Red, White and a Little Blue

Tomorrow is Independence Day in the United States, commonly referred to as the 4th of July. Americans celebrate in a number of ways, and we’ve probably participated in most of them: fireworks shows, classical concerts ending with the 1812 overture, block parties and the like.

This year we’re going with a quieter approach. Our boys have outgrown the neighborhood block party and frankly its a bit of a relief. I’ve always preferred smaller, quieter gatherings. Small talk wears me down and the heat of the day leaves me exhausted. The work involved setting up and tearing down tables and chairs, canopies, etc. is something I’m happy to leave in the past.

Although fireworks are illegal in Santa Clara County, we’re hearing the percussive boom of mortars going off nearby. It’s a huge strain on the cats, who’ve retreated under beds or in closets. It’s hard seeing them frightened knowing there is nothing we can do but wait it out.  Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come.

As America celebrates its hard-won independence from the British Monarchy,I hope people will stop and reflect. What is the true meaning of democracy; why is freedom of the press so important? Our sitting president is making a mockery of what this country stands for.

Here is a brief excerpt from the Declaration of Independence. Source: Wikipedia

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This has been called “one of the best-known sentences in the English language”,[8] containing “the most potent and consequential words in American history”.[9] The passage came to represent a moral standard to which the United States should strive. This view was notably promoted by Abraham Lincoln, who considered the Declaration to be the foundation of his political philosophy, and argued that the Declaration is a statement of principles through which the United States Constitution should be interpreted.[10]

On the eve of what should be a great celebration, it’s hard not to feel a little blue.

Little Free Library and bookmarks

Red, white and blue books in the Little Free Library and an assortment of bookmarks for the taking

 

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Our Little Free Library Becomes a Work of Art

Feast your eyes on our redesigned Little Free Library.

Thanks to the extraordinary talents of artist Donna Pierre, Our Little Free Library is now a work of art.

My friend Nick Timmerman built our library in January, 2014. He used reclaimed materials, then added a small light connected to our low voltage landscape lighting. What a gem!

Although the box remains structurally sound, it took a bit of a beating with the sun shining down on it day after day. This year’s rains exposed a small leak, and with that I knew it needed a bit of TLC.

Somehow, that “TLC” morphed into a magical, whimsical, fantastical library. (Click on individual photos for a closer look)

Our Little Free Library or LFL has been a joy from the start.  I love the whole concept of a book exchanges on sidewalks, country roads, inside coffee houses and in neighborhood parks. As of November 2016,

there are over 50,000 registered Little Free Library book exchanges in all 50 U.S. states and over 70 countries around the world. – source LittleFreeLibrary.org

How’s that for exciting?  The idea of linking people with books and communities with tiny libraries is both simple and profound. It’s such an honor to be a part of it.

In the early days of the library, I went searching for books. I asked friends and neighbors and occasionally searched our local thrift stores when children’s books were in short supply.

Then the magic happened.

  • Bloggers from around the world sent special books for the Little Free Library debut. Books arrived from Anne in Australia, Kelly in Canada and Julia from the state of Virginia. Pauline and Ann who are also artists, sent me a supply of bookmarks.
  • My friend Barbara bought three large bins of children’s books at a garage sale and donated them to our library.
  • When our neighbor Bernice moved house, she called and offered me several boxes of children’s books for a variety of ages.
  • A neighbor a few blocks over regularly stops by and tidies the library. She leaves bags of books on my doorstep from Friends of the Library sales.
  • My friend Kristi sent several books via Amazon in honor of our friendship and in memory of her Aunt Vicki.
  • And twice in recent months, a neighbor I’ve never met pulled up to the curb and offered me several bags of children books.
  • Just last week I received a box of books from Marlene at In Search of it All.

It’s also fun watching the books come and go organically. The Little Free Library motto is take a book, give a book and it works.

Here’s another gallery of photos showing Donna at work.

A big thank you to Donna for sharing her talents.  You can see more of her work here and here.

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It’s Kind of a Long Story

I was out-of-town for a couple of days visiting my friend Marcia in Santa Rosa. When I got home Friday evening, Mike said all was okay, but that he and my son thought they were hearing things.

“Things” they said, sounded just like a cat’s meow coming from inside Mike’s car. The sound was neither loud nor repetitive so they chalked it up to a song playing through Mike’s phone. Mike drove our son to school Friday morning, then drove across town to work. Late that afternoon they both heard it, but again, couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. Shortly before I walked in the door, Mike heard the sound coming through the living room wall. Our living room faces the back wall of our garage.

As the two of them finished the story, the three of us traipsed out to the garage and stood listening for a tell-tale meow. Nothing.

At this point, Mouse the Cat started demanding “where-have-you-been-how-dare-you-leave- town”, circling the wagons so to speak. We took a 15 minute walk around the block, an evening ritual that leaves kitty tired and content. We’ve grown used to the stares and comments by now and when asked simply joke that we’re “walking our dog.”

Back home, my kitty radar had piqued. If there really was a cat in Mike’s car, I needed to know. I suggested we sit quietly in the back seat for a while and just listen.

As an aside, I wonder sometimes what things look like to a casual observer: “Oh look, Mike and Alys are sitting in the garage in the back seat of Mike’s car having a chat.”

Within minutes, we both heard the meow. It seemed to be coming from the front of the car. Mike drives an electric car called a Tesla. It’s assembled differently from a traditional car, so when you pop the hood where the motor would typically be, there is an open storage space instead.

We popped the hood…and found nothing. We searched the interior of the car, the trunk, the front compartment, and I even crawled under the front of the car to see if there was an access point we’d missed. There are two holes under the carriage of the car, but neither one of them large enough for a cat to gain access.

We coaxed and cooed and called “kitty-kitty” to no avail. Somehow, somewhere a cat remained trapped somewhere in the inner workings of the car.

I felt sick.

My son Googled “cat stuck in Tesla” and he got a match. Sure enough, someone captured this video of a cat as they freed it from inside the inner workings of the car.

It’s a different model than ours, but suddenly it seemed possible.

It was after 9 now on a Friday night so there was nothing further to be done. If there was a cat inside the car, it had now been in there for over 12 hours. We left food and water under the car and went to bed, sleeping fitfully.

We drove to the Tesla Service Center in Santa Clara Saturday morning and expressed our fears. They were terrific.  While we waited for the auto mechanic to arrive, two of the service professionals drove the car on to the lift to expose the under carriage. We heard a meow!  They worked quickly to remove one of the wheels and several surrounding parts, then started to remove the covering from the bottom of the car. When the mechanic arrived, he approached the problem from a different angle, removing the lining of the front compartment and several bolts. This exposed a shoe-box sized opening (the auxiliary battery compartment) above the electric panel and one frightened little cat.

I swooped in, nabbed her and immediately placed her in our cat carrier.  Deanna, one of the service technicians escorted me into a quiet waiting room while the team re-assembled the car. Talk about excellent customer service!

Tesla Service Team

Diana, Jimmy and Jake, Tesla Service Team, Santa Clara, California

My son was anxiously waiting at home. He asked the night before “if it’s a cat, can we keep it?”  I blurted out yes, before conferring with Mike, but I needn’t have worried. The desire to keep the cat (before ever meeting her) was unanimous.

It was love at first sight for the lot of us.  Here she is, the little darling, two minutes after her rescue.

kitten in a cat carrier

Safely ensconced in a cat carrier

It’s a holiday weekend here in the states, so our vet won’t reopen till Tuesday. We’re keeping her isolated from Mouse and Lindy till we get a well-kitty checkup, but the rest of us can’t keep our hands off of her. She has a lovely purr and enjoys nuzzling around our necks. Our little darling is a beauty, too, with soft gray kitten eyes and the loveliest markings. Look at that face! She must be quite young but she’s eating solid food so she’s old enough to be away from her mother.  Our postal scale says she weighs 24 ounces or .7 kg.

Our sweet girl has gladdened our hearts and lifted our spirits. We’ll never know her origin story, but we’re happy to have our own story to tell. Welcome to the family, Tessa.

PS: Do you remember this post from February: Loving Cats, Real and Imagined??

Pauline King quote

“It really grew like that? Then it must be a message from the fairies – isn’t it special! I love it! Maybe they are saying there is another kitty on the way ….. 🙂 ❤” – Pauline King, February 11, 2017

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Our Little Free Library Gets a Makeover

Little Free Library original

Little Free Library, January, 2014

When I spotted a Little Free Library in nearby Campbell in 2013, it was love at first site. The idea of my own Little Free Library held great appeal. It took awhile to bring it all together, but in January of 2014 our curbside Little Free Library or LFL made its debut. We dedicated the library in May that year and it’s seen a steady stream of visitors ever since.

My friend Nick Timmerman built the library using reclaimed materials. It’s held up well, but last year it started to leak. I had to cover the library with  recycled packing material to keep it operational during our wet winter.

Little Free Library March 2017

Little Free Library under cover

Now the library is undergoing a facelift.  I wanted something fun and whimsical, so I reached out to my friend Donna Pierre. Donna is a talented fine artist and a muralist. It’s a treat to see the details unfold. I’m excited to share the finished library soon. Meanwhile, here are a few pics of the process:

Little Free Library Primed for painting

Primed, painted and sealed

Donna Pierre painting the Little Free Library

Donna Pierre: taping off lines for the log cabin detail

Little Free Library Log Cabin Detail

The log cabin effect

Little Free Library Log Cabin Detail

Back of the library

It’s been unseasonably hot these past few days, after a week of unseasonably cold weather. You never know these days which end is up. Once the weather improves, Donna will be back. I’m so excited.

As you can see from the last photo, my sweet pea jungle is wilting from the heat. I knew it was inevitable, but I’ll be sorry to see them go. The Nigella (love-in-a-mist) are filling in some of the vacated spots, and the cornflowers are hanging in there too. The bees love the Nigella and I love the bees so three cheers for synchronicity.

spring flower bouquet

Flowers for Kathee

My sister stops by every Sunday to pick up a small bouquet for her friend, Kathee who is on hospice.  This past weekend I added three miniature yellow roses to the small bouquet. It’s been nice to bring a bit of color to her day.

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My Extraordinary Day at The Carter Center

In front of the Carter Center and Presidential Library

My time at the Carter Center is one of superlatives. I can’t stop talking about the extraordinary experience.

Over the course of twenty-four hours I met wonderful people, listened to excellent speakers who shared the remarkable accomplishments of the center. I’m grateful and humbled by their work.  The Carter Center continues to make significant and lasting impact on our world in the areas of health and peace.

Speakers: Frank O. Richards, Jr., Aisha Stewart and Dean G. Sienko. At the podium: The Carter Center CEO Ambassador Mary Ann Peters

For a brief time I sat with Ambassador (Retired) Mary Ann Peters, Chief Executive Officer of The Carter Center.  We bonded over the fact that she’s a graduate of Santa Clara University where my oldest son attends. Ambassador Peters is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and Women in International Security. She worked for 30 years as a diplomat, holding positions in Dhaka, Canada, Moscow, and Bangladesh to name a few. I could have listened to her speak all day.

Jennie K. Lincoln, the director of The Carter Center’s Latin America and Caribbean Program

I spoke with Jennie Lincoln, one of the Thursday night presenters. Ms. Lincoln is the director of the Carter Center’s Americas Program. She shared a fascinating story of meeting with members of the Colombian guerilla organization known as FARC in a hotel room in Columbia and what that meant for the peace process. I’m astounded at her strength and bravery and grateful for her work. Current efforts include collaborating with Columbia’s presidential advisor on human rights, drafting political reforms, partnering on peace education and helping re-integrate FARC’s child soldiers into Colombian society. Wow! Did I mention the superlatives? You can read more about the center’s work here.

In the areas of health, one of the most significant contributions is the near-eradication of Guinea worm disease.  According to the Cater Center website:

In 1986, the disease afflicted an estimated 3.5 million people a year in 21 countries in Africa and Asia. Today, thanks to the work of The Carter Center and its partners — including the countries themselves — the incidence of Guinea worm has been reduced by more than 99.99 percent to 25 cases in 2016.

The Carter Center works to eradicate Guinea worm disease in four remaining endemic countries: South Sudan, Mali, Chad, and Ethiopia.

I wont share details of the specifics of the disease here, as it’s upsetting to many people. If you want to learn more however, you can follow this link.

And finally, the Carters. President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter spoke with us for about an hour. President Carter is exactly as you would imagine in person: soft-spoken, highly intelligent, direct but with a twinkle in his eye. At 92 he continues to run circles around everyone. First Lady Rosalynn Carter was equally bright, gracious and engaged.

Under the leadership of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, a long-standing champion for the rights of people with mental illnesses, the Carter Center’s Mental Health Program works to promote awareness about mental health issues, inform public policy, achieve equity for mental health care comparable to other health care, and reduce stigma and discrimination against those with mental illnesses.

As far as I’m concerned, the Carter’s exemplify the gold standard of how we should be in the world.

I’ve never attended an event where I felt more welcomed. Marion Dixon got in touch ahead of time and invited me to join a group for lunch. Barry Nickelsberg, Chief Development Officer, sent me a note asking about plans for Friday evening. From the shuttle bus driver to the welcoming volunteers, everyone made me feel at home.

In a word: magnificent!

About the Carter Center

“A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 80 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; and improving mental health care. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health world-wide.”

(source: The Carter Center)

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Visiting Santa Rosa: Friendship and Memories

In what feels like a lifetime ago, I spent three consecutive summers in Santa Rosa, about 100 miles north of San Jose. I graduated from San Jose State in 1982 with a degree in Theatre Arts. Summer Repertory Theatre known as SRT hired professional designers and directors, but the actors and technical positions went to current or recently graduated students like me.
SRT bio alys 1983-002

We received a stipend of $900 for the entire summer, with $300 of that going to shared-housing. In the first four weeks, before all six shows opened, we worked ten and half hour days, six days a week with an hour off for lunch, and a two-hour break for dinner. The hours were long and grueling and emotions ran high as they usually do when artists surround you.

In short: I loved it!

I worked with talented costume designers all three summers, learning techniques in pattern making, costume building and diplomacy. I look back on those summers with a profound fondness. I met incredible people along the way. Those years were among the most memorable of my youth.

Several of us came from around the state each summer, but the rest lived in Santa Rosa. In my second year doing summer stock, I met Marcia Ford. She’s a talented pattern maker and kindred spirit. We kindled our friendship in 1983, and have stayed in touch through marriages and children. Her son is 31, an accomplished artist and linguist, living in Spain. He married a poet and scholar when they met in Egypt, and they’re now raising Marcia’s grandson in Madrid. I have a beloved snapshot of her son holding my son we he was three-months old. My boys are now 16 and 19.

I spent a couple of days with Marcia in Santa Rosa this week, helping her organize her sewing room and catching up on life. Marcia is recovering from a year spent abroad helping with her grandson, her father’s recent death and breast cancer.

Alys and Marcia

With Marcia this week

costume shope SRT 1984

In the SRT Costume, 1984 Marcia, back left, Alys, back right

She recently celebrated a milestone birthday, so I wanted to mark the occasion with a unique and special gift.

I made a set of greeting cards and a small folio using vintage seam binding and scrap-booking paper with a vintage sewing theme. Isn’t the paper fun?

I also purchased the most gorgeous sewing box from Lynn at Tialys. She sells ready-made sewing boxes in her Etsy shop or you can buy her pattern and make one yourself. I opted for the former and I’m so glad I did. Isn’t it stunning?

Tialys sewing box

Marcia poses with her new sewing box

The third part of the gift had us both in stitches (seamstress pun). About a year ago I shared a picture of a yarn bowl on Facebook and she commented that she would love one. I ordered it online via Darn Good Yarn. As it turns out, she ordered the same bowl herself.

I had such a good time. I miss Santa Rosa and all it represents. It’s a beautiful place. They average three times the rain that we do so things are lush and green. It’s less crowded with a slighter slower pace, and open spaces still prevail. I fell in love with it all over again.

Marcia’s sister Alice invited us to dinner at her home along with several of her life-long friends. We enjoyed a delicious vegetarian meal, laughter and an evening’s walk to a field of irises. Alice has a lush garden and, be still my heart, she keeps bees! What a treat it was to spend time in her garden. What a shame, too, that I was too busy enjoying myself to take a single photo while we were there.

Picture instead curving paths, verdant green plants, a majestic tree and a quiet corner with happy, humming bees.

Gardens and friendships remain my “drug” of choice.

On the subject of friendships, I’m just days away from reconnecting with Kelly from Kelly’s Korner and Boombeeadda, Laurie from Life on the Bike and Other Fab Things and Julia of Defeat Despair. We’ll also reconnect with Lisa of ArlingWords and Stacy, a street photographer and sometime blogger, who can be found on Instagram.  We’ll be missing Pauline of The Contented Crafter, but plans are under way to connect with her in New Zealand in 2018. We’re gathering in Virginia and Washington, DC for a few days, than Kelly and I head to New York. There we’ll meet two more bloggers for the first time, Joe at The Visual Chronicle and Patti at Nylon Daze.

I’m as giddy as a schoolgirl. Meanwhile my flight to Atlanta has been delayed three times due to weather. It’s not all fun and games. 😉

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The Greening of the Little Free Library

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

We’re celebrating by featuring green-covered books, bookmarks and a few small craft kits in our Little Free Library.

…and a pot of gold at the end of the fairy garden rainbow.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig