food, Magic of the Everyday, Nature

Life in a Garden (or, Who Wants Pumpkin?)

Behind all that writing, I have a garden–as you may have heard around these blog parts. Since coming back from Taos Toolbox, I’ve been furiously trying to play “catch up” with the weeds and plants that went haywire for 2 weeks in wet, rainy north central Florida’s July…and I’m finally feeling some modicum of success. Let me show you what (besides words) I’ve been up to:

Seminole Pumpkins

First 2 Harvests = ~30 lbs
First 2 Harvests = ~30 lbs
Yesterday's Harvest--yes, one day; ~30 lbs.
Yesterday’s Harvest–yes, one day; ~30 lbs.


Yes, the pumpkin vines have gone crazy! I planted 6 vines grown from seed from a heat- and drought-tolerant Seminole pumpkin bought last year for this reason. I harvested the first 3 pumpkins over a couple days, and let Dasher pose with them for scale. Yes, the pumpkins weigh more than the dog does. Yesterday, I got fed up with the pumpkin vines sprawling on the driveway (despite my pruning them back and edging them aside with my feet every 2 days or so, they kept trying to cover the entire driveway in their lovely, silver-speckled greenery). And so I decided these were “ripe enough.” In comes another 30 lbs of fruit!

Today is pumpkin processing day. I’ve split, de-seeded, and baked the first 4 pumpkins, and bagged the first 2.5 pumpkins (the last batch out of the oven is cooling until I can touch them). Already, seven 2-cup bags are resting in the freezer, each destined for pumpkin pie (2 pies per baggie), pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, cookies, muffins, bisque, ravioli, etc. And have I mentioned that at least 5 more pumpkins are growing in my garden? Oh, and at least another 4 or 5 across the fence in the neighbor’s yard…which means I can’t abandon any on their porch  give them any of this homegrown treat. However, the flesh is soooo sweet and delicious; just scooped out of the shell without anything added, it tastes like it’s been sugared for pie.


Passion Flower Vine

passionflowerYesterday, before the pumpkin picking began, I noticed these flowers outside my dining room window. A wild passion flower threaded itself through the holly tree and bloomed beautifully, as if posing for the photo. I shoved my nose into it (later, when I went outside; not through the window!), and it smelled like the heady, pollen-heavy scent of dandelion crossed with the lighter, sweeter floral of white clover. Not bad for a free “volunteer” in the garden. It’s also a host for the larva of the zebra longwing, Florida’s state butterfly, and there are tons of them about!

How would you even describe that shade of purple?
How would you even describe that shade of purple?

Finally, here’s a picture of something that really just makes me smile. It’s an American Beautyberry bush growing like gangbusters in my garden. It’s native to this area, and you see them growing wild in undeveloped areas, but oddly enough, rarely in people’s gardens–although up north you can pay a premium for them thanks to the recent interest in native plants. Last fall, husband and I “liberated” it from a strip of land destined for development, and which now is being steamrolled into submission to make another through street. The beautyberry limped and gimped through winter, sulking at being moved like that without even being asked, but now it’s decided it pretty much likes domestication and has put on the full show of berries turning that awesome shade of purple.

That’s about it. The remaining baked pumpkin is cool enough to handle, so off I go to process more. Guess what we’ll be having if you come to visit?



Magic of the Everyday, Nature

News from the Garden

I’ve been sooooo busy, both at the keyboard and with life, that I haven’t been posting here regularly. In good news, this means that my various writing projects are coming along well. In bad news, well, I haven’t produced much blog content of late. “Yeah, um, still writing” isn’t exactly the most thrilling of reads, I know.

So let’s move to the gardens, where things are exciting.

IMG_2480My camellia has started blooming again. Hurray! Here’s one bloom I snipped off and brought inside to brighten the kitchen sink area.

I absolutely adore this flower, with its unique pink-coral color and irregular splashes of white. I didn’t buy it, or plant it, but it appears to have been put here just to please me. (If it was divinely scented, it would be my all-time favorite plant, but that’s just being far too picky. Camellias are, unfortunately, completely scent-free.)

IMG_2474My neighbor has a unique thing happening in her garden. Her agave has sprouted a flower stalk. This might not sound like much, but take a look at this. I mean this thing is immense. And it changes. When it first sprouted, it looked like a giant stalk of asparagus. I am not kidding.

The plant is in a spot normally quite hidden from me anywhere in the house or outside, except, it seems, from the kitchen sink. So there I was doing dishes and I looked up, still thinking about food and dinner, and I thought “Hmm, that’s an odd giant stalk of asparagus. Where did that come from?” And then I dropped the towel and ran to the window, pressing my face against it as I looked for the aliens who would eat said giant asparagus. Seeing  none, I ran to the neighbor’s yard and stared in awe at the huge stalk. It’s thicker around than my thigh at the base.

IMG_2483Once it got nearer to blooming, this thing looked like something out of a Dr Seuss book. Do you remember how his trees often looked so odd and puffy? I now think he was simply drawing agave stalks!

Now those puffs are starting to open into the actual, individual florets. It’s pretty amazing.

The sad part is that once the blossom fades, the fruit ripens, and the stalk dies back, the entire plant will die. This won’t be a small problem, either, as the plant itself is a wonderfully huge and architectural “structure” in the garden. I know it’s hard to tell from the photo, but those innermost needle-tipped leaves are nearly as tall as I am! The needles themselves are as long as the first 2 knuckles of my finger. It’s going to cause a massive void. But one that will gladly be filled by the offspring, I’m sure. Such is nature’s way, even if not the will of the human gardener.


IMG_2473Well, it’s back to the novel. With rain on the way, the gardens here will be well-watered and thriving. Hope it’s so in your backyard, as well.

food, Nature, Personal Life

Pindo Palm Jelly! Almost…

pindojellyI did it–I cooked a big batch of pindo fruit down into juice and turned that into jelly! Or, well, runny jelly. It didn’t solidify, or gel, quite enough. But the runny jelly works fine as a sauce for veggies or fish, and will be lovely over yogurt or ice cream.

I immediately tried it out, and it worked like a charm. Pindo jelly sweetened the sweet potato puree, giving it a tropical touch, and made a beautiful simmer sauce for tilapia.

The flavor is unique and lovely–somewhere in the vicinity of peach, mango and apricot, but with banana notes and maybe some pineapple-y-ness, and some wee effervescence of coconut. Delicious! If you get the opportunity to try some, I suggest you do.

Now I need to come up with ways to use this bounty. Hmmm, how about pindo ice cream…?

Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Personal Life

Why Gardening Hurts


Palms have teeth! Different types of palms have different types of teeth, but all those teeth hurt! Big palm fronds that die back have to be removed with a chainsaw, then you can drag the frond away. By the teeth.

Also, let me just say two words: Spanish Dagger. This is the name of a plant, a type of yucca. It was taller than me, and every “leaf” was tipped with a 1.5″ long incredibly sharp needle. Yes, like daggers. The strap-like leaves covered the multiple stems from top to bottom. We had to remove this, too. Oh, and paper wasps had built a nest inside it, which we didn’t know until removal was underway.

IMG_0397Not all the gardening here is bad, though. Let me leave you with a surprising photo. This looked to me like popcorn growing under a fern, but it’s the sporing portion of the plant. Fun!


Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Personal Life

Orchid Alert

orchidSo I was cleaning up the plants 3 weeks ago, and what did I find? The tiny orchid I bought just before leaving Cleveland, and which I’d transplanted into a larger pot late last summer, had grown not one but two new flower stalks which were covered with fat buds. Here is the orchid now!

Honestly, I don’t know what I did to merit this kind of floral appreciation from the plant, but whatever it was, I’m glad I did it.  FYI, I bought it in a 2″ pot and moved it into a 4″ pot, so it’s still pretty small. But I gotta admit, this is making me look at those “other” orchids in a new light; I’d always considered orchids to be touchy and temperamental, but this one has thrived on my neglect. Now I may think about adding another one to my rag-tag houseplant collection.

Moving, Nature, Writing

Finding Beauty

After we missed our flight this weekend (just don’t ask, okay?), hubby and I went for a walk in another new state park. When you’ve been somewhere for just three months, new places to walk abound, and during this unseasonably chilly spring, any day as nice as Sunday deserved to be gloried in. Thus, the walk.

We followed the “orange” trail. Note here that signage in this state seems to be somewhat lacking, and information scattered and difficult to access. Thus it was that we set out (on what we much later learned was a 16+ mile loop) for a “quick hike” before dinner. After about an hour, we decided we’d better just turn around and follow the trail back to the car, since we weren’t sure how much further we had to go (and yes, I’ll admit here that hubby suggested this, and that I thought he was a wimp at the time. To quote him back at himself, “Sometimes even a blind squirrel gets a nut.” :-P)

Along the way, we’d seen tall wild rhododendrons (which still shock me, since they die en masse back in Ohio!), and blueberry bushes just flowering, and even wintergreen plants with their huge red berries. Nice, all very nice. Since I’m still not used to the acid soil here, these are cool to see in the wild. And then, we rounded the curve.


A wild lady slipper orchid, right there, alongside the path. I froze. I stared. I couldn’t find words. Endangered. Rare. So beautiful. And right in front of me! With shaking hands, reached for my phone to snap a photo. Of course, it was turned completely off, and I had to wait an eternity (a whole minute?) for it to turn on before I could access the camera and record this image.

I hadn’t been looking for this plant. Heck, we’d even passed it on the way in, and hadn’t seen it! But this beauty just reached out and bit me, forced me to notice it. And I felt lucky to see it.

Sometimes, that’s the way it is with writing — for me, at least. I chase an idea, coming closer to its meaning, drawing nearer to the beauty. I want so badly to capture that precise nuance there in my mind’s eye! Sometimes, though, I miss it. I’m so focussed on other things, I don’t see the beautiful thing I just blew right on by.

Coming back to those stories later, I can sometimes squint and see what I may have missed. Editing may help me then. Or maybe not. Maybe the old story is just too flawed, the beauty too small and obscured to benefit from unearthing. But I’ve learned from this, too. What? That my craft is improving. My craft wasn’t good enough to let me find that particular bit, but if I can look back and see that, it means I’m seeing what I missed before. Which means I’m growing, learning, improving.

Critiques and crit groups, if well-run and respectful, can help this process. So does an open mind on the writer’s part. But mostly (again, in my case, at least), the biggest aide to letting the beauty unfurl in your own work  is realizing that it is a process, that it will take time, and practice. Don’t let yourself become so discouraged that you quit in disgust. You might be just a story away from some personal “eureka” moment of your own. So dig yourself in deep, keep your butt in the chair, and just keep writing. The beauty will follow, even if at its own pace.

Personal Life, publication

A Podcast for a Stinking Day

stinktreesSpring has sprung! The ornamental pears out front of our building are in full, glorious bloom. Today, for the first time, it was both a) warm enough and b) sunny enough to linger outside in the morning. I opened the door and stepped out onto the balcony. Ah, the sunlight warmed my cheek. It illuminated the trees, making them glow in the soft light. I inhaled.

Bleah. Where was the stinking garbage can? It wasn’t too close, but there was a definite reek of old, rotting gunk floating on that gentle breeze. No garbage can across the street. I peeked between the slats of the floor. Nope, not the apartment below. Scratch the forehead while staring out at the trees, thinking.

The trees! Pear trees. The blossoms usually don’t last long and they don’t smell good. How had I forgotten? Ugh. So, there goes the nice, sitting-out-enjoying-the-day moment. The trees are pretty, but right now, I’m just waiting for them to drop those awful flowers and burst into nice, unscented green leaves.

But there is good news, as well. If you’re interested, my story at EDF is now a podcast read by me! That’s right, you’re now able to hear my voice reading “I Promised You a Miracle,” thanks to the kindness and encouragement of Folly Blaine, EDF podcast manager extraoardinaire (and fellow writer). As always, EDF’s site is free to read (and to listen), so pop over and give it a try. If you like what you hear, I’d appreciate comments/likes there. And EDF would appreciate a tip in the bucket, if you can spare it.

Well, enjoy the coming warmth. Just try not to sniff too deeply around dumpsters and ornamental pear trees!

Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Writing


Yesterday afternoon I looked out my window and saw my neighbor’s witch hazel in stunning bloom. Here’s a photo of it.

Witch hazel is one of those plants I’ve always wanted in my yard, but never seem to get around to planting. It’s native to the US (at least some varieties are; this is a cross between a US and a Chinese variety.) and blooms in late winter (even though this year it feels more like spring right now–but I’m not complaining!), when a burst of color is most welcome. And let’s face it, the name is appealing.

I’ve always wanted a witch’s garden, one filled with plants both beneficial and baneful. In a way, I have that now (at least, until the house sale is closed upon; then the new owners will have it 😦  ). It’s filled with Jack-in-the-pulpit, lemon balm, foxglove, Oregon grape holly, lovage and many other herbs, mayapple, rose, bloodroot, trillium, and so much more. The healing and edible, beside the dangerous and potentially deadly. And with some, the effect depends on when and how the plant is used. Mayapple fruit are edible only when perfectly ripe; otherwise, the whole plant is toxic to humans. An important heart medication came from digitalis, but if taken unwisely, the the seeds of the foxglove plant cause heart palpitations.

What has all this to do with writing?

This is what I know and love. This is often what I write. My witches know their herbs; their magic is often herb-based. My forests are filled with mushrooms and creeping undergrowths that scent the air. In other-world fantasy, grounding senses in simple plants, their smells and lore, gives a story a feeling of truth. And in this way, the magic of the everyday world around us can make magic real.