Crystal Madrilejos

Design & Creative

The Design Elements of a Chicken. Illustration from “Introduction to Permaculture” by Bill Mollison.

I first learned about Permaculture when Andrew was living out west at Bohdi Creek Farm. And from the moment he started describing the things he was learning while living there, I knew it was something life-changing. Who knew that, what would turn out to be an unplanned three month stint for Andrew in the Pacific NW, would end up being so influential on our lives?

If you are unfamiliar with Permaculture, here is the general synopsis from Wikipedia:

Permaculture is a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, and environmental design that develops sustainable architecture and self-maintained agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems.

Andrew and I have talked about the general principles of Permaculture before and know some aspects of it from his time out west and the modest amount of research we’ve done, but something I read recently was sort of an “ah-ha” moment for me. It made things clear as to why the whole idea of Permaculture really speaks to me, and it’s basically this: Permaculture is design. (more…)


I intend to accept and work with the fact that a lot of the planning that Andrew and I need to do towards our goal at the moment is research. There are items on our list that are currently not within our control or not plausible for the moment. But what we can do (something that Andrew and I used to always say) is we can get smart. We have to learn everything there is to know about what we want to achieve so that when the time comes, we can hit the ground running. I have a few items that I have on my to-do list that have to get done work-wise, but today I intend to spend at least some time just learning. Also, one if the things that I realized in last week’s intentions/reflections was that I have this tendency to view things that I really want to do as things that are “special treats” and can only devote time to them after I’ve taken care of my “responsibilities.” I love to read and I love to research things that I find valuable and interesting, things that inspire me to move towards my goals. So these things usually fall at the end of my priority list because there are always other things that “need” to be done. But in the grand scheme of things, the work that Andrew and I put towards our ultimate goals in life, are more important than most tasks that seem to take up the majority of our time. So, with that in mind, I intend to try and change my perspective in regards to things that I view as priorities and things that I view as “nice-to-haves.” Because i’m sure most of the time, I confuse the two.


I did spend a lot of time today reading and researching. Not a ton, but more than I have in the recent past. I’ve always been an avid reader, and this is the first year of my life that I didn’t read a bunch of books. I think I managed one, maybe two? I’m currently reading “A Pattern Language” by Christopher Alexander and his colleagues, which I’m finding to be really engaging. And also, “An Introduction to Permaculture” by Bill Mollison, who is considered the father of Permaculture. So in that regards in did have some success in sticking to my intentions today. Something I realized today is that I have a really hard time pulling myself away from work. Especially when I have a problem that needs resolving. I can’t just walk away and come back to it. I work until I feel utterly frustrated or until something else comes up that forces my attention away. Even though there is a rational side of me that knows that taking a break would be good, I just can’t seem to stop. And it was extra frustrating today because I knew that I wanted to spend some time reading and the only thing standing in my way was this one problem that I couldn’t just let be for the time being. Something I need to work on.

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


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.


Nature, you know? The vast wonders of her majestic beauty, punctuated by the biggest pains in my ass. First it was the deer, then the birds (yes, that’s bird crap in our lettuce bed but I’ve made peace with the birds, for the time being), and now chipmunks.

The birds at least have some purpose, other than pooping everywhere. They eat the bad bugs that eat our veggies. But chipmunks, what good are they? Cute, for sure. And whenever Quil sees a chipmunk running around in the backyard, he says the chipmunk is on his way “to eat pasta with grandmother.” Which he totally made up himself and is almost reason alone to pardon the creatures. But still, they are driving me crazy. They keep digging in our garden beds to hide their little nut stashes and in the process uproot any plants nearby their chosen spot. Holes like this in our potato bin:

And last night, one of those little brats knocked over one of my succulent pots on our porch and broke it. I just planted some flower seeds in another pot on our porch and they keep digging in that as well. I’m not even sure if the flowers will grow now since they’ve been disturbed so many times.

So, I did a quick little search and found that putting up a big fake owl in your garden is a common thing to do to freak those chipmunks right out. Now, that sounds all sorts of crazy. But I’m willing to try it. And I googled it and there are such things in existence for this exact purpose. I might just go all out and make my yard look like this:

There are some people on the web who say no amount of fake-owling will keep the pests out, but I’m going to give it a try since it’s cheap and requires a minimal amount of effort. Nothing worse than spending a ton of money and time on something that doesn’t work. I will let you know how it goes.

Wish me luck!

I’ve been doing a little bit of research into low-light houseplants.

After buying a handful of succulents over the past year, I’m realizing that we just don’t have enough light to really get them to thrive. I have a few that are doing okay, but they are stretching and getting leggy due to the lack of light, even in our south-facing window (due to two beautiful, but huge, maple trees.)

Here’s a photo of part of my current succulent collection that I moved out onto the porch for more sun. See how long and leggy that middle one is? And you can see the Echeveria at the top, how the center is stretching. Poor guys.

I came across this great post on Martha Stewart (of course) on how to measure what type of light you have and what plants are appropriate for your light levels. I don’t think I’m going to do the entire light test with the camera that they suggest, but it did give me some ideas for plants to look out for. Here are two of my favorites:

Crested Leopard Plant (Farfugium Japonicum ‘Crispatum’)

Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura)

I don’t know what I’m going to do with all these succulents come fall – right now they are on the porch which gets a bit more sun, but come winter they will have to come back indoors. I looked into using plant grow lights, but those have a tendency to be an eyesore. We still have a grow light hanging in our kitchen from our seed starts and it just screams “illegal activity” to me. But it may be my only choice if I want to keep them.

Anyone have any low-light houseplant they like and recommend?