I'm daughter to Lissie, sister to Jess, wife to Brien, mom to Hannah, Lily and Eleanor. I am a stay at home mom to my girls, and my free time is dedicated to gardening (I confess I'm still a novice and look to Lissie and Jess for advice), baking and cooking, and card making. I'm doing my part to make the earth a bit greener, trying hard to avoid processed foods and HFCS, and find the "slow food" movement intriguing and inspiring. I love visits to my local farmers' market, fresh produce, reading, getting out in nature, and spending time with my family.


Catholic, homeschooler, lover of books and great wine and an amateur gardening addict.


I'm Melissa aka "Lissie", mother of Rachael and Jessica, and grandmother to a passel of the sweetest children on the planet. I'm a semi-retired public educator and professor who works from home for a small publisher. I am a lover of all things beautiful ... flowers, the mountains, nature scenes, the innocent faces of children, and my rock and fossil collection, to name a few. I enjoy shopping at the farmers' market for fresh foods and then experimenting with new recipes. Good food and good wine delight me. I love to travel so my suitcase is always packed. Like my daughters, I take pleasure in simple things ... clothes drying on the line, tomatoes so fresh they are still hot from the sun, good books, and interesting movies. I'd like to know everything before I die.
Red Snapper

I grew up on Florida's Gulf Coast, so fresh seafood was a regular part of my diet, and I miss having access to it. As a teenager, I'd drive over to Hubbard's Pier at Pass-A-Grille and wait for the deep sea fishing boats to come in. Tourists would arrive with their fresh catches in tow. They'd have their photos taken with the fish while smiling broadly. Then wouldn't know what to do with the fish. They couldn't take it back to their hotel rooms. As a result they often just gave the fish away. And, for a small fee--about 50 cents--one of the deck hands would clean the fish for you. Those days are long gone, but my vivid memories of having fresh fish to eat often come to mind. Lately, in efforts to improve my diet, I've decided to eat fish once or twice every week. Here in the mountains of Virginia, the only available salt water fish are found in the seafood case of our grocery store. I try not to think about the fish having been frozen and thawed and just buy it as quickly as I can. The other day I saw red snapper and it brought back so many memories I had to have it. When I got home I decided to bake it. Here's the recipe I used:

Baked Red Snapper with Garlic

  • 2 red snapper fillets, about 6 to 8 ounces each
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium clove garlic, pressed or minced
  • 3 or 4 drops Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon Creole or Cajun seasoning, or your own favorite seasoning blend, with salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon snipped fresh or frozen chives, optional
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons plain or seasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Place snapper fillets in a baking dish, which has been sprayed with a butter-flavored baking spray.
In a skillet, melt butter with garlic, Worcestershire sauce, Creole seasoning blend, pepper, parsley, and chives, if using. Cook on low for 2 minutes, just to blend flavors. Brush both sides of fish fillets with the butter and herb mixture. Toss bread crumbs in the remaining butter mixture; sprinkle over the fillets. Bake at 400° for about 12 minutes, depending on thickness of fillets, until fish flakes easily and is no longer translucent.
Serves 2.


I'm happy to report that my extreme lack of attention to the garden this summer has seemed to not matter at all.  Thank goodness for early spring mulching, drip irrigation on a timer, low-maintenance perennials and regular rainfall!  

My front beds are always a work in progress - I wonder if I'll ever be happy with what is planted there and how it all goes together.  I've decided I really don't like veronica and will be removing the 7 plants the builder put in this fall.  I think I've been too cheap and guilt-ridden to get rid of them before now but enough is enough.  They are spiky, ugly plants which only look good for a short time before they need to be cut back and I just don't like them!  

The Cityline Rio Hydrangeas bloomed!  I was hoping for purple but I've not checked the pH of the front beds for a few years and I guess all the compost I've amended with has taken care of the crazy acidity our sod had when we first moved in.  These ladies are pink, pink, pink and have made my 3 year old daughter very happy!  

I'm still really happy with the window boxes - thank goodness for petunias who always have a happy face and grow prolifically no matter what.  

I wanted to move this Vitex/Chastetree this spring and we didn't get around to putting in the new bed where it needs to be transplanted.  It is pretty but totally masking the South Seas daylilies and catmint.  Hopefully we'll have the time and money this fall to move her.  

This island in the back yard makes me so, so, so, so happy!  We have total privacy now with the trees and shrubs being in their 4th year.  The Nashiki Willow is apparently very happy as I've cut her back hard twice this spring/summer and she is still as tall as the Japanese Maple to her left!   The "sleep, creep, leap" adage is very true!  

Books that are rocking my world:

Bernd Heinrich is curious about the natural world in the most fascinating way.  Who knew that frogs and bugs could be so unbelievably interesting!  

This is a study guide - it is both inspiring and humbling.  I know that I need to be more humble and not so intent on being right or understood.   I need to focus on doing the right thing no matter what.  I can't think of a better role model than St. Francis.   

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less."


So many things are blooming now - I'm thrilled!

Zepherine Drouhin rose 



Teeny tiny apples (!!!)

Zepherine Drouhin rose with clematis 

Westerland, first bloom of 2013

Christopher Marlowe buds




It's been awhile since I've said hello around here.

Advent was busy, Christmastide was even busier and then Lent came and seemed to last a very, very long time this year.  It also happened early and during the most horrible time in the homeschooling world... February and March.   I suppose it is fitting that homeschooling is the biggest slog during a penitential season.   My husband has also been traveling an extraordinary amount for work and my kids are in a zillion activities because they all sounded so great until we actually had to get to each of them on time and participate in a good mood.   I also pretty much hate winter.  It is cold, bleak and dark.  I like cold, snowy weather during Advent and that is it!   Virginia is as far north as I ever intend to live.   All this to say - I didn't care about blogging or gardening or anything other than making sure the kids were fed and our house was not falling down into an episode of Hoarders all around us these last few months.

But spring is here and with it miserable seasonal allergies!  My husband watched me struggling to use steroid nasal spray and commented that I would be a terrible drug addict.  Yes, I believe I would.  I'm totally aggravated that I have to use a medication that requires entry into my body via my nose.  Ugh.  I've been taking so many medications so I can see out of my eyes and not cough and sneeze constantly that I am worried about my liver.  This is no joke!   Pollen makes me want to avoid being outside so that has also put a damper on my otherwise hearty welcome of spring.

I do have some pride so I have ventured outside on occasion to see what is springing up out of the dirt, what is blooming and what needs pruning.  I'm actually pretty pleased with the progress of our garden as of now, our 4th spring in this house.  I can dig a little here and there while getting weeds out and almost always find worms.  To think that worms would thrill me to the tips of my toes is pretty crazy, but thrill me they do as I know they are indicating that our soil is finally a survivable place for them to live and thrive.  Let me assure you that there were zero worms anywhere to be found on our property when we moved in here December of 2009.

The crocus, hyacinth and daffodils came up and gave a cheerful face to the otherwise boring landscape.     Some many other perennials began peeping up through the mulch and to me they really are like little tiny babies being born, crowning as they poke up after a long gestation period.  The roses that I thought were pruned enough are now looking alarmingly vigorous and leafy.  This is the best time for these ladies as they days are cool enough that black spot hasn't starting affecting them yet.  The Westerlands on my trellis on the south side of my house look monstrous and a little terrifying right now.   I know just enough about growing roses to keep them alive but I think a bit more reading is in order so I can learn better how to keep these over-acheivers in line!

I planted 3 bare root peonies last fall and only one came up.  She is tiny and has one flower bud.  I am anxious to see her bloom.  The alliums are all getting ready to pop open.  The bearded iris, woodland phlox, creeping phlox and tulips are all gorgeous right now.  My rosemary is even blooming and I have never seen it do so before.  The pansies are also perking back up and looking very purple and vibrant.

Here are a few pics:

Bearded Iris

Westerland Roses 

Apple trees flowering in their third year - maybe some fruit this year?

Cytherea Peony 



Advent Children's Books

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve!  We will trim our tree, bake St. Nicholas gingerbread cookies to leave out for Santa and light candles and the fireplace and say our prayers before bedtime.  It has been a quiet and blessed Advent for us this year.   I am so looking forward to Christmastide!

Here are some books our children have especially enjoyed this Advent:

Lucy's Christmas features a Victorian era girl who enjoys preparing gifts for her friend's and family as much as she's looking forward to the Christmas celebration and gift sharing at her church.  It is a sweet, gentle book full of beautiful illustrations.

Tasha Tudor's Corgiville Christmas.   My 7 year old especially found the idea of dogs and cats having skating and snow picnic parties to be particularly funny!

St. Lucia, Saint of Light.  St. Lucy, with a crown of candles on her head.  She is the saint associated with light and she is an inspiration for generosity during a season in which the focus should be on just that.  She gave away her entire dowry to the poor.  

The Baker's Dozen.  This is the story of baker, so careful and precise that he became cheap and miserly.  This is the legend of how the Baker's Dozen of 13 came about.  

In the Legend of the Poinsettia a young Mexican girl is devastated that she is unable to complete a new woven blanket for the Baby Jesus at the Christmas Eve procession because her mother has grown too ill to help her.  Worried for her mother and ashamed that she has no gift she is inspired to pick some weeds to offer at the Nativity by an old woman.  Those weeds miraculously bloom into bright red flowers as she places them by the baby Jesus.  

Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown. Just simple good fun from a classic Christmas story.  My 2 year old is obsessed with Look and Find books and this one has been fun and kept her attention through the last few weeks. 

The First Christmas. This book tells the Christmas story.  It has moving pictures that change when a tab is pulled.  The story is simple and the pictures are captivating for young children.  

Merry Christmas to you!  

The Grammar of Happiness

I watched a very interesting documentary recently.  It featured an American man who went into Brazil in 1977 as a missionary with the hopes of converting an indigenous tribe, the Piraha.  His goal was to learn their language well enough that he could translate the New Testament into their language so they could receive the Gospel.  Over the course of 25 years he learned their unique language, became a linguist by degree and lost his faith in Christianity.   The American, Daniel Everett, has challenged the prevailing view of expert linguists about how and why human beings acquire language based on his research of the Pirahan people. 

I had no idea linguistics could be so thrilling!  Even more interesting is the transformation of this man over the course of a few decades and where he is now both professionally and spiritually.  I find any conversion extremely interesting, especially if very strong beliefs were present before the conversion happened - even if that conversion is one that takes a person from belief in God to atheism.   I admire people who are fully engaged to the point that they come to some sort of personal conclusion, even if their conclusions about God are far different from my own.   I guess having experienced a religious conversion myself I have empathy for the staggering changes it brings to one's life.  

This documentary is very watchable, very thought-provoking and even entertaining.  I highly recommend it and I will be reading Dr. Everett's book soon.  You can watch the documentary, The Grammar of Happiness  on Smithsonian's website.


Fall Planting

Yes.  I'm still planting.  It sure as heck was cold today with the wind blowing, though!

Advent is upon us and I've finally gotten the final gardening jobs finished that must occur.  There are still some shabby looking daylilies out there that need trimming back but I am just not going to look at them and pretend they do not look pathetic and sad and in need of trimming.

I've planted peonies, alliums, transplanted some dwarf hydrangeas, moved nandina and catmint, planted potted mums in places that didn't need anything new but I couldn't stand to toss them as their blooms began to fade and spruced up my window boxes with some more euonymus to fill in.    I planted (with help!) 500 Dutch Master daffodils around the sign of my church last weekend and went back out today with my husband and added some compost to the bed and then mulched.  The Knights of Columbus were out there selling Christmas trees and well, I am just not ready for that yet.  Too early for me!  I'd wait until Christmas Eve if my children did not give me pleading Bambi eyes about the whole thing.

Back to the alliums.  I planted some and I'm not sure why.  I had a Groupon for my favorite nursery and no idea what to buy (for the first time ever).  I don't have a lot of space left but I had an area in the back of a bed that could use a bit of drama and height so I planted some alliums to perk it up.  I'm not even sure I really like them as they look like a plant right out of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  Huge lollipop flowers is what they are.

I also transplanted Cityline Rio hydrangeas into the front bed where they will get a bit of sun but mostly shade.  I bought these plants on a whim a couple years ago and I've not yet seen a single bloom.  They were in pots, I haven't pruned them at all and no idea what to do with them.  Hopefully they will be happier in the ground than they were in their pots. 

I also planted Cytherea peonies - 3 of them.  I've never planted peonies before, I hear they are a bit picky and will not bloom if not planted correctly so I pored over the instructions and I'm hoping for the best.  


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