Lauren

It’s impossible to reconcile the death of a child. It’s equally challenging not to sound trite when you say to her mother, who’s been cut to the quick, “I’m sorry for your loss.” The loss is unimaginable.

Lauren died from pulmonary edema just a few weeks shy of her 19th birthday. We’re all in shock.

We’ve known Lauren’s family for a decade. She attended our Halloween parties, hung out with my son at the park, and was an occasional passenger in the back seat of my van. No single event stands out as extraordinary, but instead a collection of ordinary memories that can be stored and retrieved and enjoyed.

Of course, I assumed there would be many more ordinary days because that’s the natural order of things.

Lauren had an easy-going nature and a lovely smile. I remember greeting her near the bus when they returned from 5th-grade science camp and I remember the day they all graduated from high school. She was a good friend to my son and a joy to have in our home. I can’t believe she’s gone.

My heart goes out to all who loved her, especially Kimmy, Amy, and Bill. xo

I Miss My Blog: A Haiku

I miss my dear blog
A yearning, hard to describe
Another sun sets.

Gardening Nirvana feels like a cozy little place on the internet. It’s not quite a room, or for that matter, a garden.

In internet lingo, it’s simply a URL. That said, it’s uniquely mine. I share through words and pictures. Kind strangers stop by from around the globe. Kindred spirits become friends. It’s magical.

Even in my absence, I feel the pull. It’s the strangest thing for a place that didn’t exist several years ago. Gardening Nirvana is my blogging home.

Since you’ve stopped in for a visit, I’ll briefly share what’s new.

In early October I turned 60. The lead up to what my friend Laura calls a “zero birthday” was strange. Sixty! Good grief that sounds old, yet here I am. It all amounted to a hill of beans. I have absolutely nothing unique to say about crossing into another decade. (I have plenty to say about the abysmal state of this country, but I’ll spare you that drama).

Our beautiful state caught fire once again. Autumn used to be a favorite time of year when temperatures finally cooled and the possibility of rain stirred the air. Instead, temperatures remain hot and dry, as fierce winds and low humidity whip into a frenzy. We just passed the one-year mark of the Camp Fire, the worst in our state’s history. It claimed 85 lives and destroyed a community.

This year, everyone has been on edge.

I get first-hand updates from my friend Laura who moved to Paradise six months before it burned. The Camp Fire destroyed her fence and several trees and left heat and soot damage throughout her home. Miraculously, the fire stopped there. Her home is one of the five percent to have been spared. Her friend, Christine wasn’t as lucky. She fled her home with four children and two dogs packed into the car, with forty-foot flames on both sides of the road. I’ll never forget the video she shared as they fled.

This season’s fires started later. We felt a collective relief. Then the predicted “wind events” came to pass, and just before I headed to bed, there was news of the Kincaide Fire. Several more followed, and once again it seemed our beautiful state burned.

We live in a bubble here in San Jose. We’re in a valley, so we avoid the heavy winds that swoop across the hills. We have friends up and down the state that lost power for days, endured forced evacuations and the worry of what they might return to. I should, of course, feel lucky, but instead, I feel dread. We desperately need rain.

On a brighter note, we flew to Mississauga, Ontario mid-month to attend a traditional Indian Wedding. The events were full of joy and laughter, beautiful color, dance, and wonderful food. Both families embraced us, helping us navigate the unknown and making us feel welcome. A local shop helped us select the proper attire for each event. We’re so honored to have been a part of the celebrations.

Haldi and Mendhi

Sangeet

Bride Baraat, Groom Baraat, and Pheras

An injured foot kept me off the dance floor. It’s also reduced my time in the garden.

 

A torn tendon kept me from dancing

A torn tendon kept me from dancing

Recent events remind me, however, that I’m lucky to be alive, and lucky to see another day. For this I’m grateful. If you’ve read this far, I’m grateful for you, too.

Autumn Days and Anniversaries

It’s the autumn equinox here in the northern hemisphere, or in simpler terms, the first day of fall. It’s also our wedding anniversary.

Today (September 23) sees the 2019 autumn equinox, the moment when the planet’s northern hemisphere swaps with the southern hemisphere to become the one furthest from the sun.

Autumn is a good time to reflect, especially in the garden. While the perennials remain robust year-round, summer annuals are closing up shop.

We had a second year of disappointing tomatoes. Despite my best efforts planting the EarthBoxes with fresh soil and fertilizer, moving them to a new location and ensuring they got full sun, production was blah. My garden mojo took a hit.

end of season tomato Don’t be fooled. It looks juicy, but the sweetness has gone.

This stripey variety took months to set fruit. While they look interesting, I didn’t care for the thicker texture. All in all, one plant produced half a dozen tomatoes. Sigh.

stripes tomatoes A trio of Stripey Tomatoes

This was also my first season without pumpkins. We’ve relied entirely on the squirrels to plant them each year, even if their planting methods are unconventional. By the time I fully noticed, it was too late to plant on my own.

I had brief hope. After amending the mix in a planting box with heavy, sandy soil, a few pumpkin plants appeared. It seemed unlikely that they would amount to much, but while I was traveling in July they took hold. Alas, they didn’t establish in time. Although the plants became vines and proffered a few blooms, there was no time for setting fruit.

spent pumpkin vines Spent pumpkin flowers and vines along with other pruning debris

On a brighter note, I received this gorgeous yellow calla lily in a pot last year. Mike transplanted it for me in the front garden and it’s spreading its proverbial wings.

Yellow Canna lily, a thank you gift from FDC

It’s flowered twice and is now showing off its interesting seed pods as the plant goes dormant.

Calla lily seed pod Calla lily seed pod

Our garden is densely planted now, requiring careful thought when a new plant joins the mix. This calla lives in the shadow of the Magnolia tree, not far from the deck. I love the cheerful display.

Nepeta or catmint Nepeta going to seed

Nepeta, also known as catnip or catmint reseeds every year. It’s an herb, pleasing to cats, and humans alike. It produces a subtle scent in the garden unless of course, you’re a cat.

cat and nepeta Tessa enjoying the nepeta
white cat and nepeta Mouse the cat lounging on the nepeta

 

 

tuxedo cat in nepeta Lindy sleeping near the nepeta

Our cats become quite possessive of the plant near the patio, though Mouse likes to visit the plant in the side yard as well. We all have our favorites.

As for anniversaries, I married this wonderful man 24 years ago today.

Celebrating then and now (Went Brothers Winery, Livermore | Winchester Mystery House fundraiser, San Jose)

It was the first day of autumn that year as we wed on the grounds of Wente Brother’s winery in Livermore. The day went by in a blur, so I’m grateful for the photographs that help solidify the memories. I’m grateful for Mike every day and for our life together.

I’m grateful for you, too, dear reader, for continuing to show up and read my posts.

Pine Needles and Paper Wasps

Pine needles and paper wasps were not in the weekend plans.

We were just sitting down to dinner when one of our regular Little Free Library patrons knocked on the door. She’d mentioned once before that she thought she saw yellow jackets, a more aggressive type of wasp, on the top of our Little Free Library (LFL).

I inspected the library and the surrounding areas at the time and didn’t see any activity. Perhaps they were just passing through.

Little Free Library San Jose

Little Free Library, 2018

She spotted them again this weekend, hence the knock on the door. About a dozen wasps decided to hunker down on the roof of the LFL.

paper wasp cluster

Paper wasp cluster on roof of LFL

We had an unusually windy day, but the sun was warm. They gathered in a cluster, barely moving, perhaps enjoying the sun.  One or two flew out of the birdhouse portion of the library, but I had no way of seeing inside.

Our LFL is a work of art by artist Donna Pierre. I was reluctant to dismantle the birdhouse which is artfully attached to the larger library. That said, dozens of neighbors visit the library daily. I didn’t want anyone getting stung, least of all a small child.

After a brief debate on our plan of attack (ours, not the wasps) we trudged out to the garage in search of the auguring tool. Mike usually welcomes the chance to use his power tools, but it was the end of a busy weekend, after a week-long business trip to Mexico.

I said I would do it.

Mike shouted encouragement and Chris took pictures (because I’m a blogger after all) while I donned a heavy leather jacket and gloves, drill at the ready. I wore my son’s mosquito hood from his back-packing days in case they all flew out at once.  I drilled a large round hole in the back of the birdhouse, hoping they would fly out and be on their way. Once they exited, we could put a small screen over the front, return the removed piece from the back, and then call it a day.

As the augured piece fell into the birdhouse, imagine my surprise when a stream of ants came racing out of the birdhouse and down the back of the library. It was so unexpected.

ants

Ants swarm out of the back of the LFL

Mike produced a flashlight so we could look up into the birdhouse through the larger hole. There it was: a nest filled with grey, honeycomb-like cells, with a few ants dotting the nest. That birdhouse had to go, at least for now.

Paper wasp nest inside birdhouse of LFL

Mike pried a few supports loose and we gingerly inched what is now a nesting box, out of it’s home.

The gathered cluster of wasps sat undisturbed on the roof as I carried the nest to the back garden and hung it high in a tree.

So how do pine needles factor in the title? After all that activity I was a bundle of energy and nerves. As I mentioned, the winds were fierce, knocking pine needles from our roof and the neighbor’s tree. I raked and swept and gathered them into a pile, occasionally checking on the relocated nest. Eventually the adrenaline wore off and we called it a day.

I would like to say, “Problem solved” but the wasps are back. They’re sitting in the same spot on the library roof, even though the nest is no longer there. I’m relieved to know via my search that our wasps are the docile kind, but when I look out the window and see people flailing their arms, it’s a worry.

After researching here: The difference between a yellow jacket wasp and a paper wasp

I decided to post a couple of signs saying:

Our flying visitors are European Paper Wasps (non-aggressive) vs Yellow Jacket wasps (which are aggressive).  We relocated their nest, but a few of the adults are still hanging around.

These wasps are beneficial for the garden, which is probably why they are here.

If you’re concerned, please visit another Little Free Library in the neighborhood until they move along.

Thank you!  Alys, Little Free Library Steward

Yellow Jacket vs Paper Wasp

What, then, is the difference between a yellow jacket and a paper wasp?

When it comes to appearance, both look similar. Both are black with yellow bands. A paper wasp, however, has a longer body than a yellow jacket, which has a shorter and fatter body. If you look closely, a paper wasp also has an orange-tipped antennae while a yellow jacket does not.

A yellow jacket is more aggressive and can sting repeatedly, while a paper wasp only attacks when threatened. Both feed on garden insects, but a yellow jacket scavenges for food and even feeds on food found in the trash or on picnic tables. A paper wasp, on the other hand, feeds on pollen and nectar as well.

Moreover, a yellow jacket builds its covered nest underground or in hollows, while a paper wasp build its coverless nests in a tree, eaves or spouts.

Source: DifferenceGuru

The research I did for this post also solved a mystery. I’ve mentioned wasps in the past, and noted that they never bother me. They make paper nests in the eaves, come and go without a fuss, and of course they do wonders for the garden. Yellow jackets and paper wasps look nearly identical unless you view them up close.

What I thought was a “pass” from the yellow jackets for providing an appealing garden smorgasbord was mere smugness on my part. It turns out that our garden visitors are their more docile cousins. May it always be so.

ScrapHappy August: Tie-Dyed Wet Wipes

It’s true. This month’s scrap-happy card project uses tie-dyed wet wipes. Four year old, tie-dyed wet wipes, just to be sure that they are good and dry.  [Smirk]

I’m joining Kate, of Tall Tales from Chiconia, for her monthly scrap-happy blog post. The challenge is to create something made entirely of scraps.

A few year’s back I took a card-making class with my sister from Michael Strong.

Michael had us create cards using  baby wipes, normally reserved for changing nappies or diapers and a few drops of alcohol ink.

alchohol ink Tim Holtz baby wipes

Alcohol Inks by Tim Holtz

baby wipe tie dye

White backing paper and tie-dye affect using baby wipe and inks

After the ink dries, you attach the wipe to a sticky backing for support. I came home with several finished cards, a pile of tie-dyed samples and lots of good intentions.

tie dyed wet wipes

Samples of ink-dyed wet wipes

These past four years flew by!

With ScrapHappy August looming, I pulled out my four-year-old stash of faux tie-dyed wipes looking for inspiration. One by one, I ran each sample through my Big Shot die-cutting machine, and I was off having fun.

In class we made simple backgrounds using the tie-dyed sheets. I took it a step further and cut the samples into interesting shapes.

Here’s one for Halloween: I used the shadow cut of a “trick or treat” die and a circle to emulate the moon. I used an “oops” card to make the grey shadows, simply tearing the edges and adhering to the top and bottom of the card. That’s supposed to be a bat over the moon, but only if you’re hard of seeing. I’ll have to fix that.

Halloween tie dye card

Next up, a Christmas card using one of my sister’s snowflake dies and a blue and purple dyed wet wipe.

wet wipes merry christmas tie dye card

Ink-dyed wet wipe and snowflake die

This thank you card is going to our Lifted Spirits summer intern. She’s been a wonderful addition to our team. We’re going to miss her.

I die cut the daisy background , then made a frame to hide the jagged edges. The sentiment  “Thanks” is also from a tie-dyed sample.

thank you tie dye card

Ink-dyed wet wipe and two die cuts, daisy background and thanks sentiment

This meandering plant die is one of my favorites. It’s a gift from my friend Pauline.  I love the mixture of blues and greens.

If I did this again, I would not remove the sticky backing. I had to arm wrestle all those tiny bits into position and the backing kept sticking to itself, even when peeling slowly.  The colors are gorgeous though, and it’s interesting how much texture you’ll find in these wipes.

wet wipes tie dye card trellis

Ink-dyed wet wipe and meandering plant die

I still have several shapes to work with in the future, and as always, it’s great working with what you have.

I’m off to see what the rest of you are up to this month. Here are some links to other August scrap-happy posts.

Kate Gun, TittiHeléneEvaSue, Nanette, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Debbierose, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan,
Moira, SandraLindaChrisNancy, Kerry, Claire, Jean,
Joanne, Jon, HayleyDawn, Gwen, Connie, Bekki, Pauline and Sue L.

 

 

My Garden Sows Content

The sweet peas are out, but the cornflower will remain for awhile

Life is full.

Since my last post we’ve celebrated three family birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and my oldest son’s graduation from college. My youngest son came home from his first year away at college and my oldest son moved home mid-June. Somewhere in there we took a two-day getaway to Las Vegas after Mike finished a big work project.  Next week I leave for a long-anticipated trip to British Columbia and Alberta. I’ll be traveling with my friend Kelly, a dear friend whom I met through blogging nearly eight years ago. I am really looking forward to this trip.

Through it all though, my garden continues to sow content.

We had some brutally hot days in the low 100’s (104 F or 40 C), but it has settled down into cooler temps.  During the heat wave I arrived home to wilting hydrangeas and burnt ground cover. The flowers recovered but the ground cover is done till the rains return.

On the subject of rain, we had the loveliest, late-season rain in May, bringing about larger and taller flowers, fuller blooms and a short-term delay in the unbearable heat. It was such a gift.

I spent some early mornings this week pulling out the spent Nigella, also known as Love-in-a-mist and the sweet peas. I let both of them go to seed, reaping the benefits of a self seeded garden each spring. The cornflowers are the last of the self-seeded spring flowers. The bees are still pollinating the remaining blooms while the birds swoop in for the seeds.

I’ve been musing to myself that some of my garden favorites are the ones that return year after year with no effort on my part. They attract birds, bees and admiring neighbors. I get several month’s worth of small garden bouquets, and enjoy sharing the bounty with others.

Now that summer is here, our plums are ripening and the four o’clocks are about to bloom.

My miniature Hobbit garden, planted a year ago in celebration of my New Zealand friends and hosts is also robust.

I’ve added a tiny rusted table and a few flower “lights”, a gift from my friend Laura. I noticed this week that a tiny violet has self-seeded near the Hobbit door. We’ll see how it grows.

The tomatoes are looking promising this year!

Over the years people ask “is your garden a lot of work?” and the answer is always the same. Yes, it can be back-aching work, bending and lifting, pruning and pulling weeds, especially during the hot days of summer.  But the work is joyful. It’s not so much the ends but the means. I love working in the dirt, discovering new things, seeing what works and learning from failures. Working closely with nature is uplifting.  I marvel at the different shapes and sizes of the bees. I’m honored when a hummingbird comes close, inquisitive and open. I hear the rustle of the lizards and hope the cats will let them be. I laugh at myself when I’m startled by a spider, but I’ve learned to manage that fear while respecting the gifts they bring to the garden. A few ladybugs came for a visit last month and polished off the invading aphids. These are some of my favorite examples of nature at her finest.

I get dirt under my fingernails and sometimes in my teeth. Bruised knees and a sore neck mean I’ve stayed out too long. It takes me a lot longer to get up from the ground, and the pain in my hips reminds me of my advancing age. It’s all worth it for that time in the garden where I find a real connection to this earth.

Laboring in my garden sows content.

 

 

 

Scrap-Happy July: Cards and Letters Come Full Circle

I’m joining Kate, of Tall Tales from Chiconia, for her monthly scrap-happy blog post. The challenge is to create something made entirely of scraps.

Here is the inspiration for this month’s scrappy project.

I’ve been friends with Carrielin for nearly forty years. We met doing theatre at San Jose State in 1980. After she left the area, we stayed in touch the old-fashioned way: through cards and letters. Recently Carrielin came across a box of correspondence from me, mailed between 1989 and 1994. She re-read the letters, then offered to send them my way.  My dear friend mailed the cards with little notes attached letting me know what she had liked about certain cards. Isn’t that the sweetest?

Assorted cards sent to Carrielin in the early 90’s

It took some emotional preparation to re-read what I had written nearly three decades ago. When the time felt right, I read each one. Then I hatched a plan.

Now parts of those cards are heading her way once again, but this time as slivers of the past.

I decided to try a paper-piecing pattern shared by Kate on her blog. Kate is collecting gorgeous quilt squares to include in an ovarian cancer fundraising quilt. She’s done several over the years, with blocks she and other quilters create based on a theme and the color teal. You can read more about her efforts here.

One of Kate’s squares for the theme Scinteallation is called Basketweave Braid Star, a paper piecing pattern by Nydia Kehnle. You can have a look at Kate’s gorgeous paper-piecing star on her blog.

Using her design, I cut strips from several of the cards using blues and creams. I chose bits of the cards that represented our interests, including theater and dance, whimsy, art, flowers, cats (of course) and the Victorian era. I used card backings which are generally white, and I even included her name from one of my letters.

Carrielin loves dance and teddy bears
Strips of original cards featuring interesting details

There was only one blue envelope in the batch, so I carefully cut triangles to create the star effect.

Pale blue envelope postmarked 1989.

Here is the finished card with the envelope border.

Finished card using strips of greeting cards with a recycled envelope border
The finished card

Do you like crafting from scraps? Why not join us for the next round.

From Kate’s blog:

“ScrapHappy is open to anyone using up scraps of anything – no new materials. It can be a quilt block, pincushion, bag or hat, socks or a sculpture. Anything made of scraps is eligible. If your scrap collection is out of control and you’d like to turn them into something beautiful instead of leaving them to collect dust in the cupboard, why not join us on the 15th of each month? You can email Kate at the address on her Contact Me page. You can also contact Gun, via her blog, to join. We welcome new members. You don’t have to worry about making a long-term commitment or even join in every month, just let either of us know a day or so in advance if you’re new and you’ll have something to show, so we can add your link. Regular contributors will receive an email reminder three days before the event.”