In a Vase on Monday: A Tiny Treasure from my Travels

This week, it’s all about the vase. I don’t generally buy travel souvenirs but how could I resist this charming little vessel?

Puerto Vallarta cat vase

This vase from Puerto Vallarta is pretty on all sides (That’s Tessa our cat walking away in the background)

I spotted the vase on our final day in Puerto Vallarta. It’s small, perhaps the size of a tall shot glass. Once wrapped in protective paper and I stashed it in my purse for the trip home.

Scale is everything with a vase this small. I scouted my limited winter choices and decided on three white camellia camellia japonica and a few sprigs of my beloved fern.

Camellia Japonica

Camellia Japonica

Camellia Japonica bud

Camellia Japonica bud

The petals were already dropping, so I don’t think the arrangement will last the week, unless this pretty bud opens up. I love that faded pink on the tips.

Vase on window sill

Kitty vase on my home office window sill

cat vase with camellia and fern

An outdoor shot where the light is always best

cat with cat vase

Tessa the curious

As it turns out, several bloggers join the In a Vase on Monday featureIt was nice connecting some of you last week.

Thank you Cathy at Words and Herbs and Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for your ongoing inspiration.

Puerto Vallarta: An Exquisite Time Away

We’ve just returned from a three-day getaway to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. What an exquisite place! Mike traveled there on business earlier in the week, and I followed Friday and stayed through the long weekend. We flew home late Monday night.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

View from the balcony of the Westin Hotel, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta sunset

Puerto Vallarta sunset the evening I arrived

After our protracted recovery from the flu, this trip was exactly what the proverbial doctor ordered.

Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

We walked along the beach, read, took naps, and explored the grounds of the gorgeous resort hotel.

We enjoyed fruity drinks with our tortilla chips and guacamole in the casita facing the sea. San Jose has a heavy Mexican influence, but it was still fun to enjoy a dish that originated in Mexico.

 The name is derived from two Aztec Nahuatl words—ahuacatl (avocado) and molli (sauce).

Tropical cocktails with a plate of tortillas and guacamole

Tropical cocktails with a plate of tortillas and guacamole

I’m always intrigued by the local wildlife, like this clever black bird, called a Great-tailed Grackle. He seemed to know that he could swoop in for a chip, after they cleared the dishes.  He knew not to approach any of the tables with guests, but as soon as the dishes landed on a clearing tray, he made his move. Once he claimed the chip, he flew into the rafters, hopping and chirping from row to row.

On Saturday night, we ate a spectacular, five-course vegetarian meal at Café Des Artistes by Thierry Blouet. Their website describes it as

” French cuisine with Mexican inspiration. More than 25 years being the gourmet tradition in Puerto Vallarta.”

The Café Des Artistes is carved into the hillside and sits above Old Town, the heart of the city.  The main floor is a bar, with the upper two stories featuring open-air dining under the trees. They seated us on the third floor surrounded by towering bamboo and ancient trees. From there we could look down on the garden terrace.

I could go on and on about this place, but instead I’ll sum it up in one, long sentence: Dining in Puerto Vallarta with the man I love, sitting under a canopy of trees wearing a sleeveless dress with live music playing while enjoying a full-course vegetarian meal, served by a charming and devoted team of wait staff who delivered a story about each wine pairing left me breathless.  What a night!

After our meal, we walked along the strand in Old Town Puerto Vallarta before heading back to the hotel.

Three days passed quickly. We hope to return for a longer stay, to experience whale watching, snorkeling and other local activities when we have more time.

Our hotel was an easy walk to the harbor filled with boats and lovely vistas, and of course we couldn’t help but price the local real estate.  It never hurts to look, eh?

I’ll leave you with a few more pictures of our trip highlights.

Turtles sunning themselves in a pond next to a Japanese restaurant.

The hotel cat name Mitzy

Some of the brilliant colors of Mexico

Con afecto, Alys.

 

 

 

Our Beloved Village Mural

Our living room mural garnered lots of comments and interest when readers spotted it on my In A Vase on Monday post. I decided to write a little something about the artist and her process.

I met Donna through our mutual friend Roger. Bodywork By Roger is in a nondescript building owned by a credit union, but when you walk in the door the space is stunning. Donna designed and painted the lobby and all of the rooms. I asked Roger for her contact information, and started referring her to my organizing clients and a few friends. I loved being able to peek at some of her projects and enjoyed seeing the breadth of her work.

I’ve dreamed of a wall mural my whole life. I have magazine clippings of murals dating back to 1970, hoping one day the dream would become a reality. I came close once about twelve years ago, but I didn’t connect with the artist so the idea fizzled out.

It’s been five years since Donna painted our mural, and memory is sketchy, but at some point I approached Donna with an idea and it manifested as this:

Completed mural

Donna took inspiration from a canvas we loved, creating her own colors and glazes to bring it to life. She sketched the idea, then literally drew a simple outline on the wall using an overhead projector. It was magical watching her work. Click on any photo in the gallery below for a closer look.

She painted over the course of a week, fleshing out the mural as she added fence posts, buildings and the beautiful sky.  She even added a small cat to the stone wall at my request. See if you can spot the kitty.

cat in silhouette

Kitty in silhouette

cat in silhouette on stone wall

Kitty in silhouette on stone wall

We have an open space plan with our kitchen, dining area, entry way and living room all flowing into an L shape. This allows us to see the mural from many angles for maximum enjoyment. One of the things I love about the mural is the way the colors change with the seasons or simply with the time of day. The mural always feels alive.

Wall mural (living room) and textured wall (dining area) by Donna Pierre, Felted wool oval runner by Randi Adams of RanDisignFiberArts

It’s a tremendous privilege to have Donna’s work in my home. I’m glad so many of you asked.

Of Note: You may recognize Donna as the artist behind our revitalized Little Free Library. You can read more about that project on my post Our Little Free Library Becomes a Work of Art.

In a Vase on Monday: Cutting Flowers in the Rain

It’s raining.

Or as I like to say, It’s *RAINING*! 

San Jose had the second driest December on record, dating back 124 years. 

I love the rain under any conditions, but today’s January storm feels downright celebratory after such a dry start to our winter. What better day to go out in the garden to clip some blooms while soaking up the negative ions that make us feel good.

I’m joining Cathy and Cathy today for a regular feature they call In a Vase on Monday. Cathy, at Rambling in the Garden and Cathy at Words and Herbs faithfully post a vase of flowers from their garden year round. It’s not always easy, especially when you garden in Bavaria, but these two are an impressive pair.

My vase features something old and something new, pretty fringe and a cat, too.

A year ago I received a bottle of blush wine in this charming, cat-shaped bottle. It sat untouched for a year as I’m not really a fan of pink wine.

Wine bottle turned vase

Wine lovers, please look away now.

I poured the pink wine down the sink, rinsed the bottle, and voila, a pretty glass vase.

Okay, you can look now.

The something old comes from my cherished green asparagus fern. In 1988 I bought a pair of ferns for 79 cents and kept them on my nightstand in my one-bedroom apartment for two years. I moved and the plants moved with me. By the time we bought this house 21 years ago, my sprawling fern could no longer be contained. It’s now growing happily along the back fence.

If that plant could talk, eh?

Cuttings from my asparagus fern

Something new is the fresh-fallen rain drops. Isn’t it amazing how everything looks lush after a decent rain?

Cat vase in the rain

The pretty pink fringe you see comes from a few branches of my Loropetalum chinense or Chinese fringe plant.

Pink and green leaves and small fringe-like blooms

It’s a nice complement to last year’s hydrangea blooms, currently faded to shades of cranberry and pink.

Last season’s hydrangea, faded to cranberry and pink

The cat speaks for itself. =^, , ^=

The cat vase on our dining table (the runner is hand-felted by my friend Randi)

I hope you have a terrific week. If you need me, I’ll be outside enjoying the rain.

Merry Christmas, Choo-choo!

Merry Christmas!

Choooooo…chooooo!

model train in Campbell

Model train in Campbell, CA

There is something nostalgic about miniature trains.  They harken back to a time when hobbyists tinkered with cars and rails, built sets and then sent scale versions of magnificent trains, happily around a track.

For at least a decade now, a local train enthusiast in nearby Campbell runs a set of model trains around the track…in his front yard. I haven’t had the courage to knock on his front door, but I would love to hear how he got started. I wonder if the family peaks out the window from time to time to see the joy they bring to others.

The Livingston home converts the front yard into a model train village. A massive platform fills the entire front yard, and stands about knee-high. There is a shorter platform circling the yard as well.  Three different trains run around the tracks, passing small villages, figurines and miniature versions of Christmas trees.

model train campbell Model train set

Some of the scenery has the vintage flavor of a train station in the 1940’s. Leaves drop from the massive tree above, lending a naturalized air.  Surprises include tiny figurines from the Pixar Car’s  movies, Star Wars and Mickey Mouse.

miniature train station

Mickey Mouse and Daisy wait at the train station

This year, there was an even bigger surprise: a delightful cat.

Campbell model train platform

The train platform occupies the entire front yard. (Can you see the cat)

I didn’t see the kitty at first. What an unexpected surprise.  Just before taking the last of my pictures I caught a glimpse of his fur.

kitty by the model train track

Look at this handsome face

Kitty stretched and yawned, then marched across the train tracks for a closer view of me. Far from being skittish, he was happy for a bit of TLC.

kitty near the water tower

Kitty near the water tower

cat yawning

Big yawn

He rubbed up against my hand, then jumped down for a pet.

When it was time to go, I carried him back to his spot. I didn’t want him to follow me into the street, and although he looks a bit cranky, he was entirely unmoved by the experience.

alys with cat

Returning kitty to his spot

I couldn’t help but drive by a week later to see if I could spot him once again. Sure enough he was sound asleep in the same spot. I think I smiled the rest of the way home.

Merry Christmas! May your day be filled with your version of miniature trains, nostalgic treats and whatever makes you smile.

Flu and Fires, Big and Small

Some weeks are better than others.

This wasn’t one of them.

Friday night, as my son left his desk, he reached down to unplug a small space heater. We were together in our home office. When he reached for the cord it was scorching-hot, so he quickly pulled his hand away. Within seconds, sparks started shooting from the electrical outlet.

space heater cord

Two-prong plug and melted cord

If you been through something like this, you know that time distorts. It slows down to a crawl, at least in your mind, as you try to absorb the information at hand.

I kept asking my son if he was okay and I could hear him say yes. I asked again and then I asked again, never taking my eyes off the sparks inexplicably shooting out of the wall. What-do-I-do, what-do-I-do, what-do-I-do?

We have a disabled fire extinguisher in the garage.

Useless.

My older son called into the room: “It’s an electrical fire, don’t use water.” Mike headed outside to the fuse box to cut the power.

scorched drapes

Scorched drapes

Sparks shuttered like oil in a hot pan, popping in place on the bamboo floor. Then the drapes caught fire…or didn’t. They’re synthetic, so they started to melt.

Think.

I backed out of the room, grabbed a chair cushion, and returned. Flushed with fear, I smashed away at the sparks. Suffocate the flames. That’s what I’m supposed to do.  Cushion in hand, I whacked at the sparks on the floor. I hit the outlet, apparently breaking the melting cord at about the same time Mike killed the power. I stood there in the dark, waiting for the fire to come back, but just as quickly it was over.

We all handle these things differently. My son joked that it was his “first fire” and I countered, “let’s call it your last.” Mike assured everyone that all was fine. We managed to make light of what could have been so much worse and even sat down to an evening meal.

About thirty minutes later we regrouped, opened the windows to some cool night air, and Mike helped me take down the scorched drapes to help with the smell. I would deal with the layer of soot in the morning.

Saturday morning dawned. Instead of feeling rested, Mike and I woke up with a bad cold.

Actually, it turned out to be the flu. I called in our regrets to a friend’s Christmas party, an evening we hated to miss. My sister and I were attending a card making class on Sunday to celebrate our October/November birthdays. I had to cancel that too.  We slept for hours, fitfully, painfully, all the while hoping our boys remained well.

Tuesday rolled around and I had to cancel my volunteer shift at a food bank. I felt about two feet tall making that call, but there are other days, other shifts, and you realize life carries on just fine without you.

In the words of someone brilliant: This too shall pass.

Having that tiniest of fires in my home taught me how quickly and unpredictably a fire can start and spread. We’re lucky. My son is fine. There is no significant damage to our home and the rest of my family is safe. We lost a few immaterial possessions and as soon as I’m well, I’ll be updating that fire extinguisher.

I’ll never own or use a space heater again.

California Wildfire Update, December 20, 2018

The big fires are out of my control. I’m trying to heed other’s advice by doing what I can without falling into that deep, dark hole of despair.  It’s been a devastating year for our beautiful state.

[The Thomas] wildfire in Southern California that sparked devastating blazes across the region remains, as of Wednesday morning, the second-largest fire in California history, with only 55 percent of it successfully contained. The Thomas Fire is not expected to be fully contained until January 2018 and is on track to become the largest fire in California history.

The Thomas Fire scorched as of Tuesday night—about 425 square miles (1,100 square kilometers), or 19 times the size of Manhattan.

How to Trim A Christmas Tree: The Tessa Edition

The vote was unanimous: no breakable ornaments on the Christmas tree this year.

Kitten in Christmas Tree

Those eyes! That face!

Our growing kitten, Tessa could hardly believe her luck. Were we really putting up a tree in the house?

We have an artificial Christmas tree that we set up in our living room the day after Thanksgiving. With the boys home from school and Mike off work, the four-day weekend is the perfect time to trim the tree.

Kitten in Christmas tree

Mike may have needed a bandage after this encounter

kitten in christmas tree

Mike and Tessa exchange looks

Like most kittens, Tessa’s curiosity peaks at the sight of anything new. So after assembling the tree, we let her explore. She wasted no time climbing into the tree for a little adventure. As Mike sat on the floor opening the branches she jumped up, climbed down, rolled around and peered out at me with excited eyes.

two faced kitten in Christmas tree

I’ve got my eye on you

From now on, when I hear the expression “lit up like a Christmas tree” I’ll think of our tiny terror frolicking through the limbs. Who needs lights when you live with Tessa?

Well…we still wanted some lights. Once she lost interest we strung the lights and the boys carefully chose the soft, unbreakable decorations to hang low on the tree. I gave it a second pass, and moved up anything that hung too low. You have to think like a kitten. We unplug the lights when we’re away, and nearly two weeks in, all is well.

kitten in christmas tree

Tessa gymnastics

two faced kitten in christmas tree

She may never come down from the tree

If Tessa’s likeness were a tree ornament, they might look like this.

Do you celebrate Christmas? If so, do you also decorate a tree?

Tessa's back side in the Christmas tree

The End