In a Vase on Monday: Sunshine and Scent

Cathy at Rambling in the Garden arranges flowers in a vase year-round, and posts her creations each Monday. I’m always impressed with what she pulls together. In addition, several bloggers join the creative process, posting there In a Vase on Monday and linking to Cathy’s blog.

I discovered Cathy at Rambling in the Garden through Cathy at Words and Herbs, yet another example of how I love this blogging world. I like to refer to them casually as The Cathys. I hope they don’t mind.

I filled today’s vase with my beloved Freesia in yellows and whites. Then, I clipped some greens from our Pittosporum (Pittosporum tobira). The Pittosporum, sometimes called mock orange, is one of two trees that preceded our move to this house 27 years ago.

Rounding out the color are a few orange nasturtium (Tropaeolum). The stems are weak, but I couldn’t resist their vibrant color. They self-seed all over the garden this time of year in reds, yellows, and oranges.

I found the vase at a vintage shop a few years ago. I bought it for a song, telling me it’s neither vintage nor valuable, but with a ceramic cat hanging from the edge, it’s priceless.

Please visit Rambling in the garden to see what other bloggers have arranged In a Vase on Monday.

A Week in Pictures: March Draws to a Close

We woke up Wednesday morning to grey skies but no rain. I thought we missed the hyped storm, but it was running late.

By mid-morning, the skies darkened, and the rain followed. Between 10 and 2, we had thunderstorms, followed by hail, which eventually gave way to sunshine. Cold temperatures left a shallow layer of snow in the foothills.

I can’t remember a time when we sampled such varied weather.

The winds remained at bay, and the power stayed on, but we stayed vigilant about falling trees.

I paid a visit to my favorite crafting store and saw the remains of this once-towering tree. Unfortunately, one of the recent storms toppled the tree, lifting the sidewalk as it crashed across the drive, smashing into a small sign. Thankfully no one was hurt.

Thursday and Friday delivered uneventful weather, and today we enjoyed warm, clear, and sunny skies.

Our cats, Tessa and Mouse, are sleeping soundly after a day of fresh air and sunshine. They used to quibble over the basket on the table behind the couch, so now there are two. Never mind that they have dozens of cozy spots for slumber throughout the house. Like toddlers, bickering is more fun.

I replaced my label-maker after 15 years of reliable service, never imagining it would double as a chin rest.

Intoxicating Freesias continues to dominate in the garden, with purples and reds joining the earlier yellow and white mix. The nasturtiums are back, and several nepeta have self-seeded as well. Now that the hydrangea is covered in fresh leaves, pink and blue flowers will soon follow.

April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.

-William Shakespeare

A Storm is Brewing

It’s difficult to imagine looking at this photo, that another powerful storm is due at midnight. We’ve had a few sunny days, but it’s been cold.

View of our front garden including two Little Free Libraries, a grand magnolia, wisteria, camellia and Freesia

On a side note, the title of this article made me smile: Flowers and Grammar Have a Strained Relationship. I’m always looking up plant names to determine upper and lower case usage.

Spring waits for no one, so it’s been a treat watching the Freesia populate the garden.

I’m seeing an abundance of California poppies as well. Both plants self-propagate, making seeing where they’ll put on a show each year a joy.

California oppy Eschscholzia californica

Our white camellia is also in bloom, but the foliage doesn’t look healthy. My research led me to the probability of an algal leaf spot common to this type of plant. I garden organically, so I need to look at methods to control it. As an aside, I learned that a camellia can live for 200 years!

One stroke of luck as I went outside to clip a few leaves: an Anna’s hummingbird arrived and sipped nectar at arm’s length allowing me to snap several photos. I couldn’t believe my luck.

This hummingbird is either a female or an immature male. The adult males are more colorful.

I’ve been busy removing the various types of grass from the garden, front and back. We had the garden professionally landscaped many years ago, and these grasses were part of that mix. Unfortunately, the two in the front garden have grown to dominate the space, crowding out other plants. Further, our cat Mouse chews on the grass, but he’s unable to digest it, causing him to gag lengthy bunches of grass.

I’m trying to improve his diet with a brand of cat food that includes spinach. I bought wheat grass at the grocery store as well, but he’s eschewed that fresh grass entirely. Picture me chasing after him saying, “Mmmmm, doesn’t this look tasty?” as I’m met with a look of disdain. In addition to grass domination and poor kitty’s tummy, I poked myself straight in the eye with one of the blades last year during pruning. That hurt! So the grasses are no more.

It took some work getting the two largest grassy plants out of the ground, and I created additional tasks for Mike, who had to come behind me and repair the in-ground irrigation.

In the end, I removed two large grass plants from the front garden and one large and several small ones from the back. With luck, the salvia that is now free to grow uncrowded will fill the space in the back native garden.

The rest of the project will need to be hired out. The plan is to create a paving stone pathway that curves from the sidewalk to the stone steps. Once finished, I’ll plant well-behaved and smaller-scale native plants to the right and left of the new walkway. It looks a bit forlorn for now.

Spot for new walkway. The smaller plants pictured are just coming out of their dormant stage.
The proposed walkway will start here and end at the sidewalk.

We’ve all got our fingers crossed that tonight’s storms don’t claim any more lives. It’s been a challenging time for California.

Decorating the Yellow Room

We’re calling it the yellow room.

When my oldest son moved into his condo in late 2021, he took his bed, a desk, and a small table. He’s a minimalist like his mom. My son takes comfort from the familiar, whereas I enjoy change, so it worked out beautifully for both of us.

Mike and I bought a bed and a nightstand from Scandinavian Designs for the room, and that was it for a year. After that, I didn’t have the time or the energy to do more. I spent the last few months of last year researching assisted living for my younger sister, cleaning, clearing, packing, and organizing movers for a rainy December day. I set up her new space, hired a realtor, and cleared out what remained at the condo. Her place sold last month.

Between those hectic weeks, I made lists. Then, I spent evenings looking for unique bed coverings online.

Now and then, I would flop down on the new bed and think about how the space should feel. Once you have a sense of the feel of the room, design features naturally follow. I wanted a botanical vibe, green, but not too much green, and the idea of lemons and sunflowers entered the mix.

Digital lemon artwork (Etsy), Original Sunflower (a gift from Kelly), and Original cat painting, (artist/friend Barbara Oertli)

I must have mentioned this to my friend and fellow volunteer, Claudia. She gifted me a pair of beautifully hand-sewn, lemon-themed flannel pillowcases on my last day downtown. That gift got me moving.

Lemon flannel pillow case, a gift from my friend Claudia

The yellow room features bargains and splurges, unique items from my home, and plenty of cat fur.

I bought a yellow towel for the cats, and most of the time they sleep on it (Mouse looking entitled)

I found a package of decals online that assembled into a lemon tree. I wanted the tree to cover part of two walls, and after some thought, I decided to start the tree trunk along the baseboard. It worked! I spent a couple of afternoons adding clusters of leaves and then added the lemons as a finishing touch. The hummingbird decals came with the tree.

Completed lemon tree
Closeup of the tree decals

Our local Michael’s had a 90% off sale on custom framing, so I pounced. They framed three calendar pages from my 2022 wall calendar, and to my delight, they look fantastic. I hung the pictures for a few weeks before deciding to have the windowed wall painted green. Green walls made everything pop.

I found a few bargains at Cost Plus World Market:

  • A small wicker table
  • A decorative yet functional water sprayer
  • The round wicker piece over the bed
  • and that cute cat vase

Given our earthquake penchant, I never put anything heavy or breakable over a bed.

The floral chair swivels, so it will work nicely with the desk. It was s splurge!

The room is almost done, except for two details. First, a narrow desk is on order and should arrive in April.

The desk will go along this wall, currently reflecting the shudders
Treasures on the nightstand: mini-apron, a gift from Marlene, watering can frame, a gift from Carrielin and a sunflower card, a souvenir from my son’s trip to Florence. The lemon tray traveled from the kitchen.
Organic cotton light-weight sunflower blanket and assorted cushions from Ownkoti
The ficus once lived in the corner

Sadly, the gorgeous Ficus I bought for the room dropped 80% of its leaves. I need to sort something else out for that corner. The room has very little natural light, so this was a one-plant test. I’ve moved the plant to a brighter location, hoping it will rebound.

The plant looked nice while it lasted

The guest room is officially open! Here are a few more pics. I’ll share an update when the desk arrives.

Another Day, Another Storm

The winds are back with a vengeance today, along with steady rain. The power is on, at least for now. My friend pointed out that I could have used our summer coolers to preserve our groceries during the last power outage. It just never occurred to me at the time since lengthy power outages are rare. I feel more prepared this time around. (Thanks, Donna!)

Rainy Tuesday: Happy Succulents on Deck

Just outside the window, a hummingbird is making the rounds. He seems unperturbed by the rain and happy to stop at the flowers and the feeder for a meal. Earlier this month, we had regular hummingbird visits to the Anemone virginiana.

The hummingbirds pluck the fluff, the non-technical term for diaspore, and use the downy surface to build a nest.

Ana’s Hummingbird gathering fluff for her nest

It took weeks to capture a three-second video. Mike and I both delight in this sort of thing.

The California grey squirrels were busy this morning, but unlike the hummingbirds, they prefer to wait out the storm. Unfortunately, I don’t have any recent pics, so I’ll share a few favorites instead.

This year, life has settled into a more reasonable pace, affording me more time to putter and play. I’m finally decorating my son’s former bedroom. He moved into his place nearly a year and a half ago. It’s been years since I’ve had the chance to redecorate a room, so I’ve been taking my time and enjoying the process. I’ll share more details in an upcoming post.

Neutral Walls, Future “Lemon Tree”

I’ve also sorted the house top to bottom as I do for my organizing clients, passing on small appliances and underused items from the kitchen. My crafting area got a do-over as well. When both boys were off to college, I claimed the side-by-side IKEA desks that they used in our den. We’ve had four desks in that room, one for each of us. It worked well for homework and was a place for the kids to play video games with friends.

Time to Reconfigure the Crafting Area

After nearly a year of using the space, I realized that the configuration of side-by-side desks didn’t work as well for crafting. Having my back to the windows didn’t work for me either. I’ll share more details of those changes as well.

Sometimes you only realize what you’re missing once you get it back. I’ve missed writing, puttering, gazing out the window, and time to be. It feels good to be back in this blogging space and to have the time to leave thoughtful replies. I’m so glad you’re here.

Spring: It’s Official!

Today marks the vernal equinox here in the Northern Hemisphere. So, at 5:24 p.m. eastern time, spring will officially be underway. I’m ready!

California has had a rough winter, with 12 significant storms since late December. Our beautiful state swings from drought to drench with little in between, with devastating consequences.

Our suburban neighborhood is not at risk for floods, but the wind storm that followed last week’s rain packed a brutal punch. We lost power for 28 hours, along with several businesses, large and small. Traffic lights were out at major intersections, making it challenging to get anywhere and scary. Trees, large and small, were uprooted and dropped on fences, roadways, sidewalks, and trails. Snapped twigs and branches littered the roads along with debris the winds gathered along the way.

The railing across our deck twisted in the wind, then fell into the garden with the windchimes and two hummingbird feeders. Parts of our roof tiles littered the deck, and our back fence is now leaning precariously. One of my frost covers has traveled to parts unknown, and one of the two hummingbird feeders smashed, leaving broken glass and sugar water in its wake.

An enormous Monterey Pine leans across our back fence, making it hard to relax in the living room of our home when the wind is strong enough to shake the house. I’ve worried through many storms that the tree might come down, though, in a stroke of good luck, I had the tree assessed by an arborist late last year, then arranged to split the cost of a significant pruning. The arborist says the tree is “extremely stressed by drought conditions.” Removing dead and dying branches took a day and five crew members. The tree sits in our neighbor’s yard and towers over four properties. During the worst of last week’s windstorm, I either left the house or hung out in the front corner of the house, farthest away from the tree. I’m happy to report that the tree remained upright.

That evening, we found a charging station with power so Mike could get his electric vehicle charged for a presentation the following day. As we drove to a power station, we passed neighborhoods in complete darkness, while others kept their power.

Using the FDA guidelines for food safety, I had to pitch 90% of the food in our fridge and freezer. Fortunately, we have the resources to replace what we lost, but it is a painful reminder of many struggling to get by. An extra cash donation to our local food bank is in order. The needs here are significant.

These storms haven’t ended the drought but have filled several reservoirs, which is excellent news. Melting snowfall is also a significant water source during the warmer months, so as long as it melts slowly, it’s a fabulous resource for our parched state.

Here are a few welcome signs of spring.

ScrapHappy: The Under-achiever, the Over-achiever, and the Surprise

Thanks, as always, Kate, for hosting this monthly challenge.

Every few months, I get the urge to use my Gel Press, usually when I find something interesting on the garden floor.

Last month I picked up a decaying leaf that maintained its skeleton-like structure. (Sorry, no pics) I wanted to capture the leaf pattern using a Gel Press, brayer, watercolor paper, and ink. I imagined the delicate veins of the decaying leaf in minute detail. Instead, I created several blobs. I call the first blob “cranky man-in-the-moon.”


This brings me to ScrapHappy, the oops edition. I set the images and my discouragement aside for a time. I decided to use them this month to make some cards.

While I had a general idea of using the blobs as backgrounds for my cards, I lacked direction. In the end, I have:

The Under-achiever: Pretty but ho-hum

The first card incorporates one of the blobs cut into a rectangle and mounted on a scrap of purple paper. The watering can is fussy-cut from an old wall calendar. I’ve saved old calendars in years passed when I couldn’t part with the beautiful images. It’s fun to incorporate them into cards.

The Over-achiever: Not knowing when to quit

This second card got away from me. I inadvertently got mired in “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” mode. While I love the punched background made with a gorgeous crafting die from PinkFresh Studio, I wish I had spent time experimenting before adding details. I stamped the floral image with versa mark ink, embossed it in black, then colored the flowers with markers. Placing yellow circles behind the image helped them stand out. When I stamped the word “hugs” on the image, it looked small and out of scale. I fixed that oops with another die cut of a leaf. Time to quit.

The Surprise: A happy accident with paper and ink

The final card looks yellow in this pic, yet all three backgrounds are the same shade of green. I tried transferring ink to the Spellbinders embossing folder, but the results were mixed. Thinking I had wiped off all the ink, I was surprised to see small amounts of purple ink transfer to the green. You can just make out the leaf image in blob number three.

Happy, scrappy!

KateGun, EvaSue, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, JanMoira, SandraChrisAlys,
ClaireJeanJon, DawnJuleGwen,
Sunny, Kjerstin, Sue LVera, Edith
NanetteAnn, Dawn 2, Carol, Preeti,
Amo and Alissa

ScrapHappy: Curbside Crafts and Paper Quilts

I’m dipping back into this blogging space with Kate’s monthly ScrapHappy prompt. Makers worldwide produce and blog about a project created with scraps. Many of my fellow bloggers work with fabric, while others create with metal and wood. I occasionally make something with fabric scraps; however, paper scraps are my frequent medium of choice.

I’m sharing a couple of projects this month. First, for the third year running, I’ve assembled Valentine’s Day-themed crafting kits that I place alongside our Little Free Library.

I had the pleasure of watching a four-year-old claim one, which delighted us both. This is probably the last year I’ll be assembling kits from scraps, as I’ve exhausted my entire stash of seasonal paper and embellishments. Next year’s kits won’t qualify as ScrapHappy, but they will still be fun to make.

My second project is a card. I used the cover of a 6 x 6 tablet of paper, which you might otherwise toss. I wanted to emulate a quilt and found the small square samples pictured on the front of the tablet were a perfect size.

I worked around the barcode and other printing and had just enough colored squares to make a small card. The grey scrap backing is smaller than the cover, but I made it work by piecing it together.

Part of the package title shows in the third row, so I covered it with a strategically placed greeting. After trimming the grey paper to a small border, I added texture using one of my embossing folders. Finally, a scrap of lavender paper forms the card.

Please follow the links below to see what other crafty folks are up to. Welcome, Karrin, who joined us for the first time this month.

ScrapHappy is open to all. Please reach out to Kate, linked below, if you would like to join in the fun.

KateGun, EvaSue, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, 
Jill, JanMoira, SandraChrisClaireJeanJon, DawnJuleGwen,
Sunny, Kjerstin, Sue LVera, Edith
NanetteAnn, Dawn 2, Carol,
Preeti, DebbieroseNóilinViv, and Karrin

As Years Go

I performed the Heimlich Maneuver on an unhoused woman earlier this year as she choked on a chicken burrito. She thinks I saved her life, and perhaps I did; however, as years go, this barely made my top ten. I am so ready to leave 2022 behind.

While nothing magical happens between December 31 and January 1, it feels like a fresh start. 

I’ve watched helplessly as someone near and dear suffered through treatment-resistant depression most of the year. The constant worry and the overwhelming sadness never goes away.

My younger sister made multiple trips to the ER. She suffered three falls over eight months while trying to get out of bed and endured other medical maladies. Her advancing MS is taking a toll. She’s fought hard to retain independence, but in October, she finally agreed that she needed daily help.

Together we made one of the trips to the hospital on foot (I walked, and she used her mobility scooter) because Paratransit couldn’t accommodate a same-day appointment. Crossing two freeway entrances without the benefit of a traffic light proved harrowing. Every bump caused her pain. It’s not something either of us cares to repeat.

In June, I found myself alone in a building with a mentally unstable man who had set fire to the church sanctuary. I volunteered in the back half of the property. The sound of a distant smoke alarm and the smell of smoke sent me to explore the outer corridor. The man emerged, engulfed in a cloud of white smoke, holding a lighter in each hand.

Fire at St. Paul's United Methodist Church
St. Paul’s UMC Sanctuary Fire

My fumbling fingers managed to call 911, and I safely exited the building without another encounter. The fire went to two alarms, but thankfully there were no injuries, and they arrested the arsonist at the scene.

In the aftermath, we learned that Lifted Spirits’ entire inventory of donated clothing, masks, blankets, and more would be a loss. In addition, exposure to lead and asbestos rendered the building and most of its content unsafe.

Former Lifted Spirits Serving Room, Gutted and waiting for rebuild

At the time, I served as one of two lead volunteers. We moved the program outside, rallied our resources, and rented a portable storage container to continue helping vulnerable men and women from the parking lot. Unfortunately, San Jose had several days with triple-digit temperatures this summer, making for a few long months.

POD (Portable on Demand) storage delivery

For various reasons I won’t go into, I tendered my resignation from Lifted Spirits at the end of October. I had hoped to stay through year-end, but that didn’t work out. After nearly five years of service as a volunteer, program lead, former board member, and donor, my last month felt demoralizing. The executive director showed up on my last day of volunteering (at my request), so I could hand over keys and other property. She called “thank you” as she raced to her next appointment. It’s been painful letting go of something I’ve been passionate about for so long. I miss the program, my fellow volunteers, and, of course, the women we served. I’m disheartened to hear how quickly things changed.

While outdoors this past summer, our volunteers put lifting spirits first. We welcomed women through the gate, set out pretty paper placemats, and offered them water or lemonade and a scone. They requested hygiene items from a private station, then “shopped” in our clothing area. I enjoyed selecting outfits and setting aside clothing favorites as they came in. We also had a few food staples provided by our local food bank. We knew the women by name and were there to listen and offer support.

Since my departure, all of the offerings have been reduced to efficiencies. Clothing remains in the POD, and women climb a small ramp to view them in an unlit space. Hygiene items are pre-packaged, and they hand women a lunch instead of serving them at the table.

Last year at this time, we created a party-like atmosphere. We decorated the canopies, played Christmas music, and passed out hot chocolate and tea. In addition, we provided a hot, seasonal lunch, and one of our volunteers made soap and donated earrings so our clients could give someone else a gift and a card. Everyone received a generously portioned gift bag and left with a smile.

This year they put plexiglass barriers at the gate, and two volunteers asked if they “wanted a gift” and then passed it through the opening.

I’m heartsick when I hear of these changes. I’m trying to process my anger and grief, my sense of loss for a program I poured my heart and soul into, and an enveloping sadness for my sister, who I moved to an assisted living facility two weeks ago, just a few weeks after she turned 62.

As years go, it’s been a doozy.

A Somber Halloween

Halloween is in the air.

I’ve loved this festive day since I was a child. My sister and I enjoyed dressing up, making costumes from this and that, and anticipating the night. Of course, there were strict rules about where we could go, how long we could be out, and with whom, but we made the most of it.

With Sharon at our home in Canada

We arrived home long before 8:00 with cold cheeks and a bag of candy. The candy haul would fuel a trading game in the weeks to come. We would spread the goods on the living room floor, count each item, then trade back and forth. We each had our favorites. It was also a way to extend the thrill of the night.

As adults, we found the excuse to dress up for parties or work events. We fixed each other’s hair or wig and donned false eyelashes. Sharon usually helped with my makeup since I’m an amateur and she’s the pro.

Sharon dressed as a witch. I made a costume this year called my year in trash

My sister and I no longer dress up, and the thrill of the day has passed. Sharon’s MS has advanced to such a degree that she can no longer walk or drive. She struggles to dress, and she needs help putting on her shoes. At the end of this month, the water therapy that helps sustain her is no longer covered by her health plan. The powers that be, determined that since she can’t get well, she can’t have physical therapy. Health “care” in this country often boils down to health insurance. It’s beyond depressing.

Today, I shampooed my sister’s hair in an inflatable sink, then wrapped it in a towel to dry. She’s lost the chance to shower two days a week after water therapy, robbing her of the dignity of basic hygiene. We are both bereft.

It’s hard to know where we go from here, so we’re improvising. Costumes and wigs no longer apply.

Tomorrow I’ll toss candy into the bags of costumed children after they knock at our door and yell, “trick-or-treat!” The night will be bitter and sweet.