Finding My Way Back To Myself…

Every now and then, I get this overwhelming feeling of inspiration…it’s the type of restlessness that accompanies new and exciting ideas…this is the restlessness that stems from the urge to create. Over the past few nights I’ve tossed and turned, inspired by ideas I’ve been discussing with my dear sister…one of the most inspiring people I know. She sees me in a way that I’m not sure many others can see. She sees the artistry that is woven into my soul, she sees how passionate I am about creating, and she shares this with me through our wild and exciting discussions. Together we make beautiful plans based on our love and appreciation of nature. This has awoken something in me and now I just cannot stop creating.

Clay is my medium of choice. I love it for its obvious connection to nature, its malleability, and it’s durability (and, ironically, it’s fragility at the same time). Over the past few months, I’ve been working on developing my vision for my art and it always connects to nature. With the idea of helping others connect to nature while sharing my artistic vision, I’ve started to regularly create clay pieces. I’ve got some exciting projects in mind that bring a smile to my face whenever I envision them.

With my focus on art and nature, I’ve started to feel more in my own skin than I have in a long time. I’ve started to embrace myself and the things I feel passionate about. Once of which, is growing and eating whole foods that come from plants. When I made these realizations I couldn’t stop thinking about how funny it is that, after all these years, after so many changes, I’ve finally made my way back to me. This is who I am, who I’ve been for so many years and yet, who I lost for a bit. It’s like I’ve found an old friend and I can’t wait to catch up ❤

Itching for Adventure…

Throughout these last few months, throughout this pandemic, my family and I have been at home. Although worried about the nature of things in the world, we, like many others, shifted our focus on gratitude for our family, this special time together, and the opportunity to slow down and focus on what counts. We embarked on gardening, slow foods, artistic adventures, and many stimulating family games.

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Recently, with the bans being lifted at our local parks and natural areas, we started to feel ourselves itching for adventure. With the beauty and inspiration that nature offers, and the idea of being secluded in such beauty, we decided to begin venturing out to the natural spaces we dearly love.

One of our first stops was to Biscayne National Park. Biscayne National Park is a beautiful hidden gem. With its scenic views, historic architecture, and peaceful nature, it begs to be explored. Although the common areas were still closed when we decided to visit, the waters were wide open for exploration. We arrived at around 10:00am and, aside from a pair of kite surfers, we were alone. We parked at the canoe rental area, set our canoe into the water, and paddled off into the wilderness.

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The day was overcast and the waves were stronger than we were used to. Still, we felt grateful for this opportunity in nature. As we paddled, we watched the kite surfers, gliding through the ocean. It felt magical to watch as they danced with the forces of the wind. I found myself dreaming of doing the same one day.

Then, something caught my eye. Like sparkling sea glass on a sandy beach, the subject seemed to glisten and sparkle. I knew what it was the moment I saw it; the skeletal remains of a sea creature…perhaps a manatee. I was captivated. We paddled closer and marveled at it.

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To me, seeing something like this, gives me a sense of calm. To know that nature has a cyclical way of taking care of itself. It’s the way I feel when I see mushrooms growing on decaying trees. It’s the ultimate lesson that nature provides us, there is no waste and everything has a purpose. That alone, made the adventure worthwhile. Still, we paddled on.

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To our left was a very narrow opening. I worried. It felt too quiet. My husband was interested and so we paddled on. What we found was the quietest, most serene, canoeing trail. The only sounds were of nature – the moving waters, the jumping fish, and the nesting birds. It was perfect.

 

 

We followed the trail to its end, turned around, and paddled back. Once we left the narrow trail, the waters were choppier than before. We were terrified as we paddled our hardest through the waves yet, still, we felt invigorated! After what seemed like an eternity of paddling, we made it back to the drop off point. The water at the drop off was clear and shallow enough so we got off and played a while. It was a perfect way to end this little adventure.

 

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As we loaded our canoe back onto our truck a sense of calm washed over all of us. We had been somewhere special, we had made unique discoveries, and we had felt the meaning of life. We were happy.

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Garden Treasures…

The garden is constantly offering us treasures. Whether it be the beauty of the flowers and foliage, the delicious fruit, or the sense of connectedness to nature we feel when we are in this space, the garden gives us so much.

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Just before an Easter morning egg hunt.

Recently, as part of his school work, my son walked the garden and took photographs of all the flowers he spotted. I was surprised to see such a wide array of colors and shapes. Our flowers are beautiful on their own but, when collaged together, they are spectacular. Here are the photographs he took on his flower walk…

Over the past few years, we’ve had so many special encounters in our garden. Aside from our plants and the beauty and sustenance that they provide, we’ve been lucky enough to find many creatures in our garden. These creatures each have their own special role in our ecosystem and so we treat each encounter with a tremendous amount of wonder and gratitude. Lately, as the garden has grown in and become more lush and alive, we’ve been encountering more creatures than ever before.  Here are some of our favorite garden creatures…

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A beautiful black racer snake that hid in our arbor to shed it’s skin. 

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We were so happy to find its molted skin but haven’t seen the snake since. Perhaps it was a parting gift. 

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A beautiful moth that brought us so much joy.

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A little tree frog we found near our tomatoes…

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A very loud toad that hid by our garden bed one night.

These photographs were all captured within the last month. This made me think, what other creatures might be living among us? From now on I plan on looking more closely for garden treasures, whether it be animals, flowers, foliage, or just that beautiful calm feeling I feel when surrounded by the beauty of nature.

 

 

New Growth…

 

Wow. It has been a while. I didn’t realize it had been nearly two years. When I posted last, I was in the middle of being diagnosed with Grave’s disease. I was scared, I was sad, and I just wanted to focus on my happiness: my family and my garden. Through focussing on my family and the garden, through documenting that journey, I kept my mind off of the disease. The garden is so full of beauty, life, and new growth that it makes me forget about everything else. I don’t know what stopped me from writing more often. Maybe it was the business of life or maybe it was that my Grave’s disease subsided. Whatever the reason, I am here now…filled with gratitude, looking closely at the garden and the many lessons that it provides, and ready to document my new journey. Here is a look at my garden and the beautiful plants that are blooming…

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Delicious sungold tomatoes…

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Our canistel tree is flowering!

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Our Catalina avocado has fruit!

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This year we have the most Kent mangoes we’ve ever had on our little tree. 

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Our little starfruit tree…such a dedicated producer. 

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A view of our little oasis…

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We are constantly working to make our side yard as pretty and productive as possible. 

I’ll be writing more often. I feel inspired. I feel inspired by our little garden and the many gifts that it constantly gives, I feel inspired by the meaningful time I’m spending at home with my family, and, most of all, I feel inspired to document our journey so that we remember it always ❤

Harvesting Our Sweet Potatoes

We planted our sweet potato slips in mid-April. Since then, these beautiful leafy green plants with delicious orange tubers have made a beautiful planting bed specimen. Big, leafy and very healthy looking, our sweet potato vines were almost too pretty to harvest…almost. Although I hesitated to harvest them because they helped make our backyard look green and magical, I had to think of the actual reason I planted them in the first place…food! I’ve been dreaming of the day when I could harvest my own sweet potatoes since the day I watched a video of it being done on theartofdoingstuff.com (a very informative and entertaining website). So, perhaps a bit on the early side, I decided to harvest my 3 month old sweet potatoes.

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It was incredibly delightful to dig up the tubers. I’d pull up the vine holding the sweet potatoes and yank out 5 or 6 at a time. They were orange, covered in soil, of various shapes and sizes, and made me oh so happy to see. Then, with my hands, I’d feel around underneath the soil for more sweet potatoes and, every time I’d find a new random drifter, I’d feel the joy and surprise that made me fall in love with gardening in the first place.

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After all was said and done, we ended up with about 10 pounds of sweet potatoes!

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After we harvested, I made sure to plant some of the rooting vines as well as to sacrifice one sweet potato for creating a new set of slips. I love how gardening exposes us to the endless cycles that create and sustain life ❤

 

Garden Update – July 2018

This month the garden seems to be thriving. Our watermelon vine is beginning to produce beautifully tiny watermelon, our Japanese eggplant plant is growing about 10 luscious eggplants, and our sweet potatoes are about ready to harvest.

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The tendrils on our watermelon vine act like hands…constantly reaching for support.

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Our peppers are just beginning to grow and our radishes look ready to harvest.

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We’ve been picking the mangoes off of our mango tree and  letting them sit on the counter to ripen. We had our first home-grown mango last weekend and it was so buttery and meaty…very delicious. I picked 6 more last Saturday and left them on the counter…we’ll be enjoying lots of home-grown mango next weekend.

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Our starfruit tree has millions of pretty pink flowers. We’re hoping that soon we’ll have many delicious star fruit to eat.

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A rare finding on our star fruit tree: a spider guarding its prey.

Shaun has been working hard to prepare a new garden space: our unsightly and very narrow side yard. We brainstormed ideas for this space for months and finally decided on creating a banana patch. Our side yard only gets about an hour or two of direct sunlight a day. This space is usually shaded and a little humid. It’s actually a great place to grow bananas! Last Saturday, we headed over to Going Bananas in Homestead and purchased several different varieties of banana plants. What a lovely idea. The transformation of what once was the “junk alley” into a functional space where we can grow more food! Shaun is placing a series of stepping stones in that space currently. He has to go through the taxing process of digging each one into the ground, leveling each tile with gravel and sand, and then working soil around each stone. It’s a big undertaking…thank goodness he loves to work with his hands! Bonus: he’s a craftsman and loves to do things extremely well…my dream guy!

Here is a little look at our work in progress…

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After Shaun digs in each stone, we’ll add some whimsical ground cover (sweet potato vine and mimosa), some mint for in between the stones, some mulch, and maybe a large easel and chalkboard to inspire the children to use this space. Oh, and we’re going to add a pergola arch at the entrance of the alley along with a little “secret garden door”. I cannot wait until this little space comes to life!

 

A Very Fun Fourth…

Yesterday was a lovely day. Waking up late, preparing a delicious breakfast, and lounging around with my little family is the best. We had promised Dylan that we’d go to the clubhouse pool so, at about 12pm, we drove over. We didn’t imagine that there would be so many people there. With no parking space in sight, and what seemed like thousands of cars driving around in search of one, we decided to go back home. Dylan’s disappointment was obvious. He looked out the window and began to cry. Stella wondered why we got ready for what she likes to call “Water Day”, drove around for 5 minutes, and returned home. Shaun and I hated to break a promise but we also realized how stressful it might be to be in such a crowd with two young children on such a holiday. There had to be something else we could do that was just as fun. I suggested we have our own “Water Day” in our backyard. Dylan perked up and Stella smiled. We got home and set up for some fun.

It turned out to be a very exciting time, I’m sure more fun than we would have had crowded like sardines in our clubhouse pool. Shaun and I forgot ourselves and became immersed in the moment with our kids. We blasted summer time music, set up our funny little octopus, and filled about 80 water balloons. The water balloons were my favorite. I purchased those easy to fill water balloon sets from Costco and they were so worth it. In 2 minutes we had 40 water balloons. We found fun ways to pop them and then we made more. Shaun especially loved throwing them up in the air and getting them to land on his head. Dylan and Stella thought that was the funniest thing ever.

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Later in the evening, we took our little $10 pack of fireworks outside and lit them up. We didn’t realize that each firework does essentially the same thing. Nonetheless, Dylan and Stella loved them. During this time, our neighbors, who must have spent hundreds on their fireworks, began to light up the sky with a beautiful display of colorful explosions. We ran to the field in front of our house to watch. It sounded like cannons being shot into the sky. It was exhilarating to watch.

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What a fun fourth of July ❤

Starting a Tiny Food Forest in South Florida

It’s been a while since my last post. When I started blogging again, I intended on creating one post a week as a way to document my life, growth, and creativity. It seemed easy enough but, as I dug deeper into the world of gardening, as each weekend became consumed by this ever-growing and exciting interest, I felt myself falling deeper into this beautiful rabbit hole. Every free moment was a chance to research, to better understand the heart of gardening in South Florida. I felt captivated by the idea of creating more than just a vegetable garden…I wanted to create an edible yard.

Food forest was a term I first heard of when my boss excitedly mentioned it to me. She dreams of transforming the wilderness that envelops our school into a forest filled with delicious food. What a beautiful concept. I loved the idea from the start but, like most people, I was unsure of what, exactly constituted a food forest. At first, I thought a food forest meant growing fruits and vegetables neatly arranged in earth boxes and adding some fruit trees nearby but that’s not it at all. A food forest is, as it’s name implies, a lush, wild forest where nearly everything is edible. The aim of a food forest is to imitate what goes on in a natural forest but to revolve those principles around food bearing plants. So, there are several plants of varying heights (mostly fruit trees, perennial shrubs, herbs, and ground covers like sweet potato) that are planted in such a way that they create layers like you find in a forest.

So, with a better understanding of what constitutes a food forest and a growing love for this beautiful, natural philosophy, I endeavored to create my own tiny food forest in the corner of our small backyard. When researching tiny food forests in South Florida, I couldn’t really find many videos showcasing a food forest as small as ours. So, with no clear model to emulate, I researched food forests in South Florida, learned about growing foods better adapted to our South Florida climate, purchased many plants from special nurseries, and then began to arrange my new plants and trees in a manner that is aesthetically pleasing but also fulfills the components of a food forest. No easy task but fun and exciting nonetheless.

After many hours of research, endless visits to local nurseries, and hours and hours of hard labor and with no clear end in sight, I wanted to capture our progress as a way to look back as well as a way to share our experience with others. I plan on documenting the progress of our food forest on the blog as it continues to change and grow so that we can track our progress and look back on all the work and dedication it took to create.

Here’s a look at our little work in progress…

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We still have to mulch it and set up a clear path but everything seems to be neatly placed and growing well. I long to see this space in a few months when everything has grown to fill the empty spaces…I love nothing more than a lush, green space.

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Our tiny food forest consists of a mango tree, a lychee tree, cranberry hibiscus plants,  many hardy herbs, Okinowa spinach, Brazilian spinach, a mulberry tree, a jaboticaba tree,  mimosa & comfrey (as nitrogen fixers), a canistel tree, lemongrass, a few banana plants, winged beans, a fig tree, and more. I think I counted about 45 plants in that tiny space. I’m sure it seems like we are growing too many plants but you’d be surprised how much can grow in a small space. Think of a forest and how everything grows on top on each other, now imagine if everything was edible. That’s what we’re doing.

Near our forest, we have earth boxes growing eggplant, watermelon, cucumber, sweet potato, leeks, peppers, malabar spinach, herbs, and radishes.

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We have two more fig trees, calamondin, and carrots all growing happily in pots.

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And we have a starfruit tree, a lemon guava tree, the praying hands banana plant, an avocado tree, a Jamaican cherry tree, and a persimmon tree growing in other areas in our backyard.

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Yes, we are obsessed with our garden at the moment. Gardening in this way, where you are growing your own food and watching the lives of amazing plants, is very fulfilling. We feel a profound sense of excitement and joy every morning when we wake up and check on our garden as well as every evening when we all gather in our garden, water the plants, and anticipate the bountiful harvests that we will soon have ❤

Frogs, Toads, and Spiders in My Garden

I love frogs. I find their big eyes, bubble tipped fingers, and propensity for jumping on your face very charming. When I moved into my home last summer, I noticed a family of Cuban tree frogs living on our avocado tree. Every day, I’d look closely at the avocado tree and, more often than not, I’d find at least one of the little tree frogs. Then, when fall came rolling in, the frogs disappeared. Now, with the wet and rainy season upon us. we’re seeing the Cuban tree frog again! This time, the frogs are much bigger and enjoy climbing on our windows at night. We’ve spotted them twice, caught them, and brought them inside to show Dylan and Stella. I like to think they are the same family of frogs, returning to their favorite home in warmer weather.

Now, lets talk about toads. Toads, are big, warty, and look down right mean. When we first moved into our new home, we noticed toads right away. Big, scary toads hiding under the rocks, beneath the long patches of grass, in flower pots, just anywhere where they could stay wet. I warned my son about the toad’s defense of secreting poisonous liquid from it’s skin to poison predators so now, naturally, he’s terrified of them.

By the way, did you know that toads are actually frogs?! They’re just a different type of frog. I was researching toads and how to encourage toads in your garden (while keeping them far away from your pets and children) when I stumbled upon that little juicy tidbit.

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I’ve never seen so many types of spiders in one place as I’ve encountered in my garden. I see spiny orb weavers, wolf spiders, little orange spiders, these cool metallic spiders, really weird, sea star looking spiders, and more. I’m kind of fearfully fascinated by spiders. I like them, I enjoy watching as they spin their webs in the early evening hours, I always check out their webs to see what they’re having for dinner, but I don’t want to touch them or get too close.

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Whatever I may feel about the above mentioned creatures, I know that seeing them in my garden means that I’m doing something right. Finding frogs, toads, and spiders in your back yard is a good sign that you have a thriving ecosystem. It means that there are plenty of spaces for these creatures to set up camp, there is a steady stream of food for them to eat, and that you have a good, healthy environment. The biggest benefit of having frogs, toads, and spiders in your garden is that they eat all sorts of bugs that would otherwise be eating your plants or biting you. When you practice organic gardening, it’s hard to find ways to keep the bugs off of your plants. Having frogs, toads, and spiders in your garden is actually the most natural pest control out there.

Now, what if you don’t see these guys in your garden and want to attract them?

From my experience, the best way to attract these creatures is to create a wild garden with many nooks and crevices for these creatures to use. Ever since we moved to our home last June, we’ve been working on our garden. When we first moved in, the yard was a flat piece of lawn. There were no plants…not even one. It was a blank canvas for us. So, we sat down with a sheet of paper and a pencil and drew what we imagined to be our dream garden and, little by little, we have been bringing that dream to life. Now, when we go outside and see so many beautifully healthy plants, so much complexity and so much life, we marvel at the natural beauty.

Another piece of advice that helps keep creatures in your garden is that you don’t manicure your yard too much. A wild garden is just what frogs, toads, and spiders are attracted to. They’ll have plenty of spaces to hide and plenty of food to eat. So, in our backyard, we let our porter weed grow out of control for a while, we leave long grass to shade toads for as long as my husband can stand it, we let our vines grow wild, and we have a wide variety of plants all around. I think it’s that simple…add several plants to your yard, create nooks for creatures to use, and let your yard grow a little wild, and the creatures will deem your space the perfect environment.

DIY – Sweet Potato Slips

I never knew that sweet potatoes came from slips. Slips, being the little shoots that grow off of a sweet potato, is the way to grow new sweet potatoes. I don’t know what I thought before…maybe there was some type of sweet potato seed? I mean, how did sweet potatoes come to be anyway? I’m sure there is a seed somewhere in that equation.  Anyway, when I decided to dedicate one of my garden boxes to the sweet potato, I researched and learned a lot. Creating slips is like a beautiful science experiment. When I started doing it on my own, I knew I wanted to share it on my blog because it’s so interesting and easy.

So, there are two ways to make slips: the first is to take one sweet potato, place two tooth picks near the top end of that sweet potato, and place the sweet potato in a mason jar that is about 1/3 filled with water. You keep it on your window sill and change out the water every few days. In a few weeks, when you see many medium-sized leaves on your slips, you can just pick them off and plant them.

Here is a picture of the one I have on my windowsill. This was taken about a week ago…

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And here is that same sweet potato today…

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I honestly think it looks so pretty that I just might keep it there as a decorative piece.

The next way (and much easier way) is to take one sweet potato and put it in the soil. I have an earth box filled with soil that I placed it in. This works the same as the previous way, just pick the slips off when they look sturdy enough and plant them. For sure, this way is the faster route to growing sweet potato slips. The potato thrives off of the nutrients in the soil as well as the warmth of the sunlight.

Here is a picture of a sweet potato that I planted directly in my garden bed.

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I actually had already pulled slips off of that sweet potato and planted them in the garden bed. That’s how much faster it is to create slips through this method.

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So, that’s all it takes to make sweet potato slips. It’s that easy. And, you know what else?   The sweet potato is one of the few plants that is recommended to be started from February to June. It’s the novice gardener’s dream ❤