A Crafty October So Far

You should see my desk. It looks like a Whirling Dervish came through. I’ve hauled out paper and pens, circle cutters and glue, rubber stamps, ink pads and ribbon. It’s been a crafty October so far.

Crafting and a tidy work space do not go hand-in-hand. Unfortunately I do not have a dedicated craft space so I make do. I’m crafting using the corner of my desk, a small pop up table and my in box. Since Mike is out of the country for ten days, I called squatters rights on his side of our shared desk as well.  After repeatedly misplacing, then later unearthing my reading glasses, I’ve added “granny chain” to my shopping list. In the midst of all this chaos I’m having a blast.

Earlier this month, I took a class with my sister at The Island Creative Escapes. During the four-hour class, we learned a variety of mixed-media techniques while creating a “Haunted Pumpkin Patch”. You know me and pumpkins.


“Haunted Pumpkin Patch” mixed media class by Richele Christensen

Designer and blogger, Richele Christensen, lead the class. She’s a project manager and designer for Tim Holtz. All of the products are available through an assortment of Tim Holtz products. They provided a kit for all of the attendees, and then we shared a basket of inks and other tools.


Mixed media detail (top half)


Mixed media detail (bottom half)

We came home with a cute mixed media canvas and a variety of ideas along with a leftover sheet of rub-on decals and a packets of paper ephemera. Those leftovers were my starting point for a rainy day afternoon of card-making. Yes…it rained!

When our boys were young, I hosted a Halloween party every year for the neighborhood children. It went on for nearly a decade. So in addition to the leftover ephemera pack from class, I have Halloween-themed rubber stamps, materials from a teacher’s supply store, and an assortment of paper from the make-and-take crafts.

Decorated pumpkins: Halloween 2008

Decorated pumpkins: Halloween 2008

I used these over-sized shapes for the inside of the tri-fold cards:


Leftover Halloween shapes from the teachers supply store, scored, cut and placed on the inside of a tri-fold card

This is what the cards look like when closed:

tri-fold halloween cards

Tri-fold cards: Black card stock, spider web Washi tape, Tim Holtz vintage cat ephemera

I had fun making my own envelopes.


Leftover bat shapes and assorted paper get a new life as envelopes for some of the cards

I like the way the scrap of lace looks over the purple paper. I had just enough for one card.


This scrap of black lace was a bow on our class supply kit. I wrapped it around a scrap of purple paper, added a dangling spider charm and attached it to a black card. Scraps of the same paper decorate the envelope. The ghost is inside.

There is something to be said for loosening up on a practice card or two. I often have a hard time getting started, then an equally challenging time stopping. Who wants to fold laundry when a role of Washi tape is calling your name?

I moved from idea to idea, using the supplies and tools that I have on hand. At last I was in the zone.

Check out some of these beautiful creations:

Dawn at Petals. Paper. Simple Thyme

Kelly at Kelly’s Korner

Pauline at The Contented Crafter





A Fairy Garden for Elizabeth

I’ve said it before: creating a fairy garden is a shortcut to our inner child. That’s why I jumped at the chance to make one for Elizabeth.


This way to the fairy garden

Elizabeth Cassidy is my Pilates instructor. I’ve been taking classes at her studio for nearly a decade. We’re a close-knit group of women, who regularly offer bounty from our gardens, clothes or shoes in search of a new home, references and referrals and the like.

At the end of class one day, she asked if any of us wanted this empty concrete planter.


Elizabeth’s grey planter

Since no one else wanted it, I offered to make it into a fairy garden for her studio. Oh my gosh I had fun!

I wanted to bring a bit of warmth to the grey pot, so I added a single coat of rust-colored spray paint along the top, bottom and sides.


I used a single coat of rust-colored spray pain to add warmth

I added recycled packing pellets to the bottom of the pot to reduce its weight and to provide drainage. Then I filled it to the top with plants and soil.


Recycled foam pellets lighten the load

I bought assorted succulents at Yamagami’s Nursery one of my favorite garden centers. They’ve been in business since 1948.

Elizabeth has a pink corner in her studio, so the “fire-stick” succulents were the perfect addition. I found the sweetest little ceramic house and copper fence,  also at Yamagami’s to round out the garden.


Sticks on fire ‘euphorbia’ succulent

I made a fairy cot or lounging bed using a small wooden block from a rubber stamp collection. I added a curved twig for a headboard, covered the bed with moss, and added a wine cork for a pillow. A bit of moss from my garden stash made a nice accent cushion. For an added bit of serendipity, the chocolate wine cork is from a gift Elizabeth gave me a few years ago. It was in my fairy garden stash, waiting for its debut.


Assembling the fairy cot


A resting cot for the fairies

Once the plants were in the “ground” I laid a cinnamon stick path to the door, then added gravel and other bits of moss here and there.


Succulents and a cinnamon stick pathway


The long view

Wildfire Updates:

There is good news on the wildfire front!

The Loma Fire I mentioned in An Ominous Autumn Beginning should be fully contained by today. According to the San Jose Mercury News, the 2-week-old wildfire remains 95 percent contained after burning 4,474 acres, destroying 12 homes and 16 outbuildings, and damaging but not destroying one other home. The blaze, which began Sept. 26, is the area’s third largest in the past 15 years, and the latest damage estimate is $15 million.

The Soberanes Fire, mentioned in my post August Doldrums, is 99 percent contained, with full containment expected by Saturday, October 15. The fire started July 22nd from an illegal, unattended campfire. It’s burned 132,127 acres, and destroyed 57 homes and 11 outbuildings. A total of 682 personnel and nine engines remain fighting the fire.  The cost of fighting the fire is currently $236 million, making it the most expensive fire in California history.

Needless to say, I’m glad our rainy season is on the way.







When Spider Webs Catch The Light and Friends Make a Fuss

A wonderful package arrived shortly before my birthday, all the way from New Zealand. Pauline of the Contented Crafter says it’s been in the making for a while.


Beautiful package

She decorated the box with her own customized decorative tape which you can read more about here. Isn’t it cool? She created the art for the postcard as well using postage stamps from my dad’s collection. The original hangs on my wall. It’s quite special.

Now look at what she tucked inside:


An enchanting spider web light catcher

This isn’t any old spider web. It’s a hand-crafted, bead-encrusted, gem of a birthday/Halloween gift from Pauline. I love it!


Faceted glass spider

My special spider web arrived with an impressively sized, faceted spider with its own hook (but no fangs). You can move her around the web, then watch it catch the light.


In the center of the web

Guess what else was in the box? A Halloween-themed light catcher. The charms include spiders, witches hats, cats and brooms.  Did I mention the pumpkins? There are several of those too.

The reflective nature of the faceted glass makes it difficult to photograph, so I took some video as well. It will give you an idea of the light and movement.

Mike installed hooks in the nook above the sink so I could hang the web near the light. Interestingly, the web is just as beautiful at night. The lower light mutes some of the colors, while the facets shine.


Halloween-themed light catcher hanging in the kitchen window (Mouse the Cat looks on) Thank you, Pauline


Gathering friends with the years


The stunning sunflowers are a gift from Laurie, surrounded by birthday cards and condolences on losing Slinky. The sunflower painting was a gift from Kelly last year.

My mother never liked a fuss on her birthday, so I grew up following suit. A few close friends sent greetings through the mail or by phone which I loved, but I otherwise kept my birthday a secret.

I’ve come to realize that I like a bit of a fuss. Not a loud, brash, in your face fuss, but the warm greetings that arrive by post. I love receiving cards in the mail. Happy birthday wishes via Facebook and blogging are a delight as well. I  smile at the beautifully animated e-cards and the thoughtful friends who send them. My friend Carrielin calls me on my birthday every year and has since we were in college. Each greeting is a reminder of the richness of friends and family, relationships that have grown and deepened with the passing years. I feel loved beyond measure.

Thank you all for making a fuss.


Did I mention the second spider?





Eric Milner: Birthday Remembrances at 101

dad in India

Eric Milner, center

My father traversed an interesting path, one of travel, adventure and creativity. Born in England on October 6th, 1915, today would have been his 101st birthday. Daddy studied botany and horticultural science at Wimbledon Technical College. He worked as a student gardener at the John Innes Horticultural Institution in London. Now you know where I got my love of gardening.

In a letter he saved dated October 1st, 1937, it says:

“Mr. E. Milner came to us on Sept. 16th 1935 as a Student Gardener. Since that time he has spent 4 months in the Fruit Department, 2 months in the Rock Garden, 8 months on general outdoor work and 10 months under glass. His experience with us has included the propagation and maintenance of stove, glasshouse and herbaceous plants, all of which we grow in considerable variety.”

So formal! After completing his courses, he moved to India to work on a tea plantation around 1937.  He remained in India during the second world war serving as a translator.

In a letter dated 7th May, 1946 from the India Office, Whitehall, it says:


“Now that the time has come for your release from active military duty, I am to convey to you the thanks of the Secretary of State for India and of the Government of India for the valuable services which you have rendered to your country at a time of grave national emergency.

At the end of the emergency you will relinquish your commission, and at that time a notification will appear in the London Gazette (Supplement), granting you also the honorary rank of Captain.  Meanwhile, you have permission to use that rank with effect from the date of your release.”

He returned to England in 1946 and shortly thereafter immigrated to Canada where he met and married my mother.  Together they owned a pair of flower shops for a few years.  My father later managed a nursery in my hometown of London, Ontario.

Lucky for me his hobbies included photography and the careful assembly of albums, like the one pictured here.  I remain fascinated all these years later of his time in India and his work planting and propagating tea in the Darjeeling region. He died far too young. A smoker of pipes and unfiltered, hand-rolled cigarettes, he lost his life to cancer when I was just nine years old. He was 54.

Darjeeling album

Photos from Daddy’s time in India

planting tea in India

Planting young tea, photo by Eric Milner

tea growing in India

Tea Grows in India, 1939, photo by Eric Milner

There are so many things I would ask him if I could. What was it like to be a boy in England in the twenties?  Who were his friends?  What drew him to botany and landscaping?  Dad’s treasured albums leave subtle clues, but each photo poses more questions.  There are pictures of my namesake Aunt Alys and his parents, neither of whom I met, but pictures of others too. Who were they and why did their image make it into his photo albums? If Daddy had lived to a ripe old age, his own shared memories would be a part of our story, and perhaps most of them mundane.  Instead they’re a mystery that I can’t quite solve, special moments from a life interrupted.

I feel connected to dad when I’m tending my garden or digging in the soil. He lives in my heart and at the end of my proverbial green thumb. If he were here to celebrate this birthday, I would thank him for the gift of my life, for his compassion and care and for passing on his love of the earth. I would wrap my arms around his slender frame, give him a hug, and tell him all the things we missed together.









10 Reasons to Love October

October is my favorite month. I’m not alone. October ranks in the top three in a number of surveys, vying with May for the top spot.

Here is my personal, unscientific top ten reasons to love October.

10. October starts with my birthday and ends with Halloween

Okay, so not everyone is born in October, but if you love cooler weather, falling leaves and crisp air, this is the birthday month for you. If you’re mad for Halloween, also like me, you have 31 days of fun in store.

alys' birthday

Mike finds beautiful Halloween cards for my birthday

9. It’s a lovely month in both hemispheres

I’ve learned a lot about the southern hemisphere in my years of blogging. Most of us complain about the bitter winter months, but October is the start of spring for my friends in New Zealand and Australia, and the beginning of autumn here in San Jose. Everybody wins!

8. The return of gardening weather

Finally! The earth tilts on its axis as we head toward winter and cooler weather prevails. I can water the plants, pull weeds and put the garden in order without risking heat stroke.


Hydrangea’s fall colors

7. Pumpkins

If you’ve been following along for a while, you’ll know that I dedicate a lot of blog “real estate” to growing, care-taking, harvesting and decorating with pumpkins. My husband takes over on Halloween, carving the pumpkins we grow into lovely works of art. We save some of the seeds to plant the following year. We offer the pulp and a generous helping of seeds to the squirrels to who are busy foraging for the winter. The neighborhood squirrels planted their extra seeds this year, turning out all the lovely pumpkins in this photo. I’ve even dedicated a page to our love of pumpkins. Can you see it at the top of the blog?


Growing and harvesting pumpkins

6. Planning a Halloween costume

My love of theater and sewing merge in October. I get to plan and create a costume for a couple of parties and if I’m not too tired, I’ll wear it on Halloween night. My sister Sharon and I have always had fun dressing up. I gave it up for many years, turning my attention to the boy’s costumes instead. In recent years, I’m back in the swing of things and I always have fun. This year I’m actually renting my costume, but sewing one for my husband. Stay tuned for the silly details.

5. National Chocolate Day

It should come as no surprise that the National Confectioners Associate designated October 28th as National Chocolate Day. As a lifetime chocolate lover working hard to keep sugar at bay, I’m thinking this might be just the day for me. I can choose to indulge in this delectable treat once a year, banishing it from my daily diet and making it a special treat. As always, I’m a work in progress.


This chocolate pumpkin was a gift from a friend one year

4. National Cat Day

Every day is cat day in this household. That said, I appreciate the intentions of this charitable organization. They seek to:

” help the public recognize the number of cats that need to be rescued. The day also encourages cat lovers to celebrate the cats in their lives for the unconditional love and companionship that they bestow upon them.

This day is sponsored by the Animal Miracle Foundation and was created by Pet Lifestyle Expert and Animal Welfare Advocate, Colleen Paige, in 2005. Since its inception, it has helped save the lives of more than one million cats.” Source: National Day Calendar


My son’s larger-than-life, inflatable cat. Mouse the cat is the real deal.

3. Rain in the Forecast

After months of dry weather, October kicks off our rainy season. I love the rain as much as I love pumpkins. You know that is saying a lot.

tree reflecting in rain on deck

Once upon a time it rained in San Jose

2. Snuggle weather

After months of hot, dry days, it’s a delight to curl up under a warm blanket with a hot mug of tea at hand. Longer evenings give themselves over to more indoor leisure like assembling a puzzle, reading a thick book (or more blogs!) and making crafts.

1. Halloween

Halloween is the second most popular holiday in America, behind Christmas. It evolved over the years “from Medieval rituals to the 1950’s kid-centered activity it is today.”  You can follow this link to history.com to watch a two-minute video on the origins of the day. My youngest son, now 16, still enjoys the festivities. He and a friend create a “haunted deck” each year, using black plastic sheeting and an assortment of props. We live in a neighborhood populated with young children and words gets around. Last year we handed out candy to nearly 400 trick-or-treating children. There are knocks at the door for nearly three hours. It’s festive and fun. Everyone’s exhausted by November 1st, ready to settle in to cooler days, but until then, Halloween is great fun.

Is October your favorite month?








An Ominous Autumn Beginning

These last few days have been surreal. We’ve been under a heat advisory since Thursday, the first day of autumn here in San Jose.  Temperatures climbed into the high 90’s F (34C) and have remained high for five days. It’s been months since we’ve had any significant rain, leaving our state brown and dry as we face year five of the California drought.

Wildfires are always a concern this time of year, but the elevated temps and the drought-produced fuel created a tipping point.  As I drove to my son’s school Monday afternoon I saw this:


Loma Fire by day as view from my son’s high school

My heart sank. These are the beloved Santa Cruz mountains, part of what surrounds San Jose, creating our iconic Silicon Valley.

When I got home, I checked in with friends that live “over the hill” and all were safe. Cal Fire crews descended on the steep terrain from around the state and we are obsessively checking for updates.

Two hours after the start of this fire, we sat down to watch the presidential debates. An estimated 800,000 viewers tuned in for the first of four televised presidential candidate debates.  Between the fire, the heat and the bombastic Republican nominee spewing nonsensical pablum on the stage, I needed a break.

We turned off the TV and went for a walk around the block. Still out of sorts, we decided to go for a rare evening drive.

One of the most frightening aspects of wildfires is their unpredictability. They rage out of control, change directions without notice and leave damage in their wake. It’s a metaphor for the US presidential election, still an agonizing 40 days away. I’m desperate for it to be over, fearful of the possible outcome, and more than ready to see that bombastic blowhard lose.


Loma Fire at night, Loma Prieta, California

This morning I received the following email alert:

[the fire]  is now burning upwards of 1,500 acres. Three shelters have been opened for evacuated residents; Soquel HS in Santa Cruz, Morgan Hill Presbyterian Church, and The Jewish Community Center in Los Gatos are all receiving evacuees. San Jose Fire Department still has multiple units on scene including our SJFD PIO and Chief Officers. We are still on high alert for possible evacuations here on the San Jose side. As you know high temperatures and low fuel moisture along with difficult terrain make this fire particularly dangerous.

This is a good day to remind myself to practice self-care. I’m engaging my Tantra breathing, drinking lots of cool, fresh water and sticking to my meal plan.

How do you manage your stress, when things are out of your control?

Loma Fire Day One

Another Busy Wildfire Season


Saying Goodbye to Slinky Malinki

slinky-december-15hWhen you love unconditionally, you permanently wear your heart on your sleeve. When you love a cat, you turn a blind eye to the fact that you will most likely outlive them.

I knew Slinky was at the end of her life, and I somehow thought I could prepare myself for what was to come. I know better.


Slinky died at home Monday night, resting on a soft blanket on the heated tile floor. I was with her off and on most of the day, but she took her last breath in the ten minutes I was gone to pick up my son. Mike stepped into the garage to let me know when we returned. She quietly slipped away. I sobbed.

Back inside, I held her frail little body, wracked with grief. Her eyes were a giveaway that she was no longer there, but it was hard to let go.

Slinky Malinki captured my heart, not because of her sweet disposition and loving ways but in spite of them. She showed up as a stray on the steps of our front deck about six years ago. We had a bowl of dry food out for another cat we were feeding at the time and she helped herself. I mistook her confidence for friendliness, and she took a swing at me with open claws and then left.

She returned every few days, and gradually spent more time with us on the deck. She wrapped herself around our legs, but if you reached down to pet her, out came the claws, or worse. One afternoon I was sitting on the steps and she sunk her teeth into the back of my arm. Hard.

Then one day, out of the blue, my oldest son bent down, picked her up, and carried her into the house. She froze in fear, but I was so happy to know we could catch her and get her to the vet. A week later I took her in for a checkup. They confirmed that she was already spayed and she checked out for all the scary things.

We tried to make her an indoor cat, but she wanted no part of it. I did the next best thing and made a little “apartment” in our sheltered side yard. She had an elevated bed, enclosed on four sides, with a roof and an umbrella to keep her dry. She had her meals outside for a year.

Once again, it was time for an annual check up, so I brought her indoors over night, then spirited her off the next day. It was after that second visit, and nearly a year and a half that she decided to move in. She claimed a spot under my desk, then moved to the back of the desk and life got better from there. I gained her trust, not all at once, but slowly over months and months. She hated being picked up, and I did so on an as-needed basis but also to let her know it was okay. Slinky had no interest in lap sitting either. Yet she would come to the front of the desk, give me gentle head butts, and gradually we became trusted friends.

Then an amazing thing happened. I had foot surgery last November, requiring me to be off my feet for six weeks. Slinky started climbing up on the couch, then settled herself on the blankets around my injured foot.  What a gift! At a time when I was in pain and feeling fragile, Slinky stayed close by. There is perhaps no better medicine than a warm, purring cat.


Slinky resting next to my healing foot


Slinky stretched out across my legs. That’s the corner of my laptop with a photo of the Slinky Malinki children’s book for which she’s named.

I miss her sweet, little soul.