I named my gardens "Just-Be Gardens" to remind myself to 'just be', and always look for the small gifts that each day offers.
'Just-Be' Gardens is a place to be...

In Balance.
With Birds.
With Butterflies.
With Bees.
In Beauty.

Just Be.

A brief overview, my cancer experience, and my blogging history:

"I love being in the garden-listening to the sounds of nature, watching the wildlife and birds, and digging in the dirt! When I'm in my garden, I'm aware of life's beauty and wonder, durability and fragility. The transitions that take place in my garden seem to be a metaphor for all of life, helping to renew my faith and restore my soul. I am reminded that life is short, and that I need to focus on the positive in every day, rather than getting bogged down by the negatives that I sometimes encounter along the way. Having had salivary gland cancer of the hard & soft palate with 3 surgeries (partial palatectomy, partial maxillectomy & a forearm-freeflap-transplant) as well as 35 radiation treatments--I'm truly blessed to be here! The title of my blog is an ongoing reminder to look for the Gifts that lie within my Garden of Life...TODAY. Because, after all, today is a gift--that's why it's called 'the present'. You can never get it back again! Live each day as if it's your last--it just very well might be!"

I.  Overview

I enjoy sharing my photography of the perennials, backyard birds, butterflies and other critters that live in my Virginia suburban garden, zone 7-A. I try to garden cottage-style with sun-loving perennials, but some areas, such as my somewhat woodsy backyard, dictate more of a shade-garden approach. I garden with both native and non-native plants, with a tendency to experiment. I lean more toward plants that serve as workhorses in the garden, are non-invasive, or attract pollenators–but I am definitely not a purist!

I started my gardening blog not just to document the happenings in my yard.  I am also a cancer survivor, and named it to honor the life we are given every single day and to remind myself (and others) to never take that forgranted. My blog has gradually taken on a life of its own and interactions with other like-minded souls have become a welcome addition. I tend to write when inspiration strikes and time allows, rather than on a specific time schedule. Sometimes I write informational posts about specific plants, birds or wildlife-and often, I simply narrate my photos and share my personal experiences. I am not a professional photographer but find taking pictures and writing about them to be fulfilling and educational.

II.  Cancer Experience:

"Oral, head & neck cancers are more common than most people realize, and are not just for 'old men' who smoke and drink too much. I know. I was diagnosed with it when I was 46. Six years before that I had an 'incomplete' biopsy by an 'inadequate' oral surgeon who said it was a cyst--but I learned later that it was really a malignant tumor that went undiagnosed for 6 years. So in actuality, I should have been diagnosed when I was 40. Fortunately, the cancer was 'slow growing', but the severity of my surgery & treatment would have been much less if it had been diagnosed sooner. Please keep this in mind and make sure your dentist does screenings and checks you thoroughly at your appointments. In addition, don't take anything, even slightly out of the ordinary, with a grain of salt. If I'd seen an informed doctor the first time, I might not have needed 3 surgeries to go up through the roof of my mouth and into my nasal passages to deal with the cancer, and/or the radiation due to unclean margins--because it would have been more contained. These cancers continue to be under-diagnosed today, and are often not noticed until later stages. Be an advocate for yourself and your loved ones when it comes to your body. And please learn about the various types of oral, head & neck cancers. What you don't know CAN hurt you!"

In August of 2003, I was 46 years old, married for 26 years, with a 15 yr. old daughter and a 6 yr. old son. Life was going along well, with the usual skips and bumps (but mainly smooth and carefree) when I was diagnosed with Salivary Gland Cancer of the Hard and Soft Pallet. I had no clue what THAT was...it was 'foreign', unheard of, and definitely NOT welcome.

So began a new journey for me. There were 2 surgeries to remove the cancer, the 1st in August (a "partial palatectomy"); the 2nd in September (a "partial maxillectomy"-having to go up through the bone itself on the roof of the mouth and into the nasal passage). The 2nd surgery left me with a 2 1/2 inch long x 1 1/2 inch wide hole on the roof of my mouth, requiring a prosthesis in order to be able to eat, drink and speak.

While I was relieved that the hole could be covered with a prosthetic device, when I learned it could be permanently closed I pursued that option. Thus, in October, a 3rd surgery was performed (the "forearm free flap transplant"). It involved taking part of the inside of my wrist, along with one of the attached arteries (one that runs up the underside of the arm to the inner elbow) and 'transplanting' it to the roof of my mouth. The artery was then connected to my carotid artery. This allows the tissue to remain alive, and works as if it has always been there! (To cover the area of my inner wrist, an area of skin from my abdomen was grafted.)

In November, I began a series of Radiation sessions, with the 35th and final session in mid-January, 2004. During that time I lost 35 pounds, and 5 clothes-sizes. But I was happy the treatment was over and gradually everything returned to normal. (It's funny, but the pounds came back quite easily and I'm now trying to lose a few!).

Check-ups consist of intermittent CT Scans & MRI's of the brain and brainstem, & neck. First it was 2-3 times a year--now it's annually. I'm seen at Georgetown University Hospital by a wonderful Otolaryngologist--the Head of the Dept. of Head and Neck Surgery, Dr. Bruce Davidson.

III.  Blogging History

I started blogging in December, 2007. I created 3 blogs. One was a garden/birding blog; the second was a poetry blog; and the third was a thankfulness blog. As I was reviewing my blogs one day, I accidentally deleted permanently, the first two--with all of the posts and comments that I'd saved. (That's an entirely different story in & of itself! Internet searches were conducted. Google and Blogger were contacted. Cached versions were scanned and skimmed. But the deletion was permanent.  Fortunately, Blogger has evolved since then and made it more difficult to experience these types of issues).

After the initial shock wore off, I simply decided to use this blog as my 'main' blog rather than create any more. It was originally created to simply make a daily note of something I was thankful for. I continue to (try) to remind myself to move into that frame of mind when I start to feel negative or depressed or irritable-as all humans will be inclined to do from time to time.

Basically, it was named to serve as a reminder to never take forgranted each moment I am given...In My Garden of Life.  I so appreciate all of the friendships that I've made through blogging over the past couple of years, most of them starting in November, 2008, when I joined Blotanical--the largest garden blogging community on the internet. Thanks, Gardening Friends!

IV.  Photography

I use a Nikon D40-X for most photos I post to this blog, with lenses ranging from Macro (105mm), to Regular (18/55mm), to Zoom (70/300mm).  We have a Canon Powershot S-90 which I utilize from time to time, as well. And on those rare occasions when I find myself camera-less, I have even posted photos taken with my BlackBerry Curve...which does okay in a pinch!

V. In the fall of 2011 I entered the Virginia Master Gardener program and took 4 months of classes, then did 6 months of internship and became a Virginia Master Gardener volunteer in June, 2012. I love it!  In a collaborative program with the VCE-Master Gardeners and Audubon of Northern Virginia, I became an Audubon-At-Home Ambassador in April, 2012.


  1. That is quite an experience you have had with the big C. Glad you are doing well.

  2. Thanks, Tina. While I don't want to dwell on it, it does give me cause-for-pause and I don't want to forget it entirely, so that I can always remember to be thankful for each new day!

  3. I always think that God is giving us such experience in life so we can wake up from our dull life and remember what are we suppose to do... enjoy it! I also had a bunch of bad experience when i was 8 (so bad I almost died), but it brought my family together, and I'm grateful for that. Have a great life!

  4. I found your blog and enjoyed your "ice pictures". You certainly know alot about plants! Your photograpy is really good. I'll be back to see what's new. Cindy

  5. I hadn't read this post. . . So glad that things worked out for you and that you're better. Yes, the computer gods are very fickle. As soon as I get my new computer up and running, I'm going to back up everything in my blog! Peace to you!

  6. Very dear Jan,I feel you as a very blessed lady!
    Everything that you've written (about your "gift of life" and appreciation for it) and reading your insights about life are absolutely uplifting; inspirational and touching.
    You are admirable! I'm sure,your friends, readers, old and new, feel the same way about you.
    May you continue to enjoy God's countless blessings upon you. All the best! Sheerwillpower, Twitter

  7. Hi,
    I just discovered your blog today when looking for gardening blogs in VA. Thank you for sharing your experience and reminding us to be thankful for each day, and everything that comes with it. Your photos are beautiful.


  8. Hi Jan, I just found your blog today. I live in the low desert of Arizona where our landscapes are continually thirsty, so I especially enjoy seeing the pictures with so much green. :-) I look forward to seeing more of your beautiful photographs and reading your insightful gardening tips.
    Take care,
    ~ Vicki


Thanks so much for visiting and taking the time to comment! Please enjoy your TODAY and all of the gifts in YOUR garden of life!


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