perception through plants and words

The Front Yard Garden Project April 7, 2010

Filed under: Garden — kaleidoscopespirit @ 4:49 pm
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The Little Devil

Our “front yard” is a 15’x8′ pile of dirt that cascades away from our carport.  It was held together by Ivy, Morning Glory and a retaining wall.  There are two juniper bushes, 3 pods of ornamental grasses and a dozen steps that curve along the driveway.  We want to make it more glorious.

Last year Brad hacked away the the vines and gave the little hill a buzz cut.  Actually, it was more like he removed it’s toupe.   Underneath the green of the Ivy and Morning Glory was a whole lotta dry, rocky browness.  We planted a Jasmine vine, a Lemon tree and some Sunflowers, as well as Celosia at each step.  The Jasmine and Lemon tree have held on, but we only got two wimpy sunflowers.  Lesson – don’t buy Sunflower seeds from Home Depot.  The Celosia became deer food.  They were right at their chomping level, I don’t know how I thought they would survive.  I also threw a bunch of wild flower seeds on the hill hoping for an array of color to bloom.  Instead we had our mound of dirt with slightly less ivy on it for one year.

During this past year we have gone over again and again what to do with this little hill.

Deer Food

The soil is very dry and because of so much Ivy and Morning Glory running around, we knew it was nutrient poor.  This became a big discussion, not only because we have fallen in love with gardening, but most of the houses on our street have pretty great plant life going on.  Their yards can be described as elegantly wild.  Natural, but not a totally native kind of look.  It kind of reminds me of the brand Anthropolgie; Oh, I casually picked up this Japanese fern and thew it together with Spanish Lavender and set them within field stone steps creeping with flowering ground cover -or- I’m so down to Earth in my $400 skirt and $300 cardigan adding these vintage knobs to my 3 year olds’ dresser drawers.  Everything looks like it belongs, but if you take a minute….everything is planned out.

Not very neighborly

While most of the time I don’t really care about fitting in, we had created a bit of an eye sore on our street!  Our next door neighbor, George, has said we are doing great job…but we feel like it screams, “that’s where the renters live!”

2010 – First thing is first…Brad had another dance with the weed whacker.  Some of the vines had grown back, but not as much as we thought.  We spent hours a few weeks ago digging up as many of the runners as we could and I think I found the brain!  It was a knob of roots that had grown together and was a big as my two hands holding each other.  It was like surgery getting it out of the ground and I think if it had a face it would have cursed me.  Instead it’s at Marin Sanitary…the best dump in the world!  Peace be with you.

The 2010 Front Yard Plan –
Add another Jasmine vine
Plant Marigolds between the Jasmine Vines
Plant Yarrow at the retaining wall – this will be part of our ground cover
Plant Monkey Brush mid-hill – also more ground cover
Plant Gladiolas along the fence line outside of the Jasmine
Find something lovely to grow along the steps that won’t be deer food

While our backyard is a study in growing food, medicine and flowers on top of rock….the front yard is our lesson in creating something beautiful and learning how to create a symbiotic environment where the plants and the little hill can work together to hold each other together.  If the backyard was a metaphor for Life, the front yard is a metaphor for Marriage.  And if those metaphors stick, I don’t really care what the neighbors think, I just want Brad and I to come home and be proud of what we are working on.


Giving up Coffee for 18 Days March 31, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — kaleidoscopespirit @ 5:01 pm

I didn’t make it to 30 days.  Whether this is quitting or living without limits – I am guilt free!  Day 18 proved to be the day I wanted coffee and all it had to offer.  I was all smiles cleaning out our machine and measuring water.  The purr of coffee maker was a tickle in my ear.  It’s been over since last Friday and like my friend, Dalila, wrote: There is nothing like that first cup.

The herbal concoction I drank showed it’s strongest aid with the Mullein.  This herb is very oxygenating and helps with deeper breathing and may help repair lung tissue.  I believe that this herb is why I never experienced ANY caffeine withdrawal headaches.  I was getting so much oxygen it didn’t occur to my body to have any pain.  A nice reminder that our bodies LOVE to breathe and operate better with more air!

There were 3 big discoveries that occurred when I gave up coffee –

One: My memory is not what it used to be. While I’ve noticed a decline in recall for the past 6 years, the first 4 days without coffee were mind blowing. What is left of my mind anyway. There was all this space around each bit of information inside of my brain…instead of associated things bumping right up next to each other, I had to wait and let things sift up to my consciousness.  Or I would try diligently to mash together memories to jog any firing of the information I really needed.  It felt a bit like I was floating and that nothing really mattered. Great for Sundays, but not work days. The speed of coffee must help me push through all the clouds in my brain so that it seems like everything is connected and accessible.  Did the Gingko help this go away?  I am not sure.  Eventually I got my memory back, but it’s not the total recall I used to have in my 20’s.

Note:  I first discovered a lapse in my memory in 2004.  For whatever reason I was thinking about Batman; how great the movies were, how it’s a waste of my time to put Val Kilmer under a mask, how awesome Tim Burton is…and then I thought of the Batman in the first movie and his name didn’t come with the thought.  I could see his lips under his mask, I could see him in Mr. Mom and knew he had done some movie about being an alcoholic.  There was a slight repulsion as my mind didn’t give me what I wanted.  As I laid down to sleep that night, I told myself, “You’ll remember in the morning.”  That didn’t happen.

Michael Keaton as Batman

My friend Gina picked me up for work the next morning and I asked her who the first movie Batman was.  She couldn’t remember!  There we were at 10 in the morning, driving past Golden Gate Park, age 32, witnessing our first Swiss cheese memory moment.  We threw out names, first names, other things he had done…somewhere in there an ‘M’ came up until finally, speeding through the intersection of Golden Gate and Market, panicking that we may have gone to too many house parties, I started screaming, “Michael Keaton!!! Michael Keaton!!!”  As the smell of trash, donuts and oil welcomed us to South of Market, we relaxed into the seats of her Bug and began to breathe easier.  We now call this the Michael Keaton Effect:  The conscious witnessing of our minds becoming a store house for the Lost Ark.

Two: I do not actually need any stimulants in the morning.  As the days wore on, I found that I did not need my herbal tea.  I thought, “Maybe just a cup of something warm in the morning is what we are after”.  Some days I drank a cup of hot water, but by Day 10 I would wake up and go about my business without it revolving around drinking anything.  Nature?  Nurture?  Definitely unexpected!

Three:  It wasn’t the warm liquid or feeling alive and vital that I missed.  What was removed while giving up coffee was the simple sweetness of my husband and I bringing each other coffee in the morning.  Whoever wakes up first takes care of making the morning brew and brings it in to the bedroom to help the other wake up.  This started my day out with Connection and I know he missed it too.  Could we still make each other our morning drinks?  Sure, but we didn’t.  We took care of ourselves.

And for now, starting my day out with a little bit of care and attention means the World to me.  I can float to work on love.

Kids in Sunshine


Giving up Coffee for 30 Days March 10, 2010

Filed under: Herbal Medicine,Laughter,Uncategorized — kaleidoscopespirit @ 6:25 pm
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I love these mugs

Coffee is fantastic.  Even after the first sipped assessment of a crappy cup of coffee at a greasy spoon I will enjoy the entire cup.  I like coffee for same reasons I like wine; it’s complicated.   When we get a new bag of beans home I like to wiggle my nose down as far as I can before my face gets in the way and inhale.  And I smell…..fire, dirt, latitude, sunshine, desire, car rides, gratefulness, wood and metal.  Sometimes there are tiny hints of other foods like chocolate and fruit, but those are secondary.  My favorite coffees come from Columbia, hands down, and Sumatra.  Whatever is happening in the soil of these countries makes the quintessential cup of joy for me.

Right now it is the morning of day 3 of the Give Up.  I have chosen to drink a tea of blended herbs in place of my cup of joe.  A no caffeine combo.  So far the mornings are great… I perk up, get my life going and don’t feel deprived.  This blend doesn’t have an exotic aroma.  It smells and tastes like hay that is smiling.  Each herb was chosen for it’s aspects of consciousness that would help to deliver me into my body and know that I am not sleeping anymore.  That’s what we are looking for in our coffee, I figure…”You’re in daytime, baby!”  No more snuggling, snoring, or dreaming you are playing volleyball with butterflies.

When I leave our home the differences show up.  I feel more poetic than potent.  Noon is lunchtime, period.  I don’t crave a second cup of coffee or worry if I have coffee breath.  Sometime between 4 and 7pm each of the past two days I have had a fit of yawing.  This isn’t normal.  Somehow getting these yawns out of the tea equation will mean that I am “off” of coffee.  It’s bench marker #1.  Other markers may include…better sleep?  Remaining calm in the face of opposition?  My whitening toothpaste will actually follow that chart that came on the box?

Glamorous Morning Blend

Here is the blend I am working with for Days 1-7:

Glamorous Morning Tea Blend
Equal Parts
Gingko – Memory and concentration support and increased blood circulation.  Here I am replacing coffee’s sheer velocity with an attempt to rebuild my brain. Gingko has been around for over 250 million years…if I can remember half of that I’ll be thrilled.  Additional attention to circulation is great for me, as I am a constant planner – my brain needs the juice to keep my thoughts rolling.
Eyebright – Optic nerve support as well as the reduction of eye irritants such as swelling or redness.  Hopefully I will be able to start seeing in the dark or stop squinting at my computer.
Mullein Flower & Leaf – Lung support.  Many herbalists use Mullein to help with eliminating congestion in the lungs while a patient is sick or has an ongoing cough.  It also helps us take easier breaths.  I have noticed that after drinking coffee I tend to take shallower breaths – so here I am looking to use my lungs to create more energy within.  As more oxygen gets into my blood stream and my blood is circulating better (thanks Gingko) I should feel more alert, present and steady.  Hmmm, let’s evaluate that on day 7.
Cardamom – I add 3 crushed pods to my blend each morning.  I love Cardamom!  Most herbal books will tell you about how great it is for your stomach.  Personally I find it to arouse curiosity, happiness and an overall feeling of sensualness.  Who doesn’t need that in the morning?

So why give up coffee for 30 days?  Mostly for the challenge.  I like choices more than habits.  The great thing about drinking tea in the morning is that you can blend depending on your mood or what the World already has lined up for you that day.  Have an interview?  Add Mint or Bay Leaves for settling your stomach.  Co-worker saving sick days for a vacation and coughing all over you?  Add Cinnamon, Clove or Echinacea to help support your immune system.

Today will be my first work day without coffee and dealing with customers…stay tuned….


Rosemary ~ Always Giving February 10, 2010

It can happen anytime of year, but during the Winter our ability to get sick shows up for most of us!  Your head begins to ache, your throat scratches and the next thing you know you feel like your eyes are sinking back into your skull.  Most of the time a flood of mucus is running out of your face.  It’s a fantastic process that feels best when you don’t have to go to work and can moan and roll around in bed.  Whether you have the flu or a common cold and get through it with over the counter medicine, herbs or sheer will power – at some point you get that feeling….a glimpse at your real healthy self.  Your head clears, math seems possible again and you crave a big meal.

Flowering Rosemary

Rosemary can help with colds and flus at the beginning or the end of your ride with the roller coaster ride of your immune system.  If you wake up with a phlegmy throat and feel a cold is coming on you can try to head it off by drinking Rosemary tea throughout the day.  It helps dry out your lungs and make breathing easier.  Rosemary works best with my body after I am “better” –  just functional and back to work.  I spray 3 squirts of Rosemary Hydrosol into my mouth in the mornings and this alleviates those drips and coughs within a few days that can sometimes linger for 2 more weeks.  I swear by this!  I home distill hydrosols, but you can get the same results by using tea or essential oils.

Rosemary tea for drips and never ending coughs:
Pour just boiled water over 2 fresh rosemary stems
Drink when warm

Rosemary spray created with essential oils:
Use 15 drops per 2 ounces of distilled water
Spray bottles can usually be found in health food stores or online.  I like www.sks-bottle.com if you need to buy in bulk.  You can also buy single bottles at www.mountainroseherbs.com.  Try to keep your sprays in glass bottles.  Another alternative is to check out your local beauty supply store.  They may not have a 2 or 4 ounce size, but Rosemary essential oil is fantastic for your scalp and hair – so go ahead and make a larger amount, you will use it.

The best thing about Rosemary is – it’s everywhere!  On my little street there is some growing in front of almost every house.  It grows upright and in a hanging form.  The hanging Rosemary usually has small, light purple flowers and shorter leaves.  Luckily we have a flowering Rosemary in our backyard and my parents have an epic non-flowering bush at their house that I clip from every time we are there.  If you don’t have access to a plant, your grocery store probably has fresh cuttings for sale.

Rosemary is also a mood brightener and can help bring you into the present moment.  It is incredibly giving of it’s medicine and can be brought into teas used for magic and prayer.  I also recommend laying down a small bed of freshly cut Rosemary and laying your Quartz crystals on top for an intense clearing.  You will see an incredibly grounded vibration off of them that is different from a Sun cleaning.


The Backyard Garden Project January 23, 2010

Dry & Inspiring

2010 – The Backyard Garden Project:  To turn this granite hill into a gorgeous garden that will provide us with food, flavor and laughter.  This is one of the main reasons I started this blog; to inspire other people to transform the world around them and experiment with plants.  I get a headache every time someone goes on about nitrates and 10-10101-110-40-*^^$%^ soil.  Throw some seeds in some dirt and have fun!

My husband and I began planting seeds in pots on our deck in Fairfax.  We fell in LOVE with gardening.

The Beginning

Every morning we would stare at the dirt, stare at the seedlings, stare at the plants.  That first Summer, we planted Quinoa which was so amazing that we forgot harvest and it succumbed to the rain.  We planted Edamame and it turns out deer love them.  We planted Mint, which by any book, blog or gardner will tell you is full proof – we haven’t yielded an adult plant yet and are somewhat miffed and considering there is a possible Mint curse on us.  Clary Sage, Cilantro, our 6″ Fir tree, Basil and Hyssop all stayed with us and moved into our new place in San Rafael in 2009.

Our new home not only has a deck for potted plants, but this backyard as well.  The last tenants said they never went back there.  Brad and I look at it and see so many possibilities; words fall out of my mouth in jumbles as I list off all of the things we should try and grow.  He’s bent on growing vegatables…I’m bent on growing herbs (shocker).  To be honest, it’s a challenge.  The hill is granite covered by some dirt here and there.  The switchbacks were put in place by the owner as well as the dirt, I suppose.

The flowering Cactus

There is also a rusty swing set at the very top of the hill and a BBQ and a giant cactus and two groves of bamboo our new puppy loves to hide in.  In 2009 we planted back there.  Some things took, some things never broke soil.  One thing that remained the same – we get such a thrill out of growing that we don’t pick as much as we should.  It’s kind of like not wanting to send the kids off to college.

Right now it is January, so it’s a jungle of grasses that shot up with all of the rain that we are having.  The lime tree is thriving (especially compared to the Charlie Brown lemon tree we put in the front yard) and our Pomegranate Tree is bare, but standing.  The Calendula & Borage are still flowering, so we must have some breed that can’t tell time.  Our blueberry bush has one foot out the door and Brad will try to coax her back with some fish poo.  That’s a pretty awesome part about being married to a creator of koi ponds – year-round access to fish emulsion!

The other obstacle in transforming the Backyard is that it is covered in Fennel.

View from the top of the hill into the Fennel farm

Luckily Fennel is one of the herbs I love working with, but I never knew how prolific it was.  And the seeds!  They are like onions covered by a coconut and take a million whacks with the shovel to get out of the ground.  These are not the bulbs of Fennel you find at the store and cut up into salads.  This plant is stalking and tall and flowers at about 6 feet.  I cut up the stems and add them to soups.  Fennel also helps flush out your system as it is a diuretic; an aid in urination.  A lot of herbalists will recommend using the seeds, as they are more powerful than the plant, and I agree if you need diuretics for serious health concerns regarding heart or kidney issues.  However, using Fennel stalks and flowers in a simple tea will create a gentle flush and also act as a mood brightener to those of us who enjoy it’s licorice-like flavor.  I have made incredible Fennel Hydrosols with my home distiller.

We will document The Backyard Project and look out for The Frontyard Project…she’s a doozy, too.


Essential Oils ~ One way to begin January 15, 2010

Essential Oils~One Way to Begin

Essential Oils are powerful aides to us.  They are part of the foundation of Aromatherapy and I am fully entrenched in researching and experimenting with them on a daily basis!  Essential Oils are the aromatic constituents of plants extracted through processes of distillation.  Through this process a plant’s medicinal properties are harnessed as well.  Good quality Essential Oils will always give off notes of the Earth and a grassy or woody quality, not just the basic scent or flavor you might be used to.  They stimulate our senses and reach deeply into our Bodies to invigorate or sooth everything from our nervous systems to our bile flow.  Yeah, I wrote bile flow.

So…a lot of people ask me, “Which one’s should I get?”  A casual question with an infinite number of answers…

It all depends on what you want to achieve, what do you love to smell?, what are you attracted to?…I have begun my answer so many ways and each person is so different in what they want to achieve in using oils that I had to come up with a simple way to get people started without sounding like a reference book.

So!  Here is a simple way to begin a journey into this incredibly rich and textural world.

Begin with 4 oils:

A Flower ~ Always sensual, flower essences stir up our feelings enjoyment, connectedness and any heaviness we feel usually turns into gratitude that our lives are so complex.  Consider Rose, Lavender, Jasmine or Calendula.

A Tree ~ These will help you feel rooted and above it all at the same time; incredibly helpful if you are stressed, especially if you are going to be dealing with a lot of people at once such as throwing an event or teaching.   Consider Eucalyptus, Fir, Camphor, Cypress or Spruce.

An Herb ~ A category too varied to sum up!  However I will venture that they all bring a sense focus and remembering your intentions.  Consider Basil, Cilantro, Clary Sage, Fennel, Rosemary, Tarragon or Thyme.

A Citrus ~ Mood brighteners!  Who can’t use that?  Consider Lemon, Lime, Grapefruit or Tangerine.

My starter set would be:


A standard starting group could be:

Lavender – A gentle mood regulator and anti-inflammatory.

Eucalyptus – Opens up our breathing, allowing for more oxygen in our blood, which creates more energy and allows toxins to release.

Rosemary – A fantastic immune system supporter.

Lemon – Helps stimulate our minds and fights infections.

Each oil contains the lives of many pounds of plants and it is best to hold them a few inches from your nose to be able to inhale with clarity.  Try opening a bottle of Peppermint right under your nose and you will see what I mean.  Play around with what has always smelled enticing to you and begin to read about the properties of those oils.  I will add a post of great books and articles!

Lastly, I am a dedicated Smeller.  What does that mean?  It means I inhale for love of smell and information.  If I take a deep enough breath I can get beyond the high notes and into the low notes and the ping-pong-y pop-up notes.  If you have ever ended up with a glob of shampoo on your nose at the store because you were trying to see if you like the smell….You are probably a dedicated Smeller.  Wow, that’s as close as I’ll get to Jeff Foxworthy.  You know you are a red-neck dedicated Smeller if you have ended up with a slice of American cheese up your nose trying to find anything real in it.


Calendula January 5, 2010

Filed under: Garden,Herbal Medicine — kaleidoscopespirit @ 2:23 am
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We planted our first Calendula seeds in July of 2009.  30 organic seeds from a seed pack went into the ground and 12 plants came up.  They broke the soil at about 6 weeks and have been flowering continuously since the beginning of September.  It’s now January and there are still new flower buds that are getting ready to open! Every morning I look out of our bedroom window I am a little shocked that they are still there; bright as a Summer day and yelling “Brighten UP”!  They are little Suns in our backyard.

Today I collected seeds from our bed of flowers to plant in our front yard this Spring.  Calendula seeds area big surprise!  They are curved and bumpy and look like ancient sea fossils.  The general rule with these seeds is to let them dry on the plant before harvesting so that they have finished receiving the nutrients they need.   Do not pick the seed heads as soon as theflower show is over.  To the right are pictures of the dried flower heads before I broke them apart and the loose seeds that came out.  Store the dried seeds in an envelope away from heat and light.  It is incredibly satisfying to harvest our own seeds.  Pride mixes with tenderness and is underlined by a misplaced excitement that we just did something new.

Calendula flowers are a staple in herbal medicine.   The astringent flowers help clean out and heal wounds or scabs and smooth out skin issues.  I make Calendula tea and use it as a face splash.  It helps close my pores after a steam and makes my skin feel refreshed and not dried out or too tight.  My friend Gina uses Calendula tea to help acne scabs finish their business faster.  This works on cold sore scabs as well, which was a blessing for me this Fall when the 6th Hawaiian island broke out over my lip.

To make a Calendula splash pour boiling water over 3 or 4 fresh flowers or 1 heaping tablespoons of dried flowers/petals and into  a small bowl.  Wait until cool to apply!  If you have the time let the tea sit for 30 minutes for a more astringent splash.  If you have the time to relax make enough tea for a large bowl and pour the water over two washcloths and your flowers.  When it is cool, or after 30 minutes lay the first towel over your forehead, eyes and nose.  Fold up the second towel and place it over your chin, lips and cheeks.  Lie back for 10 minutes and daydream about something you love.

Women can also use Calendula to help reign in menstrual discomfort.

Calming your Cycle’s Symptoms Tea or Infusion: Yarrow, Calendula & Cardamom Pods in equal parts.  Crush the Cardamom pods open for more flavor.