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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You might also enjoy: Seeking Solace by Life on the Bike and Other Fab Things

Once the Heat Descends

sweet peas in vase

I continuously cut bunches of sweet peas to keep the plants blooming.

When you live in sunny San Jose, the heat waves are inevitable. What’s new, however, is the duration. In the past, the temps would rise for three days, then drop back to a seasonal norm. Now they seem to last five to seven days at a stretch. With my fair, cool-weather complexion I wilt. Sadly, so do the sweet peas.

Love in a mist collage

The Jungle, a self-seeded garden of Love in a Mist, Sweet Peas, California Poppies and Cornflowers in their prime.

Sweet peas going to seed

Snap, crackle pop. There’s beauty at every stage of the cycle.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the jungle in all its wonder. Sweet peas self-seeded early this year, followed by love-in-a-mist and then cornflowers. All of the flowers are various shades of purple. I love the way they offered each other support.

One by one though, they’re calling it quits for the season.

Encouraged by Pauline, Lisa and Kelly, I cut blooms several days a week.

sweet peas in vases-002

Close up view. The tiny hummingbird is a wine glass charm, a gift from a friend.

sweet peas in vases

This sweet little tea-pot is also a gift from a friend

I found miniature milk bottles at a craft store for $2, wrapped the neck with purple baker’s twine, then filled them with fragrant blooms. Sweet pea is the birth flower for April, and, coincidentally two of my Pilates classmates have April birthdays.  I brought each of them a small bouquet. I enjoyed sharing them with friends and neighbors, and even brought a few to a client.

Alas, the heat descended and the plants quickly dried and went to seed. Sweet peas prefer a cool 65 F (18C). We’ve had sustained temps ranging from 89 – 94 F (31-34C). I left them for a week till they were completely brown, then started pulling them out of the ground. I shook each plant liberally to drop any of the loosened seeds, then made a big pile to sort through on a cooler day. Ha!

Days later, on an overcast afternoon, I sat in a chair in the middle of the pile and harvested seed pods. I learned a few things. If the seed pod is still green, the seeds need to dry before storing. The brown seed pods, fully encased, give up wonderful, dry, ready to plant seeds for the following season.

sweet pea seed collage

Harvesting seeds, upper left, a twisted seed pod squeezed out the seeds for next year. Different stages of drying seeds. The garden natives start to fill in.

The most interesting for me though is what happens when the pods are ready to give up those seeds on their own. The pod cracks and then twists so that seeds are wrung out of the pod, dropping back into the soil for next year. That cracked, twisted pod has a beauty of its own.

The birds didn’t seem interested in the dried seeds. According to this Wiki article, unlike edible peas, the seeds are toxic.

bird cornflower

Feathered friends stop by for cornflower seeds

But here’s what happened the minute I cleared away the dried plants. I propped up the bedraggled cornflowers and the birds flocked to the plant by the dozens. I could see three to five at a time eating seeds, but when something startled them over a dozen birds emerged from the plant. They may have been there all along, but with the love in a mist and sweet peas dominating the jungle, the cornflowers were largely out of view.

birds eating cornflower seeds collage

It looks like they whole neighborhood stopped by. Aren’t they cute?

That too has now gone to seed and I’ve gradually cleared away the last of the plants for the season.

The garden looks a little bare without them. I’m also missing the bees that kept me company for weeks. Even the birds are scarcer than they were.

Yup, it’s a hot, dry summer in San Jose.

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The Busyness of Life: Wires, Cables and Primary Elections

I know, I know. That is such a labored title for this post. I haven’t blogged for a while and I didn’t want to leave anything out. It’s not that I think you’re sitting around waiting to hear what I have to say. It’s more that when you write a blog, it gives you the opportunity to express some of the jumble that occupies your brain.

Let’s start with the wires, the electrical transmission wires that travel along the fence line of our property and carry several thousands volts of electricity. I glanced out of the kitchen window to see a firefighter approaching our front door. I asked him if everything was okay and he said “yes, as long as you stay out of your back yard.”

Oh no!

My garden!

my garden

My garden, not far from the pine tree

He said that a neighbor reported sparks coming from the power line and that a crew from PG&E (Pacific, Gas & Electric), would arrive shortly.

Yikes!

By the end of the night it seemed to have all blown over and no one said another word. We assumed it was a false alarm.

The following morning, three PG&E trucks were on the scene, along with two large tree-trimming trucks with crew and a couple of supervisors assessing the problem. It turns out that the neighbor’s pine tree, a tree large enough to span four properties, had a broken limb resting on the line. The crew disconnected power to our home and surrounding neighbors while crews went up into the tree and removed the offending branches.

I brought Slinky indoors for the day, worried that she would either get under foot or have something fall on her. They were able to restore the power by late afternoon, and all was well. No fire as a result of the falling branch, and a nicely trimmed tree in the process.  I’m always a bit unsettled to see workers climbing so high into trees, followed by the awful noise of chain saws and stump grinders. It was a relief when they were finally done.

This past Tuesday, we offered our garage as a local polling place. This is something we’ve been doing for a decade. It’s a nice way to take part in our civic duties in addition to voting.

Our garage the night before the election

Our garage the night before the election

If you follow the primary process in the US, you’ll know it’s been a contentious year. I’m happy to have cast my ballot *in our garage* and delighted too that my son could vote for the first time. He turned 18 last June. With all that foot traffic, I made sure Slinky was outside all day, safely enclosed in her favorite outdoor spot.

slinky in her greenhouse

Slinky’s shelter from the rain

The poll workers, all volunteers, are a wonderful group of people. I served coffee and tea along with bagels and cookies throughout the day, and enjoyed the festive environment of seeing neighbors and friends approach our home to vote. The poll workers arrive at 6 am and stay past 9. It’s a long day for them. I appreciate their commitment to the process. I also wonder to myself why everyone doesn’t exercise their right to vote in this country.

roses from Barb

A stunning surprise. These flowers arrived after election day from my friend, Barb. The card said “thank you for your public service. I would vote for you and day.” The sweetest! These flowers and her thoughtfulness  made my day.

Friday, while I was out running errands, a friend called to tell me that Comcast (our internet and cable company) had a representative walking around our garden. I headed home to a note on the door with a vague description of the problem and a request to call their toll-free number. Time spent on phone calls and trouble shooting led nowhere. The customer service rep kept reading from a script, and was ultimately unable to tell me what was wrong.  We went to bed that night without internet, and woke to another Comcast worker wandering around the garden. It’s been one of those weeks.

This morning’s technician told me that squirrels had chewed the lines, weakening the connections so they shut them all down. He had to string new cable through our yard as well as the house behind us. Once they replaced the cable, our internet was up and running. As the technician headed for the door, he told me that I had the “perfect garden for squirrels.”  If he only knew.

My 2016 swing cover remains intact, while the squirrels moved to higher ground.

garden swing cover 2016-004

The Garden Swing: 2015 Edition

I told the tech that the squirrels were doing their part for the economy, keeping Comcast workers employed.

In between the comings and goings of firefighters, PG&E crews, cable technicians and voters, it’s been a hectic start to June.  I’ve been gardening early to avoid the oppressive heat, working on a couple of big projects during the day, and still managed to squeeze in our monthly book club. We celebrated our oldest son’s 19th birthday and both boys finished school for the summer.

I’ve been wondering why I’ve been so tired, but I think I know. I’m missing my introvert time, the hours spent in quiet solitude, reading, writing, gardening or just sitting and petting one of the cats.

It’s been lovely visiting other blogs today and nice to catch up on everyone’s news.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Perhaps like me you’re a bit of both.

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Xylocopa varipuncta: Love and Romance in the Garden

What a romantic! Did you know that the Xylocopa varipuncta, also known as the male Valley Carpenter Bee emits “a rose-scented blend of volatiles”  from within “massive thoracic glands.”¹

You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

While courting the shiny black females,

female carpenter bee

Female Carpenter Bee

the amber male, with his bright green eyes and fuzzy amber body, emits a special cologne.²

Valley Carpenter Bee

Valley Carpenter Bee

The female decides if she likes his cologne and only then does nature takes its course.

When Love-in-a-mist met the Valley Carpenter Bee, it was a match made in gardening heaven.

love in a mist with Valley Carpenter Bee

Valley Carpenter Bee circling a Love-in-a-mist flower

Love in a mist flowered all over the garden this spring, both front and back and the bees love it. It makes me so happy to see them buzzing from bloom to bloom. Sometimes I just sit nearby and watch them work.

bee on love in a mist

The more typical, seen daily be the dozen

What surprises me is that most of the bees are small with stripes. There are dozens of them throughout the day working in the garden.

Conversely, the golden hunk of bee is an occasional visitor.

Meanwhile, his female counterpart is out back pollinating the pumpkin planted by the squirrel.

pumpkin vine

Runaway Pumpkin Vine…and yes, love in a mist

The pumpkin vine is racing across the garden at record speed and it’s only June. In all my years of gardening, I’ve never seen anything like it.

The bees working in my garden are docile. They don’t mind my presence as I brush up against the flowers, currently referred to by my family as “the jungle”. Love in a mist has completely taken over.

love in a mist takes over

The Jungle

slinky love in a mist

Slinky guards her catnip near the love-in-a-mist

Slinky likes to rest near one of the flowers in the back, but to be fair, it’s also close to her secret Nepeta plant, also known as catnip.

Mouse is also enamored with this flower, attracting lots of camera time with his antics.

In case it’s not obvious by now, I love this beautiful plant and the ease with which it grows. The original seeds were part of a “seeds that attract hummingbirds and bees” packet a few years back. They didn’t do much throughout the drought, but they’ve loved our season of rain.

We’re in the midst of a long heat wave now, so it could spell the end. I’m enjoying them while they last.

¹Wikipedia: Xylocopa varipuncta

²Native Bees: What’s the Buzz

Friends Who Blog and an Enchanted Light-Catcher

Washington DC and Virginia

The Gathering of the Bloggers, Washington DC and Virginia, Spring, 2015

A year ago last spring, I spent an extraordinary week gathering with bloggers from around the world. It was an experience I’ll never forget. We traveled from Canada, parts of the US and as far away as New Zealand, gathering in Washington, D.C. and Virginia.

Laurie of Life on the Bike, and Julia of Defeat Despair, invited us to stay in their homes. They were excellent tour guides, showing us the sites and sharing stories about their community. Shelley, of Peak Perspective hosted several of us for an engaging afternoon atop a hill in Virginia. We enjoyed laughter and an amazing spread of food under the watchful, curious eyes of Haggis the dog.

Lisa of Arlingwoman provided local perspective as she guided us through the enormous Washington Mall. Her knowledge increased my enjoyment of the incredible history that resides there. We toured Lisa’s community garden and learned about her Plot Against Hunger.

We shared a meal with Lisa as well as Stacy of  Visual Venturing and Patti of Displaced Beachbums.

Rounding out this amazing journey: Kelly who blogs at Boomdeeadda and Kelly’s Korner  and Pauline of The Contented Crafter.

What started as “blogging friends” became “friends who blog.”

One of the visual reminders of our time together is my beautiful light-catcher. Pauline made one for each of us, selecting charms to reflect our interests and our lives.

You can see the amazing details in the short video below.

Five years and 940 posts later the most amazing statistic is this: there are nearly 16,000 comments on this blog. Comments become conversations, conversations lead to friendships and in this great big world of ours,  interesting, like-minded, bright, clever, talented, and wonderful people from around the world, log on and add sparkle to my day. I can’t thank you enough.