Gardening from the Ground Up: Tips and Tricks

Recently I had the opportunity to teach a class on the basics of gardening. It was fun and worth all of the planning and gardening projects needed to get ready to host this and two additional classes at our home. What a whirlwind! So now it’s time to share the basic information to help others grow more food, ornamentals, trees, and bushes. We live in zone 5b/6a where the soil is more clay and alkaline so some tips may need adjustment to your growing zone, soil conditions. In the USA, I direct you to your local extension office for more information; find the best information when you search online by using “.ext” and “.edu” after your search words. In Allen County of Indiana, contact the Master Garden Hotline at Purdue Extension at 260-481-6826, extension 2. Happy growing! JJ

Gardening from the Ground Up: Tips and Tricks

Julie Horney MS, OTR/L Extension Master Gardener

The Gardening from the Ground Up class is for the person newer to gardening or who ends up with more brown than green by the end of the season!

Tools

Lightweight shovel

Generally use the largest containers (with drain holes) or grow bags you can afford

Hand trowel and hand rake; optional:  hoe for weeding, pitch fork and rake for mulching large areas

Garden gloves

Hand pruners

Cart or 2-wheeled wheelbarrow to transport supplies for larger gardens

What are your favorites?

Call 811 to have your utility lines marked before you dig and as you are planning your garden areas.

Soil:  You’re only as good as your soil!

Soil demonstration:  Sand/silt/clay; ph; compost; fertilizer

Raised Bed Tour

Planters:  Rocks, empty plastic bottles with caps on, or pot shards in bottom for drainage.  Pre-moisten potting soil mix (with vermiculite or soil moisture crystals).  No garden soil or compost as it will make the soil too compacted, hard for roots to grow! 

Raised beds:  Black topsoil and peat mixture (can be mixed with vermiculite or coconut coir in place of peat).  Mix top layer with balanced fertilizer and top with compost if desired.  Need drainage so no regular garden soil.  Search “soil calculator” online for how much to use.  Delivery of cubic yards of your soil mix is generally more cost-effective than bagged products. 

Plots:  Consider testing your soil before beginning or buying anything.  We largely have very alkaline soil here that needs much help (compost, sulfur, aluminum sulfate, peat, and gypsum all help lower ph) before planting in the ground!  2 cups of soil tested at Ag Plus or Purdue Extension, $25/20.  Suggest 3-in-1 or similar soil mix that contains compost.  Kill or remove all grass & weeds before planting.  Use only composted never fresh manure; no dog or cat waste.  Raw kitchen scraps can leach nitrogen from soil when planted in garden beds before composted.

Consider starting a compost pile of your own:  2/3 brown material (leaves, sticks, shredded brown paper bags) and 1/3 chopped raw veggie, fruit, eggshell scraps without seeds.  Turn at least weekly, crumbly not wet, and protect from critters with fencing.  No fireplace ash or lime if soil is alkaline.  Ideal is 6-7 for most vegetables, flowers, fruit (except blue and blackberries), bushes, and trees.  Always check first!

Fertilizer

Balanced slow-release fertilizer for initial plantings.  Optional:  Biotone for new plantings.  Balanced/lower first number for edibles and flowers in N-P-K ratings (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium); higher middle number for tomatoes & asparagus. 

Slow-release types generally applied 2x per growing season; liquid fertilizer every 1-2 weeks.  Always check instructions on product labels.  Fertilize hanging baskets weekly and re-pot into larger container when they are drying out too fast or “root-bound.”

Fertilize bushes and trees at “drip line.” 

Note which plants are acid-loving and add sulfur to soil amendments; gypsum adds calcium often needed for tomatoes.  Compost is virtually always helpful in building your soil but you still need to add fertilizer periodically.  Side-dress veggie and fruit rows with fertilizer. 

Plants:  Right plant, right place

Sun exposure:  6+ hours of sun is considered “full sun” but watch changes over the daytime.

Seed-starting:  dedicate some time to research heat mats, grow lights, seed-starting soil mix, pre-soaking select seeds, hardening-off and transplanting for best success.  See guide in Files of WRCA Gardening Group on Facebook for when to sow seeds and planting timetable.

Direct-sow:  Some plants do better direct-sown into the ground/don’t like roots disturbed such as radishes, corn, lettuce, cucumbers.  Follow package directions especially for soil-temp and spacing guidelines.  Don’t be afraid to thin your plants such as carrots, radishes, and lettuce!  Planting tomatoes and peppers too early stunts their growth!

Plant starts:  Local nurseries tend to have plants without pesticides such as neonicotinoids that can kill bees.  Mix balanced fertilizer into soil (and optional Biotone in plant hole) at proper depth & spacing.  Pre-moisten soil of pots before planting.  Do finger test to know when to water each week. Consider inter-planting herbs and flowers in edible gardens for pollination and pest control.

All gardens can benefit from adding native plants.  They attract pollinators and may deter pests, help cultivate, filter, and hold the soil in place; and generally are hardier, requiring less water once established.  Rain gardens specifically help manage and filter water runoff as well.  See Riverview Nursery and Arbor Farms locally plus the references in Files of WRCA Gardening Group on Facebook for some ideas.

Except for some bushes, trees, and cool season veggies, put most plants into the ground after our 6a last frost date of May 1st.  Select plants hardy to Zone 5 or below and watch the weather before-and-after planting!  Planting trees, re-seeding and treating lawns, and dividing plants early in the fall is often better than the spring; mulch plants heavily.

General Landscape Design Tips 

Don’t go too big when just starting your first garden!  How much time can you devote a minimum of 3x per week to water, weed, make adjustments (e.g. staking plants, turning containers) FOR FIVE MONTHS?  What is your budget for everything you need for success?

Water:  Plant within the length of your hose or irrigation line attached to a water source.  Chemicals won’t solve fungal problems that stem from overhead watering; water at the root zone, soil level and in the morning as much as possible.  Consistency of watering is key to success.  Consider adding a simple irrigation system on a timer.

Start small and increase with experience, resources, and success.  You will likely need to move or replace plants, make tweaks each year.

Containers:  Thriller, spiller, filler design principles. 

Landscape perennials and annuals look nice in odd numbers, staggered plantings, swaths of color.

Fall tip:  plant spring bulbs in the Fall and before October.  O.k. to put more than one bulb in each hole; fertilize with bulb booster at fall planting time and after bloom in the spring.

Pest Deterrents

Water in the morning at ground level, avoiding plant leaves.  Consider an irrigation system later on for consistency and to help avoid wetting plant leaves. 

Right plant, right location (e.g. 6+ hours of sun for edibles).  Ensure proper water drainage plus spacing of plants for air circulation.  Consider native plants to increase pollinators for edibles; these take a couple of years to mature.  Don’t plant in the ground anywhere near walnut trees.

Organics:  Apply when needed:  Dipel dust on leaves or neem oil spray, both according to package directions.  Bad infestations might benefit from Spinosad or Captain Jack’s Bug Juice.

Rabbits:  Liquid Fence on leaves of all tender plants as soon as they emerge and afterwards per package directions.  Minimum 3 foot tall fencing around edibles and plants they keep munching!  Make a ring out of poultry wire to place around favorite plants, edibles.

Japanese Beetles:  Make a plan with your neighbors!  Apply GrubEx or similar product to lawn in May and apply Neem oil EARLY (as directed on label) when they emerge, to leaves of plants they attacked last year.  Pick off Japanese beetles in morning into bucket of soapy water and discard.  Organics include BeetleJus and Captain Jack’s Bug Juice.  Use Sevin dust according to package instructions only for bad infestation and continue knocking them off. No JB traps!  Reference:  JB fact sheet in WRCA Gardening Group Files or E-45-W at the Purdue Education Store.

Brood X Cicadas:  In the Midwest in 2021, plan to wrap the trunk and cover the canopy of (1/4” or smaller mesh) young bushes and trees if you are within 50 yards of 17+ year old trees,maybe further!  They might be everywhere or might not be bad at all.  We shall see!  Consider waiting to plant new stock until after they depart if it’s not too hot- or-wait until the fall.  Reference:  Cicada fact sheet in WRCA Gardening Group Files or E-47-W at the Purdue Education Store.

Pick off tomato hornworms and plant tomatoes in a different location next year. Remove lower leaves and stake plants (especially indeterminate varieties) so no branches touch the ground.

Remember with chemicals:  less is more!  Read package labels and wear protection when using.  Spray diluted, unscented mild dishwashing detergent to leaves to deter bugs. Treat in morning, shady days.  Call the Master Gardener Hotline to help diagnose and treat problems (see page 5).

Weed Deterrents

Keep soil covered with mulch such as leaves, wood chips (no dyed chips in beds with edibles), strips of cardboard, or straw.  Groundcover plants help ornamental beds.

Walk around your yard and do a little tidying/weeding every day.  If you keep pulling weeds, the roots of most weeds and even invasives like Canadian thistle will eventually lose energy from the starch stored in its roots and will stop sending up new leaves.  Kill sod and weeds by covering with cardboard or black plastic or digging it out.  This takes time.  Minimize tiling when possible.

Homemade Weed Control

Ricky’s Gardening Tips and Tricks

From:  Ricky’s Gardening Tips and Tricks and Home Horticulture, April 2020

Ricky D. Kemery, Allen County Extension Educator Retired  

Keep in mind that this method only burns-down plants; it doesn’t travel within the plant like systemic herbicides such as glyphosate (Round- Up). Since many folks don’t want to use Round-Up because of health concerns, this can be an alternative control for common weeds.

People still need to be careful, wearing gloves, eye protection, long sleeves and pants when spraying. This will also damage desirable plants, so use pieces of cardboard to prevent spray drift. 

Plants will grow back usually so several applications may be necessary. One can also use this without Epsom salts, as the salts might damage soil if used repeatedly.

1.  Mix a gallon of five-percent household white vinegar with a cup of Epsom salt and stir until the salt is completely dissolved.

2.  Next, add a tablespoonful of Dawn dish soap to act as a surfactant. Surfactants help solutions adhere better to their targets upon contact. Again, stir the mixture for nice blend.

3.  Transfer the solution into an empty plastic spray bottle. Then proceed to spray all weed plants (as needed).

Garden notebook, importance of keeping records

So much to consider

Phil 1:12, Philippians, trials, suffering, endurance, Christian, crisis, long term, illness, chronic, humor, gallows12 But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.”  Phil 1:12

Just as this picture and this scripture present two extremes of perspective for the activities of life, they are united in one theme:  we shall rejoice with Christ as our guide!  Yeah, I know that is a stretch . . . but we do know that the God of the universe has a sense of humor too, right?  I mean he created aardvarks, zebras, and tse tse flies!  What’s up with that?  Oh I know that the Original Adam named them all but just how did he do that?  They were all such weird creatures!  So it follows then that humor can help us endure many kinds of extremes, even the ones you and I are facing today.

Take for another example the thieves that attempted to steal gasoline from an RV.  This is a true story:  instead of tapping off the gas line they ended up tapping off the septic line instead!  When the fluid started flowing it was not fuel it was the polar opposite:  stool!  So sad.  Such a righteous punishment I must admit!  And as a grateful owner of a travel trailer all I can say is:  Tee hee with a smirk.  ;}

I cannot say that I can relate to the paradoxical themes of life with much right now with much lightness of spirit right now, however.  I’ll just keep it simple:  there’s some good and there’s some that is not.

On a good note I am grateful to report a widening of social contacts of late.  I’ve reached out to some old friends and some newer gals have jumped back into my world from my local church.  I appreciate the friends that I’ve met online (and you know who you angels of mercy are) and hope we can extend our fellowship.  All of this is good.  It’s amazing how all believers in Jesus Christ share a common unity even when the circumstances of our lives can be so different.  We all have our daily wants and needs; our Lord cares for the desires of our hearts tenderly and for these we can pray in earnest for one another.

On a less good note, new I.V. antibiotic treatments for chronic Lyme disease are going quite roughly.  Yup, revisiting Lyme since the persistent seizure attacks sure look like the episodes of others dealing with the neurological complications that can happen long after the acute infection has come and gone.  It was 4 years ago that I first started treatment for Lyme when things got sidetracked for treatment of mold and mercury toxicity, dental issues, Candida, parasites, and a possible oxalate burden exacerbating fibromyalgia pain.  Use of a Rife machine brought daily seizure attack episodes and treatment of Candida escalated them from 2 to 5 hours of convulsive episodes per day!  I was bedridden the better part of about 4 days each week this past Spring, Summer, and Fall.  So beginning in January I was started on high doses of IV Rocephin (antibiotic) and I remain sickly but out of bed more of the time.  This treatment coupled with the wintry temperatures below freezing have brought incredible pain.  However, the days that I am up until daybreak every night of the week has cut down; tinnitus, brain fog, and other executive functioning skills are sloooooowly shifting for the good.  Sometimes even the pattern of convulsive episodes shift as well (thank you liposomal melatonin!).  Just maybe these past 4 years have not been wasted after all!  It appears that each new treatment has prepared me for such a time as this:  we just might be able to treat this remaining beastly diagnosis and its co-infections to get well . . .

There is so much to consider.  Will I continue on antibiotics long term?  Will my health insurances help us out or cut us off next week?  Will I be able to get a port to spare my aching skin and forearms from repeated pokes and dressings that trigger more wretched episodes?  When would I transition back to more herbal-with-pharm-grade supplemental interventions?  Will the reactivity to mold and fragrances ever come down or do I have to go live in a pristine environment somewhere for a few months later on to fully detox?  How much more stress can my beloved husband, Steve, be expected to bear?  And how will we pay for all of this?

As the frigid Winter temperatures of the Midwest bring more of a sense of retreat than charging forth into the unknown, we are choosing to press on anyways with my treatment for chronic Lyme disease.  I just wear long underwear everyday to keep warm!  We are starting where we are with a local, Lyme-Literate Medical Doctor who has treated dozens and dozens of cases successfully.  I know that to be true.  I have met many of them when we had a local Lyme disease support group.  I noticed that each of us facing this dreadful disease had chosen a somewhat unique path to his or her recovery based upon the damage the infection caused to our bodies and our individual resources.  (See this link for more info on chronic Lyme.)  Perhaps my case was one of the more severe.  Perhaps the Lord had more than “recovery” in mind when He allowed this serious illness into my life.  There is so much to consider that simply was not on my radar over 4 years ago.

If you have found this blog by way of your own journey through chronic Lyme disease or some other serious illness, know that I am praying for you.  There is hope!  You are not alone, Gentle Reader.  Please comment below and allow me, if you like, to connect you with a larger community of those finding meaning beyond his or her diagnosis.  Our Lord, Jesus Christ, grieves for your suffering, your fear, your broken heartedness.  He sees you and will see you through what you are facing as He has done so for me and Steve.  He loves you more than anyone (including the furry pup above who has found his prize squirrel in the sunshine of a better day).

May we both smile some day in the arms of our Heavenly Father for having connected this day, for His glory.  And, um, when we get our prized prey I’ll just say, “please pass the catsup.”  Squirrel on the Bar-B-Que anyone?  Ewwwwww!  :JJ

Moving on with gratitude

Having just posted in every social media venue I can find, my Etsy shop online, and chatted with my Aunt Patty recently, the decision is final:  I am letting go of my hobby business, Trinity Jewelry by Design.

Sometimes when we are drawn forward to an exciting new opportunity, we simply cannot hold onto the things of the past.  I discovered this past week that the creative and entrepreneurial energy needed to make my new company, Two Step Solutions (TSS), a success will require my full attention.  Lord willing I will participate in one final public event (my fifth) this coming weekend:  a Fiber Arts Fest at a local farm and educational center.  How perfect.  Hemp, leather, and especially the friendship jewelry made from the Threads of Hope ministry will fit in nicely.  Perhaps I will find my niche at last?  So sweet.  Me and the farm animals, with Border Collies chasing the sheep around too.  Since it’s an outdoor venue, I should be fine with the adrenaline rush that usually comes with participating in an event.  I am looking forward to it actually!

fiber arts, fiber festival, Salomon Farm, Salomon Farm Park, Spring Craft Show, Farm Animals, Border Collies, sheep herding, sheep shearing, art in the barn

So humor me if you will with some pictures and a little reminiscing that captures the creative journey of these past 3 years.  I began making jewelry to have a low-cost, portable hobby I could pursue in our home office.  The first product was an adjustable 3-beaded macramé bracelet designed to represent the Holy Trinity.  These were born out of an activity I introduced to a missionary family who was visiting our home for dinner with their three daughters.  The bracelets were very basic yet also rekindled my experience with macramé over 30 years prior as a new graduate from occupational therapy school.  A macrame lamp shade and a couple of plant hangers were my own “occupational therapy” after moving away from home for my first job out of State.  Funny how things come back into vogue, eh?

macrame bracelets, adjustable bracelets, simple macrame, slider knot, 3-beaded bracelet, learn to macrame, Trinity Jewelry by Design
My first display in a professional office!

Eventually in my TJ by D journey, I discovered the world of YouTube videos.  Amazing!  You can learn just about everything including better knotting techniques, the value of better materials, how to take better pictures, branding, and so more right from your home computer.  Etsy furthered my training with it’s excellent resources, support teams, and a relatively user-friendly ecommerce site to get you online before the world.  But none of it would have ever happened if my Aunt Patty wasn’t already on Etsy with her own shop, Patches and Pockets.  Her initial instruction gave me the courage to start a steep learning curve that would de-mystify much of what I did not know about the internet.  I am so grateful for her willingness to show me the way!

double macrame, macrame bracelets, Trinity Jewelry by Design, toggle clasp, hemp, hemp bracelet, natural hemp, handmade jewelry
One of my first favorite designs as I transitioned to better materials.

And so there I was in the middle of the night when I felt the best and was most productive, making hemp jewelry.  I tried selling the precious stone jewelry of an acquaintance but it turned out that my shop wasn’t right venue for either of us.  My own skills got better; I learned to take better pictures which is critical to success online.  It would be two years before I started experimenting with leather lacing then leather wrist bands.  As time went on I sensed that I needed more of a niche product or at least one that would have more utility in daily life than jewelry.  I wondered if I might expand into leather tooling or perhaps making leather holsters for women?  Etsy had allowed commercial manufacturers into their marketplace and the competition from cheaper overseas companies diluted the quality of work in my media and vastly increased competition.  Handmade items made in America seemed to be valued less just as I was developing my own style, my own branding.  I joined “handmade” sales teams and implemented the strategies that they suggested but it didn’t seem to make much of an impact on my business.  Then my sleeping patterns changed and I lost my creative groove.  My personal health situation had become more complicated as well.

macrame bracelets, wrap bracelet, handmade bracelet, hemp, macrame, triple wrap bracelet, Trinity Jewelry by Design
Mixing all my favorite knotting techniques became my niche for a time.

chevron weave, macrame bracelet, charm bracelet, simple macrame, learning to simplify the design, Trinity Jewelry by Desing
Learning to simplify a design is harder than it looks!

I believe it was the Lord who inspired me to start Two Step Solutions.  I was praying for direction with my jewelry business, consulting close friends, and checked in with my Aunt Patty over those few months too.  My Aunt had already let her Etsy business expire as she pursued other volunteer opportunities with her local gardening group and hospital auxillary.  Hmmm.  Maybe it was time for me to pursue a venue that would look more like my former profession of occupational therapy yet incorporate all of the skills that I had learned over these past 3 years?  Indeed.  As it turns out, the vision that the Lord gave me for TSS will bank on most everything I have ever done including enduring a serious illness.  Wow Lord!

Threads of Hope, ministry jewelry, jewelry fundraiser, Trinity Jewelry by Design, Phillippines
Threads of Hope Friendship Bracelets get a T J by D touch.

A couple of weeks ago I had an unusual conversation with a jewelry customer who claimed that the bracelet that she had purchased from me had broken in two places.  By the time I received it in a plain business envelope in the mail, it was completely destroyed.  I was so hurt that I almost gave up TJ by D that week.  I had already launched the TSS website and begun working on my Business Plan, eBook, and Trademark.  I knew in my heart that I would be leaving the jewelry business yet I wasn’t sure how to go about it.  After several unusual “Conversations” as they call it on Etsy with my customer, I decided to act decisively and resolve the situation with confidence instead of acquiescence.  I refunded her money in full.  Then I saw a sign in front of a local venue called Salomon Farm Park for their Fiber Arts Fest.  Very quickly an “exit strategy” came into view.  I even had a few creative nights around this time simply enjoying my craft again.  I would participate in one final event, network the heck out of it, and letter go.  What a great way to wrap things up!

leather wrap bracelet, chevron amethyst, leather beading, leather lacing, purple leather lacing, purple leather bracelet, Trinity Jewelry by Design
My most popular bracelet on Etsy was sadly put to rest after it could not be repaired.

Some of the details of this transition are a bit vague yet so I’ll just put Trinity Jewelry by Design up for sale and see what happens.  Lord willing I am hoping that about $225 will come in this weekend to pay for my filing fee at the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office for TSS.  I found a Law School who is ready to file the application via their free clinic.  Alright.  I know what that means.  Better get hustling Just Julie!  It’s time to sell some jewelry and get my studio in order.  Sometime soon I may be moving on with gratitude and perhaps a few colorful sparklies will linger to adorn my own wrist, my own neckline too.

beachy necklace, beach necklace, summer necklace, handmade necklace, Threads of Hope, adjustable necklace, Trinity Jewelry by Design
Another fav purchased by a friend that combined a Threads of Hope Friendship Bracelet with pink hemp cord.

Of course I’ll be keeping a few of my favorite creations just for me you know.  I love this stuff!  JJ

The love in my comb

Gently he pulled the brush through my hair as if each stroke was a special salve for my soul.  You could hear nothing in the silence, not even his breath or mine.  The darkness fell between us.  The moment hung there in time.  We had just witnessed so much . . . there was no need for words.  Only love moved from his hand to me, gently freeing the hairs once tangled in the madness that had just gone before us.  You might see this as an act of romance I suppose.  But this night no romance would explain this kind of tenderness that now drifted between us.  We simply enjoyed the silence, the calm, the love lain there slightly wounded just up from the floor.

That love was near me that night alright, well within my grasp.  Oh I felt it with each stroke of the brush that was the tool he could reach first in the awkward darkness.  I felt it from his warmth standing closely behind me as I sat with my legs uncomfortably collapsed underneath me on the hard tiled floor.  The rug, marred with uneven loops from the dogs paws underfoot where she slept each night, gave little warmth.  My hair was wet and so were my shoulders.  The stuggle that came with forcing myself to wash my hair in the tub at the tail end of a convulsive episode had subsided into a senseless stupor.  With my broken sentence my beloved found my grooming basket under the sink.  It made no difference what implement he chose.  His love would find its way to me with soothing swiftness followed by the tempo we might take one fine day, walking along a seashore somewhere beautiful.

Oh that I should have such an opportunity again!  Will his capable hands finger their way through my auburn hair blowing in the warm sunshine of a summer day?  Would he tighten the drawstring clasp beneath my chin of the paddling hat matched with our tandem outrigger canoe as we headed out onto the glistening lake?  Or when his arm slips around my waist as we laugh at our pup racing along the stream of a wooded path, will I forget that our tender moments were once matched with sorrow so deep?  I do hope so, Gentle Reader.  For all of us who suffer what we ought not to endure, I do pray that restoration, healing, and mercy will cover what was once ugly with that which is lovely again and again.

Until that glorious day for me, I shall keep my eyes fixed on the sunshine streaming through my bedroom window.  I know by Whose creation it shines and that one day all will bow and marvel in His glory, fully well, fully at peace.  The love of our Lord, Jesus Christ will comfort and redeem our suffering beyond what the ones we cherish could ever do for us.  And yet their heartache for sharing this journey with us shall be rewarded too.  The darkness shall fade away forever for all of us one fine day.  Only His light will reign and the darkness shall be no more.  In that day my friend, we will comb the heavens never finding an end to joy for all who believe, for all who hold out for the hope of heaven.  Together we will dwell in the presence of the King of Glory!  Yes, indeed.

Sigh.  That day is not here yet.  What is here is the love of my life holding my comb in the shadow of night.  He lifts me gently into bed and covers me with love that I could never imagine in the past.  He is my Jesus with skin on when I need them both.  I am so blessed.  How could I ask for more?

Christmas Letter 2014

Our theme for 2014 has to be, “moving from darkness into the light.”  While the year was filled with many of our usual travels and activities, the frustration of worsening illness for me had tested everything I believed about love, faith in the Lord, and hope.  Persistence paid off, standing firm in my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ despite incredible suffering, and we are now encouraged beyond measure.  I AM GOING TO GET WELL!!!  And how about my beloved Steve?  Well he is wonderful, as always.  Here’s our 2014 briefing:

Competitive kayaking within the United States Canoe Association and related delegate activities filled the warmer months of my beloved’s calendar and provided opportunities to travel within our home state of Indiana as well as the South.  We took an annual trip for the January USCA meeting and got to see family and friends along the way; Steve travelled and camped alone for the National competition in August, bringing home a respectable finish in his surf ski and outrigger canoe despite an extra swim or two during the surf ski race!  Steve also became one of the primary firearms safety instructors this past year for classes held at our church (yes church!).  His work has been rewarding with lots of interesting projects and the promise of continued work well into next year, gratefully.  And during the lunch hour if it’s snowy, he’s leading the Exelis cross country ski pack of adventurist engineers around the grounds.  If the pavement is dry no matter the temp, he’s trading the lead in challenging cycling workouts at top speeds uphill or down . . .  On land and sea:  Go Steeeeeeve!

Quick Update on Steve’s Kids:  Christina is thriving in her work assignments in Thailand despite enduring a train wreck, adventures with her motorbike and truck (as in shifting left-handed whilst driving on the left side of the road!), and learning two new languages:  one for daily communication and another for translation work.  She is amazing!  Patrick and Kate welcomed baby Warren James Horney into the world in September and we are looking forward to meeting him this Christmas.  Two year old big brother Jackson Rees is simply adorable:  talking up a storm and even driving his own motorized vehicle around their home in North Carolina.  Yes, the car bug is definitely in the Horney genes!  (See this video for details!)  Rebekah continues her Masters studies in international education and recently got engaged to Pancho/Daniel/Francisco Anaya Diaz (don’t ya love the Spanish culture?).  She is exceedingly excited for their Chicago wedding in May of 2015; we are happy for both of them and look forward to getting to know Pancho too.  Daniel and Elizabeth are finally living in the same locale since getting married in June of this year!  Daniel successfully completed his tenure in the Marines (North Carolina) and Elizabeth graduated from West Point (New York).  They are together now in Fort Rutger, Alabama as she begins helicopter training in the Army while Daniel begins college for Physical Therapy Assistant in January.  As you can see, our hearts are full with all the goodness shared here . . . now just come and see us a bit more ya hear?  J

While much of my year focused on doctoring, testing, new treatments, and complications therein, in September my astute chiropractor from a small town practice encouraged me to get tested for mercury toxicity.  The results came back as very high.  Whoa.  We were stunned.  Additional testing has confirmed these results and helped my family doctor chart a course of treatment that should relieve most of the symptoms that have been so challenging each day of these past 3 years.  PRAISE THE LORD!!!  And just when the isolation of staying home much of the time to mitigate symptoms was taking its toll, two lovely ladies and I have joined together in a weekly Skype Bible Prayer Group.  We laugh as much as we pray, oh yeah!  I am also grateful to have continued some gardening activities in our own landscape and in the Everlasting Garden at the Allen County Cooperative Extension Office.  Keeping dirt under my fingernails from March to October is the best therapy of all sometimes!

So as we prepare to celebrate with loved ones the birth of our Lord and Savior, we are humbled and grateful for so many blessings this past year.  Even the serious stroke that my brother had in April has renewed our personal relationship as well as his walk with the Lord.  Every part of our story is ending this year with a brightness that simply was not there last year.   How fitting this is and symbolic of the Light of the World Who entered our midst two millennia ago to redeem us, to bring us into fellowship with Him for all time.

We hope you are encouraged by our Christmas Letter 2014.  We hope that you too will celebrate all the possibilities of the most important relationship in which we are invited to partake.  The love of Jesus Christ can transcend all things and bring everlasting joy to each one of us.  Oh yes!

Merry Christmas with love, Steve and Julie

Steve and Julie at Drive Austin, Texas
Steve and Julie at Drive Austin, Texas