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.”

Temporarily Sidelined From the Garden

Campanula Serbian bellflower Campanula (Serbian bellflower) and hydrangea hugging the fountain

It feels good to be back in the garden. I did something to my back a few weeks ago and for a few days the pain was unbearable. It subsided and then my neck went out. Good grief, I am so over it! It’s spring for gosh sakes. This is no time to be sidelined from the garden.

I pulled a few weeds sitting in a folding chair, making it official: I’m an “old woman gardener.”

Last weekend, in between back pain and neck pain, we got things done. Mike hung the shade sails on both patios which we leave up for six months of the year. Shade sails make the San Jose sun bearable, while at the same time creating “rooms” in the garden. Once our shade sails are up we spend more time outdoors.

I repurposed a decorative shower curtain once again to cover the swing cushions. After sewing two or three replacement covers over the years, only to see them in ruin, I no longer dedicate any sewing time to a swing cover that is generally faded by the sun and gnawed on by squirrels at season’s end. It’s a decent compromise.

I hung a few mirrors from a local shop called Not Too Shabby along the back fence. I’ve always wanted to do something like this. It creates a focal point while covering up the boring fence. The mirrors are in the shade of the fruit tree and reflect different plants in the garden, depending on where you sit.

mirrors arranged on fence Patio and garden with mirrors on the back fence. (Pictured: Mouse and Lindy)
four mirrors on garden fence Your’s truly holding the camera for a closeup view of the garden mirrors

I planted tomatoes in my EarthBoxes® this year. Last summer’s crop was a bust, so I’ve moved the boxes into a more open space. Wind is more important for pollination than bees, so I’m hoping the new location on the gravel path pays off in delicious summer tomatoes.

pair of Earthboxes planted with tomatoes Pair of Earthboxes with tomatoes and red mulch

Astoundingly, this is the first time in ages that I don’t have any self-seeded pumpkins. That said, as the garden fills in, there is less and less room for the seedlings to take hold.  I’m going to plant pumpkin seeds in the front garden this year, so as the sweet peas die back in June, the pumpkins can fill in the space. It just doesn’t feel like a garden without pumpkins.

We had above-average rain this year, so everything looks healthy and refreshed.

My favorite, self-seeding flowers are back this year including Nigella (love-in-a-mist),

sweet peas,

nasturtiums,

and our state flower, the California poppy.  I liberally scattered poppy seeds at the end of last summer and it paid off.

Front garden Front garden natives mix with annual self-seeded cornflower, California golden poppies, & sweet peas

For any of you royal watchers, here’s a bit of California poppy trivia:

To commemorate Meghan Markle’s Californian origins, Clare Waight Keller included the golden poppy in the coat of arms.
Source: Wikipedia

Perhaps the most important plant in the garden each spring is the Nepeta. Nepeta, also known as cat nip or cat mint is briefly intoxicating to cats. Lindy likes to eat it, Tessa dives in head first and all three cats take turns using the plant as a lounge.

cat sleeping near cat nip Lindy snoozing between the Nepeta and the violets
native garde Back garden and patio. Lindy standing near the Nepeta
cat with nose in nepeta plant Tessa dips her nose in the Nepeta
two faced Tessa Tessa enjoying the garden

Spring. There’s a little something for everyone.

Lifted Spirits: Remodeling the Boutique

I’ve been volunteering for over a year at Lifted Spirits, a drop-in center for unhoused women in downtown San Jose.

Lifted Spirits took a brief hiatus in late April, giving us time to catch our breath and to make improvements to the program. One of the major changes included remodeling the boutique.

Lifted Spirits clothing boutique starting point

Before: Lifted Spirits Clothing Boutique starting point

As with most non-profits, we survive on a shoestring. The budget for the remodel: zero. You make do with what you have, take advantage of sales, and employ the “let’s build a fort!” sensibilities from one’s youth.

We welcomed back the women we serve on Monday and the boutique is a hit.

After: Remodeled Lifted Spirits Boutique

For a bit of background, the boutique is a free clothes closet where unhoused women access gently used clothing and travel-sized toiletries via our drop-in center. The program also provides a hot lunch, access to a shower-van two days a week, a sleeping room, a lovely patio garden and Friday Bingo. Serving women in a pleasant environment lifts spirits and that’s what we’re all about.

The original boutique layout included assorted clothing racks, shelves for shoes, a few cubicle-style storage bins and a wall divider originally used in an office setting. Two sets of file drawers doubled as storage for underwear and assorted toiletries. A counter sat on the file cabinets with two overhanging bins, and a salvaged piece of counter top sat on a series of plastic drawers used for toiletries.

The narrow space created by the cubicle wall meant that only one volunteer could comfortably fit back there at a time. You had to turn sidewise to bend over and open a drawer. Further, women had the sense that we were “hiding the good stuff” behind the counter. As volunteers, we felt cut off from parts of the boutique and the women we serve. The high wall and overhanging cabinets blocked the natural light.

On our first closed Friday, our group of five women volunteers dismantled the cubicle wall, removed the counter and relocated the filing cabinets. We repurposed one cabinet in the conference room, and free-cycled the second one. A hauler took away the metal walls for recycling, and we retained the two counter tops which you’ll see in use, below.

With that, the space opened up considerably. It felt lighter and brighter and more spacious, simply by removing the portable wall. I had a few goals in mind after reading articles on the design of small boutiques.  They suggest an open space at the entrance to give the sense of having stepped into something special. Women in the US enter and automatically turn to their right. A check-out counter should be located near the exit and to the left. And finally, you want a sense of flow throughout the shopping experience.

Open space at the entrance, “shopping” on the right, new counter on the left. Several mirrors help visually expand the space.

If you are operating a boutique to make money, you want several ways to slow your shoppers down. In our case, we wanted the opposite. There are days when nearly 40 women access the boutique, so they don’t have time to linger. I designed the space so that women enter to their right and then shop in a circular fashion, finishing at the counter to pick up a pair of socks, new underwear and toiletries before exiting. There is one table in the center as a focal point and as a place to put out extras such as hand lotion and sample hair product, but otherwise the space flows.

My husband Mike enjoyed the chance to use his power tools to build a check-out counter. We set up a folding table outside, and he cut the two counter top remnants mentioned above, down to a useable size. They don’t completely match, but once cut and arranged in an L you don’t really notice. They weren’t completely level, but I fixed that problem with two packs of dental floss! I stacked the bins we use for sorting and storing bras along the shorter side of the L to form part of the counter.

The one splurge: four sets of Elfa drawers. I bought the drawers on sale, with an additional 10% off using my professional discount and donated them to the cause. The longer side of the L sits on the Elfa drawers. We regained the lost storage from the two filing cabinets and the stacking plastic drawers with the Elfa units. Small toiletries are now located under the counter for easy access.  I created enough space for two volunteers to work behind the counter.

Elfa brand drawers. Three sets open on the inside of the counter, the fourth set opens out and stores sanitary and incontinence products

I masked the drawers with three pieces of foam core board and a stripe of purple duct tape I found in a cabinet. The foam core is a snug fit under the counter, with some white duct tape on the end to hold it in place.

While in my heart of hearts I wish I could provide housing for all the women we serve, I am glad to be a part of something that helps lift spirits and fills some of the needs for women living un-housed on the urban streets of San Jose.

Boutique Before:

Boutique During the Remodel:

Boutique After:

A welcome new space

Lifted Spirits drop in center boutique

A group of volunteers sorting donated hygiene items