Archive for the Inspiration Category

Fort Myers Beach Baskets

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , , on December 9, 2011 by PickMeYard

We have a gazillion palm fronds in Florida.  My son and I have been thinking about a way to use our old palm fronds to make a Seminole Indian thatch cover as a shady area for our goats.  So, on a recent outing to Fort Myers Beach, a man weaving baskets out of palm fronds immediately caught our eye.  We watched him quickly weave an awesome basket out of one frond.  We thought this was so cool and had to buy some.

Dave weaving a small basket at Fort Myers Beach.

He starts the basket with the middle of the frond.

Dave makes it look easy.  I seriously doubt it’s easy.  The finished baskets are beautiful.  Dave has a website and sells his baskets from it, but he’s half the price if you buy them from him at Fort Myers Beach.  We definitely had to have one… actually two.  The baskets start out green since they’re still freshly cut and then they dry out and turn brown.  It’s not a bad thing.  The dried baskets are lovely.  I’d been searching for the perfect basket and I found it.  Writing this post makes me want to go buy more from him.  Maybe I’ll get one of his hats too… any excuse to go to the beach. 

Boys watching Dave weave the baskets.

The basket is taking shape.

These are the two baskets I bought.

Dave says that cats go bonkers over the baskets.  He said he makes some just to donate to the cats at the Humane Society.  Check out his website at Coconut

Koby bought his own basket with his own money.

Come grow with us!

A Child’s Perspective

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , on August 16, 2011 by PickMeYard

My 4-H kid wanted to try his hand at photography this past year so I gave him a camera and let him go.  He was 9-years-old when he took these shots and I was super curious to see what his photos would show.  I schooled him a little on how to use the camera and what to look for when he was picking his subject.  I begged him to make his photos interesting.  The rest was entirely up to him.

Grayson taking his shots for his 4-H photography contest.

Grayson didn’t use all these photos in the contest.  He did win several first place awards with a few of them though and I wanted to share some of our favorites with you.  Here goes…

Florida cattle.

A Southwest Florida cowboy and his horse.

Resting Florida cowboys.

The photos are all from a child’s perspective, but I have to add commentary to them.  I can’t help myself.

The following photo looks like an environmental nightmare.  However, the plant has a Department of Environmental Protection office right on their property.  When the smoke gets thick, they immediately take action to lessen it.  It was particularly thick when Grayson shot this photo.  There was hardly any smoke (and a boring photo) just a few minutes later.   Southern Garden Citrus has 3 million orange trees that absorb 613,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year.  They use predator insects for pest control and only use chemical methods on particular trees when necessary.  Their orange groves provide habitat for lots of wildlife such as fish, birds and deer… and too many wild hogs.  They don’t discard any part of the orange.  The pulp, skin and oil are all used for products.  Florida is the 2nd largest producer of oranges in the world, (Brazil is 1st, but it’s a fact that Florida oranges are juicier).

Southern Gardens orange juice plant. The third largest in the nation.

Organic Florida farm. The sugarcane is planted as a wind break.

Organic Florida farm truck.

I hesitated to post the following photo.  All political views and solutions aside, this is how the food gets to most tables.  We have to grow more food.  Most countries consume more than they produce. According to an agent at the University of Florida IFAS office, there is expected to be 30-50 billion people on the planet by 2050.  Food will become a scarce commodity.  Out of the 7 billion people on the planet, 1 billion of them are starving right now.  How do we keep up with the food production? It would be detrimental to the U.S. to rely on foreign food production.

Grayson’s perspective is that this guy gets to garden and get paid for it. (I think I need to have Grayson pull more weeds).   The dust in this field on the day Grayson took this photo was unbearable.

A very hard job.

Sugar cane fields behind the U.S. Sugar Corporation in South Florida.

A controlled fire in the sugarcane fields of Clewiston, Florida. Planting begins in late August.

Sugarcane can live, and is productive, for 4-5 years on good mulch soils before it is replanted.  In Florida, rice is grown in rotation with sugarcane.  51% of sugar comes from cane and 49% comes from sugar beet.  Sugarcane used to be sprayed with nasty chemicals several times a year to control a pest called the cane borer.  However, a small wasp (called Cotesia) was brought in and it kills the sugar cane borer.  So, sugarcane is not sprayed with chemicals for pests anymore.  They do spray a fungicide though.  They’re working on new varieties that will not be as susceptible to disease and will have increased production… probably genetically modified, which I am against.

Florida is the nation’s largest producer of sugarcane with over 400,000 acres.  Did you know the average American eats (or drinks) 67 pounds of sugar a year?  Florida is also the #1 producer of sweet corn, watermelon, bell peppers and snap beans.

Morning on the Caloosahatchee River.

This is our six-toed urban farm cat. He uses those paws like hands.

Grayson's honeybees coming home.

Our Labradoodle and LaMancha (paws and hoofs).... best friends.

Come grow with us!

A Garden Tea Party Fit for a Princess

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , on August 12, 2011 by PickMeYard

We don’t usually need a reason to have a little tea party, but this was a birthday tea party for my 4-year-old.  She invited her friends over for a Princess Tea Party and asked them to wear their favorite princess dress.

A gazebo was set up in the garden and decorated with sheer Ikea curtains and adorned with flowers and butterflies.

Each chair had a slip cover and a handmade garland with ribbons and flowers for each girl to take home.

The Frog Prince waited patiently on the table for his true love.

A handmade flower chandelier with big butterflies around it hung over the table.

Another view of the flower chandelier.

The table setting was definitely fit for a group of princesses.

We made traditional tea sandwiches for the moms and the girls.

We made the girls sandwiches into a variety of shapes.

Cupcakes and cookies.

A colorful fruit salad with persimmon, oranges, blueberries and pomegranate.

Princess candies.

Tea cups for the moms.

Water with lemons and rose petals from the garden... no insecticides.

Princess tea cart... each girl took her tea set home as a gift, along with a bunch of other gifts!

Each little girl was given a paper bag and a bin full of craft items to decorate their bag.  They used their bag to carry home an assortment of gifts such as a snow globe with their picture in it, a purse and a little ceramic tea set.

... and the Princesses!

They were all treated like real princesses for an afternoon.

They played on the ship playground and did several party games.

... and GiGi worked tirelessly to make the fairytale party come true. That's her lighting the birthday candles.

My mom brought the gazebo over to our house, decorated the gazebo, made the chandelier, made a table out of plywood, set the table, brought a ton of extras and stayed up until the early morning hours to finish it all for the party.  Mom, thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Come grow with us!

Glorious Gardens of Prospect Plantation

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , on August 10, 2011 by PickMeYard

I’ve seen my share of beautiful places and scenic gardens around the world.  As my memory fades, I try to remember something in particular about the place to lock it into my memory so I can hold onto it as long as possible.   On a recent adventure through a gorgeous plantation in Jamaica, I realized my children would be holding onto their memories of this garden for a long time to come… especially the cow itch my 4-year-old got on her backside.  She was such a brave little trooper- it stings!  I’ll be sure to show that picture at her wedding.

We are so lucky to have a close friend that lives in a charming old cottage deep in the woods of Prospect Plantation, just outside Ocho Rios, Jamaica.  We spent a weekend with her and explored the historic area until our legs cramped up.  The respite from television, phone and internet was a deep breath of fresh air.  We made friends with snails, cicadas, mongoose, hummingbirds, camels… and probably a few duppies

The fairytale cottage we stayed in.

... sneak peek inside the cottage.

Exploring new paths .

Gardens on the plantation at Prospect, Ocho Rios.

Canna lilies. Grayson's photo.

A hummingbird nest.

... magnificent view down the hill.

Leaf imprints on concrete pavers.

A tree planted by Charlie Chaplin.

Antique grind stone.

Sweet, sweet kissing camels. Just look at those lovely lips!

This Jamaican land snail was lovingly nicknamed "Snaily". This critter had personality and was much more entertaining than T.V.

Smiling for the camera.

Cicadas everywhere! Their wings shimmer like gold in the sun.

Kids peeking around the corner at the old Prospect Chapel.

Grayson peeking around the same corner long before his sister was born. We've been here before.

Dancing in the flowers.

Making memories and enjoying every precious moment of it.

I’m ending this post with another favorite song because it’s just so appropriate…  Sweet Jamaica, by Tony Rebel. 

Come grow with us!

2011 Polo Season

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2011 by PickMeYard

I realize that polo is not a popular sport for most… but it could be.

Polo is a super exciting game to watch.  It’s played at an all-out full speed and the players get hurt constantly.   Polo players are a hard-core breed of people who usually live and breathe their sport.  They tend to be obsessed with it and think of little else.  I can see why.  The spirit, the vibe and the energy of polo is very infectious.  

Full speed ahead!

If you ever have an afternoon that you’re looking for something new and different to do outside, check out a polo match.  It’s more of an American sport than most people realize… and it does have a magical appeal.  The United States Polo Association has an excellent website to get more information about polo in the U.S.  They also have a full list of upcoming events.

Polo in action.



Polo player injury on the field.

The 2011 Polo season is in full swing at the International Polo Club in Palm Beach which is the home of the only high-goal season in the U.S. You don’t have to be a member of the club to go enjoy the game every Sunday at 3 p.m., but you do have to purchase tickets.  Reservations are highly recommended. The season ends April 17, 2011.  The game on Sunday, March 13th in Wellington will have a special appearance by Betsey Johnson.

Children playing by the polo field.

She's pretending she has a pony.

He's dreaming he has a pony.

... and she really has a pony. Check out the diaper helmet.

... he's practicing his polo skills, just in case.

This is the traditional ‘divet stomping’.

That’s a Jamaican polo player in the photo above.  She’s taken me to some riveting polo games in Jamaica.  It isn’t unheard of to hear “get up, Man! There’s nothing wrong with you!” coming from the audience after a player has fallen at a Jamaican polo match.   They’re very serious about their games.  Of course, all polo players are.  Here’s a list of the 2011 upcoming events for the Jamaica Polo Association,  just in case you want to try something off the beaten tourist path.  You could even grab a polo lesson from a world champion female polo player.  (Ask for Lesley Ann Masterton Fong-Yee).


Come grow with us!

Chalkboard Art, Part 2

Posted in Inspiration with tags , on March 7, 2011 by PickMeYard

We converted our garage into a playroom several years ago and I decided to create an endless amount of things to keep the kids busy in there.  I painted an entire wall with a beige chalkboard paint.  Click on the link to see the chalkboard art in my kids bedroom.

Chalkboard art in the garage.

Before I painted the chalkboard paint on the wall, I painted it with a magnetized paint.  I was hoping the result would be a magnetized chalkboard.  Unfortunately, the magnetization is very weak.  Maybe the chalkboard paint over it was too much.  It’s no big deal though.  The kids spend hours drawing on the walls.


Come grow with us!

Swamp Cabbage Festival 2011

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2011 by PickMeYard

The Sable Palm is the Florida State tree … and we eat it.  Most people know it as  ‘hearts of palm’.  We call it ‘swamp cabbage’. 

Most Floridians refer to the tree as a cabbage palm.   The cabbage palm is native to Florida and survives almost anything mother nature serves its way.  even hurricanes.  If you live in Florida, you should check out Pamela Crawford’s book,  Stormscaping: Landscaping to Minimize Wind Damage in Florida.  She says the cabbage palm is one of the few trees with a well-deserved very high wind tolerance. 

The young palm tree is harvested and the bark is removed.  The center core and the base are the parts that are eaten.  They can be eaten raw or cooked.  It’s sweet, fibrous and tends to have a laxative effect.

A pile of swamp cabbage before it's center is cut out.

Hooray beer! Hooray swamp cabbage!

Swamp cabbage... hearts of palm. I guess it depends where you live.

The small town of LaBelle, Florida holds a  Swamp Cabbage Festival on the last weekend of February every year.  Click on Scrumpdillyicious to see some great photos and get more information.  It’s a big, weekend party for the town. 

A float in the 2011 Swamp Cabbage parade.

The Hillbilly Experience float in the 2011 Swamp Cabbage Parade.

... No, I'm pretty sure the other white meat is gator.

Joneses BBQ is the best ever.

... and Perkins has the best gator tail.

Pirate Pickles has delicious pickled swamp cabbage. He's holding the edible part of the cabbage palm.

That's a big pile of cut up cabbage palms under a cabbage palm frond.

They have some very exciting armadillo races. They really are fun and kids go bonkers over it.

Armadillos getting ready to race.

Ballet in the park.

The weekend holds constant entertainment, from ballet to bluegrass.  The Seminole indians have their booths with traditional fry bread, crafts and information.  There are endless vendors selling food.  It’s fun to try the different family recipes of swamp cabbage.  The town has held this festival for over forty years and attracts over 30,000 people a year from all over South Florida.

Come grow with us!

A Storybook Christmas

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , on December 23, 2010 by PickMeYard

This is a true Christmas story…

There was once a woman who lived in a lovely, historic home in the sweetest town in America.  One day her city decided to replace her septic tank so that all the homeowners could be hooked up to the city’s wastewater system.  The construction company that the city contracted to do the work used a highway-grade compacting machine that caused two of the city’s houses to be seriously compromised (broken).  The home owners begged the workers to stop but they ignored the pleas.  The homes continued to break.

The woman who lived in the lovely, old home that looked like a castle cried the loudest because she loved her home and wanted to keep it forever.  The contractors wouldn’t listen and now her home cannot be reasonably fixed.  It is much too broken and … so is her heart. 

The woman has to find a  new place to live now and so she will.  As a good-bye to her community and her beloved house,  she put her heart and soul into creating a beautiful, storybook Christmas scene outside her home for the community to come and enjoy.  Her house is known for its fantastic holiday displays and she wanted the finale to show the love.

A Storybook Christmas at GiGi’s.

The entire yard is set up with favorite storybook characters.  She has lit paths that guide the visitor through the different scenes.  Her details are amazing and wonderful.  Some of my photos were taken at dusk and some after dark, so the lighting is different (and not great) in most of them.  The vignettes are breath-taking at night but I wanted to take most of the pictures with some natural light.  Unfortunately, there’s no way my photos can depict the beauty and character of her lights and the details in her stories at night… but I wanted to share this with you.

One of the entrances to her yard.

The gang from the Wizard of Oz. She even built the yellow brick road!

Dorothy's shoes.


Alice in Wonderland.

The Mad Hatter's tea party.

The Mad Hatter.

The backside of the Mad Hatter.

Beauty and the Beast in an gazebo with loads of details that can't be seen in the photo.

Lady and The Tramp.

The Toy Story gang.

The Little Mermaid Christmas scene.

The Little Mermaid and friends.

Backside of Ariel.

Elmo's... and of course they sing and dance.


Cinderella's glass slipper on a pedestal.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldilocks left a note saying she's visiting her grandparents for Christmas.

A Christmas train runs through it. It's all lit up at night.

An elaborate Peter Pan scene ... including Tinker Bell flying back and forth. Wendy is walking the plank from a wooden ship behind her.

Captain Hook with Rapunzel's hair hanging from the tower behind him.

"Rapunzel, Rapunzel... let down your hair!"

Princess Tiana and her Frog Prince.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.


Photo opportunity to be Mr. & Mrs. Claus. You can stand behind them and put your face in the cut-outs.

I had to leave out a few photos of vignettes such as Winnie the Pooh, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, the alligator reindeer (lead gator has a bulbuous, lit red nose!)  pulling the sleigh (it’s the Everglades), and the 18-foot Christmas tree on the roof decorated with large red bows and Red Stripe bottles as ornaments.

Merry Christmas!

Come grow with us!

A Doctor’s Garden

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2010 by PickMeYard

Dr. Udayashree Nune is a family practitioner in Clewiston, Florida.  She’s originally from South India and comes from a family of doctors.  She speaks fluent Arabic, English and  the Indian dialect, Telugu.  She is a doctor of internal medicine, an OB/Gyn who has delivered thousands of babies in India, Libya and the U.S. …. and she’s a gardener

Her family history is absolutely intriguing.  Udaya’s life story is one that I will never forget.  As a little girl growing up in India, she had a series of events happen to her that sounds like the script of a movie.  When she told her mother that she didn’t want to live on a dirt floor anymore and asked what she needed to do, her mother replied that she should become a doctor.  So she did.  Her career started that very moment. 

It was a long, difficult road for her that  had many obstacles.  She sacrificed eating lunch and dinner so that she could use the money for transportation to school instead.  Transportation consisted of  many hours and many buses to get where she needed to go.  Udaya overcame so many trials and tribulations…  most people would have given up.  She didn’t and she still doesn’t.   

Dr. Nune comes from a culture that is so different from mine.  She knows how to maximize her resources and appreciates the little things that I tend to take for granted  (like water always coming out of the faucet.)  She always shows me something new that I’ve never heard of before.  So far, she’s turned me onto Indian yogurt, curry leaves, soap nuts, neem, gongura, drumstick soup,   seagrape leaf dinnerware  and numerous other cool things.

So what does a doctor grow in her garden?

She grows fresh curry leaves and makes delicious meals with them.


Cucumber/zucchini looking vegetable called tindora fry.

Tindora fry (Dondakaya kura).

I know what you're thinking... and it's not what you're thinking. It's gongura.

Lots of eggplant.

Moringa tree. It's called a drumstick tree in India.

Baby neem trees peeking out from under a potted eucalyptus.

Some of Dr. Nune's backyard.

She germinates her seeds under a large patch of banana trees.

Dr. Nune is growing Florida peaches, apples, papaya, bananas, figs, citrus, tamarind, curry, moringa and many other edibles… all on just over a quarter acre lot.  I’ll have to do another post on all the wonderful things she has introduced into my life.  The drumstick soup,  tindora fry,  soap nuts, neem and gongura are a few of my favorites.  When she told me the stories about washing with soap nuts as a little girl in India, I had to find out all about them.  We both ordered some online and we’re using them  successfully.

Gongura is new to me.  My kids and I just love the freshly picked leaves. Dr. Nune likes to stir-fry, pickle and steam them.  When she steams them she puts two green chilis into the water.  If Dr. Nune  ever opened restaurant, there’d be a line around the block to get in.  She makes everything taste delicious!

Her back yard is filled with fruit trees, vegetables and many varieties of pepper plants peeking out from under the trees.  But… her front yard is  filled with flowers.  She is clearly a woman who appreciates the beauty of flowers, from roses to impatiens and everything in between.

Dancing lady orchids.


She has a large collection of hibiscus.

Her garden art. Were you expecting a flamingo?

Just a few of her flowers.

Dr. Nune next to her gongura plant. I should have asked her to flip her hair over her shoulder... it's down to her waist!

Dr. Nune is one of the most intuitive and open-minded persons I have ever met.  She is also one of the strongest, hardest working women I’ve ever met… next to my mother. 

She never gives up and loves a challenge.  Her personality is infectious and we all love and adore her.  

Come grow with us!

An Ode to Old Florida

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , on September 30, 2010 by PickMeYard

If you want a visual that will make you feel good, then you’ve got to see this.

Click here.

It’s from the incredible perspective of a Florida paleontologist named Mark Renz.

Come grow with us!

“Mama Do’s” Yard

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2010 by PickMeYard

“Mama Do” is my friend’s mom, (it’s pronounced “doe”).  Since we’ve all known each other for so long, she’s known simply as “Mama Do”.  She came over to the United States with her family in 1975 from a small town in South Vietnam called Vinh Long, (off the Mekong River Delta).  They were in a refugee camp that evacuated all the women and children to Thailand the day before the fall of Saigon and the invasion of the Vietcong.   

Their family has such an amazing history.  It’s similar to my family’s history, except that my grandparents came over from Hamburg, Germany post W.W. II on the  S.S. United States, in 1953.  Both of our families were sponsored to come into the U.S. 

Mama Do’s yard showcases her gardening skills.  Everything is thriving and gorgeous. 

Mama Do's yard. It's small (2 lots), but it's bountiful!

Lime tree with coconuts used as mulch. Great idea!

Everybody helped to pick longans. There were thousands hanging from the tree!

Longans in a Southwest Florida yard.

I was totally blown away by her longan tree…  there was so much fruit!  I love longans, but not everyone does.  One of my friends said they leave a strange aftertaste that he cannot describe but does not like.  I don’t notice an aftertaste.  They remind me of lychees, except not as sweet. 

Peeled longans... I love 'em. My friend said they look like eyeballs. Great for a Halloween party!

This is the perfect summer job for kids. She's watering the lemongrass.

Sweet potato vine... the variety is "boniato".

Mama Do boils her young sweet potato leaves in water for about 5 minutes and eats them like spinach.  Sometimes she steams them. 

Bitter melon vine with a flower that will soon turn into a fruit.

Mama Do is growing a larger variety of bitter melon than the wild one that pops up in Florida yards as an invasive weed.  I have a wild one growing on my fence right now and the fruit is quite small.  I need to get rid of this one because I don’t want this variety. I planted some Siamese bitter melon in a big pot with seeds I purchased  from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds .  

Mama Do makes a soup with her bitter melon fruit.  She cuts it in half and takes out the seeds.  She stuffs it with ground pork, garlic, onion, salt & pepper, egg yolk and shrimp.  She boils water with pork bone (and a little fish sauce) and cooks it for about an hour before she adds the stuffed bitter melons.  She drops in the stuffed bitter melons and cooks them on low for about 2 hours.  

Edible ginger. She slices her ginger leaves really thin and adds them to potato soup with shrimp.

Mama Do's sweet sop fruit.

Peeling a sweetsop is super easy.

Peeled sweetsop with seeds

Mama Do picking her sweetsops to sell. She sells them for $3 a pound.

The fruit holder. That's a sweetsop on the left and a pummelo on the right.

Sweetsop  (Annona squamosa) is my absolutely favorite fruit.  I think I say that about a lot of fruits, but truly…  sweetsop is numero uno.  It goes by other common names such as custard apple, guanabanana and sugar apple.  Jamaicans call it sweetsop, so that’s how I’ve always known it.  We planted a small tree in our yard this past summer.  We know it isn’t the slightest bit cold tolerant, so we’re planning to transplant it to a big pot and keep it warm during the winter.  We’re going to string it with white Christmas lights for added warmth.   

Mama Do is in zone 9b and is also growing avocado, mango, sapodilla, pummelo, bananas, papayas, jackfruit, coconuts and much more.  Most of her trees are mature and plentiful, with  blue-ribbon flavored fruit.  She is such an inspiration to us… we just love her.  

... and so does her granddaughter!

Come grow with us!

The Last of His Kind

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 12, 2010 by PickMeYard

I just love to visit people and their yards when they are interesting and resourceful.  On a recent trip to Grand Cayman, we visited the yard of Otto Watler…  the only beekeeper in the Cayman Islands.  He’s in his seventies and he is the last of his kind.  

A picture with Henry "Otto" Watler, the only beekeeper in the Cayman Islands.

We sought him out.  We drove all over the place looking for the ‘Cayman Honey’ sign in front of his house.  We stopped several times to ask for directions.  We were so thrilled to finally find his place, but we had no idea what to expect. 

Cayman Honey sign in Savannah, Grand Cayman.

We drove into his yard unannounced and piled out of our van.  Otto was sitting under a tree taking a break from yard work with a couple of his helpers.  We introduced ourselves and started asking him questions about his bees.  I think he liked that we are quite educated about honeybees.  He is bursting at the seams with knowledge about his bees.  Otto was such a pleasure to talk to.  He has an obvious nurturing nature about him… and striking blue eyes. 

Just a few of Otto's bee boxes.

Otto explained to us that he lost most of his honeybees in hurricane Ivan in 2004.  That year was going to be one of his best years for honey production and he almost lost it all.  He said there were dead bees inside the boxes and out after Ivan hit.  He didn’t have any honey to sell us because the bees are not recovering well.  Otto is worried about their future on the island.  On the bright side, Cayman doesn’t have any of the honeybee diseases and pests to deal with like we do in Florida.  However, it’s only a matter of time before they end up in Cayman.  One of Otto’s concerns is the honey that is being shipped in with honeycomb inside it.  The honeycomb could potentially carry foreign honeybee diseases in it.  The same would be true of raw honey that is imported into Cayman. 

Otto has hundreds of bee boxes.

There are no Africanized honeybees in Grand Cayman, although they’ve had some misfortunate events happen due to aggressive honeybees.  The media sensationalizes the stories and refers to the bees as “killer bees”.  They instill fear in people instead of educating people about the honeybees behavior.  However, I’ve heard that the media in Florida is making a conscious effort to support the plight and help save the honeybee.  Live bee removers (beekeepers) don’t make much money from removing live bees and are usually doing it as a labor of love for the honeybees.   

Beekeeping and gardening always seem to go hand-in-hand.  We were so happy when Otto decided we were worthy to go on a tour of his yard.  He has two acres of land around his home that he has spent a lot of time and money making into a yard full of food.  He has planted every available space with some plant or tree that produces.  Cayman has rocky soil and some areas are laden with limestone rock which makes it extremely difficult to garden.  Otto invested in a machine that helped him to excavate the rock in order to make holes for planting.  He keeps his chickens (and other birds) in coops and puts sand underneath them.  He uses the sand mixed with all the chicken manure around  his fruit trees to provide them with nutrients.  He said this system has worked great for him.  The bees make all his produce big, beautiful and bountiful.  His hard work shows and his yard is amazing. 

Limestone rock in Otto's yard that he has to contend with.

Huge papayas in Otto's yard that he will take to the farmer's market to sell.

Otto's breadfruit tree with a ripe breadfruit hanging from it.

Otto gave us a breadfruit. We took it home and cooked it and it was the best one we'd ever tasted! Turns out, it is a variety called "yellow breadfruit".

This is a Jamaican pumpkin leaf and a flower that is about to set fruit.

A ripe Jamaican pumpkin still on the vine.

I couldn't believe how much food was growing around the place... just gorgeous! Otto said it's best to let the Jamaican pumpkin vine run wherever it wants on the ground.

Otto's ackee tree... the Jamaican national fruit.

This is ackee. It's one of my favorite dishes, but it can be hard to find outside of the Caribbean. We have an ackee tree growing in our yard.

Ackee trees grow easily from seed. They have to be ripe before they are picked though or they can be poisonous.

Otto's citrus orchard.

He has lots of bananas and plantain trees.

Otto's watermelon... I love what he did with the zinc and the wire under it.

Tamarind flowers hanging from the tree.

Otto gave us all the tamarind we could carry.

One of Otto's chicken coops. I love the design and the way it looks in his yard.

Otto standing in front of all his hard work.

Otto and I share the same vision of our yards.  His yard just screams, “pick me”!  

Come grow with us!

The Culinary Art… Smith

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2010 by PickMeYard

It is true that your family are not always related to you by blood.  “Family” are the people that love you and genuinely, unselfishly care how you’re doing (and what you’re doing) with no other motive.

We know that one of “our family” has inspired our son from an early age.  Grayson’s “Uncle Art”  has given him an early interest in herbs and seasonings and lead him to question, “where do these come from?”  Grayson’s always questioned every ingredient and is passionate about what to do with them.

Art taught our daughter to cook scrambled eggs when she was two and she’s been cooking them ever since (she’s 3.5).  She’s cooking all kinds of foods now.  This is all thanks to our “family” member Art Smith.  He has a very special skill of teaching children, they just love him!

Art and his life partner, Jesus Salguiero, stayed up all night the night before Grayson’s first birthday party.  They helped Grayson’s grandmother assemble his birthday present (a ride-in electric volkswagon) and cook a big, beautiful teddy bear cake (his famous hummingbird cake recipe).  Art and Jesus have such a generous nature.  We love, love, love Jesus.  He is an artist with divine talent.  When you see his art (internet does not show it like real life), you know he was born with a gift.   Check out his website… it will take you into another realm., it’s a real treat for the senses.

Art and Jesus have been such a big part of our lives. We are so proud to call them “family”.


Margie (my mom) & her best friend Art.


Nate Berkus, Art Smith and Margie Geddes.



Art and Grayson at Pink Sands, Harbour Island, Bahamas


Art loves children.  He and Jesus established the  Common Threads Foundation  for underprivledged children (8-12 years old).  He teaches them to cook and eat together.  They learn about nutrition, preparing foods, world cuisines, customs and traditions. It’s a non-profit organization dedicated to children, the culinary arts and world cultures.

Art said that “he wanted to teach kids through food and cooking that we are all more similar than different.  Our world is a quilt, its people the fabric,  joined together by common threads”.  Many of Chicago’s culinary stars volunteer to teach classes and help with fundraising.  There is a very special event coming up on August 21st that will unselfishly benefit Common Threads.”>

Kumquat preserves made by Art. He wrote a sweet little note to me on the top.


Art grew up on a farm in a very small (two square miles) town called Jasper in North Florida…  think ‘Steel Magnolias”. His brother, Gene, runs the farm now with his wife and kids.  Gene is an American version of Crocodile Dundee.  He wears the most awesome hat I’ve ever seen in my life and has a big scar from a rattlesnake bite.

Art’s mother (Addie Mae) lives near-by.  Doesn’t she have the most beautiful name?  My mom dreams about her creamed corn and her persimmon tree.  They still can and preserve and have great southern recipes.  The influence passes from generation to generation.”>

Art and his mom, Addie Mae.


Art is best known for being  Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef.  He goes to Oprah’s school in Africa for at least a month or two every year to see “his girls”.  They loooove his pizza!”>

Oprah's book about her school in Africa.


Before he worked for Oprah, Art was the executive mansion chef for Senator Bob Graham when he was the governor of Florida.  He has cooked for U.S. Presidents. He went to school at Disney’s culinary institute, the Walt Disney Magic Kingdom College Program.  He made Disney proud.

He also designed the galley on a Hakvoort ( a large motor yacht) and worked aboard the vessel for two years.  So, he’s seaworthy and has traveled all over the world.  These are only a few details of his extraordinary resume.”>

Art's kitchen.

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He’s on the advisory board with leading nutrition and child development experts for a new program called Sesame Street Workshop.  They’re working on program develpment to set a foundation for healthy habits early in children’s lives.  I always wished somebody would tell me how to get to Sesame Street when I was a child.  I still  love to watch that show and I do… with my kids all the time.

Art  received an honorary MBA degree from the Florida State University School of Business.  It was only the second one to be given out in more than 150 years.


He won

He won the James Beard Foundation Award in 2002 for his book, “Back to the Table: The Reunion of Food and Family” and for Humanitarian of the Year in 2007. He’s written two other books as well;  “Back to the Family” and “Kitchen Life: Real Food for Real Families”.  I can assure you there will be more.


Back to the Family

[caption ption="Kitchen Life" href=" id="attachment_1227" alt="" width="450" height="337"]/kitchen-life-3.jpg”>

He also has


He also has two restaurants.  One is in Chicago called “Table Fifty-Two” and the other is in Washington, D.C. and is called “Art & Soul”.  His signature dishes at Table 52 are goat cheese biscuits and macaroni and cheese.  These biscuits are their signature for a very good reason… OMG!  As soon as you sit down at your table they bring you these hot goat cheese biscuits.  The mac and cheese is the most comforting you could ever taste, except- maybe… your own mothers, of course. My favorite is the shrimp and grits.

Click here  for some more pictures of Chef Art and his meals.


You might think Art is lucky to have worked for

[/caption]You might think Art is lucky to have worked for Oprah, but we know that  Oprah is the lucky one to have Art… now, Jesus is the lucky one.

Come grow with us!

The Iced Tea Taste Test

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2010 by PickMeYard

It was brutally hot outside today.  Even the tropical plants are suffering.  The kids came in the house all sweaty from playing outside and I figured this was a good time for an iced tea taste test party.  I asked for volunteers and it was the two boys that were interested.  The two girls took off to tell each other secrets somewhere and the toddler promptly fell asleep on the floor.  She was not  happy when she woke up and found out she missed it. 

We picked lots of ingredients from the yard that we figured would make our iced teas delectable.  We made a big pot of Luzianne (unflavored) tea as our base and used tupelo honey as our sweetener.  We put the hot tea in many different pots and added the different ingredients to flavor the tea.  After they steeped for a few minutes, we poured the tea into a glass of ice to do our taste test.  We rinsed each glass after we tasted the tea and added more ice for the next tasting. 

That's lemongrass on the left, then echinacea (clockwise), jasmine flowers, stevia, spearmint, bay leaf and galangal.

The ingredients we picked out of the yard are basil, cranberry hibiscus, lemon balm,  jasmine flowers, stevia, spearmint, echinacea (cone flower), galangal, ginger, lemongrass, bay leaf and fresh lemon juice.  We included some fresh curry leaves that I bought from the Indian market.  I don’t have this growing in my yard yet, but I will soon. 

A cranberry hibiscus leaf.

Fresh curry leaves.

Stevia leaves. We only used them as a garnish because we learned that stevia does not taste good after it's been heated. It's delicious, mega-sweet and doesn't have an after-taste when it's just eaten fresh.

Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea), also commonly called cone flower.

The first flavored iced tea that we made was with lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and edible jasmine flowers (Jasminum sambac).  Grayson said this was his favorite and Jackson said he favored this one too.  They agreed that they tasted the floral jasmine first and then the lemon balm.  It would be extremely refreshing on a hot summer day.  We added some fresh ginger to it as an after-thought.  

Lemon balm and jasmine flavored Luzianne iced tea.

The next concoction was cranberry hibiscus  (Hibiscus acetosella) and cone flower (echinacea) petals.  Both the kids thought it tasted a tad strange but said it was still pleasant.  I thought it tasted great.  

The next experiment was just bay leaf added to the tea.  We all thought it was surprisingly good.  It made a wonderful spicy flavored iced tea.  

The next was sweet basil and fresh, squeezed lemon.  Jackson thought it was pretty good, but I could tell he wasn’t that impressed.  Grayson’s description was that it had “a tangy flavor with a zig-zag instead of a whole turn”.  I couldn’t have said it better myself. 

We then tested fresh-cut galangal and smushed lemongrass stalk.  Grayson said it burned his neck (he meant his throat).   Jackson said it didn’t burn his throat at all.  I fell in love instantly with this concoction and will definitely be making this again.  I think I’ll probably add some spearmint to it next time too.  Before we put the galangal into the tea, Jackson asked to smell it.  He exclaimed, “wow, that smells really good!”  It does smell really, really good.  It adds an incredible flavor. 

Fresh cut galangal and lemongrass iced-tea. I will add more lemongrass and some spearmint next time I make it.

We mixed a bay leaf and some fresh curry leaves together too.  I said, “no, not good”.  Grayson said, “no”. Jackson said it was “okay”, but he was just being nice.  Curry leaves have some excellent uses, but this isn’t one of them.  Although, if they were used alone and not mixed with the bay leaf, it might have worked. 

Our final and absolute favorite iced-tea was spearmint and a little bit of fresh lemon juice.  The cooling menthol with the “green” flavor of the spearmint and some tangy lemon was excellent.  It was super refreshing.  We agreed that this is the iced tea we’d make for guests. 

We could have spent hours coming up with new flavors of iced-tea.  The possibilities are endless. One of my personal favorites has always been iced green tea with spearmint and lemongrass.  


Come grow with us!

Yogurt, Bacteria with Flavor

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , , on July 9, 2010 by PickMeYard

Yogurt happens when bacteria consume natural milk sugars (lactose) and excrete lactic acid.  Yogurt has two bacteria in it… Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.  They are tiny living organisms that are similar to the bacteria that we already have in our gut.  It is said that these friendly bacteria are good for us because they help us keep our immune system healthy. 

There are many other beneficial bacteria too, but they have to be added  to the yogurt separately.  Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium and L. Casei are examples of the probiotics that can be added for extra health benefits.  Many of the yogurt brands that can be bought in the supermarket have added good bacteria such as acidophilus, but they aren’t forthcoming with how much is actually in there

Delicious, healthy and homemade yogurt.

Store bought yogurt usually has added ingredients in them like pectin and gelatin so they can make them thicker and cut their production costs.  I stopped buying them a long time ago.  I am lucky enough to have a mom that keeps me stocked-up with her homemade yogurt.  She recently acquired some Indian yogurt starter (bacteria) that knocked my socks off.  It’s the best yogurt I’ve ever had.  So now, I’m making it myself to relieve her of the increased demand. It’s not hard at all.  Anybody can make it… although some people have special secrets to make theirs incredible.

My mom's Indian yogurt.

Homemade yogurt is made with milk and a starter culture.  The milk can be whole milk (makes thicker yogurt) or skim milk (makes thinner yogurt).  Your yogurt will only be as good as the starter you use though.  You can use any yogurt as a starter culture, but the better it is… the better yours will be.  Stonyfield Organic Plain yogurt is a good starter that can be bought at the grocery store.  Yoplait would probably give you less than satisfactory results.  A good quality milk is a must too.

Homemade yogurt in an olive jar.

My mom makes her Indian yogurt by heating two gallons of whole milk in a pot to 200 degrees on her stove-top and keeping it there for 20 minutes. You’ll want a layer of cream to form on the top.  If you like thicker yogurt, then heat it longer, up to 30 minutes.  For thinner yogurt, 10 minutes. My mom cools hers down to 120 degrees and “innoculates” it with her starter culture.  She “innoculates” it by adding 1 cup of the 120 degree milk to about one  cup of her starter culture and mixes them together really well.  It’s important that the bacteria mixes with the warm milk.  Then she mixes it with the rest of her 120 degree milk. (A hand-mixer works great for this, but she insists on mixing it by hand). She puts it in jars right away and huddles them close together inside her oven.  She leaves the light on in her oven for warmth, even though the oven is off.  The oven can be pre-warmed to 180 degrees to make it a desirable temperature for better results, but turn it off about 15 minutes before you put your yogurt in.

She lets her yogurt “set” in her oven for 9 hours (overnight).  It is left completely undisturbed.  Yogurt gets more tart the longer it is left to set because acids develop.  If you want a milder flavor that is less tart, the yogurt could set for 3-4 hours.  After it is set, it should be refrigerated.  My mom makes a lot of yogurt at one time, but it is easy to make less.  The ratio is usually about 4 cups of milk to 1 tablespoon of yogurt.  The measurements don’t have to be exact. 

My friend Amy over at Dish on Design did an awesome blog on how to make your own yogurt.  I also found a great YouTube video that shows how to make Indian yogurt in your microwave.  Check it out by clicking here.

My absolute favorite way to enjoy my homemade yogurt is in a bowl with honey on it.  But since I have trouble moderating myself, I have a second favorite way with fewer calories.  It’s an Indian recipe called “Sweet Lassi”.  I blend (with a hand-mixer) about 1.5 cups of water with a half cup of yogurt.  I crush a green cardamom pod with the back of a spoon and throw the seeds into the yogurt along with some sugar.  I add about half a teaspoon of rose-water and I garnish with mint.  I just absolutely love this!

Green cardamom pods.

A crushed cardamom pod with the seeds inside.

A sweet, sweet lassi. It was garnished with mint. My daughter ate it before I could take the picture.

Homemade yogurt is so delicious and so easy, you’ll never buy it again.  You won’t have to because you always save a little bit of your yogurt to use as the starter for your next batch.  It is a bit of trial and error in the beginning, but once you figure out what works for you, it will work every time.

Come grow with us!

The Garden of Forgetting

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , on June 28, 2010 by PickMeYard

There is a thirsty road that winds

around the mountains waist and ends

in the Garden of Forgetting; there,

yesterday, today and tomorrow grows,

and the night-blooming cereus stays

awake until the day unfolds,

and time passes in a dream of light.

There the bottlebrush sweeps the earth,

its red prickle weeping

to the silence of terraced stone,

the sky with its tongues of flame.

But there is one tree (no one knows its name)

whose uncertain tendrils find

their way through snowy branches

of euphorbia; and now

yesterday, today and tomorrow weeps

in the Garden of Forgetting,

in fading light.

This poem was written by Gwyneth Barber Wood from Kingston, Jamaica.  It was  published in her book of poems, “The Garden of Forgetting”.  Her work used to appear regularly in the literary section of the Jamaican Observer.  In 2001 she was awarded a Fellowship by the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. 

Gwen is a dear friend who is now gone from this world but not forgotten.  I wanted to share this beautiful poem of hers with you in her memory.

That's Gwen looking back at the camera and smiling.

Life is so busy.  Slow down once in awhile and smell the flowers. Life is a gift, enjoy the present.

Come grow with us!

Alva Island Family Farm

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , , on June 17, 2010 by PickMeYard

It’s not every day that we get to visit a family farm on an island… their very own island.  It was such a treat for us.

They even have their own island taxi.

The Caloosahatchee River in Southwest Florida.

This is the taxi for the other occupants on the island... goats.

The family raises honeybees and goats on the island farm.  They have honey and goats to sell most of the year. 

Southwest Florida honeybees on Alva Island.

This is where we’re getting the latest additions to our family… two baby Nigerian dwarf goats.  Only one has been born and we’re still waiting on the other one. 

The Nigerian dwarf goat is a liliputian dairy goat.  The females (does) only reach 17″-19″ in height and the males (bucks) only reach up to 21″ when they’re fully grown.  That’s only up to our knees.  They do get wide though, especially when pregnant.  This special and rare breed has been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a livestock dairy goat, which makes them eligible for our 4-H projects.  Both my kids want to show their goats in 4-H.  I’m sure my 3-year-old will knock their socks off with her husbandry skills in the pee-wee division.  Nigerian dwarf goats can produce a lot of milk for their size… up to 2 quarts per day.  Their milk is known to be higher in butterfat than other goat breeds and taste sweeter.  These goats are gentle, lovable and playful with the sweetest personalities. 

Entrance to Alva Island.

I love hammocks. I dream of them. One of these days I will have to time to get one of my own and actually use it.

A swing on Alva Island.

... and a see-saw,

... and lots of trees to climb,

... and the baby Nigerian Dwarf goats.

She was determined to keep this one.

This one is ours. Do we have time for this? No. Are we going to make time? Oh yeah!

She's a doeling with blue eyes.

The Nigerian dwarf goat nursery on the Alva Island Family Farm.

They have a vegetable garden as well. This is the entrance.

The island still has all of its native Florida landscaping which makes it incredibly beautiful.

Hog plums are all over the island. Click on the picture for information on hog plums.

They have pineapples growing everywhere too.

This is a huge passion fruit vine that went to the top of this tree! There are hundreds of passion fruit all over the ground. The kids were throwing them like baseballs.

Ripe passion fruit are delicious!

If you would like to see how they got their goats onto the island, check out their website at

Come grow with us!

A Secret Outback

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , on June 7, 2010 by PickMeYard

Every child deserves their very own fort in the woods, but not every child is so fortunate.  However, we know two little sisters that are very fortunate to have such a fort…  in a small paradise in their backyard.  The girls have a beautiful little forest of Australian pines (Casuarina equisetifolia) that they have turned into their own private space.  They proudly refer to it as their “Australia”.

Australian pines "out back" in a Florida yard.

The entrance to "Australia". It has lots of paths throughout.

This is the view when you look up. These trees reach up to 80 feet... maybe higher.

These woods may look a little spooky, but they are very friendly.

Lots of friendly faces.

There is something magical and fun in every nook and cranny in these woods.

I think every child dreams of having a secret place like this.

This is the children's arts & crafts area.

Supplies for making things.

I love this. They glued pieces of mirror onto wooden blocks and hung them from twine. When the light hits them, they leave dancing prisms of light all over the woods.

The pines make a soft noise that sound like somebody is whispering around you. These bells blend into the background and add even more magic.

This old Ford pickup is scenic. The cab is used for dry storage.

There is also a bathtub with a plumbed-in drain. The bottom is painted gold and the girls are going to decorate it with all sorts of sparkly things.

There's a table and bench behind the tub.

There are "screens" of hanging moss everywhere. It breaks the forest up into rooms.

How great is this?

There is so much for kids to do in this secret land.  They have a dry erase board hanging on a tree where they keep track of their snacks.  There are several adorable wooden benches and shelving all over.  If you look up, you see all kinds of clever things.  My favorite is a plastic bat that hangs from a fishing line over a hammock chair.  It definitely made me look twice.  There is a wooden bucket that hangs from a long piece of twine and is looped over several branches so that it can be raised and lowered.  It is tied to a tree to keep it steady when it’s not in use.  Their goal is to keep the forest looking like a forest and they want everything they add to look like it belongs.  If something stands out too much, it probably won’t stay in there for long.  It would take many visits to notice everything.

One of the exits... if you ever want to leave.

This wonderful setting reminds me how much children love to have a secret place to call their own.  I still remember mine.  I am really inspired to help my kids build one for themselves.  I have a feeling Grayson will go for a treehouse with edible landscaping at the bottom and probably a passion vine or two trailing up.

Come grow with us!

A Storybook Garden: Part II

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , , on May 21, 2010 by PickMeYard

GiGi’s yard has such a classic storybook feel to it.  Visiting her yard is like taking a step back in time.

"Chateau GiGi" as the sun sets

GiGi's surinam cherry tree produces more cherries than humanly possible to consume. The wildlife can barely put a dent in the amount the trees produce.

Grayson picking cherries.

A momma and baby owl looking down at us from GiGi's tree.

Inside the kid's playhouse.

Entrance to the playhouse.

Tea time in the playhouse.

The fairy princess cleaning up after her "tea party".

Climbing playground made from... yes, the Banyan tree. She is having a commemorative plaque made to place here to honor the tree. Do you see the footprint slices?

Wooden footprints.

Standing on wooden footprints.

A picnic area. Doesn't this beat the usual plastic white chairs?

Servants quarters (the birds & bees house). This is the trunk of a Royal Palm tree from which Hurricane Wilma blew off the heart of the tree. It is now hose clamped together and provides many homes for wildlife... thanks to the condo city that the woodpeckers developed.

Guardians of the Castle.

GiGi isn't the only noctural creature in this yard. Do you see the owl in the middle?

There is so much wildlife in her yard…we are never alone.  The Great Horned Owls always watch us from the trees and the bees buzz over our heads as they fly to their house. The list of critters I could name would be practically endless.  I kick myself  whenever I forget to bring my camera.  The backyard was just a lawn with some beautiful trees when she bought the house.   She’s put her heart and soul into her yard and now it is her own personal paradise (not to mention a grandchild’s dreamland) and private retreat.  Her gardens inspire me to create more outdoor spaces, plant more and use more garden art in our own yard.

Come grow with us!

A Storybook Garden: Part I

Posted in Inspiration with tags , , , , , , , on May 19, 2010 by PickMeYard

Chateau GiGi

Gigi’s house is in the middle of Florida, but looks like it’s in the middle of Europe.  The house is French Normandy architecture and was built in 1928. (Her small city was incorporated in 1925).   The house is registered with the National Register of Historic Places .  The National Preservation Act of 1966 is a national program to identify, preserve and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.

Guest house with 150' Kapok tree behind. Photo captured a magic moment of light.

GiGi's Kapok Tree. Can you see her at the base?

Patio at the base of the Kapok tree

The Kapok tree has secret "rooms" created by the root growth.

The children's playground "before" picture.

The children's playground now. It's not an "after" picture because it isn't finished.

Stairs to playground made out of a cut-up trunk from an invasive Banyan/Strangler Fig tree that was removed from the yard.

A Side View

 She has a fence to provide privacy and keep out the alligators (dinosaurs). The fence is not quite finished in these photos.

A horse swing made from a tire. GiGi uses a scarf as a seat belt.

Footprints in the concrete made using a slice of a trunk from the Banyan tree to make the impressions in the concrete.

Jewels in the footprints

Over the bridge, through the ferns to the pineapple patch.

A side table in one of her outdoor living rooms. You guessed it, more of the Banyan tree.

GiGi’s yard has something new every time we visit.  She has so many clever and unique ideas everywhere.  Both of my kids cry every time we leave.  Her gardens make us feel so close to nature and provide a constant reminder of how important it is to stay connected with the outdoors.  We especially love the Great Horned Owls that call her yard home and watch every move we make.  I think they might like us too.

Come grow with us!