matt cried out for me from his crib with his loud toddler voice,

“Mommy!”

I shudder to think of what I did now because it is so contrary to good sense, but I was a gullible young mom who apparently believed this ad.

On that night I grew tired of getting my very pregnant self in and out of our waterbed (anyone remember those?). I desperately wanted to get my little guy to lie back down and go to sleep, so I gave him a bottle hoping he would fall asleep and let me get some sleep. I wanted to save the little bit of milk we had in the fridge for breakfast in the morning, so watered down some Tang breakfast drink and put it in his bottle.

Not two minutes had passed after I dragged my weary self back to bed when I heard the familiar squeak of Matt’s crib. We had a tiny house and I didn’t want him waking his sleeping daddy who had to get up early to go to work, so I got up and went to his room. He was standing in his crib again, arm extended out to me with an empty baby bottle in hand.

“More, Mommy, more.”

I couldn’t believe he had drained that bottle so quickly. I made him another bottle of the stuff then checked to make sure his diaper was dry. He took the bottle and snuggled in for what I had hoped would be the last time until morning’s light. Bleery-eyed with weariness, I then crawled back in my own bed hoping not to make too many waves.

Unbelievably, before I could pull the covers up under my chin, Matt was again yelling,

“More, Mommy, more!”

I made the trek of five or six steps to his room again and turned on the little Humpty-Dumpty lamp on the dresser. I couldn’t believe my eyes – his bottle was empty again! Checked his diaper again too – it just had to be wet, but it wasn’t.

Bordering on sheer exhaustion (and also a wee bit suspicious), against my better judgement, I fixed him another bottle. I turned off the light and then headed out of his door, this time waiting around the corner to spy on him and see what on earth was going on. Sure enough, I had every reason to be suspicious. My clever and mischievous little guy sat up in his crib, unscrewed the top of the bottle, then stood up and proceeded to pour that orange drink down the wall, then picked up the nipple end of the bottle and screwed it back onto the empty bottle.

I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. I did know that if he could figure out how to do all of that, he was much too old to still be drinking from a bottle. I took the bottle out of his hand before he could say, “More, Mommy, more” and told him to say “bye-bye” to his bottle.

Matt never saw the bottle again.


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Pastor Matt and his wife Kelly

Interesting note: Now, 40-some years later, Matt is an elder and discipleship pastor at Wildwood Church in East Moline, Illinois. On a recent Sunday, Wayne and I were able to worship with Matt’s faith family at Wildwood and were blessed to listen as our son preached from Luke 22 using this story from his childhood as a sermon illustration. I’m not proud of this mothering moment of mine, but it did make a pretty nice sermon illustration. It warmed this momma’s heart (and his dad’s too) hearing Matt sharing God’s Word as he preached. I invite you, dear readers, to give that sermon a listen right here.

If I Get Alzheimer’s

Today I complete another trip around the sun. Most people get a little forgetful as they age – you know, the searching for the glasses perched on top of the head sort of thing. As I now approach the middle of my sixth decade of life, I am keenly aware that I am spending a tad bit more time looking for mislaid things, and much more time trying to figure out the names of people whose names I should remember. My sweet mom had Alzheimer’s in her later years of life, so I will confess that my own little forgetful moments cause me to think about what may be down the road for me. I suspect the day is coming when my memory will fade, and perhaps gradually vanish.

I write this post for any of my readers who are faced with loving and caring for someone they love who has heard their physician say “Alzheimer’s” when delivering a diagnosis. My dear family, I especially write these words to help you in the event that I someday hear my doctor say that dreaded word, or any other diagnosis which spells memory loss and dementia. You will likely need to make many hard decisions on my behalf – like taking away my car keys and deciding when it is time for me to live somewhere else. You were there when I made those difficult decisions on behalf of my mom and likely remember how hard that was for me. Take heart, God will give you wisdom for each decision and shed light on every step you need to take.

If I get Alzheimer’s, don’t ask me to remember; instead, reminisce and tell me stories from our past. What do you remember that we did together? Tell it again and again to me.

If I get Alzheimer’s, and I perchance do tell you a story from my past (or yours), you might want to write it down or record the story I’m telling you. I may tell you that story over and over and over again, just like your grandma did. Do you remember her talking about how she made her blue flower pots when she was in West Virginia, or how she dug the purple tablecloths out of the trash, or the stories about her wedding day? Just remember that the day will come when I will tell my story for the very last time and you will one day wish you could hear me tell it once again.

If I get Alzheimer’s, I might stubbornly refuse to bathe. The fear of bathing is the sad and stinky reality of this horrible disease. There might be a lot of fussing and crying, so let me tell you right now that when this time comes, you might find that hiring someone to help a for a few hours a day or two a week will be just the thing.

Tip: You might also find that dryer-warmed towels, blankets and clothes will calm my anxiousness. If all else fails, those disposable washcloths you can warm in the microwave are wonderful.

If I tell you I am cold, more than likely I truly am cold. In Alzheimer’s, the part of the brain which regulates body temperature and thyroid function goes kerflooey. Rather than subject yourself to turning up the furnace year-round, when you help me get dressed, start with a soft sweatshirt, then add lighter layers and keep soft blankets and throws handy.

If I get Alzheimer’s, I probably won’t remember to brush my hair. Will you please do it for me? Please use a detangling spray when you brush my mane of hair. I use a detangling brush, working from the ends and then all the way up to gently coax the tangles out. I like my hair long, but cut it short if you must. I might be mad at first, but will likely soon forget what once was.

By the way, if I tell you my hair hurts, I am not confabulating or telling a fib. When my hair gets dirty, my scalp truly hurts. It feels like bruises on my scalp, so please try to keep my hair clean. Perhaps a weekly trip to the hair salon for just a wash will be just the thing.

If I get Alzheimer’s, it might be challenging to keep me occupied, so here are some ideas for you to try. Gardening is my happy place, even if it’s just my own blue pot or three, encourage me to play in the dirt as much as I possibly can.

I also really love to work on puzzles, and might enjoy working on one with you.

Oh, and I like crafts. I once helped my grandkids create things with beads and paint; maybe, in time, it’ll be their turn to help me.

Baking was a joy to me when my mind was clear, so I might enjoy helping you in the kitchen. Even though I am old, remember that my mind is becoming child-like. What can a child do to help? Perhaps I can stir the batter, whisk the eggs, or pour in the bag of chocolate chips.

I could set the table, dry the dishes and wipe off the countertop. It won’t be perfect, but I will feel like I have made a contribution. It’s very important to feel useful.

If I get Alzheimer’s, remember that I’m a blue-jean wearing momma who likes pretty knit tops – ones with interesting details like ruffles on the sleeves and pretty buttons and lace. When you buy clothing for me, I suggest you buy two of each of my favorites. This will help you cope with me when I insist on wearing the same shirt over and over again. Unless you’re handy with a sewing machine, you might even want to buy two in the next size down, as those with Alzheimer’s lose interest in food as time goes on.

Perhaps you have noticed that I practically live in an apron. I wear one in the kitchen, while I’m cleaning, or when I’m gardening. If I get Alzheimer’s and the day comes when I become ‘messy momma’ at meals and perhaps need a bib, you might spare my dignity and try an apron instead. If I need to graduate to a bib, please make me some pretty ones…with lots of flowers.

If you can’t get me out of my pajamas in the morning and I stubbornly refuse to get dressed, just put on your pajamas and declare it “Pajama Day”! Conversely, if at day’s end I refuse to put on my pajamas, please remember that there’s no harm in wearing my clothes to bed. Unless the clothing is soiled, it truly isn’t worth the battle.

Dear family of mine, you know that I love the Lord with all of my heart and go to church every Sunday. If it is within God’s providential plan that I get Alzheimer’s, may I ask you to please take me with you to church for as long as I am able? It will do my heart good to gather and worship with my family and friends. One day you may find that I fidget too much or speak out of turn, then you will know it’s time for me to stay home with a caregiver while you go praise and worship our Lord, fellowship with your friends, and feed your soul. I’m God’s child and He will be near, whether I’m at church or at home, so don’t feel as though you are leaving me alone.

If I get Alzheimer’s, help me stay in touch with friends, be they old or new. I loved to have family and friends come for dinner. Much like your grandma did, I would probably enjoy company, but may get overwhelmed with crowds, so make it just a few. They may not understand what is happening to me, so gently explain before they come.

Remember how I used to take a photo of your grandma with her guests (or snag one off of Facebook), then give her the card to hang onto when her guests arrived. I would add their names and how she knew the people, then laminate the cards. It helped her remember their names. Maybe it would help me too.

If I get Alzheimer’s, please get me outside as often as you can. I always enjoyed walks in the park, so you might try that again. Push me in a wheelchair if you must, but let me enjoy nature and a bit of fresh air for as long as I’m able (and willing).

If I get Alzheimer’s, one day, you may find, I’m terribly unwilling to leave the house where I live. Going outside may become a terror, rather than a joy. If that day comes, try to create a comfy spot where I can sit near a window and enjoy the beauty of flowers and trees planted nearby, or a grandchild-painted birdhouse within view where a sparrow family might keep me occupied with their comings and goings.

If I get Alzheimer’s, you might like to know that I love to listen to music and would enjoy Christian radio. But if I’m anxious, you might find instrumental piano or guitar will help me to relax. I especially enjoy listening to great hymns of the faith. You’ll find what I enjoy on my Spotify.

If I get Alzheimer’s, please remember my children and grandchildren are especially dear and I hope they will visit when they are near. If they can’t come to love on me, please tell them to send me cards and sometimes include a photo for me to treasure.

If I get Alzheimer’s, I might like to carry a purse even though I don’t carry one now. When memories no longer stay tucked away in my mind, a purse might give me a handy storage space where I can pull out special memories any time I like. You might want to tuck a few of my treasures inside: little photo books filled with family (be sure to label who is who), something to color and an array of colored pencils, little books of flowers and butterflies to help me enjoy the things God made. Oh, and finding milk chocolate or a cookie in my purse would be especially nice.

If I get Alzheimer’s, the day may come when watching television is my thing. I really enjoy mysteries, but nothing super scary. Put on a gardening show or gentle children’s programming and I think I’d be content. I don’t like to watch television alone, so would you occasionally sit with me?

One more very important reminder. If I get Alzheimer’s and ever forget your name, please know that my heart still loves you and someday (sooner than you realize), the day will come when God will take me Home and make all things new, including my memory of how special you are and how very much I love you.

Rescued from my Easychair

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It’s a glorious September morning here in Wisconsin, with just a hint of autumn in the air. Entirely too gorgeous to be spending it indoors.

It would be a great day to take a walk in the park or perhaps get a little gardening done in the cool of the morning. I definitely have a mile-long to-do list of gardening tasks I could be doing outside on this day off of work. Alas, my all too often used excuse of I will do it later pushed the thought of outdoor activities out of my mind, so I nestled into my comfy chair and opened my laptop to begin working on a PowerPoint presentation for this week’s Sunday School lesson. Just as I got started, my phone rang.

“Hi, Cindie! This is Rita. I’m over at McKee park. What are you doing right now? Would you like to join me for a walk?”

To which I countered, “I’m just sitting on my duff in my comfy chair. I’ll put on my shoes and meet you there in a few minutes.”

Rita (a friend I met through our Fitchburg Garden Club) and I enjoyed talking about what has been going on in our respective worlds (and gardening, of course) and did a little meandering through and around the park. A walk in what I call “my happy place” turned out to be just the thing my heart and body needed today.

Our homes practically bookend the park – mine to the northwest and hers to the southeast, so we ended our walk by wandering through her garden together. September gardens are definitely fading in their summer glory, but we gardeners have the eyes to see the beauty that was and that which will be in the ebbing vestige of floral splendor. Even in its autumnal decline, I can see how my friend designed her garden spaces by layering trees, bushes, perennials and annuals to create a truly magnificent piece of paradise on earth.

Thanks, Rita! I’m so thankful you rescued me from my sedentary morning with just a phone call and an invitation to take an impromptu walk in the park.


Today I am joining the encouraging writing community over at Five Minute Friday for their weekly link-up. This week our common theme is Rescue.

Thoughts about Food Caching (and Time)

I truly admire some of my friends who plant enormous gardens and manage to “put up” a sizable cache of jar upon pretty jar of garden fare to last their families through the long winter months.

I truly admire some of my friends who plant enormous gardens and manage to “put up” a sizable cache of jar upon pretty jar of garden fare to last their families through the long winter months. Here is just a small sample of what a few friends have posted on Facebook.

While I love to plant flowers, I’m not the greatest at growing veggies. Aside from occasionally freezing enough rhubarb to bake a mid-winter pie or two, I do very little in the way of setting aside food for later.

In God’s world of creation there is a bird known as the Acorn Woodpecker, who has a unique way of creating caches of food for future sustenance. Take a few minutes to give this YouTube video a watch and you’ll see that his caching habits are a fascinating demonstration of one of God’s most creative bankers.

The creatures God made often teach me a lesson about life. The Acorn Woodpecker got me to thinking about time, of all things. I’m envisioning my day as my own personal tree trunk with little tiny pockets, each meant to contain one of 1,440 minute-shaped bits of time. While many of those pockets are already filled with the necessary things of life like sleep, meal preparation, laundry and such, I still have plenty of empty spaces. My investments of time go into those little pockets, and the quality of each investment I choose to deposit in my time bank is almost entirely up to me.

The difference is that I can’t cache time and save it for later. It’s only given to me one moment at a time. Sometimes I think about the fact that I’ve already lived almost 64 years of my life and that those years seemed to have flown by. I have no guarantee of tomorrow (or the next breath), but should God grant me another 20 years (or just a day) of life, I pray that my minutes will be spent doing what matters. There is a song that plays on my Christian radio station quite often on my way to or from work. It’s called “Keep Me in the Moment.” Tucked somewhere toward the middle of the song is this verse which challenges me as I contemplate my use of time in my one go around in this beautiful life.

When I wake up in the morning, Lord touch my heart
Don’t let me stray, I just wanna stay where You are
All I got is one shot, one try, one go around in this beautiful life
Nothing is wasted when everything’s placed in Your hands

Jeremy Camp in “Keep Me in the Moment”

Happy Birthday to George!

Not too many Saturdays ago, we were blessed to gather and celebrate this boy’s 9th trip around the sun. George is our youngest grandchild and I’m still trying to take in the fact that he’s nine.

The birthday boy sat at one end of the table with Wayne and I seated to either side. As he chatted with us over our lunch of his mom’s homemade chicken pot pie, we both looked at one another in astonishment as to how much this boy knew and how well he communicated. When did the little boy disappear, and how did this more mature and articulate boy sneak up on us?

Most years the grandkids in my daughter’s family ask me to bake their birthday cake. This year George wanted cupcakes. More specifically, he wanted Pokémon cupcakes. I don’t know much about this gaming trend, so Beth sent me some Pinterest photos of what he had in mind. I had fun with it and came up with these.

I always look forward to seeing each grandchild’s reaction when they first see their birthday cake. Our all-smiles birthday boy wrapped me in an excited hug and told me his birthday cupcakes were perfect. (Grandma was all smiles too.)

I know that there may come a day when my grandkids no longer ask me to bake them a cake. Perhaps there may even come a day when this grandma can no longer bake them a cake. For now, we will just keep on celebrating each birthday milestone God grants us, and I’ll keep on doing my best to make their birthday cake wishes come true.

A-to-Z Caregiving Tips (F-G)

This is the third in a series of posts inspired by an article from Alzheimer’s TODAY called Tiny Gifts That Are TREMENDOUS, where Mary Kay Baum shared a helpful A-to-Z list of caregiving suggestions Thus far, I have given you my spin on A-B-C and my thoughts as a caregiver regarding D-E. Let me invite you to join me this week for F and G as I share how these excellent tips have played out in my own caregiving journey.

Thus far, I have given you my spin on A-B-C and my thoughts as a caregiver regarding D-E. Let me invite you to join me this week for F and G as I share how these excellent tips have played out in my own caregiving journey. [Click here to read the original article].

Fear not if I take a break from commotion.

We were celebrating a birthday at our house. Mom sat at her place at the table and enjoyed watching the festivity and seeing a few of her great-grandchildren. Though she didn’t contribute much to the conversation, my heart was warmed by her smile as she watched the birthday boy bask in the attention. After the candles were blown out and the cake was served, mom quietly stood up with the help of her walker and then scootched down the hall the short distance to her room. She was done with company. And that was okay.

On a previous occasion, when mom was living in a senior apartment, the residents were hosting Trick-or-Treat for the neighborhood kiddos. During our city’s Trick-or-Treat hours the residents gathered in their activity room and waited for the steady stream of costumed guests. I thought mom would enjoy seeing all of the kids and handing out candy with all of the other seniors in her building. She stayed for a few minutes, then went back to her apartment; it was just too much for her. I had invited a few kids from church to come to the event. When they arrived, I invited them to visit mom in her apartment. Mom enjoyed the smaller gathering so much more.

During this phase of her journey with Alzheimer’s it became my mission to keep her engaged by inviting people to see her. One or two people would join us for lunch; another day someone might come over to say hi and work a puzzle or engage with her by sitting with her at the table coloring. One family from church brought us pizza for supper one evening, then stayed for a bit so the girls could sort through a jar of buttons with mom.

Go with me and others on quiet nature walks.

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Truth is, in the later stages of dementia, most days it was nearly impossible to get my mother outside of the house for a little fresh air. It was a treat when it happened.

If the weather was nice and I could coax mom outside, I’d get her seated in a wheelchair and push her to our neighborhood park.

She enjoyed watching the children play at the splash park, seeing dogs being walked along the pathways, and would occasionally engage a perfect stranger in conversation.

We didn’t stay long, as the charm of our outdoor excursion would soon be replaced by the fear of being able to find our way home. By the time I got her back in the house, she had already forgotten our little trip. Even though it was forgotten, the benefits of the fresh air and the infusion of joy would linger in her demeanor.

One day, out of the blue, mom wanted to “check the mail,” so I let her go outdoors with her walker. She enjoyed that little trek down to the curb and back.

Since she was in a good mood, dressed decently, and it was nearly dinner time, we decided to put her in the car and go for a drive to the nearest Culver’s for supper.

She thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it…especially the frozen custard.

Once my mom made the move to assisted living memory care, getting her out of the front door was even more rare. This photo shows one of those sweet occasions when her great-granddaughter Violet managed to get her outside to sit on a shaded patio.

As Alzheimer’s continued its relentless march claiming bits and pieces of my mom’s brain, it was evident that mom’s world was shrinking right along with her memory. All too soon there came a day when the world outside of Mom’s front door became too scary of a place for her to venture.

That was the day when “go with me” became “be with me.”

Datura ‘Black Currant Swirl’

I planted D. metel ‘Black Currant Swirl’ earlier this summer hoping that it would become a tall and showy feature in the middle of my late summer garden. One of its nicest features are its flowers – pretty bell or trumpet shaped flowers in super-swirly shades of purple and white. The flowers are up-facing, rather than pendulous like the more commonly known ‘Angel’s Trumpet,’ a cousin in the closely related brugmansia family.

So, what’s not to like about Datura?

Well, for one thing, the entire plant is poisonous – leaves, flowers, seeds and all. For another, this plant does not have a pleasant aroma. The tag said something about gardeners praising it for its “night-blooming beauty and fragrance”. I guess I’m not hanging out in the garden late enough in the evening to catch a whiff of its beauty or its purportedly sweet fragrance because, to me, it has the aroma of dirty sweat socks. (Trust me, I’m a mom and an expert at sniffing down that odor.)

This plant sprouts walnut-sized green balls with knobby purple spikes, each fruit containing hundreds of seeds. Very poisonous seeds, so I’ve read. I have also read that it’s wise to remove the seed pods before maturity because they tend to self-seed and can become invasive…and the seeds can be viable for years to come.

Oh, great! Just what I need – another “invasive” in my garden. Hold on a sec while I don a pair of gloves and head outside armed with my trusty snippers.

There! I’m back. The surgery has been performed.

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m not sure I like this plant as a whole. I had such great expectations it would become a show-stopping centerpiece in my front yard’s most visible flowerbed.

Our two person jury is at an impasse. My husband really likes it. He thinks its cool and wants us to keep it. Me? Well, maybe it’ll grow on me, but I think it’s just ‘kinda meh’ and taking up valuable garden real estate . I’m thinking I’d be happier with another hibiscus strutting its late summer stuff in that spot.

‘Tie Dye’ Hibiscus (rose mallow) growing by the front door

Any thoughts or suggestions from my fellow gardeners?

Sorry, only five photos this week, but that’s it for my Six on Saturday. If you are a gardener (or just like to play in the dirt), you should really pop on over to our Six on Saturday host Jon’s blog “The Propagator”. You’ll find all sorts of gardens to tour with just a click, lots of inspiration, and collective wisdom from gardeners around the world – each sharing six things from their garden on Saturdays (unless they’re perpetually late bloggers like me).

Six on Saturday: Flower Partners

Let me invite you to join me for my ‘Six on Saturday’ writing challenge and a glimpse of my late summer flower garden.


“Some say that a garden just grows from seeds, but we think it grows from trying and failing and trying again. A garden is hard work, but so is most of the good, important stuff in life.”
― Joanna Gaines, We Are the Gardeners

Gardening does involve a good bit of trying and failing; I’ve had a bit of both this year. My garden is like a classroom, and I will confess that I am a bit of a YouTube junkie when it comes to learning about gardening. Early this summer I watched several Garden Obsessions videos from Proven Winners and was inspired by this video to grab three empty pots from the garage, fill ’em with soil, add some slow-release fertilizer, and choose three plants for each.

Pot #1: My Favorite

The first plant I chose from a local nursery was a beautiful coleus. I had admired some grown in pots at my workplace and just knew I would have to plant some this year. I thought a purple flower would pair up nicely with the chartreuse of the coleus, so chose Proven Winners’ Angelface Blue Angelonia, described on the tag as a summer snapdragon which should achieve a height of 18-30″. I also purchased a Fantasia Pelargonium (geranium) called ‘Summer Sizzle’ to add a punch of hot pink.

(Just noticed in the photo that the bunnies have been busy snapping off coleus on the right. Wascally Wabbits!!)

Pot #2: Pretty in Pink

This pot features another Proven Winners plant. It’s a Supertunia Mini Vista Pink Star. It looks so sweet spilling over the edges of the pot. This petunia hasn’t gone all leggy on me and is a self-cleaner, not requiring pinching and deadheading. I paired it with an annual Hawaiian Punch hibiscus, which is a truly dreamy shade of pink with a magenta throat. Deadheading (removing faded blooms) the hibiscus does promote new blooms, so it does require a little bit of fuss and bother, but totally worth it.

Pot #3: A Little Help from my Friend

Sticking with my purple, pink and green color scheme, I planted this third pot with a bit of lavender for the purple and Pentas Bee Bright Pink for the pink. Instead of purchasing another plant, I decided to dig up a little something from my garden to use as a filler – some sort of heuchera. It looks like I needn’t have worried about a third plant, as a squirrel chose to plant a sunflower smack-dab in the middle of the pot. The squirrel probably stole the seed from my birdfeeder, but I’m really hoping he procured one of the seeds from the little plot of sunflowers I planted which met their demise earlier this summer (story a bit further down in this post). We shall see. Anyway, this pot makes me smile every day.

A Walk in the Park

It’s not my garden, but I took a walk in a park I found near my work place (I’ll post about that later), and absolutely adored this sweet pairing in the park’s glorious meadow.

The Upside and Downside of Sunflowers

I set out this summer to plant these sunflowers here and there dotted throughout my existing flowerbeds. You can read about my great expectations for that garden here: Year of the Sunflower. Well, none of those seeds made it past the dinner table of my yard’s resident bunnies. I wrote about their late night marauding in an update you’ll find here.

Thankfully, they didn’t get into one of the raised beds where I had planted a packet of Livingston ‘Little Dorrit’ sunflower seeds, planted on the south-facing side of the first raised bed, since it was supposed to attain a height of 2-4′. Its packet declares “Little Dorrit produces a large, rich yellow head with a deep chocolate center. The large, green foliage accents the shorter stems and brilliant blooms.”

It ended up being closer to the 4′ prediction in height and did not disappoint in its beauty.


Well, that’s it for now. My Six on Saturday. Now, let’s see yours!

My Battle with Creeping Bellflower

It’s pretty disheartening fighting a war you will likely never win. But my battle with Campanula Rapunculoides, also known as ‘Creeping Bellflower’ has been going on in my garden for nearly two decades — ever since receiving the flower as a tagalong companion of another digging from a fellow gardener’s plentiful flowerbed. To the other gardener’s credit, she did warn me that the gifted flower might have a problematic plant tagging along. I wish I had heeded the warning and not planted the gifted plant, or just put it in a pot for a season or two, for an invasive I have come to know as creeping bellflower was indeed lurking in the soil.

This beautiful adversary is not to be confused with its better behaved look-alike, Campanula Rotundifolia, or harebells. I am personally familiar with this confusion between such similar plants, having mistakenly applied an herbicide to a little group of harebells. Sadly, as you can imagine, I had more success killing the wanted plant than I did with the unwanted invasive.

Creeping Bellflower is a bodacious beauty with a bit of folklore in its story of how it became a gardener’s curse. As I recall, it’s somehow linked to the story of how the Rapunzel of fairytales got her name. Unable to resist the allure of beautiful Campanula Rapunucloides’s lavender bells, her father stole a beautiful flower from the garden of the local enchantress and planted it in his own garden. The evil witch got her revenge by hiding Rapunzel away in a tower and cursing this flower to be a rover that takes over gardens in its path.

First year Campanula Rapunculoides rosettes invading the area surrounding a favorite peony
The plant creates these beautiful flowers the second year

Fairytale curse aside, it really does look pretty intermingling with other plants.

So why get rid of it?

The problem is, this innocent looking bit of gorgeousness is so prolific, it will wage war and spread like a cancer in your garden in just a few seasons using several tactical manuevers to conquer every bit of garden space it can. The plant, also known as Rover Bellflower, is a biennial which produces a small rosette of leaves its first year, then flowers the next with the flowers producing seeds which will start the whole cycle again.

Fortifying its stronghold in the gardener’s territory, each plant sends out long, thin fingers of white lateral roots just under the surface of the soil. These slightly hairy fingers push their way through the roots of nearby plants, entangling the two plants in a messy, conflict-destined skirmish for territorial rights. This persistent perennial also sends down thick, tuberous water-seeking roots. Once nestled under the earth, a rhizome is created from which future generations of the plant will thrust their way upwards. Pulling the plant while you are weeding your flowerbeds will definitely help prevent it from going to seed (each plant produces thousands of seeds), but any portion of the root or its tiny hairs left behind will regenerate and produce a new generation of unwanted roving garden thugs camouflaged in lovely purple-ness. To complicate matters, the plant has a tuber which resides about a foot beneath the soil.

In my less than expert opinion, getting rid of weeds and unwanted vegetation without the use of chemicals should always be the gardener’s first line of defense. My personal first line of defense is to take out the enemies I can see, thus preventing the flowers from going to seed. I usually head outside to weed just after a good rain has softened the earth. If I can keep each year’s growth de-flowered, I theorize that the root system will eventually be exhausted, weaken and die. My next tactic involves a shovel and painstaking removal of the plant’s root system. As I have mentioned in a previous post, these insidious non-native plants have made my state’s list of invasive plants, so I bag them up and dispose of them according to their recommendation. My county has a special process for disposing of invasives, so I take them to an appointed drop-off place where they will be properly handled and destroyed. It is NOT a good idea to add these to your compost heap.

Smothering the plants when they are in the first-year rosette stage of growth can be somewhat effective in preventing the current generation of plants from making progress, but does very little to attack “the root of the problem” – that fibrous tuber lurking beneath the earth. I do occasionally use this method, especially in pathways and garden edges (see photos below), but generally take the time to dig out whatever I can and then lay down layers of newspaper or sheets of black plastic, topped with a few inches of mulch. Smothering buys me a year or two of reprieve, but the war isn’t won.

I may make some enemies here, but I think the battle with creeping bellflower requires judicious use of an appropriate chemical over the course of several seasons. Applying an herbicide directly to the plant and allowing the plant to systemically take the chemical to its own arsenal of innermost growth paraphernalia is the most effective way to eradicate this particular foe.

I had a moderate degree of success in a few infested areas where I have used Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup. No other weed killer that I have tried has been able to kill this invasive plant. However, a great deal of care needs to be taken when applying glyphosate, as it is a non-selective herbicide, meaning it will also kill nearby plants and grass if it comes in contact with them.

Sadly, Roundup is also known to harm beneficial insects, which is a huge problem in these days of endangered bee and butterfly populations. For this reason, whenever I judiciously use Roundup (or any herbicide), I carefully remove the tempting flowers from any plant I am treating. I choose a day when the air is rather still and when rain is not predicted for a few days. Armed with gloves to protect my skin, and a sheet of cardboard, I set to work on a group of plants. Using the cardboard to shield any nearby plants, I target and spray the leaves of the plants I am trying to eradicate. Within a few hours the leaves begin to carry the herbicide to the underground parts of the weed, the leaves begin to brown and then shrivel and die.

Another great concern related to the use of glyphosate is that it has been classified as a carcinogenic in the United States since 2015, so care must be taken to avoid or minimize personal exposure to it. In fact, this herbicide may no longer be available for purchase in the near future. Bayer (Monsanto’s parent company) has announced that it will be removing Roundup from retail store shelves by 2023 due to costly lawsuits related to cancer cases.

A Canadian blog-reader of mine, Lyle Tremblay, has given me another weapon to try. Lyle once read a post I had written about my war with this plant and contacted me personally to tell me that he was working on a chemical answer to this problem which is prolific in his country as well. Lyle sent me a sample of his experimental treatment and asked me to trial his product in my garden. It was just a small sampling, so I chose a little corner of my garden that was deeply infested with bellflower. I applied the herbicide, as per his instructions. It’s two chemicals, each applied separately.

It’s a somewhat tedious process, due to the need to paint two different chemicals on the leaves, but it worked. The area I treated in early summer has remained free of the weed, while the surrounding area is still infested.

This treated area remains bellflower-free.

If you are in a similar war with this foe and would like to learn more about Lyle’s experiment, you may contact him directly via email: maracon1@shaw.ca

Alzheimer’s: When Harsh Words Fly

I work a few days each week as a baker of all things sweet at a beautiful assisted living and memory care home – the very same place where my dear mom spent her last year on earth. The people who reside here are placed for various needs, most of them needing more help than family can provide with matters related to living life with short-term memory loss. In my short time there as an employee I am getting to know and love each resident, but I do have a few favorites. One of those favorites is as sweet as she is feisty. One minute she can be doling out compliments and kisses, the next she’s telling me to stick my mixer where the sun don’t shine.

But I love her to pieces.

I think she holds a special place in my heart because she reminds me in small ways of my mom (pictured here), who also had some bad days as she wrestled with Alzheimer’s in her later years of life.

In the years before Alzheimer’s, my mom was never one to use foul language; the worst I ever heard come from her mouth when I was a kid was an under her breath, “Shhh-ugar!” Yet, in the throes of the later stages of Alzheimer’s, my mom would occasionally make me blush with her language. If she were in her right mind, she’d be truly embarrassed.

Not long ago my new friend had a really bad day — I knew from the minute I walked in the door that morning that it was going to be a doozy when she began swearing at me for just saying, “Good morning.”

When any of our residents are having a bad day, I can’t really help much, as I’m “just the baker” and not directly involved in resident care. However, there is always one thing I can do. As my hands keep busy at the work of baking desserts, I can pray for those caring for the special needs of the residents. On that morning, I prayed for everyone involved in doing what was best for her, each one doing so with compassion and grace. All the while, I fought back tears for this dear woman who was living out one of my biggest fears for my future. You see, I struggle with the fear that Alzheimer’s may one day strip the filters from my tongue and that I might use uncharacteristically foul and abusive language.

So, how should caregivers deal with the foul language issue in their loved one with dementia? To answer that question, let me share a link to a super-helpful article from Very Well Health which discusses this problem and lists many suggestions. You’ll also find some internal links to explore on related issues: Relationship Between Foul Language and Dementia

My personal go-to tactic is the one in this article called “Redirect and Distract”. Where my mom was concerned, I would say something like, “Are you hungry? Would you like me to fix you a sandwich?” My mom loved sandwiches, so I kept a little stash of halved sandwiches in the fridge.

Other times I would distract her with an activity. I’d just walk away from her angry outburst and grab her coloring books and colored pencils and begin coloring. Nine times out of ten, she’d join me in a few minutes.

Coloring cards Momma received in the mail each week from her friend (and ours) Suzy.

Another thing I did on many occasions was to grab my collection of buttons and pour them out onto a towel on the kitchen table. I’d just quietly start sorting the buttons into color groupings, or line them up in rows. Mom could not resist this little sorting activity. Before long, she’d be calm and would join me.

Sorting buttons was a favorite calm-down activity for my mom

I wrote about these two and several other activities in my post Dementia Friendly Activities. The key thing was for me to be quiet and resist the urge to argue or add defensive words. Talking during one of her outbursts would only add fuel to the war of words raging uncontrollably in her head.

My friend at work has a similar calm-down button: her sweet tooth. I can sometimes redirect her downward spiral by offering her a cookie.

Since I’m the baker, I’ll sometimes say, “I need your help. Could you taste test this for me?” My friend also likes a slice of buttered bread with a cup of milk. Paying attention to what she enjoys and asks for in her calmer moments equips me with ideas for dealing with the tense moments.

Proverbs 31 Woman

While I dread the thought of ever having Alzheimer’s, I do trust the Lord with my future knowing that He will provide what I need should this be in His plan for me. It is my prayer that the Lord will keep my tongue sweet and gracious, and that the “law of kindness” will always be on my tongue. (Proverbs 31:26)

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