I'm chomping at the bit here to get back in my garden but well, I'm miles and days away. Even though I escape winter, I still welcome spring just as joyously – perhaps more so – than when I endured winter. Winter made me oh so bitter and signs of spring seemed so minuscule and disheartening while I waited, and waited, and waited. Escaping makes me much more refreshed and forward thinking and it's still a bit of tedious waiting but when I arrive it's like an explosion of spring instead of little tidbits. It is also a bit like torture to reside here in zone 9(!!!) without a garden so I have the fever bad. All my seeds are here boxed up, ready to go home and just waiting to be planted – sort of like me. Before I left I set up my lighting system in my newly organized office and I just can't wait to get started! We have already "secured" our winter home for next year and with that I become somewhat nostalgic and saddened to think about leaving this peaceful little island, but I also become excited and fueled when I think about getting back into my garden. I splurged on a pineapple lily bulb that already shipped – oops – that is just waiting on my back porch for my arrival, hopefully not freezing to death. I'm also fretting about the "survivor plants" I stored in the cellar before we left. (For a bit of history, click here.) Did I give them enough water? Did the water plugs work properly? Will they be dried up and dead when I get home? Did they freeze again? Hang on, I'm coming home!
Another thing I am very excited about is my plant order this year because you must know by now I am an addict and even if I didn't have an inch of space left, I would still need to order plants for spring. This year I ordered plants to upgrade Hosta Row. Some have been on my wish list for a very long time like ... Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica! I so want to establish a nice patch of these beauties. I also ordered some Solomon's Plume, Smilacina racemosa, because in my voracious reading I remember it being a great companion for Flowering Raspberry of which I have a great deal – perhaps the two tangoing together will keep them both a bit in check. Part of my going forward strategy is to reduce the amount of meddling I need to do in my garden so I am leaning towards more ground covers, natives, and hardscapes. Solomon's Plume should be a nice ground cover as will be Big Leaf Aster, Aster macrophyllus, another plant on this year's order. A girl can never have too many perennial Geraniums either, so in comes Wild Geranium, Geranium maculatum. And of course, the star of this year's order is ... Spikenard, Aralia racemosa. This plant has been on my list for a very long time but I didn't have enough shade for her liking when I first began the Violet Fern garden. The birds will love me for planting Spikenard. Heck, I love me for planting Spikenard. For fun, because I love how tough yet graceful heucheras are, I am also trying our native Maple Leaved Alum Root, Heuchera villosa, var. Atropurpurea. All these plants will be incorporated into Hosta Row. But no, I couldn't stop there so I am adding to the sunny front gardens Purple Poppy Mallow, Callirhoe involucrata, aka Wine Cups, a plant I tried out at TI Park that I am very impressed with. Lastly I ordered native Steeplebush, Spiraea tomentosa, to compliment the Clethra 'Vanilla Spice' shrub I planted a couple years ago that I moved last Fall to a more prominent spot by my she shed (after the tough love decision to rip out towering thug Rudbeckia Laciniata).
When I get home I will literally hit the ground running and not stop until we leave again for the peaceful little island life of Cedar Key come December, but I am ready!
On this glorious first day of SPRING I would like to share with you a treat of a tour of the Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. After all, we will soon be seeing these beauties grace our gardens en mass and especially welcome in the north.
This is only a small sampling of a large wall leading up to the Butterfly Rainforest screened enclosure. So many beautiful butterflies and moths on display from all over the world. I could have studied this wall for years.
The colors and patterns are truly extraordinary.
Also fun were the viewing rooms to butterflies and moths hatching. Each day at 2pm the museum releases newly emerged butterflies and moths into the Rainforest. You might recognize the Atala Butterflies (to the right) whose host plant is the Coontie. If you have ever attended a lecture by Doug Tallamy, you were most likely treated to the story of the great comeback of the Atala Butterfly once Coonties were "rediscovered" and infiltrated the landscape market.
Once past the "wall of butterflies" and the hatchlings, one enters the Rainforest itself through a double set of doors that are compressed with air so that butterflies cannot escape. And there, another world awaits ... lush, tropical, magical with water features bubbling and trickling through an amazing assortment of plants and tiny and quite large fairy wings fluttering about.
I was fascinated by the plants as much as I was by the butterflies. So many blooms, textures, patterns ...
And then, there were the fairies of course with magical wings. One landed on my sister!
I wish I could tell you the names of all these beautiful, magical creatures but there were so many and it was so awe inspiring that I became lost in the moment. I suppose I could back and study that amazing wall again to identify some of these winged gems.
Watching the release was a real treat. I learned how to hold a butterfly properly for transport. No scooping! A simple clasp of the wings from above is the best way to move a butterfly or moth with minimal damage. The woman (most are volunteers!) was so practiced at this and effortlessly retrieved the moths and butterflies from a temporary cage and gently placed them upon a nearby sapling. I was thrilled to witness the release of this South African Luna Moth (upper right corner)!
Tasty treats, plantains, await the newly released who prefer fruit.
Happy Spring to all! I hope the flowers and butterflies return to your gardens soon.
I almost forgot to mention that if you enjoy coloring, my free coloring page download for March is inspired by the Butterfly Rainforest!
A WARNING about this post: it is long and pondering with few pictures.
I wonder if sometimes when you shake up your life a little, it leads to other shake downs. I think it's good to shake down your life every now and then. Then again, sometimes life shakes you upside down and all around.
We have some friends and acquaintances who think we are just so damn lucky. And I do consider myself and my husband very lucky but I have to indicate we worked and planned to get here from there — we shook it, baby.
We are pretty young to be snow birds but it isn't just luck that has landed us here in the Southern clime. It took a little planning and sacrifice. We work very differently from the 9 to 5. We sometimes scratch and crawl between payments because we do not have that weekly paycheck and steady income that comes along with 9 to 5. We definitely don't live for retirement – that is not in our plan. We work to live. We will probably be working for the rest of our lives whether that be in a bait shop, a Walmart, restaurant, or our own retail shop. What I mean by working to live is that we worship our lifestyle and freedom, not our paycheck which can be pretty meager at times. We try to celebrate Fridays and weekends but sometimes we have to work and not receive overtime. We constantly analyze how we can make an income and steer it towards freedom, not big bucks. Giving up the 9 to 5 with benefits and paid vacation means we don't have kids. We don't shop. We don't buy new clothes every year and stay in fashion. We don't redo our living room. (We might add a porch but it will take us ten years to get it done.) We don't drive fancy cars. We don't go out very much. (It may look that way on FB or IG but truth is we may have one or two drinks at the tiki bar and then go home and cook. We also meet many inspiring people at the tiki bar who live lives by design: selling everything they own to live out of RVs, working to scratch out a living in unusual ways, people who inspire us.) We cook 98% (!!!) of our meals. We eat beans instead of steak. We tend to stress a LOT about money — who doesn't? — yet we travel South. Some wonder how can that be?
Our favorite tiki bar, the Low Key Hideaway is a sunset bar as seen in this photo, and closes by 9. We only have a couple and then go home and cook dinner.
The tiki bar celebrates sunset by having one of its patrons blow the conch shell. This photo is from an exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
It is all a matter of perspective. We can work from afar and we have been setting up ourselves to do just that for YEARS. It is not vacation. It is living well. I work summers by design. Then when my gardening job ends I can, and do, go South and try to scratch out a dollar or two from painting. The painting doesn't work out so well for me — yet — but this year I am working on a non for profit start up, the Northern NY Art Trail, of which I agreed to get paid for my time on faith. It looks as if it is going to work out. So many things like this gamble have worked for me. How did I become involved in the NNY Art Trail? A woman, my partner (who is an awesome potter), saw an Art Studio Tour brochure I created and asked around who did the brochure and approached me with the Trail venture! I have to point out that I volunteered to pull together the Artist Studio Tour brochure unpaid kicking myself and calling myself stupid in the name of my love for art the whole time, but the time I spent on that project led me to this amazing current project. I also have to point out, I accepted the challenge.
Another example: I agreed to offer a 7 week, 1 hour talk at our local library about gardening, again for free. It was a lot of work creating the presentation and sometimes I cursed myself (and again called myself stupid) for agreeing to do it, and I had to go out on wintery cold nights to be there to present all in the name of gardening which I also love. But in that audience was a fan who lived in TI Park summers and told me about a gardening job they were going to offer. Many people only see that I got the job and exclaim "lucky." They don't see the hours I spent pulling together that presentation, or on the pitch and gamble I made to the Park.
What I am getting at is that people often don't see the journey or the risk, only the outcome. They see the outcome and just say they are, he is, she is "lucky." But it is the journey and the risk that has allowed my husband and I to spend time in our paradise. There have been times when we wanted to give up owning a business and have had to go out and get a 9 to 5-er a just to get by. There was a time that I was the one up and out of the house working 9 to 5 (and then some) for a steady paycheck and benefits so my husband could continue to build our Canis Gear business. Let me reiterate, we aren't monetarily rich, we are lifestyle rich. Our rent here is quite comparable to our heating bill in the North — swap. Our attitude here is so much more positive. Positive brings in positive. Getting away allows for free thinking which leads to other things — working smarter for the life we want. Our jobs do not define us, they allow us to live how we want.
And just in case you may think that we don't encounter trouble in paradise, let me say that life can find you anywhere. Our beautiful golden doodle of only 6 years was diagnosed with lymphoma here in late December/January. We decided to attempt to treat the disease at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Even though it was a state of the art facility, the treatment wasn't working and we released him to the skies on February 4. This is a BIG blow to me. Mojo was my furry compadre. He was my only child, my baby. I talked to him all the time. Heck, I sang to him! Mojo Mojo man, I want to be a Mojo man ... It has left the biggest, darkest hole in my heart not only because of his death but because seeing cancer wreak havoc on so many dogs and consequently their owners, and imaging all the people who struggle through this awful disease — imagine a mother and child! — and remembering family we have lost, and friends who have won, the battle of this disease, and getting an up close and personal taste of the even more awful treatment (not as potent for dogs???), is absolutely despairing.
My sweet furry compadre Mojo. May he rest in peace and be in a happy place.
Mojo used to sneak my gardening gloves and beg to be chased making me run around my garden screaming to my neighbors' shock you are my last dog! And that may very well be the truth because before Mojo, there was Stanley our beautiful golden retriever who developed pancreatic cancer at age 5. That hole was pretty dark and deep but Mojo filled it in and then some — only to carve it out deeper. We selected Mojo's breed for hybrid vigor because of Stanley's untimely death and as you may have already deduced, that sort of planned gamble didn't work out for us. In fact there have been quite a few things that haven't worked out for us even though we are "lucky."
A younger Mojo stealing a glove off a garden stake and showing up at the back door before we added our porch, trying to get me to play.
Stanley, another heart breaker.
Then by fluke (actual luck?), I discovered I have high blood pressure and by high I mean emergency room high, which is where I landed not being able to find a doctor who would be willing to see me on short notice and risk diagnosing me. Stage 2 hypertension as in above 200 and above 100 i.e. 225/125. I made the mistake of believing my healthy Vegan diet made me immune to any sort of heart disease and have basically avoided all doctors. Genes trump lifestyle in my case. It was scary. It was everything I hate about doctors and our health care system but I am on the mend and to my horror on medication. I hope I can remedy that overtime by actually establishing a relationship with a doctor and some lifestyle changes (inspired by my current read "Blood Pressure Down" by Janet Bond Brill), including more exercise; way less sodium - turns out I must have been a salt addict; watching my intake of potassium, calcium and magnesium; and if miracles exist, losing a few pounds. I have been trying to lose a few pounds for the last 15 years without much luck. I love to eat. I refuse to "diet" and instead just keep trying to make better and better habits. I can say I haven't really gained weight so there's that. But there you go, I struggle with my weight just like any other "unlucky" person.
There is trouble in paradise just as there is trouble in all of our lives. We all struggle. We all have pity party days. None of us is perfect. I came across an excellent article on Zen Habits entitled "Why We Struggle With Change" that I want to share with you: click here. My new favorite saying is "I am fluid." The article really resonated with me.
Where is this post leading? I am yet again analyzing, trying to reinvent, shaking myself. I've redone my two websites into one which took many stabs before I was able to stick to it. It was difficult and frustrating and it is definitely not perfect but it is a start. I am finally opening up a public space in my Northern home to display my art and give garden tours — which is/has been my dream. It is rough and far from perfect, but it is a start. I hope to wrangle in some illustration jobs to begin carving out a career in illustration. I have started with ONE. (By the way, the two children's books I have illustrated unpaid, really haven't panned out for me considering the time and effort involved but I figure in time they may lead to another project as has most everything else.)
I have been absent from this blog. I apologize. I am constantly shaking it out, reinventing, reconfiguring life. Which leads you here, bless you, to my third blog residence. I thank you so so much for sticking with me. It will hopefully work out?
In short, this long pondering post is a little bit more about me (which isn't easy for me to express), about shaking it out, taking a different look, starting, stopping, ups, downs, gains, losses, living in paradise, trouble or not. I hope it makes you feel "not alone." I hope it inspires you to shake it up.
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