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It's nice to know that we are closer to the end of winter than we are to the beginning. Still, at this time I really yearn for spring.

I am not alone in my longings. Catalogue seed and bulb sellers know that people like me have a weakness during winter. In our hankering for the sight of green growing plants, we are a soft touch for sales pitches. During this time, I've sometimes purchased prospective flowers and vegetables in hopes of speeding up the coming of spring.

As usual, I flip through those catalogues and dream of warmer days when I have a perfect, weed-free garden and tomatoes that don't have the blight — the plague that got my tomatoes last summer, but not my potatoes. The tubers were moved to another location and did well.

Those catalogues have not gotten me to purchase this year. I'll bite the bullet and wait until I can buy locally. I only use them for daydreaming of future plants and gardens. Until the time I can grow something outside again, I'll fuss with house plants.

I took too long to put my amaryllis bulbs in soil this winter. So instead of giant, colorful blooms, I'm still looking at green leaves; though even without flowers, those plants give me hope, and looking at them makes me happy.

Right now, I'll plant anything I can inside. After eating a salad, I took the romaine lettuce stubs (the ends I cut off) and placed it in a little container with about a half inch of water. I changed this water every day, and in no time — days, not weeks — I had new leaves shooting up.

The great thing about lettuce is that we can eat it. I just can't let it set too long in 'old' water, or the lower leaves will get brown and mushy.

I've started celery this way, too. First, little leaves appeared out of the top of the stump. As it grew, the stalks looked like tiny trees. Oh so cute.

If I had sprouting potatoes, I'd be sticking them in water so I could watch them sprout, too — funny being sad that none of my spuds are sprouting.

Recently, there was an announcement in church. 'Please take a poinsettia plant home. Tomorrow they will be thrown out.'

I poked my friend Marilyn. We both smiled and headed to the back of church after mass. I was afraid there wouldn't be any plants left, but no one else seemed interested. Marilyn and I each took an unclaimed plant to our cars.

Watching the congregation exiting the building, I didn't see any other people carrying poinsettias. I knew four more plants waited in church. I couldn't bear to leave them to their fate in the trash. I told Marilyn that I was going back for another. She walked with me.

All the other orphans were still there. We gathered up the rest. Marilyn said she would take them to work where she would see and tend to them every day. I took my rescues home.

Too bad one of my poinsettias fell over in the car during my drive. Two stems broke off, but the majority of the plant remained. Red, white and green now brighten our home. I took my green poinsettia from last year and put it in with my holiday garden. Being with its colorful cousins has done it some good. Tiny red leaves are peaking out.

I don't know if all these plants will survive, but right now I'm changing a holiday tradition. Poinsettias now are held over for February — my penny-pinching husband likes this multi-use option. Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165; Sunnybook@aol.com; www.SusanManzke.net

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