Welcome Fall Party (Part 1) ~ Caramel Apples

We celebrated the Autumnal Equinox with our third annual "welcome fall" party yesterday. (See years one and two for more fun ways to celebrate the season.) On the menu this year - caramel apples!
The girls, myself, and Nana all had a sticky, sweet time dipping and decorating mini gala apples. We followed the ideas here for using a slowcooker to melt our caramel and keep it, and some melted chocolate, warm.
We dipped and drizzled, dunked and sprinkled. Our topping choices included crushed ginger snaps, sliced almonds, melted dark chocolate, and a variety of sprinkles (cookies & cream, chocolate, and golden). Yay fall!
The results were beautiful - and delicious too! After caramel appling, we got crafty with some weaving projects that aren't quite finished... so stay tuned for Part 2 of our fall celebration.

How do you welcome fall in your nest? Feel free to share links in the comments.


Counting Your Blessings

"There is so much abundance in nature, so much to be grateful for. And it’s all available to everyone! A Sense of Place can help you to experience this abundance… to contemplate it and connect to it in a meaningful way. There are many simple blessings to be enjoyed in the natural world; small glimpses of wonder that can evoke deep emotion, trigger sweet memories, or provide inspiration, insight, or delight. ... Throughout the course, you are encouraged to seek out these moments, which often change and flow with the seasons, then to record them and connect to them. This practice teaches us to count our blessings in the moment, and to understand their transience as they come and go with the rhythms of nature, and the passing of time."

This is a quote from an interview I did with Stephanie at Wellness by Design last spring. She'd asked me how my seasonal nature journaling eCourse, A Sense of Place, nurtures a gratitude practice. {See the entire interview here.} As we enter autumn, gratitude is on my mind again. To me, fall is the season for counting and celebrating our blessings. For really taking stock of what we have and nurturing a sense of contentment, and appreciation.
This is not always simple. It's so easy to slip into a different consciousness - one of I need... I want... or I don't have enough... Messages are constantly coming at us in all directions to have more, be more, do more. One must truly make a concentrated effort to regard all she already has, is, and does. And then, to find the courage to accept that it is, in most cases, quite enough. Something to think on...
Over the years, my journaling practice has truly helped me develop a practice of gratitude. And in my seasonal journaling courses, I strive to help participants nurture the same. Through first noticing, then really observing, and finally recording the beauty, wonder, and abundance of nature, one can connect, or reconnect, to the many blessings that surround us each and every day. For me, these simple, readily-available things - a brightly-colored leaf, a crisp breeze scented with wood smoke, a golden pumpkin in my daughter's arms - make my soul sing in gratitude. What makes your soul sing?
I'd love for you to join me in the fall session of A Sense of Place, now available for download. The eCourse is self-paced, which means you take it at your own speed, and work at your own level. There's no pressure. No "sharing with the class" - unless, of course, you wish to. Participation includes membership in a private A Sense of Place Community on Facebook, where I offer extra support and inspiration, and members from all over the world often share their experiences and photos of nature in "their place."
To learn more, or register now, follow this link.
And in appreciation of my readers, here is a sample page to enjoy from A Sense of Place ~ Fall:
excerpted from A Sense of Place ~ Fall. Copyright A Natural Nester. 2014.


Fresh Starts + a Garden Tour

I love a clean slate. A fresh start. Perhaps it's just my Virgo nature; I don't know. I like using things up, emptying things out, and wiping things clean. Then I like creating and gathering anew. I like to plant, nurture, and harvest. To write and dream and collect. And when it's time, I wipe the slate clean again, ready for another new beginning.
Prepping and planting my fall garden has this magic - its always a fresh start after a brutal Florida summer. My morning workout since school started has consisted of pulling weeds, pruning overgrown plants, and doing some major cleanup in the yard. It's sweaty, dirty, buggy, and extremely soul satisfying work. I've also been spreading compost, planting seeds, and tending to new seedlings. More balm for the spirit.
This morning, I took a moment to snap a few shots around the garden... want a tour? Seed trays hold the promise of fresh produce and flowers for months to come, including kale, tatsoi, collards, peppers, tomatoes, zinnia, sunflowers, herbs and more.
There's not too much in the ground yet, so you get to see some of my garden whimsy too. This fairy gal hangs out under a bamboo teepee, currently covered in luffa vines - a new addition that survived the summer heat. The bees love the flowers, and I'm amassing a small collection of homegrown sponges for the bath!
This is what it looks like growing... it gets real big, and then matures and dries out on the vine. You crack off the dried skin and it looks like a luffa you'd buy at the store; plus it's full of seeds!
I received two beautiful new bird feeders this summer. This handmade ceramic one hangs in the butterfly garden near the garden pond, which is watched over by a sweet cherub. Filled with safflower seeds, it's a favorite of the cardinals.
And this sparkly-mosaic-roofed feeder is positioned near my gazing globe, also in the butterfly garden. When the light hits this area just right, it lights up like a disco! The blue jays and squirrels love this feeder.
Here's my potting bench. I dream of fixing it up all cute - I even have a Pinterest board devoted to adorable, and likely never-used, potting benches - but for now its simply a workhorse. I found the stool on the curb a couple weeks ago and I think I might paint it just for fun. Someday.
I have one orange and one lemon tree in my yard. This is the orange tree. I'm super happy we'll have a crop this year... the trees seem to only produce every other year.
 While the bananas just keep coming, year round. This is one of three bunches currently ripening!
I've been wanting to create a terrarium in this big glass jar for some time. Meanwhile, it went ahead and made one on its own right where I left it overturned (near a bunch of other projects waiting for my attention).
This Muscovy duck and its sibling (or mate) is out in my garden even more than I am. They eat all kinds of bugs and dropped bird seed from the ground. And they doze under the shade of a clump of banana trees. I've come to expect them each day. Perhaps they need names?

There's so much more to share... and so much more to do. But this seems like a good place for me to stop for today. How about you? I'd love to know what's happening in your garden... leave a comment and share! {Include a link to take us on a tour if you have one.}


Behind the Scenes

Edible Sarasota magazine came to my nest this week to shoot photos to accompany my articles for the fall issue. I prepped and fussed for days to get ready, but it turned out to be pretty fun. They took shots of several stages of the process of making sourdough bread, including the starter, mixing the dough, forming a boule, and baking the bread in a Dutch oven. Of course, they photographed a finished loaf too.
These are a few of my shots, taken during the stages that did not involve my hands! The shoot also included images of a tray of slow-cooked honey BBQ ribs for an article on southern-style slow-cooking. The Edible team loved my old whiskey barrel end tables on the back porch, and photographed the ribs right on one!
Watch for a link to these articles here on the blog in early October. Meanwhile, I'm thinking about coming back out from behind the scenes myself, and returning to this space on a more regular basis. My gals are back in school (1st and 5th grades!) and I'm starting to dream up what's next for A Natural Nester. Stay tuned!


Summer Kitchen :: What's Cookin'

:: al fresco cooking & dining
:: raw cherry quinoa salad with apples, scallions & pecans
:: lamb-stuffed zucchini boats
:: roasted tomato & garlic soup
:: kid-made garlic bread
:: fajitas
:: fresh lime salsa & guacamole
What's cookin' in your summer kitchen?

{Linking up with Heather today for the "This Week in My Kitchen" series...}


{Summer Catch-Up} Honoring the Sun

* Sun bread and sun tea.
* Sun mono prints, created poolside and strung into a summer banner.
* Dinner on the grill.
* A sunset swim.
We spent the Summer Solstice celebrating the sun, in the sun. It was an idealistic summer day that will be long remembered and treasured by this mama. Here's to many more sweet, sun-filled days this season!


Summer Kitchen: Kid-Made Granola

The girls made granola this week, each creating their own mix. Both started with three cups of rolled oats, 6 tablespoons of coconut oil, 4 tablespoons of raw honey, and 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt - all mounded in a pie pan. Then they added their choice of mix-ins from cinnamon, sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, unsweetened shredded coconut, and nut butter. They stirred it all up (using both a spatula and hands) and spread their blends out in their pans. We then baked them at 300 degrees for about 40 minutes (stirring occasionally).

After cooling the granola, we put each girls' blend into a glass jar, labeled with their creations' respective name. They both took so much pride in their homemade granola mixes and we've enjoyed munching and sharing them all week. This is a great way to get your kids involved in the kitchen!

{Linking up with Heather today for the "This Week in My Kitchen" series...}