Celebrating Fall and Samhain

dsc08863September and October are two very magical months. The change from summer to fall can be seen everywhere even here in the low desert.  I’m sure the same goes for the Southern Hemisphere too in the equivalent months. About a month before the equinox the light changes. It becomes slightly warmer and less harsh. I think anyone who spends a significant amount of time outside, either observing weather, gardening, looking at the stars, or similar will notice this. As a photographer I always look for light. I think artists see the change in light temperature the easiest.

dsc08890I’ve written about celebrating fall many times before. This year I stepped up my game and added a fall countdown calendar like we have for spring and winter and summer.  I find this helps us mark the season a little more formally, with various activities and crafts leading up to the day of the equinox.  By making a point to focus on the change of seasons I find my children are more connected to the passing of time and how nature is affected by it.

DSC07415This year I’ve decided to focus on the idea of Samhain (Sow-ween) for our October celebrations. We’ve already added all the earth celebrations, why not this one too?  The focus behind this celtic holiday was honoring the dead and the thinning of the veils between the fairy world and ours.  Here is the catch though, it’s not about being terrified of the dead, being scared or blood and monsters. It was actually the New Year’s celebration for the Celts, the cycle of death and rebirth. I like this more gentle version that includes honoring the dead and feeling comfortable with death rather than the scary version that terrifies children (and adults). So we will try it this year with dinner and some treats. There will of course still be  costumes and a party with friends but not so much emphasis on the scary part. Maybe it’s because the real world is scary enough right now I don’t need to pretend that there are monsters out there.

Happy Fall Equinox everyone!

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In My Garden

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The other night as I was bringing the dish water out to the compost pile (yes I have to water my compost it’s so dry here) I commented to D about how nice it was that the days and nights are getting cooler. He leaned in and squinted at the thermometer on the porch and laughed, “If you call 92 degrees at 6pm cool.”

Yes, I do consider that cooler. When it’s 65 in the morning and I can walk the garden wearing a cardigan, a cup of tea in hand and admire all the tomato flowers that have come back due to the cooler weather, well that’s cool September weather to me.

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This summer has been a really great learning experience. I’ve had some spectacular failures and some horrible bug issues. But I like to think of those as opportunities to become a better gardener. A gardener who understands the needs of the soil and the plants better.

In the garden right now: bell peppers, chili peppers, tomatoes, pumpkin, okra, eggplant, three types of basil, beans, cucumbers, sunflowers, and lots of herbs.

Of the weekend I planted radishes, carrots, spinach and chard.

Over the summer I had to take the green house apart because several strong storms tried to take it away. I’ll be setting that up again soon and starting things from seed for a winter garden.

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This gangly looking plant is amaranth. It grows like a weed around here and makes very nutritious and tasty seeds. I’m growing it out back by the compost pile in an effort to attract the birds to the back of the garden where they can eat this instead of  the more tender plants. I will let this go to seed and hope that next spring there is a whole lot of them here ready and waiting for the on slot of starving finches.

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Lastly, my compost pile. I don’t talk about it very much… it’s not very pretty. I have two piles going right now. I’m really proud of these piles. I’ve been putting in material for months and months and months, and nothing was happening. Then one day I realized it was just too dry to decompose anything. So I began tossing my dish water on the compost rather than the various plants around the yard. Within hours the pile was hot. It shrunk at least two feet lower within a few days. This is the stage it’s currently at. I wanted to show the compost because you rarely see that kind of thing even in gardening books. I finally get how to compost.

The garden circle is starting to be connected. I have every intention of making my small urban garden into a functioning permaculture system. I like to call this “the learning garden”.

How did your gardens do this summer?

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Summer’s End

DSC08822Hello there! I guess I took an unintentional break from this space. I found that over the summer I had nothing to say. This morning however, I was wandering my garden as I do every morning looking for whatever needs to be seen, and I suddenly had the feeling of needing to reconnect with my blog and all of you lovely people who are following me here. So I’m stepping back in.

Our lives have been so full this summer between camping trips, visits with friends, dinner parties, and family time. Oh, there has been lots of cleaning too. D decided we should have a cleaning and gelato day once a month. This has actually worked incredibly well for us. The house is so much cleaner as a result and my job as main house cleaner during the week seems less daunting when there isn’t a mass of dust bunnies and clutter.

DSC08766I’m welcoming fall with all my being. It has been a hot, dry summer here. Most of the storms have moved right around our part of the city leaving the garden and my rain barrels so dry. It was a really good learning experience though. It changed my game plan for next year in really big way. I’ll get to that in another post soon for those of you interested in low desert gardening.


I have also been doing a lot of crafty making and blogging elsewhere during this break. If you don’t know I am the Media Curator for Sparkle Stories. You can see where I’ve been putting a lot of creative time in the Sparkle Crafts section of their blog. I think this was a big reason I stopped blogging; that, and our homeschooling starting up more intensively.

As for my personal crafting, I made a sweater for V and am working on one for S. I’ve made dresses for the girls and myself, and even doll clothes for their waldorf dolls. Now as we head into fall and Samhain and Halloween draw near it’s all about costumes. This year I’m taking a more gentle an earthy approach to the this holiday: less scary and more magic; more on that later too (can you see I’ve got lots to talk about now). The whole family is getting new costumes, which I will leave for a surprise post when they are all done.

All and all, things are good and I am happy to be back in this space.

How are you all doing?

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This is Camping

DSC08753 DSC08757 DSC08758 DSC08759 DSC08760 DSC08761 DSC08764 DSC08765 DSC08769 DSC08773There is something about camping that brings us out of our shells. Camping means relying on and living in close proximity to others. If you are lucky enough to find people who like to camp like you do, then you are set.

Did you know a place this beautiful and not at all like a desert exists in southern Arizona? Did you know that it’s okay once in awhile to have “all the things smore’s” (albeit all the ingredients were gluten free and vegan)?

I dare  say that the best conversations happen around a campfire late at night with owls hooting, a stainless steel glass of wine in your hand, and a million stars in the sky.

It’s places and trips like these that stop time. That make this one precious life so worthwhile.

I’ve loved camping since I was child. We went camping like this every summer. It looked slightly different depending on which parent I was with. If it was my dad we camped in the back of his truck under the camper shell. He always brought a watermelon and would put it in the river surrounded by rocks to stay cool. If it was with my mom we would camp out in her 1970’s orange canvas A-frame tent. We had a gas stove and kerosene lamp that lit up the whole woods around us. No matter how we camped, it was always fun.

What does your camping look like?

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In My Garden

DSC08729 DSC08730 DSC08731 DSC08732 DSC08733 DSC08734 DSC08735 DSC08736 DSC08737 DSC08738 DSC08739In June a desert garden is a desperate place. Both plants and animals (humans included) are in a fight to survive. The plants need water daily and lots of shade to survive the heat before the rains come. I recently learned that tender plants like those in a vegetable garden can actually get too much sun, making it hard for them to keep up with proper photosynthesis, so they need shade. Unlike more northern places where it’s not necessary to shade plants.

The birds have been desperate for water and food. They come and eat all the tender leaves. I’ve let them have the one kale plant and one chard plant and given up on the sunflowers and zinnias. I’ve seeded again this weekend so hopefully I’ll have flowers come August.

This is not to say that things aren’t going well, they are. We had our first monsoon storm this weekend. My rain barrel harvested 25 gallons of water in less than an hour. The plants were ever so happy about all the rain. I’ve harvested 18 1/2 pounds of tomatoes! The season has barely begun and all those tomatoes already. There are lots of beans and basil, we harvest 8 pounds of apples from our trees. I know it feels a bit early for apples but we are at such a low elevation that they ripen early.

I’ve been harvesting potatoes. This is my first year growing them. Oh these little spuds are delicious. There don’t seem to be many potatoes in the ground. I’m waiting till the plants die back but I’m still not finding as many as I thought from the way they grew. Which makes me think growing them in a big barrel might be better. Easier to keep the soil moist and to mound up the soil around the plants.

This weekend the girls and I did three sisters monsoon planting. It’s really more like 5 sisters, that being: corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and amaranth. This is an experiment I’ve not tried yet. My hope is by planting with the rains, I will have planted late enough that the squash bugs are done, there is more wild food for the birds to eat, and lots of water for the plants.

With Summer Solstice come and gone we are now in full swing of summer. Wish you slow happy days!

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In My Garden

DSC08667 DSC08692 DSC08695 DSC08696 DSC08697 DSC08698 DSC08699 DSC08700 DSC08701 DSC08702Well apparently this has turned into a garden blog for now! Honestly, with the arrival of almost summer, most of our normal homeschool activities are coming to a close for the summer season and saying goodbye to friends moving away and getting to know new friends, I’ve hardly had time to sit down at the computer.

But this weekend I was outside a lot and so I thought I would do a garden update.

I harvested chili this past week and made a batch of my dear friend Lisa’s pickled hot sauce. I also made a jar of fridge dilly beans.

Growing in the garden right now are:

  • bush beans
  • chili
  • bell peppers
  • lettuce
  • chard
  • kale
  • zucchini
  • carrots (the last of them)
  • tomatoes
  • garlic (almost ready to come out of the ground)
  • potatoes
  • dill
  • basil
  • rosemary
  • sage
  • lemon balm
  • chinese chives
  • thyme
  • oregano
  • parsley
  • terragon
  • sunflowers
  • apples
  • figs
  • mulberries
  • okra
  • strawberries

Ok, this list is getting crazy long! But great news is, I grew enough tomatoes last year to make it through to this season! I did not buy canned tomatoes from the store this past year. There are already tomatoes ripening on the vine.

At the end of June I will plant for the monsoons. Here in the desert you plant in late february/early March for a May/June harvest and then you plant or seed again at the end of June for a September harvest.

I have never done monsoon planting so I thought I would try it. I’ve been saving all the water hungry plants for this time. I bought all desert adapted seeds for this as well. I’ve got Navajo melons, hopi corn, amaranth, tohono o’odham pumpkins and sunflowers. I also bought a packet of monsoon season wildflowers, which I plan to seed in the backyard around my ugly cinder block walls.

It’s a really good time to be in the garden right now!

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Morning in the Garden

DSC08652DSC08654 DSC08655 DSC08656 DSC08657 DSC08658 DSC08659 DSC08660 DSC08661 DSC08662 DSC08663 DSC08664 DSC08665 DSC08666DSC08651The weather these past few weeks has been idyllic. We have had daytime highs of 78 and a slight breeze. The garden is loving this and so am I. While it lasts I have been vigorously tending to all the tedious parts of being a full-time gardener such as adding mulch, fertilizing where needed, pruning staking plants that are falling over, and removing any heat intolerant plants. The heat is coming this week with highs of 105 at the end of the week. Whew, I’m already pulling out all my popsicle and no bake recipes. Time for my oven to retire and the grill to come out of hibernation.

I can see the summer produce growing already, tomatoes on the vines, figs, cucumber flowers, green beans, and even sprouting zucchini. I’m ready for summers bounty!

For mother’s day I spent a good part of my afternoon getting a garden manicure, complete with black dirt under my nails. I would say one of the better smells in life is that of well-rotted compost.



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In My Garden

Before we left on vacation, my garden looked like this. Now my garden looks like this!


DSC08600 DSC08601 DSC08603 DSC08604 DSC08605DSC08607 DSC08608 DSC08609 DSC08610 DSC08617 DSC08622 DSC08624 DSC08626All in all, things are going really well in this spring garden. I harvested 6 pounds of shelled peas, 3 quart bags of strawberries, 3 pounds of carrots, a dozen or so heads of lettuce, countless chard leaves, a dozen beets and a fortune’s worth of eggs.

The herb bed is doing really well. Basil is coming in nicely all over the garden. I haven’t really kept track of how much I am saving by growing my own veggies, all I know is it has greatly turned my eating habits towards a mainly plant-based diet. I eat veggies from the garden at almost every meal.

Coming up is chili, green beans, tomatoes, eggplants. I recently planted zucchini and okra. We’ve had very mild weather recently, and so I’m not sure how long it will take that okra to sprout. I think this year I will forgo popping corn in favor of sweet corn and pumpkins for butternuts. The popping corn is so tiny and takes so much water and the pumpkins, well, I’d need to expand the garden another 30 feet just to make room for those!

Also, today is Beltane or May Day! We’ve made to the halfway mark between spring and summer. We’ll spend today outside, first at the farmer’s market then in the garden to play and plant things and finally we’ll have a bonfire and small feast. We’ve even made flower crowns for the occasion!

Happy Beltane everyone.

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DSC08336DSC08329DSC08335DSC08332DSC08334DSC08333Il Pozzo di San Patrizio is one of the neatest places to visit. It’s a very deep well, started in the 1500s, that is 62 meters deep. It has a double helix staircase that you use to climb down to the bottom and back up again. 248 stairs down and 248 back out again.

DSC08457Tomorrow we are traveling home. It has been a lovely three weeks, but we are already to get home. My garden is waiting, so is my bed. I miss my own bed. (Don’t tell my mother in-law but the guest bed is horrible and it gave me a sore back and bruises on my hips.)

DSC08358We saw so many little towns and had picnics whenever we could. Yes, there was whining and complaining and a few tantrums here and there by parents and kids alike, but we are coming home with lots of good memories and so many books! We’ll miss our family for sure but it was a great trip and we look forward to our next adventure!


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When in Rome…

DSC08109 DSC08120 DSC08129 DSC08135 DSC08145 DSC08153 DSC08155 DSC08159 DSC08167 DSC08182 DSC08187 DSC08189You could live your whole life in Rome and never see everything. We took the train to Rome and met up with friends. We saw lots of famous things from afar as it was (coincidentally) a special day where all the monuments and museums that you normally paid to get into were free. All of those monuments were mobbed with Romani and tourists alike. So we just zoomed by them, sticking instead to tiny side streets and having lunch in the old Jewish Ghetto. Carciofi alla Giudea, think artichoke “potato chips”, one of my favorite roman foods.

Of course there was gelato eating to do and art appreciation. These girls don’t even realize they saw three Caravaggio paintings and a Michelangelo sculpture in person!

We’ll be back to Rome on calmer day. We’ve got more monuments to see… and gelato to eat.

Ciao a tutti!

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Posted in Travels | 3 Comments