Crystal Madrilejos

Design & Creative

Tomatoes haven’t always been the most successful plants in our garden. Yes, there are factors that are not within our control, like the weather but a lot of attention goes a long way with tomatoes. They aren’t like some plants where you can just let them go wild and they are the better for it. Tomatoes crave attention. This past season, I made the tomatoes into my own little pet project. I was determined to have a big and healthy haul and I can say that it was our best season yet. Our goal is to grow and perfect a canning process that is suitable for the type of sauce Andrew makes for his pizza.  (more…)

It’s hard to believe that it’s that time of year again. Not only does it seem like we were just planning the garden not so long ago, but with this crazy winter weather, it’s hard to believe that spring is even around the corner. Instead of doing one massive garden planning post this year, I’ve decided to spread things out a bit to get us all ramped up for the planting season. So with that said, onto the garden planning!  (more…)

On Being

Dream Day

The Creative Coaching sessions I’ve been doing have not only been helping me improve my approach to how I work, create and live, but they’ve also been helping me work towards big goals. One of the first homework assignments Kathleen had me do was to describe in detail my ideal dream day. She encouraged me to put in as many details as possible, down to what I was wearing and eating. I was pretty descriptive and was able to knock out two solid sheets, single spaced no less. I’ve obviously thought about this a lot.

I won’t go into every single detail, but since I was also required to make a Pinterest Board around what the day felt like, you can see some of what would look like by viewing my Dream Day board here.

The three major things that my dream day included were: A custom built house on a permaculture homestead, homeschooling our kids and somehow combining these two aspects into a sustainable business model.

So yeah, really big lofty goals! Like, huge life-changing, uncharted-territory-for-me-and-my-family type goals. Even though attaining all these would be a dream, they are in the distant future and I’m actually appreciative that I am not in a position to make these things happen right now. The nature of these goals requires a lot of learning and discovery, and for the time being I’m in a great position to do just that. There are a lot of things between me and my goals that are outside of my control that I have to just work with at the moment, but there’s a part of me that thinks the Universe is giving me this time to not only prepare, but figure out if this is the right fit for me and my family.

I’m fortunate that I currently have a great job that not only supports my family but keeps me grounded. It’s helping me grow as a designer and creative decision maker and I’m always learning new skills that will help me down whatever path my future takes me, homestead or not. It also lets me put into use the problem-solving tools I acquire and allows me to implement new approaches as I continue to find the best and most effective way for me to create.

It’s all a process and I’m learning new things everyday. Like I said earlier in the post, I won’t share my entire dream day, but here is an excerpt of what I wrote and found especially dreamy, it’s a cross between a Portlandia parody and Kinfolk Magazine, which will, in reality, probably end up looking more like Doomsday Preppers but whatever:

“We all wake up early on the homestead because there are chickens that need tending and veggies for harvesting, compost that needs turning, gardens that need watering. We all have our jobs to do. The kids start their school day early because the way we live is a huge part of their education. They learn by doing, by understanding the connection our lives have to our surroundings, to our environment, to the way we choose to live consciously.”

I’m sure there is something to be said for the fact that I didn’t portray my dream day as one where I sit on the beach all day. I’m just too practical, I guess. What does your dream day look like? Does it look like work, but work that you love doing? Does it look like a vacation? Does it look like Rivendell or The Shire (man, that’s a tough one!)?


On Habitat

The Homestead

I mentioned in one of my previous posts about how I had to create an “Ideal Dream Day” for my creative coaching session, which is basically what I’m referring to whenever I talk about mine and Andrew’s goals.

Our goal is to build a self-sufficient, sustainable, Permaculture-based homestead for our family. I’m putting this out there, which isn’t something that Andrew and I usually do. We’re both of the sort where we don’t like to voice desires/wishes/plans until we feel like there is proof of being able to follow through with it. We’re usually not ones to make superficial claims – the whole “say what we mean, and mean what we say” thing. Though this is really more descriptive of Andrew and less so of myself. I’ve been known to get dramatic and use the words “never,” “ever,” and “always” when things get heated. But, I try to be aware of it. Anyways, side-note!

For a long time, Andrew and I have wanted to build a home for ourselves. We just couldn’t ever see us living long-term in something that was not our own. Something that we didn’t get to consider every aspect of. For the amount of money it costs to own a home, we couldn’t resign ourselves to having to make compromises. Of course, we’re realistic. We will have to make compromises even if we build our own home, but they will be compromises of our own design. What Andrew and I want is nothing elaborate. We want something that is sensible and smart.

After all these years of dreaming, we’re about at the point where being able to take action is visible on the horizon. We’re still a long ways off, but it seems like a real possibility. So, in the meantime, we’re doing what we can to research and learn about what it will take to build our homestead. Getting smart, as I said in a previous post.

I’m looking forward to sharing what we learn here! Any advice or tips from those of you who are out there building your own or have built your own homestead are welcome.

Coming up, I’ll talk more about the “Ideal Dream Day” that I came up with for my coaching session. It’s, dreamy to say the least!

Above is an image our backyard at the place we currently live. Pretty dreamy to wake up to everyday. That’s our house directly to the right of the barn, slightly obscured by the tree. (Not the house on the far right.)


Above: An unfinished project that Andrew started for Q a couple years ago, that didn’t turn out as planned.



Today I intend to focus on the things Andrew and I discussed this morning in regards to what we wanted to do today, which includes finishing the yard clean up in preparation for winter. This includes gathering the rest of the leaves, putting the pizza oven away (sad!), filling the raised beds with leaf mulch, and putting away any garden supplies and structures. I also have to finish updates to a website project I’m working on and also go to the craft store for supplies to finish a craft project for a friend who’s expecting. There are other mundane items on my list, but my main intention other than focusing on these items, is to be happy with what I can get done and not stress about things that I can’t. Also, I intend to continue trying to be agile in my approach to projects knowing that things aren’t always going to work out how I plan. Especially when kids are involved. I can already anticipate that the yard project will end with the kids and I back inside the house before the work is done, because that’s just how it goes sometimes. I also intend to spend a little time researching future education possibilities for the kiddos. More on that later as well!

Above: Q + E doing their thing in the garden.
Above: Andrew preparing the leafmould.
Above: Little E laying in a leaf pile. Luckily, we don’t have an issue with ticks.
Above: Mushrooms growing in our garden. Dad coming over tomorrow to take a look, since I know nothing about mushrooms.
Above: All bedded down for winter. The only thing we’re still harvesting is the tall kale in the middle on the left.

Above: Showing Q how to jack up a pizza oven. Moving it to the barn for the winter.

Above: E being a huge help.

Above: Lunchtime. I never thought I’d see the day. Two kids, feeding themselves.

Above: Harira over brown rice. Recipe here.



Project Yard Clean Up for Winter was a success! The kids were amazingly well-behaved and in good spirits most of the time. I imagine it was because the weather was so nice and they were able to run around outside comfortably. We got everything and more done from our yard project list, all before noon. So I’d call that a double success. I got a lot of stuff done, but not everything I had hoped. But I’m okay. I still feel good about what I got done, so that fulfills one of the main intentions for today, to not stress about what I didn’t get done and just be happy with what I did. I was thinking this morning, that when I think of these intentions and reflections and just a lot of my inward looking from a different perspective, it looks like a whole lot of hoopla for relatively ordinary things. You know? Like, why does it have to be such a big deal to just get ordinary stuff done? But one of the things I realized really early on in this process is that it’s all about awareness. Being aware of how I spend my time. Am I spending a lot of my time just spinning my wheels and doing busy work or stressing or avoiding? Or am I actually doing constructive work that is moving me forward towards my goals? I feel like I’ve been spending these first two weeks just finding time. Literally, like it’s something that is lost or misplaced. I remember having it at one point, but don’t remember when it went missing. By analyzing everything I do, I feel like I’m retracing my steps. Finding my way back to being motivated and inspired to do the things Andrew and I have always imagined we’d do.

Past Posts
Week 2 Mantra: I Have a Plan – Day 1
Mantra: Reflections on Week 1
Introduction to Creative/Life Coaching


Our gardening season is coming to an end. At least the majority of the growing part. We still have some things to harvest, but even with this crazy weather (that is causing tiny watermelons to sprout!) most of our plants are done for the season.

I thought it would be nice to focus on each variety that we decided to grow this year and give them their own posts instead of one super long post. That way, I can go into more detail about our experience.

Overall, this year has been a wonderful success that I’m going to attribute to the addition of a deer fence and raised beds. Even with our one groundhog incident, we still had a great harvest.

Acorn squash and one watermelon.

We got a good amount of acorn squash, though this was our first year growing them so I don’t have much by comparison. We grew Organic Sweet REBA (Resistant Early Bush Acorn) variety and they performed well. I didn’t realize at first that these were going to be a bush variety (despite the name!) rather than the vining type, so they got pretty crowded and huge!

Here they are as babies, nice and neat and tidy.

Here they were full size! Yikes!

I was a little worried that they weren’t getting pollinated when I noticed some of the squash were falling off before fully ripening. I did some hand pollination after some research and chalked it up to the fact that we got them into the ground really early.

Okay, I just remembered that we did have issues with chipmunks and squirrels digging things up, which resulted in this. But didn’t seem to effect the plant too much.

We haven’t eaten any yet, so I can’t vouch for taste. I did trade one for eggs with a friend and she said it was still good despite being slightly unripened. We will see as the cool weather ramps up and we get into fall cooking. Last Thanksgiving, Andrew made an acorn squash soup for our family – I think he spent like $20 on acorn squash alone. Not this year! Will post updates once we’ve opened one of these guys up.



Between work, family, freelance side projects and trying to stay healthy by exercising and getting good sleep – I’m maxed out. Any free time that doesn’t involve one of those things I listed, goes to the garden, but even with a lack of free time, this year has been going surprisingly well. I’m going to attribute the success to all the work we put into it last fall! Go, us!

If you forgot, this is what our garden looked like around mid-June.

Here are some new shots of stuff in the garden:

Green Beans – I think our trellis is a bit small. Or maybe we just planted too many plants. We have a tendency to do that.

We built this so that the beans wouldn’t crawl on our deer fence. But what are they doing? Crawling on the deer fence (you can’t see it from this angle, but on the back side of the trellis the vines have started to spread to the deer fence.) Nature, you know? It will find a way!

Tomatoes are doing great this year, but our trellis/staking is dismal. What. the. Hell! Every single year, we end up looking like fools with our tomato situation. We think we have it under control, only to realize – we don’t. These things are taller than me but are falling all over the place. I don’t know why we always try to do something different when it comes to staking when there are tried and true methods for growing tomatoes. I just ended up staking them this past weekend, which is what I should have done from the start. Always trying to reinvent the wheel. Next year, we’ll get it right from the start.

The groundhogs must have been lying in waiting to get into the garden. Today, I left the gate open for 10 minutes while I went inside and in the meantime a little groundhog snuck in. Andrew looked out the window and there it was grazing in our garden like it was nobody’s business.

Of course, in the short amount of time it was undetected, it was able to eat 50% of our salad greens. Andrew went out and it got scared and ran under the small space under one of our lettuce beds that is against the side of our porch. Andrew’s Dad always has groundhog traps on hand because they are quite a nuisance around these parts. We set the cage in the path to the garden gate, in hopes that it might be enticed by the watermelon that we set as bait.

We had to wait awhile before it would even come out again. We tried to scare him out of the hole so we could get his into the trap, to no avail. By chance, Andrew and I were standing inside the house by the window and we saw it start making its way out but it walked right past the trap right into our flower bed. It then proceeded to ravenously eat everything in it’s path. I mean, it was going at it like it hadn’t eaten in weeks. Andrew was like “We need a plan and we need to make a move NOW.” I held Quil inside the house because when quietness is of the utmost importance, he’s like a bull in a china shop. Apparently, Andrew had some sort of weird plan because he grabbed these two things: the Bumbo and the Bilibo.

He went onto the front porch and had the wherewithal to at least wait for a car to go by to muffle the sound of his footsteps so as to not scare the little guy back into his hiding spot. But that seems to be the only part that goes according to plan. All the while, I’m inside the house watching the groundhog feast on our garden. I can’t see Andrew because he’s on the front porch and I’m looking out the side window into the garden. All the sudden, I see the Bilibo fly by and the groundhog darts toward his hiding spot behind our lettuce bed. Next thing I see the Bumbo go flying by, narrowly missing the critter before he burrows back into his hiding spot. Andrew comes back in and I’m like “What happened? Did you panic?!” No, he didn’t panic. He just missed.

Needless to say, the groundhog hasn’t come back out since. We finally did the smart thing and cornered him in there with the only opening, going right into the trap. So when he finally gets over the ordeal and decides it’s safe to surface, if all goes according to plan, he will get trapped in the cage with some watermelon to keep him company until we can take him elsewhere.

If anything, we totally blew that groundhog’s mind. A shovel, a broom, a stick, a rock. These things, yes. But a Bumbo and a Bilibo? Probably the very last things it could have ever imagined having to encounter in this situation. And he’s most likely the only groundhog in the world that has ever seen a Bumbo or a Bilibo since I can’t think of any other instance these two things would intersect with its life.

We will see in the morning if our little trap worked. Updates to follow.


The deer fence that we finally installed after four years of deer issues. So far so good, but we’ll see if it keeps them out for good.

My birthday gift from my Mom. A fig tree! It’s desperately in need of a larger and better-looking pot.

Butternut Squash

Cinderella Pumpkins

Strawberries, Pac Choy, Acorn Squash, Sugar Baby Watermelons and in the far distance, Tomatoes.

The side of our house that faces the garden. Not the ideal place for maximum sun exposure, but it saved us from having to fence in all four sides of the garden.

Potatoes, Kale, & Carrots



Pac Choy

Acorn Squash

Herbs & Amaranth

This was an offshoot of my Dad’s Thornless Blackberries that he gave us to plant.

Mini-trellis and wood stumps for bed edging.

Flowering early Potatoes (Chieftan)

The owl found a more prominent spot. You can see the tomato trellis in the background. We finally got that up today, but we need to get some hardware to finish securing the lines.

Lettuce and Salad Green Beds

It’s getting there! We put up the bean and pea trellis’ today after I took these photos. Will post more photos soon.


Oh, hey there! Meet our new garden addition. As I mentioned in my last post, chipmunks have been using our garden as their own personal nut repository. So I got this guy in hopes that he would scare the bejeezus out of those little guys so I don’t have to resort to drastic measures. Just look at those crazy eyes, and his head moves too!

But the big question is, does it actually work? I think it’s still too early to tell. We haven’t had an ideal set up yet. The first day we got him, the chipmunks still went to town on our beds, but I don’t think we placed the decoy in a good spot. He was sitting on our porch and sort of lower down than I think is normal for owls?  So, I’m going to put him up on a pole to, you know, simulate real owl life. The past few days, I’ve been putting him in more prominent spots around the garden and it seems to help the beds that are in direct line of the owl’s sight. Hopefully, having him up in the air will help.

Scare tactics aside, Quil seems to like him and moves him around the garden for the fun of it. So we’ve got that going for us.