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.

In Search of Equilibrium

front porch with pumpkins

Welcome to our front porch. There’s a beautifully embroidered welcome sign, a gift from Marlene, and a trio of home-grown pumpkins

It’s hard to comprehend the bleakest October in recent memory. By day I’m trying to regain my equilibrium.  At night, though, my body betrays me. I wake with my hands closed tightly into fists and I have to remind myself to breathe. It’s been surreal.

Historically speaking, October is my favorite month. It starts with my birthday and ends with Halloween, with lots of playfulness in between.

This year my birthday dawned October 2nd with devastating news out of Las Vegas. Another senseless act of gun violence, perhaps the worst in our troubled history. There are more questions than answers; more lives tragically destroyed. Worst of all, nothing seems to change.

I received lovely birthday greetings throughout the day from family and friends. I swung through highs and lows the strangest mixture of darkness and light.

My friend Kelly and her husband Jim were due to arrive October 1st from Canada. They got a nasty flu instead, and were bed-ridden for several days. Jim had to cancel his trip entirely. We were all disappointed to lose our long-planned week in coastal Carmel

Carmel, Calfornia

Carmel by the sea

Kelly came a week later and we enjoyed the abbreviated time we had together.

alys and kelly

Kelly and I took a card class together

The day after Kelly arrived, we woke to more difficult news. An unprecedented firestorm swept through Santa Rosa late at night, destroying an entire neighborhood and damaging businesses and a major hospital. Many of the older residents were unable to escape. The loss of life is devastating.

smoky skies

Multiple spare-the-air days

I’ve been mentally “gathering my people.” My friend Leslie moved to Las Vegas three years ago to enjoy the open space and mountain air. I couldn’t reach her by text, so it was a huge relief when she marked herself safe via Facebook.

My friend Marcia lives in Santa Rosa and plans to visit today. It’s been on the calendar for months, but given the devastating fires, it will be especially good to see her.  Marcia’s mother had to be evacuated from her care home as the fires spread. The quick-moving fire ravished entire neighborhoods. At the height of the firestorm, 100,000 people were evacuated. 20,000 remain displaced and 42 people lost their lives in the fast-moving fire.

Santa Rosa holds a special place in my heart. I spent three summers working at SRT, Santa Rosa’s Summer Repertory Theater. I wrote about my friendship with Marcia earlier this year.

SRT program 1984

Summer Repertory Theater (SRT) Program, 1984

My in-laws lived in Calistoga in their final years. Authorities evacuated the entire town of Calistoga for two days this weekend as the high winds constantly changed course. Mike feels emotionally invested in the well-being of their former home and ranch, even though the property has since changed hands. Authorities allowed residents back home on Sunday and as far as we can tell, the homes in that area are safe.

Calistoga

Extended family in Calistoga (Mt. St. Helena in background)

Throughout this unfolding drama, my colleague Ellen Hovey quietly lost her battle with cancer. Ellen’s strength and courage inspired all who knew her.  She’s survived by her husband and her 17-year-old son with Down Syndrome. It’s a sad loss for all who knew her. I can’t image how hard it must have been to say goodbye to her young man.

I’m craving a walk in the woods, alone with my thoughts. I have my fingers crossed that the long-term forecast is correct and that the hoped-for rain arrives on Friday.  It will aid the fire-fighters and at the same time clear our the dangerous, smoke-filled air.

Equilibrium will return. For now I feel the weight of the world.

In early October 2017, a series of wildfires started burning across the state of California, United States. They broke out throughout Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, Butte, and Solano counties during severe fire weather conditions effectively leading to a major red flag warning from much of the Northern California area. Seventeen separate wildfires were reported at this time.[3] These fires included the Tubbs Fire (the most destructive), the Atlas Fire, Nuns Fire and others.

Due to the extreme conditions, shortly after the fires ignited on October 8 and 9, they rapidly grew to become extensive, full-scale incidents spanning from 1,000 acres (400 hectares) to well over 20,000 acres (8,100 ha) each within a single day. By October 14, the fires had burned more than 210,000 acres (85,000 ha), and destroyed an estimated 5,700 structures [4][1] while forcing 90,000 people to evacuate from their homes.[5] The Northern California fires have killed at least 42 people[1] and hospitalized at least 185,[6] making the week of October 8, 2017, the deadliest week of wildfires in California history.

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Raptors and Revelry at the Winery

You don’t often see the words “raptor” and “revelry” in the same sentence, and certainly not at a winery. Yet we celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary this past weekend at a fundraising event that incorporated all three.

Wente Brothers Vineyard, 1995, Seekers Vineyard, 2017

When you’re an animal lover, you get excited when an event lands on your anniversary for the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley. Wingin’ it at the Winery is held annually  to raise funds for this vital, local non-profit.

Count us in!

The center (WCSV) processes over 5,000 wild animals a year. Animals come to them injured or orphaned, and sometimes both. Staff and volunteers at the center make every effort to return the young to their family. Barring that, they rehab the animal or bird in a way that keeps them wild, and therefore self-sufficient. Once ready, they reintroduce the animals back into the wild, usually within ten miles of their original home.

Wingin’ it at the Winery included a live and silent auction, wine tasting, appetizers and a fully vegetarian meal. It’s not often I can attend an event and eat everything on offer. What a treat.

Seeker Vineyard

Gathering for dinner and a live auction

Auction items included art and wine, travel and experiences and a number of animal-centric gift baskets. Seeker Winery in San Martin generously donated the venue, along with wine from their private reserve.

Silent auction items on display at Seeker Vineyard

Silent auction items on display at Seeker Vineyard

One of the biggest draws though, was the potential release of an owl. There were no promises. The animals well-being comes first, but if all went well, we would get to witness an owl released back to the wild.

Like many non-profits, WCSV has a small staff. They rely on many volunteers to help care for and rehab the animals. I first learned about WCSV from one of my Pilates classmates. Ellen volunteers at the center, and used to share intriguing stories about her work with the animals

A couple of years ago we rescued this orphaned hummingbird

rescued baby hummingbird

Rescued baby hummingbird

and I turned to Ellen for guidance. She confirmed that taking the small and needy bird to the center was the right thing to do. That little hummingbird had a happily ever after story, when she was re-released back into the wild.

While we’re on the subject of re-releasing birds into the wild, you’ll never guess the extraordinary highlight of the evening?

Agency staff and volunteers released three raptors (in this case owls). They had been in the shelter since May.

As we stood together along the length of the vineyard at dusk, the owls flew into the trees, one by one. Though the owl in the center box was initially reluctant to venture out, she too eventually flew into the trees she would now call home.

Preparing for raptor release Seeker Vineyard

Back to front: Ashley Kinney, WCSV Hospital Manager,Holly Cormier, Development Director and Ellen Lovelace, volunteer

Ashley Kinney owl release

Ashley Kinney, WCSV Hospital Manager encourages the third owl to take flight…and she did

What a spectacular night!

Owl soaring

Full wing span as the owl soars toward the palm tree

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Little Free Library of Distinction

I’m so excited!

Our curbside Little Free Library is this week’s LFL Library of Distinction.

From the Little Free Library Newsletter, September 2017

Little Free Library of Distinction

Little Free Library of Distinction, September, 2017

The entry appears in the Little Free Library newsletter under the heading: One Library got a whimsical makeover

Here’s the link.

This is a great opportunity to bring attention to our library, and a wonderful way to celebrate and promote Donna Pierre’s stunning work. Here is how the whole thing came about.

After Donna put the finishing touches on our revamped library,  I sent updated photos via the LFL website. They wrote back letting me know they would update the map within three days.

Our registered Little Free Library is searchable via the world map along with 50,000 other libraries in over 70 countries worldwide. Through the Little Free Library movement, millions of books are exchanged annually. It is a joy to be a part of the movement.

Within a few days of submitting the new photos, I received this email:

Congratulations! Your Library has been selected as a Library of Distinction. Its unique design and the creativity and enthusiasm you have put into it make it an inspiring example for other Little Free Library stewards to follow.
We will share images of your Library and the story behind it in our weekly e-newsletter to Little Free Library fans and on our Libraries of Distinction Pinterest board.
If there are any details on your Library’s design or history that you’d specifically like to share in our e-newsletter, please respond directly to this email with that information; about 3-4 sentences would be perfect.
 
Attached you will find a certificate to commemorate this achievement, please feel free to print it and show it off to all of your friends! Keep up the good work.
Cheers,

The Little Free Library Team

Donna attached this handsome cat to the base of the library. I reworked the white sign by smudging it with green ink. Instead of re-attaching it to the face of the library, Mike installed cup hooks below the box for the sign to hang free. I didn’t want to do anything that would distract from Donna’s design.

There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.

–Marcel Proust

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Celestial Seasonings Tea and Tour

Celestial Seasonings Tour Center

Celestial Seasonings Tour Center

We toured the Celestial Seasonings factory in Boulder on our recent visit. The tour is free and includes the opportunity to sample several hot and iced teas. It was raining the entire time we were there, making it all the more delicious. There is nothing quite like hot tea on a rainy day, especially when there’s a fun tour in the mix as well.

Celestial Seasonings Tea Room Samples

Tea Room Samples

Celestial Seasonings Rooibos Madagascar Vanilla

My current favorite, and an award winner too * Celestial Seasonings Rooibos Madagascar Vanilla

I grew up drinking black tea, mostly Red Rose Tea, a Canadian brand dating back more than a century. My dad drank tea, so of course my sister and I wanted to drink tea, too. Mom on the other hand drank black, instant coffee. [Shudder].

Over the years I switched from black tea with milk and sugar to tea with just sugar. Then Celestial Seasonings came along in the seventies, and I was an herbal convert.

The tour guide pointed out that 80% of what they produce is not actually tea, but an herbal infusion.  It’s all “tea” to me, and I’m happy to consume green, Jasmine, Rooibos, also know as redbush, and vanilla flavored herbals.

As factories go, Celestial Seasonings is small. They have a simple assembly line, along with pallets of herbs and spices stacked floor to ceiling. I also loved the fact that the equipment used for packaging the tea dates back to the forties. They essentially recycled an assembly line once used for packing cereal. There is one special room set aside for peppermint and spearmint. The mint is quite potent, and would quickly infuse all the other ingredients if stored together. The moment you walk into the room your eyes water and your sinuses open. It was quite an experience. It’s no wonder mint tea is so good when you have a cold.

One of the things I liked when the teas first hit the market, were the pretty designs on the package along with an inspiring quote. Sleepy Time was the first of two herbal blends, and remains the most popular around the world.

Celestial Seasonings original art department

Celestial Seasonings original art department

Celestial Seasonings origin story

Celestial Seasonings origin story

The “ticket” for the tour is a twin package of tea bags. There are several urns of brewed tea in the tea room. You’re issued a small ceramic mug when you walk in the door, and you’re free to sample as many and as often as you like. The tea room is also an art gallery, featuring several of the artists who’ve designed the clever packages over the years.

Celestial Seasonings original art work

Celestial Seasonings original art work

You can pose with the Sleepy Time Bear, or nip in to the mythical scene from the original packaging.

Sleepy Time Tea Room

Yours truly in the Sleepy Time Tea Room

Like any self-respecting enterprise, the factory tour exits via the gift shop. You’ll get no complaints from me, though. They sell art, greeting cards, tea of course, herbal lotions, and postcards.

Celestial Seasonings gift shop window

Celestial Seasonings gift shop window

It was a perfectly wonderful afternoon in every way.

From their website: Celestial Seasonings was founded more than 40 years ago with one goal: to provide delicious, high quality teas that are good for our customers and good for the world.

We think it’s important to share with you the steps we take to ensure that our teas are of the highest quality, deliver the great taste you expect and are produced in a way that protects the Earth’s natural resources. Celestial Seasonings and our parent company, Hain Celestial, stands up as leaders on important topics such as GMO labeling, sodium and sugar intake and animal welfare. We want to offer the best products and help our consumers make the best choices for themselves and their families.

We call our sustainability story “Blended With Care: From Seed to Sip”, and we’d like to take you through it in eight steps – from the farmers’ fields to your teacup. You can read more on their website.

So are you a tea drinker? Please let me know via the poll below.

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