August Doldrums: Dirty Air, Dryer Woes and a Cat Named Slinky

I have the August doldrums. Blah!

It is usually hot, dry and smoggy in San Jose throughout August. It’s been particularly bad this year with multiple wildfires burning up and down the state.

Spare the Air Alert: Source, San Jose Mercury News

Spare the Air Alert: Source, San Jose Mercury News

After five years of the drought, there is plenty of fuel feeding the wildfires. Millions of trees have died from drought-related conditions, providing even more fuel than usual. According to News Deeply

A bark beetle epidemic driven by drought is killing off millions of trees in the Sierra Nevada as California starts another summer plagued by drought and higher temperatures.

This is the driest time of year, with virtually no rain during the months of July, August and September.

The Soberanes fire started in July in Monterey County, not far from the lovely town of Carmel where we spent our get away weekend in March. It’s only 60% contained and fire crews don’t expect to have it out until September 30th!  Because San Jose is in a valley, the smoke gathers in the basin, with no wind or rain to carry it away. It adds to such a sense of gloom when the skies are a hazy gray. Even when you avoid the news, as I’m trying to do, it’s impossible not to see those hazy skies and realize what’s happening around us.

august smog

Believe it or not, there is a mountain range beyond the trees. You can just make it out.

valley fair view smog

View of the mountains from a nearby shopping center.

My dryer woes aren’t nearly as dramatic, but oh what a pain. We bought a new washer and dryer in late June and took deliver July 8th. They purred like the proverbial kitten and as with all new appliances, they use less water and less energy…when they work.

The first time I used the steam setting on the dryer it leaked water on the floor. Assuming it wasn’t properly connected, Mike contacted the appliance store who referred us to a certified repair shop. The first repair person said he needed a part (for a brand new dryer!) and would have to take the dryer to the shop because he didn’t have enough room to repair it in our home. I asked him to please leave the dryer till he received the part so that I could dry clothes on other settings. A week later, and before the part arrived, the dryer started making a loud banging noise, akin to putting a bowling ball on the fluff cycle. In addition to that awful noise it also smelled like stale smoke. Did I mention that the dryer was only a few weeks old?

A second crew came out on a Friday and took our dryer back to their shop. Meanwhile, laundry for four piled up. They promised to return it Monday, than Tuesday and by Wednesday we were mostly out of clean clothes and towels. I loaded up the dirty clothes, headed to the laundry mat, and spent three hours getting it done.

A third repair person returned and reinstalled the dryer on Thursday, turned it on and asked “does it always make that noise?”

Ah….no.

I explained that the “bowling-ball-on-the-fluff-cycle” noise was one of two reasons the dryer was in for repairs. He said he didn’t understand why they would take the machine back to the shop, but there was nothing to be done for it that day and off he went.

Are you still with me?

A fourth crew (an experienced repair tech and a tech-in-training came out and spent three more hours trying to repair the machine. They completely dismantled it, spreading out the parts in my narrow side yard, then left to buy “longer screws” assuring me that the manufacturer-installed screws were too short.

This made no sense to me, but I’m not an appliance technician. I gave them directions to the nearest Home Depot and off they went. Once they had it all put back together they insisted all was well and that the sound of the dryer was “normal”. I signed the repair order but with an asterisk and note saying that my signature did not mean it was “repaired to my satisfaction” only that it appeared to be working…for now.

Gosh it felt good to have my dryer back and in working condition.

For two loads, that is.

The appliance repair shop has now washed their hands of us and the manufacturer opened a claim. I’ve tried (twice) to email my request to the service protection plan, only to receive error messages. When I call they say “volume is high” and to please fill out the form on the web. Sigh

And then there is Slinky.

Slinky napping in the garden

Slinky napping in the garden

She is still hanging in there, but I’ve seen a recent decline. She saw our vet twice last week, which led to a diagnoses of a “very large hyperechoic cystic mass on her liver”. The better news is that it is NOT cancer, but a benign growth. She continues to eat, groom and purr, all good signs, but she’s lost more weight. She’s a tiny 5 pounds, about 2.5 kilos. She’s not in any pain and as long as she continues with a good quality of life, we are happy to have her with us. My heart is heavy when I see her tiny frame, but then she purrs in my face or crawls in my lap and I can see that for now she’s doing okay.

I know many of you live with cats or dogs, so you can relate to the angst.

Nothing magical or transformative will happen when I turn the page to September, but I still find myself craving the fresh start of a new month.

I’m grateful that Slinky is still with us. I appreciate Cal Fire crews and their tireless efforts fighting wildfires throughout the state. I’m grateful for the clean and well maintained laundry mat nearby. Having a washer and a dryer in my home is a luxury that I know others can’t afford. The same was true for me for many years and I try hard never to take it for granted.

cal fire collage

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to the cooler days of autumn, clearer skies and the days we have left with Slinky.

How is the world treating you?

Of Possible Interest:

Topographical map of San Jose/Silicon Valley

CalFire official website

Fascinating article on prototype design for the Developing World Laundry System

Art in the Mist: The CreARTfuldodger

You know how it goes. You follow a blogger who follows another blogger and before you know it, the three of you are walking on a beach in Victoria, BC.

Wilma and Boomdee, Victoria BC, August 17, 2014

Wilma and Boomdee, Victoria BC, August 17, 2014

Two years ago this month I met Wilma, the artist behind the blog creartfuldodger (CreArtful Dodger). When I returned to Victoria in June with Mike, Wilma drove into town to share a meal. She offered to pick us up at our hotel, and when I gave her the address she knew it well. Wilma’s daughter works at the same hotel. Serendipity!

Wilma with her art

Wilma with her art

Wilma is great company, a wonderful tour guide and an accomplished artist. Over dinner, she surprised me with the gift of this inspired bird collage.

Knowing my love of Nigella aka Love in a Mist, she used an original, 1900’s seed packet as the starting point. She incorporated airmail stickers and stamps, also my favorites and created a tag using a vintage book cover. It’s beautiful and thoughtful. She also included my initial on the gift bag, a charming addition.

Creartfuldodger

Creartfuldodger: Layered seed packet, postage stamp, mailing labels and other ephemera. The green image shows detail from the back of the tag

Wilma writes:

Love-in-a-mist,

It is truly hard to resist!

Perhaps Alys will remember, with pleasure, her stay,

And return again one fine day. – Wilma Millette, Creartfuldodger

With great pleasure, Wilma. Love and thanks.

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30-Day Patio Makeover

In late June I signed up for Serena’s Thrift Diving challenge: a 30-day outdoor patio makeover. Serena hosts these challenges a few times a year. Many of her followers sign up for the fun of it and for the extra motivation that comes with a deadline.  I’m an avid follower of her down-to-earth, informative and fun blog.

Our deck needed refreshing more than a complete makeover, but I signed up for the July challenge anyway.

Deck in need of refreshing

Deck in need of refreshing

I forgot, momentarily, that I would be in Canada for nearly a third of the month, so I quickly realized that I better get to it.  It was the impetus I needed. I pulled together most of the details before boarding a plane July 18th.

I found Thrift Diving through Leilani of Keeping Up with Mrs. Smith. Serena and Leilani are DIY goddesses. I admire their skills with power tools and their can-do attitude.

Here are the results of my 30-Day Patio Revival

Goal #1: Power Wash the Deck

Believe it or not, this step was the most intimidating.  I don’t own a pressure washer, and I’d never tried using one. It’s a powerful tool requiring precautions. I borrowed a pressure washer from my friend Jasmin, then watched a couple of videos on how to use it before getting started. Comically, the hose detached at least twice, showering me with a startling blast of water before I finally got the hang of it.

My son helped me move everything off the deck, and then I got to work.

Power Washed Deck

Power Washed Deck

Mouse peruses the clean deck

Mouse peruses the clean deck

It worked so well, that I used it on the back patio, in the garage and along the driveway. I even pressure washed the table and chairs out back. They’ve never looked so good.

Pressure/Power Washing in Progress

Pressure/Power Washing in Progress

power washed patio

Clean Patio, Slinky Approved

Goal #2: Replace the Outdoor Carpet

A few years ago, I bought a light-weight area rug to go under the furniture. On the plus side, they crafted the rug from recycled materials and it was incredibly light in weight.

striped garden mat

Outdoor Rug by Gaiam

On the down side, and believe me this is a big one for me, I kept tripping over the edge. The lighter weight proved to be a major disadvantage. Even with furniture weighing it down, the edges would still lift up.  My balance is not what it used to be. It had to go.

Outdoor Area Rug

New Outdoor Area Rug

I shopped on-line for the perfect size, weight and color and found one in a neutral tone that is warmer, softer and a bit more substantial under foot. It arrived while I was away. It’s not always easy buying something like this on-line, but I’m pleased with the quality and design. The 15% off coupon was nice, too.

Goal #3: Make Slip Covers for the Patio Cushions

This is where the pressure of the 30-day challenge really came into play. I bought the fabric for new covers several months ago, then got busy with family, work and travel. The fabric sat there taunting me. I envisioned summer and fall passing me by, with that beautiful fabric remaining folded and unused.  Once I came to terms with the fact that I had to make the covers in stages, it was easier to get moving.

I set up the ironing board and ironed the fabric. Done for the day.

The ironing board in the middle of the kitchen

The ironing board in the middle of the kitchen

Then I dusted off the patio cushions and brought them inside. Done for the day.

lindy and slinky on the patio cushions

My “fancy” cutting table, also know as the living room floor. Slinky and Lindy liked the novelty of the outdoor cushions on the floor

lindy on the patio cushion

Lindy is probably wondering why I don’t just leave this cushion in the open doorway.

I worked in stages to get things done, and low and behold, I had three new slip covers.

Deck cushions squared corner

Squaring off the corner of the settee cushion

recovering deck chair cushions

I slip-covered two cushions together. I added cotton batting for softness and padding. The covers are also reversible

rocking chair recovered

Recovering the seat cushion for the rocking chair. Extra padding, squared off corners in front, and curved seams in back.

The floral print fabric was a bit more pricey, so I bought just enough for one side of the covers. I bought a less expensive, coordinating green stripe for the reverse side. I also bought extra padding to make the cushions more comfortable. (Please don’t mention this to the squirrels).

I’ve never made box corners before, but I like the way they look. I looked at a few sites, and found not only simple directions, but a blog with a sample of the same striped green fabric. What are the odds?

Goal #4: Use a Stencil

Serena uses stencils in a number of her projects. She’s a pro.

She revamped this gorgeous bathroom,

made a folding area for her laundry room,

and she even stenciled these pillows

I needed to start small, so using leftover craft paint and a $3 stencil, I added a pattern to the underside of our small patio table.

Stenciled Table

Stenciled Table: I turned the table upside down on a towel, then used my craft light so I could see in the small space.  I repeated the stencil pattern twice using craft paint on the underside of the table.

It was easy and fun, not to mention removable, if I didn’t like the results. Since I painted the underside of the table, I don’t need to worry about damaging it with use.

Goal #5: Hide the BBQ

We only use our BBQ once or twice a year, so the rest of the time it’s pushed to the corner of the deck. Even with a cover, it looks like an unwanted appliance shoved into a corner. I wanted to find a solution to mask the appearance but at the same time make it easy to get to.

BBQ on deck (before)

BBQ on deck (before)

I “borrowed” this folding screen from our garage to see if it would do the job. I like it! I plan to keep it on the deck.

BBQ after behind screen

Re-purposed folding screen hides the BBQ and a cozy cat bed

Like many things around here, this screen has had multiple uses over time. It once hid my young son’s “technology corner”, a spot in our living room where he liked to sit with his friends and his plush animals playing with his hand-held DS. Year’s later I removed the damaged paper from the screen and re-covered it with leftover fabric from my first swing cover. We used the screen in the garage for many years to mask the water heater and furnace and to discourage small hands from reaching into dangerous places. I’ve now pressed it into use on the deck.

View of the deck behind the furniture

There is a small cat bed behind the screen as well as the BBQ. I relocated this broken cat perch (it used to have a third level) from inside the house, and moved the potted succulent from the back garden to the front to fill in the space and add interest.

Impulse Purchase!

poufs

Poufs

These poufs are a complete afterthought, but one of my favorite additions. Boomdee has an aqua pouf on her deck. They’re part ottoman and part bean-bag chair. They make an easy-to-move foot rest, impromptu seating and a place to put your tray. I bought the last two at Target as they are clearing out everything for the back to school shoppers.

I sat with Mike on the deck this weekend, reading and chatting and enjoying the comfortable space. It feels good to have it pulled together once again.

Before:

deck before

Deck: Starting point

After:

deck after

Deck: After (new slip covers, new rug, stenciled table, screen to mask the BBQ, a pair of poufs and a few more plants)

 

deck after.JPG

Deck: After (alternate view)

Deck Garden

Deck Garden

Special thanks to Serena for inspiring us all. Have a look at Serena’s Before and After post at Thrift Diving.

Do you have a room, patio or deck in need of some TLC?

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Alberta on my Mind

I’ve had an extraordinary ten days in Alberta. In typical holiday fashion, the time passed in a flash. It was full of highs and more highs. So it goes when you’re spending time with a treasured friend.

Jasper National Park Alberta

Good times at Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

I met Boomdee via WordPress, a wonderful forum for finding your people. There are days when I still can’t believe it.

Boomdeeadda

Boomdeeadda

Yet here we are, making the most of our time together, while making do with the time apart.

Boomdee lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She hosted me at her home in Edmonton. We also took a two-day excursion to the mountains, the world-famous Canadian Rockies, about a five-hour drive from Edmonton. Mr. B, as he’s affectionately known, drove the ten-hour round trip. The drive was breathtaking.

Japser National Park Alberta-034

The mostly two-lane highway passes magnificent forests of Alpine Larch, Spruce, Fir to name just a few. Meandering rivers are a glorious milky blue this time of year as the snow and glaciers melt. We stopped at two or three waterfalls on our journey. It’s difficult to describe the power of the water slowly carving out the mountains as the icy waters rush downstream. This video will give you a general idea.

The high point of the day, if you’ll forgive the pun, was time spent above the Columbia Glaciers. You walk along a cliff-edge walkway before arriving on a glass-floored observation platform 918 feet (280 metres) over glacier-formed valleys and rushing waterfalls. If you follow this link, you’ll see the full magnificence of the viewing platform, unobstructed by tourists like me. Boomdee preferred the solid footing of the cliff.  I ventured out with Mr. B, weak-kneed but excited to experience the incredible view.

That night, we stayed in her friend’s cabin just across the border in Valemount, British Columbia. It’s a small village of about 1,000 people. What a treat!

Valemount, British Columbia

Valemount, BC

On our way home, we enjoyed lunch at the historic Jasper Park Lodge, known locally as JPL.

Back in Edmonton we packed in more fun. We visited Fort Edmonton with Ben and Sherry, and enjoyed coffee and banana bread with her Aunty Kathleen. We visited Urban Scrapbook, The Duchess Bakery and Greenland Garden Centre and nursery. Boomdee recently replanted her boulevard, but saved a space for a plant that we bought together. Isn’t that the sweetest? We sat on her deck or patio, enjoying tea, coffee and toast.

When you get back from a trip, you often here “What was your favorite part?” In a word: Boomdee.

Together we giggle like school girls and seemingly travel on the same emotional plane.  We have similar loves and shared world views, which make our time together easy. She’s a gracious host, married to a lovely man and together they live with a pair of charming cats named Blossum and Petals.

I felt welcome and right at home. Do you have a friend like that?

FullSizeRender 34

We’re already planning our next trip, which makes the time apart seem more doable.

Come have a look at Boomdee’s post about our time together. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s still  dark, but actually very warm outside this morning. When I say morning, it’s very early, only 4:25AM.  The kitties followed me downstairs and did a drive-by snacking.  Now, I’m thinking they’ve gone back to bed because the house is very still and quiet.  It’s Alys’s last day here in Edmonton…[read more]

In case you missed it, here is my post documenting her creative process for Urban Scrapbook.

Ten Reasons to Visit Alberta (and BC)

Glacier Skywalk Experience

Trees of Alberta

Jasper National Park

Valemount, British Columbia

Fort Edmonton

Jasper Park Lodge

Edmonton Parks

Delicious Restaurants and Wonderful Service

Urban Scrapbook

Boomdeeadda

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Reporting From the Boomroom

I’m visiting my dear friend Boomdee in Alberta, Canada. She works for The Urban Scrapbook, and is on deadline for her monthly page layout.

with petals and petals in the boom room

Working her magic in the Boomroom with Petals the cat looking on

Urban provides a kit each month, filled with patterned and solid-colored paper, ribbon, and other embellishments. She kindly brought home a second kit of papers, so that we could make coordinating pages together. The “Urban Girls” create a layout for the store once a month.

My intentions were good, but when you’re sitting across from your Boomdee Bestie, artistic crafter extraordinary, it’s intimidating. I opted instead to watch her work and to record the process.

She started with a series of papers spread in front of her, and decided on a featured photo. Aren’t we adorable?

at the valemount lodge

On the steps of a friend’s log cabin

Using a stencil, she added Gesso to her base page,

Gesso and stencil

White circles stenciled on to heart patterned paper with Gesso

then splattered bits of black acrylic paint for texture and interest. From there she built up paper layers, starting with black card stock, then adding pink and a third layer of patterned paper.

After adhering the three layers together, she did something unexpected: she went to her sewing machine and laid down three rows of black stitching using buttonhole weight thread.

sewing the pages

Sewing black thread for texture and interest

Using a die cut of the word bliss, she cut one from a sheet of pink paper, then using the same die, she cut part of the actual photo. I love the effect. Using double-sided tape, she created a border on a white piece of paper, then added pink glitter. She attached the photo to the glittered frame, then offset two pieces of patterned paper for a layered effect. Meanwhile, she used spray dyes to color a piece of off-white seam binding, then stitched down the middle with the same black thread.

almost finished page

Almost done

She gathered the seam binding into a small puddle of sorts, then added a heart-shaped chipboard to the top.

The layering continued, using chipboard, crystal dots, glitter, unfolded and dyed paper cording and finally tissue paper.

I’ve been writing this in real-time over the last four hours, punctuated by a late-night snack and a glass of something with bubbles. We’re having fun and I’ve learned so much more by observing then if I had attempted a page on my own.

urban scrapbook page layout

The Reveal

I’ll write more about my visit when I’m home next week. Mike and the boys are in San Jose keeping the cats fed and the birdbaths full. I miss them of course, but I’m having a wonderful time. As luck would have it, my hosts have a pair of cats of their own.

pair of black cats

Blossum and Petals

You can see more of Boomdee’s work at Boomdeeadda and The Urban Scrapbook where she writes a bi-monthly column, Kelly’s Korner.

Nuvo Crystal Drops

BoBunny paper line

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Pumpkins in July?

Seriously.

After my squash bug infestation a few years ago, and a follow on year resembling squash bug Armageddon, I stopped planting pumpkins for a few years. With little rain over a four-year period, those pumpkin-sucking bugs easily over-wintered and destroyed my meager crop. Twice.

Last summer, something amazing happened: one noble pumpkin grew in the middle of my former lawn. Without any water and not a squash bug in sight, the plant served up a perfectly formed and cherished pumpkin. I’ve since learned that pumpkin plants can survive on morning dew, taking in the moisture through their straw-like stems and delivering it to the root of the plant. Color me impressed!

This year we had our first season of near-average rainfall. We also installed a rain water catchment system.

rainsavers collage

Rain Catchment System

I took the plunge and bought a package of seeds. I prepared one of my Earth Boxes and waited for the temperatures to rise. The packet directions said to plant once night-time temperatures were consistently above 50 degrees F (10C) which for San Jose is usually May.

Meanwhile, seeds planted last fall by our neighborhood squirrels took root. They found a home near the patio in the newly planted, drought-tolerant garden. I let them grow of course, but figured the cold nights that followed would dash our hopes. As the temperatures rose and I planted my own seeds, the squirrel’s garden happily meandered along, pest-free and robust.

Pumpkin Vines 2016 collage

A pumpkin we will grow

One plant stayed small, and produced a single, perfectly formed round pumpkin. It started out dark in color, almost a pine green, before turning a lovely orange. The sister plant took off across the garden, racing toward the swing and sending out runners in both directions.

Pumpkin Vines near gravel 2016

The Meandering Pumpkin

The second pumpkin plant produced four tall pumpkins before the vine started dying back.

We were eager to harvest them before the squirrels stopped by for lunch. We put them in our garage to let the stems dry for a few days, then brought them into the house. Typically we wouldn’t be harvesting until September.

As I ready for my trip to Canada on Monday, I’ll leave it to my son to harvest the last three pumpkins. He’s looking forward to it. Meanwhile, the tomatoes are flush, producing a delicious crop. My new favorite is a ‘Black Cherry’, a sweet and juicy heirloom tomato that is melt-in-your mouth delicious. I’m definitely saving seeds for next year.

assorted heirloom tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes: ‘Mr. Stripey’ and ‘Black Cherry’

Tomatoes and Pumpkins in July

Tomatoes and Pumpkins in July

I’m in count-down mode: Edmonton here I come!

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Dark Times in America

Canada, here I come.

For the second time in two months, I’m off to Canada for some rest and relaxation. I took Mike to see Victoria for the first time in mid-June.

Next week I’ll visit Edmonton, a trip planned nearly a year ago. I’m visiting my “Boomdee Bestie”, a dear, dear friend whom I met through blogging. We laugh when we’re together, and everything seems right with the world. I’m counting the days.

kelly and alys in chinatown 2014

What I planned as a vacation, a holiday away from the mundane, now feels like an escape. These are dark times in America. Current events have laid me low.

Our parents raised us to be tolerant and fair-minded, kind and sincere. My Canadian mother and British father met on a blind date in the mid-fifties in Ontario, Canada. They moved our family to California when we were still in grade school.

All these years later, I still  long for the safety of home. Home was a place where nobody cared about a second-amendment right to bear arms. The idea of owning a gun was absurd. In a 2013 survey of 80 countries by the World Values Survey, Canada ranked among the most racially tolerant societies in the world.

Conversely, the States seem mired in racism and gun violence, with little if any progress toward a cure. One of our major presidential candidates wear’s his hateful, misogynist, xenophobic opinions proudly. When he says “Let’s make America great again” it has nothing to do with tolerance. He talks of building walls along the Mexican border,  profiling Muslims, punishing women’s right to choose and a myriad of other aberrant stances that could set this country back a hundred years if he wins.

This past week, police officers shot and killed two men of color with both incidents caught on camera. A four-year-old girl sat in the back seat of the car, miraculously unharmed. The video ends with her tiny voice comforting her distraught mother. “It’s okay, mommy, I’m here.” I sat alone in my car, listening to her small voice while her mother sobbed and I wept along with her.

A day later, as I tossed and turned in bed, further gun violence unfolded. A lone gunman shot a dozen police officers standing watch over a peaceful protest rally. When the long, terrible night was over, five officers were dead, several more wounded including two civilians.

I’m weary and sick and frightened, too. There must be a better way forward.

“Everyone has a right to peaceful coexistence, the basic personal freedoms, the alleviation of suffering, and the opportunity to lead a productive life.” – Jimmy Carter

“Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free.” – Dalai Lama

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” – Mother Teresa

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