1st Rate Pet Services Summer 2023 recap

1st Rate Pet Services Summer 2023 recap
It’s been one crazy, tumultuous challenging year for us here at 1st Rate Pet Services! I had a webpage as our home page on 1stRateLife.com for awhile with the updates since it was the best way to make sure people knew what was going on. This blog post is a compilation of main ideas from the March-June, 2023 saga for anyone who didn’t catch the live version!!!  Blessedly, things are calming down a bit now.

March 8, 2023
Our scheduler, Leashtime, went down. It was just gone, apparently they had a server crash or something. The same day, my phone just died. I didn’t drop it or anything, it just went to sleep and wouldn’t wake back up and the shop couldn’t fix it.
In a panic, I created the “Leashtime Down, phone broke” website page, hoping when people tried to use Leashtime, they’d check our main website and see the note.

March 11, 2023
Leashtime still down, I began searching for other scheduling options, but all of them are outrageously expensive, we were “grandfathered in” at a really good price with Leashtime since we’d been with them very early on. My phone came in the mail, but my service provider was having tech issues with activating new phones, so I still wasn’t connected. More notes to email me with schedule requests and call/text Don if any issues.

March 13, 2023
My new phone was up and running, but I lost a lot of my contacts because my other phone was one version too old to transfer from the cloud, and since the phone itself was a really irritating paperweight by this time, I wasn’t sure what to do. I couldn’t look anyone’s number up on Leashtime, since it too was down. I put a note on the website to text or call me and tell me who you were so I could add you back in to my new phone contacts. Everyone was being VERY helpful and understanding during this stressful time!

March 23, 2023
I was about over Leashtime, so started researching our invoice service provider, 17Hats, to see if I could use them as a scheduling option also. It was a lot different than LeashTime, but seemed to be working alright for those who were using it.

April 14, 2023
I got a job as a “Lunch lady” with Marion County Public Schools. In 2022 we lost a number of pet customers (passing away), some of which were only pets. A few of our customers moved away also. The end of 2022 and beginning of 2023 were way slower than usual due to these things, and I’d been looking around for a job I could do “around” the pet sitting. I wanted it to be with a Florida Retirement System employer since I only had to work 1 year and a few months to be vested since I’d worked for the state when I lived in Pinellas County in the 1990’s. At that time, I didn’t even care about the retirement money they were saving for me, but now I sure do!
I took down the new 17hats schedule link because I was not as open as I used to be to take pet sitting requests last minute, and Don was going to be in Iowa for about 3 weeks in May, so I put back up the “email Julie” for scheduling info.

May 23, 2023
This was a lovely day (NOT). I posted a photo of Don’s ruined Ford Transit van with a note that he’d been in an accident while in Iowa. It was the other driver’s fault, and sadly he didn’t have any insurance. We only had liability coverage, so the van was totaled and sent to a junkyard. Don was now without a vehicle while in Iowa. He was hurt, but not devastatingly, which is a blessing. This was the moment I officially decided we need to tighten up our service area. I’d been considering it for around a year, but it was a difficult thing for me to do, so I kept putting it off. With my job and the accident leaving us with no back up vehicle, and Don with limited mobility for who knows how long due to his new back injury caused by the accident, it seemed like the only option. When he returned from Iowa (with a rental car his kids had helped him pay for, bless them,) he was in so much pain from the accident that I had to do all of the pet visits for the next three weeks, in addition to working as a lunch lady. I was exhausted and so grateful when school was over for the summer!

June 7, 2023
This was the last date on the “Leashtime down, phone broke” page. I’m just going to copy and paste the actual “blurb” for that one here….

Hello June, where is the year going? 
Today is June 7, 2023
The year is flying by, wow! A lot of changes happening for us here. The picture to the left is how I vision going through life's path, so I wanted to share. We are on one of the curves in the path as more changes, unexpected and some thought through, are happening. I'll be writing about it in more detail soon, but as I'm updating the website, I wanted to keep this page as the main page until everything else is in place. 
Due to various reasons, we are no longer serving as large of an area as we have been for the previous years. As mentioned below, I've been referring customers out of our new service area to other pet sitters, and since I've been doing that, Don won't be able to continue to do as many visits as we'd hoped due to the accident he was in last month in Iowa. His back got pretty messed up so he's limited on how much he can do. If you need visits, continue to text or email Julie and I can let you know what is up in that department. 
More coming soon, meanwhile have a fabulous summer!!!
July 27, 2023
So here we come to today, the actual day. It was a crazy summer with not only everything above, but also a few more challenges and surprises. About a week after Don got back, lightning struck a tree in our yard. Thank the Lord it didn’t land on our house or car, but it caused a big, downed tree mess and a power surge in our house that took out a number of electronics, an air conditioner and a light switch. Then 2 days later, during another storm, the top of a second tree that had been struck but not damaged at the time came crashing down on the roof of our covered back porch, crushing half of it. You can see some of the mess on our YT page here…

By this time we were somewhat numb to all of the stuff happening! We also were having issues with the Kia, which before had been the “back-up” car, but since the van was gone, it was Don’s only car, and we had to spend $$ we didn’t have to get that fixed a few times. I don’t know exactly how Don felt about everything, but I was afraid to leave the house, but whenever it thundered, I was terrified that we’d have another lightning strike or that another tree would fall ON our house this time.

I’m kind of getting over that now, 1 and ½ months later. In July I was blessed to have two week-long pet visits out of the area so was paid to “live-in” and that $$ helped keep us afloat after all the car repair issues.
So as the summer is winding down, we have referred a number of our customers who are out of our new, smaller service area to other pet sitters. At first it was so hard for me to let go of anybody, but I’m realizing I can’t take care of ALL the pets in the whole world, and I’m so happy to know other sitters I like and trust to take over. All of the customers have been so understanding and so supportive of us, I’m humbled, and relieved!

Another unexpected but exciting thing happened in April. I went to a job fair for the Marion County Schools, thinking instead of a lunch lady, maybe I could get an easier physical job (food service is HARD physical work!) Imagine my surprise when I was informed that I qualify to come in as a middle school Language Arts teacher with a temporary teaching certificate because of my Bachelor’s degree from 34 years ago having enough random English classes on it. I was very surprised, but said yes, and will be teaching sixth grade Language Arts for the 23-24 school year!
Don will still be doing pet visits full-time as he works on other projects he has going on. We are being selective about taking on anyone new so as not to overwhelm him. We still work with 2 other ladies who do visits for us sometimes, and I’ll be offering overnights to select customers as I can do them and still be at work all day teaching. This gives me the chance to still be with the pets, which was the hardest thing to let go of when I decided to get a “real” job again. I feel like overnights offers me a “win-win” situation!

We both have other things going on as well, but unless something unforeseen happens, will still have some version of 1st Rate Pet Services going for the next few years. Who knows what might happen when I’m able to retire!  

4 Simple Shifts to End Overwhelm & Create Optimism

4 Simple Shifts to End Overwhelm & Create Optimism
Are you looking to reduce stress and overwhelm in your life? There are simple shifts you can make to end chronic overwhelm and cultivate ongoing optimism. By staying grounded and noticing your general awareness, you can take control of how you think, feel, and act in response to the world around you. As I get older, I find that I am passionate about living in peace, wellness and simplicity. One way to do this is to be generous and giving of your time, talents, and treasure, while also setting boundaries to take care of your own well-being. Approaching life with curiosity and a child-like sense of wonder can help you find joy and meaning in everyday experiences, and living in a constant state of gratitude can enhance your quality of life in all aspects. If you would like support on your journey to end overwhelm and add optimism, please get in touch with me. Let's work together to build a life of intention and positivity.

The Firebush: A Beautiful and Versatile Plant for Your Landscape

Written by Don Richardson

Firebush (Hamelia patens)

Any reference to medicinal or culinary use of plants or plant parts should in no way be considered an endorsement by The Ocala Food Forest or its staff. Research is crucial in safe and proper consumption or experimentational use of any plant.

Hamelia Patens, also known as firebush, is a stunning plant that adds color and beauty to any landscape. This evergreen shrub belongs to the family of Rubiaceae and is native to the tropical regions of Central and South America. However, it is also commonly grown in the southern parts of the United States, particularly in Florida, where it is used as an ornamental plant. Hamelia Patens is popular for its brilliant red-orange flowers that bloom all year round and attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators.
Florida Native Plant
  • Family: Rubiaceae
  • Plant type: Evergreen shrub
  • Growth habit and mature size: Multi-stemmed shrub that can reach a height of 8 to 15 feet and a width of 4 to 8 feet.
  • Sun exposure requirements: Full sun to partial shade
  • Soil type: This plant prefers well-draining soils that are rich in organic matter. It can tolerate a wide range of soil types, including sandy, loamy, and clay soils.
  • pH range: pH 6.0 to 7.5
  • Moisture needs: Moist but well drained soil.
  • Seasons of bloom: Spring to fall
  • Native plant in: Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean
  • Native range in the USA: Florida, Texas, and other southern states.
  • Hardiness zone: 8b to 11
  • Temperature tolerance: Can tolerate temperatures down to 15°F
  • Self-pollinating: Yes
  • Edible plant: No
  • Medicinal plant: Yes
Landscape uses: Hamelia Patens is a versatile plant that can be used in a variety of ways. It is an excellent choice for adding color to borders, hedges, and mass plantings. It can also be used as a specimen plant or in mixed borders with other shrubs and perennials.

Growing tips: To keep your Hamelia Patens healthy and thriving, ensure that it is planted in well-draining soil, and receives adequate water and sunlight. Pruning is not necessary, but it can help maintain the shape of the plant.

What the plant attracts: Hamelia patens attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators.

Pest & diseases: The plant is relatively pest and disease-free. However, it may be susceptible to spider mites and mealybugs, especially in hot and dry weather conditions.

Cautions: Hamelia Patens may attract some pests, including spider mites and whiteflies. Regular monitoring and treatment may be required to keep these pests under control.

Other Important information: Hamelia Patens is deciduous in areas where temperatures drop below freezing. However, it will grow back from its roots if it dies back in cold winter temperatures.
In conclusion, Hamelia Patens is a stunning plant that is easy to grow and maintain. It is a great choice for gardeners who want to add color and vibrancy to their landscape. With its bright red-orange flowers and ability to attract pollinators, this plant is a must-have for any garden. So why not give it a try and add a touch of tropical beauty to your landscape today?

Pineapple Sage: A Fragrant and Flavorful Addition to Your Garden

Written by Don Richardson


Any reference to medicinal or culinary use of plants or plant parts should in no way be considered an endorsement by The Ocala Food Forest or its staff. Research is crucial in safe and proper consumption or experimentational use of any plant.

Salvia Elegans, commonly known as pineapple sage, is a beautiful and fragrant plant that can add a pop of color and texture to any garden. This herbaceous perennial plant belongs to the mint family, Lamiaceae, and is native to Mexico and Guatemala. The plant is named after its distinctive pineapple scent and flavor, which makes it a popular addition to many culinary dishes.
  • Family: Lamiaceae
  • Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Native Plant In: Mexico and Guatemala
  • Native Range In the USA: Salvia Elegans is native to Southern Mexico and Central America but is commonly grown throughout the United States. The Florida native Salvia is the Tropical Sage or Scarlet Sage (Salvia Coccinea)
  • Food Forest Plant
  • Hardiness Zone: 8 to 11, it can tolerate minimum temperatures of around 10 to 20°F.
  • Seasons of Bloom: Blooms in late summer to early fall, usually from September to October, But in some areas it can bloom all year long.
  • Soil Type and pH Range: The plant prefers well-draining, fertile soil with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun, but it can also tolerate partial shade.
  • Growth Habit: The plant has an upright growth habit and can reach a mature size of 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide.
  • Moisture Needs: Prefers moderate moisture levels and can withstand short periods of drought.
  • Pollination: Is not self-pollinating and requires pollinators, such as bees and hummingbirds, for reproduction.
  • Edible Plant: Pineapple sage is an edible plant, and its leaves can be used to flavor teas, salads, and desserts.
  • Medicinal Plant: Salvia Elegans is not considered a medicinal plant, but it has been used traditionally to treat colds, coughs, and fever.
Landscape Uses: Is an excellent choice for adding color and fragrance to gardens, borders, and containers. It can also attract pollinators and beneficial insects to the garden.
Growing Tips: Pineapple sage is a low-maintenance plant and requires little care once established. However, it benefits from regular pruning to maintain its shape and encourage bushier growth. The plant also benefits from occasional fertilization to promote healthy growth.
Cautions: Salvia Elegans is generally considered a safe plant, but its leaves and flowers can cause skin irritation in some people. Additionally, the plant is not recommended for consumption by pregnant or breastfeeding women.
What the plant attracts: Salvia Elegans is a pollinator magnet, attracting bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to your garden.
Pest & Diseases: Salvia Elegans is relatively pest and disease-free. However, it can be susceptible to powdery mildew in humid conditions.
Cautions: Salvia Elegans may be toxic to cats and dogs if ingested, so it's best to keep the plant out of reach of pets.

In conclusion, Salvia Elegans, or pineapple sage, is a beautiful and fragrant plant that can add a tropical touch to any garden. Its attractive foliage and bright red flowers make it an excellent choice for gardens, borders, and containers. However, gardeners should be aware of its growing requirements and potential hazards before adding it to their landscape.

Growing and Caring for society Garlic

Written by Don Richardson


Any reference to medicinal or culinary use of plants or plant parts should in no way be considered an endorsement by The Ocala Food Forest or its staff. Research is crucial in safe and proper consumption or experimentational use of any plant.

Tulbaghia Violacea, also known as society garlic or wild garlic, is a beautiful flowering plant that belongs to the Amaryllidaceae family. This plant is native to southern Africa and has become popular in gardens worldwide due to its striking purple-pink flowers, attractive foliage, and ease of care.
Here's what you need to know about growing and caring for Tulbaghia Violacea:
  • Family: Amaryllidaceae
  • Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Food Forest Plant
  • Growth habit and mature size: Clumping habit, reaches 1 to 2 feet in height and width.
  • Sun exposure requirements: Full sun to partial shade
  • Soil type and pH range: Well-draining soil with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.5
  • Moisture needs: Moderate, avoid overwatering.
  • Seasons of bloom: Blooms in summer to fall.
  • Native plant to: Southern Africa
  • Native range in the USA: Not native to the USA, but widely cultivated in many states.
  • Hardiness zone: 7a to 10b
  • Temperature tolerance: Tolerates heat and drought, but may die back in winter temperatures below 10°F
  • Does it self-pollinate? Yes
  • Is it an edible plant? Yes, the leaves and flowers have a mild garlic flavor and can be used in cooking.
  • Is it a medicinal plant? Yes, Tulbaghia Violacea has been used in traditional medicine for various ailments including coughs, colds, and stomach problems.
Landscape uses: Tulbaghia Violacea is a great addition to any garden due to its beautiful flowers and foliage. It can be planted in garden borders, rock gardens, and containers. It also attracts pollinators such as bees, butterflies and moths.
Growing tips: Tulbaghia Violacea prefers well-draining soil and moderate watering. It can be propagated through division, seeds, or cuttings. It's important to avoid overwatering and to protect the plant from winter temperatures below 20°F. May die back in cold winter temperatures. However, it will usually regrow from the roots in the spring.
Pest & diseases: Tulbaghia Violacea is relatively pest and disease-free. However, it may be susceptible to fungal diseases in humid conditions.
Cautions: While Tulbaghia Violacea is generally considered safe for consumption, some people may experience allergic reactions. It's always important to test a small amount of any new food before consuming it in larger quantities.

In conclusion, Tulbaghia Violacea is a beautiful and easy-to-care-for plant that will add color and fragrance to any garden. With proper care and attention, it will thrive and reward gardeners with its stunning blooms and versatile uses.

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