Birthday Month Strawberries

Mosaic Community Strawberries
Strawberry patch belonging to my co-housing community, right next to our herb garden.

Happy June!

June is my “birthday month,” so I hold a special affection for this time of year.  It is also the month that strawberry plants bear abundant fruit in New England.  At this very moment, I am lifting up my jar full of iced sun tea garnished with fresh mint, a lemon wedge and chunks of ginger.  With my tea I toast you a merry month of June full of warmth, sunshine, fragrant summer rain showers and lots of strawberries!

In the co-housing community where I live,  many of my neighbors cultivate their own strawberry patches.  Since their season is so short, we can’t get enough of them when they finally ripen!  We also have a community patch; these bright red berries make a wonderfully satisfying snack for the children who feast on them between their outside games.

Health Benefits from Strawberries

In addition to being pretty and sweet, strawberries also contain a bunch of anti-oxidants that boost your immune system, reduce inflammation and support the health of your eyes.  They contain magnesium and potassium that help reduce blood pressure, and folic acid that prevents birth defects such as spina bifida.  Shaped like hearts, they are a powerfully heart-healthy food!

Strawberries and Mint
A bowl of strawberries to snack on & mint for garnishing tea

5 Ways to Spread Love with Strawberries

There’s so many strawberries ripening now, so it’s a good thing that there’s so many things to do with them. Here are some ways to enjoy them:

Freeze Them: One tradition I’ve been keeping up the past several years is to wash a handful, spread them out on a pan in my freezer, then store them in a bag to blend with milk for a delicious smoothie in the middle of winter.  It’s so satisfying to enjoy their fresh delicious flavor when snow is piling up outside our windows.

Make a Decadent Dessert: Strawberries topped with whipped cream make a delicious finale for the evening meal.

Garnish your Oatmeal with them: Adding the sweetness of strawberries to a bowl of morning oatmeal increases its power to fill you up for a busy morning.

Prepare a batch of Preserves: If you love to preserve food, home-grown strawberries make the sweetest jams.

Bake a Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp:  Finally, here is a recipe I adapted and shared with a friend who came over for a visit.

Strawberries and Rhubarb (2)

 

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Ingredients:

1/2 Tablespoon Coconut oil

2 Tablespoons Butter

1 Cup freshly-harvested Rhubarb, peeled and chopped small

2 Cups freshly-harvested Strawberries, culled and washed

1 Tablespoon Ginger root, peeled and grated

1 Cup Oats

2 Tablespoons Ground Cinnamon

1 Teaspoon organic raw honey

How to make it:

  1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2.  Coat baking dish with coconut oil.
  3.  Chop strawberries and rhubarb and mix them together with a tablespoon of honey.
  4.  Add grated ginger and toss with fruit and honey.
  5.  Spread fruit mix evenly in baking dish.
  6.  In a separate bowl, cut butter into thin pats and knead into oats until it becomes the texture of a coarse meal.
  7.  Add ground cinnamon and toss together.
  8.  Top the fruit mix with the oats mix in the baking dish.
  9. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden around the edges.
  10.  Serve and enjoy with a scoop of ice cream.

Bon Appetit!

 

 

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Celebrating Renewal & Home-Grown Food

Breakfast and Journaling on our Back Deck
Balmy mornings are perfect for eating breakfast and writing on the back deck overlooking our gardens.

The Easy Breezy Longer Days of Spring and Summer

Spring has finally settled in New England.  Most days are warm and breezy, so we can walk around free from extra layers of clothing.  The children in our co-housing village have already kicked off their shoes and run around barefoot.  Days of sunshine coax daffodils and tulips to blossom.  The rainy days hold their own charm with the fresh fragrance and vibrant colors they bring forth from Earth as she awakens.  Tree buds adorn branches in an exciting array of soft pastels that will deepen as spring becomes summer.

When the sounds and scents wafting in through our windows diminish our powers of concentration, nature holds the antidote ~ we can regain our focus with a brisk walk to soak in the generous energy of the sun.  Adding to the charm of the season, longer hours of daylight give us extra time to relax and play after work.

Rewards for the Hard Work of Gardening

Blooming Rhubarb
Lush stalks of rhubarb are some of the first “fruits” of the growing season.

Springtime means longer hours to play, but it also makes the weeds grow taller and our gardens become jungles if we don’t spend some time preparing them for growing flowers and food.  I am grateful that my body is whole enough this spring to spend time in our gardens, working to clear our beds of debris and feed them with mulch.  I am also grateful for help from my daughter and her friends:  weeding our veggie beds, sewing seeds, watering and mowing the grass.

Love from the Earth

Chives!
Chives and mint co-exist happily in the small bed by the stairs of our back deck.

The Earth has rewarded us for our care.  Our spending time and attention on our gardens has created beautiful spaces for flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables to grow this summer.  The rhubarb has ripened, mint leaves have blossomed for garnishing our sun tea, and chives have sprouted tall enough to cut some for sautéing in the skillet with vegetables.

Eating the satisfying delicious early harvests that have grown and ripened already gives us hope to anticipate a continued bountiful harvest this season.  Around the cycle of planting, watering and continued weeding, there is time to enjoy the critters who visit us often: frogs, snakes, grasshoppers, dragonflies and birds.  The healthy glow of our gardens and music of the chimes in the rock garden below our deck is sweetest for me at sunset.

Anticipation for the good things our Earth will give us is the result of a hope that is conceived from the combination of hard work, vision and trust.  Time and energy spent cultivating the spaces we’ve built for food to grow has already been rewarded with the blossoming of flowers and edible new life.

veggie beds incl weed fabric and gravel

Gardening Tasks Completed and Adventures that Await Us

The image above reflects the work I’ve done to transform our gardens into the spaces I envision them to become.  In addition to weeding and mulching the beds, other work has been done to the space around them:

  • The chicken wire fencing and trellises that have surrounded the three beds for the past 8 years were given to our chicken club to use in expanding the run around our coop.
  • One of the trellises was replaced with colorful red caging purchased last year.
  • Weeds were dug out of the earth and replaced with fabric, gravel, and slate to create a path for walking around the beds.

The tasks that we look forward to completing by the end of the summer:

  • Eventually, a stone wall will stand between our gardens and the swale in back of them.
  • More weeds will be dug up and replaced by fabric, gravel and slate.
  • Late-summer vegetable seeds will be sown in the middle bed.
  • Sunflower seeds will be sown around the periphery of the garden and in a dedicated bed.
  • Old, battered fencing around some of our bushes (e.g. hydrangea, black currant, sunflowers) will be replaced with fresh border decor.

The Journey Continues…

Over the course of the summer,  I will photograph the progress we make on transforming our gardens into places of deeper enchantment for my family and friends, and to celebrate the harvests that grow in our beds.  The fruits we look forward to celebrating in June are our strawberries.  I’ll likely include a recipe that features them.  See you next month!

 

Spring Emerges Through the Snow

Delicously Nutritious Garden Salad!
A giant garden salad celebrates the season.

Of Fools & Showers

Happy April, month of Fools!  It’s also the month of showers that bring May flowers.  I’ve seen as many snow showers as rain showers this month, and this morning a light layer of frost covered our land.  Are we fools to think that winter has receded enough for us to sow seeds and expect plants to grow from them?  Luckily, there are hardy plants that will blossom and grow despite the frost.  Peas, kale and radishes are a few.

Inspired by the warmth of Easter weekend and to welcome the season properly, I made a large garden salad for my family to share last week.  With the salad we sipped icy glasses of sun tea brewed on my back deck and garnished with cinnamon, lemon, ginger root and mint leaves.

 

Purple Crocuses
Our purple crocuses tell us Spring has finally arrived!

Signs of Hope

Despite the daily fluctuations in temperature, the crocuses are finally making their appearance in gardens around our co-housing community, including my daughter’s flower garden.  There are also some at the bottom of my hydrangea bush and in my own flower garden.  They are not alone. Iris leaves are preparing to grow stems and flowers.  The branches of my black currant bush are laced with small green buds.  The moss beneath our feet is soft and earthy.  We can safely announce that the seasonal wheel has finally reached the end of its slow turn toward Spring!

 

Coiled Garden Hose
Garden hose ready to water plants

The Tools are Ready

Now that New England has seen a warm weekend perfect for planting, hoses are present in yards around the neighborhood, and in our community gardens.  My trowel, hand rake and kneeling pad now have a new place on my back deck, ready for the work that needs to be done this summer. 

My gardens will be busy making delicious organic food to eat, often straight from the plants.  I will be busy re-designing my gardens to be beautiful and inviting to visit.

 

CoCo's Veggie Garden 2018.jpg
My daughter’s garden bed for growing veggies

Staking a Claim

My thirteen-year-old daughter has been thriving since our return to home-schooling in February.  We have committed to radical unschooling with her and it’s been working well.  Her curiosity and love of learning have bounced back as she has satisfied her penchant for reading and spending many hours outside.  She walks dogs, climbs rocks and plays games with friends daily.

This year she has adopted one of our raised beds as her own vegetable garden.  She weeded it, planted seeds, installed a trellis, and is diligent about watering it all.  We look forward to working the the garden together later this week.

Growing and Climbing Like Vines

Blossoming Beneath the Surface

Happy Spring to you!  We’ve seen Pi Day, St. Patrick’s Day and the Vernal Equinox/Ostara come and go, yet the snow continues to cover the ground in New England.  We hope and trust that under the white shroud of crunchy crystals, the earth is preparing to bless us with a panorama of brightly colored buds.  The tender beginnings of flowers and leaves are ready to announce their presence to a world that yearns for their cheer.  The snow is ready to melt, and so are our hearts.

Winter Crop hoop houses
Winter hoop houses hold growing greens for our community to make salads

 

Growing Like a Vine

Global warming has dumped upon us a series of very unusual storms this season and many areas of the world are reeling from them.  Despite such phenomena, I believe that the earth will manage to deliver her cyclical rebirth through the flowers and plants that will sprout and become green.  The cold winter will recede to let her have her way with the world.

Vines are one type of plant whose growth pattern seems to run parallel to human development.   All types of vines begin small and tender like infants, in the form of fragile seedlings.  With enough sunshine and water they take off, running up trellises at light speed like happy growing children.  A vine is one type of plant that needs just an ounce of life-giving energy in the form of basic nutrients to blossom and run rampant.  With a moderate amount of encouragement, they blossom beautifully and reach for the sky.

Peas are one of my favorite types of vine, which love to climb toward the sun as they grow.  March is the time I usually sow snap pea seeds in my gardens.  I provide trellises to support the nature of their growth patterns and they reward me with beautiful flowers and a harvest of sweet pods full of peas to snack on.  Pea plants tolerate a wide range of summer temperatures, so if I plan well I can grow up to three cycles of snap peas in one summer season.

Ivy as a Symbol of the Vine Family

Peas are not the only prolific type of vine plant.  Pole beans and grapes are others. Gourds are also very fruitful, delivering their delicious creations at varying times throughout the summer growing season.  Watermelon is the sweetest of them.  Then there’s the yellow squash, zucchini, and butternut squash.

Painted Ivy
A section of ivy painted with acrylics by my daughter around our back door frame

Finally, there is the ivy plant.  Ivy’s fresh green leaves begin sprouting past their dried up ancestors in April, and by July the plant needs to be cut back so that it doesn’t crowd out everything else I’m trying to grow.  In the fall, ivy is a symbol of abundance that lasts the longest of all climbing vine plants before it succumbs to the hibernation demanded by winter.  Some have foliage that turn bright colors before they die, but most remain green.

To keep the essence of green in our homes throughout the cold winter months, my daughter and I have painted ivy around our back door frame.  The back door opens onto a deck with stairs that lead to our back yard, where our gardens are.  Below the stairs is a rock garden where ivy used to climb up the frame. Since I learned that climbing vines can damage any standing structures they latch onto and contribute to their premature decay, my daughter and I have taken to painting the ivy instead, using a stencil.

When the days become seasonably warmer, we will take our stencil outside to paint ivy on the wooden columns that hold up the deck stairs, to replace the climbing ivy that was removed last year.

Climbing Toward the Sun

Sometimes I find myself feeling akin to a vine.  With a little care, I’ll grow tall and leafy and climb around any support structure provided for me.  With the support of an ornate trellis to cling to, I will climb toward the sun.  The extent of my growing more branches and leaves depends on the energy that I take in and the height of my trellis.  From my growth as a vine, my leaves are the gifts I share with the world: music, writing, leading labyrinth walks, and giving love through cooking and baking.

What forms my support trellis?  I believe that eating well, giving myself enough rest, and doing what makes me happy are all parts of my trellis.  So are my friends, family and co-housing neighbors.  What materials work together to provide a support trellis for you to climb around as you grow?  Please feel free to share as a comment below.  I look forward to reading them.

We all can use the support of trellises.  Sometimes we are called upon to play the trellis for friends or family members who need our support.  Small nurturing gestures show love that encourages our fellow humans to grow fresh branches with many leaves that reach far and wide.  Let us be trellises for one another in these challenging times.

My rock garden - featuring chimes
My rock garden while the ivy still grew there.  The two plans were good at reaching toward each other in favor of growing farther.

Saying “Yes” to Unschooling

Plunging into the Unexpected

This past week I did something I did not expect to do until June.  I sent a letter to our local school superintendent with my intent to home-school my child – in the middle of the school year!  We had been home-schooling together from grades 1 through 6, but I enrolled her in middle-school in September of 2017.  The guidance counselor decided that it was best for her to start from the ground up, so she entered school as a sixth grader.

From that time until the present, I heard earfuls of grief about how miserable she was at school.  Some children have made the transition from home-schooling to public school learning with relative ease, but my child was not one of those.  She had supportive teachers, but that was not enough to keep her going.  On top of that, last month she fell and has since been recovering from a concussion.  That caused her to miss an extra week of school and to fall behind in her schoolwork.  I wasn’t sure if she would ever recover.  I was also done with the constant worry about her emotional well-being.  I missed home-schooling as much as she did and was ready to return.

Socialization

It wasn’t the schoolwork that she found hard, except for math.  Math has been her most challenging subject, but that can change with time.  She was doing well in all of her other subjects.  It was the social scene she didn’t like or trust.  She couldn’t figure out who was a potential friend because everybody was mean to everybody else and put each other down constantly, with few exceptions. They were also fickle.  They changed their allegiances at the drop of a pencil.  She was so bothered by the culture on the school bus that she asked me to drive her home every day instead of making her take the bus.

The one argument most people make in favor of formal schooling has been around socialization.  But, are our children learning things we may not want them to?  Are they emotionally and physically safe there?  Is the predominant culture all that healthy?  Unless there is an extreme case of bullying, I don’t think teachers or administrators notice if a child is feeling unsafe.  This type of thing builds up quietly until it is too late.  There is tremendous peer pressure to go along with the norm of what classmates think is funny, cool, etc., or be harmed by rumors, teasing, practical jokes, or worse.  If my daughter did not want to learn in the environment that she encountered at school every day, she wasn’t going to.  If a child is under tremendous stress, her receptivity to learning new things is diminished significantly by that stress.  A sense of safety is important to learning new things.  My daughter will learn more with her fellow home-schooling friends, travel, and random gatherings with other youth than if she kept attending public school.

The environment of most public schools is not one conducive to inspiring all children to become lifelong learners.  Sitting at desks does not engage their imaginations.  Their curiosity and wonder are crushed by long days with limited movement.  Perhaps not all children experience this because they somehow thrive in the academic environment and succeed, but that experience does not serve all students.  We have read many stories about what happens to the students who cannot fit in.

 

Cosette's Ivy.jpg
The bottom 3 sets of ivy around the right side our doorway was painted by my daughter.

Curiosity, Wonder and Unschooling

My philosophy about life is that we only have the chance to live ours once.  We need to do it right.  Why not make it the happiest life there is, and generate the fondest of memories to warm us on cold, dark, wintry nights?  I wanted to give my daughter back her happiness and to lighten her spirit.  I wanted her to love both life and learning again.

During our former years of home-schooling, I sat beside my daughter and worked with her to develop skills in observation, experimentation, and recording what she saw.  She learned how to draw what she observed, think about how two substances interacted together and wrote down questions she wanted to find answers to.  This time around, I know that she is old enough to take responsibility for her own education.  She will start by reading some books in each of the subjects that we already have at home, and then supplement those resources with library books, field trips and other fun activities.  She will use our local library’s web site as a free portal into the world of learning new languages, such as Spanish.  I will need to work while she reads, writes and explores, but will make time to listen to her share what she has learned.  She will also be responsible for keeping up-to-date records of her learning experiences – just enough information for me to write the progress report in June.

My daughter’s spirit and energy are returning to her, more quickly than she expected.  She has expressed curiosity about the content she is reading  and wonder about what she notices happening in the world around her.  That is because she is given the room to demonstrate agency when choosing her own curriculum at the highest level she is capable of learning.  She knows herself best.  She takes lots of initiative in beginning and completing projects, such as painting ivy around our back doorway (above).  She is also given time to exercise her body, because physical activity also feeds the brain.  I am excited to see how she works through the learning activities she sets up for herself, and  look forward to working with her on projects such as painting wall murals now and then.

The Transformative Power of Letting Go

 

Samantha the Christmas Star
Samantha Merry, our Christmas Star

Happy New Year!

Welcome back to the Gardener Dragon’s blog.  I hope that 2018 has been good to you.  It’s off to a roaring start here in New England with the biggest snowstorm of the season upon us.  I am grateful that I have the warmth of company from my husband, my hamster, my daughter and her friends in my home as I write.  At 6:45 we’ll gather with our neighbors at my co-housing community’s common house for a delicious meal of black-eyed pea stew, collard greens and corn bread.  I will be heading off for some gaming before that.

With a grateful heart I welcome this new year with wide open arms, and I resolve to write 12 fresh blogs this year ~ one per month!  I give myself that goal because in addition to this blog, I write for SheWrites and Hub Pages.  I am also working on two novels.

Letting Go

When seeking inspiration for my writing, I often look to nature.  When the weather is mild, i.e. a range from warm summer sunshine to light snow flurries, I walk the wooded labyrinth at the south end of my community daily.  I witness the wonders of life in the activities of the flora and fauna that live there.  Birdsong, chirping crickets and the calls of peeper frogs are some of my favorite forms of music.  I also enjoy the shower of rain sprinkling over me through the tree canopy above the labyrinth.  In autumn, the vibrant colors in the leaves embrace me in a warm and cozy aura of love.  After a light dusting of snow, sunlight is reflected in rainbows on the soft carpet blanketing the path.

One day in October, I walked around the woods by the labyrinth until I captured an image of a leaf falling from a tree.  The leaf floated gracefully to the ground in the breezes ruffling the canopy of branches.  The grace of the leaf’s descent came from the grace with which the leaf let go of the life it knew as part of the tree branch it sprouted and grew from.  I imagine that the elder leaf bid her leaf siblings and nearby oak and maple friends a fond farewell as she let go of her hold on the branch and let herself descend to the ground.

Falling Leaf
A golden autumn leaf falling from a tree branch

Transformation

The elder leaf was ready to let go of the life she knew in order to become part of the earthy humus that feeds the tree she fell from.  She gave herself back to the earth as a gift.  She was ready to become food for the tree that gave her life, or a gift found by a wanderer and pressed in a favorite book.   She was ready to let go and give herself over to becoming part of a new reality without forethought of what that new reality would be. She was open to whatever she was called to be next.

Lying on the ground, she was the same leaf she had always been, but also more than what she once was.  Her earthy fragrance became like a balm that lifts the heart of the pilgrim who picks her up and breathes her in.  Her life became connected more closely than ever to the other leaves that had already fallen to the ground. Together, their lives ended.  They were ready to rest under the frost and snow that covered them throughout the winter.  They were at peace because they knew that that they would eventually become warm and glisten in the vernal sunlight as the wheel of the earth turned to the next place in her cycle of life.

I strive to be like the gracefully falling leaves of autumn.  I want to let die within the parts of me that don’t fit anymore in order to rise to a new me in the spring.  Winter gives us a transformational gestation time to reflect, renew our homes and ourselves, and emerge in the spring more fully the people we are meant to become.  But that is not the end.  Our lives are the journey, ever transformed by the moments we live among our fellow travelers of every species.  Let us be transformed by the darkest, coldest months, to rise to the warmth of spring.  Let each of us be a new life ready to blossom.

Frosted Fallen Leaves
Frosted fallen leaves waiting for the peaceful sleep of winter

The Magic of the Elemental Touch

Out on the Open Sea

Under Sail on August 23rd

Last week my friend Richard brought my daughter and I out into the harbor for an afternoon on his brother’s boat.  Despite dire weather predictions, the day planned for our sail was perfect.  We were thus inspired to stay out longer than we had originally planned, tacking back and forth, sailing close to the wind.  The sun, wind, clouds and water gave us a magical day.

One thing I learned about myself is that I am due for a serious refresher course in the basics of sailing.  Since my two main totem elements are earth and water, I’m okay navigating through them easily.  When you add the wind, I’m not so sure I can play well with its unpredictability.   I’m okay when the wind is behind me, but if I am faced with the prospect of sailing a boat close to the wind across the bow, my sense of balance flees from me.  My sense of adventure is checked by my desire to make sure the boat stays in one piece.  I am told that’s a good thing.

The Boldness of Youth

C steering the boat under sail.jpg

My daughter had been looking forward to our sailing trip for a month and was eager to help out with whatever tasks Richard was willing to hand over to her.  She helped hoist the sail, tied knots, and took her turn at the helm for a while when the wind was calm.  She even climbed up onto the prow when it was time to tie the boat to the dock post at sunset.

While Richard steered, my daughter was happy to splash in the salt water, sing songs from Les Miseràbles, take pictures, and watch out for pirate ships.  One racing boat we saw sported a black hull and matching black sails.  She called it “The Black Pearl.”  Guess which movies we’ve been watching together this summer?

The Stillness of Nature

Foamy waves off the side of the sailboat.jpg

One of the phenomena that I noticed during our time on the water was the effect of nature on the three of us.  Though we engaged each other with lively chatter in the car on the way to the marina and back home, against the backdrop of an broad mix of music, on the boat we settled into long periods of companionable silence.  Our senses became attuned to the sights, sounds and touch of nature.  We noticed flying cormorants, listened to the lapping of the waves against the hull, and were delighted by the spray of water and play of wind in our hair.  The atmosphere was so enchanting that our attention was fully engaged with how the elements moved in harmony with one another, and how the creatures of that world moved from place to place.

A Fond Farewell

Casting Qs into the Deep 2017.jpg

Our first boating adventure of the summer was also our last, since it happened so late in the season.  My daughter’s school year has begun and it is time for me to return to my writing and gardening.

Perhaps I will find a place to take a sailing class or two before our next adventure together.  In the meantime, I am grateful for the magical afternoon spent with both enchanting nature and charming human company.

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