Finches at Debra's feeders

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Like you, I'm staying home to stay healthy. From my office I can see the red-and-blue glow of the living room TV, with talking heads and banner headlines. There's a dreamlike quality to all this. So much, so fast. So many unknowns. I had three events and a trip cancelled.

I greeted my across-the-street neighbor with an elbow bump, which might have made us smile, except that what she really needs---being recently widowed---is a breath-squeezing hug. Her husband succumbed to cancer recently. Can you imagine debating when (or whether) to schedule a loved one's memorial service? She's uncertain if her sister should fly in, and if she does, should she stay with their elderly parents?

What I'm doing

Trying to stay fit. Happily, my fitness coach Amy Van Liew---who specializes in women over 50---shares her expertise via online videos. Amy's wonderfully knowledgeable, helpful, and skilled at making Pilates and other types of exercise easy and painless. (That's me out of focus on Amy's website.)

Fitness coach Amy Van Liew

Fitness coach Amy Van Liew

Thankful for healthy food. A neighbor with a ranch brings avocados in exchange for succulent cuttings. Avocados are a super food, and along with the nuts I always have on hand and oranges from my trees, Jeff and I can eat healthy for weeks. (Problem is, when watching the news, I hit the Doritos and Cadbury eggs.)

Doubtless you, like me, plan to clean out closets, drawers, cupboards and garage. Thrift stores may soon be flooded with donations. So we really need to get this done before they refuse to accept more. But will they want people's possibly contaminated cast-offs? Instead of booming, will Goodwill go down? Yet there's certain to be a demand, especially during a recession. Wow, this crisis has so many layers.

Ray Bentley

Ray Bentley shares words of reassurance from Psalm 91.

Tuning in to Ray Bentley, my former pastor who's an expert in Biblical prophecy. I used to attend Maranatha Chapel, a large church in Ranch Bernardo, before I became so career-obsessed, Sunday became a Day of Work. Ironically, now that I want to go to to church, I can't. Except online.

Update: Video series worth binging: The Chosen. If you're interested in the life of Jesus, how others saw him, and what the culture was like, you'll absolutely love this.

Thinking about family

I call my 90-year-old MIL, who's alone with her TV, more often. She's in a retirement home that closed its dining room and now brings meals to residents in their rooms. "I'm so sick of coronavirus," she told me, pun unintended. Granted, she's hard to get off the phone, but hey, it's not as though I don't have the time.

I try not to call my adult kid too often. My son's a contractor, and his days have been business-as-usual. "We're going camping," he told me. "I'd be surprised if you didn't," I replied. In fact, I'd be surprised if there are any campground spaces left. If the weather were warmer, everyone would hit the beach...like they did in '07, when schools closed due to wildfires.

Finches at Debra's feeders

Finches visit feeders I made from pots for hanging plants. Artist: Alicia Iriclides of Potted Arts. Sun catchers: Amazon (affiliate link).

In the garden

Our gardens need us, and we need them. Do visit your local nursery, where plants are washed by rain, dried by sunshine, and scoured by fresh breezes. Dark thought: The check-out may be contaminated. Use long-handled tweezers or salad tongs when giving or getting cash. Kidding. But DO keep hand sanitizer (or soap, water and paper towels) in your car.

Do some digging and planting. It's been a rainy spring here in CA, and the soil is soft. Yesterday I unearthed a vein of adobe. I was tempted to stop and use the slick, reddish-brown clay to sculpt a lumpy figure. Why not? One good thing from all this is that it's OK to waste time. Consider that a luxury, because it is.

Sit still, very still, in your garden. After a few minutes, skittish birds will reappear. Listen to chirps, caws and warbles as they tell each other: "I'm over here!" You may even spot one with nesting material in its beak (Oh, the joy!) Btw, did you know that "my" birds are movie stars? On my YouTube channel, see Create Beautiful Feeders for Backyard Birds (5:01).

If you're home with kids

A treasure hunt is my grandson's most-requested activity. Each clue is numbered and leads to the next. The last reveals the location of the treasure, which might be Legos, a handful of quarters, or a fancy box of sparkly stuff. (Or as my ever-practical DIL observed, "You don't have to do all that. He likes candy.") I make the clues harder as he gets older. Treasure hunt in the garden

My grandson delights in treasure hunts.Scavenger hunt: Hand each child identical lists of items to find outdoors and to photograph: a bird, a gopher mound, a red car, a flag, a cat, a yellow flower, a cactus, a fuzzy plant. Or better yet (with some instruction): an agave, a kalanchoe, a jade plant, an aloe in bloom, an agave, maybe living stones. Set a time limit. Those who keep their noses in their electronic devices get assigned a patch of weeds to pull.

If Your Kid is Far Away

My active grandson, now 11, has been doing school from home. Usually he comes here during Spring Break, but that's not an option. So we did an entire 12-clue treasure hunt via text messaging. It took half a day and was fun for both of us. Do try it yourself with kids you want to connect with but aren't able to visit. They have to read fairly well, be able to send texts or emails, and to take and send photos. You also need a highly motivating "treasure"...like this one:

Treasure Hunt Treasure clue

He had some help from his Dad figuring it out.

Our Virtual Treasure Hunt's Challenges: 

  • Stack five rocks of any size so they don't fall over.
  • Find five different back-yard flowers. Text their names with their photos.
  • Identify photos of five common backyard birds.
  • Solve a chess puzzle (I sent him a screen shot from an online site).
  • Arrange six different-colored kitchen items according to the color wheel.
  • Find seven different angles outdoors. Take and send photos of each.
  • Answer questions about your great-grandparents (all found in a scrapbook).
  • Finish this sentence from Chapter Two of... (a book I'd given him).
  • Identify this musical instrument (I texted 15 seconds of a YouTube video).
  • Make a Mouse Lunch of six different items. (Scale: 1 Cheerio = 1 donut).
  • Take a photo of a street sign four blocks NW of your home.
  • Unscramble a secret code that reveals the treasure.

I'm planning another Virtual Treasure Hunt, so if you have any ideas, please share them in a comment below. And if you do a Treasure Hunt yourself, tell us how it went!

It's your turn

I'd love to know, and I'll bet others would too, your own suggestions for what to do while while staying home. Will you please share them in the comments? Thanks, and stay home and stay well. Debra

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36 Comments

  1. Joyce Marks on March 17, 2020 at 3:33 pm

    Thanks for the ideas. We truly enjoy watching the birds & bunnies in our yard. I have admired your yard for years; it’s so pretty.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on March 17, 2020 at 4:23 pm

      Thanks, Joyce! May the bunnies stay in your neck of the woods, LOL.

  2. Marlene on March 17, 2020 at 3:36 pm

    I gave my 12 and 14-year-old grandsons s team challenge this morning. They had to measure with a tape measure 20 things in less than 30 minutes.
    They had to record something that was 1 ft.,two ft, 3 ft. etc up to 20 feet. It was fun to watch them figure out how to do it and they cooperated well and did a lot of problem-solving. They met the challenge in 18 minutes and 44 seconds on my iPhone stopwatch. Next plan is to have them do a similar challenge and beat their own record of time.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on March 17, 2020 at 4:22 pm

      Hi Marlene, I’m going to remember this for my grandson. So they weren’t competing against each other. Next time they’ll try to beat their previous record. Brilliant!

  3. Dona Addison on March 17, 2020 at 4:18 pm

    I forwarded the email to my son and family who live in Victoria, British Columbia with their 7 year old twins. I thought that there were some excellent ideas on activities during the March break and extended time from school due to the Coronavirus.
    Ihave been a fan of yours for years.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on March 17, 2020 at 4:20 pm

      Thanks, Dona. I’m happy to hear it!

  4. Nancy Lindsay on March 17, 2020 at 4:26 pm

    A brilliant day after a couple of days of rain. Went into the garden and pulled and dug a bucket-full of weeds. Felt so good to sit on the ground in the sun. Best of all – there’s more for tomorrow!

  5. June Wharam on March 17, 2020 at 5:22 pm

    Would you share where you got the hanging pots/bird feeders? They’re beautiful!

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on March 17, 2020 at 7:11 pm

      The conical hanging pots are by Alicia Iraclides of Potted Arts. ;+)

  6. Kira Lee on March 17, 2020 at 11:05 pm

    We love the scavenger hunts! And so easy to tailor for different age groups. The rain does make things harder when everyone is stuck at home already… My two, 11 and 6, will compete to see who can fill a bucket with weeds first. Prize can be anything appropriate 🙂 They also love to harvest and shell peas (expect 50%, they snack as they shell), find slugs and grubs for the chickens, plant successions of radishes/lettuce/and the like, and pop little bulbs into the ground (freesias, anemones, etc.). The time and ability to share the blessings of gardening with them is definitely something I am grateful for during this chaotic time!

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on March 18, 2020 at 8:54 am

      This is so inspiring, Kira! Here’s a tip for little weed-pullers: Tell them that the weed “wins” if its roots stay in the soil. (Because it’ll regrow.) But they win if it comes out, roots and all. My son, now grown with a boy of his own, says he still thinks of that when pulling weeds.

  7. Judith Davies on March 18, 2020 at 10:23 am

    Hello Debra…I live in central, coastal Florida, 9b ..we do have a brief winter spell with a possible freeze. Your website is wonderful…I’ve learned so much over time. My plants are in pots in the yard and lanai. But this spring I intend to plant up my first succulent garden…wish me luck!
    Our city is cancelling all public gatherings, government buildings are closing…grocery stores are doing their best everyday. The virus is changing life in America as we have come to know it.
    Last night I made our St Patrick’s day meal and before we sat down my husband delivered a meal to a friend down the street…the meal was grand and quite, just the two of us, not our usual party.
    Your gardening suggestions ring true. I love my garden and I spend as much time as I can digging in the dirt…it’s good for the body and the quite time is so good for the soul. I am a collector of bromeliads and my gardens are blooming their hearts out right now! How lucky can one girl get! Be well, Judith

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on March 26, 2020 at 11:44 am

      Yes, how lucky can we get, those of us who love gardens and gardening? There’s a connection to the earth, combined with creative opportunities and rewards. Thank you for commenting, and may you and your garden thrive!

  8. Mike Peters on March 18, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    Hi Debra,
    What I’m Doing While Staying Home?
    I’m so lucky to always have something to do in my garden!
    I started building a hillside cactus and succulent garden overlooking Live Oak Park about a year ago when I retired. I brought in 52 tons of 2′ to 3′ boulders to construct the trails and stairways. With the help of my tractors we moved the boulders into place one at a time and placed them at toe of sloop with the help of a digging bar to make the final adjustments. The main garden area is about two acres and it seems to keep expanding to the rest of the six acres. Creating a garden this size, a nursery also was created for storing newly bought plants and the numerous cuttings the garden creates. So I also have potting and and maintaining the nursery plants to do. Each plant coming into the nursery for future planting is identified and a metal tag created to be placed at plant location. Just finished the trail to where the fake mine will be located and still trying to figure out how I will stand twelve foot poles to form my main entry and the art work that it will support.
    You’re never alone in the garden with the many birds and lizards watching every move you make and the occasional wandering coyote spooked when he finally sees you stand up from being bent over pulling weeds.
    Garden Solitude in Fallbrook

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on March 26, 2020 at 11:42 am

      Hi Mike! You captured the allure of gardening perfectly. Some people may never “get” it, but those of us who do, know exactly what you mean. Say…didn’t we meet at one of Tina Zucker’s plant sales?

  9. Abby Moldenhauer on March 18, 2020 at 8:58 pm

    Love these ideas. Thank you Debra for allowing us to post here.
    My 10yr old grandson will be doing a treasure hunt for sure. I saw him doing angles in his computer homework, so maybe we
    could find the “angle” in the branching structure of trees around the house. Of course we will be planting seeds for the spring garden project too. Looking forward to seeing what others are doing during this home schooling time.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on March 26, 2020 at 11:39 am

      Thanks, Abby! What a cool idea, looking for angles outdoors. You know another project to keep kids around that age busy is to hand them a few tools (like Philips and flat head screwdrivers) and let them take apart an old radio, telephone or tape player that’s junk or destined for the Goodwill. I cover the work table with a piece of particle board so it won’t be damaged. I suppose older kids might actually repair the items, ha.

  10. Carrie Goode on March 20, 2020 at 9:28 pm

    I work from home all the time so this isn’t so much of a disruption, and since I work for a healthcare company I’ve been way more busy than usual! But I dragged my husband out to my favorite Phoenix nursery today, and bought a David Austin rose, a beautiful milkweed, a perfect blue glow agave and a couple of basil plants. Then to Lowe’s the get some cedar mulch. Tomorrow we will be planting the new additions to my front yard. I’ll be starting Armenian Cucumber seeds, and starting some sourdough bread. It’s still so sad, I miss my active fun social life, and I had to cancel a planned trip to San Diego to see my friends. But what can you do? Just make limoncello out of lemons!

  11. Kenneth Koehn on March 25, 2020 at 11:31 pm

    I started a small succulent garden about 2 and a half years ago after I retired as a gardener in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. My new succulent garden has given me and my husband so much love and joy that I can not begin to tell you how it sustains up in this time of being distanced from everybody. I spend at least an hour our two every day on my deck. Often, I will just sit on my deck and am in awe with my garden. I love to enjoy it with classical music. It all keeps me sane in this difficult time. I have learned so much from you Debra and I want to thank you for your inspiration and joy. Your inspiration and joy are infectious and in turn I have passed it on to others by sharing. A week doesn’t go by without my picking up one of your books and getting a new idea for my succulent garden.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on March 26, 2020 at 11:01 am

      This is such an incredible day-brightener…thank you! I just had a forehead-slapping moment: Music! I actually prefer silence when I’m working in my office, but when I’m gardening and out on the deck, I love bright piano music. I’m actually (and amazingly) blessed with next-door neighbors who play their piano occasionally (and well), which imparts a lovely ambience to my garden…and helps me ignore the roar of traffic. Lately there has been a different kind of traffic, all sorts of birds at my feeders…and like you, I watch with awe.

  12. Melissa Teisl on March 26, 2020 at 10:18 am

    Hi Debra! Here in Vista we are enjoying the beauty that surrounds us, we have lots of citrus trees and even created and refreshed our raised bed for new veggies! And naturally Jon does not do well sitting still and without creating, so we have 2 revamped garden areas ;).
    Unfortunately, with the rain and crisis amidst the covid 19 virus, many projects were delayed and cancelled. While we are generally safe as far as distance from homeowners or one another, most people feel comfortable just delaying things for now. And certainly, that is advisable and understandable. In these unprecedented times, we will figure things out. As frightful as that is/seems, we just have to believe that it will be ok, there is no alternative. We can ALL agree that there have been positives, families coming together, appreciating all that our teachers do and to be involved in a different , more direct way is impactful and sets precedent for the future.

    I am busier than anticipated, as I’m trying to keep our 9yr old entertained and current with school work, plus trying to keep updated on business and keep things going. I embarked on a surface design class (flower/succulent related! ) just before this really became a major life changing crisis….I’m hoping to make some real progress and feature some cards for people to share with one another soon ☺️

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on March 26, 2020 at 10:51 am

      Hi Melissa — Thanks so much for commenting and sharing. We’ve known each other since before your son was born…before Jon, even…all the way back to Chicweed, the garden boutique you owned with your Mom in Solana Beach. You and Jon are talented, creative succulent container-and-garden designers. I had assumed that your profession would be immune to all the current craziness…after all, you work outdoors, and nurseries are still open and eager for business. Personally…and I think many of my site’s visitors and newsletter subscribers would agree…having a gorgeous garden is a necessity. But the reality is that many homeowners view professionally designed gardens as a luxury. They tend to have a wait-and-see attitude during times of economic uncertainty. You and your colleagues may have to do some rethinking in terms of what you offer, but you’re resilient, and I know you’ll come through this—hopefully stronger and better than ever!

  13. John Garaventa on March 26, 2020 at 10:23 am

    My wife and I watch your great videos on You Tube. I also view my cousin Gary Gragg’s videos for a good laugh. He owns Golden Gate Palms Nursery in Richmond. He has some very informative and entertaining plant videos. When it isn’t raining we work on extending the succulent bed around our patio. Just being in the garden provides a euphoric rush that removes the remnants of media hysteria from the psyche. Let’s all remain as positive as possible. Stiff upper lip!

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on March 26, 2020 at 10:39 am

      Hi John — Yep, can’t get enough “euphoric rush that removes the remnants of media hysteria from the psyche.” LOL and virtual hug, Debra

  14. Sallie on March 26, 2020 at 4:07 pm

    Debra,
    I just discovered your blog today. I love all your videos and have been making beautiful arrangements for the past 3 years after taking a class. I’m so addicted. I’m heading to the Nursery tomorrow to get more succulents. It never seems to get old and I’ve helped so many people get excited about succulents! When we are no longer affected by the Corona Virus, I would love to attend one of your seminars. How often did you do them at Rogers Gardens? I would love to see you there.
    Stay safe. Sallie

  15. tina zu on March 26, 2020 at 4:30 pm

    thank you
    with all the time I have right now, I have perused your YouTube, website, emails and everything that you offer to so many of us succulent growers. I appreciate all of your links for so many different issues. as a professional grower of succulents for the last 20 or so years, I still find new information and how to’s which I greatly appreciate. so keep it up. I will offer some of your links to my clients because they are so valuable

    thank you again
    tina from Succulent Gardening

  16. Roslin Romain on March 26, 2020 at 5:11 pm

    Here in Gallatin Tennessee our community ( Lake Rise) is small so it is great place to walk the streets .The other day someone had
    requested a bear hunt with bears in the windows for the kids to find. We like several other families put bears in the windows and it
    was posted in our local Lake Rise what we are doing. Everyone is enjoying it especially the kids and big kids at heart. It makes it nicer to walk and greet people with a hello (hi) etc. and keep on walking. Hope all is well in California. We are hanging in there in
    Tennessee.
    Spring is starting to blossom . So my nursery of pots and seeds has begun. Putting in a new garden box inside a dog run of chain link fence. 5 X10 ft. with planter boxes to get my Gourds started. They overtook my garden top last year. What fun. Everyone stay safe and healthy.

  17. Felicidad P Morgan on March 26, 2020 at 6:21 pm

    I just want to say thank you for your blogs and emails etc. especially during this time when we are all hunkered down because of this virus. You are very much appreciated. I live in Riverside, CA and keep trying to get down to attend one of your live seminars, etc. I will make it yet! Stay healthy and again thank you so much.

  18. George Tabora on March 26, 2020 at 7:29 pm

    I guess you can call being out in the garden compliant with the “stay-in-shelter” order from the state. Pretty much I spend the mornings “spring-cleaning” the garden and the afternoons, posting videos of my “cleaned-up” garden on Facebook to share with friends at World of Succulents Group. I am a new member. The interaction I have with the group is mutually enjoyable and productive. If you find the time, you might find the videos entertaining. As soon as I am done with my spring-cleaning, I will be working on another garden section to install. Stay safe, and Happy Gardening!

  19. Doug McBee on March 28, 2020 at 3:03 pm

    I’m a Pilates teacher up here in Sonoma, and of course all physical sessions and classes are not happening. I’m doing 6 or 7 online gigs per week, which is leaving me a lot of free hours. Quite frankly, I’m thoroughly enjoying it. So what have I been doing now that I have the time?
    1. Leaving comments on favorite web sites.
    2. Painting the many pots housing the outdoor plants and succulents (I get tired of everything being terra cotta). Just watered-down acrylic paint in subtle desert colors.
    3. Finally teaching myself how to use Instagram and trying to post a picture every day. I have a blast looking at the photos. I’m plantspilatesandcocktails, by the way.
    And now, I’ve got things to prune back and things to pot up. Stay well and thank you for all you do!

  20. Christy Bradley on March 31, 2020 at 8:34 pm

    Love your treasure hunt ideas. What a special way to stay in touch with your grandson. I’m going to try it.

    And, don’t know if you remember when you visited us in Pasadena several years ago and gave a talk for Pasadena Garden Club. You gave me a nice green container with a fun succulent. The succulent is long gone but the container is still being enjoyed with a current “succulent arrangement”. I think of you whenever I see it and water it occasionally. Many thanks!!

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on April 1, 2020 at 10:27 am

      Of course I remember you! I admired your Chico’s jacket, took a photo of one of your succulent arrangements, was awed by your view, and sympathized with you over rogue deer that were eating your plants (if I recall correctly, you had to resort to fencing). How lovely to hear from you, Christy. I’m glad the container reminds you of me, and you’re inspired by my treasure hunt ideas. ;+)

  21. Laurie Connable on May 21, 2020 at 4:03 pm

    Fabulosa, Chérie !
    I sent my Grandkids a little machine from Amazon that creates soft serve ice cream from frozen fruits. I bought one for me too. Lol. This will be something fun for all of us to do. And the bonus is it’s healthy!
    Also, a Mandela art kit.
    Bisous y much aloooooha, moi🌺🥰😍

  22. Patti on June 4, 2020 at 11:53 am

    Gardening (mostly succulents) has been my savior during shelter-in-place. I love finding varieties that I don’t have and found one a couple of months ago called “Chocolate Fingers”. When I googled the name I found your website and that was another fantastic find! My Chocolate Fingers are happy and are in bloom now.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on June 5, 2020 at 11:18 am

      Thanks, Patti, so happy to hear it!

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